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A New Frontier

Chapter Text

July 1777
Philadelphia

Claire had hung Brianna’s drawings on the walls of the parlor. It had only been a few years since they had left, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the charcoal portraits were already dated. Jemmy would have grown into boyhood by now and, for all I knew, it was a possibility that there could even be a new addition to the family. I felt a presence behind me. Claire’s face suddenly appeared in the reflection of the glass frame.

“Do you think they’ll ever find these drawings? Perhaps in an archive somewhere, or a museum exhibit?”

“I would think it unlikely. I’m no expert on the subject of decomposition, but I daresay that the materials Bree used should hardly make it even half the years it would take to reach their time.” I was still hesitant to believe the Frasers’ tales of time travel. Although, I still felt it was rude to not give them the benefit of the doubt. I considered myself to be fairly well-traveled, and I had seen plenty of things just as seemingly outlandish as time travel.

“Oh, John. A skeptic as always.” Claire chuckled lightly, “Would you like something to drink? It is teatime, afterall. Except, we still can’t seem to get our hands on any tea since the war. Coffee, perhaps?”

Despite my general disgust of the beverage, I accepted Claire’s offer. She disappeared for a moment, but returned swiftly with a tray of coffee and scones. A moment later, Jamie appeared in the parlor.

“John, a pleasure to see you, as always.” He shook my hand firmly and clapped my shoulder.

“The pleasure is mine, I assure you. I am grateful for your offer to host me while I am in Philadelphia.” My hosts took their seats and I followed suit. Claire poured some cream into my coffee.

“Cuts the bitterness,” she said with a wink. I must have hidden my contempt for the drink poorly. She continued, “John and I were just discussing the likelihood of Brianna finding the portraits she drew before she left,” she said to Jamie. She seemed to want his input on the matter.

“Well,” he started, scratching his chin, “It depends on a number of factors, I s’pose. I dinna think they will find them unless they look for them. And even then, who’s to say they will still exist?”

There was a hint of sadness in Jamie’s voice. He missed his daughter immensely. I still didn’t quite understand why Jamie had even allowed them to leave. If William ever told me he was leaving indefinitely with no form of communication, I would surely do everything in my power to stop him. Jamie and Claire had all but kicked them out the door.

“Might I inquire as to why Brianna and Roger went back in the first place?” I still did not quite believe that such a thing was possible, but if it were I would be curious as to the purpose of it. “If Brianna knew how to survive the war, then what was the point of leaving?”

Claire jumped in to answer my question. “There is more opportunity for all of them in 1977,” she started, “As a woman in the future, Bree can get a proper education and even become employed as an engineer. Roger can continue his work as a professor of history, which I think we can all agree is more suited to him than a life in the back-country. “Jamie gave a chuckle at this, prompting a smack on the arm from his wife. “And Jemmy will be growing up in a safer, more accepting environment. All of them are safer medically and emotionally.”

“But Jemmy is a white boy, surely he would be accepted in this time? Brianna’s case for acceptance is sensible, but the boy would have no trouble fitting in now.”

“Well, yes,” Claire began. She took a moment to choose her words, “Before I came back, which was in 1968, the United States had recently declared that people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion, sex, or race. People were even starting to advocate for gay rights, so who knows how far they will have gotten by 1977? We want Jemmy to grow up to be accepting of everyone.”

“I canna even imagine a world like that,” Jamie added, “But if it has even a small bit less of hate in it than this one does, then it is the best place for the wee lad.” Claire reached over and squeezed his hand lovingly.

There was a silence as we all processed what had been said. The fact of the matter, regardless of the validity of the time travel tale, was that we would never see the three of them again. I pondered Claire’s words, although one particular eluded me.

“Claire?” She perked up and looked at me intently. “Perhaps I am unfamiliar with the term, but what does ‘gay’ mean?” I had only ever heard the term used to refer to happiness, which made no sense in the context of Claire’s words.

To my surprise, Claire burst out laughing. I had no clue what I had said to set off this response, but it took her a moment to compose herself.

“I suppose the term would be unfamiliar to you, although the predispositoion it describes is surely not,” she looked around as if she were ensuring that there were no other people around to hear, “It means homosexual.”

I felt myself blush instantly. I could tell that Jamie was trying to suppress his laughter.

“So you mean to tell me that in 1977, people will open about those desires?” The idea of loving freely was unimaginable to me. I had spent my entire life hiding in fear of losing everything if the wrong person discovered my sleeping arrangements.

“Well, not always. In 1968, anyways, being gay is still difficult socially and not everyone agrees with it. But there are places where being open about it is safe. San Francisco comes to mind. Even some parts of Boston, now that I think about it.”

I stared down into my coffee. Claire and Jamie had moved on from the subject, but it had piqued my curiosity. A time when people were free to love openly? Even if it was still considered taboo, it seemed preferable to skulking in the shadows with the threat of a destroyed livelihood hovering over you at every turn.

Why was I even entertaining this notion? It was *time travel* for God’s sake. Even if it were true that some people could travel in time, I had no way of knowing if I could. And even then, I couldn’t just pack up and leave my life. I had responsibilities here. People would go looking for me.

“John? John!” Jamie had been trying to get my attention. “Ye’ve been spilling on your waistcoat, man.”

I looked down and sure enough, my waistcoat was covered in a beige stain. “Oh, I apologize. I was, uh, lost in thought I suppose.”

Claire removed the cup from my hands. “Go change, quickly. I need to get the stain out while it is still wet.” She ushered me to my chambers and I hastily offered her the waistcoat. She was out of the room in a flash.

I didn’t feel like returning downstairs, despite the fact that Jamie and Claire would be waiting for me. Supper would be starting soon, but my appetite had diminished. There was a pit in my stomach, the cause of which was hard to put my finger on. Why was I so bothered by the notion of homosexuals being more accepted 200 years from now? That knowledge should be comforting to me, shouldn’t it? I sighed deeply and flopped backwards into the bed, pondering.

I must have fallen asleep because, next thing I knew, Claire was standing over me looking concerned. The room was now candle-lit and flickering gently.

“Are you feeling alright? You slept through dinner. Are you ill?” She had her diagnostician face on- slightly concerned, but mostly focused on trying to detect even the smallest of symptoms.

“Not in a way that can be remedied with medicine, unfortunately.”

Claire gave me a knowing look and sat down on the edge of the bed. The doctor-like concern in her eyes remained, but was now that of a worried friend. “I could tell that something about our conversation earlier struck a nerve. Jamie and I didn’t mean to poke fun at your expense. We care about you and-”

“That’s not it,” I said, interrupting her unnecessary apology, “I don’t quite know what it is. It feels almost like...love sickness perhaps? But I have no idea why I’m not pleased by the future being easier for people like me.”

Claire smiled knowingly, “It sounds like you may be jealous of what you’re missing out on. I used to feel that way, back when I first came through the stones. Although back then I was also missing aspects of the future.”

“Is it possible to miss something you’ve never had?” I was staring up at the ceiling, but I could feel Claire’s gaze on my face. I held back the tears that were pricking at my eyes.

“I would think so. If you have an idea of what it would feel like to have it and you want it badly enough, I don’t see how you could avoid missing it in a way.”

“It’s just so frustrating,” a tear escaped and rolled down my cheek, “to know that something you want- no, *need*- is possible, but unattainable. Before today, I just assumed that the world was incapable of accepting me. It was easier to accept.” I sat up and wiped away the tear with my sleeve. Claire had my spare waistcoat folded neatly in her lap.

“Here,” she offered it to me, “put this on and come downstairs. Jamie was just about to open a bottle of whiskey.” I smiled, relieved, and shrugged on the waistcoat.

“That, my friend, is just what I need.”

(A/N: Hi everyone! I am very excited about this story. Let me know if there is any thing you would like to see in this story. I am hoping to take suggestions in the comments for things that John experiences in the future. Also, I plan to post everyday, but sometimes it will be more than once a day or I may skip a day. I will post regularly though.)

Chapter Text

I was rudely awakened by the sudden opening of the curtains in the guest chamber. I squinted at Claire, who seemed to be busy putting my now-clean waistcoat back into my trunk. She was a dear friend, but her level of comfort barging into my chambers and rummaging through my stuff was a bit too much.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just putting your laundry away.” I almost laughed at her nonchalance.

“How am I supposed to not mind when your ruckus has woken me up?”

“Well, perhaps you actually should mind me then. It’s nearly 10 o’clock. Don’t you have to meet with someone?”

“Yes, but not for another couple hours. How on Earth do you know that anyway?”

She looked at me, cocking her head in the process, “Jamie tells me everything. I doubt there is anything you could possibly hide from me without also hiding it from him.”

“Well, that’s not disconcerting at all,” she chuckled at my sarcasm, “Is there anything that I should know about myself, then?” I asked jokingly.

She pondered this for a second. “No,” Claire concluded, “I’d rather keep you on your toes.”

“Wonderful. Now if you would be so kind as to exit my chambers, I would be much obliged. I must get dressed and there are things I would rather keep hidden from even you.”

“What makes you think I don’t already know of them?” Claire called as she sauntered out of the room. I knew she was only teasing me, but I could feel myself blush anyway. She really was a bold woman.

After I finished dressing, I made my way down to the kitchen. Claire had left me a plate of breakfast, as well as a cup of coffee. I ate slowly, thinking about the day ahead. I had a business meeting, as Claire had reminded me. It was merely a formality that I had to meet with the man, so it was likely not to last more than an hour or so.

I decided to depart early and walk to the tavern where I was supposed to discuss the business that brought me to Philadelphia in the first place. As I strolled through the bustling streets, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of couples walking arm in arm, giggling, and stealing kisses when they thought no one was looking. The familiar feeling from yesterday panged within me. They had so much freedom that they didn’t even realize they had. I was starting to regret my decision to not take a carriage.

After an hour or so of walking, I finally reached the tavern. I had arrived before my associate, so I ordered some mince pie and waited patiently for him. I was staring out the window when I heard a voice behind me.

“What is a handsome man like you doing, eating alone in the middle of the day?”

I turned in my seat. The voice was, in fact, directed at me. The girl couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19. She was smiling flirtatiously.

“I am awaiting a business associate, mistress. I’m afraid he is running late for our meeting.” I tried to avoid her gaze. I could feel her mentally undressing me and the thought made me quite uncomfortable.

“Well, I could keep you company then.” She moved to the empty seat beside me.

“Well, I am really meeting someone, mistress. I-” I gulped as she put a dainty hand on my thigh. I didn’t think she was a whore- not in this kind of establishment. She was plainly desperate, and I’m sure my silk coat wasn’t helping to deter her.

“I really don’t think this is behavior for a lady of your gracefulness, mistress. Perhaps it would be best if you would leave me to my business-”

At that moment, the man I was meant to be meeting with rushed into the tavern and plopped into the seat across from me. The lady removed her hand from my thigh.

“Good afternoon, your Lordship. I apologize for my tardiness,” he glanced at the girl, “Got yourself a new lady then? It’s about time,” he laughed heartily.

“No, I’m afraid. In fact, she was just leaving.”

She looked at me, clearly offended, and stormed out of the tavern angrily.

“Let’s get started, shall we?”

***

I returned from the meeting to a seemingly empty house. I let myself in and, deciding there was nothing else for me to do, decided to perhaps try and get some work done. I had a few important letters to compose and, with no social obligation in the empty house, now seemed as good a time as ever to make a dent in them.

In lieu of my own writing materials, I decided to borrow some from Jamie’s study. It was a nice space, and the walls were lined with bookshelves full of volumes from Don Quixote to Robinson Crusoe. He really had a marvelous collection.

As I perused the books, my eyes landed on a small fragment of stone that rested on the shelf. Upon a closer look, I was able to identify it as opal. There were a couple of smaller pieces surrounding it. I picked up the largest one to examine it.

“Ouch!” I dropped the opal on the floor. It was hot enough to feel as if it burned my skin, but a glance at my intact fingertips proved otherwise. Foolishly, I went to grab it again, but still felt the same burning sensation. “Bloody hell!”

“John?” I heard Jamie yell from downstairs, followed by the sound of feet coming up the steps. He rushed into the office. “What’s going on? Have ye hurt yourself?”

I hesitated, “-Well, no. I suppose I haven’t. But I thought I did. I came into your study to borrow some writing implements and well- long story short, this opal practically burned me.”

Jamie looked at me as if I were a ghost. He paled slightly, looked down at the opal on the floor, and then back at me. “Claire!”

A second later, Claire appeared at the door, medical kit in hand. “He isna hurt,” Jamie reassured her, “But the opal- it’s hot to him.”

Her expression now matched that of her husband.

“Well won’t anybody bloody tell me what’s going on? Why are you looking at me that way?”

Claire stepped forward and cupped my hand in hers. “John, the stone is only hot to travelers. Bree, Roger, Jemmy, and I all feel it’s heat.”

“But I can’t,” Jamie added.

“So you’re saying I can- travel in time? All because of a piece of opal?”

“Yes, John. Don’t you see? You can go to the future. What you were saying was impossible last night, it is in your reach now.”

I felt faint. Jamie placed his desk chair behind me and lowered me into it. If what Claire was saying was true, which it must be judging my whatever power that opal possessed, then-

“Should I go?”

Claire and Jamie looked at each other. Jamie put a hand on Claire’s arm and looked at me. “That is a decision you have to make for yourself,” he said gently, “I’ll leave you two here. If ye want to consider traveling, Claire can help prepare ye.”

After Jamie had left, Claire had me sit at the desk with her. She dipped a quill in ink and wrote two words at the top of a piece of parchment: “pros” and “cons.”

“I always thought that a list was a good start to make decisions. Let’s start with the cons, shall we? You tell me, and I’ll write.”

It was hard for me to believe that such a simple list was going to determine my fate. I had only just discovered that I had this ability, let alone believed it to be true. Now, I was actually considering it as an option.

“Well,” I started, “There is William to consider. He doesn’t know about time travel, so how would I explain to him where I have gone?” Claire wrote down “Willie” in the “cons” column.

“And there are my duties here, too. I am known in many circles. People will miss me, maybe even come looking for me. You and Jamie would have to lie to the authorities…” Another note was put in the “cons” column.

“Plus, I have no knowledge of the future, let alone what you told me. And I know nobody.”

“You’ll know Bree and Roger. I have their address in Boston. Bree said she would live in our old house. And I can teach you what you’ll need to know in order to find them.”

“I’ll have no money.”

“I brought some with me in case I ever had to go back. It’s yours. It will surely be enough to purchase some clothes, get a haircut, and buy passage to Boston.”

“Well, put having to get a haircut in the ‘cons’ column. I don’t like the way I look with short hair.” Claire laughed and pretended to write that in.

“Well, I’ll be myself, I suppose. And I’ll see Bree and Roger again. But I’ll miss you and Jamie, though…”

“I have an idea for a remedy to that last part. It will give me an opportunity to communicate with Bree and Roger too. So let’s put that as a ‘pro’.”

Claire, put down the quill and gave me a sincere look, “John, you don’t have to do this. Just because you were born with this gift, doesn’t mean you have to use it.”

“That’s what I thought about being ‘gay,’ as you say in the future, and I have found that it is hard to avoid something that is part of who you are.”

Claire looked surprised. “So you’re saying-”

“I’m going to go through the stones.”

Chapter Text

I came down the stairs the next morning to find Claire and Jamie hovering over the dining table, which was covered in parchments and writing implements. There was a pot of coffee and some scones on the sideboard and I moved to help myself to them.

“Good morning John,” greeted Jamie, “So, after sleeping on it, do ye still want to go?” He was straight to the point. Claire must have rubbed off on him.

The question caught me slightly off guard, but I supposed that I hadn’t really changed my mind since I had made the bold announcement the prior afternoon. “I still want to go. What’s all this?” I gestured to the mess on the table.

“This,” Claire began, “is a plan. It is useful to prepare to go to a time you are unfamiliar with. You have me to guide you, which will make things a bit smoother for you. Come, sit. We have a lot of ground to cover.”

I took a place at the table next to Claire. Jamie sat across from me, rapt in attention. He seemed fascinated by Claire’s ability to travel. This was probably the first time he had seen her plan like this- when Bree and Roger were going back, they already knew what to expect.

“The biggest obstacle is that, in the future, you are required to have several forms of identification. A Birth Certificate, Passport, Identification Card, Social Security Number- not all of these things are foreign concepts to you, but in the 20th century, they are much more difficult to falsify.”

“Well how can I get around that then?”

“Well, lucky for you, there are plenty of people who can illegally provide that for you. Roger told me that he happened to know a guy in the future who could create the proper records for Jemmy when they went back with him.”

“Sounds complicated.” Jamie said, clearly confused.

“It’s time travel. There is nothing simple about it. Now John, I made a list for you of what you need to do when you make it to the other side,” she handed me a piece of parchment, “Every step is explained thoroughly.”

I skimmed the parchment. “Purchase clothes? How am I supposed to do that when I don’t understand the money? I remember Bree told me it was different.”

Claire took out a plain sheet of parchment that was folded strangely and she pulled out green scraps of parchment and a few unfamiliar looking coins. Jamie reached for the parchment they had been wrapped in and marveled at it. Claire ignored him and focused on me.

“This is American money from the future. See,” she pointed to a face on the parchment marked “1,” “this is George Washington’s portrait. This one, with his face, is one dollar. All the other parchments marked ‘5,’ ‘10,’ ‘20,’ and ‘100’ are all that many dollars. So the one marked ‘5’ is five dollars, for example. The coins are a fraction of the dollar, which is 100 cents.” She proceeded to explain the coins to me. She then handed me another parchment that contained all of the information she had just conveyed. She snatched the folded parchment from Jamie and stuffed the money back in, as well as their instruction manual. Claire then proceeded to lick the edge of one of the folds and press it to the parchment. It stuck miraculously.

“What in the bloody hell?” Jamie was astonished. As was I.

“It’s an envelope. It has sticky glue on the edge so you don’t have to use a wax seal. You just have to lick it to make it wet. It won’t be invented until the 19th century. Unfortunately, I only have one, so your instructions will have to remain wax-sealed until you get through the stones.”
I nodded. The gravity of my decision was beginning to truly settle in. There was so much to remember.

“Claire, how are you possibly going to prepare me for everything?”

“I’m not. I’m going to prepare you for getting from Philadelphia to Boston. After that, Bree and Roger can help you. You won’t be alone.” She reached out and squeezed my hand. “Now, there’s just the matter of communication. The method I have is only one-way, unfortunately, but it is better than nothing I suppose.”

Jamie had clearly not been apprised of this plan, “You mean for us to commune with the future?”

“Yes, but all we have to do is keep diaries. I have a watertight box and some sturdy fabric to wrap them in. We will have the box buried near the stones when we- well, you know. You can dig it up when you come through the stones.”

“That seems quite...morbid...in a way,” I said, “I will have just seen you two, and then I’ll be digging up stories of your old age. I’m not sure if I can handle that.”

“You won’t have to read them until you’re ready,” Claire reassured, “I have always kicked myself for not thinking to do it when Bree left. Now, I have another chance.”

Claire was right. This was the only way for her and Jamie to inform their daughter of their lives. I agreed to the plan.

“And lastly, you will need a gemstone if you are going to travel,” Jamie said, “Do ye have the sapphire I gave ye?”

As a matter of fact, I did. I always traveled with it, but it was a bit embarrassing to admit that to Jamie. “I do, I like to bring it with me when I travel for...safe keeping.”

“Then you’re all settled then, aye?”

“I suppose so...but I wish I could say goodbye to William.”

Claire pushed a piece of parchment to me. “We will make sure he gets your letter. And Jamie and I will keep in touch with him and write about it in the diaries. We promise.”

Chapter Text

I rummaged through the contents of the trunk in my chambers. Claire had told me to “pack anything that would be useful,” but I had no Earthly clue as to what constituted utilitarianism in this context. I re-read the list of steps to find Bree and Roger, but most of it was practically a foreign language. Trains? Cabs? And I completely gave up when it came to interpreting the list of items I needed to purchase upon arrival so that I could “fit in.”

There was a brief rap on the door and Jamie poked his head in. “Claire sent me to help ye.” I beckoned him in.

“I’m not sure what you can help me with, to be honest. I’m not even sure where to start.” Jamie glanced at the open trunk before me and shook his head lightly. “Let Claire help ye with that in the morning. Although, I s’pose she has told me enough that I could be of some help understanding that list.”

“Be my guest,” I said, handing him the parchment. He adjusted his glasses and read it carefully, “Do you have any clue what a train is? Or a taxi cab?”

Jamie smiled, “As a matter of fact, I do ken a bit. I was always interested in the forms of transportation that Claire would tell me about. You see, there are wagons in the future called automobiles,” his face lit up the way that Bree’s did whenever she had come up with an invention, “These automobiles dinna require horses! They move on their own with something called an engine, all the driver needs to do is control it. Claire told me once that a taxi cab is just an automobile with a driver.”

I must have appeared as dumbfounded as I felt, because Jamie raised an eyebrow.

“If ye think an automobile is crazy, wait until I tell ye about airplanes.”

He spent a solid hour or so explaining everything Claire had told him about the transportation technology of the future. As I listened to Jamie rave about the magic of “air travel,” I couldn’t help but think about how primitive the 18th century must have seemed to Claire when she first came through the stones. It must have been just as jarring for her as it would be for me.

“So you’re saying that you could travel from the North of England to the South in half a day?”

“Aye, even less time on a train or an airplane.”

“I suppose I’ll believe it when I see it then,” all of this talk of the future was making my head spin, “Care for a game of chess, Jamie?” I needed something to settle my nerves.

He nodded, a faint smile on his lips. “Aye, I would like that very much.”

Neither of us acknowledged that it would be our last game. I was content to wait until my departure to say goodbye to the Frasers, but the lump in my throat continued to grow thicker by the hour.

“Check mate.” I said softly as I, once again, defeated Jamie. He reached onto the board and grabbed his King.

“Keep this with ye, John. King’s to you.” It was a piece from the chess set I had given him back at the Ridge.

“King’s to me? What does that mean?” The piece was like a weight in my hand.

“It’s from a book in the future called “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Claire told me the story of it a while ago, I only wish I could read it myself. There’s these two friends and, well I don’t know, the chess piece is a symbol of their friendship- ‘King of the moment’ is what they’d say. Although I probably should mention that one betrays the other, it is the whole point of the story actually…”

“Well, whoever these friends are, they’ve got nothing on us. I trust you with my life. Thank you, Jamie.” I squeezed the piece in my hand.

Jamie sniffled slightly, “Aye, of course John. You’ve got a big day tomorrow, aye? Best get yer rest.” He stood to leave, but hesitated, turning back around. I was suddenly enveloped in a tight hug, which I reciprocated.

After a few moments, Jamie pulled away. “Well, goodnight then.”

The chess piece was still in my grasp. I placed it into a secure compartment in the small satchel Claire had given to me for packing. This time tomorrow, I would be in 1977.

Sleep was going to be a stranger tonight.

Chapter Text

I only slept for a couple of hours, but when I woke, the satchel at the foot of the bed was packed. Claire must have come in at some point in the night. It contained the lists she had made for me, the envelope of money, the chess piece, and a couple of letters from Jamie and Claire to Bree and Roger. There was some extra room for the diaries I would have to transport, as well as a small spade to dig them up with. I also noticed that Claire had packed me some snacks for the journey. The trip to the stones wasn’t more than half a day’s ride, but I would probably spend most of the day traveling once I got through the stones.

It was about an hour before sunrise now. We were set to depart in about an hour or so. I heard some movement downstairs, presumably Claire and Jamie, and decided to get myself ready and go down there.

Claire turned around as I entered the dining room. Breakfast was set out on the table, but she stopped me before I could sit.

“You probably shouldn’t eat until you’re through the stones. The trip through is a bit nauseating.”

I nodded, not sure what to say. It was a bit awkward, to say the least.

“So I was thinking,” Claire continued, “That perhaps you should get going a bit earlier? You don’t want to arrive in Boston too late. Oh and also, I forgot to tell you, just so that you’re not thrown off-”

“Claire,” I stopped her, “I’m going to be thrown off no matter how much you try to prepare me. I’ll make it to Boston, even if I have to ask everyone I meet for help. I’ll make it.”

The worry in her face eased slightly. She turned to Jamie, “We should get going.” He nodded in response.

“Are ye ready?” He asked me.

“Hell no, but I don’t think I will be anytime soon.”

………

The ride was mostly silent. Nobody wanted to say goodbye too soon, but there wasn’t much else to say. The sun rose as we rode, reaching about a third of the way across the sky by the time we arrived at the stone circle. I had yet to see one close up, let alone hear one. There was a buzzing noise like a swarm of bees trying to swallow me whole. I dismounted my horse.

I could feel the center stone beckoning me. I turned to my friends.

“Well- this is it I suppose. Where are you going to bury the box?”

Claire looked around and settled on a spot to the right of the center stone. I approached her and pulled her into a hug.

“Take care, John. And give this to our daughter.” She kissed me on the cheek.

Jamie was standing off to the side. There were a few tears on his cheeks. I beckoned him with a jerk of my head. He embraced me. “You have been my most treasured friend. And a worthy chess opponent. Christ, I’m gonna miss ye, Lord John William Grey.” He pressed the sapphire into my hand, “Now, ye canna keep the universe waiting.”

I smiled as the tears burned my eyes. I took a moment to look at their faces, memorizing every last detail. Claire’s smile, Jamie’s blue eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye, so instead I settled with a sincere “Thank you.” They were holding each other now, as if they needed the support of the other to stay standing. I was feeling similarly as I approached the stone. The buzzing was overwhelming now.

As I reached out to touch it, I took one last look at my friends. And then, they were gone.

….

July 1977
Philadelphia

It felt as if every inch of my body had been taken apart and put back together again. Claire had been right about the nausea- I felt as I did when I was a boy jumping from cliffs into the water. Every muscle in my body ached as I sat up.

I peeked through my eyelids, expecting to see, well I wasn’t sure exactly. Just something...different. There were certainly fewer trees, that was to be sure. And the dirt path that had been a few hundred paces from the stones appeared to be made of some sort of dark stone.

After recovering from the sick feeling in my stomach, I opened the satchel and retrieved the spade. I started digging where Claire had pointed- 200 years before, assuming I was in the correct time. It was definitely different, which was a good sign.

Claire and Jamie had kept their promise. After an hour or so of digging, I found the small box. I supposed that they had to have buried it deep to avoid someone digging it up before me.

The box, which had appeared new the last time I’d seen it, was now stained with age. I could barely get the lid open since the hinges were so rusted. It had evidently been as water-tight as Claire had promised- the diaries looked as if they had been untouched.

I wrapped them back in the wool and placed them gently in my satchel. I couldn’t bring myself to read them yet. They were small journals, but there was an abundance of them. I was glad to see that they had had the time to fill so many volumes. I could barely fit them in the satchel.

I pulled out Claire’s list and read the first step.

Walk east until you find a road. It will be paved with a hard, black material called asphalt. This is where you will be able to find a ride into the city. Walk along the road towards the city (which you already know where that is) and stick your arm out into the road with your thumb pointing upward. This will alert driver’s that you want them to provide you with transportation. Just tell them to drop you off near the train station.

Well, that seemed easy enough. The road was conveniently right where it had been 200 years prior. I made my way down to the road. The material felt strange under my feet. It was oddly smooth and the heat of the summer radiated off of it. I followed Claire’s instructions and stuck my thumb out into the road. It felt a bit ridiculous, but I had no other way of figuring out how to get anywhere.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I heard a small rumbling coming from behind me. I turned around to see what, based on Jamie’s description, must have been an automobile. Jamie hadn’t done it justice. I was coming towards me at an alarming speed, and it was colored with the brightest red pigment I had ever seen.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as the automobile slowed to a stop. The driver reached over and popped open the door to the seat next to him.

“Hey, you heading into Philly?”

“Um, y-yes. I am.”

“Well what are you waiting for, dude, hop in.”

Dude? I decided it was best not to question him. I awkwardly sat in the seat and pulled the door shut. I was sweating profusely, but it wasn’t from the heat. In fact, there was a stream of cool air coming from somewhere within the automobile.

The driver pulled away from the edge of the road, and suddenly I was moving faster than I had in my entire life. I was grateful that the man next to me wasn’t looking at my face. I must have looked crazy to him.

He looked to be in his early twenties, with hair that was cut to be about chin-length. His appearance, although different than what I was used to, was nothing compared to his attire. His breeches went down to his ankles and were made of an odd blue material. They were tight around the thighs, but flared out at the bottoms. His shirt was patterned with vertical green stripes and looked as though it were much too small for him.

“So, what’s your name dude? Mine’s Tyler, but most people just call me Ty.”

“Well, Ty. It’s nice to meet you. I’m John.” It felt strange to give him my first name, but I decided it was best to just try to mimic him as much as I could. I wasn’t sure what to be more flustered about- the speed at which we were moving or the conversation that Ty seemed to want to have.

“So you’re a Brit! Nice dude, guys with accents get all the hot chicks.”

I knew he wasn’t talking about baby chickens. Based on his attitude, I assumed that “chick” must be another word for woman? Again, I didn’t ask any questions.

“So, what’s with the old fashioned clothes? You look like you just stepped out of my history textbook.”

“Well, I had to wear them for- uh,”

“A reenactment?”

I had no clue what that was, but I confirmed his theory,

“So what kind of music do you listen to? I have a Zeppelin tape if you want.”

I remembered Brianna had mentioned a group of musicians by that name before, and how there was a way to hear what they sounded like without them being there. She had been telling us all how much we would hate it. But if listening to music meant not having to navigate this conversation anymore, I was all for it.

“Sure, let’s listen to that then.”

I wished I had said no as soon as the first note rang through the small interior of the automobile. It wasn’t like any music I had ever heard. Bree was right, it was awful to someone who wasn’t used to it. It was like being hit with a wall of sound.

But it did make Ty stop interrogating me, which was a fair trade off.

Before an hour had passed, we were approaching what must have been Philadelphia, except the buildings were dozens of stories high. It took fiber of my being to not gasp, as doing so would probably arouse suspicion in the young man next to me. Claire had drawn what she had called “skyscrapers” before, but I never realized the sheer enormity of them. There were more automobiles on the road now. They all looked different, which I hadn’t expected. As we drove into the city, Ty spoke up again.

“Where to, dude?”

“I’m not sure exactly. I’ve never been here. Do you know where I could purchase some clothes? I uh- lost the ones I had been wearing.”

Ty didn’t seem to detect my lie and thankfully didn’t inquire as to how I misplaced my clothes.

“No worries dude, I have some you can have. They’re right in the backseat. He reached back to grab them, causing the automobile to swerve, but quickly restored the trajectory.

“Thank you, I’ll uh, put them on at the train station.”

“That’s right by where I’m headed! I’ll drop you off.”

After about 10 more minutes of driving through busy, automobile-filled streets, we finally arrived at the station. I pulled the handle to open the door and stepped out, grateful to be stationary.

“Thank you for the transportation, Ty. And the clothes too.”

“No problem dude! Have fun in Philly.” He sped off.

I found a bench and inspected the list again. Ty had given me a blue blouse and a pair of those strange blue breeches. I observed the people bustling around me and decided that they would do for now. The breeches would disguise the length of my socks and my shoes didn’t seem to matter much.

I ventured inside the station to find a place to change. Claire’s list said that if I needed to relieve myself or change, I could follow the signs in the station that said “Restroom.” I looked around, and it wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for. I was grateful for the thoroughness of the list. I went through the door labeled “Men’s Restroom.”

Claire had warned me about the advancements in technology revolving around doing one’s business and the general uses of indoor plumbing, but I was still shocked as I entered the small compartment that contained what Claire had called a “toilet.” It seemed pretty straightforward to use, and I decided that now was as good a time as ever to give it a try.

There was a sign on the wall reminding the user of the toilet to “flush,” so I pulled the handle down like the man in the illustration was doing. The toilet made a surprisingly loud noise and suddenly, the water was clean again. I made a mental note to ask Brianna how in the bloody hell that worked.

I changed into the clothes Ty had gifted me. The blouse was quite comfortable, but the breeches were hellish. For one, they were fastened with a strange metal contraption that took me embarrassingly long to figure out. Plus, they rubbed my crotch in a way that was severely unpleasant. How did men in 1970 bear this?

I stuffed my old clothes into the satchel, careful to not disturb the diaries. I noted that the other men in the washroom were using the spigots on the walls to rinse and soap their hands, so I followed suit.

I retrieved the list after exiting the restroom. Thanks to Ty, I had already finished the second step.

3) Purchase a train ticket to Boston, find your train, and board it. The ticket booths are generally along the walls in most stations and are labelled “Tickets.” Ask the person who sells the ticket to tell you which platform the train is on and what time you need to be there (there should be a large clock somewhere in the room). Then, just follow the signs for the platforms. If you get lost, ask someone who looks like they work there for help. They generally wear uniforms.

 

Well, that seemed like a more difficult task. I scanned the walls of the room until I saw the sign Claire had mentioned. I hadn’t really had much of a chance to look around and had missed the fact that the light in the room was not that of candles. Claire had failed to apprise me of this technology. I added it to the mental list of questions.

I found that the only way to keep my bearings was to not think too hard about my surroundings, for if I did, I would surely be overwhelmed. Everything was noisy and bright, and there were just so many people. I was used to the bustle of a city in the 18th century, but now the sheer density made me feel like a salmon in a river.

I made my way to the ticket vendor. He wore a clean cut uniform and spoke in a commanding tone, almost as if he was in the military.

“Next.”

I felt a little less nervous about talking to this man than I had been with Ty. Something about his general demeanor felt much more familiar to me.

“I require a ticket to Boston please.”

“North Station or South Station?”

I had no idea which one to say, but there was a 50/50 chance that I’d say the correct one.

“Um, North I suppose.”

“That will be 9 dollars a 55 cents.” I handed the man the parchment marked “10” and he gave me some coins.

I hastily tried to remember the questions that Claire had told me to ask.

“Um, sir, would you mind telling me-”

“The train is boarding on platform three and departs in 15 minutes. Straight down Hall A and go up the stairs marked three.” Clearly, I wasn’t the first confused traveler he had encountered.

I thanked him and made my way quickly to the platform, trying to ignore the unfamiliar distractions around me. I found the stairwell to the platform easily, thanks to the vendor.

Jamie had done a better job explaining the train than he had the automobile. It was just a series of long rectangles with windows. Compared to the other things I had seen today, it was lower on the list of things that made my head spin.

Another uniformed man called out to me. “Do you have your ticket, sir?” The lad smiled politely and beckoned me over.

“Oh yes, this is the train to Boston right?”

“Yes sir!” He was quite a chipper lad, but not annoyingly so, “Boston is the last stop.”

The lad took my ticket and, using a handheld metal contraption, cut a whole in the part of the ticket labelled “Boston.” I was promptly ushered onto the train and told to “sit anywhere I fancied.” I chose a seat next to a window.

A sudden voice rang through the train, startling me. “Attention passengers: this is the train to Boston, making stops in New York City and New Haven. We will arrive in Boston in approximately 6 hours and 30 minutes .”

There was a collective groan from the other passengers. Did six-and-a-half hours sound long to them? I was finding it hard to contain my excitement. A trip like that in my time could easily take a month.

After a couple minutes, the train began to rumble and slowly began to inch forward. As it pulled out of the station, the slow crawl became a brisk, yet comfortable, pace. I felt much more secure than I had in the automobile.

The train rocked back and forth slowly, reminding me of a ship on calm seas. My eyelids began to feel heavy- I was completely exhausted, both mentally and physically. I closed my eyes and imagined I was aboard a familiar ship and was lulled into sleep.

Chapter Text

I was woken abruptly by the loud voice echoing through the train again. I had jumped awake and whacked my head on the window.

“This stop is New York. The next stop is New Haven.”

I was still recovering from my surprise when I heard a voice next to me.

“The intercom gets me every time too.”

I blinked my groggy eyes into focus and realized that there was a man sitting next to me now. My first thought was that he was extremely handsome- he had fair hair that was cropped relatively short, but it was long enough to frame his face nicely. His eyes were a familiar blue and his skin was slightly tanned. He had a lean, yet muscular frame and I could tell he was quite tall, even sitting down. He appeared to be quite young, but something about him made me feel like he was probably in his mid-thirties.

“Are you okay? You hit your head kind of hard just then.”

“Oh, um yes. I’m okay. Thank you for the concern. Might I just ask, though, how long have you been sitting there?”

“I just got on in New York, actually. You woke up right after I sat down. The name’s Graham, by the way.” He stuck out his hand for me to shake.

“John. Nice to meet you.” He smiled, and I couldn’t help but smile back. His grin was radiant in a way that felt contagious.

“So what’s bringing you to Boston? Aside from the train, of course.” I chuckled at his joke.

“I’m planning to move in with some close family friends. I’m new to America, so I figured that it would be best to get to know the country a bit before giving it a go on my own.” It wasn’t a complete lie, I supposed. Graham seemed to accept the narrative.

“Ah, gotcha. Yeah the states can be kind of hard to navigate. Everything is so big here. My dad is from Poland, so I used to spend a lot of time there when I was little. You don’t realize how new and flashy everything is here in the states until you venture somewhere that’s truly old.”

I was unfamiliar with “Poland,” but he certainly appeared to have European blood.

“Where in England are you from?”

“Oh, um- I’m from London. Although my occupation required me to travel a lot.” I was worried that I was starting to share too much information and was beginning to risk being caught in a lie, but I couldn’t help but be friendly with Graham.

“What do you do?”

“Well, I was in the military. Although I took leave recently and now I suppose I haven’t much to do. I was hoping my friends in Boston could help me out, actually.”

“Well, I think you have come to the right place. There are plenty of places to work in Boston, and plenty of places to access education too. I actually just started as a professor at Harvard myself.”

Harvard? Roger had mentioned trying to find a position there upon returning to this time. I wondered-

“You wouldn’t happen to know a Professor Roger MacKenize Wakefeild, would you?”

Graham's face lit up in recognition. “Well, this really is a small world, isn’t it? Roger works in the history department. My concentration European Literature and Folklore myself, so I’m kind of split between his department, the English department, and the anthropology department.”

“Sounds like you have a wide-array of expertises, then,” I was trying not to flirt with Graham, but it was kind of hard to help, “Roger and his wife Brianna are my aforementioned friends.”

“No way! Well I might see you around then. The MacKenzies host a lot of the holiday parties for the Harvard faculty.”

The idea of seeing Graham again made my heart beat a little faster. I had never been one to believe in fate, but going through the stones made me question the inner-workings of the universe.

We talked for a bit, but as the sun began to go down outside, the train became a bit quieter. Graham pulled a book out of his bag and opened it a page he had marked. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the cover.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” was displayed in large red letters across the cover. The universe was just teasing me now.

Graham noticed my staring at the cover and chuckled lightly, “Have you read it?” He asked in a hushed tone as to not disturb the other passengers.

“No, although I had a close friend back home who enjoyed the story. He said that he and I were like the friends in it- except for the betrayal part.”

“Well, your friend has good taste.”

Before I could stop myself, I corrected him, “Had. He passed away a long time ago.” Although, I had seen him not 10 hours ago, I thought.

Graham gave me a sympathetic look, “Well, he had good taste then. This one is a classic. Love, betrayal, revenge- it has all the best parts of a good adventure without being run-of-the-mill. Have you ever thought of reading it yourself?”

“Not until recently,” I said simply. Graham nodded and opened the book again. We had made it to New Haven now and several passengers got up off the train.

“Do you want me to move, now that there are more seats?” Graham asked.

“You can stay if you’d like,” I said, “I quite like the company.”

The next couple hours of the ride were fairly quiet. It was dark outside now, and many of the passengers were reading or sleeping. I noticed that Graham had out his book back in his bag and was now leaning back with his eyes closed. I could hear in his breathing that he had fallen asleep. His long eyelashes rested on his cheeks and his lips were parted slightly.

The train lurched slightly, causing Graham to lean over onto my shoulder. He didn’t wake up, and despite my sudden urge to panic, I couldn’t bring myself to bother him. He was too peaceful looking. I glanced around the train. Nobody had seemed to notice- or perhaps they just didn’t care.

But what if Graham woke up and was bothered that I’d let him rest on me? I remembered what Claire I had told me about public affection between men still being taboo in this time, and it may not look like this was an accident to the other passengers. But there was probably only about 15 minutes left before we reached the station, so would it really do that much harm to let him nap a little longer?

I leaned my head forward slightly to get a look at his face. He was sleeping deeply and drooling slightly onto my shirt. Had it been anyone else on the train, I probably would have been repulsed.

As predicted, the train soon came to a stop. The “intercom,” as Graham had called it, announced our arrival. Graham surprisingly slept through it despite the loud volume. I nudged him slightly on the shoulder.

“Graham, wake up,” I said softly, “We’re here.”

His eyes opened slowly and there was a moment of distinct realization before he shot upward into this seat.

“Oh my goodness, John, I’m sorry. You could have woken me up,” he seemed slightly embarrassed, but not mad, “Did-,” he looked at my shirt, “Did I drool on you?” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Yes, a little,” I chuckled reassuringly, “but it’s okay. I didn’t mind. You seemed tired.”

“Yes, I must have been seeing as I fell asleep on you like that. It’s just, most men would be offended were they in your position.”

“Well, I suppose I’m not like most men then.” I realized how that might sound to Graham, but I figured that trying to cover it up might just make things worse. If he was offended that I was gay, then so be it- it was 1977 now.

To my surprise, he smiled. He didn’t say anything more on the subject, but rather got up and picked up both of our bags, “Are you coming? Or are you planning to stay here all night?”

I got up and stretched my legs. It felt nice to stand after being confined for so long. I followed Graham off the train and into the station.

“Do you know where you’re headed?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, the address is in my bag, which you have custody of at the moment.”

Graham laughed and set in on the ground. As I was rifling through the contents to find the parchment I heard him speak above me.

“That thing is heavier than it looks. What do you have in there, bricks?”

I looked up, “Yes,” I teased. “Aha!” I stood up with the slip of parchment in-hand. “211 Furey Street.”

“Well, let’s get you a cab then.” Graham led me out to the front of the station where a series of yellow automobiles waited. He opened the door of one and motioned me to get in with a grandiose flourish of his arm. I ducked in and he leaned into the cab, handing me a slip of parchment. “Call me if you need a friend, yeah?” He turned to the driver, “211 Furey Street,” he announced before closing the door. He waved as the cab pulled away.

I looked at the parchment he had given me. It was the same material as Claire’s envelope.

“Graham Nowak: (617)- 857- 9083”

I had no idea what the series of numbers was, but I made sure to put it in a safe place. I would ask Bree at some point.

Bree. I was about to see her. The pleasant haze that I was left with after my time with Graham dissipated into excited panic. How would she react to seeing me on her doorstep? I might very well give her an apoplexy.

“211 Furey Street. That’ll be four dollars.” We had arrived. I handed the driver a five and exited the cab. He sped off behind me.

I stared at the door for a moment. The house was nice looking, with flowers in the windowsills and a large wooden door. There was light in the windows, indicating that they were still awake- thank goodness. I walked up the steps slowly and approached the door. Taking a deep breath, I knocked.

I could hear the footsteps approaching the door. It opened to reveal Brianna.

“Hello, old friend,” I greeted.

Chapter Text

Brianna froze. It was clear that she had heard me, but she was understandably taken off-guard by my sudden appearance on her doorstep.

“Bree? It’s really me, and good heavens, it’s really you too.” I smiled and felt a tear roll down my cheek. She moved to wipe it from my face. Upon touching my skin, her breath (which she had apparently been holding) hitched slightly. She grinned widely and launched herself into my arms.

I was quite surprised at the embrace, but it felt right given the circumstances. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed back to look at me face to face.

“Oh, my god!” She said excitedly, but then the expression on her face shifted, brow furrowed, “Oh, my god!” She said it again, but this time it was less pleasant. She stepped back and slapped my arm roughly. “What the hell are you doing here? Why-what do you need to tell me?”

I looked at her in calm understanding, “Your parents are safe. Claire asked me to give you this.” I gave her a kiss on the cheek. Her concern melted into relief and she hugged me again briefly and pulled me into the house.

“Let me go get Roger-”

“Wait Bree,” she turned and stopped, “I just- I just wanted to say that it is extremely good to see you.”

She tilted her head slightly and looked me in the eyes, “You have no idea how thrilled I am that you’re here. Confused and in disbelief, but thrilled.” She pecked me on the cheek before turning around and running up the stairs.

Roger appeared a few moments later with Bree in tow.

“Brianna, you know I love you very much, but it’s hard to feel that way when you wake me up in the middle of the night to-” his reaction to seeing me was identical to his wife’s. “John?.”

He reached out his hand and I shook it, pulling him into a brief hug and giving him a pat on his shoulder.

“I didn’t ken you could go through the stones- when- or how-”

I stopped him before he could start the endless stream of questions, “I would love to inform you of my travels, but there’s something I need to show you first.” I was referring to the books, which were still strapped like weights to my shoulders.

I followed them into what I could only assume was the kitchen. I decided to refrain from asking about the strange objects lining the walls and instead just focus on the task at hand. I opened the satchel and pulled out the precious cargo.

“They’re diaries, from your parents. They buried them by the stones for me to find when I came through. I have no idea what the contents are- I haven’t yet brought myself to read them. Also,” I pulled out the letters, “These are for you, Bree, one from Claire and one from Jamie. They miss you dearly. We all do.”

Bree’s eyes were teary and she clutched the letters to her chest. Roger had been quietly inspecting the diaries, but he hadn’t opened them yet.

“You need not read them until you’re ready. Heaven knows that I won’t be able to for quite some time.” Roger nodded slowly and wrapped an arm around his wife. “I know this is overwhelming, I mean today has been a shock to me too. Perhaps, it would be best to retire and reconvene in the morning?”

Bree nodded, smiling slightly, "Yes, of course. I’ll show you up to the guest room.”

I followed her up the stairs. I didn’t think any of us had quite settled into the realization of the day’s events. I set my stuff down on the chair in the guest chambers and Bree exited the room, returning with a bundle of things in her arms.

“Here, you can have some of Roger’s things for now. We’ll get you some more clothes and such tomorrow.” She handed the bundle to me. There was a cotton shirt, as well as a pair of loose breeches for me to sleep in.

“Thank you, Bree.”

“I still can’t believe you're here. This all feels like a dream, but I know it can’t be-”

“Get some sleep, my dear. Perhaps things will seem less surreal in the morning.” I couldn’t tell if I was trying to reassure her or myself.

She gave me one last squeeze on the shoulder before exiting the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

I changed into the clothes she had given me, grateful to take off those awful blue breeches, and climbed into the bed. The mattress was the softest I’d ever felt and I melted into it. I didn’t have the energy to process the day’s events, nor could I think about the fact that I was under the same roof as Bree and Roger.

Sleep took me without another thought.

Chapter Text

“JOHN JOHN JOHN wake up wake up!”

Before I could open my eyes, a weight landed heavily on my stomach, knocking in the wind out of me.

“Omph!” I peeked through my eyelids to see Jemmy straddled around my mid-section, only to be pulled off abruptly by Roger. His small legs flailed in retaliation.

“No, Daddy! I wanna see John! Let me gooooo,” he wriggled out of his father’s grasp and pounced on me again.

Roger gave me an apologetic look, but despite the forceful nature of his greeting, I couldn’t have been happier to see Jemmy. He was quite a bit bigger than when I had least seen him. He was seven now, and he certainly seemed to have inherited his mother and grandfather’s stubborn nature.

I sat up and hugged him tightly. He buried his face in my neck and let out an excited squeak. Roger rolled his eyes and laughed, “Oh, so you are happy to snuggle John but not me and Mommy?” Jemmy nodded in affirmation. It reminded me of Willie at that age- they either want to cuddle or run away from you, no in-between.

“It’s good to see you again, lad.” I gave him one last squeeze and tickled him, causing him to release his grasp just long enough for me to get up out of the bed. I could smell breakfast being cooked in the kitchen and was eager to get downstairs.

Roger had placed another bundle of clothes on the bed. “Bree took today and tomorrow off of work, so she’ll take you shopping for your own clothes soon. For now, I hope mine will do. I also brought you some personal care supplies.” he held up a small red container and popped the top off, “Rub this in your under-arms, and these,” he pointed to more objects on the bed, “are for cleaning your teeth.” I nodded as he scooped a disgruntled Jemmy up and exited.

After making the bed, I changed intp Roger’s clothes. He had given me a pair of breeches that were looser than the ones from yesterday. They were a beige material and actually seemed like they would be quite comfortable. There was a smaller pair of cropped breeches on the bed. Claire’s list had included something called “boxers” that were meant to go beneath breeches for cleanliness. I slid those on, grateful for a barrier between my groin and the metal contraption on the breeches. The blouse was similar to the one that Ty had given me, except the buttons only went a few inches down from the collar.

“The clothes in this time sure are strange.” I stated to myself. I remembered the red object on the bed- for my under-arms apparently- and rubbed it on. It smelled nice, so I looked at the strange container to identify the unfamiliar scent. “Old spice antiperspirant? Huh, I suppose sweating is frowned upon in 1977- peculiar indeed.”

The teeth cleaning seemed pretty self-explanatory. The biggest challenge was removing the brush from the package. I had never encountered such a material, but it seemed to be fairly common in this time. Once the brush was finally free, I squeezed the gooey substance onto it and rubbed it over my teeth. I had done this before, but never with such implements. It tasted strongly of mint and I rinsed the taste from my mouth with water from the spigot.

Brianna was serving breakfast when I came downstairs. She pulled a chair out for me and gave me a squeeze on the shoulder as I sat. “Are you ready to become a 20th century man? I have so many plans for you! I’ve already set up an appointment for you with the barber, and I want to teach you how to use the phone, and take you shopping, and show you how the kitchen appliances work, and records too, and-”

Roger stopped her, “Bree, if you show him all of that in one day, he’ll be running back through the stones by week’s end.”

Bree sighed, “Okay, fine. Just the necessities then- clothes, barber shop, and the telephone. And I’ll show you the shower too I suppose.”

Roger stood up and gave Bree a peck on the lips. “Good plan. Now, I have to get to work early. I’ve got a meeting with professor Nowak regarding the curriculum. I’ll be back this evening,” he gave Jemmy a squeeze.

I went still at the mention of Graham- he had slipped my mind after I had been reunited with Bree and Roger. Bree must have noticed my reaction because she gave me a quizzical glance.

“Are you alright? You seem surprised.”

I nodded and relaxed a bit, “Yes, I’m just fine. I just happened to have met Graham- or Professor Nowak- on the train yesterday. I quite enjoyed spending time with him and well-” Bree raised her eyebrows and sipped her coffee, clearly sensing my fancy for Graham, “he gave me something.”

“Oh?” Bree was clearly intrigued. She leaned in as if I were giving her the latest gossip.

“Just a slip of parchment with a bunch of numbers on it. He said to ‘call’ him, whatever that means.”

Bree’s face lit up and she grabbed my shoulders. “He gave you his number! That probably means he likes you. Plus, I happen to know that he’s gay. He brought a date to last year’s faculty Christmas party.”

“Well, I suppose I kind of picked up on him maybe liking me. I wasn’t sure though. But what do the numbers mean though?”

“It’s for the telephone. It’s a way to talk to a person without having to be in the same place as them. You still have the paper, right?”

“It’s in my bag.” The idea of talking to Graham again made my stomach flutter, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of him or the idea of having to use a “telephone.”

“Good. Now, modern dating- or courting as you would call it- is a complicated business. You can’t call him for a couple days. But that’s good because it gives me time to desensitize you to the 20th century a bit before you go out into the world with Graham.”

Bree gulped down the rest of her coffee and cleared the dishes from the table. As she rinsed them off in the basin below the water spigot, she called up to Jemmy. He had been getting ready to go to something called “summer camp.”

“We have to drop Jem off before we get your haircut. You can wear the shoes you came in- we’ll get you a new pair while we’re out today.”

I followed Bree outside into the summer air. The sudden heat was strange. I had gotten used to the cool air inside the house. “Get in the car, baby,” Bree said to Jemmy, “you don’t want to be late to camp, do you?” The boy shook his head and climbed into the backseat.

“So ‘car’ means ‘automobile’?” I asked Bree once I was in the seat beside her.

“Yes. I’m planning on labelling things around the house so that you know what to call them. Consider this your first of many lessons.”

“You’re getting too much enjoyment out of my ignorance,” I laughed. I appreciated Bree for putting aside not only her weekend, but also two of her work days to help me get acclimated. After the trials of yesterday, I wasn’t sure that I could do it without help.

Bree turned a knob in the car, causing music to play. Out of curiosity, I asked her how it worked.

“Well, these songs are pre-recorded, which basically means that the musicians played it once for a machine that essentially writes down the sound onto something called a ‘tape.’ Once you have one tape, you can reproduce it using the first one. The way the radio in the car works- that’s what’s playing the music- is a bit complex. But you don’t need to know anything except that the music is played on various radio ‘stations.’”

I only slightly understood Bree’s explanation, but it didn’t quite seem like information I would need to be able to recall later. I decided to just try and enjoy the music without worrying about its origin. The singer was singing about a “honky cat” and, despite having no idea what that was, I quite liked it.

“Do you know who this is who’s singing? I like this song. Much better than that Zeppelin person’s music anyway.”

“When did you hear Zeppelin?” Bree asked excitedly.

“On the ride to the train station. Some guy named Ty picked me up on the side of the road. He was an odd young man. He referred to me as ‘dude’.”

“Sounds like he may have been what we in 1977 call a ‘hippie,’ although it’s strange that he liked Zeppelin, in that case.”

“What is a ‘hippie’?”

“Well, at this point, it’s mostly just someone who does a lot of drugs. But back during the Vietnam War, hippies were people who wanted to end all violence.”

“I see...I have a lot of history to learn, don’t I?”

“You do, but I can show you where you can get books to learn about it. Oh, and this singer you like, his name is Elton John. I have more recordings of his music at home that you can listen to if you want.”

We finally arrived at Jemmy’s camp, which appeared to be in a place called “Boston National Historic Park.” It resembled the promenade gardens that I knew from London back in my time. Jemmy got out of the car and ran to a group of children. Bree chased him to give him his lunch, which was quite an amusing display. Who knew that the boy's tiny legs could move so quickly?

Bree climbed back into the driver’s seat and we were off to the barbershop. I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of getting my hair trimmed short like the men around me, but if it was necessary to fit in, I supposed it was a must.

When we arrived at the barbershop, I was presented with a book full of what Claire had called “photographs” of various men’s hairstyles to choose from. I had no idea which one to get, so I leaned over to Bree. She was the only woman in the shop, but seemed unfazed by the whistles and winks from the men around her.

“Which one of these would look the least ridiculous on me?”

She skimmed the pages of the book and landed on one that seemed appealing. “This one, it would suit you well, plus it doesn’t require a lot of upkeep. You’d just need to get a comb and maybe some gel.”

I was no stranger to hair upkeep. The powdered wigs I had had to wear at the multitude of professional events I’d been obligated to attend in my time were a pain to style. Aside from when I was married to Isobel, I had done the work myself.

Bree paid for the cut, as well as for a shave. I was whisked away to a chair while she stayed in the waiting area. The seat was positioned in front of a large looking glass. Bree had warned me in the car about the implements that modern barbers used, so I was only slightly fazed when I heard a buzzing noise on the back of my head. My long hair fell to the floor in clumps.

He kept the hair on the top of my head fairly long. It reminded me of Graham’s hairstyle. I had been hesitant to look at my reflection throughout the process, but after he was done I worked up the courage.

I hardly recognized myself at first. The position of my hair gave an entirely different illusion for the shape of my face. My jaw looked more sharp and my hairline was fuller-looking. I looked a lot younger than I had before- perhaps passing for someone in their mid-thirties.

“You like it?” The man behind me asked.

“Yes, thank you sir.” I gave him the tip as instructed by Brianna and made my way to where she was waiting for me. She looked up from her reading as I entered and her face lit up.

“Well don’t you look handsome! Wait ‘til we show Graham what a stud you are.” Some of the men in the waiting area rolled their eyes, but there were no comments. “C’mon, let’s go get you some clothes.”

….

Bree had shoved me into a dressing room with an armful of various articles of clothing. As we had been shopping, she taught me the clothing-related vocabulary necessary to fit in. “Pants” instead of “breeches,” “shirt” rather than “blouse,” as well as the various styles they came in. Despite my insistence not to, she forced me to try on a pair of “jeans.” These ones were a bit looser, thankfully, and I let Bree purchase them.

With my new wardrobe and hairdo, I looked like pretty much every other man around me. I felt like an imposter of sorts. I was tricking everyone around me into thinking I was normal. I was paranoid that at any moment, I could slip up and everyone would start asking questions.

...

We arrived back at the house around mid-day. I helped Bree make lunch in order to acquaint myself with the various objects in the kitchen. She showed me how to heat up food from the “fridge” in the “oven” and how to wash dishes in the “sink.” It was rather overwhelming. I went upstairs to put my clothes away while Bree finished up.

I tidied up the space a bit, folding Roger’s clothes and putting them on the bed to be washed and returned later. The Old Spice, as well as a shaving kit Bree had purchased for me, were now on top of the dresser. I picked up my satchel from the chair I had abandoned it on the night before. I emptied it and admired the familiar relics of only three days ago.

I sat on the bed and picked up the discarded waistcoat, holding it to my nose. Breathing deeply, I could still smell the soap that Claire had used to clean it, as well as the faint smell of smoke from the fire she had dried it by. I could feel a lump forming in the back of my throat. I remembered how I had looked in the mirror at the barbershop. I hadn’t realized that blending into this time would require me to feel like a different person. A person who uses “Old Spice,” and knows how to work an oven. A person who wears jeans and who likes Elton John.

A tear ran down my face as I looked down at the objects beside me. I reached for the chess piece. How could I be “king of the moment” if after only two days, I was already beginning to forget who I was. I clutched the piece tightly in my hands, trying to hold on to any fragment of the past that I could.

Just then, I heard the door crack open slightly. Moments later, Bree was embracing me and I was sobbing into her shoulder. I would generally have felt some shame in falling apart like this, but just like her mother, Bree was always open to discuss troubles of the mind.

“I know that this is overwhelming, John. You know how hard it was for me when I went through the stones for the first time. I went through a lot of shit, but I won’t let that happen to you, okay? You’re not alone here.”

I composed myself momentarily, “I know that, Bree. I just can’t help but think about how much has already changed.” I opened my hand to reveal the chess piece.

“That’s Da’s, isn’t it?”

“Yes, he gave it to me the night before I left. It was to remember him by, I suppose”

“John, you don’t need a chess piece or your old clothes to remember who you were. You’ll always be you, no matter what time you’re in. Think of how long Mama has been in the past for- and she’s still her modern self.”

“You’re right I just- I don’t even know at this point.”

“You’re homesick, John. Anybody would be. Hell, I know I was. Even Jemmy missed the 18th century when he came through the stones with us.”

I nodded and smiled slightly. I felt a bit better now, but the smell of my waistcoat still lingered in my nose. I placed the chess piece on the small table by the window. "Why did you come here, John? I'm thrilled to see you, but I never thought that you, of all people, would want to travel." "Your mother, she told me what it was like for men like me in this time. I couldn't stop thinking about it, I guess. When I touched the opal in your father's office- I had to come here. Claire told me a long time ago that I deserve to have a look of satisfaction on my face. This is where I can finally have that. That's why I was so wuicl to tell you about Graham. I'm going to need your help if I want things to go smoothly with him." Bree was standing in the doorway now. "I'm happy for you, John. And if you ever feel homesick or have any worries, you can come to me. Now c’mon downstairs. Let’s listen to that Elton John I promised you, shall we?"

Chapter Text

“So you just turn the handle like this until it’s a comfortable temperature, and use this soap on your hair and this one on your body. Make sense? Just yell if you need anything.”

I was about 7 o’clock in the morning and Bree was about to go help Roger make breakfast. But first, she had to teach me how to use the “shower.” It seemed fairly straightforward, although the idea of that much hot water just emerging from some unknown source was hard to take in. I couldn’t help but feel that I was wasting it as I watched it drain through the bottom of the tub.

The efficiency, however, made up for any reservations I had about the contraption. I was clean in only a few minutes. My finger’s hadn’t even had time to become pruney. I hesitantly reached for the handle to turn it off, only to accidentally scald myself with burning hot water.

“What did Bree say again? ‘Righty is tighty and lefty is loosey?’” I turned it to the right and the water miraculously stopped flowing from overhead.

I got ready for the day and headed downstairs. Roger was in charge of taking Jem to camp today, so the two were on their way out the door when I descended into the foyer. Jemmy swiveled around and hugged me tightly around the waist before running out the door to get in the car. Roger stayed back.

“Professor Nowak asked about you at our meeting yesterday- just thought you’d want to know.” He gave me a wink and followed his impatient son out the door. I stood blushing on the bottom step for a moment, but finally managed to regain my faculties and make my way into the kitchen.

“So I see that your shower went without a hitch. Was it as luxurious as my mother described it?” She took a nibble of her muffin.

“Well it was until I turned the knob the wrong way. I wouldn’t be surprised if I no longer had skin on my shoulders.”

Bree giggled and coughed slightly, reaching for her coffee to wash down the muffin that must have gotten stuck in her throat. I cocked a brow at her.

“See, that’s what you get for being amused by my pain.” I received an eye-roll in response.

“So, Roger told me all about his meeting with Graham yesterday. You seem to have made quite an impression.”

“I must have, although I wasn’t trying to. I like Graham, but at the time when I met him I wasn’t really intending to attract that kind of attention.”

Bree gave me a smile, “That’s how the best romances start. You shouldn’t *have* to try hard around Graham to make him like you.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I replied, “I guess that just after being with Isobel and never making her truly happy despite my greatest efforts, I guess I have just never been able to achieve that reaction so easily- at least not for a long time,” I added, remembering the ease in which I was able to connect with Hector.

Bree nodded in understanding and put her mug down. “You should call him today. I would generally say to wait a bit longer, but if he’s asking about you then it might be nice to show him you’re just as interested. That’s just my suggestion though.”

I had only been in this time for a few days, soI was hesitant to start such an interaction with a stranger. But I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity either.

“Can you show me how to use the telephone?”

“Yes, absolutely, but you shouldn’t call until later when you’ll know he’ll be at home. In the meantime, I want to take you to the public library. Once I go back to work, you can go there on your own and learn about what happened since your time.” I gulped down the remainder of my tea as Brianna cleaned the morning’s dishes.

When we finally made it out the door, I noticed that, rather than making her way to her car, she began to walk down the sidewalk.

“Where are we walking to?” I had no problem with walking to our destination- I had felt quite sedentary the past couple of days.

“The bus stop. I’m sure you’ll learn to drive eventually, but for now the bus will be the easiest way to get around. It’s like a taxi, but it only goes to certain stops. One of them is the library.” I followed her to the nearby bus-stop, all the while listening to her explanation of where the bus goes in the city and how I would need to make sure I had money to pay the driver with.

The bus was crowded with people, most of whom were reading newspapers- which seemed much easier to come by in this time- or simply looking out the windows. Some were engaged in quiet conversations with one another. The city rushed by outside as we made our way to our destination. We arrived after about 20 minutes, many of which were spent chatting with Bree about Graham. I was a bit nervous to speak to him again, and it was nice to be able to discuss it openly with her, especially without having to hide away out of earshot.

The Boston public library put Jamie’s collection to shame. The seemingly endless volumes took up over 3 floors worth of space. Bree guided me over to an employee, who was standing behind an impressively large desk labelled “circulation.”

“I would like to sign up for a library card for my friend here.”

The woman pulled out a small rectangular piece of paper. “Name?”

“Um- John Grey.” I stammered. She recorded my response.

“Address?”

“211 Furey Street.”

The worker placed the card into a large filing drawer beside her desk. There must have been thousands of cards just like mine in there.

“Okay sir, when you find a book you would like to borrow, bring it up here. I’ll ask for your name and I’ll give you the book with a paper inside that tells you when you need to bring it back by. I will have an identical slip here at the library. If you fail to bring it back on time, you will be charged a fee. We will send the bill to the address you gave us. You can either mail us the payment, or you can come here and pay.”

I nodded slowly and looked around at the thousands of volumes surrounding me. The notion that I could have my pick of them and read it for free was baffling.

“If your father were here, you’d never be able to persuade him to leave.”

Bree laughed beside me as we made our way to the section labelled “U.S. History”.

“Now, I think that it might be best to go in order history-wise, although there are a few key subjects you should know about immediately. These would be topics like World War II and Vietnam, for example, and the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Suffrage. So let’s start there, and after you’re done with that, we’ll jump back to the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution.

By the time we were finished combing through the shelves, Bree had filled my arms to capacity with books. The task of reading them all seemed daunting, but I was excited to start digging into them- to see just how the world I knew less than a week ago became the world I was in now.

The woman at the circulation desk seemed surprised at my selection, but she made no comment. I imagined she had probably seen people take out all kinds of strange assortments of reading material. All I could think about as she passed them over the desk to me was about how I was looking forward to bringing them back and checking out even more.

Bree and I split the armload to make the walk from the bus-station back to her house more feasible. By the time we made it into the house, I was sweating quite profusely. I plopped the books onto the kitchen table and Bree handed me a glass of water. I began to open the first book when Bree reached over and placid her hand on the cover.

“You, my friend, have a phone call to prepare for. History can wait.”

Chapter Text

I had initially been surprised that Bree had thought I would need half a day to figure out how to use the telephone. I had been pretty capable of following her directions thus far, so how hard could it be to use the strange contraption on the table in the living room.

By 5 o’clock, I was grateful that Bree had set aside the time. Granted, we had taken a couple of breaks here and there- it was a frustrating process- but I was beginning to manage. Bree was currently in Roger’s office upstairs, waiting for me to call her. I had gotten the hang of dialing the numbers, but hearing another person’s disembodied voice through the “receiver” was still off-putting.

“You have to get used to it, John,” Bree had said earlier, “You’re already nervous to talk to Graham, so being freaked out by hearing his voice will only make it harder. C’mon, you listen to the radio with me, what’s the difference?”

“The radio doesn’t expect me to talk back.” I had replied flatly.

I finally finished dialing the number of the office phone, which Bree had written down for me. Bree picked up immediately.

“Hello?”

“Hello, this is John Grey,” I felt foolish reciting Bree’s script, “May I speak to Brianna?”

“This is she.”

“Can you please just come downstairs? This is extremely uncomfortable. I need to see you when you talk to me.”

“You can’t just ask Graham to come over, can you? Well, I suppose you could, but it would be a ballsy move.” I pinched the bridge of my nose.

“Fine then, so what now?”

“Pretend I’m Graham.”

“What? Absolutely not. I don’t need dating advice from you, Bree.”

“Yes, you do. How would you respond if he asked you if you wanted to go on a date?”

“I would say yes, obviously. If that wasn’t the goal, why would I even make the effort to call him?”

“He said to ‘call if you need a friend.’ You have to imply to him that you’re interested in more than that.”

“Fine, I’ll humor you. What should I do?” I was glad Bree couldn’t see me rolling my eyes. She’d probably think I was ungrateful. I appreciated her help, truly, but having to re-learn how to talk to men was tedious. I had been getting my own dates- if you could even call them that- my entire life.

“Ask him if he’s doing anything tomorrow night. If he says yes, then ask him if he wants to ‘go out.’ You don’t know him well enough for an *official* date, but it should kind of become one if you guys click.”

“Click?”

“I mean like get along well- that you're a good fit for each other.”

“I foresee a problem.”

“And what would that be?”

“At this point, I’m asking him ‘out.’ I’m not completely socially inept- that means I have to make the plans, does it not? I know almost nothing about what people do for fun in this time. I highly doubt he'd want to go on a promenade though a garden."

“Just tell him you don’t know what’s around. He’ll suggest something. If you don’t know what it is, I’ll teach you.”

“This ritual is entirely too complicated.”

“Blame Cosmo.”

“Who?”

“Bye, John.”

Bree hung up the phone and I could hear her coming downstairs. I was still holding the receiver in my hand.

“Who is Cosmo?”

Bree took the receiver from me and put it back where it belonged. She pointed to a pile of “magazines” on the coffee table. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed them before. The photograph on the cover was bordering on pornographic.

Bree grabbed my hand and placed the slip of paper in it.

“Go get your man, tiger.”

“Tiger? That’s a new one. It may even be worse than ‘dude’.”

“It’s an expression. Now shush and make the call. I’ll be here if you need me.”

I dialed the number cautiously, making sure to avoid making a mistake. I put the receiver to my ear. It rang twice before I heard the sound of someone on the other end picking it up.

“Hello?” The voice on the other end said. I could tell it was Graham- his voice was quite recognizable, even over the phone.

“Hello, this is John Grey. Is- is this Graham?” Despite already knowing the answer, I wanted to avoid getting a lecture from Bree about not double-checking.

“It is. Hi John, I was hoping to hear from you. How has your life in the city been treating you?”

“It’s been quite the transition.” My heart was beating so hard that I could barely hear Graham over the thumping. I glanced at Bree, who mimed taking a deep breath and gave me a reassuring nod.

“Well, if you’ve made it this long then there’s hope, yeah?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s the case. Brianna has been helpful though- showing me around the city and such. How have you been?”

“I’ve been good, but there has been one significant distraction in my life. I’ve made so many spelling mistakes on the chalkboard during lectures that my students are starting to make fun of me.”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound very pleasant,” I replied obliviously, “What’s bothering you?”

“It hasn’t bothered me- quite the opposite to be honest. I met someone on the train back from New York who I can’t get out of my head.”

I could feel myself blush, and Bree noticed and smiled. “Well, I’m sure he’s been thinking about you too.” I hadn’t been this flirtatious with anyone in years. I could only hope that I wasn’t making a fool out of myself.

“Listen, Graham-uh,” I tried to remember what I had rehearsed with Bree, “Are you doing anything tomorrow night?”

“Well, I had been planning to grade papers, but the students can wait another day. Plus, after seeing their topic proposals, I’m not quite sure if I *want* to read them. So I’m at your disposal. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I’m not sure what there is to do around here. Is there anything you like to do?”

“Well, there’s a new movie playing down at the Charles. And we could get dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds perfect.” I had heard of “movies,” but Bree had yet to expose me to them.

“I’ll pick you up at 7 o'clock. 211 Furey, right?”

“Yes, that's right. I’ll-uh- I'll see you then, Graham.”

“Can’t wait. Bye, John.”

The phone clicked and I finally let out the breath I had been holding. Bree clapped giddily and gave me a brief hug.

“John! That went better than I could have ever imagined. You are quite the smooth talker.”

“No, Graham is. I merely followed along,” I paused, “Did I really do well? I didn't sound idiotic?”

“Far from it, my friend. Now where are you two going?”

“To see a movie and get dinner.”

“Good, that’s not too much pressure. I’ll just take you to dinner tonight so you can get used to modern restaurants. And we’ll watch something on TV tonight. It’s not quite the same as going to the theater, but it will help desensitize you.”

“I feel ridiculous practicing before seeing Graham. It feels like I’m preparing for a test of some sort.” I sat down on the couch and Bree took her place next to me.

“Relax, John. You’re going to have a great time tomorrow. Getting desensitized is just going to make it easier to enjoy yourself.” She gave me a clap on the shoulder, “This is all you, John. Everything you’ve done since you got here has been you. I’m merely showing you the way. You’ve even gotten yourself a date, which is more than a lot of the people from this time can say.”

“I did, didn’t I. Although I have no idea how. I was scared shitless when I met him.”

“You’re more of a catch than you think you are. Take it from your former fiancée.”

I laughed and gave her a playful nudge. “Thank you, Bree. Maybe if all goes well tomorrow I’ll have a change in perspective,” I turned to her, “But seriously, thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the past couple days”

“Of course, John. You’re family. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Let’s go get dinner.”

Chapter Text

“Are you nervous?” Roger asked as he slid the razor across my cheek.

“Yes, although I might be less so if I refrained from thinking about it.” I appreciated the help from Roger to get ready to ‘go out’ with Graham. I had been having trouble getting used to the modern razors. The last thing I wanted was for Graham to show up to see me covered in tiny cuts.

“Would it help you to know that Graham is nervous too?” Roger cocked a brow and continued shaving me.

“And how would you know that?” It was Saturday, after all, and Roger had only had to go into his office at school to meet with a student.

“I ran into him in the hallway on my way out. He’s usually a pretty nonchalant guy, but he seemed to be a bit on edge when I talked to him.”

I knew what Roger meant when he said that Graham was nonchalant- every interaction that I had had with him thus far had been quite pleasant and he was quite the flirt. Although, I did recall his reaction when he woke up after falling asleep on me on the train. He had been a bit thrown off then. Perhaps that’s how he was feeling now.

“I suppose it gives me a bit of relief that we might be able to empathize with each other. It might make things less awkward. But I’m mostly worried about going out without you or Bree to guide me. I haven't done that since I arrived at your doorstep.” It was true. For the past few days, I had spent almost every waking moment receiving some sort of help.

“Well, how did your practice date go with Bree last night? She didn’t seem too concerned about you when I talked to her this morning.”

The practice date had gone off without a hitch, actually. Dinner had been fairly straightforward, with only the minor nervousness of talking to the waiter. And in terms of the movie, Claire had discussed movies with Jamie in my presence enough for me to have some concept of what to expect. Bree was even able to explain the mechanisms that record and project the films, so I didn’t find myself left wondering how everything was possible.

“I can only hope that tonight is as easy as last night was. I still feel constantly anxious. Nothing is familiar here except for you, Bree, and Jemmy.” I could feel myself beginning to spiral into the anxiety-driven thoughts that had been keeping me up at night these past few days.

“Have you always been anxious, even before coming through the stones?” I couldn’t tell if Roger was concerned or if he was just trying to shift my focus to alleviate the nerves. I answered regardless.

“Well, in a way yes. There has always been something to worry about. Danger was at every turn back in my time, you know that just as well as I do.”

“Well, I hope that once you get the hang of things here, you’ll be alleviated from some of those worries. I assure you that you’re going to do great tonight.” Roger wiped my face with a damp towel and applied some of the aftershave that Bree had bought me. I had used something similar back in my time, but I was still getting used to the stinging sensation.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. Graham would be here to pick me up in half an hour. I was already ready to go, so I figured that a distraction would be necessary.

“Where’s Jemmy?” I asked Roger, who was packing up the shaving kit.

“In his room playing with his toys, I think.” He smiled knowingly and motioned for me to go.

I knocked on Jemmy’s open door and poked my head into the room. He looked up from his toy and waved at me.

“Hi Uncle John!” He quickly resumed his attention on his toy. I entered and sat next to him on the floor.

“What’s this you’ve got here?” I had seen kids play with blocks before, but these ones were small and colorful. Jemmy was attaching them together to build some sort of unidentifiable structure.

“Legos!” Jemmy exclaimed enthusiastically.

I examined one of the pieces and, sure enough, they all had “lego” printed on them in tiny letters. “What are you making?”

“It’s our house,” Jemmy began to point out the various rooms, “See, there’s the kitchen and there’s Mommy and Daddy’s room and there’s my room! You can help build your room if you want.”

“I would love to,” I began attaching the pieces the way that Jemmy was. His tongue was sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. It was nice to be able to spend time with him like this. When I was raising Willie, I barely spent any time with him. Fathers of boys weren’t seen as playmates, rather as educators. I wouldn’t have traded my parenting of Willie for the world, but there was something nice about being able to come down to Jem’s level rather than try and force him to my own.

We played for a little while until I heard a knock on the door downstairs. I stood quickly and gave Jem a kiss on the top of his head before making my way downstairs. Bree was in the kitchen and stopped me briefly as I walked past her. “Have fun and relax, John.” She squeezed my arm gently and ushered me to the door.

 

I took a deep breath and pulled it open. Graham was even taller than I remembered, and it took me a moment to take in his appearance again. He really was handsome.

“Graham- um, it’s really nice to see you. You look well.” He chuckled lightly at my awkwardness.

“Well, I am perfectly well now that I’m here,” he peered behind me at Bree, who was sitting on the stairs watching the whole ordeal. “Hi Brianna.”

“Good to see you Graham. Get this one home to me in one piece, yeah?”

“I can’t make any promises,” he gave me a wink and gestured for me to step outside, “After you.” I obliged and he walked me out to his car, opening the door for me to get in. He turned to me when he got into the driver’s seat.

“I’m just going to be straightforward and say it- you look really good with that haircut.” I could feel the heat rush to my face and Graham gave me a squeeze on the shoulder. We started the drive to the theater and Graham clicked on the radio. I recognized the voice from one of Bree’s records- Frank Sinatra, perhaps?

Graham started to sing along to the lyrics of the song. I added Graham’s singing voice to the list of things I liked about him. I couldn’t help but laugh as I felt my nerves start to dissipate.

“I’ve got youuu under my skin- hey, stop laughing,” he joked, “I’m trying my best here.”

“No, no,” I was trying to stifle my laughter to no avail, “You’re actually quite good.”

“Ha! Yeah right, I’m sure that Sinatra would be shaking in his boots were he to hear my rendition,” Graham continued to sing, “But each time that I do, just the thought of you makes me stop- before I begin. ‘Cause I’ve got you, under my skin.”

I applauded him and he gave a small bow- or at least he tried to. It was more of a hunch given that he was driving.

“So, what movie are we seeing tonight?” I asked Graham. Perhaps some forewarning would help me avoid making a fool out of myself.

“It’s called ‘Orca.’ I’ve heard that it’s just a rip-off of ‘Jaws,’ but bad movies are just as fun to watch as good ones, in my opinion. Making fun of a movie is just as entertaining as discussing a film’s creative genius.”

“I never saw ‘Jaws’,” I said truthfully, “So I won’t have anything to compare this one to.”

“Not a Spielberg fan, eh? I’m kind of on the fence myself, but it’s basically just about this shark that eats a bunch of people, so these guys have to go try and kill it. It sounds kind of foolish in retrospect, but I enjoyed it.” Graham turned the wheel and parked the car in a spot beside the side-walk.

I made a mental note to ask Brianna about “Spielberg” as I stepped out of the car. Graham was putting some coins into the meter next to the car. I had seen Bree do this a few times, and I reached into my pocket to offer some extra quarters. I had made sure to bring some of Claire’s money. Graham politely declined them, though.

“Hey, my treat tonight, yeah? You’re still getting settled here, so don’t worry about paying just yet.”

“Well, if you insist,” I stuffed the coins back into my pocket.

The line for the tickets was quite short, so we had plenty of time before we had to be in our seats. Graham bought us some “popcorn” so we could share during the movie. Bree had made me some the night before. After getting over the odd texture, I had quite enjoyed it.

We made our way into the room where the movie would be projected. Bree had described the enormity of the screen, but I still had to stifle a gasp as we walked in. Bree and Roger’s tiny television screen paled in comparison.

Graham led me up the stairs to the back row of the theater. “We’ll have a better view and a bit more privacy back here, yeah?” I nodded in response. There were a few other couples in the audience- holding hands, whispering to each other, exchanging kisses. After hearing Graham’s description of the film, I wasn’t surprised that there weren’t many people in the audience.

We took our seats and the lights dimmed soon after. The film began and I was once again reminded of the enormity of the screen. Graham nudged me gently and offered me some popcorn, which I accepted gratefully. We watched and snacked intently for a bit. The topic of the film, as I expected, was a bit ludicrous. As much as I wanted to pay attention to it, the presence of Graham beside me was quite distracting.

I glanced over to him discreetly. His face was illuminated by the light of the screen, emphasizing his defined features. I directed my gaze back to the screen, my mind still focussed on the man inches away from me.

I felt something press against the side of my knee and noticed that Graham had shifted slightly and now had his leg against mine. It surprised me now how the subtleties of flirtation between two men in public hadn’t changed much over the past 200 years. I pushed back slightly on Graham’s leg, acknowledging its presence.

