Escape: the medical school years
“I thought for sure that Japanese whisky was going to take it,” he said, swirling the amber liquid around in his glass. Jamie shot a glance at his friend, looking for his opinion.
“It seemed so, until you waited thirty seconds….then,” John said.
“The Finish,” they both said together, and laughed.
John Grey and Jamie Fraser sat together at an airport bar, ready to go home from the International Whisky Competition. The two men had been friends for a couple of years, but were vastly different. One, a good-looking dapper, slender man with blonde hair and the other, a strikingly handsome, tall red-haired man.
“Damn, Fraser, this whisky is marvelous,” John said, taking another sip. “I wasn’t surprised when you won it.”
Jamie nodded, “Dougal will be ecstatic. It’s been decades since Fraser Distillery has had a win.” He raised a glass to his friend, “Here’s to you, Lord Grey’s Single Malt, for winning second place!” They clinked glasses and drank deeply.
“Ah, Jamie,” John said, “it’s been good to see you.” He nudged his friend with his shoulder. “How’s married life? I’m still somewhat pissed off you didn’t invite me to the wedding.”
Jamie laughed, “There were naught but, what? Fifteen people at my weddin’, John. Dinna be discouraged.”
“Still. Would have loved to meet your wife. Tell me, does she play chess?” John nudged his friend again.
Jamie laughed. “No. No she doesna care for it. She’s currently in medical school, so she doesna do a whole lot of anything but study.”
“Aw,” John said. “Bloom off the rose already?” He put his hand on top of Jamie’s. “Want to talk about it?”
Jamie looked at his friend and laughed. “Take yer hand off me, or I will kill ye.”
John laughed and picked up his drink. “Come on, Fraser. I need food to sober up for this flight.” He motioned to the bartender for a menu. “King’s pawn to king four.”
Jamie laughed and drained his glass. “Queen’s knight to queen bishop three.”
Alec had been staying upstairs. Jamie thought it best he be close by. Unbeknownst to Claire, Alec would drop her off at the front door, park the car, and walk up the stairs to her old flat. He stayed in the one bedroom, needing nothing more than a place to lay his head. He was sure to be quiet, used the shower only after she’d been dropped at school, and ate his meals out. He was not in the way of the kitchen renovation being out tending to his daily duties, and Jamie agreed that with the stairs out of commission, Claire would never know.
On the plane. See you in the morning. Everything okay?
Quiet Thursday night, lad. See you in the morning. Sàbhailte shiubhlas, mo charaid.
Aye. Mòran taing. Taing airson h-uile rud.
A half an hour later the doorbell rang, and Alec couldn’t believe what he heard from the flat downstairs. He checked the time. Jamie would already be in flight. Dammit. Spoke too soon.
The study session began well enough. He said he was having trouble with Biochemistry, so they started with that. Claire wasn’t sure if he just didn’t understand the intrinsic nature of metabolism, or if he just didn’t care. Either way, it was like talking to a brick wall so she suggested they move on to something else.
He chose Anatomy.
That’s when it got uncomfortable. The first time he brushed her breast, she moved back from the textbook he was showing her, and got up to get her own.
The second time was blatant. That’s when Claire got up, and got his coat.
“I’m tired, Robert. As I said, two hours. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to call it a night.”
Horrocks slowly closed his book, and gathered up his notes. He moved at a snail’s pace that was getting on Claire’s nerves. She dropped the coat on the kitchen counter and gathered up their refreshment dishes to rinse them. Perhaps if she started to clean up he’d move a little faster.
She jumped in shock, the glasses shattering in the sink when she felt his hands slide over her hips.
Once again, before she realized what she was doing, her palm was stinging from the slap. When she looked at him, his tongue was working over a small cut on the side of his lip. Her wedding ring must have caught him. Good.
“You goddamn, bloody bastard,” she hissed. “Get the fuck out of my house.”
Horrocks pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, then pulled it away to glance at the drop of bright red blood. She was pinned against the counter and he wouldn’t move. He looked her up and down. “Come on, Claire. We both know why you let me in tonight.”
“Wha- what???” Claire sputtered in disbelief. “I’m married!” Was he insane?
He shrugged, and laughed. “So?”
“Leave. Now.” She hardened her voice, even though she was shaking.
He was big. Not as big as Jamie, but big. He was stronger than her, for sure. Her mind whirled frantically. What was behind her she could use? What could she reach for?
The blast of cold air surprised them both. They turned toward the source in unison.
Alec. On the fire escape.
He casually climbed through the window as if it was the most natural thing in the world to enter a flat that way.
“I suggest ye go now. As the lady requested.”
Horrocks studied the interferer for a long minute. He didn’t seem as old as he looked after all. Various scenarios flashed through his mind. He could take him, but Claire was angry, and wired. In the stramash, it would be two against one. She was feisty, and she’d not stand idle if he tried to get rid of the Old Man. Measuring his options, he decided it was best to retreat, and lay more groundwork. The thought of her struggling underneath him made him hard, but there were too many variables right now.
So he stepped back, grabbed his coat and went to gather his books.
Claire picked up his backpack and threw it at him. “Don’t forget this,” she said.
They all froze when the small, ivory handled brush flew out of the bag and rolled across the floor.
Claire gasped. Uncle Lamb’s shaving brush. The brush I gave Jamie as a wedding gift. She looked at Alec with such shock that it galvanized him into action. He moved like lightening for an older man. In one smooth motion he grabbed Horrocks by the hair, knocked his feet out from under him again, and dragged him to the door.
