The next morning, John woke to find Jamie snoring next to him. He didn't know when they had fallen asleep, or what time it was now, so he quickly gathered his clothes and tiptoed to the door. He opened it slowly, just a crack, and peeked outside. Minnie was leaving his bedroom, smiling and shaking her head. She had obviously been wondering why he wasn't at breakfast. As she passed Jamie's door, their eyes met. She froze for a second, then deliberately looked at the ceiling and whistled a tune as she made her way out of the hall. John thanked Christ Alive for their conversation the day before, lest he be wetting himself in terror now, and slipped to his room to dress.
The boys had already finished their breakfast by the time John made it downstairs, but Dottie was still in her chair and Hal was still behind the paper. Minnie handed him some bacon she had hidden in a napkin out of reach of her carnivorous sons and John felt a clench in his stomach as he chewed, remembering his vow last night not to return to London once he had deposited Jamie at Helwater. Dottie was growing quickly, he did not wish to miss these early days when everything was still new to her. And Minnie had always been like a sister, but she was now his one and only confidant, as well. And Hal was...Hal.
Still an arse. But a good brother nonetheless. He was unsure now what he would do in three days' time, but he knew he'd be here, in this house, before long.
Jamie came down the stairs and took his place at the table. Hal peeked over his newspaper only long enough to greet him and John saw Minnie trying, and failing, to suppress a grin. He gave her a look and she promptly sat at the table and attempted to engage her husband in normal social behavior. Hal obliged, albeit begrudgingly, setting down his paper and engaging their guest one last time.
"Harry will be sorry you won't be joining him at the Beefsteak for one more game of chess," he said. Harry had been by to visit John while he was still in bed, and Jamie had defeated him, again. He had blamed his loss on his concern for John and demanded another rematch when the man was well but that had been the day Hal had declared he was working to secure Jamie's pardon and chess had escaped everybody's mind henceforth.
John laughed and said "I don't think he'll be too disappointed at missing out on another loss. More likely he'll be disappointed he cannot ask 'What rhymes with honey pot?'"
Hal choked a bit on his toast and asked "Honey pot? I haven't heard that one."
John met Jamie's gaze and Jamie chuckled a bit. "I'm afraid he learned that one from me, Yer Grace."
Hal gave Jamie a look then, something John couldn't quite place, but smiled, and silently went back to his paper.
When they had finished eating, John stood and said "I should go make sure Tom has everything packed..." But Hal stood as well and said "I am sure the valet has the packing under control. I'd like to speak to you, in my office, before the carriage arrives." John and Minnie both looked at him quizzically. Hal seemed the most taciturn he had in weeks, and John should feel happy to have him back to normal, as opposed to the doting stranger he had been, but something akin to dread ran down his spine instead.
Hal turned on his heel and led the way, gesturing for John to step inside ahead of him, and closed the door with a tight click. Hal sat at his desk, a gesture John instantly recognized as confrontational, and he took the seat across from him with a sigh. Whatever Hal was going to scold him for now, at least he'd be on the road within the hour, putting some needed distance between them.
"John...I... May I have your permission to speak freely?" Hal asked, resting his elbows on the desk and steepling his fingers.
John was a bit startled at the sheepish tone, but laughed nonetheless, saying "When have you ever done anything but?"
"Oh, for many years, I'm afraid."
John felt some discomfort settle in. He did not think Hal had ever hesitated to say whatever was on his mind to John, or to butt his nose into his affairs, so to hear him say he had been holding something back...
"Heavens. That sounds ominous," John said aloud.
"Then I'll get straight to my point. I think you need to be very careful with James Fraser."
The tension that had been building immediately dissipated, and John let out a hearty laugh. "Oh for Christ's sake, Hal. Not this again. Surely by now you no longer see him as a Scottish barbarian?"
Hal did not laugh. In fact, he was frowning so deeply now John wanted to warn him his face could freeze that way.
"No, I do not think of him as such. Truly. But he is a Scottish patriot, he always will be, and I fear your love for him may blind you if he should ever decide to take up the Scottish cause again, now that he is free. Rebellion does not go quietly into the night with that lot. You may find yourself unable to do your duty, or perhaps...perhaps you could get swept up in it as well. If I recall, his late wife was English. It did not prevent her from traipsing into battle with him time and again."
John laughed again.
"Hal. Honestly. I appreciate your...brotherly concern, truly. But do you really believe my friendship with the man would cause me to don a tartan and wave a Stuart flag in a Highland Charge?"
His attempt at humor was once again met with a stoney stare.