Graham lifted his hand from his lap and adjusted his hair slightly, resting the hand back down onto the armrest next to mine. I could tell that neither of us were actually engaged in the movie that we were both staring so intently at. I reached out my little finger and rested it nonchalantly over Graham’s. He responded by inching his hand closer to mine. We continued this dance until my hand was comfortably encapsulated in his, our fingers intertwined and squeezing gently.

I could feel my heart in my chest, thumping heavily. Combined with the butterflies in my stomach, my insides felt like a cacophony of sensation, despite my best efforts to maintain a calm outward appearance. I glanced again at Graham, who was smiling slightly now.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was about to get caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to. Sure, not everyone in this time was accepting, but I wasn’t going to lose my livelihood over it. But had I held hands with a man my age back in 1777, I would have been ruined. I fought the anxious feeling in my gut and let myself enjoy the rest of the film and the comfortable flitting wings of butterflies inside me.

The movie ended about half an hour later. As the lights came up, Graham gave my hand a squeeze. “I really don’t want to let go,” He said softly. I detected some nervousness in his voice and was endeared by his sincerity.

“Neither do I,” I squeezed back. Graham sighed lightly and released my hand reluctantly. Clearly, there was some amount of discretion that we were required to take. “Where are we going for dinner?” I asked.

Graham stood up and smiled excitedly, “You, my friend from across the pond, are getting a taste of Boston. I’m going to take you to the harbor for some lobster rolls, and I have already picked up a couple of treats from the bakery.

He gave me a wink and offered me a hand. The theater was empty now, so I took it gladly and followed him out.

Chapter Text

“Are your eyes still closed? They better be.” Graham called from behind me. He had told me to close my eyes ever since we left the lobster roll stand by the harbor and I had not yet been given permission to open them. We had only driven a couple of minutes and I could still smell the salty air, so we couldn’t have gone too far.

Graham came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders, “Now, I know that it’s not a restaurant like you probably expected, but hear me out.” Graham swiveled me around and pulled my hands from my eyes.

“Oh, Graham, this is lovely.” He had set up a picnic in the park, overlooking the harbor. It was quite a gesture, complete with candles and wine.

“It’s not too much?” Graham looked at the display on the ground questionably and put a hand on the back of his neck. “I mean, this is only our first date, after all. Hell, you haven’t even called it a date all evening, so maybe-”

“Graham, this is a date. And it’s perfect.” For the first time all evening, Graham was more nervous than I was. He relaxed noticeably at the reassurance.

“Well, in that case, best not let the lobster rolls get cold. We’re not in Maine.”

“Are lobster rolls served cold in Maine?”

“Yes, and in my *definitely* unbiased opinion, they are inferior in every way to the ones here in Boston.” We took our places on the blanket and Graham poured the wine. I wasn’t a huge fan of white wine, but given that we were eating fish, I chose to make an exception.

I took a sip of the wine and noticed mid-swallow that Graham was staring at me intently. “As much as I appreciate your undivided attention, I will say that this is a bit intense,” I half-joked.

“I need to see you eat your first bite of lobster roll. You see, it’s my favorite food, so your enjoyment of it is very important to me.”

“You know lobsters are essentially just sea cockroaches, right?” I teased.

“How dare you. Now eat.” I made a show of laying my napkin over my knee and slowly picking up the strange food from my plate. I took a hesitant bite and chewed thoughtfully.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Graham fidgeted impatiently.

“It’s good, very buttery. And the bread is sweet.”

“Us Americans put sugar in everything, even bread. You have no idea what a relief it is that you like it.” He began to eat his own roll now, appearing more relaxed.

“What would you have done if I had hated it?” I asked curiously.

“I don’t even want to imagine. I would have been heartbroken, torn, unable to see you the same way.” He stopped and turned to me, “I still hardly know you, John. But I want nothing more in the world than to change that.”

I put my food back on the plate and smiled into my lap before meeting his gaze, “The feeling is mutual, Graham.”

We gazed at each other in a comfortable silence for a few seconds before Graham resumed eating and continued the lighthearted conversation.

“So, who is John Grey? Where does he come from, what are his parents like, what are his biggest fears, what are his dreams?” He leaned back on one hand and studied me as I formulated my response.

Claire had said to stick as close to the truth as possible, only changing details that were absolutely necessary. “Well, I’m from London as I told you on the train. My family life is a bit complicated. My mother stayed at home mostly and she had a knack for throwing parties. My father was involved in the military, although he was much more regarded than I ever was. He expected my brother and I to follow in his footsteps. I never really wanted to, but I eventually met someone who inspired me to go through with it.”

“Is that the friend you mentioned before? The one who liked the book I was reading on the train?”

I shook my head, “No, that friend came much later. He and his wife are the ones who encouraged me to make a new start in Boston, though. Military life just wasn’t satisfying enough for me anymore. You make a lot of sacrifices and I suppose I just wanted to stop having to give things up.”

“So, what do you want to do now?” Graham asked interestedly.

“I’m not really sure what opportunities are available to me now. I mean, I haven’t the degrees required to get a decent job here.” I looked into my lap, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed. Graham was a Harvard professor and I was here not having a clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

“Well, you’ve only been in Boston for a few days. Nobody expects you to have everything planned out yet. It takes serious guts to change trajectory like that. I commend you for pursuing your own path.” He raised his wine glass before taking a sip.

“You’re right, but I suppose my main turmoil comes from a lack of purpose. Hopefully I get it sorted out soon.”

“Well, you seem determined. That’s more than be said for a lot of people in your shoes.” Graham reached over and gave my hand a squeeze.

“Well, now you know a bit about me. So please, indulge me in the assumably fascinating life of Graham Nowak.”

Graham sipped his wine and nodded in contemplation. “Well,” he started, “My dad was as Polish as they come and my mom is from Philadelphia. They met at the University of Pennsylvania- they were both mathematicians. So I, being the rebellious adolescent that I was, decided to go against all they hold near and dear and become an English and History student. And of course, when all the knowledge to your name has to do with European mythology and literature, you end up working in academia. Luckily for me, I just happened to land a position at Harvard.”

“Well, regardless of your field of study, Harvard seems pretty impressive. But why European mythology and literature? If you wanted to rebel so badly, why not choose something artistic?”

Graham threw his head back, “Ha! Aside from my mediocre singing, I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Trust me, you don’t want to see my try to draw or dance, and don’t even get me started on acting. I auditioned for a play in middle school and I was the laughing stock of the eighth grade for weeks afterwards.”

“I doubt you were that bad,” I said in an attempt to be reassuring.

“No, believe me I was. I fell off the stage and *literally* broke my leg- well, fractured technically, but same difference.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the image, and Graham laughed along with me. I was comfortably tipsy at this point, so I poured one more glass just to maintain the relaxed feeling.

“So, tell me Graham, what exactly is the study of ‘European mythology?’ Any tales that I may have heard of?”

Graham thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I’m currently researching an old Druid myth about ritual stone circles. I haven’t gotten too deep into the research yet, but I’ve come across some artifacts that seem to point to the belief that, given some specific circumstances, one can use them for time travel.”

I nearly spat out my wine, instead I choked slightly and had a momentary coughing fit. Graham patted my back slightly as he spoke.

“Gee, John. It’s just a myth, no need to be shocked just yet. I’ll let you know if I find something in my research deserving of such a reaction.”

“No-no,” I sputtered, “It’s just that time travel a ludicrous notion, is it not?”

“Well, I haven’t found anything to say otherwise, so for the time-being it certainly is. Although there are plenty of folk in the Highlands who believe it to be true.”

“Well, there’s always some grain of truth to a myth, isn’t there?”

Graham nodded, “That there is. My job is to find it.”

The conversation about Graham’s research ended there, which I was certainly grateful for. Of course there would be some knowledge of the myth- Claire had told me of people who went through the stones purposefully to try and alter history. But it was just odd that I happened to be on a date with one of what I assumed to be very few researchers on the topic. Fate had an odd way of revealing itself. Despite the complexity of it all, I had some hope that Graham would discover something that would convince him that there was more than just a grain of truth to the myth.

I decided to put aside that notion- there was no reason to even begin contemplating it now. Whether he knew my true story or not, I liked Graham. That was all that mattered at the moment. The rest could wait- potentially indefinitely.

We continued exchanging information about ourselves- music we liked (although my knowledge was still quite limited), what we were like as kids, our mutual appreciation for literature- and I relaxed again. After about an hour, I noticed my legs becoming a bit stiff.

“Care to go for a walk, Graham?” I asked.

“I would love to. Picnics seem like a good idea until you remember that you’ve been sitting on the ground for hours.” He stood and offered me his hand, which I took happily. It was quite late at this point, so there were almost no people around, save for the occasional group of teenagers.

We strolled in hand-in-hand in comfortable silence for a bit. The night air was quite a bit cooler than it had been earlier in the evening, especially by the water. I shivered slightly and Graham shrugged off the coat he’s been wearing. He draped it over my shoulders and I noticed that it was comically large on me, which caused Graham to chuckle slightly. “It looks good on you.”

“It looks like I got swallowed by a coat,” I laughed, “but thank you.”

“You know, there’s still one thing you haven’t told me about.”

I could feel a lump form in my throat, although I had no idea what he was about to ask. “And what might that be?”

“Not what, but who. You mentioned a friend when we were on the train. He seemed important to you, so I guess I was just surprised that you didn’t bring him up. Was he- you know- more than a friend?”

I sighed softly and stopped walking. I touched Graham’s arm and he turned to me.

“Yes and no. My feelings were- unrequited. But Jamie and his wife remained dear friends of mine. I let go of the desire for anything more between us long before he… was gone. I was even married for a bit of time during our friendship, and other than the obvious obstacles, I was quite happy with Isobel.”

“What happened with Isobel?” I was surprised that Graham wanted to hear about this aspect of my past, but I saw no harm in humoring him.

“She passed away from illness quite a while ago. I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“You seem to have lost a lot of people in your life, John.” Graham placed a reassuring hand on my arm.

“That I have, Graham. And I hope to tell you more about it over time.”

He squeezed my arm again and nodded, “It’s getting late. And I’m sober enough now to drive you home. Perhaps we should call it a night, then.”

I reached for Graham’s wrist and read his watch, “Damn, how is it midnight already?”

“Well, time does have a funny habit of flying by when you don’t want it to.”

...................

The drive back to Furey Street was spent listening to Graham sing along to the songs on the radio. When we finally pulled up the house, my cheeks were slightly fatigued from smiling and my stomach hurt from laughing during his renditions.

“I’ll walk you to the door, yeah?” Graham said as he shut off the car. I nodded in response and we walked hand in hand up the porch steps.

“You know,” he said as we stood outside the door, “I always find that this is either the hardest or easiest part of a first date, depending on how much I’ve enjoyed the company. And tonight, I am finding it extremely difficult to let go of your hand.”

“I certainly understand the feeling,” I replied. Graham’s gaze kept flicking between my eyes and my mouth. Brianna hadn’t informed me about the modern-day protocol for kissing, but I decided to take the risk.

I lifted my free hand and placed it gently on the back of Graham’s neck. He took the invitation immediately, bending down slightly to join our lips. I felt his hand on my cheek as our lips brushed together softly. The kiss was brief, but tender. I pulled away and Graham smiled down at me, placing a kiss on my forehead.

“Well, that certainly didn’t make leaving any easier, now did it?” Graham whispered.

I looked down at our intertwined hands. “No, it definitely did not.”

“Can I call you tomorrow?” He asked hopefully.

“I would quite like that,” I replied with a grin. Graham reluctantly released my hand and turned to go to his car. He waved before pulling out into the road and I watched him drive off.

When the lights of his car finally faded, I turned to open the door. As I pushed, I could feel something blocking it. I pushed harder and was suddenly free of the weight, tripping clumsily into the foyer.

Bree was standing guiltily on the other side of the door, but a large grin plastered her face. “So, did you kiss? He was on our porch for an awfully long time, but I couldn’t get a good view-”

“You spied on us?” I wasn’t angry with her, but I hadn’t expected such behavior from Bree.

“I just wanted to see if the date went well,” she said in defense.

“Well, I could have told you that. But in the morning, please. I’m exhausted.”

“Okay, okay- but you have to tell me everything. Nothing left out!” She said as she followed me up the stairs.

“I will, I promise.” I replied as I retreated into my chambers. I sighed heavily and leaned against the door, the feeling of Graham’s lips on my own still present. My heart was still thumping in my chest and I walked over to the dresser to look in the mirror. I smiled at my reflection, suddenly overcome with a blissful feeling that I had forgotten I could feel.

“What have you gotten yourself into?” I asked my smiling reflection.

Chapter Text

I woke up quite late the following day. After making myself presentable, I meandered tiredly down the stairs into the kitchen. Bree and Roger had made brunch and there was freshly brewed tea on the stove. I helped myself and sat down next to Jem, who was busily devouring his pancakes.

“Good morning, John,” Roger said. He had a look in his eye as if he were waiting for me to say something. I turned to Bree, whose face held a similar expression and she sipped her coffee.

“What do you want to know?” I asked, giving into the impending interrogation. Bree smiled and set her mug on the table, leaning forward in anticipation.

“Everything.” She stated.

“Well, it might be easier if you just ask me questions. It was a long night,” I replied.

“Okay,” Roger started, “How was the movie? Did it go smoothly?”

“I suppose it went better than I had expected,” I tried and failed to hold back a smile, “The movie itself, at least according to Graham, was questionable in quality. But watching it with him was enjoyable.”

Bree leaned across the table and gave my hand a squeeze, “If you can get through a movie without being shocked, I have faith that you’ll continue to adjust well. I’m honestly surprised, but also quite proud of you.”

“Well, thank you. I suppose your mother’s preparation made things a bit easier, plus I just forced myself not to question anything. I’m not sure how I’ll hold up as time goes by, but for now I’m not feeling unmanageably overwhelmed.”

Roger nodded in understanding before asking the next question, “What did you guys talk about at dinner?”

“He set up a picnic down by the water. We mostly just talked about our lives, obviously I changed some details. The conversation actually got quite personal. I told him about Jamie-” I looked at Bree, who smiled in reassurance, “and Isobel too. I also told him how I’m having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment.”

“That’s completely understandable, John. How did Graham take those things?”

“Well, he was glad that I told him about my romantic past, in fact he was the one who asked about it. And as for the soul-searching aspect, he understood. I told him that I’d just left the military and wasn’t sure of my future here in Boston. Graham said that it made sense for me to need time to get on my feet.”

“If you ever need help,” Roger replied, “I would be happy to discuss options with you.”

Jem, who had finished his breakfast at that point, leaned over and hugged my side, “I’ll help too.”

“That is very kind of you, Jem.” I wrapped my arm around him and gave him a reciprocating squeeze.

“Why don’t you go get ready, Jem.” Bree said. He got up and ran up the stairs and Bree shouted up behind him, “And don’t forget to brush your teeth!”

I laughed lightly, “You two have done an exceptional job raising him so far. It’s nice to have a young lad around again.”

“Bree moved around the table and sat in Jemmy's abandoned seat. “Did you tell Graham about William?”

I shook my head, “I already told him about my late wife and friends. I couldn’t bring myself to add a son to the list of people I’ve lost. Part of me is still holding out hope, I guess. It’s nonsensical, I know. But I’m not quite ready to lose him yet.”

It was true, I hadn’t even allowed myself to think of William since I had been assured by Claire that they would look after him. I could barely keep myself together admitting it to Bree and Roger, let alone Graham. “Also,” I added, “I think that it would be too much for him to hear in one night.”

Bree nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder, “What about him? What did he say about himself?”

I took a deep breath, “You’re not going to believe this- I sure had my shock in hearing it- but Graham is currently researching the mythology surrounding the powers of stone circles, specifically time travel. He hasn’t gotten very far yet, though.”

Their eyes widened, much like mine had the previous night. “What if he believes it?” Roger asked, “Would you tell him?”

“Would you?” I replied, “I honestly haven’t given it much thought. I don’t want to get my hopes up that he’ll find any validity in the myth.”

“You’re right,” Bree replied, “Let’s not cross that bridge yet. It’s a nice thought, though.”

“Indeed,” I said with a sigh.

“One last question-” Bree said, changing the subject, “What happened on the porch?”

“Well, if you must know, we kissed. And he said he’d call me at some point today.” I was glad to be able to share my excitement, although Bree seemed even happier than I was.

Roger gave me a surprised look, “Calling the day after date number one? He must really like you.”

“Or,” Bree interjected, “he doesn’t subscribe to the stupid social rules that surround dating.”

“Well, either way, we’re happy for you John.”

…………

I spent the next few hours reading some of the books that I had borrowed from the library a couple of days before. There was a lot to learn and, keeping with Bree’s advice, I started with the more recent history. I figured that I was probably expected to know something about events that transpired during what others would consider to be my lifetime. I found myself most drawn to the chapters on The Civil Rights Movement- Claire had mentioned it before, but then it had seemed like the made-up events of a distant future. Living in a world where everyone is expected to truly “love thy neighbor” seemed almost dreamlike.

I now understood what Jamie had meant when he had said that he wanted Jemmy to grow up in a world with less hatred for others in it. The boy was growing up to be truly kind and empathetic- he belonged in a time like this. At only seven years old, he was already more of a man than many of the adults I had known back in my time.

“How’s the study session going?” I looked up from the chapter on “Brown vs. The Board of Education” to see Roger, who was carrying a plate of lunch and tea. He set it down on the coffee table, “You’ve got to fuel your mind, that’s what I tell my students anyway. Heaven knows that they never listen, though. I swear the only thing these youngsters put in their bodies nowadays is coffee.”

“Well, thank you for the meal. I’ll admit, I’ve lost track of time.”

Roger gleaned over my shoulder at the page, “Ah, the Civil Rights Movement. Despite what all of these books say, it is far from over. There is still enough prejudice in America, let alone globally.”

“Will it ever end, do you think?”

“There’s always going to be hate in the world, John. Even if it’s eventually not about race, sexuality, gender- humans always find some group to stigmatize. The important thing is that we acknowledge the injustice. We are all responsible for each other in this time.”

I took a moment to internalize Roger’s words. “It seems like that is the only honorable way to live. It was like that in my time too, except ‘each other’ excluded a lot of people, including myself I suppose.” I looked down at the pages of the book.

“I think you’ve given yourself enough food-for-thought for today.” Roger reached over and removed the book from my hands, “History can be just as overwhelming as the present. There are a lot of lessons to learn in these pages.”

I nodded and let myself relax a bit, allowing my mind to process what I had just read and Roger’s thoughts on the matter. He stood to leave, giving me a small wave before heading upstairs.

The phone rang a few moments later. I jumped up quickly and reached for the phone. I waited a moment before answering and mentally recalled the steps for answering a call. I picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“John! It’s Graham. I’m glad you picked up.”

“Well, I’m glad you called.” I replied.

“Of course I called, I told you I would last night that I would. Anyway, I wanted to ask you if you wanted to get lunch with me tomorrow. I don’t have any afternoon classes and I would enjoy your company.”

“I would love to, Graham.”

“Good! I have a meeting with a student until 12:30, but I’m all yours after that. Could you meet me at my office?”

The idea of venturing through Boston alone was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was worth it to see Graham.

“Absolutely. Where is it exactly?”

“I’m on the third floor in Sever Hall. My name is on the door, so you can’t miss it. I’m sure Roger can show you where it is on a map of the campus.”

“Well, I am certainly looking forward to seeing you again.” I could feel the butterflies start flitting in my stomach again at the thought.

“The feeling is completely mutual, I assure you. Now, I have some papers to grade, so I’m regretfully going to have to let you go. But just hearing your lovely voice has made the prospect of reading amateur research papers bearable.”

“Well, I’m glad to be of service. Perhaps your heightened mood will be of benefit to your students too.”

“Well, they’re summer term students. I suppose they deserve some extra slack for putting in the extra effort. I’ll see you tomorrow, John.”

“Bye Graham.” The line clicked and I set the phone down. I stood there for a moment looking out the window into the street. I’d have to venture out there on my own tomorrow- Bree had work and assuredly Roger would have some sort of meeting. I decided to make my way into his office to consult him about locating Sever Hall- perhaps it would calm my nerves.

I knocked lightly on the partially open door to his office as I peered in. Bree was sitting on his desk and Roger was standing between her legs, their lips connected in a seemingly escalating kiss. Hoping they hadn’t noticed my knocking, I made an attempt to back out of the doorway. Roger caught sight of my movement though, prying himself from Bree suddenly.

“John! Uh- do you need something?” Roger asked. He was breathing heavily and I could tell that he was slightly irked by the intrusion.

“No-no, it can wait. I’m- I’m just going to go to um- my apologies.” I stumbled down the hallway into my room and sat on the bed with my head in my hands. I certainly took no offense to their actions, but my sudden intrusion on them hit me with an unexpected force. Walking into Roger’s office had not been the only intrusion that I’d made as of late.

There was a quick wrap on the door and Bree poked her head in, an apologetic look plastered on her face. “We should have checked to make sure the door was closed, I’m sorry you had to see that.”

I waved my hand in dismissal, “There’s no need to apologize, Bree. You two are husband and wife and this is your home. You have every right. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me.”

Bree stepped into the room and sat on the edge of the bed next to me. She placed a hand on my knee and leaned over to see my face, “What on Earth could you have to apologize for. It was an accident, not to mention that this is your home too.”

“I’m intruding, Bree.”

“You didn’t intrude on purpose, John-”

“That’s not what I was referring to. Yes, what happened in Roger’s office was an accident, but coming to live here wasn’t.”

Bree looked at me in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about? John, Roger and I are thrilled that you’re here.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean that my being here isn’t burdensome. I never really considered that until just now, and I feel like an idiot for not acknowledging it.You had a life before I got here and you’re turning it upside down to cater to my needs.”

Bree’s face softened slightly, “You are many things, John Grey, but you’re not a burden.”

I sighed slightly at the reassurance, “I’m grateful for you, Bree- Roger and Jem too. I feel like I haven’t said that enough.”

“We know you are, John. We are too.”

I leaned over and gave her a brief hug. “Don’t you want to get back to your husband?”

“He can wait a couple more minutes. I want to hear about your phone call with Graham.” She smiled and waited for the details.

“I’m seeing him for lunch tomorrow. I have to meet him at his office in Sever Hall. I’m just a bit worried about getting there. I was hoping Roger could give me directions.”

“Well, lucky for you, I am also familiar with the campus. I’ll show you at breakfast tomorrow. You’ll get there in one piece, I promise.”

She squeezed my knee and stood to leave, “You may not see it,” she said, “but you’re making rapid progress here.”

“In general or with Graham?”

“Both.”

Chapter Text

I had somehow managed to make it onto the train relatively unscathed. I had to take “the T” for the first time, but with Brianna’s reassurance that it was just an underground train it felt less daunting. There were a few kind strangers who had helped me make sense of the directions Roger had given me. I must have looked particularly lost because they had all approached me without my asking.

“I hate to make it seem like I’m looking over your shoulder, but need help interpreting those awful directions?” A woman had sat next to me on the busy train. She was probably a little younger than me and she was quite pretty. She also had an accent that I’d never heard before, but I decided not to ask about it for fear highlighting my 18th century ignorance.

“I’d be appreciative of that, actually,” I said in relief, “My friend’s directions are a bit vague.”

She took the paper from my hands and looked it over. “‘Turn left at the English oak tree?’ What is this guy, an arborist?”

“He’s not, although he loves Harvard so much that he could probably name every plant on the campus for memory. I’m John, by the way.”

“Priya,” she replied, “So you’re going to Sever Hall, huh? You’re going to have to get off at the next stop. Here-” she pulled out a pen and hastily wrote on the paper, “hopefully these instructions are easier to follow.”

“Thank you so much. I probably would have gotten lost without this.”

She shrugged casually, “I was a foreigner here not so long ago. It’s a maze of a city, so I’m happy to help. Although you’re lucky enough to speak English. Even when people were nice enough to help out the poor lost Indian girl, their efforts were stymied by the fact that I only spoke Hindi.”

The train came to a stop and the doors slid open. “Well, thank you for your help, Priya. It is greatly appreciated.”

“Anytime!” She smiled and gave a short wave as I stepped out onto the platform. Her instructions were much more helpful than Roger’s, so they were quite easy to follow. I felt secure enough in my whereabouts that I actually was able to shift my focus to the world around me. As I got more comfortable here, I figured it would be good to start acknowledging some of the oddities of the 20th century.

A man walked- or rather rolled- past me in strange footwear that appeared to have wheels on the bottoms. Young children were playing on some large playtime apparatus in the park. A woman walked by with a small dog in her purse. Cars and buses drove by noisily.

I was surprised by my lack of shock at seeing these things. Perhaps I was truly getting used to the strange practices of the current time. Or maybe I just ran out of room in my mind to process them.

The noon bells rang out in a nearby church, at least that was a familiar sound. I was running a bit early, though. It only took me about 15 more minutes until I was opening the door to Sever Hall. I made my way up to the third floor and quietly moved down the empty hallways, checking the plaques on each door as I passed. A familiar voice echoed through the hall ahead of me. I followed and found the door that read “Professor Nowak- European Anthropology & Mythology.” There was a bench outside his door and I decided it was best to wait there.

I tried not to eavesdrop, but the door was cracked open slightly which made it difficult not to listen to the conversation in the office.

“Look, Annabelle, I’m not sure how else to say this. You’re not giving me your best work this summer. The paper you submitted to me is far below your usual standard.” Graham sounded concerned, but the girl’s reply was stubborn.

“Why do I have to be perfect all the time, huh? I write one sub-par paper and suddenly you’re calling a meeting like it’s a big deal.”

“Annabelle-”

“I don’t want to hear it, Professor. I get it, I did a shitty job. I’d rather you not patronize me with the details.”

“That’s not why I called you here,” Graham responded calmly, “I know you, Annabelle. You are one of the few student’s I’ve had who loves this subject as much as I do. But it’s clear in this paper that you haven’t been keeping up in this class.”

Annabelle sighed, “I- I guess I’ve just been distracted. I’ll try and catch up before the next paper, I promise.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” Graham said softly, “But if you could tell me what’s been going on, I may be able to help you. I could let you rewrite this paper and even give you an extension on the next one. But you need to tell me what’s going on that’s got you so far off from your A-game.”

“It’s…,” Annabelle hesitated, “a bit personal. My brother is sick and I’ve had to be the one to take care of him. My mom seems to be in denial about the severity of his condition, so she’s not helping. And my dad decided to jump ship for his receptionist at the first sign of trouble.” I could hear in her voice that she was trying not to cry.

I heard Graham get up from his chair and walk around the desk. “I’m not going to make you rewrite this paper. Bring me your notes on the readings so I know that you’ve been putting in effort and I’ll give you a B. If you need extra time for the next paper, just come to office hours and we can talk about an extension. I don’t want my class to cause any added stress. Focus on yourself and your family, yeah? No more tears about this class. And if you ever need to talk about what’s going on at home, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

Annabelle sniffled, “Yes, sir. Thank you.” I heard her chair move and soon she was walking past me out of the office. She gave me a small smile as she went by and I reciprocated it. I got up and knocked on the open office door. Graham looked up.

“Boy, am I glad to see you.” He crossed the room and hugged me tightly.

“Sounds like a bit of a stressful day,” I replied as he pulled away, “I couldn’t help but overhear.”

“Well, worrying about my students is even more exhausting than teaching them. No wonder there are so many heartless professors out there. If you actually care about your students, you lose sleep over it.” He moved to his desk and began to pack his satchel with various papers.

“Do you think she’ll be okay? Annabelle, I mean.”

Graham looked up from his paper-sorting, “Well, I’m glad to see that you’re as empathetic as I am on the matter. And to answer your question, I think so. Annabelle has a good head on her shoulders and she can generally be coaxed into accepting help despite her stubborn facade.”

“Well, she’s lucky to have you.” I said as Graham swung his satchel over his shoulder and led me out the door.

We walked hand-in-hand to Graham’s car, which was located in a lot behind the building that was practically deserted. The physical contact in broad daylight felt nice. I thought back to the couples I had seen back in Philadelphia before coming through the stones.

“So where are you taking me? You seem to have a tendency to drive me to unknown destinations.”

“Well, you are far too trusting then. How do you know that I’m not luring you into a trap?” Graham replied jokingly.

“Oh for all I know, you are. But don’t forget that I have decades of military experience under my belt.”

“You think you’d beat me in a fight?” Graham laughed.

“Graham, I appreciate your academic nature, truly. However, I can’t possibly see how such a vocation could prepare you for a fight.”

“True,” Graham nodded, “but I am almost a foot taller than you. That has to count for something, right?”

“Do you think I never had to face an opponent who was taller than me?” I cocked an eyebrow.

“Okay, fine. You’d beat me in a fist fight. But, I did study fencing back in college. I think I could beat your ass with a sabre any day.”

I decided at that moment not to tell Graham about my skills in swordsmanship. He was looking a bit smug and, as much as I wanted to impress him, I figured it would be better to prove him wrong instead.

“Oh yeah? Well, I guess you’ll just have to prove it then.”

“John Grey, is that a challenge I hear?”

“I mean, it’s just a fight with a sword. How hard can it be?”

“I’m going to make you eat your words someday, darling.” Graham gave me an endearing smile and I laughed.

“Darling? That’s new.”

“Well, in case you couldn’t tell, I am quite fond of you,” he turned his head and gave me a wink before looking back at the road, “And I thought I’d try it out.”

“I’m certainly not complaining.” I replied. Graham reached over and held my hand, giving it a brief squeeze. He held it for the remainder of the drive, the quiet sounds of the radio playing in the background as we enjoyed each other's company. We finally pulled into a parking lot behind a small restaurant and he turned to face me.

“In all seriousness, John, I know that we haven’t spent much time together and I’m also aware that we’re still getting to know each other but-” he paused, “something feels right about this.” He looked down sheepishly, clearly nervous that I’d disagree with his forwardness.

I tilted his chin up and leaned out of my seat to kiss him. It was deeper than the first one and Graham’s lips moved with mine. When I finally pulled away, I noticed that a sweet blush had spread across his cheeks.

“So I take it that we’re on the same page, then?” he asked, grinning.

“Absolutely.”

..............
We had gone to an Italian restaurant this time and I had quite enjoyed the cuisine. I was grateful for the date-night I’d had with Bree and the process was fairly simple. I had insisted that I pay this time, deciding to use some of the money I had gotten from Claire. I would need to find employment soon, but I was set for at least the next couple of weeks.

We were now sitting on a bench in a park a few blocks from the restaurant. It was relatively secluded, and I was grateful for the foliage of the large willow tree that the bench was located under. It came all the way down to the ground, creating a private cocoon within which Graham could put his arm around me without fear of the public eye. The trunk of the tree had been carved significantly by young couples who wanted to leave their initials scrawled in the wood. Some were dated, the oldest of which appeared to have been carved nearly 40 years ago.

Graham turned his head to examine the trunk behind us. “I love this place, although unlike these couples, I’ve never really brought someone else here.”

“I wonder how many of them are still together.” I noted.

“I would think that a lot of them were teenagers and college students, so my bet is on very few.”

“Well, that seems cynical. I think the sentiment of a carving like this is sweet.”

Graham turned back to look at me, pulling me closer into his chest. “I do too, but I feel like I would rather know that I was going to be with someone forever before immortalizing it like this. I’d want to be married or something.”

“But if you were married, it wouldn’t be to someone you love like that- assuming you’re gay anyway. I’ve never really asked you I suppose.”

“No worries, I am gay. And I will certainly never marry a woman. I am impressed that you managed to do it. I’ve only slept with one girl- it was recently I’d hate to admit- and just thinking about it makes me cringe.” Graham chuckled.

“But how can you get married to someone you truly love if it’s not legal?”

Graham shrugged, “I think that weddings are about more than just the legality of a union. Even if I’m not married on paper, I still feel like I could be someone’s husband. Marriage isn’t only about filing taxes jointly or being on the same insurance plan.”

“I’ve never thought of it that way- I guess I just always assumed it was just out of the question for folks like us. But I think you’re right.”

Graham ran his fingers through my hair and I nuzzled further into his chest.

“You like that? C’mere.” He patted his lap and I laid down on the bench with my head on his legs, looking up at his chiseled jaw. I sighed, feeling content.

“How is it that I’ve only known you for a week?” I asked in a whisper.

“How is it that our first date was two days ago?” Graham added on, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided not to try and answer those questions.”

“Hmm,” I hummed and closed my eyes. I played back our conversation in my head, enjoying every second of it. I did still have one question though, “How recent?”

“What?”

“You said you slept with a woman. I’m not one to pass judgement on that matter, but I’m just curious.”

“It was about a month ago. I was drunk and, I don’t know, I had just been kicked out of the bar I was at with my friends because I came out to them. One of my guy friends- or at least I thought he was my friend- was upset. He yelled at me and the owner heard. The only one of my friends who accepted me walked me home after the owner called me a f-” Graham sighed, “One thing led to another and she… well you can figure out the rest.”

I reached up and placed a hand on Graham’s cheek. “I’m sorry that that happened to you. It sounds like you need to find some better friends.”

“The worst part is that the girl, her name was Alyssa, she and I couldn’t really be friends afterwards. Sleeping with her ruined everything.”

“Sex can do that. People always say that it brings you closer, but it’s really just a giant magnifying glass. Any closeness that exists becomes more intense, but so do any flaws.”

“Well, Alyssa and I had a complicated relationship in the first place,” Graham rested a hand on my chest and began nervously fidgeting with the buttons on my shirt. I wasn’t in an attempt to undo them, he was clearly just uncomfortable with something. I held his fidgety hand and squeezed.

“What is it?”

“I just wanted to ask, um… did your friends ever accept you? Is that why you came here?”

“Well, I think the reason I came here was that my friends were the only people who accepted me. I needed to distance myself from those who didn’t.”

“You’re family, you mean?”

“Well, yes. My brother was ashamed of me and- I was worried about a certain member of my family finding out too. My concern for my relationship with him made me hold back my feelings.”

“And who was that?”

“My-my son. I apologize for not mentioning him sooner. I- I lost him and-” I tear slid down my cheek and Graham thumbed it away. He was clearly surprised, but his disposition remained calm.

“Oh, John. You have no need to apologize, okay? I can’t imagine how hard it would be to talk about.” He pulled me back up to his chest and I held me for a couple minutes. It was cathartic in a way- I had yet to give myself the opportunity to be honest about my feelings.

“Tell me about him. If it’s not too painful, that is.” I sniffled and sat up. Graham wrapped his arm back around me.

“Okay, well his name was William. Although, I liked to call him Willie even though he hated it. He wasn’t my biological son, but I had raised him. His mother had passed away in childbirth and her husband only hours after. His birth father was not his mother’s husband, if you catch my meaning. He couldn’t raise him, so Willie ended up under the care of Isobel and me.”

“Wow, that sounds like quite the scandal,” Graham laughed lightly.

“You have no idea, my dear. But Willie was worth it. He was smarter than all the other children in his school and he was quite the outdoorsman. Unfortunately, I lost him when he was 19. I loved him very much.”

“Well, if he was even a fraction as smart, witty, and handsome as his dad, then he must have been brilliant.” Graham bent down and planted a kiss on my lips.

“Thank you for understanding. It must be a lot to hear.”

“I won’t lie, it certainly is. But everyone has a past. I am grateful that you trust me enough to tell me about it.”

“Well, you’re easy to trust.” I sat up and kissed him, and this time we didn’t stop until the sound of the afternoon sparrows chirping in the willow became the humming of evening cicadas.

Chapter Text

August 1977

 

“You’re the new guy?”

“Yes, this is my first day. I’m-”

“John,” the bearded man interrupted as he wiped down the counter. “How’d you get this gig? Pat never mentioned a new employee until yesterday.”

Roger, a friend of this mysterious “Pat” fellow, had asked if I could help out with his wine store. I only had two transferable skills that didn’t require a college education in 1977- wine and the military. Joining the army was out of the question, and so was joining the police force unless I wanted to learn how to drive.

“Pat and I have a mutual friend. And I like to think I know a thing or two about wine.”

The man rolled his eyes slightly, clearly doubting my statement, “Well, the name’s Greg. Pat is the owner of the dispensary and his brother is in charge of the vineyard out west. Toby and his team are in charge of distribution and transportation, so you won’t see him much. And Katie and I handle the customers- tourists mostly, but we do get the occasional local looking to spend a lot of money to impress their friends.”

“And what will I do?” I asked?

“That’s up to Pat. He’s in the back if you want to talk to him.” He gestured his head towards the door behind the bar.

I thanked Greg and made my way behind the counter and into the back. The shelves were lined with barrels and casks, each labelled with the date it arrived and the variety. I found Pat towards the back going through the delicate process of properly filling bottles. He was quite a bit older than I had imagined any of Roger’s friends to be.

“You must be Roger’s friend,” he said without looking up, “pass me that roll of labels will you?”

I did and he demonstrated how to properly apply it to the bottle. “Make yourself useful while we have a chat.”

I followed his instructions and began working beside him. “Try this.” He handed me a small glass of wine from the cask he was emptying. I smelled it, enjoying the sweet scent. I checked the trails to get a sense for the texture before taking a sip. It had a sweet taste and I could feel the subtle accent of cloves in my head as I swallowed.

“Wow, that’s lovely. Clove in wine can be hard to pull off, but this is amazing.”

“I’m glad you think so. It’s part of a holiday collection we’re doing- Christmas parties and such. You clearly have tasted your fair share of wine.”

“I’ve known a few merchants. They’ve taught me quite a bit.”

“Well, you’re going to be my assistant here. I’m getting a bit old, if you can’t tell. My hand isn't as steady as it used to be and these casks are getting heavier and heavier. I’d need you here four times a week and I’ll pay you a salary- none of that minimum wage bull crap. Impress me, and you’ll get a bonus or a raise. Stay here for a long time, and you’ll get promoted. I’m a fair man, John.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity, Mr…”

“Just Pat is fine. Follow me.” We made our way through the endless aisles of stock until we reached an office-like setup in the corner. “Here are your tax forms- you have an American bank account, right?” I nodded- Roger had dealt with that, “Fill ‘em out and bring them to me to me when you come in tomorrow. Oh, and here’s your schedule for the time being.” He handed me the stack of papers.

“You’re just gonna help me unload freight today. We gotta start stocking up for the Fall season. People drink very different wine in the Fall. Remember that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t ask unnecessary questions. I like that. Roger mentioned you’d been in the military, so it makes sense. I served in World War II myself.”

“Well, I appreciate your service.” I said.

“You see the barrels on that truck out there? Get them in here and onto that shelf there. Don’t break ‘em. There’s also some pre-bottled stuff. Get that out on the sales floor. You do all that right and you can leave for the day. Be back here 8 am tomorrow.” Pat gave me a wave and disappeared into the maze of shelves.

Moving the barrels was fairly simple. I had rolled similar ones full of gun-podwer during the rising. Getting them up onto the shelves was a different story. I was sweating heavily by the time I finished. The task alone had taken me a couple of hours. No wonder Pat needed help around here.

Stocking the bottles in the store was more of a treasure hunt than anything else. Greg refused to help, despite the fact that I knew he must know exactly where each bottle was supposed to go. I got the sense that he didn’t like me very much. He was probably just used to having the place to himself. I noticed him flirting with the young groups of college girls who would come in for tastings. Perhaps my presence was inhibiting his romantic prospects. I decided not to bother him with questions and instead decided to wander aimlessly about the store until I found the proper place. The wines were slightly disorganized. Perhaps making certain bottles hard was a sales tactic. The dusty and disheveled shelves certainly had a certain kind of charm, if not a sneeze-inducing one.

I left the shop dust-covered and sore, but feeling rather good about myself. It was only 2 o’clock, so the house was empty when I got home. After grabbing myself a much-needed glass of water, I picked up the phone.

“How was your first day?!” Graham asked excitedly as he picked up the call.

“Hello to you too. What if it hadn’t been me who was calling you?” I chuckled.

“You’re the only person who knows my work schedule well enough to call me before 5pm.” He responded somewhat sarcastically. “Now, I want details.”

“Well, my boss is nice. A bit straightforward, but nothing I’m not used to.”

“Awe, my little soldier,” he cooed.

“Hey, I’m not little. I’m average sized, thank you very much.”

“Mhm honey, of course you are. Now back to your day.”

“There’s already someone there who hates me. His name’s Greg and he’s young and likes to get the girls who come in drunk before asking for their telephone numbers. I guess my distaste was too apparent for his liking.”

“Well, he sounds like someone you wouldn’t want liking you anyway. And if he gives you trouble, just tell him your boyfriend can kick his ass.”

“Ah, yes. Threatening to emasculate his already fragile ego will do wonders for our professional relationship. Good thinking.”

“I’m smart, I know. What are you up to now?”

“I feel like I’m just going to relax and read for a bit. Properly storing wine requires a lot of physical exertion.” I yawned, which seemed fitting, “I wouldn’t mind company though.”

“Bree and Roger are okay with it?”

“Yes, they told you you’re welcome anytime.” I had reminded Graham of this several times over the weeks, but he always asked anyway.

“I’ll see you in a few then.”

“Can’t wait. I’m going to hop in the shower, so feel free to let yourself in. The key is under the rock in the garden.”

“See you in a bit, darling.”

He hung up and I made my way upstairs for a much needed shower. I finally understood why Bree and Claire had been so nostalgic about modern bathing when they were in the past with me. The idea of being able to clean myself whenever I felt even the least bit grimy was a luxury. I’d been adapting well to life on Furey Street. I had a routine of watching Jemmy, seeing Graham, and studying history at the library. Now, I was excited to add work to it.

I heard the door downstairs open and close as I was drying myself off. I wrapped the towel around my waist and peeked into the stairwell to see Graham standing at the base of the stairs.

“You know, I have yet to see you with your shirt off. Gotta say, I like what I see.” Graham winked and I laughed.

“You’re quite the charmer when I’m up here practically nude, huh? Where’s that demeanor going to become winter when I’m bundled up all the time?”

“Well, if all goes well, I hope that I will have plenty of opportunities to help you shed those winter layers.”

I gave him a faux sigh of exasperation and made the way down the hall to my room. Graham’s footsteps followed up the stairs behind me.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” I asked as he stood in my doorway. He entered the room and approached me from behind, placing a hand on my waist and kissing the back of my head.

“Nobody’s here, and you look gorgeous right now. I feel like a teenager.”

I turned to face him and gave him a brief kiss. “Don’t you want to, I don’t know, talk about it first?” I asked.

“If it would make you more comfortable, then yes. Absolutely, we can.” He leaned back and put his hands on my arms, making sure to look me in the eyes as he spoke, “I won’t lie and say I don’t have that on my mind, especially at this particular moment, but I am in no hurry.”

“It’s just been a while since I’ve been intimate with someone in general, let alone someone who I’ve cared for as much as I care for you.”

“I completely understand, darling. Now, why don’t you get dressed and I’ll make you some lunch, yeah?”

“That sounds perfect.” I gave him a peck on the lips and he descended into the kitchen. I generally never felt timid when it came to physical intimacy. I’d been with dozens of men throughout the years, but the only lover I really cared about felt like a lifetime ago. Graham was already bringing back those feelings, even in the short time I’d known him.

The feeling of his touch on my waist lingered. I remembered the intensity of making love with Hector. It was an intimidating force. I hadn’t felt it since the rebellion, instead replaced with a deep feeling of profound loss. I supposed that that was what held me back from Graham. That hole had been empty for so long, and now that I had the opportunity to fill it again, I was scared. Not of the intimacy, although those intense feelings resurfacing was a bit nerve-wracking, but of the risk of losing it again.

I heard Graham come back up the stairs. I was still sitting on the bed, wrapped in my towel. He poked his head in and his smiling face softened a bit.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He sat beside me and placed a tender hand between my shoulder blades.

“Well, you seem very eager to engage in the physical aspect of our relationship-which is understandable, of course- but…”

“You can talk to me, John.”

“I was just trying to figure out why I’m not so eager. I want to have those desires, truly.”

“It’s okay, darling. I know I’ve been joking around about it and all, but I can seriously say that I am happy to take things slow. I just want you to be happy and comfortable.” I looked up at him and gave a small smile.

“I know. I’m not worried about that. I just- I haven’t unearthed those feelings in a long time. I have a lot of painful memories, Graham. I’ve lost nearly everyone I’ve ever loved. The thought of losing you-” I put my head in my hands, trying to control myself.

“Hey, hey- look at me. I’m not going anywhere.” He leaned over to try and get a look at my face, “You’re not getting rid of me without hiring a hitman.”

I appreciated the humor and turned my head to face him. “I had a close friend in the military. We were in love. Having sex with him just magnified those feelings so much that I could hardly bear the intensity. But, he was killed in battle. I haven’t had a relationship like that since. I suppose I’m just scared because I’m starting to get those feelings when I think about you.”

“It’s pretty damn scary, I’ll agree. But it’s also impossible to avoid once it’s started.” He smiled and kissed my forehead. “If it makes you feel better, I feel that way about you too.”

I looked at him for a moment. His features were relaxed and a stray hair fell over his forehead. He was smiling slightly, showing off his dimples. “Have I ever told you how beautiful you are, Graham?”

“The message has been implied many times, but I don’t believe you’ve ever said it directly.”

“Well, I’m saying it now. You are a beautiful man, Graham Nowak.” He blushed profusely and his grin widened. He looked into his lap before meeting my eyes.

“I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me.”

I leaned over and kissed him, feeling less impeded by fear than I had a few minutes ago. He was warm and welcoming. Graham reached a hand to the back of my head, deepening the kiss. I put a hand on his thigh, which was radiating heat at the touch.

“We can stop,” he said into the kiss.

“I know,” I replied. I moved my hand up his thigh tentatively, “May I?”

“Please,” he replied, kissing me harder. I moved my hand over his crotch, palming his hardening bulge. I could feel already that it was quite substantial as I kneaded gently. I removed my lips from Graham’s mouth, focusing now on his belt buckle. I undid it swiftly and untucked his shirt, kneeling on the ground in front of the bed.

“You can stop me if you want to.” I said. Graham nodded in acknowledgement.

I unzipped his shorts, planting small kisses along the waistband of his boxers. I could feel his muscles tense and relax beneath each kiss. I finally pulled down the elastic, revealing Graham’s length. Much like the rest of him, it was large and, compared to some of the others I’d seen in my time, quite beautiful. A drop of precum had gathered at the tip and I gave it a small lick, inciting a small gasp from Graham.

I teased him a bit more, swirling his tip in my mouth and licking the underside. His abs tensed slightly in anticipation. I could tell he was getting a bit frustrated. I held the base of his cock and leaned in, taking as much of his length as I could. He moaned as I sucked in, creating suction as I bobbed my head up and down. I reached my free hand to his, placing it on the back of my head. He took the encouragement and allowed the weight of it to help move me further down. He was fully in my mouth now and I could feel the precum in my throat. Graham’s deep moans signaled that he was getting close.

I picked up the pace a bit, running my hands along his stomach and thighs as I went. I hummed slightly, encouraging him. His hand on my head became a fist in my hair and he released into my throat. As his throbbing slowed, I took him out of my mouth, planting a kiss on his sensitive tip.

I looked up at him, the post orgasm bliss painted his flushed face. He flopped backwards, laying on the bed. I took a moment to dress myself as he laid there, sighing with a gigantic smile across his face.

Graham pulled me down onto the bed so I was sprawled next to him. He kissed me and rested his head in the crook of my neck, rolling over so that he was on his stomach. “I’m just going to say it- that was hands down the best fucking head I’ve ever gotten.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, I know I surely did.” I kissed the top of his head, breathing in the scent of his shampoo. We laid there for a few minutes as Graham recovered from his state of undoing.

He spoke up finally, although his words were muffled by my shoulder. “Your lunch is downstairs, by the way.”

“I almost forgot about that, thank you.” I sat up, leaving Graham limp on the bed. He grumbled cutely at the loss of his pillow.

“If you want to snuggle, come downstairs.” I bent over the bed and kissed his temple. He begrudgingly got up, adjusting his clothing as he stood. Graham moved to hug me, and I took him into my arms. He squeezed tightly and kissed the top of my head.

“I care about you a lot, John.” He said, his chin resting on the top of my head.

“I know you do.”

…….

Lifting the wine the next day was even more difficult than I had remembered, probably due to the achiness I was feeling from the previous day’s efforts. Pat had gotten another shipment of holiday wine, this one even more buttery and fruity than the last. I was up on a ladder today, balancing crates of filled bottles precariously on my shoulder as I climbed. It had been a while since I had worked in a field that was so laborious, primarily working in government and diplomacy. It felt nice to participate in tasks that were more physically straining than mentally so. I already had enough on my mind as it was.

I descended the ladder to reload my armful of merchandise, only to realize that Pat was standing at the base.

“I gotta go to an appointment in a few. Holler for Greg if ya fall and kill yourself.” He gave me a wink and spun his heel to leave.

“Pat-” I called. He spun around again, “If I finish this before you get back, what should I do?”

“How long have ya been here again?”

I glanced up at the clock, “5 hours.”

“Geesh! I’m not tryna work ya to death with heavy lifting before the week is out. At this rate, your bones will be aching just as bad as mine, and then I’ll have no use for ya. Finish up this stack and get your ass home.”

“Thank you, Pat.”

“See ya soon pal.”

I shelved the remainder of the crates and prepared myself to leave for the day. As I walked out into the shop, I heard Greg talking to a group of mid-thirties women at the counter.

“C’mon, ladies! Let me pour you all a taste of our summer spirits. I promise, you’ll love me for it.”

“Sounds great!” One of the women piped up, “But none for Alyssa here.”

“What, are you knocked up or something?” Greg laughed.

“Yeah...something like that.” The woman, presumably Alyssa, spoke up.

I looked over at her and noticed that she didn’t seem too happy about her current situation. Her friends were laughing and joking around, clearly experiencing the effects of the wine. She just sat there and stared at the wall behind Greg.

Clearly, there must have been some gossip that I wasn't privy to, because some of the tipsy women were leaning over the counter to whisper to Greg about the details of their friend's personal life. Alyssa, who had seemingly picked up on this, was red with anger. She kept her eyes on the wall. Clearly, this wasn’t my business, so I made the wise choice to make myself scarce before the drama reached a tipping point.

She needed to get some better friends.

Chapter Text

“Wake uuuuup!!” The high-pitched voice at my bedside screamed into my ear.

“Jem, has anyone ever told you that you’re quite loud?” I mumbled into my pillow. I opened one eye to see him dressed in the swimming clothes that he wore to camp on occasion.

“My teacher says that all the time! Now up! Mommy and Daddy say it’s beach time. And Mommy also said that you were bringing your friend and I wanna be his friend too so LET’S GO!”

I sat up and gave his hair a ruffle, causing him to giggle. In my drowsiness, I’d completely forgotten about the weekend’s seaside excursion.

“I’m sure you and Graham will be great friends. Now, why don’t you go downstairs and help your parents with breakfast while I get ready?”

“Okay!” Jem gave me a brief hug before running out of the room. I could hear his little feet hopping down the stairs in excitement.

The trip was only for one night, so it only took me a few minutes to pack. I made sure to remember the “swim trunks” that Bree had advised me to go buy after work the previous day. She had spent a while trying to mentally prepare me for the weekend, especially telling me about the modern dress-code for beaches. She had turned on the television to a beach-themed movie and made me watch it until I was no longer surprised by the scantily-clad characters, all of which were female. I felt sufficiently prepared now, if not a bit confused by the attire.

As I made my way down the hallway to join Jem and Bree, I was stopped by Roger. “Good morning, John. Can I- uh- speak to you for a moment.”

“Of course. What is it?”

He gave me a bit of an awkward smile. “Well, you see, you and Graham are sharing a room-which is fine, by the way. Have fun- I mean, uh,” Roger put a hand on the back of his neck. “I’m not sure if you and Graham have been intimate yet,” he coughed slightly, “But if you are thinking about it, then there are some things you should be made aware of before-”

I laughed slightly, “Roger, what is this about?”

He sighed, “Have you? Had sex with Graham, that is…”

“It doesn’t seem like that would be your business. But you seem concerned, so I’ll be transparent and say we haven’t. We have discussed it, though.”

“Good, good. There’s no issue with it, obviously, but I just want to make sure that you know the modern ways of preventing sexually transmitted illnesses,” he pulled a small square packet out of his pocket, “You know what a sheath is, obviously, but this is the modern version- it’s called a condom. You should both be tested for sexually transmitted diseases before you do anything without it.”

“Well, thank you for the information Roger. Although, I will say that this is sufficiently awkward.”

“Agreed. But don’t worry, that’s all I needed to tell you.”

We made our way downstairs, still feeling slightly weird about the conversation. Bree took one look at us and laughed.

“You boys have a nice chat?” She teased.

“You advised this?” I asked, surprised.

“John, there’s an epidemic happening right now. Someone had to tell you, and I figured it would be better coming from another man.”

I rolled my eyes slightly. Before the conversation could continue, there was a knock at the door. Jem jumped out his seat and ran to open it, with Bree following closely behind.

“Hey, kiddo!” Graham said to the small boy answering the door. “Are you ready for a weekend at the Cape?”

“Yes yes yes let’s gooo!” Jem pulled Roger’s sleeve.

“Just a few more minutes, laddie. Let Daddy and Uncle John finish our coffee.”

Graham followed Jem, who was now pouting in impatience, into the kitchen while Bree went outside to secure Jem’s car seat into his car. He sat beside me and kissed my cheek.

“Awe, you’re Uncle John. That’s sweet.” I scooped Jem up and put him on my lap. His brow was furrowed in frustration.

“That I am. And Uncle John always knows how to make his little Jem feel better, right?” Jemmy’s eyes widened in realization before I started tickling his stomach. He kicked his legs and tried to wriggle free, all the while laughing and smiling.

Graham gave me an endearing look that was interrupted by Jemmy’s kicking foot narrowly missing his crotch. “Oof, buddy, watch where those little stompers go, yeah?”

Jem’s wriggling became more desperate and I set him free from my clutches. He’d expended quite a bit of energy whilst wiggling and was now quite tuckered. It was just in time, too. Bree had just come back inside.

……….

I felt grateful that I could finally stretch my legs after being stuffed in the backseat for the entire drive. Bree was the navigator, which apparently required her to sit in the passenger’s seat next to Graham, leaving me and Roger to be squished in with Jem.

We had rented a small house by the beach and I marveled at its lovely quaintness as I helped Roger carry in the bags. It had large windows that looked out onto the water and appeared to fit right in with the environment, practically blending in with the driftwood and the sand-dunes.

Jemmy pulled at the bottom of his father’s shirt in an attempt to catch his attention. “Can we go swimming now, daddy?”

“Of course, laddie. Why don’t you have Uncle John take you out to the beach and Mommy and I will meet you out there in a few minutes. Make sure to wear your life vest.”

Jem nodded vigorously and grabbed my hand, leading me out the door. Graham walked beside me, holding my other hand. The beach was private and I enjoyed the lack of anxiety as I weaved my fingers in between Graham’s. His hands were large and fit snugly around mine.

Jemmy made a break for it as we approached the water’s edge. Without hesitation, Graham lunged forward and grabbed him, slinging the squirming child over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“Safety first, kiddo.” He wrapped the life vest securely around Jem, who was becoming more and more impatient by the second. When the last buckle was fastened, Jem bolted towards the water.

“It’s coooold,” he yelled over the sound of the waves. Nevertheless, I could see the pure joy on his face as he splashed about in the shallow water. I heard Bree call out to him from behind me.

“Wait for Mommy before you go out any further, baby!” I turned to look at her and Roger, who were making their way to join us. Bree was wearing a swimsuit that was similar to the ones she had shown me earlier in the week. Surprisingly, I was more shocked to see Roger. I hadn’t quite realized that the swim trunks were meant to be worn *without* a shirt of any kind. I suddenly lost all urge to change and join Jem in the waves.

“Don’t you want to swim too?” Graham nudged me.

“Not at the moment, I suppose. I’d prefer to keep my clothes on.” I gave him an apologetic look, but I was met with a smile.

“You, my darling, have nothing to worry about in that department.” He winked and leaned over to kiss my temple. “You’re beautiful.”

“You’re supposed to say that- you’re my boyfriend. Plus, I’m not sure if it’s insecurity that’s holding me back.”

“Ah, so you’re modest then?”

“That’s one way of putting it, yes.”

Graham clicked his tongue. “Don’t worry,” he bent over and whispered in my ear, “we’ll change that before the weekend is over.”

The feeling of his warm breath on my face caused a pleasant shiver. I had no idea what he meant, but whatever it was, it sounded sensual. I took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

I tried my best to refocus on the familial scene in the waves before me. Jem was atop Roger’s shoulders now and they were making their way further out into the water. Bree followed behind them, but she was hit by a crashing wave and was temporarily submerged. When she resurfaced, she screamed giddily and clutched at her bosom.

“This damn clasp!” She ran out of the water and I could see that her top had become unfastened in the back. I averted my gaze to give her some privacy, but she ran to me. “John, can you fix it? I’d rather avoid flashing everyone by doing it myself.”

I could feel myself blush, but I obliged her. She turned around to reveal her bare back and I hastily refastened the clasp that held the top on. She gave a quick “thank you” as she ran back to rejoin her husband and son.

Graham was laughing beside me. “Jeez, it’s like you’ve never seen a topless woman before.”

“Well, I have. But I’ve generally avoided touching them.”

His eyes widened and he laughed harder. “But you were MARRIED.”

“Yes, but I am sure that Isobel could attest to my lack of interest in that regard.”

“So you had a sexless marriage?” Graham teased.

“I’m glad to see you find this amusing,” I said, half joking. “And no, I still performed my husbandly duties. I merely avoided any unnecessary touching.”

“How romantic.” Graham said with a sarcastic grin. He wrapped his arm over my shoulders and I welcomed the embrace. The afternoon breeze was a bit chilly and I had gooseflesh on my arms. He seemed to notice and turned me to face him.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” With that, he was off running towards the house. He re-emerged a few moments later with an armful of towels and blankets. “Here you go, babe,” he said as he wrapped me in a blanket.

He spread one out in the sand and I joined him on it. I could feel the comfortable heat radiating from the sand through the blanket. “Thank you,” I said, leaning into Graham’s shoulder. He planted a kiss on the top of my head.

“Anything for you, darling.”

…….

We spent the entire afternoon on the beach, only pausing to pick up some lunch from a nearby seafood restaurant. It had been quite pleasant, lying there in the sand with Graham and listening to the crashing waves and excited giggles from Jemmy.

It was about 8:30 now, and the sky was a dark blue hue. We were getting ready to head inside as the heat of the day dissipated into a cool night. Jemmy was starting to get tired. It was a bit earlier than usual, but the expended energy of the day had finally taken its toll. Roger and Bree were yawning too, clearly fatigued from keeping up with the antics of their son all day.

“I think I’m going to be sound asleep the second my head hits the pillow,” Roger yawned as we entered the house. “Ready for a bath, Jem?”

The boy nodded sleepily and Bree moved to scoop him up. She seemed even more tired than her son was.

“Don’t worry about it, Brianna,” I offered, “I’ll get him cleaned up and into bed. You two go ahead and get some sleep.”

She smiled gratefully and followed Roger up to their room.

“Need some help?” asked Graham.

“That would be much appreciated, thank you.” I gave him a peck on the lips and picked up Jem. “Can you get the bath ready?”

Graham nodded and made his way into the bathroom. Jemmy was tired enough to not put up a fuss as I took him to his room and helped him out of his wet swim clothes. I draped the tiny shorts over the hook on the door to dry before grabbing a towel and swaddling him in it. It was really quite cute. The towel had a small hood with the face of a duck on it.

“C’mon little duckling, it’s bath time.” He followed behind me to the bathroom, making small quacking noises as he went.

Graham was kneeling over the edge of the tub, placing Jem’s rubber ducks into the mountains of bubbles. Jemmy squealed excitedly and shed his towel onto the floor.

“Alright duckling, hop in.” I said.

“I’m not a duckling.” Jem replied adamantly.

“You’re not? Well, what are you then?” I asked.

“I’m King of the ducks!”

I laughed and bowed gracefully, “Of course, your Majesty. My most humble apologies. Are you ready for your bath?”

Jemmy stuck up his nose and nodded dramatically as he climbed into the tub. Graham laughed, earning a stern look from His Majesty. We bathed Jemmy as he played with his toys. By the time we finished, Jem’s fingers were pruney and the bubbles had all popped. I scooped him up out of the water and wrapped him in his duck-towel. He marched down the hall, still pretending to be King of the ducks.

“He is quite the young thespian,” Graham chuckled as he watched Jem waddle off into his room.

“That he is,” I agreed. “I’m going to go put him down. You’re welcome to join us.” He nodded and we finished cleaning up the bathroom.

Graham took my hand and followed me into Jem’s room. He had already dried off and dressed and was now waiting patiently under his covers.

“Can you tell me a story, Uncle John?” He pouted cutely.

“Of course, little one. Which one do you want to hear?” I reached into his bag to find a couple of his favorite storybooks.

“I don’t want to hear any of those books. Can you tell another one?”

I thought for a moment, “Well, unfortunately I can’t seem to think of any right now.”

“I can!” Piped up Graham. Jemmy’s attention turned to him now and he waited excitedly.

“Well, this is more of a myth than a story. But there’s magic in it, and witches.”

“Ooooo yes!” Jemmy said enthusiastically.

I realized at that moment what Graham was referring to and panicked slightly. I wasn’t quite sure if Jem remembered traveling through the stones, but if he did, then he might say something revealing. I bit my tongue, assuming that refusing Graham’s story would only raise more questions.

“In Scotland-” Graham started.

“That’s where Daddy is from!”

“Yes, where your daddy is from- there are dozens of ancient stone circles scattered throughout the Highlands. It is believed that they were built there by Druids, which is a type of ancient witch. They lived in the wilderness and practiced white magic, which is said to be the power of good.”

“So they were good witches?”

“That they were. But, the people in the towns were scared of all kinds of magic. Because of that, the Druids had to hide in the wilderness.”

“Why did they build the stone circles?” Asked Jemmy.

“Well, the myth says that the circles were areas where the forces of magic were the strongest. The magic was so strong that some people think that the stones had the power to send people through time.”

“I’ve done that!” Jemmy exclaimed.

My heart felt as though it had stopped and I looked to Graham, who was smiling.

“Ah, yes kiddo. I’m sure you have.”

“I did, I swear! Mommy and Daddy took me when I was really little. Uncle John knows- tell him it’s true Uncle John.”

Before I could even formulate a response, Graham laughed.

“I think you should get some sleep, kiddo.” He stood and gave him a kiss on the top of the head. Jem seemed content with this and settled into his covers. I sighed, trying to shake the anxiety of the past couple moments before standing up and bidding him goodnight. I followed Graham out of the room and turned off the light.

“He has quite the imagination, that one,” Graham whispered as we made our way down the hallway to our room.

“Well, your research is quite thought-provoking. Have you made any new discoveries?” I tried not to act too interested, but my heart was beating rapidly in my chest.

“Yes, actually. I found one of the journals of a woman who had wanted to go back in time. Her name was Geillis. She had basically done all the same research that I had done, except she seemed to have more of a focus on actually getting through the stones.”

There was a sizable lump in my throat upon hearing her name. I knew the woman he was speaking of.

“Do you think she succeeded?”

Graham thought for a moment before responding, “Well, there’s no evidence to the contrary. She did disappear without a trace, save for the burned corpse of her husband by a stone circle close to where she lived. She had thought that a human sacrifice was necessary, you see. Nobody has found any trace of her. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually think she did it.”

I was glad to hear that Graham wasn’t finding the notion as absurd as it sounded. I merely hoped that his outlook would continue to be so positive.

The conversation ended and Graham started rifling through his bag, eventually pulling out yet another blanket.

“What are you doing?” I asked curiously.

“You mean what are *we* doing. I told you I’d help with that whole modesty thing, remember?”

Before I could ask another question, Graham was pulling me down the stairs and out the front door. I couldn’t resist in any way for fear of making noise and waking up the sleeping MacKenzies.

I was led to a small secluded portion of our beach, hidden from the windows of the house by a wall of phragmite. It was quite private, which I was immediately grateful for as Graham began stripping off his clothes. I’d yet to see his naked body, his muscles and long limbs highlighted in the moonlight. He made his way gingerly down the beach into the water before turning around and calling to me. “You coming in or what?”

My eyes widened at the thought, but I couldn’t resist the thought of joining Graham’s naked form in the waves. I tentatively undressed and tiptoed down to the water’s edge, carefully avoiding any sharp shells. The water was a bit cold, but not intolerable. I joined Graham, who had managed to pass the wall of crashing waves and was now bobbing up and down in the water.

He held my waist beneath the surface of the water and kissed me slowly. “See, was that so hard?” He asked cheekily.

I retaliated to the remark with a splash, which Graham reciprocated. My hair was dripping wet now and I pounced on top of him, knocking him back into the water. The sexual tension was broken for a few moments as we rough-housed. Graham pushed me under the water again. As I resurfaced, I felt his lips on mine. He pulled away and gave me a look that I recognized- adoration, pleasure, and desire swam in his eyes.

I kissed him again, feeling the warmth of his mouth on my own as the cold waves chilled the rest of me. He placed his hand on my buttocks and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He continued to kiss me as he carried me out of the water hastily, avoiding the crashing waves.

The cold air licked at the saltwater on my skin, but I couldn’t feel it’s chill as the pleasurable heat raced through my body. Graham laid me down on the blanket in the sand and hovered above me, planting kisses over my chest and eventually back on my mouth.

I pulled away from the kiss and leaned into his ear. “Make love to me, Graham,” I whispered.

“Anything for you, darling,” he obliged. He kissed me slowly, but the pace quickly devolved into one of passion and need. I could feel his hard length pressing into my thingh as he ground his hips between my legs.

He pulled away, reaching for the jacket he had worn outside. After rifling through the pockets, he procured a bottle of clear liquid and one of those “condoms” that Roger had informed me of that morning. Graham coated his fingers with the lubricant and paused.

“Let me know if you want me to stop, okay John.” He looked into my eyes and awaited a response, upon which he slid a finger slowly inside me. His fingers were long and strong, and it didn’t take him long to locate my prostate. He rubbed it in gentle circles, causing a wave of pleasure to ripple through me. I moaned, inciting another finger to be added.

“Do you like that, babe?” Graham leaned over me and whispered into my ear as he worked.

“Yes, dear God yes,” I replied breathily. I relaxed to the width and he felt it, slipping in the third and final finger.

“You are so sexy when I’m making you feel good,” he said, planting a sloppy kiss on my chest. He then swirled his tongue delicately over each of my nipples, causing them to harden instantly.

“Graham-please…”

“So you’re ready, I see.” He replied into my ear, giving it a slight flick with his tongue.

He removed his fingers and grabbed a hold of my cock, spreading the already building pre-cum over the tip and rubbing it with one thumb. I moaned in frustrated pleasure, feeling the heat of my prostate waiting to be stimulated again.

“Shit,” I moaned, “Please, I want you inside of me.”

Graham bent down and kissed me sweetly. “Okay, my darling.” He unwrapped the condom and rolled it on before applying more lube. He positioned himself over me, giving me one final kiss as he aligned himself and pushed in slowly.

It was a tight fit- it had been a while since I’d had someone inside of me. My breath hitched slightly.

“It’s okay baby, just relax.” He reached out and held my hand. I wrapped my legs around his waist as he got deeper to allow him a better angle to access my prostate. My back arched in pleasure as he hit it. He was fully inside of me now and he waited a moment for me to get used to his length, kissing my shoulder and squeezing my hand.

I felt my muscles relax and Graham started moving. His moans were deep and I could feel the vibrations of them in his chest. I wrapped my arms around his torso, clawing into his back slightly as he thrusted into me. It caused him to moan louder, so I continued to do it.

“Fuck, babe. You feel so good,” he picked up the pace, and the waves of pleasure rushing through me intensified. I reached and hand into his har and pulled it slightly. He moaned loudly in response.

“Fuck, John, keep doing that.” Graham whispered. I obliged, enjoying the pleasure-filled reactions that my scratching and hair-pulling elicited. It was extremely sexy to see him in such a state. He was close, I could tell, so I hiked my legs further over his torso. He responded and pounded into my prostate.

The tight ball of heat in my abdomen and my groin released as I spilled onto him. My cock pulsed and my mouth opened as I moaned. I lifted my head and placed it into the crook of Graham’s shoulder as he continued thrusting. Without even thinking about it, I sunk my teeth into the muscle. I bit hard, but not enough to break the skin. The taste of the sea water filled my mouth.

“Holy shit,” Graham arched his back and I released his shoulder. He came, the muscles in his abdomen spasming. I could feel his cock pulse inside of me as he rode out his high.

As he slowed, I dropped my legs from around his waist. He pulled out, removing the condom and tying a knot in it before sticking it back into the wrapper. He turned his attention back to me, his face twisted in ecstasy. I pulled him down to lay on top of me and we laid there for a moment, just breathing and relishing in each other’s arms.

“Are you okay?” I asked after a while. I was slightly concerned. “Was the biting too much?”

Graham lifted his head and kissed my nose, “The biting was fucking fantastic, babe. I usually try to hide the part of me that enjoys pain during sex until after I’ve been with someone for a while.”

“Why?” I asked, “You enjoy it. You shouldn’t have to hide it.”

“Some people feel uncomfortable inflicting pain on me. I’m glad you’re okay with it, though. I can have sex without it, but it is something that I’ve never really been able to enjoy in a relationship until now.”

“Well, I liked doing it. And I think- well, nevermind…”

“No, baby tell me. I want to know.” He ran and hand through my hair.

“Well, I guess I just mean that I am curious about how that feels too.”

Graham smiled and laid next to me, pulling me into his arms. “Let’s get to know each other’s basic sexual needs first, okay baby? We have time to explore.”

I nodded and snuggled into his chest, a wave of tiredness drifting over me.

“I know you want to sleep now darling,” Graham whispered, “But we have to clean up first.”

He stood and folded my clothes before pulling on his jeans. I felt him wrap me in the blanket and scoop me up, carrying me comfortably in his arms. My eyes were still closed, but I heard him enter the house and carry me up the stairs. I was placed gently onto a soft chair in our bedroom and the sound of the shower came through the walls. I peeked through my eyelids to see Graham undressing again and throwing away the condom.

Graham came over to me and unwrapped me from the blanket as he lifted me again, bringing me into the bathroom and into the shower with him. I leaned on him, battling the lure of sleep. I had forgotten how amazing sex could have that effect. It was as if every ounce of energy in my body had transformed into blissful pleasure and was released from me, leaving me in a state of orgasmic sleepliness.

Graham massaged my head as he shampooed my hair. I managed to muster up enough energy to hold myself up as he repeated the process on himself. Within a few minutes we were both out of the shower and l was being draped onto the bed.

“We should probably wear pajamas, right?”

I nodded. He tossed me a t-shirt and some pajama pants and I managed to get them on lazily. Graham lifted the covers and I slid underneath them. He joined beside me and I snuggled into his side. He kissed me briefly and ran a thumb gently over my closed eye. I opened them and looked at his face. Graham’s expression was soft, but it revealed more in this moment than it ever had before.

“I love you, John.”

I smiled and kissed him softly.

“I love you too, Graham.” I whispered back.

I hadn’t felt this feeling in years, but it’s familiarity was comforting. I felt safe and warm in his arms. Graham ran his fingers through my damp hair and I relaxed deeper and deeper into his touch until I was sound asleep.

Chapter Text

September 1977

“Come here, Jemmy. You need to wear a coat today, it’s starting to get chilly.”

We were about to walk out the door to wait for the school bus. Bree and Roger had to leave for work relatively early in the mornings, so I was in charge of making sure Jemmy was ready for school. It was a nice routine- making sure he had a good breakfast, that he had his homework in his bag, and ensuring that he caught the bus on time.

Jem ran out the door as the bus pulled up in front of the house. The driver, Eunice, opened the doors and waved to me as Jem climbed up the steep steps. She was a kind woman and Jemmy liked her quite a bit. He would always sit in the seat right behind hers and talk to her for the entire ride. I enjoyed hearing his daily retellings of their conversations.

It was a Friday, so I headed upstairs and started getting ready for work. I had managed to convince Pat to shift my schedule so that Graham could drop me off at work on the way to his morning classes. Since the fall semester began, Graham and I had a bit less time to see each other during the work-week.

I heard Graham let himself in while I got dressed. He emerged into my room a couple minutes later with a mug of fresh coffee.

“Thank you, love,” I said, giving him a quick peck. “What’s your day like today?”

“Well, I only have two classes. But my office hours are going to be hellish. The first essay is due in my intro course next week, so I’m going to have all the ‘type-A’ freshmen lined up at my door.” He flopped backwards onto the bed in exasperation and stared at the ceiling.

“They just want to make a good impression with their first assignment.” I finished buttoning my shirt and sat on the bed next to him.

“I know, but they stress out too much. They’re all anxious wrecks and it worries me. Am I really that scary?” He looked at me expectantly, indicating that the question was not rhetorical.

“Of course not. You’re a kind professor. I’ve seen it firsthand, remember?”

“Of course I try to be. I just hate the idea of causing unnecessary stress for them. I want them to enjoy learning in my class, not dread it.”

“I can’t imagine anyone ever dreading seeing you.” I bent down and kissed him. Graham’s hand brushed against my cheek and he deepened the kiss.

“What time is it?” He looked at the clock by the bed and I immediately missed his lips on mine.

We had a half-hour before we had to leave. “I think I have enough time to help take your mind off of the day’s stress.” I bit my lip and moved to straddle him. Graham smiled and ran a hand over my thigh.

“Well, you’re going to have to get undressed again,” Graham said, feigning disinterest, “Sounds like quite the inconvenience.”

I ground my hips over his crotch and his breath hitched. He sat up and kissed me roughly. I fumbled with his necktie and managed to remove it. We undressed hastily, not wanting to waste precious time.

Once I was naked, Graham hastily prepared me. I was still a bit tight when he reached for the condom in the bedside drawer, but I didn’t care. Graham rolled it on. I flipped over onto my hands and knees.

“You look so sexy right now, baby,” Graham bent over me and whispered in my ear. I felt him align himself and press in. “Fuck, you’re tight. Stop me if it’s too much.”

My inhaled sharply. It was a bit painful at first, but I welcomed it. Graham had a way of making the pain intimate, and it made me feel even closer to him. He pounded into me quickly and I could feel myself relax as he went, the pain becoming pure pleasure.

I felt Graham wrap an arm around my midsection. He pulled out for a second and flipped me onto my back in one swift motion before plunging back in.

“Holy shit, Graham.” He had never done that before, but the action alone was nearly enough to make me lose myself right then and there. Graham bent down as he thrusted, inviting me to scratch down his back. I knew what he liked now. I dug my nails into his shoulder blades and bit his shoulder. His thrusts hitched slightly and he moaned. It was quite satisfying that I had that effect on him.

He reached for my legs and pulled one up over his shoulder, angling himself so that he could stimulate my prostate even more with his movement. I threw my head back and moaned. Graham bent down and kissed me and I moaned into his mouth.

I felt his hand wrap a hand around my cock and he stroked it in time with his thrusts. It only took a couple strokes before I came undone, spilling over his and onto his stomach.

Graham came shortly after I did, his moans became guttural and he thrust deeper into me. I could feel the base of his length throb as he pulled out slowly. I pulled him onto me for a moment as we caught our breaths.

After a moment, he rolled over onto the bed, his softening cock draping over his leg. He removed his condom and tied it up. Before he could get up, I reached over and pulled his face to mine, kissing him softly. “I love you.”

“I love you too, darling.” He smiled and looked into my eyes for a moment before getting up to throw away the condom and get a towel. He wiped himself off and then threw it to me.

We dressed in a comfortable silence, the love hanging in the air around us. I tied his tie around his collar and pulled it slightly, encouraging him to bend down and kiss me. He did, and it was sweet and gentle. I felt his arms wrap around my waist and he pulled me into a hug.

“I miss you already and we haven’t even left yet,” Graham said into my shoulder as he held me, “Do you want to come over tonight?”

I pulled away and looked at him, surprised. I hadn’t seen his apartment yet.

“I know I should have invited you over before now, but I really do want you to see my place.”

“Don’t be silly,” I gave him a peck on the cheek, “Of course I want to come over.”

“I’ll pick you up after I get out of office hours.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Now, let’s get you to work.”

……

The work day dragged on more than usual. Pat had me filling in for Greg today, which was a nice change of pace from the usual heavy-lifting. The day was a bit slow, only one wine-tasting in the morning with a few customers coming in to buy wine for their weekend parties.

About an hour before my shift was over, a familiar group of women came into the store. One was wearing a sash that said “Bride to Be” in shiny cursive letters. I checked the schedule behind the bar.

“You must be the bridal party for a Miss. Elliot?” I asked as they approached.

“That’s me! But not for long.” The bride raised her arms in excitement, “Soon I’ll be Mrs. Thompson.”

Her friends cheered. There was a smaller woman in the back of the bunch who made her way forward to the bar. I hadn’t noticed her when they came in, but upon seeing her, I realized why these ladies were so familiar. Alyssa sat at the bar in the same place she had when she came in a few months prior.

“None for me...” She looked at my nametag, “John, I’m currently the host of a parasite that prevents me from drinking alcohol.” She rolled her eyes.

“Honey,” one of her friends chimed in, “It’s a baby, not a tapeworm. You have to start this motherly bonding thing. Your ennui is just annoying at this point.”

Alyssa’s friends laughed and she sunk lower into her seat, “Screw you guys. I didn’t ask for this.”

“Then maybe you should have kept your legs closed.” They laughed even more, clearly having had some drinks prior to their arrival. I stood there, not sure what to do. I tried my best to just serve their wine and not get involved. Clearly, these tipsy women had no regard for my presence.

“Yeah,” Alyssa chided sarcastically, “Like you guys are such Marys.”

“Well yeah, but the difference is that we can afford the pill.”

I raised my eyebrows at this last remark. I had no idea what “the pill” was, but something about it made Alyssa flush with anger.

“God, I would have gotten knocked up a million times by now if it weren’t for my pills,” stated the bride, “I’d share them with you if I could- although, you’re probably going to get laid way less once you’re a single mom.” The women laughed again.

Ah, so this “pill” was a preventative measure for pregnancy. Alyssa’s friends were still roaring with laughter. I couldn’t take their bullying any longer. Other customers were beginning to notice.

“I know it’s none of my business,” I said loudly, trying to talk over their laughter, “but I just wanted to let you ladies know that you’re being quite rude to your friend here, as well as disrupting the other customers.”

They went silent and Alyssa perked up.

“John, I appreciate it. But nothing you say will make them stop. That’s just how they are.”

“Yeah, listen to her you asshole.” The bride said, clearly not picking up on the insult, “This is none of your business. She got knocked up and we think it’s funny. It’s no big deal.”

“Clearly she doesn’t agree with that sentiment, and neither do I. If you don’t stop, I’m going to have to ask you to take your business elsewhere.”

“Ugh, you know what? I didn't even want to come here anyway,” the bride said angrily. She turned to leave and her friends followed her. Alyssa stayed back, waving them on to go without her.

“Thanks,” she muttered after the rest of the women were gone, “Their lives are boring. They just like making fun of me for their own amusement.”

“Well, you don’t deserve that. It’s none of their business. Nor is it mine.”

She smiled and stood, grabbing her purse. “Have a nice night, John.”

I watched her walk out onto the street, going the opposite way that her friends did. I felt bad for kicking them out, but I had honestly been uncomfortable. How did Greg allow that kind of behavior?

Pat emerged from the back. “Where are the lovely ladies who just came in?”

