Disclaimer: Diana Gabaldon owns Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey (though I wouldn't mind owning Lord John). She doesn't own the American Revolutionary War. Regardless, I am not she, and I make no money off of this.
Within a Dark Wood
Twenty years had passed, and yet here it was again. Another hopeless rebellion. Another mad and violent bid for secession. With the situation in the Americas escalating into total war, Lord John Grey felt duty-bound to give aid to his native country as best he could. And so once more he found himself with an officer's duties and a regiment to command. Experienced as both a military man and an administrator, John Grey was given a small fort in Virginia. The slick grey stones and the greyer, rainy days of autumn transported Lord John's mind back to his days at the prison of Ardsmuir as a young Major. Again, his was the sad duty to oversee prisoners of war—rebels who called themselves freedom fighters. Again, he saw the dismal prison cages slowly smothering the spirits of men who were fighting for what they believed in, but fighting in folly.
And again, Jamie Fraser was his prisoner.
John Grey took a deep gulp from the glass of wine on his desk and stirred his uneaten dinner of roast lamb about the plate. "How did we come to this?" Grey murmured. Jamie was scheduled to be hanged tomorrow, and Grey could think of no way to prevent it. He had helped Jamie evade punishment in the past, but always through perfectly legal channels, using his society connections to secure a milder sentence. But on this occasion, there was no time. Jamie was already condemned as an outlaw and a traitor. Grey had already postponed Jamie's execution once, giving them both a few days grace; if he postponed it again, one of his subordinate officers was bound to grow suspicious. There seemed no escape for either of them. Tomorrow, Jamie would die, and Grey would watch, helpless to prevent it.
He sighed as his head fell into his hands, his eyes sting with tears he feared to shed. If he fell into grief now, he knew he'd never crawl out from the depths. And if anyone were to discover the source of Grey's turmoil, the nature of his feelings for Jamie Fraser—a man, a traitor—Grey's own life would be placed at risk and the reputation of his kin would suffer along with his. So he forced back the wetness in his eyes, the tightness in his throat and the rolling, ocean-wave feeling in his stomach. And the sky grew darker as the last bit of twilight faded away.
Grey did not bother to light a candle to dispel the gloom. The tenebrous atmosphere suited his mood, and though it was perhaps a trifle theatrical of him, he felt that he deserved to sit alone in the darkness, for Jamie surely would have no light tonight, and tomorrow the noose would steal his light forevermore.
The thought of Jamie sitting alone, blind in the shadows of his cell, shivering and blue-lipped, made Grey shudder in sympathy. Perhaps…perhaps, if Grey could not save him, he might at least endeavor to make Jamie's last night more comfortable. Offer companionship. A lamp. Perhaps even a spare blanket or a coat.
And without another thought, Grey darted up from his seat and snatched his greatcoat and a lamp from the desk and abandoned the silence of his office.
The night was moist. Drops of water glittered on the ground as Grey made his way across the yard towards the stairwell that would lead him down to the cells, and he was grateful for the wool of his coat keeping the damp at bay. The soldier guarding the stair door looked like he would have given anything to be someplace warm and dry; nevertheless, he saluted sharply as Grey approached.
"Has our prisoner said anything?"
"No, sir. Not a word. Not trying to defend hisself. Not giving away anything 'bout the rebels, either."
It was much what he had expected from Fraser. "I'm going to interrogate the prisoner again."
"Yes, sir. Shall I go get a clerk and a couple of soldiers to escort you then?" The soldier turned to move off, probably grateful for any excuse to get out of the damp. But Grey halted his departure with a gesture.
"No. No clerk or soldiers. I'll speak with Fraser alone."
"Are you sure that's safe, sir?" The soldier fingered what appeared to be a talisman of some sort.
Grey gave the man a withering look. "The man is behind bars. Despite whatever rumors you may have heard, Jamie Fraser is not some spirit of evil or servant of the devil."