"Not specifically. Listen, he is a good man, and this family owes him much. But he has a talent for attracting trouble, you've said so yourself. And I am not talking of your friendship, John. I am talking of your love for him. It can make you reckless. More so than usual."
John swallowed and hesitated to answer.
Hal could not be talking of...
"I...I don't know what you mean. He...saved my life. I suppose I love him for that, but no more than..." Hal raised his hand and John clamped his mouth shut.
"John, please. I have been discreet, out of respect for your privacy and to protect the family from scandal, but I am not a fool. Do not treat me like one now when you know what it costs me to say this to you."
Hal's voice was quivering, something John had not heard since he had told him their mother was dead, and he could feel the blood drain from his face at the realization of what was occurring now.
"You think I've forgotten Hector? I watched you mourn him, unabashedly, on the field, and for many years after. George Everett? Did you think I was involved in that matter, in Ardsmuir, without knowing all the details? Percy? How is Percy? Do you still receive letters from our stepbrother? I know everything. You have a tendency to dance with fire, Brother, and now you have finally been well and truly burned. When will it end?"
John had been clutching the material of his breeches with white knuckles, his stomach churned and he felt the need to stand and fight or flee as quickly as he could waging war against eachother in his blood, but at Hal's last words, implying that he should simply cease to be who he was or that he had brought his woes upon himself, stand and fight won out. He jerked his chin up and met his brother's pleading gaze with one of defiance.
"Oh, so you know everything do you? You know nothing of those men or what was between us," he seethed.
Hal did not back an inch. "I know you could simply go to a brothel, like everyone else, but you will not be satisfied until you have put your life on the line every opportunity you get!" He was shouting now, rising slightly from his chair. "Do you think I am the only one who sees the way you look at him? You have already been accused of being a sodomite once! Was it not enough? Do you know what they will do to you if anyone finds out?"
"I am aware of the law, Your Grace," John said sarcastically and with a hint of challenge.
"Oh, you believe the executioner will have you? I suppose he would, and gladly. If the mob gives him the chance," Hal said coldly.
John felt a shiver, despite the heat now thrumming through his veins. He had witnessed such a mob once. An accused sodomite's hanging, at Tyburn. It was just one of many horrors he had witnessed in his life, but it had stayed with him, like an omen of his own future. He swallowed against the bile rising in his throat at the memory, at the implication, at the fear that Hal could send him there now if he weren't duty bound to keep the secret.
A thought occured to him. "Why now?" he asked. "If you truly have known this as long as you say, why are you breaking your vow of discretion now?"
Hal sighed and met his gaze, mulling something over for a moment.
"I suppose if we are being honest we may as well take it all the way. I am forced to have this difficult conversation with you because...while I have...suspected...you held these feelings for Fraser for some time, I did not believe him so inclined. I didn't think he could get you into much trouble that way. But now...well, I'm sorry to be so indelicate, it is not easy for me to tell you..."
"Spit it out, Hal," John snapped.
"I heard the two of you last night."
"You...you...heard...?" John thought he might faint on the floor right now.
"I heard enough," Hal said shortly. "I went to check on you. I've checked on you every night since your return; I suppose you didn't know that. I...well, as I said, I heard enough." The silence fell with a thud. After a few seconds of opening and closing his mouth, John managed to stammer
"Hal...I...I'm sorry. I..."
"I am sure this is as embarrassing for you as it is for me. I apologize for that. But I hope you can agree with me now, you are becoming quite reckless. Which is something you only do when you are heavily involved with one of your...I don't know what to call them...these dangerous men you take up with. You must stop this."
John could feel tears stinging his eyes and he ducked his head and blinked furiously. He could not allow Hal to see them shed. This was ridiculous, he was a grown man, and yet his brother always managed to get his way when it came to ordering John around. He feared now that if Hal ordered him to end things with Jamie, he would fight it, but Hal would win.
"You cannot ask me to do that. You...you do not know what you are asking," he replied, shaking his head.
"Then explain it to me!" Hal shouted, but immediately glanced at the door and quieted himself. "John, I know I am hard on you, I don't always give you the credit you deserve, but you have always been steadfast in your regard for our family honor. You've done much to preserve it. Tell me why you cannot do so now. If this is what you choose to be, why can you not simply find your pleasure in some anonymous whore like the rest of decent society?"
"You expect me to explain myself to you when you use words like 'choose' and 'decent society'? As if you have not made your opinions on sodomites well known over the years. Now that I think of it, thank you for that. I always assumed if you knew I was one you'd either kill me or shut your foul mouth on the subject, but now I know that you've been subtly telling me how worthless I am all this..."
Hal stood from his chair and moved towards John so suddenly that he, too, rose and retreated quickly. Hal's hand was outstretched towards John's face but he stopped short at his reaction and let it fall.
