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Where The Wind Takes Us

Chapter Text


 

It isn’t customary for Jamie Fraser to take unnecessary risks. He prefers to plan his moves, put one foot in front of the other, see where the path takes him, and react accordingly to any changes life presents. Every one of his living days throughout adulthood starts out that way. It would seem monotonous or even boring to some; but for Jamie, his life has been anything but mundane.

Jamie has worked hard to get to where he is. The youngest child to Brian and Ellen Fraser, little brother to William and Janet, and modestly middle class, he took advantage of every scholarship he could get his hands on when he became of age to go to university. He’s now a well educated, braw man of twenty-three; You’d be so proud Willie, he thinks to the heavens sometimes. He graduated from university earlier than most his age with a degree in business management and a minor in international linguistics. He can speak many languages fluently; not including Gaelic, the ever-dying dialect of his beloved Scotland.

School credits and fancy diplomas aside, Jamie’s personable charm, handsome looks, and wicked tongue earned him the chance to take control of his uncles’ motorcycle business. Colum MacKenzie knew damn well he was no longer fit to run the business anymore, and because of his failing health, sales and clientele connections had dropped significantly. But if you asked his younger brother Dougal, he’d barked an opposite conundrum. Colum knew Dougal would run the business into the ground if he was put in charge. So despite his hesitation, he called his nephew in to run Leoch Motors Inc on his behalf, with Dougal acting as second in command.

It was a profitable decision. Jamie managed to secure more repeat clients than ever before. People were flocking in from all parts of the United Kingdom, even as far as the United States, Spain and France. Proud as he was for finally putting his degree to good use, he was less confident in Leoch running the underground black market for motorcycle parts. It was why Colum wanted Jamie in the first place. And why Dougal remained second in command.

“I need ye to keep yer eyes on my brother, ye ken,” Colum told Jamie. “His black market dealins’ are the reason Leoch’s is in trouble. It’s only a matter o’ time before the law has tae get involved. I willna let that weasel drag us down in the muck wi’ him. Aye?”

Jamie eyed his uncle wearily but ultimately understood, and knew it well. Dougal believed the automotive industry as a whole shouldn’t be regulated by any government organization. While Jamie agreed with Dougal’s assessment of taxes being too high and pricing didn’t match what a bike was “truly worth,” but black market dealings? Smuggling parts from the underground trade bandits known simply as “The Watch”? It was too risky. And Colum was right; eventually Dougal was going to make a mistake and everyone associated with Leoch Motors Inc would end up incarcerated. Or worse. Black market operations were considered a step below treason to the Crown. And while the days of the 18th century Rising were far behind Scotland, there were some who were willing to risk a death sentence just to be able to purchase a motorcycle.

“I want you to do more than just run the business, Jamie,” Colum went on. “Put a stop tae this madness. Find out how my daft brother got me into this mess and end it. Before we all suffer.”

Jamie only know how legitimate businesses were run, and that’s how he intended to turn Leoch’s around. Finding out the who, what, where, and when of Dougal’s deals would have to be done, ironically, in the shadows, away from the daylight happenings of daily trade. His ultimate goal was to stop it at the source. And he knew Dougal was in direct contact with The Watch.

The Watch, however, were known to become violent when and where it was needed. They didn’t take too kindly to those who severed business relationships, especially in reference to their illegitimate origins. Who’s to say they wouldn't make members of Leoch’s employment ‘disappear’ if Jamie came right out and cut ties with the nefarious organization? That couldn’t happen. Not yet, anyway.

But, Jamie Fraser wasn’t a man to take unnecessary risks. Put one foot in front of the other, see where the path takes you. Taking down The Watch and kicking Dougal to the curb was definitely necessary. His uncle’s business and, by extension, his own life, were on the line.

A pre-dawn morning woke Jamie from a fitful night’s sleep. He showered, dressed and made a quick breakfast for himself before kissing his sister Jenny goodbye for the day. Her children were already playing outside in their uniforms, waiting for the bus to take them to school. Jamie could’ve lived on his own, but in addition to being head of Leoch’s, he was still the Laird of Lallybroch, or Broch Tuarach, his family’s ancestral lands. Jamie always felt silly for being called a ‘laird’; it made him feel older than he actually was.

“I’m a glorified landlord, at best. A farmer with a business degree at worst,” Jamie once told his newest tenants a few months back. They just laughed, but still insisted on referring to him as “Laird” out of respect. Jamie couldn’t bring himself to argue with that.

Lallybroch was practically its own independent district. It still abided by the crown, but could make and decide its own rents, rules and regulations for all the residents. It boasted rich farm lands, plentiful hunting and fishing, and everything any modern small village would. The grocery store and general market were its heart, the primary school about a five minute drive, and there was a direct backroad that led straight to the dorms of his university. Sure, it was an hour’s motorcycle ride, but it’s not like Jamie would complain about that.

He had some early morning business to attend to at Leoch, so he couldn’t stick around and play a round or two of hide-and-seek with his niece and nephew. He hopped on his bike, fastened on his leather and helmet, fired it up and sped away, the ‘lazy tower’ growing smaller in his rearview mirror.

His business would end up having to wait though. Jamie didn’t see the delivery truck running the stop sign and broadsiding his bike, throwing him five and a half meters and into a stone ditch.

-----

“Quit daydreaming, already, lass! Ye got patients asking for ye!”

The sound of Geillis Duncan’s voice caused Claire Beauchamp to shake her head from its mental haze, smoothed some wrinkles out of her scrubs and hurried out of the staff break room, coffee still hot in her hand. Working fourteen-hour shifts normally didn’t bother her, but for some reason today she was all over the place. And Dr. Frank Randall, the head of the emergency department and her boss, was the last person she wanted to upset.  it wasn’t clear if upsetting him would cause him to fire or fuck her against her will. It was no secret among the Inverness Regional Medical Centre ER staff that the older doctor had a rather unhealthy fancy for the young World War II combat nurse.

“I’m coming,” Claire stifled a yawn as she made her way to rooms 14, 5 and 9. Two just needed their IV pumps reset and the other couldn’t reach the emesis bag before they threw up all over her. Sighing, she cleaned the poor man up, insisted it was okay, and left him to his thoughts as she made her way to the locker room to change into her spare set of scrubs.

Just as she was tying her shoes post wipe down, her pager went off. She sighed.

“Here we go again...”

She quickly walked towards Trauma Room 1 as the paramedics were bringing in their latest patient. She garbed up in all the disposable PPE, ensured her stethoscope had its own disposable cover on it, and mentally prepared herself for whomever, or whatever, they were bringing in.

The medics wasted no time shoving their loaded stretcher in from the bay, speed talking through the pertinent details. “Twenty-three year old male, motorbike versus semi, unresponsive at the scene, negative for any other trauma, BP 140 over 95, heart rate 110, respirations 22 and shallow...”

As they droned on, Claire immediately got to work by asking the medics the usual questions for any trauma patient that comes through her emergency room doors. Given the unfortunate man was unconscious still, she couldn’t ask him directly where he was having pain. She palpated his neck and upper back through the helmet, which looked as though it took most of the impact. Lucky sod, she thought as she noted no obvious deformities in his cervical spine. She heard Dr. Randall order a CT scan and a plethora of x-rays. Most of his protective leather riding suit had been cut away and he only had a linen and aluminum sheets covering his nude body.

After x-rays were taken in the trauma room, he was whisked away to radiology for that CT scan. At this point, Claire had nothing more to do than wait for his return; she was in charge of any trauma patients that came in today and Geillis would be covering her other patients for her until this one left her care. The more critical ones stayed under her care until they were either cleared to be discharged home or admitted to the trauma unit for observation. She had a feeling this man (James A.M.M. Fraser according to his chart) would be admitted given he was still knocked out. Her initial impression based on her examination of him told her that if nothing else was wrong, he would be left with a massive concussion. Again, lucky sod.

Her patient was brought back to his room a little less than an hour later, and when Claire walked in, her heart dropped to her knees.

James Fraser was the most beautiful man she’d ever laid eyes on. And he didn’t have a scratch on him.

Chapter Text


 

It wasn’t long before James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, or “Jamie,” as Geillis called him, regained consciousness in the trauma ward on the third floor. In addition to being physically fit and damn near immortal, considering he’d suffered nothing more than a concussion as Claire had suspected, he had an ocean’s worth of bright, clear blue in his eyes. They were beyond gorgeous; almost too beautiful to belong to a man. But she only saw them briefly as she transferred his care to his new nurses. She ignored the small pang in her heart as she left him to rest. She didn’t notice that those blue eyes stayed laser focused on her, as if hypnotized, following her as she left. 

That was four days ago. And in those four days, those blue eyes and their owner haunted Claire’s dreams. She envisioned those eyes boring directly into her soul, piercing her heart and lungs with passion, her fingers gripping the man’s long red locks between her slender fingers as he embedded himself deep within her core. She’d wake up drenched in sweat and aroused like nobody’s business. She felt extremely silly, mortified even, dreaming about a stranger in such a manner, but the dreams only got more intense.

Curiosity got the better of Claire, professionalism be damned. She, in so many nonchalant words, demanded of Geillis everything she knew about the red-headed Scottish scholar. She would only admit to herself that she was afraid to ask her former patient directly; mostly because it would be suspicious if she kept leaving her post in the ER to go visit him on the third floor. But from what the nurses up there were telling her, he was doing well and would probably be released in another day or two.

“Everyone knows braw ‘Red Jamie,’ Claire!” Geillis exaggerated one day on their lunch break, apparently referring to his old university nickname when he played rugby and not his hair. “But you being a Sassenach, you wouldn’t know, I suppose.”

Claire was used to being called what the Scots translated to “outlander.” While it was meant to be an insult, Claire didn’t see it as such. It was the truth; being from England made her a foreigner to the Scottish. No point making a problem out of nothing.

Geillis offered Claire one of her apple slices, which she accepted, and the red-headed woman went on. “He used to smear red paint on his face whenever he played. Part of the school’s colors, ye ken. It’s how he earned his moniker. Graduated two years ahead of everyone else with a business management degree. He fluent in Greek, Latin, French, and I think he knows a bit of Spanish. Canna remember. Hadn’t seen the lad since I graduated from the nursing academy.”

“Is that how you know him?” Claire asked, biting into the apple slice, savoring its tart sweetness on her palate. “From university?”

“Nae. Broch Tuarach is a well known district in the Highlands. Everyone calls it Lallybroch. It’s his family home. I grew up in Cranesmuir, not too far from where Leoch Motors is now. Everyone kens the MacKenzie family, and Jamie is auld Colum and Dougal MacKenzie’s nephew. All us wee bairns from Cranesmuir, meself included, spent a lot of time playing with Jamie and his brother and sister, before Willie died. That’s Jamie’s older brother. His older sister Jenny still lives at Lallybroch with her husband Ian and their bairns. I wonder how many they have now? Anyway, word on the streets is Jamie is now the new head of Leoch Motors, with Colum nae faring so well lately.”

“He owns a car dealership?” Claire couldn’t hide her surprise. Geillis chuckled.

“Nae, Leoch’s specializes in motorcycles. Best in all of Scotland! I’d get one meself, but I’ve seen enough bike injuries to keep me from investing.”

“Same here,” Claire mused. Her mind flashed back to a few years ago when a young woman came in to the ER with every limb broken in multiple places, her avulsed scalp showing the white of her skull, her body covered in massive road rash and her screams of agony. She apparently was the passenger on her boyfriend’s motorcycle and he took a turn too fast. She would have fared better if she’d been wearing a helmet. She wasn’t given a quick death like her boyfriend was. The medically induced coma she was placed in wasn’t enough to spare her life either. She died three days after being brought in. Claire swore then and there she’d never own or ride a bike as long as she lived.

As Geillis rambled on, about anything and nothing related to Scotland and its local inhabitants, Claire finished her lunch, her mind still on the blue eyed mystery man on the third floor.

Neither of them noticed the small, feeble voiced Mary Hawkins, their fellow nurse, walking into the break room.

“Hello, Mary,” Claire said politely, offering her a place at their table. “Care to join us?”

“No, thank you,” she said in an equally small voice, “I actually came here to convey a message to you, Miss Beauchamp.”

“No need for formalities, Mary, we are equals here. ‘Claire’ is fine,” she replied with ample patience. Though, she had a growing fear the message was from a certain British doctor who refused to take no for an answer. She swallowed that fear as she said, “You had a message for me?”

“Y-Yes,” Mary squeaked. “It was originally from Bob MacNab, you know, the radiologist, who was speaking with Peggy Murray, one of the nurses from the-”

“Get to the point, lass, before my spinach starts to wilt,” Geillis impatiently spat, causing Mary to blush a furious red. Claire eyed her colleague warily, but returned Mary’s grimace with a sweet smile. Mary went on.

“The patient in room 3-1025, the motorbike accident fellow, is asking for you. N-not by name, but...he keeps saying something in Gaelic. It translates to ‘brown-haired lass’.”

Geillis chuckled loudly and said, “Ahh, mo nighean donn .”

Mary’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Yes! Yes, that’s it! He keeps saying it over and over and eventually the nurses thought back to you, Claire. Peggy guessed it had to be you since none of the other nurses on the floor were brunettes.”

Claire’s heart sputtered in her chest. Jamie was asking for her.

And now, for some unknown reason, she was nervous as hell to see him.

---

Mo nighean donn…

The words repeated in my mind over and over again, like a broken record that canna be fixed.

She kept me awake during the more painful nights in hospital, and yet...she haunted my dreams. Like a vixen needin’ tae be satisfied in ways only a man could.

She was ravenous beneath me in my dreams. Needing me like her lungs needed oxygen. The whole while, I didna ken who she was, only what she looked like. And yet...she was no a stranger to me. Like we’d kent each other our entire lives.

She was my air. My water. My heart’s very blood.

I had to find her before I got out of this damn place. Or I kent I’d never see her again.

Apparently I’d been saying things in my sleep, and when I woke one morning, one of the floor nurses asked me about it when she was checking my blood pressure.

“You keep saying ‘ Mo nighean donn ’ in yer sleep, lad,” Peggy relayed, and I felt my face grow hot. “You got a wee girlfriend, eh?”

I smiled at her through the blush. “Nae...just...dreams, is all...”

“Someone ye ken from Lallybroch? I could ring me Mam and inquire if you’d like...”

I kept up the smile as long as I could without showing how much it hurt. “I doubt anyone like that is back home. Thank ye, though, truly, Peg.” As I thought about it, maybe she did know of the lass that brought me up here from the emergency department. Swallowing my pride down hard, I asked about anyone in ED with brown hair and fair skin. Though it might be a long shot, it was worth a try.

“Och, you probably mean Claire! The wee Sassenach who brought you up here. Bonny, that one. ‘Twas a nurse in the war, came here after it ended. She’s the only one wi’ brown hair I can think of. Strange you dreamin’ about her, eh, Jamie? Ye dinna ken her, do ye?”

My heart leaped at the sound of her name. Claire. Peggy giggled as that leap shown on the monitor still connected to my chest. Damn my face, red as a cherry.

Peggy smiled as she made notes on my chart and walked out of my room. I laid back with much effort and a grimace; the pain from the accident still lingered despite having no physical injuries to speak of. Perhaps psychosomatic, perhaps real enough, just no’ enough to show on the outside. Didna matter, still hurt all the same.

And I shuddered to think of what became of my bike. Dougal was either furious beyond belief and left it where it lay on the road, or he’d taken care to have it repaired. The latter was more likely; it was a Leoch Motors exclusive model after all. More than that, it was a birthday gift for graduating university from Colum himself. Didna ken he liked me enough to stand in my presence longer than five minutes, let alone design a £ 45,000 bike only my arse could sit in comfortably.

Now that I was awake and speaking clearly, in both English and Gàidhlig , it wouldn’t be long before Dr. Abernathy, the dark American-born surgeon who consulted with the ED, gave me the all clear to return to Lallybroch.

Later that evening, Peggy came in to change my IV bags and bring dinner. I kept my groans to myself; at least the cooks in the hospital kitchen were smart enough to include salt and pepper with the poor excuses they called food. “Take yer blessing where ye can, lad,” my father used tae say. I missed him something fierce, especially now.

Jenny and Ian had already come tae see me while I was still out. I thought I could hear my poor sister weeping her wee heart out for my well being, but as hysterical as she was, the darkness kept me from telling her I was alright. I imagine Ian, being the braw lad he always was, would console my sister enough to make her listen to the doctors. No one else from the village came by, but that was okay by me. My sister and best friend turned brother-in-law were the ones I cared for most.

My mind wandered from my sister to the brown one from the emergency department once more. Claire. I reached out to press the red call button on the remote attached to my bed. Peggy walked in mere moments later.

“Aye?” She said calmly.

“The nurse from the emergency department. Claire,” I began, feeling my heart starting to beat furiously against my ribs. “Is it...well, erh, is it possible to...to see her? I wanna thank her properly. For her care, that is.”

Peggy smiled more brightly than I’d ever seen her, even as a wee lass. We were neighbours in Lallybroch as children. She’d grown into quite the bonny maiden.

“Aye,” her smile never faltered. “I’ll go see if she’s on shift today.”

I felt many emotions the moment Peggy left my room. But excitement and fear were the strongest of them. 

