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Answers and Prayers

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When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. Oscar Wilde had said that--or would say that in a century or so. A warning to all who would trust to hope. It flitted through the back of my mind as Jamie appeared at the window, pistol in hand, declaring "I'll thank ye to take yer hands off my wife!"

I can't say why I thought it. Some subconscious warning, perhaps, advising me that events were not to play out as I'd so fervently imagined. Certainly, my only conscious reaction was relief--the lifting of a great weight of dread which paradoxically caused me to sink boneless into the desk. He'd found me in time, just as I'd prayed and not a second too soon.

My first true hint that something was amiss came in the long pause, and then more clearly in Randall's familiar voice. "Good God." An understandable sentiment, to be sure, but the tone was all wrong. He sounded shocked and startled, yes, but also amused and . . . reverent? I sensed his growing smile in the same way I used to sense when Frank was hiding some secret amusement, so his sudden laugh was not altogether shocking. "Dougal Mackenzie neglected to mention that you'd married the stripe-backed thief!" The disdain in his voice was a thin veneer covering very real pleasure despite the fact that Jamie, better prepared and better armed, held the upper hand by most measurable standards. The next words were not directed at me, and I felt my relevance quickly fade in Black Jack's eyes. "How's my handiwork looking these days?"

Don't engage him, Jamie, I silently begged, just blow his head off. He could do it. The Captain had straightened while I consciously pressed myself against the desk, putting as much distance as possible between two bodies still pressed together at the pelvis. Even the earliest pistols were accurate at a range of three yards.

"Very well," Jamie climbed through the window, keeping the pistol perfectly level all the while, "Despite your best efforts."

My face froze. I wondered if Jamie realized that by stepping forward to face Randal like a duelist, he was accepting the captain's position as a man in charge of a hostage.

Now, Randall's voice was speculative and cautiously hopeful. "I don't suppose you'd . . ." My breath caught, "You'd show me?" I kept my face perfectly still, not wanting to alert Jamie to the turn of events. The thing that I'd felt pressed against me that had frozen my lungs turned out not to be a trick of Jack's elaborate uniform or my own panicked imagination. It wasn't a gun in his pocket. The sight of Jamie's face and the thought of his scars was causing Black Jack to harden as even my screams hadn't.

Jamie's face hardened. "Be the last thing you ever saw."

The laugh was clearer the second time, growing in confidence even as Jack was. The man's hand was still pressed against my breast like an afterthought, but his dagger sat just inches away. "Well. Only risk brings the possibility of reward."

Reward. I was the only leverage he had towards attaining such rewards, and it would be scarcely a second before both men would realize it. "Just shoot the bastard, Jamie!"

But my sentiments, intended to rouse Jamie out of the frozen stalemate, had that effect on Jack Randal instead. In a sudden flurry of movement, his right hand gripped my hair and yanked while the other left my breast and closed on cold steel. Before Jamie had any chance to fire, I was hauled up and kept pressed against the man's front while I continued to be all too aware of how much he was enjoying the proceedings. "Do! Shoot me. Shoot us both. And alarm the entire Fort to your presence."

My body nearly hummed with hatred. Damn him. And damn me for not thinking of the likely effect of a gun blast in the confines of a civilized British fort. Jamie's lip twitched, but he did not fire. Randall sighed, a slow, shuddering "ohhh" of pleasure. No screams were necessary now, not with a line of steel at my throat and my new husband just a few paces away. "It appears," the hand in my hair tugged roughly, "That we're to have an audience, madam." His hand slid lower as his voice dipped to a bedroom whisper. "I think we should endeavor to enjoy ourselves." His breath was hot on my ear. "I certainly shall."

It was the same fate I'd been facing and raging against the moment Jamie had arrived, but the balance had shifted irrevocably. Instead of thinking of myself--of injury or degradation or that brutish deserter--I could only think of what this must be doing to Jamie, to be helpless and have to watch. I'd seen this phenomenon in soldiers more often that I could say. On the battlefield, many seemed to think only of the man next to them, to the point of neglecting their own injuries. Perhaps the threats to one's own life and limbs were too horrible to consider. Or perhaps it truly was worse to see another cut down than to experience it oneself.

I could sense Black Jack thinking--trying to turn his heated passions into actionable plans. Some of the lust dropped out of his voice and he spoke very clearly and evenly. "Now. Lay that pistol on the table, and let us commence with the evening's . . . entertainments."

