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You’ll Be in Mo Cridhe

Chapter Text

Prologue

 

“Keep an eye on the horizon, darling.”

Jamie tried to do as his mother said, but it was hard to do, since the horizon was nothing but water, as far as the eye could see. And if he looked too hard at the water, the waves would start to make his wame churn again.

He didn’t like being on a ship. At first, it had seemed like a grand adventure. Da called it charting a new path . Jamie didn’t quite know what that meant, but it had sounded wonderful to him. 

It wasn’t wonderful anymore, though. The ship taking them from Scotland to America was smelly and rocked back and forth nonstop. At first the rocking wasn’t so bad, it reminded him of being in a wagon, but after a couple of days, it made him queasy and miserable.

“I want tae go home,” he said, not meaning to whine, but he was already starting to miss Lallybroch, and his dogs, and his friend, Ian.

“We are going home,” his mam said, bouncing his wee brother Robby on her hip. “Our new home is going to be in North Carolina.”

That wasn’t what he meant, but he knew that she knew that, so he didn’t say anything more.

“I canna wait tae get tae America,” his older sister, Jenny said, but then, she always agreed with whatever Mam and Da said, just to be their favorite.

“Chin up, laddie,” Da said, chucking Jamie’s chin with his knuckle. “You’ll see, this will be the start of something new and exciting.”

Jamie smiled, hoping Da was right. He was excited to see America. All his life he’d barely ever even left the farm. Well, Da said he did visit his uncles once, but that was when he was wee like Robby, and Jamie didn’t remember.

Turning away from the horizon , Jamie wandered off, his boredom slowly overcoming his upset belly.

Most of the men on the ship ignored him, but he was used to that. No one ever paid attention to bairns, but Jamie was hardly a bairn anymore. No, he was five years old...nearly six...in eleven months. Maybe soon he’d grow tall like his older brother. People would pay more attention to him, then.

He found Willie among some of the cabin boys, playing a game with dice.

“Can I play?” Jamie asked.

The cabin boy playing with Willie frowned at him. “Awa’ wi’ ye!”

“Leave him be!” Willie snapped. “Come here, now Sawny. Blow on my dice for me, will ye?”

Jamie didn’t know what he needed to do that for, but Willie asked it of him, so when he held out his hand with the two dice in it, Jamie puffed out his cheeks and blew.

Willie threw the dice down on the deck. Jamie didn’t have time to count the dots before some of the boys were cheering, while others moaned. What mattered though, was it seemed like Willie had won.

“Ye did, Sawny! We won!”

Jamie grinned, puffing out his chest, happy to have helped.

“William!” came the sudden deep rumble of their father’s voice.

William winced, and turned around. “Aye, Da?”

Da grabbed Willie by the shoulder. “Just what th’ devil d’ye think ye’re doing? Gambling? While ye’re brother watches?”

“It was naught but for pennies, Da,” Willie said. “Just tae pass th’ time. Jamie was my good luck charm!”

Da scowled. “Weel, no more! I’ll not have ye behaving so. Now come, it’s time tae go to supper. Ye let me catch ye at this again, I’ll have ye over the rail wi’ a strap tae your hind quarters, ye hear me?”

“Aye, Da,” Willie said.

Da released him, and Willie flexed his shoulders, grinning at Jamie. “Come on, we best no’ keep Mam waiting.”

Jamie frowned at the thought of food, but followed regardless.

“Your wame still upset?” Willie asked. He squinted up at the sky. “Dinna think it’s going tae feel much better soon, look at those clouds. T’will be a storm.”

“A storm?” Jamie asked. “Will it hit us?”

“Nay,” Willie said, cuffing him playfully. “And even if it does, this ship is big and strong, we’ll be fine.”

The clouds did look scary, but Willie wouldn’t lie to him. Willie was eleven, and knew everything.

 

When the storm came, everything went to hell...as Da would say. 

Jamie was in his bunk with Willie, trying to sleep despite the tossing and turning of the ship. Then suddenly Da was picking him up and Jamie rubbed the sleep out of his eyes to see that the floor was all water.

They rushed up the stairs, Mam carrying Robby, Da carrying Jamie, while Willie and Jenny held hands. Jamie wanted to be on his feet like his older siblings, because he wasn’t a babe, but Da wouldn’t let him go.

Everyone was yelling, the ship rocking so much it felt like it was spinning. Da almost fell twice, so Jamie stopped trying to get down, and held on tight instead.

Through all the screaming, Jamie heard someone yell “to the boats!” But they were already on a boat...what did that mean?

“It’s sinking!” Mam cried, sounding more scared than Jamie had ever heard her. “Brian...what do we do?”

“You’ll get on the lifeboat,” Da said, kissing her forehead. “Wi’ the children.”

“What?! Without you ?!”

“The women and children go first, my love,” Da said. “Go, it’ll be alright!”

“No! Not without you!”

“Da!” Willie screamed. “Let me stay with you!”

“Go wi’ your mother, Willie, take care o’ them, aye?”

“Brian…”

“Ellen,” he said softly, kissing her mouth, then Robby’s head, then Jamie’s. “Go.”

They ran to where little boats were being lowered into the angry-looking ocean. But that didn’t seem like a good idea...Willie said the ship was big and strong. Those boats looked like the wee ones Willie took him fishing on sometimes. Everyone was screaming and pushing, fighting to get on one of the wee boats, but Da was taller than most everyone, and pushed all them forward, and suddenly Jamie was being almost tossed into one of the boats.

“Da?!”

“It’ll be alright, Jamie,” Da said, kissing Jenny’s cheek and lowering her into the boat beside him.

Da made Willie get in next, and after that should have been Mam and Robby, but people kept pushing, and screaming, and cursing. 

The boat, which was hanging over the side of the ship by two ropes, started rocking even worse than the ship itself. A man, a big fat man, shoved at Mam as she tried to get in the boat, and suddenly Mam and Robby were falling, down into the dark water where Jamie couldn’t see.

“MAM!” Willie screamed, in a way that scared Jamie almost more than anything.

“ELLEN!” Da cried, leaping off the ship and down into the inky water with Mam.

They started lowering the boat down into the water, and Jamie’s heart raced. He didn’t want to go down there...it was dark, and cold, and sounded angry, but that was where Mam and Da were.

The big, fat man who pushed Mam jumped over the railing like Da, only he landed in their boat. He must have been too heavy, because one of the ropes broke, making the wee boat point downward, the big man tumbling out.

Jenny screamed, and Jamie grabbed her hand, bracing his feet against the seat so that they didn’t fall out too.

Willie climbed to the other end, yanked on the rope there, trying to get it to finish lowering them down.

“It’s stuck!” he cried, grunting. He looked back at Jamie, his face scrunched in fear, but also the same determined look like when he won the game of dice.

“Take care o’ each other,” Willie said, climbing up the rope, and all Jamie could see was the flash of the dagger Da had given him, then suddenly the boat was falling, landing with a crash in the water.

Jamie and Jenny called for Da, and Mam, and Willie, but they didn’t come. The water tossed their little boat around like a toy in a bathtub. They couldn’t even scream, because the water kept pouring into their faces.

Finally the boat turned over, and everything was dark. He’d been holding Jenny’s hand, but then she was gone, and Jamie waved his arms and legs, trying to find which way was up. 

But he didn’t know where up was. Everything was just dark. And he was alone.

 

Jamie took in a deep breath, regretting it when all it got him was a mouthful of sand.

He sat up, feeling sleepy and thirsty, his wame still churning even though he wasn’t on the ship anymore.

Where was he? And where was everyone else?

He was on a beach, but not like any beach he’d ever seen before. There were pieces of wood all along the sand, he wondered if they’d come from the ship. But he didn’t see any people.

Past the beach were trees, but those didn’t look like any trees he’d seen before either! They were long and skinny, with pointy leaves only at the very tops.

Was this America? It didn’t look like the America Mam had shown him pictures of in books.

“Mam?” he called. “Da?”

He walked toward the trees, hoping to at least find someone who would help him find his family.

Jamie was used to playing in the woods, but these woods were strange, and scary. It was noisier than the woods back home, and the noises were so odd.

Jamie walked and walked, his mouth sticky and dry, his arms and legs heavy. He wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap, which was silly because it was daytime and he was too big for naps.

So he kept on, but then he felt a funny feeling, like when Ian would sneak up behind him while they played.

When he turned around though, there was no one there. But then...he heard a growl…

Jamie looked up, and on a branch in the tree was an animal he’d never seen before. Like a cat...not a lion or a tiger, but certainly as big as one.

This cat bared huge fangs at Jamie, let out a yowl, then leapt at him.

Jamie turned tail and ran as fast as he could, weaving around the trees. But his legs were already so tired, and he couldn’t run as fast as Willie. He tripped over something and fell, skinning his knees, and he rolled over, trying to scoot away.

The big cat slowed, and Jamie watched as it approached. He started to cry.

But then a big black blur appeared, and there was a roar, a scuffle, and then just as fast as it had appeared, the cat was gone.

The big black blur was still there, however, and it was bigger even than the cat.

This animal, though, turned to Jamie and looked at him with kind, almost human-like eyes. 

Jamie thought he’d seen something like it in a book before, but not quite. It snuffled over him curiously, and Jamie might have been afraid, if he hadn’t been so tired .

 

Jamie hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep until he woke up. For a moment he thought he was on the ship again, but the rocking this time was gentle and soothing, not upsetting to his wame at all.

He was in a nice, furry bed that smelled strong, like a barn.

When he opened his eyes, he found that he was not in a bed at all, but cradled like a babe in the animal’s arm.

There were more of them now, in all sizes and shapes, all looking at him with the same curiosity. 

The one who carried him, Jamie thought she was a girl, put him gently down beside a stream.

Jamie almost dove into the water, cupping it in both hands and drinking greedily.

One of the animals, one no bigger than Jamie himself, was sitting beside him, watching him. He then tried to copy Jamie by scooping up the water in his hands, but after a moment gave up, and simply stuck his face into the water.

Chuckling, Jamie decided to copy him instead, and found he got a lot more water that way anyway. 

There was a loud grunting noise, and they all looked up.

One of them, the biggest one, bigger than a horse, made the sound again and beat his chest. It must have been an order, because everyone started to move.

Was Jamie supposed to follow? He needed to find his Mam and Da, and Willie and Jenny and Robby, but more than anything he was scared of being alone, especially with things like that big cat roaming around. 

So he followed, and the nice one, the girl one, took his arm and hoisted him up onto her back. When Jamie looked around, he saw all the smaller ones did the same thing.

Her back was broad, and soft, softer than a horse. Jamie could lay down on his belly and not feel like he was going to fall, so he closed his eyes to rest. At least for now, he was safe.

Chapter Text

“Claire? Claire? Are you listening?”

I looked up at the bemused, bespectacled face of my uncle, and grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry, what were you saying, Uncle Lamb?”

Lamb chuckled. “Away with the fairies again?”

I shook my head. “Not quite, just a good book.”

“Ah, but am I correct in assuming its not a fairytale, or a romance?”

Grinning again, I held up the cover so he could see.

Lamb smiled. “A medical journal. Of course.”

“Oh, but this one is quite romantic. It describes the proper treatment for illness caused by…” I cleared my throat. “Amorous pursuits.”

“Dr. Beauchamp,” our guide said, sounding most scandalized. “Is that sort of thing really proper for a young lady to read?”

Uncle Lamb snorted. “I’d like to see you try to get it away from her.”

I narrowed my eyes at our guide, daring him to do just that, but as I expected, he just huffed and went back to banking the fire in our large, well-stocked campsite.

Uncle Lamb and I were on a partial holiday in Africa. I called it partial because technically we were still researching, but this time the research was purely for pleasure, and not related to archeology, my uncle’s profession. 

Since he was young, Lamb had always longed to see Africa, particularly its animals. Particularly the gorilla. We were here in hopes of seeing them in their natural habitat and proving a few theories the scientific community had about them, and in the process, visit a long-time friend of Lamb’s.

Uncle Lamb had been my guardian since I was five, when 

my parents were killed in a carriage accident. He could have foisted me off to some boarding school, and perhaps that would have been the appropriate thing to do, but instead he’d simply taken me with him on his expeditions, and we never looked back.

I had no particular passion for archeology like he did, though I relished the explorations, and the cultures, and the animals. I’d seen more of the world by the time I was ten than most people ever did in their whole lives, and for that I would be forever grateful.

I was also grateful that my uncle like to encourage any interest I had, even if it was a rather odd one for a woman, such as medicine. I was currently fascinated with herbology, especially the ways different countries and cultures used herbs for medicine.

But for this trip, Lamb and I were both excited at the prospect of seeing animals we’d never seen outside a zoo, so we’d hired a guide, and away we went.

Frank was an English-born man, likely why Lamb chose him, but he appeared quite knowledgeable of the area, and was able to translate the local language for us.

He was handsome, in a conventional way, and rather charming. But he was also rather stiff, and had rigid ideas of how a lady should behave. I didn’t much care for that at all. That didn’t stop Lamb from trying to be a shameless matchmaker.

At twenty-seven, perhaps I was a little past the point most women got married, but it was increasingly difficult to find a good man who didn’t want to immediately tie me down to one place. Sure, putting down roots would be nice one day, but not just yet.

At least Frank was obviously well-traveled. Maybe once he got the rod out of his arse, there could be something.

In the meantime, I would simply amuse myself by shocking him at every turn by just how unladylike I could be.

 

Njeyaardhi was a small Swahili village, almost completely isolated near the coast. I wondered how they would treat outsiders, but I needn’t have worried, as we were welcomed with open arms.

“Lambert!” an older, broad-chested man with a jovial face exclaimed, hurrying to embrace my uncle. I had never met him, but I’d always loved hearing stories of their adventures when they were young.

“Badru,” Lamb said, squeezing the other man’s shoulders. “You are truly a sight for these old, sore eyes.”

Badru shook his head, grinning. “Just look at you, old friend, your hair has gone white!”

“As has yours, and you’ve put on a pound or two, as well!” Lamb patted Badru’s rotund belly, and both men laughed.

Badru turned to me then, his grin broadening. “And this must be the famous Claire Elizabeth. Your letters did not do her beauty justice, my friend!”

“Now now,” Lamb said, winking at me and patting his friend’s shoulder. “You’re forty years her senior.”

“A man can dream, can he not?!”

I laughed, enjoying seeing these two grown men behaving like a pair of teenagers, even at my expense.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Badru,” I said, extending my hand.

Bypassing my hand entirely, Badru pulled me into a bear hug. “Welcome, Claire!”

“You’ve met Mr. Randall?” Lamb asked, gesturing toward Frank.

Badru’s cheerful expression waned, though it remained carefully polite. “Of course. Welcome, Mr. Randall.”

Frank nodded briskly, then took my bag and walked away. I arched a brow, wondering what it was Badru had against our guide, and resolved to ask later.

 

Badru invited us to a celebratory dinner held under the stars in honor of our visit. Children surrounded me, seeming fascinated by my hair and pale skin. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I could speak fluent French, Spanish, Italian, and understood much of German, and of course what Latin I’d learned from my medical textbooks, but the Bantu languages escaped me entirely.

But everyone was cheerful and friendly, lending a homey atmosphere to the place. Since I was little, my only family had been Lamb, and I’d wanted for nothing...not love, attention, adventure, material possessions…but I’d grown up enthralled with the idea of a big, loving family. It didn’t have to be blood, but just seeing this tiny community of people, no matter that I was on the outside looking in, it reminded me of what I longed for.

I looked over at Frank, surprised to see him smiling at a pair of teenage boys, carefully showing them his antique dagger. He caught me looking and met my eyes, his smile broadening. 

He really was handsome, I thought. Especially when he smiled, which made him look younger and carefree. He just needed to relax more.

Badru stood up near the fire, and everyone stilled at once, prepared to listen.

“A story,” he said without preamble. “For our English guests.”

“Tarzan!” the little girl beside me exclaimed. “Tarzan! Tarzan!”

The other children followed suit, all chanting the same strange phrase.

“Tarzan?” Lamb asked. “I don’t believe I know that word.”

Badru chuckled. “It is not a word, my friend. It is a name. The name of the King of the Jungle.”

“I thought the king of the jungle was a lion,” I pointed out.

Badru shook his head. “No, not a lion. Listen, as I tell you of a creature unlike any other. A creature who commands the animals, who is as strong as the great ape, but as intelligent as you and I. Not an ape, not a man...but something in between…”

I sat, as rapt as the children, as Badru’s soothing voice wove a fantastic tale of, for lack of a better term, a missing link between man and ape, who protected the jungle and the animals within.

“Any man who ventures into the jungle, looking for ill-gain, risks the wrath of Tarzan, who will fall upon you with fire in his eyes, will command the animals to leave nothing but bones behind.”

“And what of those of us who have no bad intentions?” I asked.

“Honestly, Miss Beauchamp,” Frank scoffed. “Tell me that you don’t believe this fairytale.”

I didn’t, not really, but I scowled at Frank for trying to ruin the fun.

“Oh, he is real, Mr. Randall,” Badru said scoldingly. “Is he a man? Is he a spirit? We do not know, but he is real. I have seen him.”

“Truly?” Lamb asked. “You saw him? This...Tarzan?”

Badru nodded. “I saw him, swinging through the trees on vines, like the monkeys do. Bigger than any natural human being, with hair like fire.”

Lamb looked at me. “What if this creature is some sort of next stage in evolution?”

I gave him a wry look. “Now, Uncle Lamb, we’re here to look for gorillas, not Bigfoot.”

He grinned. “But wouldn’t that be a sight to see?”

I thought, trying to imagine it, but only coming up with something that looked like red-haired Sasquach, and laughed. “Oh yes, quite a sight.

 

We set off again the following morning, armed with food, wine, and I’d been given a beautiful sarong stitched with tiny flowers in red and yellow, which I wore around my waist over my chemise. Unsurprisingly, I’d gotten quite an appalled look from Frank, but it was hot damn it, and I’d worn considerably less when I was in India.

We walked for hours, catching fleeting sights of colorful birds and small reptiles, but no sign of gorillas, or anything primate for that matter.

While the men bickered over our map and which way to go, I began to wander, captivated by the peaceful, beautiful jungle.

I stared up at the trees, listening to the cacophony of birds. There were so many, it was like looking into a kaleidoscope.

I walked for a time, probably farther than I should have, but it was just so relaxing, being alone for a moment. As much as I adored Lamb, our life of travel meant we seldom had any alone time. It made for some particularly awkward times when I went through puberty, especially. We always had separate tents or accommodations of course, but more often than not we were in the middle of nowhere, or being hosted by a family. Those had always been some of my favorite times, although the close living conditions of varying cultures meant I’d received an interesting education at a young age, including the fact that Lamb preferred the company of men, to women.

I smiled, remembering our host family in Spain when I was seventeen, and the eighteen-year-old son who managed to spirit me away from under the nose of my ever-watchful uncle for an education of an entirely new sort.

I was drawn from my daydreaming by the sound of rushing water, realizing I had reached a river. I froze in uncertainty, wondering just how far I’d gone and whether I remembered the way back, but then my attention was caught again, by an unusual, vividly red flower growing in a shrub near the bank. I picked my way down, sitting beside the shrub and resisting the urge to touch the flower before I could identify what it was.

I unearthed my well-worn book of African flora and settled in to read. 

“Hmm,” I hummed to myself, finally finding an image that seemed to match the wide, pointy bloom. “Protea cynaroides,” I read. “Commonly referred to as king sugar bush, or honeypot,” chuckling, I reached out to lightly brush my finger across the petals. “Honeypot, hm?”

I plucked one of the older blooms, and wrapped it in a handkerchief before tucking it between the pages of my book.

Sighing, I stretched my back, chagrined to find that the sun had risen high into the sky. I’d been gone for far too long.

But when I made to stand up, a shadow fell over me, and I turned slowly, heart in my throat, only to find myself facing enormous, gaping maw.

I froze, my mind trying to match a word to the creature, my limbs refusing to move...until in snapped his massive jaws a mere foot from where I stood and the word and the action finally hit home.

Hippopotamus... RUN!

I started to do just that, but slipped on the slick pebbles and fell back on my arse instead, just as something was landing on the hippo’s head, causing the beast to toss about, emitting a sound that I quite frankly wouldn’t have expect it to make.

My body finally cooperating fully, I jumped up and ran, back into the jungle. I could hear the sounds of fighting behind me, but I kept running headlong, not looking where I was going, and then the ground was disappearing from underneath me and I was falling, sliding down a muddy bank, and directly into the river I’d fled from and apparently looped back to.

I broke the frigid surface with a gasp, trying to paddle to the edge of the river, but the current was strong. I didn’t want to waste my breath screaming, but fought with every muscle to get to shore. I could hear the roar of the water increase, knowing I was headed for rapids…

...or a waterfall.

It was a struggle to keep my head above water. There were tree branches above, but I couldn’t reach any of them. I clawed at rocks as I passed them, but my fingers slid ineffectually off them

Vision rising and falling from the surface of the water, I thought I could see something...someone...in the trees above. I reached, far as I could, and someone took my hand.

I was pulled out of the water as effortlessly as if I were a child, finding myself in the arms of...a man?

I rubbed the water out of my eyes, wondering if I was seeing things, or if I was dead. But he was there, staring at me in complete astonishment that was entirely mutual. 

But then I heard a sound, a sound I now recognized. The hippo was there, and they couldn’t leap out of the water, could they? No, but they could grab a hanging branch in their powerful jaws and pull the entire limb into the river.

We fell in the water together, but this time when I opened my eyes underwater, I saw the hippo swimming toward us at a speed that shouldn’t have been possible for an animal its size.

Arms wrapped around my middle, a foot kicked at the animal’s head, and we launched out of the water like we were flying, standing on the hippo’s back!

I couldn’t help it anymore; I screamed, but the man didn’t let go of me, and carried me with him when he leapt into the air, hopping off two rocks before landing easily on the ground. 

I thought for only a second that perhaps we were safe, but the infuriated hippo simply followed us out of the water and Christ ! They were fast on land too!

I couldn’t even see the man anymore, held like a ragdoll faced away from him. It was like I weighed nothing to him as he ran effortlessly around the trees, then he tossed me like a sack of grain over his shoulder before scaling right up a tree.

All I could do was hold on for dear life as he leapt from tree to tree, swinging from branch to branch, one word making it through the haze of my breathless terror... Tarzan .

After what felt like forever, he stopped, and he set me down. 

The hippo was long gone, and all was still and quiet again. It would have been wonderful, except we were a hundred feet up a tree.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, scuttling back until my back was against the tree trunk.

I closed my eyes, breathing deeply through my nose, trying to let my head stop spinning. When I opened them again, I let out an involuntary yelp, because the... man’s face was an inch from mine.

“Hello…” I said softly.

The first thing I became aware of was the color of his eyes. They were surely the bluest I’d ever seen, and so intense and focused, currently trained on me like he’d never seen anything like me.

The second thing I became aware of, was that he was completely naked.

“Oh, my…”

He leaned in closer, and I would have leaned away, had I anywhere else to go. Curiously enough, he actually started sniffing me. He snuffled over me like a dog, and I held still, not feeling particularly threatened. He didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt me, he just seemed curious. 

But then his curious nose drifted downward, and before I knew what was happening, he was planting it right between my thighs and I gave a strangled cry, kicking him squarely in the jaw.

He leapt back, finally giving me space, and giving me a rather insulted look that might have made me laugh if I wasn’t so worried.

But then, he acted like we was going to leave, and I reached for him in panic. “No! Wait, please don’t go!”

He stopped, turning back to me, and I saw how he held himself, all hunched over, with his knuckles on the branch. 

He certainly didn’t look like any sasquatch. His hair was red, true. A vibrant, flaming red that flowed down his back in knotted whorls. His beard was just as red, and full, which suggested he was grown. But it was cut, and clumsily so, like he’d tried to keep it trimmed but didn’t know how, or didn’t have the tools.

He was tanned a deep golden, but it was clear that he was a white man. His body was muscled and strong, devoid of much hair except for his chest, stomach...and…downward. 

“Who are you?” I breathed.

He tilted his head to one side, eyeing my lips so intensely I wondered if he could hear at all.