"Yes, sir," the soldier said, though Grey noticed that he still gripped the talisman and looked unlikely to let it go. Grey rolled his eyes at the gullibility of common soldiers as the man turned to open the door. With the door open, Grey paused on the landing to light his lamp. No candles or torches flickered in the stairwell, and Grey was loath to risk his neck navigating the wet stairs in the dark, though he cursed the minute he lost laboring to strike a spark on the wick.
He took the stairs carefully, knowing that the glow of his lamp would warn Jamie of his approach long before they set eyes on one another, and Grey wanted to give Jamie a chance to compose himself if necessary. Though Grey may be forced to take away Jamie's life, he'd not try to take his pride. So it was with no surprise that when he turned 'round the last bend, his first glimpse of Jamie was of a man standing tall and straight, fixing him with fierce blue eyes.
Grey was, however, given the satisfaction of seeing those eyes widen in shock when Jamie recognized his visitor. They had encountered each other only once since Jamie's capture, when Jamie and his confederates were first brought in and interrogated. They had not been able to speak openly, surrounded as they had been by English soldiers and American rebels. Jamie did not let slip any hint of his acquaintance with Grey. And Grey had likewise kept his face and manner perfectly impassive as he questioned the prisoners, and hoped that Jamie could see the regret in his eyes.
But now there were no soldiers, and all the other prisoners had been taken away and hanged two days before. Only Jamie remained alive at Grey's insistence that Jamie, as the leader of that band, might yet be persuaded to give them information of use—or such was the excuse he gave. For the first time, they could speak in privacy, and yet Grey could not think of a thing to say.
Fortunately, Jamie made the opening move. "Colonel, is it? Congratulations on your promotion."
The comment was so unexpected, so out of place under the circumstances that Grey could only gape.
"I hope that not all the English officers are sair keen as ye, else we may be in a bit of trouble," Jamie added.
"I…" Grey found his voice again, but was still at a bit of a loss on what to do with it. "I…Thank you."
"An' what are ye doing here, then?"
"I don't rightly know."
"Sounds like you've been reading the French philosophers. Pascal, perhaps?"
Grey laughed in spite of himself. Jamie was imprisoned, filthy, scheduled to die at dawn, and yet he sounded for all the world as if they were enjoying a casual conversation over tea. "Cicero. Somnium Scipionis."
"Ah. And do ye agree with its premise? That devotion to one's country is the key to salvation?"
Grey paused. Jamie was looking at him with a peculiar intensity, and Grey knew that his next words would be measured and judged. "I believe that loyalty towards one's nation is of great importance. Else the whole world would be swallowed by anarchy. And rebellion."
"Then perhaps ye ken why I fight for my country now."
"No, damn it, I do not!" Grey's anger exploded as his feelings of frustration over the helplessness of the situation overwhelmed him. "This is not your country. America is a British colony; it belongs to England. I understand why you fought with the Jacobites; I respect you for it. Scotland was your home. But this—I sometimes suspect you of joining this hopeless cause for no better reason than to spite the English."
"Is that what ye think, then?"
"I—no. I know that you wouldn't join a fight that you didn't believe was honorable. I'm only very sorry that you and I find ourselves in disagreement over which side is the right side. Sorry you chose the side you did."
Jamie tilted his head in a half-shrug, lamplight shining touches of flame in his red hair. "I could same the same to ye."
Grey set the lamp on the floor so quickly that he almost toppled it and strode to the bars that separated himself from Jamie. He gripped the iron and stood as close to Jamie as the cell bars would allow, as if his nearness could better impress his words on his prisoner. "Jamie, recant. Tell us what you know. Swear loyalty to England. I could prevent your execution if you do. You could go free. Return home to your wife."
Even as Grey watched with hopeful eyes, Jamie's face hardened. "I canna do that. And you shouldna ask it of me. I'll not betray my companions."
"I can't bear to let you die."
"I can't say as I'm looking forward to it myself."
Grey began to shiver uncontrollably as he thought about what tomorrow would bring. Jamie, walking to the gallows, stretched by the hangman's noose, lifeless, cold, and empty. And him, reduced to the worst sort of traitor—a man who would let his friend die.
And then a warm, firm hand was on his shoulder. "I dinna hate you for doing your duty."
