Title: In The Name of Honor - Part 1 Secrets and Lies – Chapter 1
Author: Marianne H. Stillie
Categories/Genres: Fantasy; Drama; Hurt/Comfort; Romance
Pairing: Claire and Lord John Grey
Summary: The secrets and lies of the past conspire to change the present and future for Claire and Lord John Grey.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and places for the Outlander Novels are the property of Diana Gabaldon, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment, not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks are intended. Previously unrecognized characters, places and this story are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Archive: Please do not archive anywhere without the author's permission.
Copyright (c) 2012 Marianne H. Stillie
Author's Note: This story begins an AU in place of the probable events after the end of "An Echo in the Bone".
In The Name of Honor
Part 1 – Secrets and Lies
It had been decades along with two centuries since I awoke feeling like a lowly sleep-deprived first year intern. I'd spent most of the previous afternoon and evening hours since Jamie and John Grey had exited the house with a contingent of British soldiers after them waiting and listening. Sleep had come in fits and starts, what little there was of it during the dark night and into the somber dawn.
I had made quick work of my sister-in-law Jenny Murray who had suddenly appeared on Lord John's doorstep just after he, Jamie and Willie had taken off. My brief explanation of the events since Jamie had stepped into my bedroom along with minimal details about her newly discovered nephew seemed to satisfy her. Jenny was rarely surprised by her younger brother's escapades. I knew she'd find out what she wanted to know from Jamie eventually. Even though I was his wife, it wasn't my place to explain his secrets.
Only after I'd deposited her with Fergus and family at the printshop as Jamie had written was his plan, did I allow myself a much-deserved attack of nerves, which I soothed with a good helping of John's best brandy. Far from drunk, I did manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.
The pounding on the front door downstairs finally broke through my muddled brain when Mrs. Figg's insistent knocking and strident voice outside my door merged with the former. As I struggled into my robe and slippers and staggered out to the hall, I wondered which one of the men I'd been waiting for all night had finally come home.
I knew it wouldn't be Jamie as much as I wanted it to be. That first euphoria at seeing him alive, feeling his arms and body close and solidly real had moderated only slightly. For those too brief minutes, I welcomed the rush of love and life only he could give me. But his years of being a fugitive of one kind or another would prevent his return. He would play it safe, as he must. I knew he could still get into trouble, but he had lived such a charmed life since Culloden, I didn't worry too much.
William was the male I was most afraid for. His shame and rage, at Jamie and at John, were running deep in his young body. The damage he'd done to the woodwork, balustrade and chandelier was nothing to what I had sensed he was capable of as he ran out of the house.
Remembering just in time that the banister had been one of the victims of my stepson's righteous rage, I carefully hurried down the staircase, wanting all the noise to be John. I'd waited all night, listening to every little sound, hoping to hear his footsteps. His calm soldier's strength would be a starting point that I could lean on.
In the doorway, a squat pockmarked sergeant stood at rigid attention, his once pristine red uniform a collage of mud and grass stains. I swept an arm across my head, attempting to tame the bush of long, curly hair that kept falling into my face.
With a respectful bow, the age-marked soldier said, "Lady John, I regret to inform you that your husband, Lord John Grey, has been injured. He was found just after dawn beside a stream outside the city."
"Injured? How?" My heart was in my mouth, petrified that Jamie had shot John in the rush of flight. But that was impossible. Jamie would never hurt John. Though on opposite sides in the war, their friendship ran much deeper.
The sergeant cleared his throat, a tightly controlled expression on his pale face. "Lieutenant Colonel Grey has been severely beaten." The harsh tone of voice was that of a veteran enlisted man angered at the bad treatment of a respected officer.
My years of triage training snapped into place as I asked, "Where is he now?"
Half turning, the sergeant pointed at a horse drawn wagon in front of the house. Two young soldiers sat on the seat while a third held the reins of two horses. "We'll carry him in for you."
"Yes, please." I watched as the two on the wagon, the sergeant and the fourth soldier went around to the back of the wagon. Hearing the unmistakable crunch of glass being ground into the wooden floor by heavy footfalls, I said to the woman who had come up behind me, earing"Mrs. Figg, please have them bring Lord John into the dining room." I didn't wait for her acknowledgement.
William's orderly, Mrs. Figg and I had cleaned up the broken chandelier pieces the night before as best we could. My thick cloth slippers dragged stray slivers we had missed into the dining room. They made tiny scrapes in the highly polished wood floor while I wrapped the ornate crystal bowl in the delicate lace tablecloth and plopped it and the multi-branched silver candlesticks beneath a closed window. I stood there waiting as they carried John in, a heavy wool cloth covering his face.
"Please be careful. He may have internal injuries." The four faces were either puzzled or blank as they lowered their blanket-wrapped burden carefully onto the dark wood table.
Pulling back the stained cloth, I gagged. The horribly battered face that had been hidden was something out of nightmare. The blood on the material was only a small part of what was heavily streaked through John's long light hair, in his ears and down his neck, soaking the pristine white linen shirt he had put on the morning before.
With a signal from the sergeant, the three young soldiers went back outside. "If you know of a doctor, we'll go for him," the older man said kindly.
"I'm a physician. I'll take care of him." Taking my eyes away from John's almost unrecognizable face, I said, "Thank you for bringing him home."
The sergeant's mouth twitched. "We know about the rebel who took Lord John hostage. We know it was him that did this. We'll find him and take care of the scum." He nodded curtly then left to join his men.
"Oh God, Jamie. What have you done?" I whispered then turned to Mrs. Figg who was hovering in the doorway. "Please bring me a basin of hot water, all the clean towels you have and scissors."
Pushing away the emotional shock of the situation, my hands moved as they had learned to do in countless crises over two disparate centuries. From the various pulse points I checked on John's body, I felt fairly confident that there was no internal bleeding. His heartbeat was faster than I remembered it from the last time we shared a bed, but the physical trauma he had been subjected to would account for that. What did concern me was his shallow and struggling respiration.
I took the scissors Mrs. Figg had placed on the sideboard along with the pile of towels and basin of water. I cut away John's shirt, exposing a throat so swollen, I shuddered. A near panic rushed through me from memories of my son-in-law Roger's neck after he'd been hanged. As if the beating hadn't been enough, long, powerful fingers had tried to strangle John Grey.