“Do you have a name?” I asked, making sure I formed the words carefully with my mouth.

He let out a grunt in response, but touched his own mouth, as if trying to figure out how to make it work.

“I’m Claire,” I said, touching my chest. “Do you have a name? I have a hard time believing it’s Tarzan.”

He blinked hard when I said Tarzan , so perhaps that was his name?

“Claire?!”

We both jumped, and he tensed up, moving closer to me. Almost...protectively?

“Claire?! Where are you?!”

“That’s my uncle,” I said, pointing downward. “My...my family . Do you understand? They’re looking for me.”

He looked at me, then away, and back again, and I could practically hear the gears in his head working. When he turned his body away, I saw that his back was criss-crossed in terrible looking scars, like someone had tried to rip his skin clean away.

“Please,” I continued. I didn’t know if he understood a word, but hopefully I could make him see that I needed help. “I can’t get down.”

He stood up then to his full height, mindless of the fact that he was standing on a tree limb and one wrong move would mean certain death.

I averted my eyes, face burning. It wasn’t as if I’d never seen a naked man, but there was something unnerving about his sheer lack of awareness that he was nude at all...or the fact that he was partially aroused. He was truly a large man...Badru hadn’t been wrong about that. And that fact applied to all of him.

He held out his hand for me, making a sound that was a mixture of clearing his throat and a wordless mumble. Resolutely ignoring his lower anatomy, I took his hand, and let him pull me to my feet.

I wobbled dizzily, and all but fell into him, wrapping my arms securely around his neck.

He patted my back in a sweet, awkward gesture of comfort, and pulled me closer. He had a strong animal smell, but it was surprisingly inoffensive. Nothing like Uncle Lamb when he wasn’t able to bathe for a few days.

I watched as he reached for a vine, and my arms tightened around him. “Wait…” i began. “Aren’t we just going to...to climb down?”

He didn’t answer of course, and simply kicked off from the limb, swinging down from the tree like a child on a playground.

Trusting me to hold on, (and hold on I did,) he used both hands to swing from vine to vine. Once I worked my stomach back down to where it belonged, I marveled at how he was able to so effortlessly find the next vine without missing. If given time, I might would have even ventured to say it was fun .

The ride ended quickly, however, when he placed me safely on the ground.

“Claire!”

Uncle Lamb and Frank were closer now, and Tarzan tensed. I thought if he’d had fur on his back, it’d be standing on end like a cat’s.

“It’s alright,” I tried to say, but he was already back away, toward the shelter of the trees. “Wait!”

“Claire!”

“Over here!” I called, turning in Lamb’s direction for only a split second, but it was a split second too long, because when I turned back, he was gone.

“Oh God, Claire!” Uncle Lamb cried, nearly tripping on a root in his hurry to get to me, enveloping me in a hug. “Where in God’s name did you go?!”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, resting my head on his shoulder. “I was just walking and I went too far, and there was a hippopotamus.”

“You saw a hippo?” Uncle Lamb asked, taking my shoulders and holding me away from him so he could look at me. “How marvelous!”

“There was nothing marvelous about it,” I said. “It was horrible!”

“Hippos are some of the most dangerous animals in Africa,” Frank said, scanning our surroundings with his rifle at the ready.”

“It’s long gone now,” I sighed. “And so is he.”

“He?” Lamb asked. “He who?”

I smiled, the incredulousness of the whole thing catching up to me. “ Him, Uncle Lamb! The one in Badru’s story...the ape man!”

“Tarzan?” He asked, eyes lighting up. “You saw him?”

Frank shook his head, shouldering his rifle. “She’s delirious, Mr. Beauchamp. We should get her back to the village.”

“I’m not delirious!” I snapped. “He was real, but he wasn’t an animal at all. He was simply a man! He didn’t speak, and...and the way he swung through the trees…”

No, he wasn’t simply a man. He was truly a remarkable man, but I was under no illusion that he wasn’t completely human.

We returned to camp, with Lamb chattering on excitedly about my adventure, Frank acting as if we were to be attacked at any moment, and I keeping my eyes trained to the trees, hoping to catch a flash of red.

 

Chapter Text

I lay awake all night, thinking about the man in the tree. I couldn’t think of him as Tarzan. That was a fanciful, nonsensical name the village children had invented, and it didn’t suit him in the least.

How did he get here? Why couldn’t he speak? Had he been injured somehow? I knew that head injuries could cause mental difficianties, but he didn’t seem unintelligent. On the contrary, his eyes held an intelligence that went beyond words.

Perhaps he’d been traumatized. He’d been covered in scars, not only the ones on his back, but those certainly could have occurred in the jungle.

The only other explanation was that he’d always lived there, but that was impossible. No child could survive alone in the wilderness.

I longed to go and try to find him, but Uncle Lamb and Frank were keeping a closer eye on me now, and I wasn’t fool enough to sneak out alone at night.

But I couldn’t get him out of my head, nor the million questions that surrounded his existence. 

It was good that I was awake though, because then I could see the shadow fall upon my tent, in the obvious shape of a man.

For a heart-stopping moment I thought it was Frank. He’d seemed an honorable man so far, but I’d been in the world long enough to know to never let my guard down completely with any man that wasn’t Lamb.

But he was far too big to be Frank, and it sounded like he was sniffing at the tent.

A grin made its way across my face, and I threw off my blanket, quietly crawling out of my tent.

He was staring at the campsite in awe, running a knuckle across the fabric of the tent.

“Hello,” I whispered.

He looked up at me, unsurprised. So he’d known I was standing there, but was just so absorbed in my tent.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, for lack of anything better to say.

He stood up and walked over to me in a strange, lunging gate. He clearly had no reservations about invading other peoples’ personal space, and stopped only inches from me, touching my hair with the same fascinated reverence that he did the tent.

I looked over at my uncle’s and Frank’s tents, and bit my lip. He might not like it if I tried to take him into my tent, so I took his hand, and pulled him into the jungle.

It was a full moon, so there was plenty of light to see by. I could almost pretend I was taking a stroll with a regular man, if I could ignore his lack of clothing.

I stopped near an overturned log and sat down, and he crouched by my feet. Thankfully the deep shadows of the night hid the view that would have otherwise afforded me.

“Tarzan the Ape Man,” I said leaning forward with my hands braced on the log. “I bet you have no idea the stories they tell of you. I wonder how old you are.”

He watched me intently, showing no sign he understood, but leaned up, bringing his face closer to mine.

I was prepared this time, and didn’t pull away, though my heart rate increased. He reached up, slowly, watching my face as if to make sure I wasn’t frightened. He touched my hair again, eyes growing soft as his fingers ran through the curls. 

I smiled. “Have you never seen a woman before?”

I watched his hand move down my neck and shoulder to my chest. His knuckles were oversized and heavily calloused, the fingers unnaturally elongated while the thumbs remained normal size, but curled inward. I wondered if it was painful, though he seemed not to struggle with dexterity. 

He ran his hand lightly over my left breast, and I gasped, but I sensed no intent from him, only childlike curiosity. He then pressed his palm right between my breasts, and I realized he was feeling my heartbeat...and granted it was going like a racehorse just then.

I covered his hand with mine, and he started, then pulled back a little, only so that our hands were palm-to-palm. While I marveled at how his managed to dwarf mine, he just looked...incredulous.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

For the first time, I thought his eyes flickered with understanding, but not that he knew the answer.

“Perhaps you just don’t know English?” I ventured, trying to calm my nerves with talking. “ Unazungumza Kingereza ?” I asked him the only thing I knew in Swahili, to no reaction.

Parlez vous français?”

Now he had a ghost of a smile on his lips, his head tilting to one side, one eyebrow raised.

“I’m getting colder, aren’t I?” I asked, propping my chin on my hand.

“Sassenach?”

The sound of his voice took me by surprise; deeper than I thought it would be, rough and quiet from disuse. 

“You can speak!” I exclaimed. “Sass...knack? Christ, what language is that?”

He scrunched his face up in thought, as if he were just as surprised as I was that he’d spoken. He seemed to be trying to remember. Could he have forgotten how to speak? Was that possible?”

“Say it again,” I told him. Even if the word meant nothing, perhaps continuing to say it would jog something. “Sass-knack?”

“Sassenach,” he said, shaking his head, almost ruefully

“Is...is that your name? Should I call you Sass-knack?”

He snorted, face scrunched up in a way that I took as a resounding no . He jabbed me in the chest with a finger. “ Sassenach .”

“Oh! So I’m Sassenach, then? Well, what is that supposed to mean?”

He started breathing hard through his nose, and I worried that if he grew too frustrated, he might leave.

“Shh, it’s alright,” I said in what I hoped was a calming manner. “It’s alright,” I touched my chest. “I’m Claire. Can you say that? Claire.”

He narrowed his eyes in focus. “Cl-aire…” he said slowly, drawing out each letter carefully, even rolling the R slightly. Did he have an accent?

“That’s it,” I whispered, smiling, keeping my hand on my chest. “Claire,” I reached across, and rested my palm against his chest. “What is your name?”

Suddenly, his head whipped around, gazing intently into the darkness, and I tensed. “Is something there?”

He backed away and started heading into the jungle and I tried to reach for him. “No, wait! Don’t go!”

He looked back at me, but it was clear that our visit was over.

“Will you come back?” I asked. 

To my surprise, he nodded, and started to leave again, but then he hesitated once more, and I heard his voice, a little clearer than before. 

“J...Jam...ie.”

“What did you say?”

He looked back at me again. “Jamie.”

The breath caught in my throat, but before I could respond, he was gone.

“Jamie.”

 

I returned to my tent, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. So he did have a name, and it wasn’t Tarzan

The name Jamie seemed so sweetly normal. So unlike the almost mythical being he was, and yet it suited him.

And he knew and understood English, but seemed to have gone so long without speaking that he’d all but forgotten how. It made my heart ache, imagining the level of isolation he must have been enduring for so long. 

But “Sassenach”, what on earth did that mean? I tried to think of other words that sounded like it, that he was possibly confusing, but was coming up short.

And then, suddenly, as I was drifting off to sleep, I remembered. Just the year prior, Uncle Lamb and I had been in Scotland, examining some ancient runes up in the Highlands, and while in a pub, the barkeep had teasingly called us Sassenachs . It hadn’t sounded like an entirely complimentary name, but had been followed by an extra round of whisky so it couldn’t have been terrible.

So, he had a name. And I was beginning to think he had a birthplace.




Chapter Text

“Miss Beauchamp, really,” Frank was saying as he cleaned his rifle. 

“It’s true!” I exclaimed, resisting the childish urge to stamp my foot. “He was here! I spoke to him.”

“Just imagine,” Uncle Lamb said dreamily. “If we can communicate with him, think of what we could learn from him!”

“You’re not honestly taking this seriously?” Frank asked Lamb.

I whirled around on him. “What? You think I’m lying ?”

He gave me a patient look. “No, but I do think you had a very vivid and very imaginative dream. It’s happened to me before, it can be very difficult to remember what is or isn’t real.”

I scowled at his condescending tone. “I didn’t dream it,” I said lowly. “He’s real, and his name is Jamie.”

Frank chuckled. “Unusual name for a man-beast living in the wilds of Africa.”

“He isn’t a man-beast at all, he’s simply a man. I don’t know how he came to be here or why he is the way he is, but I’m certain that there’s nothing else out of the ordinary about him than that.”

“Just that he walks naked through the jungle like an animal.”

I shook my head, seeing that I wasn’t about to convince him. We prepared for another trek to hopefully find the gorillas. I couldn’t help but wonder if the same ones we’d been tracking had Jamie living among them. I wanted to see him again so badly, not to prove to Frank that he existed...but just...to see him.

 

“Don’t lag behind, Miss Beauchamp,” Frank warned. “We don’t want you getting lost again.”

I gave in to one of my childish urges by sticking my tongue out at him from behind his back, shamed when Uncle Lamb caught me.

“Pay him no mind, Claire,” he said, chuckling. “It’s his responsibility to look after you, and he’s right besides. The jungle is a dangerous place, and you shouldn’t go off alone.”

“I know,” I said. “I just wish he didn’t have to be so patronizing about it.”

“I think he means well,” Lamb said quietly so that our guide couldn’t hear. “I do believe he is taken with you, my dear.”

I wrinkled my nose. “He has an interesting way of showing it.”

“Remember, Claire, people from our world weren’t brought up the way you were. There are strict rules in England to live by. Certain behaviors that are expected of upstanding men and women.”

“Well, then he certainly shouldn’t want me. I’m not upstanding.”

Lamb’s eyes twinkled as he looked at me. “You’re the most upstanding person I know. It’s my fault, I suppose, for not providing you the proper education in ways of men, and women.”

“I know the ways,” I said. “I’ve learned a hundred different ways between men and women, thanks to the way you raised me. Surely there are other men out there more like you, who don’t expect me to be nothing but...but meek, and obedient.”

Lamb chuckled. “I do hope so, child. Not even when you were a child were you the meek and obedient type. I just hope you don’t wait forever. I’m not getting any younger, after all…”

“Stop that,” I scolded. “There is to be no talk of you dying, is that clear? You’re healthy as a horse.”

He chuckled again. “That may be, but no one can see the future, my dear, and the fact is I won’t be around forever. I know that you’re independent, so perhaps I shouldn’t worry, but I can’t help it. I’d like to see you settled down and provided for, and most of all happy before I go.”

“I am happy, Uncle Lamb,” I said softly. “And I can take care of myself.”

“That I know, child. And I thank the Lord for it. Just promise me that when a man does come around that doesn’t repel you on sight, you’ll give him a chance?”

I laughed. “I promise. The first man I meet who doesn’t give me the immediate urge to hit him, I’ll marry him. Happy?”

He smiled and shook his head. “For now.”

“Dr. Beauchamp!” Frank called, and we hurried forward, finding him paused before a clearing.

“Look,” I said, pointing. “They look like nests !”

And indeed, spread out across the hearing were around twelve or more round beds of grass and branches, all far too big to be the work of birds, or really anything smaller than…

“It’s the gorillas!” Uncle Lamb cried. “It has to be! We already know that they migrate, but it must also be as what was suggested in that article…”

“Yes,” I agreed. “That they travel in family groups! This is incredible!”

“They can’t have gotten very far,” Frank said, running a hand across one of the nests. “If we hurry, we can catch them.”

I frowned at his tone of voice. He hadn’t displayed half as much enthusiasm until now, and it set me on edge for some reason, although it could have just been the fact that we actually were close.

“Now, hold on Mr. Randall,” I said. “You’re the one who’s been all about erring on the side of caution. We’re looking at what could be more than a dozen gorillas. I don’t think it would be wise just catching up to them. We need to be careful.”

“Of course we’ll be careful,” he said. “But you want to see them, don’t you? That’s why we’re here. If any of them were to attack, that’s what this is for,” he hefted his rifle in demonstration. Uncle Lamb carried one too, of course, but his had remained hanging behind his back, not at the ready like Frank’s.

“In an emergency only!” I said firmly. “Taking every precaution in approaching them has as much to do with their safety as it does ours! Uncle Lamb and I don’t want any gorillas hurt, is that understood?”

“My niece is quite right,” Uncle Lamb said. “And I believe I made that abundantly clear when I hired you.”

“Of course ,” Frank said with a bit of a sigh. “I wouldn’t dream of shooting unless it were between our lives and theirs. But the fact is these are dangerous creatures. Any single one of them, even the small ones, could kill any of us without a thought,” he looked right at me. “You need not to forget that. Now, do you want to see them, or don’t you?”

Uncle Lamb nodded, and we continued on, though I was unsure. Spying on a couple of gorillas in their natural habitat was what I’d imagined, not confronting an entire herd of them. But I did want to see them, and more than that, I hoped to see Jamie.

We kept on, silently weaving through the trees, the humidity making me feel like I was melting and I wished I were in trousers, like Frank and Lamb.

After another hour or so of walking, we heard a sudden rustling sound, and panicking grunting.

Frank aimed his rifle, and even Lamb swung his around to hold at the ready. We followed the sound to the river, and there, among the brush, was a gorilla. 

My excitement lasting only a second before I realized that its panicked sounds and trashing were because its foot was caught in a wire snare.

“It's caught in a trap!” I cried, approaching the frightened animal cautiously.

“Miss Beauchamp!” Frank snapped. “Are you mad, woman?! Stay back!”

“We can’t leave her like this!” I hissed back at him.

“Mr. Randall is right Claire,” Lamb said nervously. “It isn’t safe. The others are probably nearby. We can go back to the village, they should have some tranquilizer guns, and we can come back and help her safely!”

I looked back at the gorilla, and was fixed by a pair of intelligent, and terrified brown eyes. I shook my head. “That would take hours, if not days. She could get entangled more and kill herself,” I took a few more careful steps, kneeling down and making a point to not look her in the eyes again. “It’s alright, sweetheart, I don’t want to hurt you.”

The gorilla stopped fighting, and watched me approach suspiciously. I thought if I could just cut the wire, she would probably be able to loosen it and get it off her foot herself eventually. I could tell she’d been trying, but all her moving around had gotten the wire wrapped around the branches, and were pulling her leg at an odd angle, and I could also see the blood matting her fur. Her teeth, even as huge and sharp as they were, couldn’t bite through the thick wire. It made me wonder if my knife would be any match for it.

I sat near enough that she could have swiped at me if she wanted to, but she just sat and stared while I started trying to saw at the wire. From the corner of my eye I could see Lamb and Frank, both guns aimed right at the gorilla’s head, and I prayed that she just stayed still.

“This isn’t going to work,” I said, keeping my voice level and soft for the gorilla’s sake. “It won’t cut.”

I eyed her leg, then slowly inched my hand toward it, keeping an eye on her body language to ready myself to jump away at a moment’s notice.

“Claire!” Lamb hissed. “Stop!”

I touched her foot, and she growled, but remained still. I chanced a look at her face, and saw only curiosity there, so I took a breath and wedged my fingers between the wire and her ankle.

I felt her flinch in pain, but she remained motionless while I yanked hard on the wire, trying to get it to loosen. “Almost got it,” I whispered, starting to forget that I was talking to a gorilla. “There!”

She pulled her leg free the second I got the loop loosened enough, and I scooted back out of her way. She didn’t immediately flee like I thought she would, but stopped and stared at me, and I could almost imagine that she was smiling.

“You’re welcome,” I said, smiling back. 

“Incredible,” Lamb whispered.

I looked back and found my uncle and Lamb both staring at me with awed expressions, though I couldn’t quite fathom why. I’d only loosened a snare.

But then I saw a shadow rise above them, and my jaw dropped, the air leaving me. I tried to shout a warning, but I was cut off by a deafening roar as Uncle Lamb was shoved aside like a rag doll by an enormous Silverback gorilla. 

I scrambled to my feet as he rose up to his full height, towering high above me, and forgot to avoid eye contact. 

He roared again, beating his chest before falling back on all fours and lunging toward me. There was a gunshot, but it missed by a mile, and I dove out of the way of the angry gorilla’s charge. 

Frank was reloading, taking aim again, and I all but tackled him. “No!” I shouted, shoving the barrel of the gun down.

“Are you out of your mind?!” Frank yelled.

Maybe it had been foolish, but this male gorilla was clearly just defending the female. He didn’t know that we were only trying to help. I ran to Uncle Lamb, who was getting to his feet, looking winded, but unhurt. “We have to run!” I cried.

The male had been examining his mate, but now he was turned back to us, preparing for another charge.

But before he could, he was being pinned to the ground by a flash of red hair and tanned skin. 

“Jamie,” I gasped, watching in astonishment as the man, not even half the size of the gorilla, managed to successfully wrestle the animal down. 

Jamie’s eyes met mine, pleading with me to run, so I grabbed Lamb’s hand to do just that, but Frank was aiming his gun again, this time at the quickly moving mass of Jamie and the gorilla. 

The gorilla got a hold of Jamie’s arm, and flung him away, where he hit the trunk of a tree with a sickening thump. 

Frank cocked his rifle, and I saw the moment that Jamie recognized what was about to happen, and he leapt up, tackling the gorilla again just as the shot rang out. 

The gorilla rolled to his feet, staring down at Jamie, and the breath caught in my throat at the sight of the blood on the man’s chest. “Oh God…” I whimpered. 

Completely heedless of the animals, I ran to Jamie’s side, tearing off a piece of my skirt in the process to hold against the wound.

The male gorilla, seeming to be finished fighting, turned to go, but the female stood frozen, still staring at Jamie. The male tugged on her arm, but it was abundantly clear that she didn’t want to leave him. The male grunted, and pulled her again, and they were gone.

The bullet would was on Jamie’s shoulder, not chest, and nowhere near his heart, so I had hope that he could be saved.

“Uncle Lamb!” I cried. “We have to get him back to camp!”

Lamb hurried to my side. “My word,” he whispered. “He’s real.”

“He’s hurt !” I exclaimed. “We have to save him!”

“Mr. Randall!” Lamb ordered gruffly. “Don’t just stand there, man! Help me lift him!”

Uncle Lamb and Frank built a crude sledge while I held pressure on the wound. I’d done my share of nursing over the years in various villages around the world, learning from everyone from shamans to doctors, and had often imagined what it would be like to become a doctor myself, but cleaning small wounds and helping apply stitches was nothing compared to the possibility of needing to save a human life on my own. Uncle Lamb was a doctor...but a doctor of archeology, not medicine.

“We should get him to the village,” Lamb said as they carefully maneuvered Jamie onto the sledge. “It’s a little farther, but Badru should be able to help him.”

I nodded. “He’s still losing so much blood...hold on,” I ran down to the river, scooping up a handful of mud, then brought it back up to pack over the wound with some of the river weeds. “Let’s go. Hurry!”

 

“I suppose even legends can be hurt,” Badru murmured as some of the men carried Jamie into one of the huts.

“Can you help him?” I pleaded.

The men laid Jamie on the bed, and I stood by his head, frowning at the paleness of his face.

“He has lost a lot of blood,” Badru said. “And that bullet must be removed. He is in luck, though. My nephew has come to the village, he is trained as a doctor. I have sent for him. Go and get some rest, Claire.”

I shook my head, running my hand across Jamie’s clammy forehead. “No, I want to help. I have a little medical experience.”

“Good.”

Another man entered the hut, one who certainly bore a family resemblance to Badru, except where Badru was big and broad, this gentleman was tall but slim. But he had a kind face like Badru, which was comforting. He smiled at me as he checked Jamie’s pulse. “I could use the help, so long as you don’t plan on fainting at the sight of blood.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You do know that women tend to see blood on a more regular basis than men, don’t you?”

He grinned. “Oh, I like you. Name’s Joseph.”

I smiled back, despite myself. “Not Dr.?”

“I only make stuffy old white men call me Dr. Abernathy. You can call me Joe.”

“Claire,” I replied. “Just tell me what to do, Joe.”

Joe pulled back the mud pack, and though a little blood oozed out, it had thankfully slowed. “You do this?”

“Yes,” I said. “An Indian woman in Colorado showed me how.”

“Well done,” he said. “You probably saved his life. Now, take this bottle of alcohol and start cleaning the instruments. You know what their names are?”

I bit my lip and shook my head.

“Well, you’re about to learn. Now pay attention, because we have to work fast.”




Chapter Text

A hand rested on my shoulder, making me jump.

“You should go get some sleep, Lady Jane. You won’t be doing this boy any favors by keeling over from exhaustion.”

I looked first at the hand I was holding, and then the face of the person it was attached to. Jamie seemed to be resting peacefully, but he was still so pale. I’d been sitting at his side for hours, ever since Joe removed the bullet from his shoulder and bandaged the wound. “I’m fine,” I told Joe. “I want to watch him, make sure he doesn’t start running a fever.”

I’ll watch him,” Joe said. “And I promise I’ll take good care of him. Now you go get some sleep. Doctor’s orders.”

I blinked sleepily up at him. “Where are you from, Joe? Your accent isn’t at all like the others here.”

He quirked a smile and sat down in the chair next to mine. “Well, I’m from America.”

I frowned in thought. “You became a doctor...in America?”