"Do you want a chance to escape?" The words were out before he could even think to stop them. "Just a chance, mind you, and not a very good one at that. But I could unlock the door. Let you out."
It was madness. And if it were discovered, they both would hang. But madness or not, Grey knew that it was only path possible for him, the only choice that would permit him to retain his sanity and soul.
Jamie was silent for a long time. So long that Grey began to fear that Jamie might dismiss his offer of help like so much rubbish. But at last a voice whispered "Yes" and Grey let out a breath that he didn't know he was holding.
As commander of the fort, Grey had a master key that would open any door and any cell. This he took and thrust into the lock, freeing Jamie Fraser and committing his first act of treason against the British Empire. Jamie stepped from the cell and placed his hands on Grey's arms and lightly squeezed, leaning down to bring his brow so close that is was nearly touching Grey's own.
"John. There are no words to express my thanks enough."
Grey felt his body warm at the genuine feeling in those words. But there was no time for him to say all he wished to. And he suspected that there was nothing he could say about his feelings for Jamie that Jamie didn't already know. "Here, take my coat." Grey shrugged out of the garment. "It'll be far too small, but you can tie it around your shoulders like a cloak, and use it for a blanket while sleeping." He handed the plain, grey woolen garment over to Jamie. "There's one guard at the top of the stairs on the other side of the door. He's been restless and distracted, so you should be able to overcome him easily. I'd ask that you try not to kill him. He's a good soldier with a wife and family."
"And the gate?"
"Four men on the ground, four on the wall."
But whatever Jamie was about to say was severed by the sound of voices and footsteps on the stairs. The steps were firm and unhurried, more than one person, though Grey could not tell how many…and they'd be within sight in a matter of seconds. Grey's mouth went dry as he froze in panic, unable to move or think.
"Is there another way out?" Jamie hissed under his breath.
Grey shook his head numbly.
"No help for it, then," he said, and with a motion too fast and unexpected for Grey to counter, Jamie snatched the pistol from Grey's belt, twisted his arm behind his back and pressed the cool cylinder of the gun to Grey's temple, using his body as a shield between himself and the approaching soldiers. When the soldiers saw the situation they had walked into, Grey's face was pale with a fear that was wholly genuine.
Fraser was an honorable man, of this Grey was certain. Honorable and loyal. Yet, Grey was not of Jamie's family. Grey was not Jamie's dear love. And Grey thought with a sinking heart that Jamie would perhaps not balk at killing him to return home to his beloved wife, to ensure her protection.
"Colonel!" Conditioned by training to reach for their guns in event of trouble, the soldiers made for their weapons, only to freeze in mid-motion as Jamie pressed the pistol harder against Grey's skull.
"I wouldna do that if I were you." Fraser's tone was conversational, even pleasant, but his grip on the pistol was steady and he pulled on Grey's twisted arm in a manner that caused him to gasp in pain. "Now, ye'll put down your firearms, and back up the stairs slowly…else I'll have to make a mess of your Colonel's pretty face." Fraser brushed back a stray strand of Grey's golden hair with the barrel-end of the pistol. The circle of metal was beginning to warm against his skin, but that didn't stop the crawling, shivering sensation he felt where the steel touched his face.
The soldiers obeyed Fraser's orders without waiting for Grey to confirm them, which was a fortunate thing, as Grey wasn't certain he'd be able to speak without a frightened tremble in his voice. As the soldiers awkwardly walked up the stairs, Jamie followed with Grey stumbling before him, kept pressed close to Jamie by the clenching hand on his arm and the deadly metal at his head.
"When we reach the top, you're going to make sure that there's none up there pointing a musket at me. You," he nodded to one of the soldiers, a young boy named Robertson, who had joined the regiment just one month prior, "get a saddled horse and bring it to me. You'll have two minutes before I start to get restless."
"Two minutes! I can't saddle a horse in two minutes!"
"Then you'd best hope there's one already saddled."
"And you, Lieutenant," Jamie fixed his eyes on the only officer of the group, "you'll make sure that everybody knows that if I hear one shot fired, the next will be into your Colonel's head."