Would she even agree tae come up here? How would she react to me? Was she even working today? A thousand questions went through my mind and I started fiddling with the sheets around my waist, sweat gathering around my palms.

There was nothing I could do about it now. Either she showed up or…

There was a knock at my door. As I looked up, I could feel my heart trying to violently escape my chest cavity.

I could but breathe one word.

“Sassenach.”

---

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” My foot crunched against a metal computer stand on my way to the staff only lift on the far left corridor that led to the rest of the hospital. The expletives were as safe-for-work as I could make them, though most people here didn’t understand why I chose to Christen an American president, so to speak, while simultaneously cursing him. Most of the pathways beyond this lift were wide and private to accommodate the most critical of patients needing to be taken to wherever their care resided, be it surgical or the various intensive care units.

The trauma unit was on the third floor. I used my ID badge to access the lift. Jamie’s room was all the way at the end, a private room for the more formidable patient. Given what Geillis told me about Jamie, he was the Laird of Lallybroch. From my understanding of Scottish land ownership, it basically meant he was in charge of the village; a glorified landlord. In the 18th century, the title had more prestigious merit. Be that it may, I was still being summoned by the blue eyed devil taunting me in my dreams. It was time to see if the beast matched the fantasies.

It was the longest lift ride of my life, my heart hammering rambunctiously all the while. Why was I so apprehensive? He wasn’t Nessie; he was a human being. There’s nothing to worry about, I repeatedly told my uneasy brain. I hadn’t even thought to see if I looked like the professional I strived to be. I was certain my hair was a mess and there were probably bits of salad stuck in my teeth from lunch. Before I could tell my feet to stop moving of their own accord, I was standing in front of 3-1025, a neatly handwritten placard read “Fraser, J.” right below the embossed numbers. 

No turning back now, I thought as I knocked quietly on his partially opened door. Maybe he wouldn’t hear me. Maybe he would ignore it and pretend to be asleep like most patients did when nurses did their rounds. But neither of those things happened.

The blue eyed, red haired god of a man looked right at me. And my world was suddenly reduced to just me and him. Patient and caregiver. Man and woman.

James Fraser and me.

He breathed a single word that couldn’t have been more beautiful or breathtaking if it were sung by a famous ballad composer.

“Sassenach.”

It took all my willpower not to lose consciousness in front of him. In front of my colleagues too, as they were watching from the nurses’ station right down the corridor. I had to remind myself that my vital organs needed oxygen, and I took a breath as nonchalantly as I could. Nothing more embarrassing than appearing eager to meet a stranger; and in this place, a caregiver and patient relationship was strictly frowned upon.

“Hello, sir,” I finally managed to say, slowly making my way into his room. There was nothing but him in his bed, his IV and monitor in one corner, and the rolling adjustable tray that was in every room the hospital had was on the opposite side. No personal effects, no ‘get well soon’ gifts or cards to be seen, just him.

And now me. 

I cleared my throat. “You asked to see me?”

“Aye,” he croaked. Apparently his voice was still a bit hoarse from being asleep for so long. “Aye, I did. Please, come in. Sit.”

He waved his hand towards the only chair in the room, formally inviting me in. I smiled, nodded, and sat to his left, close to the doorway. Those mesmerizing blue eyes of his kept steady on my own whisky-amber ones. There was a soft, boyhood charm to his eyes; kind, even, and yet it was clear to me even then that those eyes had seen things no human being with a good heart should ever have to witness.

“I, erh,” he began, “I wanted tae thank ye for all ye did for me in the ED. Twas verra kind of ye.”

“Oh,” I blushed slightly, causing his smile to grow closer to his eyes. Damn those crystal blues. “It’s no trouble at all. Really, sir. I was just doing my job.”

“Och, I’m barely twenty-four. Please. Ye can call me Jamie.”

I looked up at him. He was smiling brightly, and it was as if the sun was visiting Scotland for the first time in its existence. A mouthful of well-maintained white teeth should not be so blinding, and yet I couldn’t help but smile back in equal measure.

“Ye’ll have tae forgive me...I dinna remember most of my time in the emergency department. But I remember ye escorting me here. Ye’ve a good heart. Didna have tae go that far for my sake.”

He was right. Truthfully, Jamie was the first patient I’d ever walked with after being admitted from the ER. I’d never needed to, I supposed. Most of the time, whoever was taking over care came down to the first floor, signed the necessary paperwork and off they went. Usually the ER was too busy for one of their main nurses to leave, and often, that nurse was me. Or Geillis. We tended to be trusted the most on the floor. But still...I had made sure Jamie was safe in his short travel from my department to Peggy’s. So...what made Jamie so special? What was this connection I was starting to feel?

“Ye alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asked.

When I looked up at him, his kind smile had morphed into a concerned frown. I felt the weight of his hand on top of mine. It was like that same sun that had visited this room today was warming my entire body for the first time. Like I had never known a bright summer's day. And it was just his hand. My mind wandered back to my dreams, making me question what lying with him would feel like.

But that word. Sassenach.

What was meant to be an insult sent rejuvenating vigor up and down my spine like a million tiny lightning strikes. When any other Scot said it, their tongue held spite. Most of the Scottish still weren’t too fond of the English, despite technically being of one nation. But when Jamie said it, there was nothing but...but affection . Adoration.

Love. Almost.

I shook these thoughts from my head. I looked up at him, and whatever look I had on my face must’ve translated to something akin to fear. He let out a small breath, a slight smile playing on one corner of his mouth.

“Ye need no be scairt of me, Sassenach. S’long as I’m wi’ ye.”

I felt moisture rising up through the corners of my eyes. I was not about to start crying in front of him!

“And when you’re not with me?” I asked timidly.

His smile grew a tiny bit wider. “Tell me a bit about yerself, so our time apart will seem shorter. Aye?”

I smiled. “My name is Claire. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”

Jamie smiled back. He held out his hand for me to shake, awkwardly as the pulse oximeter clip was still attached. “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Your servant, ma’am.”

I shook his hand, letting him hold it a bit longer than was customary for meeting someone new. And we spent the next few hours getting to know one another, exchanging childhood stories, adulthood adventures, our jobs, and the like.

Neither of us noticed, during our enjoyable conversation, that we were being watched. And it was by Peggy. Or anyone Scottish for that matter.

Chapter Text


 

 

That conversation with Claire lasted for hours. I couldna get enough of her smile, her light giggle at something funny I’d said. The way her eyes lit up when she spoke of her work as a nurse during the war, and the work she continued to do here in Inverness now that the war was over. Ye could see the heart she wore on her sleeve through her words.

I still didna believe she was really in front of me. I wanted to pinch myself to ensure I wasna sleepin’ still. But the Sassenach from my dreams was truly here. And she appeared to be enjoying my company.

She told me a bit of her upbringing, growing up all over the world, being raised by her archaeologist uncle; Lamb, she called him. Strange name for a fellow, but I wasna one to judge. Jamie was starting to be considered a girl’s name nowadays. Heh, maybe I should start going by my full Christian name, James, at that.

“Jamie,” I heard her call my name. I was met with concerned whisky-colored eyes.

“Aye?”

“You zoned out for a minute, are you alright?” I felt her reach out and take my wrist into smooth fingers, my doubt to feel my pulse.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” I smiled at her as she looked at her watch. “I, erh...I just, uh...”

“What is it?” Claire chuckled. “It’s alright. You can tell me. I promise I don’t bite.”

“Och, dinna tell me that,” I smiled, “I like it a bit rough.”

I was worried she would take offense or be embarrassed at the slightly lewd comment, but it only caused her to laugh harder. I relaxed a bit, and she let go of my wrist.

“Oh, do you?” Claire replied, a mischievous grin spreading across her fair face. I wanted nothing more than to touch the fair skin of her face. “Well, Mr. Fraser, we can’t very well do any sort of biting while you’re in hospital.”

I inched my face closer to hers. I could feel her breath fanning across my face. It smelled slightly of spearmint; I wondered what her tongue would taste like against my own.

“Yer gonna have tae think of a better excuse than that, Sassenach,” my own devilish grin mirrored hers.

“Maybe I could help with that,” a voice sounded behind Claire. I blinked at the sight of my doctor. Joe Abernathy. The dark American grinned at the lot of us.

Claire immediately shot up from her chair and stepped around Dr. Abernathy, an uneasy yet respectful look on her face. I did what I could to not smile.

“Hello, Doctor Abernathy,” I said timidly. He nodded his head, asked the now-familiar questions about my well being, quickly examined me, then looked back at Claire.

“Nurse Beauchamp, nice to see you again,” his broad smile told me he and Claire were known to each other. “How’s the ER these days?”

“Oh, you know,” Claire began, trying to make it look like we weren’t about to proposition one another. “Another day, another trauma.”

“Hah,” the doctor laughed, “I know that! Good, take care of yourself, Miss Beauchamp.”

Internal sadness came over me as the sound of the doctor’s voice had a dismissive tone to it. Claire was being told to return to the emergency department. She glanced back at me before leaving. Dr. Abernathy turned back towards me.

“You’ve recovered well, Mr. Fraser. I’m very pleased with your progress. I’m gonna go ahead and send you home today. One of the floor nurses should be in here momentarily to have you sign paperwork. I’m also gonna give you a prescription for painkillers, just in case you need them. I don’t foresee the need but-”

“Better safe than sorry,” I finished for him. He smiled at me.

“If you find yourself feeling dizzy or lightheaded out of nowhere, come back to the ER immediately as that’s a serious medical emergency.”

“Understood,” I said, praying to God nothing like that happened. 

Dr. Abernathy bid me farewell and good luck. Peggy came back to do one last round of vital signs while I signed the discharge paperwork. I gave her a hug and told her I’d pass along her love to her Mam and Da. They still lived in Broch Mordha; a healthy jog and you’d be standing in front of her childhood home.

I knew I was gonna have tae call a taxi as I was pretty sure my bike was long gone. I made my way through the hospital corridors, took the lift down to the first floor and made my way outside. But not before I made a pit stop towards the ED.

---

The look that Joe gave me as I left Jamie’s room was nothing short of a life-saving measure. If he had come in thirty seconds earlier...despite the good natured relationship Joe and I had, doctor and nurse, fellow colleagues, even he wouldn’t hesitate to report suspicions of an improper relationship between a healthcare professional and a patient; wouldn’t matter if I was in there for 3 minutes or 3 hours. Or even if I was his primary nurse. I cursed myself internally for getting that close to Jamie. And yet…

I couldn’t bring myself to regret it. He was charming. A born storyteller like most Scots I’d met since moving to Inverness. And he certainly wasn’t the kind of person who talked just to hear the sound of his own voice. He genuinely enjoyed entertaining with his words and hand gestures. I certainly wasn’t complaining; charisma is something I’ve always found attractive in a man.

Oh Lord. Here I was fawning over a man I literally just met not hours before. I shook the thoughts of the tall red-headed Scot as I came back to the emergency room.

I knew I had several patient charts to update, even more patients to check up on now that I was back. I was certain Geillis would kill me for being gone so long; I could deal with that. It was worth it for me.

“There ye are, lass!” Geillis called as she made her way towards where I was sitting. “Yer in luck. Most of the patients previously in your care were already sent home. You’re welcome for the lighter workload, by the way.”

Her cheeky grin made me smile. “Thank you, Geillie. You’re a blessing indeed.”

“Nay, twas no trouble, really. Wanted to give ye as much time with your ruadh angel. ” Geillis chuckled her signature high-pitched squeak as a sly grin appeared on her face.

I knew enough Gaelic to know she was talking about Jamie; I mentally shrugged. But before I could say anything in reply, she disappeared as quickly as she appeared. Another second passed before I was tapped on the shoulder, startling me almost out of my chair.

“Och!” Jamie steadied me on my feet, a sheepish smile spreading as quickly as the warmth of his hands on my body. “Apologies, Sassenach. Didna mean to give you a start.”

I smoothed my hair as I replied, “It’s okay.” I looked him up and down and realized he was wearing fresh clothes. A black shirt underneath a clean red and blue flannel button-down shirt, jeans that fit very nicely on him, and brown leather hiking boots. I had to assume family came by while he was hospitalised and brought him stuff from home in the event he was discharged soon. “I take it you’ve been set free?”

“Aye,” his smile broadened. “Aye, I have. But...” he lowered his head and his voice, a deep crimson shade blooming over his cheeks. “I didna wanna leave before biddin’ ye goodbye. Ye’d been verra kind to me. When you didna have tae. I’m in your debt, Sassenach.”

“Like I said before,” the volume of my voice matched his, “you owe me nothing. Just...be careful riding motorbikes in the future, alright? Then we’ll be even.”

He chuckled. “No promises, Sasseach.” He attempted what I assumed was a wink, but it looked like he was trying to hard to blink at me. It caused me to laugh, and for his cheeks to redden further. He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to be, but not before making sure no one was looking.

Jamie Fraser
Laird Broch Tuarach
CEO, Leoch Motors
01632 960824

It took a moment to shake the stunned expression from my face before I pulled out a slip of paper to write my own information down.

CPL Claire Beauchamp
RN MSN
Inverness Regional Medical Centre
01632 960465

Jamie smiled down at my scratchings, then looked at me with that same smile. And I could have sworn, in that moment, my heart melted at the sight. How could a man be so strong, fierce, and yet so beautiful at the same time?

---

Several weeks went by and with each day, Jamie and I talked over the phone. Sometimes for over an hour, just droning on about how our days were. He told me about the ins and outs of running Leoch Motors, and the reason why he had the job. My heart broke for him; it couldn’t have been easy taking over such an important position at such a young age. Barely out of university with his degree, and already putting it to use. At least he wasn’t losing his knowledge trying to find employment; not very many places were looking to hire such high executives after the war and he knew it.

I would go on about my day, the patients I treated, the good cases that were pleasant or worthy of a laugh, and the bad ones where I needed an outlet to either vent frustrations or cry without being judged.

Anytime I would talk, Jamie would be utterly silent on the other end. And I knew, just knew, he was doing nothing more than listening. I learned very quickly that he was a good listener. He only spoke once he was certain I was finished, so as not to interrupt me. He was so thoughtful, it astounded me a man was capable of such things.

Eventually, my colleagues at work started to notice a change in my demeanor. Naturally, Geillis was the first to point it out.

“Yer glowing, lass!”

“I am not!”

“Aye, ye are! Is your heid turning red along with your apples of your cheeks?”

That got a laugh out of me.

“Do spill the beans, lassie! I wanna know all the details! Are ye going steady with Jamie now?”

“No, Geillie,” I sighed with content. “We’re just friends. Honest!”

“Not for long, ye willna be,” she chuckled again, “just promise me one thing.”

“For you,” I looked at her, “anything.”

“When he finally pops the question, I get tae be yer maid of honor!”

That caused me to laugh loudly, to the point where others turned their heads to see where the cackling came from. I didn’t bother feeling ashamed, I was happy, but Geillis’ words did strike a chord within me.

Did Jamie fancy me? Is that why we exchanged contact information? Is that why he treated me with such reverence? Maybe he genuinely respected all women and gave them all the equal attention they deserved. But then again…

There was something in the way he looked at me when we had lunch the other day that told me otherwise.

“Your companionship means the world to me, Sassenach. I’ll always enjoy these moments. Truly.”

That didn’t seem like something he would say to just anyone. But then again, how many other ‘sassenachs’ did he know besides me?

I ended up getting off work early that night. So I decided to see if my suspicious were true. Walking to my car, I started planning how I would surprise him at his home: Lallybroch.

As I was reaching for the handle of the car door, a harsh hand gripped my arm from behind and whirled me around.

“Hello, Miss Beauchamp.” Frank’s hard eyes were boring into mine. My heart skipped a beat as I realized this probably wasn’t going to go in my favor.

“Doctor Randall,” I said as calmly as I could. He was being more intimidating than usual. Something wasn’t right. “If you would be so kind as to remove your hand from my arm. It hurts.”

He continued to stare for a moment longer, then released me. Not gently, either. I rubbed at the spot that was no doubt turning red from the strain.

“How can I help you tonight? I’ve already clocked out, therefore unless there is a mass casualty incident, I’m under no obligation to return to work until tomorrow.”

“I’m here under… unofficial business.” He started removing his white lab coat. Then his tie. What on earth was he doing? “I understand that our respective positions prohibit us from seeking interpersonal relations, but I can confidently say that I no longer care what Inverness RMC says on the matter. You’ve been avoiding me for months now, and I cannot stand the thought of you being with anyone else. I want you, Claire. I want you to be with me. My girlfriend. My fiance. And eventually, my wife. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

I regarded him coolly, despite my anger threatening to boil over. The nerve of this arse! “Then I guess you’re going to be disappointed. Because there is another man. So, you’re a little too late to be making such demands of me.”

“It’s that motorbike crash patient, isn’t it?” Frank’s anger was starting to show on his face. “I knew it. Whoring yourself out to a damn… savage such as that. And here I thought you were a respectable woman. Noble, given your war credentials.”

“What I do outside of work is no one’s business but my own,” I spat. “And besides, you’re hardly one to talk. Didn’t you just say you didn’t care about RMC’s interpersonal relationships policy? Bold of you to think you’re above the policies you swore to uphold upon your instatement.”

We stared at each other, hot and heavy, for another moment before I spoke up.