One careful step at a time, I cleaned away the thick dried blood, mud and debris from John's face. I did his mouth first, exposing the splits inside and out that had bled profusely and caked his lips. Cautiously, I examined the inside of his mouth with my finger. Finding it clear, I eased his jaw open. The internal swelling from the attempted strangulation mirrored the dark discoloration around his neck. The labored movement of air in and out of his throat came in irregular gasps. There didn't appear to be any serious damage to his larynx as Roger had suffered. But the swelling was definitely impeding the airway from getting what the lungs needed to function efficiently. CPR was too aggressive for the situation. Instead I puffed air into his mouth, listening and feeling for his body's response. Unlike Roger, John's chest did move. There was an easing to his distress very briefly. I knew the only thing that would truly help would be to reduce the swelling as quickly as possible.
I started the first hot compress immediately, wrapping the thick towel all the way around John's neck. Keeping a close eye on the movement of his chest, I began to examine his other facial injuries. It was very obvious that large, strong fists had freely brutalized him. Both eyes were swollen shut, the eyeballs streaked with blood. The very crooked broken nose was oozing fresh blood from the jarring of being moved. I carefully cleaned away the blood and mucus, which seemed to help his breathing somewhat. There were two facial fractures, the one on John's right cheek so prominent I could see the imprint of knuckles.
Using the first now-cooled towel, I wiped down his face again. Placing a second hot compress around his throat, I held his nose shut and blew a series of breaths into his mouth, my hand covering his chest to feel how he responded. I kept up the rhythm until John's own breaths became noticeably easier.
In frustration, I gave up counting the contusions I could feel all over his head, hoping none of the ugly bruises was hiding a concussion or worse. The metal plate on the left side of John's scalp from the trepanation that had been done due to a head injury he'd suffered helping Brianna several years ago was a danger spot I needed to keep an eye on.
My fingers shook as I rested my hand on John's chest. I was grateful to feel his steady though still fast heartbeat. What frightened me was his continued unconsciousness and lack of response to stimuli. He had been lying outside all night. There was no way of knowing if he'd ever awakened during that time. There was so much more I needed to do to treat him. But I was alone in the house except for Mrs. Figg who had made it very clear during my short time here that anything I did in my profession was offensive to my status as the wife of an English lord.
I had treated many people in this century but never one I considered a dear friend who had been beaten so savagely by the man I loved. Even Roger hadn't been left for dead as callously as Jamie had abandoned John. I was also very afraid of what forms of brutalization I would find on the rest of John's body. In my minds eye I saw Jamie's body after what Jack Randall had done to him. That he would inflict such cruelty on another man for no apparent reason was beyond my comprehension.
Tenderly smoothing John's blood-streaked hair back from his forehead, I said, "Please, John, don't leave us." There was no response from him to my voice or my touch.
Someone in that vast hierarchy of Catholic saints and angels must have heard me and taken my words for a prayer. The front door opened with a rush and Dottie Grey called, "Uncle John? Aunt Claire?" As she stepped into the dining room, she saw me. Then her eyes went wide as she perceived the still form of her uncle on the long table. Her scream brought Mrs. Figg running in from the kitchen.
Dottie lunged toward her uncle but was caught from behind by Denzel Hunter's hands. "Uncle John!" she shrieked. "What happened?" Before I could answer, she shouted, "Do something, Aunt Claire! Don't just stand there!"
Denny came around and faced her, blocking her view of her uncle. "Dottie, dearest, please go out to my horse and bring in my bag."
Her lips quivered then lifting her eyes to her betrothed's face she took hold of her emotions. "Yes, Denny." Another look at me and at John, and she headed for the front door.
Moving up beside me, Denny placed his hand on my shoulder. "Friend Claire, what can I do?"
"I need your help, Denny. Your two good hands and your medical skill."
The mantel clock chimed the hour. The five crystal clear notes echoed eerily through the silent dining room. After counting them, I was both grateful and anxious. Grateful that John Grey was still alive at five o'clock on this overcast late May afternoon. Anxious that his son William Ransom still hadn't come home.
Leaning forward in the side chair I had placed strategically close to John's upper body, I picked up his hand and pressed my thumbnail heavily into the nail bed of his index finger. I counted the seconds precisely, hoping that this time his body would react to the focused pain - a sharp intake of breath, a muscle twitch somewhere on his body. Something to tell me he was coming out of the post-beating coma he'd fallen into. But there was nothing.
Releasing the nail bed, I ran my thumb back and forth across the back of his hand. "John!" I called in a strong, loud voice. "I need you to wake up! I know it will hurt horribly, but you must!" Again, no reaction to his name or to my voice.
As a doctor, I knew just how inadequate my description of his pain when he awoke truly was. Thanks to the medical chest he had given me, I had the one real medicine, syrup of poppy, which would ease his suffering. It was a powerful drug I had avoided using over the years. Looking at John's mutilated body, I knew I would have no other choice.
With Denny Hunter's extra pair of hands, the extensive damage to John's face had been treated with skill and care. Cleaned and sutured, the breaks in the skin had been reduced in trauma by alternating applications of leeches and garlic poultices. The remaining fumes of the very good brandy we'd used as a disinfectant lingered in the warm air of the room. Denny's sister Rachel had accompanied Dottie through Philadelphia, foraging leeches from the apothecary shops in the city. The bloated little buggers were currently at rest in a pan of clean water waiting for their next application. The livid reds and dark blues covering John's face had reduced noticeable shades.
I was keeping my fingers crossed that the poultices would take care of any colonies of germs that had taken hold while John had been outside during the night. The young women had also come back with a bushel basket of garlic strings. Adding to her displeasure over the slimy leeches, Mrs. Figg had let it be known that the overpowering stench of the garlic Dottie and Rachel had chopped, soaked in hot water and wrapped in the soft muslin they'd purchased at a dry goods store per my instructions was the last straw. To her credit, Dottie let loose with a string of expletives she had probably learned from her three older brothers. Rachel, the Quaker peacemaker, told the older woman that Lord John's life depended on their efforts, and she should be helping, not criticizing. Their joint entreaties had apparently sunk into the cook's stubborn head. She was as sweet as pie when she brought each batch of poultices into the dining room. She even helped me tie a thin strip of linen around John's head after I'd finished straightening his broken nose to hold a garlic-and-honey-laced poultice in place. I thanked her profusely as I saw John's nostrils working more efficiently to take in the precious oxygen he needed.