“I had to ask them to leave. They were disrupting the other customers and being extremely vulgar and rude.”

Pat nodded his head. “Good call. This isn’t a club, they gotta be civil here. Why don’t you head out early? I’ll take over the bar.”

I nodded and removed my apron. He gave me a clap on the shoulder and I left. My frustration dissipated as I walked down the street to the bus stop. I replayed the women's’ comments in my mind. I would have thought that women in this time wouldn’t have to face social ridicule for exploring their sexuality before getting married; at least that’s how Claire had made it sound. Some of the things those women said to Alyssa could rival the condemnations of the 18th century- and from other women no less!

The bus pulled up and I boarded it, making sure to pay the driver the proper amount. I was quite exhausted, but not physically. Navigating social situations with strangers in this time took quite a bit of mental strength. I recalled the days when I always knew exactly what to say and to whom, regardless of the conversation’s complexity. I hoped I’d feel that way again someday, but any notion of clarity seemed far in the future.

The sky was beginning to turn slightly, and the autumn breeze picked up. I hoped that the rain would wait until after Jemmy got off the school bus- otherwise, I’d be waiting for him in the wetness.

I exited the bus when it arrived at the stop a few blocks down from Furey Street. The wind rustled through the newly-turning trees, bringing down the first batch of fallen leaves. A drop of rain splashed on my cheek as I unlocked the front door. The clock on the wall indicated that Jemmy’s bus would arrive any minute. I sat on the porch and the droplets became bigger, beginning to dot the sidewalk with dark spots.

I heard the bus before I saw it, a loud whirring noise from down the street. As it approached, I could see Jemmy peering over his seat to talk to Eunice. She waved at me as he climbed down the steep stairs.

“Get inside quickly, before the heavens open on us,” I beckoned Jemmy to the porch and he hopped up the stairs like a rabbit. He slipped slightly on the rain-slicked steps. I managed to catch him and avoid him hitting his face on the brick, but his hand had caught some of his weight at an awkward angle.

His small face screwed in pain and I could tell he was about to start wailing. I scooped him up and brought him inside, sitting him on the kitchen counter and unbuttoning his coat. His wrist was already slightly inflamed. I held it carefully and felt with my fingers for broken bones- there were none.

“You’re okay, Jem,” I kissed his forehead. My poking and prodding of his wrist had made Jem’s cries more pronounced, however. “Does it hurt when I touch it?”

He nodded wordlessly, tears unabated.

“Can you try and bend it, like this?” I wiggled my wrist in demonstration. He held his hand up and tried to move it, but to no avail. It was red and swollen, clearly he had injured himself at least moderately.

I reached for the phone and dialed the number for Brianna’s office, but she didn’t pick up. I remembered she had told me something about an afternoon meeting with an associate and opted to try Roger’s office instead. I stopped mid-dial, though. I was teaching a class at this time.

I dialed the familiar number and Graham picked up almost immediately.

“Hey, babe- is that Jemmy crying in the background?”

“Unfortunately, yes. He took a spill up the porch steps and hurt his wrist. I don’t think it’s broken, but I feel it necessary to take him to a physician. His parent’s are indisposed, though.”

“I’m on my way.” The line clicked and I took a deep breath. Brianna had left a list titled “In Case of Emergency” on the refrigerator. I scanned it, looking for any clues as to what to do next.

“#5- If you need to take Jemmy to the emergency room, be sure to take his insurance card. It’s in a folder in Roger’s filing cabinet, along with the other documents you might need.”

I removed Jem from the counter and placed him on the sofa. “Wait here, I’ll be back in a moment.” His wails had died down slightly, but he was still clutching his wrist and fresh tears continued to roll down his cheeks.

The folder was easy enough to find- right where Bree had said it would be. I felt a wave of relief as I pulled it from its place in the cabinet. I wasn’t sure what I would have done if I hadn’t found them.

There was a knock at the door and I heard Graham open it. “John! Where are you?”

I made my way to the foyer and waved the folder in the air. “I just had to retrieve these. Let’s go.”

………

“Thank you,” I finally sighed as we took our seats in the waiting room.

“No need to thank me, darling.” He gave my hand a subtle squeeze.

“Of course there’s a need to,” I explained, “You were just telling me this morning what a busy day you had. What about your students?”

“I left a note on the door letting the student’s know that office hours are going to be on Monday instead. Don’t worry, please.” Graham gave me a sincere look and I decided to accept his assurance.

Just as I began to relax a bit, a nurse called into the room. “Jeremiah?”

Jem raised his good hand and the nurse gave him a kind smile, beckoning for us to follow her. I gave Graham’s hand one last squeeze before following the nurse.

The nurse lifted Jem onto the examination table and glanced at the papers she held in her hands. “Can I look at your wrist, sweetie?” she asked Jem. He nodded and held it out.

“What is your relationship to the patient, sir?”

“I’m his uncle.” It wasn’t really a lie. I was his mother’s brother’s father, so I supposed it must have been “great uncle.”

I could have sworn I saw the nurse roll her eyes at my response to her question, but I figured it wouldn’t be worth focusing on. Jemmy was the most important issue right now.

“I’m going to take him to radiology to get an x-ray. He’ll be out in about twenty minutes.” She left with Jem, who looked back to me worriedly. I wished I could go with him, but the nurse’s demeanor seemed to imply that that was not an option. I made my way back to Graham in the waiting room and sat back down heavily next to him, releasing a worried sigh. He gave my thigh a reassuring squeeze.

I was only seated for about five minutes before I felt the need to get up and do something. The suspense was killing me and I needed to take action somehow. “I’m going to find a payphone and try to call Bree and Roger again.” I said to Graham.

“Do you have coins?”

I checked my pockets and nodded, leaving Graham to continue waiting. On my hunt for a damned payphone- this hospital seemed to have very few- I overheard someone saying Jemmy’s name. Despite my general tendency to avoid eavesdropping, this seemed like a situation where breaking a social rule could be justified. I positioned myself around the corner and listened.

“He claims to be the kid’s uncle. But he’s there with some other dude and I definitely just saw blondie grab his thigh.”

“Do you think he was lying about his relationship to the kid?” Another nurse asked.

“I don’t know, he seemed sincere. But what kind of parent leaves their little boy alone with men like that?!”

“You can’t blame the parents. They probably don’t know that it’s dangerous.”

“But c’mon! What kind of parent hasn’t heard of the creepy uncle? It’s basically the norm for those types of men.”

Dangerous? Creepy? I was confused, unsure if I had heard them correctly. What about me made them think I would hurt Jemmy?

I decided that the payphones could wait until Jemmy had an actual diagnosis and headed back to Graham. His expression was immediately concerned upon seeing me.

“Is everything okay, love? You look upset.”

I put my head in my hands and shook my head. “I overheard the nurses saying something about me- or us really- and I think they are assuming that we want to hurt Jemmy. They said that Bree and Roger shouldn’t leave him alone with ‘people like us,’ whatever the hell that means. They think I’m a ‘creepy uncle.’” I knew what it meant, but the thought was so hurtful that I couldn’t bear to think about what they were actually implying.

“Every once in a while,” Graham started, “I feel like the world has made so much progress. And then bullshit like this happens, and reality hits me like a bus.” He moved to hold my hand, but I pulled it away instinctively. I suddenly felt like I was back where I started again.

“Sweetheart, look at me,” Graham coaxed. I turned my head to face him. He seemed compassionate, yet worried. “Letting them affect you is exactly what they want. It hurts, I know, but the only thing that matters is that you know they’re being intolerant and that there’s nothing wrong with you. Do you know that?”

I pondered the question for a moment, which I was apparently not supposed to do.

“Well, I’m telling you then. There’s nothing wrong with you. Anyone who knows you would tell you the same thing.”

I reached out and placed my hand over his on the armrest. “I hid for so long, Graham. I never really was open with my affections until I met you. I just haven’t had this happen to me before.”

Graham nodded in understanding. I heard a scoff in front of me and looked up to see the nurse hovering over us. Graham squeezed my hand harder.

“He’s out of radiology. He has a minor fracture. The cast is being applied now and he has to wear it for six weeks. Have his *mother* call and schedule an appointment. You’ve been checked out, so as soon as Jeremiah comes out I would like you to leave.” She stormed off, clutching her papers to her chest as if we’d said something to offend her.

Luckily, Jemmy appeared only a few minutes later. He had a bright blue bandage up to his elbow. I took a look at it- it appeared to be plastered on. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about him taking it off.

We stopped by the payphones on the way out and I called Bree and Roger, both of whom were concerned, but grateful that Jemmy was okay and hurrying home immediately.

………

Roger was already there by the time we made it back to the house. “Oh, lad. What did ye do to yourself?” He carefully scooped up Jemmy, careful not to touch his injured arm.

“I fell, but Uncle John and Graham helped me. I got a lollipop, look!” He stuck out his tongue to reveal the red stain on his tongue left by the candy, which he’d practically inhaled in the car.

Bree pulled up then, and Jemmy made sure she saw too. “Well, baby, look like you are going to have a great thing to show your class for show-and-tell on Monday.”

“But my tongue can’t stay red all weekend, Mommy,” he said, seeming surprised that his mother couldn’t comprehend that basic fact.

“I meant your cast, silly! Are you going to let your classmates sign it? I’m sure that Ms. Jacobs would let you do it in class.”

Roger gave me a glance and tried to find a discreet way to fill me in on the odd behavior, “It’s tradition, Jem! You can’t have a bare cast. I won’t allow it.”

Roger procured a permanent marker- the existence of which was still difficult for me to grasp, and sat Jem down on the table. We all took turns signing, even Graham.

“That’s your signature?!” Graham looked astonished as he admired it.

“Oh, if you think that’s pleasing to look at,” Bree started, “wait ‘til you see his handwriting.”

It was true that my penmanship was quite elegant, but it had been necessary back when I was lord for my letters to look respectable. It was just second nature at this point.

Bree placed a pen and paper on the table. “Write.”

I spelled out the alphabet in perfect cursive and Graham’s eyes widened. “What does it look like in print?”

“I’m not sure, I’ve never written in print.” His eyes widened further.

“Have you no flaws?” Graham teased, pulling me into a side-hug.

“Plenty, my dear.”

………

We arrived at Graham’s apartment later in the evening, having eaten dinner with the MacKenzies. I had been hesitant to leave Jemmy, but Bree and Roger assured me that he would be okay and that I should take some time to relax.

“This is my humble abode,” announced Graham as he swung open the door. The apartment seemed far from humble in my opinion. It was small compared to the MacKenzies’, but well-decorated and warm. The building itself was quite old- the plaque beside the front door read 1857- but Graham’s home felt new. The door led into a small foyer that branched off into a kitchen and dining area- where to go straight through the archway- and a cozy living room off through the left arch. A small hallway branched off from the kitchen, leading to a bedroom with a balcony and a bathroom.

“It’s lovely,” I said after he finished giving me the tour. I stood on my toes and kissed him.

“I’m glad you like it. I would hate for my place to be somewhere where you wouldn’t want to spend your time.”

I cupped his cheek in my hand, “Anywhere where you are is a place I want to spend time.”

Graham blushed at that remark and kissed me sweetly. I hugged him, leaning some of my weight onto his chest, and yawned.

“Are you tired, darling? We can go to sleep if you need to.”

“No, no I’m not sleepy. Just mentally exhausted, I suppose. I have definitely had better days.”

“Are you still worried about Jem?” Graham asked over my shoulder.

“I was, but not anymore. And my day didn’t start well either. There were some really awful customers at the shop today. Pat even agreed with me when I asked them to leave the store.”

“Damn, Pat seems like a pretty lenient guy too.” I could feel him rubbing small circles on my back and some of the tension in my shoulders relaxed.

“C’mere,” he grabbed my hand and led me into his bedroom.

“Love, I have too much on my mind,” I said. He gave me a sympathetic look.

“I know, I just want to help you relax. No sex necessary.”

I smiled and sat on the edge of his bed. “Take your shirt off and change into these,” Graham grabbed my pajama pants from my bag and I happily obliged, grateful for the soft, unrestricting material. “Lay on your stomach, baby.”

I did as he asked, getting an idea of where he was going. I rubbed some lotion on his hands and began to gently rub the muscles in my back. They were strained from all of the heavy lifting at the shop, and tense from the anxieties of transitioning into my new life. I could feel myself relax under his touch.

“Thank you,” I sighed as he worked his way down my back.

“Of course, darling. I like taking care of you.”

“Hmm,” I hummed pleasantly, “I assure you that I will return the favor whenever you have a bad day.”

He bent down and gave me a kiss on the shoulder. I turned over onto my back and patted the bed next to me. Graham climbed in, immediately enveloping me in his arms. My head laid on his chest and he stroked my hair. I turned onto my stomach so that I could look up at him.

====TW====

“Graham, I-I need to talk to you about something,” I stated tentatively.

He nodded and ran a hand over my bare back. “Okay, baby,” he replied calmly.

I took a deep breath and he waited patiently. I wasn’t sure when I’d made the decision to tell him, but it seemed important to do now.

“I should have told you this before we- wait no, I don’t want to say it like that or you’ll think I’m disease-ridden.” I burned my face in his chest and he stroked my hair.

“I don’t think you're disease-ridden. Do you mean you wanted to tell me before we started sleeping together?”

I nodded my head, scared to look up at him. Were I to see his face, I would lose the confidence to tell him.

“You can tell me anything, baby.”

“I’ve never really had a relationship where I’ve been on the bottom, in fact I used to avoid it.”

Graham slid a finger beneath my chin and tilted my head back up. “Okay, well why didn’t you say anything? I mean, I generally top, but we could have talked about it. Why now?”

I felt a lump form in the back of my throat. I’d never told anyone about my rape before- and God, it was so long ago. But my gut told me that Graham needed to know.

“I didn’t tell you because there’s a reason I used to avoid being on the bottom. I liked it at first with my first boyfriend, but then...I,” I choked slightly, trying not to sob, “I was raped.”

Graham’s confused look shifted to one of deep concern. That reaction alone was enough to break the floodgates, and I pushed my face into his chest and sobbed. My tears wet the fabric of his shirt. Graham didn’t say anything, he just held me and kissed the top of my head.

“Was it- recent?” He asked after I had calmed down a bit.

“No, it was a lifetime ago. I have just never told anyone…”

“Oh, my darling John. He hugged me tightly, his strength making me feel like a swaddled infant, comfortable and safe in his arms.

“Thank you for telling me, baby. If you want to talk about it- or if you don’t- that’s okay.” He loosened his embrace and looked me in the eyes, planting soft kisses on my cheeks where my tears had stained. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too. I just need to ask, um,” I cleared my throat of the anxious lump that had formed there, “don’t treat me differently now, please. I wanted you to know because it’s a part of me I had never felt like sharing until I met you, but the wound has healed. I trust you and I have immensely enjoyed our intimacy thus far.”

===End TW===

“Me too,” he whispered. Graham slid a hand down my back and around my thigh, pulling my leg so that I was straddling him. He kissed me slowly, rubbing my back as he did so. I parted my lips slightly and he began to swipe his tongue over my bottom lip and into my mouth. I pulled away and looked at him. His lips were pinker than usual and his cheeks flushed red.

I brought our lips back together, rougher this time, and ground my hips down into him. I could feel him get harder as I continued. We parted yet again, this time so he could look at me.

“John, can we- switch this time?” I could hear the nerves in his voice, but I simply smiled in reply.

“Of course.” I resumed kissing him and started unbuttoning his shirt. I fumbled a bit and Graham chuckled, unfastening it for me. We undressed each other playfully, taking turns and observing the other as they helped us out of our clothes, which had suddenly become suffocating. I wanted Graham- to feel his skin on mine, to fill him up with love and pleasure, and to hold him in my arms.

Graham reached into his nightstand and procured the necessary precautions. I applied the lube to my fingers and slid one into Graham slowly, making sure to watch his face and gauge his reaction. He tensed upon my entering, his eyes shutting tightly and his muscles clenching around my finger. I gave him a moment to adjust to the sensation before moving my finger a bit, pushing against his walls to relax him. I pressed my finger into one particular spot and his mouth fell open, as if he was moaning without making a noise. His muscles finally relaxed and I added the second finger. He took this one more easily, arching his back in pleasure as I scissored and stretched. His cock was twitching, a string of precum making its way from his tip to his stomach, pooling on his stomach. I pressed into his prostate again, and he moaned loudly.

“Babe babe babe- I’m starting to get close. That might be too much.” I stopped, my fingers remaining inside of him, and brushed his face with my other hand.

“Go ahead, love.” I bent my fingers and his back arched, the pulse in his cock became more and more apparent. His face twisted in pleasure and he came, strings of white landing on his chest. I removed my fingers and kissed him, holding him so close that I could feel his seed on my chest. His heart was pounding, but as the pulse slowed back to normal, I began to move my hips against his again.

“Do you think you can again?” I asked softly, already feeling his length slowly re-harden under my grinds.

He nodded and exhaled heavily. He was still sensitive from his orgasm, so I made sure to be gentle. I unwrapped the condom and rolled it on, just as I had seen Graham do dozens of times. I met his eyes as I pushed in and his tight heat caused me to groan in pleasure. I moved slowly, careful to pace myself. Graham wrapped his legs around my waist and I thrusted forward slowly, massaging his prostate with my movement.

“Oh God, I love you so much John,” Graham said breathily, wrapping his arms over my back and pulling my chest onto his.

“I love you too,” I whispered into his ear. I repeated the words as I moved. I felt a wetness on my shoulder and held Graham’s moaning and whimpering form more tightly. I didn’t find his tears unsexy or emasculating, having been moved to tears in the arms of a lover myself before. It was an intense feeling to let the person you love inside of you, especially if one is not used to the vulnerability or the sensation of relinquishing oneself to the pleasure.

I could feel Graham’s cock begin to throb again as my stomach moved over it. I reached my hand down and rubbed the precum over his length, gently stroking him to the rhythm of my thrusts. He came again with a cry of pleasure. The sound of his ecstasy triggered my own orgasm and I rode out my throbbing high. We laid connected to each other for a moment, cocks twitching as we settled again. Graham was drunk with bliss, clearly enjoying the unique high stimulated by two consecutive orgasms.

I took the condom off and threw it out before retrieving a washcloth from his bathroom and moistening it slightly. It was warm and soft as I rubbed it gently over his chest.

He spoke again after a moment, “Never in my life has a man been patient enough to pull that off.” He closed his eyes, hair plastered to his forehead in sweat, I used a clean part of the cloth to wipe his face.

“It’s not about patience, my love. It’s about the desire for your pleasure. Making you feel good makes me feel good.” I bent down and kissed his forehead lovingly.

“It’s been so long since I’ve had an enjoyable experience while bottoming,” he stated, his thoughts becoming more clear as we began to engage in our usual reflective pillow-talk, “That was probably the most intense sex I’ve ever head- mind-blowing but gentle… God, it was like you were reading my mind.” I smiled at him, thinking about how I had thought the same thing after our first time back at the beach.

I felt a flush of embarrassment at the compliment, causing my cheeks to go red. “Well, I’m glad that you enjoyed it so much. I can assure you that I felt equal pleasure and ‘mind-blow.’” I laid next to him, pulling him close so his head laid on my chest. Graham sighed deeply, signaling that he was beginning to fall into sleep. I attempted to get the covers up around us without disturbing him too much, kissing the top of his head when the task was accomplished, and flicked off the light on the nightstand. The weight of fatigue pulled me under.

Chapter Text

October 1977

The weeks began to fly by as I got settled into my routine of working, taking care of Jemmy, and seeing Graham. I started spending Friday nights at his apartment, which was the perfect way to decompress after a long week.

At work, things continued as usual- although I had noticed that Pat had started trusting me with more important tasks like opening the store, receiving freight, and contacting the vineyard and our external buyers. I was beginning to feel like I had a purpose again. Sure, working for a wine business, loving Graham, and taking care of my nephew had a smaller impact than when I was a Major or a Governor or a Lord, but I felt fulfilled nonetheless.

It was Friday morning on October 31st. After weeks of hearing about the festivities of a modern Halloween (apparently celebrated by people of most faiths in this time), I was excited to spend the day with Jemmy. The whole evening was planned, complete with pumpkin carving, taking Jemmy “trick-or-treating” (a tradition that seemed unwise to me), and attending a Halloween party at Graham’s apartment. Roger and Bree planned to accompany me, leaving Jemmy to spend the night at a friend’s house.

I knocked on Jemmy’s door before entering to wake him up, only to find that he was no longer in there. I panicked for a moment, imagining someone climbing through his window and taking him in the night. But a small noise came from the kitchen downstairs, cutting my paranoia short.

Jemmy was dressed in his Halloween costume in preparation for his school’s costume contest. The entire family had decided to dress up in 18th century clothing, mostly because Roger found the idea of seeing me in my old wardrobe amusing. Bree had even taken the time to pick up her long-since-used needle and thread to stitch up something for Jem to wear. The sight of him dressed in such attire caused a small pang in my chest as I recalled the last time I’d seen him in such an outfit.

“Good morning, Mister MacKenzie,” I bowed to Jemmy ceremoniously, “You look like quite the young aristocrat.” He looked up from his cereal with a grin.

“Good morning Uncle John!” He resumed his attention to his Cheerios.

“Are you excited for school?” I asked.

“Yes, but Miss Jacobs said we still have to learn today, even on Halloween! I’m more excited for after school.”

“What are you most looking forward to?” I asked, expecting him to say something about sweets or seeing his friend.

“Carving pumpkins with you and Graham!” I walked over to the table and gave him a kiss on the head.

“I can’t wait either.”

………

“Jem, kiddo, you’re going to get pumpkin guts all over that nice coat of yours if you don’t take it off.” Graham had tried and failed to advise Jem, but the boy was too engrossed in his emptying of his pumpkin to even notice. I unbuttoned the coat and removed it from Jemmy, who still didn’t break focus despite the minor intrusion.

“He’s quite the determined child,” I noted, “Much like his mother and grandparents- he won’t stray from his plan unless forced to do so.”

“Hm,” Graham noted, “I know Bree is that way. What were her parents like?”

“Well,” I started, glancing at Jemmy. I hope he wouldn’t decide that now would be a good time to finally contribute to the conversation, “Claire was very intelligent and perceptive, and brutally honest. She was a surgeon too, and I always find myself missing her whenever I take ill.”

Graham laughed at that. “And her father?”

I sighed. “James- er, Jamie. I’ve mentioned him to you.”

Graham’s eyes widened, “You loved her DAD?”

“To be fair, I am closer in age to him than I am to her.” I laughed.

“I wouldn’t have pinned you as someone with daddy issues,” Graham teased. I three some pumpkin guts in his direction in retaliation, but he dodged them.

“You have no idea just how deep my so-called “daddy issues” run,” I was laughing at this point, but a small knot of anxiety formed in my stomach. I hadn’t told anyone about my father’s demise since I had told Percy, and that had certainly backfired.

It must have shown on my face slightly, because Graham calmed down his teasing and flinging of pumpkin guts. He didn’t press any further, but I could tell he was curious.

“I’m ready to carve!” Jemmy exclaimed. He had drawn the face on his pumpkin, with triangle eyes and nose and a toothy grin.

“Why do we carve pumpkins anyway?” I asked.

Graham had started to carve along the lines Jemmy had drawn. “Well, it’s an Irish tradition. It was said that on All Hallows Eve, what we now call Halloween, there was a wandering soul named Jack who would wreak havoc. They would carve the faces of demons into turnips and leave them outside to scare him off. When they immigrated to America, pumpkins were easier to come by, so they started carving the pumpkins instead. It caught on, and now we all consider it a fun Halloween past-time.”

I nodded in interest and Graham smiled. The face was almost done now, and I began to pick the seeds out of the pumpkin guts and put them into a colander.

“Ooo, are we going to make pumpkin seeds?” Jemmy began to help me separate the tasty morsels from their bowl of goop.

“That’s the plan,” I responded. We worked together to separate the seeds whilst Graham brought the pumpkin out onto the porch and lit a candle in it. I showed Jemmy how to rinse the seeds off in the sink. I was certainly not the best chef, having had most of my meals since birth cooked for me, but I had picked up some recipes here and there.

We slid them into the oven at a lower temperature, making sure that they would roast slowly. Jemmy pushed his face against the window, watching them with rapt attention. The house soon filled with the nutty aroma of the baking seeds and I carefully removed them. I seasoned half of the seeds with some savory spices and the remainder with brown sugar and cinnamon. I was still blown away by the vast assortment of spices in Bree's cabinet, and I often found myself exploring and sampling them whenever I was idle in the kitchen.

We snacked on them for a while, waiting for Bree and Roger to return from work, whilst watching a Halloween cartoon on the television together.

“I always feel so bad for Charlie Brown. What kind of parent would give a child a rock for Halloween? I understand kids bullying each other- it’s not okay, but I get it- but the adults?”

From what I had managed to understand, this Charlie Brown character was a magnet for misfortune. “It’s for the sake of comedy, I suppose. I’m more surprised by the fact that his mother cut about thirty eye-holes in his ghost costume.”

Roger opened the door at that moment and came into the living room. “Ooo, Charlie Brown- are those pumpkin seeds?”

“Daddyyyyy!” Jem stood from his spot on the floor and clung to his father’s waist.

“Hey, laddie. Did you have a good afternoon with Uncle John and Graham?” Jemmy nodded excitedly.

 

“Can we go trick-or-treating now?” He jumped up and down in anticipation.

“We should wait for Mommy, but maybe the rest of us should get ready, yeah?” He glanced at Graham and I, both still in our work-clothes, and jerked his head towards the stairs. I had been putting off changing- I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see myself in my old clothes again.

Graham grabbed his bag and we went upstairs to change. My “costume” was in a chest in the back of my closet and I dragged it out and opened it. Graham peered over my shoulder at the contents. The journals and other relics of my past appeared fairly mundane, so I wasn’t too concerned. I pulled out the clothes- a pair of breeches, a shirt, stockings, a waistcoat, my jacket, a cravat, and my old shoes.

Graham admired the clothes, which I had tossed onto the bed. “Holy shit- these look super real. Hell, I’m pretty sure they are! Where did you get these?”

“Oh, I’ve had them for a long time. I don’t remember where I picked them up.” In actuality, Tom Byrd- my former valet- had picked them up for me some 220 years ago- they were some of my older garments.

“Well, they look like they could be in a museum. Bree and Roger’s costumes looked as impressive as this too, if not less fancy. What are those books in there?”

I closed the lid of the chest gently, trying not to appear too secretive. “Oh, just some old family journals.”

“Ah,” Graham said. I was grateful that he didn’t ask to look at them. I began pulling off my modern clothes, replacing them with the familiar relics of my past. I felt strangely disconnected from myself as I pulled them on, especially once I saw myself in the mirror- my hair was short, a style which I’d never sported whilst wearing this outfit.

“You look really good in those,” Graham said, coming up behind me and holding me in an embrace. I was still staring at myself in the mirror, discreetly trying to ward off any emotional reaction that would make Graham ask questions.

I noticed that he had changed too. Him being a historian of sorts, his attire was quite accurate. He could certainly fit in in the 18th century, save for his cropped hair. “You look really good too,” I said to him, trying not to let my voice shake. He did look good, and seeing him dressed in clothes that I identified with was jarring, yet also caused a comfortable heat to spread in my stomach.

“You’re blushing,” Graham noted in a teasing tone, “If we didn’t have a small child anxiously awaiting us downstairs, I would have those clothes off of you as quickly as you had put them on.” He kissed my neck and I squirmed slightly, despite enjoying the sensation.

“You, my love, are a tease-and-a-half.” He grinned as I hastily pulled on the bottom of my coat, covering all evidence of my thoughts on his appearance. I decided to change the subject in an effort to distract myself. “So who is coming to your party tonight?”

Graham thought for a moment, “Nobody I’ve really mentioned to you, except for Alyssa. I invited her as a last-ditch effort to reconcile our friendship, and I’m only a little doubtful that she’ll actually come. And then there’s Bree and Roger, of course, along with some faculty and grad students.”

I nodded, but the name “Alyssa” made me stop for a moment. “I’ve met an Alyssa, at the shop,”

“Well, it’s a fairly common name. The chances of your Alyssa and my Alyssa being the same person are slim.”

I decided to trust Graham’s assumption and move past the thought.

………

The whole concept of trick-or-treating seemed rooted in stupidity. Children were sent to random strangers' doors and given candy by adults who, for the most part, were dressed in costumes that made them generally unrecognizable. Some of the costumes were quite extravagant, others scary. The children looked awfully cute running around the neighborhood, but I couldn’t help but worry about them.

“This seems like a dangerous activity,” I said to Graham as we watched Jem run up the porch steps of yet another home.

“Everyone knows that,” Graham laughed, “but we choose to ignore it because it’s fun. Haven’t you ever been trick-or-treating before?”

I shook my head, “I didn’t really grow up in a household that celebrated Halloween.”

Graham seemed surprised, but didn’t ask why thankfully. At that moment, Jemmy came running back down the steps. His coat-tail fluttered in the breeze behind him.

“Mommy, what time is it? Aiden’s mom said to come at 7 so I could trick-or-treat with him too.”

Bree checked her watch, “It’s- oh, we should probably get going. What does your haul look like?”

Jamie raised the pillowcase full of sweets proudly. The amount of sugar that bag contained alone was probably the amount that I’d had in my life back in the 18th century.

“Looks like you’re going to have to pay the dad tax,” Roger said, holding out a hand to Jem. The boy rolled his eyes and stuffed a hand into the bag, placing a few pieces into Roger’s outstretched hand.

“Be careful, Roger, or he might decide to start a revolution. No taxation without representation, according to the colonists.” Bree teased.

“Oh, aye. I ken that we dinna want that. Luckily, he seems to have at least five pounds of candy in there already. Taking a wee bit won’t be cause for new legislation.” Roger laughed and patted Jemmy’s hat.

………

Graham and I lugged the cases of beers liquor up the stairs into his apartment. He dropped the case down on the table heavily, shaking out his arms. “Damn, that’s heavy. How do you make that look so easy?”

“It’s my job,” I laughed.

Bree and Roger were going to meet us later to help set up for the party, which started in about two hours. We had some time to relax for a bit, which I was certainly grateful for. I took off my jacket and slung it over the bag of a chair and sat down.

“Stay there for one sec,” Graham said excitedly, motioning for me to stay seated, “Close your eyes.”

I did as he said, not really sure as to why. After a minute or so, I heard him re-renter the kitchen behind me.

“Yesterday was our three month anniversary- I know it’s kind of a stupid thing to celebrate three months, but I wanted to give you something anyway.” He placed something on the table in front me. “You can look now.”

“Oh, Graham,” I picked up the copy of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and ran my hands over the cover, flipping to the inside page. This copy had been published in 1870, only a few decades after the original publication. It was certainly older than the one he’d been reading on the train.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s perfect, my love. Thank you,” I reached for his hand and kissed it, looking up at him standing beside me, “I only wish I’d known to get you something.”

“Don’t worry about it, darling. I found this and thought of you, that’s all. Anniversaries don’t really need to be celebrated except for the annual one, which I intend to have many of those with you.” He bent down and kissed me lovingly.

“Put this somewhere safe, yeah? I don’t want any drunken party-goers spilling on it. Graham smiled and kissed me again, taking the book and placing it back in it’s cloth wrapping before putting it into his work-bag.

I stood and kissed him again. There are a couple kinds of intimate moments- ones that are fueled by need and desire of the other person, and ones that are fueled by love and trust; where you just want to feel close to them. Both were fairly common between Graham and I, but at the moment, all I felt was the warmth of love and comfort as I kissed him.

We still had about 45 minutes before Bree and Roger would arrive- that would be plenty of time. I kissed him slowly and unbuttoned his coat. He leaned me against the counter, unwrapping my neck-cloth and tossing it on the table. We undressed each other slowly and wordlessly, taking in the familiarity of each other’s bodies. Graham ran his hands over my bare chest and down to the waistband of my boxers as he kissed my neck and shoulders. “Wait here, darling.” He left for a moment, returning with lube and a condom.

He knelt to the ground, pulling my boxers off as he went. Before taking me into his mouth, he put some lube onto his fingers and licked the underside of my length, causing me to moan in pleasure. I moaned as he took me in his mouth, swirling his tongue over my tip and he moved his head. I felt the coolness of the lube on my opening and he inserted his fingers, opening me thoroughly and gently as to prevent pain later. He removed his mouth from me and stood up, leaving me breathless and needing stimulation. He kissed my mouth, the taste of my precum on his lips. “I love you so much, baby,” he slid the condom on and coated himself with a liberal amount of lube.

Graham wrapped an arm around my lower back, lifting most of my weight off the ground, as he pulled one of my legs up around his waist. He picked me up slightly to align himself, distributing my weight between the counter and his arms. He entered me slowly and my opening pulsed around his cock in anticipation. We made love slowly, the gentle massage of his tip as it rubbed over my prostate bringing me to the edge several times. He’d stop for a moment whenever I got close and kissed me sweetly.

We made love that way for about a half and hour, attentively taking in each other’s love and building up to our climax slowly. Graham increased the pace a bit as he got close to finishing. “I love you so much,” he whispered repeatedly as he thrusted.

“Oh, God I love you too,” I said. I was on the verge of finishing, but Graham didn’t stop this time. I could feel the increased intensity of the orgasm before it even happened- a result of Graham’s bringing me to the precipice so many times, no doubt.

“Go ahead darling,” Graham whispered.

I gave into my orgasm, throwing my head back in intense pleasure and moaning Graham’s name repeatedly as my seed spilled onto his chest.

“Oh, fuck John- holy shit-” I felt Graham’s cock pulse inside of me as he finished. He pushed his head into my shoulder, moaning into the crook of my neck. His thrusts slowed and he stopped for a moment to catch his breath before removing himself and putting me back down. He immediately shook out the arm that had been helping hold me up and smiled. “Damn, that was the best workout ever. We’ve gotta make sure I use the other arm next time though, otherwise I’ll look lop-sided.”

I laughed and put my hand on his cheeks, giving him a short but tender kiss. “God, I love you.”

……...

We cleaned up quickly, finishing hiding the evidence about afternoon dalliance just as Bree and Roger knocked on the door. Apparently, we hadn’t been as thorough as we’d thought though. Bree immediately extended an arm and ruffled the top of my head, “Nice sex hair,” she remarked casually. I blushed deeply and Graham chuckled.

We began to set up the decorations, which were very similar to the ones that Bree and Roger had displayed in their own home. There were spiderwebs (that Graham claimed would glow-in-the-dark), electric candles, strings of festive lights, and plenty of gorey food and drink.

Bree was setting up some of the drinks as we decorated, however what she was making now seemed to push the limits of what qualified as a beverage. The small cups weren’t full of liquid, but rather a semi-solid substance.

“What are those,” I asked her quietly, trying to avoid Graham’s earshot.

“They’re called jello-shots- it’s like solid alcohol. These ones are supposed to look like little brains. Here, go put them on the table with the rest of the drinks, I need to get the cookies in the oven.”

“Did I just hear the word ‘cookie’?” Graham asked from across the room.

“Yes, don’t you remember from the Christmas party last year? The guests get to decorate their own festive cookies- it’s a hit.”

Graham came into the kitchen, a sarcastic grin on his face. “Ah, yes. Jello-shots and cookie decorating go great together.”

Bree gave him an eyeroll and retrieved the dough from the cooler she had brought. “Graham, where do you keep your flour? I need to put some on the counter so I can roll out the dough.”

“It’s in the cabinet by the stove- oh, but before you put any food down,” he grabbed a disinfectant wipe and cleaned the area of the counter where Bree was about to roll the dough, which was a wise choice given the activities that occurred there not half-an-hour earlier. He gave me a wink as he wiped it down and my blush returned. Bree was perceptive as usual.

“Wait, you guys- in the KITCHEN!” She laughed, “Damn, you kids are wild.”

“Oh, we’re wild?” I remarked jokingly, “I seem to recall a moment with an open door and Roger’s desk...ring any bells?”

“We weren’t having sex, and I thought the door was closed!”

Roger appeared in the kitchen at the sound of his name. “Oh but we were about to, had John not walked in anyway.” Bree gave him a playful slap on the arm.

It was nice to be able to contribute to conversations like this- similar ones had occurred amongst the men in the military or in taverns with close friends, but all I could ever do was listen. It was strange to have Bree involved too, since women rarely ever mentioned their sex-lives in the presence of men other than their husbands in my time. Despite the initial surprise, it was nice to converse openly about such subjects without fear of social faux pas.

I helped Bree cut the cookies into festive shapes- pumpkins, ghosts, bats- as she mixed together the ingredients for the frosting. Graham and Roger finished up readying the drinks. The table now was home to an assortment of beverages, most of which were alcoholic. The apartment now smelled strongly of cookies and liquor, and the ambiance created by the strings of lights was quite haunting.

“Wow, the history and lit departments really know how to throw a party, huh?” Roger remarked, looking at the finished work.

………

About two hours into the party, I could tell that the general atmosphere was beginning to reach its climax of drunkenness and energy. Everyone who had decided to drink was starting to reach their limit, with the exception of Graham and myself. I had decided to maintain a comfortable tipsiness throughout the night- it seemed unwise to lose my inhibitions at the risk of exposing my past. Graham seemed to be consciously drinking at the same pace that I was, which I appreciated. He knew that I needed him to help me navigate the sea of his drunken colleagues. We were sitting in the living room, which seemed to be the designated area for the party-goers who preferred conversation over dancing. I was grateful for that. Just one look at the activities on the dancefloor and I had decided that I was not up for participation.

“We should play a game!” Bree said loudly. She was seated on the floor with her fifth drink in a red cup on the floor in front of her. Other people in the room seemed excited by this proposal and joined our small gathering in the seating area.

“Let’s play ‘never have I ever,’” a woman- I think her name was Jane- said excitedly.

Graham rolled his eyes next to me, “God, I haven’t played that since I was sixteen.”

“Well, that’s all the more reason to play it,” Jane exclaimed, “We’re young tonight!” She raised her cup and took a drink, prompting others in the circle to do the same.

“Okay,” Jane explained, “The rules are simple. When it’s your turn, you say ‘never have I ever’ and then fill in something you’ve never done. Anybody who has done that thing has to take a sip of their drink.” I had played similar games in my youth in my time, but based on the current social expectations, I suspected that the tone would be pretty different.

“I’ll go first,” Jane said, “Never have I ever...had car-sex.” Almost everyone in the circle took a drink, Graham included. Jane looked over at me, “Finally, someone else who shares my lack of automobile experience.”

Graham leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Not for long, if I have anything to say about it.” I was thankful for the dim lighting as the heat rose to my cheeks.

We went around the circle, most of the prompts having something to do with sex or various substances, most of which I’d never heard of. I took a couple of drinks- “never have I ever been married” and “never have I ever had sex with someone I’d met that night.” Graham seemed surprised at the second one, but not bothered.

It was my turn now and I was pretty nervous. I had limited knowledge of what qualified as “risky” in this time. “Um, never have I ever...can we just skip me?” The group laughed, but Jane nodded. “Yeah, totally. Graham?”

Before taking his turn, Graham looked to me. I was fidgeting with the hem of my sleeve and he could tell I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed. He wrapped an arm over my shoulders, luckily no one in the group seemed bothered by it, and took his turn.

“Never have I ever said ‘I love you’ without meaning it,” he said simply. I couple of people drank, inciting questions from other players about the circumstances in which they had said it. Graham leaned over while they were distracted to whisper to me again. “You look like you need a break.”

I nodded. I rarely felt this way in social situations in my time, having been groomed to handle even the most difficult scenarios with grace. But now, being social felt draining. It took energy from me to keep track of what was okay to say and what wasn’t, what was considered rude, ensuring that I didn’t show surprise when discussing certain topics, and anxiety about sounding ill-informed or socially inept.

Graham took my hand and we made our way back to his room, where he had made sure to post a sign telling people that it was off-limits. Nobody seemed to notice when we left the group. A wave of relief flowed over me as Graham shut the door behind us, the sound of the party muffled on the other side of the door.

“Something bothering you, babe?”

“No, no,” I gave his hand a reassuring squeeze, “I just get a bit tired after socializing in large groups. It wasn’t always like that, especially when I was younger, but now,”

“It feels a bit suffocating- I feel the same way sometimes.”

I nodded and he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into a tight embrace. I felt myself relax, the fogginess in my mind slowly dissipating.

I pulled away and looked up at him- he had something on his mind, more than just the fatigue of minor introversion. “Is there something you need to talk about?”

He sighed and smiles, “You can read me like a book, can’t you? It’s nothing important, really. I was just a bit upset that Alyssa didn’t show up. I thought that extending her this olive branch would help fix our friendship, I never expected her to deny it, though.”

“Maybe she had other plans? I don’t think she has any animosity towards you, Graham, at least not within reason.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, sitting on the bed, “she isn’t one to hold a grudge, generally. And I’ve seen her stay friends with guys she’s slept with. They were all straight, though. I can’t help but feel like she’s embarrassed about sleeping with me.”

“Well, she has no reason to be. Things like that happen sometimes- sex is confusing, especially after being pushed away by your friends because of it. It makes sense why you wanted to be intimate with her in that moment.”

“I think our friends- or her friends, now- found out about it. It was fine for a few weeks, but she suddenly stopped talking to me.” He put his head in his hands. “I just miss her. She was my only *real* friend in that whole group. I’m grateful for you, Roger, and Bree but-”

“It’s okay, Graham. I want you to be able to reconcile with her, truly. She sounds like someone who would be good to have around.” I sat beside him and ran my fingers through his hair, “Thank you for telling me what was bothering you.”

“Thank you for listening.”

We sat there in silence for a few more moments, recharging, before heading back out to the festivities. The game of “Never Have I Ever” had turned into “Truth or Dare.” The concept seemed fairly straightforward, but I decided that it would be best not to participate. I watched the proceedings of the game as a bystander, enjoying the hilarity of some of the challenges and confessions.

As the night went on, I began to feel a bit tired. I yawned, leaning onto Graham sleepily. He wrapped a protective arm around me. “You can crash in my room if you want,” he said.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to leave you alone out here.”

“I’ll be fine. Why don’t you go relax and you can rejoin when you feel better. I’ll bring you some coffee.”

“That sounds perfect,” I stood and gave his hand a squeeze. I didn’t want to go to sleep while the party still went on, but I could feel the fatigue of the day beginning to show itself.

I shut the door behind me and laid on Graham’s bed, making sure to keep the light on to prevent myself from actually falling asleep. Graham’s work-bag was on a chair in the corner, so I retrieved the book he’d given me and started reading it. Graham was right, it was an exciting tale. It started right off the bat with a chase and gun-fight. The action in the story helped wake me up a bit.

===TW===

“‘The Count of Monte Cristo’? Good choice.” I hadn't even heard the door open or close. There was a man standing by the edge of the bed, holding a mug. He offered it to me, “Graham told me to give you this.” I took it tentatively, but didn’t sip it immediately.

“Who are you?”

“Just an acquaintance of Graham’s.”

I didn’t recognize him, not even from the earlier festivities at the party. He was fairly large, a bit taller than Graham and certainly with a bit more weight to him. Graham didn’t have many friends, not since he came out to them, so I found it odd that he’d have one I hadn’t heard of.

“Drink up, then.”

I tentatively raised the cup to my lips, but there was something off about the smell of the coffee. I lowered the mag again without taking a sip, but apparently the man in front of me seemed to think that I had. I reached over and took it from me again. I scooted back on the bed, trying to create distance between us. He was blocking the way to the door.

“There you go, you’ll be feeling great in no time. Trust me.” Apparently, whatever he had put into it would have worked quickly, because he reached for my shoulder to push me onto the bed without expecting me to resist.

I kicked his stomach as he bent over me, calling for Graham in the process.

“God fucking damnit- yell again and you’re dead.” He continued to try and push me down, using his size to his advantage. He wanted what he had come in here for, regardless of whether or not I was drugged.

The man was about to overpower me when Graham opened the door, a mug of coffee in his hands. The mug was on the floor within half-a-second of him entering the room. Graham yanked the man off of me, turning him around to face him and punching him square in the jaw.

“Get the fuck out of my house, or I swear to God I’ll beat the shit out of you.” He punctuated his statement with a heavy blow to the man’s stomach. The man doubled over and Graham pushed him out into the hallway, locking the door behind him.

“Jesus Christ, are you okay?” He looked at the mug on the nightstand, “Did he try to make you drink that?”

“I’m okay,” I said shakily. My voice cracked slightly and he made a move to hug me.

“No- um, please don’t. I just need a second.” I could feel myself shaking and that my face was wet, but I couldn’t focus on anything except for the man’s hands on my shoulders, pushing me down into the mattress. It had been a familiar feeling, one that made my stomach lurch and my heart beat so loud I couldn’t hear anything else.

“John? John, listen to me. You’re safe. He reached out a hand and placed it on my arm. I flinched and he pulled it away. I could feel the churning in my stomach get worse. Graham reached for the trash bin as I wretched slightly.

He rubbed my back gently as I vomited, making soft shushing noises as if I were a horse who had just been spooked.

He left for a moment once I’d finished, going into the bathroom to retrieve some water.

“Small sips,” he said, “you’re okay, John.”

I took the water gratefully, my hand still shaking. The fight-or-flight was beginning to subside and I could see and hear clearly again.

I put the water down and scooted towards Graham, giving him permission to hold me. I breathed in his comforting scent, trying to match the rise and fall of his chest with my own.

“I’m sorry-”

“You are absolutely not allowed to apologize for this. It’s not your fault.”

“It just brought back some feelings from when...” He waited for me to finish, but I couldn’t.

“I know, darling. But you’re safe now. Just try and relax. Do you want to go home?”

“I don’t want to be alone.” I replied.

“Tell you what, I’ll take you home and stay there with you. Bree and Roger can keep an eye on things here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Now c’mon, darling.”

===End TW===

Chapter Text

November 1977

I awoke the next morning with the memories of the previous night still fresh in my mind and the pit in my stomach just as present and deep. I had slept through the night, but not without nightmares of ghosts both past and present. The attack had opened wounds that I had considered closed permanently.

Graham was no longer by my side as he had been the previous night. There was a note on his pillow.

“Darling-

I have gone back to the apartment to clean up and relieve Bree and Roger of looking after the place. They are returning home should you need company. I have informed them that something happened last night, but spared them the details in case you’d rather tell them in your own time. And remember, I’m one call away. Say the word and I’ll be wherever you need me to be.

Love,
Graham”

There was a soft knock at the door.

“John,” Bree’s voice was muffled through the wood, “it’s me. Do you need anything?”

“You can come in if you’d like,” I replied. The door cracked open and Bree poked her head in. I moved to the edge of the bed and she sat beside me.

“Graham implied that you had a rough night yesterday. He didn’t give all of the details, but- you have my ear, and my hand should you need it.” Her words were comforting, but they were laced with concern.

“It’s not what you’re thinking. It almost was, but Graham intervened. I would have been fine- or at least better than I am now- but it brought back some ghosts.”

Bree nodded and placed her hand over mine. “A very kind man one told me that memories cannot be controlled, they just come.”

I smiled, recalling that day in Wilmington. Our roles had been reversed then. Brianna had been so sure of herself and her needs. It had taken me quite a time to manage my own.

“I lived with it for so long without even thinking about it,” I whispered, “but now, I seem to have forgotten how to do that.” I took a deep breath, feeling frustrated. Graham had stopped him, so why was I letting myself be so shaken?

“These are the kinds of things that never leave you, even when you forget about them for a time.” She was right, this wasn’t the first time I’d had these nightmares, nor the first time I’d felt vulnerable due to my memories coming back to haunt me.

“I know, but I’m not sure that that’s what is causing my fear.”

Brianna nodded attentively, giving my hand a squeeze.

“There was a moment last night, right before Graham came in, when I just gave up fighting. He hadn’t managed to drug me, and yet I just felt my body give way, despite my mind telling me to keep resisting.”

“I know exactly what you’re referring to,” Bree said, “but that’s not something that was in your control. Your mind can go against your conscious thoughts. Sometimes, your brain can perceive things that you yourself aren’t aware of and it will do things- like stop resisting an attack- as an act of self-preservation. It took me a long time to accept that, but I felt better the moment I did.”

It made sense, and my frustration with myself became less consuming. All I could do now was keep living.

“What do you need?” Bree asked.

“Breakfast- and to call Graham.”

………

I knocked on Graham’s apartment door, feeling a bit nervous. I decided it was best to treat this moment like when I fell off of my horse as a young rider. Hal had made me get back up immediately, before my wounds had stopped bleeding. “If you don’t get back up there now, it will just be harder to do later.”

 

Graham opened the door and I embraced him. He stumbled a bit in surprise, but regained his balance quickly and reciprocated the hug. “Hello to you too, darling,” he said, kissing the top of my head.

 

“I would like to go see your room, if you don’t mind,” I said assuredly. Perhaps if Graham believed I was confident, I would too.

He nodded and I hastily made my way there, fearful that any further lingering would impede my ability to accomplish my task. I opened the door without hesitation, but I stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw into the room.

Graham came up behind me, scratching his head anxiously. “I, uh, made some changes. I thought it might make it easier- but I can change it back if you want!” He added the last part hastily.

His room was now a mirror image of what it had been the previous night. All of the furniture and artwork was directly opposite the spot where it had rested before. It still felt like Graham’s room, yet it still felt new. I could feel the pulse in my chest return to its natural rate and I couldn’t help but smile at the relief.

“Thank you,” I whispered. Graham wrapped his arms around me from behind and I leaned my head back onto his shoulder. He kissed my forehead and I felt him sigh in relief.

“I want you to know that you’re safe here,” he whispered into my ear, “I promise.”

Chapter Text

I could hear Graham’s heartbeat in his chest as he held me in his arms. His skin was slightly damp with sweat and his pulse was rapid, but declining. I could feel my own doing the same, pumping a pleasant warmth throughout my body. It was about midday on Saturday and we had spent the morning in bed. We’d had a few rounds of love-making, varying from slow and gentle to what we had just done. I lifted my head and surveyed Graham’s chest and shoulders, which were now dotted with love-bites, teeth marks, and scratches. I had become more confident when it came to leaving marks on him, and we both enjoyed every second of it.

“Admiring your work?” Graham asked cheekily.

Before I could respond, the telephone rang from the other room. Graham made a move to get up, but I held him firmly. “Do you have to?” I asked, giving him a half-playful frown.

“Yes, I unfortunately do. C’mon, we should probably get up anyway.”

He extracted himself from my grip and, noticing that I remained stationary, scooped me up into his arms. We were still naked from our recent activities and the cold air caused me to break out in goose-flesh. He grabbed a “sweatshirt” and a pair of his boxers from his dresser and carried me out into the living room, where the phone was still ringing.

He put me down and I dressed myself as he answered the call. His sweatshirt was large on me given our height difference. It draped over my mid-thigh and covered my hands. I felt ridiculous and slightly undignified, but also couldn’t help but enjoy being enveloped in Graham’s scent.

“Hello?” Graham said into the receiver, “Aunt Jen? Oh- no it’s okay...My plan’s? I was going to spend Thanksgiving with some friends- what?...No, I heard what you said- no, I’m not upset, it’s just unexpected. You haven’t called in years. Of course I love you, you just haven’t wanted to spend Thanksgiving with me for a while...Wait- Jim's coming? Jen- no I can’t... yes I’m sure-maybe next year. I’m sorry, bye.”

Graham hung up the phone and ran his hands through his already-messy hair, taking a deep breath.

“So, that was your Aunt?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes. She called to let me know that she and her husband were planning to come to Boston for Thanksgiving, which they haven’t done in years. Hell, I haven’t even said one word to him since I moved to Boston.”

“I take it that your relationship with them is complicated?” I questioned. Based on his reaction, the notion was causing some stress.

“I’m not sure if ‘complicated’ does it justice. They’re pretty...traditional. My aunt has given up on trying to change me, but my uncle is still...I told her I didn’t want them to come.” He put his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes.

“Well, you shouldn’t have them over until you’re ready.” I rubbed his back as he hunched over, trying to alleviate some of the apparent stress.

“It might make things easier to break the ice, but it also might just lead to an incredibly awkward situation. My uncle says homophobic shit all the time. Crap, what if he acted that way in front of you? I would be mortified.”

“I assure you, I have experienced worse.”

………

The day before Thanksgiving was just as eventful as I presumed the day itself would be. I wasn’t a complete stranger to the holiday- many colonies had instituted days of thankfulness and I had heard about them- so I wasn’t surprised to hear that it had been declared a federal holiday only a decade after I’d left.

Roger was fairly new to Thanksgiving himself, so he let Bree take the reins. She had already decorated the house in an autumnal theme and gone shopping for an exorbitant amount of food. Today, the cooking began- specifically the baking of the pies. The entire house held the aroma of spices, apples, and the nutty smell of pecans.

Jemmy was helping her in the kitchen, sporting his own small apron with the words “Kiss the Cook” written in bold letters. I was eating a late breakfast before heading off to work, watching them work together. Jemmy was trying to take the process seriously and learn from his mother, but she continued to interrupt his focus by attacking him with kisses.

“Mommy, if you don’t stop I’m going to have to take off the apron.” He said flatly. He meant business.

“Oh, no! It looks so cute on you. I promise, no more kisses until the pies are in the oven.”

“Thank you,” Jemmy said as he leveled out the flour in the measuring cup. His tongue was peeking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. I decided against distracting him by giving him a hug goodbye and instead opted for a wave to Bree as I left for work.

……...

The air was crisp now, carrying the smell of falling leaves with it. I’d always loved that smell- it was woody and reminded me of a warm hearth. I’d had to take the bus today since Graham had to have an emergency meeting with a student.

It had been a busy week at work, mostly consisting of bringing down all of the holiday wines that I had stocked over the summer. I enjoyed the exercise, but it was surely more dangerous to bring them down the ladder than up. Pat had worked beside me, making sure that I didn’t fall. “If you hurt yourself, I gotta do paperwork. So if you do, don’t tell me.” He had only been half-joking.

After a brisk walk from the bus stop, I was relieved to finally make it into the shop. It was warm and smelled of sweet wine. Greg was working today and gave me a nod as I came in. The day was slow for the time-being, but it would inevitably pick up come 5pm when everyone got out of work.

“Hey John,” Greg said as I made my way behind the bar and put on my apron, “Excited for the day off tomorrow?” He seemed serious in asking, which was quite surprising. He rarely said anything to me.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be my first Thanksgiving.”

“Ah, you’re gonna love it- the food, the wine, the football! God, I love this holiday.” He said, chuckling. I nodded in response. “Where’s your dinner going to be, girlfriend’s house?”

I was glad that Greg was excited, but his questions were beginning to get on my nerves. I had work to do, and I was a bit overwhelmed by his uncharacteristic interest in my life. “My niece’s, actually.” Greg looked intrigued, but I chose not to explain.

Pat was in the back at his desk organizing papers. He lifted the stack and tapped it on the table to straighten it out. “A gift for you.”

I took the papers from him, recognizing them as order forms, most of them dated today. Pat must have been on the phone with customers all morning. I simply nodded, deciding that Pat probably wasn’t in the mood for small talk. The phone rang again and he made an exasperated noise. “Can you get that? I’m sick of people.” He massaged his temples and made his way into the break-room.

I found another order on his desk and picked up the phone, “Thank you for calling Vincent Brother’s Winery, this is John. How can I help you?””

“John? Wait, I remember you. It’s Alyssa.” I recognized her voice and smiled.

“I remember you too. How are you doing?”

“Oh, you know. Pregnant. Unmarried. About to face my entire extended family. I’m hoping that if I bring a bunch of wine to Thanksgiving, they’ll all get drunk enough to forget about me.”

“That sounds like a decent plan,” I laughed. “What would you like?”

“Six bottles should do. I don’t really have a preference for what kind, just something festive and a few different varieties.”

“I can do that for you.” I filled out the order form.

“So how are you?” She asked.

“Oh, I’m excited for tomorrow I guess. It’s my first Thanksgiving in America.”

“Ooo, that’s exciting! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

“I think so too. I’ll have your order ready within a couple of hours. You can pick it up anytime today.”

“Thank you, John! Maybe I’ll see you later.”

“My pleasure, Alyssa. See you soon.”

………

It seemed as though I was stuck in an endless loop of filling orders. Every time I finished one, the phone would ring again. Pat and I took turns answering and he started giving me a hand with filling them. Thankfully, Greg’s shift ended around 4pm, so I was relieved of my order-filling duties and sent out to man the bar.

Customers were beginning to come to pick up their orders and it was nice to put faces to the voices I’d heard on the phone. Alyssa came in around six o’clock. She was showing quite noticeably and her skin and hair exhibited the tell-tale glow of pregnancy.

“John! Do you have my wine?”

“Absolutely.” I retrieved it from the back and she pulled out her wallet to pay. She fumbled a bit, dropping it onto the floor. Coins spilled out of it and she clumsily stooped to pick them up. I hastily made my way around the bar to help her, kneeling down to retrieve the coins. Her wallet was open on the ground, photographs spilling out of it like I had seen in Roger’s a few times. I glanced at them and froze.

Graham’s smiling face, accompanied by Alyssa’s next to him, was displayed prominently in one of the photographs. I picked it up without thinking and examined it, shocked.

“Do you know him?” She asked, unoffended by my intrusion.

“That’s my boyfriend. He mentioned he had a friend named Alyssa- I just…” I stopped, suddenly my mind was spinning. Alyssa’s baby-bump was prominent, but not large yet. She must have been five or six months pregnant.

“You know…about me and Graham…”

“Yes, he told me. Um-” I couldn’t help but glance at her bump. She noticed the direction of my gaze and placed a hand on it.

“He needs to hear it from me. I’ve been meaning to tell him- but there have been...complications.”

I stood slowly, trying to process Alyssa’s confirmation of the paternity of her child. I grabbed the edge of the bar, holding myself up.

“I can’t keep this from him, Alyssa.”

“I know, and I’m not asking you to. I’ll ask him to stop by place tonight- you should be there too. I think he’ll need all the support he can get when he hears the whole story.”

“The whole story?” I was still feeling shaky, but I was relieved that she wasn’t expecting me to hide anything from Graham.

“You’ll hear it tonight. I’ll call Graham when I get home and tell him that us three need to talk.”

………

Alyssa’s home was quite simple, but comfortable. I could tell that she did whatever she could to make it feel nice without breaking the bank. I recalled her comments from her friends about her finances a few months prior. They’d been exaggerating surely, but Alyssa certainly didn’t have anything un-utilitarian.

Graham was already there, sitting on the couch anxiously. “Hey there,” I said sitting next to him. Alyssa was nowhere to be seen- perhaps she was in the restroom.

“John, what’s going on?”

“Well,” I started tentatively, “I discovered today that the Alyssa I know is the same one that you know. She has something she wants to tell you. She knew that I couldn’t keep her secret for her, so she decided to tell you as soon as I figured it out.”

He nodded, clearly confused and nervous. “Thank you for being honest. I hate secrets.”

“I know you do,” I kissed him on the cheek and placed a hand on his knee. Alyssa emerged from the restroom, wearing a loose sweater to disguise her condition. Clearly, she didn’t want Graham connecting the dots before she got the chance to announce it.

“John, hi.” She said awkwardly. I nodded in acknowledgment. “Well, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Um, Graham...I’m pregnant.”

Graham, who had had his elbows on his knees, sat up slowly. His eyes were wide and his face paled.

“You’re the only person I’ve been intimate with since April- if you can call what happened between us last June intimate. You know me, I don’t really do casual sex. We can do a paternity test if you want, but I know it’s you.”

Graham stood up and began pacing back and forth behind the couch. I’d seen him do this when he was nervous about something- a big meeting at work, having to go to the dentist- but it was more frantic now.

“Say something.” She pleaded.

“What’s your plan?” He asked quietly.

“Well, that’s where it gets complicated. Graham, you might want to sit down. Please.”

He did, but he was still fidgeting. I held his hand and he squeezed tightly.

“You remember I have a heart condition?” She asked him. His face froze and I could see tears form in his eyes. He hadn’t told me about her illness, he had no reason to, but I could tell that he was just as surprised as I was at her question. He nodded slowly.

“I had a doctor’s appointment the morning before we went to the bar with the group- when you came out. My doctor had told me that morning that my surgery hadn’t worked.”

I noticed for the first time that her lips had a slightly blue tinge to them. I’d seen it before in children who were afflicted with heart conditions. Now, I was surprised I hadn’t noticed before.

Alyssa continued. “I knew I was going to die- my doctor said I had another year, give or take a few months. That’s why I drank so much that night. That’s why I slept with you, which was unfair to you. I’m so sorry, Graham.”

Tears stained his cheeks now and he put his head back in his hands and sobbed. Alyssa moved and sat on the other end of the couch, joining me in comforting him. We gave him a moment to settle.

“Alyssa, I’m not upset with you- I just am so fucking scared and caught off-guard. I wish you’d told me, not just about the baby.”

“Me too.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “My God, I’m so fucking terrified. But this baby is helping.”

Graham looked up and sniffled. “What do you mean?”

Alyssa sighed, “I had an opportunity to terminate the pregnancy when I found out. My doctor said that it was a risk- that it might shorten my life expectancy to have a baby. But I knew I was going to die anyway, so I had to decide between a couple more months of life and the baby. But I realized that having a child would leave a part of me in this world. Knowing that has made dying easier. It’s selfish and I’m sorry that my need to leave a legacy impacts you. But I needed to have the baby.”

“I understand, that was your choice to make,” Graham said softly. He had stopped sobbing, but the tears continued to stream down his cheeks.

“You don’t have to keep the baby. You can have time to think about it, both of you.” She stood and motioned for Graham to join her. She hugged him tightly and he buried his face in her neck.

“I just got you back,” he sobbed, “And now I’m going to lose you.”

Alyssa wiped a tear from his face and rubbed her protruding belly though her sweater. “You don’t have to. Not completely.”

………

Graham had decided to leave his car parked behind Alyssa’s apartment building and take the bus with me back to Furey Street.

“What about your aunt and uncle?” I asked.

“I don’t even want to think about that.” He was trying to maintain his composure on the crowded bus.

“Whatever you decide to do,” I said, “I am by your side.” I have his hand a squeeze. “I love you. And if you decide to raise this baby, I know I will love them too.”

“I know you would,” he squeezed back, “Just knowing that you’ve kinda done this before...it helps.”

The remainder of the bus-ride was spent in a pondering silence. I could tell that Graham needed a moment to think before discussing the matter any further. We walked in more silence from the bus stop, but Graham held my hand tightly.

I was thinking too. He had said earlier that he hated secrets, and I felt like a hypocrite. I knew he valued honesty, but I didn’t know how I could possibly be honest with him. I had to tell him, and soon. Anything that might influence his decision about keeping the baby, such as his boyfriend being a time-traveler, was something that he deserved to know.

I would need proof; something to substantiate my story. I had the journals and the MacKenzies. Plus, I knew that Roger had done some research in locating Claire and Jamie, which would help. Perhaps he’d be able to locate something about me.

………

Graham left after a couple of hours, most of which he spent in my arms crying. He’d asked me to make love to him, and I did. It was slow, quiet, and intimate. He needed reassurance.

When he left, Bree and Roger were downstairs at the table and Jemmy was playing with his toys in his room. The couple looked at me, concerned. Graham had given me permission to fill them in on the situation, so I did.

“I have to tell him about the stones,” I said, “He needs to know before he decides to keep the baby.”

Bree nodded, “You’re right. He deserves to know. And you have evidence, plus Roger and I.”

“I’m worried it won’t be enough. He’s a historian, he needs historical evidence. The journals and our word- they can be falsified.”

Roger’s face lit up in realization. “I think I have what you need.” He stood and practically ran up the stairs, returning with a sheet of paper.

“I wasn’t going to show you this because I was worried it would upset you if you knew how your leaving impacted others.”

“What is it?” I asked. He revealed the image on the front. It was a copy of a broadsheet with my portrait on it, dated July 1777. The words “Urgent: Missing Person” were scrawled in large print across the top. It was stamped with the 18th century Governor’s emblem, as well as a more modern stamp on the back reading “Verified Authentic: State Archive of Pennsylvania.”

Bree peered over my shoulder and read aloud, “‘His Lordship John William Grey has been declared a missing person by His Excellency Joseph Galloway…’” she paused, “Wasn’t Pennsylvania occupied by the British at that time?”

“Yes,” Roger said, “But Joseph Galloway was the closest person to a governor.”

Bree continued, “Anyone with substantiated information regarding his whereabouts will receive a reward of four pounds from His Grace Harold Grey Duke of Pardloe-’ that’s your brother, right?”

I nodded. My mouth had gone dry at the mention of Hal. He had been worried about me. I wished I could give him reassurance that I was safe. “Do you think Graham will believe it’s real?”

“It has the stamp of the archive, any historian would be convinced by that. Plus, I have the envelope they sent it in along with a letter ensuring its authenticity. Not to mention that that portrait is very accurate.”

“We should tell him tomorrow at Thanksgiving. We’ll all be there.”

Roger nodded in agreement, “And we should go over the journals too. Maybe there’s something in them that will help our case. Do you know what Graham has discovered in his research?”

I nodded, “He keeps me updated on it. He seems to believe it so far, bless him. And he knows about Geillis.”

“Well, maybe Mama will mention her,” Bree said hopefully.

I hadn’t even noticed that Roger had disappeared. I was too focused on my own spinning head as I stared at the broadsheet. Suddenly, the journals were placed on the table with a large “thump” and Roger hastily opened one.

“Shouldn’t we read them in order?” Bree said. Her voice was shaky.

“We just need to skim them for now. Look for any mention of Gaelis or John going through the stones. Maybe mention of an obscure historical event, or something about William. Oh, and look to see if there's anything about the broadsheet.” Roger was clearly excited for a new puzzle. Bree and I were more apprehensive, but we both reached for a journal regardless.

I skimmed for a while. Nothing came up that would help thus far, but I was nice to see Claire’s neat writing again and to learn about their day-to-day life after I left.

I was reading an entry about Claire’s new medical equipment when I heard Bree gasp. ‘Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…” she said slowly.

“What is it?” Roger asked excitedly. He really was like a dog with a bone.

“Mama- she...she mentions Graham, and someone named Klara, I’m not sure who that is.”

I jumped up and peered over her shoulder. Graham’s name was written clear-as-day in the first line of the entry.

“‘Jamie and I were thrilled to hear news of you all, especially about Graham and Klara.’” I read. I had no idea who Klara was, but that wasn’t even the most prominent thought in my mind.

Roger seemed to be thinking the same thing. “We find a way to communicate with them? I mean, we know it can be done the other way around, but-”

“Well, clearly we’ll figure it out,” Bree interrupted, “We found solid proof. That’s all that matters.” She began to restack the journals. I could tell that Roger was apprehensive about packing them up, but Bree clearly wasn’t ready to continue reading them. She left out the one with the mention of Graham and hauled the rest back upstairs into my room.

Roger looked at me and sighed. “If he isn’t convinced by all of this,” he gestured to the table, “he’ll never be.”

Chapter Text

The night was fairly sleepless, and I expected that it was for Bree and Roger too. I heard their footsteps in the hallway throughout the night. In cases such as these, when I had a daunting but necessary task ahead of me, I had become accustomed to reciting Latin poetry. It was generally in effort to keep my mind off of the impending events of the day, but I also would occasionally find solace in their words. One such poem by Catallus resonated with me as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.

“Et com amant duo, itinerant “Te amo”,
Fies certissimus,
Pertinet mos veterrimusm ut it
tempus.”

“And when two lovers woo, they still say ‘I
love you,’ On that you can rely.
No matter what the future brings, as time
goes by.”

Perhaps Catallus should have written a verse about the emergence of a lover’s past.

………

I’d managed to sleep for a few hours and I awoke with the morning sun streaming through my window. I glanced at the clock- Graham would be here in two hours. I dressed and groomed myself quickly and made my way downstairs. Bree was already up, bags heavy under her eyes and a steaming mug of coffee on the counter beside where she was prepping the turkey.

“Good morning, John,” she greeted with a faint smile, which was interrupted by a yawn, “There’s fresh coffee in the pot.”

I nodded and gave her a kiss on the temple before pouring myself a small mug. I needed the energy, but I also couldn’t drink too much for fear of my nerves getting worse. Roger had left the necessary artifacts on the kitchen table. The plan was to tell Graham immediately to prevent backing down from the challenge due to nerves.

There was music coming from the record-player in the living room, the lyrics indicating that it was a modern holiday tune. “Christmas music?” I asked, raising a brow.

“It was Mama’s tradition to play Christmas music while she cooked Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the beginning of the holiday season.”

I found the sentiment endearing, deciding to venture into the living room to listen to the music more closely. The songs weren’t unlike other music I’d heard in this time, but they all had similar themes. My focus was broken when the sound of small feet came rumbling down the stairs, followed by the heavier footfalls of Roger.

“Parade time!” Jemmy squealed excitedly.

Roger gave me a nod “good morning” and went to turn on the TV and tune it into a certain channel. The parade on the television, apparently in New York City, had drawn large crowds to the sidewalks where unimaginably large balloons floated casually down the avenue. I could see why such a spectacle was enchanting for a child, finding myself drawn in by the sheer enormity of it all.

I watched the parade attentive with Jemmy, intrigued by the various characters and the explanations by the announcers. I recognized a couple of them, such as the Charlie Brown characters. “We have to watch the Thanksgiving special for Charlie Brown,” Jemmy noted as they floated over the screen.

As soon as the parade ended, Bree was in the living room changing the channel again. I checked the clock again- he’d be here any minute. I tried to refocus on the television station that Bree had changed to. There were two men in suits discussing an activity called “football” and I recalled Greg’s mentioning of the sport.

“Who are we rooting for?” Roger asked, “Chicago or Detroit?”

Bree pondered for a second, “I’m going to go with Chicago. The Bears have had a good season, so I’ve heard.”

The doorbell rang, causing us all to jump. Bree moved to answer it, Roger and I following close in tow. When the door opened, Graham was standing bundled up on the porch with a large dish of food in-hand. “Happy Turkey Day!”

“Hehe, you too,” Bree responded tentatively, taking the dish from his hands and whisking it away into the kitchen.

“Woah, nervous energy in here. Who died?” Graham joked. Bree gave his hand a squeeze and took his coat and scarf. “There’s just something we need to tell you about.”

I held his hand tightly and guided him into the kitchen. He seemed concerned, but unwary. “What’s going on?” He asked worriedly.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you about for a while now- I just didn’t know if I should or how I would tell you.”

He sat down, listening carefully. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. There’s just something that you need to know about me before you make any decisions about the events that transpired yesterday.” He eyed me carefully, but continued to listen.
“On our first date, you told me about your research with the stones. I didn’t tell you then, but I knew exactly what you were talking about the second you mentioned it. I know Geillis personally, I know about her research, I know how it all works.”

“We all do,” Roger said. He slid the broadsheet and the journals in front of Graham with a nod.

Graham looked puzzled but opened the journal with Roger’s encouragement. He hadn’t looked at the broadsheet yet, and my heart was pumping.

“Jamie and Claire,” he said under his breath, “1777…”

“Mama traveled through the stones after World War II and met Jamie.” Bree said, “She came back to raise me before finding Jamie again. Roger and I joined them for a time and I had Jemmy. We came back before the Revolution. Mama and Da stayed back and wrote these journals for us and buried them. When John came through last summer, he dug them up. Surely you must have seen something about the stones at Craigh na Dun. That’s where Mama, Roger, and I went through.”

Graham looked up at me, eyes widened. “So you’re saying...you-”

Roger tapped the broadsheet on the table, drawing Graham’s attention to it. He noted the stamp on the back and flipped it over with an audible gasp.

Graham fainted, falling out of his chair onto the floor with a thud.

He was unconscious for a minute or so, just enough time for Roger to haul him over onto the couch. When he regained his bearings, Roger presented the final evidence. “Read this entry here.”

Graham took the journal apprehensively and read. After a few moments, I saw his eyes widen. “Holy shit- that- that’s me...and-” he swallowed a sob. “My God, Klara?”

“Who’s Klara?” I asked.

He wiped his teary eyes on his sleeve and sat up. “I was thinking of baby names last night...Klara was the name I chose for a girl. I was mostly convinced before, with the broadsheet... but this- this makes me sure that you’re telling me the truth. I hadn’t told anyone about the baby names yet. I believe you.”

“So...what does this mean then?” I asked. I could feel my pulse throughout my entire body, the sound of it nearly drowning out Graham’s words.

“I don’t know. I just have questions, I guess. I feel like I know you better than anyone, but now I’m not sure.”

I felt tears well in my eyes at those last words. Graham looked up at me and, upon seeing my expression, got up hastily to hug me.

“Oh, God no- that’s not what I meant. I just mean that it’s just going to take some time to get used to it all. I’ve gotten to know future-John, but now I need to get to know 18th-century John. God, it sounds surreal just saying it-”

“So,” I sniffled, “You believe me, a-and you’re not mad?”

Graham had tears in his eyes too. “You’re not getting rid of me without hiring a hitman, remeber?”

……...

It had taken me quite some time to recover from the extreme catharsis that resulted from telling Graham the truth. I could tell it hadn’t quite hit him yet, but I was sure that as soon as he started asking questions, it would sink in quickly. The imposter-syndrome I’d feeling I’d had since my arrival in this time was now eased. Graham held me while I cried- or laughed, I couldn’t tell which it was- until there was a call from the kitchen about dinner being ready.

Our conversation at the table was essentially just one long interview from Graham, but it was to be expected. We were all happy to answer his questions, most of which were directed at me. Jemmy was too focused on his food to say much, but every once in a while he let out a small noise of excitement.

“So, you were a *lord*?” He asked in amazement, waving his fork in the air.

“Yes. My father was the Duke of Pardloe, and then my brother after he passed. I also held several military titles, plus a governorship in Jamaica for a while. Although, Isobel’s passing required me to journey to the colonies to manage her estate, so my time in politics was brief.”

Graham looked like a child in a sweetshop, eyes wide and mind moving quickly. “And all of these people you told me you’d lost- your son, Claire, Jamie- they’d still be there if you went back through the stones?”

“Yes, or at least that’s what the journals would indicate. They live long lives.”

“How did you do it?”

Bree fielded this question and I took the time to continue eating. “We think it’s something you’re born with. And for us, all we’ve needed is a gemstone to get through.”

“How did you know that you had the ability?”

“Well, there are a few signs, one of which we could test now.”

Graham’s eyes widened, “Oh, no. I don’t think I would want to know if I had the ability. The historian in me would insist on going through.”

“It’s a rare ability,” Roger said, getting up from the table, “ye probably can’t.”

Graham shook his head. “Maybe someday my curiosity will win me over, but the past two days have already given me enough to think about.”

I reached over and put a hand on his knee. He smiled, overlapping it with his and squeezing tightly. “You guys are still the same people I’ve gotten to know,” he said, “it’s just hard to wrap my head around.”

………

Graham had decided to sleep over that night. Not only was his mind racing, but he’d eaten so much food that he hardly could move. I felt similarly, so we lounged in bed together for the rest of the night. We were silent for a while, allowing each other time to take in the night’s events. Graham spoke up eventually though, his voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s a girl.” His face broke out into a joyful smile, displaying his charming dimples. He grabbed my hand and shook them, “A little girl!”

His energy was contagious and I suddenly felt a rush of excitement. “And Klara is a lovely name for her. What shall her middle name be?”

Graham’s expression hardened a bit, “I was thinking that Alyssa could choose it. Klara is going to be her baby to, if only for a few weeks.” I saw the sorrow flash over his face, but he had made up his mind not to dwell on it for now, for Alyssa’s sake. “I was thinking Klara was a good name because it’s the Polish version of ‘Claire.’ From what you’ve told me of her, she’s a strong and kind woman- one who you admire. I just wanted there to be a connection to someone in your life too.”

“So you want me to be a part of her life? Even after tonight, that is?”

“Of course I do,” Graham said, “I was almost worried that being from the 18th century would make it hard for you to raise a 20th century girl, but I see the respect you have for Bree and her views. You’re going to be a great dad.”

“So are you,” I said, rubbing a hand over his knee.

“God, there’s only three months until she’s born. I have to get ready- shit, I need to move. My apartment isn’t big enough for all three of us.”

“I’m sure that we can arrange that,” I said reassuringly, “When are you going to tell Alyssa?”

“I called her this morning. She has a prenatal visit at the clinic tomorrow and I’m going to go with her. I’d bring you, but I think we should leave the whole ‘two dads’ thing under wraps. There are people who would try and prevent her from coming hom with me if they knew I was gay.”

The memory of the nurse at the hospital flashed in my mind and I nodded. “You’re right. Is it going to be hard for Klara? To have two fathers, I mean.”

“Probably. We’re in a city, so people are generally more open-minded here, but gay people raising kids is still taboo. But there’s nothing unlawful about it since she’s biologically mine. We just need to make sure she knows that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The only legal issue is that you can’t adopt her, so if something were to happen to me before she turned 18...I don’t even want to think about it.”

“You don’t have to, not yet” I said. Graham reached over and knocked on the wooden nightstand.

I rolled over onto my stomach, wrapping a leg over his midsection. “Graham,” I said, looking up at him with my chin on his chest, “Have I told you how excited I am?”

He sat up slightly so he could wrap an arm around me, “No, you haven’t actually. I didn’t realize I’d needed to hear you say that until you did.”

“I feel guilty though- for being excited,” I sighed and Graham gave me a squeeze.

“Alyssa said that she doesn’t want us moping around on her behalf. Let’s try our best to honor that request, yeah?”

I nuzzled my head into his warm chest, listening to his heartbeat through his shirt. “I’ll try my best to honor her wishes.”

………

“We have something to show all of you,” Graham said excitedly. He and Alyssa had sat us down in the MacKenzies’ living room and were standing in front of us, envelope in-hand.

Alyssa handed it to me first and I pulled out the photographs. I wasn’t quite sure what it was at first, but I began to make out the shape of a head and various limbs. I felt the tears prick my eyes- I had no idea that such a thing was possible. Bree came to look over my shoulder.

“Aw, she’s gorgeous. I never got a sonogram when I was pregnant with Jemmy, but now I wish I had.”

Alyssa looked shocked, “But- it’s standard procedure! How did you manage not to get one?”

“My mom was a doctor,” Bree quasi-fibbed, “She did all the prenatal stuff for me.”

Alyssa seemed to accept this answer and moved past her inquisition. “Have you decided on a middle name yet?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said somberly, “Maria- it’s my middle name. She’s got to know she has some Spanish roots in her. My mom was from Spain, you know. She and I both get the most gorgeous tans in the summer. If she gets Graham’s blonde hair…” Alyssa smiled contently.

“She’s going to be so smart and beautiful,” Bree said, giving my shoulder a squeeze. She handed the “sonogram” to Roger, who inspected it amazedly before showing it to Jemmy.

“That’s your little cousin,” Roger said, pointing to the image.

“She’s so tiny,” he said, eyes wide with excitement.

“Yes she is,” Alyssa said, rubbing her belly, “She’s about the size of a cantaloupe right now.”

“Babies are such a lovely way to start humans,” I said, leaning into Bree.

“Just wait until you bring her home,” Bree said, “Tell me that when you’re running on two hours of sleep everyday.” I could tell she was joking- mostly.

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve

“Santa Claus?” I said to Roger, who had just ushered me discreetly into his room, Bree close in tow.

“Shhh, keep your voice down. You’ll wake Jemmy.” Bree said, “It took him twelve chapters of ‘A Christmas Carol’ to fall asleep.”

I returned my attention to Roger and whispered, “Santa?”

“You might know him as Father Christmas,” he said, peering over my shoulder lest the younger inhabitant of the house had gotten out of bed, “You know, Saint Nicholas?”

“Yes, I’ve heard of Saint Nicholas.”

