Actions

Work Header

over the edge and out of sight

Chapter Text

1760, somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean

John Grey stood by the foremast of His Majesty’s ship, the Sapphire watching the sunlight glimmer on the blue waves of the ocean. A few yards ahead of them sailed the Minerva a merchant ship they were escorting to Boston. She sailed with a rich cargo, this time under the usual yards of good English wool hid a sizeable amount of gold, generous donation for the rebuilding after the recent fire, cargo for sure tempting for any pirate who got a whiff about it. Grey was here steering the proud man-of-war to eliminate that temptation. It was a simple, political matter.

Grey took a deep breath of the salty air and stretched comfortably. The wind was tugging mischievously at his hair he wore securely tied at the nape of his neck. He felt the ship hum beneath his feet with controlled power and it lifted his spirits like nothing else. The Minerva sailed at roughly six knots, straining under her cargo. They raised as many sails as they dared, trying to hasten their journey. For the Sapphire, the pace was quite modest. Grey has felt her at full speed and it was an exhilarating experience. If they were not fully loaded with cannons and ammunition and the weather was favourable she was able to reach as fast as nine knots, a speed that made Grey feel quite giddy when he first experienced it out on the open sea.

He put a hand on the weathered wood of the railing, adjusting his hat with the other and scanned the deck out of years of habit to see if everything was amiss.

Nothing was. Grey didn’t expect any trouble on their journey. Of course, life was never uneventful on a ship, the sea itself being a mistress with a volatile temper. However, any sensible pirate would turn around at the sight of the White Ensign and flee, fearing pursuit. They couldn’t know it was unlikely in this case. Grey was under strict orders to see the Minerva safely into the port of Boston. As much as he might want to chase after petty thieves to uphold the law, it wasn’t a priority on this journey.

Oh well, on their way home they were quite free to spare some attention to any pirate they would encounter. Grey grinned to himself. The next two weeks were about quietly doing their duty, but he was willing to suffer some boredom when there was the prospect of adventure on the horizon.

It was one of the things that made him choose this life much to his brother’s horror. Hal would have preferred if he joined the Army like him. The Navy was for the desperate, who didn’t have a choice, he said. Full of young men they pretty much had to drag to enlist. John could do better.
He smiled at the memory. He knew it came from a good place, from Hal wanting to protect him from hardship. But their father always had a soft spot for his youngest son and he was willing to grant him his wish.

Maybe he was desperate. Desperate for adventure. All he knew was that the first time he set foot on a ship he was captivated by the whole operation with its secret expressions he had no idea what they meant at the time. Looking at the horizon the prospect of unseen lands excited him. He delighted in the freedom of being out on the open sea, with no land in sight, nothing to obstruct the gaze. The smell of the salty air refreshed him, and the rocking of the ship lulled him to sleep at night.
Grey patted the railing. Ships were truly magnificent constructions of their time.

There was also the small convenience that navy officers often stayed unmarried for a long time. It wasn’t unusual for one to never marry. The unreliable nature of their occupation wasn’t compatible with family life. A solider often left home for long periods of time as well, but with a navy officer, you could never really tell if and when the winds would take them back home.

He could, of course, acquire a wife and then conveniently leave her in a house somewhere in the English countryside. But no one really frowned if he didn’t, Hal having plenty of children to carry on the family lineage.

And the only she so far that could make John’s heart beat faster was a beautiful ship.

He made his way casually across the deck, greeting his men who were adeptly going about their business. They were steadily on course, the weather was kind. He would have time to update the logs, write some letters, maybe even read something.

“Good morning, Captain!”
John shielded his eyes against the sun as he looked up at the young man, sitting on the rigging. Tom Byrd was grinning ear-to-ear, bare feet dangling, hanging from one of the lines like a particularly cheerful apple on the lowest branch of a tree.

“Morning, Tom.” He absent-mindedly caught one of his skinny ankles and tugged playfully. “Come down, will you before you break your neck?”

“Don’t keep little birds from flying, Captain,” interjected one of the topmen from above, and they all laughed.

Tom was the boatswain’s mate, and he was very enthusiastic about inspecting the rigging and sails each morning by climbing all over them like a little monkey. Everyone on the ship liked the boy, Grey included. He was meticulous about his tasks and showed leadership qualities quite admirable for his small size.

Grey turned and continued walking. There was the creak of ropes and a soft thump behind as Tom scrambled after him.

“Would you like me to bring you some more lamp oil now, Captain? You mentioned yesterday you were running low on it.”
Grey smiled at the attentive offer.
“That’s alright, Tom, I still have a few candles left. Maybe later. But,” he added after seeing the brief flash of disappointment on the boy’s face, ”you can come and help me with my letters. If you have no other duties, of course. As you know, a ship is like a well-tuned clock. Every little piece must do its part in order for it to work properly.”

Tom nodded along enthusiastically.
“I’ve already mended one of the foresails today. It was looking worse for wear last week, but I think we must have caught a seagull or something because a corner of it was neatly torn off the line now,“ he explained as if this was the most exciting thing that happened to him all week.
“I’ll take a look at it later, I’m sure you did a wonderful job at fixing it,” Grey answered and Tom beamed under the praise. He was indeed very good with needle and thread which earned him a few teasing comments from the crew, but it was all done in a friendly manner. Grey would have put a stop to it otherwise.

“Well then, if you have no other task, I will dictate you a few of my letters,” he decided. Then he bent closer in a conspirational way, “If you write legibly enough I will let you help with the log too.”

The young Byrd had a good head for numbers, but his penmanship was quite terrible in all honesty. If he ever wanted to advance – and John was prepared to support him in that regard – he would definitely need to improve on that.

Half an hour later Tom Byrd had ink all over his fingers and smeared across the bridge of his nose and John could barely contain his laughter at imagining his brother’s face upon opening this letter.

Serves him right, he thought, as Hal himself wasn’t known for sending the most thoughtfully executed letters either. He let Tom sand and fold the letter, and drip candle wax on it before he pressed his signet ring into it.

Tom beamed at him, and John was just about to suggest starting on the next one, when there was a shout from the deck that sounded awfully lot like “Sails!”.

He furrowed his brows and walked briskly out of his cabin. When he reached the quarterdeck, he spotted his second in command, Lieutenant Newman, a competent, but usually somewhat stiff fellow, practically running towards him.

“Captain, a pirate ship has been spotted north-west,” the man exclaimed with heaving chest.

