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over the edge and out of sight

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Grey leaned back examining the pirate captain’s face. His expression seemed earnest enough, but he was still apprehensive about the tale he was going to hear. He felt the floor tilt and shift beneath their feet. The wind picked up for the evening, and the water turned rougher. Nothing a ship couldn’t handle, but the movement was much more pronounced on the sloop as it would have been on the Sapphire. John suddenly longed for his hammock in his cabin, waves gently rocking him to sleep, free of bloody pirates, on his merry way to Boston.

“Your son?” he asked carefully, gaze flicking towards the woman – John could not make himself think of her by her name. She allowed him to make his own incorrect conclusions about her position on the ship. An unexpected side effect of this was that Grey realized she chose that tactic because her face was unable to lie. He just needed to read it better this time and maybe he could turn it to his advantage. He didn’t want to be too obvious about it though, so he fixed his eye on Fraser again, who nodded.

“I dinna do this for my own sake,” he said, gaze openly holding Grey’s. He picked up a sealed letter from the desk. John knew it must be one of the letters he took from the Sapphire.
“This letter was sent with the intention of harming my son,” Fraser continued. “I am told ye have no son, but perhaps this will make ye understand why I had to do what I did.”

Grey eyed the Captain cautiously. He was no doubt a persuasive man. He considered the possibility that the man wasn’t deranged, as he previously thought, but simply feeding him careful bits of information in order to manipulate him. It was an even more dangerous possibility.

He started idly picking at the rope still binding his wrists together. Not with the intention of untying it, there was no chance for that but to have something to do with his hands to aid him in thinking.

He could push Fraser a bit. See if provoking him made him show his true intentions. It didn’t require any significant effort on his part after being knocked out, bound up and kidnapped by the man. He squared his shoulders and willed his hands to still.

“Is your son also a thief and traitor to the Crown?” he asked with icy politeness.

He saw a muscle twitch in the Captain’s jaw. The woman huffed from where she was leaning against the wall.
“He is twelve, for Christ’s sake.” Her expression was half amusement, half annoyance. Husband and wife shared a look and when Fraser turned back towards him there was a mocking curl to his lips.

“The Crown, aye?” He stood up, rounded the desk and comfortably leaned against it on the other side. He was close to John now, towering over him in this position and he fought the urge of rising to his feet to at least somewhat level the height difference between them. But the Captain made no move to physically hurt him. He had a sort of contemplative look on his face.

“Sounds so nice, Lieutenant, doesn’t it?” he asked, pursing his lips. “Has a sort of regal ring to it that disguises the fact that they are thieves and murders all the same,” he finished with a look that betrayed his outward calm demeanour. A look that would have been able to cut through glass.

Grey bristled at the accusation. He took pride in his position in the Navy. While he was aware that as with any group of men there were ones with better and worse characters, he had known and taken inspiration from a number of very good men and he didn’t suffer it lightly to have their name smeared like this.

“Is that is? You think me a thief and a murderer so you feel some sort of bizarre kinship with me?” he asked, indignant.

“Oh, calm down, will you?” the woman asked, now clearly more annoyed than amused.
Grey narrowed his eyes at her, then stubbornly turned back to Fraser.

“Sir, were I armed, you would answer for that.”

He could see the woman roll her eyes from the edge of his vision.

“Jamie, don’t let him rile you up…”

The Captain smirked.

“I’ve already bested him once, Sassenach. I would gladly do it again,” he added with a glint in his dark blue eyes. He crossed one foot over the other casually and fixed Grey with his stare again. “But no, whatever ye think about our occupation, it isna important because my son doesna share it. Doesna even ken about it. He is an Earl.”

This made Grey pause. He looked at the man dumbfounded and he saw his lips curl further upwards under his red beard into an amused smile. It was such a pleasant expression on him, it startled John even more.

“Aye. And if my information is correct, ye even know him, my lord.” Before John could even think about replying to the mocking address, he added. “He is the Ninth Earl of Ellesmere.”

John gaped at him like a fish in a bucket. He knew the boy, all right. Lord Dunsany was an old family friend and he knew Isobel and Geneva since they were children. There was even a time when his brother was pushing him to ask for one of the girls’ hand in marriage.

He was able to escape that particular fate until both of the sisters were given to someone else. He didn’t even attend the weddings, being away on various commissions. But then there was the unfortunate scandal of Geneva’s pregnancy and death. Grey was still away at the time but made a visit as soon as he could after hearing about the tragedy, and even in the following years he often went back and offered assistance to the family.

“Am I to believe, that William Ransom is your son?” he asked, blinking.