Startled, Horrocks’ feet scrabbled against the hardwood floor as he tried to stand, yet wrestle the grip from his head.
Horrocks’ head hit the door frame as Alec flipped the handle, kicked it wider, and threw the younger man out. While Horrocks stumbled to his feet, Alec was through the door and all Claire saw as it bounced on its hinge and began to swing closed was Alec’s mighty shove and Robert going head first down the stairs.
Alec stomped back in, grabbed the textbooks and papers and sent them the way of the body. He grabbed the backpack, searched its contents for more, and threw it, too.
Entering the flat, he pushed the door closed, hard, with two hands, dead bolted it, affixed the chain, and turned to look at Claire.
The room was awash in frozen air. Claire was deathly white, and shaking. He could hear her teeth chattering.
“Come on, Lass,” he said gently, moving to close the window. “Let’s have a wee dram, eh?”
When the bastard opened the door, it took him a good three minutes to notice him in the chair. Even though his face remained the same, he flinched just a bit in the act of taking off his jacket before continuing. Jamie took pleasure in noticing a stiffness in the man’s movements. The bruises may have faded from his face and neck, but there were clearly new injuries. Perhaps from a fall down the stairs…
“Making yourself comfortable?” Horrocks sounded much less bothered than he seemed. Jamie could tell it rattled him a bit to find him in his flat. “I was wondering when you’d seek me out.”
“We’ve a lot to talk about.” Jamie said, voice tight.
“Not as fine a place as you have, Fraser. But it’s what I can afford.” Horrocks spread his arms as if he were showing off a palace. “One day, though, I’ll have what you have.” He set his coat down on the chair. “She’s bonny. Claire. They talk about the luck of the Irish, but you!” He wagged a finger at Jamie as if this was just some sort of locker room talk. “You, Jamie Fraser, are the lucky one.”
Jamie stood up, slowly. “Ye come to my house, touch my wife, and think ye dinna have to answer for that?”
“Yeah, mate, well, there’s no way to prove that, now is there? Maybe I was just helping clean up, you know?” Horrocks smirked.
Jamie took a slow, deep breath. His control was slipping. Then the snake spoke again.
“But here’s the thing, Fraser. This university is good and all, but it’s not really working for me. I might be persuaded to study elsewhere, but…” he paused, drawing out the moment. “There would be the matter of money. Expenses. Maybe you’d be willing to help with that.”
Jamie nodded, and released a small smile. Extortion. How surprising.
“You put up some money now, and I swear, you’ll not see my face again.” Horrocks stared at Jamie. Waiting. As much as he’d always regret not sampling Claire, this was fast becoming not worth it.
Stormy, sky blue eyes met frozen, icy ones.
Horrocks could feel the hate emanating from Jamie in waves. Fraser was big. Very big. Need to pick women with smaller husbands next time, he thought. In his distraction he missed Jamie’s expression change. In three strides the Highlander had reached his bookshelf and pulled off an artifact.
The sgian-dubh he’d lifted the last time he was there. Dammit. Meant to sell that by now.
Jamie held the weight of the dirk in his hand. This was his first Christmas gift from Claire. It meant the world to him. It had only ever been handed from her hand to his. No one else had touched it. No one knew that she’d inscribed his initials on the tang.
To find that this… this….scum of the earth had taken it was too much.
Slowly, he drew the small dirk from its scabbard.
He hesitated too long. By the time Jamie turned around, Horrocks was ready.
He swung at Jamie, and managed to connect so that the knife caught him in the throat just above the collarbone as he brought his arms up in a defensive move. The sharp sting made him hiss in his breath, and only managed to enrage Jamie more.
The noise started as a growl low in Jamie’s throat and escalated into an all out battle shriek, as he threw himself at Horrocks and they fell, hard, on the floor.
“Ye know what this is?” Jamie was inches from Horrocks’ face, sgian-dubh pressed deeply into his shoulder. Jamie could see the blood start to bloom across the man’s shirt. “It’s the supraspinatus tendon. Yer rotator cuff. If I cut this yer arm will flop from yer shoulder and ye’ll feel a pain like ye’ve never known.”
Horrocks’ eyes grew wide. Looking at Fraser, he didn’t doubt it for a minute. He tried to struggle but every time he moved the point of the dirk dug in a little further.
“Or maybe ye have known.” Jamie continued. “The pain of never being good enough. Not worthy enough. Never measuring up to any standards, even the lowest ones. You,” he enunciated, as he pressed the dirk deeper, “fucked with the wrong man.”
“Ye tried to take my wife. My Claire. My life’s blood.” Jamie’s voice rose with every word until he was roaring in Horrocks’ face. Spit flew from his mouth as he grew impassioned in his hatred for this man, and the fear he caused in Jamie’s soul. He shook, his anger palpable. Horrocks could feel the tremours coursing through Jamie’s body while he was pinned to the floor.
“Ye dared to try and soil her beautiful body with yer disgusting, filthy hands. Do ye know how unworthy ye are of her? I could damn yer soul to hell right now and run ye through.” Another slight push, and more pain.
Jamie’s hand forced Horrocks’ jaw up so he was looking at him. His face in a vice grip, Robert squinted through the agony to find a smile on Fraser’s face.
“So,” Jamie said, as if in casual conversation, “Such a shame ye’ll be withdrawin’ from the university now, isn’t it?”