“Well,” Bree informed, “He is now synonymous with the magical benevolent man Santa Claus. He comes down the chimney and leaves toys for children on Christmas Eve.”

“To every child on Earth? How does he make that many toys? How does he travel so quickly? Does he use an- oh, what’s it called- an airplane?”

Roger nearly burst out laughing, but managed to hold it in for the sake of discreteness. “How have you not picked up on Santa Claus yet? You’ve been here all December. Did you never stop to wonder why all of the store windows had a fat man in a red suit in them?”

“That’s Santa? I thought he was just what you modern folks call a ‘celebrity.’”

“Well,” Bree said, “He is a celebrity of sorts.” She hushed her voice even more, “Only he’s not real. But we let children believe that he lives in the North Pole with elves to make his toys for him, and then flies across the world in a sleigh with magical flying reindeer to pull him.”

I blinked, assuming she was joking. But Bree’s expression remained serious. “Why do you insist on spreading this ludicrousy to Jemmy?”

“Because it’s one of the most magical aspects of childhood for those who celebrate Christmas. It would be cruel of us to deprive him of it,” Roger said.

I thought for a moment, remembering all of the tall tales I believed as a child and the wonderment they sparked. “Well, I suppose it doesn’t do any harm to let him fantasize at this age.”

“I’m glad you think so,” said Bree, “Now, after the party tonight, I need you to help us fill Jemmy’s stocking with little gifties and move all the presents from the attic to under the tree.”

“That’s why you had me put the gifts I bought for Jemmy in the attic? I thought you just didn’t want him to open them.” Christmas in the 20th century was proving to be a complicated and secretive affair.

“Yes, and one of those gifts is going to be from Santa. Sorry John, he’s gonna get some of the credit.” Roger gave me a shrug and I almost laughed.

“It makes just as much sense as the rest of this tradition does- meaning none- but I will sacrifice the credit of one of my gifts if it will please Jemmy.”

“That’s the Christmas spirit!” Bree gave me a clap on the shoulder, “Now, go get ready for the party, the guests will be arriving soon.

………

The MacKenzie’s Christmas Eve party had been a popular event the previous December, hosting many Harvard faculty, including Graham, and their families. From what Graham had told me, it started as a simple cocktail party. But after all of the older faculty and children had left for the night, the remaining party-goers indulged in drinking games and other debauchery.

“Professor Scnhapp’s wife wore 6 inch stiletto heels last year and broke her ankle trying to drunkenly descend the front steps.” Roger had apprised me of the various injuries, hangovers, and drunken “hookups” that had occurred.

Bree and Jemmy had spent the day decorating while I was at work. There wasn’t an inch of the house that wasn’t covered in some sort of garland or wreath. Roger had the bar fully stocked in addition to the ten bottles of wine I had brought home. Bree had set out every holiday record she owned for the guests to play at their leisure (she had spent the day silently praying that none were damaged by drunken clumsiness).

The party was a somewhat formal affair, so Graham had taken me shopping to get a couple of dress shirts, slacks, a pair of uncomfortable dress shoes, and a festive tie. I’d opted for a more conservative one with a plaid pattern. As much as I adored Graham’s tie with tiny Christmas trees all over it, it made me feel a bit silly to wear one like it myself.

“You look like you’re going to be that talk of the party, my love,” Graham said, hugging me from behind as I fastened the buttons on my shirt. “Here, let me help with your tie.

He raised the shirt collar and began the expert maneuvering of the knot. It reminded me somewhat of my former valet, Tom Byrd. I hadn’t had someone help me dress in a long while. I wanted to savor the moment alone with him before we descended into the masses of guests. I placed a hand gently on his cheek, stroking the freshly shaved skin. I could smell his after-shave, a subtle musky smell that made me want to bury my face in his neck.

“Do we have to go down there?” I asked, feigning a pout.

“Yes, but I promise you will enjoy it. Now that I know the source of your 20th century social anxiety, I can help you navigate the small-talk.” He leaned in and kissed me, pulling away after a couple of seconds. “If they find you half as charming as I find you, they will love you.” he gave me one last peck and we descended down the staircase.

A glass of wine was immediately thrust into my hands, apparently by Bree, who was whisking herself from person to person with a tray of drinks. I’d never perceived her to be such a good hostess, but she was certainly enjoying herself. I spotted Roger by the bar in the living room, doing much the same thing as his wife.

“They’re trying to get us drunk already,” Graham leaned and whispered in my ear. I noticed he had a glass of brandy already in his grasp. He was about to say something else, but looked up over my shoulder and smiled brightly.

“Alyssa!” I said, turning around, “You look radiant, my dear.” The compliment was perfectly meant. Her bright red dress highlighted the glow of her pregnancy, as well as her now fairly sizable bump.

“Thank you John,” she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek, “I can’t talk for long though. This little lady,” she gestured to her belly, “decided to sit on my bladder. I swear, I have to use the restroom every ten minutes.”

“It’s just down the hall to your left,” Graham said, “Can’t miss it.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and sent her on her way. I watched her go, noticing she had been stopped by Bree, who was equally excited to see her before ushering her to the restroom.

We’d gotten to know Alyssa well over the past few months, and I now understood why she and Graham were so close. Her energy was contagious, making everyone around her light up as she passed.

Graham spent the next half hour or so introducing me to his colleagues, at least those of which he knew wouldn’t be judgmental of our relationship. I’d met a few of them at his Halloween party, but they had been in costume then. We made pleasantries, which mostly consisted of me listening to them discuss the various institutional games that one must play in order to move up the hierarchy of the Harvard administration.

“I’ve found that if I fail my students in the first half of the semester- especially the freshmen- then give them better grades later down the line, the department lets me teach whatever classes I want.” We were discussing the politics of the history department with Professor Leod, one of the older faculty members. “But get this, they started noticing what I was doing. So what I did was I made sure to give crappy lectures in the beginning so that the students did badly, and then make them better as the class went on. And the students never even gave me a bad review!”

“Don’t you think that causes unnecessary stress for the students?” Graham asked, taking a sip of his drink. “Freshmen need to be eased into the rigor, otherwise they’ll be stressed out of their minds. These students have never gotten a grade below an A in their life.”

“C’mon Nowak, they all pass. Their GPAs are intact. You’re too soft on them, I swear.”

“Hmm,” Graham mumbled, taking another sip. “Oh, John! I love this song, come dance with me. Bye Professor Leod, pleasure as always.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the living room, where most of the dancing was taking place. “I hate that asshole. That stupid board made the mistake of tenuring him. You know how many students I’ve had crying in my office because they were failing his class?” His brows were furrowed and he finished off his drink.

“Well, why don’t we dance then?” I asked, trying to get his mind off of his apparent frustration. I usually would have had one or two more drinks before dancing, but I would have to work with what I had.

The dancing around me seemed fairly simple, mostly just rocking back and forth. The song was a slow tempo, so there was no need for intricacy. I wrapped an arm over Graham’s shoulder and placed my hand in his. We swayed gently, and I could feel him relax a bit. A few people were staring, but no one seemed willing to cause a scene by intervening.

“May we cut in?” Bree and Alyssa appeared next to us, the former swaying slightly with drink. I immediately let go of Graham and wrapped my arms around Bree, helping her keep her balance, while Alyssa danced with Graham.

“Maybe you should take those shoes off,” I said to my unsteady dance partner, “the height of those things seems like quite the hazard.”

“I can’t take them off until all the snooty people leave,” she replied, leaning heavily onto me and resting her head on my shoulder. She was quite a bit more intoxicated than one would expect her to be this early into the party.

“Where’s Roger?”

“Talking shop with his work friends, I swear it’s like they don’t even acknowledge when I’m there. That's why I’m dancing with you because you pay attention to me.”

“Let’s get you some water, my dear.” I placed her arm in my elbow and escorted her to the kitchen to hydrate here before taking her to the sitting room, which was a bit more private. "What’s going on, sweetheart? You don’t get drunk like this, at least not this early in the party.”

Bree kicked off her shoes and slumped further into the sofa next to me. “All of his friends have stay-at-home wives, so when they come over I have to play the perfect hostess and the perfect wife. And if I don’t, he says I’m ‘embarrassing him.’”

“Roger says that?” I was frankly shocked to hear that. Bree was not one to be relegated to wifely duties, and Roger had never seemed to mind even when they were back in the 18th century.

“Yes. And his stupid Harvard friends,” she waved her arm dramatically, spilling some water from her glass, “don’t even try to treat me as an equal.”

“Well, why don’t you let yourself sober up a bit in here. I’ll stay with you. I’m sure that Roger will come looking for you, Bree.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he will- but it won’t be to apologize. Oh no, it will be because the drinks need refilling or the hor d'oeuvres haven’t been passed out or because I’m not being his perfect little arm candy to parade around his pervy colleagues.”

“Do you really think that? You believe that he’ll see you upset and still berate you?”

“I mean- no. But-”

“Give him a chance to realize the error of his ways. And if he doesn’t, then you can tell me you told me so.”

“Deal,” Bree said, finishing the water in her cup. She put her feet up on the couch and leaned into me, the smell of wine on her breath floating up towards me.

A few minutes later, Roger appeared in the doorway. He knocked tentatively, clearly evaluating just how angry his wife was. One of his friends was standing behind him, looking stern. “Professor Henderson and I are in the midst of a debate about the events leading up to the Great Migration- and I know that’s one of your areas of expertise...care to join us?”

Bree sat up, a smile spreading over her lips. “Of course,” she said before turning to me. “Thank you,” she whispered.

I remained in the room a bit longer, feeling a need to mentally prepare myself to rejoin the masses. I could hear the front door opening and closing- people were beginning to leave. If what Graham said was true, then that was an indication that the general atmosphere was about to change drastically. I tried to keep thoughts of the last party of that sort I’d been to- that being Halloween- out of my mind.

Just as I was about to stand up, Graham came through the archway with a tray of four small glasses of liquor. “Ever taken a modern shot before?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I can’t say I have- I’ve had a dram, does that count?”

Graham laughed, “Not quite, my love. Here, bottoms up.” He tipped the glass back into his mouth, swallowing it’s contents in one gulp. I copied his action, the feel of the liquor- vodka, was it?- burning my throat. I sputtered a bit, but managed to get it all down.

“That’s quite vile,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.

“It’s supposed to get you drunk quick, not taste good on the way down. C’mon, baby, one more!” He pumped his fist in the air, egging me on. I followed his instruction, managing a bit better the second time. He thrust a bottle of beer in my hand and I took a couple sips, cooling the burning sensation in my throat, as he downed the last glass. He put it back down heavily and leaned towards me, looking into my eyes with a cocked brow.

“Ready to have some fun?”

Chapter Text

As I exited the sitting area with Graham, I could feel the “shots” begin to take their effect. Bree was holding the door open for many of the party-goers, most of them older faculty or parents with younger kids. She closed the door behind the final couple, cheerfully bidding them a happy holiday, before turning around and flinging her arms into the air. “Drink responsibly, everyone!” she yelled to the crowd. Everyone cheered as Roger brought in trays of shot-glasses and liquor. The holiday music stopped abruptly, replaced by some upbeat melody.

“I’ve never seen a group of adults go from sophistication to teenage excitement in such a short time,” I commented to Graham, who had just drank another shot. “Isn’t everyone going to be hungover for Christmas? What about midnight mass?”

Graham looked down at me and smiled, “Would you like to attend midnight mass?”

“Well,” I thought, “no, I suppose not.”

“Then have some fun, darling!” He tugged at my hand, pulling me onto the crowded dance floor. He held my hands and spun me around so I was facing opposite him with his arms wrapped around me, planting a kiss on my neck. Other couples appeared to also be taking advantage of the dancefloor, however their ways of dancing made me blush.

I turned back around and looked at Graham. “We are not doing that,” I said directly, gesturing vaguely to the debauchery taking place behind me.

“Relax, babe. If we ever do that it’ll be in a gay club, not a Christmas party.”

“A gay club?” Thoughts of Lavender House, a secret establishment I had frequented in my younger years, ran through my mind.

“Yeah, I’ll have to take you sometime. But c’mon, it sounds like you need another drink.”

We headed back into the kitchen, where Alyssa seemed to be noshing on some of the abandoned hor d'oeuvres. “Hey boys, having fun?”

“Yes, but not enough. What have we got in here? I don’t think John cares much for shots.”

Alyssa turned to me, “Me neither, hun. Let me see what’s in this cooler here. Aha!” She pulled a bottle full of pink liquid out of the cooler and waved it in the air excitedly. “Wine coolers, jackpot!”

“You can’t make him go out there with a pink drink in his hand,” Graham teased, “It would enforce a stereotype.”

“What,” Alyssa teased back, “That gay man can’t shoot the hard stuff? John,” she turned back to me, “Would you feel emasculated by drinking this?”

“You could use it as a chaser,” Graham suggested. I had never heard the term, but it seemed pretty self-explanatory. Graham demonstrated, taking a swig from the bottle of vodka on the counter before downing half the “wine cooler.”

“Woah, hold your horses cowboy,” Alyssa said, “I’m sure John would prefer you to stay upright for the remainder of the night. Drink some water.”

Graham rolled his eyes but followed her instruction. “Okay, hun,” Alyssa said, handing me the bottles, “Go for it.”

I managed to take two more shots, including almost an entire bottle of the sweet wine-cooler. The alcohol hit me almost immediately. “Damn, that’s efficient.”

“Sure is, babe,” Graham said, “Now let’s go! Thanks Alyssa.”

“No problem boys. And hey, no glove no love!” Graham turned around and gave her a playfully stern look.

“What an odd phrase,” I said, trying to discern the meaning.

“It means to use a condom,” he explained. I felt myself blush.

“But how- why would she-,”

“It’s a joke, love. We’re just gonna have fun tonight, whatever that entails for you.”

………

“Fun” turned out to include playing a festive drinking game with Bree and Roger. Someone had decided to put on a fairly well-known Christmas film, and Bree came up with a list of rules for when we needed to take sips of our drink.

“Every time Danny Kay says something to make Bing mad, you have to drink half of what’s left in your glass. Every time there’s a musical number, that’s four sips. Whenever Danny Kay references Bing saving his life, take two sips. And every time Vera Ellen says that Rosemary Clooney treats her like a ‘little chick’ you have to take a shot.”

I was quite drunk by the end of the film, but I was able to stand without the room spinning, which was a good sign. Graham seemed comfortable too, and he pulled me back out onto the dancefloor, which was still fairly populated despite the late hour.

“I said no more dancing,” I complained, but obliged anyway.

“Hey, ‘the best things happen while you’re dancing.’ Remember?”

I rolled my eyes at the reference to the song in the film and let him spin me around. We “danced” for a bit, but it was unlike any dancing I was used to. I tried my best to mimic Graham, but I was mostly just laughing at the absurdity. I reached out to take his hand, but he pulled me close to him, pressing my body against his. I fought the overwhelming urge to kiss him, but the sudden contact was more than welcome.

Graham leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Do you want to take this upstairs.”

I nodded into his shoulder and he immediately grabbed my hand, pulling me towards the staircase. He kissed me at the top of the steps and we fumbled down the hallway, attached at the lip. We finally managed to find the door to my room, which was thankfully unoccupied by other like-minded party-goers. I made sure to secure the lock before eagerly pulling at Graham’s tie.

“God, I want you so bad baby,” Graham whispered breathily as he unbuttoned my shirt. He didn’t bother to undo it completely, instead opting to pull it roughly over my head. We crashed onto the bed, undoing each other’s belts and kicking our slacks off hastily, only parting our desperate kiss when necessary for the removal of our layers.

I heard Graham digging around in the nightstand, as well as the slamming shut of the drawer when he found what he was looking for. The lubricant was cold inside of me as Graham prepared me. His lips parted from mine and he kissed down my jaw, adding another finger as he did so. He kissed down my neck to my chest, where he left small love-marks with his mouth.

I couldn’t wait any longer, so I grabbed a condom from the nightstand and ripped it open with my teeth before rolling onto Graham’s hard cock. He took my meaning and nodded, squeezing some lube onto his hand and rubbing himself with it.

“Graham,” I said. He looked at me, waiting. “Don’t be gentle.”

He gave me a sly grin, “I wasn’t planning on it, darling.” Without looking away, he thrusted deeply into me, causing a sharp but pleasant pain to ricochet through my body.

“Fuck, again-” I moaned as he thrusted hard into me and he clapped a rough hand over my mouth, muffling my noises.

“We don’t want to let anyone else know how much fun we’re having, now do we?” He took his other hand and thrust my legs up over his shoulders, testing my flexibility before thrusting even deeper into me with the new angle. I pulled his hair and he stifled a moan, taking my wrists in his free hand and pinning them above my head.

His forcefulness sent a pleasant shiver across my skin and I moaned into his hand again. “You like that, baby? I’ll keep that in mind.” He thrust into my prostate on the last word, causing me to arch my back in pleasure. I picked up his pace, pounding deep inside of me. The sweat on his brow dripped onto my chest. My moans were becoming harder to hold back, and Graham picked up on my urgency.

“Not until I say so,” he said sternly. His direct demeanor wasn’t making that task easy for me and I fought back the urge to let myself spill onto his chest. The noises I was producing were no longer moans, but more so muffled whines desperation. Graham seemed to like those noises and he continued to angle himself towards my prostate so I’d make them. After a few minutes, he looked me in the eye, “You want to come?”

I nodded forcefully.

“Go ahead, baby.” As soon as he finished his sentence, arched my back and released. The pulse of my orgasm was intense from holding it in, and I moaned gutturally into Graham’s palm, squeezing my eyes shut in pleasure.

Graham leaned forward, putting his face into the crook of my neck and groaned. I felt the pulse of the base of his cock as he came deep into me. The sweat from his forehead was cold on my neck and we caught our breaths and relished in pleasure. His grip on my mouth and wrists loosened and I removed my legs from his shoulders.

He finally withdrew from me and sat up. “I really hope you liked that as much as I did, because holy shit.”

“Oh, I did,” I said truthfully. I’d never allowed anyone to dominate me like that before, save for one occasion with Percy Wainwright some years ago, but it felt even better with Graham. “I love you.”

“I love you too, darling.”

Chapter Text

January 1978

“Okay, remember- if the realtor asks, we’re just roommates.” Graham had insisted that we not reveal our relationship, nor our future plans of raising Klara, to our realtor. We had just pulled up to the first candidate.

“Why? We’re paying customers, aren’t we?”

Graham shrugged, “Think about it in your time- would they have let two men buy a house together knowing that they were lovers?”

I hadn’t realized until that moment how I had become accustomed to minimal consequence for my sexual nature in the 20th century. “Well, no. In fact, they’d have their reputation ruined, or even be hanged for sodomy.”

“Well, despite the lack of legal ramifications, many people are still intolerant. I don’t want to risk losing out on this place just because our realtor is an asshole. We only have two more months.”

With Graham’s savings and our combined incomes- mine being recently augmented through a promotion and Graham’s being quite substantial due to his future tenure- we were actually able to afford some fairly nice homes. The ones we’d circled in the paper were certainly a bit smaller than the MacKenzie’s residence, but they were of equal quality.

Our realtor, Miss Bowman, was already out on the porch of 116 Chandler Street. She was wearing a pink “pantsuit” and waving cheerfully, an almost manic grin plastered on her face. I stepped out of the car, admiring the facade of the house. The red-brick houses on this street were connected to one-another, much like in the rest of the city, but they didn’t feel cramped together despite their proximity.

“Hello gentlemen!” Miss Bowman greeted gleefully, “How are we today?”

“Just swell,” said Graham, reaching out to shake her hand.

“Alright well I think you’ll like this one- I think this might be a one and done. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve outdone myself with this match for you two. C’mon in!”

Her chipper demeanor was pleasant, but also felt manufactured in a way. “Are all realtors like this?” I whispered to Graham as we followed her into the foyer.

“For the most part, yes.” He chuckled, but immediately stopped when Miss Bowman spun around, gesturing openly into the space.

“Look at these wooden floors, the crown molding, and this staircase is to die for. Now, there are two bedrooms like you asked, and two-and-a-half baths. However, the rooms are a bit of a squeeze, if you catch my meaning. But there are high-ceilings, so I doubt you’ll feel cramped.”

She wasn’t wrong. Compared to MacKenzie’s home, there was a bit less floor-space. I actually found some comfort in the notion, having somewhat missed the smaller rooms that were common in the 18th century.

“Small rooms means it will cost less to heat the place,” I whispered to Graham. He nodded, I could tell he had been thinking the same thing. We certainly weren’t trying to live beyond our means, but the notion of saving money was attractive nonetheless.

Miss Bowman led us around the house, explaining in detail the potential for each room. Despite the small size, the house managed to fit a kitchen, living room, formal dining room, and powder room all on the first floor. It was a bit of a maze, but something about it added to the charm.

The upstairs was a bit more spacious, and I felt Graham tense in excitement upon seeing the master bedroom, which was about twice the size of his own room in his apartment. “You two are going to have to pull straws for this space,” Miss Bowman laughed.

“Yeah, it’ll definitely be a toss-up,” Graham said, trying to play off her comment. “Could I have a moment here with John?”

“Of course, Mr. Nowak. I’ll be downstairs in the dining room should you need me.” Miss Bowan sauntered out of the room.

“So, what do you think?” Graham asked.

“I can see us living here, definitely. It’s in a good location, Miss Bowan said the schools around here are good- plus it’s not too far from either of our jobs. And it has everything we wanted.”

“Did you see that it has a washer *and* a dryer?” Graham said giddily, “No more laundromat for me!”

“So, I take it that you like it too?” I said, teasing.

“Yes, but there’s no way that this baby isn’t going to sell fast. If we want any chance of negotiating the price, we have to make an offer today. That means we don’t really have time to look at other places.”

“There’s no need, my dear. It’s perfect.”

Graham glanced quickly at the doorway to check for prying eyes before hugging me tightly. “It even has bay windows in the living room *and* in the master bedroom.”

“Just like you wanted,” I said, pleased by his happiness. He looked like Jemmy had on Christmas morning. I gave him a quick peck and we headed downstairs.

Miss Bowman was waiting anxiously at the table with a stack of paperwork clutched in her manicured hands. “So, do you love it?”

“We are certainly considering it,” Graham said nonchalantly. For some reason, his sudden switch in demeanor for the purpose of negotiation provoked a sensual feeling in me. I tried to pull myself together and play along. I’d been a shrewd negotiator back in my prime, but it had been a while since I’d had reason to exercise those skills.

“It definitely has potential, I’ll give it that.”

Miss Bowman seemed to catch our meaning. “Well, I’m sure there is wiggle room in terms of price. But we haven’t much time to haggle. I’ll call the home-owner’s agent and see if I can make him budge.”

She left the room to use the phone, apparently dead-set on getting an offer before we left. I took the few moments of privacy to give Graham’s hand a squeeze.

We waited anxiously for about ten minutes before Miss Bowman practically sachéd back into the room. “The sticker price was $175,00, but I got him down to $155,000. He'd be throwing money away if he went any lower than that, I’m afraid.”

“Even if we pay in cash?” Graham said, raising an eyebrow. I knew that $155,000 was within our budget, but Graham seemed intent on getting the best price.

“This particular neighborhood has very few residents who have taken out mortgages, I’m afraid. He already accounted for that in the original price. This is the best you’re going to get.”

He gave me a look, silently asking for my opinion. I nodded, and he turned back to Miss Bowman. “$155,000 it is, then.”

………

Two weeks later

 

“There’s no way I’m letting you put Klara in that thing,” Alyssa said sternly, glaring at Graham. He was seated on the floor, screwdriver in hand, in front of a mediocrely constructed crib. “I refuse to give birth to her until you learn how to follow an instruction manual.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works,” Bree said, coming in from the hallway, “You can’t just cross your legs and hold her in.”

“I’ll try my damndest to do so. These two can’t even slap some wood together-”

“Oh, trust me, we can- ow!” Alyssa gave Graham a much-deserved whack with the instruction manual, interrupting his lewd remark. I tried to suppress my chuckle, not desiring her hormonal wrath to be targeted at me.

“Listen you two,” Bree said sternly, “Alyssa here is in her nesting phase. That means that she feels the primal urge to make sure everything is perfect for the baby. But she can’t exert herself because of her heart condition, so it’s our job to be at her disposal. Capeesh?”

“We are your humble servants, my dear,” I said sincerely. Graham nodded frantically, not wishing to be subjected to another instruction-manual-beating. Despite her declining health, Alyssa’s temper was still as fiery as always, a trait she seemed to share with Bree.

“Now,” Bree said, “let me see just how badly you messed this up.” One side of the crib was leaning inward and she straightened it out, detaching her drill from its holster in her belt and tightening the screws. She gave it a wiggle and it stood sturdily. “Well, at least you put the pieces in the right place.”

“Hallelujah, maybe he’ll be able to change a diaper too.” Alyssa said flatly, rolling her eyes. She marched out of the room, leaving Graham blushing on the floor.

“Don’t take it personally,” said Bree. She bent down and placed a reassuring hand on Graham’s shoulder, “That doesn’t even compare to the things I said six weeks before I was due. You’re both going to be great dads.”

“Well, there’s only so much good parenting can do for her once the world discovers that she has ‘dads’,” he put emphasis on the “s” in the last word. “We can build a crib and change her diaper, but we can’t stop people from saying crappy things to her.”

“Yes, but we can teach her how to handle those ‘crappy things’,” I said. I was worried about that too, but there was no use being pessimistic about it. Bree nodded in agreement and Graham seemed to relax for a bit.

The combination of moving and preparing for the imminent arrival of baby Klara was taking its toll on him. He’d become restless in the night and bags drooped under his eyes. By the time he came home from work each day, he was grumpy and secluded himself in the small office space that he’d set up in the corner of our bedroom.

I gave Bree a knowing look and she quietly excused herself, leaving Graham and I alone in the would-be nursery. I joined him on the carpet, pulling his head into my shoulder and stroking his hair.

“You need a break,” I said calmly.

“There’s too much to do,” he replied, turning his head so his voice was muffled in the crook of his neck. “And it’s not going to get any easier once the baby comes.”

“Exactly,” I replied, trying my best to sound calm, “this is our last chance for a break until Klara is old enough to leave with a nurse for more than a few hours at a time.”

Graham sat up abruptly. “Oh, God- I forgot about hiring a babysitter! Someone needs to take care of her while we’re both at work-”

“Pat already said he’d give me time off, and your class schedule gives you an extra day off each week.”

“You told Pat about our situation- John, he could have fired you!”

I pulled him back into the crook of my neck, “I don’t think Pat is one to give two shits about who I sleep with,” I said. “Besides, it’s already done. I have two months paid leave once Klara is born. He said I was lucky the baby was due during the ‘slow season.’”

“People don’t drink wine in February?”

“Nor March, apparently,” I chuckled. I continued to stroke Graham’s head, each touch causing some of the tension in his shoulders to loosen.

“A break, huh? Where?” Graham looked up at me inquisitively.

“Well, if it were up to me, I would want to go somewhere more rural for a couple of days. It’s been too long since I’ve been out of the city.”

Graham suddenly lit up and grinned excitedly. “I know the perfect place,” he said, kissing me quickly before practically jogging out of the room. I was left slightly confused on the floor of the nursery. Did he intend to tell me what he was planning? Knowing Graham, the answer was probably no.

Chapter Text

“Graham, please let me take this blindfold off before I’m sick all over your car.” We were on our way to our mystery weekend off from work and house preparations, trusting Brianna to finish the construction of the nursery in our absence. We’d been in the car for about 90 minutes now, but Graham had forced me to obstruct my vision to hide the location of our retreat.

“We’re nearly there, darling...are you actually going to be sick though?” I could hear the pang of concern in his voice- whether it was for me or the interior of his car, I had no idea.

“I’ll let you know if the need becomes urgent,” I said, just as my stomach made an uncomfortable lurch. It was rare that I fell victim to motion sickness, but it occurred on occasion. I briefly recalled the voyage back from Ireland I had taken with Jamie when he was still paroled at Helwater, but the thought of the rough waters did not help to quell the unease in my stomach. I gagged slightly and felt Graham pull over swiftly. The latch to open the door took a moment to find and I pawed at it desperately, pushing it open just in time.

Graham reached over and removed the blindfold as I retched. “Well, this is a great start, isn’t it,” he said sheepishly.

I sat back up in the car, my stomach finally resting. Graham handed me a bottle of water and I sipped it slowly. “No worries, my dear.” My vision now restored, I took a moment to look out the window.

We were in a coastal area, driving along a narrow, winding road that was parallel to the water. I pulled the door shut and Graham resumed driving. He had an apologetic look on his face and I reached over to touch his shoulder. “Trust me my love, I have experienced much worse. Where are we anyway?”

Graham’s guilt seemed to subside a bit and he sighed, “A place in Southern Connecticut called Sachem’s Head. My buddy in New York has this place for his summer home and said we could stay for the weekend. There are a lot of mansions down here, but further down are some tiny cottages like the one we’ll be in.”

He reached out and interlaced his fingers with mine. I could see now that we were moving down a long, narrow driveway. The cottage finally came into view, looking quite summery despite the winter chill. The cold air seeped through my coat as I exited the car and I rushed inside, only to realize that the interior of the cottage was just as chilled as the exterior. I scanned the walls for a thermostat, but there appeared to be none.

“Graham?” I called behind me.

“Yeah, babe?” He responded from the car, where he was unloading our bags.

“Your ‘buddy’ didn’t happen to mention that there’s no heat in this cottage, right?”

I heard him come up behind me and he peeked his head through the door. “No, no he didn’t. Although he did seem confused as to why I would want to come here this time of year…well, shit. There aren’t any lights either!”

I looked around and confirmed Graham’s statement. But there was a large hearth, accompanied by a giant stack of firewood, a cooking rack, and a kettle. “Well, we will just need to start a fire then.”

“You want to stay?!” Graham dropped the bags on the ground, “Darling, I love you, but there’s no way that this is going to be relaxing in the slightest.”

“I spent all but the last seven months of my life living in conditions such as these. We will be comfortable, I swear.” I stooped down to examine the chimney, which seemed clean enough upon minimal inspection. “Now, I usually had servants to do this part for me, but it can’t be too hard.”

“I forget you were a Lord sometimes,” Graham said, sitting grumpily on the bed. He seemed to accept defeat in the matter, but wasn’t going to enjoy himself until he was no longer shivering. I, on the other hand, was excited to feel the heat of a hearth again, and as almost giddy in anticipation.

Luckily, there were matches in a small container on the mantle. I remembered testing out Bree’s matches she’d made back in the 18th century and chuckled at the memory of trying them out for the first time. At least these ones weren’t prone to spontaneous combustion. I struck it on the stone and it lit brightly, catching the kindling in seconds. I hastily stacked the logs, each of them dry as a bone and lighting immediately. I sighed happily, taking a moment to close my eyes and soak in the long-missed, familiar feeling of a freshly-lit hearth.

“That should keep us going for a while,” I said calmly, turning to Graham, who seemed only slightly less perturbed now that the prospect of heat was attainable. “I’m going to go get some water for the kettle. There has to be a pump around here somewhere. You sit over here and warm up.”

Graham took my place on the floor by the fire and I made my way outside, grabbing the bucket on the porch on my way out. The pump was a short walk from the house, and I noted that there was a privy too. The handle of the pump was frigid with cold and without my gloves, I had to pull my sweater over my hands to touch it, but my fingers went numb with cold anyway.

Despite the inconvenience compared to what I'd grown accustomed to, I actually felt quite serene having no electric lights or running water. It had been nearly eight months since I’d been disconnected from the industrial improvements of the modern world. I felt as if I were back in my own time, except now I had Graham. I hadn’t felt this relaxed since before I came through the stones.

He was curled up by the fire with a blanket over his shoulders when I returned. I put the kettle on and fished around in our bag of food for the tea I’d brought along. Luckily, there appeared to be a cabinet with some dishes and I pulled out two mugs. Graham had stopped shivering and was staring deep into the fire. The flickering light illuminated his skin and reflected off of his blue eyes. His tan from the summer had faded slightly, but there was still a hint of it in the golden light.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked casually as I poured some tea leaves into the kettle.

“Oh, it’s nothing. The fire is calming to watch, that’s all.”

Graham wasn’t very good at hiding his emotions. He didn’t have a glass face- at least not as severe as Claire Fraser’s- but it was certainly easy to tell when there was something he wasn’t letting on about. “You can tell me,” I said softly, sitting beside him. He extended an arm so I could wrap myself in his blanket, the heat of his body warming up my icy hands.

“I know that it’s hard for you to be here,” he said, his gaze still focused on the flames, “I just I never let myself have time to consider just how much you were sacrificing to be with me in the future.”

“I’m not sure that I get what you mean, my dear.” I said gently.

“I’ve never seen you so relaxed- so... gladly in your element- as you have been in the last 20 minutes since we arrived at this cabin. I just...I wish that this world wasn’t so stressful for you. If being with me means feeling out of place all the time, then how can I ever make you truly happy?”

His eyes were glassy and his voice shook at that last question. He pulled his knees closer to his chest and bent his head down into them. It was clear that this wasn’t the first time he’d felt this concern.

“Graham,” I said, placing a gentle hand on his back. His muscles relaxed under my touch and I rubbed the area between his shoulder blades in slow circles. “Look at me.”

He turned his head, resting his cheek on his blanketed forearm. My hand moved from his back to his hair, pushing the loose strands behind his ear.

“I knew that adjusting to living here would be hard. You’re correct in that I sacrificed a lot to come here; my home, my family and friends, my entire life in the past. But do you know *why* I came here?”

He sniffled. “Wasn’t it to see Bree and Roger? To bring them the journals?”

“No, my love. Claire had that idea after I decided to go through. I wanted to travel so that I could be who I want to be and, more importantly, love who I want to love.”

He sniffled again and smiled slightly, leaning into my touch in his hair. “Really?”

“Really. The stones are a mystery, but Claire seems to think that they draw in travelers who have someone on the other side who they are destined to see. She felt that pull with Jamie, and they met within ten minutes of her going through. And you,” I felt tears well up in my eyes, blurring my vision, “You sat next to me on that train. And bloody hell, everything about you made sense- from the book you were reading, to your relationship with the MacKenzies, your research- you are the reason why I’m here, Graham. I miss so much from my old life, but I have never been happier than I have been these past seven months with you.”

I hadn’t meant to make him cry. In fact, the reassurance was meant to prevent him from doing so. But despite my efforts, Graham buried his face back into his knees and sobbed. I panicked slightly, not knowing what I’d said to cause such pain. “Graham- are you okay? Did I say something?”

He looked up at me and, to my surprise, was grinning ear to ear. “I’m not upset, you fool,” he said, wiping a falling tear with the blanket, “You’re just a romantic sap. And I don’t know, the idea of some cosmic force pulling us together is overwhelming, but also makes me exceedingly happy.”

“Trust me, I know the feeling,” I said. I found myself smiling too, and leaned over to kiss him. I could taste the saltiness of his tears on his lips. He pulled away for a moment and held my face just inches away from his own. He’d stopped smiling, his expression now one of content.

He looked at me a moment longer before slowly joining our lips again. He moved over me, laying me down on the rug in front of the hearth. The sun was beginning to set outside, leaving the room to be illuminated by the soft glow of the fire.

I placed my hand on his cheeks, pulling him away from the kiss. He rested his forehead on mine and I reached down to pull the hem of his shirt up over his back, running my hands across his smooth skin. Graham sat up and pulled the shirt over his head. The firelight brushed over his lean form, highlighting the curvature of his muscles and wrapping him in warmth.

His lips joined mine again and he slid his tongue into my mouth, pulling my up towards him. My sweater was slipped off over my head and I pressed my chest into Graham’s. He was seated on my lap and he rolled his hips over my crotch, moaning softly into my mouth. He repeated the motion, causing the warmth in my groin to spread comfortably.

“What do you want, my dear?” I asked, pulling away from the kiss and brushing his ear with my lips as I whispered.

“You,” he said breathlessly, “always you.”

I laid back down, pulling him on top of me, and unfastened the buckle of his belt. I could feel him doing the same to me, and we fumbled a bit to remove our pants, not wanting to break our kiss. Graham reached for the luggage that contained the condoms and lubricant, finding them within a couple seconds of groping through it. Rather than coat his own fingers in the lube, like he generally did, he thrust the bottle into my hands.

“Are you sure?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “We haven’t done it this way in a while. I wasn’t sure you liked it.”

He rolled his hips over my length again, “Yes, I need you so badly, John.”

I grinned and felt my cock throb in anticipation. I poured the lube on my fingers and reached around Graham, who scooted closer so I could have easier access to prepare him. My fingers brushed over his entrance and I could feel the pulse there- he really was desperate for me, his body was clear evidence of that.

He was quite relaxed this time around, so it took almost no time to have him fully ready. It was strange to see him so eager to have me inside of him, but the shift in dynamic was certainly a welcomed one. I could feel the heat of the fire licking my bare skin, and I yearned for the heat of Graham to envelope me too.

He was still seated on top of me when he put the condom on, rolling it over my cock in a teasingly slow fashion. He stroked the lube onto it sensually, giving me an innocent stare as he gripped me in his hands.

“Please, Graham,” I said through my teeth, back arched in pleasure.

My request was granted and he positioned himself over me. I held my cock in place and he lowered himself onto it. I could feel him throbbing around me as he lowered himself, stopping for a moment when he’d taken my full length. I watched him begin to move, rocking his hips forward and backwards. The muscles in his abdomen clenched in pleasure and effort, his cock jerking slightly as he found his prostate.

I bent my knees, giving him a place to put his hands to steady himself, and held his hips in my hands, moving with him and studying his reactions to my thrusts. I raised my hips slightly off of the ground and he bore his weight further onto me, reaching even deeper. His lips parted and he moaned loudly, gripping my hand and encouraging me to thrust harder.

I did, smiling as I began to feel the pulsation within him, indicative of orgasm. I took one hand and stroked his cock, spreading the dripping precum over it. With a few quick tugs, he was pushed over the edge, climaxing onto my stomach with a jerk of his hips. I took advantage of the stimulation caused by the beautiful sight before me and, once he’d reached the end of his climax, pulled his chest to my own. The transfer of his weight allowed me the liberty of thrusting faster into him. After a few seconds, I too was writhing in pleasure beneath him.

I held him on top of me for a moment, catching my breath. Eventually, I finally withdrew from him and slid off the condom, attempting to tie the top of it like I’d seen him do countless times. The material was slippery with lube and Graham chuckled at my struggle.

“Here, let me.” He effortlessly tied it off and threw it away before turning back to me. I retrieved the forgotten blanket and wrapped it over his shoulders.

“We need to do that more often,” he said with a grin.

“I’m not sure we could have sex more often if we tried,” I said, teasing.

“You know what I mean.” He nudged me and I laughed, “I never really considered myself to be much of a bottom kinda guy, but you cease to amaze me.”

I kissed his temple, “I like to think I’m pretty good in that department,” I said, “although, I still can’t manage the whole condom-tying thing.”

Graham laughed, “Well, we don’t *have* to use them. We just need to make sure we aren’t at risk beforehand.”

I thought back to my conversation with Roger before our trip to the Cape, where Graham and I had made love for the first time. “I've heard we need to get ‘tested?’” I said quizzically.

“Yes, and we will soon.” He gave me a kiss on the nose before getting up to retrieve his sweater and add a couple more logs to the fire. The kettle, which had been left to steep next to the hearth, was still warm. I poured us some tea and we both drank it thirstily, still recovering from the evening's previous activities.

“So, what did you do for entertainment before you had the telly?” Graham asked, looking around the room for something to do.

“Well, aside from what we just did,” I teased, earning a nudge from Graham, “I read quite a bit. If I had an adequate partner, I’d play chess and maybe have a drink or two.”

“Well, I don’t have a chess set,” Graham started, “but I do have these.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a couple bottles of wine and a book. It was his own copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ the one I’d seen him reading during our fateful first meeting.

“Will you read it to me?” I asked.

He nodded, giving me a short kiss before standing up to retrieve some glasses for the wine. He hadn’t put on his underwear yet and his firm buttocks was uncovered as he reached up to grab the glasses. Reminded of my own nakedness, I pulled on my own sweater. I lit one of the candles from the mantle and brought it over to the bedside table before climbing under the covers. The bedclothes were still quite chilled, but not enough to require the bed-warmer yet.

Graham placed a glass of wine in my hands and climbed into bed next to me, setting his own on the stand beside the candle. I snuggled into his side, careful not to spill the wine, and he began reading.

“‘On February 24, 1815, the lookout at Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the arrival of the three-master ‘Pharaon,’ coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples…’”

………

I awoke sometime later to a dark room and a shivering form next to me. I must have fallen asleep while Graham was reading to me- not that the story was boring, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Jamie certainly would have enjoyed hearing Claire’s re-telling. Graham had read to me for about an hour before my eyes began to feel droopy. I remembered him taking the glass of wine from my hands, and then nothing else.

The fire had burned out and the room was frigid. Graham was somehow still asleep next to me, but he was shivering hard enough for me to hear his teeth chattering. I got up from the bed, hurrying to put on some socks and pajama pants, before beginning the process of re-lighting the fire.

It took me a couple of tries to get it going, but the air in the room began to slowly heat up. I could still see my breath though, and hastily made my way back to Graham’s sleeping form. I tried my best to move his feet without waking him up, making sufficient room for the bed-warmer as to avoid burning his bare legs. The warmer already had coals in it, a blessing since I couldn’t see any inside of the cottage, so I placed it into the fire.

It slid into the bed without bumping into any of Graham’s long limbs, thank goodness. I stood at the bedside with a hand on his shoulder, feeling the shivering slowly die down as the bedclothes were filled with heat. I hadn't been nearly as cold as he was, poor thing, since he had been holding me as I slept.

I climbed carefully back into the bed, and wrapped him in my arms. He stirred a bit, but didn’t wake. I looked at his face and, in the dim light, noticed his nose was running slightly from the cold. I wiped it gently with the sleeve of my sweater, in lieu of a handkerchief, and muttered quietly to myself.

“You better not catch cold, my dear.” I kissed his forehead lightly before settling back into sleep.

Chapter Text

The second time I awoke, the room was significantly less cold. The fire I’d built in the night was nearly extinguished and the bed-warmer was cool, but a comfortable heat hung in the air. I noticed how the sun peeked through the curtains and I crawled carefully out of bed to open them. Through the window I could see out towards the ocean, which was spotted with small chunks of ice. Light shone through the unobscured windows, causing Graham to stir. I could see his eyes moving underneath his lids as he came out of his sleep.

I moved back to the bed and crouched down, brushing my hand over his face and into his hair. He was warm- in fact, maybe he was too warm? I had no idea how long he’d been subjected to the frigid cold in the night. He was a bit paler than usual and his lips were dry and parted.

“Graham? Wake up darling.” I said gently. I managed to coax him awake and his eyes flitted open, revealing the familiar blue.

“How are you feeling, love?” I asked, placing my hand back on his forehead.

“Like shit.” He said shortly, rubbing his eyes with his fists. “God, I can’t breathe, and my throat-” He winced as he attempted to swallow.

“We didn’t properly tend to the fire before falling asleep last night. You kept me warm, but I’m afraid you were quite chilled when I woke up to find the room had gone cold.” My hands were a bit chilled themselves, making it difficult to determine Graham’s temperature. Using a technique I’d seen Claire use, I pressed my lips against his forehead. He was certainly feverish, but not alarmingly so. “Oh, Graham, I feel terrible. I shouldn’t have let myself fall asleep before everything was properly sorted.”

Graham took my hand and sniffled. His mouth opened as if he were about to say something, but he paused, letting out a sneeze into his elbow. There was a box of tissues on the bookshelf- albeit a bit dusty- and I brought it over to him.

After sorting himself out, he took hold of my hand again. “As I was saying, it’ll be perfectly fine. We’ll just need to stop by the pharmacy today and get some decongestant and Tylenol.”

I gave him a questioning look, but he shrugged. “You’ll see.”

He got out of bed, still naked from the waste down from the evening’s activities, and pulled on some pants before heading outside- presumably for the privy. I made the bed and refreshed the fire, putting the kettle on to fill the bowl I’d assigned as the make-shift wash-basin. I felt terrible that Graham was sick, but he seemed confident that it wouldn’t put a damper on our day.

The morning continued fairly slowly, with Graham and I silently getting ready together. I made sure that he wore an extra layer, although he initially fought the notion.

“So what do you have in store for me today?” I asked finally. Graham poured the remaining water from the bucket onto the fire and we headed out to the car.

“Well, first stop is the pharmacy, then we can grab some coffee. I was planning to take you to some of Connecticut’s finest colonial era houses, but we can do something else if you’d like.”

“Well, we might as well stick to the theme of our trip, right?” I said jokingly.

“I’m glad you think so, because the historian in me would be very disappointed if I didn’t see some of the historical houses here,” Graham glanced at me from the driver’s seat excitedly.

We eventually pulled into the parking lot of the pharmacy, which had a large sign with the letters “CVS” in bright red.

“What does that stand for?” I asked, gesturing towards the sign.

Graham shrugged and sniffled, indicating that the acronym was as much of a mystery to him as it was to me. We ventured into the store and down an aisle labeled “cold and flu.” The shelves were stocked with hundreds of tiny boxes, all advertising their ability to quell a fever or decongest the sinuses. I picked one up from the shelf.

“So you’re telling me that the medicine in this box can bring a fever down? Do you know how many men I saw die who would have survived if they had this?” I whispered to Graham. He peered over my shoulder at the box.

“It sure can, modern medicine has changed the world. And thanks, that’s actually exactly what I was looking for.” He plucked it out of my hands with a wink and we started towards the register.

Graham stopped suddenly in front of me and I nearly bumped into him. Upon investigation of the cause of our impromptu halt, I realized that we were in an aisle full of condoms, amongst various other products.

“I realized last night that I need to buy more of these,” he said, holding up the familiar box. I was still a bit shocked by the vast selection and nodded, glancing further down the aisle.

“What are those?” I said, pointing to a pink box with the silhouette of a woman displayed on it. Graham laughed and shook his head.

“What’s so funny?”

“They’re sanitary pads- for women when they bleed. It goes in their underwear.”

“It’s for their courses?” I asked in a whisper.

“We in 1978 call it a ‘period,’ but yes. And you don’t have to whisper. Women’s bodily functions *should* be able to be openly discussed.”

The notion was slightly discomforting to me, but this was not the first time I had needed to put aside my preconceived 18th century notions. “Should be” seemed to be the operative phrase in Graham’s sentence, and I could tell that he was bothered by the taboo nature of the subject in modern times.

“On behalf of our daughter,” I said in a normal tone, “I agree.”

Graham smiled at that and took my hand, giving the box of condoms a small shake. “We are definitely using these later. Feminism is a sexy look on you.”

An older gentleman further down the aisle gave us a horrified look, but we ignored him and made our purchase. He stood behind us in line, glaring at our intertwined hands, but Graham continued to hold me tightly. He leaned over to whisper in my ear, “His discomfort is his problem, not ours.”

We walked out to the car, still connected. Once we were safely enclosed in the car, Graham leaned over and kissed me sweetly. This display of affection was cut short by the sound of a knock on the window. I felt Graham freeze at the sound. I opened my eyes and, sure enough, the man from the store stood angrily outside of the car.

Graham ignored him and put the keys into the ignition. He cranked the window down an inch or two. “Sir, could you step back a bit. I’ve got somewhere to be.”

“Listen here you fa-.” The response was cut short by the closing of the window. Graham gave him a feigned apologetic look and motioned for him to move.

“I don’t think he’s going to move anytime soon, love.” I whispered.

“Well, I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of calling us ‘f*gs’ or telling us we are a detriment to society. He’ll realize we aren’t worth his time eventually.” Graham, clearly intent on waiting this man out, proceeded to take the medicine we had purchased and turn on the radio.

Upon seeing this, the man’s face turned bright red. He began to yell something through the window, but Graham turned the volume up on the radio to drown him out.

I tried not to look at the yelling figure outside, but I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. The man’s hand had come towards the door handle. I leaned over as quickly as I could to lock it, grasping at the locking mechanism, only to have my arm pulled roughly by the opening door.

“Sir,” Graham said calmly, helping me sit back up, “this is my property. I am kindly asking you to close the door and step aside before I go back into the store and call the authorities.”

“You can’t prove nothing, homo,” the man grunted, roughly grabbing at Graham’s arm and attempting to pull him out of the car. Graham didn’t fight back, but also didn’t get out willingly. The man managed to pull him to his feet. “Stay in the car, John,” he turned to the man, “Alright, fine. Say what you want to say. Like I said, I’ve got places to be.”

Rather than respond verbally, the man swung a fist in Graham’s direction. I could tell that Graham hadn’t seen it coming, but he attempted to dodge the punch at the last minute. Rather than hit his nose, which was probably the original intention, the man’s knuckles landed squarely on Graham’s temple. He fell to the ground, dazed but not unconscious.

I was out of the car before the punch landed. I grabbed the man’s shoulder and spun him around, hitting him square in the jaw. He was quite a bit larger than me, so he pushed me up against the side of the car, attempting to use his close proximity to prevent me from being able to deliver full blows. With all of his weight fixed on pressing me into the car, his footing was vulnerable. I kicked him hard in the shin and he stumbled into me, off balance. I pushed him to the side and kneed him in the gut as he bent over trying to recover his footing. The man tried to wrap his arms around my midsection, and I stooped down, causing him to land heavily on the ground.

At this point, someone had alerted the employees in the store of the commotion in the parking lot. Graham had managed to sit up, holding his head in his hands and leaning against the tire of the car. An employee came running out, looking at me accusingly.

“What’s going on?” she asked sternly.

I gestured to the man, who was in the process of recovering his breath, which had been knocked out of him. “He punched my boyfriend without provocation. He probably would have kept on doing it too, so I prevented him from continuing.”

The woman gave Graham a sympathetic look, but her eyes widened upon looking at him. “Sir, can you hear me?” Graham nodded.

“Is he okay?” I asked, suddenly forgetting about my anger.

“His right pupil is dilated, which is a sign of concussion. A blow to the temple can be very dangerous.”

Upon hearing this, the man started running from the scene. Luckily, the man seemed to run directly towards a police officer. Someone must have called the authorities. The officer grabbed a hold of his arm and dragged him back to us.

“What seems to be the problem?”

I relayed the events, starting from inside the store, to the officer. He was surprisingly unconcerned with my physical conflict with the man, who he continued to grasp tightly by the arm, stating that I had reasonable cause to defend Graham.

The man was indignant, desperately trying to extricate himself from the officer’s grasp.

“Buddy, I could arrest you. You already tried to flee the scene. One more word out of your mouth and you’re in the back of my cruiser.”

“This is fucking bullshit! I am the one who was subjected to these homos. I was just exercising my right to protest.”

The officer rolled his eyes, clearly not intending to argue with the man. He turned to the employee, who was monitoring Graham. “Did you see any of what happened?”

“I saw them in the store, ignoring this guy’s attempts at intimidation. As for what happened in the parking lot, I merely heard an account from some other lady who came in. But what this man- John was it?- said lined up with her description of the events.

The officer nodded and pulled the restraints off of his belt, pushing the man over the hood of Graham’s car. “Sir, you’re under arrest for the-”

“This is bullshit!”

“VIOLATION,” the officer spoke over the man’s protests, “of personal property, attempt to flee the scene of a crime, and attempted aggravated assault.”

“I only hit him once.”

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

I heard retching beside me and saw that Graham was vomiting onto the pavement. “Can you get him to the emergency room?” the officer asked me.

“I don’t have a driver’s license.” I replied. The officer nodded and said something into the black object secured to his uniform. “An ambulance will be here in about 5 minutes.”

The officer escorted the man to his car and returned, asking me for any contact information I might have. I gave him the new number of our house.

“Boston area code? We’ll provide you with a public defender here in Connecticut, unless you say otherwise.”

I nodded, trying not to let my anxiety show. I heard a blaring siren come into the parking lot, interrupting our conversation. The officer excused himself and went to talk to the people working on the ambulance. Their uniforms said “EMT” on them, so I assumed that was their title.

Graham was helped onto a rolling bed of some sort and lifted into the ambulance. One of the EMTs approached me. “You can come too.”

………

The ride to the emergency room was the most difficult experience I’d had since arriving in the 20th century, including the journey from Philadelphia to Boston. Not only was I scared for my life inside the loud, fast-paced, unfamiliar vehicle, but I also was subjected to a myriad of questions from the EMTs.

“Has he taken any medications today?”

“Um- I think...yes. He took, uh, tylenol...and something else for his cold.”

There was another EMT beside Graham, who was trying to prevent him from falling asleep by asking him simple questions. Neither of the EMTs seemed to be too concerned about Graham’s condition, but it was still a severe enough injury to warrant a trip to the hospital. I could see a dark bruise begin to form on the side of Graham’s head, a white swollen spot square on his temple where the brunt of the forceful impact had landed.

The EMT who was asking me questions turned to his partner. “Do you see any damage to the meningeal artery?”

“The bruising seems pretty localized,” she responded, “so my guess is no. We should do a CT scan when we get to New Haven, though.”

………

I sat in the waiting room for about an hour, waiting for the doctors to finish “running tests,” whatever that meant. I hadn’t bothered to ask, since they probably would have responded with a bunch of medical terms I was supposed to know as someone in the 20th century.

I decided it would be best to call Bree and Roger at some point, especially since if Graham was concussed, they would most likely have to come pick us up. I asked one of the nurses at the desk if there was a payphone nearby and followed their directions down the hallway.

“Hello?” Bree’s voice echoed through the receiver.

“Hello Bree, I’m sorry to bother you at work. It’s John, by the way.”

“No, it’s perfectly okay. You sound stressed, and why are you calling from a payphone?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I’m at Yale New Haven Hospital. Some arsehole punched Graham’s temple and he’s not doing very well and we had to ride in an ambulance to get here.. And someone called the police, so the guy who punched him was arrested. They said that they’d have a lawyer call our house, which is empty so God forbid they call before we get home. And I have no clue how we’re going to get home. And Graham’s car is still in the parking lot at CVS. And I have no idea what a meningeal artery is but apparently it's important somehow and nobody here is telling me what’s going on and I just want to see him but I can’t because he’s having a CT scan, whatever the hell that is and-

“Shhhh, John, it’s okay. Take a deep breath.”

I tried, but it was shaky.

“Roger and I will come down and meet you at the hospital. One of us can drive Graham’s car home. I’ll ask Alyssa to watch Jemmy at your place, just in case the lawyer calls. The meningeal artery is what is responsible for getting blood to your brain. There are ways to stop the bleeding, if there's any at all. That’s why they are giving him a CT scan. It’s a machine that shows what is under your skin. They’ll be able to see if there’s any bleeding. If not, he probably just has a concussion. Try and figure out if they’re planning on keeping him there overnight and call me again if they are. I’ll book a hotel room in New Haven for the three of us. He’s going to be okay, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Thank you Bree,” I said, hanging up the phone.

“Mr. Grey, right?” I turned around to see a young doctor standing behind me.

“Yes. I- I’m sorry, have you been waiting long?”

“Not at all. Now, I can’t tell you everything about Mr. Nowak’s condition since you aren’t immediate family, but I can tell you that he is stable. The CT scan showed that he does not require surgery, but we still want to monitor him overnight.”

I sighed in relief. “Can I see him?”

“He’s a bit out of it right now. We have him on medication to keep him awake until it’s safe for him to sleep.”

“How long will that be- until he’s able to sleep, I mean.”

“He’ll probably be up for the rest of the night. As soon as it’s safe for him to sleep, we can discharge him. At that point, the worst of his symptoms will have passed. I would come back tomorrow morning if I were you, but you can leave your phone number in case of emergency.”

“I’m going to have to get a hotel- I’m from Boston.”

“Just leave the number at the front desk once you’ve got that sorted out.”

The doctor walked away, leaving me alone with the payphone again. I called Bree’s office once more.

“Hey, John. I got a suite at the Marriott, do I need to cancel it?”

“No, it looks like we’ll be staying the night. Do you have the phone number of the hotel, by chance?” There was a pad of paper on the wall by the phone and I took a sheet, copying Bree’s recitation of the string of numbers.

“John, go to the hotel and relax a bit, okay. All you have to do is show them your ID and they’ll give you a key to the room. Roger and I will be there in a couple of hours. He’s okay, right?”

“That’s what the doctor told me, but I can’t see him.”

“Then there’s no use staying at the hospital. You have the address and number of the hotel, go.”

“All of our luggage is still in the cottage on Sachem’s Head.”

“We will pick it up tonight. Everything is under control, John. You’ve done all you can do for now.”

I nodded, even though I knew Bree couldn’t see it. She said goodbye and the line clicked. Before I left, I made sure to leave the number at the front desk, feeling strange walking out without Graham by my side. I had some money, so I took a cab to the hotel. I hadn’t been in one since my first night in Boston, strange how I only seemed to take them in high-stress situations.

The cab driver, who had picked me up just in front of the hospital, looked at me in the rearview mirror. His eyes, which were all I could see of him, looked very sympathetic. “Whatever just happened in there, just know that I’ll be praying for you tonight. You look like you need it.”

I was never inclined towards religion myself, but I understood the importance of the sentiment. “Thank you, sir. Your kindness is greatly appreciated.” I made sure to tip him well when we pulled up to the hotel.

The process of “checking in” was fairly straightforward. The woman behind the desk gave me a key with a number on it, as well as a bottle of water. I took the elevator up to my room, copying the other guests. I’d used them before, but only ever when Graham was with me to show me how they worked.

The suite was fairly nice, equipt with a small kitchen, a sitting area, and two bedrooms with their own bathrooms. I chose the one with the smaller bed, seeing as Roger and Bree would have to share.

I found it difficult to relax, but I decided to turn on the television anyway in an attempt to distract myself. It worked for about 15 minutes, but then the phone rang.

“Hello?” I greeted tentatively.

“John, it’s Alyssa. I just got off the phone with the lawyers and there was a whole bunch of legal jargon, but it seems like 1) the court date is February 12 and 2) he suggests hiring a private lawyer and suing the pants off of that asshole. I also gave him the number of your hotel, I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, it’s perfectly fine. God, I don’t know of any lawyers here.”

“I’ve got you covered, don’t worry. I already called my dad, and he is licensed to practice in Connecticut. He’s already talking to your public defender about the case and drawing up the paperwork.”

“How much is this going to cost?” I asked, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on.

“Graham is one of the fathers of his future grandchild, so his service is free of charge.”

The headache didn’t seem to ease, but I still sighed in relief. “And your dad- he, uh, knows about me?”

Alyssa laughed. “My dad’s best friend is gay, so he’s been an ally for a while. He has no issue with it. Well, other than the fact that I’m- you know…”

“Yeah, of course. How are you feeling?”

“Not great, but I’m still hanging in there perfectly fine. I’m able to keep up with Jemmy here.” I heard a small yell from somewhere a few feet away from the phone.

“Can you put him on?”

“Of course, John. Just hold o-”

“HI UNCLE JOHN!” Jemmy yelled into the receiver and I had to hold it a few inches from my ear.

“Hey Jemmy, how’s everything in Boston? Have you been holding down the fort?”
“Yes I have! Alyssa made me mac n’ cheese and I watched Mickey Mouse and Mommy said that if I was nice for Alyssa she’d take me to the aquarium when she gets home.”

“That sounds like it will be quite the adventure. Can I come too?”

“YEAH! I can show you all the fish and the dolphins and the sharks and the stingrays-”

I cut Jemmy off before he listed every marine animal he could think of. “I can’t wait.”

We chatted about sea animals for a few minutes, which proved to be quite useful in relaxing me. By the time we said our goodbyes, I was far less distracted. I managed to watch about half an episode of a show called “Happy Days” (which was fairly ridiculous in my opinion), before falling asleep on the couch with the sun beaming into the room. This had been a long day, and it was only noon.

Chapter Text

I didn’t wake up again until about 10 o’clock at night. The hotel room was quiet, but I noticed that the TV had been turned off and I had a blanket draped over me. There was a note on the coffee table and I flicked on the lamp beside me to read it:

“The hospital called while you were asleep. You can visit Graham tomorrow morning at 8 AM while they run a couple routine tests before they discharge him. Dinner is in the fridge :) -Bree”

The thought of waiting another ten hours to see Graham, especially since I was now fully rested, was torturous. I was ravenously hungry though, having not eaten since dinner the night before. There was a plate of simple chicken and vegetables in the fridge, as promised. I didn’t even bother heating it up on the stove before eating it.

I was seated on a stool at the counter when Bree opened the door to her room and tiptoed out. Roger must have been asleep. Seeing another friendly face was cathartic after the day I’d had, and I allowed her to pull me into a comforting hug. Tears welled in my eyes, but none fell. My head rested on her chest as she stood beside the stool, the sound of her steady heartbeat relaxing my own, and she kissed the top of my head.

“Let’s talk.”

I wiped the moisture from my eyes and nodded, following her into my bedroom as to not wake Roger by speaking outside his door. Bree pulled her robe tightly around her and sat on the bed, her back against the headboard. I sat cross-legged in front of her and she gave me a sympathetic look.

“I spoke with Alyssa about what the public defender said. It looks like neither you nor Graham are at risk of being charged with anything, thank goodness. His biggest concern is that the defendant will justify his actions with homophobia, but the good news is that it is a small enough case that there will be no jury, just a judge. We just have to hope that whoever the judge is, they won’t have any homphobic bias towards the guy who punched Graham.”

“I hit the guy too, though. If the judge is biased, will the charges be turned onto me?”

Bree shook her head, “Luckily, the other guy isn’t pressing charges. But even if he did, the officer’s report described your actions as self-defense. You were very lucky that he didn’t use your actions as an excuse to lock you up just for being gay. There are plenty of officers who would not have taken your side. You have to be more careful, John. Telling him that Graham was your boyfriend, which he included in the report, could have consequences.”

I nodded solemnly. I had gotten so used to the people in my 20th century life being accepting of me that I’d forgotten that most of the world wasn’t. “What’s the worst that could happen, Bree? Be honest.”

Bree sighed. “Worst case scenario, the charges are dropped and the guy goes free. Had the officer not supported you in the report, then it would be a lot worse.”

“What about the lawsuit?”

“That’s a whole separate case. The worst there is that you lose, which I don’t think is likely. The man hurt Graham on purpose and put him in the hospital. If he’s deemed guilty of assault, that will help the lawsuit.”

I put my face in my hands, trying to wrap my head around everything Bree was saying. She placed a hand on my back and spoke softly.

“Everything is going to be okay, John.”

“Legal issues have a way of seeping into other aspects of one’s life, Bree. I mean, Graham’s employer-”

“Won’t care,” Bree finished my sentence for me. “I know the deans there, and they have no comments about Graham’s sexuality. Yes, there are some faculty members who judge Graham’s ability to do his job by his sexual orientation, but the students love him. As long as he has the support of the student body, the deans will continue to advocate for him. The last thing they want is for the student body to protest the administration for being homophobic and cause a scandal.”

“Well, the avoidance of scandal is certainly something that hasn’t changed over the centuries,” I said, managing to crack a smile. Bree nodded in agreement and put a hand on my forearm.

“Last year, there was a professor in the dance department who was fired because one of the dances she choreographed was borderline pronographic. The students kicked in the President of the university’s door and she was reinstated on the spot, along with a 10% increase in the department’s budget.”

“Do you think the students would advocate for Graham, too?”

“Yes, I do. But it probably won’t even come to that. Harvard will try and bury the case before it can see the light of day. Roger already consulted the head of the history department, who knows and accepts Graham, to get a head start on it. Those who would speak against him are being bribed not to.”

“Is that not illegal?” I asked, somewhat surprised.

“They’re not giving them raises, so technically no. They’re just offering them more funding for their research. Everyone at the university we’ve spoken to seems confident that Graham’s position will remain unchanged and he will still be up for tenure in a couple of years.”

I couldn’t help but think of Graham, who was probably worrying about the same thoughts that I’d had. He was probably picturing his life in ruins. “Do you think that, if I were to bring a note to the hospital, they’d be able to get it to him?”

“Depends on who’s behind the desk and if it’s a slow night. He wouldn’t be able to read it though, not with the concussion. Just a few more hours until you can see him, I promise.”

I was about to protest, but the phone in the living room rang and I sprang up to answer it, Bree close in tow. She pressed her head next to mine so she could hear the full conversation.

“Hello?”

“Hello, sir. This is Dean Torrington. I’m the Dean of Faculty at Harvard University. May I ask who I am speaking to?” Speak of the devil...

“This is John Grey. I am a close friend of Graham’s.”

“Ah, I’ve been informed of the contents of the case file, Mr. Grey. I know who you are. I apologize for calling at this hour, but there is an urgent matter I would like to discuss. I understand that Professor Nowak is incapacitated at the moment, so I humbly request that this information be relayed to him.”

“Of course, Dean Torrington. What information would you like me to relay?

“Your- uh- partner… he is a very respected professor amongst the students. He has the highest approval rating in his department, which is quite the achievement. The case of the day’s events has been brought to my attention by the head of his department. Now, Professor Nowak’s personal life, while known amongst the faculty and students, has managed to remain outside of topics of discussion and has thus not been brought to the attention of our major donors. We wish to keep it that way, for the sake of the students who adore him and for his own sake, of course. I understand that his colleagues will not bring this matter to light, and nor will I. However, I would like to avoid anyone else finding out about the case, so I am prepared to offer some...incentive...for Professor Nowak to drop the charges all together.”

I glanced at Bree, who seemed just as shocked as I was on letting Graham’s attacker go free. “Well, what do you propose?”

“I have consulted the President of the university about this matter already, and he and I have agreed upon a proposal. We are prepared to offer Professor Nowak compensation for his medical bills, a paid leave of absence to recover from his injuries, as well as a year long sabbatical to continue his research which he can begin whenever he so chooses.”

Bree put a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. “Well, Dean Torrington, I will have to inform Graham of this proposal in the morning when he is discharged from the hospital.”

“Of course, Mr. Grey. Have a good night then.”

I hung up the phone and turned to Bree. “There’s no way that Graham would accept a bribe and let that guy walk free,” I said, not quite sure if my statement was true.

“Sabbaticals for research like Graham’s are extremely rare, John. I don’t see how he could possibly pass up that big of an opportunity. And dropping the charges would make this whole matter disappear.”

I shook my head. “Except for the fact that he would be allowing for that man to avoid any consequences. Does Graham even have the authority to drop the changes anyway? The prosecution has already filed them, I know that much.”

“He can ask the prosecution lawyer to request that the state drop the case, which could feasibly be done on the grounds that Graham was incapcitated when the charges were filed and had yet to even speak to his public defender.”

The complexity of the situation was making my head throb. “It’s up to Graham, then.”

……...

Graham was sitting up in bed when I was finally able to see him. Bree and Roger had gone to retrieve Graham’s car, so I was alone. He had a look of concern on his face, but I could tell that something was off. The bags under his eyes drooped heavily, but he seemed awake regardless. He turned to look at me when I opened the room, but his expression remained unchanged.

“Graham, love, how are you feeling?” I tried not to speak loudly, per the doctor’s suggestion. The lights in the room were dimmed and the curtains were drawn.

“I asked my lawyer to request that the state drop the charges.”

I blinked, not sure if I had heard him correctly.

“Graham, you’re tired. I think-”

“No, John. This- this isn’t up to you. My lawyer came in an hour ago, he’s probably already made the call.”

I sat in the chair beside him, and went to take his hand. He didn’t move away, but he didn’t reciprocate my squeeze either.

“But, why?”

Graham sighed. “I’ve spent my entire life building a career that I love. I can’t take even the smallest risk, John. I love my students, they need me. Just one word about this case to a donor and everything I’ve ever worked for would be gone.”

I leaned forward, trying to look him in the eyes. “I know how that feels more than anyone.”

“Then you see why I had to let the guy go free.” He turned his head to look at me and I could see the tear stains on his cheeks. He’d been thinking of this all night.

I nodded, “Yes, I suppose I hadn’t thought of that last night. I just hate that you have to sacrifice justice just for life to remain normal.”

“I do too, John, but some things haven’t changed since your time. And, um, what do you mean about thinking about it last night?”

I sighed and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back this time. “Dean Torrington called in the middle of the night. He and the President are offering you financial compensation for your injuries and a year long sabbatical, whenever you may choose, for your research in exchange for the charges being dropped.”

Graham swallowed and thought for a moment, processing what I had just said. “So they’re paying me off?”

“Yes, they think it is what is best for you and your students. I think they assumed that you would continue with the charges.” I couldn’t tell how he felt about what I’d said because his features were overwhelmed with exhaustion, but he was being worrisomely quiet.

“I don’t want them to think that the only reason I dropped the charges was for money. But I will need it anyway if I drop the lawsuit, so it would be stupid not to accept it.”

“You deserve whatever compensation they are offering you, Graham. If they won’t let you have justice, then at least you will be able to recover comfortably and continue to forward your career.”

Graham nodded and took a shaky breath. I stood from the chair and leaned over him, kissing him on the forehead. “They’re going to let you out soon, and then we can go home.”

“But my car- and our luggage-”

“Bree and Roger came down last night. Roger is driving your car home and Brianna is getting our luggage from the cottage. You and I can take a cab back to the hotel, where Bree will meet us. We’ll stay for the rest of the day so you can sleep comfortably.”

For the first time since I entered the room, Graham smiled. “You thought of everything.”

“Well,” I admitted, “I can’t take all the credit. But I did manage to call Bree and hold down the fort until she got here.”

“I’m lucky to have you, John. That guy looked like he wanted to beat me to death.”

I leaned over and hugged Graham gently, “I don’t even want to think about that. Christ, when they put you on that ambulance, I was so scared.”

“Me too.”

Our embrace was interrupted by a nurse entering the room, clipboard in-hand. “Mr. Nowak,” she said, looking down at her clipboard. She looked up and noticed me, “Oh! And you are?”

“John Grey, a...close friend. I can leave the room, if necessary.”

The nurse glanced at Graham, who shook his head. “It’s okay, Mr. Grey. I just need to give Graham here a once-over before we can discharge him into your care.”

I sat back down and gave the nurse space to work. She shined a flashlight into Graham’s eyes, gave him some tests for his hand-eye-coordination, and gave him a few mental tests using decks of cards with pictures and numbers on them. It was an odd procedure, but whatever the results of whatever it was meant to determine were to the nurse’s liking.

“You’re definitely still concussed, but it’s safe for you to go to sleep now. Wear sunglasses outside, no TV, no music, and no reading for 2 weeks. Stay hydrated, avoid drinking coffee, and try and stay in bed as much as possible. I’ll have the doctor send a report to your general practitioner and you can schedule a follow up there. Go ahead and get dressed and I’ll meet you up front.” She handed him a pair of sunglasses, presumably to wear once he was out of the dim room, and left.

Graham stood up slowly, holding my arm for support. “God, my head feels like it’s going to split open!”

I laughed, trying not to do so too loudly. “That’s how I felt when I had the measles.”

Graham’s eyes widened and he looked at me in disbelief. I shook my head and helped untie the back of his gown, so he could pull his clothes on. He dressed slowly, pausing after each time he had to bend down to put on his trousers and his socks.

“Let me tie your shoes for you, my dear. You look like your head is in agony.”

He reluctantly allowed me to stoop down and fasten his shoes while he put on his wristwatch and the sunglasses.

“How do I look?”

“Like hell, but hopefully that will be remedied by sleep.”

………

Graham collapsed into the bed fully clothed, sunglasses still secured on his face. I drew the curtains, bringing the room to almost pitch black. He must have fallen asleep in seconds. I carefully removed his shoes and the glasses. I also made sure to leave a tablet of his prescription from the hospital at the bedside with a glass of water, lest he wake up with a throbbing headache.

Brianna would probably be back soon, but until then there was not much that I could do. I paced around the hotel room, catching sight of myself in the mirror on the wall as I passed by. I looked almost as unkempt as Graham did. But there was no use in taking a shower until I had access to clean clothes.

There was a small convenience store in the lobby of the hotel, which provided me with a few toiletries that I’d yet to take advantage of that morning. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, feeling a bit less grimey. I managed to make use of the disposable razor I’d bought downstairs, which made me look presentable at best. I resumed my pacing, not wanting to feel idle.

Bree finally appeared about 10 minutes later with a bellboy aiding her in carrying up our luggage. She tipped him before he left and gave me a short hug, leaning back to brush her hands sweetly over my freshly shaved cheeks.

“You look like you’ve been taking care of yourself, which is a good sign. How is he?”

I smiled and sighed, “He’s fast asleep and has the worst headache of his life, but he’ll be okay. But I must tell you, he decided to drop the charges before I even spoke with him this morning. Apparently he had a chance to speak to his attorney.”

Bree seemed somewhat surprised, as I had been, but also relieved. “It’s terrible that that guy won’t face any consequences, but at least now we know that Graham won’t either. Do we know for sure that the state dropped the case?”

“Not yet, but his public defender is working with the prosecution as we speak. They’ll probably call our house sometime in the next couple of days.”

Bree nodded, stooping down to pick up the suitcases. “The cottage was lovely, but did you guys seriously decide to go somewhere with no heat or electricity?” I was glad she had changed the subject.

“No, it was merely a happy accident. I do wish we had been able to spend more time there, though.” I shrugged.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to go back eventually. Now, I’m going to go and get some pizza for lunch. You can’t come to New Haven and not eat pizza, and I’ll be damned if I miss out. Do you want to join me?”

I turned and peered through the crack in the door to the room where Graham was sleeping. Bree gave my shoulder a squeeze, “I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

She grabbed her purse and was gone again, leaving me in a similar state as I had been before. I found myself wandering into the bedroom, where Graham slept peacefully. His head was turned so that the dark bruise on the side of his head was exposed. I leaned over the side of the bed and kissed it lightly before carefully climbing in next to him. I suddenly felt tired myself and managed to doze off for maybe a quarter of an hour before a movement beside me took me out of my shallow sleep.

“Go back to sleep, love,” I whispered. Graham’s eyes were open now, but he didn’t respond. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“My head hurts too much,” he mumbled, snuggling into my side under the covers so that only the top of his head was exposed.

“There’s some medicine from the doctor-”

He shook his head.

“Graham, it will make you feel better. Please take it.”

“I can’t, I haven’t eaten anything. It’ll give me a stomachache.”

“Let me get you something to eat then.”

Another head shake. I pulled back the covers slightly to reveal his face. “What do you need?”

He wrapped an arm around my waist and nuzzled into my chest. I could feel his breath shaking as I wrapped my arms around him. “Just hold me,” he said tearily.

Graham had never been one to hide his tears as long as I’d known him, and today was no exception. But his cries in this moment, unending and full of despair, were almost unbearable to hear.

“T-they hate me and I-I can’t m-make them stop. I g-got too comfortable a-and now I don’t feel s-safe. I didn’t d-do anything to him a-and he still…”

I rocked him gently in my arms, whispering in his ear as he cried. “You’re safe now, everything will be okay, shhhhh, this is not your fault.”

The sobbing ceased eventually and I brought him the box of tissues from the bathroom. He blew his nose, wincing from the pressure in his head. “God, I’m such a mess.”

I kissed his forehead and wiped the wetness from his cheeks. “Let’s get you cleaned up then, yeah?” He nodded and managed to stand from the bed, pausing once he was vertical. I gripped his elbow to prevent him from falling over from the vertigo, but he settled eventually.

We showered together, both so that I could assist him (since standing made his headache unbearable) and also because in that moment, we couldn’t bear to lose sight of each other for even a couple of minutes. I needed to know he was safe, and he needed me so he could feel that way. I washed his hair and ran the soap over his skin, rinsing away the clinical smell of the hospital that lingered on him. I also helped him shave his face, which was a challenge in the dim light, and he brushed his teeth at the sink while I unpacked some comfortable clothes for him to wear.

I could tell that he felt much better once he was back in head, freshly clean and dressed comfortably. “You take good care of me,” he said, “I appreciate that.”

“Of course, my dear.”

There was a soft knock on the bedroom door and I went to answer it. Bree had returned with the pizza, which was in a large square box labelled “Pepe’s.”

She peered behind me at Graham and smiled. “Are you boys hungry?” She whispered. The smell of the food made my mouth water and I nodded.

“The best part about being in a hotel is that you can eat in bed,” Bree said. She opened the curtains enough to allow a dim light into the room and placed the box on the mattress.

“You got Pepe’s?” Graham raised an eyebrow, sitting up to inspect the box. “Sally’s is better.”

“One, how dare you? And two, you’re not supposed to be reading, so eyes off the pizza box,” Bree retorted jokingly.

We ate on the bed, which felt odd to me, but I enjoyed it immensely. I could see that Graham did too, although he only managed to eat one slice. I gestured to the pill on the bedside table and he took it begrudgingly. Graham and Bree spent the meal debating which pizza place was better, which eventually devolved into a heated, whisper-yelling disagreement between New York pizza and New Haven pizza, Graham being biased towards the former.

“Your concussion must be worse than the doctor’s said, because if you think that a crappy $1 slice from a street vendor is better than Frank Pepe’s masterpiece here, you must be delusional.”

Graham rolled his eyes and turned to me. “John, you’re the tie-breaker here.”

“Well, I haven’t had a ‘crappy $1 slice’ in New York, so I can’t possibly contribute to the comparison.”

“We’ll have to fix that, then.”

I was glad to see Graham acting like himself again, and it almost made me forget about the stresses of the day- until the phone rang in the living room. I left Bree and Graham to continue their debate and answered it. “Hello?”

“Hey, John. It’s Alyssa. How is he?”

“He’s okay, he just has to be careful for the next couple weeks.”

“Good. The public defender called.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Already? What’s the verdict?”

“The state agreed to drop the charges on the grounds that they were filed without a statement from Graham or a witness to corroborate what you told the officer in the report.”

“So the state is just going to pretend that what the officer reported never happened?”

“Essentially, yes. The officer never got a statement from the witness who called the authorities. So basically, there is enough plausible deniability for the case to be deemed as having insufficient evidence. Aside from the witness, who left before the police arrived, you’re the only one who saw what happened. But since you were involved directly, they can’t take a statement from you without it being corroborated by the witness. They could have tried to force Graham to talk, but his medical tests showed that the injury caused him to have limited memory of the events leading up to the assault, which would make his statement unviable.”

“But he’s concussed, surely that’s enough evidence that the guy hit him.”

“Well, yes. But you hit the guy too, so there’s no evidence that at least one of his injuries wasn’t caused by Graham and that the man wasn’t acting in self-defense. Without the witness testimony, there’s no case.”

“What if the witness comes forward?”

“They won’t. They’ve committed a felony by leaving the scene of the crime, so they would be stupid to reveal themselves.”

………

“So the case is dropped? Like it never happened?” Bree was driving us back to Boston. Graham had fallen asleep again by the time my phone call with Alyssa had ended, so I waited to tell them the news.

“Basically. There were no witnesses aside from me, so the case would have been dropped even if Graham hadn’t wanted it to be. There was no way of telling who threw the first punch, and my statement wasn’t sufficient on its own.”

Graham, who was laying down in the back seat, sighed heavily. “I guess I’ll have to call Dean Torrington when we get back to the house then.”

The rest of the ride was fairly silent, and Graham fell asleep in the back. By the time we arrived home, the sun was low in the sky. Bree and I unloaded the car and brought the bags up to mine and Graham’s room. Whilst she touched base with Alyssa and reunited with Jemmy, I went outside to wake Graham.

“Love, we’re home,” I whispered, stroking his hair. He didn’t open his eyes, but he lifted his hand up to rest it on mine as I pet him.

“Mmm, I like that,” he said drowsily. His voice was deep from having just woken up.

“C’mon, love. Why don’t we go inside and call Dean Torrington, and then I’ll do this some more? Does that sound good?”

He nodded and sat up slowly, clutching his head. “I think I’ll need another dose of that acetaminophen too,” he said.