He looked more excited than frightened. Grey just felt puzzled.
“Heading towards us?” he asked as he quickly stepped to the rail and squinted, scanning the horizon.
“Yes, sir.”
Grey held out a hand to him and Lieutenant Newman pressed the telescope into it. Grey raised it to his eye.

And there it was. A sloop with the black flag, sails straining in the wind, heading straight towards them.
“I’ll be damned,” Grey muttered, then started yelling orders.

The last thing he expected was being attacked by pirates on this journey. The Minerva’s cargo was rich, but not worth the risk compared to ships without an escort. Grey wasn’t among those officers, who regarded the enemy as inhuman monsters, beyond reason, but he thought the captain of this pirate ship might be a few barrels of rum short of a dozen.

They were coming from north-west, from the opposite side of the Minerva. Grey gave orders to turn the ship and cut them off. By the time they rounded the Minerva, the pirate ship was almost within range.

Out of sheer courtesy, Grey gave orders to fire a shot before they could reasonably hit them.

But the pirates were not deterred by the cannonball, that landed just ten yards before them with a mighty splash. The sloop turned slightly, as expected, trying to manoeuvre just out of range. It was a quick ship, with the advantage of momentum, but the Sapphire definitely outweighed it in firing power. One successful broadside volley and they would be crippled.

Well then, Grey was quite prepared to sink another pirate ship, now that the occasion presented itself. He gave prompt orders.

Men hurried on deck to comply, wooden boot heels thumping as they run. Ropes were creaking and the sails billowed out with a satisfying snap as the Sapphire caught the wind. The ship lurched into action and Grey felt the thrill in his belly at the movement.

They pursued the pirate ship heading for the Minerva. She very sensibly took flight at the sight of the pirates but had no chance at outrunning them weighed down with cargo as she was.

Grey heard the men preparing the canons below deck, the heavy scrape of metal on the wooden planks. Meanwhile, the Sapphire elegantly sprang after the other ship. They could have slipped away if they hadn’t come at them. But now the Sapphire was approaching at an angle, with the wind on their side and soon they would be in range to fire the cannons.

But before they could get into position, the sloop turned sharply. Her sails went limp, losing the wind, the ship sliding sideways from sheet momentum.

“What on earth are they doing?” Grey exclaimed. He saw no reason why the pirate ship would abandon the pursuit of the Minerva and offer her side, an easy target for their cannonballs. “Lieutenant, what is this ship, do we know them?”

The lieutenant peered into the looking glass. “It’s the La Dame Blanche, sir. With the Scottish criminal, Red Jamie at the helm.”

Grey, of course, had heard of the ship and her captain but had no personal quarrel with them. There were, however, more urgent matters to think about. The La Dame Blanche almost stopped now, with this speed they would crash into them before they could shoot them to shreds.

Grey swore in German.

An impact like that might sink both ships.

It was a clever move he gave them that. Clever move, that is, if they wanted to board the Sapphire instead of the Minerva, which they couldn’t have an earthly reason for. But Grey didn’t have time to think about the pirates’ motivation.

With the distance rapidly decreasing between the two ships, he had no choice, but to give orders to release the sails, and turn the ship to reduce the impact. There was no time to fire the cannons. There would be a fight on deck, there was no question about that now.

His men were well trained, and they were able to prepare for the inevitable in no time at all. Grey checked his own knife and pistols.

20 yards...

“Brace for impact!” he shouted.

10 yards...

Grey himself caught the end of a rope and twisted it around his fist, taking a solid stance. The two ships collided with a crash that knocked many men off their feet scrambling for something to hold onto. The smaller ship rocked heavier and Grey saw seawater splash over the railing taking a pirate with it. What on earth were they thinking?!

The hulls grated against each other with a terrible sound. There was yelling, as half a dozen hooks flew across the gap and latched onto the railings of the Sapphire, handy nets attached to them. And then they were boarded by pirates.

They had to climb upwards since the Sapphire was a good 10 feet taller than the other ship and Grey gave orders to cut as many ropes and shoot as many pirates they could before they could reach the deck. But their first line of defence broke after a while and pirates were jumping over the railing, using their momentum to tackle his men.

Grey always experienced time differently in a fight and he was sure he wasn’t alone with this. Time seemed to slow down, and his mind had blocked out so much, but he saw other things crystal clear. If he were registering everything, as usual, he probably would have gotten overwhelmed, and if he didn’t see other things with an enhanced clarity he would have probably been long dead.

He saw who was most likely the captain of the pirate ship flung himself across the railing. A tall, red-headed man with his cutlass between his clenched teeth. Grey fought at the quarterdeck, not far from his cabin. He shot a pirate clear between the eyes, then drew out his sword, since there was no time for reloading. In the back of his mind, he was assessing the whole situation constantly.

His crew was made up of well-trained, well-rested, and well-armed men. But they were caught off guard, scrambling to react, and that was never an ideal position to win a fight.

He pushed a pirate into the sea, when he spotted him again, deliberately cutting a path towards him. The man was huge, tall and broad-shouldered. His flame-red hair was flying in a wind like a flag, signalling immediate danger. Under his brown coat, his shirt was already torn, fabric and tanned skin splattered with blood. Whether his or someone else’s Grey didn’t know.

He cut his way forcefully through the fight heading straight towards the back where Grey was standing. Their eyes met and something visceral gripped John in the stomach. The man was staring at him intently, no doubt deciding on him as the next target.

Before the pirate captain could reach him, John spotted Tom Byrd. The young man was gripping a beam with both hands, probably something they kept for fixing the sails. He was the process of administering a few not precise but effective blows to the head of a pirate and then jabbing him into the stomach so that he tumbled off the quarterdeck with a shout. Grey was allowed a fleeting moment of pride, and then the realization hit him that Byrd was standing right between him and the pirate captain who was right at the bottom of the stairs now. Grey grabbed Tom’s arm and pushed the boy behind him.

From this close, he could see how much he was trembling. Grey steered him into the corridor leading to his cabin, then whirled around just in time to see Red Jamie leaping up the stairs to the quarterdeck in a few feet away.

John didn’t hesitate drawing his second pistol and firing at the man. The pirate captain ducked last minute, crouching like some creature from a nightmare, grinned, then launched himself at Grey.

The size difference between them was like that of the Sapphire and the La Dame Blanche. Unfortunately, this time it was not in John’s favour.

John caught his first blow with his sword, steal singing as their blades slid off of each other. He knew he had to make it quick if he were to survive this. He advanced with a series of fast moves forcing the pirate into defence. Red Jamie blocked each, then answered with redoubled efforts.