My fingers had made a careful assessment of the two facial fractures. By some miracle, Jamie's knuckles had managed not to do excessive damage. The multiple fine breaks would heal in place on their own with delicate tending.
John's struggling respiration was the major problem. He had stopped breathing twice while Denny and I had worked on him. The hot compresses and thick applications of leeches had reduced only a negligible amount of the swelling. Jamie could have easily snapped John's neck instead of trying to strangle him. Somehow the difference between a quick death and a slow one was quite insignificant at the moment, and added to my disquietude at the possible state of Jamie's mind.
Along with a pot of yarrow tea and several dishes of assorted kitchen detritus that I hoped would yield some viable penicillin, I had started an infusion of elderflowers and thyme steeping in the cookhouse soon after Denny had arrived. The herb was from one of the glass jars in the wooden chest; the elderflowers from one of the gauze bags I had purchased only days before. I was being brazenly optimistic that the botanicals would do internally what the leeches and compresses were doing externally. The only flaw in my treatment plan was that John had to be awake to drink the brew.
The lack of fresh fluids in his body was an equally grave concern. Along with infection, the shock, if it developed, would kill him, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. This was another of those times I envisioned all the medical tools I had abandoned back in 1968. Something as mundane as an airway tube would have helped John's breathing tremendously until the swelling in his throat eased. I didn't have one. I also didn't have the means to give him intravenous fluids. What I had access to in this relatively primitive time would have to be enough along with my skills. Sighing deeply, I wished for a huge dose of miraculous prayers in my bag of eighteenth century medical tricks.
Picking up a piece of folded muslin from the supplies Denny and I had arranged on the sideboard, I moistened it generously with the water-honey mixture from a small pitcher. Leaning over John, I gently patted his swollen sutured lips. I held my breath, waiting and hoping that he might seek more of the fluid his body was starving for. Instead, the precious drops puddled at the corners of his mouth then slid down through the dense blond stubble on his chin disappearing into his neck. In frustration, I collapsed into the chair and buried my face in my hands.
"Thee needs this, Friend Claire." Instead of a hand on my shoulder, Denny held a steaming cup of Mrs. Figg's exceptionally strong tea close to my face.
The sharp aroma of whiskey trickled through the steam and made my nose tingle as I lowered my hands. I took the cup and smiled up at him gratefully. "Thank you. And where did you find the whisky?"
"Courtesy of Mrs. Figg," Denny grinned. "It is her way of apologizing for her past behavior toward thee."
"There is a God," I sighed and took two long swallows of the laced tea.
"And He works in very mysterious ways sometimes," Denny added in a tone of voice heavy with doubt and questioning.
I knew the gentle, highly principled Quaker was being solicitous of my feelings. My emotions toward my husband had become less charitable as the hours passed. "Say what you're thinking, Denny. I've already posed the questions to myself."
"I know Friend James has lived a very violent life. But this?" and he motioned toward John. "A simple fist fight between two men is not unusual. What he has done to other parts of Friend Grey's body speaks of a terrible rage. To beat a man in such a way to cause the maximum of pain and suffering is deranged."
In his knowledge and experience, Denzel Hunter was very close to the truth. That he hadn't added the words "attempted murder" did little to change the reality of Jamie's deed. His savaging of John's genitals had shocked both of us when we had seen his body fully naked. Only a sadist with a great deal of suppressed rage would do such a thing. Obviously, Jamie had not, as I'd come to believe, put his old personal hatred of John's contradictory nature behind him. The why of my husband's sudden reversion to his traumatic past was a mystery after all the years of friendship between them.
Denny was patiently waiting for my response. "Something must have happened after they left here," was all I could lamely come up with.
Pulling his professional neutrality back into place, Denny said, "Yes, well. The broken ribs should heal cleanly as long as our patient is kept to complete bed rest."
I nodded, questioning again the wisdom of the strapping Denny and I had done to John's ribcage. Due to the level of rib damage we suspected on both sides of his chest, he needed the strapping in case he woke and began thrashing about in extremis. I was also concerned that the tight binding was making his breathing even more difficult. Six of one, as they say.
"We won't know if the severe back bruising with its signs of possible hemorrhaging over the kidney areas indicates damage to those organs until Friend Grey is functioning again," Denny added clinically. "As for the genitals, leeches can do only so much if there is permanent damage there."
A shuddering wave of anxiety rushed through me. Despite his opposing nature, John was as prideful in his manhood as Jamie was in his. The two instances of direct intimacy between us had shown me that. The depressing ramification of Denny's clinical prognosis forced me back into my physician's persona.
"Now that John is bathed and wrapped in fresh linen, do you think the four of us can carry him upstairs? I want to get him into his own bed. It will be more comfortable for him, and for each of us as we monitor him. Until he's awake and his breathing is stabilized, he can't be left alone."
Denny nodded and was about to speak when we heard a growing commotion from the backyard where Dottie and Rachel had been taking in the freshly washed towels they'd hung out to dry earlier. After we'd discovered John's intimate injuries, we had agreed that Dottie should be spared such private knowledge of her uncle's condition. Unlike Rachel, she was still too new to the realities of Denny's profession. There was also the deep familial relationship between them with John being her godfather as well as her immediate male relative in place of her father who was an ocean away.
Heavy boots ran across the wood floor muffled by the Turkey runner, the sound becoming more strident as it approached. Suddenly William burst into the dining room. I immediately took in the condition of his badly disheveled clothing reeking of smoke, liquor and a very familiar scent I'd encountered regularly in this century. It was the musky odor of male sexual activity from a brothel.
Looking frantically at the supine, motionless form of the man he honored as his only living parent, he shouted, "What's happened to my father, Mother Claire?"
Holding my hand hard against his chest, I said firmly, "Please don't touch him, Willie. Get yourself cleaned up and in fresh clothes then I'll explain."