"If you wish to strike me, Hal, I will allow it. I suppose it is your right. But you get one; two and I will strike back," John said, his voice shaking.
Despair flashed across Hal's face at those words, but the Duke in him quickly replaced it with his usual mask of indifference. Something remained in his eyes though and he said "I had no intention of striking you. Nor do I wish to slay my own brother. Christ! Are you truly unaware of how I feel for you? Worthless you are not. I am deeply sorry if I have given you that impression with my talk."
John hesitated, taken aback by the confession, but he sighed and moved to retake his seat, and Hal finally joined him in the one next to it. Neither man spoke for a moment. John knew that the way Hal had always spoken of sodomy was nothing more than the way everyone did. He shouldn't expect him to become some sort of advocate for the practice simply because he was related to a practitioner, and he told him as much. "I just don't understand, John. I wish you would explain it to me. Why is it worth your life? And why is James Fraser suddenly the one you're willing to stand and fight for? Why can't you give him up? Is it because he is bad for you? Why do you cling to everything that can hurt you?"
"Can I try to answer one question at a time? Jesus, Hal, you ask as if I can even give you an answer. First of all, I did not choose to be this way. For fuck's sake, do you think I would choose this life? Would anyone? If it makes you feel any better, and I doubt it will, I do find my pleasure in anonymous whores from time to time. But contrary to what you and just about every other person on this planet believes, we sodomites do actually have feelings." John choked on his words for a moment, unable to believe he had just called himself a sodomite, out loud, to Hal. "We feel love. I want to be loved just as much as you do and I do not always wish to pay someone to pretend they love me for an hour. Is it worth my life? I do not know. But if my options are to spend my life alone or put it on the line for whatever happiness I can find now and then, I know my choice."
"And James Fraser? He is your choice?"
John laughed, a bit sincerely but mostly bitterly "No. James Fraser was never a choice. I will not elaborate on my relationship with him. You cannot understand, and no matter what you say, you do not wish to. Let's not pretend we can openly discuss such things so suddenly."
Hal watched him silently for a long time. John stared back defiantly, but as the seconds ticked by, the weight of these revelations began to hit him and he softened. This was the very moment he'd feared since he was twelve years old and saw an older naked boy for the first time and had to turn to hide his response. He had always thought it would end in blows, if not his murder, but this...this was unexpected. He bit his lip and waited for Hal to say more.
Finally he sighed and said "I see I cannot turn you from this course. Please just promise you will be more discreet, John. And...and be careful what matters you involve yourself in. You must know I only wish for your safety. I've nearly lost you too many times now."
John swallowed and his final defenses finally fell. He rose from his chair and Hal did the same and the two men embraced for some time. When John pulled away, he cleared his throat, still determined not to cry, and said "I promise. I will be safer. I promise. Thank...thank you. For not...doing any number of terrible things you'd be within your rights to do."
Hal clapped him on his shoulder one last time and opened the door, indicating that this emotional display was over, and it was time to return to normalcy. Just before John could make his exit though, Hal took his arm and said quietly "And John, I...I hope you find the love you are searching for," and gently pushed him through before he could respond.
Jamie and Minnie sat at the breakfast table for a few minutes after Hal and John had departed, chatting idly, Jamie now feeding Dottie the remainder of his eggs. Minnie and Jamie were rarely in the same room alone together, at least since John had woken, and he decided to seize the opportunity without John's temper flaring. "Do ye think Lord John is really fit for this journey?" Minnie smiled at him in that odd way she had been recently.
"You heard the doctor. He doesn't think he should but as long as his headaches do not start again...I think Hal secretly wishes they would so he would stay. That's why he got him so drunk last night."
Jamie laughed and opened his mouth to respond, but suddenly they heard shouts, though he couldn't quite make out what was said or by which of the Grey brothers.
Jamie looked to Minnie, who looked equally perplexed and surprised, but she immediately smiled again and asked him if he'd like another cup of tea. Jamie had been at Argus House long enough now to have witnessed quite a few shouting matches between the Duke and the wee Lord and they were rarely cause for concern. He and Jenny fought the same way almost daily. Someone shouted again, clearly Pardloe this time, and Minnie begged his pardon to go and investigate.
She returned rather quickly, her face flushed. Clearly whatever she had heard behind the door had convinced her not to disturb them and Jamie chuckled a bit as she poured the tea he had not accepted.
Tom Byrd came in then, inquiring after John. "He's busy," Minnie and Jamie both said at once, and then broke into laughter.