“My answer still stands. No, Frank. I have no intention of being anything to you but your subordinate. You’re just going to have to live with that, Doctor.

I knew as soon as that last sentence left my mouth that I was in deep trouble.

A dangerous, dark glint fell over Frank’s eyes as he forced me against my car. I tried to fight back at first, but he was too overpowering. He ripped the front of my scrubs right off as if they were made of tissue paper. My undergarments were exposed to the chill of the night air and I could feel him trying to undo his own pants while keeping me restrained, which was merely him holding his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t scream. I could feel the bulge between his legs getting closer to my clothed mound. While I couldn’t scream for help, I still had my teeth.

I bit down on his fingers as hard as I could, which did the trick. He shouted loudly, stammered back a step or two. That was all I needed to kick him in the groin, hard. I realized I didn’t have to kick as hard as I would have if he were fully dressed as the impact of my shoe was enough to cause loss of consciousness. He dropped like a sack of grain onto the pavement, pants around his ankles.

I was in so much shock, I didn’t realize that I was standing in the parking lot next to him, half dressed in torn clothes.

I instinctively ran inside the hospital, not caring if anyone saw me in such an alarming state of undress, and rang a number I’d been calling so often lately.

As I heard his voice, the tears came and they did not stop.

“Sassenach?”

“Jamie, come get me please.”

---

Recoverin’ from the accident was a lot easier than I could have foreseen. I was welcomed home in grand fashion. I supposed being Laird came with such an honor. Most of the tenants were at the manor and we all lavished over a grand feast in my honor. I wasna one for such spectacles, but apparently word has spread around Broch Mordha that I was on death’s door. Foolish as it was, I didna have the heart to tell them I got lucky. Mosta’ the folk around Lallybroch were verra religious at best, painfully superstitious at worst. Best to let them believe what they wished. Besides, it got Jenny tae make her famous pheasant roast. She only made it around Yuletide or my birthday, knowing it was my favorite dish. 

I hadna experienced any of the symptoms Dr. Abernathy warned me about, but I still took it easy at home. Mostly because Jenny was bustling around me like our Mam used tae do when one of us became ill. I ken she’d tan my hide like we were bairns again if I strained meself. Better to let her feel useful, I supposed.

Colum and Dougal sent their well wishes over the phone, telling me to take a week off before coming back to the shop. But the moment I walked back in that Monday morn, I knew it was going to be awhile before I had room to breathe. But not before I was surprised with my bike, fully restored and road ready. Almost as if the crash never happened. I almost shed a tear right in front of my kinsmen. I didna dare do such a thing, but the moment they left my office, I felt my heart skip as I realized I would be able to ride again. I was given no such order from Abernathy saying I couldna ride upon my release from hospital.

But that wasna what was on my mind. In my absence, Colum told me about new shipments from The Watch under the name “MacTare Quarrie.” But I wasna fool, and neither was my uncle. We both knew the current head of The Watch, Taran MacQuarrie, was corresponding directly with Dougal. And he was bold enough to rearrange his real name so as not to make anyone suspicious. A decent enough war hero turned underground criminal mastermind, I decided to look more into this fellow. If I was going to take out The Watch, it would be best to cut off the head of the snake. So to speak.

That evening, I started to worry on another matter.

By now, Claire would’ve called me so we could continue our conversation from the previous night. She was going on about something related to the cardiovascular system in relation to a surgery she witnessed while serving the Royal Army Medical Corps. I didna have a clue what it all meant, but I enjoyed listening to her speak. Her voice was musical, like an old Gàidhlig song from the Highlander days of Scotland, it affected me in ways nothing else possibly could. My heart lifted any time she spoke of something she was passionate about. Perhaps that’s why I was doing so well after the crash. Her voice was healing me. I’ll take what I can get.

I debated whether or not to ring her meself. Normally, I waited for her to ring as her schedule was a bit more unpredictable.

I walked over to the telephone sitting on the desk in my room, but before I could pick up the receiver, it rang. I brought it to my ear and my heart dropped at the sound of crying and heavy breathing.

I knew right then that something was verra wrong.

“Sassenach?”

“Jamie. Come get me please.”

“Stay where you are. I’m coming for ye, mo cridhe .

I didna bother telling anyone where I was going or why. I grabbed a spare set of leather and a spare helmet from the shed, and fastened them to the back of my bike. I donned on my own leather and newly replaced helmet. I started the bike, and she purred like a lioness waking from a restful slumber. Then, as fast as I could, I peeled out of the shed and owards the hospital.

It took less than ten minutes to find Claire huddled on a bench in the parking lot, surrounded by policemen. It looked like a murder scene on telly; the area surrounding Claire’s car was covered in red crime scene tape, people were taking photographs and talking amongst each other. As soon as I spotted her, I raced to her side.

My heart dropped once more at the sight of her. I did all I could to keep my temper in check; I needed to get her out of here and back to Lallybroch. To safety. 

Chapter Text


 

 

I wasted no time getting Claire covered up as best I could before leading towards my bike. She was shaking so hard it was makin’ my own teeth rattle. Poor lass. I canna imagine what she must’ve gone through just before she called me. But judging from the man currently being led away from the scene by coppers, I can probably venture a guess. It made my blood boil within my veins. To think someone would do her harm; Claire was the very sun itself. Vibrant and radiant, her very skin warmed my bones just from a slight touch, lighting my senses ablaze in an instant. Anyone who tries to darken such radiance will suffer a wrath worse than God himself by my own hands. Of that I am certain.

And despite all, when she wrapped her arms around my leathered waist, I felt that warmth. She didna say anything as I started the bike and sped away from the hospital.

The entire ride was tense. I could feel her tears starting to wet the hairs that escaped my helmet during the ride, her head firmly affixed right below my neck. She hugged me so tight during the ride, I could feel her breasts against my back, heart beating faster than the bike could carry us. I took a turn a bit too quickly, and she hugged me tighter. Her hands were fastened ‘round the center of my chest. No doubt she could feel my own heart pounding away from the inside.

There was a sense of calm during the ride back to Lallybroch, in spite of the nature of Claire’s ordeal. Her grip didna loosen, the feeling of her against my back didna wane, her spirit lifted my own. And, all the while, it felt...right. Like she belonged there, behind me on my bike, her heartbeat synchronizing with mine. The same bike I’d crashed not two months ago. The same heart that could’ve easily stopped had luck not been on my side that day.

I reveled in Claire’s touch as I rode. Savored every breath that pushed against the leather. Worshipped every heartbeat my back absorbed. Smiling all the while that she trusted me enough to allow me to escort her away from her turmoil. She could’ve called anyone for help. Could’ve chosen what I’m sure were any number of people to rescue her from her predicament. But she chose me. Me. Of all people. A stranger, essentially. Sure, we’d been talking over the telephone back and forth for several weeks, but at the end of the day, we were still unknown to one another. But that didn’t matter in her time of need. She didna hesitate to call me to come to her aid. I’ll be damned to hell if I don’t make it worth her while.

I could tell she started to cry again halfway back home. Her body shook against mine. It started out subtle, but then grew to the point where I had no choice but to pull over, lest she knock us off course.

I slowed the bike to a crawl on the side of a long, two-way stretch of highway and went to console her. I expected her to keep weeping under her distress, no’ pay me any heed. But the moment I was standing in front of her, she threw her arms around me. Her sobs broke my heart. They were loud and uncontrollable. As if she didn’t care if God himself was standing beside her. Again, I reveled in her touch. I wrapped my arms around her, as if to shield her from her nightmare. Protect her from anything and everything that might come after her, now and in the future. She pressed her head against my chest. I felt her breathe me into her lungs. My growing lust for her was overshadowed by my desire to forever keep her safe. To make sure she knew...nothing would ever come to harm her, so long as I was around.

We stayed like that, in one another’s embrace, for a good five or six minutes before she quieted down, her cries no more than meager whimpers. I pulled out a cloth kerchief I kept in my pocket and offered it to her.

“You’re going to-” she hiccuped, “-h-have to wash this when I’m done with it.” A sheepish grin came across her face with effort, as if snot was something unsightly. I’d no doubt she’d seen far worse in her time during the war, and even more so now that she worked in Inverness. I just smiled.

“Aye,” I agreed, “but you need it more than I do now, my Sassenach. Use it as ye please. That’s what laundry maids are for, eh?”

She laughed, and it was more beautiful than any music on Earth. The angels themselves couldna sing anything better. She blew her nose, no botherin’ to spare the kerchief, gathered up the helmet I lent her and replaced it over the mass of brown curls atop her head. I helped tuck some of the runaway strands into the helmet. She held my hand over her face for a tick longer, and closed her eyes.

“Thank you, Jamie,” she whispered.

My heart damn near fled my ribcage.

“Dinna fash, mo gràidh, ” I replied in earnest. I meant those words with all my heart. My love.

We continued the ride back to Lallybroch with no more interference. Once through the threshold of the barn, I slipped off the bike and stripped off my leather and helmet, hanging them on their pedestal by the bike. Claire slipped off, but I guess she was so weak from her ordeal, her knees gave way and she ended up on the straw-ridden floor. Or, would have, had I no’ been there to catch her.

I swiftly gathered her into my arms, held her close to my chest, and walked inside of the manor built by my father no ten years before my older brother Willie was born.

Mrs. Crook, the head housekeeper of Broch Tuarach, greeted us at first with a smile, but seeing Claire’s form in my arms, her tune changed drastically.

“Och, aye, ye weren’t messin’ about when ye said ye’d gone to rescue the lass,” Mrs. Crook approached Claire. Instinct told me to pull away, protect her from anything that came towards her, but Mrs. Crook had a hand in raising me when me Mam died. She wouldna hurt a fly if it landed in her soup.

“Prepare one of the spare bedrooms for me, and if there’s anything left from supper, it’s hers. I dinna ken if she ate at all before...well before I came for her,” I looked down at Claire. She was fast asleep in my arms, her breathing soft and unlabored.

“Of course, m’Laird. But...forgive me for inquiring...why are you sleeping in the spare room? Why no prepare it for the mistress?”

I just smiled. “Claire is my guest of honor until further notice. She will sleep in my room. No one’s to disturb her during her stay. She’s been through enough.”

Mrs. Crook nodded and bustled up the stairs to prepare the bedroom next to mine. The Laird’s bedroom was the biggest one in the whole house and, prior to the death of my parents, belonged to them. I could have given Claire the spare room and kept my own, but my pride as a Laird wasna as great as my father’s.

Claire had been through somethin’ terrible. And she probably wouldna wanna talk about it anytime soon. I didn’t witness whatever went down in the parking lot, but I am a smart man, well educated. And it’s no’ hard to put two and two together to get four.

Someone assaulted her in the worst way possible. Rape, in my mind, was worthy of bringing back public hangings and the burning days of the witchcraft trials. Anyone, be it man or woman, who dare force themselves on an unwilling person...well, that made them the worst scum o’ the earth.

I looked down at Claire’s sleeping form in my arms. She looked at peace, verra comfortable too. Which was saying something. As a lad, I had rather bony arms. But I guess all the working out I did on a weekly basis paid off; muscle makes for decent pillows. Heh.

Like a bolt of lightning, Mrs. Crook had the room ready. I carried Claire up the two flights of stairs it would take to get to what Da called “The Laird’s Floor.” Didna make any sense when I was a lad, but now I was thankful for it. There were only two sleeping rooms up there; my room and a guest room. Plus two full bathrooms, naturally; Da didna spare any expense making sure each room in the house was equipped for all of life’s necessities. I stopped by my room and gently deposited Claire onto my bed, which already had the sheets and comforter pulled back. I slipped off her shoes and socks, but when I looked back at her, noticed that she was still wearin’ her tattered scrubs. 

“That willna do,” I muttered.

I covered her up and went to the second floor and knocked on the door that led to the biggest room there. My sister Jenny answered it.

“Ye caught me just in time, Sawny,” Jenny said quietly, as not to wake Ian, her husband. I grinned a bit; even after our brother died, Jenny still called me by the old pet name he gave me. A Gàidhlig play on my second name, Alexander. “Was about to heid to bed. Did ye need somethin, a ghràidh?

I gave Jenny a basic rundown about what happened to Claire, and asked if she could borrow some of her sleep clothes for the night. I’d planned to take her back to her place so she could pack, if she so chose. I prayed to God that she wanted to stay.

I witnessed my sister’s face go from happy to see me to horrified at Claire’s predicament. She nodded, closed the door softly, and I heard her rummaging through her bureau. She produced a worn pair of tartan pyjamas and a white cotton undershirt that I knew she wore when she worked as a seamstress before wee Jamie, my nephew and her oldest child, was born.

“I dinna ken what her cup size is, otherwise I’d offer her one of my brassieres. Doubt it would fit anyway. Given I’ve birthed three children. Many of my clothes dinna fit n’more, ” Jenny smiled as I took the clothes from her.

“Thank you, mo chridhe ,” I whispered, leaning in to kiss her cheek. She kept her smile up as she closed the door. I went back to my room and found Claire sitting up in bed, looking all around. Her face, previously tense, relaxed as I entered the room, shutting the door behind me.

“This...” she began, “is Lallybroch?”

“Aye,” I beamed, handing her the clothes. “Tis. My sister Jenny is lending you some of her night clothes. I can take you back to your place to fetch more of your belongings in the morning...that is...” I let my sentence trail off. I really wanted her to stay. But, I wasn’t the man who tried to rape her not hours before. I wouldna force her to stay if she didna want tae.

But my fears were unfounded.

“That would be great,” she said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. “I...I don’t think I want to go back home just yet. I… don’t want to be alone...but I also don’t want to be a burden on you!”

I stepped closer to her, got down on my knees, and took her hands into mine. They were still icy from the trip here. “You will never be a burden, Sassenach. I, erh...I’m grateful tae ye. Ye… ye coulda called anyone. And you chose me. Yer welcome here as long as ye feel the need.”

Claire kept up her somber smile and looked down at our hands. I thought she was going tae pull away, but she gripped mine harder. I was impressed by her strong grip.

“Do ye trust me, Claire?” I asked, barely above a whisper.

“Yes, Jamie. Yes I do.”

I bent further down to kiss the hands I was holding. A tear fell upon them as Claire started crying again. I took her once again into my embrace and she buried her face into my chest, sobbing. I shifted myself so that I was sitting on the bed, her grip on my body never wavering.

It took a good ten minutes of her crying her wee heart out before her breathing slowed. I looked down and saw she’d fallen asleep.

I was torn now. I could slip out and leave her to sleep, and go back to my room like the proper gentleman I was raised to be. But then her words played back in my mind. “I don’t want to be alone.” Her mind would probably be haunted by images from this night, and the last thing I wanted her to do was wake screaming with no one tae comfort her.

I devised a compromise. I slipped her out of my arms and made a mad dash to the spare room. I stripped off my clothes, socks and shoes, and changed into a sleeping shirt and a pair of shorts I normally wore for my morning runs. Normally, I slept in the nude, but if I was gonna be there for her, a woman I’d never lain with, it would be improper to be naked in bed with her, no matter whose bed it was.

When I returned, she’d rolled onto her left side, still asleep. I knew she’d be uncomfortable sleeping in her work clothes come morning. I nudged her slightly.

“Sassenach,” I whispered in her ear, “did ye wanna change into the night clothes first?”

She muttered something of an affirmative, and got up. I pointed to the clothes sitting on the dresser by the bed, then turned around while she changed. When I heard her climbing back into bed, I knew she was done. I made for the door when she spoke up.

“Jamie? Will...erm, well...will you stay with me? Please?”

I turned around, and the look of utter anguish broke my heart once more. I couldna say no to her. Even if she’d told me to climb to the roof of the manor and jump.

“Of course,” I smiled.

Together, we crawled into bed. I turned out the lamp on my side of the bed. I expected her to keep her distance from me, but she turned to face me and buried her face into my chest once more.

“If anytime tonight you wish me to leave, you need but say the word. The spare room next door is already prepared and-”

“Shh,” Claire whispered, interrupting me, “I already told you, I don’t want to be alone tonight. And I can’t hear your heart while you’re talking. I don’t know why but...it’s soothing. Makes me less afraid. If you can believe that.”

Said heart sputtered further in my chest. I was sure she heard that too. But it made me think.

All the bollocks with Leoch Motors, the black market dealings, and the stress of potentially taking over the business permanently upon Colum’s imminent passing, seemed a world away.

Right now, with my arms wrapped around her body… in that moment, I felt like my life was complete. And nothing else mattered.

---

Over the next few weeks, Claire and I got to know each other even further. I could tell being away from the hustle and bustle of Inverness lifted her spirits. Lallybroch just had that atmosphere about it.

She eventually did tell me everything that had happened with Frank, a man who was supposed to be her superior at work. Now, he was in jail for sexual assault. He’d lost his job and any chance of ever being hired as a doctor anywhere in Scotland again. Good riddance, if ye ask me. The police asked Claire to go up to the station to give a statement against him. She didna hesitate to ask me tae go with her. I didna leave her side the entire time we were there. The law enforcement officer interviewing her assured her that, with her testimony, Frank would be stripped of his license to practice and most likely sent back to England.