I fully expected Jamie to explode at that and try to rush Captain Randall, but he only lifted his chin slightly. The ghost of a calculating look stole over his eyes. The barrel of the pistol dropped not one inch.

"Do it." The words were cool and relaxed, the tone of an aristocrat ordering a servant about some menial task. Still not dropping the gun, Jamie took a bounding step forward. I felt the edge of the knife dig a hair deeper into my skin as my captor unconsciously retreated a half step. "Slowly." There was at least a hint of tension in his voice now, as he pulled me back against the wall. Another step back as Jamie took three forward and Black Jack had nowhere to go. His voice was still controlled, but firmer now. "I will slit her throat, I swear to God."

Jamie seemed to be struggling with himself, and no wonder. If he put down the pistol he would be nearly as helpless as me. We'd both be lost to whatever depredations the Captain of Dragoons chose to inflict on us. But if he didn't . . .

His hand dropped, then dropped a bit more. The barrel was pointed at the ceiling, but with a slight adjustment it could again be in line with Jack's face. "Slowly." Jamie's eyes dropped, like he couldn't stand to look at me. The gun hit the table with a definitive thud.

A shudder ran through Jack--too slight for Jamie to see, but I felt it. His cock felt like iron pressing against me despite the many layers between us. His voice was still careful, but a vein of mockery ran through it. "That wasn't too hard." I felt him nod. "Back you go." Now, his words were pitched to be almost soothing, like he knew Jamie was on the verge of losing control, a half-tamed animal pushed too far. Their effect on Jamie was slight. He stood frozen, and this had to be killing him. I wondered if he might now understand better the pain his sister had gone through long ago, forced to watch him beaten with the flat of a sword.

"Do it!" Now, the words came out in a scream that made me jump and wrench my neck in Black Jack's grasp. Jamie's hands were clenched in tight fists, but he backed up a few paces. His eyes were hard and his face was shining with . . . sweat? Tears? Staring out through tears of my own, it was hard to say for sure.

There was no saving me, but Jamie still had an open window behind him. Still had a chance, if only I could convince him it was worth taking. "Get out of here, Jamie!" To my shame, my voice came out less commanding and more hysterical than I'd hoped, "Just go!"

He met my gaze silently, his own face composed even as Jack's knife shifted from his left hand to his right. The captain was moving me forward, back toward our previous position on the desk. His voice dropped back into the previous octave meant to soothe a beast. "Everyone keep calm." The wood of the desk was again pressed against my thighs, though Jack kept my face close to his by way of the sharp line across my throat. "Easy does it . . ." A bare whisper. I glanced down and found that he'd placed me just beside the pistol. His left hand now hovered between it and me, as if in indecision.

The gun was four inches to his left, my skirts two inches to his right. Which would he choose? If he went for the gun, he meant to kill Jamie, not just control him. Control he had in plenty just by the nearness of my body to his blade. But if he went for me . . . if he chose to continue the "entertainments" . . .The thought froze my heart and curdled my stomach, but it would buy us time. Perhaps time for Mackenzie reinforcements to arrive or for one of us to stumble across some sort of plan. Despite what it meant, I prayed he would go for me, but I could not trust to prayer.

I lifted my foot and stomped down on Jack's instep as hard as I could.

He hissed. His knife left a trickling scrape along the side of my neck as his other hand yanked me down to the tabletop by my hair. My face thudded against the polished wood, but I managed to turn my head so that my cheekbone took the impact rather than my nose. "Little bitch!" The hand in my hair jerked cruelly, but the worst of it was that I was now staring at the hearth, unable to see Jamie or judge what effect this might have on him. My hopes that I could long divert Randall's attentions were quickly dashed as his next words were for Jamie. "First she orders you to fire, now she orders you to flee. Who's the man in this marriage, Fraser?"

"I'll cut off your balls, I swear," I snarled, even as my hands twisted in my bonds, seeking to do just that.

This, finally, had the effect I was hoping for, as Randal pressed his weight down from behind to keep me in place. His hand left my hair to run tauntingly down my back to the gathered folds of my skirts. By shear will, I forced myself up enough that I could turn my head even as my captor jerked a handful of fabric upward. I found Jamie's face a good deal whiter than it had been a moment ago, and the beginnings of panic were gleaming in his eyes. The window . . . he could still escape. "Jamie!"

