The late spring sunshine was warm and bright, one of those days of true beauty in Edinburgh, a few fluffy clouds blowing lazily across the clear blue sky, just beginning to blush with sunset. It had been a long day, but the print shop of Malcolm and Grey had just completed its first full month in business. Jamie and John walked home together, Willie perched atop Jamie's shoulders. They were bone tired, but it was the satisfying kind of exhaustion that only came from a hard day's work.
Tom Byrd and Fergus had joined them in Edinburgh a few weeks after Jamie had sent word to Lallybroch. He told his sister and Ian about Willie and Dunsany’s death and the execution of his will. He’d left out the finer details about Geneva, Ransom, and his cousin.
The five of them had become quite the little family in the few months they’d been together. Jamie had helped his cousin Jared to open a distributorship for his wine business and taught Fergus and Byrd how to run it. Once it was self-sufficient, Jamie and John had begun to spend their time establishing their printing business. It was hard work, but intellectually stimulating. Jamie glanced at John and smiled. The pleasant company throughout the day was definitely the best part.
Jamie and John climbed the front steps to the house they all shared and John unlocked the door, letting it swing open. It was dark inside, the setting sun not reaching beyond the foyer. Jamie furrowed his brow. Odd. Wee Byrd and Fergus should have made it home already, and surely they would have lit at least one candle. He set Willie down, and the boy took off like a cannonball toward their small parlor, likely looking for a toy.
“Da, come look!” Willie called.
John and Jamie followed to find that Fergus and Tom had indeed come home. They were at opposite ends of the settee, neither touching nor looking at each other, both of them wearing rather sheepish expressions. They had removed coats and waistcoats—there they were tossed over a chair—and their shirts were untucked and rumpled. Tom’s hair was disheveled, both of them with swollen lips and a general air of impassioned debauchery about them.
“Oh, you are home, Milord,” Fergus said, a little too casually.
Oh, so it’s like that. The nature of Jamie’s relationship with John was no secret under their own roof, and there was likewise no safer place for Fergus and Tom in all of Scotland than in this house. Their apparently miserable guilt was all the more amusing for how needless it was. Jamie pressed his lips together into a firm line to keep from laughing. “So this is why ye were so happy to share a room with wee Byrd, aye?”
Tom stood to his feet, frantically trying to put himself back together. “Yes, well…” He looked at John. “Me Lord… I did not expect you until much later.”
“Clearly.” John was obviously fighting back a smile of his own, but he managed to retain an air of disapproval, most likely just to ruffle Tom’s easily ruffled feathers.
“Milord, it was all my idea—” Fergus began.
Jamie waved his hand to silence him. “Willie, be a good lad and go play in yer room for a bit, aye? Dinna touch the fireplace, I’ll come help.”
Willie scampered off with only a muttered, “Yes, Da.”
It was a sufficient enough distraction to allow Jamie time to lock down the laughter that kept threatening to bubble to the surface. He gestured from Fergus to Tom. “This is what ye both want?” The two young men exchanged glances and nodded. “And ye’re being careful?” More earnest nodding. Jamie acknowledged it with a brief nod of his own, took one look at John still struggling to keep his composure, and doubled over, laughing.
John started laughing too, which only made Tom look even more flustered as he stuffed his shirt back into his breeches and pulled his waistcoat on. John finally managed to calm himself down, then he shook his head. “Dear God, our lives certainly have grown quite strange over the past year, haven’t they?”
“Aye,” Jamie said, wiping his eyes. “Aye, they have. Tis a good strange though.” He kissed John on the cheek. “I’ll check on Willie and then see to supper.”
“What are we having for supper, love? I’m famished.”
“That depends,” Jamie said, arching an eyebrow at Fergus. “Did ye bring home the fish like I asked ye?”
Fergus nodded. “Oui, Milord.” As if only just realizing how dark the rooms were, he rose and began building a fire in the modest hearth.
“Merci. Fish then.” Jamie stopped at the little table by the door and picked up an envelope. “This is for you, mo leannan.” He handed the letter to John. “It’s from Helwater.”
John tore the letter open and began to read. Several emotions crossed over his face from surprise to confusion to humor. Then he just laughed and announced, “We’ve been invited to a wedding.”
“Oh Aye? Whose?”
“Isobel’s… and Harry-fucking-Quarry.”
“What? As in Colonel Quarry?” Jamie came to stand next to John, reading over his shoulder in the low light. “Well, I didna see that coming. How the devil did that get arranged?”
John gave a helpless shrug, still looking dumbfounded. “I suppose Hal must have gone for a visit and Quarry accompanied him.”
Jamie shook his head and made a hmph of impressed bewilderment. “Weel. Good for Handsome Harry. Oh God, he’s not writing his own vows, is he?”
“For all our sakes, especially Lady Isobel’s, we should certainly hope not,” John said. “You don’t think he’s written any of that poetry for Isobel?” He shuddered.
“Christ, I hope not,” Jamie said, making a disgusted face, horrifically forced rhymes with words like cunninglingus spinning unbidden through his mind.
Willie bounded back into the room and barreled into John’s legs. “Papa, my room is dark and Da didn’t come.” He jumped up and grabbed John’s hand that still held the letter and began dragging him off. “Come on, Papa. Want to play horse.”
“Alright, Willie. We’ll play horse while Da makes supper,” John said with the look of a man who’d just found his way out of helping with the meal. He leaned up and kissed Jamie on the cheek.
Jamie swatted John on the backside as he walked by. “I want my own game of horse later, John Grey.”
“Yes, but remember it’s my turn to be the horse.”