Alyssa left as we came up the walkway. She stopped briefly to give Graham a hug and we said our goodbyes. “Hang in there, hun,” she said. I wasn’t sure which one of us she was talking to.

While I got everything sorted with Graham’s medication and unpacking, he stayed downstairs on the phone. I could smell something cooking in the kitchen, presumably Bree whipping up something for dinner before she took Jemmy home. When I came back downstairs, Graham was hanging up the phone.

“As soon as Klara is old enough to come with us, I will be taking a trip to Scotland for my sabbatical. Am I a sellout?”

“Of course not,” Bree said, “A really shitty thing just happened to you. At least this way you can get some sort of justice, even if it’s merely an opportunity to forward your career despite it having been at risk due to the attack.”

Graham nodded tiredly and made his way into the living room I followed him in with his medicine, which he took gratefully this time. Bree came in a few moments later with Jemmy, who rushed over to Graham to give him a hug. “I’m happy you’re okay, Uncle Graham.”

Graham smiled over Jem’s shoulder, “Thanks, kiddo.”

Bree gave us both a hug and kiss before leaving with Jem. “Call if you need anything,” she said on the way out the door. “Dinner is on the stove.”

“You’re Uncle Graham now,” I said. Graham’s face had lit up upon Jemmy’s words, and he was still glowing. I hadn’t seen him this way since before the attack.

“It’s weird, I’ve always been the youngest in my family. I don’t have any siblings and only one cousin who never had any kids. I wasn’t ever expecting to be ‘Uncle’ anything, let alone become a father. That’s one of the reasons I’m relieved about the state dropping the charges, I guess. I’ll still be able to provide for Klara.”

“Five weeks,” I whispered. “I’m terrified.”

“Me too.”

Chapter Text

February 1978

“Can you tell me a story, John?” Graham had woken in the night from his headache, which was still relentless even after nearly two weeks. His stirring had caused me to awaken too, and we were now waiting for his dose of medicine to relieve him of the pain.

“You sound like Jemmy,” I teased. Graham attempted to whack me in retaliation, but in the darkness he only managed to swat at the air. “I’m not the best at storytelling, but what do you want to hear?”’

“Can you tell me about them? Your family, I mean. I know you don’t really like to talk about it, but-”

“It’s okay,” I sighed. Graham was right, I had avoided telling him much about my past after informing him of the truth of my origin. It was somewhat painful to recall, but Graham deserved to know. “Who would you like to hear about first?”

“Hmmm...your parents would be a good start.”

“Well, I told you about my father already. He was the Duke of Pardloe and quite the military man. He also had a fascination with astronomy, often taking me out of my bed chambers at night to gaze at the stars. I don’t have many memories of him, though. Still, Isobel and I carried on that tradition with William.”

Graham snuggled into my chest. “How did he die? If you don’t mind me asking-”

“Oh, he was murdered.” I said, perhaps a bit too casually.

Graham stiffened and I could feel him turn his head to look at me, despite the darkness of the room. “By who? How?”

“Well, there’s no need to go into detail, but it was political. Hal and I spent many months tracking down the culprits and justice was served.”

There was a momentary silence whilst Graham processed the somewhat shocking revelation.

“And your mother?” He finally asked, settling back onto my shoulder.

“She was alive and well when I left through the stones. I wish you could meet her, she would quite like you. Hal would too.”

“Do you think Willie would like me?” Graham asked.

Thinking of William caused a lump in my throat to rise, but I swallowed it. “I think he would like you very much.”

“What’s he like?” Graham sat up, clearly too interested in hearing about my past to fall back asleep.

“Tall. Stubborn. Hot-headed. But he’s also honorable and kind, a good lad.” I wrapped an arm around Graham. “I miss him more than anything else.”

“Of course, and I wish I could meet him.”

I nodded, although Graham couldn’t see me. “Why don’t you tell me about your family?” I asked. “I’m certainly not offended by your lack of sharing, as I have also kept the past in the past, but I’m curious.”

“Well, you already know my parents died.” Graham said. I did, he had told me a month or two after we’d met. A car accident had taken them a few years prior. “They loved me, but not unconditionally. After I came out to them, they never really accepted me. If only I had waited a few more months to tell them, perhaps they would have loved me all the way to the end, you know?”

“I understand,” I said, stroking his hair, “But now, you are loved by so many people. And soon, there will be another person on that list.”

“Three weeks.” Graham whispered.

I gave Graham a squeeze and he snuggled back under the covers. “Three weeks.”

………

We were both quite groggy in the morning, probably due to the couple of hours we spent awake talking about Klara. Unfortunately, Graham had two doctor’s appointments to attend, so his tiredness made getting ready for them a bit unpleasant. Graham was generally a morning person, so much so that he could even pull me out of my typical morning grumpiness. Today, that was not the case. The fact that the doctor had told him not to drink coffee certainly was not helping matters.

Luckily, he managed to get dressed, fed, and out of the house without too much bickering. He needed to leave early, since Alyssa had a prenatal appointment. I was worried about Graham driving them around, but his headache seemed to be bothering him less today.

“Wait,” I grabbed Graham’s arm as he was on his way out the door. “Call the store and tell me everything, okay? I love you.”

 

He smiled for the first time that morning and kissed me sweetly, the taste of toothpaste still on his lips. “I love you too. Have a good day at work, darling. I promise I’ll call.”

……...

I was relieved to finally make it to work, my hands felt like they were frozen after the walk from the bus stop. Greg was preparing the bar for the several wine tastings we had scheduled for the day. He generally gave me a nod of acknowledgement whenever I came in, but today he avoided my gaze.

“Good morning, Greg,” I said, trying to start a conversation. He continued to ignore my presence. Perhaps he was simply in a bad mood. I ventured wordlessly into the back to start my shift, deciding it was best to pick my battles when it came to Greg.

I was about to take off my coat when Pat came out of the office. “No, keep that on. You’re coming with me to visit the distribution center.”

I re-fastened the buttons on my coat. “What about Greg? Doesn’t he need someone else to stay here with him?” Pat had gone to visit the distributors before, but he always left me as backup for Greg.

Pat shook his head, “Naw, he can manage on his own for today. I want to take you with me, teach ya a thing or two.”

Pat drove an old car, or at least I thought it was with my limited knowledge. There was only one row of seats and the back of the car was flat, almost like a cart. “What kind of car is this?” I asked out of curiosity as he pulled out from behind the store.

“This beauty here is a Ford F-250. I’ve had her since 1960, and I’ll be damned if I ever buy one of those fancy new cars.” Pat shook his head in disgust, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Whaddya drive?”

“Me? I’ve never driven in my life.” To my surprise, Pat laughed heartily at my response.

“What’s so funny?”

“Aw nothin’. I never pinned you to fall under any of the stereotypes for fellas like you, that’s all.”

I wasn’t offended by Pat’s statement, but I was a bit confused. “Do people assume that gay people can’t drive?”

Pat nodded, “Yeah, but it’s just one of those dumb things that people say that has no truth to it. I just don’t get why people care so goddamn much. What does drivin’ n’ stuff like that have to do with who ya have eyes for?”

“The two do seem unrelated,” I replied, not sure if I wanted to continue this topic of discussion. Pat seemed to be indifferent to the existence of “fellas like me,” but I wasn’t sure just how far his lack of caring went.

“I’m gonna say somethin’, and ya gotta promise me you won’t take it as being weird or get all sentimental on me.”

“I would never dare become sentimental around you, Pat,” I said jokingly. He was serious though.

“Good, ‘cuz it’s not easy for me to say. But,” he paused and sighed, “I’m proud of ya.”

I was not expecting him to say that and I nearly laughed, but managed not to. “Thank you, but why?”

“Well, I know things must not be easy for ya- what with the baby and all. I mean two men raising a kid? You must know it’s gonna be hard as all hell. It takes guts, and I gotta respect that.”

“Well, at least one person does.”

We were silent for a couple of minutes, but Pat spoke again.

“You know why I hired ya?”

“You knew Roger and he recommended me.”

“Well yeah, but I wasn’t lookin’ for a new employee when he approached me. But he convinced me of the value you’d have to my company- that you’re hard workin’, a quick learner, respectful, reliable, and an all-around good guy. You’ve been every one of those things, and more. Best employee I’ve got.”

“Pat, I don’t know what to say. I had no idea-”

“What did I say about getting sentimental?”

I stopped talking and let him continue.

“Now, don’t tell the others I told ya this. Those other guys who I’ve had around for a long time, like Greg, they’re reliable enough to keep around. But I can’t trust ‘em. They don’t honor their duty enough to take on any real responsibility. I know they’d sell the place if offered the right price. I’m takin’ ya with me today because I’m not gonna be around forever, and someone’s gotta know how to run the ship. I’m not gonna let anyone do it who isn’t willing to put their heart and soul into it like I have. My gut is telling me that you’re the guy for the job.”

I hadn’t gotten the impression that Pat had been paying special attention to me, but looking back I realized that he certainly had. He was always explaining things to me, letting me make decisions, and even on occasion letting me run the shop for a day or two. I’d risen in the ranks of responsibility much faster than any of my colleagues had.

“Pat, I am very grateful for the consideration. But with the baby, plus Graham’s sabbatical which will last God knows how long-”

“I said I wouldn’t be around forever, not that I have a foot in the grave. The shop will still be standin’ when you get back from wherever you’re goin’, and so will I.”

I smiled, although Pat’s gaze remained fixed on the road ahead. “Well, in that case, I would be honored.”

He reached over and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder before turning on the radio, ending any further conversation. It was a quiet drive and I found myself becoming more and more relaxed- until a thought made my stomach drop.

“Shit,” I muttered.

“What’s the matter?” Pat asked, turning down the music.

“Graham and Alyssa both had doctor’s appointments today and I told them to call and tell me what the doctors had to say. I’m just going to have to wait to hear the news, it’s no big deal.”

“Ah, I know what it’s like worryin’. But it’ll only take an hour or so. You can call ‘em when we get back.

……...

If Greg had been in a bad mood earlier in the morning, then the mood he was in when Pat and I returned must have been horrible. Pat and I came in through the back of the shop just as Greg was making his way back for lunch, but he spun on his heel and grumbled back out to the bar the second he laid eyes on me.

“What’s got his knickers in a twist?” Pat asked rhetorically. “Go eat lunch, I’ll try and-”

Pat’s sentence was interrupted by the re-emergence of Greg. His face was red with anger and he marched towards us with purpose.

“What’s goin’ on pal?” Pat asked calmly, clearly not willing to give into Greg’s intimidation.

“Oh, I’ll tell you what’s fucking going on. John,” he turned to me, his face so close I could see a vein popping out on his forehead, “your fucking boyfriend called.”

I tried to maintain my composure as I formulated a response to Greg’s outburst. I’d have to get used to situations like this if I wanted to have a family life with Graham, right? “I don’t see the issue, Greg. Care to explain?”

“The issue is,” he looked back to Pat, “that I refuse to work with a fucking f*g! I don’t want to deal with any pervy bullshit!”

Pat stepped forward, clearly planning on intervening. I placed a hand briefly on his shoulder to stop him. “I’ve never said or done anything that would make my personal affairs your business, Greg. You don’t have to like me, but I ask that you give me the same respect that I give you.”

Greg stood tensely for a moment before lunging at me, clearly intending to throw a punch. I stepped out of the way and he went tumbling onto the ground. “You son of a bitch!” he yelled.

Pat pulled him up from the ground and grabbed him by the collar. “Congratulations, you just got yourself fired. Go pack up your crap and get out of my sight.” He pushed Greg in the direction of the breakroom, leaving us alone again. I could hear him muttering something vile under his breath as he walked away.

“How did he know that Graham was my boyfriend?” I said, still in disbelief of the scene that had just played out.

Pat shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if he’s a homophobe if he keeps it to himself, but yellin’ swears and throwing punches will never be tolerated, no matter what the reason is.”

“Well, I’m just going to have to get used to it, right?”

Pat gave me a stern look, “No. Ya can’t let guys like Greg roll over ya. Nothing will ever change unless someone teaches them a lesson.”

………

“You’re home early,” Graham commented as I entered the living room. He was sitting on the couch in his lounge clothes, honestly looking pretty sexy.

“Long day, Pat let me come home early,” I said, crawling onto the couch and putting my head in Graham’s lap. He began to run his fingers through my hair, alleviating some of the tension I was feeling.

“Does it have anything to do with that Greg guy? He sounds like an asshole.”

I nodded, “He somehow managed to figure out that you and I are a couple. He said some pretty awful things and tried to strike me too. Pat wound up having to relieve him of his position.” I sighed into Graham’s touch and rolled onto my side, wrapping my arms around his waist.

“What did the doctors say?”

“Good news or bad news first?” I looked up at Graham.

“There’s bad news?”

“Yes. The good news is that my concussion is getting better, so I can start resuming some ‘normal’ activities.” Graham paused, taking a shaky breath. “The bad news is that Alyssa’s heart is much worse than they thought it would be at this point.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, sitting up to look Graham in the eye.

“It means that she could suffer heart failure at any moment. She got checked into the hospital today so they could at least save the baby.”

I was a bit shocked, having been thinking all this time that we would have Alyssa around for at least a couple more months. She had become one of my only friends outside of Graham and the MacKenzies. I wiped a tear from my cheek, “I know she said she didn’t want us to be sad, but-”

“I know,” Graham whispered, pulling me into his arms.

I looked up from his hug after a moment. “Didn’t Bree say something about her getting a- oh what’s it called?”

“A transplant. And no, that’s not an option for Alyssa. Her pregnancy might have put her further up on the waiting list, but by the time she got bad enough to qualify, her pregnancy was too far along. The baby isn’t in much danger as long as she’s at the hospital. Were she 5 months along, or something like that, then maybe she would have been prioritized.”

“Can we see her?”

Graham shook his head, “I’m not sure, they never gave me a clear answer. I’m going to call again tomorrow and ask again.”

I snuggled back into Graham’s lap and he stroked my back to comfort me, although even his touch wasn’t enough to help me relax. My thoughts laid with Alyssa, imagining her all alone in a hospital bed. “Did you call her parents?” I whispered.

“They’re on a plane right now.”

………

Alyssa’s parents arrived midway through the next day. Graham had offered for them to stay at our house and I helped him set up the “folding bed” that was part of our sofa in the living room. There was an odd feeling in my stomach, a combination of dread for Alyssa’s worsening condition, anxiety about impressing her parents (the only grandparents that Klara would know), and excitement for meeting them (as they were new members of the family).

I could tell where Alyssa got her personality from when I met Luisa and Jakub Kaminski. Luisa, her mother, greeted me with a heir of confidence that I had only ever seen from three other women; Claire, Bree, and Alyssa. Graham had mentioned prior to her arrival that Luisa was from a place called Colombia, which I had once known as New Granada. “Graham, it is lovely to see you again,” she turned to me, “And you must be John. Alyssa has told me so much about you.”

“It is lovely to meet you, Luisa. I wish we could have met under different circumstances.”

Luisa frowned sympathetically and put a hand on my cheek. Her husband, Jakub, came stumbling up the front steps into the parlor with three large suitcases. Graham rushed to his aid, but Jakub simply dropped them on the floor and wrapped Graham in a tight hug.

“Jakub was like a second father to me,” Graham had told me earlier that day, “He was close friends with my dad, both being Polish immigrants and all. That’s how I met Alyssa. Even when Alyssa and I weren’t talking this summer, Jakub still checked in on me.”

Once released from Jakub’s embrace, Graham motioned to me. “Jakub, this is John.”

Jakub offered me a firm handshake and grasped my elbow. “I can tell you’re good to him.”

Before I could conjure a response, Jakub had once again picked up the bags and was following Graham into the living room. Luisa put a hand on my shoulder and leaned in to speak softly into my ear. “Relax, you’re family now.”

………

Luisa and Jakub spent the day at the hospital after dropping off their luggage, leaving Graham and I alone in the house once more. The receptionist had told Graham that for now, only immediate family members could visit her.

We sat in our bed, in lieu of the sofa in the living room. Graham had been since his call to the hospital.

“Are you hungry?”

He shook his head.

“Do you want me to read you something?”

Another head shake.

“I want to help. What do you need?”

Graham sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest. “What I need is you, but it feels like it would be wrong under the circumstances. It’s just- it’s been weeks, plus it might help with the stress.”

I was surprised by his response, but upon hearing it I too felt the desire to be with him- to feel close, or maybe to distract myself.

“I think that Alyssa would laugh at the notion of us abstaining for her sake,” I said honestly. Graham grinned..

“You’re so fucking right. She would call us idiots and tell us to have at it. But still, I’d feel guilty.”

I smiled and shook my head, leaning in to kiss him lightly. He kissed me back slowly, placing a hand behind my head and deepening the connection. I pulled back, leaning into his ear. “Not feeling so guilty now, are we?”

“All I want to think about right now is you. Is that wrong?” He said breathily, his lips brushing mine as he spoke.

“Not at all,” I said back. He rejoined our lips and pushed me back onto the mattress. I could tell he needed me desperately, and I needed him too. We fumbled with our clothing, yanking a pulling on the constricting fabric roughly. He unbuttoned my shirt and opened it, not bothering to pull it off my shoulders before kissing my collarbone and chest wetly, swirling his tongue over my nipples and running his hands down to my thighs and to my buttocks.

The lube was cold on his fingers as he hastily fingered me, scissoring his fingers and pushing them against my walls to loosen me. He gently pressed the tips of them into my prostate, causing my cock to jerk and my back to arch in please.

“Now Graham, please,” I moaned. He didn’t respond with anything more than a nod and kissed me as he put on the condom and aligned himself.

The entry was swift, causing me to gasp in pleasurable pain. He paused momentarily to ensure it was okay to continue before thrusting again, more deeply this time. I hear the sound his skin colliding into mine as he continued roughly, his face buried in the pillow next to my head. His breathing was raspy and his moans guttural.

“Fuck, John-”

Hearing him say my name caused pleasure to swirl through my insides and I ran my fingernails down Graham’s back, leaving red streaks. He let out a guttural noise, almost like a growl, and I did it again, causing him to arch is back in pleasure. I could feel the base of his cock pulsing inside of me as he came.

Graham spit into his hand as he rode out his climax and began stroking my cock. Within a few seconds, I was spilling myself into his hand. Graham collapsed on top of me and caught his breath. “Jesus Christ. It’s been way too long since we’ve done that.”

I turned my head to kiss his cheek, which was partially buried in the pillow next to me. “Well, we’ll just have to make up for it then.”

Chapter Text

It was about one o’clock in the morning when Jakub shook me awake with a tone of panic in his voice that immediately caused me to bolt out of bed and start pulling on random clothing from the dresser. I tried desperately to focus enough to listen to what he was saying in the panic, but the only words I could make out were “‘hospital’ and ‘surgery.’” I’d been woken up this way before, back in the army when enemies would attack at night. Somehow, the prospect of facing my own potential demise had been less panic-inducing than the current situation, where the loss of life would not be my own.

Graham was up now too, clearly experiencing the same rush of adrenaline that I could feel pumping through my veins. We had spent the last week in the hospital, moving between the waiting area and Alyssa’s room whenever the doctors allowed us to see her. Eventually, Luisa and Jakub were allowed to stay there throughout the whole day and night. The term “visiting hours” eventually ceased to apply to them, an empathetic ignorance of the rules from the hospital staff.

I had seen the decline in Alyssa’s health throughout the week. She grew paler and her bone structure became more prominent. Her mind seemed as healthy as always though, which gave an illusion that she would heal. I hadn’t reminded myself of the falsehood of that blissful illusion until I was in the backseat of Jakub’s rental car, speeding through the mostly-desolate streets of Boston as flurries of snow began to coat the sidewalks.

Jakub didn’t bother to waste time looking for a place to park the car, instead opting to find the nearest curb and pull up beside it, causing one of the front wheels to roll over onto the sidewalk with a “thunk.” We hastily made our way through the now-familiar maze of the hospital, wordlessly collecting our “visitor” badges. “She’s in the maternity wing getting a C-section,” Jakub said, pushing the proper button on the elevator. The look on myself and Graham’s faces must have been telling, because he immediately added, “She’s still alive.”

In the hurry of panic, I hadn’t yet taken the time to look at Jakub’s face. His features were exhausted, but his eyes were alive with fear and grief for the imminent loss of his only child.

The haste resumed as soon as the doors slid open, revealing Luisa in a chair in the waiting room. She had a box of tissues in her lap and her gaze was fixed on the television in the corner, although I could tell that her mind was not processing what she was watching.

Jakub sat beside her, immediately clutching her hand, hard enough that I could see his knuckles turn white. I didn’t sit down, but instead asked quietly, “Is there anything I can get for you?”

It took Luisa a moment to process what I had asked, but she eventually looked up at me tiredly. “Coffee.”

Graham accompanied me to the coffee machine on the other side of the maternity wing, gripping my hand nearly as tightly as Jakub had Luisa’s with no regard for the passing glances of the people around us. “Do you know how he feels?” he asked quietly as we waited for the cup to fill.

“No, not entirely. Why?”

“Well, you lost Willie. I just thought that maybe…”

I exhaled shakily, the thought of William being dead making my stomach churn slightly. “To me, he is still alive. I’ve never witnessed him die, not the way that Luisa and Jakub are with Alyssa. I never had to properly mourn him.”

“Will you ever go back to see him?”

“And leave you and Klara? I couldn’t.”

Graham simply nodded and secured the lid onto the coffee cup, but stopped abruptly.

“Klara- oh God,” a look of excitement flashed on his face, but the grief again overtook him. “Do you think she’ll get to meet her mom tonight?” His lip quivered and I removed the cup of hot coffee from his hand, placing it back on the counter. His hands were shaking and I folded them into my own, “All we can do is wait and have hope.”

………

The surgeon approached us about an hour later, his face appearing to be just as confused with emotion as ours must have been. We all stood reflexively, but he gestured for us to sit down, pulling up a chair for himself. “My name is Doctor Rolph. I performed the cesarean section on your daughter tonight,” he said, looking towards Luisa and Jakub. He furrowed his brow and gave them the most genuinely apologetic look I had ever seen, “I’m so sorry.”

Neither of them made a noise. Instead, they embraced each other. “She is with God now,” I heard Luisa whisper to her husband. I looked away, the moment being too personal for me to view.

“And the baby?” Graham asked cautiously. Dr. Rolph turned his attention to Graham.

“A beautiful little girl. She is a bit small, but that is normal for infants who are born a week or two early. I examined her myself, and I have no doubt that she is healthy.”

“Did Alyssa get to see her?” I asked, not even realizing that I had spoken.

Dr. Rolph nodded, a hint of a smile on his lips. “She did. She also instructed me to give you a note she had left with one of the nurses a few days ago. It’s for the child.” He fished an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Graham. “Would you like to see your daughter? Mind you, it would be through a window. We have to examine her for 48 hours.

We were led to a large window that looked into a room with dozens of sleeping babies, each with a pink or blue hat and a matching swaddle. The bed on the end was labelled “Klara Maria Nowak” and the infant it contained was visibly smaller than the rest in the nursery.

We stood side-by-side, faces close enough to the class to fog it up as we breathed.

“She’s perfect,” Graham whispered.

I squeezed his hand and read the name-card aloud. “Klara Maria Nowak. Born: 2:32 AM February 26, 1978. Weight: 5 lbs 7 oz. Length: 17 inches. Oh, look at the yawn!” Klara’s mouth opened wide, revealing a tiny pink tongue. Her eyelids peeked open, the dark brown irises framed by long eyelashes. She looked at us, blinked once, yawned again, and promptly returned to her slumber.

“She has Alyssa’s eyes,” Graham said, the pain in his voice apparent.

“She has certainly inherited much of Alyssa’s beauty.”

A nurse who had been walking by us came over to stand by Graham. “You’re baby Klara’s father, I presume?”

“How could you tell?” he asked.

“That little girly has the blondest little locks under her beanie, and you’re the only fella with the hair to match. Have you gotten a chance to hold her?”

Graham’s eyes widened. “No, not yet. The doctor said-”

“I don’t give a rat’s behind what the doctor said. She’s just a little small, so you have to be extra careful. Here,” she brought us across the hall where there were some chairs, “I’ll go get her.”

Graham wiped his palms on his jeans and bounced his knee nervously. “I don’t know if I’m ready,” he said quietly.

“You are. We both are. Just breath, darling.”

The nurse reappeared with the tiny pink bundle in her arms. “Here you go sweetie, let’s meet your daddy.” She delicately placed Klara into Graham’s arms. “Make sure to support her head, aw that’s it. Look at you, you’re a natural.”

“Hey there,” he whispered tearily, stroking one of her tiny fists with his finger, “I’m so excited to be your dad, sweetpea.”

He looked up at me and smiled, the tears falling down his cheeks as he did so. I felt them well up in my eyes as well. He turned to the nurse for a moment, who was still hovering over us. “Her grandparents are in the waiting room down the hall-”

The nurse nodded and went to retrieve them.

“Now,” Graham said to Klara, “Are you ready to meet your Papa?” The tiny bundle was transferred into my arms and I looked down at her. An intense feeling flooded through me, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. Love? Disbelief? Pride? Whatever it was, it caused my heart to feel as though it was swelling in my chest.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, angel face. Welcome to the world.” I leaned down and kissed her forehead lightly, shedding a tear as I sat up that landed on her cheek. She opened her eyes at the disturbance and looked up at me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” I whispered. Graham laughed beside me, leaning over. Klara’s gaze shifted to him and she stared unblinkingly.

“I see you too, sweetpea.”

………

Brianna, Roger, and Jemmy were, to our surprise, waiting for us in the house when we brought Klara home two days later. Luisa and Jakub had left the day before to make funeral arrangements in New York, so Graham and I picked Klara up on our own.

“Where’s the baby?” Bree said, rushing over to examine the small bundle in the car seat that Graham was carrying. He lifted it up so that Brianna could see inside.

“She has Alyssa’s eyes,” Roger said sweetly, although a collective pang of sorrow hung in the air at the mention of her name.

“Can I hold her?” Brianna asked, already beginning to unfasten the seat belt and carefully extract her.

“Of course, my dear,” I said. She made a small gasping sound as she pulled Klara to her chest.

“You’re a tiny little thing, aren’t you darling. Jem, come meet your cousin.” Bree stooped down so that Jem could see her.

“Awwww” he cooed, “Can I touch her hand?”

“Of course, kiddo,” Graham said, kneeling down. “Just make sure to be very gentle. She’s brand new, so she’s fragile.”

Jemmy stroked her hand with the back of his finger, much like Graham had upon holding her for the first time. The interaction brought tears to my eyes. Klara spread her fingers out in response to Jem’s touch and he looked at her in awe.

“They’re so small,” he said in disbelief.

“You were that small once too, lad,” Roger said, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Now c’mon, we need to take some pictures of this moment.” I noticed for the first time that he had a camera in his hands. I’d had photographs taken of me before, but not often enough to have gotten used to it.

We took several photographs. Some of Just Graham and I with Klara, others with just the MacKenzies, and nearly a dozen of Klara in her car seat.

“Look at you, you photogenic girl!” Bree exclaimed as she snapped yet another photo. Klara responded with a sleepy yawn. “I know sweetie, modelling is an exhausting experience.”

“I’ll be damned if a daughter of mine becomes a model,” Graham noted, playfully snatching the camera from Bree.

“Well regardless, she’ll have the face for it. I can already tell.”

I picked Klara up out of her seat and carried her over to the fridge, where Graham and I had already prepared some bottles to get her through until the next morning. The nurses had said to feed her every two hours. It was strange to imagine that she would go her entire babyhood being bottle-fed, as children in my time were nearly always provided with a nurse of some sort (preferably their mother, but not always). But Bree had assured me it was safe, as long as we made sure to give her the proper nutrition formula mixed into it.

“Need some help?” Bree asked, peering over my shoulder.

“Yes, if you could hold her while I warm up-”

Klara was excitedly plucked out of my hands and whisked into the family room before I could finish my sentence. With my hand now free, it took very little time to heat up a pot of water and submerge the bottle in it, allowing the milk to heat up to a palatable temperature. Luisa had shown me how to warm up and test the bottle, as well as a myriad of other essential skills that I had never imagined myself doing prior to coming through the stones. Graham clearly hadn’t expected to learn those skills either, for he had almost as much trouble as I did in the beginning.

I could hear the grumpy whines of a hungry baby begin to emerge from the other room, indicative of imminent wailing. I managed to get the bottle into her mouth right as she began to cry, her face relaxing as she suckled. Bree held the bottle and cooed at her, Roger and Jemmy looking over her shoulder.

“If you ever need a babysitter-”

“You’ll be the first person we call,” Graham responded. “Although, you have to promise not to kidnap her. I can practically see you scheming already.”

“We would never even dream of it,” Roger said seriously before turning to Bree and giving her a playful wink.

“And I am sure I will need plenty of help once Graham goes back to work,” I added. Pat had given me a full two months of paternity leave, but Graham was only granted two weeks (as per the regulations at Harvard).

Klara finished her bottle and hiccupped, causing a small stream of spit-up to go down the front of her “onesie.” Roger and Graham were busy having a conversation, so I volunteered to take her upstairs and get her some clean clothes.

I felt oddly proud of myself as I carried her upstairs. Back in the 18th century, I never would have considered taking care of Klara in this way; feeding her, dressing her, bathing her, changing her nappies. That was work for women and nurses. I hardly had even taken care of William in that way. But now, the prospect of tending to a child’s needs felt fulfilling and purposeful.

I gently eased Klara's arms out of the sleeves of her onesie and pulled it over her head, careful not to move her left arm too much as they had administered some injections there the previous day. I could tell that the area was tender as she would fuss every time there was pressure applied to it.

Plus, I had taken advantage of the opportunity to get these mysterious “vaccinations” while at the hospital, as per the urgings of the doctors, and my arm certainly felt sore. The doctors had been shocked to hear that I had not received them, but Graham merely had to convince them I was from a rural town in England and they suddenly seemed understanding. Apparently, Americans would believe anything about other countries so long as it made said country seem inferior. I did feel slightly guilty at that realization, having perpetuated that mindset as an Englishman in the 18th century, but at least now I could be a bit more empathetic.

I checked the clock on the wall of the nursery and reached into my pocket to check the schedule that I had written at the hospital (much to the amusement of the nurses, who had deemed it unnecessary before I insisted). Klara had to be put down for a nap in a couple of minutes, so I sat with her in the rocking chair in the corner and held her on my chest, as Luisa had shown me. She fell asleep after about 10 minutes, so I proceeded to transfer her carefully into her crib and headed back downstairs.
“Is she asleep?” Graham whispered?

“Yes, although I have no idea how to set up the baby monitor that was by her crib. I suppose she’ll wail loud enough for us to hear when she awakens.”

Roger raised an eyebrow. “The monitor shouldna be too complicated. I’ll show ye after she wakes up. We dinna want to risk waking her now.”

………

“Your turn,” I mumbled, not even bothering to open my eyes. Graham had already sat up beside me and was putting on his slippers and robe to tend to Klara, whose wails were coming from the baby monitor Roger had set up.

This was the fourth time she had woken up, three times to eat and once for a nappy change. I had seen the exhaustion of the faces of William’s nurses when he was an infant, and now I understood why. It had been three days since Klara had come home from the hospital and I probably only slept for a total of ten hours in that time.

Graham came back in after a couple of minutes and collapsed back into the bed beside me, groaning. “How can something so small poop so often?”

I reached out blindly, still not feeling motivated to open my eyes, and stroked his cheek. “I’m sure there is a rational explanation, but I don’t have the mind to come up with it at the moment.”

Graham chuckled, “Well, I reckon I’ll be missing the days of changing her diapers in the middle of the night when she’s grown up. Might as well try and appreciate every moment.”

“Tell me that again when she’s still waking us every hour 2 months from now, my dear.”

“I probably won’t,” he said. I could hear his grin in the tone of his voice, “But I will be optimistic for as long as I can.”

“You can have enough optimism for the both of us then,” I said, partially joking, “I for one am looking forward to her sleeping through the night."

Chapter Text

March 1978

Graham’s return to work was exceedingly more stressful than I had anticipated. For the past two weeks, we had been able to balance taking care of her between us. Now, the prospect of being alone with her was causing significant anxiety.

“Do you really think I would be leaving if I didn’t think you were 110 percent capable of keeping her alive and well until I got back?” Graham asked as he put on his coat.

“110 percent isn’t mathematically possible,” I said, refusing to acknowledge his trust in me. I had yet to prove to myself that I deserved it.

“It’s an expression, darling. You’re more than ready for this. You were the one who insisted that the nurses help us make a schedule. You’re the one who is able to make her stop crying when she seems inconsolable.”

“You can do that too,” I said sheepishly.

“But not nearly as quickly as you can. Even she believes that you can make her feel better when she’s upset. That means you should too.”

I looked down at the bundle in my arms. Klara’s large eyes met my own and I sighed. “You really believe in me, angel face?”

Graham gently picked up her arm and pumped her fist into the air. “You can do it, Papa!” he said, raising his voice a coupe of octaves in a poor attempt to sound more like a child.

I laughed and shook my head. “Well, there’s only one way to find out. And now I’m keeping you from getting to work. You don’t want to be late on your first day back.”

Graham smiled and kissed me, careful not to crush Klara between us. “I’ll call at lunchtime to check in. I love you, darling.” He bent down to kiss Klara’s forehead, “And I love you too, sweetpea. Be good for Papa.”

“Bye, love,” I said as Graham turned for the door. He looked back and I picked up Klara’s arm and made her wave goodbye to him as he closed the door.

“So, just us two now.” I placed her into her bassinet that we kept in the family room and picked up the book that Roger had gotten me: “A Parent’s Guide to Infant Care.” I got through three pages in a chapter about diaper rash before Klara started fussing. Given the time since she had had her morning bottle, her discomfort was evidently caused by a soiled nappy.

I took her upstairs to change her, as well as put her in warm clothes so that we could go for a walk around the block. I was feeling quite cooped up the past couple of weeks. The only time I had left the house since Klara was born was to go to Alyssa’s funeral on a day-trip to New York.

The thought of the funeral caused a pang of grief to wash over me. It had been easy to ignore the grieving process with a newborn keeping us busy, but there were moments when it felt like it was consuming me. Graham had been handling it better than I thought he would, given that they had been friends for years. But I could tell he was hurting much more than he was letting on.

*********

Four Nights Prior

I was woken up by Graham’s voice coming through the baby monitor. It must have been at least two o’clock in the morning, if not later. I sat up, trying to wake up enough to decipher what was going on in the nursery. Graham was speaking in a whisper, so I turned up the volume on the monitor.

“You look just like your mom, did you know that? You have her eyes, and her ears. God, I never realized that I knew what your mommy’s ears looked like until you came along. We all loved her very much, and she loved you. She used to sing to you when you were in her tummy.”

He paused, and then began to sing softly.

“Lavender green dilly, dilly
Lavender blue.
If you love me dilly, dilly
I will love you.”

He continued to sing, but his words began to sound strained. The lyrics devolved into sobs and I sprang out of bed.

Graham was sitting in the rocking chair with a sleeping Klara curled up on his bare chest. He didn’t look up at me when I came in, but I could tell he did not wish for me to leave. I stroked his hair and he raised his hand up to mine, pressing it against his head as he cried.

“Let’s go back to bed, sweetheart.”

He nodded and kissed the top of Klara’s head. I picked her up gently, careful not to wake her lest she start crying and require the attention that Graham needed at this moment. Luckily, she remained asleep.

I retrieved some tissues and a glass of water from the bathroom. Graham wiped his nose and curled up beside me in bed.

“I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Shh, my love. It’s perfectly okay, I understand.”

His sobbing stopped eventually, but not until he was fast asleep. I wiped the remaining tears from his cheeks before flicking the light on the nightstand back off and pulling his sleeping form into me.

I found myself humming the tune to the lullaby he had been singing himself to Klara, stroking his hair and feeling his steady breathing tickle my chest hairs.

“If you love me dilly, dilly
I will love you.”

*********

After several minutes of figuring out how to get Klara properly secured into the stroller, I finally managed to get her snugly inside- only to realise that I had forgotten to put her coat on. I sighed and began to unclip the fastenings. “Well, at least I know how to get you out.”

Our midday stroll was a bit colder than I would have liked, but Klara was warm and cozy in her stroller. We walked through the park, passing by several mothers with strollers of their own.

“Oh, what a darling girl!” One exclaimed, peering inside to observe Klara. “She’s brand new, so I reckon you’re taking her out to let her mommy get some rest. Isn’t that right, darling?” She bent further down and gave Klara a tap on the nose.

“Well, no.” I cleared my throat. “My spouse is at work, so I’m minding the little one.”

“You allowed your wife to return to work already? What a shame, she probably hasn’t even healed from the birth yet.”

I tried not to be angry with the woman, for I understood that the notion of Klara having two fathers would not cross anyone’s mind. But it was still surprising to meet people who were not as open-minded as the MaKenzie’s and Alyssa’s family.

“Her biological mother passed, unfortunately. God bless her soul.”

The woman gasped and clasped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have assumed.”

I shook my head, deciding not to shock her further with the truth. There was no reason for her to know, and I wasn’t quite ready to hear a stranger’s opinion on Klara’s upbringing.

“No worries. I should probably get this little one home, though. Don’t want her to catch a cold.”

The phone was ringing when I brought Klara back into the house. I hastily removed her coat before picking up the phone, cradling her in the crook of my elbow.

“Hello?”

“Hi darling. How’s day one of flying solo going?”

I smiled at the sound of Graham’s voice. “It’s going well so far, no major incidents. We just got back from a stroll in the park. I reckon she will be wailing for a bottle any minute.”

Graham laughed. “I told you everything would be okay. I miss you both so much. I’m going to see if I can get out of the department meeting so I can come home early.”

“Well, Klara and I would both appreciate that. How has work been?”

“Oh, just getting back in the swing of things. I have one more lecture after lunch and some assignments to grade, then I’ll be home. Listen, I gotta go. I have a student meeting me for lunch.”

“Of course, dear. I’ll see you when you get home.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I put down the receiver and put a pot of water on to warm the bottle. I decided I should probably eat something myself, so I placed Klara into her bassinet and returned back to the kitchen. She began crying instantly, her wails echoing throughout the house.

“It’s alright, angel face.” I called, knowing that it was fruitless. She was hungry and in need of a nap.

The bottle, thank goodness, was the perfect temperature when I took it out of the water and dabbed it on the sensitive skin on my wrist. Klara hushed upon seeing the bottle in my hand as I scooped her up out of the bassinet. She suckled as if she never thought she would get another bottle of milk again. “Slow down, darling.”

Inevitably, a portion of the contents of the bottle was spit up onto my shoulder as I patted her back the way I had mothers do after feeding their children. However, I had forgotten the cloth necessary to protect my shirt.

“It’s alright, angel face. It’s my fault.” I brought her upstairs and changed her before putting her down for a nap. It wasn’t until she was sound asleep that I realized how tired I had been. I took a seat in the rocking chair in the corner of the room and began to fold some of her laundry, which had been sitting in a basket on the floor for a couple of days now. I could feel the weight of fatigue pulling me and eventually succumbed to it.

I wasn’t sure how long I had been asleep, however I was not woken up by Klara’s cries, but by the flash of a camera. Graham was in the doorway smiling. “You looked too adorable sleeping with Klara’s onesies and socks strewn all over you. I couldn’t resist.

“How long have I been asleep?” I glanced at the clock and relaxed, realizing it had only been an hour since I had put Klara down.

“My lecture got cancelled. Apparently, the sophomores have some sort of class assembly they have to attend. And boy, am I glad. I would have missed this photo-op.”

Graham placed the “polaroid” in my hands and I watched the image slowly appear. “Ah yes, the vomit on my shirt is certainly ‘adorable.’ At least I’m not an ugly sleeper. Unlike you,” I teased, giving him a playful grin.

“I am no such thing,” Graham retorted, seeming slightly offended.

“I’ll take a polaroid next time you’re drooling on the pillow.”

Chapter Text

April 1978

“Can you tell me about that scar?” Graham asked one day when we were laying in bed post love-making. We had been babysitting Jemmy all evening and Graham had whisked me into the bedroom the second that Klara was down and Jemmy had been picked up.

“Which one?” I asked, glancing down at the several that were currently exposed.

“That big one on your chest, near your arm there.”

He pointed to the jagged scar. It was certainly the most intriguing of the bunch.

“I was wounded in battle. My musket backfired and I nearly lost my arm, although I told my brother I would rather die than lose it. Some of the smaller scars on my chest are from a surgery I had to remove the shrapnel. It was one of my closer brushes with death. Although it did allow me to return home, which was certainly welcome at the time.”

Graham traced the scar with his finger and gazed up at me. “Why did you want to go home?”

I sighed deeply, “I was heartbroken. I had been betrayed by someone who I had fallen in love with.”

“Betrayed? Like he cheated on you?”

“Yes, he was unfaithful. And in my own bed, no less.”

Graham was kissing the scars now, brushing his soft lips over them and leaving gooseflesh in his wake. “How,” he said, pausing to kiss again, “could anyone have you and feel any desire to be with another?” His kisses trailed down my stomach and I felt myself harden again. “You’re all I need. Do you need me?”

Graham began to stroke my cock in a painfully slow fashion, causing me to grimace in a combination of pleasure and anticipation. He licked up my shaft from base to sip, swirling his tongue teasingly over my tip before pulling away again. “Do you need me?”

“Yes, God yes! Graham, please,” I begged him. My cock was throbbing in his grip.

“Say it.”

“I need you,” I said finally. The teasing subsided and my length was plunged into his throat. He took me out from his mouth for a moment and stuck a finger in his mouth, which was swiftly slid inside of me. He massaged my prostate in rhythm with the bobbing of his head.

I felt myself getting close and my cock twitched in Graham’s throat. He must have felt it, because he slid another finger into me and picked up the pace.

Graham positioned himself so that I would spill into his mouth rather than down his throat, and I could feel the warm heat of my seed in his mouth as he rode out my climax. He sat up after a moment and swallowed, licking at a spot on his lip where some had dribbled out.

I braced a hand behind his neck and pulled him down to kiss me. The kiss was sloppy, and I could taste myself on his tongue. “Like how you taste?” Graham asked.

“Mhm,” I mumbled, pulling his lips back to mine.

“I like the way you taste too.”

*********

“Hey babe?” Graham yelled from the nursery.

“Yes? I responded. It was hard to hear him over the sound of Klara’s screaming. It was a wail I hadn’t heard before. She wasn’t hungry, nor in need of a change. She had just napped, so it must not have been fatigue. Graham and I were both here, so she didn’t miss us. “Why on Earth is she crying like that?” I asked.

Graham came down the stairs, the inconsolable bundle swaddled tightly in his arms. I stuck a pacifier in her mouth and she suckled for a moment; the eye in a hurricane of tears and cries. It was as if she had been distracted from whatever was bothering her, but it was only for a moment. Her eyes narrowed again and she screamed, sending the pacifier cascading to the floor.

“Do you think she’s sick?” Graham asked, seeming overwhelmed. I tried to remember what I had heard Claire mention about illness in babies, although it was rare that the topic came up in conversation between us. The book Roger had given me was very sparse in terms of how to diagnose illness.

“She doesn’t seem feverish, does she have any rashes?.” I grabbed the book from the coffee table and flipped through it desperately. Graham put a hand on my wrist, indicating for me to put it down.

“I don’t think that that will help here. We have to figure it out.”

I took a deep breath and glanced at Klara’s, her face blotched with tears.

“She started crying right when she woke up, right?”

“Yes. And she’s been fed, burped, changed, and swaddled.”

As much as it pained me to do so, I tried to ignore Klara’s desperate cries and focus. What had changed between last night and this morning? She had been able to fall asleep the night before, which meant she had to be comfortable in her clothes, fed, changed, and…

“What about her frog?”

“The one Luisa made her? What about it?”

Luisa had crocheted a small stuffed frog for Klara, which we always tied to the side of her crib. I had seen her staring up at it on several occasions, fixated on the little green creature. She’d often stare at it as we were putting her down for naps, although it was too high for her little hands to reach. The book had said that she was too young to start forming emotional attachment to objects, but I had always looked at her staring at that frog and questioned the level of truth in the book’s claim.

I hurried up the stairs to check the crib, and sure enough it was frogless.

“She likes her frog, and I know it was there last night. If it’s comforting to her, then perhaps it may have upset her to wake up and see it gone.”

Graham nodded, seeing the plausibility of my hypothesis. “Did you move it?”

“No. Did you?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t touched it, but Jemmy came over yesterday evening. We could call the MacKenzies.”

I nodded and rubbed my temples, the sound of Klara’s screams making my head throb. I made my way back to the kitchen and called Furey Street. Brianna picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, Bree.”

“Yeah, it is for me. But judging from the screaming I hear in the background, I assume it’s not for you.”

I chuckled, “It could certainly be better. I was just calling to ask if Jemmy brought a stuffed frog home with him yesterday.”

“Hm, I’m not sure. He’s never been one to take things.”

“I wouldn’t think he is, but Graham and I thought we would ask before we turned the house on its head looking for it.”

“Lemme check,” I heard the sound of her putting the phone down on the table. She was gone for a couple of minutes. Graham stood beside me and I stroked Klara’s fuzzy head, which was not helpful in consoling her.

“Huzzah! The frog has been located,” Bree said triumphantly. I’ll come by with Jem so he can return it to Klara. I’ll try and figure out why he took it too.”

“Well, I am sure he had a perfectly logical reason.”

I heard Bree chuckle and we said our goodbyes. Graham sighed beside me, clearly relieved that an end to the wailing was in sight.

We took turns holding Klara, which was a somewhat unpleasant experience given her current state. Her throat had become tired from screaming, so her cries were raspy and probably painful.

The doorbell rang about 20 minutes later. Graham opened it, revealing a very guilty looking Jemmy. He ran to me, and peered into my arms at Klara. Bree handed him the frog.

“Here, baby. Now you can give it back.”

He took it from her and hovered it over Klara’s face. Her expression untwisted and she quieted down, transfixed on her beloved frog. Her mouth twitched and suddenly she was smiling, an expression I had yet to see on her.

“Look at that beautiful smile. What a happy girl,” Bree said sweetly. Graham was quiet next to her, staring at his daughter in awe.

Jemmy still looked upset, but seemed comforted by Klara’s reaction to seeing her toy. “I’m sorry, Klara. I didn’t mean to take your frog. I went to say bye but you were sleeping and I tried to make your frog give you a kiss goodnight for me and then I forgot he was in my hand and-”

“I think it is safe to say that all is forgiven, Jemmy,” Graham said, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

“You know, I used to accidentally walk off with other people’s belongings all the time,” I said. “It happens, but all you can do is do your best to return whatever you have taken. I used to come home with pockets full of all kinds of trinkets.”

Jemmy gasped, seeming to be horrified by the notion of his uncle unconsciously partaking in petty thievery. Bree seemed surprised too, raising her eyebrows in curiosity. “You’re lucky you never got caught. Otherwise,” she glanced at Jem and pointed to her wrist.

“Oh, my family would have put a stop to that. The worst I would have been left with would be a ‘T’ carved in my hand. Although I probably would have had Hal remove the brand. Wouldn’t want to bring dishonor to my family’s name by waltzing around London advertising my crimes.”

“And on that lovely note,” Graham winced, “I think that this little one is ready for her next bottle.”

“Can I feed her?” Bree jumped up excitedly.

“Be my guest,” Graham said, handing the now silent bundle to Bree. She cooed at Klara and gave her a kiss before whisking her into the kitchen.

“I think Mommy wants me to have a baby brother or sister,” Jemmy noted, watching his mother through the doorway.

“Oh? And what does your daddy think of that?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. He always tells Mommy they have to talk about it in private and then they go upstairs for a while.”

I tried not to react in a way that would cause Jemmy to ask questions. Thankfully, his short attention span allowed for a hasty change of subject to the new television cartoon he had been watching. He unzipped his jacket to reveal a drawing of the show’s protagonist; a muscular man with an “S” on his chest and a billowing red cape.

“Superman is my favorite too,” Graham said, ruffling Jemmy’s hair. The two of them began to discuss the intricacies of the storyline, a conversation I felt ill-equipped for. Consequently, I decided to join Bree in the kitchen. She was staring down at Klara, who was already about halfway through her bottle, with a familiar gaze. I had remembered her staring at her swollen belly like that back at River Run when she was carrying Jem.

“Thinking of having another?” I asked as I sat across from her at the table.

She looked up and smiled. “We’ve been thinking about it. Jemmy is old enough to help, and we have the money.”

“But something is holding you back, I can tell.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You’re nearly as perceptive as my mother, you know that?”

“That is high praise, my dear,” I laughed. “What is it, then?”

“I can’t imagine raising another child without Mama and Da. They were so involved with Jemmy that I worry I couldn’t do it on my own.”

“You wouldn’t be on your own. You have Roger and Jem, plus Graham and I are always at your disposal.”

Bree seemed somewhat comforted, but there was still doubt in her eyes.

“They’ll never even know they have another grandchild.”

I placed a hand on her arm and she looked up at me. “They’ll know about Klara, won’t they? God knows how, but we find a way to communicate with them.”

She sighed and looked down at the bundle in her arms. “I haven’t even considered reading the journals yet, but I’m sure they mention some mode of communication in them. It’s just that leaving the journals unread makes it feel like they’re still alive, you know?”

I understood fully, having felt the same way myself. “Well, we don’t have to read them all. Just the part where they talk about hearing from us.”

Bree took a deep breath and let it out slowly, putting the empty bottle on the table. “Come over tonight. We can start looking then.”

Chapter Text

We had spread the journals out on the dining room table, organizing them in order by date. The journal with the passage about Klara was, according to the timeline, written about 6 months from now.

“John, you read the one with Klara. I’ll read the one before and Roger can read the one after.” Bree had taken charge of the process, which seemed to provide her with some comfort. Graham had joined us too, but he had opted to watch the process. His hesitancy made sense given that he had no emotional connection to the Fraser’s, at least not in the same capacity that the rest of us did.

The passages were mundane for the most part, mostly consisting of news about the war, the goings-on in Philadelphia, and future plans to return to the Ridge once the war ended. Most of the passages were written by Claire, although Jamie’s hand appeared every so often.

Roger gasped suddenly, causing Bree to jump out of her seat. “What is it?”

“John, have you gotten to the passage where Claire mentions Graham and Klara?”

I shook my head, having nearly forgotten the purpose of our project after having been transported back to the familiarity of the words. “I have not, why?”

“Skip ahead, to uh-” he flipped he skimmed the passage again, “right before the marked passage. I think…December?”

I did as he said and read the passage proceeding it out loud.

 

“December 1778- it’s Jamie’s hand. Let’s see…

If what John says is true, I ken that ye must all be hearin’ these words I am about to write aloud. I shall try and make them legible, although the candlelight is fadin’ fast and I canna see verra well. It is strange to put ink to paper when ye ken that what you are writing has already been read. It is even stranger to ken that these words I write are imperative for the future to exist as we all know it in this moment.

I s’pose I must begin with the end, if the journey towards it is to make any sense. John, Graham, and wee Klara- you arrived at our door night before last. We spoke for hours, during which John informed us of the moment you are experiencing right now- reading my words and learning of your future.”

I stopped reading there, unable to comprehend what I had just read. Graham’s face was pale as he sat in the corner, clutching Klara to him. “I don’t understand. Does he mean-”

“You go back.” Roger scrambled through the piles of journals. “Your sabbatical will be a year, correct?”

Graham nodded and Roger found the journal labelled “July-December 1779.” He skimmed through the middle of it, pausing suddenly to read.

“September 1779- John, Graham, and Klara have gone back through the stones. We can only hope they made it through safely.”

Bree had been quiet, but her face suddenly paled. “We have no way of telling if you make it back.”

“Well,” Roger said, “We know that if they do come back, it is not in the past. Otherwise, we would know. They would have come to our door sooner, or if it were even earlier they would have left a message of some sort.”

“But we can’t be sure we will come back to 1979.” Graham said. His eyes were still wide in shock and I stood to take Klara from him in case he fainted. “How do we know I can travel?’

Roger rifled through the bag where the journals were kept and removed the fragment of opal. It was smaller than the one that Jamie had in his office, but even the small fragment seemed to still hold the power of the original intact stone.

He placed it in Graham’s hand. “What do you feel?”

“”It’s warm. But how?”

Bree shrugged. “We don’t know how, but we do know that only traveler’s can feel the warmth.”

Graham nodded, although he clearly had not yet processed any of the evening’s realizations. He gently pressed the fragment into Klara’s hand and she pulled it away, surprised by the sudden heat.

“Well, the history has already been written, I suppose,” Graham said, almost in a whisper, staring into the colorful depths of the opal in his palm.

*********

I had presumed after the evening’s events that the night would be sleepless, however I wasn’t quite prepared for Graham’s anxiety-induced, yet warranted given the circumstances, pacing throughout the bedroom.

“Love, you must try and relax. It’s not for another six months, and I intend to get some sleep at some point in that time.”
Graham was too wrapped up in his thoughts to acknowledge my teasing.

“Will you at least let me join in your anxious suffering? Perhaps I can alleviate some of it so we can get some sleep.”

Graham nodded without ceasing his progress on his endless path across the room. “Klara will be 20 months old when we get back. God, that’s so long. And what about her vaccines?”

“She’s already been vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, and a myriad of other illnesses. Plus, we will be staying with Claire. Should Klara or either of us get sick, we will be in good hands.”

“What about your job?”

“Pat already knows I’m joining you for your sabbatical in Scotland. He knows I will have to take a leave of absence.”

“Oh, God. We’re going to have to take a ship to America.”

I nodded, “Yes, but we can stop in England first. You can meet my family.”

“And introduce myself as who? I can’t tell them who I really am, now can I?”

I sighed. “We will have to come up with a backstory. We have time darling, we can talk about it later.”

“I’ll be your widower travel companion.” Graham said, ignoring my plea for sleep.

“Or we could do it now.” I flopped back onto the bed and listened to Graham scheme.

“My wife died of measles, leaving me to care for Klara. And I met you on the road.”

“Why would I take you with me? What made you different from any other man?” I asked, staring up at the ceiling.

“Oh, I don’t know. What might work?”

“Well, perhaps you save my life from bandits? Then, having been indebted to you, I asked what I could do to repay you. You asked me to escort you to America. After we leave England, I doubt there will be many questions.”

“How are you going to explain to your family where you were all this time?”

I shook my head, trying to clear away the drowsiness to think. “I suppose I can tell them I was in Boston. I was loyal to the crown, so if I actually had been there I would have had to be discreet about my identity. And there were barricades in the harbor and the city borders, so I could not leave, nor send any letters in case they were intercepted.”

“Sounds plausible enough. But-”

“Graham, I love you dearly, but right now I don’t think my mind can process any more discussion. I know there are many variables, but we don’t leave for another six months. Please, come to bed.”

He stopped his pacing and looked at me, the bags under his eyes evidence of his mutual need for rest. I gestured for him to come under the covers next to me and he hesitated, opening his mouth as if to speak. I gave him a look and patted the bed, causing his mouth to close as he sighed in defeat.

We laid in silence for a few minutes. I could feel Graham relax a bit, but there was still tension coursing through his body as his breathing began to steady. “John?”

“Yes, love?”

“Do you think us going back to your time is part of our destiny? Like you said back in the cottage in Connecticut- the thing about the universe intending for us to meet.”

I pulled him into my chest and stroked his hair, thinking. “Well, I think it is no coincidence that you are a traveler. And as for visting my time I suppose it could be part of the universe’s plan. You’ll get to see my home, my family, and get to know me in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to were we to stay in 1978.”

“But we come back, don’t we?” Graham’s breath tickled my chest as he spoke.

“We belong here, where we can raise Klara together and be with Bree and Roger. I’m sure fate has a reason for a detour, but it also has so many reasons to return us to our current path.”

“I’m so fucking scared, John.”

I kissed the top of his head, breathing in the scent of his shampoo. “I will protect you, I promise.”

Chapter Text

May 1978

“Why are we here again?” Graham asked, stepping into the fencing studio behind me.

“I promised I would protect you, but I’m afraid I am a bit out of practice.” I replied.

The fencing studio was quite small, consisting of four strips marked with tape on the wooden floor. There was a small cubicle in the corner and the man who had been seated there rose to greet us.

“Hey, you must be John and Graham. I’m Matt.”

“Ah yes, believe we spoke on the phone.”

He shook out hands and began pulling on an assortment of protective clothing as the conversation continued. “It’s not often that someone rents out the gym like this, but hey, I’m not complaining. You guys got equipment?”

I shook my head and shrugged, “I left it in England.”

Graham, on the other hand, still had his old gear from college. He had told me about his youthful experience fencing a few months prior, and his knowledge of the current safety procedures was certainly helpful. He had tried the gear on before we left for the studio, and it still fit him perfectly.

“Damn, you’ve got Leon Paul gear?” Matt said, marveling at Graham’s equipment as he pulled it from his bag. “Better than most of the Absolute shit we have here. Sorry John, looks like you're stuck with the used stuff.” He gestured to a rack full of gear in the corner.

Graham had demonstrated the various layers of clothing to me and eventually managed to find a size that fit me. The mask smelled like stale sweat, along with the rest of the layers.

I stood opposite to Graham on the strip, sabre in hand. It was much lighter than any real sword, but was very similar to the ones I had used to practice back in London.

“Alright, are we fencing clean or dirty?” Matt asked, standing off to the side to referee the match.

“What’s the difference?” Graham asked.

“Clean means you gotta hit above the belt, respect right of way and not turn your back on your opponent.. Dirty means you actually fight like it’s a real sword and you’re trying to kill each other.”

“Dirty,” I said, raising my sword to Graham in salute. He did the same and we stood at our garde lines.

“En garde. Prêts. Allez!” Matt bellowed.

Graham’s tactics were surprisingly offensive, yet equally predictable. I parried his lunges effortlessly, but still found myself being practically pushed against the wall. He certainly had the advantage of height, but not in skill.

He lunged at me again and I parried six, making sure to avoid his defensive blade as I disengaged and fainted to his flank. As I expected, he parried four across his body, leaving his right shoulder and neck exposed. I brought my blade back underneath his, catching the side of it in his neck.

“Halt!” Matt yelled. “Counterattack from John. He gets the point. Graham, I’m 99% sure you’d be totally dead if that were a real blade.”

We continued our bouts for an hour or so and I could feel the fatigue begin to hinder my skills. Graham seemed to be energetic, though, and managed to finally get a touch on my leg just as we were about to call it a day.

“Aha! I got you! I win!” He bounced around me energetically as I shed the sweaty layers and returned them to the rack.

“Yes love, that was a good hit. Right in the femoral artery.”

I decided that his excitement was too adorable to mention that I had beaten him dozens of times prior. It was nice to practice my swordsmanship again, especially having been able to share it with Graham. He always showed me new things that he enjoyed, like music and films, but I never had been able to share my interests with him outside of conversation.

We thanked and paid Matt for his services and headed back home, where Bree was watching Klara. We rolled the windows down in the car, the smell of our mingled sweat being a bit too strong to handle in such a small space. The spring air was just beginning to warm up and the breeze as we drove through Boston felt pleasant against my damp skin.

“Do you think I could hold my own in a fight with real swords?” Graham asked, turning down the radio.

“Depends on who you’re fighting,” I said honestly. “A seasoned fighter, perhaps not. But I think you could manage the average swordsman.”

 

“And you?”

I shrugged. “I’ve certainly seen better days. But I can still provide adequate protection with a blade.”

“Do you expect that we will need it?”

I reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “I cannot make any promises about what we will and will not encounter. But I do promise that I will not draw my blade unless it is absolutely necessary.”

*********

“5 months? Well, I suppose it would be best for him to take that sabbatical sooner rather than later. Your girl will be in school before ya know it,” Pat said, leaning up against the shelf. The store was closed for the day and Pat had me helping him tidy up. Although his definition of “help” was more aligned with simply watching me clean.

“”Well, yes. And he does not want to postpone his research for much longer. He seems to be on the brink of a discovery.”

Pat huffed and nodded towards a spot on the floor I had missed with the mop. “Well whatever he’s researching, I hope it’s important. He’s taking my best employee for a year.”

I smiled, “I’ll be honest, even if his research were foolish I would be happy for the break from mopping floors.”

“Gotta start at the bottom to get to the top,” Pat winked. “Didn’t I just give you a break?”

“Ah yes, two months of wiping Klara’s bottom and washing her vomit from my clothing was quite the relaxing vacation,” I joked.

Pat chuckled, “How is the little ankle-biter anyway? Find a sitter for her yet?”

The mention of Klara’s “babysitter” sparked a pang of anxiety in my chest. “Yes, one of Graham’s students needed some extra money. Her name is Annabelle. She’s a sweet girl, but I am still a bit apprehensive.”

“As long as the kid is in one piece, she’s a halfway decent sitter. You should have seen the one my dumbass sister hired to watch my nephew. Pretty sure she spent more time looking in the medicine cabinet than watching the kid.”

I hadn’t thought of that being a potential issue. Annabelle never seemed inebriated at all when I came home from work, but-

“Mind if I make a call?” I moved to put down the mop.
“Going to call home and see if she sounds high?” Pat smirked.

“Of course not. Don’t be silly,” I said, rushing into the back. I dialed the number for the house and waited for Annabelle to pick up.

“Hello?” To my surprise, it was Graham’s voice. He usually didn’t get home for another hour or so.

“Graham? What are you doing home?” I asked.

“No one signed up for office hours, so I left early to let Annabelle off the hook. I happen to know she has a research paper due in a class with her favorite professor.”

I chuckled, “Ah yes. I think I know him. He’s quite handsome, I hear all the girls in his class swoon over him.”

Graham laughed, “That they do my dear, that they do. Why are you calling the house, anyway? Do you need something?”

“No, no. I was just calling to check on Annabelle.”

“Check on her? You mean make sure that none of the horrible hypothetical scenarios that play in your head all day were actually occurring?”

“I will neither confirm nor deny my motives,” I said, feeling a bit silly.

“Well, I certainly was worried about it. That’s the other reason I came home early. Thought I might catch her raiding the liquor cabinet.”

“Was she?”

“Nope, she was giving Klara a bath with this new soap she brought. Our daughter smells like a peach now.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear everything is okay over there. I’ll probably clock out in an hour or so.”

“Okay, darling. See you when you get home.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too.” The line clicked and I heard footsteps behind me.

“So, what kind of dope was she using? Hard stuff, or just weed?”

I rolled my eyes. “She was not inebriated, but apparently now Klara is peach-scented.”

Pat seemed to consider this, eventually saying, “Preferable to baby shit, if you ask me.”

“Much,” I said, picking up the mop.

Chapter Text

I flopped onto the couch, feeling quite undignified but also fatigued enough not to concern myself over it. Graham was at work and I wasn’t scheduled for a shift at the store, so I was granted the day with my beautiful daughter.

Klara, on the other hand, had come down with a spring cold. As a result, she’d been fussing for most of the night. I had maybe gotten four hours of sleep, and Klara had gotten even less. Now, she had managed to tire herself enough for a precious nap, which I was planning to take full advantage of. I turned the volume on the monitor up all the way, so I wouldn’t sleep though her fussing when she awoke, and promptly fell asleep.

“John! Wake up!” I was awakened by an obtrusive shoving. I peeked my eyes open and saw Bree hovering over me, an almost manic look of excitement plastered on her face.

“Christ Bree,” I said, rubbing my eyes, “How the hell did you get in here?”

“Graham said the key was under the frog in the garden,” she said confidently, pulling me up to a seated position and plopping down next to me.

“He knows you’re here?” I said, wondering why he hadn’t informed me of Bree’s visit.

“At this exact moment, no. I told him I needed to grab something while you were both at work yesterday.”

I sighed grumpily, “You know I adore you, my dear, but what is the purpose of your visit?”

“It’s Graham’s birthday tomorrow!” Bree exclaimed, practically bouncing on the couch cushions.

“Yes, I am aware. Although I don’t see the connection between my nap being interrupted and his living another year.”

 

“We have to plan a party for him, and I’m here to help you.”

The idea of not only planning a party, but also attending one in my exhausted state, was extremely unpleasant. But Bree seemed set on celebrating, and it was the first of Graham’s birthdays that we would celebrate together.

“I take it you already have a plan?” I said, deciding to humor her.

“Partially, yes. I was thinking we could have it be a surprise. You can distract him all day while Roger and I set up a little family party here. I take it you guys are probably too tired for a full blown evening, but just our families and a birthday cake would be nice.

 

I contemplated Bree’s suggestion. A small gathering would be nice, and I hadn’t seen Roger or Jemmy in a while. Plus, a day out with Graham sounded perfect after the week we’d had. “Sounds lovely, Bree.”

“So, what did you get him? You did get him a gift, right?”

I rolled my eyes and grinned, “You are aware that some traditions pre-date the 20th century, right?”

“Shush, you know what I meant. So what is it?’

I stood up and retrieved the gift from its hiding place behind the bookshelf. “It’s not much, really. It’s the only photograph I’ve ever taken.”

The photograph had been captured with one of Graham’s film cameras. I had taken it and gotten it developed without him knowing- a photo of him and Klara just after her birth. I had left the house to run a few errands and came back to find him sleeping in his recliner with a tiny Klara curled up on his chest. Despite generally being unphotogenic in his sleep, the content look of love and peacefulness managed to shine through even in his slumber; it was quite a handsome expression. A small strand of hair had fallen cutely over his forehead and one of his fingers was encapsulated by Klara’s tiny fist. Her eyes were open and she was looking up at him, the blue orbs peering at him curiously.

I had had a frame made for the photo, carved out of wood that would go nicely in his home office, which he had been complaining had too much empty wall space but had yet to purchase decorations for. I explained all of this to Bree, who had taken the frame from me and was admiring it on the couch.

“This is absolutely perfect, John. I would have killed to have a picture like this when Jemmy was an infant. And he doesn’t know you took it?”

“I’m pretty confident he was fully asleep when it was taken. Originally, Klara had been asleep too, but my fumbling with the camera woke her up.”

Bree grinned, “I think I like it this way better. I can wrap it for you tomorrow and you can give it to him at dinner. He’s going to love it.”

“Do you think it’s enough?” I asked, not sure what constituted a proper gift in this time.

“I would think so,” Bree said, “But if you want to get something else, something risque never hurts.”

“Risque? Would that be appropriate?” I asked, somewhat shocked at Bree’s transparency.

“Of course, but only if you think he would like it. Has he mentioned anything?”

I blushed, causing Bree to chuckle. “I take that as a yes. It’s a nice gesture if it’s something you’re comfortable with.”

I thought for a moment, trying to find a way to respond to such a topic, which was something I would have never expected to discuss with Bree of all people. Graham had mentioned having some interests in that regard before, and at this point I was certainly open to exploring them. “I know what he likes, but I have no idea what to buy.”

“There’s a place about 10 minutes from here that Alyssa took me to. It has all kinds of things related to all types of intimacy. You two could go together.”

*********

I let Graham sleep in the next morning, partially so that he would have enough energy to get through the day and also because it was his birthday. I turned off the baby-monitor in our room so that he would sleep through the process of getting Klara ready to “spend the day” at the Mackenzies. They would just wind up bringing her back to the house after we left, but Graham was not aware of that.

Brianna arrived while I was in the process of making Graham a mug of coffee to pick up Klara. The stir woke Graham, who came down the stairs groggily.

“Happy birthday, sleepy head!” Brianna said cheerfully. Graham smiled and hugged her from the side, careful not to crush Klara. He then followed her outside to help move the car seat from his car to Bree’s.

“I made you coffee,” I said as he came back inside.

“Thank you, darling,” he kissed my cheek and took a sip. “So, where are we going today?” He asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I replied. I had plans to take him to a few places, all of which were surprises. We were going to walk and take public transport so that Graham wouldn’t know where we were going.

Graham finished his coffee and we were finally able to leave the house. Luckily, we made it out by 10am, which was when Bree had said they would return and start getting ready. Our first stop was a small breakfast establishment where Graham and I had gone on occasion. Plus, it was conveniently located only a few blocks from the store that Bree had mentioned.

I was nervous, to say the least. I had no idea what shops like that in this time sold. I had a vague notion, based off of what I had seen and experienced in the 18th century. Many brothels had sexual objects of various sorts, and I had experienced my fair share of them at Lavender House.

“Are you okay?” I heard Graham ask. I blinked and he put down his coffee, a look of concern spreading over his face.

“Of course I am,” I said, forcing a smile.

“John, what is it?”

“It’s nothing, really. Eat your eggs before they get cold.”

He ceased his interrogation into my well-being, but I could see in his eyes that he was still worried. I tried to keep the conversation lighthearted as we finished our meal, but the butterflies in my stomach continued to grow in veracity.

We finished eating and paid for the meal, stepping out onto the sidewalk. The spring air helped clear my mind a bit, and we walked in the direction of the shop. The sidewalks were busy, but Graham still reached for my hand. I took it and tried to ignore the occasional stares.

Graham started laughing about a block away from the shop. “John, are you taking me to Deep Satin?”

“You’re familiar with it?”

“Yes, I am, but I wouldn’t have guessed that you were.” He stopped walking and nodded towards a bench, “C’mere.”

I sat with him, feeling a bit awkward. He didn’t seem that way, but instead had a sweet look in his eyes. “Darling, I’m thrilled that you feel comfortable enough to explore some potentially new things with me. But don’t you want to talk about it a bit first?”

My eyes widened, “Not here,” I whispered, gesturing to the people passing by on the sidewalk.

“I understand. We don’t have to go if you don’t want to. You just seem nervous and I’m worried.”

I shook my head, “No, I genuinely want to um… learn more about your interests.” I tried to censor myself as a woman walked by. “And I’ve explored some of my own in the past. I just am not sure what it entails in the 20th century.”

Graham stood and held out his hand for me to take. “I’ll show you then.”

The shop was quite discreet. There was no signage indicative of the nature of items sold there and the windows were curtained. Someone uninterested in the shop would probably never think twice about it.

We walked in, Graham still holding my hand. The walls were lined with a myriad of products, some of which I was familiar with and others less so. There were paddles, whips, and leather restraints decorating one side of the store. The other seemed dedicated to dildos. I had seen my fair share of them in my own time, but none that looked quite like this. Some were brightly colored, others were more realistic looking, and even more exhibited non-phallic shapes.

“What are those?” I asked Graham, gesturing to a shelf full of large objects that appeared to have handles. One end consisted of a smooth spherical shape, which was connected to a handle that had an electrical cord attached to it.

“Those are vibrators, usually used for stimulation,” Graham explained matter-of-factly.

“Ah,” I said, clearing my throat. I could feel myself blushing. “See anything that strikes your fancy?”

Graham nodded and led me towards the first wall, which displayed various paddles and whips. He picked up a medium-sized paddle that appeared to have a smooth side and a side with rounded notches on it. “Ever used one of these?”

“Not in the context you’re thinking of. I’ve seen a lot of these items being used in some capacity, both sexually and not, but I suppose the only one I have experienced personally with a sexual partner is this.” I removed one of the whips from the wall. “I suppose the context wasn’t explicitly sexual, but I was curious as to what it would feel like. Although the one I used was much longer.”

“Did you enjoy it?” Graham asked, examining one himself.

“For a few lashes. Although it became a bit too painful when it broke the skin.”

Graham raised an eyebrow, “Damn, he must have been hitting you hard. That wouldn’t happen with this one. It’s designed to inflict pain without damaging the skin too much.”

I nodded, appreciative of Graham’s patience in explaining everything. “I’ve never used a whip on someone under such circumstances myself, but I would be willing to try.”

Graham smiled, “I think that could be a good starting point. Here, why don’t you go wait outside while I grab a couple of other things?”

“But it’s a gift for you, I should be the one to pay.”

He leaned over and kissed me sweetly, “Your interest and lack of judgment are all I could have ever asked for. The least I can do is get the supplies.”

I nodded and left him to finish making the purchase. The shop had been a bit overwhelming, but I was glad to have taken this next step with Graham. He had told me when we went to the Cape that he enjoyed incorporating pain into sex, but he had also wanted to wait until I was ready to move on past basic scratching and biting. I had been ready for a while now, and was consequently excited that we had been able to finally open the discussion.

“Where to next?” Graham asked, shopping bag in-hand.

“Well, you have a choice. The first option is to go see that new film, the one you mentioned about that musician.”

“Buddy Holly?” Graham chuckled.

“Yes, that’s the one. Or, depending on the mood you’re in after Deep Satin, I also got us a hotel room.”

Graham’s eyes widened. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to choose between two things that are completely different,” he laughed.

“There is an afternoon showing of the film, so we could still see it today.”

Graham shook his head, “Buddy Holly can wait,” he said excitedly, “I want us to be able to take our time.”

*********

“Come and sit by me,” Graham said, patting a spot on the bed in front of him. He was sitting cross-legged, the bag of items from Deep Satin next to him.

I sat across from him and he took my hands in his. “There are some things I want to discuss before anything happens.”

I nodded, somewhat confused by Graham’s gentleness given the circumstances. “What do you wish to discuss?”

“Just some things to ensure we both enjoy ourselves and feel safe. I know you said you have some experience, but this is probably going to be more intense than what you’ve described to me.”

I understood his meaning and nodded. “I know, I’m ready.”

“There are a few things we need to establish. First, a safe word. If at any point you want to stop or you have a question, just say ‘red,’ got it?”

“Alright, that sounds simple enough.”

“Good. And the other thing is I just want to ask you how you’re feeling. I’m going to ask as we go, but I’m asking now too.”

I hadn’t expected there to be so many precautions. I’d seen people engage in these types of activities, but it rarely had any forethought. Graham’s seriousness was making me a bit uneasy. “To be honest, I’m a bit nervous. And I’m worried that I’m not quite sure what to do.”

Graham nodded and gave my hands a squeeze. “You have nothing to be scared of, darling. You can change your mind at any time. Perhaps this time I can be the one whipping you? It might make you feel more knowledgeable about doing it to me.”

Graham’s suggestion made sense, and I felt a bit less nervous. I had an idea as to what it would feel like, having been flogged before. And this way I would have a better concept of how it would work in this dynamic. “Yes, I think I would prefer that.”

‘Perfect,” Graham said, “Now, I bought some other things, restraints and some blindfolds, but I think that we should save those for another time. Let’s just get used to the whip first, yeah?”

I nodded and Graham withdrew the whip from the bag. It was black and sleek, and the sight of it made me feel an odd sort of excitement.

“Let’s go slowly, figure out our boundaries.”

I nodded again and Graham put the whip on the bed, kissing me lightly. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, I’m ready.”

Graham began to unbutton my shirt, running his hands across the skin of my back. He pulled it off of my shoulders, and kissed my neck. The arousal budded inside of me and Graham reached down to cup me. “Mmm, good,” he hummed, “Let’s finish getting you undressed, babe.”

He pulled off my belt and my trousers, dropping them to the floor before pulling off his own. I could see how hard he was under his boxers and felt a small amount of satisfaction. He kissed me again, pulling at the waist of my own undergarment until it too had been shed from me. “Now, bend over slightly and put your hands on the footboard.”

I did as he said, immediately feeling more vulnerable.

“How are you feeling?” he asked softly, running his hands over my back.

“I’m okay,” I said truthfully. The anticipation was beginning to frustrate me slightly, but it also made the prospect of the whip much more enticing. I was fully aroused now, and I noticed Graham glance at my cock.

He smiled, “You certainly seem ready.” I picked the whip up, slashing it through the air. It was a bit quieter than the ones that were used for punishment in the 18th century, probably due to the material and shorter length, but it still made a small cracking noise. “I’m going to count to three, and then hit your back. I’ll start softly and add force with each hit. Tell me when it’s to your liking. Ready?”

“Yes.”

"Feeling good?"

"Yes, extremely."

He counted to three and I felt the familiar sting across my back. I grunted at the impact and braced for the next one. The pain was certainly tolerable, but it was compounded on with every lash.

I couldn’t help but moan on the fifth lash, the pain spreading a pleasant heat across my skin that caused my cock to throb.

“Fuck babe, do you want me to do it again?” Graham asked. I could hear the desire in his voice.

“Please,” I groaned. He did, eliciting another wave of heat. He persisted with a steady stream of lashes, each one compounding on the sensation left behind by the one before it.

Graham paused, bending over me so I could feel his cock pressing against my arse. “Those red marks look so fucking sexy,” he whispered, trailing a finger down them. He bent over and whispered in my ear, “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Christ, yes,” I whispered back. I had been worried I wouldn’t, but now I knew that my experience with Percy had been more than mere curiosity.

Graham pulled me upright and turned me around, running his fingernails over my sensitive back as he kissed me. I moaned into his mouth and he brought his arms under my buttocks, picking me up before depositing me onto the bed.

He procured lube from the bag and hovered over me as he prepped, his precum dripping onto the lower part of my stomach. “You did such a good job, darling,” he whispered, as he slid on the condom and pressed into me.

“Fuck, Graham,” I moaned. He wasn’t being gentle, and I loved it. He pounded into my prostate, rolling his hips as he thrusted in order to apply maximum pressure. I grabbed a fistful of his hair and he moaned gutterally.

I felt myself getting close and arched my back. “Not yet,” Graham whispered into my ear, wrapping an arm underneath my arched back and pulling upwards so I was hovering over his lap as he thrust into me. He gracefully maneuvered our connected bodies off of the bed and pushed my back against the wall. I could feel the chill of the wall against the hot, sensitive skin on my back. The need to orgasm was painful and I buried my head in Graham’s shoulder.

He quickened the pace even more, now making it nearly impossible for me not to orgasm. I gasped, “Graham, I can’t-”

“Go ahead babe,” he whispered seductively.

I threw my head back against the wall and moaned as I released, spilling all over his chest. I felt him throb within me as he too reached his climax. We rode out the pleasurable high and Graham placed me gently against the bed before heading into the bathroom to clean up.

I laid on the bed, gasping for breath. The experience had been intoxicating, and I could still feel the stinging of the whip on my back.

Graham re-emerged from the bathroom with a glass of water and handed it to me, then pulled his underwear back on and tossed me my own. He reached into the bag and pulled out what appeared to be massage oil, pouring a small amount into his palm.

“C’mere, darling. Take a deep breath.”

“What are you doing,” I asked as he rubbed my shoulders and back. I certainly wasn’t complaining, although this wasn’t something he had done before.

“Just helping you come down after an intense experience, just relax and talk to me.”

“About what?” I asked, relaxing into his touch.

“About what you liked, didn’t like. How you feel and what you need.”

I smiled at his sweetness. “I hadn’t been sure how much I would like it before we started, but I enjoyed everything about it. Although,”

Graham swiveled around to look at my face, “What is it? Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I reassured him, “just at the end, when you told me not to finish. I don’t know, I guess there’s some pain I like, but I’m not sure how I felt about that. I’m sorry,”

Graham nodded, “Don’t apologize, darling. That’s the kind of thing I need to know. I’m glad you told me. Do you need anything?”

“Well, perhaps a shower now,” I laughed, feeling the slickness of my back.

“Of course, let me help you.”

******

We decided to stay in for a late lunch, ordering room service and spreading the trays of food over the bed.

“Good thing we don’t have to sleep on these sheets tonight. They’ll be filled with crumbs,” I laughed.

“Well, technically we could. I’m sure Bree and Roger would be happy to kidnap Klara for the whole night.”

I shook my head, trying to be casual in my response as to not alert him of the reason we had to go home. “Your gift is at the house. I’d rather be able to give it to you on your birthday than waiting for tomorrow.”

“I thought you just gave me my gift?” Graham said, winking. I threw a “french fry” in his general direction and he caught it in his mouth.