John stepped to the side. The man was holding the sword with his left hand which made his moves somewhat unexpected, but it also gave John an opening. He swung his sword and the blade caught the pirate in the thigh, drawing blood. It wasn’t a deep cut, but it flooded Grey with hope, at least that rush of boldness that was the closest to true hope one usually got in a fight.

The pirate touched the wound briefly, then looked up, slanted blue eyes glinting like a cat’s.
“Ye’re a feisty wee Englishman,” he said with a savage grin, then threw himself back into the fight.

This shouldn’t have been a duel, John thought. Someone ought to shoot the man because he was only delaying the inevitable here. Sweat trickled down his back as he jumped back to avoid the next swing of his blade.
He wasn’t quick enough by the next one, he barely raised his sword in time to catch the blow, and the sheer force behind it knocked the sword out of his grip. He instinctively pulled his dagger, but the pirate was already on him, showing him into the wooden wall of behind him. The man gripped the wrist of his hand holding the dagger with one of his large hands and forced it upward. John resisted with the last bit of his strength, muscles trembling. But he stood no chance and soon enough his hand was pressed against the wall above his head, dagger tumbling from between his fingers.

For a split second everything seemed to slow down as they stared each other in the eye. John could register every single little detail. The bead of sweat that formed at the pirate’s temple, washing away a trail in the soot of gunpowder as it rolled down. The sky, still so bright and blue behind, the shouts and grunts of the fight.

He wondered when his life would start flashing before his eyes, then he wondered why he wasn’t feeling particularly afraid.

But instead of getting a blade in his stomach, the pirate hit him in the head with the hilt of his cutlass. Hard.

John collapsed on the spot, vision going black.

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. This was the first thing John registered when he came to himself. Slowly, he was able to separate the different points of agony. His head was pounding, his arm and leg muscles were aching and his right wrist felt raw from bruises. It was also tightly bound behind his back to his left wrist with a coarse rope, which didn’t help matters at all.

He groaned, and slowly opened his eyes. There was a sharp intake of breath to his right.
“Captain!”

He turned his head to the side, blinking to regain the sharpness of his vision. The hushed, excited voice belonged to Tom Byrd who sat next to him, hands and feet equally tied together. Upon meeting his gaze the young man’s face crumpled.

“Oh, Captain, I was afraid that brute killed you with that blow!”

John himself thought it was a near thing. Both of his temples hurt, the left, where the man hit him in the head, and the right, where he presumably hit the floor as he collapsed. Judging from the sticky feeling there was some blood on his face as well. He cleared his throat.

“What happened after he knocked me out, can you tell me, Tom?”

Grey guessed they were in the hold of the pirate ship and that it was a few hours later. The light coming through the wooden planks had the golden hue of afternoon sunshine. Tom shifted uncomfortably.

“Well, I ran there, Captain, to see if you were breathing. But the pirate got me too.”

Grey paled in horror just imagining the young Byrd against that broad-shouldered pirate who was almost a foot taller then both of them. But the boy had only dirt over his face and clothes, no blood.

“He insisted I show him to your cabin.” Tom sounded miserable. “I’m so sorry, Captain, for letting you down like this.”

John found himself smiling a wry, but true smile.
“Nonsense, Tom. He would have found it just fine without your help. And for what it’s worth I’m glad he didn’t cut your throat.”

It was the young man’s turn to pale noticeably.
“I appreciate that meself,” he answered in a strained voice.

 

“What did he take from my cabin? The logs?” Grey asked as he idly tested the ropes. They were tied very securely. Pirates often took the logs, because they could sometimes use the information contained in them to their advantage.

“No, Captain, just the letters,” Tom shrugged, then bent forward. “I don’t think he’s exactly sane, this pirate,” the young man whispered meaningfully.

Grey hummed, thoughtful. He generally agreed with the sentiment. However, someone capable of pulling a manoeuvre like that wasn’t stupid either. There must have been something among those letters that was of value to him. Something that was worth more than the entire cargo of the Minerva.

As always, Grey received an assortment of letters before departure in London. Some of them, official correspondence, was his task to deliver upon arrival to Boston. The others he had no idea about and would have been simply disposed at the post office so they could take care of delivery.

Question was, how did the pirate know they were the ones carrying the letter he was after. Even more interesting question, why were the two of them were on the La Dame Blanche and why were they not dead. At least yet.

“What happened then, Tom?” he asked. No matter how much they were taken by surprise, the crew of the Sapphire outnumbered the pirates, and this sloop couldn’t possibly carry more than ten guns. There was no way they were able to sink the Sapphire. At least that though provided him with some level of comfort. Still, somehow the pirates had managed to come away with this ship intact, which in itself was a small miracle.

Tom furrowed his brows in concentration, clearly trying to recite events in the most precise manner.

“After you were knocked out, Captain, Newman surrendered. The pirates nicked a few things and they took both of us hostage so that Newman wouldn’t sink them the moment they got into shooting range again. But even worst,“ Tom frowned, “the pirate captain, after this demonstration of his strength and with you hanging off of him like a sack o’ flour, offered the men a chance to join him. And twelve of the deserting traitors did!”

Grey closed his eyes for a moment against the wave of humiliation. Tom Byrd’s outrage did make him feel slightly better if he was honest to himself.
“These pirates are probably recruiting,” he noted. The young man stared at him.

“Like honest sailors, Captain? What kind of disgraceful person even considers that?”

Before he could answer Tom’s naive question the door creaked open. John spotted guards outside on either side. Then his gaze fell on the person stepping in, and he was surprised to see that it was a woman.

She wore a light blouse and practical skirts, her hair tied back with a cloth so that only a few dark curls escaped around her face. She had a fair complexion but must have spent quite a bit of time already at see because her forehead and cheekbones were tinted by the sun, which also brought out a few freckles on her skin.

She was beautiful. She was also English, as Grey realized the moment she spoke up.

“Glad to see you awake,” she gave him a small smile as she walked closer steadying a bowl of water against her hip while holding some bandages in her other hand. “I’m here to tend to your injuries.”

This wasn’t the treatment Grey was expecting, and it made him wary. Still, he considered himself a gentleman so he inclined his head politely.
“I appreciate that, ma’am.”

The woman crouched down next to him, placed the bowl on the floor and started wiping the blood off his face. John closed his eyes for a second. It had been a long time since someone touched him this gently, and it stood in stark contrast to the events of this day. Against the circumstances it made him feel slightly better.