Another fistful of fabric was yanked upward, and now I felt the brush of familiar fingertips against the outside of my thigh. Jamie's composure began to crack. "I'll answer yer question, Randall, if you'll take one from me." Black Jack paused and the muscles pressed against me gave another anticipatory shudder. Jamie's voice fell back into a dangerously controlled register. "Jus' what kind of a man is it who's so afraid of a woman that he looks to destroy her while there's a man plottin' his demise not ten feet away?" His lips were bared in a mocking half-smile, and I wanted to scream at him.

Randall laughed, low and satisfied. His cock, which had wilted a little from the pain in his foot, stood firm again. "So, that's your play is it Jamie? You think you can take the bitch's place . . . and in so doing provide me better amusement?"

I'm certain Jamie hadn't meant his words as a suggestion, at least not an explicit one, but he was always quick on the uptake. His smile didn't shrink much. "Aye. Amusement, play, whatever ye wish so long as it keeps yer hands off the lady."

"No. No!" I thrashed and kicked until Black Jack jerked on my hair again. "Don't do it, I'm fine!"

"Again with the orders," Randall said coolly, "It seems there is to be some competition for my attentions." He wasn't looking at me. "Can you make me a better offer?"

Jamie held out a hand, half-placating despite the fire in his eyes. "Unhand her and see for yerself."

"No!" I twisted hard, not caring that I lost a chunk of hair. I stared up into Randall's face even as it curled into another cruel smile. "You beast! He doesn't understand what he's promising, you hear me? He doesn't know!"

"Enough, Claire." It was the first time Jamie had spoken to me. His face was now still and full of aching resignation. The hand seemed to be reaching out towards my face, though he still stood ten feet away. "I ken well enough what he's implying. I may be new to marriage, but I've seen enough of the black in men's souls." His eyes flicked up to Black Jack's once more. "So, what'll it be, Randall?"

Black Jack paused a long moment, considering. "Let us be precise. You are asking to take your wife's place at this moment, and bear whatever I might have done to her, if only I let her go?"

"That's the thrust of it, I suppose."

"You understand, I will need assurances."

"Yes, I expected you would."

Jack smiled a little broader, then hauled me upright. My bodice fell open once again and I held back a scream. "Your lady wife has been kind enough to expose herself. Equal show from you, perhaps?"

I shook my head as much as Black Jack would let me, but Jamie merely came a step closer. There was a twitch from behind me, and the dagger laid another scratch into my neck, just beneath the first. "That's far enough."

My husband wasn't smiling anymore, but his hands were steady. He unwound his kerchief and let it fall. Next, the dark coat slid off his shoulders and his large fingers slowly and delicately opened the buttons of his vest. Randall made a small, frustrated sound. "Don't try my patience, boy."

The worn shirt was all that was left, and Jamie hauled it over his head as if anxious to get it over with. He stood before me as he'd stood in our bridal chamber, but with none of that night's hope and fear. Jack admired him for long moments, all while yanking my hips back against him so I might know what he was admiring. Then he spoke in a half-choked voice. "Turn. Arms out to your sides."

Jamie's jaw was clenched so tight his teeth must be cracking, but he obeyed, turning to face the window and baring his ruined back to the captain. Randall's breath left him in a hiss, and I desperately hoped that he might spill seed then and there, thwarting or at least delaying his planned "entertainments." He had too much control, though. "Beautiful," he breathed. He stepped forward, dragging me with him. The hand still holding the dagger reached out and he dragged four of his fingertips across the uneven, silver-lined planes. His longest finger traced down the path of one of the larger crags. "Can you feel that?"

"Aye." Jamie's voice was flat, containing no emotion and requesting no comment. He was close enough that our bodies almost touched. Had I not been bound, I could have embraced him.

Black Jack flipped the knife in his hand and now ran the razor edge lightly down the terrain of Jamie's spine. "And this?"

"I can feel it."

The point caught in a depression just under his right shoulder blade. I watched the flesh divot in and heard the soft, sickening rip as it tore along a length of four inches, reopening a scar. Jamie made no sound, but I could no longer hold back a wrenching sob that made both men tense. Jack Randall seemed to remember me at last. He turned and shoved me down again against the side of the desk. My head thudded and Jamie spun, but Jack merely gestured with his knife, as if inviting. "Next to her. Just the same."