He chuckled. “It’s alright, Lady Jane, you can ask the question you really mean. How did a black man become a doctor? Well, it wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that. My daddy was born a slave, but my mother was captured and brought there as one. Even after they were freed, life wasn’t easy for black folk. Especially when they were in need of doctoring. Not many white doctors will treat black people, even still. I became a doctor so that I could help them. Then when my mother died, I realized I had an entire heritage that I knew nothing about. So I wrote to her brother, Badru, and found out that people here are hurting for doctors as much as black folk in America.”

“That’s quite incredible,” I said. “I’ve often thought of becoming a doctor, but men have about the same opinion of women practicing medicine as they do black men.”

Joe shrugged. “Didn’t stop me, did it?”

I smiled. “Why did you call me Lady Jane?”

He chuckled. “It’s your accent. All prim and proper. I hope you didn’t take offense.”

“No,” I said, looking back at Jamie, and smoothing back his hair. “Just like I didn’t mind when he called me Sassenach.”

“So he can talk,” Joe said. “They led me to believe that he was a complete savage.”

“No,” I said firmly. “He’s not. A savage wouldn’t have saved my life the way he did.”

Joe nodded, then patted my shoulder. “I promise I’ll watch over him, and I’ll fetch you the minute he wakes. Now, please go get some sleep.”

“Yes, Doctor,” I said with a smile, giving Jamie’s hand one more squeeze before rising.

When I got outside, I scowled when the first thing I saw, was Frank.

“You son of bitch,” I hissed, storming down the steps of the hut toward him.

“I beg your pardon?”

Once I reached him, I swung my hand back, and slapped him. “This is your fault! If you hadn’t been so trigger happy, Jamie wouldn’t be in there fighting for his life!”

“How dare you!” Frank exclaimed, cradling his cheek. “I was protecting you!”

“No, he was protecting me! You were being a careless fool!”

“Claire,” Lamb said, taking me by the shoulders. “Come now, child, Mr. Randall didn’t mean for the boy to be hurt. You’re exhausted. Why don’t you…”

Suddenly, there was a crash, a sharp curse from Joe, and I was stumbling over my skirt to get back into the hut.

Jamie was crouched in the corner of the hut, eyes wide and wild, his teeth bared. Joe was in the opposite corner, his hands held up in defense. 

“He woke up and went nuts!” Joe exclaimed.

“Jamie,” I said softly, hurrying to kneel in front of him. For a moment he didn’t look at me, instead looked all around madly. But I kept speaking in soothing tones, and he eventually focused on me, his shoulders relaxing.

“Sassenach,” he whispered. 

“It’s alright,” I said, cupping his whiskered cheek in my palm, then spoke over my shoulder. “Everyone else, out.”

“But Claire…” Lamb said worriedly.

“Go,” I said firmly. “He’s terrified and confused. But he won’t hurt me.”

Lamb nodded and left, then Joe grabbed Frank’s arm and pull him out as well.

“There,” I said to Jamie. “Do not be afraid...it’s just the two of us now.”

Jamie visibly relaxed, but was still clearly very frightened. 

“You’re in the village,” I said, and judging by his expression, he knew what that meant. “It’s alright, though. They won’t hurt you. You got...shot, accidentally. With a gun. Do you know what that means?”

He looked at his shoulder, and winced when he tried to flex it, then nodded.

“You’re going to be alright,” I said. “But you must stay here for a couple of days, until you’re healed.”

“Y...you...s...tay?”

Even if I’d wanted to, nothing could have made me say no to his helpless face. 

“Yes,” I said, nodding. “I’ll stay right here, and I won’t leave you. Alright? Now get back into bed, I’ll be right here.”

Jamie stood and let me guide him back to the bed. He looked panicked when I made to pull away, so I sat with my back against the wall by his head, and closed my eyes to rest.

 

When I woke again, it was because I was burning up. I instinctively tried to escape the source of the heat, but I quickly became aware that it was practically wrapped around me. 

At some point in his sleep, Jamie had pulled me down to lay beside him, under the covers, and I could feel his manhood pressed intimately against my thigh where my skirt had gotten bunched up.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…”

“Well, I guess it’s just as well that I found you and not your uncle, or mine,” Joe said, and I looked up to find him standing in the doorway with his arms crossed and a shit-eating grin on his face. “Or poor Jamie there might have ended up with another bullet-wound in him. Comfortable, Lady Jane?”

“Oh shut up,” I groaned, struggling to get out of Jamie’s grasp, when I became aware just why I’d been so hot. “Oh my God, Joe, he’s burning up!”

Joe hurried forward to help me untangle myself from Jamie, and to his credit he didn’t even glance at the way my skirts were practically at my waist.

“He’s fevered alright,” Joe said, lifting the bandage to examine the wound. “Damn. Alright, go outside and have one of the kids fetch some cold water from the river. We’ll need to bathe him. I’ve got some quinine, should help bring it down.”

I rushed to do as Joe asked, and when I returned, he had Jamie laying flat on his back, with the covers off. Before, I’d really only seen Jamie’s body at night. In the light of day, I was struck by just how scarred he was, and it tore at my heart. When the boy brought the water in, Joe made to take it.

“I can do it,” I said.

Joe looked skeptical. “We have to get his temperature down fast. Pulse points, Lady Jane. Wrists, neck, and groin. You apply the cold water there to get him cooled off faster. Can you do that?”

I stuck my chin up. “Oh, I’ve been around him all this time without him wearing a stitch. I’m not worried about his nakedness.”

Joe shrugged. “Alright. Get to it, then. I wanna see about shaving off his beard. It’s filthy anyway, and not doing him any favors, temperature wise.”

While Joe saw to that, I went about methodically washing him, starting with his wrists, before working my way down.

Regardless of my bravado, I felt my face flame as I applied the cool water around his groin, carefully trying to avoid actually touching him there. 

But as I bathed him, I more closely saw his scars. There were marks that looked like bite wounds, as well as a long, deep gash that had gone down his thigh and looked as thought it must have been incredibly painful. His torso was covered in new bruises and scratches from his fight with the gorilla, and I wondered how many of his marks came from him.

“He sure has been through the wringer,” Joe said, catching my line of sight.”

“He sure has,” I agreed. “His back is worse.”

“How do you think he got out here? Living like he does?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I think it’s been since he was a child. He has some speech, but it’s like he’s forgotten.”

“He isn’t very old,” Joe said. “Younger than you, even. I’d guess around twenty-one, or twenty-two.”

“That young? How can you tell?”

“It’s just a guess, mind you. But a person’s body continues to develop and grow in certain ways throughout their lives, no matter how that life is lived. He’s more’n a boy, that’s for sure, but not by much.”

Jamie moaned, his eyes flickering open. I hurried to get into his line of sight, touching his now smooth cheek.

Joe was right. Without his beard, Jamie looked years younger...and he was so beautiful, it near to broke my heart.

“Sassenach…”

“Shh…” I hushed him, brushing the hair out of his eyes. “It’s alright.”

He whimpered, getting a handful of my skirt, and trying to pull me closer.

“Doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere anytime soon,” Joe said, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“He’s just confused and scared,” I said, not sure why I felt like I needed to defend him, or myself. 

“Claire? I...oh, my…”

Uncle Lamb was staring with wide eyes, and I became aware that I was being held in a firm grasp by a naked man, my hand still holding the washcloth was resting on his thigh.

Lamb blinked a moment, taking in the scene, before looking back at me. “Joe? Shouldn’t we leave them alone?”

“Uncle Lamb!” I exclaimed, shushing Jamie again when he flinched.

 

I sat with him through the night, even after Joe retired to another hut to sleep. He’d set up a cot in the corner for me, but Jamie didn’t let me stray that far.

It was awkward, and terribly improper, but far more comfortable to simply lay beside him, with my hand on his chest feeling his heartbeat and breathing and the temperature of his body.

Although I wasn’t ignorant of being with a man, I’d never actually slept beside one before, and it was a novel experience to say the least. 

His fever broke sometime in the night, and then he rested peacefully beneath my cheek as it in turn rested on his chest. His arm curled protectively around me, and I shouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was...but...well...I was.

Jamie’s peaceful rest was disturbed though, when he began whimpering and turning in his sleep.

“Shh,” I hushed, stroking his cheek. 

“Willie…” he cried, his face scrunched up in fear. “Jen…”

I tried to gently rouse him, but he was very deep in whatever nightmare he was having. 

“Jamie, wake up, darling, it’s alright…”

“NO!”

He jolted upright, looking all around in terror, breathing heavily.

“Jamie! It’s me, Jamie, Sassenach…”

His eyes focused down on me, and he relaxed.

“Who are Willie and Jen?” I asked. Perhaps it was cruel to try and remind him of his nightmare, but I had a feeling that whoever those people were, it told a lot about who he was.

But Jamie didn’t answer, though he slumped tiredly against the pillows.

“Whatever am I going to do with you?” I asked, resting my chin on my hand, and my elbow on his chest.

“Jamie...go home?” he asked.

“Where’s home? In the jungle? With the gorillas?”

He nodded.

“What about that big one? Who attacked us?”

Jamie grimaced, closing his eyes. “Kerchak.”

“Kerchak. Is he the leader?”

Jamie nodded.

“And the little one? The female?”

He opened his eyes again and looked at me. “M-Mother.”

A small gasp left my mouth. “That was your…” It all clicked into place then, and left me feeling astonished. Jamie didn’t just live among the gorillas, he’d been raised by them. “Your mother…”

He nodded, then turned partially on his side, curling into me. I wrapped my arms around him as best I could, stroking his hair as he drifted back off to sleep. I was even more glad than before that I’d saved that gorilla, for to have raised this sweet young man, she must truly have been a remarkable animal.

 

When Jamie awoke the next morning, he was like a whole new person. Though he still favored his shoulder, he immediately began exploring the moment he opened his eyes.

“Alright now,” I said, getting his attention from where he was holding up my boot, examining the heel. “I’m going to need that back, sir, and you need to get into this tub.

Joe’d had a pair of wide-eyed boys bring in a large wooden bathtub and filled it with hot water. Joe then left me with the task of getting Jamie bathed since Jamie still seemed very wary of anyone but me.

Jamie eyed the tub distrustfully.

“Come on, the water is nice and warm, you’ll like it.”

Jamie stood and crept over to the tub, sniffing delicately at it before wrinkling his nose in distaste. “No.”

I propped my hands on my hips. “Excuse me? No? Jamie it’s a bath, not a torture device. You’re covered in filth and blood, and you need a bath. Now, I won’t ask again. Get into the tub.”

I realized that I was speaking to him like a child, but if I didn’t scold him, I’d be laughing at the petulant look on his face. Finally, I grabbed his good arm and pulled him to the tub and almost pushed him in.

He sat down with a snarl, his knees almost up to his ears. He recoiled violently from the bar of soap, his nose wrinkling, and I had to admit it didn’t smell very good, so I went to my bag and found my own soap which smelt light and flowery. He seemed to like that much better, and how nice that a man his size didn’t care about smelling “womanly.”

I set to work with the soap and a soft scrub brush, and worked away years of grime from his skin. He relaxed under my touch, particularly when I went to work on his hair, scratching his scalp with my nails. He practically melted then, his eyes closing in bliss. 

“Good, then maybe you’ll hold still for a haircut,” I said, picking up the pair of scissors that Joe had left. Jamie glared at them, but he was too relaxed to fight much as I began to snip away the matted tangles of his hair until it was shorn up to his ears.

Once that was done, he stood patiently while I dried him off, but then balked when I approached him with a pair of linen pants.

“Now come on ! You can’t go running around the village in the nude.”

Jamie snorted. “No.”

“It’s just pants and a shirt. Just be grateful you needn’t dress in skirts and undergarments and everything like me. I don’t always like it, but do I run around naked?”

He gave my attire a slow up and down look, and I could almost swear his expression was that he just assumed that I did . But surely that was my imagination.

He snatched the clothes away from me, and tried to get them on, but first he tried to put the pants on backward, and once we got that straightened out, he got tangled up in the shirt.

“Hold on,” I laughed, trying to sort him out. “Just...Jamie! Just be still!”

Jamie grunted and growled as I fought him into the shirt like a disgruntled toddler. But once he was finally dressed, I took a step back to look him over.

If I hadn’t watched the transformation myself, I likely would never have recognized Jamie from the wild man I found in the Jungle. His hair, now that it was clean, was a beautiful shade of red-orange, like a sunset, and hung in soft curls around his face. 

Shaved and scrubbed of dirt, I could see now that he had truly handsome features. High, Viking-like cheekbones, a strong chin, but most of all his piercing blue eyes. 

“We-hell now,” Joe said, entering the hut and making Jamie jump. “Wow, what a difference.”

I grinned with pride, though I had no real reason to feel that way. “Isn’t it though? Doesn’t he look handsome?”

Joe looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m thinking you might not want to let him out, Lady Jane. Those women are going to be all over him.”

I scowled, not liking the sound of that . It would frighten Jamie, was all. “I hope you explained to everyone not to overwhelm him.”

He chuckled. “They know. They’re very curious though, and who can blame them. I am too.”

“Me too,” I admitted, then turned to Jamie, who’d lost interest in our conversation and had my soap again and was smelling it, looking as though he were considering trying to eat it. “Jamie? Would you like to go out and explore the village?”

Jamie put down the soap and walked over to me, grimacing and tugging at his clothes in discomfort.

“You’ll get used to it,” I chuckled, holding out my hand. “Come on.”

Jamie gave my hand a look, then surprised me by leaning down and licking it. 

I let out a surprised squeak and yanked my hand back, and he gave me a rather distressed look.

“I’m sorry,” I said to him, shooting Joe a glare as he laughed. “You just took me by surprise, is all. Give me your hand, Jamie.”

Understanding now, Jamie took my hand and let me lead him outside.

“How often has he licked you, Lady Jane?” Joe murmured under his breath, still laughing.

I hissed at him to shut up, then put my free hand on Jamie’s arm, pulling him protectively close to me when the villagers began flocking around curiously.

“Well, don’t you look strapping, my boy!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed. 

“Jamie,” I said. “This is my uncle, Lambert.”

“Lam-bert,” Jamie parroted.

“Delightful!” Lamb cried.

I guided Jamie to Badru. “This is Joe’s uncle, and the leader of the tribe here. Badru.”

Badru was staring at Jamie in awe, shaking his head. “All these years, and he really is just a man.”

“I wouldn’t say just a man,” I said, despite my earlier insistences that he was. “He was raised by the gorillas. He survived out here for most of his life with them.”

Jamie broke away from me, but I watched him like a hawk as he started poking around, picking things up and discarding them once something more interesting caught his eye. 

He picked up speed, and soon I couldn’t keep up as he darted around the village, looking at everything. The people smiled as he approached, offering up pots and pans and instruments for his examination. When one man gave him a toothy grin, Jamie flinched back in fear, but blinked as his expression cleared, and smiled back.

“A smile like that would look like the baring of teeth to a gorilla,” Lamb said, coming up behind me. “A sign of aggression. But Jamie does seem to understand the difference.”

“He does know human ways,” I said. “He wasn’t raised by the gorillas from infancy. He fought against a bath, but not, I think, because he didn’t understand it, but because he didn’t want it, like any little boy.”

Lamb gave me a sideways look. “In case you haven’t noticed my dear, he isn’t a little boy. If you haven’t notice, I do worry for you.”

I gave him a light smack on the arm and laughed. “Stop it. Yes, I know. But think about it, if he was a boy when he was abandoned here, with little to no contact with humans, he will have missed a few steps in maturity, wouldn’t he?”

“Abandoned?” Lamb asked. “Do you think he was deliberately abandoned ?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t imagine anyone purposely leaving a little boy in the African jungle to fend for himself. He had a nightmare last night, and in his sleep he said the names “Willie,” and “Jen.”

“His parents, you think?”

I shook my head. “He wouldn’t have called to them by their names, I don’t think. But I do think it’s a clue.”

Lamb nodded. “Keep trying to get him to talk. Perhaps we can piece this mystery together and get him home.”

A group of children, who’d been shyly hanging back from Jamie, were finally starting to approach him, seeming enthralled by his red hair, both on his head and his arms. Jamie was crouched in the midst of them, looking perfectly content to be there. When he caught me watching though, his face lit up into a beaming smile, one that did very unusual things to my heart.

Chapter Text

During Jamie’s convalescence, Uncle Lamb, Mr. Randall, and I had taken up temporary residence in the village. I was given a hut to myself, but until that night I had been staying with Jamie. Now that Jamie was on the mend though, I moved my belongings out of the medical clinic and into my borrowed home. 

Jamie followed as I did so, seeming agitated by it, though when I struggled to lift my trunk on my own, he picked it up as if it weighed no more than a feather and carried it into the other hut for me.

“Thank you,” I said. “You’ll stay in the same one as before, where Joe can still keep an eye on you. I know you may be anxious to return to your family, but I’d like it if you stayed a little longer. I still worry about that bullet wound getting infected.

Jamie tilted his head at me, and I smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry. You probably don’t understand half of anything I say do you?”

He did seem to understand a great deal, more than he was able to communicate himself, and I had no intention to speak down to him like he was unintelligent. But I thought I probably should at least try to slow down.

Jamie moved past me to the trunk, fiddling with the clasp for a moment before opening it. I tensed in embarrassment, as several of my underthings were resting on top, but he only pushed them out of the way disinterestedly, and I reminded myself that Jamie had no notion of shame, and I wondered what it was like to be that free.

Instead, he focused his attention on my books. I had only a few with me, but no matter how much they weighed my trunk down, I couldn’t stand to be without. I had my book of herbalogy, a book of African animals, my journal, and to my embarrassment that I tried to stamp down...a romance novel.

Naturally that would be what Jamie picked up first, and he opened it to find the illustration inside that depicted a man and woman in passionate embrace.

He looked up at me, curiosity alight in his eyes.

“That’s erm...I’m not sure why I even brought that one…” I chuckled awkwardly, then knelt beside him to pick up the field guide of animals. “Wouldn’t you rather look at this one?”

Jamie took the other book in his free hand, then back at the novel, then discarded the animal book in favor of flipping through Hills of Heather .

“Do you like books?” I asked him. When he nodded, I took it as an opportunity to try and delve deeper. “Did your parents read to you when you were a boy?”

He gave me a peculiar look, one I couldn’t read, and didn’t answer. Instead, he handed the book to me. I thought that it meant that he would turn his attention to something else, but instead he sidled up beside me, and I realized that he wanted a story.

“Of course you’d want me to read this to you,” I muttered, resting my back against the trunk. “Well all right, most of it is harmless anyway.”

“Emilia Hastings was a woman like no other...” I read, figuring the sentimental tale would likely bore Jamie soon, but indeed he remained rapt as I told the beginnings of the tumultuous affair between Emilia Hastings and Laird Allistair MacKenzie. Jamie went back and forth between staring at the words, and watching me as I spoke.

“I think that’s enough for tonight,” I said, just before Emilia and Allistair shared their first kiss. “It’s late.”

“Again?” Jamie asked.

I nodded. “Yes, I’ll read more tomorrow. Though I think I’ll ask Joe or Badru if there are any books here that I could teach you to read with. Would you like that?”

Jamie nodded enthusiastically, and I grinned. “Well, then that’s what we shall do. Now go on, you’ve had a big day and you need to rest that shoulder.”

I led Jamie out toward the medical clinic, but frowned when we were approached by Frank. Jamie tensed at the sight of him, taking a step closer to me. At first I thought it was in fear, but what I looked at his face he didn’t look afraid, he just looked very suspicious.

“Have you gotten him to tell you where the gorillas are?” Frank asked.

“What? No...why would I have asked him that?”

Frank looked at me as if I were stupid. “Why? Because that’s why you and your uncle are here , isn’t it? And he’s one of them, surely he knows how to find them.”

As much as I hated to admit it, Frank had a point. Jamie could easily lead us to the gorillas I was sure, and more than that, he could probably help us to see them without any danger to them or us. In truth though, since Jamie’s injury, I’d forgotten all about my and Lamb’s intention of seeing the gorillas.

“I’m not sure Jamie would take us to them, even if he knew what I was asking,” I said, not bothering to tell Frank that Jamie was perfectly capable of understanding. “You didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in him that we mean the gorillas no harm.”

“That gorilla attacked you , Claire,” Frank said. “For God’s sake, your wild man here attacked the damn thing himself.”

“That was different. Jamie restrained the gorilla, you tried to kill him.”

“To protect you! ” Frank exclaimed, making a wide gesture with his hand.

All of a sudden, Jamie was in front of me, snarling animalistically. 

Frank leapt back. “By God!”

“Jamie!’ I exclaimed, grabbing his arm. Until that moment I wouldn’t have thought a human capable of making a sound like that. “It’s alright!”

Jamie glanced briefly at me before fixing his glare back at Frank.

“He is a savage,” Frank snapped. “No better than an animal!”

“Stop it!” I yelled, keeping a firm grip on Jamie’s arm. “You raised your voice and made a gesture that he took as threatening. He’s defending me.”

Frank snorted. “But when I protect you from a legitimate threat, you get angry.”

Shaking my head, I tugged on Jamie, leading him away. “Ignore him,” I said when we were far enough away. “He just has a rod stuck too far up his arse.”

Jamie made a questioning sound and looked at me askance, making me laugh.

“Never mind.”

 

The sound of something falling over and hitting the ground jolted me awake from a deep sleep. I flipped over and sat up, my heart racing. But it was only Jamie, standing sheepishly in the doorway, the stack of books I’d left on my trunk now scattered across the rug.

“Jamie,” I sighed, rubbing an eye. “What are you doing here?”

It had taken several attempts to explain to him that he needed to sleep in the medical clinic, and that I would be in my own hut only a few yards away, but I’d thought he had finally understood. 

“It’s late. Go back to bed, Jamie.”

Jamie clumsily gathered up the books and returned them to the trunk, all except for Hills of Heather , which he carried over to me.

“I’m too tired, Jamie,” I said. “I’ll read to you tomorrow.”

Jamie ignored me, and simply crawled into bed beside me, leaning back against the pillow to flip through the book. 

“Jamie, no ,” I pushed at his shoulder. “You can’t sleep here. It was one thing when you were ill, but I don’t think my uncle would approve of it now.” 

He gave me an innocent look, which was quite frankly a bit too innocent, and rather made me believe that he understood exactly what I was saying, and just didn’t care.

I was too tired to argue, but the sudden fright had woken me up too much to go right back to sleep, so I snatched the book away from Jamie with a touch of annoyance and rolled over to light my lamp. 

“One chapter,” I said firmly, turning to a page at random. “But tomorrow we’re going to find a much more appropriate book for you to learn from.”

I piled some more pillows behind me to sit up, and Jamie scooted over until we were sitting with our sides flush together.

“At least you aren’t naked anymore,” I mumbled before starting to read.

“Allistair was known across the Highlands as a fair, but ruthless leader…”

“No,” Jamie said, nudging my side. “Not that.”

“Not…” I arched a brow at him, then rolled my eyes. “Oh. I’m at the wrong place, is that it? Figures. Fine . If I read from where we left off, will you go to sleep?”

“Mmhm,” he made a sound that was partly one of agreement, partly the clearing of his throat, from the sounds of it.

I flipped back to the chapter I’d stopped at earlier that day, feeling my cheeks warm.

“Allistair cradled Emilia’s face in his large palms, and her heart fluttered nervously like a flock of wild birds…” I sighed, grimacing. Somehow the prose sounded a lot sillier when read aloud. “He pulled her face to his own, his mouth descending to hers in a passionate kiss…”

“Kiss?” Jamie asked. 

I smiled. “Yes, kiss. Surely you know what that is, don’t you?” I leaned over, pressing a quick kiss to his temple with a loud smack. “Like that...more or less, anyway.”

“Why?”

“Why? Well, it’s a sign of affection. I gave you a kiss because you’re my friend, and I care about you. I give my Uncle Lamb kisses because he’s my uncle, and I love him. It’s different in this story, of course. Because it’s a man and woman and they…” I blushed. “Well, they’re...mates…do you understand?”

He nodded. “Yes. Like Mother, and Kerchak?”

“Yes, like your mother and Kerchak. Now, would you like me to finish, or not?”