He was about to push by me when Denny pressed his shoulder into William's chest from the other side. Considering how much taller and stronger my stepson was, Denny kept a firm hold on him until he calmed down.
Squaring his shoulders like the trained officer he was, William backed up a pace. "Yes, of course." With a long, lingering glance at John Grey, he turned on his heel and left the room.
Denny with his sister and William, partnered with Dottie, carried my blanket-wrapped patient cautiously up each step of the thankfully straight staircase. Handling him as if he were a delicate piece of crystal that would shatter at the slightest breath, William and Denny lifted John in his cocoon of white linen from the blanket to his waiting bed. Checking to make sure he hadn't stopped breathing with the movement, I covered him with a light quilt. Fussing, I folded the rich green silk material back, leaving his shoulders exposed.
Without planning, a chorus of five emphatic exhales was released.
William pulled the chair by the window up beside John's bed and took his father's hand in both of his. It came as a pleasing surprise to me at how easily I could read Willie's emotions in his striking blue cat eyes – worry, love, fear, and a bit of something I couldn't interpret. It was the first very telling difference of character between him and his biological father I had seen, and that was to the good. My hand came to rest supportively on his shoulder while my eyes continued to watch John's chest move shallowly against the thick layer of pillows, barely stirring the light material of his nightshirt.
At the foot of the bed, Dottie and Rachel were arranged in a phalanx of waiting guardians with Denny between them. "I will be at the inn if thee needs me, Friend Claire. If all is well, I will stop by tomorrow."
"Thank you again, Denny," I smiled then went back to watching John breathe.
Kissing both his sister and his fiancé tenderly on the cheek, he left the room.
Dottie moved to the opposite side of the bed and took her uncle's other hand. Choking back her tears, she said softly in her recovered Quaker speech, "Thee will recover, Uncle John. Thee must, so thee can give me away at my wedding next month. That's what Denny and I had come to tell thee." On the last word, she lost her struggle and the tears came. Looking at me pleadingly, she asked, "Does thee think he can hear me, Aunt Claire?"
"When a person is unconscious from illness or injury, it's always good to talk to them. It keeps them connected to us," I answered encouragingly.
Smiling brightly, she said, "When it is my turn to watch over my uncle, I shall read to him. I know he won't care which book I choose, within reason of course. He has always said he loves my sweet voice." Kissing the back of John's hand she placed it carefully on the coverlet then waited in the doorway. "Is thee coming, Rachel?"
"I will in a moment, dear sister."
Into the silence Willie and I had become lost in as we hovered close to John, Rachel's clear, soft voice said, "Mrs. Figg is preparing a hearty supper of oyster bisque, pork pie and peach cobbler. If thee both choose to remain up here, I will gladly prepare a tray."
"We'll let you know, Rachel. Thank you," I said.
With one last look at John, William and me, she inclined her head and closed the bedroom door behind her.
"It was that fucking traitor who did this," Willie stated without preamble or question.
"Yes. And before you rush off looking for Jamie Fraser to draw and quarter him, I beg you to hold your temper. Your father needs you right now, and so do I."
William looked at me for several long moments. The ravening anger he had shown yesterday at finding out the truth about his paternity was still there. But he had heard the pleading in my voice. In those ponderous seconds, he made a choice. "What can I do for my father and for you?"
Drawing up a stool, I sat beside Willie. "What do you know about your father's medical history? What types of injuries has he suffered both on and off the battlefield?"
I could see his thoughts turn inward recalling the family history John must have told him. "Papa never mentioned any injuries when he was growing up at Argus House with Uncle Hal, or later after Grandfather Grey was murdered."
I gulped, "Murdered?"
William's mouth quirked in a short laugh. "I'm sure father will tell you the whole story if you ask. The family honor and title have been restored so the old scandal has been erased."
"I'll keep that in mind." With a definitive throat clearing, I motioned for Willie to get on with answering my question. His attention to detail was a definite trait he'd learned from his adopted father.
"The first time Papa broke his left arm he was sixteen. It wasn't truly a battlefield. That came later. He was serving with Uncle Hal's regiment, in Scotland I believe."
I worked hard to control my smile at the memory of my first encounter with the very young Lord John Grey. "It was Scotland, and the battle of Prestonpans was two days later."
"How do you know that?" he asked, the blue eyes widening.
"It was in the Carryarick Pass that I met your father for the first time."
"You've known him that long? How amazing." William's curiosity to know more about that meeting was clear on his face.
Swiftly changing the subject, I asked, "You said it was the first time John's left arm was broken? There was a second?"
The curiosity changed to very solemn lines on his distinctive face. "Yes, at Crefeld in Prussia. Papa took charge of an artillery position when the officer in command was killed. He and his crew fought bravely against the French until the cannon exploded. It was later proved to have been a defective barrel. Papa was seriously wounded, his left arm badly broken and his chest riddled with metal pieces from the gun. He nearly died. After the field hospital, he was recuperating for several months before he could return to duty."
"Are any of the metal fragments still in his chest?"
"It took months, but the last piece the surgeon couldn't reach finally worked its way out. Is that important?"
"Yes, very." I sighed in relief. "Any other injuries?"
"A nasty cut on his thigh during the Plains of Abraham campaign in Quebec."
John's soldier's body was a littered minefield of past injuries much like Jamie's. Letting go of my physiological observation before it expanded, I mused, "No head injuries except for the one he sustained during his little adventure with your sister."
An odd silence then a very hesitant question, "My sister?"
When would you ever learn to think before you opened your mouth, Beauchamp? There was no help for it now. "Do you remember the tall red-haired young woman you met in Wilmington two years ago?"
"On the docks? Mrs. MacKenzie?" William asked in surprise.
"Brianna is my daughter; your half-sister."
The surprise eclipsed into grimness. "His child." Somehow the sound of those two simple words evoked a world of hatred toward Jamie.
My normal self would have quickly stepped in to defend Jamie as I had when Willie questioned me yesterday about his mother and the man he had just learned actually sired him. The images of John's battered body from today kept me silent. There were some things that couldn't be justified by excuses.