He winced when she pressed against his left temple. She put down the cloth and pinched the skin around the wound. John hissed and reconsidered his opinion about her gentle nature.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, he banged you in the head full-force.”

“It was quite terrible, ma’am, I saw it with me own eyes,” Tom interjected helpfully with an excitement that earned him a sharp look from John.

The woman smiled at Tom then turned back to Grey with half of that smile still lingering on her lips.

“You cut him too, I saw it,” there was an interesting undertone to her voice, amusement perhaps? There was something about it Grey couldn’t quite place his finger on. “In any way, that will need stitches,” she informed him.

Grey lamented that throwaway comment while the woman prepared needle and thread. She took them out of a jar of liquid, that was most likely alcohol by the smell of it, which was one of the more bizarre things John had seen. She also proceeded to pour alcohol onto the wound which stung terribly and he would have quite preferred if he got to drink that instead of getting it into his flesh. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the position to make that choice.

Between her strange comments and even stranger practices, Grey couldn’t quite place this woman. However, it was clear that she was a practised healer. Was this the reason why the pirates kept her on the ship? Judging by that comment she tended to the pirate captain’s injury as well.

Grey knew he cut him on his thigh and he had the sudden image of that massive man forcing this slight woman to her knees to bandage his wound and who knows what else. He felt bile rise in his throat at the thought.

The piercing pain of the needle brought him back to the present moment and he found Tom watching him sympathetically. He was glad they didn’t kill the young man, but it didn’t explain why they took him as well. No one, absolutely no one would think Tom Byrd would make a good pirate. Or was it so obvious on first glance that the crew liked him and with their captain and favourite officer on board the pirates wanted to ensure the remaining crew of the Sapphire wouldn’t sink this ship?

Or were they planning on using them as a gruesome example? But if that was true, sending a healer to patch them up didn’t make any sense at all.

He had to find out exactly what kind of mess he got himself into this time in order to fabricate a plan to get out of it. Of course, he fully intended to rescue Tom and this Englishwoman as well.

The woman neatly tied off the end of the thread. Then she proceeded to bandage Grey’s head. When she was finished, she stopped, hesitating.
“I know your wrist is hurt too, and I’m sorry, but I can’t untie you.”

John nodded, giving her a slight smile.
“Of course, ma’am, I wouldn’t have you anger these criminals on my account.”

The Englishwoman’s lips twitched, but Grey couldn’t make out her full expression, because then she turned towards Tom and looked him over for injuries as well. Grey had that nagging feeling in the back of his mind again.

She prodded Tom with gentle fingers, and the young man protested most vehemently, while also blushing bright red. The woman stood up and ruffled his hair.
“A few bruises, nothing to worry about.”

She collected her supplies and was preparing to leave when Grey realized what it was that he found unusual. This woman was not afraid. John called after her just as she reached the door.

“What is your name, if you don’t mind me asking?”

She stopped and John saw her take a breath then let it out without a sound. Then, slowly she turned her head and looked him in the eye over her shoulder. Her clever eyes were the colour of gold in a stray ray of sunshine.

“Claire Fraser.”

The missing piece suddenly clicked into place. Fraser. Like James Fraser the damned pirate captain. The reason why this woman wasn’t afraid while on a ship full of pirates was because she was one of them. Grey felt a sharp stab of betrayal.

His feelings must have reflected on his face because the woman turned back towards the door and left without another word leaving both John and Tom bound and gaping after her in shock.

***

It wasn’t the richest of bounties, for sure.

Two of the smaller guns with matching ammunition. Took a while to transfer those, but they were worth it.

Five barrels of gunpowder. At least the Navy knew how to keep that dry.

Three bags of flour and one single barrel rum, the only one left on the ship. Some idiot thought that would be enough drink for two weeks. The Navy was always so stringent with their rations.

And a dozen new man rested and well-trained but unfamiliar and possibly wary of their ways.

It was nowhere near the value they usually got from a hunt and it definitely wasn’t in proportion compared to the risk of the operation.

Still, James Fraser counted it as a success, because he had the letter in his possession that was more value to him than any gold.

Fortunately, they had a few good months prior, so the moral of the men was high, and they could manage without income for a while. The crew knew before they embarked on this what they could expect. Fraser was honest with them. Before they set sail he told them it was a personal matter, not a hunt for money, and made it clear that anyone who didn’t agree with the goal of this operation was free to stay in port without fear of retaliation until they got back.

But the majority of his men were from the Highlands as well and even if they weren’t they understood the importance of kin. It was a matter of blood and loyalty and he didn’t recruit men any more who thought him weak for it. He wasn’t forced to, but could make his pick between men, because of his reputation. He was Red Jamie, feared pirate captain. If anyone thought him weak for his ways, they usually didn’t have the balls to say so to his face.

The door of his cabin opened and he glanced up from where he was bent over the maps pretending to plan their possible route, while in reality, he was just side-eyeing the still sealed letter sitting at the edge of his desk. He couldn’t find it in himself to open it yet. He knew what was in it, but reading the words would probably make his rage boil over.

Claire stepped in, with a bowl full of bloody rags in hand with a peculiar expression on her face.

“He’s awake then?” Jamie asked.

Claire put down her supplies and wiped her hand on her skirt.

“Yes, awake and all stitched up. Probably already fabricating plans with that boy by the looks of them.”

Jamie smiled and stroked a hand down his short beard that was starting to grow out. When on land he shaved a lot more frequently, as much for himself as out of consideration for his wife. But usually, the longer they sailed from shore the more he let it be. He stood up, walked over and pulled Claire in by her waist.

“Let them fabricate, Sassenach. I’m having things under control.”

They shared a look that was only possible between two people who knew each other so well there was no need for words. Claire’s initial doubt melting off her face. Jamie kissed her then, revelling in that simple and familiar touch that after all these years still made his chest fill with warmth.

When they’ve pulled apart, Claire stroked a thumb along his forehead gently.

“Don’t you need the needles again?”

Jamie touched his face self-consciously.

“Nay, ‘twas calm today. I also rather not introduce myself to our new crew members looking like a porcupine,” he added in jest.

Claire laughed.

“Well, it is better than throwing up on them, is it not?”

Jamie shook his head, feeling his lips tilt into an amused smile.
“I’m fine, Sassenach,” he said, then bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead. “Although, I’m really not sure which one of those two options would frighten them more.”

***

The man was even bigger than Grey remembered him. During their fight, he recognised the size-difference as something vague, something to be aware of. But now, seeing him in a calm state of mind he was taken aback again.