He nodded, curls flopping endearingly into his eyes, so I continued.

“Allistair pulled Emilia tightly to him, molding the hard planes of his body to her soft, feminine curves. His tongue, hot and demand…” I shook my head and closed my eyes. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t read that with a man sitting in my bed. Especially while he looked up at me with wide, curious eyes. “H...he kissed and kissed her, and she was very happy. Then he released her, thanking her for the kiss, and asked if she would take a walk with him tomorrow. Emilia accepted, and went home to excitedly prepare for her evening with Allistair.”

I snapped the book closed, giving Jamie a look. “There. Now, time for sleep.”

Jamie’s brow was furrowed, like he didn’t quite believe that I’d been reading the story right, but he scooted down until he was lying beside me, underneath the covers.

“Just for tonight,” I murmured, putting out the lamp and curling up beside him. “Goodnight, Jamie.”

After a few moments of silence, Jamie spoke very quietly. “Sassenach?”

“Yes, Jamie?” I said without opening my eyes.

I felt his breath on my face just seconds before I felt the warmth of lips lightly touching the corner of my own.

“Th...thank...you,” he said.

Losing my fight against smiling, I nestled more closely into his side, and drifted off to sleep.

 

“Claire?”

“Come in, Uncle Lamb.”

Lamb pushed the curtain aside and entered the hut. “Ah. Joe didn’t know where our friend had gone off to. I figured I’d probably find him here.”

I was seated cross-legged on the floor, with a mirror propped up on my trunk. I’d been going about my morning toilet while Jamie still slept, but he awoken and watched curiously. (Thankfully I’d already given myself a hurried wash.) Now he sat behind me, either attempting to fix my hair, or grooming me, I wasn’t sure.

“Well, I’ve been told before that I really ought to get you a lady’s maid,” Lamb joked, gesturing to Jamie.

“Uncle Lamb,” I playfully scolded. “He’s just curious.”

I didn’t think I needed to tell my uncle that the feeling of Jamie’s fingers raking through my hair was pure bliss, and that I’d been sat letting Jamie do as he pleased for the better part of an hour.

“He’s curious all right,” Lamb said, giving me a look. I schooled my features, wondering if my face betrayed my pleasure. “I just hope you’re careful, Claire. He’s very strong, and doesn’t understand boundaries. If he were to get it into his mind to...well...erm, take advantage of you…”

I whirled on Lamb, startling Jamie. “He wouldn’t hurt me!”

“Of course not,” Lamb said kindly. “Not intentionally. But…”

“No,” I said stubbornly. “No buts.”

“But how do you know, darling? You’ve only known him a couple of days.”

I frowned, supposing he was right. I guessed I couldn’t know, and yet somehow, I just did.

His interest shifting, Jamie approached Lamb, sniffing at him before rising up to his full height, which towered well over Lamb, and leaned in close to his face.

“Oh my,” Lamb laughed. “It seems I’m to be his new fascination!”

I giggled at the way Lamb awkwardly tried to back away, but Jamie only followed him obliviously. “I think it’s your glasses,” I said.

Lamb removed his glasses and handed them to Jamie. “Be careful,” he warned.

Jamie snatched the glasses and returned to my side, staring at them in wonder, and then through them, before yanking them back away from his face with a grimace.

Lamb laughed at him, then turned back to me. “Joe said to tell you that he’s been teaching some of the village children over near the stream. He thought you could bring Jamie, and see if he could perhaps learn with them.”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” I said, thinking how Jamie had been more comfortable with the children than he had with most of the others, and he seemed to like Joe just fine. “What do you think, Jamie? Would like to go to school?”

Jamie gave me an unsure look, but when I started to walk out of the hut, he was right beside me.

 

It was, quite honestly, a hilarious sight.

The over six foot red headed giant sitting in the middle of a group of small children had me biting my lip to keep from smiling. 

At first, Jamie listened carefully as Joe taught the children their multiplication tables, but before long his attention wandered, and when I stepped away to relieve myself, I returned to find him coming after me.

Having no desire to sit through primary school with him all day, I borrowed one of the children’s books that Joe had and led Jamie a little away from the village, to a quiet, shady spot beneath the trees.

Jamie was vastly different when he was alone with me, relaxed and calmer. I’d also begun to notice that he never even tried to speak if anyone else was around.

I sat down on a log, and patted the space next to me. “As promised, how would you like to learn how to read?”

Jamie nodded and sat beside me, watching with interest as I opened the primer to the first two pages, that only showed the alphabet. 

“A,” I said, pointing to the letter. “Ah. A for…” I smiled. “Ape. B, buh. B for bird. C, cuh. C for…”

“Claire,” Jamie said, grinning up at me.

I laughed. “That’s right. C for Claire. I think you already know this, don’t you?”

In answer, he pointed at the next letter. “D, duh.”

Shaking my head, I flipped forward a few pages. “You’ve been holding out on me. Alright, let’s try this, then.”

It took a while, but before long, it started coming back to him, and Jamie was slowly reading the simple stories in the primer. 

“Jamie?” I said when he’d finished his fourth story. “Do you remember how old you were when you came here? When you went to live with the gorillas?”

Jamie thought a moment, then shook his head.

I bit my lip, thinking, then down the hill, I caught sight of a woman returning from the river with a basket of fish, and a toddler running alongside her. “Were you little? Like that boy down there?”

Jamie peered down at the child, then shook his head.

“What about that boy from the school that sat next to you? Lekan? He’s around twelve.”

Again, Jamie shook his head. “No. Lekan like Willie.”

I blinked in surprise. “Willie? Is Willie your...brother?”

Jamie nodded. 

“Okay...so Willie was older. But you can’t remember how big you were?”

Jamie exhaled through his nose and stood up. “Not big enough,” he said lowly.

I watched as he walked away, beginning to wonder if Jamie’s gaps in memory weren't entirely due to time and age. I wondered if there was something much worse.

 

I didn’t see Jamie again until that night, and I’d begun to worry, until I finally found him at the edge of the village, behind my hut.

“There you are,” I said, sighing in relief. “Where have you been?”

He didn’t answer, but looked out at the jungle. “I go.”

“What?! No!” I grabbed his hand, panic twisting in my chest. “Please, I’m sorry for pressing you. I won’t anymore. Please don’t go!”

Jamie’s expression warmed, and he smiled at me. “Dinna fash.”

“Dinna... what ?”

He touched my cheek with his knuckle. “I...have not...saw my family. Need to go. See them well.”

“Oh,” I said, relaxing. “I understand. But you’ll come back?”

He nodded, still smiling. “Yes, Sassenach.”

He tugged at his shirt, grimacing. “They will not like it,” he said, starting to unbutton his pants.

“I suppose it’s just as well we keep them here, then,” I said, holding out my hands for them. “I’ll have them ready for you when you return.”

He struggled with the buttons of his shirt, so I batted his hands away and did it myself. 

Jamie turned to go, but paused, looking back and giving me a crooked smile before darting in and kissing me.

It was nothing but a quick and loud smack, but it left me feeling awfully flustered.

“Thank you,” he said, before fleeing into the night. I didn’t even bother trying to not look at his arse as he did.

I stood there for a moment, already missing him, damn me. When I turned to return to the village, I found Frank standing just behind me.

“Have you no shame at all?” he said with disdain.

I rolled my eyes. “He couldn’t wear the clothes around the gorillas,” I said. “His undressing was hardly salacious. I’m so used to it, I don’t even notice anymore.” That last part was a bald-faced lie, but Frank didn’t need to know that.

Frank shook his head. “That isn’t what I meant and you know it.

Suddenly he gasped, and looked in the direction Jamie had gone. “He’s gone back to them? We could follow him!”

“He’s long gone,” I said impatiently. “And besides, he would not appreciate you stalking him.”

“You’re right,” Frank said, to my surprise. “He’ll return, and the gorillas will become accustomed to his coming and going with the smell of man about him, and then you can convince him to take us to them.”

I took a step away from Frank, holding Jamie’s clothes to my chest. “Why do you care so much?”

Frank frowned at me. “Because I was paid to show you gorillas, Miss Beauchamp. I’ll not get any more customers if I cannot deliver. Besides, your uncle has been chomping at the bit. He’s anxious to see not just them, but Jamie being among them.”

Unfortunately, Frank was right. Lamb was anxious to set back out on our search, especially considering we only had about two weeks left before returning to England...something I tried not to give too much thought to.

“Fine,” I said at last. “I’ll talk to Jamie and see how he feels about taking us. But I will not pressure him about it, and neither will you, understand?”

“Agreed,” Frank said, sounding downright cordial. “You’re quite a wonder, do you know that? The way you were with that trapped gorilla, and with Jamie. It’s truly remarkable. You are remarkable, Claire.”

I was taken rather aback, having never heard him sound so complimentary . Once, I might have been charmed by it, but now I only felt vaguely suspicious. 

“Thank you,” I said politely. “But there’s nothing remarkable about me, Mr. Randal. If you’ll excuse me, it’s late, and I’m very tired.”

“Of course,” he said, standing aside at once. “Goodnight, Miss Beauchamp.”

 

I slept poorly that night, tossing and turning and wondering if Jamie was okay. It was absurd, of course. He’d lived more than a decade alone in the jungle, and had done just fine, but I couldn’t help but worry.

What was more, though, was as I curled around my pillow, trying to get comfortable, I found that I was missing his arms around me.

 

Chapter Text

The days waiting for Jamie to return seemed to stretch on forever. I was starting to fear that he wouldn’t even come back before Uncle Lamb and I were forced to sail back to England. 

Women in the village tended to do their bathing in the river during the evenings, while the men bathed in the mornings. It was a hot night, I hadn’t had anything better than a quick scrub in a hip bath in days, and a dip in the cool river sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

I walked down with the women, but broke off on my own, since I didn’t speak enough of their language to really get on with them, besides I was sort of wanting a little time to myself.

I found a secluded area of the river, sheltered by trees, to strip down and wade into the chilly water. 

It had been some time since I’d last been able to fully submerge myself in water, and I leaned back, letting myself float, my face turned up into the pale light of the moon. 

I thought about what waited for me in England. A grand house, fancy parties, endless suitors. For some girls it was a dream. For me, it felt like a sentence I needed to resign myself to. But Uncle Lamb had been very clear...once last excursion, and then we both settle down. I was no longer a girl, and I couldn’t get away with running about like a wild child forever. In fact even though I didn’t feel very old, at twenty-five I was well past my prime marrying years, as far as society in England was concerned.

I thought of Joe, and all he’d gone through to become a doctor. I knew that it wasn’t impossible for a woman to be a doctor, but it was very, very challenging. I wondered if I was even half as strong as Joe, to even consider such a thing.

I heard a rustle in the leaves, and then some childish giggling, and sighed. “Get out of here!” I snapped, covering my chest with my arms and peering into the dark to see whatever nosy little boys were spying. 

Then there was more rustling, a snarl, and the squeals of small children as they went fleeing back to the village. I waded closer to the shore, curious and a little worried, only to see Jamie, scowling in the direction that the boys had gone.

“It’s you,” I sighed in relief. “Wait...just how long have you been watching me?!’

Jamie looked back at me with utmost innocence, then tilted his head curiously. When he started wading into the water, I ducked down. “Wait, stop!”

Jamie did, watching me worriedly, and I became aware of two things. One, Jamie was clearly aroused by whatever he’d managed to see, and two, Uncle Lamb was clearly wrong about Jamie not stopping when I asked him.

After a moment, Jamie continued on cautiously into the water, picking my bar of soap up on the way, but kept a respectable distance from me. I watched, chin-deep in the water, as he scrubbed himself clean of whatever grime he’d picked up in the few days he’d been gone. Once he was done, he turned to me with a grin, obviously seeking praise for bathing without being forced.

“Well done,” I said obligingly, relaxing. “Now do you mind? I’m not decent, here.”

“What dee-cent?” he asked.

I bit my lower lip to keep from laughing. “I don’t have clothes on, but you’re very aware of that, aren’t you?” I glanced down at where his waist was just covered with water. “I suppose I don’t blame you for being curious, but this is just a little too much for me, Jamie. Could you please go back to shore and wait for me?”

Nodding at once, Jamie waded back, but then he turned to watch me as I followed.

“No...turn around! Don’t look, not until I tell you.”

It was dark, so I couldn’t be sure, but I actually thought Jamie rolled his eyes as he gave me his back.

I scampered onto shore and hurriedly dried off before pulling on my chemise, eyeing Jamie the whole time to make sure he didn’t peek. Once I was more or less decent, I opened my mouth to tell him it was alright, but I paused, struck by the way the scars on his back seemed even more pronounced in the deep shadows of the night.

I approached him slowly, gently laying a hand on one of the longer scars. He flinched slightly, but didn’t pull away.

“How did these happen?” I asked, running a finger lightly down the mark.

Jamie craned his head around to look, and I wondered if he even knew they were there.

“Cat,” he said.

“A cat ? Wait…” I thought of my animal field guide, and what sort of big cats lived in the area. It was too far from the savanna to be a lion. “A jaguar?”

He shrugged one shoulder.

I took his arm to turn him around. “You’ve had a hell of a life, haven’t you?”

He shrugged again, looking a little uncomfortable with my questioning. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep interrogating you. I just want to understand…”

I trailed off when I saw that his face was crumpling, and pulled him into my arms without hesitation.

He didn’t cry, but held onto me like a lifeline...so tightly it hurt, but I didn’t even consider telling him so. I cupped the back of his head, pressing his face to my shoulder, and he nuzzled me there like an affectionate cat. 

“Oh, you dear, sweet man,” I whispered, stroking his hair. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”

After a long, quiet moment, I remembered that Jamie was still unclothed and still very...interested in the state of my undress, so I pulled away, stroking his bristly chin with my thumb. 

“Come on, your clothes are in my hut. Let’s get you into them, hm?”

He nodded. “Yes, Sassenach.”

I paused another moment, hesitating, then stood up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, glad when it made him grin.

“Thank you,” he said happily. 

“You’re welcome. Now come on, Tarzan.”

 

I pulled Jamie by the arm back to my hut, passing a group of young women on their way to the river. They looked him up and down, giggling as they went, and he smiled at them in return.

Rolling my eyes I yanked him along.

“Better be careful,” I muttered to him. “I’ve seen the way a couple of those girls are with the men. I’m not sure that’s an education you’re ready for.”

Jamie looked at me cluelessly, but I didn’t offer a better explanation, unsettled by the unnecessary surge of anger I’d felt when those women ogled him. 

Jamie’s attention was drawn anyway, by the steady drumbeat coming from somewhere further in the village.

“Sounds like someone is playing music,” I said, leading him inside. “Come on, we’ll get you dressed and we can go investigate.”

I didn’t miss the way Jamie wrinkled his nose. He hated the constrictive nature of clothes, and I had to say I couldn’t blame him. They could be rather stifling at times, especially as hot as it was.

I opened my trunk, first finding my own skirt and blouse, and Jamie scooted up next to me, taking the skirt and holding it up to himself.

I chuckled and snatched it away. “Sorry, I don’t think that would fit you.”

Unfazed, he found instead the rust-colored sari that one of the women had given me, and he rubbed the soft fabric between his fingers. Suddenly, I had an idea.

“Hand that here,” I said, taking the sari and wrapping it around his waist and tying it in a knot on the side. I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before; it wasn’t very unlike how some of the men in the village dressed, but Uncle Lamb and I had just automatically put Jamie in the clothes of a white man. “There, how is that? Better than the trousers?”

I giggled at the way Jamie twisted his hips from side to side, testing his range of movement, but he seemed satisfied. The sounds of music outside was growing, and he was chomping at the bit to investigate so I hurried and pulled my other sari out of my trunk and tied it around my own waist, over my chemise. 

“Alright!” I said, laughing at the way Jamie was already scooting toward the doorway, but was still waiting for me. “Let’s go!”

 

There was a fire going in the center of the village, and men and women were playing lively music with drums, kalimbas, shakers and more. The younger people were dancing around the fire, and I marveled at the way they moved their bodies to the beat with none of the structure of European dances, but with far more feeling

Jamie was crouched at my side, watching with his mouth gaped open in delight.

“Claire!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed, joining us. He had small shaker in one hand, and a cup of something that smelled strongly alcoholic in the other. “Jamie, my boy! Why don’t you two join them?”

“Oh no,” I laughed. “I’d need a few of whatever you’re drinking before that.”

With a shrug, Lamb handed over his cup and returned to Badru. 

I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was delicious , and indeed very strong. Jamie watched me with a tilt to his head.

“Here,” I said, handing him the cup. “Small sip, don’t try to gulp it.”

Jamie ignored my instruction and drained the cup, which caused him to cough and splutter.

“I tried to warn you,” I said, laughing.

Jamie narrowed his eyes at me, but wasn’t able to hold the expression long before he was smiling again, and rising to his full height to take my hand.

“No, Jamie,” I said when he tried to pull me toward the dancers. “I can’t do what they’re doing!”

“Me...either,” he said, yanking me forward.

Jamie grabbed both my hands and spun me around, clumsily copying what the others were doing. As they began to notice, they laughed, but I felt that it was the laughter of the simple joy that Jamie exuded, and not mocking.

Regardless I blushed, but didn’t fight him, because that boundless joy of his was contagious. We spun and laughed, and were handed more drinks until I was dizzy...but whether it was from the dancing or drink, I couldn’t be sure.

I finally pulled away from Jamie, trying to catch my breath, but I watched him as he continued to dance. The firelight cast a warm orange glow on his skin and his already fiery hair. I could barely take my eyes off of him as he moved, watching the other dancers, trying to copy them, but his own eyes still sought me out every few seconds, squinting in mirth as he grinned. 

Finally tiring out, Jamie rejoined me, bumping me in the shoulder with his head. 

“Having fun?” I asked him. 

He nodded. “Yes.”

“What do you normally do for fun?” I wondered. “Out there, I mean.”

Jamie tilted his head in thought, then smiled. “Show Sassenach?”

My answering smile was slow, and I peeked over at where Uncle Lamb was probably three more cups in, and I didn’t see Mr. Randall at all.

“Yes,” I said, slapping my hand into his. “Show me.”

 

The night was dark and quiet, only scarcely lit by the crescent moon. Jamie led me much farther than he had that first night, but I felt no fear, trusting him to know the way, to be aware of danger, to protect me.

He scuffled ahead of me on all fours, and I marveled at how easily he could move that way, that a human body was even capable of developing that way.

There, far out in the jungle, the trees were bigger, older. Vines wound all around them and tangled together, so that the trees were joined, creating a sort of cathedral more beautiful than any I’d seen in England, or France. 

Jamie made a sound to catch my attention, and I found him at the base of one of the trees, holding a hand out for me.

“Oh,” I said, feeling my eyes widen. “You want...to take me up there?”

Jamie smiled, and motioned for me again.

Gulping, and feeling my heart begin to race in anxiousness, I went to Jamie and took his hand, letting him maneuver me until I was clinging to his back.

He scaled the tree as easily as if he’d been born to it, and before I could even catch my breath, we were far above the ground, perched on a wide branch. 

I released Jamie’s neck but he turned around to wrap his arms securely around me, keeping me feeling steady, and safe. My hands were pressed to his chest, and I let my fingers run over the copper colored hair there. 

My heart started to race again, but I wasn’t so sure that it was the height anymore.

“Now what?” I asked him.

Jamie grinned, then reached up and grabbed hold of one of the vines, tugging firmly on it to test it.

I wrapped my arms around his neck again, expecting him to take me with him like he did before, but he shook his head and pulled back, then handed me the vine.

“What, you want me to...oh no, OHHH no…” I made to step away, but there was nowhere else to go. “Jamie, I can’t...I’m not…” I peered down over the edge of the limb, seeing how far down the ground was.

“I not let you fall,” Jamie said, softly.

I took a deep breath. “Screw your courage to the sticking place, Beauchamp,” I muttered to myself.

I took a tight hold of the vine and leaned out. Nothing but my absolute trust in Jamie would have allowed me to kick my feet off the limb the way I did. Somehow, in the scant week I’d known him, I’d developed more faith in this wild man than I had in anyone. And that was precisely what it was, simple and pure faith.

I felt myself fly through the air like a bird, nothing but the wind on my skin, billowing through my chemise and sari. I kept my eyes screwed tightly shut until I felt something near me, and opened them to find Jamie pushing me along before grabbing hold of my vine and joining me, wrapping around me the way the trees did, a cathedral created with just the two of us. 

I looked up at his sweet, open face, feeling my breath stutter. His arm wound around my waist, preventing me from the possibility of falling. 

But damn me, I was falling, and I didn’t know how to stop it. 

I pulled myself up, close enough to that I could press my lips to his.

Jamie tightened his hold on me, pulled me closer.

“Thank you,” he said.












Chapter Text

When I awoke the following morning, Jamie was missing from the foot of my bed, where he’d spent the night. Worried that he might have vanished into the jungle again, I jumped up to go in search of him.

Relieved, I found him just outside, watching some men prepare for a hunt.

“Jamie,” I called. “I was worried you’d gone. Listen...there’s something I need to...Jamie?”

But he wasn’t listening, his eyes narrowed in on the bows and arrows that the men were readying. 

“They have to hunt, Jamie,” I said, taking his hand. “They have to feed their families.”

“I know,” he said. “But why not kill with hands and teeth? Those...not…”

“Fair?” I supplied. “Maybe not, but men aren’t like animals, Jamie. They can’t kill large beasts with hands and...wait...are you saying you can ?”

I tried to imagine Jamie taking down a wildebeest with his teeth, then decided I didn’t want to.

Badru saw us watching, and approached us. “Good morning, Claire, Tarzan. Would you care to join us today?”

Jamie looked at him in askance, not answering, so I answered for him.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “He’s having a hard time coming to terms with your...methods.”

“Exactly,” Badru said. “Come with us, see our ways.”

“He has a point, Jamie,” I said.

Jamie gave me a long look, then nodded at Badru. When I started to follow, however, Badru stopped me.

“Women do not hunt here, Claire, I’m sorry.”

Before I could retort, Jamie gave a low growl. “In my world, females hunt better.

Badru, too surprised by Jamie’s sudden and perfect speech, didn’t argue, and I grinned smugly at him as we passed.

The other men didn’t seemed perturbed by Jamie’s presence, but gave me funny looks until they caught a glare from Jamie, and said not a word.

Lamb and Joe were invited along too, which made me glad, but so was Mr. Randal, which made me less so. I couldn’t help but smile though, when Frank was forced by Badru to leave his gun behind.

A young man by the name of Azizi offered Jamie a bow, which was staunchly refused. Jamie did, however, accept a fairly large knife, which he stuck into the side of his sari. He then chose a smaller knife with a serrated edge, and handed that one to me.

“Thanks,” I said, eyeing it dubiously. “But I don’t really plan on cutting up any animals.”

“Sassenach should protect yourself,” he said firmly, grabbing my hand and placing the handle of the knife in it, then smiled. “Teeth not sharp enough.”

“I like him,” Lamb said, happening by.

Rolling my eyes, I tucked the knife away and trotted after Jamie. 

The men chatted companionably for the first several several miles, but as we made our way deeper into the jungle, they grew quiet, on alert.

“What exactly are we hunting?” I wondered aloud.

“Whatever they can find, I think,” Joe said. 

“We will go to the plains, where the antelope are,” Badru said, then turned to Jamie. “We seek only what we need, to feed our families, to keep them warm.”

After a time, we arrived in the open plain, looking down from the hillside at miles of beautiful open grasslands. 

Sure enough, there was a small herd of antelope, grazing near a pond. 

The hunters all made plans in Swahili, so I could only guess what they were planning to do. 

“They are too far,” Badru explained to the rest of us. “Azizi will lead some of the men around, and we will wait here. When the time is right, we will startle the herd, push them toward the others.”

“How will we do that?” Joe asked.

One of the other young men said something, causing them all to laugh. 

When the rest of us looked at Badru questioningly, he laughed and winked at me. “He said, we send Mr. Randall down the hill in a jaguar costume.”

“Hilarious,” Frank drolled.

“Oh, they’re only teasing, old boy,” Lamb said, nudging him. “Lighten up!”