He remembered the boy. William was bright, with the extreme temperament of a spoiled child. Against all his tantrums Grey found himself instantly fond of him. He had the feeling what the boy needed actually wasn’t more discipline but stimulating conversations and honest affection. Last time he visited, Grey remembered feeling a deep, unexpected pang of regret that he most likely will never be a father.

Fraser shared a look again with his wife. The man’s face remained unreadable, but on the woman’s face, there was a flash of pain, so acute it couldn’t be anything but honest. It was true then.

Fraser looked him squarely in the eye, catlike blue eyes piercing.
“Aye, he is. But no one kens about it, except Lady Isobel. At least we thought so until now.” He slid his thumb underneath the seal and broke it. “This letter was sent by Captain Richardson to the governor of Boston.”
“They sent William there to study.” his wife added. John thought it was more likely they couldn’t handle the boy anymore. “It was Lady Isobel who sent word to us. She overheard a conversation between Richardson and her husband, William’s stepfather. She sent one of the servants to spy on Richardson and figure out on which warship they were sending the letter.”
The captain smirked.
“Ye were awfully slow pestering that merchant ship, ye ken that?”
John snorted before he could stop himself. Yes, he knew it and it bloody annoyed him the whole way if he was quite honest with himself. To make up for this small slip of genuine emotion he raised a brow enquiringly.

“Captain Richardson wants to hang me verra badly, ye ken,” Fraser continued all too happily. “And I believe Mr. Williams got too comfortable in Helwater to let someone else’s child take the estate from him when he comes into age.”

John’s head was spinning from all this new information.
“But they can’t take the title away from William,” he said, focusing on the technicalities for now, while quietly sorting all the pieces in his head. “Even if they somehow prove that you are his father, which would be no doubt difficult, with the mother dead and her sister on your side. William is legally the son of Ludovic Ransom and they can’t bloody do anything about it more than a decade later.”

Fraser shook his head.
“No, but they can ruin his life and reputation,” he said grimly. “It would be much easier to push him out of his inheritance and stash him away somewhere cold and remote if they could say he dinna deserve it in the first place.”

John considered everything he learned in the past few minutes. He knew that most of this must be true. He also knew that Fraser was telling him all this to impress him. So that he knew he targeted the Sapphire specifically. Maybe even to intimidate him with how much he knew about him. But it was something else entirely that made his blood rise in the end.

“Let me get this straight,” he said, looking up at the Captain, who nodded at him encouragingly with something akin to smugness on his face. The bastard.
“You have visited Helwater more than a decade ago, and committed adultery with Geneva Dunsany, siring William.” He cut a look towards the woman, making his words intentionally pointed. The woman crossed her arms and pressed her lips into a thin line.

The captain’s blue cat-eyes narrowed.
“I would appreciate, sir, if ye would choose yer words carefully. I dinna take the events lightly, I assure you.”
“You don’t take them lightly?” John echoed, absolutely furious. “Geneva died you arsehole. Leaving you son,” he emphasized, “an orphan because in case you didn’t stick around to find out, the Eighth Earl of Ellesmere died the very same day.”
“I am aware of it, sir,” Fraser gritted out through clenched teeth. “Because I was the one to kill him.”

John blanched from sheer shock, then promptly flushed from anger.
“You— you have forced Geneva into your bed, killed the Earl and then lied about it, am I getting the order right?”

One of the Scotsman's massive hands curled into a fist so hard his knuckles popped.
“She was more than willing, I assure you,” he looked as if he was going to add something else, but cut himself off.

However, Grey didn’t back down. He couldn’t have now even if he wanted to.
“And then you left. Leaving William. And now you expect a pat on the back and for me to help you?” Fraser took a breath as if to say something, but John didn’t let him. “Do you seriously expect me to believe after this, that William’s well-being matters to you in the slightest and that it provided enough motivation for you to attack an English warship?”

Fraser’s fist came down hard on the desk, a blow that would have no doubt hurt if it struck Grey. His head was bowed, face dark.

“Jamie—” the woman spoke to him, but her voice trailed off when the pirate captain didn’t move.

Finally, the man looked up and there was such a ferocity in his gaze that John flinched back.
“I’m not going to explain myself to ye,” Fraser said. He pushed himself off the desk, took a step forward and bunched his fist into John’s shirt-front, lifting him slightly off the chair. John wasn’t proud of the squeaking sound he let out.

“What do ye ken about this, ye English bastard? Ye have no son. What ye call duty doesna begin to explain this.” He scoffed and released John who thumped back into the chair, hard. “Ye just get told what to do and ye follow blindly. The command of an empire that cannot stand true happiness that isna formed in the way they like it.”

The woman took a step forward, putting her hand on the captain’s forearm and even though Fraser didn’t turn she was clearly able to convey something to him without words. Fraser squared his shoulders.

“William is my son. Blood of my blood and bone of my bone. Kin. I’m going to protect him, whether ye help or no.”