Red Jamie took up a powerful stance looking over the men gathered on the deck. His clean shirt billowed in the wind in tandem with the sails that were taking them towards a destination unknown to Grey. His tanned skin spoke of years spent out on the open sea and the rays of the setting sun lit up his hair and his short beard. Adding to his impressive appearance, there were a set of small dots tattooed along his hairline and a few just above his eyebrows. They were not as bold as some of the fierce tattoos Grey had seen in his life, small spots almost blending into his skin. But there was a pattern to them, something carrying meaning, and he wondered what it was.

He and Tom were brought out from the hold to see all the men on the ship gathered. They stood close to each other to make space for everyone speaking and joking quietly. Some were leaning against the rails, some sitting on the floor, some even climbing up to the rigging. Grey looked over at them, faces weathered, dark eyes glinting eager at the sight of the two strangers. He felt a pang of fear in the pit of his stomach and he clenched his jaw in order not to show it. He had heard many stories of the cruelty of pirates. There were many possibilities of what they might to do a navy officer and none of them were favourable outcomes.

There was a good chance the captain wanted to kill him in the most humiliating way possible, just to guarantee the loyalty of the newly recruited men. John looked over to Byrd who was pale with fear and reminded himself that the boy was still his responsibility. If he could at least make him get out of this alive, he would count it as a success.

The captain stepped forward and the murmur of men died down. Everyone looked at him with anticipation and he waited for a moment, drawing it out before he finally spoke.

Grey watched the man as he addressed his crew. He watched his body move, slow, confident steps and powerful gestures. He listened to him, deep voice persuasive and carrying. He paid attention to the words he chose when addressing the new men. He observed him in order to get a feeling for his character, to notice any weakness he might use to his advantage.

For a moment he allowed himself to acknowledge that in any other circumstance he might have appreciated the man’s physique. Then he dropped that thought just as quickly and instead focused on coming up with anything that might change the direction of events if the captain decides to make a bloody example of him.

As if sensing his thoughts the pirate’s gaze flickered towards Grey. John, who stopped paying attention to his words noticed his voice dropping at the end of a sentence. For a split second his blood ran cold in his veins and he was quite sure that this would be the moment when he is dragged forward and killed slowly and painfully.

And then, loud cheering broke out between the man making his ears ring. His breath rushed out in a relieved huff. Apparently, this was the end of tonight’s little speech and by a small miracle, he was still alive.

Blue eyes glinted with a touch of mischief and the captain inclined his head sharply. Upon this sign, two men grabbed John by the arm and started dragging him after the pirate. He threw a gaze behind towards Tom, who looked just as startled. He saw another man grab the young man’s arm leading him in the opposite direction.

Grey was brought to the cabin of the captain. The men pushed him in unceremoniously and shut the door firmly behind.

The red-haired pirate was leaning against his desk, with his back to Grey. The Englishwoman was there as well lighting an oil lamp by the small window. Grey met her gaze and her expression was probably meant to be carefully blank but carried a touch of sadness instead.

Grey straightened his back, drawing himself up to his full height. Even beat up and tied he wasn’t going to give the impression of being frightened. He already let himself slip once out there and he could not afford it again.

The man turned around and gave him a slow once-over. Then he rounded the desk and sat down in the high-backed chair.

“Sit,” he gestured towards the chair on the other side of the desk. Grey shot a glance at the woman leaning against the wall, his instincts bristling against the thought of sitting while a lady was standing. Except, she wasn’t really a lady, but the wife of a known thief. Grey sat.

“I know you are thinking of us as monsters,” the man spoke up. His voice was just as deep ad before, but strangely softer now that he didn’t have to raise it against the wind. “But we’re not. I hope my treatment of you has made that point. It is also my hope that we are able to speak as man to man.”

Grey scoffed.

“You have killed many of my men and convinced others of desertion,” he said, voice even. “That is still a crime, sir.”

The captain’s face hardened.

“It was an honest fight. And those men have a right to choose about their fate.”

Grey felt his anger rising in his chest, giving him courage.

“You, sir, have attacked an English warship and assaulted several officers of His Majesty’s Navy,” he spat. “Sooner or later you’re going to hang for it. Or if not for this particular set of crimes then for others you have no doubt committed in the past. It won’t change the outcome, whether or not you add to the list by nailing me to the mainmast.”

“Wheel then, I have bad news for ye, my lord,” the man said, voice mocking. It made Grey incredibly wary that he knew of his title. “As much as ye apparently want to die I’m not done with ye yet. We need to talk about something and one way or the other ye are going to help me reach my goal.”

Grey clenched his teeth.
“You are a fool if you think I’m going to help you.”

The man smiled, but without any warmth.
“Just ye being here is already helping me. Ye see the particular matter we need to talk about has something to do with ye too. And it is of great importance to me.”

He looked him in the eye, and there was an intensity of his gaze Grey hasn’t seen before.

“Because it is about my son.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

In the ship’s belly, the crew was gathered for the evening meal. John halted in the door, suddenly remembering that a naval officer entering a room full of pirates might not be welcomed. His stomach, however, grumbled loudly. Now, with the immediate danger gone it let him known that the last time he had eaten had been quite a while ago.

He looked around in the room, meeting a few curious, and a few hostile gazes, looking for a quiet corner or at least a group of men who would rather focus on their supper than on starting a fight. Then he spotted the unmistakable brown mop of hair that belonged to Tom Byrd and he let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He walked over to the table and Tom looked up, face suddenly alight with excitement.
“Cap—“ Grey raised a hand, cutting him off before he could finish that sentiment.
He slid on to the bench beside the young man.
“I think you should stop calling me that, Tom,” he said curtly. He didn’t think the people in the room would appreciate it, especially not in the bright, excited voice Byrd usually used for the greeting, that carried quite well.

Tom let out the excess breath in a huff.
“Me lord?” he said instead, tentatively.
Grey nodded.
“That will do.”
Tom beamed at him as if he gave him an exceptionally kind compliment, and Grey felt a sudden tightness in his throat because until a moment ago there had been a chance that his rash actions got this bright young man killed. He only then noticed Tom’s company. Sitting across the table were three people, looking at them curiously.

Right across Grey sat a man with his dark hair brushed back and tied at the nape of his neck. He had delicate features and would have easily fitted in at a gentlemen’s club, if not for the silver hook in place of his left hand. Grey quickly looked away.
On the other end of the bench sat a younger man, hair plucked from the sides of his head, the rest on the top left long and put into long braids adorned with a few silver beads. Grey saw natives on the Colonies with hair like that, but this man was fair-skinned, simply tanned by the sun. He had tattoos on his face, a double line of tiny dots from the bridge of his nose across his cheeks. They were very similar to the tattoos John saw on the captain’s forehead. Now that he thought about it, the cheekbones were similar too. He wondered if they were related.