“Now is the time,” Badru said, when a small plume of smoke made its way above the trees. “Azizi is ready. We will…”

Badru was cut off by a sudden, piercing lion-like roar that echoed through the plains. 

We all turned as one to Jamie, who had somehow made the sound.

But before anyone could wonder too much about that, the herd was on the move, and Badru and the remaining men were racing down the hill.

I lagged behind with Lamb, Joe, and Frank, not particularly relishing the idea of seeing antelope get shot, but Jamie ran ahead with the other men

“This would be a lot simpler with guns,” Frank said.

“It isn’t their way,” Joe snapped. “They’ve lived this way for hundreds of years.”

Frank rolled his eyes. “And what of providence, hm? Without that, you’d be running around the jungle with them, not being an educated doctor.”

“Providence didn’t kidnap and enslave my mother and bring her to America, Mr. Randall,” Joe said simply, not bothering to look at him. “A group of white slave-traders did. My becoming a doctor was because of me .”

Frank had nothing to say to that, so wisely kept his mouth shut.

We reached where the hunters were standing over their kills, and I became aware that they were singing.

Badru was standing next to Jamie, explaining the song to him. “They sing their thanks to the animals. For the meat that provides life, for the hide that provides warmth, for the bones that provide tools that we may continue to build and thrive.”

I took Jamie’s hand, wondering what was going through his head, but his expression was blank. Contemplative.

 

The three antelope that the men had taken slowed the party down quite a bit, so it was growing dark before we reached the village. Jamie and I lagged a little ways behind the rest, where the men’s torch light didn’t reach. But I could almost swear that by the way Jamie’s eyes scanned the area, that he could actually see in the dark the way an animal could.

Despite the deep shadows, I could see the strain on his face. I thought at first it was the hunt, but he was slowing down, and it dawned on me that walking upright was causing him discomfort.

“No need to stand on ceremony for my sake,” I said, keeping my tone light so as not to upset him. When he frowned at me in incomprehension, I gestured to his legs. “If it’s easier for you to walk like a gorilla, why don’t you?”

“Jamie not gorilla,” he said.

“I know that, but they raised you. Did they want you to act like them, or it just happened that way?”

Jamie thought on it a moment. “Apes do not like man,” he said. “Made apes angry when Jamie walked, talked like man. Made Kerchak angry.”

I hummed, imagining how frightening that enormous gorilla must have been to a small boy. I certainly knew how much he frightened me . “I suppose it was a matter of survival,” I said. “And that’s why you forgot how to speak? Did you never try to go to the village to find help?”

“No,” he said. “Man is bad. Well...I think maybe not all man. Lamb not bad. Joe not bad. Badru not bad. Sassenach very not bad.”

I chuckled. “Why, thank you,” I bit my lip in hesitation, glancing to make sure the rest of the party was far enough ahead to be well out of earshot. I couldn’t resist seeing the reaction I could get out of him. “And Frank?”

Jamie grunted and glared at me in affront. “Frank bad.”

“Why do you think that? Is there a reason?”

I certainly didn’t care for Mr. Randall on a personal basis myself, but nothing I’d seen of the man thus far had been bad necessarily. Just...boorish, perhaps. 

Jamie looked like he was trying to come up with a sensible answer, but couldn’t. In the end he just shrugged, and we continued on our way. 

“He and Lamb are determined to see the gorillas,” I said. “They’re going to try and get you to take us to them. I just don’t want you to feel pressured to do so.”

Jamie made a face. “Kerchak wouldn’t like it.”

“That’s what I figured. I...Jamie? Something wrong?”

Jamie had stopped suddenly, frozen, his nose in the air like a hound dog. For a moment I tensed in fear, considering calling out for the men to stop, but then a slow smile spread across Jamie’s face and he turned to face the other direction, dropping down to all fours.

“What is it?” I asked him, staring back the way we’d come.

His eyes cut over to me. “Listen.”

I did, straining my ears, and sure enough, I could hear something moving through the trees. “What’s out there?” I whispered.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach.”

“If you say so…”

The forest path we’d come from was an inky black hole, but I stared, thinking at first that the darkness was playing tricks on my eyes, as it seemed like the very dark itself was alive .

Then, the shadows took shape, one after the other, moving with a silence completely at odds with their size.

I looked to Jamie again, worried, but he only smiled softly, his entire body relaxed, so I forced mine to relax as well.

The herd of elephants made their unhurried way through the jungle, straight toward us. I felt my breath catch in my throat at the sight.

I’d seen elephants before, of course, had even ridden one. But those had been tamed elephants under the watchful gaze of their handler. Not like this.

The one leading the herd stopped just before us, gazing down with remarkably intelligent eyes. 

“Do not be afraid,” Jamie said. “She is my friend.”

As proof of that, the elephant lifted her trunk, laying it heavily on Jamie’s shoulder. He made quiet, whispering sounds to her, and i realized with a start that he was talking to her.

“You can communicate with animals who aren’t gorillas?” I asked him.

Jamie shrugged one shoulder. “Elephant is easy. She understands you, too, in a way.”

She looked at me then, using her trunk to sniff delicately around me. I raised my hand slowly, and she touched it with her trunk. I imagined that it was an elephant’s way of shaking hands.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” I said. “They’re so beautiful, Jamie.”

Jamie nodded. “Elephant is…” he furrowed his brow in thought, trying to think of the right word. “...wise. Jungle respects Elephant.”

“Do you know her name?”

He smiled. “To them she is called…Day.”

“Day,” I echoed, stroking her trunk. I felt a sudden tug on my sari, and i looked down to find a baby elephant, trying to stick his trunk where it really didn’t belong.

“Hold on there,” I laughed, gently moving his trunk away. “You’re as bad as Jamie was when we first met. Oh, look, Jamie! Is he not the most precious thing?”

Jamie chuckled. “Day’s grandson.”

Day made a low trumpet sound, her eyes flicking up above our heads. I turned to look, and saw that the rest of the party had come back, but were standing a distance away, watching with interest. Lamb and Joe’s mouths were agape.

I turned back to the herd, which was starting to move away, back the other direction, away from the men. The little one tugged once more on my sari, then trotted off after his grandmother.

“Jamie…” I began, watching an older elephant go by. A bull, missing both of his tusks. “What happened to that one?”

Jamie’s expression darkened. “Hunters,” he said simply. “Old one lucky. Most do not live when Hunters take their tusks. Hunters kill and leave bodies, do not even eat them. There is honor in killing for food, or protection of family. There is no honor in what those men do. No respect.”

“You’re very right about that,” I said sadly, taking Jamie’s hand. “But what you’re describing is a poacher, not just a hunter.”

“She is right,” Badru said, appearing beside us. “As are you, Tarzan. There is no honor in killing for money, or sport.”

Jamie breathed deep, then released it through his nose. “No,” he agreed.

 

“Now, you listen here, Emilia, he said sternly. You may think that can do as you please, but you will obey me…”

I looked sideways at Jamie, holding my place in the book with my finger. “You know, for the record, women don’t typically like it when a man speaks to them this way.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose. “Frank does.”

“Yes, well, I don’t want you following his example. If I were you, I’d look more closely at men like Badru, or Joe. Lamb, well, he’s as sweet as can be, but I think you’d be a bit more outspoken than him, once you get used to talking again. Now, would you like to try and read this next sentence?”

He nodded and leaned over my shoulder, closer than was strictly necessary, but I couldn’t find it in me to mind. 

“I...ah...am nnnot...the oh...ob…”

“Obedient.”

“Obee-dee-ant t...t…”

“He can read ?!”

Jamie and my heads snapped up, knocking into one another in the process.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I hissed, clutching my forehead as Jamie did the same.

Joe was standing in the doorway to my hut, his arms crossed, a look on his face like a cat who caught the canary.

“Damn, Lady Jane,” he said. “You said he talked to you, and I saw him talk to elephants, but you didn’t mention that you’d managed to teach the man to read already!”

“He already knew the basics,” I admitted. “I’ve been having him practice, mostly to help his vocabulary.”

His eyes squinting, Joe walked over to where Jamie and I sat on the floor against the foot of the bed, and tilted the cover of the book up so he could see. “Hills of Heather? Really?”

“What?” I asked defensively, pulling the book to my chest. “It’s a romance. So what?”

He chuckled. “So what she says. I’ve read that book, and, well, it sure ain’t what I’d teach a body to read with. Then again...I guess I’m not a woman trying to give her man a proper education.”

I gasped in affront. “THAT’S NOT...wait...you’ve read this?”

This time, it was Joe that was caught, but after a pause he simply shrugged it off. “So what? It’s a good story. Alright, lover boy, get up so I can check on that shoulder.”

Jamie stood and Joe pulled off the dingy bandage, probing the sight of the wound. “Healing pretty nicely, especially considering you live in the jungle. You must have an immune system of steel. Does it pain you much?”

Jamie answered by shaking his head, and stretching his arm in demonstration.

“Oh come on,” Joe sighed. “I just heard you reading a book. You can’t talk to me?”

I chuckled. “Leave him alone, Joe. I think he’s a little self-conscious.”

Joe shook his head. “You only like Claire, is that it?”

“No,” Jamie said, the scowled when Joe crowed and pointed at his face. 

“Gotcha! So, Lady Jane, have you given any more thought about what you’re going to do with him when you and Lamb go back to England on Monday?”

“What?” Jamie asked at the same time I hissed Joe’s name.

Jamie turned to me, eyes wide. “Sassenach...going to England?”

I bit my lip and sent another glare in Joe’s direction. I’d planned on trying to gently explain to Jamie about my imminent departure in four days, but I just hadn’t found the words yet. Thanks to Joe, the cat was out of the bag.

“Well, yes, Jamie. Lamb and I will be going home in a few days, when the ship returns to the port.”

Jamie nodded thoughtfully, thinking it over. “Go to England...and come right back?”

Feeling like my heart was breaking, I reached out and grabbed his hand. “Listen, Jamie, the journey from here to England is many many days. And it...well...see...it would be difficult to come back...possibly...ever.”

Ever ?”

The confusion and devastation on Jamie’s face was unbearable, but I honestly didn’t know how to fix it. I tried to pull him into a hug, but he resisted. “Jamie, Uncle Lamb and I...we don’t belong here. We live in England. We…”

Jamie snatched his hand out of mine, and disappeared out of the hut before I could stop him.

“Jamie! Please, wait!”

I stopped to glare at Joe, who’d jumped out of Jamie’s path of escape, and he answered it with a look of contrition. “Shit, Claire...I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

I deflated, my anger evaporating. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have procrastinated so long in telling him.”

“You mean you’re not going to take him with you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Jamie? In London ?”

“Well...yeah, or maybe Scotland. You said you think that’s where he’s from, right?”

I sighed. “Yes, but...what if he doesn’t want to go?”

Joe shrugged. “All you can do is ask.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie didn’t know when words left him, and he was barely aware of their return. Somehow, Claire had brought them back, and he wasn’t always sure if he was happy about that, or not. 

The words were in his mind again now, but he still struggled sometimes to get them to come out. Not with Claire...his Sassenach. With her, finding the words was becoming easier and easier. With everyone else however, they tended to shrivel up on his tongue.

He guessed he had known all along that Claire wasn’t going to stay there forever. But he hoped it would be longer . And, yes, a part of him hoped that she would learn to love the Jungle like he did, and want to stay. Stay with him.

Now, he didn’t know what to do. When she told him about her leaving, he didn’t want to hear her explain. He wanted to get away. He wanted to run to the trees...but no...going away now would just be even less time he got to be with her, so he slowed his steps the closer he got to the edge of the village. 

“Tarzan, what troubles you?” Badru asked, sitting on the steps of one of the huts. He stood up, coming to stand beside him. 

“C...Claire is leaving,” Jamie said miserably. Though he’d avoided the village his whole life at the urging of his family, he could see now that it had been simple fear on their part. Badru was a kind man, Jamie could tell. He respected the Jungle, and the animals within.

Badru looked surprised for a moment, perhaps because Jamie had spoken directly to him, but then he frowned in sympathy and patted Jamie’s shoulder. “I am sorry, my friend. I know you care for her. Will you not go with her? Return to where you come from?”

Jamie scowled in confusion. “I come from here.”

Badru thought a moment, then hummed. “Well, know this, my boy; you are always welcome here, in our village.”

Jamie nodded in thanks, and turned to walk back to Claire’s hut, so that he could say he was sorry for running off. 

His path was blocked by Frank though, and Jamie felt the hair on his neck rise.

“I couldn’t help but overhear,” Frank said. “Sorry to see you so distraught, old chap.”

Jamie didn’t know what distraught or chap meant, but if they were Frank’s words, he didn’t really care.

Jamie didn’t know what it was about Frank that he didn’t trust, but whenever he was around the man, he got the same feeling he got around a venomous snake.

“It’s only too bad that Mr. Beauchamp wasn’t able to see the gorillas,” he continued. “Perhaps if he’d had more luck, he’d have been inspired to stay longer.”

Frank walked away without another word, and Jamie rolled his eyes. However...Frank did make him think. He didn’t know if seeing the gorillas would actually make Lamb want to stay, but if Claire was leaving soon, forever, Jamie wanted her to see his world, his family. Really see it. 

His mind made up, he started making a plan












Chapter Text

I giggled as the little girls wove flowers into my hair, no doubt making an impossible knot of it, but they were having so much fun I didn’t care.

One of the girls held my hand in both of hers, stroking my palm, repeating a word over and over and making the others howl with laughter. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what she was saying.

I suddenly felt eyes on me, and looked up, finding Jamie watching me with an unreadable expression on his face.

“Oh, hello,” I said.

He smiled. “Cheese,” he said.

I arched a brow, thinking he must be confusing the word for another. “Pardon?”

I gestured toward the girl. “She says cheese.”

I looked at the girl, who was holding a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. “She’s saying my palm looks like cheese ? Wait a second, how do you know that?”

Jamie shrugged, but as was usual for him, didn’t bother to answer.

“You barely know English and suddenly you speak Swahili,” I muttered.

“Come,” Jamie said then, holding a hand out for me.

“Come? Come where?”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Just come .”

I smiled at his impatience, and took his hand, letting him lead me toward my hut. I was surprised to find Lamb, Joe, and Frank all standing there waiting, looking like they were ready for a trek.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“We thought you knew,” Uncle Lamb said. “Mr. Abernathy told us to get ready to go into the jungle, but he didn’t seem to know why either.”

“Jamie told me,” Joe said with a shrug.

I gave Jamie a suspicious look. “Alright, what’s going on?”

But as usual when multiple people were watching him, Jamie wouldn’t speak, but stared at me expectantly. Well, since everyone else seemed content to go along with it, I did as well, and changed into my comfortable boots and a pair of trousers. 

We set off into the jungle, trusting Jamie to know where we were going. I was surprised that Frank was so amiable about going along, even though a well-placed glare from Jamie had forced him to leave all his weapons behind, save for his rifle, when even Joe agreed that it was foolhardy to go out into the wilderness completely unarmed. 

Jamie and I hadn’t talked again about my imminent departure. What could I say? How could I say goodbye to him, knowing I might never see him again? What was more, how could I ask him to leave everything he knew behind to come with me? 

For the moment, Jamie seemed very focused, and on alert. It was starting to worry me.

“Jamie, won’t you tell me what’s going on?” I asked him again. 

Then he stopped, and Uncle Lamb laid a hand on my shoulder. I turned to look at him, then realized we’d come to a halt in a beautiful clearing, the sun peeking through the leaves high above to create a speckled sky, almost like stars.

And there, in the trees, were a number of faces staring back at us. The longer I looked, the more I could see. Dozens of gorillas, of all sizes, all around us. Their intelligent eyes taking in the intruders with curiosity and suspicion. 

“Jesus H. Christ,” I whispered.

“No kidding,” Joe agreed.

Jamie, kneeling on all fours, let out a sound that was like a cross between a growl and a bark. There was a chattering from trees in response, and then a few brave apes climbed down from the trees and approached us cautiously.

“I can’t believe it,” Lamb said. “Look at them, Claire!”

“They’re amazing,” I said, smiling, but Jamie huffed at me suddenly, and I closed my mouth, remembering that a grin to the gorillas was anything but friendly.

Even Frank was suitably impressed and awed, which was saying something.

It was intimidating, being surrounded by them, but none of the gorillas appeared hostile, just curious. 

Something about Lamb’s smell was especially interesting to some of the smaller ones, and they were practically climbing all over him while he laughed in delight.

I recognized the small brown gorilla at once as Jamie’s mother, and couldn’t stop my smile as she greeted Jamie lovingly, though I was careful to keep my teeth from showing.

I knelt down, placing my knuckles on the ground, and she watched me intently.

She then looked down at her foot, which was still healing from the trap. “She recognizes me as the one who saved her,” I said in amazement. 

Jamie hummed in the affirmative, and watched on with a soft smile as his mother sniffed at me, then nudged me with the back of her hand. I never knew that gorillas could have facial expressions like people until that day, but she did. I could see kindness there, understanding. I could see the type of soul that would find a child in the wilderness, not of her own kind, and care for him like her own.

I looked back up at Jamie, but then blinked in surprised when he was suddenly being tackled to the ground by a blur of dark fur.

Jamie’s mother didn’t even flinch, just watched with eyes that needed no language to tell the tale of a long-suffering mother with little patience for unruly children.

Jamie laughed as he scuffled with the young silverback. 

“Is he alright?” Joe asked in concern.

“I think so,” I said. “I think that’s...his brother.”

Jamie’s brother then tossed him aside like a dishrag, then banged his chest in victory. He sidled up beside me, posturing in a way, and when Jamie returned, scowling, the ape put a strong arm around me and pulled me aside. He was gentle, having no intention of hurting me, but it was so clear that he was teasing Jamie that I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Do they have names, Jamie?” I asked.

Jamie chuckled, but it was a low, grumbling sound, more like the apes. “Akut,” he said, gesturing with his knuckles to his brother, and then to his mother. “Kala.”

I’d wondered, with Kerchak, if Jamie had named the ape himself. But after being introduced to Day, it was dawning on me that these animals had names of their own. “Day” was a sound easily made with the trumpet of an elephant, and Kerchak, Akut, and Kala all had the grumbling sound of a gorilla. Jamie hadn’t named them, he’d only given their names a human voice. 

“Be careful , Miss Beauchamp,” Frank snapped, his rifle held tightly in his hands.

“You’ll put your weapon away this instant , Mr. Randall,” I hissed back. 

“My niece is right,” Uncle Lamb said firmly, leaving the company of the young gorillas to snatch the rifle away from Frank himself. “We won’t be having any accidents like before.”

I smiled, proud of my uncle for taking a stand for once. 

Jamie took my hand, and led me away from Akut, and farther into the throng. I didn’t know how Jamie had convinced all of them that we were no threat, but the apes all seemed perfectly happy for us to be there, and I could tell that it was putting Jamie on cloud nine. 

For my part, I mimicked their behaviors as best I could, which was met with what I could only describe as amused indulgence. 

“Just what are you doing?” Joe asked, laughing.

I frowned at him. “I’m just trying to make a good impression.”

“Oh, right, you want to look good for the boyfriend’s family. I get it.”

I rolled my eyes. “Joe…”

A female approached, her tiny baby clinging to her back. “Oh, Jamie,” I cooed. “She’s so little!”

The little one sniffed the air experimentally, and then to my surprise, the mother reached behind her and grabbed her baby’s arm, bringing her out in front of her and practically dropping her in my arms.

Feeling a little flustered by the blatant show of trust, I cradled the little one like I might a human baby, chuckling when, just like a baby, she reached up and grabbed at my nose.

“Mhmm…” Joe hummed.

I looked at him questioningly, then followed his gaze to Jamie, who was in turn watching me, a soft look on his face. I smiled back at him, then turned back to the furry baby in my arms.

“Astounding,” Lamb was saying, sitting as the young gorillas groomed his hair. “Incredible. The family dynamics, the communication. Claire, dear, we may be the only humans in the world with the honor of seeing these remarkable creatures this way.”

“I only wish we didn’t have to leave so soon,” I said.

“Perhaps…” Lamb began, thinking. “Perhaps we could stay a little longer. The next ship to England will be setting sail in about a month, and perhaps Badru wouldn’t mind us staying.”

Jamie perked up at the suggestion, his eyes filling with hope.

“Really?” I asked my uncle. “Are you sure?”

“I suppose I could be persuaded to stay on another month,” Frank said.

“There’s no need for that,” Lamb said distractedly. “With Jamie, we’re hardly in need of a guide any longer. And I’m afraid I simply cannot afford to keep paying you, Mr. Randall.”

Frank looked like he’d suddenly gotten a bite of a lemon, and I had to look back down at the baby so he couldn’t catch me smirking.

“What do you think?” I asked Jamie. “Would you mind us sticking around?”

Jamie smiled and shook his head, but then all at once, his smile fell, and his face paled.

I was being shoved to the ground before I knew what was happening, and I curled automatically around the baby gorilla. 

There was a roar, and Jamie’s body covered mine, his nose pressed to my cheek. 

“Sassenach,” he whispered, and then his body jolted, his arms on either side of me straining to hold himself above me as Kerchak brought his fists down on Jamie’s back.

The force of it pressed Jamie down on top of me, and I cried out, not from pain myself but in absolute terror for Jamie. 

I curled myself into a tighter ball, cradling the baby’s head to my chest as Kerchak beat Jamie again.

There was a gunshot, and a howl, and the pressure above me was suddenly lifted.

Jamie rolled off of me, and immediately to all fours. How he was upright, I had no idea, but there was less pain on his face than there was fury. He rose to his full height, beating his chest challengingly, staring Kerchak down. 

“Go,” Jamie said, looking over his shoulder at me. 

“Not without you!” I cried. 

He shook his head. “Just go, Sassenach.”

I looked back at Lamb, Frank, and Joe...the latter of which was who was holding the rifle.

“Let’s go, Lady Jane,” Joe said, backing away. “I think we’ve worn out our welcome.”

I scanned around frantically for the baby’s mother, and not finding her, I scooted instead on my knees to Kala, meeting her sad eyes briefly before handing her the baby and climbing to my feet.

“Jamie, come with us,” I begged once more.

Jamie looked back at me again, then bared his teeth.

Lamb grabbed my arm, and together we ran through the jungle, not slowing until we were near the village.

“Will Kerchak kill him?” I asked, hearing the hysterical tone to my own voice. 

“Jamie knows what he’s doing,” Lamb said, patting my arm in effort to console me.

Frank snatched his gun away from Joe. “You should have shot that beast in the head when you had the chance.”

“It’d take an army to bring that thing down,” Joe reasoned. “And I wasn’t about to risk hitting Claire, or Jamie.”

“This is your fault!” I exclaimed, turning on Uncle Lamb. “You wanted to see the gorillas so badly, and Jamie wanted only to please us! We never should have gone there!”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to blame your uncle,” Joe said, glaring at Frank. “I saw Mr. Randall talking to Jamie yesterday. It was you who convinced him, wasn’t it?”

Frank sniffed. “I only suggested to the man that seeing the gorillas was Mr. Beauchamp’s entire purpose for being here, and thus might consider staying on longer if there was hope of achieving his goal. And I was correct, wasn’t I?”

Uncle Lamb sighed, and took my hand. “I’m so sorry, Claire. You’re right, we should have left well enough alone. We’re going home on the ship, tomorrow.”

I gaped at him. “Not without making sure Jamie is alright! He thinks we’re staying longer! He might not come back right away!”

He shook his head. “We’ll wait as long as we can, but without the promise of additional research material about the gorillas, I have no hope of extending the grant, and we won’t even be able to afford to get home in a month.”

I wanted to throw something, but unwilling to lose my temper in front of these men and look like a child, I chose instead to storm away.

I didn’t care what Lamb said. I would not leave without first seeing Jamie.