He turned towards his wife.
“Lead him back to the hold, Sassenach.”

***

Jamie stood motionless in the middle of the cabin for a long minute. Then slowly unclenched his fist and rubbed his hand down his face. That bloody cheek of an Englishman!
He walked back to the desk and sat down in his chair. The half-opened letter lay abandoned in front of him, mocking him. He meant to read it out loud with Grey still in the room. That was before the wee bastard managed to piss him off. He thought… well, he foolishly thought Grey would understand, which was the sort of error in judgment he really couldn’t afford right now. Supposedly, Grey knew Willie. And Isobel said the boy adored him, looked up to him and couldn’t wait for his next visit. Maybe the liking wasn’t mutual.
Jamie had the distinct impression that Grey was someone who cared about others. He saw the man push that young officer protectively behind himself. It was one of the reasons why he decided to take him as well.

Yes, it was convenient not to let him tell the crew exactly what he took from the cabin, to leave them guessing and wondering. Nevertheless, he also did it with the thought of showing consideration towards Grey. Proving that he did not slaughter the young man in cold blood.

But apparently for all the man cared, his kindness didn’t extend to pirates. Jamie cursed himself. Why on earth did he think it did? He should have known better by now, after all the suffering he and Claire endured by the British Empire and its agents.

Grey was no different. Just another career-officer eager to capture and hang pirates, earning a name for himself. He no doubt wanted a higher position, even somewhere comfortable, so that he may marry and have a family to return to.

Jamie couldn’t fault him. Sometimes at night, he would let himself get lost in the sweet dream of settling down somewhere peaceful with Claire, leaving this hard and cruel life behind. And because it was such a foolish, such an improbable fantasy, he usually let himself imagine having William there too and raising him, and Ian and Fergus and Marsali, of course, and everyone else he loved.
But it was a fantasy, nothing more.

He thought fighting a man revealed almost as much of the other’s character as sharing a bed or having a game of chess. And as they’ve fought back there on the Sapphire and he looked Grey in the eyes he thought he saw a glint of something that made him hope. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Intelligence, for sure. Fierceness, no doubt. But he thought he saw something else too, something that would have set the man apart from the narrow-mindedness and cruelty of his peers.

He wanted to smack his forehead into the table. It bothered him more than it should have. It didn’t matter what Grey thought of him, as long as they could use him. He still craved for his understanding. It was foolish. When was the last time he wanted to be seen like that? For himself, for the man he was, not the monster they claimed him to be. And by whom? An Englishman who was handed everything Jamie had to fight tooth and nail for?

He didn’t have time for sentimentality like that. He picked up the letter and unfolded it, but decided against it and dropped it back to the desk once more, disgusted. When Claire came back they could read it together.

His anger came back again, just simmering underneath the surface. Grey knew nothing about them. He probably thought they became pirates simply because of their evil nature. That they have turned against civilization and their homeland because they had no other desire, but to destruct everything.

He didn’t know it was England that turned against them first.

Jamie didn’t like to ponder the past. They were handed the cards, they made the best of it they could, and Jamie made peace with his decisions. If he often stopped to lament the injustice of it all he would get nowhere.

He chose Claire and their freedom and he would be defending both until his last breath. In fact, the attack on both of those was what severed that particular connection in the first place. His family never liked Claire because of her Englishness. The English didn’t like Jamie for his Scottishness. Besides, Claire was always different. So bright and bold, with such amazing outlandish ideas. Most people didn’t share Jamie’s amazement though. Many women were jealous of both her beauty and her knowledge, and even more men were annoyed that she had no fear of them.
When she had been accused of witchcraft, Jamie wasn’t surprised. He rescued her and got imprisoned for it, having already had some fall out with the law. By the time he managed to achieve his own freedom, there were many more complications, William being one of them.

Again, he bristled at Grey’s assumption that he simply took Geneva out of lust he couldn’t contain. But he wasn’t about to admit to that bloody man that it was quite the opposite, was he?

He and Claire were able to mend what had been damaged between them, but they had no choice but flee together and try to make themselves a life at sea. And they have managed well, as always when they were together.

He wasn’t about to throw that all out on the window. He drew a deep breath. Grey didn’t need to understand, he just needed to cooperate. And Red Jamie could no doubt accomplish that.

***

John was unceremoniously pushed back to the same room he was held previously, door locking firmly behind him. It was dark in there and Tom nowhere to be found. John’s stomach sank and he stumbled as the ship shifted beneath his feet. He caught himself with his bound hands, wincing as the rough rope cut into his skin. He turned and leaning his back against the wall he slid down to the floor.