While this made me verra happy, knowing Frank could never harm her again, I could see the amount of anguish on Claire’s face as we left the station. I left my bike at home and opted for the old ‘51 Hillman Minx Da brought shortly before he died. It was passed ontae me but given Colum’s unexpected birthday present, I rarely drove anything with a roof. I wasna sure it would even start. Glad it did though, as I wasna sure Claire was ready for another motorcycle excursion just yet. We were driving to her place on the opposite side of Inverness’ town square.

“I can tell somethins botherin’ ye, Sassenach,” I said, making a turn into where her flat was located. It was small, but boasted a small alcove of a yard that bordered an abandoned farm. Quite the view if she was on the second floor. “If ye wish to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”

She barely acknowledged me as I parked the Minx just outside her front door. But she didna get out.

“Sassenach?”

A heartbeat passed before she said, “I’d rather burn down this entire complex before going back inside. I don’t know why...he...” her breath hitched, “he didn’t know where I live. Nobody at work, save for Geillis, does. She’d come over for drinks sometimes...but...I try to keep my work and home life separate. If you want to even call what I have a home life...I live alone...this...” she gestured towards the front door. “This is mostly where I come to sleep, induce proper hygiene and maybe eat. I’m so used to rationing during the war that the closest thing I’ve had to a proper meal was the pub around the corner from the hospital. How...” I could see tears forming in her eyes again. Instinct commanded my hand to grasp hers. She didna turn me away.

“Dinna fash yerself, Sassenach,” I said calmly. “You’ve plenty of time to figure it out. What if...what if I went inside with ye? That way you don’t have tae be alone.”

All Claire did was smile as she got out of the car. We went inside, and I could see what she meant by “‘living alone.” The flat had almost no furniture, no hangings on the walls or any kind of personal touch that made it hers. There was an icebox in the kitchen, but no modern appliances to speak of. Her bedroom had a mattress on the floor, and her clothes were folded and piled neatly in the corner of her closet. As she gathered what little belongings she had, I helped her load them into the car. But my mind kept asking the same question. How many times was my heart going to break for her before it stopped beating altogether? Within an hour, we were back at Lallybroch and Claire was getting settled in for the foreseeable future. I prayed the day she left would never come.

---

It had been two months since Claire cleaned out her flat and essentially moved in with me and my family. It wasna spoken aloud, but both of us knew. There was something between us. Something...special, and no words could be put out about it. Something that wasna usual between a man and a woman typically.

She eventually gave my room back to me and opted to stay in the spare room. I tried to argue against it, but when Claire Beauchamp put her mind to something, there wasna anything anyone could say to change it. Lord pray for the poor soul who gets in her way when she sets her mind to anything, really. But...that was the thing that attracted me to her. Her iron will, and steadfast heart seemed to always be in the right place.

Claire opened up more as her stay grew in length. Jenny and Claire got along great; it was like they were born sisters, the way they interacted. Jenny told Claire all about the history of Lallybroch and Broch Mordha. And Claire would just listen, fascination written all over her beautiful face. Ian and Claire also got along well, as only those who had seen the gruesome side of war could. Ian had lost his leg during the storming of Normandy’s beaches, but that didna stop him from saving countless lives and risking more of his neck than anyone cared to admit. It was obvious Claire had seen many disfigured men in her military career. When Ian first came home with the piece of wood that had replaced his lost leg, I remember my face going pale, as if I’d faint at the sight. I tried not to treat him differently, but the man that was a friend to me when we were but bairns...weel, it was hard to endure. But Claire...acted as if he was whole. Like there was nothing physically wrong with him. She’d even given him advice on medicines and medical techniques to ease his pain at night. The more I witnessed this, the more I felt Claire really did belong at Lallybroch.

But what about me? How did I feel about her? Truly?

“Sassenach,” I said to her one day. She was in the kitchen, reading one of her medical books over a cuppa coffee. I could smell the floral aroma from the shampoo she’d used that morning. It was sae inviting.

“Good morning, Jamie,” she said with a smile. A Dhia , I’ll never grow tired of seeing her smile. Especially when I’m the reason fer it. “How did you sleep?”

“Weel enough, aye,” I replied, sitting down beside her. I cleared my throat in an attempt to calm my racing heart. Moment of truth. “I wanted to ask ye somethin’.”

“Oh,” she set her coffee mug down on the table and her book pages side down and faced me. “Well, I’m all ears.”

My heartbeat continued to thrum loudly in my ears, the blood rushing in waves that made it harder tae hear my own thoughts. But I endured. “You’ve been here for some time...and, erh...it’s been great. Truly, it has. But I-”

“You’re going to ask me to leave, aren’t you?” A look of sadness touched her features. I regrettably panicked.

“No! Christ, no, Sassenach. Erh...quite the opposite, actually.”

She blinked. “You...want me to...stay permanently?”

I beamed at her. “Aye,” was all I could manage. It was good she was a nurse, for I felt I was about to stroke out right in front of her. “Aye, I do.”

“Well, I figured I already did live here permanently. Considering I gave up my flat, and Jenny has even taken me shopping so I have more things to wear besides my work clothes. Ian even went through the trouble of setting up a telephone in my room, so I didn’t have to go all the way down to the kitchen to ring someone. Nobody does that just for a simple guest.”

“True,” I said, “but...there’s...more...to it...than that...” Why was I struggling sae hard to speak? She didn’t say anything, but her eyes told me I could take as much time as I needed. I took a deep breath before saying, “I, erh...I was wondering if ye...would like tae...erh...”

“Out with it, already, Jamie.” I thought she was being cross, but her smile reached her eyes. I couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. I won’t bite. Or run. Promise.”

Another deep breath, a few more rampant heartbeats, and I said, “I would verra much like it if you would share my room with me. And...I’d verra much like to court you. If you’d do me the honor.”

She blinked again. All semblance of lightheartedness gone with it.

“You...want to date?”

More heavy breathing. She didn’t seem tae notice the distress this was causing me. I figured by now, she would reach for a medical bag and start treating me like a patient, rather than her host.

“Aye...”

She abruptly stood up and walked towards the window. She stayed there for longer than I thought she would. Now I was really worried. Was she about to turn me down? And then what? Would she leave? Never come back? Did my proposal scare her?

All unnecessary worries, those.

She turned to face me and smiled. “I’d be honored to be your girlfriend.”

We both laughed and she came to sit in my lap and wrap her arms around my neck. She leaned in for a kiss. I savored the feeling, her breath mingling with my own. My fingers found their way through the curly brown locks framing her face. My heart lurched as she deepened said kiss, and before I knew it, we were making our way up towards my room. By the time we got there, we were both liberated from our clothes.

I wasted no time making slow, passionate love to her. Every time she moaned with ecstasy, I felt myself spill over the edge with my own release. We repeated the same cycle, over and over again, until we were both spent, in energy and in lust. She laid there in my arms, her heid on my chest, and I could see the slight movement of my heart underneath her ear.

We lay like that for about an hour, when the telephone rang from the office on the second floor. With regret, I left her in the afterglow of our love, threw on my boxers shorts and grabbed a shirt, and went to answer it.

It was Colum.

“Uncle!” I said, throwing the shirt over my fiery hair and body. “How do ye fair?”

“About as good as a dyin’ man should feel, but that’s not why I called ye, Jamie,” Colum said angrily. No fault in saying my uncle wasna a happy man. “My brother has made the mistake of the century, that’s for damn certain.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m listening.”

“Another shipment arrived this morn. From de’ same black market fool pretending to be someone he’s not. But there was something in the delivery notes. Something I think ye oughta see wi’ yer own eyes.”

I’d been keeping a keen eye on Dougal and his not-so-secret black market dealings since I recovered from the accident and things were starting to become more brazen, more...open. Dougal apparently wasna no longer keeping his business private anymore. No new developments had come to light as of late. But this...this could be the ticket to finding out just what Dougal was planning.

I told Colum that I’d be up at Leoch’s in an hour. That gave me enough time to get cleaned up and...to tell Claire. If she was going to one day be Lady Broch Tuarach, she needed to know what kind of business her future husband was into.

I smacked myself internally. We’d barely consummated our courting (so tae speak) and I was already thinking of wedding her. Though...I wasna against the idea. Just seemed a bit too soon.

I dragged myself back to the Laird’s room and Claire was already dressed like she was going out.

“Everything alright?” She asked. I was pacing the room, tryna figure out exactly what I would say to her.

I figured it was best to just be frank and honest. So...I told her everything as I was pulling m’self together.

“So,” Claire said after a moment’s hesitation. No doubt it was a lot to take in. “You think Dougal is planning some kind of what? Forceful takeover of Leoch Motors?”

“Aye,” I said grimly. “He knows once Colum dies, I’ll be in charge. The two o’ them have been at each other’s throats on the best of days, but with the older brother dying, the younger isna takin’ the idea of being second in command the rest o’ his life too kindly. Especially with his ‘disgraceful’ nephew being the one to take that big CEO chair.”

“Disgraceful?” She inquired. “I don’t see anything disgraceful about you. Unless there’s something you haven’t told me?” She quirked an eyebrow at me, but was still smiling.

“Dinna fash, a leannan, ” I smiled. “There’s always been a… an animosity between Clan MacKenzie and Clan Frasers. It doesna help that my mother, a MacKenzie by blood, marrit a Fraser to spite her younger brothers. Me mam was the oldest of four children. She was supposed to marry a member of Clan Grant, but told off Malcolm to the point where the Grants and MacKenzies are now sworn enemies. She was already with child when she and my Da married. My brother Willie. Colum did no approve but eventually just let it be after a while. He didna want there to be any personal grudges against his favorite sister’s children. Dougal though...that’s another story.”

“He hates you for what your mother did.” It wasnae a question.

“Aye,” I regarded her darkly. “Aye, Dougal isna one to forget past grievances. Despite the stories Da used tae tell us about how Mam took care of her brothers after her mother died, you’d think Dougal wouldna treat me like scum just because I’m a Fraser by birth.”

I could tell by the look on Claire’s face that she shared my sentiment. It wasna fair. It wasna right either. But it was a reality. Dougal would always spite me for being my father’s son, no matter what good I did in the eyes of his older brother. That was a truth I’d learned to live with long ago.

“So...” Claire began, a breath passing her lips. “What do we need to do?”

The fact that she was willing to help me, assuming she was on board with helping in my quest to rid Leoch Motors of Dougal and his black market minions...weel...it warmed my heart. Bless this woman, was all I could think.

I told her we needed tae make our way towards the shop. But take care not to attract too much attention. Me being there was nae big deal, but me bringing along a Sassenach would be seriously frowned upon. We took the bike towards the loading docks on the backside of the building. The fire escape ladder that lead to the CEO offices was our best chance of getting in unnoticed.

Sure enough, the building was mostly empty when we arrived, and it took a bit of climbing and my key to get into the offices. I quietly closed the door behind us and we started digging around the inventory files. After about 45 minutes of searching, my frustration was getting the better of me.

“Jamie,” Claire said, concern in her voice, “I think I found something.”

I came up behind her and peered over her shoulder. It was a folder that only had a “CLASSIFIED” stamp on it, nothing more. But the contents...weel, they were worth more than all the gold in the world.

I read over it quickly. Claire must’ve been reading along too because I heard her gasp quietly in my ear. She must’ve seen what I did.

A Dhia, ” I muttered, my heart hammering once more. “Dougal does plan to take the business over by force. And not quietly, either.”

The folder held schematics for explosives. And the last page had a blown up portrait from my university graduation, the words below it alarming and threatening all at once.

JAMES ALEXANDER MALCOLM MACKENZIE FRASER WILL DIE.

Chapter Text


 

I just sat there squatting behind Jamie, barely breathing and in utter shock. Dougal’s plan to take over Leoch Motors was to kill his own nephew.

“This is madness!” I whispered in exclaim. “Does he really think Colum would just hand over control if you’re wiped out?”

“I dinna ken Dougal much cares what his brother thinks anymore, Sassenach,” Jamie’s reply was grim, his voice slightly hoarse. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. “Either way, Colum does need to know about this. If his brother plans to take my life just to continue his illegal operations, he might be able to put a stop to it. There’s only so much I can do, despite being in charge, albeit temporarily. And there’s no telling what Dougal would do if he knew I was onto him.”

“I think you might be right,” I breathed, standing up. “But we should do some more digging. Just to make sure we have all our facts straight. I can’t imagine going to Colum thinking we have all the information only to be wrong. And someone else gets hurt.”

Jamie looked at me for a second. “Aye...aye, yer right. Good thing I only court smart women.”

I smirked at him and started rummaging through another file cabinet behind me. Jamie did the same in the large, oak desk at the center of the room. Before either of us could find anything meaningful, we heard voices.

And one of them was clearly Dougal’s.

Mallachd dha! ” I heard Jamie curse under his breath. He grabbed my hand and attempted to hide, but I stopped him.

“What are we doing?”

“Tryin’ tae slip away. Before anyone notices. If Dougal sees you, he might just kill you instead of me. And I’ll no let that happen while I still draw breath, my Sassenach.”

“But why? He doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Aye, he does no. But given yer a Sassenach...weel, it’s a long standing rule no English are allowed on Leoch premises. Long story short, Colum has always had a bit o’ prejudice with the English. No offense tae you, mo ghràidh.

“None taken.” 

I followed him towards the back entrance where we came. But I could faintly hear someone coming up the steps just outside the door. I froze, stopping Jamie in his tracks. Before either of us could say or do anything, both doors opened up. Dougal stood in the main doorway, and several of his lackeys came up from the back. My heart lurched painfully, panic gripped my insides. I didn’t dare say anything, lest I be executed on the spot just for being English in a place where that wasn’t a pretty thing to be.

“Jamie,” Dougal said to my boyfriend, but kept a suspicious eye trained on me. As if he was daring me to say or do something. “Didna expect ye here today.”

“Was going over some receipts at home and I was missing one. Just came up to my office to see if I left ‘em here. Didna find it so it must tae already been counted. Was about to leave, ye ken. So, if ye please,” Jamie, not letting go of my hand, took a step closer to his uncle, non verbally telling him to move out of his way. He was clearly a master at lying when he needed to; he did it so effortlessly. Even I believed for half a second it was the truth.

Dougal stared at Jamie and myself for the longest minute of my life. And while Dougal did move out of the way, it was in the wrong direction. He headed straight towards me. He looked down at our clasped hands, then back at Jamie, and then all his attention was directed towards me.

“Yer a bonny lass, are ye no?” He said, way too close to my ear for comfort. I felt Jamie stiffen next to me. Nice to know we shared the sentiment. “And what might yer name be, madam?”

I kept silent. Less out of fear for being found an Englishwoman and more for losing my life in this very office. But then I decided, the hell with it . At this point, I was already discovered. Might as well speak up, despite whatever thoughts were going through Jamie’s head.

“Claire. Claire Beauchamp. I’m a nurse at-”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence as my head exploded with a sharp, sudden pain. Dougal had backhanded me to the point where I was knocked off my feet, out of Jamie’s reach, and onto the floor. Jamie cried out for me but was immediately restrained by Dougal’s lackeys. Dougal did not give in and grabbed me by my hair to lift me up. I screamed at the pain, which only caused Jamie to flinch at the sound and struggle more again his human restraints. Dougal faced us towards Jamie.

“A fuckin’ Sassenach?! ” Dougal spat. “I always ken ye were a rebel, and dinna have much discipline in the way of rules, but of all the ways ye would disgrace me and my brother, you bring this Sassenach whore into this establishment?!”

“Yer one to talk, gomeral! ” Jamie spat back, his anger getting the better of his senses. “You wanna talk about disgracin’ your brother to me, then let’s discuss the black market dealings ye’d been pullin’ behind Uncle Colum’s back! And failing at that. Did ye think he didna ken about it all? Yer doin’ a fine job of that yerself, uncle. Now let my fiance go!”

Dougal blinked in shock at the same time I did, but reluctantly released my hair. I crumbled to the floor, not bothering to conceal my crying. Dougal must have acknowledged his lackeys to release Jamie as they let him go, and he raced to my side, pulling me into his chest for comfort.

“Aye, ye heard that right, lads,” Jamie’s voice boosted confidence. “Yer lookin’ at the future Lady Broch Tuarach . I didna plan on announcing it so soon, but since I have ye all gathered here.” Jamie looked at me and dipped me low to the ground, planting his hot lips onto mine as if he needed the air from my lungs alone to breathe properly. I kissed him back equally as hard; better to pretend with all I had than risk being murdered unjustly. He brought me back upright but held onto me firm. “Bonny just doesna do her beauty justice, aye lads?”

Dougal seemed to have lost his ability to speak. The look on his face only meant one thing: defeat. It didn’t take long to realize what that meant.

As second in command, he could only be in control of certain things so long as Jamie gave his blessing. If Jamie wanted to marry me, or take on any Englishwoman as his betrothed, there wasn’t a damn thing Dougal could do or say about it. No matter what the elder Scot personally felt about it. I smiled wickedly at Dougal, and tightened my grip around Jamie’s body. Jamie relaxed under my touch.

“What’s that, Uncle?” Jamie cupped a hand around his ear and leaned in towards Dougal in a mocking gesture. “Ye were gonna say somethin’? Something that approaches an apology towards my future bride? For yer malicious, uncalled for, and beastly treatment of her?” 