 

~~~

 

Jamie stood his ground, meeting Kerchak’s eyes in a way he never had before. His ape family watched on in shock and dismay, his mother looked like she wanted to cry.

They all knew what it meant to challenge Kerchak. It was either fight to the death, or stand down, and leave the Family forever. 

Jamie was strong, stronger than most men, but he was not a fool, and he knew that he was no match for Kerchak. 

He needed only to stand until Claire was a safe distance away.

Akut approached him, offering his support, but Jamie hissed at him to stay away. Akut wasn’t fully grown, and by the time he was, Kerchak would be older, and weaker, and the younger male would be able to beat his father and take his place as leader. But Jamie would not allow his brother to risk defeat now. He would not allow his mother to watch two sons be lost that day.

Kerchak charged Jamie, but it was a feint, Jamie knew, and he avoided it easily.

For all his blustering and growling, Jamie knew that Kerchak did not want to kill him. The beating he’d given Jamie just then was proof of that if nothing else. If he’d wanted Jamie dead, he would be. 

But what Jamie had done was unforgivable in the eyes of the leader. He had, not once, but twice now challenged Kerchak’s authority where it concerned man. And now, Jamie had invited them into their home, had allowed the threat into the Family. 

Kerchak was giving Jamie a chance to go, but Jamie knew that this was his last chance.

With a final sigh, Jamie lowered himself to all fours, bowing his head. Kerchak feigned another charge, roaring, and Jamie backed away.

He looked up at his mother and brother, hoping they knew how desperately sorry he was. How much he loved them. 

Mother called out to him forlornly, but Akut held her back. 

With one final look at the only family he had, Jamie turned his back on them forever.

Chapter Text

I stood, facing the trees, my arms crossed. Lamb was going to have to pick me up and carry me to the port if he wanted me to move.

I felt a presence come to stand beside me and I scowled. I had several inches on Uncle Lamb, and no hope of him physically moving me, but if he’d enlisted Joe to help, that was a different matter.

“I’ve talked to Badru,” Joe said lowly. “He’s promised to keep an eye out for Jamie, even send a search party if he doesn’t come back soon.”

“That’s fine,” I said loftily. “And I’ll help them.”

“Lady Jane…” 

I whirled around on him, fuming. “What is he going to think when he comes back and finds me just gone like that?! Without even a chance to say goodbye ?”

Joe sighed. “I understand , really, I do. But in the end, he’s not your responsibility, Claire.”

“Isn’t he?” I challenged. “ I’m the one who drew him into the village. I’m the one who encouraged him to talk to people, to embrace his human side. Does that not make him my responsibility?”

Joe shrugged non-committedly, then smiled. “You know, it’s okay to admit that you just plain care about him.”

I growled. “Of course I care about him! Don’t you?”

“Not the way you do, but yes.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, regardless, I’m not leaving until he gets back. I know that’s why Uncle Lamb sent you over here.”

“He didn’t send me. I came over here because I wanted to show you this.”

Joe held out a small brown journal, which I took from him with a curious frown. I flipped through the pages, finding mostly chicken scratch that I could barely read. “What is this?” I said, noticing Jamie’s name.

“I’ve written down everything we’ve managed to learn about Jamie, from a medical standpoint. Beyond just being raised by gorillas, Jamie is an evolutionary miracle. The way he’s adapted to walk on his knuckles...have you noticed his arms appear to actually be elongated? The sounds he’s able to make, the way he swings through trees and communicates with animals...and his strength. God, you should have seen how he took that beating from Kerchak for you. No normal man could have survived that.”

I was grateful that I hadn’t seen it. The memory of Jamie’s face, inches from mine, his jaw locked tight as he anticipated the strike to come, that he accepted willingly for my sake...it still gave me chills to think of.

“I’d like to have it published,” Joe continued. “Maybe with your uncle’s backing, people would even take it seriously. I wouldn’t need to include an exact location...I wouldn’t want to lead people back to him.”

“You sound like you’re trying to ask my permission,” I said.

He smiled. “He’s your responsibility, isn’t he?”

I smiled back. “Just make sure you don’t paint him as some sort of creature . He’s a man, pure and simple.”

“I don’t think there’s anything simple about Jamie, but I get what you’re saying. There’s one way you can be sure of that, you know.”

“How?”

“Help me write it,” he said. “No one has a better insight to him than you. Plus, you’re great with words.”

I bit my lip, considering. On one hand, I felt like Jamie’s story, as much as we knew it, deserved to be told. On the other hand, I felt a deep possessiveness...an unwillingness to share Jamie with anyone, even just the knowledge of him.

“Can I think about it?”

“Of course,” Joe said. “Take all the time you need. I have a three week ship ride to convince you.”

I looked at him. “What? You’re coming with us to England?”

“Why not?” he said, shrugging. “I’ve never been. And I’d like to see if I can find any information on just how a Scottish boy wound up alone in the middle of the Congo.”

I smiled, though the knowledge of Joe’s company on the ship still wasn’t much consolation if Jamie didn’t show.

“Claire,” Uncle Lamb called. “It’s time to go, my dear.”

I looked to Joe, hoping against hope that he had some sort of solution, but of course, he didn’t.

The villagers had gathered to bid us goodbye, and I smiled sadly at the many faces I’d come to know, no matter that I could barely communicate with some of them. In all the worry about Jamie, I had forgotten that I was leaving this place forever, and returning to “civilization” in London. I hadn’t spent a significant amount of time in England since I was seventeen, and it hadn’t left a great impression. There was the constant feeling of being watched, and judged. People saw what you were wearing before they even bothered to look at you. And people who look different than the norm? Forget it.

The people in this village were like one big family, and they’d taken Uncle Lamb and I in unquestioningly. It didn’t matter that we didn’t look like them, or speak their language. I was going to miss the peacefulness and simplicity.

“Safe travels, mpwa wa kiki ,” Badru said, wrapping me up in a bear hug. “And don’t worry,” he said in my ear. “I’ll look for your Jamie.”

“Thank you, Badru,” I said, biting back tears.

Mr. Randall had brought the horses that would take us to the port, and the children ran alongside us, chanting as we prepared to leave.

I stared out at the trees, willing for even just a glimpse of red hair, just so I could know that he was okay.

I shook my head, pushing the reins that Frank tried to hand me away.

“I can’t do this,” I said.

“Claire…” Uncle Lamb began pleadingly.

“I can’t !” I cried. “I can’t leave Jamie like this. I won’t !”

All of a sudden, Joe chuckled, and I glared at him. “Don’t think you’ll have to, Lady Jane.”

I followed Joe’s line of sight back to the jungle...and there he was. He looked dirty, and tired, but thank God he was in one piece. 

“Jamie!” I exclaimed, running toward him. “You’re alright!”

I skidded to a stop right in front of him, remembering that he’d been hurt, but he tentatively held out his arms, and I fell into them, hugging tight.

“I was so scared that you wouldn’t come,” I said.

“Sassenach...leaving?” he asked.

I pulled away, hurrying to try and explain. “Yes, I’m sorry Jamie, I know we said we’d stay longer but we can’t . The ship is leaving soon to take us back to England.”

Jamie’s expression was grim as he nodded, his hands tightening on my arms.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I continued. “I hoped...God, Jamie, I know you love your gorilla family, and I know you’re afraid, but…”

“I come,” he broke in. “Jamie...stays with Sassenach.”

I blinked, brought up short, since I’d expected to have to convince him of it. “What? You...you want to come with us? To England?”

“Come with you ,” he said, and the emphasis wasn’t lost on me.

“Are you sure?” I asked him. “You have to be sure , Jamie.”

In answer, Jamie leaned down, kissing me gently. I felt my face go red, knowing that somewhere behind me there was my uncle and an entire village watching, (as evidenced by the children oohing .)

“Thank you,” I said without thinking, and he smiled.

 

Jamie dressed in the shirt and trousers that Lamb had initially given him, and said a heartfelt goodbye to Badru, Azizi, and the children. 

He didn’t hesitate to swing himself up on the horse, behaving as if it came second nature, nor did he seem at all troubled to be sharing the saddle with me. 

I tried asking him about what happened with Kerchak after we left, but he was being very tight lipped about his gorilla family, and only answered any other question in simple monosyllables. 

His back was badly bruised, but it didn’t seem to be giving him much trouble. He seemed fine...until we got to the port.

Jamie’s eyes widened at the sight of the busy shipping port, hesitating from even dismounting from the horse.

“It’ll be alright,” I murmured to him. “We have to get on a ship, remember?”

“Yes,” he said grimly, eyeing the ships in the water with disdain. 

“Mr. Randall,” Uncle Lamb said, extending his hand for the other man to shake. “I can’t thank you enough for all of your services.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Beauchamp,” Frank said. “I’m only sorry to see you go. If you ever happen back, please do look me up.”

He turned to me then, and I could sense more than see Jamie tense up beside me.

“Miss Beauchamp,” he said, taking my hand and gently kissing the back of it. “It’s been an absolute pleasure. I do so hope we meet again.”

“Hm, yes,” I said non-committedly, trying to delicately extract my hand from his grasp. “Thank you, Mr. Randall.”

Frank smiled at Jamie, and nodded. “Jamie, my boy. No hard feelings, hm?”

Jamie didn’t respond, only stared, which I could tell Frank found unsettling. 

“Well,” Frank huffed. “Perhaps if we meet again, Miss Beauchamp will have taught you a few more social graces.”

Jamie glanced at me, but I only rolled my eyes. It didn’t matter to me one way or the other if Jamie was polite to the man.

All the same, Jamie suddenly straightened his shoulders, and bowed at the waist, making my eyebrows shoot up to somewhere in my hair.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Randall,” Jamie said, not stumbling over his words in the slightest.

I had the honor of seeing Frank’s completely flustered look as we turned and left, as well as the smug look on Jamie’s face.

“Jamie, you’re my hero,” Joe cackled as we made our way toward the ship. 

 

Jamie practically had to be dragged onto the ship. His face turned a deathly shade of white, and he acted like every step aboard caused him physical pain. I tried multiple times to reassure him, and to ask what he was thinking, but he’d suddenly gone completely mute.

He clung to my hand like a lifeline, and despite garnering more than a few strange looks, I didn’t dare attempt to dislodge him.

“I have the key to your cabin, Claire,” Uncle Lamb said. “Jamie here will bunk in with Joe and me.”

Jamie gave me a questioning look through the wild-eyed terror.

“I really think he ought to stay with me,” I said.

Uncle Lamb shook his head. “Now, Claire, I looked the other way in the village, when he was still adapting to human culture, but if he is going to be in civilization with us then he is going to have to adapt to propriety. I simply must draw the line at the two of you sharing a cabin this way.”

I rolled my eyes, reaching up to brush the sweaty hair out of Jamie’s face. “I hardly think anything improper could possibly happen if Jamie is sick, Uncle.”

“Sick?” Uncle Lamb asked, finally taking a good look at Jamie. “Good Lord, is he alright?”

I shook my head. “I can’t tell if it’s seasickness, fear, or both. It’s either he stays with me, or I stay with you, and I think it might get a tad cramped.”

Uncle Lamb grimaced, but like I knew it would, his tender heart won out of propriety. “Very well, but once we’re in London…”

“I will make sure he understands the way of things,” I assured him. “Now, could you go find Joe? Maybe he has something to help Jamie.”

 

They were the most horrible weeks of my life.

Jamie’s seasickness came and went in terms of severity, but the man was utterly miserable constantly. He didn’t speak, except to occasionally murmur words in Gaelic that I didn’t understand. Since he barely ate, he grew weak and needed to stay in bed, but the only problem was he wouldn’t stay in bed if I wasn’t in the room with him, which meant I spent the bulk of the journey in a closed up, foul smelling cabin with a man who was slowly reverting back to the wild man-beast I’d found in the jungle. Joe did everything he could, but informed me that there was little to be done other than making him as comfortable as possible and getting him to eat as much as he could.

“I’m so sorry,” I murmured one night as I sat beside him on the cot, running my hands soothingly through his hair. “You must be wishing you never met me.”

Jamie’s eyes flicked open and met mine, more focused than they’d been in days. He swallowed, his throat working like he was attempting to speak.

“Shh,” I hushed him. “Never you mind. Just rest.”

He grabbed my hand, bringing it to his chest, then pressed it tightly there. His expression was firm, able to tell me without words that he didn’t regret it.

Following an impulse that I had no idea where it came from, I leaned down and kissed his bare chest, just above where our hands met. Jamie sighed, his eyes fluttering shut, and for the first time since we set sail, seemed to rest peacefully.

 

I awoke the following morning to the ship rocking like a toy horse.

Jamie moaned in his sleep, and my heart clenched, thinking how the rough waters would worsen Jamie’s misery.

I didn’t want to awaken him any sooner than necessary, so I slipped out from beside him as smoothly as I could, threw on my outer dress and boots, and ran upstairs to see what was going on.

When I got to the main deck, it was mayhem. Sailors were running back and forth, shouting orders to one another.

Despite the fact that it was mid-morning, the sky was nearly as dark as night, and the horizon blocked from view by the swell of the ocean.

“Joe!” I cried, finding him kneeling over a cabin boy who seemed to have hurt his ankle.

“You better get back down below, Lady Jane,” Joe said over his shoulder. “The weather is really taking a turn for the worse.”

“Will we sink?!”

“We’ll do no such thing, Miss,” the captain said, appearing beside me. “It’s just a squall, we’ll be out of it in no time.”

I was amazed at how calm and collected he sounded, and wondered if I should trust his word since clearly he was out of his mind. 

“Your manservant is right,” the captain continued. “You should stay below deck until it passes.”

“He’s not my manservant,” I snapped automatically. “And I can help with the injured! Didn’t you say your ship’s doctor has fallen ill?

“Get this boy below deck,” Joe said, helping the boy to his feet and brushing past the captain. “Then come back. You might get to learn how to apply stitches.”

My eyes widened, but I grabbed the boy’s arm and helped him below deck before rushing back out just as the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down.

Uncle Lamb appeared, helping Joe and I get the injured men downstairs. The boat heaved about, and I couldn’t imagine that it would keep from capsizing, but keep it did.

I kept wanting to go check on Jamie, but there was always someone else getting hit by something, or slipping on the wet deck.

During one particularly bad heave, I stumbled to the railing, grabbing ahold to keep from rolling down to the other side. 

A pair of strong arms wrapped around me, and I looked up for a moment in gratitude until Jamie was wrenching me from the railing, quite literally dragging me back toward the lower deck.

“Jamie, stop!” I cried, struggling to get away, but his grip was like iron. “Let go!”

Jamie stopped once we were out of the rain, but didn’t release me. I was able to at least turn around in his arms to see his face, and was struck with fear at what I saw there.

His pupils were but pinpricks in a sea of blue as chaotic as the one around us. He looked all around madly, his grip on my waist bordering on painful.

“Hey,” I said as softly as I could while still being able to be heard above the storm. “It’s alright. Jamie, everything is going to be alright.”

Letting out a heartbreaking whimper, Jamie buried his face in my neck. I could feel his heart beating so quickly and violently, I honestly feared that it was in danger of giving out.

It hit me like a bucket of ice, then. It wasn’t just seasickness. And it wasn’t just fear of the unknown.

Because Jamie did know this. He knew about ships. And about the storms that had the potential to take them down.

“Your ship went down,” I cried, clinging to his shoulders. “Oh God, Jamie, I’m so sorry.”

I stood there, holding him, until he relaxed enough that I was able to usher him to our cabin. Concern over the injured men faded from my mind as I focused on Jamie. We sat in our cabin, curled up on the bed, until the storm gradually calmed, and with it, did the storm inside of Jamie.

“Do you remember what happened?” I asked him when the silence of the cabin became almost deafening.

“I tried to hold on to her,” he said against my shoulder. “I tried.”

I curled my legs up and draped them over his, making it so he could tighten his arms around me. He held on to me, and didn’t let go.

 

Chapter Text

The storm passed and, remarkably, the ship fared perfectly fine. But there were still quite a few injuries, and feeling badly about leaving Joe and a possibly incapacitated ship doctor alone with all the work, as soon as I thought Jamie felt more steady, I told him I was going above deck to see what was about.

Jamie followed, appearing stronger and less ill than he had in weeks. Joe was in the ship’s hold, tending to at least a dozen seamen.

“How is he?” Joe asked, nodding toward Jamie.

“Better now that the storm has passed,” I said. “How can I be of help?”

Joe sighed. “This fellow here has a sizable shard of wood sticking out of his side. It needs dealt with first,” he gave me a look. “How are you with a needle and thread?”

I gaped at him. “I thought you were joking before!”

Joe nodded over to where one of the sailors was holding his left arm. “His arm needs stitched up before infection sets in. It doesn’t need to be pretty, Lady Jane. Trust me, he’d rather a nasty scar to a missing limb.”

Gulping, I took the tools from Joe, listened to his instructions on sterilization, and approached the injured sailor cautiously.

“I’m going to stitch your arm, now,” I said, fully expecting suspicion, if not complete outrage from the man.

But he only shrugged, and held out his arm, behaving as though it were a mere irritation to be bleeding from an open gash.

I looked around, then found Jamie hovering nearby, watching. His presence was comforting somehow, and I took a deep breath and went to work.

It truly wasn’t unlike sewing leather...except for the blood, of course. I was expecting to be disgusted by the feel of it on my fingers, but somehow, from the moment I laid my hands on the man’s arm, my focus zeroed in intently, and I could see nothing but what was before me, could think of nothing but what needed to be done, and the steps I needed to take to get it there.

Joe told me that the stitches needn’t be neat, but I was careful,  making them small enough that when his wound healed, there would hopefully be nothing but a thin line to show for it.

I blinked at I was done, finding myself a little surprised to find myself at that point. I bandaged his arm and smiled, receiving a nod in return.

“I did it,” I said, turning to find Jamie still watching me. I held up my hands, which were sticky with blood, and yet I was smiling. “Did you see, Jamie? I stitched that man’s arm!”

Despite himself, Jamie smiled back, the first I’d seen from him since before the incident with Kerchak. 

 

There were no more stitches to apply after that, but I was busy for the rest of the day helping Joe, and eventually the ship’s doctor when he finally felt well enough to come above deck after his bout of, what I could only assume was the result of far too much grog the night before.

“That was quite impressive today,” Uncle Lamb said as we sat in the mess hall for supper that night. Jamie actually sat with us, and though he poked at his food, he did eat some of it, which I considered a victory. “The way you were with those injured men.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I must admit, it was rather invigorating, treating their wounds like that.”

“Perhaps you might take up nursing when we’re in London,” Lamb suggested. “Or become a midwife.”

I grinned at him. “Or a doctor.”

Uncle Lamb raised his eyebrows, but sighed with an indulgent smile. “You’re bad for my nerves, dear girl, but God love you.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see land before,” Joe commented as our horizon finally changed from endless flat blue to a thin line of civilization. 

Jamie squinted, peering out as if trying to see it all, even though there was nothing quite yet to see. “This London?” he asked. 

My heart lifted, as they were the first words he’d spoken the entire journey, save for the few during the storm. 

“No,” I said. “It’s not London, yet. We have to stop here for supplies and things. This is France.”

“France…” he echoed, face scrunching in thought.

“Have you ever been here before?” I prodded, but he didn’t answer.

“Now, we only have a day before we carry on to England,” Uncle Lamb said as we disembarked. “Keep that in mind, dear Claire. I do know how you love France.”

I grinned at him. “It’s Paris that I love the most, and alas a day isn’t enough time to go there. Too bad, because I would love to show it to Jamie. But I’ll be perfectly content with some Bordeaux wine, at least.”

Uncle Lamb rooted around his pockets before presenting his money purse. “I thought you might like to visit some shops, and see if you can’t find something a bit more suitable for Jamie to wear.”

I looked at Jamie, who shot me a blank look in return. The clothes Lamb had given him were ill-fitting and by now were in tatters. “I think that’s a fine idea,” I said. “You’ll be alright arranging rooms for us for the night?”

Lamb nodded. “Yes, yes. One for me, one for you, and one for Joe and Jamie to share.”

“Uncle Lambert…”

Uncle Lamb fixed me with a stern look. “Now, Claire, you said once we were in civilization…”

I held up a finger to stall him. “Ah ah, I said when we were in London , and we are not, yet, in London. Once we are in our house, I’ll be able to convince Jamie that he’ll not lose track of me if I’m in a different room. We still have a journey left, and I’ll not stress him out unnecessarily. If it bothers you so much, simply tell the innkeeper that we’re husband and wife.”

Uncle Lamb’s white bushy eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Husband and wife is it? Claire, darling, I do understand your desire to care for the man, but you will inform me once relations have...changed, won’t you?”

“Uncle Lamb!” I scoffed, waving him off. “That isn’t what I meant and you know it! I only meant for appearance’s sake!”

“Hmm,” Lamb hummed walking off but keeping his eyes trained suspiciously on me until the crowd moved around him and blocked us from view.

“Ignore him,” I said to Jamie, who appeared oblivious to what Lamb and I were discussing, and far more interested in all the people milling about. “Come on,” I said, grabbing his arm. “Let’s do some shopping, shall we?”

 

I tried to take things slowly in deference to not overwhelming Jamie, but it had been so long since I’d done any real shopping, and I was excited, even if it wasn’t for me.

Well...perhaps it being for Jamie actually made it more fun. For his part, he mostly just looked relieved to be off the ship, though I could tell that he wasn’t happy about it being only a short reprieve.

I quickly tracked down a tailor, figuring it would be the quickest and easiest way to acquire things that fit correctly, even if the price would be dearer than a regular clothing shop. 

The tailor took one look at Jamie, and his eyes went round. 

“Mon Dieu!” the bespectacled gentleman gasped. “ C’est le Goliath de David!

I chuckled pulling the hesitating Jamie further inside. “ Bonjour, Monsieur, j’ai besoin d’un certain nombre d’agrafes pour mon companion. Chemises, pantalons, chaussures, manteau. Nous ne sommes en ville que pour la nuit.”

The tailor hummed, tapping his chin. “I do not know if I have anything already made to fit such an impressive figure as your... companion .”

“I’m aware,” I said. “But if you have anything close enough that you could alter overnight, I’ll pay accordingly.”

The tailor nodded once, then motioned for Jamie to follow. “ Venez, monsieur, je prendrai vos mesures.

I turned to Jamie, mentally kicking myself for not explaining how all this worked before stepping into the shop. “Jamie, he said…”

“Measurements?” Jamie asked, frowning at me.

I blinked, taken aback. “You understand French?”

Madame, I do not have all day…”

“He just has to...to see what size you are,” I hurried to explain to Jamie. “To find clothes that fit properly.”

Jamie snorted, his expression turning suspicious. 

I ushered him over to where a mirror stood, and he lurched back at the sight of it, looking himself up and down with an expression of surprise.

“Yes, yes, you’re very handsome,” the tailor said in a bored tone. “May we get on with it?”

What followed was the most difficult measurement probably ever. Jamie refused to stand still, twitching and turning about like a child with easily diverted attention, and the tailor grew more and more frustrated with every moment.

For my own part, it was all I could do not to laugh.

“Will you just... hold your arms... Monsieur! S’il vous plaît! Madame, if you could please control your...gentleman…”

“I’m sorry, monsieur ,” I said, barely holding myself together. “He’s never done this before.”

“Clearly.”

“Jamie,” I said, grabbing his face and turning it toward me, then holding it there. “I need you to hold still, darling. Like with Joe, when he’s examining you.”

“Examining his head?” the tailor muttered. I shot him a glare.

Jamie nodded, then watched with a frown as the tailor knelt to measure his inseam…

 

Despite having to narrowly dodge a punch to the face, the tailor still managed to find a shirt and trousers that fit Jamie relatively well, only needing the pants let out in the leg. The shirt was snug, but the tailor promised he’d have more items altered to Jamie’s size by the morning.

The next stop was the barber, since I hadn’t been able to shave Jamie’s beard while he’d been so ill on the ship, and I knew it had been irritating him.

“He’s going to trim your hair and shave your face, just like when I do it,” I assured him. “But even better. You might even like it.”

Jamie looked far from convinced after his less-than enjoyable encounter with the tailor, but still followed along.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he seemed to be growing accustomed to being around multitudes of people. The population of the port town wasn’t a quarter of what Jamie would be faced with in London, so I was glad that he was being eased into it a bit.

His session with the barber went much more smoothly than with the tailor, and Jamie emerged looking refreshed and in good spirits.

“Very handsome,” I said, stroking his cheek. “I’m glad the barber didn’t cut too much of your hair, I do so like your curls,” I ruffled his hair where the barber had smoothed it down with a bit of pomade. 

Jamie smiled, leaning into my hand.

“Now,” I continued. “How about we find somewhere to get some good wine, hm? I think it’s high time you...oh!” I stumbled, though Jamie caught me easily, then I looked around to see what had bumped into me.

Désolé! ” the young boy cried, peering up at me with enormous blue eyes that were drawn in contrition. “ Pardon moi!

Pas de mal ,” I replied with a smile, letting him know that no harm was done.

Smiling winningly, the boy scampered off, and I turned back to Jamie, trying to remember what I’d been saying.

I had a sudden thought though, and quickly checked my pocket.

“Jesus H. Christ!” I exclaimed, coming up empty. “That boy stole our money!”

Jamie’s head went up, and on the other side of the street, I could still see the boy, hurrying away. He looked back once, eyes widening at the sight of Jamie running straight for him.

“Jamie!” I cried, hurrying after him. “Jamie, wait!”

The boy was quick, but so was Jamie, and I had no hope whatsoever of keeping up, especially not in my heavy skirts and heeled boots.

I was terrified that Jamie would become lost however, and if he got lost, he might become frightened and possibly even aggressive-seeming. I shuddered to think of what might happen if he were arrested.

I asked a few passerby along the way if they’d happened to see a large redheaded man chasing a small pickpocket, and I was helpfully pointed in the direction of a nondescript building near the fishing docks. 

I hesitated, recognizing from the music and sounds of laughter coming from inside just what sort of establishment it likely was. I then heard the sound of a scuffle, coming from the alleyway behind the building, and there I found Jamie, holding the boy upside down by his legs.

“Put me down you gorille !” the boy shouted.

“That’s hardly an insult to him,” I said, propping my hands on my hips as I approached them, before bending and plucking my uncle’s purse up from the ground among a small pile of other no-doubt stolen items. 

Qui, qui ,” he said. “You have your money back! Now let me go!”

I nodded at Jamie, who turned the boy around and set him on his feet, but kept a firm grip on his shoulder. 

“Let you go?” I asked. “You stole from us. I have half a mind to take you straight to the police.”

The boy’s face paled. “ Non, s’il te plait ne ! I am sorry! You do not know what they will do to me there!”

“We won’t take you to the police,” I said, hurrying on before he could get too excited. “But we are taking you to your mother. Where do you live?”

The boy craned his neck around to look at the building behind us. 

“Wh...there? You live in a brothel?”

“I know what you are thinking,” he snapped. “I am no whore!”

“I didn’t say you were,” I said softly, looking at Jamie, who was staring at the brothel like he was trying to understand why I’d had a negative reaction to it. “Your mother…” I continued more gently. “Does she work there?”

The boy shrugged one thin shoulder, making Jamie’s hand rise with the movement, which told me that Jamie’s grip had loosened.

“Probably,” the boy said. “I do not know. But please...do not take me to Madame, she said that if I got into trouble once more, she would kick me out! You can have all the rest of the money!” He nodded toward the pile on the ground.

“Why do you steal?” I asked. “Do they not take care of you there?”

“I eat,” he said. “But one day, I will either have to leave, or I will have to work for my bread, and I do not want that sort of work. I am saving, you see, to sail to America.”

I smiled. “Why America?”

He shrugged again. “Because it is far from here.”

I looked at the brothel again, biting my lower lip. But what could I do? I couldn’t very well take the child with us. I could leave him the money, but I would probably always wonder if he had eventually been forced into “work.”

I bent at the waist, bringing my face level with his. “See this?” I asked, holding up a handful of coins from Lamb’s purse. “It’s yours, if you let my friend and I talk a moment, and don’t run away. In fact, here’s one now. The rest in a moment.”

The boy thought it over, then nodded and took the coin. “I do not think your friend knows how to talk, but alright.”

I pulled Jamie away, out of the boy’s range of hearing.

“This place he lives,” I explained. “It’s bad. It’s no place for a child to live.”

“Why is it bad?” he asked.

I bit my lip again, wanting Jamie to understand, but loath to have to be the one to explain prostitution to him and take that bit of innocence away from him.

“Just trust me when I say that he’s very likely to be hurt here. I don’t know what to do.”

Jamie thought it over, glancing back at the boy, who was kicking aimlessly at the brick wall. 

“You took care of me,” he said. “Taking me to London,” he turned back to me and smiled. “Boy has no mother, no father. We take him to London.”

“You’re serious?” I asked. “We can’t just take a boy off the streets and tote him along with us. He’s a child , not a stray dog.”

Jamie gave me a contemplative look. “Am I a stray dog?”

I gasped, realizing then how that must have sounded to him. “No! Surely you don’t think I...you’re my friend Jamie. You and that boy aren’t the same situation at all. Sure, you need a little guidance right now, but you’re not a child. A child will need...well...Christ, I don’t even know what a child would need.”

“I had no mother,” Jamie said. “No father. Kala took care of me.”

I smiled at him. “As Uncle Lamb took care of me. Well, we’ll certainly have to talk it over with him, and then I’m not even sure of the legality of things...I... merde .”

I had glanced back over at the boy, only to find him gone. “Where the devil did he go now?”

But suddenly he was there, popping up from seemingly nowhere, and this time with a small bag slung over his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

He shrugged. “Going with you. I heard you talking, you are not very quiet. London is not America, but at least it is far from here.”

I blinked at him. “You...you want to come with us?”

He shrugged again. “ Qui, Milady.”

“Well,” I said, exchanging a look with Jamie. “Fine then. As I said, we’ll have to check with my uncle first, and of course we must go inside and discuss this with your...erm...guardian.”

The boy shook his head. “ Non , Milady, Madame will not miss me.”

I arched a brow at him. “And how do I know that whole story you told us isn’t false? We’re going to talk to this Madame .”

“Very well,” he sighed, turning on his heel. “Keep a close eye on your man, Milady. He will be bound to wander. The ladies at Madame Elise’s are very beautiful. None so beautiful as you ,” he looked over his shoulder at me with a sly smile. “But when women have no clothes on, men tend to forget…”

I paused at the doorway of the brothel, glancing at Jamie and grimacing. “On second thought, go fetch Madame Elise outside.”

The boy chuckled, then darted through the door. He returned a moment later with a handsome woman in her late thirties or early forties. She was fully dressed, as would be usual, I assumed, for the madame of an establishment, but her clothing was still quite suggestive, and cut very low in the bosom.

“What has Claudel done now?” she droned, crossing his arms and shooting the boy a withering look.

“I…” I began, wondering what to even say. I looked at the boy, then past him into the brothel, catching only the briefest of glimpses of a bare-chested girl leading a much older man up the stairs. 

Madame Elise was appraising Jamie with a sultry smile, but her eyes flicked down to the purse in my hand.

I held the purse out to her. “I would like to take Claudel off your hands,” I said.

Her eyebrows went up. I hoped she would say, “no! Of course not! A child is not for sale!” But I sadly knew that she wouldn’t. Perhaps she wouldn’t have stopped us from taking him with or without money, but I found myself not wanting to risk it.

“You want the boy?” she clarified.

“I...I am traveling, with my companion here, and we are in need of a servant.”

Madame Elise took the purse and glanced at its contents. “I don’t know why you’d want him, but so be it. You will do as you are told, Claudel.”

“Qui, Madame,” Claudel said.

Madame Elise went inside and shut the door without so much as a backward glance. I realized that the woman could have no way of knowing whether Jamie or I wanted the boy for reasons other than service, and the thought both sickened and saddened me.

Undaunted, Claudel smiled up at me. “When do we leave?”

I smiled back. “Tomorrow. Come on, it’s getting dark, and my uncle will be worried. So, Claudel is it?”

“I suppose.”

“What, you don’t like your name?”

He shrugged.

“Then pick something else.”

He looked up at me in surprise. “Really?”

“Why not? It certainly makes no difference to us. What would you like to be called?”

“Can I think about it?”

I chuckled. “Sure. I’m Claire, by the way. And this is Jamie.”

Fergus looked up at him. “He does not talk much.”

“No, he doesn’t.”

“That’s alright,” he said, grinning at Jamie. “You do not have to talk, Milord. I can talk enough for the two of us.”












Chapter Text

“Fergus! Fergus, for Heaven’s sake, get down from there!”

While the boy ignored me, Jamie hopped skillfully over the railing to collect the little troublemaker from trying to climb up the figurehead.

Our little unexpected ward decided, after a long thought, to call himself “Fergus.” It was after Uncle Lamb and Joe had taken turns suggesting random names, and the boy had attached himself to it. I had to admit, he did rather look like a Fergus...or at least he looked more like a Fergus than he did a Claudel.

Uncle Lamb had been surprisingly amiable about taking the child along with us, especially after I explained to him the circumstances. The idea was to allow him to live with the servants at our house in London and work alongside them, and eventually find a trade of his own. He would be safe and well provided for until he was of age.

But privately, I wanted the boy to have schooling, as well as a bit more attention and structure than just being one of the servants would provide. But we could worry about that once we were home.

Either way, he was now my responsibility. And right now, it was my responsibility to make sure the little demon didn’t throw himself overboard. 

“I just wanted to look ,” Fergus said as Jamie set him down.

“Oh, let me guess, could it have anything to do with the fact that the figurehead is naked?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Oui,” Fergus replied, as if it were obvious. “Captain Douglass says that women are unlucky on a ship, and must bare their breasts to counter the ill luck, and the only reason he does not make you bare your breasts is because the figurehead does it for you. I only wanted to make sure she was doing a good enough job of it, so that Captain Douglass does not ask you to disrobe.”

I narrowed my eyes. “I think you ought to avoid talking to Captain Douglass for the rest of the voyage.”

“Milord does not look so well,” Fergus said, switching topics as rapidly as he always did.

I turned to Jamie, finding him looking rather pale. He’d been doing much better on this last leg of our journey. The waters were much calmer, and some of his fear had abated. I actually thought that chasing after Fergus was a good distraction for him.

I went to him, rubbing a hand along his back. “Breathe deep, darling, and look out at the horizon.”

Jamie nodded, doing as I instructed. I looked back down at Fergus. “Why do you call him your lord?” I asked.

“Well, you are my lady now, are you not?” Fergus said. “And he is your man, so…”

I chuckled awkwardly. “He’s not...well, that is to say, he isn’t my man, Fergus. We’re not husband and wife. My uncle only told the innkeeper that because...well... because .”

“I know you are not husband and wife,” Fergus said. “But you are lovers, no?”

It was increasingly strange hearing a child of no more than eight or nine talk in such a bawdy way, but one could hardly fault him, being brought up the way he was. “No!” I shot a look over to Jamie, glad that he likely didn’t understand what Fergus meant by “lovers,” though either way he looked too focused on not being sick. “We’re not, Fergus. And please, you mustn’t say such things. It isn’t proper. Jamie...Jamie needs help adjusting to the way things are in England, just like you will. He had a rather unique upbringing, like you. Up until recently, he hadn’t had much interaction with people at all. He lived alone, in the Jungle.”

Fergus eyes went round. “That sounds incroyable! I wish I lived in the Jungle!”

From behind us, Jamie snorted, then turned around. “Not many people to talk to,” he said. “And...you like to talk.”

I covered my mouth with my hand to cover my snort of laughter, and Fergus tried to look grumpy, which lasted all of a second before he started laughing too.

“I think that is the first time I’ve heard you make a joke, Milord,” Fergus said.

“It’s the first time for me, I believe, too!”

Jamie preened, happy to have made us laugh, and didn’t look ouite so ill.

 

At long last, the shores of England came into view.

“Look Jamie,” I said, pulling him to the starboard side. “We’re almost there.”

“Good,” he muttered. I was fairly convinced that the poor man was never going to step foot onto a boat again.

“I’m with him,” Joe said. “I’ve had it with the smell of saltwater.”

“It isn’t the saltwater that you’re smelling,” I informed him. “It’s the countless unwashed bodies we’re surrounded by.”

Joe wrinkled his nose. “That, too.”

“Stay close, Fergus,” I said as we began to disembark. “This port is nothing like the one in France. There are many more people. Jamie, did you hear me? Jamie?”

But Jamie wasn’t listening. He was staring down at the port below. If the sea behind us was vast, the veritable sea of people before us must have seemed even more so to the eyes of someone who hadn’t been around more people at one time than had been in the village, or the ship. I grabbed his hand, squeezing it reassuringly. “It’s going to be alright,” I said.

“Be careful with that!” Uncle Lamb was shouting at the cabin boys who were currently tossing our luggage around like it was a sport. “I have very valuable...now just hold on!”

I turned to assist, releasing Jamie’s hand for just a moment. It was a moment too long, because I suddenly heard a shout of “Hey! Watch it!” and turned to find that Jamie had bumped into someone, and in his effort to escape the irate man he’d collided with, ran into a woman and her little dog who yapped at him.

“Jamie!” I exclaimed, seeing how he was becoming more and more agitated. I tried to reach him, but was ouickly losing him in the crowd. “Fergus!”

“Right away, Milady!” Fergus cried, darting between people’s legs in order to get to Jamie faster than I was able.

I elbowed my way through the mass of mulling passerby, fishmongers, men in tall hats and women with enormous skirts. I paid no mind to their looks of scorn at my unladylike behavior, just muscled on through.

 

