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Posted October 13th:
He rubbed a hand over his sweating face, imagined he smelt the alcohol oozing from his pores, and wiped it on his breeches.
“I don’t want wine, no. Nor do I want to…to do…well, that’s not true,” he admitted. “I do want to—very much,” he added hurriedly, lest she think him insulting, “but I’m not going to.”
She looked at him open-mouthed.
“Why not?” she said at last. “You’ve paid well over the odds for anything you want to do. Including buggery, if that’s your pleasure.” Her lip curled a little. He flushed to the scalp.
“You think I would save you from--that, and then do it _myself_?”
“Yes. Often men don’t think of something until another mentions it, and then they’re all eagerness to try it themselves.”
He was outraged.
“You must have a most indifferent opinion of gentlemen, madam!”
Her mouth twitched again, and she gave him a look of such barely-veiled amusement that the blood burned in his face and ears.
“Right,” he said stiffly, “I take your point.”
“Well, that’s a novelty,” she said, the twitch breaking into a malicious smile. “It’s generally the other way round.”
He breathed deeply through his nose.
“I…it is meant as an apology, if you like.” It was a struggle to keep meeting her eye. “For what happened last time.”
A faint breeze came in, ruffling the hair about her shoulders and filled the fabric of her shift so it billowed, affording him a glimpse of her nipple, like a dark rose in the candle-light. He swallowed and looked away.
“My…um…my stepfather…told me once that a madam of his acquaintance said to him that a night’s sleep was the best gift you could give a whore.”
“It runs in the family, does it? Frequenting brothels?” She didn’t pause for a response to that. “He’s right, though. Do you really mean that you intend for me to…sleep?” From her tone of incredulity, he might have asked her to engage in some perversion well past buggery.
Posted October 15th:
_It’s nay her fault_, he thought fiercely. _She’s done me nay wrong_. They’d thought him dead—Marsali had told him so, and told him that Lord John had wed Claire in haste following the news of Jamie’s death, in order to protect not only her, but Fergus and Marsali as well from imminent arrest.
_Aye, and then he took her to his bed_! The knuckles of his left hand twinged as he curled his fist. “_Never hit them in the face, lad_,” Dougal had told him that a lifetime ago, as they watched a knock-down fight between two of Colum’s men in the courtyard at Leoch. “_Hit them in the soft parts_.”
They’d hit _him_ in the soft parts.
“Nay her fault,” he muttered under his breath, turning restlessly into his pillow. What the bloody _hell_ had happened, though? How had they done it—why?
He felt as though he was fevered, his mind dazed with the waves of heat that throbbed over his body. And like the half-glimpsed things in fever-dreams, he saw her naked flesh, pale and shimmering with sweat in the humid night, slick under John Grey’s hand…
His back felt as though someone had laid a hot girdle on it. With a deep growl of exasperation, he turned onto his side again and fumbled at the bandages holding the scalding plaster to his skin, at last wriggling out of its torrid embrace. He dropped it on the floor and flung back the quilt that covered him, seeking the relief of cool air on body and mind.
But the cabin was filled to the rooftree with the fuggy warmth of fire and sleeping bodies and the heat that flamed over him seemed to have rooted itself between his legs. He clenched his fists in the bedclothes, trying not to writhe, trying to calm his mind.
“Lord, let me stand aside from this,” he whispered in Gaidhlig. “Grant me mercy and forgiveness. Grant me understanding!”
Posted October 16th:
“Whassat, Mummy? Mummy, I scared, I SCARED!”
“And you think I’m not?” Bree said under her breath, heart in her mouth. “It’s OK, baby,” she said aloud, and pressed her foot to the floor. “We’re just going to get Jem.”
The car slewed to a stop on the gravel, and she leapt out, but dithered for a moment, needing urgently to rush toward the building, where sirens and lights were going off over an open door at the side, but unable to leave Mandy alone in the car. She could hear the rush of water down the spillway.
“Come with me, sweetheart,” she said, hastily undoing the seat-belt. “That’s right, here, let me carry you…” Even as she spoke, she was looking here, there, from the lights into the darkness, every nerve she had screaming that her son was here, he was _here_, he had to be…rushing water…her mind filled with horror, thinking of Jem falling into the spillway, or Jem in the service tunnel—God, why hadn’t she gone there first? Of course Rob Cameron would have put him there, he had the keys, he…but the lights, the sirens…
She’d almost made it—at a dead run, impeded only slightly by thirty pounds of toddler—when she saw a big man at the edge of the drive, thrashing through the bushes with a stick or something, cursing a blue streak.
“What do you think you’re _doing_?” she bellowed. Mandy, alarmed anew, let out a screech like a scalded baboon, and the man jumped, whirling to face them, stick raised.
“What the bleedin’ hell are you doing here?” he said, so taken aback that he spoke almost normally. “You’re supposed to be—“
Bree had peeled Mandy off. Setting her daughter down behind her, she prepared to take the man apart with her bare hands, if necessary. Evidently this intent showed, because the man dropped the stick and abruptly vanished into the darkness.