Jamie made sure our shoulders brushed as he bent himself over the surface. Our faces were just inches apart. His eyes locked on mine and didn't let go. I stared back through a thicker haze of tears, both loving and hating him for how far he was willing to go for me. After a moment, neither of us could contain it anymore and we crashed together for a kiss. We had to part after only a moment when I let out a pained gasp. Black Jack had placed the tip of his dagger against my head at the mastoid process--the corner of bone just behind the ear--and released another trickle of blood. He moved it, presently, to my back and stared down at Jamie. His free hand tore Jamie's dirk from its sheath and tossed it casually aside.

"Hands behind." Jamie obeyed slowly, crossing his wrists just above his kilt and waiting. Jack laid the dagger along my cheek and pressed hard. "And you, mistress, keep those cat claws sheathed. Raise one finger against me, and I'll cut off your husband's balls so they'll never warm your thighs again." He would, too. I forced back tears, swallowed the bile that I longed to spit in his face, and gave a curt nod.

Thus assured, Jack nudged my thigh out of the way and slid open his desk drawer. He drew out another length of rope, significantly thicker than what he'd used to bind me. "Let's see about those assurances, then. And then we can begin." Still somehow keeping hold of his dagger, he tied Jamie's wrists tightly behind him. I watched as much as my position allowed, but could find no weakness or error in his technique that might allow Jamie to wiggle free. My eyes went back to my husband's face, bearing that hopeless report. His face was pale but still composed. He tried to smile a little. "S'alright," he mouthed soundlessly.

The connection was broken when Black Jack seized the back of my dress and jerked me upright. With a hard shove that drew an indignant cry from Jamie, he sent me sprawling across the floor. "Up against the wall, then mistress. And don't move until it's done or this will go very poorly for your dear murdering thief." I scrambled backwards until my hands and shoulders hit the wall, then curled up, drawing my skirts about me and trying to hide my torn dress, for Jamie's sake.

Staring at them from my new vantage point, I had to swallow another sob. Jamie's legs were firmly braced under him, and he'd bent his knees a fair bit to press his chest against the desk without leaving his arse too much in the air. His hands were twisting in his bonds, but nervously like a horse twitching against the bridle. Jack Randall was slowly running the flat of his blade over Jamie's back, but not threateningly like before. It was more like he was trying to make a map of him. "Extraordinary." His other hand smoothed down Jamie's flank like he was stroking a horse. "So, this is how it happens. A woman's tears earns your surrender where your own blood did not."

Jamie was trembling, and mostly not from fear. "Get on with it." He growled.

Randall made a soft hmmm noise, sounding like Frank when he'd just come across some new and potentially interesting tidbit. "What is it that you think I mean to do to you?"

"I care not. So long as ye stop borin' me to death with the gloating."

Jack made another quiet hmmm. He set the dagger aside at last, though one hand stayed firmly at the back of Jamie's neck holding him in place. My eyes were blurring all the more, but I kept them from spilling while Randall's hand slid down Jamie's kilted hip, not pausing until it reached the bare skin of his lower thigh. "Put another way," he continued in that deadly soft voice, "What is it you've sworn to do for me?"

Jamie's breathing was very even but his eyes squeezed shut. "Bear ye," he said quietly, "And take whatever it is you would have done to Claire. But, I never said I wouldn't hate ye while ye did it."

Black Jack laughed, low and almost gentle. "I would expect nothing less." His hand slid up without losing contact with the finely haired thigh. "But, what is it I might have done to your sweet wife?" He paused. Jamie's breaths were coming a little harsher now. "Perhaps I would have made her scream." Up another inch. "Perhaps I would have made her gasp." Higher, and sliding around under the kilt, towards, the front. "Perhaps I would have made her beg." I could well imagine what he was doing under cover of the woolen plaid, but Jamie was perhaps not expecting it. It drew a cry of protest and a violent jerk. Quick as a flash, Randall's free hand snatched up the dagger and crashed down, the butt of it splitting open Jamie's eyebrow. Not content with that, Randall seized his red curls, yanked back, and thudded his head off the varnished wood.

There was a dull thud. I thought Jamie must have passed out from that and was darkly relieved, but after a moment he let out a low moan. Randall had abandoned his previous task and was gripping Jamie's head with both hands, turning his face towards him. "So, that's all your word is worth?" The bastard managed to sound reproving. Clearly half-concussed, Jamie shook his head slowly and blearily. "Will you do better, or shall I put the lady in her place again?"