~~~

 

He hadn’t been prepared.

In the back of his mind, he supposed he’d been in places with so many people, but he didn’t remember, and he hadn’t known what it would be like.

France had felt overwhelming at the time, but it was nothing compared to this. So many people, walking in every direction, glaring at him for just being where he supposed they thought he shouldn’t be. The smells were dizzying, the sounds enough to make his head pound. He started to feel out of breath, even though he wasn’t running.

Worst of all, he’d lost track of Claire. His instinct to get away had taken him from her side, and he’d promised himself to remain near her, to look after her.

The people here did not like to be touched. 

Every time Jamie accidentally bumped into someone, they scowled at him, or shouted at him. He kept his eyes averted, so not to agitate any of them further, but he couldn’t escape them.

He couldn’t breathe.

There were no trees to climb, but there were buildings. He looked up at one of them, tall as any tree he’d seen, with roofs that pointed at the top.

“Oy, mate! Outta the way!”

“Well, I never!”

Weaving around the people as best he could, Jamie made a break for the tall building. The walls were made of rough, uneven stone, just enough grip for him to pull himself up the side, as he would with a tree.

As he climbed, the deafening sounds of people faded to a more tolerable rumble, like a river. He reached one of the pointed tops, then jumped over to scale the taller one. Along his way, he passed a carving. A...statue? It was so lifelike that it startled him for a moment.

It was a woman holding a baby. Simple, but something itched the back of Jamie’s mind, making him wonder where he’d seen it before.

Jamie turned from the mother and child to have a look around, astonished at what he saw.

Nothing but gray and brown, as far as the eye could see. Buildings upon buildings. Scarcely a hint of green to suggest anything living. Even the sky was a dull shade of gray.

Jamie had known that England wouldn’t be like the jungle. He’d known it would be different, but he’d assumed that he would be okay, so long as he was with Claire.

As much as he hated to admit it, he was beginning to doubt.

 

~~~

 

I walked for the better part of an hour, nearly getting myself lost. But eventually, I was able to follow the sound of a commotion, having conflicted feelings of hope that it was Jamie...and worry that it was.

There was a crowd of people near Westminster Abbey. Not unusual, of course, but the way they were all staring and pointing at the church had me on edge.

“Milady!”

“Fergus!” I breathed in relief, having at least located one of my missing boys. “Where’s Jamie?!”

Fergus grimaced, then turned and pointed.

I had to souint to see him, but sure enough, there on the very top of the cathedral, was Jamie, clinging to a spire.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I muttered. 

“He sure can climb,” Fergus said, impressed.

I groaned, the grabbed the boy’s hand. “Come on.”

“Come on? Where are we going?”

“Inside, to see if there’s a way of getting to him!”

The man I assumed to be the archbishop was standing outside the door, peering up to see what the commotion is about.

“Sir,” I called. “Can you help us? We have to get him down!”

The archbishop fixed me with a look. “Do you know that man?”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s my...he came here with me. 

I heard bells ringing, and bit my lip, knowing the police were headed this way.

“Please,” I begged the archbishop. “You have to help me get to him. He’s harmless, only frightened.”

The archbishop looked over my shoulder at the arriving police, at Fergus, then at me again. “Follow me,” he said.

He led us through seemingly endless hallways and staircases. I’d never been inside the church before, and would have enjoyed the beautiful architecture had in not been for my near-panic. 

After turning so many times that I would be hopelessly lost if I was asked to recreate it, the archbishop led us through a small door and then out to part of the roof.

I looked around a moment, unsure of where exactly on the building we were, the Fergus was tugging on my skirt and telling me to “look!”

Jamie held himself on the spire with just one hand and his feet braced behind him. I paused a moment just to be amazed with him, yet again.

“Jamie!” I called.

His head whipped down, seeing me, then immediately clambered down as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

“Sassenach!”

I threw my arms around his neck, squeezing tightly before pulling back and taking his face between my hands. “Are you alright? What in God’s name were you thinking, climbing way up here?!”

“Had...to get...away…” he said, having clear difficulty forming the words.

“I know,” I said, pulling him back down for another hug. “I’m so sorry, Jamie. I should have prepared you better, or tried to ease you into it. This was all just a bit too much, wasn’t it?”

Jamie nodded sheepishly, then buried his face into my neck.

“It’s all right. I’ll take you home.”

“Go now,” the archbishop said, kindly. “I will tell the police that it was a prank. I see that the boy meant no harm.”

Thank you,” I said earnestly. 

The archbishop gave Jamie a long look. “Quite extraordinary.”

I smiled. “You have no idea.”

 

The archbishop led us out the back of the church, so that we could avoid the onlookers. On the street, walking calmly at my side, Jamie almost looked like anyone else, save for his noteworthy height and a face that had every pair of female eyes following him hungrily. But the point was, no one came after him for being unusual.

It was a long walk to my house, but I wanted Jamie to have the time to calm down and acclimate to his surroundings, so I didn’t hail a cab.

“How did you climb way up there?” Fergus asked him.

Jamie shrugged. “I have always climbed.”

“Fergus,” I began. “You should probably understand something. Jamie...he was raised, you see, by a family of gorillas.”

Fergus gave me a wide-eyed look. “They raised him? Like one of them ?”

I nodded. “Yes. He hasn’t lived around humans since he was very young. I’d like it if you helped me. I may not be able to be at his side all of the time,” Jamie gave me a look at that, and I smiled apologetically. “But I want someone with him, someone he trusts, who can help him navigate this new life. What do you say, are you up to the task?”

Fergus puffed out his little chest. “Oh, oui Milady! I will teach Milord everything I know!”

I chuckled, wondering just what I’d signed Jamie up for.

 

“Claire!” Uncle Lamb called from outside the house. “Jamie! My word, are you both alright?”

“We’re fine, Uncle,” I said. “I think no trips into town for Jamie for a little while, but we’re fine.”

Uncle Lamb smiled and nodded. “Good. I’ve been having the staff prepare rooms for Jamie and Joe. And Fergus, Maggie here will show you to where you’ll be staying.”

I felt Fergus draw closer to me, and smiled at the young maid even as I waved her off. “I’d like to show Fergus and Jamie around myself, if that’s alright, Uncle Lamb.

Lamb sighed, but nodded again. Very well. Jamie’s room is the green one at the end of the hall. I thought the mild, earthy decor of that room would be comforting to him.”

I stifled a chuckle as I led Jamie and Fergus up the steps to the house, knowing full well that the decor had nothing to do with Uncle Lamb giving Jamie the bedroom furthest from my own.

“Wow,” Fergus gasped as we entered the doors. “I have never seen a house so big!”

I tried to look at it from his perspective. I supposed it was quite grand, with its long double staircase, marble floor, and chandeliers. To me it all felt like a waste, considering that it had been only me and Uncle Lamb living in it for the past couple of decades, except for the staff of servants who kept up the property even in our absence. 

I watched them watch us as we made our way through the foyer, wondering if they preferred it when we’re gone.

I released Jamie’s hand, watching with a smile as he explored. My smile grew as he unconsciously lowered himself to his knuckles, gaping in astonishment at what he saw. A few of the servants stopped to stare at him, and I glared back, daring them to make a comment, or laugh, and they scuttled along.

Jamie sniffed the air experimentally, then made his way slowly to the kitchen. I could smell it too; the mouth-watering aroma of whatever it was that our cook was, well, cooking up.

“Mrs. Fitz!” I exclaimed, proceeding Jamie into the kitchen.

“Oh my days!” Mrs. Fitz cried. “Claire!”

Mrs. Fitz had been in my uncle’s employ my whole life. She was the cook, head maid, and sometimes nursemaid when Uncle Lamb was between nannies for me as a child. She’d been the closest thing to a mother that I could remember, and the only thing I looked forward to when we were in England.

I ran straight into her open arms, letting myself be crushed against her ample bosom. 

“Let me look at you!” she demanded, pushing me away by the arms so she could take me in. “My my, ye’ve filled out quite nicely, haven’t ye? Finally got a nice set o’ bubbies on ye!”

“Mrs. Fitz,” I groaned, cutting my eyes over to Fergus and Jamie, who were both grinning mischievously. Oh, of course Jamie would understand what Mrs. Fitz meant by bubbies .

“And just who do we have here?”

“Mrs. Fitz,” I said. “I’d like to introduce you to Jamie, and Fergus. They’re both going to be living here now.”

“Is that so?” Mrs. Fitz asked, giving Jamie a thorough up-and-down look. “Are they tae be new staff?”

“Well, no,” I said awkwardly. “Jamie is...well, he is our guest. And Fergus…”

“Mr. Beauchamp says I am to be a servant,” Fergus pointed out.

“Well...yes, I suppose,” I smiled at him. “And you can trust Mrs. Fitz here to show you everything you need to know.”

Fergus grinned. “Does that include one of those ?” He eyed the biscuits that Mrs. Fitz had cooling on the counter.

“I believe it might,” Mrs. Fitz said, winking at me before offering all three of us one.

I gratefully bit into the warm chocolate chip biscuit, feeling suddenly transported back into my childhood. “Fergus, would you like Mrs. Fitz to show you where you’ll be staying while I show Jamie?”

Fergus grimaced. “I’d best go with you, Milady. I need to see the lay of the house, so I can watch over you and Milord.”

“You heard him,” Mrs. Fitz said, her cheeks dimpling. “Best show them both around.”

Chuckling, I jerked my head for Jamie and Fergus to follow, leaving Mrs. Fitz shaking her head fondly and muttering something about the vibrancy of youth.

“Here’s my room,” I said once we were upstairs, opening the door and stepping inside.

It was more or less unchanged since the time I was a girl. I never did care for the pink wallpaper, even then. But now, I had to fight back a wave of embarrassment from the shelves of dolls and toy horses, knowing that neither man nor boy should know how a proper woman’s bedroom should look.

Jamie eyed the dolls closely, then smiled as he plucked a little wooden horse from the shelf and turned it around in his hand.

“I don’t care what Uncle Lamb says, you’re both welcome to come to me here if you ever need me,” I said. “No matter the time. Now, this way, I’ll show you your room, Jamie.”

“My room?” Jamie echoed, following me to the other end of the hall.

Perhaps Uncle Lamb did have a point about the green room. The walls had a stenciled border of vines at the top, and the bedspread was embroidered with roses. It had a natural, calming feel to it.

I didn’t know how calmed Jamie felt though, as he looked about the room warily. 

“Come on,” I said quietly. “The bed looks comfortable, at least. And the window looks out at the garden. I won’t be far, Jamie.”

“What will I...do here?” he asked. 

“Do? What do you mean?”

Jamie frowned, in the way he did when he was thinking of the right words to say. “In my...family, we have...we have…”

“Roles?” I suggested. “Responsibilities?”

“Yes,” he said. “We all do our part. Am I to be servant, like Fergus?”

“No,” I said at once, glancing at Fergus. “You’re not a servant, Jamie.”

“Then what am I?”

“You’re…” I started, realizing I didn’t quite know where to go with it. “For now, all you have to do is...learn to adapt, I suppose. I’d like to try and find out who you are, if that’s something you’re agreeable to.”

“Who I am?” 

“Well, yes. Wouldn’t you like to know where you came from? Whether you have any remaining family?”

Jamie looked as though the thought hadn’t occurred to him, and shrugged it off. 

I left Jamie to settle in while I brought Fergus back to Mrs. Fitz and saw about my own belongings getting placed in my room. I came across Joe in the library, perusing the books.

“Is your room comfortable?” I asked him.

Joe chuckled. “My room’s bigger than the whole house I lived in with my parents growing up. How’s Jamie?”

I took a deep breath, shrugging my shoulders in the process. “I don’t know. It’s so hard to tell what he’s really thinking. He said something about not knowing what his role is supposed to be. I hadn’t thought of that...that he would feel like he needs some sort of, I don’t know...job.”

“Makes sense,” Joe said. “Everyone needs to feel like they have a place, but maybe men more than anyone. We tend to like to feel needed, like we’re contributing something. Don’t see why Jamie would be any different.”

“Do you think we’ll be able to find out who he really is?”

Joe gave me a smile. “Can’t be that many Scottish children who went missing off the coast of Africa. There are records, after all, of ships, wrecked and otherwise. Not much we can do tonight, except sleep in beds that don’t rock. At least...not without help, anyway.”

“Joe!” I laughed, swatting at him. “You’re going to have to watch your manner of speak in these parts. Folk here are quite unforgiving.”

Joe snorted. “Don’t tell me being in London is gonna turn you into a priss, Lady Jane.”

I stuck my chin out at him, and walked out.

 

Supper was an informal affair, and I arrived back at the kitchen to find that Fergus and Jamie had already been served theirs and sent on to bed, as had Uncle Lamb.

I let Mrs. Fitz ply me with a warm soup and crusty bread followed by a mug of warmed milk with cinnamon, just as she had when I was a little girl.

Mrs. Fitz assured me that Fergus was bathed and tucked into a bed in the servants quarters, and despite my desire to see for myself, I trusted her word and took my own worn out self upstairs and to my own bath.

I refused to retire until I’d at least checked on Jamie, and the sight that greeted me upon opening his door warmed me to the bones.

Jamie was laying cross ways on the bed, wearing only his shirt, and Fergus was curled up under the covers, both sound asleep. Servants quarters, indeed.

Grinning, I turned to head to my room, glad that Jamie wasn’t alone, but I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. 

I closed the door quietly, then tip-toed over to the bed, pulling back the covers and crawling in.

Jamie roused briefly, smiling at the sight of me, then righted himself so that his head was on the pillow near me. Fergus rolled toward me, curling into my side.

Uncle Lamb had put his foot down about Jamie sleeping in my room. Silly man never said a word about me sleeping in his.




Chapter Text

“A dinner ? Really, Uncle?”

“Now, now, Claire, I know it’s been some time since we’ve resided here, but surely you knew that our acquaintances would be expecting such. They’re all chomping at the bit to hear of our adventures, and besides, what better way to introduce Jamie to society than a dinner in our own home? Better that than dragging him to someone else’s house.”

I sighed. “I...guess you have a point there, but we just got back! Leaving aside Jamie, I don’t think I have the energy for it just yet!”

Uncle Lamb tsked . “And if we wait, we’ll have a mountain of invitations on our doorstep by Sunday. What would you prefer, one dinner to get it out of the way, or twenty dinners?”

I sighed again, but this time it was much more dramatized. “One dinner. When will it be?”

“Tomorrow night,” he said, holding up a finger to stall my protest before I could even open my mouth. “If we wait, they’ll be hounding our door. Folk here are notoriously bored .”

Smiling in relent, I left Uncle Lamb to his accounting books and went in search of Jamie, wondering just how in the world I was going to prepare him for a formal dinner so soon, much less explain why we’re even doing it.

“Good morning, Milady,” Fergus chirped, sitting beside Jamie at the kitchen table, each with a mound of scones set before them.

“My uncle says we’re to have a dinner party,” I said to Mrs. Fitz.

“So I’ve heard,” she replied with a huff. “Easy for him to say, since he’s not th’ one who has tae plan and prepare the meal!”

I smiled apologetically. “Well, I’ll help any way I can, but to start with I need to prepare Jamie as best I can.”

I hadn’t explained to Mrs. Fitz Jamie’s situation yet, but she knew he’d come from Africa, and I knew in her mind that was enough to tell her he might be a little rough around the edges...to put it nicely. 

“A dinner party!” Fergus exclaimed. “ Trés magnifique! Madame Elise held dinner parties all the time, and only the prettiest ladies without pox scars or missing teeth were allowed to work.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. Fitz exclaimed.

“Never mind,” I broke in quickly before Fergus could innocently attempt to explain. “Fergus, you’ll help me and Jamie practice.”

“Practice?” Jamie asked.

I offered him a sympathetic smile. “Yes. I’m afraid a dinner party is nothing like sitting with Fergus or me at the breakfast table. You see, Jamie, Uncle Lamb is inviting his friends to come and eat with us. They’re all curious to hear about our trip to Africa and...well...they’re going to want to know all about you .”

Jamie grimaced. “Why?”

I sat beside him. “You’re a very interesting man, Jamie, that’s why. But it’s going to be very different for you. There will be a lot of people, and there are these ridiculous rules to abide by and...oh, Christ, forget it. It’s too much, too soon. I’ll tell Uncle Lamb to leave you out of it…”

Jamie covered my hand with his, stopping me. “You will go to this...dinner party?” 

“Well, yes, I sort of have to,” I admitted. “But you can just stay upstairs and I swear I’ll get away the moment I’m able.”

Jamie shook his head. “No. I will go.”

“You’re...you’re sure ? Jamie, I’m not sure you know what you’re getting into.”

“If I am to be here with you, Sassenach, I...I m...must be like you.”

I shook my head, turning my hand around under his to lace our fingers together. “For one thing, I’m nothing like the people that will be at this party, or at least I hope I’m not. For another, Jamie, I don’t want you to be like me, or them, or anyone other than you .”

Jamie smiled. “But I do not fit in much.”

“Well I’ll be,” Mrs. Fitz broke in. “That’s th’ most I’ve heard him speak. Ye didn’a tell me he was a Highlander, Claire.”

“He was brought up in the Congo,” I said. “But he...wait...did you say Highlander?”

She nodded. “Oh, aye. I’d ken a Highlander’s accent anywhere. Sounds like he’d all but lost it, but I can still hear it. He’s th’ look of a Highlander about him as well.”

I wasn’t at all sure whether a man from the Highlands looked any different than men from elsewhere in Scotland, but being from the Highlands herself, I figured Mrs. Fitz knew what she was talking about. 

“He doesn’t know who his birth family is,” I explained then looked at Jamie. “It doesn’t narrow it down by much, but it’s certainly something.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed with a faraway look. “Highlander. I...I ken that.”

I gaped at him. While he did tend to mimic the manner of speech of those around him, I’d never heard his faint Scottish accent deepen like that before. It gave his voice a somewhat deeper tenor that took me by surprise.

“Well…” I stammered. “...there we have it.”

 

I had one of the maids set three places at the dinner table the way they would be at the party.

“You’ll want to sit up straight,” I explained. “No elbows on the table.”

Jamie and Fergus both straightened their backs and snatched their elbows off the table.

“Why are there so many forks ?” Fergus asked, staring is askance at all the silverware.

“There will be different courses,” I explained. “I won’t try and explain what each of them are for. The easiest way to remember is start on the outside, and work your way inward. So when the first course is set before you, you use that one,” I pointed to the correct fork at Jamie’s place setting. “And so on, and so forth. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” Jamie said, looking rather unsure.

“They’re going to try and talk to you,” I warned him carefully. “I know it’s still difficult for you to speak to people, but they’ll probably just ask you incessant questions that you can say yes or no to, and I’ll intervene as much as I can. My plan is to have you seated between me and Joe, so that will hopefully make you feel a bit more comfortable.”

“I will...do my best.”

I squeezed his hand. “I know you will.”

“Ah, what have we here?” Uncle Lamb asked, entering the dining room.

“Practicing!” Fergus said.

Uncle Lamb chuckled and ruffled Fergus’s hair. “Shouldn’t he be practicing serving the food, instead of eating it, Claire?”

I stiffened. “This is a dinner welcoming us home, and to introduce our new friends. That includes Fergus.”

“Claire…” Uncle Lamb began, but then he trailed off, rolled his eyes skyward and waved his hands in resignation before walking out again.

“Your uncle does not want me to come to the party?” Fergus asked.

I smiled at him. “Uncle Lamb frequently doesn’t know what he wants. I want you there, and I’d like you to be on your best behavior, if you please.”

“Oh I will,” he said, squaring his shoulders. “You will see, Milady. I will show Milord how to be a perfect gentleman.”

 

