Jamie woke with a start, and immediately knew why. There was a loud pounding on the front door, Claire was calling his name, and she sounded frightened. He flew from the bed and raced down the stairs.
By the time he reached the landing, Claire had foolishly opened the door and let the intruder in. He took the last steps two at a time, and came to a sudden halt in front of...
"Minnie! Uh...Yer Grace..." he bowed his head a bit and realized with a start that he was wearing nothing but his night shirt.
"Christ. I beg yer pardon, Madam. I thought ye were a robber." He turned to retreat to and make himself more presentable, but Minnie took him by the arm and he turned to her, alarmed.
"It is no bother to me your state of dress. We need you to come to Argus House as quickly as you can. Please. All is not well."
Claire stepped forward and placed a hand on Minnie's shoulder. She was soaking wet and breathing heavily, and Jamie realized the rain was pouring down outside. Had she run here? "Minnie, what has happened?" Claire asked her. "Is it the Duke? Do you require a surgeon?"
"No, Mistress Fraser. At least, I do not believe so. Although you may come as well, of course. You should. I am sorry, my thoughts are all a jumble. It's John. Jamie, please," she said, turning beseeching eyes to him once more.
He looked to Claire and she nodded once. He turned immediately and ran back up the stairs. He dressed quickly in nothing but trousers and a shirt, took up his coat and boots, and pulled them on as he made his way back down. When he reached the front door, Claire was waiting with her medicinal bag.
They must have been a sight, the three of them, dashing through the rain across Hyde Park toward Argus House. They swept inside and the butler was there at the door waiting for them. As he removed their coats and hats, Minnie asked "Is the Duke still here?"
"Yes, Mistress. Barely. He says...I beg your pardon...he says to tell him as soon as you arrive from wherever the devil you've gone so he can depart," he replied anxiously.
"Where is he now?"
"In his office, Mistress."
Minnie walked briskly to Pardloe's office door, Jamie and Claire following silently in her wake. Hal was pacing in front of his desk, biting the nail of his thumb, obviously agitated. He caught sight of Minnie and whirled on her. "Where the...oh!" He saw Jamie and Claire behind her and curtly bowed his head at both of them. "Captain Fraser. Mistress Fraser." He turned back to Minnie and said sharply "What the devil have you brought them for?"
"Jamie can help." Minnie said, and she seemed to be pleading with him.
"No! You know he is the last person in the world John would want to see him in whatever state he will be found in."
"No, my love. You are the last person he would want to see him. Your presence will only upset him, or frighten him. And you cannot go there. You will be recognized."
Hal opened his mouth to protest but Minnie raised her voice, speaking over him.
"You will be recognized, and there will be no silencing it this time. Nobody there will know Jamie. Except John, who will leave only with him. Please. Please, Hal."
Hal looked again at Jamie, sighed, and said
"But first they need to be apprised of the situation, and asked if they are willing. Mister and Mistress Fraser, I beg you accept our apologies. Please, come sit down."
Jamie looked to Claire, who looked back at him with confusion, and they all moved into the little office. Hal gestured for Minnie to take his seat behind the desk, and he stood behind her crossing his arms and seeming to do little to quiet his anxiety.
"It comes to this," he said. "My brother has landed himself in a situation that will undo him entirely. I do not suppose you have seen him lately?"
"Nay, Yer Grace. No' for two weeks' time."
"So not since the funeral?" "Aye."
Hal nodded his head. "That makes sense. I suppose if we are going to ask for your aid in this, we should simply speak freely. My brother has certainly seen fit to throw propriety out the window, and so must we if we are to save him. That man was his lover. I suppose you must know that."
Jamie looked to Claire again. He didn't know that Pardloe was aware of John's secret. Even now, he feared that to confirm it was as good as sharing it to begin with.
"Yes, Your Grace," Claire said, apparently confident he knew everything. "We spent much time with Lord John and Lord Henry, and are completely aware of their relationship." Hal eyed her oddly, and Jamie knew he must be wondering what sort of woman could speak so casually of such things, let alone have two same-sexed lovers to her home for Sunday dinner.
"Well then, I am sure you are aware of the depth of his despair these last weeks."
"Aye," Jamie answered this time. "We kent he needed some time, but we were just beginning to worry about his silence last night. Claire had given him some laudanum to help him sleep after the funeral. She was going to call on him under the pretense of..."