The lieutenant glared at Jamie with grim rage but did not protest. Then the doorway at the top was opened and soldiers, prisoner and hostage all spilled out into the night. The soldier on duty at the door began to reach for his musket, but hesitated when he understood the situation.
"Put your gun down, Whitley," the lieutenant said as Robertson dashed off towards the stables. Fraser kept his back against the wall, and with Grey in front and the wall behind, a man would have to be an exceptional shot indeed to mark Fraser without also striking Grey. And Fraser had told the lieutenant plainly that there was no room for error. If a shot were fired, and missed, or merely wounded instead of killed, Grey would be dead before a second attempt could be made.
And so the standoff persisted in silence as Jamie waited for the return of Robertson and the horse. The soldiers were angry. And growing angrier by the second. One spat to his left and murmured something about "buggering colonial rebels".
"Buggering, is it? Well, there's an idea." Grey couldn't see Fraser's sharp grin, but he could hear it in his voice. "Been in an English cell for a fortnight, in the wilds for another month before that. Long time for a man to go without. Maybe your Colonel will be willing to oblige."
Grey's soldiers shifted and stirred obviously tempted to take on Fraser, with their bare hands if needs be, but held back by the threat to their superior. Fraser was keeping them wound up, distracted, too angry to consider any sort of rational course of action. Grey only hoped that Fraser's tactic didn't rile up the soldiers so much that they forget about the precarious position their commanding officer was in.
And then the clop of a horse's hooves, and Grey felt Jamie's soft sigh of relief whisper past his cheek. Robertson was leading a chestnut mare—an older animal, but still swift enough. Robertson himself was panting and pale, and his eyes darted from Fraser to Grey as if fearing that his return wasn't fast enough for Fraser and he'd be forced to witness his officer's skull shattered by a lead shot. But Fraser merely told the boy to bring the horse closer.
Fraser took two steps away from the wall, and trapping Grey between his body and the horse's, released Grey's arm and climbed up into the saddle, turning Grey so that the pistol never wavered away from his head. As soon as Fraser was secure in his seat, he grabbed a fistful of Grey's collar and hauled him into the saddle in front of him. One arm was wrapped around Grey, holding the reins; the other hand kept Grey petrified with the threat of certain, quick death. Pressed tightly back against Fraser's chest, the outside of his thighs touching the inside of Fraser's, Grey wondered at the detached chill of Fraser's actions that so contrasted the warmth of his body.
"Remember, one shot from you, and I fire." With that parting warning, Fraser kicked the horse forward at a gallop, the pounding of hooves drowning out the vain scramble for muskets that was undoubtedly going on behind them. The main gate opened quickly at Fraser's insistence and some further roughing up of Grey, though Grey knew that a dozen muskets must be trained on them, weighing the potential risks versus gains of trying to bring down Fraser while he held Grey captive. In the end, though Grey's skin prickled and his head buzzed anticipating the sound of a shot that would end his life, no gun was fired as he and Fraser rode into the shadows of the forest.
Once the watch fires of the fort were out of sight, Fraser reined the horse in and nudged it into the brush. "It'll be slow going, but they'll have a hard time trying to follow us in the dark." The horse stumbled a bare few feet in, and Fraser tucked the pistol into his belt to take a firmer hold on the reins. Grey let out a breath as the biting, clawing, primitive fear that had held him passive for the last half-hour was suddenly lifted.
Fear gone, Grey did the first thing he could think of. He elbowed Fraser as hard as he could in the stomach. Fraser slid from the saddle, pulling Grey down with him to sprawl in the dirt while Fraser gagged and retched.
"You bastard. You utter, ungrateful bastard." Grey was trembling now with rage instead of fear. To have had his life threatened by a man he'd trusted, a man for whom he'd risked his honor and betrayed his country, was just too much for his composure to bear.
Fraser coughed once more before turning to Grey. "I wouldna've killed ye. If the lieutenant had decided to call my bluff."
"What would you have done? Gone quietly back to your cell?" Grey did not attempt to hide his skepticism.