Tom seemed confused, but bowed himself from the room without inquiring further. A feeling struck Jamie, like he was going to miss this house, this family, but he shook it away. It is only because ye miss Lallybroch, he thought. William. Ye shall see William soon.
A few moments later, both brothers reappeared, looking a little worse for wear but unharmed. John looked on the verge of tears and Jamie's heart leapt, eager to know why, but he swallowed that down, too. "Tom is looking for you, My Lord," he told him, thinking he'd like an excuse to retreat. John gave him a small smile, but wouldn't meet his eyes, and bowed from the room to finish his packing. Jamie thought he ought to do the same, but as he, too, tried to make his exit, Pardloe said
"I'm sorry to keep interrupting this morning's necessities, but I was hoping I may see you as well before you depart?"
As soon as the door shut, Jamie's mind flashed to the last time he had been in this office, the night John had returned, disheveled and flushed for reasons Jamie chose not to think of, to see him sitting in this chair. He smiled to himself remembering how angry he'd been then, and what a contrast it was now to mourn leaving. He had no reason to believe he'd ever see this house again, but rested in the knowledge that John would always follow wherever he went next.
Jamie sat and was surprised when the Duke sat next to him, instead of in his own chair at the desk. He reached into his pocket and drew out a small purse, the drawstrings drawn tightly over quite a sum of coins, and tried to hand it to Jamie.
"Captain Fraser, I want you to have this," he said. Jamie looked at the purse and struggled to reply for a moment.
"I canna accept that, Yer Grace," he said finally.
"I will only see that Tom Byrd smuggles it somewhere in your luggage otherwise," Hal told him, attempting friendliness, but still with an edge of authority that never quite dissipated. Jamie did not budge, though. He could match the Duke's stubbornness and have plenty to spare.
"Jamie, please. I understand your hesitation, but you must allow me this. It is only a fraction of what I owe you for what you've done for my family."
Jamie balked a bit. They had never used their Christian names with eachother, and the fact that he had done so now could easily be taken as an offense, but Jamie knew it was his sincerest attempt at warmth and said nothing to correct him.
Instead he said "Yer Grace, ye have done plenty. Ye have given me something I never thought I'd have: my freedom. Please, I canna take yer coin."
"Yes and now that you have your freedom you will need something to get you started. Forgive me, I know it is impertinent, but you will not make enough at Helwater to travel home to see your family without this. You've given me my brother, please allow me to help you visit your sister."
Jamie stilled for a second longer, but finally took the purse from Hal's outstretched hand and pocketed it. His father had taught him to always refuse twice, but to do so a third time was an offense. And he could not deny that what the Duke had said was true, and verra kind.
"I thank ye, Yer Grace. On my sister's behalf as well. Dinna be surprised if she sends ye a Christmas cake now." Hal laughed and said "If she does, please make sure it is a Dundee cake. I haven't had one since '46." He seemed to immediately catch his error, and Jamie resisted the urge to remind him what he was doing in Scotland in '46. Some things could never be resolved between them, but they could be shoved aside for John's sake.
John checked in with Tom for his sake, lest the poor thing pack the wrong stockings and fret for a month over it, but quickly made his excuses and fled to the greenhouse. He needed a few moments alone before being confined to a carriage for several days, and he desperately needed to process the morning's events.
He settled into his favorite chair, closed his eyes, and breathed in the scent of the gardenias and roses and lavender that grew nearby, letting the gentle aromas calm him.
He must have drifted off, because he suddenly woke to the feel of a large, warm hand on his shoulder. He blinked his eyes and looked up. Jamie was standing over him, the sun shining through the glass roof making his hair blaze, and his warm smile made John's stomach clench and heat pooled in his groin. Without thinking, he reached up and pulled Jamie down by his neck for a kiss. He went willingly, but after a mere brush of their lips, pulled back and said "Ye ken this isn't the most private place."
John felt a bit of hysterical laughter bubble up his chest at that, thinking it should not be of much consequence in light of what Hal had heard, but he swallowed it down.
He pulled Jamie to sit next to him and rested a hand on his knee, one he could withdraw quickly if the door should open, and closed his eyes again. He wanted to stay in this moment forever, he and Jamie sitting quietly beneath the arbor, surrounded by the scent of flowers and the sun warming their skin.
But nothing lasts forever, and far too soon, the privates Hal had requested for the journey had arrived, the carriage was loaded, the children had said their goodbyes to their uncle and his large redheaded friend who, they had said, "talked funny", and the adults were gathered outside to share their own goodbyes. Minnie hugged Jamie, whispering something in his ear and kissing his cheek. John could tell Hal was teetering on the edge of asking him once more not to go so before he could, he stepped forward and embraced him in one more hug. "You know I keep my promises," he said. "No fights, no fires, no trouble."