The impeccable English manners that had been inculcated into William Ransom came out to correct his coldness. "I apologize for my harsh words, Mother Claire. Whatever Fraser is, he is still your husband."
Graciously, I said, "Thank you for your apology. I do understand, William. Jamie has always had a hot temper, but this is something so unlike him I don't know how to explain it. He simply would never hurt your father. They have been friends for too long." Even as I said the words, I realized how ridiculous they were with John lying broken and comatose in his bed.
"His friendship has taken a strange turn." The way his jaw muscles were clenched told me his mind was in frenzied thought contrary to the gentle way he was still holding his father's hand.
In his brooding, he wanted answers that I couldn't give him. I almost preferred the enraged William to this. I knew how to deal with the anger from long experience. But there was no sensible response to his observation. That he retained his trust in me was the important thing right now. John's life depended on my continued place in this household in my primary capacity as physician. Explaining Jamie would have to wait – if I ever could.
William's implacable eyes on me made me take a questioning pause. His anxious voice asked, "You won't stop taking care of Papa because of him?"
I suppose the cold pronoun usage was better than Willie calling Jamie the fucking traitor. "I won't leave your father as long as he needs me."
His apprehension relieved, he was about to say something else then changed his mind. Another John Grey habit he'd learned growing up.
Over the next hours, William and I completed turning his father's bedroom into a sickroom. The dresser was cleared to accommodate the medical supplies from the dining room sideboard.
My stepson watched intently as I replaced the cooled compress around John's throat with a hot one. I replaced the various facial poultices, pleased to see no signs of infection so far. His forehead was slightly warm so I put a cool compress there to make him more comfortable. All the while I went about my ministrations, I vocalized my medical commentary keeping technical terminology to a minimum so William would feel a part of his father's care. I also wanted to instill a streak of hope in him that he wouldn't lose the only father he'd known. Despite what I knew of John's condition, that hope made me feel more optimistic.
I needed to check the genital swelling but decided to wait until later when I was alone with my patient. Dottie wasn't the only family member I wanted to spare the sight of John's savaged body. Another treatment of leeches could wait. I did show Willie how to start John breathing again if he suffered an apnea episode.
Seated at the small table by the empty hearth, we shared a generous tray of Mrs. Figg's delicious supper that included fresh rolls, butter and a bottle of wine. Quite naturally, William talked and I listened. Even at rest, I could see the fury from the day before at the revelation of his offensive status as a bastard. The control he was exerting to keep it tightly repressed was amazing in one so young.
What I was also seeing was a deep revelation and the unraveling of a long-held belief. The berserk violence that had always been attributed to a Fraser ready to explode was nowhere in sight now with William. Could it be it was the MacKenzie in Jamie and his sister that was the true source of it? Everything I knew of Leoch pointed that way. Brian Fraser and old Lord Lovet had been Highland Scots through and through but with very different temperaments than the wildly arrogant MacKenzie clan.
From long experience with males, I knew William had been with a woman the night before. If that was what it took to stem the violence so be it. There were much worse outlets he could have chosen for his pain.
Willie's initial interest in Brianna had faded understandably. His stream of consciousness narrative centered completely on his family. His abiding respect and caring for his maternal grandparents, Lord and Lady Dunsany, was obvious. When he spoke of his Aunt Isobel, the only mother he'd ever known, his love for her simply glowed on his face.
His grandfather had died shortly after John and Isobel were married. His father had taken over management of both Helwater and the Ellesmere properties. He had retired from active duty, unwilling to risk his life once he had such responsibilities or be away from Willie and the women for long periods of time. When the assignment as Governor of Jamaica was offered to him two years into their marriage, he was reluctant to take it but Isobel had insisted. During John's absence, Isobel had continued the family relations with the Greys for William's benefit.
John Grey's marriage to Isobel had been a magical change in the sheltered little boy's life. His regular visits to London gave him an expanded family he grabbed onto with relish. He and his three older male cousins became fast friends, enjoying all the adventures boys experience as they grew up. His new Uncle Hal and Aunt Minnie treated him like one of the crew, spoiling him as naturally as they did their own children. Little Dottie who charmed everyone the minute she smiled eventually became his second closest confidant. John's mother and stepfather accepted him just as lovingly. Growing up with the military oriented Grey men had made his choice of the army a forgone conclusion.
When Isobel had died on the way to meet his father in Jamaica, a major part of his world had collapsed. The strong love and support from his remaining parent sustained him. Finding an exciting new home at Mount Josiah Plantation had filled in a huge emptiness. John's retirement from government service gave them the time they needed to truly bond as father and son.
Never once did he mention Jamie in any context. I could only guess that he had rejected any attempt to reconcile the brief positive experiences he'd had with Jamie as a boy at Helwater and again at Fraser's Ridge against the truth of what had happened between the Scottish prisoner Alex MacKenzie and his mother.
That William had a happy family made it plain that he didn't need Jamie or the Fraser-MacKenzie connections as Brianna had. My daughter had no real family from me or from Frank. That difference explained why she had felt compelled to risk going through the stones to know Jamie in reality. For her, finding the truth was the right thing to do. For William it was not.
Being raised by British nobility was highly telling in every aspect of his personality. His strong physical resemblance to Jamie and certain genetically inherited similarities such as left-handedness and being prone to seasickness were purely chance pairings of chromosomes. Attributing Jamie's specific behaviors to Willie were foolish conclusions. They were two different human beings, not carbon copies, having lived two very different lives. As a physician from the twentieth century, I knew blood didn't always tell. In every way that counted, William Ransom was John Grey's son.
With a wistful tone in his voice, William said, "I remember that night Papa told me he and Mother Isobel were going to be married. I was in my bed clutching the beads as he explained that he hoped I would accept him as my father as well as my guardian. I said yes, not quite understanding the difference. He must have known where the beads came from but he asked anyway. I told him they were a going away present from my friend Alex. He explained to me that the people at Helwater would never understand about the Papist symbol so I must keep them hidden. To soothe my sadness, he said I could wear the beads when he and I were together. That Alex was also his friend. Papa kept his promise as he always has whether we were together at Helwater, in London with the Greys, or at Mount Josiah. Over the years I kept the beads in a box for the most part until finally they lost their meaning. I began wearing them again when I received my commission simply as a lucky charm, a talisman that would keep me safe."