"I would have pushed ye out of the way and taken my chances. I had nothing to lose. Better to be shot dead than hanged anyway. Taking ye hostage seemed the best way to get myself out alive and protect your own reputation. It wouldna have looked good for you if those soldiers had come down to see you having a pleasant talk with an un-caged rebel." Jamie shrugged. "As an escape plan, it had its risks…"
"Risks to my brain matter," Grey said.
"…but it was the best I could come up with in the moment." Jamie straightened his spine and turned back to the horse. "But I'm afraid we canna stay here and chat about it. We're still too close to the fort for safety. If ye return to the road, I'm sure your people will find you quickly enough."
Grey felt the anger slowly, reluctantly drain out of him. Fear and anger both gone, he found himself feeling immeasurably exhausted. Certainly, he felt as though could barely get himself up off the ground, much less walk back to the fort. "No, I'll ride with you awhile. If my soldiers find you, you may need a hostage," he added bitterly.
A flicker of emotion flitted across Jamie's face. Surprise and…relief? Gratitude? Grey couldn't tell. And then Jamie was gripping his wrist and pulling him up out of the dirt. "No time to lie about, then. There's a stream nearby, cuts through a gorge where there's a cave. It's well hidden, hard to find in daylight, near impossible to find in darkness, unless ye ken it's there. We should be safe there."
Prior to his capture, Jamie must have learned the countryside well. The stream was just where he had said it would be, and within an hour after that, they were coaxing the horse into the cave and settling themselves on the driest patches of ground they could find. They had only one good coat between them—the one that Grey had given Fraser—but though the air was uncomfortably chill, Grey had no wish to deprive Fraser of the first bit of warmth the man'd had in weeks. And he dared not suggest that they try to share the coat. Grey stomach fluttered at the thought of lying next to Jamie, covered together by stout wool. He suspected that Jamie, however, would be much less pleased by such a development. In fact, Jamie would probably give up the coat entirely and suffer the cold before he consented to lay himself down next to John Grey. And Grey had no wish to prove his suspicions right.
And so when he sat and leaned his back against a smooth boulder which jutted out from the cave wall, he was shocked to see Jamie sit close next to him, so close that their shoulders touched, and spread the coat out over them both.
Jamie must have felt Grey's start of surprise, for surely it was too dark to discern his expression of gape-mouthed astonishment. "'Tis a cold night," Jamie said. "Better for us both if we stay close."
Grey stared at Jamie's silhouette, as though hoping to pierce the gloom to interpret Jamie's expression. But all he could see in the dim moonlight breezing into the cave was a dark shadow and the occasional glint of eyes. "Yes," he said. "You're probably right. It's a shame I didn't know earlier that I was going to be kidnapped else I would have packed a bag."
"I'll be sure to give ye better notice, next time."
They slipped into a long and comfortable silence. Grey listened to Jamie's slow and even exhalations and wondered if he'd fallen asleep. The cold was less intrusive, with a coat over him and a warm body next to him, and he felt almost comfortable, despite the hard rock at his back. He considered for a moment resting his head on Jamie's shoulder, but thought better of it before he acted on such a notion. Just because Jamie was willing to sit close beside him for the practical purpose of conserving warmth, didn't mean that Grey was at leave to take liberties.
But Jamie seemed so calm, so relaxed, so deeply slumbering that Grey suspected that he'd never know if Grey reached out with one hand and lightly touched Jamie's face, trailing fingers down from cheek to jaw through the stubble of the short beard that a fortnight in a cell had effected.
So sure Grey was that his attentions were unnoticed by his sleeping companion that he jumped and yelped with surprise when he felt a hand fall to rest on his thigh, just above his knee.
"I—" Grey didn't know what he was going to say. An explanation seemed pointless, an apology inadequate. But whatever words there were that hung imprisoned and suspended in his throat died away as Jamie spoke.
"Ye are afraid of me."