Jamie didn't beg, but his lips fell open, and his body sank down against the wood. "There," I could barely hear Randall's approving murmur, "That's better." Seized by sudden passion, he lunged forward and pressed his lips against Jamie's. That seemed to bring Jamie back to himself faster than a dousing of cold water. He tensed, and after a moment, Randall drew away with a drop of blood on his lower lip. He paused, wiped it, and stared for a moment at his hand. Then with dizzying speed, he shoved Jamie down again and yanked his kilt up, trading the scarred flesh of his back for the relatively unmarred skin of his ass. The dagger came up, then down three times, and the flat left deep welts in the skin, their edges shining with blood.

Jamie let out a small grunt, and somehow that seemed to give Randall pause. He ran his fingers over the fresh marks, pressing down hard here and there. "No," he said quietly, "I don't suppose it will go like that, now. The beast will stay hidden, at least for today." He pressed himself slowly and firmly against Jamie's backside, and my husband jerked, as he felt what I'd felt before. "Fraser. Jamie. Do you know what I'm going to do to you?"

Jamie's face was twitching, his eyes squeezed shut, and I could stay silent no longer. "They'll catch you!" I burst out, heedless of consequences, "What do you suppose your men will think when they walk in on you buggering some Scottish prisoner? What will your commanders think?"

Amazingly--frighteningly--Jack did not lose his temper. He turned and met my gaze as if we were still discussing morality over glasses of claret. "I don't imagine they'll think anything at all, madam. Especially as there's no one to hear. The good corporal from beyond the door has gone to hide in a mug of ale. I frighten him, you see."

I couldn't stop the tears from falling or my face from twisting in hatred. "They'll know. These old fortresses are full of drafts and mouse holes. I'll scream it until someone comes to hear what the racket is."

Jamie's eyes were locked on my face and he was shaking his head slightly but urgently. I kept my own eyes on Black Jack, who was smiling. "No, I don't think you will." He hauled Jamie up and pressed his dagger against his bare flank, just above the spleen. "You try my patience, bitch. Now, in spite of everything, I find I'm not inclined to hurt this man, but force my hand and I'll bleed him before your eyes and then ravish you in his blood."

Something in me broke, low in my chest, and both men could see it. I folded in on myself, keeping the sob as soft as I could.

"Claire," Jamie's voice was low and infinitely kind, "Look away, lassie. I can take whatever he thinks to do to me, but havin' ye watch . . . that's too much."

For once, all I could do was obey. I ducked my head to my knees and tried to keep my breathing as quiet as possible. I heard Randall let out a low moan, a sure sign that his attentions had drifted from me again. There was a slow creak of footfalls on the floor boards and then the familiar sound of a body pushed down over a hard surface. Next came the wet sound of lips against skin, going on for what felt like a long time. I desperately tried to sort out who's breathing was who's. Jamie's was a little deeper. Randall's had a slight rasp to it. Both grew steadily more rapid, though neither man spoke. Sure that his attentions were preoccupied, I started to fight my bonds in earnest. The rough rope dug into my wrists, leaving deep welts that quickly became slippery, but the knots did not yield.

A soft metallic thud reached me, and concern for Jamie made me peek past my knee. It was an oil lamp, not lit, fortunately. Jamie's eyes were squeezed shut. He would not see my disobedience. Black Jack dipped a few fingers in the slick fluid and traced them over Jamie's hip. Startled by the new sensation, my husband jerked and bucked, but Jack simply rubbed his free hand over his back, tracing skin shiny with saliva. He murmured something in Jamie's ear. I read his lips as best I could. Easy. Easy does it.

I'm sure that Jamie, who so recently believed that married couples must rut like horses, had no idea what was coming. When Randall's slick hand slid between the globes of his ass, he was stoic for a moment, then jerked as if electrocuted. "Settle down," Jack said a little louder, his voice still making a startling imitation of gentleness, "This is the easy part."