He bent down and lowered his voice, so that it was clear the conversation had turned one on one. “O-Oh, and an apology tae me while yer at it. You seem to forget that despite your sore feelings on the matter, I am in charge of you. And I can easily see yerself without Leoch’s employ in a heartbeat, if I so choose. But yer family. And I dinna wish to do that tae ye. Dinna ken what’s gotten into ye lately. For a proper business man and upstanding professional within our community, this behavior is verra unbecoming of ye.”

It was obvious that Dougal would have rathered gouged out his eyes and castrated himself with hot, lead pokers than apologize to either me or Jamie. He seemed to take a long time dragging his feet towards me, and his face twisted into a grimace that would indicate he was in great pain. It was all an act though; he was just furious that he’d been bested by a “Sassenach whore.” He extended his hand towards me, and I slipped mine into it. He placed a delicate kiss upon my knuckles and bowed low.

“Mistress, please. My heartfelt pardons to ye and with the utmost sincere regret. Sassenach or no, ye did not deserve my harsh treatment. I pray for ye forgiveness, m’lady.”

In keeping with civility, I squeezed his hand lightly and lifted it up slightly so that he’d stand and face me. I barely kept my face neutral as I spoke.

“You are forgiven, Mr. MacKenzie. I understand the Scottish aren’t fond of us English. But know that I served as a combat nurse in the War with honor alongside some of the bravest Scotsmen I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I wouldn’t dare dream of harming anyone of Scottish heritage, in any way, shape, or form. That, you have my word on.”

That was one thing I learned during the War while serving with said Scots. They took the phrase “you have my word,” with extreme severity and precious seriousness. It was a sacred oath of honor, a vow of promise that would not be broken even upon death. Breaking one’s word was like committing treason in the eyes of the Scottish. It broke apart families and Clans back in the olden days, if I was remembering my history correctly. And it did the trick here.

Dougal stood up as I silently commanded and placed a hand over his heart, bowing once more. “You are kinder than I deserve, Madam. I thank ye. Truly. For your service to the Crown, and for your forgiveness.” He stood to face Jamie now, his hand not leaving his chest. “I, erh, also am not deserving of your pardon, Sire, but I shall ask it nonetheless. Yer right. My actions are not befitting o’ a businessman such as meself. Will ye find it in yer heart to forgive me, nephew?”

Jamie considered him for a second before patting his shoulders hard. “Dinna fash, Dougal. We’d had worse skirmishes in the past, have we no? Came out alright. No bad blood, aye?”

Jamie stuck out his hand for Dougal to shake, and shake they did. Dougal pulled the younger Scot into his embrace, both chuckling. From my perspective, it appeared that Dougal was sincere in his apologies. But if the forms we found were any indication, it was all a blatant ruse.

Dougal was planning to kill Jamie and overtake Leoch Motors with his black market dealings. Who’s to say he wouldn’t go after his own brother next? He’s silencing all those against him. And God help anyone who got in his way.

---

“Marriage?!” I finally exclaimed once Jamie had driven far enough away from Leoch’s so we couldn’t be seen. “That’s your plan?!”

“Would ye’d preferred to be a corpse, Sassenach?” Jamie quirked. “Though, I willna lie to ye. I can bear pain just fine. I canna bear yours. Yer death would most likely lead to my own.”

“Well, erm… no, but…” I was finding it hard to ignore Jamie’s proclamation of committing suicide if I were to die. I managed to suppress my profound feelings over it. “I just find it silly that the best you could come up with to get us out of there alive was proposing I marry you.”

“Are ye against it?” Jamie stopped at a four-way roundabout and looked at me. I saw how his eyes held great sadness, and a faint frown gracing his tasteful lips. One kiss from me and all that sadness would melt away, I thought. “Do ye no want me anymore, Claire?”

I felt my heart skip a beat at his asking. “Of course not. That’s not what I’m getting at...I just figured we’d, you know, date a while before you had decided you loved me enough to marry me.”

“Hmm,” he clucked, “no worries there, Sassenach. Truth is...” He was about to take my hands into his, but someone honked behind us. Jamie waved out the window and we continued our trip back to Lallybroch. Where I was certain we would continue this conversation.

Or, so I thought.

---

“I HAVE GIVEN YE MANY THINGS OVE’ THE YEARS, BOY. FOOD, SHELTER, HOSPITALITY, EVEN A 45,000 POUND BIKE THAT YE PROMPTLY CRASHED NOT THREE MONTHS AFTAE RECEIVING IT. AND HOW AM I RECOMPENSED? YOU’RE MARRYING A DAMN SASSENACH?! AFTAE YE BROUGHT HER TO LEOCH HERSELF?!”

Despite the conversation only meaning to be between Jamie and Colum, the elder was yelling so loudly over the phone that I could hear every word he said. Jamie just rolled his eyes towards me with a smirk. The bantering about whether Jamie’s marriage to myself was “ethical” or “legal” (I rolled my eyes at that one; of course the English and Scottish were legally allowed to marry one another) went on for another several minutes before Jamie decided to take control of the conversation and change the topic. Good thing too; he looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel in his eye.

“Look, Uncle,” Jamie sighed, “ye no have tae agree with my union with Claire. I’m a grown man, am I no? Hell, ye don’ even have tae send a weddin’ gift, if ye don’ want tae. But I think we have bigger problems to worry about. Like the fact that Dougal plans to kill me, possibly you too, in order to take over Leoch?”

“Aye, aye, there’s that matter too,” I heard Colum say over the phone. In addition to his legs going out, I surmised his hearing was already mostly gone, given how much he was yelling into the receiver. “And yer certain about this, Jamie?”

“Aye,” Jamie replied grimly. “We found classified documents in my office. Documents that were clearly planted tae make it look like...weel, I dinna ken why they were there. Dougal does have a key to my office, but he’s no reason to go in there without my say so.”

“The sooner ye find out when that so-called ‘explosion’ is goin’ tae happen, the sooner we can all move on with our lives. If Dougal plans tae do the deed, then no doubt my idiot brother will be at the scene of the crime as it happens. Ye just got tae make sure yer no where the bombs are planted.”

“Or maybe we intercept any shipments that contain explosives,” I said to myself, but it caught Jamie’s attention.

“What’s that, Claire?” Jamie said, covering the hand not holding the receiver over the mouthpiece. I faced him.

“During the war, when I would go out with the convoy to rescue injured soldiers, anytime explosions were recent, there was a certain smell to them. Very distinct. I inquired about it with one of the Royal Engineers and they told me that they smell that way before they go off, sometimes even when they’re shipped, prior to being assembled on the battlefield.”

Jamie looked like I had just told him his father, mother and brother had come back to life just in time for our wedding day. The emotions that crossed his face were many, but one that stood out the most was unmistakable: epiphany.

“Claire...you’re a right damn genius.”

“What’d the wench say?” I heard Colum say on the other line. I didn’t have to get angry about it. Jamie was way ahead of me.

“The future Lady Broch Tuarach, whom, I will remind ye, Uncle, ye will speak of with the respect she is due,” Jamie all but growled into the telephone, “just told me a way we could stop the attack before it happens.”

Jamie relayed more or less what I’d just said to Colum. They exchanged a few monotonous syllables, then Jamie hung up. He surprised me by wrapping his arms around me, lifting me into the air, and twirling me around one or twice, ignoring my shouts of excitement. I lost count as I was a bit dizzy by the time he put me down.

“What was that for?” I asked, still smiling.

“Sassenach, ye may have just saved my life, yours, and Leoch Motors as a whole. Tell me more about this plan of yers.”

“Okay, but before that,” I stepped back and faced Jamie, my eyes staring directly into his, as if to force my way into his very soul. “Yes. I will marry you.”

Jamie just smiled, and spun me around again. He walked over towards the desk and retrieved a small wooden box. When he opened it, I came from behind and peered inside, and it took my breath away. 

The box was filled with jewelry and different baubles of all kinds. Jamie rummaged around inside until he found what he was looking for. It was a simple, silver band with a small lip around the top. It looked roughly made, like he had to have it done the same day, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

“Allow me to propose to ye properly, Sassenach,” Jamie got down on one knee in front of me and his smile lit up the entire room. “Claire Beauchamp, would ye do me the honor of becoming Lady Broch Tuarach? My wife. Now and forever?”

I crouched down as I took his face into my hands and kissed him deeply. “I would be honored. Laird Broch Tuarach.”

We stood up without removing our lips from one another and he slipped the ring onto my finger.

“The key to Lallybroch,” he muttered as he lightly touched the ring now on my right ring finger. “I had it made a long time ago, because I knew, one day, the woman who would hold the key to my heart was deserving of the key to my homeland. So she knew this place was as much her home as my own.” He kissed me gently, then looked at me with tears in his bright blue eyes. The same ones that used to haunt my dreams, now brought nothing but comfort, safety, warmth, and love.

“I’m proud that that woman is ye, Sassenach.”

---

Telling Jenny and Ian that we plan to wed at Lallybroch as soon as possible went a lot smoother than telling Colum or Dougal. They had already welcomed me as family, and Jenny went on and on about how she “ken all along my bairn brother wa’ in love with the wee Sassenach ‘afore he did!” Ian thwarped Jamie on the back in congratulations so hard Jamie choked on his wine a bit. Jenny and I laughed as Ian patted Jamie’s back more to get him to breathe right again.

“Weel,” Jenny began, holding her youngest baby, Kitty, in her arms, “‘tis been sometime since Lallybroch has seen a weddin’. And if ye plan to do it quickly, I better get tae plannin’! Claire, have ye thought about color schemes? Any kinds of flowers ye’d like? We have a whole greenhouse full o’ different varieties our mam used tae grow. We could make a splendid bouquet for ye.”

“Ye still maintain the gardens, Jenny?” Jamie asked.

“Och, aye, I do,” Jenny beamed with pride. “Ask Ian. I sometimes go on and on about how the blooms come in early, grumble about the ones that wilt too soon.”

“And I wouldn’t have ye any other way, mo chridhe, ” Ian smiled, reaching out to hold his wife’s hand.

“There’s plenty of women in the village who would love tae contribute their time and resources, ye ken,” Jenny returned her gaze towards me. “Don’t think any o’ them has seen a weddin’ since their own, the ones that’re marrit, that is.”

“Did ye have a date in mind?” Ian asked both of us. Jamie and I looked at each other.

“Weel,” Jamie started, rubbing the back of his neck, “there’s a reason why we’re telling ye now.”

Jamie went on to explain what went on at Leoch’s today. Jenny crossed herself as Ian’s eyebrows furrowed deep into the bridge of his nose. Neither one of them spoke, and the looks on their faces told me everything. They suspected Dougal was capable of this, but never thought he’d be bold enough to follow through. So much for family, I guess.

With that sobering moment out of the way, Jamie and I told Jenny and Ian if this coming Saturday wasn’t too much trouble, that would be best. Both of them assured us it wasn’t. I hoped so, considering it was a Wednesday night.

Jenny took me upstairs and we tore through a closet in a spare room that clearly hadn’t been opened in a while, while Jamie and Ian went to Jamie’s office to find what he was going to be wearing. I couldn’t imagine what a groom would wear in Scotland, but I ventured a guess that it involved a kilt and no underwear. I blushed at the thought.

“Och! Here it is!” Jenny exclaimed, bringing me out of my daydream of Jamie in nothing but a kilt.

When I turned around, I was stunned.

The dress Jenny held carefully in her hands appeared to belong in the 1930s, yet was modernly ahead of its time. It was all ivory and satin, floor length with just enough trail so that it would be noticeable but no one could accidentally step on it. It was long sleeved, but not poofy like was the style nowadays. And it was form fitting, also not like the poofy flowing gowns someone of royalty would wear. Fitting to my taste as I was never a fan of big, bulky gowns. Nor the shorter dresses that just covered the knees as if they were somehow offensive to the eye. 

“Oh Jenny,” I breathed, reaching out to take the fabric into my hands. It was so soft, light as a fluffy cloud. Not a wrinkle on it either. It gleamed slightly despite it being dark outside. It was breathtaking. “It’s beautiful. Was this yours?”

“Aye,” Jenny smiled her own teary smile. “Aye it was. But it was my mother’s first. And now...it’s yours. If ye so chose to wear it.”

My heart all but stopped. It hadn’t dawned on me that this dress was from the 1930s. It had to have been if it was originally bought for Ellen Fraser’s wedding. I couldn’t stop the tears. Jenny just kept smiling, her own tears evident in her dark eyes.

“Yer becomin’ a Fraser. Tis only fittin’ ye wear the same gown my mother and I were in. Kinda’ become a tradition round these parts. I’m sure whenever my wee Maggie or Kitty are set to marry, they’ll be wearin’ it themselves. Provided it survives that long.”

I chuckled a bit at the thought of her youngest children getting married. But my heart was swelling with pride and...thankfulness.

Jenny had no reason to welcome me into her family. I was but a Sassenach, an Outlander, after all. Most in the Scottish Highlands weren’t fond of the English, given their history. But apparently, if Jamie loved me enough to take me as his wife, then that was good enough for his older sister. I hugged Jenny and accepted the dress with a weepy “thank you so much,” and we started to see if it fit or needed any mending.

---

Most of the villagers in Broch Mordha were eager to help out with the wedding. And almost all of them were prepared to give gifts towards the end. Maybe I was more modest than I let on, but I almost told everyone that their presence would be more than enough.

Lallybroch’s manor was decorated with epic colors of light gray and pale blue, identified as official Clan Fraser colors. I wasn’t opposed to it; by the time I was an adult, my parents and uncle, who ended up being my guardian during my youth, were all passed on. I had no family to speak of that could be here this day. It wasn’t until Ian offered to walk me down the aisle that I realized with no family, no one would. I was eternally grateful for him. The whole Fraser lot. They’d been too good to me in my time of need. 

And before I knew it, Saturday was upon us and Ian was arm in arm with me, ready to walk me to the archway that led inside the main entrance point of Lallybroch. There were rows of chairs leading towards said archway. And at the end stood a priest and a certain red-headed Scot, dressed in the most formal, traditional and handsome Scottish attire.

My heart nearly stopped at the sight. Jamie was wearing the usual things that accompanied a kilt. Jacket, dress shirt, tie, sporran, and knee high socks and boots. But what was added was a matching swath of tartan that matched his kilt, and was pinned to his chest, draped around his shoulder, and hung loosely around his back, almost like a cloak. There was a bit of a breeze on this rare, sunny day, therefore the makeshift cape flowed slightly behind him. His hair shimmered with golds and reds and fires of many colors in the sunlight. But the last thing that caught my eye was the tears streaming down his smiling face.

Jamie hadn’t been expecting me to wear his mother’s wedding dress. I forewent the 30s cap and veil that came with the dress and instead opted for a simple fascinator hat with lace ribbons bundled up to resemble white roses and a sheet of lace covering one side of my face. My wild, curly hair had been tamed and bundled to the side where the fascinator now sat. My hands held a bouquet of flowers that were picked fresh from the garden mere hours before, now tied together with one of the childrens’ white shoestrings (they insisted on contributing to the wedding somehow and I couldn’t tell them no; neither could Jenny, for that matter.)

Jamie was still crying tears of joy when Ian and I finally reached him. 

A Dhia . Yer gonna have tae resuscitate me, Sassenach. My heart’s beatin’ clear outta my chest,” Jamie chuckled, his hand firmly pressed against said chest.

“Can it wait until after the ceremony?” I joked back. “I’d very much like to marry you today, without involving a hospital visit.”

Jamie laughed. “Ye look breathtakingly beautiful, mo nighean donn.

“You’re looking rather dashing yourself, My Laird.” I said with a slight curtsey. “My own heart is doing backflips.”

The wedding itself was short. The giving away of the bride courtesy of Ian, the priest saying a few things from the Bible in reference to marriage being a sacrament, and then Jamie and I exchanging our vows. When we were allowed to finally kiss as husband and wife, it seemed the cheers could be heard from all over Scotland.

The reception itself was essentially everyone giving Jamie and myself homemade gifts and cards of congratulations, and then everyone went home. It wasn’t ever outright said, but Jamie and I knew this wedding was going to have to be over as soon as it was announced. We had work to do.

---

Two nights later, Jamie and I were sneaking into Leoch Motors.

“Now, ye said C4 would smell somethin’ like burnt tar, aye?” Jamie whispered as softly as he could.

“Something like that,” I replied in an equal mutter. “But that’s after it detonates. It’s got more of a bitter almond smell beforehand, almost like cyanide.”

“I dinna ken where ye learned of such smells, but I’ll let ye take that bit o’ info tae yer grave.”

We successfully got in and made out way to the alcove serving as a refreshments’ section where potential buyers could enjoy a bit of drink and snacks while overlooking the showroom floor. Jamie told me there’s a trap door right behind the table, and only he and Dougal had a key. He slipped said key into its lock and we descended into a darkened void. What lay beneath the door was the main storeroom for all the black market items being shipped in. The layout of this basement spanned the entire showroom floor, which meant there was plenty of room for things to go “boom.”

Neither of us had to speak to inform the other to start our search. There was no light, which told me that a flashlight of some kind was utilized when Dougal or the others needed to come down here. So I felt, and smelled, my way through the obscurity.

Jamie apparently read my mind and was doing the same thing, if the inhalation sounds from his nose was any indication. Distracted by his breathing for a moment, I bumped into something hard and large, and I covered my mouth to avoid shouting in response to the pain. But the second I uncovered my face, the smell hit me like...well, like giant crate filled with C4.