"Yes," Grey answered, though Jamie's words were not exactly a question. He was not merely afraid for his physical well-being, although Jamie had threatened him in the past and Jamie's powerful frame—much taller than Grey—would easily overpower him in a fight. He was more deeply afraid of the damage Jamie could inflict on his spirit. Their friendship had been hard-won and often tenuous, but it was the only connection that Grey had. He felt it would shatter him if that tie were irreparably severed through some ill-conceived action of his.
"I wouldna have it be so."
"You possess so much of me, I'm afraid that it is inevitable that I should fear for my well-being." Grey had never openly declared his feelings for Jamie, though he knew that they were clear enough. But here, in the sheltering darkness of the cave, he found himself so dreadfully close to speaking aloud the words that he was sure would damn him.
Across that chasm of unspoken words, Jamie strung his thoughts out carefully. "You ken that I canna give you my love. That has already been claimed by another. And ye told me at Helwater that ye dinna want my body without it. I have naught else but the clothes on my back. I have no way to repay your generosity."
Grey tried and failed to keep a short, bitter laugh from escaping his mouth. "Don't you understand? I'll take what I can get." Jamie's eyes were fierce in the firelight, and Grey wondered at his daring for saying so much. Nevertheless, what was begun was begun, and Grey would see it though to whatever end there may be. He met Jamie's gaze. "But not at the price of your horror and disgust."
Jamie was perfectly still, and again Grey wished he could see his face. "You dinna horrify me. Nor disgust me. Not any more. I ken what you are. You're a good man."
And then Jamie's lips were on his, a soft pressure and wisp of breath.
"Oh," John exhaled, all words stolen away. And again their two mouths met, but this time Grey tilted his head into the kiss and opened his mouth in desperate invitation. His hands seemed to drift of their own accord to Jamie's face, delicately brushing the tips of his fingers over Jamie's skin as if afraid that the moment would break if he dared claim too much.
When the kiss ended, both were panting heavily, Grey in gasping, trembling breaths, Jamie in deep gulps of air. Grey was hesitant to speak, but the silence was too full, too heavy.
"Are you all right?"
"It's just…I've never done anything like this before."
"Kissed a man, you mean? In this way?"
"In this way, aye. Never willingly."
That gave Grey pause. He drew back. "Jamie. Are you willing, now? You don't feel…compelled, or obligated. For I assure you that I'd never demand any recompense from you for my assistance. Nor would I wish to drive you to an action you'd regret." The words were difficult to say, but honor and friendship forced them out. "I'd not blame you if you wished to stop."
"I'm willing." As if to show the truth of his words, Jamie took Grey's hand and pressed it on his chest.
Grey's breath paused, waiting for…something. For Jamie to suddenly draw back in loathing or tremble and fidget in discomfort or Grey himself to wake up from this strange dream. Seconds passed by and Grey's hand remained flat on Jamie's chest, feeling the pulse of his heart and the warmth of his flesh through the cloth of his shirt. But Grey's sense of unease would not abate. "Willing, perhaps, but not desiring." With great reluctance, Grey reclaimed his hand, curling his fingers into a fist as if to hold on the fading memory of the heat that was present in that touch. "You would do this for my sake, and I am flattered that for me, you'd not be wholly averse to the idea. But you'd not be doing it for your own desire. And I'll not risk cheapening our friendship by taking from you what I couldn't give in turn."
Jamie was still. Grey was expecting some sort of expression of relief, but it did not come. Instead, when Jamie spoke, it was with a hue of sorrow. "I dinna like to be the cause of your unhappiness. Not after all ye've done for me and my family."
"Indulging in a fantasy for one night would only bring further to light that which I cannot have." A slight smile touched Grey's lips. "And bring upon me the fearsome wrath of the formidable Mrs. Fraser. A risk I'd rather not take."
"Aye, she might tear out your vitals for use in her experiments."
Grey emitted a sharp laugh. "Well, that settles that, then. With such a threat hanging over my head, I could not possibly lie with you unless I got your wife's permission beforehand."
"She wouldna mind the both of us lying down to share a coat for warmth."
"Then I'll accept your warmth, as that is something you can give freely."
"Aye, and something ye can give back to me."