“You honestly though my entire birthday gift to you would be sex?” I asked curiously.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. I don’t know, a lot of the guys I’ve been in relationships with would only really engage in BDSM on special occasions. But even then I didn’t enjoy it, since I wouldn’t want them to feel obligated.”

I nodded, understanding his meaning. I hadn’t heard the term ‘BDSM’ before, but I felt pretty confident in being able to infer its general definition after what I had just experienced with Graham. “How did you discover what you liked about it if you never had partners who were as enthusiastic?”

“Well, I’ve had sex with a lot more people than I have been in relationships with, if you get my meaning.” He looked up at me, gauging my reaction.

“Me too,” I said, and he smiled. “And just to be clear, I enjoyed today.”

“You have no idea how happy it makes me that you’re even the smallest bit interested.” Graham reached over and stole another french fry from my plate, despite having a pile on his own. He eyed me mischievously.

“Don’t even think about it,” I said, raising an eyebrow. He looked at me innocently and picked up a fry from his own plate, attempting to lure me into a false sense of security. I anticipated his quick reach for another one and caught his arm, pulling him to the side of the bed and onto the floor before straddling his stomach and pinning his wrists down.

“Relinquish the fry,” I said sternly. Graham squirmed beneath me, clearly intent on freeing an arm and devouring his stolen good. Despite my best efforts, he was quite a bit larger than me, managing to send me onto my side and popping the fry into his mouth.

“How dare you?” I gasped and tried to hold back a smile.

*********

The lights inside the house were off when we finally made it home in the evening. I had promised Bree we would make it back by 6, and we were only about five minutes late.

“So, what did you get me?” Graham asked as we approached the door.

“You will find out soon enough.” I said, unlocking the door. The lights turned on as we walked in and the MacKenizes popped out from their hiding places. Graham jumped beside me, but quickly recovered from the shock and laughed.

“Surprise!” Jemmy yelled, flinging himself at Graham.

“Thanks, kiddo,” Graham said, a smile spreading across his face as he embraced Jemmy. “It smells amazing in here.”

“Mommy and I made chicken,” Jem announced proudly, tugging Graham’s arm and leading him into the kitchen. The walls had been draped with various decorations and there were odd floating objects attached to the chairs. I stared at them, trying to decipher just how they managed to remain suspended in the hair.

“It’s called a balloon,” Roger said quietly beside me. “They are filled with a gas called helium that is less dense than air, so they float. Just like how a ship floats on water. The air the boat inside is less dense than the water, so it holds up the wooden exterior. The helium holds up the rubber exterior of the balloon.”

Conceptually, Roger’s explanation made sense. Despite this, I was still slightly unsettled by the floating orb behind me as I sat down.

We chatted jovially as we ate, each of us trying to avoid the subject of what was going to occur in 5 months. Discussion of such things generally seemed to make Graham nervous, an understandable reaction, and probably would have soured his happy demeanor. Still, I couldn’t help but think that the next of Graham’s birthdays we celebrated would take place in 1779.

Eventually, the gathering was moved into the living room. Klara was suckling her bottle in my arms, her eyes beginning to droop the way they did when bedtime was approaching. "Getting sleepy, sweetpea?" Graham whispered, rubbing a thumb over her hand.

Roger left the room for a moment and re-emerged with a couple of gifts in-hand, each expertly wrapped by Bree. "Open this one first," Bree pointed to a small leather parcel.

Graham unfasted the ribbon holding the bag shut and examined the contents. His eyes widened and he poured out five small gemstones, as well as a fair amount of 18th century coin. "Bree, you didn't have to, truly," he said sincerely.

"Well, it wasn't as though they'd be of much use here," she responded sweetly.

"Plus, the two gemstones ye dinna use to get through the stones will fetch a fair price once you're through," Roger added. He was right. Despite their smaller size, they were a fine cut and color. "Ye'll need it for food and lodgings when you're on the road, especially with a bairn."

Graham nodded, "Thank you, it really is a relief to know we won't be empty-handed." He stood up and bent down to hug Bree. He had been unnerved slightly, but I could still see a small amount of relief in his eyes.

"Roger and Jem got you something too," Bree said.

Graham removed the paper to reveal a decently large satchel, which appeared to have a locking mechanism on the front. It was clearly modern, given the design of the lock and the newness of the leather, but it could still pass in the 18th century. "You can use it for work if ye like,” Roger suggested, “And it will be nice to have something secure to carry your valuables in once you're through the stones."

"It's lovely, thank you. It will definitely be coming to work with me on Monday."

"Open it!" Jemmy said excitedly.

"The combination is Klara's birthday," Roger explained.

Graham did as he was told and withdrew a folded sheet of paper with a drawing of the six of us on the front and the words "Happy Birthday Uncle Graham" in bright red across the inside of the card.

"Oh, this looks wonderful! This is the best birthday card I've ever gotten, kiddo. Thank you," he gave Jemmy's hair a ruffle and smiled. "I'll put it on my desk upstairs."

The last gift was the one from me. I suddenly felt nervous, despite feeling fairly confident that Graham would be pleased with it.

He pulled the frame out of the wrapping carefully and his face softened when the photo was revealed.

"Oh, John," he strained. I could hear the emotion in his voice and he turned to me. His eyes were glassy, but he was smiling. "You took this?"

I nodded, "Right after we brought her home from the hospital."

He sniffled and leaned in for a short kiss, "I love it, and I love you. Thank you, darling."

Chapter Text

June 1978

Klara’s tiny head protruded from the carrier I had strapped around my torso, although her sun-hat didn’t allow for me to see her face. It was a hot day, and Graham had finally convinced me to wear shorts. I had refused the previous summer, deciding to suffer the heat as I had my entire life. Having my legs exposed was certainly more comfortable, but it still felt odd for the hemline of my bottoms to only reach to my mid-thigh.

The purpose of our outing today was as much for business as it was for pleasure. With Roger’s help, I had managed to locate a horse-farm just outside of the city. The owner offered private riding lessons, so I figured it would be good practice for both of us. Graham wasn’t entirely a stranger to equestrianism, but he hadn’t been in the saddle for years. As for me, it would be worth it to start getting my muscles used to the strain of riding again.

“Sunscreen time!” Graham said excitedly, dolloping a fair amount of the gooey substance onto his palms and rubbing it over Klara’s bare limbs, which were dangling cutely from the carrier. She whined as he rubbed in the chilly substance, so I did my best to distract her throughout the uncomfortable process.

I pinched the brim of her hat, which was patterned with small embroidered turtles, and flipped it up. “Peek-a-boo!”

She giggled and I pushed the brim back down. “Where did Papa go?” Graham asked her. The whining resumed and I repeated the motion.

“Peek-a-boo!” This time, her laughter was cut short by a liberal amount of sunscreen being spread over her face by Graham. She wailed loudly and gave I Graham a look. “Now look what you’ve done.”

“Better she cries now than later when she has a sunburn,” he said, shrugging. After applying the lotion to himself, he looked at me. “Your turn, darling.”

I rolled my eyes and allowed him to squirt it into my hands. As I applied it to my face, he bent down to cover my legs. “What are you doing? We’re going to have to change into riding breeches, so there’s no point in putting sunscreen on our legs.”

“Too late!” Graham joked, rubbing my legs roughly.

The walk from the parking area to the barn took about five minutes, but I was grateful for it. I hadn’t walked anywhere except in the bustling city since we went to Cape Cod the previous summer. The eleven months felt like a lifetime.

The stables brought back even more familiarity. Save for the electric lighting and hoses everywhere, the timeless scent of horses made me feel at ease.

“Hey, fellas!” An man stepped out of the stalls to greet us, wiping his hand on a cloth attached to his belt before offering it.

“Good morning,” I said, shaking the man’s hand, “Are you Marquis?”

He grinned and shook Graham’s hand. “In the flesh. You must be John and Graham?”

“That we are,” Graham replied, “and this is Klara.” Graham patted her on the head.

“Bringing a baby to a riding lesson? That’s certainly a first, but we can manage. What’s y’alls' experience with riding?”

“I’ve been riding for quite some time, but I’ve been out of practice since moving to the city,” I said.

Marquis nodded, “That’s what the urban life does to you, my friend. And you?” he asked, turning to Graham.

“A bit when I was younger, but it’s been a while,” he said, shrugging.

“No worries, pal. Just like riding a bike, you’ll see,” he winked and patted Graham’s arm.

Marquis opened his mouth to speak again, but he was interrupted by an older woman approaching behind him. “Isn’t she just the cutest little munchkin!” the woman exclaimed.

Marquis smiled, “Mama, this is John, Graham, and Klara. Fella’s, this is my Mama. She and I run the stable together.”

“Lovely to meet you, Ma’am,” Graham said. Marquis’ mother waved at him in dismissal.

“Call me June, there is no need for formality here. This your little one? She looks just like you.”

“Yeah, she is,” Graham gave me a sideways glance and I shook my head subtly. Marquis and June seemed nice enough, but there was no need to explain my relation to Klara.

“Alright, well I think you should go first, Graham. Seems like you have a bit more to review.” Graham nodded and followed Marquis to the other side of the stable, turning around to wave goodbye.

A horse suddenly popped its head over the door of the stall I was standing next to, emerging about two feet from my face. It seemed friendly enough, its ears and nostrils were relaxed, unalarmed by my presence.

Klara screeched, a sound I had yet to make her make. She wasn’t quite old enough to feel fear, at least according to what I had read, but perhaps she had just been startled. She screamed into my chest and I stepped away from the horse.

“All is well, angelface. I’m sure the horse had no intention of startling you,” I soothed.

“How old is she?” June asked, standing beside me to get a better look at Klara.

“About 4 months,” I said, pulling up the brim of Klara’s hat so she could see my face. She relaxed a bit in response and June smiled.

“She trusts you,” she said, winking.

I felt a bit uneasy. Was it obvious that I was a parent to Klara? Perhaps it had been a bad idea to bring her along.

June seemed not to think twice about it and went to pet the horse, whose head was still sticking out from the stall.

“Buttercup here is a new mother,” she said, scratching the mare’s long nose. “She just had her first foal last Spring. She isn’t very social, but perhaps Klara piqued her curiosity since she has a baby of her own.”

“Horses are quite intuitive,” I replied, setting Klara’s diaper bag on the ground and maneuvering her out of her carrier. She squirmed a bit, but didn’t seem too disturbed. She kicked her tiny legs, managing to nail me in the breastbone before I could get the carrier off.

“She’s a strong kicker,” June laughed, “Here, I’ll hold her while you get situated.”

I transferred her into June’s arms gratefully and removed the contraption from my body, relieved to feel the breeze on my sweating chest. Klara whined, seeming confused as to why she was in unfamiliar arms.

“Don’t cry, babygirl,” June cooed, “You can stand to be away from your daddy for a couple minutes.”

I froze, the anxiety from a few moments ago resurfacing. I scrambled to find a proper response, but June spoke again before I could.

“Don’t you worry your handsome head, hunny. I’m not one to judge.”

“How could you tell?” I asked, taking Klara back. I was relieved that June seemed unbothered, but concerned that she had been able to tell so easily.

“From the way she looks at you, and you at her. But don’t worry, most people are too focused on themselves to notice that sort of thing.”

I nodded, still feeling uneasy. Perhaps in 1978 people were too distracted to notice, but people in 1778 would be much more perceptive. If what June had noticed was true, then I would have to consciously avoid paying too much attention to her when we were in public. The thought made my stomach drop. The only comfort was that I knew I would be free of that burden once we reached the Fraser’s.

I stroked Klara’s head as I thought and June gave me a sympathetic look. “Don’t worry yourself too much hun. Here, let’s go watch your man ride.”

I followed her out to the paddock, where Graham was riding in circles. Marquis stood in the middle, telling Graham how to make the horse change its gait. The paddock was quite large, allowing the horse to canter comfortably around.

“He’s lovely, isn’t she?” June said, leaning against the fence. “His name is Oregano, but he’s called ‘Lots of Dots’ in shows.

Oregano was quite a striking horse. He was healthy, youn, and strong. He would have been a perfect horse for battle, if not for his coloration. Any officer of a high standing would be asking to get shot by riding a steed that stood out so much. While from the front his coat appeared to be dark brown, from the side one could see that his entire back end was spotted.

Graham seemed to be doing a decent job of controlling him. His posture was perfect and he seemed steady. Even when Oregano got spooked by a dog running by the fence (“Nellie,” according to June), he was able to bring Oregano back down. Even out of practice, Graham was a decent rider.

Seeing Graham ride was yet another weight off my chest, but my fears of how to prepare him for the road ahead were still mounting. There was still so much preparation to be done. I started making a mental list as I watched Oregano canter in circles.

We would have to get Klara accustomed to using cloth nappies, as there were no “Huggies” in 1778. We would need to find adequate clothing to travel in and decide which items from the future we should risk bringing (if any). Hell, Graham would even need to learn how to write with a quill! Perhaps he could get away with bringing a fountain pen, although Roger’s explanation of his pen collection had informed me that those wouldn’t have been invented for many years to come.

I must have been staring into oblivion, because I hadn’t managed to notice that Graham had dismounted Oregano and was leaning against the other side of the fence. He waved a hand in front of my face and I blinked, pulled back into the present.

“Penny for your thoughts?” he said, reaching over to relieve me of Klara.

“Oh, just pondering the future- or past? I’m not even sure at this point.” I shook my head and Graham gave me a sympathetic look.

“I get the feeling. But don’t worry, we will figure everything out.”

“I know we will,” I said, feeling somewhat exasperated, “It’s just that every time I think I have thought of everything we must do, another necessary preparation comes to mind.”

“I hate that feeling,” Graham said, patting my shoulder with his free arm. “It’s like when you leave the house and you feel like you’re forgetting something, but you feel it all the time. And then something will just pop into your head and your stomach drops and- shit.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“We need to get tested.”

“For?”

Graham looked around, making sure that Marquis and June were out of earshot. “You know, sexually transmitted illnesses and stuff. I’d rather not have to put a sheep’s bladder on my dick every time we have sex. We honestly should have done it a while ago. Could’ve saved a lot of money on condoms.”

I smiled and slapped his arm playfully. “How does one even get tested anyway?” I asked. I had since learned that Claire’s warnings about “germs” were truthful, although there were still holes in my understanding.

“Well, they take a swab and they put it into-”

My eyes widened and I interrupted him, “Nevermind. If you tell me how it’s done now, I probably won’t want to go through with it.”

“Or they might take a urine sample,” Graham continued, teasing. I made a disgusted face and he laughed.

Thankfully, our unpleasant conversation- although Graham seemed to be enjoying himself- was interrupted by Marquis, who was bringing Oregano back into the barn.

“Gear up, John!”

Chapter Text

“The doctor will be in shortly,” the nurse said, pulling the door shut behind her. I tried to remind myself that Graham was only in the next room. He had told me there was no reason to be nervous, but this was my first time in the clinic without him by my side. He had been there when I had gotten my vaccines and that had been stressful enough. I wanted nothing more than to feel his presence at my side, a reassurance that I hadn't anything to fear. I had loathed physicians even in my own time, but now the foreign instruments they used were mysteries to me. I had to continuously remind myself that they were not torture devices, despite their appearance.

I looked around the room, trying to distract myself from the sweat building up on my palms. The nurse had had me sit on a table covered in paper that crinkled loudly at the slightest movement. There were several objects in the room that I had never seen before, all of which I hoped were not going to be used on me.

The door opened again and I jumped. An older woman came in and gave me a smile, heading over to the sink to wash her hands. “I’m Doctor Mullins,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “You’re in for STD testing today, correct?”

I nodded, trying to hide my nerves. She merely smiled again and dried her hands, finally taking a seat on the stool in front of me. “So, John, do you have any reason to believe that you may have an STD? Any symptoms?”

I shook my head, “No, I uh-” I stammered. I tripped over my words, feeling like a fool.

“You just want to be safe?”

I sighed, nodding. “Yes, I figured it would be a good idea since I haven’t been tested before.”

“Do you use protection?”

I felt odd hearing such intimate questions from a stranger, but I had been to a physician before. Although I had never had a woman ask such things of me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being impolite, but I answered anyway. “Currently, yes. But I haven’t in the past.”

Dr. Mullins nodded, writing something down on her clipboard. “And how many sexual partners have you had, roughly?”

I froze, completely unsure of how I would derive a number. There had been Graham, of course, along with Hector, Percy, Isobel, Stephan von Namtzen, and George Everett. But that was not even accounting for any of the whores I had bedded in brothels or those I had been with in Lavender House. There were countless.

“Would you say more than 10?” Dr. Mullins asked.

I nodded, feeling uneasy. I desperately wanted her to stop asking questions, but I also feared what would follow them.

“Alright, so you’re going to be tested for everything today: HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HPV. I’ll take a couple of swab samples from your cheek and penis, a urine sample, and we’ll draw some blood.”

Dr. Mullins pulled a long, paper-wrapped object from a jar on the counter. She peeled back the wrapping, revealing a wooden stick with a bit of cotton on the tip. She glanced down at my trousers and back up at me. I reached for my belt, blushing.

*********

“So, how’d it go?” Graham whispered, not seeming at all perturbed by what he had experienced in the other room. Dr. Mullins had released me into the waiting room so I could await my results.

“I can safely say that that was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, even more so than having a surgeon remove shards of metal from my torso while I was awake.” I replied in an equally hushed tone.

“So you didn’t enjoy it?” Graham teased.

I gave him a sharp look and he wiped his grin from his face, realizing that I was not in the mood for humor. He squeezed my shoulder, trying to be supportive despite the public setting. “I know that it’s an invasive process, but it’s over now. You don’t need to worry anymore.”

I sighed into his touch, “I know. I just hate having no idea what’s going on.”

“I know, darling. But you’ve been doing so well. This particular experience is jarring, even for people from this time, and you’re handling it fantastically.”

I chuckled, “Don’t mock me.”

“I’m serious,” Graham said. He turned to look at me, “You’ve got guts, John. You can be nervous all you want, but that doesn’t stop you from being the bravest person I know.”

I blushed, feeling humbled by his candor. “You’re too kind, my dear,” I said.

He winked and smiled sweetly. “When it comes to you, there’s no such thing.”

I was about to squeeze his hand, but I noticed someone approaching us. I stood up as Dr. Mullins walked over, waving both of our charts in her hand.

“Clean as a whistle, the both of you. Now get outta here, fellas. And tell your sweethearts you'll be rubbering up from now on. You bachelors need to be more responsible, otherwise you'll wind up with unexpected little ones." She gave us a serious look and walked away briskly, leaving Graham chuckling beside me.

He leaned over to whisper in my ear. "Sweetheart, I can assure you that I *won't* be 'rubbering up' from now on. It's not like I have to worry about making a 'little one' with you."

I elbowed him playfully, rolling my eyes. "Christ. I think it's best we take our leave," I laughed. "And in case you forgot, you did make an unexpected 'little one.'"

"I'm a regular after school special, aren't I?"

"A what?"

*********

Annabelle was upstairs with Klara when we arrived back at the house. While Graham went into his office to update the “Pre-Travel” checklist, I made my way upstairs to relieve her of her duty.

I could hear her mumbling under her breath in frustration before I had even entered the room. Annabelle was bent over the changing table, trying to pin a new cloth diaper onto Klara, who was squirming about impatiently.

“Remind me again why you and Professor Nowak suddenly felt the need to use cloth diapers?” She said, not turning around.

“Because they’re more economically efficient. Not to mention that Klara likes them more.” Both of these reasons were true in some sense, but it was not as if I could tell Annabelle the actual purpose of the change. “Here, let me help.”

I managed to get Klara to stop kicking her legs for a moment, just enough time for Annabelle to secure the pin. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” I said, redressing Klara. “And thank you for watching her. I know you don’t generally come on weekends.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out some money to pay her. Annabelle smiled and looked down at the bills in her hand.

“John, this is too much-”

“No, it is the perfect amount. Have a lovely afternoon, my dear.”

Annabelle thanked me again before taking her leave, passing Graham in the hallway as he made his way into the nursery. “She looks happy,” he commented, giving Klara a kiss on the head.

“I paid her a little extra today, seeing as it’s the weekend. I hope you don’t mind.”

Graham waved his hand in dismissal, “Please, I’m glad you did. Heaven knows she needs it. Did she tell you that her brother is back in the hospital?”

I shook my head, picking up Klara from the changing table and placing her into the crib. “No, although she and I aren’t as close as you two are. Is he really getting that bad.”

Graham nodded, “And her mom is still in denial.”

“Poor thing, what is she going to do when we leave. I doubt another family will pay her as much as we do.”

“She told me she’s trying to line up a job with a family she met in the park while out with Klara. It seems promising.” Graham shrugged, his forehead wrinkling slightly in concern.

I placed my hand on his cheek, rubbing my thumb over his cheekbone. “Have I ever told you how much I admire your concern for your students?”

Graham half-smiled, bringing his hand up to his face and placing it over mine. “You have. It was our second date, I believe.”

I recalled the moment, which felt like a lifetime ago. Sitting outside of Graham’s office, anxiously waiting to see him again. I had overheard his meeting with Annabelle, and I could distinctly remember seeing that same concerned look on his face when I stepped into his office.

Graham's current expression shifted suddenly and he gasped, a smile spreading across his face. “Look at you, sweetpea!”

I turned around to look at Klara, who had managed to flip over from her stomach to her back. I had seen her attempt such a feat before, but this was the first time she had accomplished it. She giggled, an indication that she was pleased with herself. Graham bent over the crib and scooped her up out of it, holding her squirmy body up in the air.

“Look at you, my strong girl! You did it all by yourself.” He kissed her cheek sweetly, eliciting more giggles.

Even in the joy of the moment, I felt a pang of sorrow. I had been reminded of learning of William’s progress as a child in letters from Isobel after he was born. I had always enjoyed reading them, but at the time my attachment to William was minimal. It wasn’t until Lord Dunsany had died that I began to think of William as family. I had missed these moments with him, and thus such moments with Klara were somewhat bittersweet.

Graham had Klara stomach-side down on the floor now, and was laying on his stomach in front of her. “Do it again, sweetpea. Show Papa.”

Rather than flip over, Klara seemed to take a liking to the soft carpet, putting her face down like she often did when she napped on our chests.

“I think that once was enough to drain her,” I commented trying not to laugh at Graham, who was poking her lightly in an attempt to rouse her.

“I suppose she deserves a break after all the hard work,” he said, sounding slightly defeated. He placed her gently back into her crib, eliciting a tiny yawn before she was fully asleep.

Graham bent over the crib and looked up at me. “Looks like she’s down for the count for the next hour or so. Whatever shall we do?” He feigned innocence momentarily, but his lack of acting skills caused him to break out into a smile almost immediately. He looked as though he were about to pounce on me, an action that would surely wake Klara if done in her vicinity, so I turned swiftly and bolted out of the room.

I only made it a few steps into the hallway before I felt Graham’s strong arms wrap around my waist, lifting me off the floor and spun me in a circle. I laughed and Graham slapped his palm over my mouth to stifle me, swiveling me around to face him. His face was plastered with a playful grin and he made a shushing noise, nudging me into the bathroom.

“What are we-”

His hand clapped over my mouth again. “Take your clothes off.”

I had intended to ask why he had decided that the bathroom would be the best place to make love, but his pulling back of the shower curtain was clarifying. The sound of the water was steady enough not to wake Klara, but loud enough to muffle any noises such activities generally produced.

Graham leaned into the tub to turn on the shower faucet as I undressed, giving me a nice few of his behind as he fiddled with the drain cover. I took advantage of his pose, leaning behind him and running a hand down his back, resting it on his arse.

“Now you.”

He turned and kissed me, and I could feel his smile against my lips. He pulled away for a moment to remove his shirt, revealing his lean torso. My hands ran over the smooth skin of his back and I pulled at the waistband of his pants as he undid his belt.

I cupped his now-bare bottom in my hands, feeling his growing length pressing into me as I did so. Graham wrapped his arm around my waist, guiding me towards the tub. He kissed my neck as I stepped in, not wanting to part for even a moment as we made our way under the warm stream of water.

The feeling of Graham pressed up against me in the hot stream of water probably would have been enough to undo me by itself, but Graham swiftly turned me around so I was facing the wall. I placed my foot up on the side of the tub, giving him ample access as his fingers moved inside of me.

He pressed into me slowly, burning his face into the side of my neck as he groaned. I could tell he was close already, most likely due to the excitement of love-making in such an environment. I had been close before as well, but now staring at the wall was slightly less arousing. My forehead was resting against my forearm, which was pressed up against the cold tile in an uncomfortable fashion, and my weight-bearing leg was beginning to ache.

“Graham,” I panted, “Graham.”

He stopped momentarily, leaning forward to look at my face. “Everything okay, darling?”

I nodded, “I just want to see you.”

He pulled out of me and I turned around to face him. Graham kissed me sweetly, bending down to wrap his hand beneath my thigh so my leg was hooked around his hip. His other arm came around my waist, lifting me up and pushing my back against the wall. It was cold, but seeing Graham’s face made the sensation less distracting. Due to our difference in height, he had to lift me up slightly, relieving some of the weight on my standing leg. “How’s this? It might be a little less comfortable once we get going.”

I kissed him, “I don’t mind, I just want to see you when you make love to me.”

He bit his lip and smiled, pushing into me again. He now had a better angle to press against my prostate and I began to moan. I made a conscious effort not to be too loud, but it was hard to help as the sensations became more and more intense. Graham picked up that pace after a few minutes, causing the heat in my abdomen to spread as I neared orgasm.

Graham’s face suddenly twisted in pleasure and I felt the warmth of his seed inside of me, a sensation I had yet to experience with him. It was enough to bring me over the edge, causing me to spill onto Graham’s stomach. I stifled my moans in the crook of his neck, feeling the moisture of his skin against my lips.

Graham put me down slowly and pulled me into him. “God, I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” I said, looking up and kissing his jaw. I could feel the remnants of our love-making dripping down the inside of my leg and down the drain. Graham turned around, reaching for the soap.

“Let’s get cleaned up then.”

He worked the soap into a lather before massaging me with it, working his way down from my shoulders. It was immensely relaxing. If I hadn’t been standing, I probably could have fallen asleep from his soothing touch. We took turns cleaning each other, relaxing under each other's touch.

However, the muffled sounds of Klara’s cries as she awoke from her nap pulled us out of our state of tranquility. I sighed heavily and rinsed the soap off, turning to face Graham.

“She sure has impeccable timing, doesn’t she?” Graham commented sarcastically. He shut off the water and I immediately missed the warmth of it running down my back. Groaning, I stepped out of the tub and pulled on my robe, defending myself against the cool air.

Graham caught my arm as I was reaching for the doorknob, swiveling me around into a soft kiss. He pulled away after a moment, looking into my eyes earnestly with a hand on my cheek. “You, John William Grey, are the love of my life. I hope you know that.”

I placed my hand over his, pressing it into my cheek. “And you are mine, always.”

Chapter Text

July 1978

“Ouch!”

“Hold still.”

“I am holding still.”

“If you were holding still, you wouldn’t have been poked.”

“‘Poke’ is an understatement. I think ‘stab’ or ‘impale’ would be more suitable.”

“Do you want me to do it again?”

Graham’s eyes widened and he shook his head. He was in the process of being fitted for an 18th century wardrobe, including a couple pairs of breeches, two shirts, a waistcoat, and a jacket (with hidden pockets in the lining). The time of year we were traveling in was not optimal in terms of clothing. Klara would need ensembles for both warm and cold weather. Graham and I could probably make due with a jacket, but it would be a challenge.

Bree was stooping beside him, pinning the cut pieces of fabric to fit him properly. He had a few articles of clothing left over from Halloween, but they weren’t of good enough quality to last him the journey from Inverness to London. Bree was by no means a tailor, but she had the skills necessary to sew something somewhat presentable. It only needed to suffice for a month or so.

Roger and I had spent a considerable amount of time planning the journey the evening prior while Bree and Graham made clothing for Klara. We would go through the stones in late August, allowing us the duration of September to make our way South. We would spend a couple of days in Inverness beforehand, giving Graham a chance to acclimate himself before the journey. Then, we would take a stagecoach to London. If all went according to plan, we would make it there in early October, allowing us a couple weeks before we would book passage to America. I had worried that we would be taking a risk in traveling by sea so late in the autumn, but Roger reminded me that we already had evidence that we would make it across safely. It would only take a few days to reach Jamie and Claire after we hit port in New Jersey, especially if we managed to travel by means of the Delaware.

“Ouch, damnit!” Graham glared at Bree, who had managed to stick him with the pin again. I saw her roll her eyes, an indication of her building frustration. Despite his denial, he was squirming quite a bit.

“Graham, dear, you must keep still,” I said, earning an equally piercing glare. “At this pace, we’ll be late for our riding lesson. You know how June is when it comes to punctuality.”

He huffed and crossed his arms. Such posture was generally indicative of him knowing I was right, but not wanting to admit it. I understood his frustration, having been subjected to countless lengthy fittings in my lifetime. But time was truly of the essence. We still had a myriad of things to prepare.

With a month left before we finally would depart, there were two things weighing heavily on my mind. The first was figuring out a way to arm ourselves. I hadn’t brought any weapons through the stones with me, and 18th century pistols were not a commodity in the 1970s. Those that existed rarely worked, and even then they would cost a fortune. Swords posed a similar issue, as it was uncommon to find affordable ones that served a purpose outside of being ornamental. Our best bet would be to find a place to purchase daggers, although those would certainly play at a disadvantage were we to come across anyone armed.

The second was feeding Klara. She had just begun transitioning from bottles to puree, but I was not completely sure that the inns and taverns we would be staying in would be accommodating. Most children her age would still be nursed, even in this time. But surely a cook wouldn’t allow an innocent motherless child to starve, at least not if paid a high enough price. “Worst comes to worst, I’ll chew her food for her,” Graham had said. Bree had also suggested bringing along some powdered formula in case of an emergency, although we certainly would have to be discreet when using it.

We had managed to acquire two different relatively spacious leather knapsacks, both of which would be passable in the 18th century. They were an advantageous form of luggage for several reasons. Primarily, they would be simple to take through the stones. Plus, such luggage would be able to remain on our person in the coach, rather than being strapped to the roof or the boot. We would be able to keep the contents away from prying eyes, allowing for more liberty in terms of what we decided to bring from the future.

Of course, we would bring letters from Roger, Bree, and Jemmy. Those were less of a risk than the photographs, however, which we had already acquired dozens. I had also planned to bring a few 19th century novels that I thought Jamie would enjoy, ones that Claire had mentioned to him in my presence. “The Count of Monte Cristo” was a must, and Bree suggested bringing along “Moby Dick” as well.

The most risky item on the packing list was Graham’s polaroid camera. It was fairly small, only producing photographs that were half the size of the standard, and could fit easily into the locked compartment of the satchel Roger had gifted him. Even if it were to be discovered, the likelihood that anyone in the 18th century would be able to determine its usage was slim. Still, the item made me uneasy. I simply hoped we wouldn’t come across any thieves who may discover it and deem it to be some object of dark magic.

“Aaaand done!” Bree said triumphantly as she secured the final pin. “Now, for the love of all that is good and holy, take them off carefully.”

Graham did as he was told, slowly peeling off the shirt and breeches that Bree had tailored. He crossed his arms over his bare chest, probably feeling odd to be standing in the middle of the MacKenzies’ living room in nothing but his underwear. Bree tossed him his 20th century clothes and he pulled them on hastily.

“Now, you two have a lovely time at the stables.” Bree said, looking over her shoulder, “I’m going to finish working on Klara’s clothing while I still have her here.”

“Oh, we will most definitely have a good time- ow!” Bree’s pin cushion collided with Graham’s face before he could finish his cheeky remark. “You could have poked an eye out, jeez.”

“You’re practically tap dancing on my last nerve,” Bree said, glaring at him. Generally, their banter never produced such a strong reaction, however the growing tension of the days to come was making everyone a bit more short-tempered.

“Let’s leave Bree to finish her work in peace, dear. Perhaps some fresh air will be beneficial.”

Graham sighed and we said our goodbyes, giving Klara several kisses before leaving her in Bree and Roger’s capable hands.

Once in the car, I gave Graham some time to decompress before deciding to speak. It was hard to tell what mood he was in nowadays. He still was his humorous self, as evidenced by his remarks back in the house, but something seemed off.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked finally, having noticed his grip on the steering wheel had relaxed.

“Not particularly, although it would probably help.”

“Help what? You can tell me.”

“I’m scared shitless, John. I’ve been trying to ignore it and play it off with jokes and shit, but I’m becoming more and more terrified everyday. Plus, I’m kicking myself for being so annoying back there. I should probably apologize to Bree for pushing her buttons so much.”

“She would probably appreciate that, but I know she will also understand. Out of everyone, she probably knows exactly how you’re feeling. Take my word, she is an empathetic confidant.”

Graham sighed, reaching over to take my hand and kissing the back of it. We spent the remainder of the ride in a comfortable silence, the sounds of the radio playing softly. Graham sang along softly from time to time, barely loud enough for me to hear.

“Oh, I've finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road.”
I wasn’t sure where the reference came from, but the meaning behind the “yellow brick road” was not a mystery to me. I had strayed from it a year ago, and now Graham would too.

*********

Lately, our riding “lessons” had become less focused on instruction and more on enjoyment. Marquis had started leading us on excursions on the several riding trails that weaved through the more rural areas farther out from the city. Rather than meet him at the barn, he would load the horses into a trailer and we would join him on rides in various locations.

Today, however, Marquis had called ahead to another stable, which was a bit more rural than the one he ran with June. We had two horses reserved for our use for the afternoon that we could take out at our leisure, sans instructor. I had been surprised by the leniency, but apparently Marquis had attested that the horses would be in capable hands.

We were currently on a trail that brought us through a quaint meadow, which was a refreshing sight after another long week in the city. Graham, cheeky as always, had insisted on riding behind me. Apparently, it provided a “good view.”

We were trotting along a straight path,which was relatively well-groomed. I leaned forward, stroking the neck of the horse and whispering by her ear. “Do you want to pick up the pace?”

I clicked by tongue and lightly pressed my foot into the mare’s side. She obeyed enthusiastically and we were off, leaving Graham in the dust behind us. I glanced over my shoulder to see he had stopped his horse and was beaming at me admirably.

I brought the mare to a slow halt after a couple minutes, deciding it would be best not to get too far ahead of Graham. We stood in the middle of the path, shaded by a large oak tree. I rarely had any time where I was truly alone nowadays. Before coming through the stones, I would often take pleasure rides on my own whenever time allowed for it. I loved having Graham with me, but there was something liberating about those few minutes I waited for him on the edge of the meadow.

Eventually, I could hear the hoof-beats of his horse as he caught up to me.

“You make it look easy,” he said, pulling up beside me. “Not to mention that it was extremely sexy to watch you ride off like that.” He winked and I smiled back at him.

We rode slowly beside each other, taking a moment to relax. I could feel Graham’s eyes on me and I bit my lip, trying to control my imagination. This did not seem like the time nor place to engage in the activities that kept popping into my mind.

Tempted, I turned my head to meet Graham’s gaze. I could see the lust in his eyes- and in other places. I felt the color rush to my face. Clearly, he was less averse to taking a break from our ride than I was.

“Someone could see,” I whispered.

“The groom said we should have the path to ourselves,” Graham replied. He could tell I was still apprehensive though, and ceased trying to convince me.

Despite every nerve in my body telling me to dismount my horse and let Graham take me in the meadow, it still felt improper to do so in broad daylight.

I looked at him again and he smiled sweetly, “Your modesty is incredibly sexy, you know that?”

“Sexy modesty?” I laughed. “That seems like a bit of an oxymoron, does it not?”

“Never when it comes to you, darling.”

*********

It was late afternoon by the time we finally brought the horses back to the stable. We were both fairly exhausted from the ride, but had enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. After paying the groom, we began the journey home.

Or at least I had thought we were. Instead of turning to get on the highway, Graham continued down the back roads. I reached over to turn the volume down on the radio.

“Need something, darling?” Graham asked, feigning ignorance.

“Where exactly are you taking me?” I looked out the window to see we were going deeper into the woods.

“What fun would it be if I ruined the surprise?” he asked.

“Graham, I’m famished, exhausted, and not in the mood to be murdered.” The last part was a joke- for the most part.

“John, be realistic. Had I intended to commit homicide, I would have done it a long time ago.”

“Well, you do have a propensity to take me to undisclosed locations on a whim. You can’t blame me for having the thought.”

Graham laughed, “It’s called spontaneity, my love. Well, it’s spontaneous for you anyway. I had to do all the planning.”

“I think it is safe to assume that murder is generally a fairly spontaneous act...at least for the victim.”

“John?” Graham asked, his voice sounding shaky.

“Yes?”

“You’re right,” he whispered.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I am planning to-to... murder you.”

“You aren’t funny,” I said flatly.

“It’s been my master plan all along,” Graham said quietly. “The moment I saw you asleep on that train, I decided to become the next Ted Bundy.”

“Who?”

Graham huffed in frustration and returned to a normal tone of speech. “He’s the infamous serial killer who just got re-arrested a couple months ago. How did you manage to miss that?”

“What’s a serial killer? Is that a synonymous with ‘mass murderer?’”

Graham sighed. "You know, it’s less fun to mess with you when I have to explain everything.”

“Ah yes, but it is infinitely more amusing to mess with you by making you explain everything while you’re attempting to mess with me.”

Graham paused for a moment, most likely to try and decipher what I had just said. “Wait, so you know who Ted Bundy is?”

“Of course I do. You see me reading the paper every morning.”

Graham smiled. “I should be bothered that you have thwarted my teasing, but instead I feel oddly proud that I’m rubbing off on you.”

“Are you going to tell me where you’re taking me now?”

“Perhaps I would, but we are already here.” He turned onto a steep gravel road, one which could easily be missed by anyone who wasn’t looking for it. It was completely unmarked and looked somewhat eerie in the current light. With the unkempt nature of it, the fact that the road was rarely used was apparent.

Graham drove carefully around the bends of the road. After a few minutes he nudged me. “Close your eyes.”

I did as he said and felt the car come to a stop after a few more seconds. I could hear Graham get out and walk around to the boot, apparently having put something in there without my noticing earlier in the day.

“You can open your eyes now,” Graham whispered.

“It’s beautiful, Graham,” I said, looking out over the vista as I stepped out of the car. “How did you know about this place?”

Graham had parked his car next to an opening in the trees that looked out over a cliff. You could see the city in the far distance, like tiny lights dancing on the horizon. The sun was just about to set, making the sky break out in colorful hues of orange and pink. I looked at him, staring off into the distance, with a picnic basket hanging at his side.

Graham shrugged. “My car broke down back on the main road a few years back. I found a payphone eventually, but the person coming to help me said it would take a few hours. I decided to explore what was up this road and well, I found this place. I looked it up later on an old map, and apparently it’s just an abandoned trailhead. Eventually, I found out there had been a mudslide that destroyed the hiking trails.”

“Do you bring all your boyfriends here?” I asked, leaning up against the hood of his car.

He grinned. “I’ve never brought anyone here, actually. It was kind of my private place for a while. Granted, there are occasionally teenagers who come here to mess around on the old trails, but for the most part it’s just me.”

“Do you come here often?” I asked, reaching for his hand. He opted to drape his arm over my shoulder instead.

“Only when I have things to think about. It’s where I went after Alyssa told us she was pregnant, and after she died...” his voice trailed off and I leaned into him. He took a deep breath and continued. “I came here after you told me about the stones.”

I looked up at him. “But you said you believed me right after I told you.”

“I did,” Graham said, “and I was telling the truth. Your evidence was unfalsifiable. But it still took me time to get over the part of me that was still in disbelief. I didn’t want to make you feel anxious, so I came here to process everything.”

“And what was your conclusion?” I asked.

“That I trust you more than anyone else in the world. And that there isn’t anything you could tell me that would make me stop loving you. I’d be damned if I let you get rid of me that easily.”

I kissed him on the cheek, placing a hand on his jaw. Before I could say anything, my stomach spoke up for me. I had forgotten about my hunger momentarily, but now it was back with a vengeance.

Graham laughed. “Good thing I brought food.”

I helped him set up the blanket and the lanterns, which were helpful given the sun’s imminent disappearance over the horizon. The evening crickets were chirping at full force now, a sound that I realized I hadn’t heard in ages.

We ate in a comfortable silence, mostly due to the fact that we were both ravenous. The sun eventually made its way beneath the horizon, leaving the sky a dark blue. Despite the heat of the day, the evening had a chill to it. Gooseflesh spread over my arms and I shivered slightly.

Graham wrapped an arm around me, kissing my neck softly. “Let me warm you up,” he said softly.

I tilted my head to the side, allowing him to kiss down my neck and down to my collarbone as he unbuttoned my shirt. His lips made their way to my nipples, which he licked and nibbled gently. They hardened at the sensation, becoming sensitive as he continued to tease them. I could feel a warmth in my stomach as I became more and more aroused.

Graham palmed my now-tight jeans as he continued to kiss down my body. The process was agonizingly slow, but I didn’t want it to stop. Eventually, his lips met the waist of my pants and he unbuttoned them, pulling them down around my thighs.

His mouth was warm on my cock and I gasped as he took me deeply. He continued to pull my pants off as he worked, expertly managing to remove them completely. Having done so, he removed his mouth from me and brought his lips to my ear. “Lay on your stomach for me, darling.”

I flipped over, feeling the pleasant friction of my cock rubbing against the blanket. Graham ran his hands over my buttocks and down to my thighs, pushing one of my knees so it was bent at an angle by my side. I felt his lips on my shoulders, causing a pleasant shiver down my spine.

Graham’s hands massaged by buttocks and he trailed kissing down the center of my back. I had thought he was going to use his fingers, but I quickly realized what he was doing and felt a surge of excitement. I had experienced this type of pleasure once or twice, but never with Graham up to this point.

He pulled at my buttocks, exposing my entrance. He kissed it lightly and I gasped at the unfamiliar sensation, my cock twitching.

“Touch yourself,” Graham said quietly. I could feel the heat of his breath on my opening and I grabbed my cock firmly, stroking the already building pre-cum down to the base.

Graham licked me slowly, sending waves of pleasure up my spine each time. As I got closer, he began inserting fingers. I paced my strokes, trying not to get too close to orgasm prematurely.

Graham’s mouth left me for a moment, and I could hear the rustling noise indicating that he was taking off his clothes. Before I knew it, he was laying on his back beside me. His cock stood straight up and I bit my lip.

I took him into my mouth at first, both to lubricate him and also to allow him to catch up with me arousal-wise. Graham had already gotten me most of the way there. His breath began to hitch as I bobbed my head up and down, an indication that he was ready.

I gasped as I sat on top of him, feeling his length going deeper and deeper into me. My hips moved instinctively, rolling back and forth at a steady pace. Graham moved with me, matching my pace and pushing harder into my prostate as he did so.

I could feel the pressure begin to build up inside of me and I my breath quickened. Graham began to move faster, grabbing my hips to move me with him. “Oh my god, Graham- yes. Keep doing that, oh fuck-” I moaned.

“Cum for me, John,” Graham said breathily.

“Yes, yes- Graha-” I couldn’t even finish saying his name before the wave of pleasure took the breath from me. I threw my head back and spilled onto him, leaving long streaks on his chest and face.

I could feel him buck his hips beneath me, and a warmth filled my insides. Eventually, the pace slowed and I collapsed on the blanket beside him. My whole body was tingling in the wake of such an intense orgasm. We took out time catching our breath, holding each other as we did so.

“Holy shit,” Graham said after a few minutes. “Sex with you is always good, but that was- damn.”

I propped myself up onto my elbow and kissed him softly. “Thank you for tonight. This is- well, perfect seems like an understatement.”

He rested a hand on my cheek. “It’s perfect because we’re together. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than by your side.”

I kissed him again, this time more deeply. It didn’t take long before I could feel a rush of arousal pulse through me again. I pulled away and Graham grinned up at me, lifting his head from the blanket to whisper in my ear.

“My turn.”

*********

We arrived back at the Mackenzies’ quite late. Jemmy and Klara had already been put to bed and Bree and Roger appeared to have been watching television.

“Looks like you two had a pleasant evening,” Roger said as we stepped into the foyer. Despite our best efforts, Graham and I still appeared somewhat disheveled.

Bree was seated on the couch, needle and thread in-hand, sewing buttons onto Graham’s waistcoat.

“It looks wonderful, Bree,” Graham said, sitting beside her. “Thank you, truly.”

Bree smiled and shrugged. “I think it turned out alright, even with all of your squirming this morning.”

Graham sighed and put a hand on her arm. “I apologize for being so difficult. I suppose I’ve been a bit on-edge.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for, Graham. Plus, I have my own reasons for being impatient lately that are completely separate from you.”

Roger raised his eyebrows. “Are you ready to tell them?”

Bree nodded excitedly and set the waistcoat on the coffee table. She stood to retrieve an envelope from the bookshelf and handed it to me. “Open it.”

I undid the fastening and peered inside. The contents consisted of a few photographs, similar to the ones Alyssa had shown us when she was pregnant with Klara. I pulled them out and looked up at Bree and Roger, who were brimming with excitement.

“You’re with child again?” I couldn’t help but smile as Graham sprung up from the couch and peered over my shoulder at the photographs.

“This is a three month sonogram!”

Roger chuckled. “We didna want to tell anyone until after the first trimester.”

“The gender?” Graham asked.

“You tell them,” Roger said, turning to his wife.

“It’s a girl!” Bree was practically jumping with enthusiasm. “Mandy and Klara will be like sisters.”

I laughed and hugged Bree tightly, “My sincere congratulations, my dear. And Mandy is a lovely name.”

Bree kissed me on the cheek before looking at me, a serious look coming over her face. “Bring one of the photographs to my parents.”

“We will,” Graham said, pulling her into a hug. “They will be over the moon for the both of you.”

Chapter Text

August 1978

Seven Days

Pat gripped my shoulders tightly and looked at me for a moment. He was certainly not a sentimental man, but I could tell he was trying to express something of the sort.

“Take care of yourself, John. And stay in shape- I’m not gonna go easy on ya when you get back.”

“I would be shocked if you did,” I laughed.

“That Annabelle girl you’ve been training has big shoes to fill. You’ve set a high bar, son.”

Pat had recently begun to refer to me as “son.” It made me feel a small sense of pride that he regarded me so highly, but I made sure never to bring it up. Doing so would make him cease saying it completely.

“She’s a capable substitute, I assure you.”

Pat nodded. “Now go, I can’t bear to look at ya any longer.”

To my surprise, his voice sounded choked. I reached out my hand for him to shake, but he instead pulled me into a brief embrace. “I’ll be back to bother you before you know it,” I said, handing him my apron.

Pat chuckled and jerked his head towards the door. As I pushed it open, he called my name. I looked over my shoulder and he grinned. “If you don’t bring me back some Scottish whiskey, you’re fired.”

*********

Graham was on the phone with Luisa when I got home from the shop. He extended an arm and I wrapped my own around his torso, relaxing into him. Klara babbled cutely in her high chair, her face and clothes covered with the remnants of mashed bananas. She had a tight grip on her teething ring, which she gnawed on constantly nowadays.

“Luisa, I know you want to see Klara, but-no, it’s not a vacation. I promise you, the second we are back on US soil, we will make sure you can see her.”

There was a brief pause and I felt Graham relax a bit. He must have finally managed to convince her. “We will miss you too. Love you- bye.”

He hung up the phone and wrapped his other arm around my shoulders. “I feel so gross about lying to her,” he said, kissing the top of my head.

“Well, it is not as if you have another option,” I said, looking up at him.

“You’re right, but she’s still Klara’s grandmother.” He sighed again and turned his head, smiling at Klara. “What are we going to do about her teeth coming in?”

“Well, I remember William’s nurse giving him coral to suck on when he was Klara’s age. But I also remember he had bloody gums the next time I visited Helwater…”

 

Graham’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “Absolutely not. Any other suggestions?”

“I’m sure Minnie has some of her children’s old teethers. They’re made of silver, so there’s less potential for injury.”

“She’ll probably have teeth by then,” Graham sighed. “I suppose we’ll just have to play it by ear.”

He sat at the table beside Klara and kissed the top of her head. She glanced up at him and dropped her teething ring on the floor.

“Are we going to play ‘Daddy, Pick it Up?’” Graham eyed her and her lip began to quiver. Graham quickly stooped down and retrieved the plastic ring, wiping it on his shirt before handing it back to her. Seconds later, it was back on the floor.

“Is testing Daddy’s patience fun?” I asked her. Klara kicked her feet and giggled as she dropped the ring yet again.

Graham raised his eyebrows at me as the ring once again fell down to his feet. “Why doesn’t she play this lovely game with you?”

“She tried, but after I realized her strategy, I stopped handing it back to her.”

Graham glanced at the toy in his hand, then to Klara. Rather than give it back to her, he placed it on the table beside him. Klara sat in shock for a moment before her face shriveled and she began wailing.

“Did she cry when you did it?” Graham asked, his face wrinkled in concern.

“Yes, but she stopped eventually.”

“You monster,” he laughed. He seemed to consider the option and glanced between us. Sighing, placed the ring back on Klara’s highchair tray. The crying ceased half-a-second later.

“I’m going to have to keep you from spoiling her, aren’t I?” I laughed.

Graham pouted playfully and nodded, reaching down to pick up the ring again.

*********

Six Days

“Which catalogue did you get these from again?” Graham asked, bringing the package inside. Roger ripped the tape off of the top, revealing two different daggers.

“I have a student whose father buys and sells weapons. He seemed surprised when I told him I was in the market, but gave me his dad’s number anyway.”

The blades were of decent size and quality. I inspected one, pulling it out of the sheath. It had clearly been fashioned with modern tools, but such things were only noticeable under close inspection. They would serve our purposes- hopefully. I was still praying that we wouldn’t get into any major altercations.

Graham had pulled his dagger completely out of the sheath and was staring at it intensely. An odd expression spread across his face. I couldn’t tell if it was shock or horror.

I lifted a hand to his cheek, “That blade will remain clean if I have anything to say about it,” I said. Graham swallowed, replacing the sheath .

“I don’t even want to think about it,” he said calmly.

“You dinna have to,” Roger said. “If a moment comes where you need to use it, your instincts will take over.”

“Have you ever-” Graham looked up at Roger, unable to finish his question.

Roger nodded, “Killed someone? Aye, I have once.”

“Did he deserve it?” Graham asked.

“It is hard to think of it as ‘deserving’ death. Such things are unquantifiable. But I do ken that the man I killed gravely dishonored a helpless victim whom I cared for. At least he was able to fight back when I drew my blade, unlike her.”

Graham drew in a breath and nodded. “I hope I never have to draw mine.”

*********

Graham went down the list of errands once more, making check marks as he went.

“Alright, the mail is being forwarded to the MacKenzies, check. Roger has access to our accounts so he can pay the utility and insurance bills, double check. Bags are packed, triple check. Anything else we’re missing?”

I thought for a moment before shaking my head. “I’m sure the second we are through the stones we will think of a hundred-and-one things we missed. Only one comes to mind now.”

“Graham looked over the list again. Mail, bills, luggage, and oh yeah- plane tickets. Everything is all set.”

“I’ve been meaning to discuss it with you actually. I’m not quite sure it’s a concern, really..”

Graham raised his eyebrows. “We’ll see about that. What is it?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I keep on thinking about how I’ll explain my absence and eventual re-departure to William. Would it be foolish for me to tell him the truth?”

Graham pondered my question, running a hand through his hair as he thought. “If you think he’d believe you, it would certainly be preferable to dropping off the face of the Earth. But, from what you’ve told me about him, I’m not sure he would. Hell, most people would be crazy to.”

“What if I had some sort of proof?”

“What, are you planning to show him a photograph? I think he would be more likely to believe it was some form of magic.” Graham certainly wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t risk William coming to such conclusions. It could make him feel that his reputation is at stake.

“No, I couldn’t show him a photograph until he believed me. I was thinking we could try and find something about him, or his life.”

“Like how you convinced me?”

I nodded. “He is, or was, an Earl. He wouldn’t be too hard to find, right?”

Graham shook his head. “Surely there would be something about him in the stacks of the historical libraries at Harvard. But even then, I don’t think you should tell him unless he doesn’t buy any other excuse.”

He was right, but I still couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning William again. I put my head in my hands. After a moment, I could feel the weight of Graham’s hand on my back. “You don’t want him to think you’re dead, is that it?”

“Or worse, that I’ve abandoned him,” I said, feeling a lump in my throat. “I already feel like a horrible father, Graham. I can’t put him through it again.”

“What did you tell him the first time?” Graham asked, rubbing my back softly.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to will away the tears that pricked them at the thought of William reading my letter. “I wrote to him that I was going to Boston and would be unable to send correspondence until further notice.”

“Well, it makes sense given the politics in Boston and your reputation. I’m sure he understood.”

“But he won’t understand when I come back, leave again, and then make no effort to contact him once the war is over. He’ll either think he’s been abandoned or that I’ve died. And it’s clear that he and the rest of my family had reason to question my original alibi. Hal felt the need to post broadsheets across the northern colonies, after all.”

Graham tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. “Hey, look at me.”

I turned my head.

“If you raised him with even half of the love, understanding, respect, and dedication that you give to our daughter, then he knows how lucky he is to have been raised by you. Nevertheless, I’ll stop by the library tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” I said, relaxing into his touch.

*********

Five Days

Graham returned home from the library with a large, yellow envelope tucked beneath his arm.

“Were you able to find anything?” I asked, not sure what I wanted the answer to be.

“Hello to you too, darling. And yes, I’ve made copies of a few promising documents, letters, and passages.”

I was not relieved. Now that telling William the truth was officially a plausibility, I felt my insides churn.

“Thank you, Graham.”

Graham sighed and placed the parcel of documents in one of our satchels, which were currently on the kitchen table. “You only need to tell him if you think he’ll be receptive. Relax, darling.”

I took a deep breath, returning my attention to Klara. I had been in the middle of feeding her dinner when Graham came home. Her mashed peas and carrots dribbled down her chin and she tried to reach for the spoon.

“Alright, angelface. Let’s try and get this bite into your mouth this time.”

“Perhaps she would open her mouth wider if the vehicle carrying it were more exciting,” Graham commented.

I glanced at the ridiculous baby spoon and furrowed my brow. “It’s pink and the handle is covered in ridiculously inaccurate drawings of giraffes. How could it possibly be more exciting?”

Graham rolled his eyes, “I didn’t mean visually. And hey, don’t diss the cartoon giraffes. I happen to think they’re cute.”

I held the spoon up to examine it more closely. “Their heads are larger than their bodies-”

Graham interrupted me, plucking the spoon from my hand. “Step aside and let me show you how it’s done.”

Graham dipped the spoon into the baby food and began maneuvering it in a wave-like motion towards Klara.

“Nreaaaaoor! Here comes the airplane.”

Klara wiggled and opened her mouth fully.

“This is Captain Nowak reporting from flight Alpha Foxtrot 2940. Permission to land? Over.”

I raised a brow. “This is far less efficie-”

“Shush! No comments from the peanut gallery until we have landed safely.”

I was about to ask what in the hell a “peanut gallery” was, but he spoke again.

“This is traffic control to Alpha Foxtrot 2940. You’re all clear to land. Over.”

Graham finally directed the spoon into Klara’s mouth. Miraculously, only a small dribble ended up on her chin. He looked at me proudly. “So what do you think, peanut gallery?”

I crossed my arms. “I prefer the ‘boring’ method, but thank you for the enlightening performance.”

“Speaking of airplanes-”

“I don’t want to think about it,” I said hastily, not wanting a reminder of my fate.

“I was just going to ask if you wanted me to stop by the drugstore and get you some sleeping pills. They might help if you get anxious.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Yes, I suppose that sleeping through the flight is better than panicking for several hours.”

“I’ll pick them up tomorrow.”

*********

Four Days

The last morning in Boston was a flurry of activities. The MacKenzies arrived early in the morning to help us go over the final plans. I had hardly slept the night before, so I sipped my coffee as Roger went over the plan. Jemmy had managed to crawl under the table and slither onto my lap, holding onto me tightly.

“Alright, lads. Your flight tomorrow is at 6 AM, meaning you should try and arrive at the airport by 5. The flight is ten hours long, so that plus the time difference should get you in Aberdeen by 8PM. You have a hotel booked there, and then your train to Inverness leaves at noon the next day. You have your passports?”

Graham and I both nodded. I had been nervous about procuring the document, but my falsified records seemed to have sufficed to the employees at the post-office.

“And you’ve been over the packing list?” Roger asked.

Graham recited the list from memory. “Clothes, courtesy of Bree. Formula for emergencies. 18th century money. Letters from yourself, Bree, and Jem. Photographs and camera locked in the compartment of my satchel. John’s pocket watch. Daggers. Gemstones. Modern clothes to wear in Inverness before we go through the stones. Fountain pen. Books for Jamie. Sonogram of Mandy. Anything else?”

“The documents about Willie,” I said drowsily.

Graham nodded. “Ah yes, and those are already packed. Looks like we have everything in order then.”

“It appears so,” Bree said quietly. She was looking between my face and Jem, who was still clinging to me. I stroked his hair and he looked up at me.
“Why do you and Uncle Graham have to leave?” Jemmy asked.

“To visit your Grandma and Granda. They want to hear all about you. We’ll be back before you know it.”

Graham reached over and rubbed his back, “And soon, you’ll have a baby sister too. When we get back, you’ll get to tell us all about being a big brother.”

“But I’m gonna miss you,” Jem said quietly.

“We’ll miss you too, Jemmy,” I said. I looked up at Bree and Roger. They were smiling, but it was clear that they were feeling similarly to their son.

*********

We spent the rest of the day in the house, a silent agreement amongst us not to discuss how much we’d miss each other. Bree and Roger took turns holding Klara and playing with her while we listened to some of the records that would be dearly missed.

“I wish there was a way to get a record player through the stones,” Graham commented.

“Oi, and be burned for witchcraft the very next day,” Roger laughed. “You’ve got a good voice though, you could always sing the tunes.”

“Hardly,” Graham chuckled.

“Trust me, you’ll realize how much you take for granted after a day or so,” Bree said, setting Klara on the carpet. She had just learned how to wiggle herself across the floor. It was hardly crawling, but she seemed to enjoy the newfound mobility nonetheless.

Roger laughed, “Showers, toothbrushes, liquid soap.”

“Washing machines, refrigerators, cars, running water, aspirin,” Bree added.

“So pretty much everything,” Graham joked. Klara had managed to slither from the couch to the spot on the floor where Graham was seated and rolled onto her back. He tickled her exposed belly and she giggled. “But we’ll at least have this little one to keep us occupied.”

I sighed, enjoying the familial scene before me. I tried not to think about how going through the stones would affect my ability to bond with Klara. Outside of the privacy of the Fraser’s, I would no longer be able to be a father to her. I hadn’t mentioned these concerns to Graham, as he was already stressed enough about raising her in a different century. I brushed the thoughts away. This was my last day in Boston for a year. I would be damned if I didn’t enjoy it.

*********

Three Days

The trip through the airport was a blur. Our bags had been weighed, and I remembered Graham telling me we had to “check” one of our bags because our daggers were over four inches long. I walked through an odd machine, someone checked my passport, and we purchased breakfast and coffee from a small bakery within the airport. Eventually, we were seated by our “gate,” which had a large sign reading “Boston to Aberdeen: 5:00.”

Bree, Roger, and Jemmy had accompanied us to the gate. They were saying something, but I couldn’t quite hear them. I was too busy trying to get my knee to stop bouncing. Graham’s hand was resting on the small of my back and Klara was asleep in my arms, but neither was a comfort at the moment. I watched as the airplanes raced down the strip of pavement, apparently called a “runway,” and went sailing gracefully into the air. The thought of being inside one whilst that occurred made me want to vomit.

“John- John!”

I sat up and looked at Bree, who was now standing. “The plane is going to start boarding soon. It’s time for us to go.” Tears pricked in her eyes and I momentarily forgot about the panic I’d been feeling.

“I’ll see you soon, my dear,” I said, hugging her tightly. Klara was pressed in between us and she squirmed. Bree bent down to kiss her.

“You’re going to be so big when you come back,” she said.

I must have hugged each of them at least three times. Jemmy had to be extracted from around my waist and was hoisted into his father’s arms.

“We will see you soon. Please, be safe,” Roger said.

“We will, we promise,” Graham smiled. He was clearly nervous, but seemed to be holding himself together more than I was.

Jemmy looked over Roger’s shoulder as they walked away, waving. I blew him a kiss, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“I guess it’s just the three of us now,” Graham said. I sniffled and he wrapped an arm around me, holding my close.

*********

Everything the flight attendant was saying as the plane drove its way onto the runway went completely unheard by me. I was shocked by how calm the other passengers seemed. Didn’t they know we were about to die? Graham in particular seemed calm, methodically strapping on both of our seatbelts and listening to the safety speech. He had taken out the camera to take polaroids of the plane and placed it underneath the seat with the rest of the baggage.

Eventually, the flight attendant took her seat. A voice came over the intercom, giving me deja-vu from the last time I heard such a noise. Graham had been by my side then too.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. The weather over our route today is clear and sunny for the most part. The time is now 6 AM and we will be landing in Aberdeen at approximately 8PM. We will take off momentarily, so make sure those seatbelts are nice and tight. Enjoy your flight.”

“Did he sound competent to you?” I asked, nudging Graham.

“Yes, darling. Just hold my hand and try to relax. The takeoff is the hardest part, but after that it’s smooth sailing.”

“If it were sailing, I wouldn’t be so worried.”

The plane began rolling again, slowly but steadily picking up its pace. The sound was overwhelmingly loud and I gripped Graham’s hand as tightly as I could. Suddenly, I felt myself leaning backwards.

“Holy shit,” I whispered, closing my eyes. I felt absurd, and watching the other passengers calmly read their magazines and smoke their cigarettes was not helping. Even Klara seemed unperturbed.

After what felt like a lifetime, I finally opened my eyes. We were still ascending, as evidenced by the general pressure pushing me into my seat, but the force had become bearable. I risked a glance out the window and gasped. I wasn’t sure if it was out of horror or awe.

“We’re flying.”

“It’s cool, right,” Graham said. I released my death grip on Graham’s hand and he audibly sighed. “Thank God. I thought you were going to break my hand.”

I reached for the camera and snapped a photo out the window, trying to stop my hands from shaking as I did so. I wanted to remember this view.

*********

I woke up to the feeling of Graham squeezing my shoulder. It was dark outside of the plane, and many of the other passengers were asleep. The flight attendants were in the process of rousing them.

“We’re landing in 20 minutes. If you need to use the bathroom or anything, now is the time.”

“I was asleep for 10 hours!’ I whispered.

“That’s the magic of sleeping pills, babe. Plus, you’ve been tossing and turning for the past two nights. You must have had a lot of sleep debt.”

I took Graham’s suggestion and made my way to the restroom at the back of the plane. I was barely coherent and still quite groggy. Thankfully, there were directions for how to properly operate the tiny metal toilet and sink on the wall.

When I rejoined Graham, everyone was re-buckling their seat belts. I did so as well, instantly feeling the nerves returning. “So, what did you do while I was asleep?” I asked Graham, trying to distract myself.

“Mostly just tried to take care of Klara and keep her from crying. The only thing harder than using the bathroom in that tiny room is trying to change a cloth diaper on that measly excuse for a changing table. I have a shit covered cloth in my luggage. The flight attendant was kind enough to offer me a plastic bag, at least.”

“Mm,” I mumbled groggily, “Maybe we should keep it. Might be useful.”

*********
Graham collapsed into the bed in the hotel. Klara was beginning to nod off as well. As the most-awake of the three of us, I took it upon myself to feed Klara her bedtime bottle and try to find a proper place for her to sleep. There were two beds in the room, but I was worried she would manage to roll over enough times to fall off. I eventually decided to place her horizontally against the headboard, positioning the pillows and blankets to make a retaining wall around her on the three open sides.

I was still worried about the safety of my make-shift crib, so I poked Graham’s shoulder. “Yes?”

“Do you think Klara will suffocate if we let her sleep in there?”

He turned his head and blinked his eyes open. “Hmmm, probably not, but better safe than sorry. He stood from the bed and grabbed some of our luggage, pushing the edges of the retaining wall slightly further from Klara and lining the interior with leather bags. “There, she’ll be okay that way. She doesn’t have anything too soft around her now.”

“I feel so underprepared,” I said, leaning into Graham.

“Well, how do people travel with babies in your time? Surely we can’t be any worse than them, right?”

“They didn’t travel with babies, or at least they avoided it. The first month before we get to London will be difficult.”

“Well, at least we know everything will be okay, right?” Graham shrugged and pulled off his shirt. “I’m going to go take a shower before bed.”

I nodded and he disappeared into the bathroom. Klara had managed to fall asleep in her makeshift crib and I felt momentary relief. Despite our inevitable worrying, she would make it through the 18th century; Jamie’s journaling was proof of that.

After a moment, I heard the shower come on. Graham popped his head out of the bathroom and winked. “You coming?”

*********

Two Days

The train ride from Aberdeen to Inverness was quite relaxing. Klara slept through most of it and there were very few passengers. I watched the rolling hills rise and fall beside the tracks. Scotland hadn’t changed much since I had been here last. Sure, the cities were modern, but the history was as present as it had ever been. It was oddly refreshing after a year in America.

“When was the last time you were in Scotland?” Graham asked. He had a talent for reading my mind.

“Oh, it was a lifetime ago. I was warden of a prison about a decade after the ‘46.”

“Surely a Lord from London had better things to do after Culloden than run a prison,” Graham said, clearly surprised.

“I did, but sadly going to Ardsmuir was not my choice. My brother, he uh, suspected something was occurring between me and a man named George Everett. He sent me there to separate us and avoid a scandal.”

“Was there something between you two?” Graham teased.

“Of course there was. But trust me, you do not have to worry about George, or any of my former lovers for that matter.”

“How can I be so sure?” Graham was clearly teasing, but I decided to humor him anyway. It was a long train ride, so I might as well take advantage of the time.

“George is dead. I won’t bore you with the details, but he attempted to murder me. Luckily, a friend of mine was there to prevent him from doing so.”

Graham raised his eyebrows. “A friend? Or a *friend*?”

“Ha! You’ll meet Harry Quarry at some point, I’m sure of it. His gaze is certainly drawn towards the fairer sex.”

“Alright, then will I ever meet any of your exes?”

“Why on Earth would you desire that?” I asked, somewhat confused.

“So that I can feel reassured that I’m better than them.”

I rolled my eyes. “Machismo is not a good look on you, my dear.”

Graham seemed to consider this, nodded, but continued to press me. “Tell you what, I’ll tell a story about an ex if you tell me one.”

Graham and I had never really delved into each other’s romantic past. We had never felt the need to. But for the sake of curiosity, I accepted his offer.

“Well, I feel that I have already told you about a few. You just heard about George, and I’ve mentioned Percy.”

“Was he the cheater?”

“Yes, that’s the one. And I mentioned Hector, my first lover, quite a while ago.”

Graham seemed to think for a moment, perhaps trying to recall when I’d mentioned him. “I do remember you mentioning him, but it was before I knew you were from the past. You mentioned he was a fellow soldier who died in battle?”

“Yes, at Culloden. He was my first love.”

“Do you think about him much?”

I shook my head. “Not often. Every once in a while, something will remind me of him. But I was a different person back then than I am now. We were hardly more than children when we were together. Although I kept his ring for years, I gave it to Jamie. I think he used it to send the MacKenzies back through the stones, now that I think about it.”

Graham nodded, listening intently. “What was he like?”

I smiled, “Kind, brave, handsome. He was the best first love I could have asked for. When he died, I thought I’d never love again. But clearly, I was wrong.”

“Because of Jamie?”

I chuckled. “I was thinking about you, but sure. I loved Jamie too, but that was different. I knew he’d never reciprocate my feelings. I merely admired the way he loved his wife.”

“Okay but like, you were attracted to him too, right?”

“That was part of it,” I laughed. “But not after I saw him with Claire. I envied the life they shared together. Even if Hector had lived, I never would have had that. It just wasn’t possible given the time.”

“Do you think you have that with me?”

“I know I do.”

Graham smiled, looking down into his lap at Klara. “I know I was just teasing you earlier about your exes and stuff. But it’s still nice to hear.”

I rubbed my hand on his shoulder, “Of course, love. Now, I do believe that a fair exchange was promised? I think it’s only suitable that you tell me about your first love.”

Graham smiled awkwardly, seeming a bit shy. It was a rare expression on him.

“My first love, eh? Well, I met him on a train and I accidentally fell asleep on him.”

“That has happened to you more than once?” I said, baffled.

Graham laughed. “I know you’re not an idiot, John.”

I raised my eyebrows when I realized, somewhat shocked. “Me? You can’t be serious.”

Graham looked down, and it became clear to me that this wasn’t merely a joke.

My expression softened and I put my hand back on his shoulder, “Sorry, my love. I’m just a bit surprised. Never?”

Graham leaned his head back on the seat. “Pathetic, right?”

“No, it’s not pathetic. It’s actually quite the opposite.”

Graham sighed and sat up again. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in relationships before. I’ve had a lot of sex. I thought I was in love with a few of them. But I realized when I met you that I’d never actually been in love before.”

I smiled, feeling not only endeared, but quite flattered as well. “Is it everything you hoped it would be?”

Graham smiled back at me, relaxing into my touch. “It’s more than I could have ever dreamed of. You’re my soulmate, John.”

I almost kissed him right then and there, with everyone watching. Luckily, the intercom came on in time to distract me. “Next stop, Inverness!”

“Saved by the bell,” Graham winked.

“Wh-”

“And before you ask what that means, it’s boxing slang.”

*********

“Oh, isn’t she she a darlin’ lass,” Mrs. McIntyre, the hostess of the bed and breakfast, said as we checked in. “Alexander!” she called. A man about her age came into the foyer.

“Oh, look at the bonnie wee lassie! Reminds me of our granddaughter,” he said, looking up at Graham.

“Alright, fellas. You have a room up the stairs. Alex, bring in a roll-away for them please. We dinna want to make them sleep in the same bed.” They both laughed and Graham and I laughed along with them, not wanting to risk having to find another place to stay.

“We have a spare crib here as well. We used to use it when our granddaughter was wee. It’s yours for the night.”

“Thank you, Mr. McIntyre,” Graham said cordially.

“Och, call me Alex lad. We’ll bring your bags up. You go see the sights now, aye?”

Rather than “see the sights,” Graham and I spent the afternoon searching the small city for shops and taverns that might be useful once we went through the stones. The task was not difficult, especially since the historical buildings all had large plaques on them describing the history of the property. By dinnertime, we’d managed to find two different taverns, an inn, a blacksmith, and a hat shop.

“Add that to the list,” Graham said. “I don’t want to be the only man in the 18th century without a proper hat.”

*********

The Final Moments

The cab ride to Craigh Na Dun was not particularly long, but it somehow seemed to stretch for hours as we wound through the hills of the Highlands. Graham held onto Klara tightly and I gave his arm a short squeeze. We were both tense, but now it was my turn to guide Graham through a world that was new to him.

Eventually, the stones appeared atop a hill in the distance. The grey stood out against the pale blue sky, growing as we made our way closer and closer.

Eventually, the driver pulled off to the side of the road at the base of the hill. We paid him and he nodded, driving off. Graham watched the car as it sped down the road.

“Well, that’s the last of the modern technology,” Graham said as the taillights disappeared over a hill.

“We still have the camera.”

Graham nodded and looked up the hill, adjusting Klara on his hip in preparation for the climb.

The buzzing began as a soft hum as we approached the stones, but grew in intensity once we were atop the hill. Klara buried her face into Graham’s chest, clearly nervous about the haunting noise.

We unpacked the clothes Bree had made for us and changed in silence. I smiled at the sight of Graham, who honestly looked quite dashing in the 18th century garb. Klara did too, her bonnet framing her face cutely. Graham noticed my expression and smiled back, a momentary break in the tension as we took each other in.

I held three of the gems tightly in my hand feeling the pull of the center stone as they touched my skin. With our luggage secured tightly and Klara firmly in Graham’s grip, I held out my palm full of stones to Graham.

Klara’s stone, a small ruby, was placed securely into a small pocket on the front of her dress. She turned her head, looking towards the center stone. I was both relieved and horrified that she too felt the pull. She had no way of knowing what it meant.

“I’m ready,” Graham said quietly. I nodded, beckoning him to come closer to the stone. He did so tentatively, wincing at the increase in volume of the humming.

My arm wrapped snugly around his waist, grabbing a hold of the strap of his satchel. “For the love of God,” I whispered to myself, “don’t let go.”

We joined our free hands in the middle, grasping Klara’s tiny fist between them. Our hands were inches from the rough surface. I looked instinctively at Graham, meeting his gaze. I had never seen him so terrified.

“We already know we will make it through.”

I felt him push my hand and the coolness of the rock. Suddenly, I was falling.

Chapter Text

August 1778

Prior to traveling back through the stones, one of the only remaining comforts was that I had done it before. I knew what it felt like. I had been desensitized.

I also couldn’t have been more wrong.

Perhaps it was because I was not alone this time. I had not calculated for the weight of Graham on top of me as I felt the thud of the hard Earth on my back. The wind had been knocked out of me and I gasped as Graham rolled off onto the ground, Klara thankfully having remained unscathed in his arms.

Graham was certainly not comfortable either. Moments after he rolled off of me, Klara was foist onto my chest and I heard retching a few feet away.

“What-” he tried to speak, but was interrupted by another spout of vomiting. “The fuck!” Graham finished. “Why didn’t you warn me?!”

“There is no way to adequately prepare oneself for the horror that is going through the stones,” I said, analyzing Klara. Her face was twisted in confusion, as if she had no idea whether she should laugh or cry.

“You’re alright, angelface,” I said. Seeing my calm expression, her lip stopped trembling.

“‘Horror’ is an understatement,” Graham said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He reached for the satchel to retrieve his water, taking a small sip to wash out his mouth.

I eventually stood up to survey the surrounding area. Sure enough, a dirt road painted the landscape where the asphalt one had been just minutes prior.

“Well, we made it,” I said, helping Graham up.

“It doesn’t look very different,” Graham said.

“That’s what I said when I arrived in 1977.”

I handed Klara to Graham in exchange for his satchel. I felt somewhat like a pack-mule, but it was preferable to carrying a child in my arms for miles.

“Do you think we’ll have to walk all the way to Inverness?” Graham asked.

I nodded. There was no “Ty” to save us from the walk ahead.

********

“Remind me why I agreed to this?” Graham said after about an hour of walking. The August heat was beating down on us heavily and sweat dripped from his brow. Klara was clearly in discomfort too, whining and whimpering from the heat and hunger.

“Because you love me more than you love air conditioning.”

“Shouldn’t we be in Inverness by now? The cab driver said it was an hour long walk.”

“We’re nearly there. You can see it from here.”

Graham furrowed his brow and looked around. Eventually, he managed to spot the stone buildings poking up a few miles in the distance.

 

“I knew it would look different. I just was expecting it to be so-”

“Small?’

Graham nodded, hoisting up Klara farther up his hip. She cried in response, clearly frustrated by her current discomfort.

“Should we use some of the formula?” I asked.

Graham shook his head. “We can’t waste it. She’ll be okay, we’ll get there soon enough.

As we continued walking, I could hear the steady thump of hoofbeats coming from behind us. From the sound of it, there must have been three or four horses. Graham heard them too, turning around to look.

The red dressing of the soldiers was a sight for sore eyes, but I felt my stomach drop.

“Will they recognize you?” Graham asked.

“I hardly think so, but I don’t doubt they’ll ask us questions. We could look suspicious in their eyes. You remember your backstory, right?”

“And you remember how terrible I am at acting, right?”

“It wouldn’t be acting, per say. Just let me do most of the talking and don’t stop walking until they catch up to us.”

The soldiers rode up beside us about half-a-minute later. “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

“Good afternoon,” I replied, removing my hat. Graham did the same.

“An Englishman? Whatever are you doing walking the roads of the Highlands?”

“I was here to visit an acquaintance, but I came across this gentleman and his child being robbed of their horse and belongings. I helped to fend them off, but we were poorly outnumbered. The bastards took off with the rest of the belongings and our horses. We were hoping to take the stagecoach from Inverness to London.”

The lieutenant nodded. “We were called up here to keep an eye out for criminals such as the ones you speak of. There have been several reports in the past few weeks of similar incidents.”

“Well, we thank you for your service,” Graham said, nodding to him.

The lieutenant took kindly to Graham’s gratitude. “I only wish we could have caught the bastards before they attacked you. What kind of man would rob an innocent child? How is she fairing?”

“Not well,” Graham said. Klara punctuated his statement with a whine. “She hasn’t had a proper meal in a while.” He was only half-lying, although his tone made it sound as though Klara hadn’t eaten in days, not hours.

“Please, allow us to accompany you the rest of the way to Inverness.” The lieutenant dismounted his horse and walked alongside us.

“We are most grateful for your protection, Lieutenant-”

“Cunningham. I apologize for my lack of manners. And you are?”

“William Grey. And this is Graham Nowak and his daughter, Klara.”

“Might I ask of the child’s mother? It’s dangerous to separate mother and child at such a young age,” the Lieutenant noted.

“I’m afraid it was not by choice. My wife fell ill and she...she’s no longer with us. God rest her soul.”

I was beginning to think that Graham was merely being humble in regards to his acting skills, because the lieutenant seemed touched. “God rest her soul indeed. My condolences to you and your daughter, Mr. Nowak. You must join us at the tavern, we will ensure Miss Nowak is provided with proper sustenance.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Cunningham.”

The lieutenant nodded to Graham and we continued down the road. As we approached Inverness, the familiar smell of sewage filled my nostrils. I had been accustomed to it at one time, but now I had to consciously prevent myself from wrinkling my nose. I could tell Graham was thinking the same thought.

The odor subsided as Lieutenant Cunningham and his soldiers led us into a tavern. The smell of lunch being prepared made my mouth water. I had been too nervous to eat this morning and I felt the familiar pang of hunger clawing at my insides.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” said the barkeep. “Sit on over there and I’ll bring ye somethin’ from the kitchen. The cook is making lamb and boiled potatoes.”

While the soldiers made themselves comfortable, I followed Graham to the bar.

“Excuse me, sir,” Graham said.

“What can I do you lads for?” The barkeep asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Well, you see, my daughter is in need of something to eat. Is there anything the cook can do for her?”

The barkeep took a look at Klara, furrowing his brow. “Aye, we have some goat’s milk in the back. I can ask the cook to mash it in with some of the potatoes so they’re not too thick for the wee lassie. My wife made it for my son when he was wee.”

“Thank you, sir. That is very kind of you.”

“Och, dinna mention it. I wouldna let a bairn starve.”

We joined the soldiers at the table. Lieutenant Cunningham looked up from his ale and smiled. He was a young fellow, probably about the same age as William.

“So, gentlemen, is there anything you can tell me about these thieves you encountered? Anything that may help me identify the culprit?”

I felt Graham stiffen beside me. It would probably be best if I took the lead. “Well, I’m afraid the hour was late, so their features were unclear. Their accents were Scotch-”

“They always are,” Lieutenant Cunningham said, rolling his eyes. “Anyways, if they stole your horses I reckon they have probably made good distance by now.”

“Indeed, my apologies for a lack of information about them. What with the light and being armed with nothing but daggers-”

“Those bastards! Have they no shame attacking men who are practically unarmed?”

I shrugged. “Well, one could say neither of us was wise in traveling the roads without a proper weapon.”

“True, and it isn’t wise to continue without one either. You mentioned you planned to take a stagecoach all the way to London?”

“As a last resort, I’m afraid so,” I said, taking a sip of the ale in front of me. “But I can only be grateful that I have a new traveling companion to keep me company.”

“A silver lining indeed,” Lieutenant Cunningham said.