"You gave him laudanum?" Minnie interrupted.
"Yes, a weak dilution only," Claire said, concern coloring her tone. "Only enough to help him sleep, not enough to heavily intoxicate him. Is...is there some reason I should not have?"
Minnie turned her head to look at Hal, and they seemed to communicate silently for a moment. Finally, Hal nodded and Minnie said "You could not have known. John...John used to have a sort of...problem...with opium. He should have told you he cannot take laudanum, but I suppose he was desperate to put his grief aside. Jamie, he has fallen down a pit of despair,
"Where is he?" Jamie asked
"In a molly house," Hal said.
"Lavendar House?" Jamie asked, and Hal regarded him sharply.
"You know about that place?" he asked, glancing at Claire nervously.
"Aye. John told me about it many years ago. Ye dinna need to worry about my wife. She is no' fragile about these things."
Hal began pacing again and Minnie put her head in her hands. "He isn't at Lavendar House," she told them. "He is at a place called the Helfire Club."
"You know of it, Madam?" Hal asked.
"Only by reputation, of course. I've treated a man who was a patron."
Hal paled and Jamie turned to Claire sharply "What is this place, Sassenach?"
"Not one I would ever expect John to visit. It is a house of ill repute, Jamie, and I don't mean whores or sodomites. It's...it's the kind of establishment Jack Randall would have frequented." She met his eyes, knowing the name would be enough.
Jamie rose from his chair immediately.
"Where is this place?"
An hour later, Jamie paced in front of a large, brick building near St. James's Park. According to Pardloe, John had started leaving Argus House at odd hours a mere two days after Henry's funeral. He had stayed out longer and longer, and had come home looking worse and worse. A week ago, Hal had assigned a man to follow his brother, and had learned that he had been visiting this cesspool. Two days ago, he went inside and never emerged.
Jamie grunted to himself and scratched at the stiff collar at his neck. Apparently, the place was very selective in its clientele, and their dress code was absurd. He had had to borrow some clothes from the Duke, and his taste was as imposing as the man himself. Claire appeared then, and he took her in his arms, grateful to have such a fearless, kind wife. "I'm glad ye made it out of there, Sassenach," he told her. "Well, I'm certainly not to their interests, that's for sure. I dont think there was any risk of them soliciting my participation," she said with a scoff, and Jamie gave her a stern look. He didn't even want to think of such a thing.
Claire had "wandered" into the cursed establishment only a few moments ago under the pretense of thinking it a watch repair shop. "They thought I was a fool, that's for sure. But I was able to get a bit of a look as I annoyed them about my broken watch. There is a reception area when you first enter, the hallway is to the left. It opens into a sitting area, and the stairs are just to the right. I didn't see John. He must be upstairs in one of the rooms. The place is filled with opium smoke, Jamie. And the men there..."
"That's enough, lass," he said, and kissed her on the forehead. "I ken I'll see for myself soon enough. Bring the carriage to the front in ten minutes." He released his hold on her and set off towards Hell.
As soon as he entered, a short man in a purple silk waistcoat approached him.
"May I help you, sir?"
"Aye. I've come for a tour of the Seven Circles," Jamie said. This is the code Hal had given him, God knows how he had learned it.
"Ah. Welcome, then," the wee devil replied. "Have you been here before?"
Jamie nodded curtly, attempting to behave as a nobleman.
"Then I suppose I should say welcome back Master...?" "Malcolm."
"Master Malcolm! Luncheon will be served at one."
Jamie gave another nod and walked slowly, languidly down the hallway, trying to steady his hands and prepare himself for what lay ahead. He didn't know what the devil a luncheon in this sort of place would entail, but he didn't plan on being here long enough to find out.
Claire was right, the place reeked of opium smoke. As he stepped into the sitting area, he was momentarily blinded. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he took it all in.
There were red silks everywhere, casting a ghastly crimson glow. The couches were black and red, and covered in half naked men in various states of intoxication. He thanked the Blessed Virgin none of them were currently engaging in intercourse, most likely too far gone to do so. Neither were any of them John Grey. This must be where all the drug use was occurring, because as he ascended the stairs to his right, he glimpsed a library further back, and noticed the men there were socializing and seemed rather sober. They, too, were in various states of undress, and two of them were wearing...
Jamie shook his head and bounded up the stairs.