And Grey settled down close to Jamie, tucking his head under Jamie's chin and curling against his body and feeling Jamie's arms wrap around him and the coat draped over him…and he felt more peace than the finest featherbed and blazing hearth had ever given him.
Grey slept. But morning came all too soon. He knew that his moment of contentment was at an end when he realized that he was encircled only by his coat and damp, cool air around. Jamie was gone. Grey sat up in a panic, listening for the sound of hooves or soldiers tramping, but there was only birdsong and the friendly whicker of an old mare. Grey squinted outside the boundary of the cave, blinking at the dawn light. Jamie was there, patting the horse and speaking softly in Gaelic. Grey couldn't understand the words, but the tone was soothing, and remained so even when Jamie turned his eyes from the horse to Grey, still muttering and petting the horse's long neck.
A few seconds more and a horse's swift nuzzle of Jamie hair, and Jamie ambled back to the cave and crouched by Grey. "Good, you're awake. We've not much time before your friends come to rescue ye from my vile clutches." The words were spoken lightly, without any hint of a taut edge of panic, and Grey had to force his mind to put aside the tranquility of the night and to cope with the danger that they were both in.
"It'd be best if we split up here." Jamie paused and tilted his head in questioning appraisal. "Unless, ye are ready to leave the red coats and join us rebels."
And for a moment, Grey was tempted, sorely tempted to run away with Jamie, run away from every duty, every obligation and fight, for once, at Jamie's side. But the place by Jamie's side was already occupied. And Grey had his own family to consider—his mother and brother, whose reputations would suffer if he were to turn his back on his oaths—and his honor, which would be rendered worthless if he betrayed the country in whose service he was sworn.
"I can't. I'm sorry." And there were no others words. Jamie understood.
Grey and Jamie, side by side, scurried out of the cave. Grey silently offered the wool coat to Jamie; it was accepted in equal silence. They stood for a moment, looking, but saying nothing, merely seeing what eyes could tell without the burden of words. And then Grey sealed the spell with a whisper:
Jamie nodded solemnly. He mounted the horse and vanished in the brush, leaving in his wake the sound of snapping twigs and the memory of his red hair gleaming fire in the sunlight. When even the sound of Jamie's passage had faded away, Grey began to trudge his way back to the road. He made swift progress, and before mid-morning he encountered a mounted troop sent out from the fort.
"Colonel!" The sergeant dismounted and rushed to Grey's side. "Are you all right?"
Grey realized that after his night in the woods, he must look a fright, hair tangled and uniform stained by dirt and grass. "I'm fine. A little disheveled, but nothing a bath and a comb won't cure."
"The Scottish bastard didn't do you no harm, then?" The sergeant peered at Grey.
"No, nothing harmed but my bruised pride by being ignominiously held hostage by my own gun. I was tied up all night, but otherwise unscathed." Grey found the lie coming easily. "I slipped from his knots just after dawn. Since he was armed and I was not, I thought the most prudent thing to do was retreat."
"Major Falwood sent most of the regiment out looking for you."
"Then I'd best hurry back to ease Falwood's concern over my safety. If I may borrow your mount?"
The sergeant obediently proffered his horse. Grey, escorted by four of the soldiers, returned to the fort while the others continued their search for Jamie being helpfully given a (wrong) direction from Grey. Once they reached the fort, Grey repeated his tale of escape to Major Falwood, and did all in his power to ensure that the soldiers who were searching the countryside would be looking in entirely the wrong place. Having done his best to ensure Jamie's safety, he pleaded weariness from his ordeal and retired to his quarters.
Grey ordered water heated for a bath. Some solicitous person had already anticipated that Grey would be hungry and had arranged for a breakfast to be waiting for him. In solitude at last, he felt grateful to be away from the mass of military men, whose brash manner was grating on his nerves. Yet his rooms seemed painfully empty in their stillness. Settled by the window with a cup of tea in hand and a plate of eggs and sausage on the sill, Grey looked out toward the forest and struck by whimsy, sang softly to himself.
i Wel, I wil pray to God on hie,
That thou my constancie maist see:
And that yet once before I die,
Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me /i