Hal regarded him skeptically.
"Captain Fraser," he said, calling Jamie over. "Have a safe journey. Look after my brother. See that he does not get hurt."
"You have my word, Your Grace," Jamie returned, moving forward to shake his hand as Minnie moved to hug John. They climbed into the carriage, waved one last time to the children watching from the window, and their little caravan set off.
Jamie settled back in his seat and eyed John. Hal had clearly said something to him in their row that morning that had had him rattled since.
"Bee in your bonnet, My Lord?" he asked.
John glanced at him and shook his head, but did not reply. Jamie narrowed his eyes.
"Alright. Ye dinna want to share whatever yer brother said to ye." John's nervous glance confirmed his suspicions.
"What did Minnie say to you?" John asked instead.
"Oh, she told me to be well and take care of ye, of course. And that she had packed my favorite bread and yer favorite cheese for luncheon. Do ye ken how much they love you?"
Jamie had spent many hours in John's chamber with the Duke and Duchess, watching and praying over John's body together. He had respected Pardloe before, but never trusted him. John was the only Redcoat he could trust, and that had come with quite a lot of difficulty. Now that he had been there to personally witness the depth of Hal's affections for his brother, the kindness and devotion he showed his children, the light and easy way he loved his wife, he found himself growing almost fond of the man. Not to mention the fact that he had secured his freedom. That was almost enough to make Jamie question everything he'd thought of the English. Almost.
John seemed to have some sort of emotional response to his words, but visibly shook it away and smiled.
"Yes. I know it now."
The hours passed slowly. Jamie always hated carriage rides, had always preferred being on the horse, in control, more aware of their surroundings. He and John played a few card games, made small talk here and there, but underneath it all there was a current. John was uncomfortable, restless. He seemed to be avoiding Jamie's eye and when he did speak, it was all very formal and polite.
They broke for lunch near a stream and the carriage driver set the horses loose to drink and graze as Tom set out the food. John went to speak to the Redcoats, who had blessedly been told not to speak to Jamie at all, and he went to find somewhere to relieve himself. When he returned, the privates were eating on their own blanket some distance away and John and Tom Byrd were waiting for him at theirs. A wave of sadness rolled over him now as he looked at them. Tom Byrd had also become somewhat of a friend in the wake of all that happened after the fire, and of course John was...John. He hadn't allowed himself to consider missing them, he had wanted nothing more than to see Willy again, but now it was registering. It suddenly dawned on him as well that that was why John was becoming distant. He knew that John had a particular talent for putting unwanted emotions into a box and hoarding them far, far away.
He set his teeth and decided not to allow John to pull away from him yet. They still had time.
He sat on the blanket with the men and tucked into the dried apples, cheese, and his favorite kind of bread that Minnie had made sure to pack. He watched as John ate silently, occasionally glancing up to watch the horses graze. It struck him again how bonnie he was, his hair tied loosely and blowing in the gentle breeze, his cheeks flushed always, his mouth currently set in some sort of determined way, sitting on the ground in his fancy breeches, delicate fingers picking apart his food. Jamie knew those fingers may be delicate, but he could grasp a sword in them as tightly as he grasped...
Tom Byrd cleared his throat and Jamie broke his gaze and mind away from John's hands. "I beg yer pardon, Tom, I didna hear ye." John was eyeing him knowingly, a small smile playing at his lips.
"Tom asked if you were planning on visiting Lallybroch, now that you are free to do so," he told him.
"Oh, aye. If all goes to plan and I become a proper employee of Lord Dunsany, I would like to use my time off to visit in a few months or so," he replied.
"I should suppose your family will be very happy to see you. If I may, how long has it been?" Tom asked.
Jamie sighed but smiled and said "Nearly a decade. The bairns will nearly all be grown now. I dinna ken if they'll even recognize me. But...there is a lad there...Fergus. I shall be verra happy to see him grown and well. He...he was verra special to my wife and I." His eyes met John's again and John smiled sadly at him.
When they were back on the road, Jamie drew the curtains to the carriage and settled himself next to John, laying his head on his shoulder and crossing his arms over his chest. "I hope ye dinna mind me usin' ye for a pillow," he said.
"Of course not," John replied. "Fergus. You mentioned that name once. You said he was like your own son?"
"Aye. He was a wee lad when we met. Grew up in a brothel. Claire and I...we sort of adopted him. When I staged my capture, it had much to do wi' him. He was trying verra hard to be like me, and he was nearly kilt for it." Jamie swallowed, remembering what had occurred in the forest that day. "I went to prison to save my family from my mistakes. He lives at Lallybroch now wi' Jenny and Ian. They've looked after him, brought him up properly."