“Jamie!” I hissed as quietly as I could. Jamie felt his way through the dark until he found my hand. He inhaled deeply, followed by a small, exhalation gasp.

“Aye, good lass,” he whispered, patting me on the back. “I dinna ken ye know how to disarm this?”

I felt the perimeter of the container. It was big. Big enough to flatten most of the Highlands. My eyes started to adjust to the darkness a bit ago and I was able to see better.

The wooden crate, which was a few inches taller than Jamie, was dead center in the basement. My heart sputtered.

“This box is the only one with C4 in it, and it’s big enough to turn Leoch’s, and everything within a five meter radius, into a giant crater. Jamie, there are neighborhoods, schools, families, you name it, within that blast zone. There should be a blast cap and some det cord, or detonation cord, connected to it. If I can cut both of those, this box will be nothing more than evidence against Dougal.”

With that said, Jamie produced a pair of heavy duty wire cutters and a crowbar.

“Help me up, will you?”

Jamie felt for my lifted foot and propelled me on top of the crate. Dougal wasn’t very smart as the blast cap and det cord were both fixated on top of the box. I used the crowbar to remove the blast cap, but not before I cut all the det cord from the crate. I scattered the contents of my damages around the room where it would take effort to find, but took the blast cap with me so Jamie could present it to Colum as proof of Dougal’s treacherous plans.

“It’s done,” I breathed. “No way can this box explode now.”

There was no time for celebration, just yet. Jamie and I made our escape and slipped out of the building, back towards the car, and straight back to Lallybroch.

The worst was over. Jamie’s death had been prevented. I wanted with all my heart to feel elation and joy that I had saved his life, but there was something gnawing at my insides.

This mission felt too easy. Too simple. Dougal knew Jamie knew the entire layout of Leoch’s warehouse, building, and surrounding lands.

I tried not to let that spoil Jamie’s excitement over the operation. He was going on and on about how he could finally move on with his life. With me. I was trying to listen, I really was, but that aching, impending-doom feeling could not be shaked. That was, until Jamie took my hand and flattened it over his heart.

“Feel that, Sassenach,” Jamie said, keeping one hand over mine on his chest and the other on the steering wheel. All I could do was nod, his heart a strong, pounding rhythm under my palm. “That’ll no stop anytime soon, thanks to ye. Yer a right earned hero, ye are, mo nighean donn.

I looked up at him and returned his glowing, bright eyed smile with the strongest one I could manage. He didn’t seem to notice the fear on my face; I was very easy to read, facial expression wise, therefore I assumed he chose to ignore it.

We made it back to Lallybroch and Jamie parked the car in its shed, throwing its weather-proof cover back over it. We walked hand in hand into the house, through the kitchen and towards the main family room.

“Break out our best whisky! We’ve a damn good reason tae cele-”

Jamie stopped dead in his tracks as he saw his sister, brother in law, Mrs. Crook, and their children all being held at gunpoint by Dougal’s lackeys. Jenny and Ian had their hands up in silent surrender, as did Mrs. Crook, but the children were crying loudly. The youngest baby was lying on the floor in nothing but her nappy, screaming the loudest. None of the thugs did anything to soothe her, which was causing Jenny much visible distress. Dougal himself was standing by the fireplace, smoking a pipe with what could only be Ian’s finest tobacco.

Both of us were frozen on the spot as Dougal turned towards us slowly and spoke. “I’ve given ye everything ye ever asked for, lad. I’ve proven my fealty to ye, time and time again. And not only do ye spit them back in my face, take a Sassenach whore for a wife, but ye continue tae stand in the way of taking Leoch Motors. A company that I built from the ground up, not ye!” He was shouting at this point. “I will have what tis mine, boy. So...” He walked over towards us slowly, a pistol aimed in our direction. Jamie stepped in front of me and I grabbed him; I did not want him to die like this. 

“Dougal, man,” Jamie said in a low voice, his hands slowly coming out in front of him palms splayed for presentation. “This isna the way tae do this. Let’s just have a wee chat over a dram, eh? I was about to pull out my best whisky and-”

“SHUT UP!” Dougal spat, jamming the barrel of the pistol into Jamie’s chest. Jamie stiffened beside me. The pistol was shoved so far into his skin, I could see each of Jamie’s individual heartbeats. I was truly terrified now; if Dougal fired the weapon…

Jamie would be dead before he hit the ground.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen, nephew, ” Dougal sneered. “Yer gonna surrender the title of CEO to me, and all that accompanies it, and then walk away from this business for good. Or...” Dougal pushed Jamie out of the way and onto the floor as he aimed the pistol at my own chest. Two of the lackeys from behind were now behind me, preventing escape. “Yer bride will be the first of many Lallybroch residents to die for your misgivins’. Eh, lad?”

Dougal turned his head to look at Jamie with the most twisted smile I’d ever seen before. Dougal wasn’t hell bent on power and control. He was a certifiably insane sociopath. He was getting pleasure from this experience. Holding the Laird of Lallyboch’s family hostage, threatening his wife’s life, all with a smile that one might have construed as enjoying a football game on the telly.

“You’re a bloody sadist!” I shouted at Dougal. “And you will get what’s coming to you!”

Jamie’s eyes went wide, as if to plead with me. His eyes, now shining with unspent tears, told me everything.

My life is not as worthy as yours.

I wish I had listened.

The movies rarely ever got it right. When I watched films showing someone being shot, it always depicts them screaming from the pain, then immediately falling down and taking their dear sweet time dying over the injury.

I felt no pain. Only a sense of numbness. And black... so much darkness. Everything happened in slow motion as I was felled.

The last thing I remember was Jamie speeding towards me on his hands and knees.

Then, I let the blackness consume me.

Chapter Text


 

Machines beeped on as a ventilator to my right kept whirling as it breathed for my beloved wife. She had been in a coma ever since comin’ out of surgery earlier that day. The surgeons managed to remove the bullet from her chest, but her lung collapsed while she was under. While they tried to reinflate it, her heart stopped beating. It took a long time tae restart it, and the surgeon made the mistake of tellin’ me they almost gave up on her.

I dinna remember what I shouted, only that it was verra explicit. I had to be escorted out of the waiting room and out o’ the building fer a time. That lasted about ten minutes; I needed to be more level headed for Claire’s sake. Plus, I couldna think about being separated from her for longer than that. I’d made my way back into her room in the intensive care ward of Inverness Regional Medical Centre, the very hospital she worked at. It was surreal. 

The last forty-eight hours kept playing like a broken record in my mind as I refused to let go of Claire’s cold, lifeless hand.

---

The moment the pistol went off, I kent my world had shattered.

Claire’s face reacted in slow motion, like we were suddenly suspended in sludge thicker than the pigs’ feeding slop. The blood came before her reaction though. It bloomed out from her chest.

Apparently nobody expected Dougal tae shoot her. Everyone figured it was a bluff. But even his own lackeys couldna comprehend my uncle’s madness. They released my sister and her family, and while Jenny screamed somethin’ horrible at Claire as she fell, and Ian shouted at her to flee with him and the bairns, I couldna think to do anythin’ but catch my Sassenach before she fell to the ground.

I managed tae reach Claire before she hit the ground. Dougal was an afterthought. She couldna speak, for blood just came out o’ her mouth every time she tried tae scream. Soon, ‘twas only me and her left in the main family room. And I cried. Oh, how I cried for her tae wake up. Wake us both from this wretched nightmare. Her eyes were wide like a dead fish’s. I stripped off my shirt in an effort to staunch the bleedin’, but ‘twas no good. My bride’s heart’s blood poured out of her body as I sat there with her limp in my arms. Helpless.

As she closed her eyes for the final time, the scream that came out o’ my body coulda shattered Lallybroch’s windows.

---

At some point, Ian stopped by. I could hear his wooden leg thumpin’ in through the door behind me. I didna acknowledge him as he entered, just kept my eyes focused on Claire and her mechanical breathing.

“Hey Jamie,” Ian finally said after what I could only assume was personal reflection. Seeing Claire like this...it wasna easy thing tae stomach.

I grunted my reply. After a few breaths, I said, “look at her, Ian...she...” I choked on my words. I was afraid tae say it aloud. But I kent I needed tae. “Such a strong...brave, lass...and here she-”

“It’s alright, brother,” Ian placed a tender hand on my shoulder, as if afraid I’d shove it aside. I didna. In fact, I welcomed his comfort. My own hand found itself on top of his, and we shared a moment of sorrow. Of grief. Ian went on. “Ye didna need tae say anything. Your heart speaks for ye, truly.”

My heart. The very organ was a disgrace, even as it beat steadily within me. It felt selfish to be alive right now. While my wife, mo chridhe, mo nighean donn, was fightin’ hard for every breath she could get. It wasna fair.

I should be lying where she lay. She should be grieving over me, and my potential loss of life.

“Jenny and wee Jamie wanted tae bring ye some things, but the nurse at the desk said no children were allowed, even wi’ their parents. So, I came on their behalf.”

I didna turn around. Ian didna have tae make me; if anyone kent my mind in this world better than I, ‘twas him. He placed a few homemade cards on the wee table straddling Claire’s bed, and a vase of flowers I ken were fresh from the garden back home. Ian patted me on the shoulder once more, and took his leave.

It wasna ‘til he closed the door that I finally looked at the gift my wee nephew made. I couldna help the smirk that formed over my face. Even at the age of 4, his handwriting was still better than my own.

“Git weel sun, Antie Clar :D”

There were pictures of Claire and myself drawn in what looked like the open fields behind Lallybroch, a sun painted in the upper right hand corner of the page, and several colored flowers all around us. I saw he had scribbled a bright red mess on top of the stick figure that was supposed tae be me, and brown one of equal messinesses upon the stick figure representing my wife, his auntie. Inside the 4-year-old’s artwork was another handwritten note, this time from my sister. I couldna mistake Jenny’s pretty writing even if I was blind.

The whole letter was in Gàidhlig.

Jamie my dear,

Words canna properly convey how this whole ordeal makes me feel. Claire risked her life tae save mine, Ian’s and those of our bairns. There isn’t enough coin, gifts, or anything materialistic in the world that could repay her for what she did. And I feel guilty for even saying this because she might not make it. I’m crying as I write this.

That much was true; I could see wet spots on the paper, evident of my wee sister’s tears. I kept reading, despite how much it hurt my heart.

Ian and I plan tae come and see Claire as often as we can, but with three bairns and Mrs. Crook taking a personal sabbatical near the MacDonald’s lands, I canna say fer certain how often ye will see us. So I ask this of ye. Not just as your sister, but as someone who’s proud tae say she watched you grow into the strong, braw lad you are. Our Laird Broch Tuarach.

Take care of yerself, brother. Let the doctors and nurses do their jobs. Claire would tell ye the same, ye clotheid. If yer hungry, eat. Dinna skip meals. If yer tired, sleep. And no just a nap either, a proper eight hours in yer own bed. No just on a cot inside her room neither. Come home tae us and let us take care of ye too. That’s what we’re here fer. Yer family. Frasers dinna let one of their own go it alone.

I love ye so much, brother. I pray God bestow His mercy upon Claire. She did His work. I believe that with all my heart. And ye as well. Ye did a foolish thing standing up tae Dougal the way ye did. But...ye never were one tae take orders lying down.

All my love,

Jenny

I looked up at Claire, who was still in the fixed, lifeless position she was before Ian came in the room. I took off my boots, crawled up onto the bed as gently as I could, lay my heid down upon her chest, and wept like I was a bairn needin’ my mother again.

And I didna stop until I had fallen asleep.

---

Two weeks had gone by since Ian had stopped by and I hadna heard anything more from my sister and her family. I did do what she’d asked of me though. And she was right. Claire wouldna let me wallow and waste away in grief, ‘specially on her behalf.

When I was hungry, I dragged myself tae the poor excuse of a cafeteria on the second floor and fed myself. When I got tired of fearin’ food poisoning, I left the hospital and drove back tae Lallybroch and let Jenny busy over me like she was Ellen MacKenzie Fraser herself. She always liked being in charge; my sister is the very definition of a “braw lass.”

I realized that sleeping in my own bed as Laird was a lot more comfortable than sleeping in a chair next to Claire as she remained in a coma. It also provided a great deal of energy I needed tae get through this hard time. Ian tried tae distract me from the pain by takin’ me fishin like we used tae do as bairns. But my heart just wasna in it.

My heart lay with my Lady at Inverness Regional Medical Centre.

---

I got the most surprising visit one day while I was dozing off in my chair. Claire hadna made any significant improvements as of late but her doctor wasna concerned about it, therefore I dinna worry either. So when Colum MacKenzie himself walked into her room, with his wife, my Aunt Letitia, aiding in his walking, I immediately woke up and stood before him.

“Uncle,” I said, almost sounding breathless, as I shook his hand. Auntie Letitia and I helped him into my chair, and we took a step back to allow Colum tae see Claire. His hand found her cold, IV-laden one. He gave it a wee grip and seemed to reflect.

“We’re sae sorry fer all that’s happened, Jamie,” Letitia told me in a hushed voice. She looked like she’d been crying herself. For what reason, I dinna ken. She’d never met Claire before. But then again, neither had Colum. At least in person.

This was not how I imagined my Uncle Colum would meet Lady Broch Tuarach.

“Dinna fash, Auntie, ‘tis no yer doin’,” I tried to ease her concerns, but it seemed to be in vain.

“No,” Colum said, “but ‘tis mine.”

“Uncle, ye dinna mean th-”

“Aye I do, Jamie,” Colum spun around in his seat tae face me, his hand not leaving my wife’s. “If I’d found someone else tae run Leoch’s insteid of ye, none of this woulda happened to ye. Or Claire.”

“Och, Uncle, ye ken it well that Dougal woulda just slaughtered some other poor bastard!” I said rather hotly. “At least, I ken Dougal and the things he’s capable of.”

“Och aye,” Colum said without an ounce of sympathy in his voice. I tensed at the tone. “I’m sure yer wee bride here would agree with ye, provided she was conscious and breathing on her own. Dinna be daft, ye clotheid.”

“I’m no being daft, Uncle! Claire kent well what we’re getting in tae. She kent the risks. And she still went tae that warehouse wi’ me, never leavin’ my side! Her strength and wit never leaving her. She’s braver than I will ever be, Uncle. I’m no saying she earned her place in this bed, but I kent she’d be tellin’ ye the same thing!”

Colum got up as quickly as his mangled legs would allow him tae. He stood in front of me, staring me straight in the eyes. His fierce gaze would make even the bravest soldiers on the battlefield weep fer their mams.

But his eyes softened a bit. “Yer right. Claire...she’s a braw lass, if ever there was one. Ye picked a real charmer to become Lady Broch Tuarach.”

My own stern gaze didna waver. “Aye. And she’ll pull through. She’s worthy of the Fraser name, after all.”

“Aye.” Colum look towards Letitia. She just nodded and Colum looked back at me. “Hence why we’re here.”

He held out his hand tae me. I took it and kissed the ring upon his little finger. His Laird ring. I had one of my own back at Lallybroch. The same box that held Claire’s wedding ring. The one she still wore on her ring finger, despite all the medical devices attached tae her.

“I came to inform ye that Dougal has been arrested on multiple charges. Treason to the Crown being one o’ them. No doubt he’ll be sentenced to death fer it. And no one single member of my Lairdship shall come tae his aid. 

“Several residents within Lallybroch heard the gunshot that...weel, that landed Claire here, and rang the coppers. Yer sister and her family are being guarded by my most trusted men. They watch the entire village day in and day out, per my orders. Until such time their Laird and Lady return, safe and sound.”

I wanted tae cry, but held my eyes steady. My heart was a different story.

“And,” Colum took a breath, Letitia came to stand beside him once more, “I officially offer ye my blessing fer your union. May you have many happy years of marriage, Laird Broch Tuarach. As Laird of Clan MacKenzie, I, Colum Mac Campbell MacKenzie, offer Clan Fraser, Broch Mordha, and all its inhabitants, the full support of my court in their time of need. We are merely a ring away.”

I took a few deep breaths before replying, “Thank ye, Uncle. Truly.”

“There’s more we’d like tae offer ye, Jamie,” Colum said. He had Letitia pull out a packet of stapled papers and she offered them tae me. I took them, flipped through a few of them, and my heart dropped to my knees when I realized what they were.

Claire’s medical bills. Receipts of them. Which meant...they were already paid fer.

“Uncle, Auntie...are these?”

“Given this incident happened in the name of Leoch Motors business, and under the direct orders of my brother,” Colum went on, as if I hadna said anything, “I am taking full responsibility for Dougal’s actions. I have personally paid for Claire’s medical expenses. All of them. And should she be needin’ any more in the future as a result of her trauma, all ye need tae do is say the word. I dinna care what they are, I dinna care how much they cost. None of this woulda happened if Dougal had been put in the ground ages ago. Dinna fash about it, Jamie. Just focus on bringing yer Lady home where she belongs.”

“Uncle, I-”

“Yer uncle is living on borrowed time, a ghràidh, ” Letita stepped forward and took my hand into hers. I’d forgotten how soft they were. Hadna touched them since I was a lad. “When he’s gone, I’ll be the one to handle anything that afflicts Lady Broch Tuarach. Ye have my word, my nephew.”