There was no avoiding my question no matter what his answer might be. "Are you sorry you gave the rosary beads back to Jamie?"
The past wistfulness vanished and changed to a harsh bitterness. Without hesitation William answered, "No. Alex MacKenzie and that part of the past are as dead as my birth mother. The man I threw it to is a stranger, a nobody. The way he hurt Papa shows him to be an evil, cruel monster."
Suppressing the choking emotions I felt rising in my throat, I said, "I'm pleased that you're no longer angry with your father." And I was extremely grateful for that. William was everything to John. Without him, the older man would be truly lost.
"Papa hates it when people keep secrets from him though he's very good at keeping his own. The one about my mother and Alex MacKenzie was kept out of love for me. The word "bastard" has meaning only if I allow it. I know who I really am. Giving back the beads ended the only real hold Fraser had on me. Now that they're gone, I intend to live my life as if he doesn't exist."
The deathly coldness of his words shocked me. I wanted to ask what he would do if John Grey died from his injuries. It was too dangerous a question, and I knew the answer already.
William swallowed the last spoonful of peach cobbler and scraped the bowl.
"If you'd like another helping, I'll be glad to get it for you," I smiled shakily.
"Would you? Peach cobbler is my favorite sweet but I rarely find it anywhere. Manoke would make it for me in secret. Papa hates peaches. Even the sight of them makes him ill for some reason."
There was an odd expression on his pleasant face when he spoke of the Indian cook. Had the man made advances to Willie at some time? John would never tolerate that. Unless he didn't know. But, no. My stepson didn't show any psychological signs of having been molested. His sharply sculpted face with its prominent, angular lines and his usually relaxed body housed a sweetness and gentleness that came more easily to him than it ever had to Jamie. His very heterosexual appreciation of women and of sex belied any such trauma. Manoke was part of his life at Mount Josiah, and was his friend, as Alex MacKenzie had been his friend at Helwater.
After making sure he was comfortable alone with his father in case John stopped breathing, I excused myself for a much needed visit to the necessary house. I carried the now empty tray down to the kitchen, and asked Mrs. Figg to put aside the remaining cobbler. I told her I would bring it up to William when I returned.
Under the intense light of a huge full moon, my meager rush dip light was unnecessary. I took my time crossing from the house to the privy, my mind a whirl of thoughts.
With William's singular explanation about secrets and his father, I doubted he knew John's other two secrets: his sexual preferences, and his long-standing love for Jamie.
His very cold and terse references to his dead mother were even starker than his comment to me yesterday that his mother had played the whore with her groom. In her careless, selfish desire for Jamie's body, Geneva Dunsany had given no thought to any consequences, namely, giving birth to a bastard, the spawn of a traitor and criminal. That was hardly surprising when she so callously felt she could physically use Jamie with no respect for him as a human being. If Willie knew that the cruel bitch had blackmailed Jamie into her bed by threatening his family back in Scotland, I wondered if the focus of his hate would change from Jamie to her. He had said he understood but I had doubted it then. Perhaps I was very wrong about William's level of perception and comprehension.
I was being very uncharitable toward the dead. Considering that Jamie was no innocent right now, being responsible for John's life-threatening condition. The "why" of that was haunting me more with each passing hour. The truth was overwhelming though. If it weren't for that spoiled English girl, all this misery that was hurting so many people wouldn't exist.
Finishing my call of nature, I retraced my steps back toward the house, the rush light flickering in a breath of warm wind. I needed to pull my mind out of all the emotional threads the people around me were tangled in. John Grey and his survival had to be my primary objectives this night. Seeing his body safely to another morning would take all my abilities, with some heavy prayers thrown in. I wished I had Jamie's rosary to steady and direct both my mind and my heart. The precise counting and repetitive words would be both comforting and reassuring. If only John would wake up I prayed to whatever entity might be listening.
Picking up the pace of my shadowed steps, I reminded myself that in addition to Willie's peach cobbler, I needed a fresh basin of hot water for John's throat compresses. Halfway across the yard, the notes of a choreographed human whistle floated toward me. I stopped and listened, wondering if I was hearing things. Then it came again, stronger, louder and as familiar as the last time I'd heard it over thirty years ago. It was one of the signals Jamie and his Lallybroch men had used during the Rising – To me.
A third time and I ran to its source. As I pushed in on one side of the double barn door, the other flew open, flooding the dark interior with moonlight. The light and shadow on the big form that loomed in front of me made my heart beat faster. The rush dip went out in a whoosh of air as Jamie lifted me and engulfed my body in his arms. I let the rush light drop so I could wrap my arms around his neck. My legs around his waist were next.
Jamie's mouth was everywhere, probing and tasting each part of me not covered by clothing as well as some that were. Too breathless with long-suppressed desire, I couldn't say a word. I licked and bit and kissed him back touch for hungry touch. My lover was alive and in my arms, and that was all that mattered.
What happened next happened so fast, I missed any hint of transition in Jamie. One minute I was standing on the wooden floor again, wrapped tightly in Jamie's arms, his mouth and hands finding new entries to fondle my body. Impatiently, he hiked up my skirt so his bare cock protruding from his breeches could grind into me. The next moment he'd lifted me again then roughly put me on my back, his heavy body holding me in place on the barn floor.
My chest was having trouble taking in air, and I begged, "Please stop, Jamie. You're hurting me."
In answer he growled huskily, "I canna," and forced both his legs between mine.
I yelped loudly. In response he covered my mouth with one broad hand. With the other, he thrust his cock against my helpless flesh.
With his full weight on top of me I couldn't move or struggle. Ruthlessly, he forced his long, thick prick into my dry slit and pushed. I felt as if the floorboards would split under me. Half a dozen pounding strokes and his body went with the throbbing gouts of his seed that spurted into me. With one last burning push, he moaned loudly and collapsed limply onto me. Then, just as suddenly, he rolled away, his back to me, his post-coital panting muffled in a nearby hay bale.