His anger evaporated and he allowed himself a brief moment of despair. Well, he accomplished what he had set out to do for better or for worse. If Fraser showed his violent side now, it will be partially his fault.

He felt a natural pang of unease at the thought, but it wasn’t his own skin that he worried about. Yes, ideally he would manage to find a way and come out of this mess unscathed, maybe even deliver Fraser to justice. Not to Richardson. He scoffed quietly. Matters like these shouldn’t be decided on out of personal revenge. Every person, even a pirate, like Red Jamie deserved a fair trial and even an opportunity to show remorse. But he did have to answer for his actions.

What he was more worried about is whether Tom Byrd and William Ransom ended up on the list of people hurt by Jamie Fraser. He felt a strong sense of responsibility to protect both young men.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, lamenting the possibilities of how the future events could turn out when he heard footsteps approaching. They were long, measured steps, boot heels clicking confidently, so he immediately knew it had to be the pirate captain. He pushed himself up, clumsy because of his bound hands, just in time to see the door open.

Fraser carried a lantern in one hand, and a knife in the other, the light catching on the naked blade.

Grey squared his shoulders and stomped down on the flicker of fear in his belly. He changed his mind then about not gutting him. Probably.

The man hung the lantern on a nail sticking out from one of the beams and approached him.

“It seems like I’ve made a tactical error with you, sir,” he spoke up, sounding almost apologetic. “The unfortunate consequence of this is that ye know the truth about my son now. Ye see this can be detrimental to my plans.” He idly stroked a thumb down the side of the blade, as if testing its sharpness. Grey gulped. The man raised his head and looked him in the eye, dead serious.

“If ye dinna help me I’m afraid I do need to kill ye, sir.”

Grey pressed his lips together into a thin line, face pale.
“I see,” he choked out, politely.

Fraser shook his head.
“It wouldna please me to do so. I would rather not meet my son again after many years with your blood still fresh on my hands.”

Well, that was oddly comforting, Grey thought. Fraser continued with surprising gentleness.
“I’m not asking for much. We’ve only won some time by capturing Richardson’s letter. According to his words, he should already be on his way himself to Boston. There is also a possibility, that he sent a second copy of this letter on another ship.”
“And what was in this letter if I may ask?” Grey said as much out of curiosity, as an attempt of delaying the decision whether Fraser put that blade to use or not.
Fraser looked at him with concern.

“If I tell ye that, it provides even more danger to me and even more reason for me to kill ye if you dinna help me.”
Grey weighed his options.

“Convince me, Mr. Fraser,” he said at last. The man flashed him a grin and it unleashed the most conflicting knot of emotions in Grey’s chest.

Oblivious to this, Fraser began talking.
“Richardson wanted to ensure that the governor keeps William there until he arrives. His plan is twofold: he knows I have spent significant time in Helwater after William’s birth,” he said, with a pointed look. Grey cleared his throat, somewhat embarrassed. He still wasn’t sure about the man’s motivations, or even that he was telling the truth. However, if he was, then clearly there was more of a story there than he thought.

“He wants to use my fondness of the boy as a bargaining chip. And if that doesna work, he is planning to turn William against me and use him to retain me. All this to say that we need to get to Boston as quickly as possible. William is crucial in Richardson’s plan, so I’m confident that he won’t actually hurt him. However, that doesna mean he cares for his well-being.”

“And where do you see my part in all of this, if, of course, you decide not to cut my throat?” he asked with an anxious glance at the blade.

“I want ye to write a letter to William,” Fraser said. “Telling him to meet us outside the city, and instructing him to keep this a secret. I will read this before sending it,” he added before John could get any ideas.

After a moment’s hesitation, John nodded.
“All right. I am willing to do that.”
Fraser lowered the blade.
“William knows you. Probably remembers you better than me. I don’t want to take him by force.” John bit his tongue to prevent himself from making a foolish comment about Fraser not being averse to kidnapping people. The man continued.
“After we rescued Willie, I’ll drop ye off in whatever port ye desire. Alive,” he added seeing John’s expression. “Can we agree on this?”

John took a deep breath and nodded.
“Yes, I will help you rescue your son, you have my word.”

Fraser stepped closer, knife still drawn and regardless of the promise of not killing him, John couldn’t keep himself from shying back. Fraser smiled, all teeth, nothing like the amused half-smile Grey saw in his cabin. He grabbed John’s forearm with his right, big hand holding him still. He slipped the knife between his wrists, blade cool against his scraped skin and cut the ropes with one swift move.

John snatched his hands back immediately, rubbing at his wrists.

“If ye go now, ye can still join supper with the men. I’ll find you after and provide pen and paper.”

He curtly nodded to Fraser. He would go along with the man’s plan. At least until they have rescued William from Richardson’s machinations. And then he would rescue William from Jamie Fraser as well.