Posted October 17th:
They made their way across the fields, picking up [ ] at the farmhouse—it was deserted, no need to leave anyone there—and across the bridge over one of the creeks. He slowed a little as his horse’s hooves thudded on the planks, feeling the blessed cool dampness coming up from the water thirty feet below. They should stop, he thought, for water—they hadn’t, since early morning, and the canteens would be running dry—but it would take too long for so many men to work their way along the ravine, down to the creek, and back up. He thought they could make it to La Fayette’s position; there were wells there.
He could see the road ahead, and peeled an eye for lurking British. He wondered, with a moment’s irritation, where Ian was; he would have liked to know where the British _were_.
He found out an instant later. A gunshot cracked nearby, and his horse slipped and fell. Jamie yanked his foot free and rolled out of the saddle as the horse hit the bridge with a thud that shook the whole structure, struggled for an instant, neighing loudly, and slid over the edge into the ravine.
Jamie scrambled to his feet; his hand was burning, all the skin taken off his palm when the reins ripped through his grasp.
“Run!” he shouted, with what breath he had left, and waved an arm wildly, gathering the men, pointing them down the road toward a growth of trees that would cover them. “_Go_!”
He found himself among them, the surge of men carrying him with them, and they stumbled into cover, gasping and wheezing with the effort of running. Kerby and Guthrie were sorting out their companies, the late Captain Craddock’s men were clustering near Jamie, and he nodded to Bixby and Corporal Greenhow to count noses.
He could still hear the sound the horse had made, hitting the ground below the bridge.
He was going to vomit; he felt it rising and knew better than to try to hold it back. He made a quick staying motion toward Lieutenant Schnell, who wanted to speak to him, stepped behind a large pine and let his stomach turn itself out like an emptied sporran.
Posted October 18th:
“I’m sorry to interrupt ye, Ian,” Uncle Jamie said, stepping out from the willow. The stars were growing dim; he was nay more than a ghost, bare-legged in his floating sark. “Who were ye speaking to, though?”
“Oh. My Da. He was just…there in my mind, ken? I mean, I think of him often, but it’s not sae often I feel him _with_ me. So I wondered, had he come to tell me I’d die this day.”
Jamie nodded, not seeming bothered at the thought.
“I doubt it,” he said. “Ye’re putting on your paint, aye? Getting ready, I mean.”
“Aye, I was just about to. Ye want some, too?” It was only half said in jest, and Jamie took it that way.
“I would, Ian. But I think General Washington might have me strung up by the thumbs and flogged, should I come before him wi’ my troops all marshaled and me wi’ war paint on.”
Ian made a small sound of amusement, and scooped two fingers into the dish of red ochre, which he began to rub on his chest.
“And what are ye doin’ out here in your sark, then?”
“Washing,” Jamie said, but in a tone indicating that that wasn’t all of it. “And…talkin’ to my ain dead.”
“Mmphm. Anyone in particular?”
“My uncle Dougal, and Murtagh, him who was my godfather. They’re the two I’d most want with me, in battle.” Jamie made a small restless movement. “If I can, I make a wee moment to be alone, before a fight. To wash, ken, and pray a bit, and then…just ask if they’ll bide with me as I go.”
Ian thought this interesting; he hadn’t known either man himself; they’d both died at Culloden, but he’d heard stories.
“Bonnie fighters,” he said. “Did ye ask my Da, too? To go with ye, I mean. Perhaps that’s why he’s about.”
Jamie turned his head sharply toward Ian, surprised. Then relaxed, shaking his head.
“I never had to ask Ian Mòr,” he said softly. “He was always…just with me.” He gestured briefly to the darkness on his right.
Posted October 19th:
“Ye’re out of your wee pink mind, ye ken that, aye?”
Roger looked at Buck in amazement.
“Where the devil did you get _that_ expression?”
“From your wife,” Buck replied. “Who’s a verra bonnie lass and a well-spoken one, forbye. And if ye mean to get back to her bed one of these days, ye’ll think better of what ye mean to do.”
“I’ve thought,” Roger said briefly. “And I’m doing it.” The entrance to the fort looked much as it had when he’d come here a week earlier, but now with only a few people hastening in, shawls over their heads and hats pulled down against the rain. The fort itself now seemed to have a sinister aspect, the gray stones bleak and streaked black with wet .
Buck reined up, grimacing as the horse shook its head, spraying him with drops from its soaking mane.
“Aye, fine. I’m no going in there. If we have to kill him, it’s best if he doesna ken me, so I can get behind him. I’ll wait at yonder tavern.” He lifted his chin, indicating an establishment called the Peartree, a few hundred feet down the road from the fort, then kicked his horse into motion. Ten feet on, he turned and called over his shoulder, “One hour! If ye’re not with me by then, I’m comin’ in after ye!”