There was another drawing room to the left, and he poked his head inside. There were cabinets lining the walls, filled with various implements used for beating criminals. At least, that had been Jamie's experience with them. He shuddered to think of other uses they could be put to, and Jack Randall's ghost swam in his vision. Two men were embracing on a couch, one of them had his hand wrapped around the other's throat as they kissed.
When he caught sight of Jamie, he pulled away from his paramour and said "Would you care to join us? I don't bite. Unless you want me to."
Jamie choked back a rise of bile and left the room without responding.
The next room was a billiards room, chess and card tables strewn about, and there were more cabinets. These were filled with what looked like strips of leather, rope, silk scarves. He shuddered again, piecing it together.The rest of the rooms on this level appeared to be bedrooms, save the small privy at the end of a hall. He didn't want to open every door, but he didn't think he'd have a choice.
Unfortunately, or very fortunately depending on how you looked at it, the first room he entered happened to be occupied.
The room was filled with a large bed, black and red silk sheets on top. The shades were dark enough to cast the room in blackness, and more red silk scarves were draped about. A young boy, maybe thirteen, lay on the bed in his shorts, his wrists bound to the bedposts, and a very fat naked man sat between his knees.
Jamie drew the blade from his boot and in two steps he was holding it to the man's throat from behind him.
"Leave this place," he hissed at the sputtering man. "Now. Never come back here." He pressed the tip of the blade to the man's third chin, nicking him, and stepped back. The man half fell from the bed as he quivered and muttered then gathered his clothes. He glanced back at Jamie as he reached the doorway and said
"If you wanted to share, you only had to ask."
Jamie tossed his blade up and caught it as it fell, holding it above his head and charging toward the man, who swiftly ran for the exit.
Now I've done it, he thought.
The fat-arse would be alerting somebody any second now, and they would come looking for the mad Scot with the knife. He had to move quickly. He turned and looked at the boy on the bed. He was staring at Jamie in terror. Jamie stalked to the bed and cut the silks holding the lad.
"You, too," Jamie told him. "Leave this place and never return. Go to Argus House at Hyde Park. Tell them James Fraser sent ye. They owe me. They'll give ye a job." The child rose shakily from the bed, and Jamie averted his eyes as he dressed. "Listen, lad, I haven't much time. I'm looking for a friend. About yay high, long dark hair, bonnie blue eyes, pink cheeks and mouth? He was dressed in blue last he was seen?"
The boy hesitated, then spoke in a small, wavering voice. "Y-yes, sir. I s-saw that man. He...he is not well. He's d-down th-the hall. L-last room on the...l-left."
Jamie turned to him now. He was dressed in rags that hung on his scrawny body. He took the boy's hand and placed a shilling in it. "Go, lad. Get out of here. Argus House. Ask for Minerva Grey. That name'll get ye in the door. James Fraser. Go!" The boy ran down the stairs just as Jamie heard footsteps coming up.
He bolted down the hall and kicked open the last door on the left just as someone shouted "You there! Stop!" Jamie did stop. He froze in horror at the sight before him, too much to take in all at once.
John lay, naked and face down, in the middle of the bed, the same size and decor as the room before. There were leather straps, riding crops, and other devices Jamie knew not littering the floor. Some sort of device hung from the ceiling over the bed. It looked to Jamie like some sort of horse's harness. The room reeked of opium smoke, sweat, alcohol, men's seed, and...Jamie's stomach lurched...a faint smell of blood. John appeared to be unconscious, or at least deep in the throes of his high.
The man in the purple waistcoat came upon Jamie then and seized him by the sleeve. "Just what the devil do you think you're doing?" he said, with some pompous air of authority. Jamie seized him by the front and slammed him into the wall, holding his blade against the man's throat as he gasped.
"This man is a friend o' mine," Jamie told him through gritted teeth, his face inches from the other man's. "I dinna ken what ye people have done to him, but ye are going to stand aside and let me leave wi' him."
The man's face was turning red and he spluttered, "Master Malcolm, please. I cannot allow you to abduct my patron! How do I know you are his friend?"
"Ye will let me take him. If ye don't, I swear to ye his brother and I will come back here, we will no' come alone, we will burn this place to the ground with all ye perverts inside it. I've done it for him before."
He pulled the man away from the wall and shoved him in the direction from whence he came. He stumbled a bit but righted himself quickly, adjusting his waistcoat and giving a loud huff. He eyed Jamie warily as he turned and retreated.