“Which brings me tae my final gift tae ye, Jamie,” Colum said. “Your position at Leoch.”

I held my breath.

“I give ye my word, no as Laird, but as the head of the company, here and now, that if ye so chose to step down, for any reason, at any time, whether I yet draw breath on this earth or no, yer choice shall be forever honored. After all that’s happened, I dinna think anyone will blame ye fer choosing so. There’s no need tae think on it now, lad,” Colum spoke over me as I was about to argue, “take yer time. I have people in place taking care of the business now. Ye’ll still collect yer pay, dinna fash on that. But...ye have my word that your choice will be honored.”

I didna bother trying tae stop the tears this time. I started to cry, and while verra unbecoming of a grown man, I didna care. Letitia took me into her arms and I wept as quietly as I could on her shoulder. I felt Colum’s hand grace my back, and the soft strokes were calming.

“If it’s alright with ye, Uncle,” I sniffled, “I need to get Claire back home before I can make any decisions.”

“As ye say, nephew,” was all Colum said before Letitia kissed my cheek and they left, arm in arm.

I turned back tae Claire. I kissed her tenderly on her cheek, and sat back down in the seat Colum had warmed before. I stayed with Claire, eating the meal the nurse had brought in, and let the moon rise above the horizon before I decided it was time tae go home.

I leaned close tae Claire and kissed her forehead. “Like Jenny said, I gotta take care o’ meself if I’m tae take care of ye, my Lady. I’m yer Laird. And ‘tis my duty tae see tae yer well being. I’ll be back in the morn for ye, mo nighean donn.

I started tae walk out of the room, but chanced a glance back at Claire before saying, “I love ye.”

---

After another night’s rest at Lallybroch, I decided I’d been a burden on my family enough, despite their best effort tae convince me otherwise. But I needed tae be with my wife. I decided tae bring with me what I needed tae make a pallet on the floor next tae Claire’s bed and just sleep at the hospital from now on. The last thing I wanted was tae come back one day and find that she’d... no. No, I wouldna think that way. Claire was going to survive. She was a Fraser after all. Worthy of my good name. Of my clan’s honor and fealty. We Frasers have survived much worse.

My worries on the car ride up there were unfounded. When I walked into the room that morning, her doctor was just finishing up his examination of her. We shook hands and I took my seat beside my bride, setting the pallet pack under Claire’s bed.

“How is she, doctor?” I asked, half scairt of the answer.

“Weel,” the man began, and the tone of his voice made a knot form in the pit o’ my stomach. “The good news is she hasn’t deteriorated.”

“That is good,” was all I could say. Brace yerself for the bad news, I thought.

“The bad news is...while nothing bad has happened, nothing good so far has either.”

“What d’ye mean?” I sat closer tae him in my seat, heart picking up its pace.

“I mean, she’s shown no signs of wakin’ anytime soon. We can run some more tests to see if our calculations were off, but Mr. Fraser, I need you tae be prepared.”

I felt concern and heat flaring up in my chest. “Prepare for what?”

The doctor didna speak. So I repeated myself. More stern this time.

Prepare. Fer. What?

The doctor took a breath before saying, “there’s a chance your wife may never wake up. We have done all we could tae prevent any further damage and detriment tae her life. We’d hope she would have started tae improve by now, show signs of regaining consciousness, lessen the need for mechanical breathing assistance, but so far...her body is too weak to be removed from the machines. The trauma has...well, ‘tis too great. All we can do now...is pray. Leave it up tae her. And God. I’d be more than happy tae call in our grief counselor and she can start talking with you about final affairs...”

I didna hear anything past the doctor saying “may never wake up.” My mind shut down completely. I could hear his voice, but couldna understand his words. Even if he’d spoken to me in Gàidhlig , which as a Scot himself, he probably could do. But I still wouldnae gotten it.

Claire was going tae die. And there wasna a thing anyone, not even the most brilliant medical minds in Scotland, could do tae save her.

What was going tae happen to me when I was forced tae bury the love of my life before we could even start having said life together?

The machine measuring her heartbeat started tae make a whirring sound, telling us something was gravely wrong with Claire. My own heart started doing something similar in my chest. The breath left my lungs, and I couldna draw another so long as Claire was struggling.

Or dying.

My worst fear was becoming a livin’ nightmare.

This was it. 

Either Lady Broch Tuarach lived tae come home tae Lallybroch. Or...she would still come home. Just in a pine box tae be buried next tae my brother, Willie.

Several nurses rushed into the room, pushing past me with a kind of strength I didna think such wee nurses could possess. There was a frenzy of activity, but then...it just stopped.

Everyone stood like stone statues, staring at Claire. Slowly, and with much pain, I walked towards the foot of her bed.

And her eyes were open.

Chapter Text


There was no sound as I opened my eyes. I knew there were other people in that room, one that I vaguely recognized as a hospital room. My hospital room. I wanted to panic, but I couldn’t bring myself to knowing those familiar, calming, ocean blue eyes were staring at me from my feet.

“Sassenach,” was all I heard him say. And I knew, in the end, everything was going to be okay.

I was removed from the ventilator and all my vital signs were checked. My doctor did an examination and declared that I was “verra healthy fer someone who’d been shot.” I couldn’t hide the small smile that played on my lips as he left the room. But Jamie didn’t move a muscle. He kept standing there at the foot of my bed, almost as if he was afraid that if he took a step closer to me, I would break.

“Jamie,” I tried to say softly, but my voice was still hoarse from the tube down my throat. So, I reached out my hand, beckoning him to sit next to me. I could tell by the look on his face that he was still hesitant, so I smiled. That was all it took. He grasped my hand like his life depended on it.

“Sassenach,” Jamie breathed, unspent tears rolling slowly down his cheeks. I cannot fathom what this amount of time I’d been unconscious had done to him. It was obvious words could not come easily.

So, I let it be. For now. I know Jamie would tell me everything in due time. We sat in silence for the rest of the night, letting the unspoken words and devastation in our hearts speak for us.

---

I was released from hospital a week later. Geillis personally escorted me from my room to the old Minx that had moved me from my flat to Lallybroch. She profusely apologized for not seeing me sooner. 

“When I heard the news, I-I’m so sorry Claire,” Geillis had said, a full spectrum of sorrow in her eyes. “I couldna look upon ye in that state...I...I just couldna!”

I took her into my arms as she choked back sobs that clearly needed to be let out. Dougal’s actions had affected everyone who cared about me. I whispered my forgiveness and Geillis, Jamie, and me made our way out of the ICU, with Gellie pushing me in a wheelchair. Jamie hung back to give us time to ourselves.

Jamie gingerly drove me back to Lallybroch, but not because he was worried the roads were too rough. He was very quiet; a trait not too common for a Fraser. I was concerned but kept silent. For all I knew, he was trying to find the right words to say, and me speaking might derail his thought process. At least, that was my hope. That he would explain what was going through that fiery head of his when we returned home.

Speaking of home, what I was expecting and what I got in the way of a homecoming was several worlds apart.

I was expecting a party of some sorts, in true Lallybroch fashion, with the entire village’s population ready to shower me and Jamie with adoration, love and praise, as well as good wishes for the future. I imagine neverending drams of whisky, the grand dining room table filled with a feast that surely would last a week.

What actually happened was Jenny and Ian quietly, and somberly, hugged me gently, whispered their thankfulness that I was alright, and went about whatever business they were tending to before we showed up. The young Murray children were nowhere to be found, and I couldn’t hear any signs of play throughout the manner. No doubt Mrs. Crook had them tucked far out of the way, as I didn’t see her at all. I suppose Jamie had rung Jenny and told her to be easy on me with welcoming me home. I couldn’t blame him; it seemed more for himself rather than me. I was alright with it.

He walked me into our room and closed the door once I was settled into bed. When he said nothing after sitting next to me, I had to speak up.

“So...” I began wondering if opening my mouth was such a good idea. What do I say?

“I’m...sae verra… verra sorry, Claire...” was all Jamie said before he broke down. And it was not pretty.

I had never seen Jamie cry. I would imagine, given the way he was raised, the choices he’d made in his life, and the weight that he carried with said choices, that crying just wasn’t an option for him and he knew it. He was the kind of man who knew crying about something wouldn’t make it go away, no matter how much he might want it to. He was a man of action, not emotions. He preferred to get rid of a problem rather than brood dramatically over it. Though, he did show emotion when it really mattered. This was one of those times. The intensity was palpable in the air.

His cries weren’t small, somber whimpers either. Big, fat tears streamed down his cheeks like a flood. His eyes were slammed shut as tight as they could be, as if it would stop the waterworks from happening. The action created wrinkles above his high cheekbones that I’m sure didn’t actually exist. And he sobbed loudly and uncontrollably, not caring who or what was near to hear.

And all I could do was hold him and he felt his way through his grief. I was in no place to judge him or say anything. He almost lost me. Lost his own life. Lost everything.

“None o’ this woulda happened,” he said in gasping breaths between crying fits, “if I’d just given myself up. Given up Leoch. None. And now ye-” he hiccuped as another wave of sobs tore through his throat. I felt him grasp my body harder, as if letting go would mean I would drop dead on the spot. My heart broke over and over again as his tears soaked through my clothes.

“No, Jamie,” I said, my own waterworks threatening to spill over and join the Great Flood of Jamie Fraser. I forced his head up so he was looking at me, despite his face shining with tears and snot. “No, do not blame yourself. You did what you thought was the best course of action. If anyone should be sorry...it’s me.”

Jamie’s blue eyes widened to the point where I was convinced they would pop out of their respective sockets. It appears it would’ve been more appropriate to slap him. I continued on.

“I feel like… if I had just turned down your proposal for marriage...or even, even if I’d just kept to myself and left you alone in the ICU after your accident...none of this would have happened! I mean...who’s to say what will happen now that I’m out of hospital? Huh? Why? Why did you fight so hard for me? I-”

Jamie’s fierce grip around my waist stifled all the breath from my lungs; I couldn’t speak.

Dinna dare say that, Sassenach! ” Jamie hissed, as though his words caused him great pain. Who was I to say that they didn’t? “Do ye hear me? This is no yer fault, Claire. My fault. I let ye get-” The words seemed to lock up in Jamie’s mouth. Like he was afraid to say the truth out loud. But he went on. “Ye ken the risks, and ye still helped me. Ye coulda easily said no, told me to fix me own problems. But ye didn’t. Yer actions...saved countless lives at Leoch’s. I dinna think Colum will no forget that anytime soon.”

The air remained heavy as only the sound of our breathing could be heard. Jamie’s face had dried somewhat, but I wiped away what I could with my hand. He leaned into my touch.

“Ye saved my life too.”

I looked up at him as he looked away, as if it was shameful to let your wife take your place in death.

“And yer a damn hero fer it. I dinna care what anyone else says. Ye were willing tae lay down yer life fer mine. Whether ye meant tae or no, ye being there was enough. It’s a debt I canna ever repay. I’m grateful for ye, Sassenach. Truly.”

He abruptly stood up and faced me, face hardened. I blinked at him, unsure of what his next move would be. It frightened me slightly.

“Colum came tae see ye, while ye were under. Told me Dougal was in prison for the foreseeable future. Treason tae the Crown.”

I breathed a sigh of relief I didn’t know was needed. To think that the man responsible for nearly killing me would never breathe free air again brought some comfort. But it didn’t change what he did to me. To us. Nowadays, given all that happened during the War, anyone convicted of treason went straight to hangman’s scaffold. No doubt that would be Dougal’s fate.

“Not only that,” Jamie continued, “he gave us, and our marriage, his official blessing as Laird.”

“Did he now?” I raised my eyebrows in genuine surprise. “Wonder what made him change his mind.”

“I think he feels guilty about it all. He believes that, had Dougal been taken out like he wanted, our lives wouldna ever been in danger tae begin with. He felt he needed to take responsibility. Which brings me tae this.” Jamie pulled out a small stack of papers stapled together and handed them to me. I knew these papers like the back of my hand. I’d had my fair share of dealing with Inverness Regional’s billing department.

“Are these?”

“Yer medical bills. Paid for, in full, out o’ Colum’s own pocket.”

I blinked back a stray tear. “He didn’t have to do this.”

“Aye,” Jamie sighed. “But, again, he took responsibility for all of it. Including...any future medical needs ye’d be having as a result of Dougal’s actions. My Auntie Letitia, Colum’s wife, pledged her own vow. Colum isna expected to live much longer. She vowed to take up the helm should the need ever arise. A wee weddin’ gift tae us.”

I smiled down at the papers and started skimming over them. Mostly to see what all was done to me while I was hospitalized. But when I saw that they’d performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, I quickly folded them back up and set them aside.

“I did die...” I looked up at Jamie. The scared look on his face told me everything.

“Aye,” Jamie muttered. “Yer...yer heart stopped while in surgery...right after they reinflated yer lung...”

“My... my lung collapsed? ” I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Given the amount of pain I was in when I first awoke, and where the pain was, I knew I had been shot in the chest. My medical brain went through all the possibilities that could arise from such an injury. All the organs that could have been hit, and all the fatal consequences...I shuddered.

“Which...” Jamie went on, “leads me tae my next bit o’ news.” He took the deepest breath his lungs would allow before speaking again. “Colum offered me an out. Tae leave Leoch Motors, step down as Interim CEO.”

I took a breath of my own, more out of shock. If Jamie didn’t have my attention before, he certainly did now.

“He told me,” Jamie went on, “that at any time, fer any reason, given all that’s happened, I can resign and nobody will question my decision. I’d have tae find a replacement, but...Colum gave his word that anyone I chose would be honored. Whether Colum lived tae see it or no. Letitia will see tae that too.”

It was a lot of information to take in at once. I didn’t say anything while I processed. But apparently, Jamie wasn’t finished.

“And now I offer ye the same proposal.”

My eyes shot up in horrified shock. What in God’s name was he on about?

“If ye truly believe...what ye told me...and that ye’d be better off without me...though, I willna lie, ye’d be breaking my heart down tae its verra core...I love ye so much Claire. Yer the very beat of my heart, mo nighean donn. But...I canna imagine what ye went through, despite being right there all the while. So...I’m offering ye an out, too. And I willna stop ye. Nor judge ye. Despite the pain it’ll cause me. I can deal with it. I...I just want ye tae be happy. Even if it’s no wi’ me.

“But...if ye do choose to stay...there willna be turning back. Yer a Fraser, and there’s no shortage of chaos and destruction when bearing my name. Ye represent a braw group of people, Sassenach, just by being my wife. Lady Broch Tuarach carries with it a distinguished amount of pride and honor, yet a great deal more responsibility and potential turmoil. Burden. Can ye handle that? Can ye deal with being by my side, by my family’s side, and all that comes wi’ it, for the rest of yer livin’ days?”

I felt my airways constricting at the thought. Jamie had saved me in more ways than one. More than I ever could have that night in the family room of Lallybroch. When I thought about it, he did repay his debt before it even became such. Several times over. But...learning what I did just moments before…dying on the operating table...lying comatose for almost two months...no doubt with doctors and nurses questioning my survival chances... it did make me wonder.

Would I be safer if Jamie and I were no longer together?

Chapter Text


 

Sometimes, when there’s nothing going on at all, I sit and wonder. Whether it's during a lazy afternoon when I’m not working, or the Scottish Highlands bring in their classic thunderstorms and the white noise of the heavy rains allows me to collect my thoughts and reflect on the past and its decisions. It’s one of those times right now. And I wonder.

What would my life be like if I had left Jamie?

What path would life had taken me? Would I be as safe as I originally believed I would? Or...would I have been miserable, knowing the man who had captured my heart in the emergency room wouldn’t give it back?

I supposed I would have moved on. Found work somewhere else in Scotland or, hell, probably have moved back to England. Or I could have moved to America, start a new life for myself. I could have found love again. Remarried, settled down. Maybe even upgraded my credentials in the medical field and attended medical school, become a doctor. And maybe...I would’ve been happy. Safe.

At this point...I’ll never know.

---

“If ye truly believe...what ye told me...and that ye’d be better off without me...though, I willna lie, ye’d be breaking my heart down tae its verra core...I love ye so much Claire. Yer the very beat of my heart, mo nighean donn. But...I canna imagine what ye went through, despite being right there all the while. So...I’m offering ye an out, too. And I willna stop ye. Nor judge ye. Despite the pain it’ll cause me. I can deal with it. I...I just want ye tae be happy. Even if it’s no wi’ me.

“But...if ye do choose to stay...there willna be turning back. Yer a Fraser, and there’s no shortage of chaos and destruction when bearing my name. Ye represent a braw group of people, Sassenach, just by being my wife. Lady Broch Tuarach carries with it a distinguished amount of pride and honor, yet a great deal more responsibility and potential turmoil. Burden. Can ye handle that? Can ye deal with being by my side, by my family’s side, and all that comes wi’ it, for the rest of yer livin’ days?”

I felt my airways constricting at the thought. Jamie had saved me in more ways than one. More than I ever could have that night in the family room of Lallybroch. When I thought about it, he did repay his debt before it even became such. Several times over. But...learning what I did just moments before…dying on the operating table...lying comatose for almost two months...no doubt with doctors and nurses questioning my survival chances... it did make me wonder.

Would I be safer if Jamie and I were no longer together?

It didn’t matter. I might be safe. But I would never be happy.