Roger smiled, in spite of the heaviness in his middle. The woman of the house had insisted on feeding them breakfast, even though they’d risen long before dawn to begin their journey to the garrison, and the bannocks and black pudding hadn’t moved an inch since then. He waved briefly to Buck and swung off his horse.
Posted October 20th:
The picture of his cousin Brianna came back, too, and lingered in his mind: tall, long-nosed and strong-boned as her father…and with it rose the image of his _other_ cousin, Bree’s half-brother. Holy God, William. And what ought he to do about William? He doubted the man kent the truth, kent that he was Jamie Fraser’s son—was it Ian’s responsibility to tell him so? To bring him here, and explain what he’d lost?
He must have groaned at the thought, for his dog Rollo lifted his massive head and looked at him in concern.
“No, I dinna ken that either,” Ian told him. “Let it bide, aye?” Rollo laid his head back on his paws, shivered his shaggy hide against the flies and relaxed in boneless peace.
Ian worked a while longer, and let the thoughts drain away with his sweat and his tears. He finally stopped when the sinking sun touched the tops of his cairns, feeling tired but more at peace. The cairns rose knee-high, side by side, small but solid.
He stood still for a bit, not thinking anymore, just listening to the fussing of wee birds in the grass and the breathing of the wind among the trees. Then he sighed deeply, squatted and touched one of the cairns.
“[Mo gragh, a mathair],” he said softly. My love is on you, mother. Closed his eyes and laid a scuffed hand on the other heap of stones. The dirt ground into his skin made his fingers feel strange, as though he could maybe reach straight through the earth and touch what he needed.
He stayed still, breathing, then opened his eyes.
“Help me wi’ this, Uncle Jamie,” he said. “I dinna think I can manage, alone.”
Posted October 21st:
“I don’t know,” I told the duke, putting my own glass on Mrs. Figg’s tray and scooping his up to add to it. “I really wasn’t lying about that. But I do expect he’ll be back soon.” I rubbed a hand over my face and smoothed my hair back as well as I could. First things first. I had a patient to tend.
“I’m sure John wants to see you as much as you want to see him. But—“
“Oh, I doubt it,” the duke said. His eyes traveled slowly over me, from bare feet to disheveled hair, and the faint look of amusement on his face deepened. “You must tell me how John…happened to marry you…when there’s time.”
“A counsel of desperation,” I said shortly. “But in the meantime, we must get you to bed. Mrs. Figg, is the back bedroom—“
“Thank you, Mrs. Figg,” the duke interrupted, “I shan’t be…requiring…” He was trying to struggle up out of the chair, and hadn’t enough breath to talk. I walked up to him and gave him my best piercing Head Matron look.
“Harold,” I said, in measured tones. “I am not merely your sister-in-law.” The term gave me an odd _frisson_, but I ignored it. “I am your physician. If you don’t—what?” I demanded. He was staring up at me with a most peculiar expression on his face, something between surprise and amusement. “You invited me to use your Christian name, didn’t you?”
“I did,” he admitted. “But I don’t think anyone has…actually called me Harold since…I was three years old.” He did smile, then, a charming smile quite his own. “The family call me Hal.”
“Hal, then,” I said, smiling back, but refusing to be distracted. “You’re going to have a nice, refreshing sponge-bath, Hal, and then you’re going to bed.”
He laughed—though he cut it short, as he began to wheeze. He coughed a little, fist balled under his ribs, and looked uneasy, but it stopped and he cleared his throat and looked up at me.
“You’d think I _was_…three years old. Sister-in-law. Trying to send me…to bed without my tea?” He pushed himself gingerly upright, getting his feet under him. I put a hand on his chest and pushed. He hadn’t any strength in his legs, and fell back into the chair, astonished and affronted. And afraid—he hadn’t realized—or at least had not admitted--his own weakness. A severe attack usually left the victim completely drained, and often with the lungs still dangerously twitchy.
“You see?” I said, tempering my tone with gentleness. “You’ve had attacks like this before, haven’t you?”
“Well….yes,” he said unwillingly, “but…”
“And how long were you in bed after the last one?”
His lips compressed.
“A week. But the fool doctor—“
I put a hand on his shoulder and he stopped—as much because he’d temporarily run short of air as because of the touch.
“You. Cannot. Breathe. Yet. On. Your. Own,” I said, separating the words for emphasis. “Listen to me, Hal. Look what’s happened this afternoon, will you? You were beginning to cough when I met you in Clinton’s office. You then had a fairly severe attack in the street; had that crowd on Walnut Street decided to attack us, you would have been quite helpless—don’t argue with me, Hal, I was there.” I narrowed my eyes at him. He did the same back at me, but didn’t argue.
“Then the walk from the street to the door of the house—a distance of some twenty feet—threw you straight into a full-blown _status asthmaticus_—have you heard that term before?”
“No,” he muttered.
“Well, now you have, and now you know what it is. And you were in bed for a week the last time? Was it as bad as this?”
His lips were a thin line and his eyes sparking. I imagined most people didn’t speak to a duke—let alone the commander of his own regiment—like this. Be good for him, I thought.