Jamie did not seem to find it easy. Black Jack was moving slowly and, I suppose, carefully, but my husband's body was one hard line, fighting against the violation. I'd never engaged in sodomy myself, but back in my own time I knew enough girls who had and who would speak in giggling whispers about the experience. It seemed to invariably involve pain, even with the full cooperation of those involved. Jamie started to betray his with soft grunts and muffled cries. At first, it brought a smile to Black Jack's lips. He let out a steady stream of shushing sounds and reassuring words, clearly glorying in being both tormentor and comforter. After a time, though, he seemed to grow frustrated. "Is that all you're going to do, boy?" he said at last, "Lie there and feel sorry for yourself?"

Jamie opened one eye to glare up balefully and Jack responded with a smile full of teeth. "That's more like it." His hand shoved hard, once. Jamie made no sound, but he bit down on his lip so hard that it bled. Jack's face was all concern again. Pinning Jamie's face, he lowered his and lapped the red droplets away. His tongue lingered on the silver line of a scar just beneath the old would. "Very well."

He leaned back and reached into his desk drawer once more. Jamie and I both tensed, but he drew out nothing but a small phial of some liquid. Uncorking it, he slicked both hands and the scent of lavender reached me. The same scent that had first announced Black Jack's presence in the woods by Craigh na Dun. As an oil, an agent against pain. Relief washed over me like cool rain, and I hated myself for it - hated that some small part of me wanted to be grateful to Jack for easing my husband's pain when it was he who was also causing it. "There," he murmured as he worked, "That's not so hard."

Distraught as I was I still caught the moment when Randall eased back from Jamie a little. His hand was thrusting and twisting, likely to distract Jamie from the fact that his other hand was quietly opening the laces of his breeches.

I couldn't conceal a soft sound of despair. Once again, Jamie opened one eye, first to ascertain my safety, then to give silent censure for disobeying him. I stared back, not looking at the man behind him, and Jamie gave me a tiny nod. He closed his eyes and so did I.

I did not need eyes to know the exact moment when the rape began in earnest. There was a soft, squelching noise accompanied by a mostly-smothered grunt from Jamie and a long hiss from Jack. "There you are," the other man said softly. Again, he started slow. I could mark each degrading thrust. Their feet would make the floorboards groan and then the weight on Jamie's back would make him thud against the desk. Jamie's breath grew harsher. He let out a sound, a cry through gritted teeth, and Black Jack laughed softly. I strained against my bonds with all of my strength.

And the rope began to fray.

As the thrusts picked up speed and Black Jack became less circumspect with his noises of appreciation, a painfully similar voice rang through my mind.

"Sex is . . . the truest form of freedom for a gentleman."

A sunny day in Oxfordshire with war still a rumor on the horizon. Frank and I tangled together in bed, both enjoying the warm afterglow from the act and him philosophizing about it in that way I used to love.

Gentle hands sliding over my hips towards my tingling quim as he rumbled on. "We can spend all day disciplining our minds with books and facts and figures. Always remembering to think of the big picture and consider all consequences ahead."

Abandoning their course, his hands slid up my belly to cup my breasts instead. "But in the arms of a lover . . ." A light flick across a barely sore nipple, "We have leave to forget ourselves. The animal takes over and there's nothing . . . nothing at all but the two human beings. Together."

He was explaining, if I recalled true, how in the throes of passion he could have missed his own socks catching fire on the mantle and then been angry when I called his attention to it. I'd long since ceased being angry and was now all but hypnotized. "The outside world doesn't exist because we need it to not exist. Every man needs to lose himself."

I opened my eyes. They were dry. Black Jack looked like Frank and even unknowingly imitated many of his mannerisms. Perhaps they were the same in this as well. Perhaps, when he was close enough to the edge, I would cease to exist. Much as it pained me, I stared at Jack and thought of Frank. Yes, there was some similarity in the sharp punch of the hips. My Frank in a black mood, as came across him from time to time, when the only antidote was rough sex that left me gasping and pleading for more. After which, he would collapse, spent, onto the nearest surface or willing body, all but unconscious for a minute or more. I couldn't count on "more." A minute. That's all I would have before Jack began the process of deciding what to do with us.

And to get that minute, I had to wait, had to let him abuse Jamie before my very eyes, had to let him rut and pleasure himself and spend himself.

I discovered that I could make the rope fray faster by rubbing it together. This I did industriously even after the skin broke fully open on both wrists. One braid broke. Then another.