One of the other soldiers, who had generally been taking amongst themselves, leaned over and whispered to Lieutenant Cunningham. A small smile played on his face and he nodded, glancing back at Graham and I.

“A stagecoach is no suitable place for a child, don’t you think? She would have to go hours without proper tending.”

I could tell Lieutenant Cunningham was leading to something. “Well, it is the best we can do at the moment, I’m afraid.”

“Wrong, Mr. Grey. A couple of my cadets are heading back to London, from which they will be transported to the colonies.” The lieutenant took a breath, seeming envious of his underlings, “I have been reminded there is room in the carriage. It is yours, if you so choose.”

I was surprised by the offer, especially having known Lieutenant Cunningham for no more than an hour. “We truly appreciate the offer, Lieutenant. Are you sure it would be no imposition on your men?”

Lieutenant Cunningham waved a hand in dismissal. “I cannot allow fine men of English blood such as yourselves continue to suffer, especially not if I can remedy it with very little inconvenience for myself or my men. Besides, it is the least I can do having failed to capture those bandits.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” Graham spoke up. “It will not be forgotten.”

“Indeed,” I added, “We are indebted to you. Might I ask which regiment you serve?”

“The 42nd,” Lieutenant Cunningham stated.

“I will put in a good word for you once we reach London,” I said.

Lieutenant Cunningham raised his brow, “Have you connexions, Mr. Grey?”

“A few, and I will be sure to tell them of your nobility and dedication to the protection of those you serve. Perhaps they could be convinced that your talents would be better suited somewhere other than the Highlands?”

Lieutenant Cunningham’s face lit up, but I could tell he was trying to hide it. “I would be most grateful for your recommendation, Mr. Grey. The coach for the men leaves at dawn tomorrow.”

*********

“Are we sure we want to do this?” Graham’s nerves had yet to settle from the encounter with the Lieutenant. He paced back and forth across the room, clutching Klara to him.

“Sit down my dear. You’ve nearly tripped over the cot twice now.”

Graham didn’t hear me and continued to pace, once again catching his foot on the cot the maid had brought into our room. “At least on a stagecoach, we won’t be expected to speak to anyone.”

“It will take longer and be more costly. Plus, what Lieutenant Cunningham said about it being an unfit place for children was not inaccurate. Klara would be miserable.”

He looked down at the sleeping bundle in his arms. Klara, apparently a fan of goat milk and potato, had fallen into a food-induced slumber.

“I was pathetic today, John. I hardly said a word all through lunch. And I was hardly better with the shopkeepers this afternoon.”

“You did fantastically, my love. You were polite and gracious. You merely came off as shy, not rude or awkward.”

Graham sighed, laying Klara carefully onto the cot and sitting beside her. “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve never seen you so- so- charming? But that doesn’t even quite describe it. You have a certain heir about you here.”

I raised a brow. “It is because I understand the game that is socialization here. In your time, I felt like a blubbering idiot.”

“That’s how I feel now.” Graham looked up at me from the floor. I could see him relax a bit, but his forehead was still wrinkled in concern.

I slid myself off of the bed, kneeling in front of the cot. “You have my empathy, Graham. Just trust that I won’t let anything bad happen to you or Klara.”

“Well, I know that,” Graham said, picking at the loose threads on the quilt. “I’m more concerned that I’ll screw something up and hurt you.”

I put a hand over his. He stopped fidgeting and squeezed my fingers. “Look at me. You are far more prepared than you think you are, okay? If I had even a shred of doubt about your abilities to be safe here, we would still be in 1978.”

I could tell Graham was trying to hold back tears. He was generally fairly open with his emotions, but something was still holding him back. “It’s okay to be overwhelmed, Graham.”

“I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, I’m not going to let myself fall apart.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you didn’t. Even when you first came through the stones, you were so put together.”

I laughed and stroked his hair. He gave me a confused look. “What?”

“Do you genuinely think I was ‘put together’ when I first got to your time?”

Graham shrugged. “You never seemed to be otherwise.”

I smiled. “That’s because I knew that from your perspective, I had no reason to be. I hid all of my fear and confusion from you. I cried the first couple of nights too. Bree’s silk blouse still has tear stains on it.”

Graham sniffled and looked up at me, “Really? I never would have been able to tell.”

I nodded. “Also, she spent several hours training me how to use the phone and how to ask you on a date properly. She even took me to dinner and a movie the night before so I could know what to expect. It wasn’t until I told you the truth that you became my 20th century tour guide.”

Graham laughed. “I guess Bree did most of the heavy-lifting there. Thank you for telling me that, I feel less pathetic now.”

“You are many things, my love, but ‘pathetic’ is not one of them.” I kissed his forehead. “Now, we have a long day tomorrow. Best get some rest.”

*********

The soldiers we were accompanying, Officers Charles and Leslie, were surprisingly chatty. I had anticipated a quiet ride, especially after the impression they had given the day before. But now, they had a myriad of questions. Graham tried to be more responsive, but I could tell he was getting flustered.

“What is your business in London?” Leslie asked. “We won’t be staying there for more than a fortnight ourselves.”

“Well,” I said, pondering for a moment, “I am going to visit my family before setting sail to the colonies myself.”

“What about you, Mr. Nowak? Got any big plans in London?”

Graham shook his head. “No-no. I’m afraid I will not stay there for long. My family is from the colony of Pennsylvania. After my wife passed, I decided it would be best to raise Klara close to them.”

Charles nodded solemnly. “It is a real shame about your wife.”

Graham gave him a brief smile, prompting Leslie to continue with the informal interrogation.

“So, Mr. Grey, you mentioned yesterday that you have connexions in London? Any we may have heard of?”

I had decided it would be best to avoid giving them too many details about my ties to London, lest they realize my nobility and ask about my true identity. “I was in the military for a significant portion of my life. I’ve remained in contact with a few of my former colleagues.”

“What was your rank?” Charles asked.

“I made my way up the ranks over time. I was a Major in my final years, although I had a short tenure.”

“Which regiment?” Leslie raised a brow. “My father was in the 46th back in his army days.”

Shit. I could see the wheels turning in Leslie’s head and the half-hidden smirk on Charles’ face confirmed my worst fears. I could feel the momentary panic flash on my face, but I hadn’t managed to smother it before Charles took notice of my expression.

He bent down and reached under his seat retrieving a folded parchment from his bag. He tossed it onto my lap and I opened it. The words “Urgent: Missing Person” were printed boldly above my portrait.

“The Duke chose wisely in hiring the artist for your portrait. Your likeness has been captured perfectly.” Leslie grinned, a manic look flashing in his eyes.

“How long have you known?” I said, trying to sound calm.

“These broadsheets have been posted nearly a year. I’m sure half of England has your face memorized by now, my Lord,” Leslie said.

“And Lieutenant Cunningham?” Graham asked. I glanced in his direction. His face had paled slightly, and I could tell he was panicking. I wanted nothing more than to grab his hand and squeeze, but I instead placed my hand on my own knee. It was all I could do to fight my instinct to comfort him.

“Oh, the poor bloke hasn’t the mind to remember faces. He’s unaware of your identity.”

Well, at least I hadn’t been completely fooled. These lads had been wise to keep their mouths shut yesterday. I only felt bad for the poor lieutenant, having been unknowingly roped into a dishonorable scheme.

“Well, you’ve got us here now. What is your plan?” I asked,

“Simple,” Leslie said, crossing his arms, “We return you to the Duke and get the reward.”

“And what makes you think I will corroborate whatever lie you have concocted to convince him you deserve such a thing?”

Charles once again reached into his bag, extracting a pistol. “I think this will do for now.”

Graham’s breath hitched next to me.

“And don’t even think about yelling. The driver is getting a cut.”

“Have you no honor?” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I looked Charles in the eyes, but I could still see the glint of the gunmetal in his lap. “Drawing such a weapon on men who are insufficiently armed? With a child, nonetheless?”

“And what do you plan to do about it?”

*********

The feeling of the bark against my back and the robes against my wrists was all too familiar. I could hear Graham squirming behind me, his clenched fists digging into my lower back. Klara lay on the ground comfortably to my left, belly full and sleeping soundly.

“It’s not worth it, Graham,” I said, exasperated, “Despite being idiots, these boys do know a thing or two about tying knots. Perhaps they would have been better suited for the navy.”

“Well, I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the proper etiquette for being kidnapped, John.”
Nevertheless, the squirming behind me ceased. “What are we supposed to do then?”

“Well, luckily our kidnappers are hubris-filled imbeciles. Had they any sense, they would have kept their mouths shut about knowing who I was until we got to London. Fortunately for us, they were too proud of the minor accomplishment of getting us in a carriage with them to think about the consequences of telling us we were hostages with a month left in our journey.”

“How does that help us? Sure, we can talk about escaping all we’d like, but as long as we’re tied to a tree it won’t do us any good.”

“True, it won’t happen tonight. In fact, it may be wise of us to only attempt escape if they threaten us. Plus, they are making every mistake they could possibly make. They clearly didn’t think this through and they’re too proud to realize it.”

Graham huffed. “Well, at least they were nice enough to leave Klara here.”

I nodded, although he couldn’t see me. “That was their first mistake. She’s the one thing we wouldn’t leave behind, and they have left her within our reach. They also tied us to the same tree, making it easy for us to plot an emergency plan.”

“What if they go through our luggage?”

That was a legitimate concern. We had our coin and the remaining gemstones tucked away in the hidden pockets Bree had sewn into our ensembles, but the camera and other items from the future were currently strapped to the boot of the carriage.

“Well, they haven’t seemed to think to do it yet. We will just need to find a way to sneak the smaller items into our pockets. Hopefully, they don’t figure out the combination of the compartment to find the camera.”

I could feel Graham shrug beside me. “Doesn’t look like they’re putting too much effort into it,” he said. He was right- the cadets and the driver were already sleeping soundly by the fire a couple dozen yards away.

“Graham,” I whispered.

“Yeah, John?”

“I’m sorry I got us into this mess.”

I heard him sigh. “This isn’t your fault, John.”

“It is, though. I swore I would protect you and Klara, and now look where we are.”

“We’re uninjured, and that’s all that matters right now. We’ll be okay.”

Graham was right. There was no risk of bodily harm, at least not yet. That didn’t prevent me from feeling responsibility. Graham and Klara were under my protection, and I would stop at nothing to keep it that way.

********

We spent the next few weeks planning and preparing for an contingency plan for an emergency escape. Despite it being the original obvious choice, we decided against bribing the driver. We couldn’t risk him alerting his co-conspirators to our plot.

The plan took final form as we got closer and closer to London. Our captors were fairly lenient given the circumstances, allowing us to exit the carriage unattended every so often to change Klara or relieve ourselves. We had managed to collect most of our smaller valuables from the baggage, which those idiots hadn’t even touched since we left Inverness.

Usually, the men would go straight to bed after tying us up. One night, about three weeks into our journey, Leslie and Charles stayed up later than usual. They made no effort to be quiet about their conversation, probably assuming we couldn’t hear them from such a distance.

“I know we need to keep John Grey around, but the other two are just a waste of supplies,” I heard Charles say. “Why can’t we just set them free?”

Leslie sighed. “Because he could come back and free John, or even go warn the Duke! You’re quite dim-witted, did you know that?”

Charles huffed. “Well, we could at least leave the baby behind. She’s annoying.”

“I won’t leave her to starve, nor will I release her father,” Leslie said. I felt Graham relax a bit, knowing that Klara would be safe.

But Leslie continued speaking. “But you’re right. We don’t have enough provisions to make it to London. And we can’t risk stopping anywhere. Spare the child, but kill her father when we reach the river. We can dump his body there and be rid of him.”

My stomach sunk and I felt Graham tense behind me. “Tomorrow night?”

I couldn’t see him, but I knew Graham was nodding.

*********

The next day, I managed to shove our daggers, which we’d been keeping in the backpacks, into the sides of my boots. I had needed to remove them from the sheaths so they’d fit, causing them to cut slightly into my calves as I slid them down. The cuts weren’t too deep, at least I didn’t think so, but I could still feel the blood dripping down my ankles when I sat back down inside the carriage.

As per the routine, the cadets tied us up a few dozen yards from the camp and laid Klara to sleep beside us. I had made sure to flex my wrists as much as I could whilst they tied me, allowing for a small amount of give when I relaxed them. The plan hinged on my ability to extract myself from the ropes whilst they slept.

“Do you think you can get them loose?” Graham whispered. With the men asleep, I had begun to wriggle my wrists.

“Scoot forward a bit,” I whispered back, “I need more space to move my hands and your back is in the way.”

Graham slid his bottom along the ground, wincing at the discomfort. I managed to get the ropes half-way off of my palms and I leaned forwards, pulling my hands as hard as I could.

I gasped as my hands suddenly broke free from the bindings, scraping against the rough bark painfully as I fell forwards. The daggers in my boots dug further into my calf and I bit my lip, trying not to make a sound.

I reached into the top of the first boot, biting my forearm to keep from yelling in pain as the blade slid through the already-wounded flesh. The second dagger was slightly less painful to extract, perhaps due to the adrenaline that was pumping through me.

After undoing the bindings at my feet, I cut Graham free.

“Is that blood?” he whispered as I handed him his dagger.

“Just a small cut,” I lied. My stockings were soaked through now, causing a squishing feeling beneath my feet as I stood. I tried not to wince. The last thing I needed was for Graham to be distracted by having to worry about me.

While Graham carefully scooped up Klara, I tiptoed to the carriage. The men were only a few feet from it, so I had to be especially careful not to make a noise. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears as I loosened the fastenings of the luggage, pulling out the three bags and strapping them to myself.

I was about to turn to leave when I heard a noise behind me and froze. My hand tightened on the handle of my dagger, but the familiar click and feeling of cold metal on the back of my head caused my grip to loosen.

I hadn’t heard the driver get up, but I could feel his breath on my neck as he whispered. My mind was racing with choices about how to defend myself.

“Drop the dag- erg!”

The pistol dropped to the ground and I turned around. The driver’s eyes were wide and he gasped. Hastily, I covered his mouth to stifle him and he fell to the ground. Graham stood behind him, Klara balanced on his hip and his dagger in-hand.

He dropped it to the ground, hand shaking violently as he looked down in horror at the driver and the pool of blood forming around him.

I gripped the handle of my own blade, stooping down. “Look away, my love,” I whispered.

I slid my blade sharply across the driver’s neck.

“Did I kill him?” Graham whispered shakily.

“One of us did, but now there is no way of telling who,” I replied. I handed him his backpack and picked up the discarded dagger. “Don’t let yourself think, just breath.”

We quickly maneuvered our way to where the horses were tied up, the cadets’ riding gear discarded at the base of the tree they were tethered to. I had to help Graham with the fastenings, as his hands were shaking and he was unwilling to let go of Klara. Silent tears fell down his cheeks and I wiped one away. I touched my forehead to his. “Breath.”

I managed to extract Klara from his arms, being more skilled at steering one-handed. He nearly cried out as I did so, but brought his own hand up to his mouth to stop himself. The gesture left a smear of the driver’s blood on his face and he gagged.

“Hold it in,” I whispered, mounting the horse.

Graham didn’t respond, continuing to gag as he took the saddle.

“Ready?”

Graham gripped the reigns.

“Hyah!” I kicked the horses side and we took off, galloping past the camp and onto the road. I could hear the shouts of Leslie and Charles, awakened by the hoofbeats, growing quieter as we sped down the dirt road. There were a few gunshots, but we were well out of range.

Graham leaned over, managing to vomit off to the side of the horse. Now a safe distance from the camp, the adrenaline began to wear off. He retched again and my grip on Klara tightened, my vision obscured by the forming tears.

*********

We rode in silence through the night, ensuring a good distance between us and the cadets. Eventually, we came across a river where we could water the horses. My legs ached as I dismounted and my arm had grown fatigued from clutching Klara so tightly.

I decided to hazard a glance at Graham. The driver’s blood still stained his face, only now there were streaks of tears running through brown smudge.

I laid Klara on the grass by the riverbank and sat beside her, peeling off my blood-filled boots. The wounds had been throbbing painfully, but I had managed to ignore them until now. I heard Graham gasp behind me.

“John, your legs,” he choked. The strain in his voice caused a lump to form in my throat. “Let me see-”

“You’ve seen enough tonight,” I said, pulling my legs into myself. “I’ve already failed you enough, I don’t need to force you to nurse me on top of that.”

I turned my attention to Klara, who was fast asleep already. We had managed to stop a few times to change and feed her some of the formula, but she still cried from fatigue for most of the ride.

Graham stood over me. “Look at me, John.”

I couldn’t. The blood on his face was too unbearable to look at. Looking in his eyes would be even worse.

“Fucking say something!” Graham yelled. He didn’t sound angry, but the pain in his voice dug into my soul.

“I have failed you,” I said quietly. “I told you that your blade would remain clean, and now-”

“I swear to God, if you blame yourself for this-”

“How could I not?!” I finally looked up at him.

Graham sat beside me and dug through his bag, pulling out the bar of soap Bree had made us bring. “What, do you want me to be angry with you?”

“Yes- ow!” I winced as he pulled off my stockings, inspecting the wounds.

“Sorry-” he said, “just hold still. And no, I’m not going to be mad at you. It’s not your fault that the driver is-,” he paused, “-was… a light sleeper.”

I could feel my lip quiver. He was right, it wasn’t my fault. This mess was simply caused by bad luck. “I’m still sorry,” I choked.

He leaned forward to look at my face. “I know that, John. All I need is for you to be here for me, okay? This self-pity bullshit just makes me feel worse about... what I did.” He struggled to say the last few words, his breath hitching.

The soap fell out of Graham’s grip into the grass and his hands began to shake again. I pulled his head into my lap, stroking his hair. He wasn’t crying, but I could feel him shake as he gasped for air. I ran my hand up and down his back, waiting for the spout of panic to end.

“You saved my life, Graham,” I whispered when the shaking stopped. I retrieved the soap from the grass, lathering some into my hands before rubbing it on his mouth. He sat up, stooping over the riverbank to rinse away the dried blood.

I joined him, rinsing the soap from my legs. It stung, but the wounds looked far less severe once they were cleaned. I would maybe need a few stitches once we reached London, but I would be okay with simple bandages for now.

The morning sun began to beat down and I could feel the sweat drip down my brow. Graham eyed me as I peeled off the sweat-stained layers, which hadn’t been removed in several days. I carefully waded into the river, rubbing the soap on not only my dirty linens, but also over my hair and body.

Graham looked between me and Klara, who was still sleeping. “She’ll be fine,” I said. He nodded, following my lead and stripping off his clothes and washing them before laying them down to dry on a rock beside mine.

I came up behind him, kissing the back of his shoulder. My lips hadn’t touched his skin once since we came through the stones and I could hear his breath hitch. “Is this okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” he whispered. “ I reached up to his head, massaging his scalp with my soapy hands and working my way down his body.

“Just let yourself relax, love.” I pulled him further into the water until we were both waist-deep, rinsing the bubbles from his skin. They floated down the current of the river, leaving a trail of white suds.

I tilted my head up, brushing my lips over his. Graham bent down and scooped his arms beneath my thighs, joining our lips gently. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss.

I hadn’t realized just how starved I had been of his touch until now. I could feel his cock pressing into me as we explored each other’s mouths. I didn’t even have to ask before it was inside me. It hurt at first, but I relaxed quickly into his length. The water had left me chilled, but now the heat inside of me caused me to break into a sweat.

With the river bearing most of my weight, it was easy for Graham to keep me elevated as I rolled my hips back and forth. It had been so long since we had made love that it only took a couple of minutes for us to become undone. Graham cried out in pleasure and I could feel him throb deep inside of me.

He didn’t let go once we stopped, instead pushing his face into the crook of my neck. We remained joined together, even after his erection had subsided. He needed to be close to me.

After a quarter of an hour, I stroked his head and pulled away from the embrace. He was shivering from the cold of the river and, as much as I empathize with him, he needed to let the warm air rid him of the chill. “Let’s not catch cold, my dear.”

He nodded into my shoulder, setting me down onto the rocky bottom of the river. He turned to make his way back to the bank, but I caught his arm.

“I love you, always,” I looked into his eyes as I spoke, but he looked down at the water.

“Even now?”

I squeezed his arm. “Until the day I die, and I especially won’t stop just because you defended my life. You’re not getting rid of me without a hitman, Nowak.”

To my surprise, he cracked a small smile. “Hey, that’s my line.”

Chapter Text

October 1778

We spent the remaining few weeks of the journey camping, for the most part. There were a few inns and taverns along the way, as we were on the main road, where we managed to purchase enough food to supply us until the next stop.

I was always nervous about entering these establishments, in case Leslie and Charles had made our conflict public knowledge. If they were smart, which they were assuredly not, they would keep their lips sealed. So far, it seemed that they had. None of the innkeepers or fellow travelers seemed suspicious of us. I could only hope that, if they did break the news, we would be able to make it to London before it caught up to us. There, we would have the protection of Hal and Minnie.

We were currently seated in the taproom of an inn about three days ride from London. Graham was attempting to feed Klara some mashed up concoction provided by the servant maid. “She shouldna even be eatin’ that yet,” the young woman scoffed as she set down the bowl. “She’s no’ but a wein.”

“I appreciate your concern, Miss, but she will be just fine.”

The maid rolled her eyes and scurried away in a plumage of skirts. Graham pinched the bridge of his nose. “I need coffee.”

“There are plenty of coffee houses in London. For now, tea is the best you’re going to get.”

Graham took a sip from his cup and wrinkled his nose. “I suppose now’s as good a time as ever to finally conquer my caffeine addiction,” he said, placing the cup back on the saucer and pushing it away.

“You know, when we get to Hal and Minnie’s, people will find your aversion to tea odd,” I noted, sipping from my own cup. It wasn’t the best brew I’d ever had, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as Graham made it out to be.

He took another sip, trying not to make a face. “It tastes like grass.”

“I assure you, it does not.”

“Really? Have you ever tried grass?”

I shook my head, “Well, no. But I don’t suppose you have either.”

“Well you suppose wrong, Mr. Grey.”

“It’s ‘Lord’ Grey- or ‘Lord John’- whichever you prefer. And why on Earth would you do such a thing?”

“There’s no way I am calling you ‘Lord’ anything. And if you’ve never eaten grass, I’m sorry to tell you that your childhood sucked.”

I chuckled. “You’re going to have to call me that in front of my family and friends. Tell me, why does eating horse-food make one’s childhood superior?”

“Fine, ‘Lord John,’” Graham rolled his eyes, “Are you telling me you’ve never played pretend?”

I pondered his question, “I suppose I have. Hal and I used to pretend to be knights battling a dragon. And I’d play similar nursery games with my nephews when they were children. It didn’t require us to eat grass, though.”

Graham scoffed playfully. “Knights? That’s a yawn and a half compared to my childhood antics.”

I raised a brow. “Really? Well, please indulge me.”

“Well, in true only-child fashion, I’d play with my dog.”

“Oh no.”

“I believe you mean ‘oh yes,’ John. Sorry, ‘Lord’ John. I would get down on my hands and knees, wiggle my backside, and dig holes in the yard with Buddy.”

“Buddy?”

“My dog.”

“Oh, of course. Please, continue.”

“Thank you. I also barked on occasion, but that’s where my parents drew the line.”

“Thank God for them. And I’m missing the part where eating grass is relevant.”

“Well, I was five years old. I thought all animals ate grass. I was a method actor.” Graham looked down at Klara, who had nodded off in his lap. “Do you need us to get a dog so you can have a friend to play with?”

“Dear God, no,” I laughed. “Anyways, she’ll have Mandy.”

“Ah yes, and they can eat grass in the yard with our dog *together*”

I sighed in defeat. Graham hadn’t been his usual scamp-self lately, so I couldn’t help but smile at his antics. His moods had oscillated between peaks of aloofness and valleys of anxiety. I took the changes as they came, being all too familiar with the transition into a new world myself. I only hoped that, after the events of September, he would still be able to adjust. He had told me he just needed me to be there for him, and that was precisely what I planned on doing.

*********

I rolled over in my sleep, my arm reaching instinctively to wrap around Graham beside me. To my surprise, my hand came down into the grass. I felt the panic surge through me and my eyes shot open. Klara was still sleeping soundly on Graham’s coat, but he was nowhere to be found.

I sat up, and scanned the darkness around us. “Graham?” I whispered into the empty space. Standing, I looked around again. Still no sign of him. His horse was still here, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

I closed my eyes, listening for any noises indicative of Graham being hauled away by bandits or thumping hoofbeats. I heard none, but there was a faint noise. I could barely hear it under the chirping of crickets and the bellowing of bullfrogs from the nearby pond. I felt a pang in my chest, recognizing it instantly. Graham was nearby, and he was crying.

I carefully scooped up Klara, not having the desire to risk her disappearance too. She stirred, but didn’t bother to wake up. I walked towards the pond, Graham’s sobs getting louder and more painful to hear with each step. Eventually, I came across him seated on a rock by the water’s edge, half-hidden by reeds.

“Graham, sweetheart,” I whispered, coming up behind him cautiously. He scooted over and I sat next to him. His face was still in his knees, curled up in a fetal pose. I pulled my knees up to my chest, resting Klara on my thighs so I had a free arm to wrap over Graham’s shoulder. The sight of him sent another pang through me.

He made an attempt to stifle his sobs a bit. “I’m sorry,” he rasped, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Nonsense. Do you want to talk about it?” I whispered.

He looked up, the blotches and tear stains around his eyes and cheeks noticeable even in the pale moonlight. “I’ve just been having nightmares. I try not to wake you when it happens since you’re always so tired when we go to sleep.”

Another pang dug into my heart. “Oh Graham, you can always wake me up. How many times has this happened?”

“Every night since I- you know…”

I rubbed my hand under the loose neckline of his nightshirt, rubbing away the tension in his shoulders. “I presume such events are the subject of your nightmares?”

He nodded. “It keep seeing myself shove the blade into his back and the blood spurting onto my hands. It just replays over and over and I can’t make it stop.” Another sob escaped his lungs.

“May I ask why you felt the need to hide it from me? Was it only to let me sleep?”

“No,” he shook his head, looking out into the still water of the pond, “I knew that you would want to talk about it, and I’m scared of that.”

Pang.

“You can tell me anything, Graham. No matter how dark or frightening, it will not scare me away.” I wanted so badly for him to look at me, but his gaze remained fixed on the pond.

“I’m a murderer, John.”

I had to do a double take at his declaration. “Your actions were clearly a product of self-defense-”

“-He’s dead because of me. That means I killed him. I’m a murderer.” Graham buried his head in his knees again and I rubbed his back.

“If he was dead as a result of your actions, your logic might hold. But he is dead because of his own decisions. He held the gun to my head. He tried to disarm me. None of that was caused by you.”

Graham made a face as if he were about to yell something, but his eyes flicked towards Klara. He settled for bawling his fists instead. “I could have reasoned with him. Why did I have to stab him? I fucking stabbed him!”

“He would have woken the other men, who would have killed you on the spot. Perhaps Klara and I would have lived solely because of my value to them and her innocence, but you would have been killed. We were outnumbered and I was close to becoming disarmed.”

His fists remained tight, his knuckles turning white.

I sighed. “Had you not done what you did, you would be dead. An act of self-preservation in an instance of danger does not make a man a murderer.”

Graham’s fists loosened and he turned his head. Finally, he was looking at me.

“I have no doubt that you’re right John. But I still killed him. That is a fact that I have no idea how to cope with. I need you.”

Pang. Dear God, if only had awoken several nights before. I squeezed his arm, offering a reassuring look. “I’m here,” I said. “What do you need?”

Graham’s features relaxed and he leaned into me. “Some goddamn sleep.”

*********

“I feel like I’m on a movie set,” Graham said as we walked through the bustling streets. He was smiling like a child in a sweets shop.

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it thus far. But remember, you have to look sad when we get to the house. That way, Hal and Minnie will be more likely to take you under their protection.”

Graham nodded, “My wife is dead. Someone tried to kill me.” He wiped the grin from his face.

“That should suffice.”

We walked the last couple of blocks, eventually coming to a stop in front of the familiar facade. It was odd to see the ducal residency, a place that had always provided safety and security, and feel unsettled. Still, my legs carried me down the familiar carriage path instinctively.

“Good afternoo-” the butler who answered the door froze, his mouth hanging open. “My- my Lord.” He stepped aside, allowing us into the foyer. “I shall call on the Duke and Duchess at once.”

I held up a hand, stopping him mid-turn. “Thank you, but that will not be necessary. Is the Duke in his study?”

The butler nodded.

“Take us to him.”

Hal was bent over his desk, piles of paperwork and ledgers spread haphazardly. He did not look up when the butler entered.

“Has the post arrived yet, Dwight?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Grace. But some unexpected guests have arrived. Shall I send them in?”

Hal tensed. “I’m not in the mood to accept visitors. Tell them I’m indisposed.”

I stepped into the doorframe. “I suppose I could just come back at a more opportune time then.”

Hal’s head shot up and he stared at me blankly for a moment. “My God, brother.” He stood and made his way towards me. His eyes moved over me, a grin slowly appearing on his face. “What have you done to your hair?”

I ran a hand over my head, having not thought about my cropped locks until now. I must have looked quite odd indeed. “It has been too long since we’ve seen each other, Hal.”

He smiled, pulling me into an embrace. “You have a lot of explaining to do. We thought you were dead.” He glanced over my shoulder into the hallway. “Who is this?”

I stepped aside, “This, brother, is Mr. Graham Nowak and his daughter Klara. The story of our circumstances is quite long, but the crux is that we are indebted to each other. I am planning on traveling with him the rest of the way back to the colonies.”

“Good afternoon, Your Grace,” Graham removed his hat and bowed politely, just as I had taught him.

Hal nodded to him. “Welcome, Mr. Nowak.” He then turned to Dwight, “Fetch the Duchess and instruct the kitchen staff to bring tea to the parlor.”

“Right away, Your Grace.” Dwight hurried off,

“Please, join me in the parlor. I intend to hear a viable explanation for your absence this past year.”

He was angry. I would have to thank Graham later for his presence. Had there not been company, Hal probably would have started yelling the second I stepped over the threshold.

Minnie was pacing in the parlor when we entered, turning excitedly as we entered. “Oh, John!” She flung herself into my arms, holding on for a bit longer than was considered polite for such an introduction. Hal coughed and she let go, sending a subtle glare to her husband. “I have been worried sick about you.

“My sincere apologies, Minnie. Allow me to introduce Mr. Graham Nowak and his daughter.”

Graham bowed one again. Minnie ignored it through, instead reaching for Klara. Graham gave her a nod and she plucked her from his arms. “Oh, what a sweet thing. What is her name?”

“Klara Maria, Your Grace,” Graham said. He glanced nervously at me.

“What a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. May I ask, what inspired the name Maria? It is of Spanish origin, is it not?”

“It was a name from her late mother. She had Spanish ties herself.”

“Oh, well that explains her big brown eyes then.” Minnie smiled at Klara. She really did have Alyssa’s eyes.

I could see Hal twitching impatiently. Minnie noticed it too. “Well,” she said, “If you would like, we would be happy to have one of the servants help Klara to get settled. She must be tired after all that travel.”

I could tell that the last thing Graham wanted to do was surrender Klara to a stranger. He hesitated, glancing at me.

“Mr. Nowak has not been away from his daughter since the passing of his wife.” Neither had I, but I knew Minnie’s maidstaff was more than capable. I hoped that my calm demeanor would reassure Graham.

Minnie gave Graham a sympathetic look. “I assure you, she will be in good hands.”

Graham relaxed slightly. “Of course, Your Grace. I appreciate your hospitality.”

Minnie waved to the servant who had accompanied her to the parlor. The girl gleefully took Klara from Minnie and whisked her out of the room.

Despite being grateful that Klara would have proper tending to, her absence caused unease. Minnie and Hal didn’t think twice of it, however, and moved on to what they considered to be more important matters.

“So, Mr. Nowak, tell me how you came to know my brother.”

Hal had a shrewd knack for conversational interrogation. It was clear that Graham was the less socially advantaged of the two of us, and Hal seemed to pick up on it instantly.

“Of course, Your Grace.” Graham explained the story we had concocted about the thieves in the Highlands and our all-too-real kidnapping. Hal’s eyebrows shot up in surprise when Graham mentioned the men’s plan to murder him.

“How ever did you escape?”

“Luckily, the men were idiots,” I jumped in. “We managed to secure our valuables and daggers so we could free ourselves from their knots.”

“And no one was injured, I presume?”

I shook my head. “The driver held me at gunpoint. Gr- Mr. Nowak defended me valiantly.”

Hal sighed. I could tell he was convinced of our story, but he was still wary. “I see you two are indebted to each other indeed. Mr. Nowak, you and your daughter are welcome to stay here until it comes time for your departure to the colonies. I’ll have the servants direct you to your quarters so you can recover from your journey.”

I moved to follow them out of the room, but was stopped by Hal. “Just a moment, John.”

We were left alone in the parlor. “Is there something you would like to discuss further?”

Hal crossed his arms. “Why were you in the Highlands? The letter you left with the Frasers indicated you were in Boston.”

I tried not to look nervous about Hal’s interrogation. “I needed to leave Boston, but the only ships allowed through the barricade at the time of my departure were heading to Scotland.”

Hal seemed to ponder this. “There has been a notable decrease in ships heading to England from the colonies since the war broke out.”

“Indeed. Are we quite finished? I would prefer to freshen up if you are amenable.”

Hal nodded, but he still glared at me questionably. I was being too dismissive, I knew. But I also couldn’t allow him to interrogate me much further.

“It would be best to set this matter aside for now, yes. I am glad to have you home.”

The last part was genuine, despite the mystery of my disappearance remaining unresolved. “I am glad to be here.”

*********

Graham and I had separate rooms, the doors of which were across from each other in a small alcove in the guest wing. Klara was most likely on the third floor, where the more familial chambers and nurseries were. The boys had long since found their own place in the world, and Dottie was apparently spending the week with some friends from finishing school (accompanied by the proper chaperone, I was assured). I hoped to see them soon, as I missed them dearly.

For the first time since coming through the stones, I bathed and dressed on my own. It was odd to have no one to talk to. I found myself muttering under my breath as I went about my business, voicing thoughts that would usually have been relayed to Graham.

“Talking to ourselves now, aren’t we?”

I started and turned to the doorway, where Minnie stood in an almost smug manner.

“It would have been more proper for you to knock, wouldn’t you agree?”

Minnie laughed and invited herself into the room. She sat in the armchair by the window. “Perhaps, but you know as much as I do that ‘proper’ and I are hardly acquainted outside the judgemental walls of social gatherings.”

“Well, even if you decided to discard propriety altogether, you are still a duchess. You may do as you please without having to worry about being judged or questioned.”

“At least not to my face,” Minnie laughed. “Speaking of…”

I pulled my attention away from the buttons on my waistcoat and eyed her suspiciously. “Speaking of what?”

“Improper discourse behind closed doors,” she raised a brow. “Putting on a front in the face of my proprietary eyes- namely my husband.”

“And so I repeat myself. There is nothing to discuss.”

Minnie rested an elbow on the arm of the chair, looking out the window as she spoke. “Alright then. Consider the matter dropped.”

“Ha! The day you discard suspicions, albeit ludicrous ones, that easily I swear I shall drop dead on the spot. So unless you would like to start discussing flower arrangements and eulogies with my mother, I suggest you refrain from playing games of the mind with me.”

She continued to casually stare out the window. “You know, when William informed us of your unusual letter, I couldn’t help but wonder why you made no effort to send correspondence using an alias or at least a cipher of some sort. That’s why I decided to write to some contacts in the colonies.”

“What sorts of contacts?” I felt my stomach drop, but managed not to let it show.

“People I met before I married your brother.”

Ah, so she was referring to spies and private investigators. But she was making no attempt to hide her suspicions of my alibi.

“I’m sure you came up with nothing, then. I made myself quite scarce whilst I was there. It would have been dangerous.”

“That’s the funny thing, John. They searched every inch of that city for you. Knocked on every door, checked every house.”

“Why on Earth would they do that?”

“When someone such as yourself disappears without a trace except a single letter, it is often a result of foul play. We were worried you had been kidnapped for political purposes and that the letter had been falsified somehow. But it seemed we were wrong.”

“If you mean to imply that I am lying about my whereabouts, then I’m afraid you are still wrong,” I said, eyeing her.

“Well, there is no proof that I am incorrect. Only that you are hiding something.”

“There is proof. The Frasers in Philadelphia would vouch for me, I assure you.”

Minnie glared at me. “They were the ones who gave William the letter. They are lucky not to have been arrested.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Minnie, I am here. I am well. I am telling you there was no foul play. I apologize for worrying you, but I’m afraid there is nothing more to tell.”

Minnie stood, “There is, and we both know it. You haven’t even begun to explain what that man and his daughter are doing here. You know as much as I do how unwise it is to allow him anywhere near Hal.”

I furrowed my brow. “I beg your pardon?”

She stepped closer. “I have an eye for these things. The sideways glances, your familiarity with each other-”

“We were kidnapped together.”

“There’s more than that. You don’t have to pretend with me. Only God can judge you, so it’s not my place to alter my opinion of you. I can try and keep Hal from picking up on it. But he is almost as perceptive as I am, and you know that. And he won’t be as forgiving.”

Memories of George Everett flashed through my mind. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Minnie,” I said calmly. “Now if you don’t mind, I have some business to attend to.”

Chapter Text

Hi all!

I have been dying to find a way to create some visual adaptions of my OCs, but I had been at a loss because I have zero artistic bones in my body. So what is a girl to do when she can't draw her OCs? She uses AI to make ultrahuman-like versions of them! I'm a bit too excited about this...

The character portraits I have created are how *I* picture my OCs, but by all means, I have no qualms if your picturing of them is different. I just wanted to share mine!

I have made a public Instagram where I am posting the images. I have Graham and (a much older) Klara up there already.

The handle is: @anfcharacters

The account is public. Feel free to let me know what y'all think!

ALSO: I would be more than happy to post actual (ie non-AI generated) fanart on that account if anyone wants to draw any. If I ever commission artwork, that will be posted there too. I will give FULL CREDIT to any artists whose work winds up on this page. Please feel free to DM me on that account if you are interested in sending in a submission!

-Ringer <3

Chapter Text

I had been looking forward to sleeping on the soft mattress of my room at the ducal residence, but I found myself lying awake into the late hours of the night. At 3 AM, I found myself thinking of a myriad of concerns as I stared out the window.

The first of these was the conversation I had had with Minnie earlier in the afternoon. I knew that she and Hal had their hunches about my personal identity (or at least Hal did, Minnie seemed to have more than just a mere hunch). Hal had been the one to practically banish me to Ardsmuir decades ago, although he seemed more concerned with the rumors themselves than believing they were true. But he had been ashamed of me nonetheless. Had he any doubt in his mind about my attractions, he would pick up on them.

As a result, dinner had been stress-inducing. I had dined publicly with former lovers and intimate acquaintances, but I never had the non-verbal intimate pull with them that I had with Graham,. I could feel Graham’s presence beside me at the dinner table, finding myself glancing at him in times when I shouldn’t or leaning a little too close when I spoke to him. It was as if we were magnets with opposite poles. I knew that, if Hal looked for it, he would be able to tell that Graham and I were not merely acquainted travelers.

The thought of Hal discovering that not only was I, in his eyes, a dishonorable sodomite, but that I had brought my lover under his roof on top of it, kept my mind racing. I rarely had difficulty concealing my affairs, but Graham was different. Interacting with him as if I hardly knew him would be like trying to speak a different language. Minnie had sniffed out our trail after minutes of conversation with us. It wouldn’t take Hal much longer. He too had a keen nose for sniffing out potential scandals.

As sad as it was, my best bet would be to interact with Graham as little as possible inside the walls of the ducal estate.

The other aspect of the day's events that kept me awake was the notable absence of Graham and Klara. No matter how many times I heated the bed with the warmer, it still felt cold without Graham beside me. I hadn’t spent a night without him since he was in the hospital for his concussion.

Klara too was a concern. The thought of her little face when she woke in the morning to see a stranger over her crib caused a lump to form in my throat.

Somehow, despite being surrounded by more family than I had in over a year, I felt more alone than ever. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I hadn’t heard the door creak open.

“John?” Graham tentatively entered the room, securing the door behind him discreetly.

“What are you doing in here?” I whispered, rolling over to face Graham. I hadn’t heard him sneak into the room. “If they were to catch us-”

“You said I could wake you up whenever I needed to,” Graham said. “I keep having the nightmares.”

I sighed. “When we are alone, yes. But Graham, I don’t think you understand just how severe the ramifications of being discovered would be.”

“Are you kicking me out?”

“That’s not fair,” I whispered. “You know I would let you stay here if I could.”

“But I need you, John.” I could hear the pain in his voice.

“Graham, my love-”

“Don’t call me that- not right now.” Graham opened his mouth to say something else, his brows creasing. He thought better of it though, leaving the room in a huff.

I laid back down and rubbed my eyes. “Shit.”

******

“Lover’s spat?” Minnie stood beside me on the bench in the garden, pulling her shawl around her for warmth in the autumn air.

“Nonsense,” I said, trying to sound offended. Still, I shifted over to allow for her to sit.

“You were both tense at breakfast today.”

“I’m not tense,” I lied.

“Oh really? Then why else are you sitting out in the chill?”

“I have much to think about,” I said.

Minnie looked empathetic. To my surprise, she didn’t push me further. She stood, her hand resting on my shoulder. “Best leave you to your thoughts then.”

She stood, politely fixing her skirts and heading down the path into the garden. The sounds of fallen leaves under her feet grew fainter and fainter until I was once again embraced by loneliness.

My thoughts conflicted with each other. The part of me that was Graham’s partner, the 20th century John, was feeling very guilty at the moment. I had pushed him away when he needed me most. On the other hand, 18th century John knew that it would be extremely dangerous to allow ourselves to get into any situation that would risk exposing our relationship. Late night visits were high on the list of suspicious activities.

I had become so accustomed to the freedom allowed in the 20th century that now, I felt like a stranger in my own time. It felt like I was an automaton, going through the proper motions to fit the standard. I supposed it had always been this way, but now I actually knew what I was missing when I hid in the shadows.

My thoughts were once again interrupted by footsteps approaching from behind me. “John, can we talk?”

I turned to see a very earnest looking Graham. He opened his mouth to speak again, but I stopped him. The gardens were too public of a place to speak openly. Servants milled about, attending to their duties as if they were indifferent, but their ears always remained fixed on potential subjects for gossip. “Let’s take a walk.”

We strolled past the gardens and away from the house. “I hate fighting with you,” Graham said eventually.

“Does this constitute an argument?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. This hasn’t really happened before.”

“Graham-” I stopped talking as a group of people walked by. “There are limitations to how we can interact with each other here. It is a difficult adjustment to make, but it would not be wise to take risks.”

“I know, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“Have you come to any conclusions?”

Graham smiled. “Yes, that this place is Hell. Well furnished and full of frivolous luxuries, but hellish nonetheless. I can’t imagine spending half my life here.”

“A well-furnished cage is still a cage.”

Graham sighed. “I wasn’t thinking of that last night,” he said. “You have the Sword of fucking Damocles hanging over you and I practically threatened you with scissors.”

“I would let that sword fall if I could. But I can’t, for William’s sake. My brother could potentially avoid the scandal, but William would be ruined.”

We continued to walk in silence for a few minutes, enjoying each other's company. We really hadn’t had time alone together in days. Even though he was walking beside me, I still missed him profusely.

“You and Minnie seem pretty close.”

Graham’s statement pulled me out of my thoughts. “Well, I suppose we are. I’ve known her for decades.”

Graham nodded. “She kept asking me about you-”

“When?”

“What?”

“When were you alone with her?” I panicked slightly. I was hardly immune to Minnie’s mind-games myself. Despite being quite clever, I couldn’t imagine Graham was either.

“Earlier this morning. She was asking some pretty leading questions. Did you tell her?”

I shook my head. “And you shouldn’t either. Minnie is trained in noticing those types of things. But it’s one matter if she assumes it and another entirely if one of us admits to it.”

Graham looked down at his feet. “She doesn’t seem to mind.”

“She doesn’t, she only thinks that God does. Bless her kind heart. But my brother…”

“Would she tell him?” He asked.

I shrugged, “I’m not entirely sure what her goal is. She seems to want to protect us from him, but she also has never had a tendency to lie to her husband.”

Graham nodded. “And if we never actually tell her we’re together, she wouldn’t be lying if Hal asked about us.”

“Precisely.”

We continued to stroll and it took considerable concentration to resist the reflex of reaching for Graham’s hands. We always got stares showing any modicum of public affection in 1978, but we took comfort in knowing that no one could really do anything about it. Now, even the slightest brush of the hand in front of the wrong person could put both of our necks in ropes.

We eventually made our way back to the gardens, all the while allowing Graham to fill me in on his visit with Klara that morning. She was cranky from teething, but seemed generally content in the care of Minnie’s servant maids. It was a minor relief to hear, but it didn’t do much to spare me the pain of missing her.

We took a brief detour to the stables, checking in on our stolen steeds. Graham had said he’d wanted to visit them, veering off the path suddenly and making his way hurriedly towards the far side of the estate.

“Graham, I’m sure they’re alright,” I called from behind him, trying to keep up with his long strides as we entered the stable, the smell of hay and manure wafting into my nostrils.

Graham didn’t seem to hear me, and began poking his head into the stalls. It was mid-morning, so the stable hands had already finished their duties.

“When will they be back?” Graham asked hurriedly.

I was puzzled by his sudden change of pace, but humored him anyway. “The stable hands? They usually start the day’s training around noo- mmph!”

Graham’s lips cut me off, kissing me fervently as he pushed me into an empty stall. I didn’t have time to worry about someone walking in before my breeches were pooled around my ankles and Graham was inside of me.

Any concern I had about the circumstances washed away as Graham thrusted into me. Any discomfort from lack of preparation was vastly overshadowed by the building pleasure Graham roused in me. The act was fleeting, and after seemingly no time my breeches were back around my waist. I turned back around and met Graham’s lips again, panting into his mouth.

“I’ll leave first,” he said, his lips brushing against mine. And just like that, he was gone.

I leaned against the solid wood of the stable wall, where I had been pressed up to in ecstasy just moments before. I was still reeling from the encounter. Had it actually happened? The feeling of Graham’s warmth inside of me was the only indication that it had.

A draft came through the stable door, swirling about my face and cooling my skin. I had the distinct realization that my cheeks were soaked in tears. I hadn’t the mind to wonder why, instead opting to wipe them on my shirtsleeve without a second thought.

Chapter Text

It was as if a pane of glass was suspended between us. I wanted nothing more than to shatter it, but doing so would risk making a ruckus. We couldn’t have that.

So I spent yet another lonely night awake in bed. It had been a week since I’d last had a moment alone with Graham and even longer since I had spent more than a few fleeting moments with Klara. Both Minnie and Hal had begun to comment on the bags under my eyes. Minnie seemed to understand- even with my adamancy that her suspicions were ludicrous and offensive- but Hal was beginning to be suspicious of my apparent discomfort. It was becoming increasingly difficult to hide.

I needed sleep. I needed Graham. I needed my daughter. And, as much as the thought of saying goodbye pained me, I needed to leave this house before Hal started asking questions.

I was prepared to announce mine and Graham’s departure at breakfast the next morning. My reasons had been rehearsed and the coin I would use to book passage at the harbor was ready in my coin purse as I descended the stairway.

I stopped in my tracks upon entering the dining room. Graham had yet to come down, but Hal and Minnie were seated across from yet another visitor.

My mother’s head turned to face me, her expression illuminating as she saw me. She stood from her seat, paying no heed to the napkin fallen from her lap to the floor.

“Mother-”

She cupped my face in her hands. She’d never been an affectionate woman, but she had thought me dead, afterall.

“You have no idea how relieved I was to hear from your brother of your safe return.” She smiled at me for a moment, but her visage shifted, the deep lines in her face morphing in concern. “You look awful. Are you ill? Harold said you were in good health-”

“I assure you I am well, Mother,” I said, pulling her hands from my face. She studied me, not seeming reassured in the slightest. “I’ve missed you dearly.”

She placed her hands on her hips sternly. “You would have missed me less had you written. Have you any idea the pain you’ve caused me?” She was stern now, but there was still a flicker of joy in her eyes.

“For that I must beg your forgiveness,” I said, “Had it been possible, I would have continued correspondence.”

Her expression softened slightly. “As long as you don’t frighten me again,” she said, squeezing my hands. I managed a nod, a wave of guilt washing over me.
Graham joined us a moment later, equally taken aback as I was by the new guest at the breakfast table.

“Mr. Nowak, may I present my mother, Lady Stanley. Mother, this is Mr. Graham Nowak. He is accompanying me on my journey to the colonies.”

“I’m honored to make your acquaintance, My Lady,” Graham bowed politely, kissing my mother’s outstretched hand.

“The feeling is mutual, Mr. Nowak. The Duke mentioned you in his correspondence. My condolences for the loss of your wife.”

“Thank you, Lady Stanley,” Graham said. She nodded to the seat on the other side of her. There was a twinkle in her eye that I knew all too well.

“Lady Alberton is hosting her annual ball tomorrow evening,” she said casually, sipping her tea.

“Ah, yes,” Minnie said excitedly, “I accompanied Benjamin back when he was courting. It’s quite a lavish event.”

“A remarkable way to end the season. And yet, rumor has it that the guest list is a bit sparse in terms of unmatched attendees. Many of the guests are already paired up.” She looked at Graham, and I could see the gears turning behind her eyes.

I wasn’t quite sure what my mother’s intentions were. Had she the mind to suggest Graham attend the ball? He had no title, no lands, and no money. He was far from being an eligible bachelor, especially since he wasn't a bachelor at all. Of course, my mother was unaware of that.

“Well, a sparse guest list at the end of the season is generally indicative of a successful one. I suspect many of the young women have had numerous callers,” I said.

“Yes, but there is one who, if the gossip is right, hasn’t had one at all. She’ll be too old next season, poor thing. Destined to be a spinster for the rest of her days. I suspect she would be willing to marry anyone just to avoid the shame.”

Hal raised a brow. “Surely she does not come from nobility then.”

“Of course not,” Mother said, setting down her pastry. “I suspect that is why she had no callers. It certainly isn’t because of her appearance. She is quite a fair girl, if I do say so myself.”

She turned her attention to Graham, who had seemed to be content to remain removed from such a conversation. “What do you think of the matter, Mr. Nowak?”

Graham cleared his throat, having not expected to have his opinion valued on the matter. “Well, I know if I were her I wouldn’t like to be the subject of gossip. I hope she is able to find a match, if that is what she desires.”

There was a twinkle in my mother’s eye in response to Graham’s sympathy for the girl. I had last seen her when she was planning my cousin Olivia’s wedding- she had her matchmaker bonnet on.

“Well, in an effort to fill the room, Lady Alberton has asked all of us to join her at the ball tomorrow evening. You may accompany us if you’d like, Mr. Nowak. I’m sure that there are many who would look forward to becoming acquainted with the Duke’s latest guest.”

Graham was still getting acquainted with the rules of living under the roof of nobility, but he did know that turning down an invitation from a former duchess was not an option.

“Of course, Lady Stanley. Thank you.”

*********

Graham was bent over his desk writing in his notebook when I entered his room the next day. I hadn’t been allowed to disrupt his fitting for a new formal set for the ball, which had given me much time to think about all of the potential issues that resulted from my mother’s invitation.

“What were you thinking?” I asked, perhaps a bit too harshly.

“If you’re mad at me, just say why. I don’t have time to interrupt my work to play guessing games, John.” He practically spat my name.

Things had been tense since the morning at the stables. I could tell that Graham hadn’t felt so good about the encounter either. Desperate, affetionless sex simply wasn’t *us*. We’d made an unspoken decision to leave those types of relationships in our pasts when we decided to be together. That particular moment of weakness brought me an uneasy sense of deja vu, and I could tell Graham was wrestling with it as well.

But that was not a discussion we could have within the confines of the estate, where every wall, stone, and tree seemed to have ears.

“We need to leave here, Graham. Hal will catch on soon, I just know it. And we can’t do that if you allow my mother to marry you off to some random girl.”

Graham set down his pen and turned to me, seemingly flabbergasted. “Marry me off? I said yes to going to a dance, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”

I tried not to raise my voice again. He wasn’t accustomed to the social nuances that indicated my mother’s plans. “It’s not merely a dance, Graham. It’s the last ball of the courting season; a mating ritual. And there is a girl who will be there who is very desperate for a match and now has you on her mind.”

“So?” Graham said, clearly frustrated. “That doesn’t mean I have to marry her.”

“No, but you’ve made it sound like you would. I’m sure my mother has already sent a message to Lady Alberton about your presence.”

Graham leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. They too had heavy bags beneath them. “Worst comes to worst, I let her down easy. No harm, no foul.”

“You don’t get it!” I snapped. I immediately regretted it. Graham seemed a bit put off. I’d never yelled at him before. “I’m sorry- it’s just- Lady Alberton is allowing you, a man with no money, lands, or title, to come to her ball because you have expressed interest in one of the members of this season’s circuit.”

“Well, since you seem to know everything, what should I do?” He didn’t seem to actually want my advice, but he knew as much as I did that he needed it.

“It’s too late to tell them you aren’t coming. We’ll go, and you’ll be introduced to the girl. Engage with her for a bit- long enough to make people think you gave it an honest shot.”

“So your advice is to lead her on?”

“You are already leading her on by accepting my mother’s invitation after saying what you did about the matter. Just don’t dance with her. At this point in the season, that would practically be a proposal.”

Graham nodded and sighed. “If you’re finished, I would like to return to my work.” He picked up his pen and resumed writing.

“Of course. I’ll see you tonight.” I hovered in the doorway, but Graham didn’t look up.

*********

“Oh, isn’t it just marvelous?” Minnie said excitedly as she looked over the bannister. A crowd of party-goers cheered beneath us as the entrance of the Duke of Pardloe and his duchess were announced.

Graham descended the stairway in front of me, my mother’s arm resting snugly in his as she led him across the ballroom. I watched him disappear into the crowd, the blue velvet suit he was wearing disappearing into the crowd of colorful skirts and jackets.

Minnie let go of Hal’s arm, leaning into my ear. “I’ll go look in on them.” She was off before I could stop her.

I was hardly in the mood to make the sort of meaningless conversation that generally accompanied these events. Instead, I opted for a glass of brandy and an alcove on the far side of the ballroom.

I wasn’t surprised to see that Hal had already made camp there, flask in-hand. He gestured for me to sit beside him on the small bench that had been squeezed into the alcove. It was common for events this late in the season to have such intimate spaces, as many of the guests were already betrothed to one another.

“You’re certainly not one to be antisocial, brother,” Hal said, taking a swig from his flask. “Although I half expected it after your mood this week.”

“I have no idea what ‘mood’ it is that you are referring to. I’ve simply had trouble sleeping; too much tea in the afternoon.”

Hal stared off into the ballroom, observing the guests milling about. There were only a handful of girls who still had calling cards dangling from their wrists. I followed his gaze to see Mother introducing Graham to a young lady. She was quite fair, but the simplicity of her gown indicated that she had little else to her name.Minnie was hovering around them, maintaining discretion by focusing her attention on a pile of sweets on a nearby table. I took a long drink from my glass.

“Your friend seems to have had trouble sleeping too,” Hal pointed out.

“Of course he has. He’s grieving.”

Hal nodded, but his lip curled ever so slightly. “He seemed to be in fine form when he arrived earlier this month.”

“Well, one might point out that he had plenty to occupy his mind after being robbed and kidnapped. I suppose he is finding it difficult to distract himself now that things have settled.”

Hal passed me the flask and I took a sip. “You seem to know what is on his mind. And yet I suspect that the two of you have been avoiding each other since your arrival.”

“A suspicion is no indication of fact.”

But he was right. At first, we kept our distance to avoid seeming too keen to spend time together, which now seemed to have potentially backfired. Now, I would give anything to have more than a minute alone with Graham, but he seemed to make no effort to do that same. I took another swig and handed back the flask.

I hadn’t noticed that I was still staring at Graham, but Hal seemed to. “I wonder why one would go to such lengths to avoid someone whom they claim to be a friend.”

“I’m not avoiding him. And even if I were, my friendships are none of your concern.”

“True, your friendships,” he stressed, “are not anything I care to take interest in.” He paused for a bit, casually sipping his drink before gesturing towards the crowd. “Any ladies here strike your fancy, John?”

That was likely the closest Hal would ever come to suggesting he doubted the honor of my attractions, at least without evidence. I nearly choked on the final sip of my brandy, but managed to contain myself.

To my relief, Minnie began making her way towards us, preventing me from having to respond to Hal. He took her hand when she approached, kissing it softly. “You look radiant, my dear. Tell me, are the refreshments decent.”

“They’re divine, dear. Why don’t you make us a plate?”

He stood and nodded to his wife. “As you wish. Keep John company, he doesn’t seem to be in a social mood.”

Minnie smiled at him as he walked off. She didn’t wait for an invitation to sit.

“Mr. Nowak has been overshadowed by Mr. Lyndon, I suspect. ‘Tis a shame, Mr. Nowak had been so kind to her. But young hearts change tides faster than the sea.”

I hadn’t noticed, but she was right. The girl Graham had been speaking to now seemed to be swooning over another man. Graham was nowhere to be found.

“Did you see where Mr. Nowak went? He might prefer company if he has faced rejection.” I said.

“I’m afraid not. He did seem to be in poor spirits, although I do not think it was because of the young miss. I suspect that perhaps his mind is occupied by another?”

“That is a possibility,” I said.

Minnie placed a hand on my arm, giving it a light but reassuring squeeze. “Then perhaps it would be best for him to confide in someone. The avoidance of discussion only offers unnecessary pain.”

“Had he wanted to speak about it, he would have found an opportunity to do so.” I said, peering into my empty glass.

“Stubbornness is a side effect of turmoil, wouldn’t you agree? Our actions often contradict our needs when there is something on our minds. I suspect that you understand that phenomenon just as well as Mr. Nowak does.”

“I suspect I do too.”

*********

I eventually found Graham seated on the steps of the patio, drink in hand looking out over the maze. The space was mostly empty, although there were a few pairs taking advantage of the night air. They spoke softly to each other, every so often saying something that elicited a giggle from the other.

“Lady Alberton has groomed quite a lovely maze in her garden,” I said, looking over the rows of tall, twisting hedges. “It would be a shame to miss out on a stroll.”

Graham looked up at me from his seat on the steps. “I don’t think we’re allowed down there.”

“Being a Lord has many perks, and an ability to bend the rules is one of them.”

Graham sighed and stood up, leaving his glass on the steps. We made our way to the maze, which was dimly lit by the lights coming through the windows of the house.

“I don’t suspect that I’ve been myself these past few weeks,” I said, studying my feet as I walked.

“No, you haven’t. But neither have I. I’m not sure I even know how to exist at this point.”

“Why not?” I asked. I hazarded a glance up at his face. The bags under his eyes were accentuated by the pale moonlight.

“If I tell you, do you promise not to get upset with me again?”

I sighed. “My love, I was never upset with you. I haven’t treated you fairly lately, but it’s not because of anything you’ve done.”

Graham nodded. “In my time, I knew how things worked. If I needed something, I knew how to get it. If there was something wrong- with work or with you- I knew how to fix it. I was able to say how I felt. I was able to care for my daughter.” He fidgeted with the buttons on his coat as he spoke and I could feel the pain in his voice. “I know that it's possible to do all of those things here- I see you and everyone else doing it- but I have no idea how. I can’t just go see you whenever I need help, I can’t cuddle my baby when I miss her. I’m not even sure how to mix the goddamn ink powder to make my pen work, but I can’t ask anyone because no one would understand how I never learned how to do that.”

“And I wasn’t there when you needed me,” I added, feeling the guilt tug at my heart. I’d assumed that Graham had been adapting just fine- he was good enough at faking it. “I should have seen how troubled you were feeling-”

Graham grabbed my arm and stopped, turning me to face him. “No, because you’ve had your own shit to deal with. What with worrying about Hal and not being able to see Klara at all- god, I can’t even imagine. After our walk last week, I knew it wasn’t fair for me to ask for your attention when you had your own ship to keep afloat.”

“I’ve seen her playing with the maids once or twice.” I said. “Don’t worry about me, Graham. Yes, I miss her and I miss you. But that’s nothing compared to what you’re going through. I’ve been acting selfishly, and I cannot even begin to express how sorry I am. I should have checked in on you more, my brother’s suspicions be damned.”

“I’m sorry too,” Graham said.

“Don’t be. You tried to tell me you needed me and I rebuffed you. This is all my doing, not yours.”

“But what happened at the stables was all my fault.”

“The stables?” I said dismissively. “It was nothing.” It wasn’t, but I knew he hadn’t meant anything by it.

“And that’s exactly the problem, John. You and I don’t do ‘nothing.’ We’re too damn deep into this for affectionless quickies.”

I took Graham’s hand in mine, feeling a spark run up my arm. “You’re right. And you’re forgiven.”

“I forgive you too. From now on, no more hiding, okay?” Graham gave me a sincere look, a smile playing on his lips for the first time in over a week. I smiled back, standing on my toes to kiss him.

He pulled away, resting his forehead on mine. “I love you, you know that?”

“I never doubted it for a second,” I said. “I love you too.”

“We’ve both been dicks lately, haven’t we?”

I laughed. “Quite.”

*********

The patio had filled with guests by the time Graham and I stumbled out of the maze. Half dazed by our loss of direction and the catharsis of our conversation, our triumphant exit was a cause for an almost manic laughter between us. Graham had an arm draped over my shoulder, which was promptly removed upon sight of the other guests.

Luckily for us, the large group of men on the patio were too focused on whiskey and cigars to notice us. All except one, that is.

Hal politely excused himself from the festivities, half-hurrying down the steps into the garden. Graham and I both collected ourselves, trying to retain any remaining dignity. Hal took one look between the two of us and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“If Mother finds out, it will be the death of her.”

I raised a brow. “I highly doubt that a visit to Lady Alberton’s garden would kill her, Hal.”

“That is not what I was referring to.”

Before I could even fathom a retort, he turned on his hill and briskly rejoined the party.

Chapter Text

“I’ve booked passage for you to the colonies.”

I rarely ever feared my brother, but something about his rigid posture leaning over his desk and the candlelight flickering across the creases in his face made me feel as though I might as well have had a pistol to my head.

His voice wasn’t stern though. He certainly didn’t seem happy with the matter, having called a late night meeting in his office in the first place, but there was a hint of tenderness in his tone. It wasn’t anything like the intervention he’d had when he became sure of his suspicions about George Everett. He’d seemed disgusted by me that night.

I had known that we would be leaving London soon from the timeline set by the date of Jamie’s journal entry detailing our arrival in December. Although I had been curious about the circumstances. Now, they were clear as day.

“May I ask why?” I knew why, per say, but Hal’s motives were still a mystery. He didn’t seem angry or upset, unlike the last time he had banished me. But if he wasn’t either of those things, it was somewhat of a mystery why he would force our departure at all.

Hal sighed, looking between myself and Graham. “You are not as good at hiding yourselves as you think you are. And I do not think that is an issue that can be overcome. It is simply the way of things.”

“And you don’t want to be associated with it,” I said. There was no use in denying his assertions.

“You know I cannot be, John. Clearly, there is nothing I can do to alter your ways. I’ve tried and failed before. I thought when you’d married Isobel that perhaps there was a change of heart.”

Graham stiffened slightly beside me at the mention of my late wife, but he made the wise decision not to argue.

“She might as well have been my sister, Hal.”

Hal shook his head. “I suppose I had ignored that, but it had at least been hope for me that I wouldn’t have to worry about you anymore. These past few weeks have proven otherwise though.”

He finally took a seat behind his desk, looking willfully exhausted.

“So you’re sending me away out of shame, is that it?”

Hal leaned back in his chair, rubbing his temple. “I’m almost offended that you think that. I would be lying if I told you that I approved of this particular choice you’ve made-”

“It’s not a choice,” Graham said. Hal seemed startled that he had decided to speak.

“From my view, it is,” Hal said simply, eyeing Graham. “I would be willing to concede that your...inclinations,” he put delicately, “are of little control to you. But the decision to act on them is your own. I’ve tried to dissuade you in the past, John, but frankly I believe that continuing to do so would be a waste of both of our time. I don’t have much time left on this Earth-”

“-Hal!”

“I could keel over from asthma at any moment, John. Let’s not pretend that’s not a consideration. I’d rather allow myself to enjoy what time I have left with my brother. I cannot control your choices, John, but I do have say over my response to them. But I won’t let you risk our family’s reputation by escorting Mr. Nowak about London, even if I’ve chosen to put aside my disapproval of your personal decisions.”

Hal stood folding his hands politely behind his back, an indication that the meeting was adjourned. “The boat leaves the harbor tomorrow at quarter of eight o’clock.”

*********

Neither Graham nor I could even fathom sleeping, so we sat up in the parlor with tea and biscuits we had snuck from the pantry. At nearly 4 o’clock in the morning, even the live-in staff was asleep. The usual bustle of the house was replaced by an eerie stillness.

“Wislawa Szymborska called 4 AM the the ‘very pit of all hours’,” Graham said softly.

“Is she a writer of some sort? From your time?”

“A poet, to be exact,” Graham said. He stared off to the clock on the wall being me. “‘No one feels good at four in the morning. If ants feel good at four in the morning–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come if we’re to go on living.”

I smiled softly. “What a dismal poem.”

“Szymborska’s thing was taking moments like these and using them to comment on various aspects of the human condition.”

“And which aspect was she investigating in that particular verse?”

Graham shrugged. “That 4 in the morning is the one hour where everything is still, and that we as humans find that notion disturbing- or ‘dismal’- as you put it. We spend our lives with the constant need to be doing something, but four in the morning forces us to stop and go against our nature. We’re not ants, who always have something to do no matter what time it is.”

I pondered Graham’s assessment of the words. “I suppose I’m an ant, in that case. I always quite liked four in the morning. It’s free of the burden of other people and their opinions. Quite productive, in my opinion.”

Graham chuckled. “Should I leave you to yourself, then?”

I smiled. “You’re the exception, my dear. I’d be glad to be up at any hour in your company.”

Graham’s smile when he blushed was different from his usual broad grin. It was an expression that he only ever made when we were alone with one another. It was almost bashful in nature, and was generally accompanied by some sort of nervous fidgeting, as if he didn’t quite believe what I’d said.

Graham was about to say something, but was interrupted mid-breath by an odd clunking noise outside the door.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” The clumsy intruder seethed on the other side of the door. I relaxed a bit.

“Are you alright, Minnie?”

She gathered the skirts of her robe, entering the room in a dignified manner. “I’m quite alright, thank you. Blasted gardener left his tools in the foyer again. I keep telling him we have a perfectly decent shed, but it all goes in one ear and out the other. Men have a tendency to do that.” She huffed, crossing her arms.

“Might I inquire as to what has you up at such an hour? Hal isn’t snoring again, is he?”

She laughed at that. “Hal always snores. I went for a glass of water and heard you talking in here. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry about Hal.”

“There’s no need, Your Grace-”

“Please, Mr. Nowak. Call me Minnie. And I shall call you Graham, if it suits you.”

Graham smiled. “There’s no need, Minnie. You’re not responsible for your husband’s opinions.”

Minnie shook her head, “But I am, though. I’ve spent that last month trying to condition him to be more tolerant. Mostly worked, I’d say. He didn’t go into a fit of rage this time. I only wish you didn’t have to leave.”

I gave her a knowing look. “We would have to have left soon regardless, Min. And Hal was more amenable than I ever could have imagined. You did a good job. But might I inquire as to how exactly you conditioned him?”

She raised a brow. “I just made sure he remembered how much you two needed each other- how upset he’d been when you hadn’t written to him this past year. And that when all is said and done, nothing can supersede that.” She laughed, “I couldn’t say it directly, of course. You men aren’t obliged towards sensitivity.”

“We appreciate your kindness, Minnie,” Graham said sincerely.

“That you should,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Hal is the most irrational creature without me.”

“I can vouch for that statement,” I laughed. “We cannot thank you enough.”

“You can thank me by keeping in touch,” she said somewhat sternly.

I would be able to keep that promise for a few months, but I felt the familiar pang of guilt at the realization that this was probably the last time we’d ever see her.

“Your wish is my command, my dear.”

She didn’t have to be disappointed just yet.

Chapter Text

The motley crew of The Everleigh were not an inspiring bunch, although given the short notice of our passage, it was to be expected. The ship itself wasn’t offensive, boasting of a strong build and smelling of new seals and stains. There were no other passengers aboard the ship, likely a result of the war in the colonies. The purpose of the ship’s passage was to carry supplies to a British battalion in Delaware.

We had woken early to say our goodbyes to Hal, Minnie, and my mother. None of them seemed very upset to see us gone, although that was likely because they were not anticipating it being our last moments together. At the moment, I was trying to ignore that fact.

“‘Allo, milord,” I somewhat homely man in tattered captain’s regalia called down over the bow, squinting in the morning sunlight to adequately view us down on the dock.

“Good morning, sir,” I called back. “Permission to come aboard?”

He cackled a bit. “You better, or we’ll set sail without ye.”

“That’s the captain?” Graham whispered to me as we made our way up the entrance ramp. He tightened his grip on Klara as we made our way up to the deck.

The captain was waiting for us, hand outstretched. I shook it, consciously suppressing the urge to wipe my palm on my breeches when he let go. His hand was slick with sweat, despite the morning chill of early autumn.

“Captain Waverly, at your service milord. I’ll tell ye, it was a thrill to receive a message from His Grace. I’ll admit, we hadn’t planned for passengers, so my apologies in advance if the lodgings are no’ to yer likin’.”

“I’m grateful for the extra accommodation, sir,” I said. The captain hadn’t taken his eyes off of me since we boarded the ship, and was smiling widely with a yellow grin. Graham stood beside me awkwardly. “Captain Waverly, might I introduce my traveling companion, Mr. Nowak, and his daughter.

Captain Waverly’s eyes flicked towards Graham and he nearly jumped. “Oh, sir, my apologies. I hadn’t realized you would be accompanying us.”

I raised a brow. “Surely His Grace informed you-”

“I’m sure he did, milord. Only it slipped my mind when I gave orders to set up your lodgings. I don’t know where we’ll put you and the little miss up-” he looked panicked, his eyes flicking between us frantically.

“I’ll be glad to share the accommodations you’ve set aside for me,” I said.

Captain Waverly’s eyes widened. “Oh, milord. I can no’ expect ye-”

“I insist.”

The Captain’s face relaxed a bit. It was evident that he wasn’t accustomed to taking passengers of any sort, let alone any of my station. He waved an arm at one of the crewmen, who came bustling over hurriedly at the gesture. He limped a bit, but was far more muscular than the captain himself.

“Yes, Cap’n?” He said, nodding as he spoke. His gaze rested on Klara, and I could see a small smile beneath his thick moustache.

“Escort these gentlemen to their lodgings. And please ensure we have a milking goat aboard for the little one.” He turned to us, “We generally have all sorts of livestock, so it isn’t a bother.”

“Aye, Cap’n. Follow me milord.”
We walked a few paces behind the crewman, bumping into each other as the ship rocked side to side. We followed a narrow flight up stairs to a small hallway, which was lit by a single candle mounted crookedly on the wall.

“ ‘Ere we are. It isn’t much, but it’s the best room on the ship. Better than the Cap’n’s quarters, I reckon.” He let out a wheezing laugh at the last remark. “I’ll see to findin’ some hides and such for the young lady to sleep upon.”

Graham nodded, “Thank you, Mr.?”

“The fellas downstairs just call me Leo.” He opened the door to the room behind him. “I’ll be on deck if you need anythin’.”

*********

I had always been able to sleep deeply on ships. The rocking, even when it was somewhat tumultuous, had lulled me into some of the best rest I’d ever had. My first night on The Everleigh was no exception.

The sound of Graham’s half-asleep body thudding onto the wooden floor on the other side of the room, however, was enough to pull me from the deepest of slumbers.

“Fucking- agh!” I heard a rustling of blankets before there was another thud. “Shit!”

I sat up and inspected the scene. The dying firelight from the room’s small hearth revealed the outline of a clearly disgruntled Graham rubbing his forehead, which he must have hit on the bed frame in his attempt to sit up.

“Are you alright, dear?”

I could feel Graham glare at me. He sighed, kicking the blanket off of him and shoving it upward back onto the bed. “I can’t imagine how you two are sleeping through this.”

I glanced at the bundle of furs in the corner of the room, where Klara was sleeping soundly.

“It’s an acquired skill,” I whispered, “You should have seen me back in my army days. I would wake up covered in bumps and bruises for the first few voyages.”

I swung my legs over the side of the bed. “Grab your blanket and lay it on the floor. It’s still uncomfortable, but at least you’ll get through the rest of the night in one piece.”

I heard him chuckle slightly. “Only if you join me.”

I clumsily helped him set up the bundle of pillows and blankets on the floor, groping for the fabric in the dark. I tried not to laugh as my hand landed on something that was certainly not a blanket.

“Well, hello there,” Graham said.

“Which part of you am I touching exactly?”

“The back of my thigh-”

I pulled my hand back and slapped Graham playfully, aiming slightly higher than where my hand had been before. He gasped in surprise at the unexpected impact.

“Oh, so we are doing that now? Two can play that game, darling.” There was some more rustling, and then the sudden sound of a pillow whizzing through the air. I braced my arms in front of my face. To my surprise, the impact landed slightly to my left.

“You missed me- agh!”

Graham grasped my wrists, pulling my hands away from my face. “I don’t believe I did, darling.”

He pushed me back, pinning me to the floor. I gasped, but it was stifled by Graham’s large hand against my mouth. He leaned over me, using the weight of his forearm to pin my hands above my head. “You don’t want to wake her, do you?” He whispered.

I shook my head. He moved his hand from my mouth, pressing a chaste kiss to my lips. “Then you better not make a sound.”

I reached down with one hand and palmed me through my breeches. I stifled a gasp as he gently squeezed and kneaded. “Good,” he whispered into the crook of my neck, his warm breath eliciting gooseflesh along my skin. He trailed kisses down the side of my neck and along my shoulder, each one causing small waves of heat to flow through me. He went slowly on purpose, resting his hand on my crotch. I could feel my cock twitch under the weight of his hand as his tongue flicked over my nipple. My breath hitched and the kisses stopped.

“I said to be quiet,” Graham whispered. He shifted, kissing my neck again. “Now I have to start all over.”

He somehow managed to move more slowly than he had before. I curled my toes, trying desperately to hold back every noise. He wasn’t making it easy as he made his way down my stomach. I bucked my hips slightly, causing Graham to push down firmly on my hips. “Patience, darling.”

He took his time undoing the fastening of my breeches kissing every inch of skin as it was revealed. My cock throbbed, and I could feel it begin to leak already.

I brought my forearm over my mouth when I felt Graham’s breath on my cock. His tongue swirled swiftly over the tip as he pulled back my foreskin. I arched my back, but managed to not let out a sound.

Graham hummed in approval before taking my whole cock into his mouth. My jaw dropped open and I threw my head back, digging my nails into my palms. One of my hands reached down to his shoulder, squeezing the muscle beneath the neckline of his shirt. He moaned, accelerating the rhythm of his movements as the pressure began to build inside of me.

My hips jerked as I came into Graham’s throat. The pulses of my orgasm moved like waves through my body and sweat dotted the skin on my chest. Graham looked up at me coyly, my softening cock still deep in his mouth. The sight alone was enough to cause one last twitch before he pulled away.

“Christ,” I whispered, laying back down. I ran a hand through my hair, resting my head on my hand. Graham laid down beside me, resting his head on my bicep.

“Couldn’t remember the last time I did that,” he said. “I hope it was as good as you remember.”

I turned my head to face him, brushing my nose against his. “Better,” I whispered, rolling onto my side so our chests pressed together. I kissed his nose and he nuzzled himself into the crook of my neck. It was hard to believe that he had pinned me to the floor not ten minutes prior.

“I know this is different than before,” I said, combing my fingers through his hair, “but I love you every second of every day, even when I can’t show it.”

“I love you too,” he whispered. His breath tickled the hairs on my chest. I felt him yawn and I pulled him into my chest, wrapping my arm over him. “Get some sleep now, dear.”

Chapter Text

November 1778

“I cannot say I like the look of those clouds,” I said, squinting at the horizon.

Graham leaned against the starboard rail beside me, glancing down at the basket laying at his feet. To our surprise, Leo and the rest of the crew were quite the sentimental bunch. They’d emerged from below the deck one morning with a well-woven wicker basket, just big enough to fit Klara. She was asleep at the moment, wrapped in a thick wool blanket gifted to us by Minnie prior to our departure.

“Do you think they’re headed our way?” Graham asked nervously.

I glanced up at the flag atop the mainmast. “Yes, but it’s still quite far off. I’m sure Captain Waverly will inform us if there’s anything to worry about.”

Graham looked down into the passing waves beneath us. “I don’t know why I’m worried. Jamie said all three of us make it to Philadelphia.”

I gave his arm a brief squeeze. A whine emerged from the basket and Klara blinked her eyes open. Her little arms maneuvered their way out from under her blanket, reaching up expectantly. I stooped down, scooping her from the basket. “Nice of you to join us, love,” I said. She cooed sleepily, wrapping her tiny arms around my neck. She had recently figured out how to hug, and she made good use of her new skill.

Graham reached over, rubbing tiny circles on her back. I could see the worry swimming in his eyes.

“Relax,” I said. I carefully transferred Klara to his arms and they latched onto each other instantly. “I’m going to find the Captain and see if there’s anything I can do to help with storm preparations. I’m worried he won’t ask for my help because of my station.”

Graham nodded. “Hurry back, yeah?”

I nodded, and his features softened a bit. “Why don’t you go back to our quarters. I’ll meet you there soon.”

*********

I managed to find Captain Waverly below deck, surrounded by most of the crew. He was stood on a chair, stooping slightly so as to not hit his head on the low ceilings.

“Daniels, I need ye to start taking down topsails. Bring Charles and Mills with ye. I don’t want the mainsail down until the last moments. We can’t afford to sit around all day waitin’ for the storm, we gotta keep moving. Jackson, you will be in charge of steering. We don’t have time to veer off course. The weather is only going to get worse from here on. Leo, make sure our passengers are secure and have all they need to weather the storm. As for the rest of ye-”

“-Why don’t you just ask him yourself, Cap’n?” Leo asked quizzically.

Captain Waverly glared at him. “You dare question my orders-”

“-I actually meant to ask if you needed anything from me, Captain,” I announced.

Waverly looked up, startled. “Oh! I was unaware of your lordship’s presence. My crew and I have everything under control.”

I nodded curtly. “Of course, Captain. But please, do not hesitate to ask if you require extra assistance.”

Captain Waverly merely nodded at me before resuming the barking of orders to his men. I stood amongst them awkwardly, deciding it would be rude to leave in the middle of the speech. Eventually, he announced that everyone should disperse, hopping down from the chair with a soft thud before approaching me.

“I always had it in my mind that passengers on a ship had little to do with keeping it afloat, if ye don’t mind me sayin’, milord.” He eyed me, but the amusement that was usually plastered on his face was gone entirely.

I did mind his saying it, although he had every right to do so. “I have experience. I was merely offering it.”

He took a step towards me, glaring down as intimidatingly as he had at Leo moments ago. “So you think you’ve more experience than my men? I know we don’t appear as clean-cut as the British Army, but mark my word Lord John, you would be a fool to doubt our capabilities.”

I stepped back, trying not to give into the frustration that was festering within me. He was being awfully presumptuous. “I have no doubts, Captain. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I shall take my leave-”

“You shall,” he huffed, pushing past me towards the door.