Between them sat a young woman, face pleasant staring at him openly with big blue eyes. Just like the captain’s wife she had a confident air about her, something John found most unusual, but not unpleasantly so. She pushed a plate of food towards John.

John only hesitated for a moment before thanking her and pulling the food towards him. God, he was hungry. It wouldn’t have quite mattered what it was as long as it was edible, but the meal was far from the worst Grey had at sea. There were actual bits of meat in the stew and not just salt, but spices as well by the taste of it. There were also disconcertingly green bits of leaf or some sort of vegetable floating around, but John could look past that. Tom also had a plate of it in front of him and was chewing on the corner of a hard biscuit while eyeing their companions suspiciously.

“What happened, me lord?” he asked in a hushed voice.

John shoved another spoonful of food into his mouth, while he contemplated how much to say.
“Captain Fraser and I reached an agreement,” he said carefully. It would probably do no harm if word spread that they were somehow useful to the captain. It may reduce their chances of getting beaten just for fun.

Tom, however, looked at him, jaw hanging open, giving Grey an unwanted and not so flattering view of a bite of half-chewed biscuit in his mouth. After a beat, Byrd finally closed his mouth and swallowed.

“We’re not about to become pirates too, me lord, surely?”

There was a snort from the other side of the table. Tom whipped his head around and fixed the fellow with the face tattoos with one of his impressive glares. After a moment the other young man conceded and raised his hands in a mock-surrendering gesture, his face breaking into a not entirely friendly, but mischievous sort of grin, so reminiscent of some of the more undisciplined young naval officers Grey had to deal with in the past, he couldn’t help, but find it somewhat charming.

“I’m sure ye would make a decent pirate. What’s yer name, lad?”
Tom scrunched up his nose but held firmly onto his manners.

“Tom Byrd, at your service.”
“I’m Ian Murray,” the man answered, his casual manner in complete contrast to Byrd’s icy politeness. “This is my cousin Fergus and his wife, Marsali, both Frasers” he introduced the others at the table.

Grey nodded towards the other man and slightly bowed towards his wife, as much as he could manage while sitting. She apparently found this very funny, because she giggled, slapping at her husband’s arm in amusement, who grinned at her with obvious affection.

John tried not to take it personally. Apart from occasional passengers, he really did not have a lot of experience in dealing with women on ships. Definitely not female pirates.

He took another bite of stew and immediately frowned. Christ, it was a leaf. He chewed at the stem and swallowed it as quick as possible. Apparently not quick enough, because the man introduced as Fergus noticed and let out a pleasant laugh.

“Milady says that it keeps your teeth from falling out,” he said with a slight French accent. That could have only referred to one particular woman.

“Well, it certainly helps bulk up the rations,” he muttered but took another bite from the food.

“Are ye a real lord then?” Marsali asked playfully, leaning forward and rolling her “r”-s just like Murray or the captain. Christ, she was Scottish as well. Were they Jacobite allies perhaps?

Grey shrugged and idly rubbed at his wrists. The course rope had taken the skin off some parts, it was itchy, but burned faintly when he scratched at it.
“Yes, my father was a duke,” he answered simply. Then, to ensure no one would get any ideas about ransoming him, he continued, picking up the thread of the conversation from earlier. “It is exactly because of my family connections that Mr— “he cleared his throat and corrected himself, “Captain Fraser can use my help in a personal matter. After which he promised to deliver us into a port of our choice. Unscathed,” he added pointedly, sending what he hoped was a reassuring glance towards Tom.

“Why would you do that? Help him, I mean?” Murray asked.
Grey considered his answer carefully.
“Because the matter seems to concern a young man who is quite innocent in terms of our conflict and whom we are both fond of.”

Fergus nodded with a little smile.
“Milord was quite sure he would be able to convince you, you know?”

Grey shrugged, trying not to show any emotion on his face.
“Captain Fraser has defeated me in an honest fight and spared my life. It wouldn’t be proper for me to stab him in the back in return,” he answered. “We will get this business done together and then part ways. Should we ever meet again afterwards, we will do so in an official capacity.”

What he didn’t say, of course, was that the parting of ways might not be so peaceful after he successfully crossed Fraser’s plan in the last minute. He had no intention of letting a pirate kidnap William Ransom, whether said pirate was the boy’s father or not.

They were eating quietly for a few minutes and Grey thought he was beginning to get used to the strange company when he saw something white move towards their table. He turned and saw a huge wolf heading their way. Grey took a double-take. No, it was a dog. A very wolfish looking dog, but a dog nonetheless.

The animal trotted straight to Murray, who scratched behind his ear in a familiar gesture. However, the dog quickly seemed to take interest in the newcomers. It rounded the corner of the table and sniffed at Grey’s boot. He allowed it for a second, as a way of polite introduction then ever so slowly pulled his feet under himself, preparing to distance himself from the animal just in case. The dog looked up with clever eyes, tilting its head in a considering way, then turned away with a huff and headed towards Tom.

Upon the animal’s approach, the young man stilled as a caught rabbit.
“Rollo,” Murray, apparently the master of the beast said in a warning tone. Rollo, however, continued to sniff at Tom interestedly. Then to the horror of all witnesses, the dog pushed its head into Tom’s lap, looked up at him with huge eyes and let out a low, pleading whine.

Byrd looked down at the dog with equally big eyes, as if looking away would cost him his life. He cleared his throat.
“Ehm, do you mebbe want…?”

Tentatively he fished a piece of meat out of his stew, apparently thinking it a fair price for not getting eaten. He pinched it between his fingers and held it out for the dog, looking apprehensive. Grey held his breath, fearing that the animal would think Tom’s fingers just as appetizing as the piece of meat.

Rollo, however, displayed a surprising amount of grace by taking the bite of food gently, lapping up the juice from Tom’s fingers. The young man let out a dazed giggle and emboldened by this unexpected gesture of friendship he scratched the dog’s head. It was the first real laugh Grey heard from Tom since the fight and he let himself relax ever so slightly. His eyes met Murray’s across the table and saw him hiding a smile in his glass as well.