Then the third and I was free and desperately wishing to still be bound. That might give me some excuse for the helpless way I huddled there, shrinking into my gown, while the man I'd come to love was raped before my eyes. Black Jack showed no sign of being near the end. Exhaustion had wiped most of the tension from Jamie's face and he was simply giving with the thrusts, his hands clenched in fists but his body otherwise lax.

Not content with this seeming surrender, Jack slid a hand once more up the front of Jamie's kilt. That got a response, as it was meant to. Jamie thrashed and spoke to Black Jack for the first time since it'd started. "No." Not a plea. Stubborn.

"I don't think you're in any position to be uttering such words," Jack said in his oiliest tone, "Nor do I believe that you mean them."

"Stop it!" he snapped.

"I don't know what you mean." Another slow tug brought a hiss out of Jamie.

"Red bastard, take what ye must, but leave me out of it for Chrissake!"

Jack cradled his jaw with mocking gentleness and forced another kiss on his lips. "No, I don't think I shall. I think I've been more than accommodating, and now you are going to do something for me."

For a few quiet moments, the only sounds were Black Jack's slow strokes. Then Jamie said "Don't," and it was quieter this time. Less stubborn, more broken.

"Shh, shh, do you feel that? Isn't that nice?"

"I might be yer whore, but I won't be yer slut!" His voice was rising and Jack had to press down on his shoulders to hold him still.

"You'll be whatever I say you are." The cold voice softened to a mocking croon, "And clearly you don't know what's in your best interest. This will make you feel so much better."

More thrashing, but weaker now. I could see Jamie's will fraying in front of me like the strands of the rope. "Not here," he said at last in a tone that was unmistakably a plea, "Not . . . not here." A long pause. A tear tracked its way down a previously dry cheek and his voice dropped softer. "Please."

"What?" Randall said with an unconvincing air of innocence, "Not here? Or is it 'not in front of Claire' that you mean?" A long, empty silence. "It's understandable, I suppose. You wouldn't want your wife to know how your cock stands to the attention of a beast. Wouldn't want her to know that you could like it." His voice rose a little with heat, then dropped low and soothing once more. "Still. I suppose it's a little late for that."

More tears spilled over, and despite all efforts to subdue it, Jamie let out a sob. Jack shushed him and soothed him with a display so apparently genuine that even I was nearly convinced. "Come here," he said, tucking his body around Jamie's much larger one and turning the other man's face toward him. His hands smoothed through Jamie's curls, slicking sweat away. "It's difficult, I know. Something you don't want to admit about yourself." He kissed Jamie's brow and flicked lightly over his nose with a thumb. "All the same, we are here. I will have this from you, whether you will it or not."

Jamie's eyes squeezed shut, but he didn't answer back. Scarcely a thread remained of his willpower, and losing this battle with Randall was certain to break it. I would do anything to keep that from happening. Even help Black Jack Randall.

"Jamie," I spoke his name with terrible gentleness, with the same aching love with which he'd said mine. His eyes opened and found me, releasing another tear in the process. Through my own tears, I tried to smile at him. "It's alright, Jamie. It's not your fault."

Jack gave me a calculating glance, but whatever response he was feeling from Jamie convinced him to allow me to continue. I kept my voice very steady, like I did with the dying. "You can't help it. I don't blame you. I never could."

Black Jack stared at me even through a long, lewd thrust, but I only had eyes for my husband. "Jamie. Don't be afraid. Whatever else happens, just keep looking at me."

He did. Even as his eyes continued to spill, even as Jack's hand and hips moved ever faster and Jamie's own breath came quick and sharp and not pained, he never broke eye contact and the fine thread held. "Yes," Black Jack said, low and speculative, "Look at your wife. Remember, you're doing this for her."

Another sharp thrust and Jamie couldn't help it any more. His eyes squeezed shut as his whole face contracted and he let out a cry that must have scraped his throat raw. A moment later, in the aftermath, Jack turned his face towards his own. "And did you enjoy yourself?" he asked softly.

"No." The words were quiet, but there was a strength to them still. A stubbornness.

"A pity," Black Jack hissed, "Because I still mean to." Both hands gripped Jamie's hips, jerking him back, and I had to look away because Jack was all animal, rocking and thrusting so fast the desk began to creak, forcing mindless cries of pain past Jamie's tight lips, clean impeccable fingernails digging red welts in unmarked skin . . . My own nails dug bloody gouges as I gripped my wrists behind my back, free but trapped so long as Jack's dagger was so close at hand and Jamie's neck was so horrifyingly exposed. I had to wait. I had to let him finish. It was our only shot.