“I can’t imagine a life without you, Jamie. You...are my home now. My life. My heart. And I wouldn’t give that up even if it meant certain death. Whatever happens… wherever the wind takes us...we will figure it out. Together. There’s two of us now.”

---

That sealed my fate for eternity. And I couldn’t bring myself to regret it.

Three years after being shot, I found out I was pregnant. Jamie was, of course, elated beyond belief. He would nuzzle up to my still-flat midriff whenever the opportunity presented itself. When I started showing, he would tell me I glowed like the morning sun. At night, he would whisper sweet nothings to our unborn child. Any time he would, the baby would kick against his face, causing us both to laugh.

And on an early spring morning, Jamie and I welcomed a daughter into the world. We named her Faith Julia Alexandria Fraser. She had a whiff of her father’s fiery hair and his slanted, blue eyes. The same eyes that captivated me years earlier.

Jamie was always the first one up in the middle of the night to care for Faith, whether or not she was hungry. Almost every nappy that needed changing, almost every tear she cried, every minute infant laugh was induced by Jamie. And sometimes at night, when the world was stiller than the cemetery just outside the manor, I could hear Jamie talking to our daughter in Gaelic. Hopefully good things, I would wonder cynically.

When Faith was almost one, news was brought to us that the remaining Watch members had been captured. Their leader, Tarren MacQuarrie, was facing equal charges to that of Dougal, who was still being held prisoner for his own crimes. Most of the other members would probably bargain their way out of more harsh charges and punishments, probably in exchange for intimate details and intelligence on their leaders.

We also learned more about why Dougal became involved in the black market to begin with. And I felt like a fool for not knowing right away, given I was essentially a World War Two combat veteran.

“Greed,” Jamie read my mind, a venomous bite to his words, “pure and simple. The war made criminal dealing much more desirable. And it was easy to get away wi’, given the state of life...Dougal didna care about Colum, or me, the employees, or even becomin’ CEO. He was willing tae kill ‘em all if it meant he got what he wanted… which was fortune. Wicked fortune, but an endless supply of money nonetheless.”

Two weeks after we celebrated Faith’s first birthday, official word was sent that Colum had died in his sleep. Jamie had retired to his office for the remainder of the night, no doubt to process his grief alone. He did that sometimes.

Around two in the morning, I came in with a glass of whisky. He was bent over his desk and scribbling things down, but I could see that his eyes, even from the doorway, were glassed over with exhaustion.

“You should come to bed, my Laird,” my voice caused him to jump slightly in his seat. I handed him the dram and he drained it in one, silent gulp. It didn’t surprise me one bit. My husband could drink an entire cask of whisky and somehow not appear drunk. “It’s quite late. At least get in an hour or two before Faith awakes for her nightly feeding.”

“Aye,” was all Jamie grunted. But he didn’t make a move to get up. A few moments passed before he said somberly, “I canna in good consciousness give up my seat at CEO of Leoch Motors. Besides Colum, only I know how to run the business without givin’ into illegal dealings. I ken Colum prolly’ expected me to step down and find a replacement, but...” he took a breath and invited me to sit on his lap, which I did. “I’m a husband. And now a father. Our bairn needs a good, stable home to thrive in. And while I leave that tae ye, Sassenach, someone has tae go out there and bring home the resources for ye to do that job.

“Ye’ll need never worry about the necessities o’ life, mo nighean donn . I will provide fer ye both.

“I was never worried about that, Jamie,” I reassured him. “Faith and I love you so much, and we’re both so proud of you.”

Jamie’s lips brushed mine as he picked me up and carried me to our bedroom. Faith slept longer than I had anticipated, therefore the night wasn’t over just yet.

---

The funeral for a Laird was not the somber one I had expected. Like Lallybroch and the Frasers, Clan MacKenzie were well known for throwing extravagant parties, even if it was in memoriam of their lost leader. After the wake and burial, we gathered in the Great Hall for refreshments and entertainment. Something, according to most everyone there, Colum himself would have been pleased to witness. From stories, I learned that Colum was a connoisseur for motorcycles. He built his first when he was only thirteen. At the age of seventeen, he was in a horrific accident, which resulted in the diagnosis of Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome, a degenerative disease that renders his legs immobile at times, and fills his days with great physical pain. I’d read about this particular disorder while in nursing school, though I’d never seen it in person. Despite his ailments, he continued to build bikes. It also led to him developing a knack for building bikes for soldiers wounded in the war. It wasn’t open information, though, according to Jamie.

“Colum didna want this business tae be exclusive tae the disabled,” Jamie explained, “as he felt he wasna disabled. Just a little...bent.” I slapped his arm playfully at his smirking comment.

More stories came up describing how Colum never tried to hide his disfigurement. It was something he was never ashamed of; mostly because the accident was his fault to begin with. I greatly respected that sentiment.

Nobody dared mention Dougal’s name or likeness in the hall.

“The younger of my uncles,” Jamie said lowly in my ear so no one would overhear him, “has been officially shunned from the Clan. Breathe his name directly and ye shall find yer heart at the pointed end of a thousand dirks. No that I blame ‘em. He brought this shame upon himself. Damn if the clan allows that shame to stain their good name.”

All I could do was nod as we mingled with the rest of the crowd.

This was also my first real chance to introduce Faith to some of her distant relatives. The MacKenzie Clan were Jamie’s maternal family members after all. Faith seemed to enjoy the attention, giggling every time she was passed around. Mrs. Fitzgibbons, the MacKenzie head of housekeeping, found the most joy in my daughter’s presence. Her granddaughter, Laoghaire, expressed her congratulations, but I could sense she was jealous. For one thing, she never made direct eye contact with neither me nor Faith. Her eyes kept towards Faith’s tall, rugged, red-headed father. I suspected she rather fancied Jamie, given the way her eyes kept finding their way to my husband’s backside. I didn’t dwell on it; her infatuation was her own problem.

I assumed the party lasted well into the night as we left a few hours after we arrived. Faith was getting restless and clearly needed her warm, homey crib at Lallybroch.

It wasn’t until Jamie put her down that he came back and dropped a bombshell on me.

“I have been offered tae take Colum’s place. Tae become Laird of Clan MacKenzie.”

“Oh,” was all I could manage once I picked my jaw up off the floor.

“I ken ‘tis a wee bit o’ a shock, Sassenach,” Jamie chuckled. “I was surprised tae be offered, seeing as it’s no custom to be Laird of two Clans. Back in the height of the Highlander days, ‘twasna allowed at all, no matter the circumstances.”

“So,” I said, “Am I to become Lady MacKenzie in addition to being Lady Broch Tuarach?”

Jamie just smiled. “Nah. I turned it down. Felt it was better if Letitia found someone who wasna already Laird. But...I did decide on somethin’ else.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ll be keeping my post at Leoch Motors. Beforehand, it wouldna mattered tae me. But now...” He took my hands into his. Warm, rugged from years of manual labor, and inviting. Soothing, as he pressed gentle kisses to my knuckles. “As I said before, I’m a husband and father now. My girls need stability from a good paying job. I canna imagine tryna find work in this post-war nightmare. Despite all that’s happened tae us, this is a blessing. Faith, and whatever children we have after her, deserve the verra best. I can provide that bein’ in charge o’ Leoch’s. I owe ye that much, Sassenach.”

All I could do was smile as I pressed my lips to his. I prayed the day never came where I would grow tired of kissing this man. It always made me feel like our first time. New love blossoming from a growing attraction never foreseen. Much how our lives have turned out.

“Well then, Laird Broch Tuarach,” I smirked, “I suggest you work hard. Your wife and child will welcome you home each day with open arms and full hearts.”

---

After another month of staying home with Faith, I asked for my old job back. Apparently, since being shot, the higher ups didn’t think I would survive and listed me as retired; better that than being sacked. I used to wonder why Geillis never said anything when she escorted me in a wheelchair that day, but it didn’t matter now. Inverness Regional Medical Centre was still the same welcoming environment it always was. Despite my encounter with Frank and nearly dying here, none of that seemed to phase me as I did what I did best. Many of the staff who were still there were thrilled to see me whole and happy, and even more so that I was now a wife and mother. Sharing pictures of Jamie and Faith will always be a favorite pastime of mine.

Geillis was now in charge of emergency nursing and I couldn’t have been happier to see her thrive in a leadership position. It was good to have her as my boss, truth be told. Joe Abernathy, the doctor on the third floor who tended to Jamie after his accident, took over as the attending emergency physician. Frank was never explicitly mentioned aloud, but rumor had it that he was arrested in London on raping another woman and was in prison for the foreseeable future. Good riddance, if you ask me. I know now that, no matter what circumstances came my way, I would never feel like I didn’t belong here in Inverness again.

I worked for another three years at the ER when I found out I was pregnant again. Geillis proudly confirmed the pregnancy herself.

“Yer about seven weeks along, lass,” Geillis said happily. “Another redheaded bairn for ye and Jamie?”

“I hope so,” I smiled. “Though, I wouldn’t mind having a child that had brown hair.”

Geillis just laughed. “Be sure tae pass along my felicitations to yer Laird, a ghràidh.

Jamie could’ve easily thrown me out the window when I told him the news. He was so happy, he spun me around and I almost threw up in his face. He placed a tentative hand across my still flat stomach, the smile never leaving his face.

Jenny and Ian used our news sharing as a medium to announce they were expecting again too. I looked forward to sharing this experience with my sister in law, but humorously, I knew Jamie and Ian were going to be outnumbered in the testosterone category.

Brianna Ellen Glenna Fraser was born a few weeks prematurely, but was just as healthy as her big sister Faith had been at birth. She had strong lungs and kicked her legs like there was no tomorrow; mostly to get Jamie out of her face. This always caused me to laugh.

Another week went by before tragedy struck. Jenny and Ian would not get a chance to share in mine and Jamie’s joy as their child, a daughter they named Caitlin, was born sleeping. I surmised the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck as she was black and blue all over upon birth. My heart broke for my siblings. There wasn’t a dry eye from the adults in the room when it was announced. I’m not sure who among Jamie, Ian, Jenny or myself cried the most.

We laid Caitlin to rest in front of her grandmother and uncle. Jenny and Ian mostly kept to themselves over the next two weeks, their other children in the sole care of Mrs. Crook; no doubt to process and endure their grief as Caitlin’s parents. Jamie and I gave them their space and tried our best to revel in our own newborn joy.

Once Jenny felt it was time to move on, she treated Brianna as if she were her own daughter. Anytime Brianna wasn’t in need of a fresh nappy, sleep or breast milk, Jenny had her on one hip as she kept the manor in order. I didn’t know it then, but what I was witnessing was the start of a beautiful relationship between aunt and niece. Jamie would end up talking about it for years to come.

Just a week shy of Brianna’s one month birthday, we received word that Dougal and Taran both had been hanged for their crimes. When I asked Jamie why we weren’t notified sooner, his face showed regret. For what, I wasn’t sure.

“I was asked just before Brianna was born if we wanted to attend the execution. As Laird, I declined. It wasna anythin’ tae do with your pregnancy. I figured...” he took an apologetic breath, “ye’d suffered enough at the hands of that man.”

I wanted to be angry with him for deciding on my behalf, but I knew he was right. Dougal damn near killed me. Taran might have played a tertiary part in my close demise, but he was just as guilty. All of this started with him, and The Watch. I didn’t feel sorry for their losses. If anything, they couldn’t have come soon enough. Over the span of six months, each Watch member was either convicted of lesser crimes or hanged for treason to the Crown. We received notice for the more prominent members, but Jamie didn’t bother to save the telegraphs. They burned with the same effect of Dougal’s own notice to us. Only when the last Watch member was duly punished for his crime was I able to breathe in peace. It was finally behind us.

---

On the eve of mine and Jamie’s 10th wedding anniversary, the residents of Broch Mordha and Lallybrock held a party for us in our honor. Mostly because Jamie and I had been planning a second honeymoon to Jamaica for some time. We’d planned to leave the following morning, sailing for two days before arriving and spending two weeks with nothing but a smile on our faces and the warm sand between our toes. I’m sure Jamie had many saucy plans and tricks up his sleeves since we would be away from the girls, but they might have to wait.

When Lallybroch toasted their Laird and Lady, I made the announcement that I was pregnant again. Large, loud cheers followed the revelation, and Jamie once again basked in the glow of becoming a father again.

Our second honeymoon was filled with lazy days laying on the beach and nights filled with music, laughter, the making of new friends and plenty of alcohol to kill a small village. Well, for Jamie. I was surprised I had no morning sickness to speak of, and was able to keep my food and water down the entire trip. I suspected early on, but didn’t say anything. I knew then and there that I was most likely carrying Jamie’s son.

Sure enough, nine months almost to the day of the announcement, Jamie and I welcome our third and final child into the world. A beautiful baby boy who (finally) didn’t share Jamie’s hair or eyes.

William James Simon Fraser was the smallest of all my babies in weight, but he was the most fierce. He had my whisky colored eyes and a full head of dark brown hair. And his smile reminded me so much of his father. Of all three children, Jamie cried the hardest at his birth. Probably because he knew this boy would carry on the Fraser Clan name, as well as one day become Laird of Lallybroch.

Faith, now eleven, and Brianna, now seven, were the big sisters I always imagined they’d be. With Mrs Crook becoming too old and frail to care for young children anymore, and with the help of nieces and nephews, Jamie and I had plenty of help throughout the day with caring for baby Willie. He was an easy sleeper, and a big eater. He enjoyed many games of peek-a-boo with his sisters and as he got older, playing tag and chase with his cousins. Jenny and Ian had three more children since Caitlin’s passing. Fraternal twins, a boy and a girl named Michael and Janet, and another son, who came to be known as Young Ian, so as not to be confused with his father.

Anytime I would watch mine and Jenny’s children playing together, it always filled my heart with such joy. I did not have the pleasure of having siblings or cousins in my youth. I knew my children might not understand what that might feel like, but I was thankful they would not have to grow up without it. A brother or sister, or cousin, even just one, makes all the difference in the world in one’s upbringing. A companionship like no other.

Jamie flourished as President and CEO of Leoch Motors. Since Willie’s birth, and the booming market for regular automobiles, he expanded the business significantly. He opened two more dealerships, one in Inverness and one in Edinburgh, that were strictly car lots. When Young Jamie was old enough, Jamie hired him as an intern with plans to succeed him to leadership of whichever dealership he chose.

Jamie didn’t just plan for the future. He built the sturdy foundation that future would lay upon. Jamie still oversaw the motorcycle side of business, and when Willie turned sixteen, he presented him with a custom built bike. Now, if Jamie had asked me for my take on it, I would have told him our son could have a motorcycle ten years after I die. Good thing Jamie never asked me; sometimes I wished he wasn’t so damn smart.

When Faith was of age, she announced she was going to become a doctor. Jamie and I were elated; we were also equally thankful we’d started a university fund for each of our children when they were born. With Faith’s age, and our feverish habit for saving, if she wanted to go to medical school, that fund would pay for it.

When Brianna, whom we affectionately called Bree, despite its Gaelic meaning, became of age, she said she also wanted to go to university and study to be a history professor. Another round of celebrations ensued as she started making plans to leave Lallybroch and attend Harvard University in America. I cried the day she got on that plane; this was the first time any one of my children had been so far away from home. But I was happy for her. In four years’ time, Jamie and I had planned to fly to America to witness her go from plain Faith Julia Alexandria Fraser to Dr. Faith Julia Alexandria Fraser, MD. I could probably get her a job at Inverness, if she chose to return to Scotland. I prayed she did for I would be missing her terribly.

William didn’t need to tell me or his father what he wanted to do with his life. When Jamie’s eyesight started to go, requiring regular visits to our local opthamologist and prescription glasses, he stepped down as CEO of Leoch Motors, which was now rated as Scotland’s premiere car and motorcycle dealership, and our little Willie, now a grown man and recently married, took his place. The night Jamie and I came home from his retirement party was also the night before we were to fly out for Faith’s graduation ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

So, now, as I sat on the steps looking out onto Fraser land, a glass of wine in my hand, I pondered on how our lives had played out. Three grown children, all of them building their own lives, it reminded me of how my own life had fleshed out. I thought back to my days as a nurse at Inverness’s only emergency room for miles. I thought about how a bad motorcycle crash had inadvertently changed my life. How that redheaded patient with the dream worthy blue eyes ended up becoming my husband, and the father of my children. How his large, loving family became my own, in a time where I thought I would be forever alone. A time where I thought I’d be better off not existing at all.

A cool breeze started to pick up, russling the nearby trees and tall grasses that overtook the farms during this time of year. And that breeze reminded me of my life. The wind took me all over the place and yet I remained here, at Lallybroch. As Lady Broch Tuarach. It’s the funniest metaphor. “Let the wind be your guide.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder and lips gracing my cheek as Jamie sat beside me, a dram of whisky in his hand, his glasses perched just beyond the bridge of his nose.

“What’re ye thinkin’ about, Sassenach?” Jamie asked me.

I just looked at him and smiled. “Oh nothing. Just looking forward to seeing America for the first time.”

“Aye,” Jamie replied in kind, taking a sip from his glass. “Bonny time o’ year, mo nighean donn.

He wrapped his arms around me without letting go of his glass and we sat there in silence. The wind doing the talking for us.