***

Grey slept like a rock that night. After supper, he met with Fraser again and composed a letter to William, then collapsed in one of the hammocks, and promptly passed out. He was surprised when Fraser gave him his dagger back. It helped him feel more secure while sleeping in a room full of unknown men and he was quite content when upon waking he observed that no one tried killing him during the night. He couldn’t tell what time it was, but Tom was still curled up in a snoring little lump in the hammock next to his.

He got up and ventured up to the deck, hissing when his sleeve brushed against his wrist. The rope burned an angry red line around both of his wrists, on the right more so than on the left. The place where the rope cut into his skin looked swollen and was sensitive. He pulled his sleeve down, covering the marks. He might be able to find some drinking water to clean it if not, saltwater will do just fine. He was not going to ask the woman for help.

Unfortunately for him, he barely had time to stretch enjoying the freshly cold morning air, when he spotted Claire Fraser leaning against the port-side rail. Just when he got over this unlucky surprise, he noticed something even more shocking: the woman was wearing trousers.

John, who usually wasn’t swayed by the female figure did a double-take and felt a blush creep up on his neck. He blamed it on his mind still being clogged by the deep sleep and ignored that appreciative sound in the back of his head that shamelessly suggested that a shapely backside was an agreeable sight no matter whom it was attached to.

He snapped his gaze away and cleared his throat, drawing her attention to himself. She turned, a few curls coming loose from underneath the scarf she used to bind her hair with. They fluttered around her face while she gave him a hesitant smile.
“Want some tea?” she asked, and Grey recognized a white flag when he saw one. He pulled himself together. He was a gentleman, he could let go of this irrational grudge.
“I would very much appreciate that ma’am.”
“Oh, please. Call me Claire. I’m serious,” she added seeing John’s expression. He reluctantly nodded.

There was a barrel next to her with a teapot and a few metal mugs on top of it. She had her hands curled around one, but now took up another and poured some tea into it. John accepted it gratefully and he too leaned against the railing, looking out towards the horizon.

It was an overcast day, with a powerful wind that filled out the sails, and woken up John better than the strong tea. The ocean glinted in shades of deep turquoise that only got on near-stormy days like this. The waves were tall, not enough to be dangerous but the La Dame Blanche was a small ship and she bobbed up and down with each wave. With the wind around his ears, Grey could imagine this was what a seagull felt while taking flight. His stomach flipped from the movement and he was filled with an unexpected amount glee. It wasn’t his ship, but it was a fine one and he was alive to feel it ride the ocean.

“Jamie said this storm won’t catch us,” Claire said nursing her tea once more.
John squinted at the horizon. When they took them they were still a good two weeks away from Boston, but this ship was faster and they had no care for heavily loaded merchant ships.
He turned and leaned his back against the railing and looked towards the dark clouds making a few calculations. Without any instruments, he used his hands to map out angles and aid him in thinking.
“I second your husband’s opinion.”

The movement caused his sleeve to ride up slightly and was startled when Claire caught his hand. Her fingers were cold and their grip surprisingly firm. She put the mug down on the barrel and pushed John’s sleeve up with her other hand, exposing his wrist. She examined the redness with a frown.
“You should have told me before it has gotten this bad.”

Grey snatched his hand back and pushed his sleeve back down, ignoring the flare of pain, strangely offended on behalf of his wrist that had just been insulted.
“It’s just a scratch, it’ll heal,” he bristled.

“It will heal after I’ve cleaned it properly and bandaged it with some ointment,” she said calmly. Grey still couldn’t get used to hearing her speak such polite English like himself, it being so at odds with their company.

John didn’t want to be coddled by her, whether it was because of his pride, or because he didn’t want to own her anything, he didn’t know. Even gentlemen were allowed some pettiness from time to time, he decided.
“You don’t like the reminder that I’m not here of my own free will, do you?” he snapped.

Claire pressed her lips into a thin line. Before she could answer, John spotted movement from the corner of his eye and saw the captain step onto the deck.

“If you excuse me,” he clipped. “There is a matter of importance I need to discuss with the captain.” Why he though Red Jamie was safer company than his healer wife at this moment he didn’t stop to examine closely.

Fraser, who heard the last part of the conversation looked at him, surprised.
“Ye do?”
John was prepared to come up with something sufficiently vague on the spot but was startled by the man’s looks. He was just as handsome as yesterday, although John promptly pushed that thought to the back of his mind. However, Fraser was also significantly paler and there were dark circles under his eyes. Frankly, he looked as if he didn’t get a wink of sleep last night, which would have been very unusual after a successful and no doubt exhausting fight.

“Well, gentlemen,” Claire spoke up behind him, “it’s a lucky thing that I have a matter of importance to discuss with the both of you as well. Namely, your well-being.”

Fraser sent John a long-suffering look that startled him with its openness.
“I’m just fine, Claire,” the captain said, the way he held onto the rail with white knuckles belying his words.
“No, Jamie,” Claire replied firmly. “I’ve already allowed this to go on further than I should have. You’re not well. With the storm approaching it will only get worse, and you will be needed.”

John was surprised by the boldness of her words. Now that he looked at Fraser more closely though, he did look a touch green in the face. A particularly big wave crashed against the hull of the ship and the man screwed his eyes shut, lips pressing into a thin, pale line. It was then when it dawned on John what the symptoms resembled.

Seasickness usually passed after t a couple of days and while some people suffered more from it than others, Grey never in his life heard about a seasick pirate, or any seaman suffering from this illness for that matter. He knew if he gave into the sudden burst of amusement that threatened to bubble out of him though it would get himself killed. He bit his lip. Unfortunately, the captain caught the gesture. His expression darkened, and John almost started to worry but then Fraser’s eyes flicked down to his lips again and the most peculiar expression shifted across his face.

John’s mind could not comprehend it fully, but his body apparently understood it just fine. His stomach flipped, and maybe this was how it felt like to be seasick. Yes, he almost convinced himself the feeling was brought on by the waves. It couldn’t be what he thought it was, surely.

Whether Claire noticed the sudden shift between them or not, she used the lack of protest to her advantage. She put her hands on her hips and glared at them.
“Both of you, stubborn men are going to come with me. Now,” she declared.

Fraser caught Grey’s eyes and his lips twitched in genuine amusement, breaking whatever else had been there.
“Dinna fight it, mo charaid. Now ye’ll ken who’s running this ship, aye?” he joked.

His dark blue eyes were twinkling with amusement and John wanted to get lost in them. He warned himself not to. For all, he knew the unfamiliar words he used to address him could easily have been an insult. At the same time, he didn’t protest further.