*********

When I returned to the room, Graham was cross-legged on the floor in front of Klara. Her tiny fists were clenched tightly around his outstretched fingers as he pulled her up, legs wobbling. She managed to steady herself for a moment, still holding on to Graham for dear life, before the ship lurched and she plopped back down onto her bottom.

“Hard to have sea legs when you’ve never had land legs to begin with, huh Sweetpea?” Graham said to her. He looked over his shoulder. “How’d it go with the Captain?”

I shook my head. “My offer to help was offensive, apparently.” I sat across from him and offered Klara my index fingers, which she grasped excitedly in a renewed attempt to master standing. “She stands on her toes, have you noticed that?”

Graham nodded. “I think it’s normal,” he shrugged. “She can flex her feet just fine when she’s laying down.” His brow furrowed slightly, examining Klara’s tiny feet.

“We can ask Claire about it,” I said.

He sighed, smiling. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but I can’t say I’m not excited for Claire to give her a check-up.”

Another lurch ensued, but rather than plop down, Klara held on tightly to my fingers, leaning backwards and looking up at Graham. She looked confused for a moment, then giggled.

“Is Daddy upside down?” He asked her. He covered his face with his hands. “Peekaboo!”

Klara found this so amusing that, for a moment, she forgot she was standing. She let go of my fingers, tumbling backwards into Graham’s lap. With some effort, she managed to wiggle herself back onto the floor to start again. I held out my fingers, but she didn’t take them.

She meanouvered herself onto her knees as she did when she crawled. Then, with all the strength her tiny body could muster, she hurled her arms up into the air.

“That is an interesting technique, love,” I said. She tried again as the ship lurched towards me, causing her to cascade clumsily into my lap. “But I am afraid the laws of physics are not in your favor.”

*********

The storm hit about two hours later. It certainly wasn’t the worst I’d ever experienced, but the tumultuous surges berating the ship certainly weren’t pleasant. Graham was clinging onto Klara, protecting her from the various pieces of furniture that careened about the room. The fire was out, so the only light shone through a small porthole close to the ceiling. Even in the dark, I could see Graham turning a sickly shade of green.

“It would be better if we could get below deck, love. There will be less movement.”

Graham shook his head. “I’m not taking her out there-” He gagged while clasping his hand over his mouth. I slid the chamber pot in his direction, and he promptly vomited into it.

“This storm might last hours, my dear. I’ve seen just how dangerous seasickness can be without intervention. We should at least ask Leo if they have anything.”

He shook his head again. “I don’t think they’ll have any Dramamine, John.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“Alright then. I suppose I’ll have to go on my own-”

“-No! You can’t leave. Not now.” He grasped my wrist as I stood to leave.

“You need water and medicine, Graham. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Reluctantly, Graham let go of my arm. I bent down, planting a kiss on his forehead, which was clammy with sweat, and the top of Klara’s head.

I managed to make it down the narrow staircase without tripping, but the scene I encountered on the main deck was worse than I expected. Walls of water came crashing over the rails and men clung to ropes to keep from being washed overboard. I myself instinctively reached for something to hold onto, which in this case happened to be the railing to the staircase that led to the galver. The man attempting to steer, Jackson, looked down towards me.

“Oi! What the bloody hell are you thinking?!” He yelled. “Go back!”

“I just need to get below deck,” I yelled back, just as the ship came over a massive wave. The bow plunged forwards, throwing everyone on the deck forward and causing a shower of water to drench the whole crew.

I too had fallen, groping aimlessly for something to grasp onto as I was pulled towards the bow. Just as panic set in, however, the ship leveled out. I sat up, inspecting the crew around me. I didn’t notice anyone missing- yet.

I stood up again, trying to reorient myself. Luckily, the tumble had actually brought me nearer to the hatch that led below-deck. I stammered clumsily towards it, being jolted side to side by the rocking ship and berated with saltwater. The crewmen worked around me, and I tried desperately not to collide with them.

I was only a few paces from the hatch before I heard someone call out.

“Milord!”

Something collided with my head. My cheek hit the deck. Someone was yelling, but it was hard to hear what they were saying. The pain in my head felt hot, as if someone had taken an iron from the fire and pushed it into my ear. I felt hands grasp onto me, accompanied by the smell of sweat and whiskey.

“Stay with us, milord.” It was Leo, I could tell.

*********

The ship was still, and the smell of tobacco and a hint of vomit permeated my nostrils. I was laying on a bed, not on the floor as I had for over a month.

“I think he’s coming. I’ll fetch the Captain.” The voice wasn’t one I could put a name to. Jackson, maybe?

With a conscious effort, I cracked open my eyelids. Someone grasped at my arm as I did so, shaking it eagerly.

“John? John, wake up!” Graham said urgently. The movement was enough to draw my eyes open completely. “Oh, thank God. How are you? Does it hurt? You were bleeding an awful lot, but my mom used to say that heads bleed more than any other part of your body so I wasn’t sure-”

I squeezed his arm. “I could do with some aspirin, but I’ll be alright.”

Graham smiled. “I’m afraid all these guys have is whiskey. Ask again in 100 years.”

“Whiskey will suffice,” I said, grinning. I reached up to feel the top of my head, wincing at the stinging sensation it caused. “Is it bad?”

Graham winced. “I’ve been too scared to look. Leo seemed pretty spooked when he came to get me.”

“It’s no but a scratch,” I heard a voice say behind me.

“Captain Waverly, I-”

“You took quite a tumble. I told ye, ye didn’t have to leave your quarters. My apologies for my man’s clumsiness. He lost hold of some rigging ye see.”

I sat up, trying to hide the splitting headache it caused. “I had to, we needed-”

“Aye. And ye shouldn’t have needed anything. I told Leo to see your needs, and he failed ye. But no need to fret, he’ll be punished.”

Graham’s eyes widened. “Punished? With respect, Captain, I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Captain Waverly raised a brow. “But it is. He neglected my orders, which is at least thirty lashings. I’ll administer them when his Lordship is well enough to attend. Now, rest up. I’ll have Jackson pour ye a dram.” He walked away promptly, unwilling to discuss the subject any further.

“Are you really going to let him do that to poor Leo?” Graham asked. “We both know he doesn’t deserve it.”

I shook my head. “Hardly anyone ever does. But there is nothing I can do. I have no jurisdiction, and even if I did, this is a matter of honor. If Leo doesn’t take the punishment, it would tarnish his reputation with the rest of the crew.”

Graham crossed his arms worriedly. “I don’t think it’s right.”

“Neither do I,” I said calmly. “But given the alternative punishments most Captains would resort to, this is frankly the more merciful route.”

“They would throw him overboard just for forgetting to check on us?” Graham was indignant.

“I don’t think Captain Waverly would. He seems to value his crew. But I can think of some Captains who would throw a crewman over just for looking at him the wrong way.” I felt a momentary rush of anger rise as I remembered Stephen Bonnet. Roger had indulged me in his experience working under him as a sailor. “Not just crewmen, but passengers too. Women, children…”

Graham sighed, his expression softening a bit. “I suppose we’re lucky, then. And I’m glad you’re okay. You’re not allowed to worry me like that.I forbid it.”

I chuckled. “Well, then, I suppose I have no choice but to obey.”

*********

Leo pressed his forehead into the post, which had been erected on the deck of this ship. From our vantage point by the galver, I could see his lips moving in prayer, as if he’d been sentenced to hang rather than be flogged. His back and upper arms were pale compared to his forearms, as he generally wore his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbow.

Captain Waverly finally emerged from below deck, a long black flogger secured to his belt-loop. He removed his coat, handing it to his first-mate, and rolled up his sleeves. “This, gentlemen,” he yelled, pacing back and forth, “is what happens when you neglect my orders.”

He reached for the flogger and I could feel Graham stiffen beside me. I had Klara’s face buried in his chest, his hand wrapped behind her head protectively.

“You shouldn’t watch,” I whispered, “It is an image you’ll never erase.”
“Won’t they think I’m a coward?”

“Trust me.”

He nodded and turned his gaze to the ground just as Captain Waverly raised his arm. A loud crack whipped through the air, followed by a grunt of pain. Leo’s muscles tensed at the impact, a large welt emerging on the smooth skin of his back.

“One! Two! Three!” The first mate counted each lash administered.

Leo’s back had begun oozing blood as the lashes began to land atop one another. His grunts became more agonizing with each blow.

“Eleven! Twelve! Thirteen!”

The blood began to drip steadily onto the deck, forming small pools around Leo’s feet. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard, trying to push back the memories that the image conjured. Jamie’s feet, large and pale, dotted with blood in the stone yard of Ardsmuir.

“Sixteen! Seventeen!” But it wasn’t the first-mate's voice anymore. It was the prison guard’s. I jumped at each crack of the whip.

“Are you okay?”

What? Who was that? Graham. That’s right. He was standing beside me.

“Twenty!”

The crack of the flogger ceased and I could hear Leo’s shackles being removed. “Help him below deck, and for Christ’s sake, pour him a dram.”

*********

Graham laid beside me in our blanket nest, rubbing his eyes with his palms. “Finally got her down. I think she could sense something was wrong.”

I stared up at the wooden slats of the ceiling, which was barely visible in the dying flicker of firelight. “All is well now, though. You saw Leo after he’d been washed up. He was in good spirits.”

Graham sighed. “I’m talking about you. You’ve hardly said a word since it happened. I mean, it was bad enough to listen to. I can’t imagine-”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“John-”

“I’ll be fine. I just need to sleep.”

Graham wasn’t going to let me off that easily, though. “It was like you weren’t there. Your head was somewhere else.”

I rolled over, facing the wall. “Something like that.”

Graham positioned himself behind me, wrapping his arm around my waist. “It might help to talk about it.”

I sighed, reaching down for him and to pull it more tightly around me. “I saw countless floggings as a soldier. I ordered even more as a lieutenant, and then as a major. I had no choice.”

“Like Captain Waverly?”

“Precisely. But ordering lashings to a soldier or a crewman is a way to restore honor. Those men are revered by their comrades.” I remembered Leo, sitting on the barstool with a drink in each hand, singing merrily to shanties with his peers. “Sure, it isn’t pleasant, and it can even carry shame depending on the severity of the crime, but it still garners respect.”

I paused, taking a breath, before turning over to face Graham. He studied my face in the dim light and squeezed my hand. “I was a prison warden, at Ardsmuir.”

“I remember you telling me that,” Graham replied calmly.

“Ordering lashings on prisoners, who are treated as if they have no honor left to spare, is an entirely different act. It’s meant to dehumanize, bring shame. I managed to avoid doing it for the longest time while I was there, putting prisoners in solitary or depriving them of their privileges were the punishments I opted for instead of flogging, except for once.”

“I’m sure you didn’t have a choice.”

I shook my head, looking down at our intertwined fingers. I let go of his hand and began picking at the pills on the blanket. “It was the law. He took the blame for his Godfather, who had taken ill. Sixty lashes, just for having a piece of cloth smaller than my palm.”

“The man who took the blame,” Graham whispered, “It was Jamie, wasn’t it?”

I nodded, “Yes. His Godfather wouldn’t have survived it, you see.”

“Sounds like a selfless man,” Graham cracked a small smile, “No wonder you fell in love with him.”

I slapped his arm playfully, smiling for a moment before remembering the topic at hand. “He was, or is? It’s odd to think he’s still alive in this time. It’s been so long.”

“Well, I’m excited to meet him.” Graham kissed my forehead , pulling me into his chest. His heartbeat was strong and steady, thumping in rhythm with my own. He hummed an unfamiliar tune, stroking my hair as he went.

“A song from your time?”

“My dad used to sing it,” he whispered. “Whenever he took me out on his sailboat in Long Island Sound.” He paused, considering. After a moment, he began to add words to the tune.

“Somewhere, beyond the sea…”

Chapter Text

Hi all

I just wanted to insert this little tidbit here to help set the scene moving forward as we begin to approach John, Graham, and Klara arriving in the colonies. We aren't quite there yet, but I wanted to give y'all time to ask questions if you wanted to.

When I first began this story oh so many months ago, I hadn't actually read An Echo in the Bone yet. All I knew is that somtime, somehow, Claire and Jamie wound up in Philidelphia.

I won't spoil any major plot points for those of you who haven't read the books and/or only watch the show, but I'll give you the gist of how my setup in Philadelphia is different than canon.

Most importantly, in canon, the house on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia is actually owned by John. Claire stays with him while Jamie goes back to Ediburgh to retrieve his printing press. In the beginning of my story, the house belonged to the Frasers and John was just passing through. So in a nutshell, Claire and Jamie have decided to settle in Philadelphia for the time being and John doesn't own property there. Chestnut Street belongs to them, and I might even throw Mrs. Figg into the mix too because I love her so much. (Mrs. Figg is John's cook in the books, but she will work for Claire and Jamie in my story).

Now we get a bit closer to the grey area between context and spoilers. There are a few characters (old and new) that I want to include who are in Philadephia in the books. If you've only seen the show, you'd have no way of knowing. But again, I won't expose anything revealing about how or why they got there.

All I will say is this: Jamie has retrieved Jenny from Scotland. Ian has a Quaker girlfriend named Rachel. William is in Philidelphia.

And for those of you who have read the books, I'm only going to mention Rachel's brother in passing. Remember, in my story, Dottie is still in England.

I hope I haven't spoiled anything for anyone! If you are okay with a little more context as we go along (like why Jenny came to the colonies, for example), DM me on my instagram @anfcharacters and I'll answer the question for you. I don't want to ruin anything for people who only watch the show, so I want to keep big plot points out of the comments.

All the love!
-Ringer (aka H)

Chapter Text

December 1978

211 Furey Street

Bree sat by the window, staring into her small mug of coffee. It had snowed overnight, so the glow of freshly fallen powder shone through the window and into her cup, illuminating the steam that rose from it.

“Are ye planning to drink that, or just admire it?” Roger asked, padding into the kitchen in his slippers. Bree snapped out of her trance and tilted her chin up to kiss him. He rested a hand on her belly and she smiled into the kiss.

“Well,” she said, pulling away, “If the doctor says I can only have this tiny mug in the mornings, I better savor it. The second this cup is empty, I have to start painting the nursery.”

Roger gave her a knowing look as he opened the cabinet to procure his own mug. He then glanced up, perusing his choices. He pulled down a mug roughly the same size as Bree’s, choosing not to flaunt his caffeine-consumption liberties. “So that concerned look on your face I saw when I walked in here was because you have to paint a tiny room pink later?”

Bree raised a brow. “Mandy’s room will not be pink. Pastel yellow, or perhaps a spring green, but it will only be pink over my dead body.”

Roger raised his palms, surrendering. “Whatever you choose will look lovely. But I still don’t believe that that’s what you were thinking about.”

Bree sighed. “I’m thinking about them.”

Roger pursed his lips, taking a sip of his coffee. ‘It’s been a while since you brought them up,” he noted.

It was true. Bree had been making a bona fide effort not to stress about them. It hadn’t been so difficult thus far, as they had the knowledge that the three at least made it to Philadelphia unscathed. She’d been too scared to read the details in the diaries, but she did know that Philadelphia would eventually become a dangerous place for loyalists.

“You’re doing it again.”

Bree nearly jumped this time as she snapped out of her swirling thoughts. “Jamie says they go back through the stones in a few months. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Bree reached across the table and squeezed his wife’s forearm. “You can read the-”

“-No.” Bree shook her head. “I don’t need a rational reason to worry about them. At least this way I can tell myself I’m being crazy.”

“Or,” Roger said patiently, “It will confirm that they’re happy and safe and you’ll be able to relax.”

Bree had considered that possibility a few times, but had been too scared to actually test the theory. “You read it.”

Roger looked surprised. “Really?”

She nodded hastily. “Before I change my mind.”

Roger rushed up the stairs, and Bree could hear him pulling the chest where the journals were held, along with all of their other 18th century mementos, out of the closet. After a few moments, he reemerged, a single diary grasped tightly in his hand.

“Do you want me to read aloud?”

Bree shook her head. “Give me the highlights.”

Roger scanned the page. “It’s your mother’s writing, recapping the journey. I think Graham’s writing might be in here too. It’s certainly not Jamie’s or John’s-”

“What does it say, Roger.”

Roger nodded, returning his focus to the task at hand. “Uh, they came through the stones safely. There were some soldiers and-” he paused.

“And what?” Bree sat up straight in her chair, glaring at her husband. Perhaps this hadn’t been a good idea after all.

“They didn’t take the stagecoach to London.” Bree didn’t need to hear the truth right now, not when she was seven months pregnant and had a mug of steaming coffee within throwing distance of him.

Bree relaxed a bit and he continued tentatively. “They made it to Hal and Minnie’s. They got on a boat. They got off a boat in Delaware and then got on another boat-” Roger stopped, grinning.

“What?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Graham just wrote something cute about Klara. She’s trying to learn how to stand up. Apparently, all of the water travel is giving her some trouble.”

“She must be getting big then,” Bree relaxed a bit, glancing down at her own protruding stomach. “This little one will have some catching up to do.”

She felt Roger grab her hand gently. “They’re okay.”

*********

December 1798

The river flowed loudly beside us in the dark. Klara was snuggled up to my chest beneath my shirt and jacket to keep her warm. Both her and her clothes were in desperate need of a cleaning, so I had offered to hold her while her clothing and spare nappies dried over the fire.

She was still warm from her bath, which had consisted of a basin with a few inches of boiled water which we then cooled to a comfortable temperature by partially submerging it in the frigid river. The process had been intensive, causing me to yearn for the days of temperature controlled taps and sinks.

She wasn’t quite asleep yet. She blinked periodically, her long eyelashes tickling my chest slightly as she did so. I opened my jacket slightly, peeking in to see her tiny face. Klara raised a fist to her face, rubbing her eyes as she did when she was tired.

“We’ll have bedtime soon, love,” I whispered.

She yawned again, but wasn’t fussy. She had had a filling dinner of boiled carrots and potatoes, provided by our navigator, Bo, who had promptly fallen into a deep sleep in the grass beside us the second his dinner plate was empty. I supposed rowing and steering a vessel of somewhat substantial size all day was likely a more laborious task than he let on.

At this point, we had about another day's worth of rowing until we reached Philadelphia. We had departed from the crew of The Everleigh nearly a week ago now. It was a difficult, but welcome farewell. Leo and his cast of crewmates had been very sad to see their “little lady” off from the port in Delaware. One of the crewmen had even managed to knit her a new woolen outfit for winter. Graham had been surprised to learn that nearly all the men had knitted her some sort of farewell gift- blankets, clothing, playthings- but we’d accepted them graciously. He was later amused when I informed him that nearly all men had some proficiency in the skill, myself included.

“If my dad had ever caught me with a pair of knitting needles,” he had said, “he would have beat me over the head with them.”

I glanced over at Graham, the flickering firelight dancing softly on his features. He was focused on his task, ensuring that he didn’t inadvertently scorch the delicate fabric. I scooted slightly closer to the fire and he turned his head.

“She sleeping?”

I peeked into my shirt again. Little brown eyes blinked up at me. “Not yet. How is the drying coming along?”

Graham shrugged. “I think things are just about finished.” He began carefully removing the various articles from the spit he’d hung them on and folding them into neat squares. “Go put her down. I’ll be there faster than you can say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’”

I blinked at him and he stopped folding, grinning widely. “Go on then,” he jerked his head towards the boat anchored beside the riverbank and held out some freshly clean clothes for Klara. “You could have said it ten times by now.”

“I find that highly improbable,” I said, standing. Klara squirmed beneath my coat at the movement, but settled heavily into my arms as I carefully navigated the dark path back to the boat.

The wood creaked beneath my feet as I made my way into the small cabin. I was pleased to find that Bo had provided a bed warmer, which had already sufficiently warmed the space to a cozy temperature. Despite the lack of light, I managed to locate the pile of pelts we’d assembled for Klara to sleep on. She hardly whined as I removed her from her cocoon and redressed her. The wool was still warm from the fire. She curled up into her nightly sleeping position as soon as I’d finished, rolling onto her stomach and sticking her small bottom up into the air.

“That can’t possibly be comfortable, my dear,” I whispered, chuckling. I reached for Graham’s satchel- only and arms length away in the tiny cabin- and groped through it to retrieve the polaroid camera. We had precious little film- only a couple dozen photographs worth- but the image before me was too heartwarming not to capture.

I heard Graham duck into the cabin behind me as I snapped the photo. The flash, which I had forgotten about, thankfully did nothing to rouse Klara. It did come as a surprise to Graham, however, causing him to trip into the bundle of blankets behind me.

“Shit!” Graham managed to whisper, grasping at his hand. I whirled around, not stopping to remove the photograph produced by the camera. “My goodness! Are you alright?”

“Bed warmer-” he said through clenched teeth.

“Oh dear,” I muttered. I once again went digging through the satchel, procuring a matchbox and a candlestick. I took a few strikes to get the flame going. The room brightened and dimmed rapidly as the flame came alive in my hand.

I held the candle to Graham’s hand. He was certainly burned. The skin on the bottom of his palm was already beginning the blister. “Go submerge your hand in the river, quickly,” I whispered. Graham nodded, cradling his hand as he moved to the door.

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to remember what Bree had taught me about modern first aid techniques. I grabbed one of Bo’s whiskey bottles and a cloth.

Graham glanced between me and the whiskey bottle when I emerged onto the riverbank. He sighed, extracting his hand from the river and holding it out. “Just do it.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

He nodded. “Not as badly as dying from some riverborn bacteria in my bloodstream.”

I uncorked the bottle and splashed it over the burn. Graham winced, his face twisting in pain. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

Graham shook his head. “I’ve survived worse, darling. Don’t sweat it.”

I chuckled at the new expression, stooping beside him to secure the cloth around his hand. I looked over my work uneasily. It wasn’t the tidiest bandage I’d seen. “I suppose Claire can fashion a more suitable one in a couple of days.”

“I think it will do just fine,” he said, “You take good care of me.”

I leaned into his shoulder, listening to the gurgle of the river as it flowed by and inhaling the smoky scent that lingered on Graham. He’d always smelled of coffee grounds and old books before coming through the stones. I wasn’t sure which scent was more familiar- the one I had grown accustomed to, or the woody musk that most men carried in my own time. Still, my heart ached as I pondered it.

“Did you fall asleep?” Graham whispered.

“Mm mm,” I shook my head. “I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”

I smiled. “About how much I love you.”

Graham stopped his chin to his chest bashfully, as he did when he blushed. “You can be a real sap sometimes, you know that?”

I chuckled. “And you love it.”

“That I do, John Grey. That I do.”

*********
Bo dropped us off at a small dock just inside the busy port of Philadelphia. Large war ships, currently carrying the insignia of the British army, were anchored in the larger harbors. The city had yet to be taken by the rebel army, so it still lent itself as a stop for resupplying the ships. Still, I felt a sense of unease as we bid Bo goodbye. Philadelphia was still polarized politically, and it wouldn’t be long before the Americans managed to drive out the loyalists.

But politics were not the only source of tension in the air. I could feel my pulse quicken with each step through the long, winding route to Chestnut Street. Graham seemed even more nervous than I was.

The hour was late as we continued to weave through the streets. Drunken soldiers emerged from whorehouses, echos of fistfights came through dark alleyways. I clutched tightly onto Graham’s satchel, which was secured over my shoulder.

Eventually, we came to the familiar door. I stopped, feeling a lump begin to form in my throat.

Graham had walked a few steps past me, but turned in surprise. “Is this it?”

I nodded. I’d only felt this feeling once before, when I had arrived on the McKenzie’s doorstep over a year prior. I glanced at the widow, where a single candle flame still burned. Someone in the house was awake.

I took a deep breath, gathering myself as well as I could. “Best knock then.”

Chapter Text

I had pictured the reaction of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser countless times since Graham and I had made the decision to travel back in time. I had thought I’d imagined it all- shock, tears, joy, denial- however I had neglected to consider fainting as a possibility. It was nearly impossible to picture a man of Jamie’s stature falling victim to a spell of vertigo, but alas, he collapsed noisily onto the floor of the foyer before I could even offer a proper greeting. He had been holding a candle, which thankfully had snuffed out during its descent to the wooden floors. Regretfully, he had only been dressed in his nightshirt, and was now on display in an undignified manner. I hastily stooped down, pulling his shirt tail downward.

“Perhaps we should leave out the immodesty when we relay what happened to Claire, yes?”

Graham nodded frantically. “What should we do?”

I took a step back into the doorway, puzzled as to what the next course of action should be. There was stirring upstairs, likely a result of the cacophony of thuds that had accompanied Jamie’s fall. I could see his eyelids twitching slightly, an indication that he was coming to.

The hurried noises upstairs grew closer, accompanied by the sound of rushing footfalls down the steps. Claire emerged into the foyer, her robe tied loosely over her shift and a fire iron raised over her shoulder. Her eyes were mad with worry, and she hadn’t time to notice us before her gaze landed on Jamie. She kneeled beside him analyzing his features wildly for any signs of illness. “Jamie?” She inquired.

His eyelids fluttered slightly. “John-” he whispered.

“John? John who? Jamie, what happened? Is someone in the house?”

“No, no it canna be,” he muttered, his eyes finally flitting open. “I must’ve imagined-”

His gaze landed back on me and Graham and he froze. Claire gave him a look of confusion, but finally turned her head towards the doorway.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Several emotions flashed on her face. She’d always been easy to read, but as of now her mind was moving too quickly for me to decipher. I decided to give her a moment to process the scene before her before speaking.

Jamie sat up, his brow furrowed in concern. “If you’re here, then-”

Claire’s face now matched the look of concern that plastered Jamie’s. “What happened? Are they alright?”

“More than alright, I assure you.”

Jamie finally rose from the ground, grasping Claire’s shoulder to steady himself before standing up stiffly. I swallowed, unable to read his expression through the confusion that was still apparent in his eyes. He took a few steps towards me and held out his hand for me to shake.

I took it tentatively. The second he made contact with it, an ecstatic grin appeared on his face. He shook my hand roughly before pulling me into a tight hug despite his lack of attire. “Welcome back, dear friend!”

It was Claire’s turn next, and she cupped my face sweetly. “Your presence has been dearly missed,” she said, her eyes welling up slightly.

In all the excitement, I had nearly forgotten that Graham was standing beside me in the doorway, clutching Klara awkwardly. Jamie seemed not to have realized his presence either, his brow rising slightly as he glanced beside me.

“Care to introduce us to your companions here, John?”

I had introduced Graham to people I had known from my time on countless occasions in the past few months, but this was the first instance where I hadn’t had to lie. I felt the flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I glanced up at Graham. “Jamie, Claire, this is Graham Nowak and his- I mean- our daughter, Klara.”

Claire’s mouth dropped open at the words “our daughter” and she grinned wildly, pulling both Nowaks into a hug. I had anticipated her support- she had been the one to help me realize that I deserved love too. But I studied Jamie carefully. He seemed somewhat stern, but extended his hand for Graham to shake. “Pleasure to meet you, Graham. Why don’t you three make your way into the parlor while Claire and I find some proper clothing, aye? Feel free to take some biscuits from the kitchen while ye wait.”

I decided to take Jamie up on his offer for biscuits, leaving Graham and Klara in the parlor. After a couple minutes of careful rummaging, I eventually found them wrapped in a cloth in the pantry just as the sound of Claire and Jamie descending the stairs creaked through the quiet house. I heard footsteps pad into the kitchen behind me and I turned around.

Jamie stood in the doorway, now fully clothed. He leaned his shoulder against the doorframe, arms crossed in an uneasy fashion. “So Graham- he’s uh, your lover then?”

I sighed picking at the biscuit in my hand. “You know that’s why I went back, Jamie. That aspect of our arrival surely isn’t too much of a surprise to you. Besides, he’s more than just a ‘lover.’”

Jamie nodded awkwardly. “I dinna mean to sound dismissive. Ye must understand that this is quite,” I could see him scrambling for a word that wasn’t offensive, “unusual.”

I let out a breath. “I know, and sometimes it is even for me too. It’s not what I’m used to, but I assure you I wouldn’t have brought him here if what we had wasn’t true.”

Jamie looked me in the eye before speaking again. “I knew long ago you’d ever be with another woman after Isobel. I just never expected to see ye with-”

“A man?” I chuckled.

Jamie managed a smile too. “Aye, and a wee lassie as well. I’ll admit it will take getting used to. And it may not be easy-”

“-I know.”

Jamie sighed. “A man who has earned your respect is a man who has earned mine.”

*********

“I wonder what’s taking them so long,” Graham said to Claire awkwardly. It had been several minutes since John and Jamie had disappeared into the kitchen.

Claire was stooping in front of the fireplace, attempting to rouse a flame from the mostly extinguished ashes with the firee iron she had been brandishing as a weapon not ten minutes prior.

“I, uh, have some matches. If you’d like I mean-”

Claire looked over her shoulder. “That would be wonderful,” she said gently. Graham smiled, reaching into the satchel that John had placed on the sofa beside him. He handed the matchbox to Claire and she wasted no time igniting it. She let out a pleasant sigh. “You have no idea how much you miss these things until they’re gone.”

“Tell me about it,” Graham chuckled. “This little one has been using me as a teething ring for months now.” He held up his hand, displaying the teeth marks on his knuckle.

Claire took his hand instinctively and studied it. “You’re lucky she hasn’t managed to break the skin. Try letting her suck on a clean wet cloth when her next tooth comes in. What happened here?” She examined the makeshift bandage John had used over his burn from the previous night.

“I had a minor altercation with a bed warmer,” Graham admitted.

Claire smiled. “Pesky things, aren’t they? I’ll take a better look at the burn when there’s better light.”

Graham nodded as she took a seat in the chair across from him. She studied Klara’s face, and then his. “She looks like you.”

Graham smiled. “Well, she has her mother’s eyes. She would have loved that. She always said her eyes were her best feature.” He couldn’t help but chuckle at the memory of Alyssa studying herself in the mirror as she painstakingly applying her mascara in an attempt to w oo their classmate.

“Is Klara named after her mother?” Claire asked, a touch of sorrow in her voice.

Graham smiled at her. “No, actually. She’s uh, named after you.”

Claire looked surprised. “I’m flattered, but why me?”

Graham could feel redness rising in his cheeks. “Well, it’s just that John admires you so much. And I wanted a part of him to be reflected in her name too.”

Claire gave him a kind look, pressing her hand to her chest. She then glanced down at the sleeping child in Graham’s arm, feeling a warmth spread through her at the sight.

*********

Claire and Graham were seated across from each other in the parlor when we finally joined them. Feeling somewhat relieved after my conversation with Jamie, I sat down beside Graham, offering him half of my biscuit. He politely declined it- he always lost his appetite when he was nervous. The dramatics that accompanied our arrival had thrown everyone astray a bit, but things felt a bit more relaxed as we all took our seats in the parlor.

“I suppose you probably have questions,” I started.

Jamie leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “How are Brianna and Roger?”

“They’re doing wonderfully,” I announced. Claire and Jamie exchanged a relieved glance. “Brianna is working as an engineer. And Roger is a Professor at Harvard with Graham.”

“You’re a professor?” Claire asked, glancing at Graham. “Of what subject?”

“Anthropology, mainly, with a specialization in Western European folklore.”

Claire raised a brow. “Seems fitting,” she chuckled.

“What about wee Jem?” Jamie continued.

“Not so wee anymore,” I said, signing. “It feels as though he grows an inch a day.”
“We have photographs,” Graham said, much to Claire and Jamie’s amusement. He pulled the stack out of the satchel and passed them over.

Claire and Jamie both fixed their spectacles onto their faces and sifted through the photographs. “We have all sorts,” Graham said. “Those are just the ones of the MacKenzies. We have some everyday objects for Jamie. Some baby pictures of Klara. And a few of us,” he blushed slightly at the last one, but the Frasers were too enrapt with the polaroids we had given them to notice.

I glanced into the satchel, my eyes landing on the yellow envelope Bree had given us before our departure. Graham noticed it too, nodding.

I pulled in from the satchel. “Ahem,” I cleared my throat, and both spectacled Frasers paused their enthrallment to turn their attention to me. “There is one piece of news that we cannot wait another moment to share.” I handed Claire the envelope.

She took it tentatively, undoing the string that held it closed in an almost cryptic manner. She peeked inside just long enough for the realization to hit her, and she hugged the envelope to her chest. A smile spread across her face and tears pricked in her eyes.

“What is it, Sassenach?” Jamie asked.

Claire turned her head to face her husband, stretching out her hand to hold his. “She’s pregnant.”

“Brianna? She- she’s going to have another bairn?”

Claire nodded. “See for yourself.”

Jamie took the envelope from his wife, pulling the songram out. He studied it intently. “What exactly am I looking at?”

“It’s a photograph of the baby inside her,” Claire informed him. “See? There’s the head.”

Jamie removed his spectacles and gawked at Claire. “Inside her? They put a camera up- up there?”

Claire tried her best not to laugh. “No, Jamie. Remember what I told you about x-rays? It’s a similar concept.”

Jamie’s mouth formed into an “o” shape and he replaced his spectacles, looking more closely at the sonogram.

“It’s a girl,” I said. “Her name is Mandy.”

Jamie smiled at that. “Oh, well now Klara will have another wee lassie to play with,” he said.

“Listen, I know we have a lot of ground to cover, but there is something urgent we have to discuss before we forget.”

That captured Jamie’s attention, and he sat up stiffly. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, but there is something you need to do. John and I learned about my ability to travel through the journals you two are going to leave. You need to write an entry telling future us about this night. Otherwise, we’ll never make the decision to come.”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, I can do that. But what would happen if I don’t? Would ye just disappear?”

“I’d rather not find out,” I said.

Jamie nodded again, standing. “I’ll go add the entry now. Best not to have you all join me though. We dinna want to make too much of a ruckus upstairs.”

I left the room swiftly and I turned to Claire. “Why is Jamie concerned about noise? Are there others here?” I felt a glimmer of hope rise in my chest when I thought about the possibilities. Could William be here?

“Jenny and Ian are here, along with a cook we hired.” Claire said. “Ian knows about the stones, and I told Jenny years ago. Although, I’m not sure she really believes me. But we thought it best not to wake them.”

“What about-”

“He’s in Philadelphia,” Claire said, reaching out to grasp my hand. “I’ll send Ian out to find him tomorrow.”

I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I kissed her hands, a wave of relief washing over me. “Thank you, Claire.”

“No,” she said, “Thank *you*. Both of you.”

Chapter Text

I hadn’t realized how much I had missed sleeping on a mattress until I awoke the following morning. My eyes remained shut as my mind roused itself. My slumber had not been this pleasant since Boston, and I half expected to open my eyes and see the familiar ceiling fan that was suspended above mine and Graham’s bed back home.

Home. I willed my eyes to remain shut, imagining that I was in fact waking up in 1978. Waking up in a time where I wouldn’t have to pretend I was someone I was not. True, it wasn’t easy being myself even two centuries in the future, but I didn’t have to imagine a rope around my neck everytime I felt the urge to interlace my fingers with Graham’s. Every touch, every glance, every acknowledgment of Graham had to be completely and utterly calculated. I had forgotten how exhausting hiding in plain sight had been.

Klara’s presence certainly hadn’t made it any easier. Each time I was reminded that 1778 John was not Klara’s father, it felt as though a small shred of my soul was ripped away. I had been forced to be a lover behind closed doors before, but never a parent. I squeezed my eyes further shut, trying to imagine Klara’s crib on the other side of the wall. The baby monitor and the rocking chair, and her frog.

I felt movement beside me, followed by the soft caress of Graham’s cool lips on my brow.

“I know you’re awake,” he whispered. “And I don’t hear anyone else up yet.”

I peeked one eye open and listened. The house was silent and the hour was early. I strained to hear any small creak of a floorboard or shutting of a door, but there was nothing. Even Klara was still fast asleep in her bassinet in the corner of the guest room.

Graham kissed my brow again, trailing the kisses down over my temple and my jaw. His hair smelled of the cedar chest from which Claire had retrieved the bed linens the previous night. His lips finally found their place on mine, which parted at the touch. He slid his tongue between them and I ran my fingers through his lengthening locks. I couldn’t kiss him deeply enough.

I tried not to gasp as he ran his chilled hands beneath my night shirt. I could feel the pleasant traces of cold that lingered as he ran his fingers over chest and stomach. My insides were quickly being warmed as my pulse quickened with his touch.

I withdrew my own hands from his hair and ran them down his back, stoppening when the fabric of his shirt ended. Slowly, I wrapped my hands around the back of his thigh, pulling it so his knee rested at my side. I pulled away from the kiss and smirked. Graham looked at me with confusion, but I put my other hand over his mouth before he could say a word. I wrapped my other arm around his torso and flipped him onto his back. I leaned in to whisper into his ear. “You, my dear, are loud when you’re on top.”

Graham grabbed my wrist, pulling my hand from his mouth. He looked as though he might protest but, realizing that I was indeed correct, decided against it. He grabbed my hand again, shoving my fingers in his mouth. I grinned at his eagerness and didn’t hesitate to reach between his legs as I started to kiss him again. Our kisses became more and more desperate as I felt him relax into the massaging from my fingers. He slithered his arm between us, wrapping his hands around my cock, making his desires clear. I sat up, allowing Graham to shove me deep into his mouth. He withdrew, looking up at me through his lashes. “I want it slow.”

I nodded, taking a breath to calm the intensity brought on by our desperate kisses. I kissed him gently as I aligned myself. I whispered tokens of love and comfort as I pushed in, and he stifled a gasp. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been inside him, and clearly he couldn’t either. His muscles contracted around me at first, but eased after a moment. It was like his body had remembered what to do. His hips began to move beneath me and his eyes fluttered. I felt my own body fall into rhythm with his.

Graham’s mouth fell open and I laid my hand over it gently. I could feel his breath on my palm, quickening as we continued to move together. My other hand grasped his cock and I stroked it gently in time with my hips. His eyes widened, then fluttered closed as a long breath was released onto my palm. I studied his face and breath with each move I made, honing in on what made his breath hitch and his eyes flutter.

I adjusted my hips slightly, allowing a better angle to pleasure Graham. His hand shot to my buttocks as he gasped, pulling me desperately deep. I swallowed a moan as I watched the pressure build within him. His breath was uneven now and his eyes squeezed tightly shut as if he were trying to keep himself together.

My own ecstasy came from watching him fall apart. He spasmed and trembled, throwing his head back and opening his mouth to moan, but no sound came out. I watched his face as I came, my mouth falling open as his was and my hand grasping white-knuckled onto the headboard.

As the pleasure subsided into a dull buzz, I flopped back onto the bed beside him. We caught our breath for a moment before Graham chuckled.

“We should do that more often.” I could practically hear Graham’s grin as he teased. Our encounters were certainly more sporadic since coming through the stones.

I lazily whacked his chest, but couldn’t hide the smile that played on my own lips. “Come on, dear,” I sat up, “the others will be up soon.”

Graham made a noise in protest, but stood anyway to help me make the bed we had chosen to sleep on. There were two in the room, but surely no one had to know that we only chose to make use of the one large enough to accommodate both of us. I turned around, mussing up the other one slightly as a precaution.

The house began to stir a bit as Graham and I dressed. I could hear someone come through the door in the kitchen below us, who I assumed was the cook as the smell of breakfast meats wafted up through the fireplace. There was movement upstairs too, followed by a gentle knock on the door.

Claire wished me good morning as she slipped through the door and towards Klara’s bassinet. She began to tend to Klara’s morning needs- a fresh cloth and warm clothes.

“Oh, don’t worry about that Claire. I can handle it,” Graham said apologetically as he fumbled with his cravat.

Claire turned around. “Oh, it’s no inconvenience. Quite the opposite in fact,” she turned her attention away from Klara and onto Graham’s cravat. He dropped his hands and allowed her to secure it neatly as she continued, “I miss having little ones around.”

She turned again, lifting Klara from her bassinet before heading towards the door. “Mrs. Figg is making breakfast, so come down while it’s hot.”

We followed her down the stairs and into the dining room, where another woman was already sipping tea. Given her striking similarity to both Jamie and Ian, I could only assume that she was Jenny Murray.

She moved to stand as I entered, but I gave her a wave deeming the formality unnecessary. “A pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Murray. I’ve heard wonderful things.”

She gave a smile, but I could see a wariness in her eyes. “Och, call me Jenny. I’ve heard things about you as well, Lord John. My brother’s letters from Helwater were quite detailed.” She took a sip of her tea, eyeing me over the cup’s brim. I felt the blood rise to my face and I cleared my throat.

Claire interjected before Jenny could embarrass me further. “Well, I’m glad to say we are all wonderful friends these days. Jenny, this is Graham Nowak.”

“Is this your wein?” Jenny asked, nodding towards Klara. A smile broke across her face. “I can tell, she looks just like ye.” Claire moved to sit beside Jenny, allowing her to fawn over Klara properly.

“She has her mother’s eyes, though,” Graham smiled, sitting across from the women. This statement prompted many questions, allowing Graham to fill Jenny in on the prepared backstory. Claire glanced at me as he spoke, offering a reassuring smile.

I offered a similar one in return, but Claire still invited me to join her in the kitchen. Graham and Jenny hardly acknowledged us as we excused ourselves, both too engrossed in their discussion of child-rearing.

Mrs. Figg was nowhere to be found in the kitchens, presumably out to shop for ingredients for lunch. Claire furrowed her brow, taking advantage of the privacy to assess my features. She had always been perceptive. A gift she had bestowed upon her daughter as well. The concern behind her eyes was a familiar sight, one which I’d seen swimming in Brianna’s gaze on occasion.

“Have you spoken to Graham about it?”

I’d never gotten used to her forward nature. Suddenly, the doile on the counter seemed fascinating as I averted her expectant gaze. I picked at a loose thread as I spoke. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

Claire rested her hand over my fidgeting, pulling the doile away. I looked up at her. She didn’t have to tell me what she was alluding to for me to know she’d, in true Fraser fashion, hit the nail on the head.

“It’s complicated. And there are things that might make it more complicated if I were to bring up my discomfort now.”

“Please, be more cryptic,” she joked. “You can tell me.”

I sighed, finally giving in to the stare. “I would like to be a part of the conversation that is going on in there,” I admitted, jerking my head towards the dining room. “I’m proud to be her father, but I can’t show it.”

Claire eyed me. “That doesn’t sound very complicated to me.”

I waited, watching the gears turn in her head. She’d figure it out- and she’d probably uncover more than I had.

“You’re worried about venting to Graham because you don’t want him to feel guilty. And because of Willie.”

Willie? What did he have to do with this? Claire was right about my attempt to spare Graham from unnecessary distress. It wasn’t his fault that we had to hide certain aspects of Klara’s upbringing. There were a million reasons why we had constructed our backstory. But William wasn’t one of them.

“William is your son, for all intents and purposes. But he will never be Graham’s. And William will never know that you’re raising another child. You’re going to have to tell the same lie to your son that you’ve just told Jenny. I’d imagine that it feels quite unbearable.”

Although I hadn’t realized it yet, she was right. “It’s as if you’re in my mind, Claire.”

Jamie’s footsteps came lumbering down the steps. Claire simply squeezed my arm. “Talk to him,” she said, spinning on her heel and disappearing into the dining room.

*********

We had only just finished breakfast when a young woman came knocking on the door. I heard Claire welcome her enthusiastically as the rest of us made our way to the parlor to greet her. It seemed as though she was known to the family.

I couldn’t help but feel endeared when I laid eyes upon her. She had an heir of innocence about her, her cheeks rosy and eyes bright with youth. She was about Willie’s age, dressed in a modest and humble assortment of petticoats and scarves.

She scanned the group of us as she entered the foyer, her eyes brightening as her gaze fixed on me. “Oh, Friend John! It is so pleasant to meet thee.”

Given her language and humble attire, I quickly realized she was a Quaker. She looked familiar too. Almost like…

“Are you kin to Dr. Hunter?” I had recalled he had mentioned having a sister, Rachel.

I had met the Quaker man briefly only months prior to my departure through the stones. He had assisted Claire in performing surgery upon my nephew. I could see his eyes in hers. I had recalled he had mentioned having a sister, Rachel.

She nodded, grinning. “He is my brother. I come bearing news of Friend William.”

My heart pounded in my chest. “Did Ian manage to retrieve him.”

“Aye,” she nodded. “Although there wasn’t much retrieving to do. Friend William is working at the docks with the other soldiers. Regretfully, Friend Ian couldn’t get him to come with me…” she trailed off, looking guiltily at the floor.

My stomach sank. “Did he- did my son not want to see me?”

Rachel’s eyes widened. “Oh, no Friend John. It was simply that he would not listen to anything Friend Ian was trying to tell him. Methinks he is still unaware of thine presence in the city.”

A wave of relief rushed over me. I thanked Rachel and reached for my hat on the tree by the door. I went to don my coat, but Claire already had it in hand, suspended behind me. I shrugged it on and she smiled.

“Klara is in good hands here. You two go!”

I glanced at Jamie, who had been wordless since Rachel’s news. He had a kind smile on his face, but there was an air of sadness about him. We couldn’t bring him to the house, as any proximity to Jamie would raise questions from those unaware of William's true parentage. I tried to provide him with a reassuring glance as the door shut behind us, but I wasn’t sure he’d noticed.

We weaved through large groups of pedestrians and navigated our way across carriage-filled streets. My feet had a mind of their own as I led Graham to the harbor. Even he struggled to keep up, even with his long legs.

“What should I call him,” Graham said from behind me. He was slightly out of breath.

“Lord Ellesmere, to start,” I said, still staring ahead. “Perhaps something less formal once you are better acquainted.”

We finally made it to the bustling docks. I stopped at the edge, catching my breath as I scanned the sea of red uniforms bustling on the docks. William wouldn’t be too difficult to spot given his height, but there were just so many of them.

Graham finally caught up behind me, surveying the men. “He’s a Lieutenant, right?

I nodded. “His lapels-”

“They’ll be blue. And the cuff of his sleeve.”

I once again nodded, searching for any flash of blue in the wall of red. There must have been a hundred soldiers on this dock alone.

“There!” Graham said. “An officer. Looks an awful lot like Jamie.”

I followed his gaze and there he was, some 50 yards away. He was sitting alone on a crate, half a loaf of bread in his hand. He gazed at the men bustling around him, some of whom he nodded to.

I stepped out of the crowd. William’s wandering gaze passed me, the bored expression on his face lingering for a moment before he froze. His head whipped towards me, his bread falling from his hand. He rose slowly.

Chapter Text

Hey readers!

I'd mentioned in the chapter notes of my last post that is be posting this weekend, but we are getting a hurricane tomorrow where I live :( if my power is still on tomorrow morning, I will try and finish what I've started for the next chapter and post. If not, it may take a bit longer since I'll have to type the rest of it out on my phone!

I am determined to get the next chapter to you guys as soon as mother nature allows me to!

-H

Chapter Text

We stared at each other for a moment and I smiled, causing him to break out in a run. I laughed as my feet carried me towards him. I had no regard for my hat, which was picked up by the breeze and deposited God knows where behind me.

“Papa!” William called once we were in earshot of each other. He practically pushed me over as his body collided with mine. I squeezed him tightly, trying to hold back tears that threatened to spill. “I thought you left me.”

I felt a pang in my chest. “I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry.”

“You didn’t write-”

“I couldn’t. I would have.”

He pulled away and looked at me for a moment. He surveyed me for a moment before returning to our embrace. “You must tell me everything,” he said. “When Claire gave me your letter...” he trailed off for a moment, and I could feel his arms tighten even more. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

That was what I had thought too. Had I known I’d come back, I wouldn’t have made my letter to William so final. I’d been cryptic about my whereabouts before bidding him goodbye. I’d even sent word to my accountant and solicitor, my assets were now in William’s name. And in a few short months, I’d have to do it all over again.

It was my turn to pull away, as much as it pained me to do so. I gripped his shoulders- strong, like Jamie’s- and said, “In time I will tell you, I promise.”

William nodded at that, but his glance moved over my shoulder. “Friend of yours, Papa?”

Graham stood behind me sheepishly. I moved to the side so I could properly introduce them. Graham shook William’s hand. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Lord Ellesmere. Your father speaks highly of you.” I could see Graham studying William- his features, his similarities to Jamie. A part of me could hardly believe the image I was beholding- Graham shaking hands with my son. It must have been a dream.

This dream was abruptly interrupted by another soldier approaching from behind William. He wore the uniform of Captain and he peered at us, brow arched. “I wasn’t aware it was social hour, Lieutenant Ellesmere. I would have worn a nicer coat.”

I recognized the Captain, but I couldn’t tell if he recognized me in return. He had no reason to. We’d only come across each other on occasion when I served as his Major when he was still rising in the ranks decades ago. I couldn’t recall his name- I’d been in charge of hundreds of men- but his striking features, accompanied by a large red birthmark encompassing most of his neck and jaw, were hard to forget.

William instinctively whipped around, standing straight. I swallowed a chuckle when I noticed that Graham took on a similar posture after noticing the Captain’s disapproving stare.

He looked between us as he spoke, “You had ten minutes for lunch before you had to resume your duties. Not to mention-” the Captain peered at me, eyes narrowed. “Major Grey!” He too now stiffened.

“At ease, Captain. My days with His Majesty's army are well behind me. My son now takes my place in service.” I gestured to William and the Captain glanced between us.

“My apologies, my Lord. I hadn’t noticed the resemblance.” I could tell from the Captain’s puzzled expression that he *still* couldn’t see it. There wasn’t one to be found. A smile played at the corners of William’s lips and the Captain’s eyes flicked between us. “That was quite a touching embrace…” the Captain pondered, “I take it that the war has separated you.”

William nodded. “A sad truth, Captain. One I am afraid is common during these times. I am grateful to have found my father.”

The Captain rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Off with you, then. I grant you leave for the day. It’s rare for families to come together nowadays, and I will not stand between them. Especially when they have provided great services for their country.”

“Thank you, Captain,” William said with a respectful nod to his superior, who had already turned around to bark orders at the other soldiers.

We decided against returning to the Fraser’s abode, choosing instead to visit the tavern for lunch. It wasn’t very crowded midday. Only a handful of soldiers milled about. I was grateful for the streaming hot stew served to us upon our arrival. William scarfed half of it down before we had time to even begin conversation.

“How did you know where I was?” He finally asked, looking up from his bowl.

“Rachel Hunter informed us. She said she came with Ian, but he wasn’t with her.”

William rolled his eyes. “I didn’t want to speak with him. Didn’t keep him from trying when Rachel left though.”

“And he didn’t tell you about your father’s return?” Graham asked, skeptically.

William frowned, returning to his meal. “I’d assumed he’d come to discuss...other things. He might have told me, but I hadn’t been listening.”

“I take it you and Ian have some form of dispute?” I asked.

“You could say that. Nothing I can do about it, though.”

I eyed him, trying to discern the cause of this dispute. Surely, the young men hardly knew each other. Or at least that was true prior to my departure…

William stood, empty bowl in hand. “I’m going to request another helping. They’ve been working us ragged these past few weeks.” -A noble endeavor to put a stopper on the conservation at hand.

“Are Ian and Rachel together?” Graham asked as soon as William was out of earshot.

I gazed toward the counter where William stood. “Claire implied as much last night. Do you think their dispute is over her?” My first inclination was to believe that that could not be the source of their animosity. But then I remembered who William came from. The passionate veracity of Fraser men, especially in defense of those they loved, coursed through William’s veins as well as Ian’s.

I heard Graham take another breath to reply, but he stopped himself as William made his way back to the table.

“How did you meet Miss. Hunter?” I asked forwardly.

William froze mid-bite and returned his spoon to his bowl. With a sigh, he admitted, “Her brother aided me when I was injured during a mission. The three of us traveled together. But then she met Ian…” The heartbreak was clear in his eyes, but he tried to hide it. “When I found out they were romantically involved I...reacted poorly.”

I gave him a sympathetic look, deciding not to press the matter further. We continued conversation though, catching up with each other's activities over the past year. William had continued serving his commission, telling me of his various expeditions. Graham and I proceeded to fill William in on our own falsified backstory. Another lie to fuel the fire- I felt uneasy.

“My condolences about your wife, Mr. Nowak. If it’s not too forward, may I ask how she passed? Was it childbirth?” I could see a flicker of remembrance flash across William’s face. His own mother had met that fate.

“She took ill soon after, but it was not related to the birth.” Graham said gently. Unbeknownst to William, Graham was aware of the circumstances in which Geneva had died- even more so than William himself.

William appeared to be somewhat relieved. “Well, God bless her.”

Graham nodded earnestly. “Thank you, Lord Ellesmere.”

“Please, call me William. A friend of my father’s is a friend of mine.”

*********

We said goodbye to William back at the harbor, ensuring he knew where to find us whenever he had a break from duty. Graham stood beside me as we watched him disappear into the crowd of men.

“Well, that went well I think,” Graham said, sounding proud. He squeezed my shoulder. “You did a good job with him, John.”

I wanted to smile at that, but it felt wrong. “I can’t have. I’ve lied to him all his life and now I've lied to him again. He hardly knows me.”

Graham gave me a sympathetic look that I could hardly discern in the dim evening light. I shrugged his hand off of my shoulder. “John-”

“Please,” I said quietly, “Just not now.”

He nodded, dropping his hand to his side. I could tell my reaction had concerned him, but he respected my wishes as we silently made our way back to Chestnut Street.

*********

The inhabitants of Chestnut Street, Frasers, Murrays, and Hunters alike- were engaged in a rousing round of parlor games upon our return. The long walk back had given me time to gather myself, and I shot Graham a smile as I removed my coat. He eyed me, as if to say “This isn’t over,” before we joined the festivities.

Claire was seated at the small upright piano that was nestled into the corner of the room, which had apparently been included with the purchase of the house. It wasn’t a majestic piano by any means, but it offered a sense of simple joviality. The rest of the room was engrossed in an energetic game of charades. Klara sat on Jamie’s lap as he leaned forward, studying Jenny’s movements. She was bent over at the hips, moving her right arm in a push-and-pull fashion.

“Sawing?”

Jenny shook her head, stopping the motion to hold up two fingers. Jamie’s expression was frantic.

“Five seconds!” Claire shouted, eyeing the clock.

“Cutting wood?!”

Jenny grunted in disapproval as Claire jangled the keys of the piano, indicating their time was up. “Of course a man could never guess ‘doin’ laundry,’ if his life depended on it.”

The women in the room laughed and Jamie shot his sister a glare. “I’ve no seen a woman do laundry like *this*,” he dramatically mimed her movements, causing Klara to bob back and forth in his lap, “in my entire life.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “If ye cut your wood with your arse up in the air, then God help ye brother.”

The room erupted in laughter. Even Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle as Klara tried to clap her hands enthusiastically. “Ye dinna even know what you’re applauding, mo leanbh.”

“Oh, the child just wants to have a laugh like everyone else,” Rachel said sweetly.

“What does mo leanbh mean?” Graham asked. The heads in the room turned in surprise, having not noticed our presence until now.

Jamie smiled. “It’s an endearing way to address a bairn ye care for. It means ‘my child’ or ‘my babe.’”

“I think I’ll stick to calling her sweetpea,” Graham smiled. “And I think it’s safe to say it’s past this little one’s bedtime.”

Jenny scooped Klara from Jamie’s lap before either could protest. “I’ll take wee Klara up to bed. I’ll probably go to sleep myself too.”

Ian also stood. “Aye, Rachel and I must get goin’ too. We promised Fergus we’d help him finish printing tomorrow's issue of L’Oignon.”

“Be careful, both of ye,” Jamie said sternly. “Make sure no one sees ye enter that print shop.”

“Did ye find Willie?” Jamie asked once only the four of us remained.

“We did,” I nodded, “We spent the day catching up in the tavern. He was quite surprised, to say the least.” I looked down at my feet, not wishing to discuss the topic further. Jamie grunted softly, clearly having wanted to hear more. I couldn’t blame him.

Claire broke the somewhat awkward silence by playing a few notes on the piano. Graha parked up beside me, strolling to the corner to join her. “Do you play much?” he asked.

Claire shook her head. “I know a few basic melodies, but I’ve yet to master any chords. I take it you play.”

Graham shrugged. “A bit.”

Claire scooted over, pulling her skirt to the side to offer him room on the bench. “Do you take requests?”

“Depends on the song,” Graham smiled.

“Play something Bree likes,” Jamie said from his chair. I sat across from him on the couch, glad for a new topic of conversation.

“I doubt he could recreate that ghastly Led Zeppelin music on the piano,” I said, wrinkling my nose.

As if taking up a challenge, Graham proceeded to play the first few bars of “Kashmir.” Both Jamie and Claire’s expressions matched my own.

“She listens to that? Claire asked. “She was right, I do hate it.”

“To be fair,” Graham said, “It sounds better on a keyboard.” His comment was met with confused stares. “It’s an electric piano.” Claire and Jamie nodded politely, clearly still unimpressed by the song.

“I can play a song that John likes,” Graham winked. I shot him a look, but both Fraser nodded in excitement.

“It’s a little bit funny-” Graham began, playing along as he sang.

“Graham, no-” I blushed.

“Too late,” he smirked, “This feeling inside. I’m not one of those who can easily hide.”

He continued to play the entirety of “Your Song,” concentrating on the keys as he played. Claire and Jamie exchanged loving glances throughout.

“You’re going to have to teach me that one before you leave,” Claire said when Graham finished. “Did you write it.”

Graham and I both laughed at that notion. “It’s by a musician named Elton John,” Graham said. “John is smitten with him.”

“I am not!” I said, gaping at him. “His music is tolerable.”

Graham rolled his eyes. “Any other requests?” He didn’t wait for a response before he played the opening to “Que Sera.” Claire’s face lit up as she sang along. Her voice was truly lovely as she sang the familiar tune. Jamie leaned back into his chair, admiring her lovingly. Even though he was tone deaf, he still enjoyed the sound of his wife’s voice.

There had been a time when I’d craved for someone to look at me like that. The satisfaction and pride were clear as day on his face as Jamie admired her. I found myself admiring Graham that way now. He smiled at Claire as she sang, the firelight giving him a handsome glow as his fingers meanouvered nimbly over the keys.

As one song ended, another began. I felt my pulse quicken as Graham looked over his shoulder as he sang. “I’ve got you...under my skin.”

It was the song that had been playing on the radio when he picked me up for our first date. I hadn’t heard it since then, but the memories it roused made my heart swell. We had come so far since then. I felt the stress of the day melt off of me as Graham sang. His performance was better this time, his voice steadier. Perhaps he was less nervous. Maybe he had even practiced.

Claire and Jamie applauded as he finished, jangling the keys with the last note.

*********

“You remembered,” I said, shutting the door of our room behind me and leaning against it..

“Of course I remembered.” Graham said softly. He looked over to Klara’s bassinet. “Last time I sang that song to you, life was so different.”

“Different in a good way?” I asked.

Graham ran a hand through my hair, wrapping his arm around my waist as he stepped closer to me. His lips brushed mine and he whispered. “In the best way.”

His kiss was tender and deep. He could have kissed me that way for the rest of eternity and I would have had no argument with it. I pulled away, holding his cheeks in my hands just inches from my face. The warmth of his breath mingled with mine as I looked into his eyes. Satisfaction. Love. Unequivocal contentment. It was all there, shining through his features. Everything I’d never been able to give Isobel. Everything Claire and Jamie Fraser had always been able to give each other. It was all right there in front of me, simming in Graham’s eyes.

He turned his head, kissing my palm. “Let’s go to bed.”

Our love making that night had started out slow and gentle, with whispers of “I love you's” as we connected. By the end, it had devolved into a desperation for closeness, to become one. There were scratches down his back and teeth marks on his shoulder from where I’d bitten down to stifle my moans. Graham’s face was pressed into the pillow as I pulled at his hair. It was longer now than it had been that night on the beach- when he had divulged his desires to me for the first time. I scraped my teeth along his shoulder as he came into me, smiling at the memory of our first night together.

“God, I missed that,” Graham said once we’d both finished. He didn’t bother to remove himself from me and we laid there connected.

“You’re going to have to make sure you keep your shirt on for the next few days,” I said. “I definitely left some marks.”

“I’ll have to cancel my plans to undress in front of everyone, then.” Graham chuckled tiredly. I whacked the back of his head and he grinned. “Is that why you haven’t done that in a while? You didn’t want to leave marks?”

I sighed, staring up over his shoulder at the ceiling. “If something were to happen and someone were to see you...I just didn’t want to risk leaving physical evidence.”

“Fair enough,” Graham said, kissing my brow.

“I just wanted you to enjoy it as much as you did before we left,” I admitted. “I wanted it to feel like we were at home.”

He reached over the side of the bed and grabbed his shirt from the ground, pulling it over his head as he spoke. “Sounds like tonight may have triggered some homesickness,” he said softly. “It did for me too, if it makes you feel better.”

I felt a lump rise in my throat as I thought of the group in the parlor this evening- as I thought of William. “I shouldn’t want to go back.”

Graham laid beside me, his breath tickling the top of my head as he stroked my hair. “You have nothing to feel guilty about, darling.”

I wished I could believe him.

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve, December 1778

Graham stooped beside the basin, narrowly avoiding an indignant splash from it’s fussy inhabitant. The air in the room was filled with the creeping chill of new winter, and even in the warm water Klara’s arms sported goosebumps.

“It’s okay, sweetpea. Just gotta get you clean.”

A soapy splash collided with his shoulder, soaking through his shirt.

It was usually Jenny who bathed her these days. Klara seemed to have an affinity for the strong-minded women in the Fraser family, and Graham had been more than happy to oblige it. But at this moment, the house was empty. The women had gone to the market to purchase food for Mrs. Figg to cook, Ian had left for a scouting task with Rollo and had yet to return, and Jamie was busy chopping wood in the alley behind the house. Even John had managed to find himself preoccupied with William.

Another splash to the face pulled Graham out of his thoughts, the lye soap instantly causing his eyes to burn. He blindly groped for a cloth as Klara giggled.

“I think the wee one has her mind set on blindin’ ye,” Graham heard from behind him. He jumped, nearly knocking over the pitcher of water. “Sorry, I didna mean to startle ye.”

Graham tried to regain his composure, ignoring the burn in his eyes to look at Jamie. “Have you finished already?” He’d only been gone a quarter of an hour, if Graham remembered correctly.

Jamie, shrugged. “No, but I thought better of spending too long out there. Claire wouldna take it well if she came home to see my fingers had gone blue.” He pulled his hands from the pockets of his jackets and flexed them for Graham to see. Indeed, they had turned a somewhat ghostly shade.

“Why don’t you warm them by the fire then,” Graham nodded towards the hearth. He furrowed his brow in confusion when Jamie let out a laugh. “What did I say that’s so funny?”

Jamie tried to control himself a bit, giving Graham an earnest look. “It’ll give ye chilblains if ye get too close and your skin is too cold.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” Graham said, puzzled. He seemed to not know a lot of things these days.

“Well, Claire tells me people dinna use fires for heat in your time. How could you have known?”

Graham sighed, trying not to meet the Scotsman’s gaze. He instead focused his attention on rinsing the soap from Klara’s hair, careful to avoid getting it in her eyes.

Jamie shifted beside him as he took a seat on the floor. “Do ye play chess?”

Graham shook his head. “John tried to teach me, but…” he shrugged.

Jamie grinned, “But John isna the best teacher?”

Graham managed to crack a smile at that. “I think it would also be fair to say I’m not the best student.” It wasn’t quite true- John’s impatience in front of a chess board certainly impeded the learning process more than Graham’s confusion.

“Ye dinna become a professor if you aren't a decent student,” Jamie said knowingly.

Graham laughed as he stood to pluck Klara from her bath. She let out a cry at the loss of warmth, eagerly snuggling into the towel he deposited her into.

Jamie gazed at the scene. “It’s quite pleasant to once again have a bairn crawling about the house. It makes me miss wee Jem.”

Graham ran the towel over Klara’s head to dry her hair. “He’s not so little anymore.”

The Scotsman shook his head. “Aye, I s’pose he wouldna be. Do you think he’s happy? Growing up in your time, I mean.”

Graham turned his head to meet Jamie’s stare. The man who Graham usually saw as intimidating now wore a strange expression. Grief, perhaps? Or was it hope? “I think he does,” Graham said, depositing Klara into Jamie’s lap. That made the man smile.

“She’s a bonnie lassie.” Jamie said quietly. “It’s safe for him? And the new bairn- Mandy?”

Graham nodded. “Bree and Roger are excellent parents. They’d be safe anywhere.”

Jamie’s expression didn’t soften. “Claire told me- about all the terrible accidents that happen. Automobiles, airplanes- they sound deadly.”

Graham couldn’t refute that, not without lying to the man. But perhaps…, “Do you want to see them?”

Jamie lifted his gaze from the bundle in his lap. “See them? How?”

“I’ll be right back.”

Graham stood up from the floor and hurried upstairs into the guest room. The satchel was tucked away in a drawer, and he deposited its contents on the bed, rifling through it to find the bundle of photographs that contained the photos of cars and planes. He debated returning everything else to its proper place, but it was only him and Jamie in the house. It could wait.

He returned triumphantly, handing the stack of photographs to Jamie. Klara reached for them, and Jamie held them out of her reach as he gazed upon them.

“I’d seen Claire draw them, but…” He reached the photo that John had taken from the window of the airplane. “Christ. I can not imagine looking down as if I had the view of the Lord.”

“It’s really quite breathtaking,” Graham said, “the photo doesn’t do it justice.”

Jamie flipped to the next image. It had been from the trip to the Cape. Graham and John leaned up against the hood of Graham’s car. John was looking at the camera, smiling somewhat awkwardly, hands deep in his pockets. But Graham had hardly noticed the camera, instead entranced by the man beside him. Perhaps he’d been reminiscing about their love-making the night before, or maybe he was admiring the way the wind was blowing through his hair.

Jamie made a Scottish noise, a small “hmph” indicating sentiment. “The man I knew before he went through the stones wanted nothing more than to have someone gaze upon him like that.”

Graham felt heat rise to his face and he chuckled awkwardly. “He had lovers, though. Before me, I mean.”

Jamie shrugged. “Aye, but they didna make him happy. Not the way that you have. Why, I’ve seen John smile more in the past few weeks than in all the decades I’ve known him.”

“And, uh,” Graham shifted awkwardly, “You don’t mind?”

Jamie took a breath, pondering his words before speaking. “It isna my place to have an opinion on your...circumstances. The only thing I have a say in is that my friend is well-cared for, and that is evident. Everything else is between you and the Lord.”

It wasn’t a perfect answer, Graham noticed, but it was more than to be expected from an 18th century Roman Catholic. “Do you think others share your opinion?” Graham asked tentatively. “Your tolerance?” he amended.

Jamie frowned. “It would be rare but, aye, there are others. It’s more just a matter of who feels it is God’s will to judge and who doesn’t. My faith has taught me to care for others whilst minding my business.”

“Doesn’t sound much different from my time,” Graham noted, beginning to clothe and diaper Klara.

“Do people still judge in your time? I was thinkin’ things may have been different. You can John seem so...content.”

Graham brushed off Jamie’s hesitancy and shrugged. “There is tolerance, but mostly people leave me and John alone out of fear more than anything else. But raising Klara together is certainly going to ruffle some people’s feathers. John and I have already experienced our share of homophobia.” Graham took a breath, trying not to dwell on what they had gone through already- the attack on Graham, John’s coworker’s verbal assault- who knew what would transpire next?

Jamie pressed his mouth into a line, perhaps some of his own feathers were ruffled by the notion. But if they were, he kept those thoughts to himself. Klara wriggled free from Graham’s grasp, a few buttons still unfastened on her coat as she crawled toward Jamie. His expression softened and he held out his fingers for her to grab. They looked comically large in her small fists and she grasped them, pulling herself up onto her feet. “She’s getting better at it,” Jamie noted, flicking his gaze briefly towards Graham.

“She’d probably be toddling around by now if we hadn’t spent so long on a ship. It made practicing a bit tumultuous.”

Before Jamie could respond, the door behind them swung open. Startled, Klara released Jamie’s fingers and fell promptly onto her bottom.

*********

I shut the door behind me and William, smiling at Klara. She gazed up at me from the floor and smiled, showing off the beginnings of a tooth peeking through her gums. She then looked to William, her smile falling as she surveyed the stranger.

“And who might you be?” William asked, stooping down to get a closer look. He looked towards Graham and Jamie, nodding politely in greeting.

“Ou- My daughter,” Graham coughed at the near-slip. “Klara Maria.”

Thankfully, William didn’t seem to notice Graham’s stumbling, and I let out a breath. “You three seem to be making merry,” I noted to Jamie and Graham. I’d yet to see the two engaging in conversation, but I was grateful to witness it finally.

Klara whined a bit as William picked her up, a small fist extending itself towards me. William laughed. “I think she likes you, Papa.”

I tried to act surprised. “It seems the little one does have an affinity for me,” I said, accepting her from William and tucking her familiarly into my side. She snuggled into my shoulder, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.

Thoughtfully, Jamie diverted the subject of conversation away from Klara. “Good to see you lad,” he said to William. An emotion shone in his eyes as he gazed upon his son, but it was gone in a flash. “Looks like ye’ve had a long day.” He gestured to William’s uniform, which was still splattered in mud from his duties this morning.

William laughed. “I suppose it would be wise of me to change prior to the festivities. If you’ll excuse me.”

He nodded to each of us before exiting to the upstairs, where a small chest of his belongings had been kept by the Frasers for occasions such as these.

Suddenly, Graham shot up, nearly tripping over the wash basin as he practically sprinted after William. He mumbled an “excuse me” as he exited, but Jamie and I followed him nevertheless.

He intercepted William right at the door to the guest room. “William- I uh- oh it’s a bit of a mess in there I’m afraid.” Graham stumbled, pressing his back up against the door.”

William rose a brow in amusement. “I’m sure it cannot be too much of a mess, knowing my Papa. And I don’t mind anyway,” he reached toward the knob, but Graham beat him to it.

“Just give me two seconds,” Graham said quickly before slipping into the room and shutting the door promptly.

“Is the guest chamber truly that much of a mess?” William asked, puzzled at Graham’s odd behavior.

“Oh, Graham is a bit of a stickler for cleanliness,” I lied. He wasn’t- a fact I’d learned quickly after moving in with him. He wasn’t a slob by any means, but he was certainly content to function in clutter.

William merely clicked his tongue in acknowledgment, the confused expression on his face still apparent. The door swung open again and Graham held it open. “There ya go, all cleaned up.”

William cleared his throat. “Thank you,” and passed into the room at last.

I grabbed Graham’s arm and pulled him down the hallway a few paces, Jamie close in-tow. “What the hell was that about?” I whispered. “And don’t tell me the room was messy.”

Graham sighed. “I left some of our photographs on the bed. I didn’t realize you two were getting back so soon.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “We still have to be careful-”

“You think I don’t know that? I’m sorry, okay?”

I gave Graham a look that indicated it wasn’t okay. Had William seen the pictures- I didn’t even want to ponder the notion. Graham faltered slightly at my glare. Perhaps it had been harsher than intended. Klara stirred sleepily in my arms as I tensed.

“There wasn’a any harm done. Perhaps the matter is best left alone, aye?” Jamie mediated. He looked to be, brow raised. “We all have the same goal here.”

I looked to Graham, his expression pleading. “Fine,” I said, sighing. “Just put them back next time, okay?”

Graham nodded apologetically. I reached out and squeezed his arm.

The sound of femine laughter erupting from the kitchen indicated that Claire, Jenny, and Mrs. Figg has at last returned. Jamie jerked his head towards the stairs. “May the festivities begin.”

Chapter Text

January 1979

The rhythmic thumping of Mandy’s pulse filled the small exam room as the nurse pressed the ultrasound wand onto Bree’s growing baby bump. Roger squeezed her hand and she turned to her husband, his eyes lit up as though he were a boy in a candy shop. His reactions to the small things with Mandy- hearing her heartbeat, feeling Bree’s stomach when she kicked- brought joy to Bree. These were the moments where her husband got to truly share the child-bearing experience with her.

“Hmmm,” the nurse pursed her lips.

“Is everything okay?” Bree asked, a pang of worry pulling her away from her loving gaze at Roger.

The nurse had been deep in thought, but perked up as she realized that Bree had asked her a question. “Oh, everything will be alright. I just need to go get the doctor.”

“But-”

The nurse’s blue scrubs disappeared behind the swinging door before Bree could get another word out. Her breath hitched and she turned to Roger, grasping at his forearm. Her eyes flicked between his, frantically searching for an ounce of panic in his gaze. But there was none, at least not that he’d let show.

“You can’t possibly be unworried right now, Roger.”

He merely squeezed her hand. “Let’s not worry until we know there is something to worry about, aye?”

Bree shot him a glare, but didn’t say anything else until the doctor sauntered into the room.

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Mac-”

“-What is wrong with my baby?” Bree demanded.

The doctor gave her a reassuring look, one which made Bree want to strangle him. Why was everyone so calm?

The doctor pressed the end of his stethoscope to Bree’s belly, clicking his tongue. He turned to the nurse. “You were right?”

“RIGHT ABOUT WHAT?” Bree sat up, eyes blazing. Roger considered restraining her, for fear she might pounce upon the poor man, but made the wise choice to leave her be.

“Your daughter has developed a minor heart murmur. She’ll be alright, but we will need to monitor her after she is born. I assure you, Mama-”

“-My name is Brianna.” Bree hated when her OB called her that.

“Of course. I assure you that she will be just fine.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder and grasped onto it, trying to push away the worry that still crept through her. The doctor wore an earnest expression, and Bree felt the flames of her anger extinguish as he gazed upon her. She nodded, squeezing Roger’s hand so tightly she knew it was probably hurting him. But he didn’t try to pull it away.

*********

January 1779

“‘I have always had more dread of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or pistol.’” Jamie read aloud. Claire, Graham, Ian, and I all sat around the parlor room, rapt in attention as if we were school children hearing tales read by a school teacher.

Jamie had been thoroughly enjoying his Christmas gift from me and Graham, a copy of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” He’d delighted upon opening it, taking both of us into his broad embrace in gratitude. He’d read it through at least once on his own already, and now had taken to reading a chapter aloud each evening.

“‘Between my finger and my thumb\The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.’” Graham quoted. Jamie looked up from the pages, peering over his spectacles.

“Another quote from the book?” He flipped through it, perhaps thinking he had somehow missed the line in his own reading of the novel.

Graham shook his head. “A quote from a man named Seamus Haeney. He wrote political poems about Ireland in my time.”

“If ye’d asked me when I was a young man-”

“-You’re still a young man.” Claire interrupted her husband, kissing his cheek.

He smiled, continuing. “If ye’d asked me when I was a young man, I’d have said the sword is a mightier weapon than any other. But that was before I discovered the printing press. A sword can take maybe a dozen lives or so in a battle, but it is ink on the page that causes the battle in the first place.”

“Oh, I’d have to disagree with ye, Uncle Jamie,” Ian chided.

“Well, yes,” I turned to Ian, “But I believe you fall under the category of ‘young man.’”

Ian laughed. “Well, I hope to never grow old then. I quite like my dirk, thank ye verra much.”

*********

Graham and I snuck silently into the guest chambers, trying to to wake Klara, as the clock in the parlor struck the first hour. Claire had plied our philosophical discussion with wine, having caused it to descend into a jovial recounting of our various experiences in battle. It seemed that after a few glasses of red, Jamie certainly thought the sword to be mightier than the pen. Perhaps the effects of the alcohol brought back his youthful nature.

Graham had listened to these tales intently, and was especially interested when Ian had me remove my shirt to show off the scars I’d earned from the pistol backfire decades prior. I’d felt his eyes on me since then, and now felt his gaze on my back as I undressed for bed.

I sat on the bed shirtless, bending to unfasten my shoes. I didn’t turn around as I felt the bed dip behind me, nor did I react when his cold fingers traced the curves of my back. His warm breath tickled the back of my neck as he planted a kiss between my shoulder blades. He went for my neck as I sat up, but I intercepted him, grasping his chin frimley between my thumb and forefinger. I surveyed his face. His lips were stained red from wine, and it took every ounce of self control I had to refrain from tasting them right then and there. But that would ruin the fun.

“Eager, aren’t we?” I whispered, my lips inches from his.

I could hear his breath get caught in his throat, and he merely nodded in response.

I snickered, squeezing his chin more tightly as I leaned in even closer. My lips brushed his as I spoke again. “What is it that you want, Graham?”

He pushed against my grip, attempting to join our lips, and I clicked my tongue. “Tell me.”

“You.” His breath tickled my lips.

I kissed him lightly, his chin still in my control. He whimpered as I pulled away. “How do you want me?”

I could feel Graham’s pulse quicken in his throat as he answered. “I want you inside me.”

I hummed, kissing him again. I allowed my other hand to roam up his thigh, stopping on his hard bulge. He squirmed beneath it, desperate for friction, and I pulled away from the kiss again. “You must be more specific, my love.”

“Ride you. I want to ride you.” He took in a sharp breath as I squeezed him, kissing his neck. I hummed, urging him to continue. “I want you to touch me.”

I stopped palming him. “Where?”

“Everywhere.”

That answer wouldn’t suffice. I moved my hand back down his leg.

“My cock-” he said abruptly. “John, please-” I returned my hand to where it had been, resuming the motions that caused him to stifle a moan. I undid the fastenings of his breeches and shoved my hand inside, brushing my fingers along the soft skin.

I looked into his pleading eyes, studying his features as I teased him. I tilted my head to the side and he leaned in, kissing along my jaw. I let go of his chin, allowing myself to relish in the feeling of his lips on my skin. They were warm and smelled of wine, as I was sure my own did.

My other hand oved down his chest, over his lean frame and the hairs on his chest. I thumbed over his nipple, feeling it harden at the touch. He groaned and I pressed on his chest easing him back onto the bed.

I hovered over him, his legs straddled on either side of my hips. He blinked at me, tracing a thumb over my bottom lip. My hand pressed against the back of his and I kissed his fingers, and then his palm, down his wrist and up his arm. I stopped at his neck, suckling at the tender spot just above his collar bone that made his breath hitch.

“John,” he whispered.

I continued to kiss his neck, pausing only to speak. “What do you want my love?” I said into his neck.

“Kiss me. Please, I need you to kiss me.”

“I am kissing you,” I teased. Graham ran a hand through my hair, brushing back the locks that had fallen into my face. I pulled back, looking at him. His gaze fell to my lips and he reached to touch them again. I pulled his hand away though, instead leaning in closer to him. He raised his chin as I brushed my lips over his, and I let him. The hand in my hair tightened as I slipped my tongue into his mouth. I ground my hips lightly between his legs, grunting quietly at the much-needed friction. His back arched and his lips parted further, allowing me to deepen the kiss even more.

I pulled away to remove my trousers and Graham did the same. I couldn’t help but pause to gaze upon his naked body before me. The moonlight shining through the window brushed a soft glow over his muscular frame. I mumbled a swear under my breath before leaning in once more to resume our kiss. My other hand was busy this time, preparing Graham. His back arched as I massaged him, a small bead of precum building on his tip.

I had to bury my face in his shoulder to stifle the moan I released upon entering him. His heat compared to the cool air of the room was almost too pleasant. I could tell after a few thrusts that neither of us was going to last long.

I tucked an arm around his back, pulling out to allow myself to flip him on top of me. He wasted no time easing himself back down onto me, and the face he made as he did so was nearly enough for me to lose myself right then and there.

It only took a few minutes before he spilled onto my chest, grasping the headboard as he did so. I grabbed his hips, thrusting deep into him as I reached my own end. Graham clamped a hand over my mouth, muffling the guttural moan I hadn’t been able to hold back. When the pleasure finally tapered off, Graham lowered himself onto the bed beside me, tangling his limbs with mine.

We didn’t stay awake long enough to get dressed.