In shock, I lay there, my body trembling, but not with the old welcome pleasure my husband was capable of giving me. I felt truly violated, worse than the rape I'd endured several years before. I sat up gingerly, my thigh and leg muscles in painful spasms from being used so hard. My mane of hair fell across my face, hiding Jamie from view.
Then he was on his feet, redoing his flies and settling his breeches in place on his hips. He held out a hand to me. In the most startling matter-of-fact voice, he said, "Get yourself together, Sassenach. We're leaving this place."
I stared up at him not believing I'd heard what he had just said correctly. Years ago he had used me like this, calling it his loving possession of me. This violence had nothing of love in its execution. Refusing his hand, I struggled to my feet. Smoothing my dress and straightening my stays were automatic actions after all my years in this century. What I felt, the very real trickle of my husband's semen wet on my slit and sliding down my thighs, was so intense, I began shaking again.
Ignoring the ugly word that was screaming in my head, I answered him in what I hoped was my best professional voice, "I can't leave. John needs me."
The immediate smoldering beginnings of a familiar rage on Jamie's face were shocking. In a barely controlled voice, he said, "I need ye. You are my wife!"
My shock was morphing into my own anger. The level of adrenaline coursing through me made my legs so unsteady, I dropped heavily onto a hay bale. Despite the shakiness, my mind was clear enough to ask the question I needed answered more than anything, "Why did you try to kill John Grey?"
Towering over me, his teeth gritted so tightly the words came out in a whisper, "He had no right to touch ye."
Stunned, I asked, "John told you? Is that what this rape is all about? You marking your territory and reasserting your Scot's possession of me?"
"A man canna rape his own wife." He grabbed my upper arm, his fingers digging deep into my flesh. "Enough of this foolishness, Sassenach. We are leaving, now!"
The arrogant self-assurance that was so much a part of Jamie Fraser infuriated me even more. Glaring into those cold blue eyes, I didn't move. Finally, he let go. There was the merest hint of contriteness on his face, but it didn't last.
There was no holding back my own anger now that I knew the "why". "You beat an honorable, caring man almost to death for protecting me? You should be thanking John Grey for all he's done for you, for Willie, and for me."
I knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say, but I was beyond caring. Jamie's repressed rage broke wide open.
"Aye, I thanked him, for not buggering me all these years like the perfect English gentleman he is. I thanked him with my fists for condemning me to forced servitude to a bloody English lord instead of allowing me to be transported with my men, all so he could come and look at my body whenever he desired since he was too craven under that warrior's skin to take it by force. With my booted feet I thanked him for making me prey to that English slut. And I thanked him with my knees repeatedly to his cock and his balls and his filthy arse for despoiling my wife."
The shock of Jamie's hate deflated my anger like a balloon with a pinhole. Out of long years of habit, I fell into my old gullibility of trusting Jamie blindly, explaining away his negative behavior that I knew in my heart was wrong.
"John had no way of knowing what she really was like. And you had no choice because of the letter."
A surge of fresh bitterness escaped in Jamie's next words, "I had a choice. I insisted the wee brat give me the letter before I touched her. Once I was on top of her, she began fighting my body, demanding over and over that I get my cock out of her while I was struggling to keep control. She even screamed, so I covered her mouth before she brought down the whole house on my head. By then I was in such a rage at her degrading my manhood, all I wanted to do was hurt her the way she was shaming me by making me her whore. I was doing as she'd ordered so I made her pay for her lust the only way I could. I forced my cock all the way into her and fucked her as hard as I could!"
As if in a nightmare, my mind echoed with Jamie's shocking confession. I recalled all the times I had understood and forgiven him. This ugly revelation was beyond even my ability to forgive. Picturing the tortured condition of John's battered body and knowing that he might die tilted my personal scale of justice.
"Do you remember what you said on our wedding night?"
"I said many things, Sassenach," his voice still quivering in his anger at Geneva.
"You said respect has room for secrets, but not for lies. All these years you claimed if only you had a choice that night. If only you could have stopped the sex with Geneva from happening. You've lied to yourself without a flicker of conscience. Worst of all, you lied to me. You broke your part of our vow of honesty that was supposed to be inviolate and forever. You weren't a twenty-three year old virgin with a woman for the first time as you were with me. You were a thirty-six year old experienced man very capable of controlling yourself even in your abstinence. Geneva gave you the perfect means of escape, a way to save your honor and your soul, and you threw it away."
"Ye are right, Sassenach. I let my rage rule my conscience. Then the lust took over and it was too late to stop," Jamie said in that smooth, rational way he had of justifying his behavior.
In my own bitterness, I added, "So you committed rape, freely giving yourself to her as her personal Highland whore." My next words were even crueler, but I needed to say them. "Was it different from Jack Randall because you were the aggressor, or because Geneva was a woman instead of a man? Was beating John Grey another way to assuage your dishonor?"
"Dinna speak to me of dishonor! I told ye there was no love or caring for her!"
"That makes what you did even worse. After all these years of our marriage, I find you aren't the person I thought you to be. All I see is a bloody man who has masqueraded as a loving husband, both in and out of our bed. When talking of your other women, how many times have you used the excuse that you were afraid I wouldn't understand? But that wasn't so with Geneva. You knew I wouldn't understand or accept your choice so you lied. Your lie to me damns you even more than your previous sins. And you expect me to keep understanding now that I know the truth?"
"If you love me as ye have claimed a thousand times and more, ye will. Blood and bone, body and spirit bind us. Nothing can break that bond, not even death."
"That was true when I thought you were dead. Now that I know what a dishonorable hypocrite you really are, I could never trust you again."
"Yet ye trust a craven sodomite who knows nothing of God-given love?"
Jamie's accusation spurred dawning truths that I had hidden for far too long. "John knows more about real and honest love than you ever have or will. His love for you has been as pure and perfect as is humanly possible under the circumstances. What's really sad is that for all these years, he has been as big a fool as I have in loving you."
I had kept myself glued to the hay bale out of simple fear that my legs wouldn't hold me up. As the next wave of anger hit me, I was fed up with Jamie looming over me, his powerful body almost threatening as he glowered and shouted and paced with his belligerent emotions. I stood right in front of him and grabbed his hard-muscled arm so he had to look me in the eyes. His other hand automatically wrapped around mine like a claw. I couldn't help noticing the broken skin and bruising on his knuckles. A stab of nausea came up my throat imagining how his powerful hands had been used against John.