Jamie steeled himself and entered the room. He stood over John and allowed himself to take it all in before moving him.
John was unconscious, but breathing. His hair was loose and pushed to one side, revealing his face, which showed a bruise forming below his eye and a split lip.
He was drooling a bit on the pillow beneath him. His throat was purple and raw. Jamie let his eyes move down his friend's body. He had bruises spotted over his shoulders. Fingerprints, Jamie realized. His back was littered in welts, obviously from the implements scattered around the room. His waist had more bruises, more fingerprints. His bottom was covered. Bruises, welts, handprints, lashes. Jamie took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he reached his hand forward and spread John's cheeks. He looked abused, and there was a pink fluid leaking from him that Jamie instantly recognized as blood mixed with seed, and a lot of it. There had been more than one man here.
Jamie couldn't handle it as well as he thought he could. He stumbled to the privy across the hall and vomited. When he had emptied his stomach of last night's dinner, he rose and went back to John. He gathered his clothes and began to dress him gently as he could. "Oh, John," he whispered. "Why would ye do this? Why did ye no' come to me? Ye ken I'd do anything for ye. Ye didna have to do this."
Once he had John modestly dressed, he left the rest of the garments behind, pulled John into his arms, and began to carry him back to the safe and loving embrace of his family once more.
Their descent drew stares. Obviously all of the mobile men in the place had heard there was a disturbance. He pulled John tighter to his chest, shielding his face from prying eyes. "Get the door, ye English bastard," he said to the purple man as he neared the entry. The little man scurried to open the door, and as they stepped into the light of day and breathed the fresh air, Jamie's eyes immediately found Claire's as she stood by the carriage waiting for them. She opened the door and Jamie placed John inside. Claire climbed in behind him without hesitation but turned and seized Jamie for a kiss before closing the door.
Jamie headed to Argus House, but shortly into their journey Claire opened the window and told him to take them to their home instead. "His family shouldn't see him like this yet, and I need to treat him. He needs stitches. His brother doesn't need to know where." Jamie swore and wiped the tears from his face. "Alright, Sassenach. Whatever ye need."
When they arrived home, Claire ran ahead of Jamie and opened the door for him to carry John through. "Brianna!" she called. "Brianna! I need your help! Take him into my surgery," she told Jamie as Brianna appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Mama? Is that Lord John?" she asked as she ran towards them. "Oh my God, what happened to him?!"
Their little party moved down the hall and Jamie laid John carefully on the bed and started to undress him with shaking hands.
Claire turned to Brianna, "He's addicted to opium, darling. He's gotten himself into a bit of trouble, but we're going to help him. And we're going to protect his honor and never tell anyone what we see here."
"Of course, Mama. But opium? Isn't that..."
"What they use to make heroin, and morphine, yes. Jamie, please send someone with a letter to Argus House. Tell them John is safe and they may come in two hours' time."
Jamie hesitated to leave John's side, but knew he wouldn't want him here for the examination, so he kissed Claire hard on the mouth, hugged his daughter gratefully, and departed to do as he was told.
As soon as the letter was sent, Jamie took up post outside Claire's surgery. He could hear low murmurs inside, but struggled to make out what his wife and daughter were saying.
"Mama, he's been..."
Raped. Beaten, Jamie thought.
"We don't know that, darling. He may have asked for this. He...he was in an establishment that caters..."
Caters to the whims of sadists and pederasts,
"Why would anyone..."
Why would anyone want to mark John's perfect body? Jamie thought.
"He is grieving, my love. People do things when they are grieving they would never do otherwise. And his drug addiction certainly doesn't help. Oh, how I wish he'd told me."
"I knew a boy, in our time. He was addicted to heroin. He said he could go months without using, then something bad would happen and he'd have to."
"Yes. It is that way for many addicts."
He heard a gasp. "Oh, Mama!"
Jamie stood and made his way to the sitting room. He couldn't hear more without a stiff drink. He heard the door open as soon as he took a sip and Claire was shouting for him "Jamie! He's starting to wake, we need you!" He dropped his glass and ran to the room.
John was laying face down on the small bed. Claire had been stitching him, and he had started to whimper and move about from the pain. Jamie crouched down near his head and placed a hand lightly on his back. "John? John, ye're alright. It's Jamie. Can ye open yer eyes?" John was writhing now and his eyes were screwed shut. He didn't seem to want to open them. Jamie stroked his hand through John's hair and made small shushing sounds.