John was listening quietly, stroking his thumb over Jamie's knee. Now he said
"Jamie, I...I'm very sorry you've been kept from your family so long. I'm sorry for my hand in it."
"Ye have had no hand in it, as I can see. Did yer brother no' deliver me to Lallybroch illegally because his wee teenage brother shared the details of a debt he owed? Did ye no' tell me that ye once tried to arrange for my pardon, but could only secure my parole instead? Have ye no' gotten my freedom for me at last? I will see both of my sons again because of the Greys. Ye dinna owe me an apology, ever, John."
"Were I only able to give it to you sooner...
How old is Fergus now?"
"Weel, he was sixteen when last I saw him. He'll be a proper man now. Still unmarried, according to the letters Jenny sends. And dinna go givin' me any of yer ideas about bachelors! She says he has a different lass in the hay wi' him every week!"
John roared with laughter and the carriage shook a bit as he doubled over.
When he had quieted himself again, Jamie resumed his use of his shoulder as a pillow and said "I will miss ye, verra much, John. I hope ye ken that."
John did not respond, simply placed his hand on Jamie's knee once more and closed his eyes to sleep.
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of an inn a few hours later and John nearly shoved Jamie from it in his desire to get out. He knew Jamie hated being inside the damned thing, but thought he could match that hatred quite easily, if not exceed it. He was hungry again, desperately needed to take a piss, and his legs ached from sitting in one place so long. Needless to say, John Grey was in a foul temper. The rest of the party sensed it right away and gave him a wide berth as Tom Byrd went to acquire rooms and the privates that accompanied them began glancing around the street, probably hoping to spot a brothel nearby. Normally, John wouldn't allow them to stray from their mission, but tonight he could not care less where they stuck their cocks or laid their heads.
"My Lord," Tom said, now emerging from the inn, "The proprietor here says he only has two rooms available, and that he is the only inn in the village. Driver and I may sleep in the stables, though. The lads may have to sleep in the carriage. Or we could continue, the next village is but two hours away." John rolled his eyes and resisted the urge to stamp his foot. Jamie was watching him, obviously aware John would throw a fit for two hours if he did not intervene.
"Nay, we'll stay here," he said. "Lord John and I will share a room, if they've got an extra cot. You and the driver can share the other. The lads can sleep in the stable. Though they look as if they shall be finding other accommodations on their own. Is the kitchen still open?"
Tom blinked at Jamie in surprise at his accommodating suggestion and then looked to John for approval, who waved his hand dismissively.
"Yes, the kitchen is still serving meals, if we hurry. I shall go let the proprietor know our plans. Thank you, Captain Fraser."
Jamie came up behind John and guided him into the pub by his shoulders.
"Ye are a temperamental wee thing when ye're hungry, are ye no'?" he laughed.
As predicted, the privates had vanished before they could step inside and the driver took the horses to the stables to be bedded.
"I demand a steak. And potatoes. And ale. Help me, Jamie," John whinged.
"Aye, aye, My Lord, I promise we shall acquire all ye need. And if ye did no' hear me out there, I have acquired a shared room for us as well," Jamie winked at him and set off to find a table for the three men and John finally found the privy.
Before long, they were tucking into their meals with vigor, tankards of ale sloshing as they drank deeply, slamming them back onto the table, and stuffing their mouths again. John remembered their first night in Ireland and said "Will you be leading us all in song tonight, Tom?" Jamie chuckled to himself when Tom blushed deeply.
"My Lord, I am...deeply sorry...you ever...I wish we could all just forget...um..."
Jamie was barely holding back his laughter now and John saw fit to rescue the poor fellow. "Oh, nevermind, Tom. I don't know what I was talking about. I imagined the whole event. Your dignity is intact."
They finished their supper and John called for an early retirement, wanting nothing more than to take off his shoes and stretch out. His head was starting to hurt a bit, but he would not tell Jamie or Tom, lest they send him back to Argus House straight away.
"I'm exhausted," he said instead as he and Jamie entered their room together. Being barefoot on the bed was everything he had fantasized and he sighed as his head hit the pillow. Jamie sat on the edge of the cot that had been provided and started to remove his own clothes. "Care for a dram?" he asked John, pulling his flask from his pocket. John eyed him warily.
"How do you always manage to have whiskey everywhere you go?"
"Ye can consider me a Scottish leprechaun if ye like. I use my magic to conjure the liquid gold," he said coyly, and John laughed, then groaned a bit.
"I should be wary of your nightcaps by now. They always lead to one of two things, often both. And they never seem to help us get any actual sleep."