When he was close enough that I thought I might get away with it, I began to gather my legs under myself. My eyes glanced from weapon to weapon, calculating which was nearest.

And then it happened. Jack's face was exactly like Frank's when he came. I could have gone my whole life without knowing that. It lasted a few seconds, and then he sank down, his weight resting on Jamie's bulk as he slid toward oblivion and his awareness narrowed to just one other person.

I sprang up as quickly as I could with legs half fallen asleep. It was only a few staggering steps to the desk. Jamie had just enough time to open his eyes and look alarmed before I snatched up the gun and brought the butt crashing down on the back of Jack Randall's skull. He cried out and fell to the floorboards, his cock yanking out of Jamie in one painful scrape. He rolled onto his back, hands up and cock out and I didn't waste breath on words. I pulled the trigger.

Click The unmistakable sound of an empty chamber. It was a moment before I realized it, then my eyes widened in shocked horror. Jack was climbing to his feet, grinning and fumbling for his knife.

A large form shoved past me. Jamie hit Black Jack and drove him to the ground with his shoulder. Up close, I realized that Jamie's wrists, like my own, were raw and bleeding, but unlike my own were still securely bound. He did the best he could all the same, driving Randall back with his sheer bulk, trying to keep him away from any weapons. Randall hit him once in the face, making his nose crunch and spurt. "Claire!" he sputtered through the torrent, "Get a knife!" Jamie's dirk was the closest to me. I dove for it and came up with the long blade in an underhand grip. I advanced on Jack with slow steps and swung, but he merely jumped back, grinning.
"No!" Jamie cried, "My hands!"

My own hands shook, and I was sure Black Jack would strangle one of us in the moments it took to get my husband free. Jamie fended him off with a well-aimed kick, and as soon as his hands were free he threw himself at the smaller man. They went down in a crash again and Black Jack had just a moment to look surprised before Jamie seized his head and slammed it against the floor boards once, twice, a third time and he went limp.

Jamie sat up slowly. His kilt had long since slipped down to preserve his modesty, but he looked so very vulnerable. I felt the last of my defenses crumbling and I sank down behind him, sobbing. Jamie turned and the trapped animal expression faded into something softer. He tucked me back into my gown as best he could with the torn laces and gathered me into his arms. "It's alright, Sassenach. It's over."

I cried and clung to him, hating most of all that after all this he should be the one comforting me. I sat back after a moment and pressed our foreheads together, needing to feel his breath and hear his quiet shushing. He was weeping himself, at least, but silently. "The pistol was unloaded this whole time?"

"I expected I'd want to kill him. Seemed the safest way to keep me from alerting the whole fort."

"I don't know why the hell you would do that!" My voice rose with that hated edge of hysteria and my hands came down on his shoulders. "Barging in here will just an unloaded gun? Not bringing reinforcements? Just giving . . . just giving yourself to . . ."

"Claire, Claire, please shush. Do that much for me."

I stared into his eyes, my own full of accusation and full of love. "You knew. You knew what he would do to you and . . ."

"And, we needed time to get the jump on him." He said this part very firmly. After a moment, he snuffled and dashed at his eyes with an angry hand. "We needed him to forget himself, and . . . and I couldna' bear him doing that to you. I'm not that strong, Claire Beauchamp."

"Claire Fraser," I corrected.

Swallowing my own tears, I turned to what I knew. Medicine. Nursing. From that last moment after the blow with the pistol, I knew that Jamie was not . . . torn. Despite everything, Black Jack had been careful, though that would not protect his victim from a host of not-yet-treatable diseases. I reached for his wrists to inspect the damage there, but he waylaid me and caught my fingers in his. "We've got to be going. I'm surprised no one's found us yet." I nodded and helped Jamie dress quickly, not bothering with any of the buttons. We left Jack Randall on the floor by the hearth, unconscious but disappointingly alive.

But I wouldn't let Jamie burst through the door until I caught him and wrapped him in a fierce hug. I drew my head back, but waited for his permission before fitting my lips to his. We stopped only for air, and I held him back a moment. "I love you, James Fraser."

In a short while, we would both be trembling with rage and screaming at each other in the woods, but in that moment, the words were true.

They would never not be true.

Fin