"Ye're okay. Ye're safe. I've got ye, balach milis."
John's eyes started to open slowly.
"There ye go, sweet lad. Look a' me."
"Jamie?" John's voice was shot. It came out in a hoarse whisper, low, like he'd had gravel for his breakfast, and his blue eyes were cloudy and unfocused.
"Aye, it's me. Ye're in my house. Ye're safe. Ye've had a bit of a mishap, but Claire is mendin' ye. Be a good lad and stay still for her, aye?" John's eyes closed again and he let out a sob, turning his face into his pillow. Jamie nodded at Claire, and she resumed her work.
He stayed with him, stroking his hair and whispering in his ear. Brianna stood behind Jamie with a comforting hand on his shoulder. His family knew what John meant to him, knew their whole past. Knew that it was all in the past, but that John would forever have a place in Jamie's heart.
"Brianna, hand me that towel and salve there," Claire said when she had finished his stitches and cut the thread. Brianna moved quietly behind him, and he leaned down to whisper to John once more.
"Claire's going to rub this stuff on yer bottom, John. It may be cold, just relax."
Claire applied a large scoop of the jelly to John's hole and he hissed and arched his back.
"Shhh. It's alright, love. The worst is over," Jamie murmured. He had endured the same treatment from Claire, so many years before. He kent well the shame and pain of it, and his face burned now, remembering.
"Christ, John. Why'd ye do this to yerself?"
"That's not helpful right now, Da," Brianna told him gently, moving to lay a fleece over John's rear as Claire wiped her hands and gathered more supplies. She knelt on the floor next to Jamie and put her hand on his shoulder again. "There will be plenty of time for all of that later. He's going to recover, and we'll help his
Jamie blinked back his tears and smiled at his daughter. "Ye're right. I'm glad ye are here, my sweet lass. He will need yer kind and gentle spirit to help him through this," he said, giving her hand a squeeze.
Claire had moved to sit on the bed at John's side, and she was now rubbing arnica oil over the welts and bruises on his back. He seemed to enjoy her gentle touch, his brow had unfurrowed itself and he was breathing deeply. She lifted the fleece and applied the oil over his rear, eliciting a small whimper, but he settled quickly. "Can you roll onto your side for me?" she asked him. He let out a moan and shook his head feebly. "Jamie, help me roll him."
Jamie stood and took John by his waist and knees as Claire took his shoulders and head they rolled him gently. Brianna crawled onto the bed behind him and propped him up.
Jamie had avoided looking at his cock when he dressed and undressed him earlier, wanting to spare the man that last shred of dignity, but he saw it now and gasped. "Christ. Claire." She glanced at where was looking and said "Yes, I know."
It was chapped and raw, a red ring embedded around the base. There was a thin, long, still bleeding cut drawn across his pelvis.
"What in the devil could have caused such a..."
"Jamie!" He looked at her and she nodded towards John. Jamie glanced up and saw that he was watching him, listening, seeming entirely intoxicated but aware enough to understand they were talking about his privates. Jamie looked at him apologetically and said "It's alright, John. We're going to take care of ye."
He glanced at Brianna and saw that she was not looking at John's body but his face, gently running her hands through his hair.
"John, I'm going to rub this on your throat, okay?" Claire asked him. He looked at her and nodded, closing his eyes once more as she applied the arnica over the marks covering the area entirely. Jamie couldn't tell if they were caused by hands or mouths, they were so mottled together, but he guessed both. Claire seemed unsure of what to do next. She needed Jamie and Brianna to keep John propped on his side, but wanted to give him his dignity as she applied ointment to his genitals. "Both of you, look away," she said decisively, reaching for a cotton swab and the jar of salve.
A moment later she said "Alright. You can lay him back on his stomach."
They rolled him over and Brianna left the bed as Claire covered him with a sheet.
He seemed to have fallen unconcious once more and Claire said "Alright. Well, that's all I can do for now. We should let him rest. Jamie, will you stay with him? He'll be in and out as he comes down from the opium, he should have you here if he gets frightened. His family should be arriving soon."
"Aye, I'll stay," Jamie said as he stroked John's hair and looked at him tenderly. He looked back at his family as they left and said "Thank ye, both my lasses. I love ye so much I dinna ken how I could ever live without ye again."
They both smiled sadly at him, then Claire closed the door, leaving the two men alone together once more.