Jamie smiled and moved to the bed.
"Well then, I'll strike a bargain wi' ye. One drink, one question, and I'll spare yer tender arse and let ye get some sleep."
John sat up and took the flask from him, but only took a small nip, his head was beginning to ache too much to add whiskey to the pyre. "Alright. I'm ready."
Jamie jumped right in "Do ye wish to talk about why ye're in such dour spirits?"
"No," John said quickly. "But I will tell you.
I suspect you already know. I...I am going to miss you. I suppose that's far too sentimental for our...arrangement. But there it is." Jamie smiled at him and took his hand, lifting it to his lips and kissing his knuckles.
"Ye ken ye always prepare for battle when ye talk of yer feelings? Do ye think I shall stab ye with my dagger for using the same words I said to ye today? I will miss ye, too. Verra much. But things are different now. We shall meet again, and no' in another year's time. Soon. I promise ye."
John wanted to believe that, truly. But at the moment he did not feel like telling Jamie he may be wrong, so instead he nodded and lay back in the bed.
Jamie stood and began undoing John's breeches, and he stared at him in bewilderment. "Christ, John," he laughed, "I am no' tryin' to seduce ye so unceremoniously. Ye're falling asleep in yer clothes, ye dafty."
He left John in his shirt and crawled up the bed beside him. John hummed in contentment as Jamie covered them both with the blanket and before long, he was fast asleep in his arms.
Jamie woke with a start several hours later. He had dreamt of Lallybroch again. John and Claire were in his bed, beckoning him into their arms. He had lain down between them, felt their soft hands over his heated skin, their mouths all over body.
"Christ, I'm going to Hell," he muttered into the dark now. He quickly realized the dreams weren't the only reason for the hardened flesh between his legs. He had been holding John tightly, and the man's naked arse was nestled right against him, his cheeks nearly spread around his cock. Jamie's fingers tightened on his hips and he rubbed against John with a groan.
"Oh, Heaven save me, the Seventh Circle for sure. John, wake up." He shook him by his shoulder, not wishing to further rouse his...situation.
John's body seemed to disagree, he let out a small sleepy moan and wriggled his hips, pressing Jamie further into his cleft. Jamie forced himself to pull away with a whimper and shook his shoulder a bit harder. John's elbow collided gently with Jamie's ribs as he startled awake. "Jamie?" he asked, without turning.
"Ssshhh," Jamie whispered. "Aye. Sorry to wake ye so rudely, but I didna think ye would take kindly to wakin' with my hard cock pressed against against yer arse as it were."
"What?!" John did roll onto his back now and looked at Jamie as if he'd told him he had been born on the moon. He reached between them and brushed his hand over his groin, eliciting a small gasp.
"Oh," he said. He rolled back onto his side and pressed back again with a small smile. "You may do as you wish." He nestled back into his pillow and closed his eyes again.
Jamie growled and dragged John into him, whispering in his ear "Ye dinna wish to be a more active participant? I dinna think I should rut against a sleeping man, ye ken?" "Mmmm...I'm sure by the time you start rutting I'll be more awake. The oil is in my valise."
Jamie hesitated and sighed. The room was cold, and John was so very warm. But he was painfully hard, and John was clearly teasing him with those little circles he was drawing with his hips now. He released his hold and sprang from the bed, hearing a distinctive chuckle from John's pillow. He practically tore the bag open and began tossing John's personal items all over the cot in his search. His fingers finally alighted on a small glass bottle and he dove back between the sheets, pulling off his night shirt, placing the bottle on the nightstand, and scooped John into his arms once more.
He kissed John's neck, inhaling the scent of him, running his fingers through his hair to uncover more skin to nip at. John lay still for the most part, but the breathy sounds he made belied his indifference. The sun began to rise as Jamie reached down and fondled at him, finding him far more aroused than he'd let on. John gasped quietly and pressed his arse back into Jamie's hips once more as Jamie's fingers trailed down, over his cock, softly caressing his balls, that soft patch of skin that made him moan...
"Jamie, we should be quick. People will be rising soon. And quiet, you should keep me quiet." He reached for the bottle of oil and poured some on his hand, then reached back and stroked Jamie's cock thoroughly. Jamie shivered at the implication: to take him quickly, no time to open him up. "Keep me quiet," John said again, pulling Jamie's hand to cover his mouth. Oh, Christ, Jamie thought, and he pressed his hand tightly to stifle John's groan while his cock pressed inside.