Claire Fraser huffed and headed below deck, clearly expecting them to follow. Fraser surprised John by giving him another conspiring smile, before turning to follow his wife. John couldn’t help but notice that the captain’s trousers were quite tight as well, and if his gaze lingered on the back of those muscular thighs no one needed to know that.

Grey was startled out of his musings when they’ve reached a room usually dedicated to the ship’s doctor, although it wasn’t like any room John has seen before. There were sturdy shelves around the walls with neatly labelled bottles and vials, clearly made to last the hardships of sailing. Claire Fraser moved with practised ease in the room. Fraser too seemed familiar with the setting and took a seat on a chest by the wall.

Claire gestured John over to a chair.
“Sit down,” she said and John Grey, grown man and lieutenant in His Majesty’s navy meekly obeyed like a schoolboy. Claire Fraser went to one of the shelves and after running her fingers over the labels she pulled out a bottle, pouring its contents into a mug and handing it to her husband.

“Here, drink this.” Fraser sniffed at it and frowned.
“Ginger again? No turtle soup, Sassenach?” he teased with a smile. Claire’s expression softened.
“Well, if you get me a turtle next time, I’m sure Marsali and I can come up with a recipe for making it into a soup.”
“With a healthy dose of brandy, ye ken?”

John resisted against being pulled into their casual conversation like this, but his lips still twitched into a faint smile.

His attention was diverted again when Claire pulled out something from a drawer, a narrow wooden box. The contents of it were carefully wrapped in a dark cloth, and when she unfolded it something glinted in the light. She placed the bundle on the desk, the cloth falling away to reveal long narrow needles, that appeared to be made out of gold. John stared at it. They were very unusual, no doubt expensive and seemingly impractical.

Claire took up a clean piece of cloth and poured something on it that was some kind of strong alcohol by the smell of it. She walked back to Fraser and gently wiped down his face. John couldn’t help but stare, both because he had absolutely no idea where this was going and also because it was strangely captivating to see her touch one of the scariest pirates of their time with unconcealed affection.

She rinsed her hands with the alcohol then took up one of the tiny needles holding it delicately between thumb and middle finger, and lifted it up to Fraser’s face. She stroked the skin of his forehead with the fingers on her other hand as if smoothing out a canvas. John watched, curious as she placed the tip of the needle on one of the tattooed dots on the captain’s forehead. She tapped the other end with her forefinger, piercing the skin and John winced instinctively. He could understand the use of needles when it came to sewing a wound together, but he could barely suffer them even then. Watching this was much more unnerving.

Claire gently adjusted the needle, slightly pushing it in, then reached for the next. Fraser let her, sitting motionless with the patience of a saint. Each little dot on the captain’s face received a needle, and there were even a few sticking out from behind his ears and from his scalp, like golden wheat amongst the red autumn leaves. If that were not enough Claire proceeded to stick a few into the man’s wrists and ankles too. In all honestly, by the end of it, Fraser looked like a very large and very grumpy porcupine.

John tried not to chuckle at the thought. Fraser, observant again, caught his eye and held his gaze, expression more exasperated than anything else.
“Aye, I cannae suffer rocky waters like this easily. Now, will ye stop laughing at me, man?”

This only caused the grin John desperately tried to reel in to break out on his face for a second. He shook his head and schooled his features.
“I apologize. I just… never saw a treatment like this. I also never thought someone, who suffers so on a ship would make a living at sea,” he confessed. Meanwhile, Claire Fraser, apparently satisfied with how she made her husband into a pincushion turned her attention towards John.

Fraser fixed him with a scrutinizing look, then sighed.
“It wasna entirely my choice, ye ken?” he said. “Believe me, I would choose to settle down and work the land instead.”

“Why didn’t you?” John asked, surprising even himself that he merely sounded curious, but not judgemental. “Were you accused of a serious crime?”

Claire stopped where she was folding his sleeves back.
“I was,” she said startling Grey. “Witchcraft,” she said in a voice that was both mocking and disgusted. John looked at him with horror. He, of course, didn’t believe in such nonsense as witchcraft and it always left a sour taste in his mouth seeing women – and men occasionally – being executed on this account. Although, he could see how if anyone, Claire Fraser would make superstitious masses uneasy.
“You made some enemies with your opinions, didn’t you?” he asked, not without sympathy.

She shrugged, picked up the bottle from before and poured alcohol over John’s wrists which stung like hell. John bit his lips as she wiped the skin down with a cloth. Fraser winced, whether it was from his words or her actions John couldn’t tell.

It provided some perspective, at least. John always prided himself in being an intelligent person who was able to see many sides of an argument. While there was no arguing that they were criminals, they also maybe weren’t of the worst kind.

He gestured towards the captain’s face, coming back to the original topic.
“So the dots are for knowing where to put the needles?” he asked.
Claire smiled.
“Well, not for me. I know where to put them.”

She took up a jar and opened it. It contained some kind of fragrant ointment and she proceeded to spread it gently across the two red lines on John’s wrists.
“I met a Chinese man once and he taught me how to do this. It has been the most effective treatment for Jamie’s seasickness, you see. However, there is always a possibility that he needs them and I’m not here to do it,” she said, face clouding slightly.
The captain spoke up.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach, being stabbed with the wee things so many times also leaves a bit of a mark ye ken and the tattoos cover it up nicely.”

John had a distinct feeling Fraser wasn’t a particularly vain man and wasn’t ashamed of any scar, but the words did put a smile on Claire’s face and that was probably their original intent. She took up two clean strips of linen and wrapped both of John’s wrists with them, finishing up her work. It was such a strange contrast to being crudely bound just last night that John couldn’t suppress a shiver.

He looked at Fraser and found a peculiar expression on his face. Maybe it was the side-effect of sitting with those needles stuck into him, or maybe… He followed the captain’s gaze. He would be damned if the bloody man wasn’t appreciatively staring at his wife’s backside, as she was putting her supplies away.

He must have made a sound because Fraser’s gaze snapped towards him. John felt his cheeks burn. He made the mistake of looking at Claire, who just bent down over a chest, and… no. He quickly looked away, gaze stumbling into blue cat eyes again. Fraser’s expression darkened.

John shot up from the chair and hastily rolled his sleeve down. He cleared his throat.
“I appreciate the, uh… I’ll leave you to it,” he stammered, then quickly stumbled out of the room, before Fraser could get any ideas of strangling him.

He hoped for the most favourable winds possible because he wasn’t sure he would survive two weeks being in the company of so many bloody Frasers.