"What else have you lied about, Jamie Fraser? You said Laoghaire hated the bedding. Could it be she was afraid of you forcing your demanding cock into her the way you did with me? You felt it was your right because she was your wife?"
Shaking off my hand as if it was dirty, he answered coldly, "Ye know me better than that, Sassenach."
"Do I? But Geneva wasn't your wife!"
"I know!" he shouted into my face. "I'm glad the English bitch is dead! I should ha made sure the bloody pervert was dead as well!"
His body seemed to close in on itself with his sudden exhale of anger. "He shouldna been born," he said softly, a grim note of what almost sounded like despair in his voice.
As he turned toward the open door, I could tell he was struggling to hide himself from the raw truth I had been hammering into him. It was a rare thing for Jamie to react in such a way. In my growing hatred, I was glad he was hurting now the way he'd hurt me earlier.
To his straight, rigid back, I said, "I've always believed you were an honorable man despite that one ugly time between us, incapable of such a heinous crime against a woman. Geneva was telling you in every way a woman has to defend herself that she'd changed her mind, that you were hurting her. She gave you the perfect way to stop your humiliation that night in her bed but you didn't act on it."
I felt my earlier hurt at Jamie's rape of my body course through me anew. "You did the same to me tonight, against my will and painfully, to shame me, all because of John. You are a bloody MacKenzie!"
Jamie turned around slowly. Facing me, his features took on a hellish glow from the beams of moonlight. "Ye want my confession, Sassenach? Ye shall have it! Aye, I raped the wee English whore! I delighted in her body and her cunt so much, I took her a second time!" Moving within inches of me, he continued, "Now I want ye to give me your confession, for spreading your legs to a depraved English lord who doesna know what a woman's body is for! Ye call me a whore? What were you with him?"
I raised my open hand to Jamie and slapped him across the face with all the rage in me, of pain and betrayal and disgust. My breath came heavily like an over-winded horse ready to collapse. To my delight, Jamie's head snapped back sharply from the impact of my hand. It didn't take long for his fair skin to blossom into red welts, my fingerprints and the imprint of the silver wedding ring I had rarely taken off in thirty-five years vivid from what I now recognized in myself as pure hatred.
"You are so wrong about John Grey. I was his legal wife that night, drunk and grieving for you. He gave me tenderness as well as release in his very real passion."
Something flickered in his eyes at my words. Then I remembered a conversation we'd had long ago about another woman, Mary MacNab. I wasn't surprised when Jamie didn't show any anger. Instead he laughed cruelly. "Your gallant knight, was he?"
"In the most important way you weren't to Geneva Dunsany." I felt a faint bit of hope, wanting to hear some last conciliatory words from Jamie Fraser. "Would it have been so hard, Jamie, to get your body out of her bed and put on your clothes with the letter stuffed in your pocket before it was too late? To beg her forgiveness that you couldn't continue hurting her with your body? Your excuse would have been a lie, but a justified one. All that was left was to get out of her room the same way you'd gotten in. Extricating yourself from the ugly, humiliating situation would have been the honorable thing to do and your family would have been safe. Your sense of honor would have demanded that you take the way out you were given. Instead your soul is stained with rape, two murders and mortal lies without any recourse to that honor you've always been so prideful about"
Jamie's dark cat eyes narrowed, suspicious, expectant, and knowing. "What are ye saying, Sassenach?"
My body tensed knowing that my next words would write an end to what I had believed was a perfect part of my life in this time and place. "I suggest you find a priest and make a real confession, Jamie Fraser. I know the Catholic Church will absolve you of your sins. But I won't."
The tense stance of Jamie's body told me what his stoic face never would. Tenderly, he took hold of both my arms. In a surprisingly gentle voice he said, "I accept my true penance only from you, Claire, and I beg your forgiveness."
For the very briefest of seconds, my life since I fell through the stones at Craigh na Dun and met James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser scrolled through my mind. By the time the kaleidoscope of images reached the barn where we now stood in combative silence, I was able to say my good-bye. I pulled my arms out of his steady grip. Before I could answer him, William came out of the moonlight, his shadow cutting across our shadows on the floor, sundering them in two.
"Mother Claire!" William spoke brazenly, daring Jamie to deny his claim on me.
Taking in a shocked breath, I choked, "William! Did you hear all that?"
"Yes." His voice was cold, sharp and vicious.
Then I realized there had to be a reason for him to be there. In a panic, I asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Papa is awake and asking for you."
"Is he in distress?"
William's look of rage was redoubled, directed at Jamie. "He is in terrible pain."
"I must go." Hurrying to the doorway I stopped, realizing that William was firmly planted in a fighting stance in front of Jamie. "Are you coming, William?"
"In a moment."
Making my choice to go to John who truly needed me, I had to let Jamie and William fight whatever battle they would choose.
I was very familiar with the look of hatred on men's faces. In the stark moonlight, that primal look in my son's blue cat eyes curdled my wame. I wished with all my heart that he didna look like me. Claire had been right as she always was.
"If I ever see you again you filthy Scotchman, I will kill you."
This ending had been inevitable since our confrontation at John Grey's home. I accepted the truth that had to be and that was: I had no son.
"It is your right, William Ransom." I carefully slid my dirk from its sheath on my belt and handed it to him, hilt first. "For Lord John, and for your mother, Geneva."
I wondered if he understood the Highland meaning, the permission to kill me? Was it in his blood despite everything? Would he turn the blade and strike at my heart in his vengeance? My final death that had been avoided and postponed so many times would be both just and honorable at his hands.
William took the hilt firmly in his big left hand. Sliding it through my closed fist, his eyes never left mine. I clenched my hand tighter, forcing the blade to cut into my left hand. I felt my blood seeping into my palm. When the knife was completely free, I waited for the thrust into my chest. Instead, John Grey's son let his arm fall to his side and strode out the barn door, briskly walking back to his true father's bedside.
The blood was coming quicker, through my fingers, seeking its natural direction. I let the red warmth fall to the floor where I had raped Claire, as penance for my newest sin.