When he was fully seated, John nipped lightly at his hand. Without removing it he leaned in and whispered "Does it hurt?" John hesitated, his eyes trying to peer at Jamie. He was wrapped as tightly in Jamie's embrace as Jamie's cock was wrapped in his arse, his body was tense and he panted against Jamie's hand, but after a second, he relaxed against him with a sigh and nodded his head slightly.
Jamie's immediate response was to withdraw, but something told him to remain still.
"Do...do ye like it?" he whispered again.
John groaned and nodded, now melting against his hold and rolling his hips.
"Jesus," Jamie breathed. "You little..."
He pulled out a bit and pressed in again, causing a muffled whimper. "I'm gonna have ye, hard and fast, do ye want that?"
John nodded vigorously and Jamie buried his face in his neck and began to ride him with punishing force.
Now he kent why John had told him to keep him quiet. His eyes were rolled back, his body curved, every muscle tight, and the litany of groans, whimpers, and muffled oaths that poured from him reminded Jamie once again that John was the mouthiest lover he'd ever had. Jamie wasn't faring much better. He was pistoning his hips so quickly he could feel the sheets rubbing a sore into his side, John was clenching down on him, and he was hissing sweet words into John's ear that contrasted greatly with the brutality of their lovemaking, trying so hard not to surrender to to the shouts that would prefer to rip out of him.
He was getting so close, teeth clamped down on John's shoulder now, and John letting out unintelligible, high pitched sounds as he bit right back, but he just could not seem to get the leverage he needed to pound John to completion. He threw a leg over John's waist and planted his foot on the bed and he had the leverage now. He pressed John down into the mattress and pulled nearly all the way out, leaving just the head inside John's rim, then slammed home. John's eyes shut tightly and Jamie kept up his pace until he finally found that spot that made John fall apart.
When he had spent his last drop, John collapsed like a wet noodle, Jamie slowed his thrusts, pressing tightly inside him and rocking against him, rubbing his pubic bone over John's stretched and overstimulated rim. John whimpered again and Jamie pulled out suddenly, taking himself in hand and spilling his seed on the back of John's thighs, his vision going white.
When he finally peeled his hand from John's mouth, he took great gasping breaths before rolling over and pulling Jamie into a sloppy kiss.
John winced and hissed slightly as he pulled his undergarments over his bottom. He would be grateful today for the carriage, he decided. Jamie was sitting up in the bed, watching him, the morning sun now filling the room with light. He glanced over his shoulder at him and saw him raise his brow.
"What's on your mind?" John asked him. "Are ye verra sore?" Jamie replied.
John smiled and rubbed his bottom. He was raw for sure, bruised, almost certainly, but he didn't think Jamie had torn him, due only to the fact he had taken him so recently before. It simply ached in that wonderful way only a good, hard pounding can give and he relished the slight limp he picked up on as he made his way to sit on the bed.
"No. No more than I wish to be. That was...incredible. You were incredible."
He kissed Jamie deeply then, opening his mouth wide and letting his tongue roam lazily. Jamie's hands moved down his arms, over his waist, and when he reached John's arse, he grabbed a handful of each cheek and squeezed hard, pulling them apart slightly and sending a small pulse of pain to John's hole. "Mmm, that's the idea," he murmured against Jamie's lips. Jamie gave him a light swat and said "Ye ought to rub some arnica on it. It'll bring down the swelling and help the bruises fade quickly." John pulled back and quirked his brow at him. "Alright, Doctor Fraser. I'll do that." He kissed Jamie lightly once more and stood. "I'm famished, and I should let Tom dress me since we will be arriving at Helwater today. May I beg your leave?"
"I suppose I dinna have a choice," Jamie replied, and John smiled at him before retrieving his trunk and heading for Tom's room.
He knew Tom would be surprised to see John come to him instead of the other way around, the proper way, but the room smelled of sex and the sheets were damp with sweat and seed and Jamie was still naked in the bed. Not a good look.
Once dressed and fed, Tom, Jamie, John, and the driver emerged to find the two Redcoats blessedly awaiting their departure. John had wondered if he'd have to go and find them and knew that if he had, he would have them lashed on their return to London. He noticed that Jamie had dressed in his old clothes, presumably not wishing to rouse the jeers of the other stable men if he arrived at Helwater in fancy dress, and the boys eyed him suspiciously. John was sure they were wondering why a guest of the Duke of Pardloe was suddenly dressed as a servant, but it was none of their business, and he felt a strong urge to remind them of that. As soon as he had the thought, he remembered Hal's words: that he had been referring to his fellow soldiers as Redcoats more and more, that he was getting swept away in Jamie, in his political views. He laughed suddenly to himself, wondering if perhaps his brother were right after all and if he should be careful, lest he find himself wrapped in plaid.