~~~

 

“I hate baths.”

“Me too,” Jamie agreed with Fergus, scowling as the maid poured another bucket of steaming water into the tub.

“Don’t you run off,” Claire warned Fergus who was tip-toeing toward the door. “You’re after Jamie.”

“But why ?” Fergus asked. “I just had one yesterday !”

Jamie nodded in agreement.

Claire narrowed her eyes at them. “And then today you wrestled with Mrs. Fitz’s schnauzer and got yourselves covered in sugar and flour helping her in the kitchen. So, bath it is. Thank you, Margaret.”

The maid smiled, then started setting out towels and washcloths.

Sighing in resignation, Jamie pulled at his clothes. Bathing in the river that time hadn’t been so bad, and Jamie didn’t know why Claire wouldn’t let him just wash in the stream outside, but no, he had to cram himself into that wee bowl instead.

“I sent your measurements to my uncle’s tailor,” Claire was saying, facing the wardrobe. “He’ll have a suit here for you by morning. One for Fergus, as well.”

All of a sudden, there was a sharp squeal, and Jamie spun around to face Margaret, who stared at him in shock only a moment before covering her face with her hands.

Claire looked up from the wardrobe in alarm. “Oh, Jamie...darling, you’re really supposed to wait until we leave before undressing. Thank you Margaret, you can go.”

Margaret turned tail and fled from the room, her face a bright shade of red, and Fergus giggled.

Shaking her head at him with a fond smile, Claire ushered him toward the tub where he sat with his knees curled up to his chin. “What am I going to do with you?” she asked.

“Buy him a bigger tub?” Fergus suggested, flicking at the soap bubbles.

“Claire?” Lamb called, peeking through the door. “Jamie? Why did Margaret come running out of here like her hair was on...oh, I see.”

Claire chuckled. “I’m sorry, Uncle Lamb. I’ll go find her and explain.”

Jamie watched as Claire walked out, then turned his attention to scrubbing his face so that he could be done with this bathing business.

“Fergus, my boy,” Lamb said. “Mrs. Fitz has some biscuits in the kitchen. Why don’t you go and fetch some for Jamie and yourself?”

Fergus grinned and took off, though Jamie had doubts that the boy wouldn’t eat all the treats before he got back upstairs with them.

“I’ve been meaning to speak with you alone,” Lamb said, pulling up a chair beside the tub. “It is so difficult to catch you being still long enough without your constant companions, so I hope you’ll forgive me for cornering you this way.”

Claire had always made it sound like taking baths was supposed to be a solitary affair, but that never seemed to stop people from giving him company while he bathed. Maybe things were just different for females than for males.

“I know you’re so very attached to Claire,” Lamb said gently. “And I must say, I’m not opposed to it. My niece has her own mind, and when she gives her affections to someone, it is never without merit. But you must understand, my boy, that there is a way to things in this world. I know that tongues will be wagging once it’s found out that we have a young bachelor living with us, but we simply must create boundaries between you and Claire. Maids talk, you see, and...Claire already doesn’t have the most spotless of reputations, and that’s all thanks to me and the life I’ve given her. I know she doesn’t regret that, and I don’t either but…” Lamb took a breath through his nose, and straightened his shoulders. “I am the master of this house, Jamie, and Claire is my responsibility. There will be no more sharing of beds, is that understood? You are to give Claire proper privacy and space, and I shall see to it that she does the same for you. After all, you’re a grown man, and part of the reason you’re here is to learn to live as one. Do you understand, Jamie?”

Jamie nodded. He didn’t really understand what giving Claire privacy had to do with being a man, but he did understand that it was Lamb’s house, and Jamie would honor his command. 

“Good, thank you Jamie,” Lamb stood up, dusting off his pants. “I know you’ll do your best at tomorrow’s dinner. I want to present you to my colleagues as an upstanding young man, someone to make Claire proud, hm? Enjoy your bath.”

After he left, Jamie hurried to finish washing and get dressed before Claire returned. He hadn’t realized that this Dinner would be so important to Claire and Lamb. That meant he had no room for mistakes.

Claire returned with Fergus and a plate stacked with biscuits, but Jamie was quiet as they chattered on. When time came to sleep, Claire acted like she was going to stay, and Jamie knew he had to do something about that.

“You should go,” he said lowly. “I am...alright.”

Claire glanced over to where Fergus was curled up, asleep on the sofa. “Oh...well, I suppose you’re right. But you’ll come for me if you need me...won’t you?”

Jamie nodded, even though he knew he was lying. He really would be alright, though. He wasn’t frightened of this house, and Fergus’s presence kept him from feelings alone. It was only that he slept so much better when Claire was nearby. When he could smell her, hear the quiet noises she made in sleep, feel her warmth. He rested ill when he was away from her, but he knew that if he was going to be a man living in a man’s world, he had to do things their way.

 

He didn’t sleep. He sat up on the bed, listening to Fergus snore, hating the twisting feeling in his gut that anything could happen to Claire in the night and he wouldn’t be nearby to stop it.

It was foolish, he knew. Claire was safe and sound in her bed. There were no leopards, or lions, or hyenas around to attack her in the night. 

Restless, he got up and went to the window. From there he could see trees, a hint of the small stream, a garden of flowers and vegetables. But it all seemed so far away. He couldn’t smell the grass or hear the insects. He might as well be looking at one of the paintings in the house.

His mind just wouldn’t rest, nor would his body. It felt like he was covered in ants. What if something did happen to Claire? Or what if she was simply upset? Sometimes, she had nightmares, and she would whimper and curl into him until he wrapped his arms around her.

Maybe if he could just see her, see with his own eyes that she was well, maybe then he could rest. Checking once more that he hadn’t woken Fergus with his moving around, he snuck out of the room.

Knowing that it went against Uncle Lamb’s command, Jamie crept down the hall to Claire’s room, slowly opening the door.

The moonlight shone in through the window, illuminating Claire’s sleeping form. Sure enough, she was safe and sound, and the sight of her calmed the storm of worry in his wame.

He stepped further into the room, unable to resist the comforting scent of her. She always smelled like leaves and herbs, and something that Jamie inherently recognized as female. 

That part of her scent was stronger for some reason, and as Jamie stepped closer to her bed, he realized that all of her covers had been kicked off, and her nightgown was rucked up around her waist.

For some odd reason, Jamie was transfixed by the sight of her long, milky white leg where it curled up over the other one, a gentle curve of flank and hip. 

Swallowing, Jamie shook his head, realizing that this was exactly what Uncle Lamb didn’t want him to do. He carefully pulled the cover up over Claire so that she didn’t get cold, fighting back a moan when the scent of her grew stronger and made him feel hot and needy. 

He understood the desire to mate. He’d seen it all his life among the gorillas and other animals. But it had never been something he’d really felt before, save in an abstract sort of way. 

It went against everything he knew, everything his body told him, to deny it, but it wasn’t the way men did things. And quite frankly, Jamie hadn’t the foggiest idea how men went about mating at all. 

Turning away, Jamie caught sight of a book on the table beside Claire’s bed. It was the one she’d been reading to him back in Africa, Hills of Heather . It was laying open, face down, so evidently she’d been reading it before sleep. Claire often read before sleep, so maybe it helped her rest.

Knowing she wouldn’t mind if he borrowed it, Jamie took the book, careful to keep his finger on the right page so that when he returned it, he could return it just the way she’d left it.

He hesitated in the hallway, the creeping feeling of ants returning at the thought of returning to his bedroom. He was already hot and uncomfortable, he needed to breathe . So he ventured downstairs, then out the kitchen door, past the garden and to the tall tree that he could see from his window.

He heaved himself easily up the trunk, settling himself comfortably in a crook made where one of the branches met the trunk. Jamie smiled, thinking this was far more comfortable than even the bed. True, the smell wasn’t the same as back home. It wasn’t as clean. But it was still a far cry better than the stuffiness of the indoors. Plus there he could hear crickets, and the gentle rushing of water, wind through the leaves.

He opened the book to the page Claire had been reading, angling himself so that he could see in the light from the moon.

Jamie had gotten much better at reading, and knew that if he came across any words he didn’t know, he could just skip over them and ask Claire about them tomorrow.

Jamie smiled, realizing that this was the chapter Claire always wanted to skip over. He’d assumed it was because it was boring, so that must have been why it put her to sleep. Hoping it would have the same effect on him, Jamie settled himself in to read.

Emilia gasped as Allistair’s tongue marked a fiery path from her neck to her shoulder, and down.

Her mind told her to resist him, but her body refused to obey. Her hands, which should have pushed him away, called him a rake and a scoundrel, pulled him ever closer instead.

It would not have mattered, as Allistair would no longer be denied. His large hands covered her sweet globes, his mouth claimed the rosebud tips as its prize.

Jamie frowned, confused by the language. What exactly was this? Allistair was licking Emilia? Jamie hadn’t been aware that that was something humans did.

Emilia cried out, overwhelmed by the things Allistair was making her feel. Surely a woman such as she wasn’t supposed to feel this wanton, this wicked. Surely she was not supposed to crave this man as she craved her next breath.

Allistair wasn’t content with only her breasts on display. He tore at her petticoats, ripping them away until she was completely bare before him. He cupped her mound, running his fingers over her secret petals, eliciting a sensation within her that she’d never known.

Jamie’s breath was starting to come faster. He was starting to understand what was happening, though he couldn’t quite paint the image of it in his mind. He brought the book closer to his face, willing himself to understand.

Emilia heard the whisper of cloth, and opened her eyes to find that Allistair was nude before her, his cock standing proud against the dark hair that covered him.

The light clicked in Jamie’s mind. He’d heard men on the ship refer to their cock before, though he didn’t need the word to know that he could fully relate to what was happening to Allistair just then.

Emilia reached out hesitantly, curiosity burning within her, even as it was at war with her propriety. She wrapped her fingers around his turgid length, gasping at the feel of steel wrapped in velvet.

Jamie reached down, grabbing hold of his own cock . He was no stranger to that, of course, but for the first time he imagined the hand stroking him belonging to someone else. 

But not just someone else . Claire.

Suddenly the blonde Emilia and the dark-haired Allistair were replaced with images of him and Claire. But he couldn’t quite see it, couldn’t really imagine what it would be between them, except for her touching him...and oh, what it would be to touch her .

He remembered the sight of her that he’d just left, sweet and peaceful in sleep. He remembered the brief glimpses of her body he’d seen over the months. The smell of her.

Lacking any other visual, he couldn’t stop himself from imagining taking her the way the animals did. The feel of her all around him, the taste of her skin on his tongue.

With a low groan, he spilled himself into his hand before slumping against the tree in tired bliss.

The bliss was short-lived though, because he was still without Claire and now he needed to wash... again



Chapter Text

I awoke that morning feeling grumpy, tired, and a little embarrassed.

I hadn’t slept well without Jamie, which accounted for being grumpy and tired...but not for being embarrassed. 

Being unable to get to sleep, I’d decided to read a little by the candlelight, and instead of the many, many books I had in my room, I settled instead on Hills of Heather . It now had special meaning to me, reminding me of times spent with Jamie in a warm, cozy hut, teaching the half-wild man to read, instead of being in this too-large, too-cold house with a Jamie trying too hard to fit in.

I’d just opened the book to a random page, already knowing the story by heart, and it had opened to the exact passage I always skipped over when reading with Jamie. 

It was the shockingly explicit lovemaking scene between Emilia and Allistair, and the reason that the book was banned in most places. Uncle Lamb, bless him, didn’t believe in censorship, and had allowed me to purchase the book in France years ago, even though he had to know the reason behind the controversy surrounding it. 

It had certainly opened my eyes when I’d first read it during a time that I was already going mad with adolescent hormones and burning curiosity. Losing my virginity to that boy in Egypt hadn’t exactly been a chapter out of a romance novel, but it had been something that was entirely mine in a time when I felt like nothing was, and even still, I didn’t regret it.

I did rather regret the even more disappointing encounter a few years later in Amsterdam, but I wasn’t sorry that I had refused to hold up to the standards set before me in England that said that women weren’t allowed to have sexualities at all. 

My curiosity appeased, I hadn’t wanted a repeat in the following years, deciding instead to wait until I at least met a man who could inflame my mind and soul as much as my body.

And I’d met that man, the one who inflamed everything and then some, and there was precious little I could do about it without feeling like I was taking advantage.

Jamie was more innocent than I’d ever been, and even though he was brought up to answer nature’s urges without question, therefore I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he did in fact desire me, I would not let myself give in until I knew he understood everything.

I was the first woman...no, the first person he’d known since he was a small child. It was entirely possible that his attachment to me was due to that, and that alone. Now that he was going to be assimilating into European culture, he would be surrounded by women who would want him. Women who could love him. (And really, who wouldn’t? ) He deserved to find out exactly what he wanted.

If he wanted to go out and be a lothario, well, then he deserved to experience the pleasures of the flesh as much as he desired. And if there was a woman out there with whom he could fall in love, and not just because she was the only woman available, then oh, he deserved that most of all. 

I wouldn’t take that choice from him by tying him to me further. I couldn’t be that selfish. He had to go out, experience the world of man and everything it had to offer him. But if, at the end of the day, he came back to me on his own?

Well, that was a different matter, entirely. 

So I had curled up in bed with Hills of Heather , giving in to self-indulgence and fantasy. But in the place of the headstrong Emilia and the dominant Allistair, I imagined myself with Jamie.

His strong, calloused, dexterous hands roaming every inch of my bare skin. His kisses dotting every exposed part of me. 

I didn’t have to imagine what he looked like. I’d seen him, more than once. It felt unfair to picture him just then, since he’d only ever shown his body to me in innocence, but I couldn’t help it.

He would take me hard, fast, giving into every animal instinct he had.

In desperation I had kicked off my blankets, feeling overheated, and pulled up my nightgown. 

Living so often in such tight quarters with Uncle Lamb, or others, I very seldom had enough privacy to satisfy any particular urges that might arise.

But while I’d initially been disappointed when Jamie had sent me away from his room, I was suddenly glad, because there were only so many times that I could look upon Jamie’s naked body without spontaneously combusting.

I touched myself with practiced motions, but for the first time it didn’t feel like quite enough. My hands were too small, too soft. They weren’t big, rough...they weren’t Jamie’s.

I pictured him in my mind. The hard planes of his body, the copper hair, his powerful arms and legs, but most of all his beautiful face with its blue, wondering, expressive eyes, his mouth that always quirked up into a small smile at the sight of me, the way his lips felt the times he’d sweetly kissed me. 

The relief I felt when I came was short-lived. I still felt frustrated and unsatisfied, but at least I was sleepy, and I drifted off, imagining that I could hear him breathing beside me.

And now…

“Jesus H. Christ,” I muttered, staring at the empty spot on my nightstand. 

I knelt to look under the bed, threw back the covers, but no, my book was gone.

I sighed in aggravation, thinking one of the maids must have taken it. Either they wanted to read it themselves, or recognized it as something tawdry and threw it out. Either way, I was unlikely to see it again.

Mourning a book wouldn’t do me any good, especially since there were a thousand things to do to get ready for the party. But first, I needed to see my lads.

I knocked on the door to Jamie’s room, as propriety dictated, then opened it cautiously. “Jamie? Are you awake?”

“Good morning, Milady,” Fergus yawned, stretching. 

I looked over at the bed, finding it empty, and it didn’t even look slept in. “Fergus, where’s Jamie?”

Fergus blinked. “I do not know, Milady. He was here when I went to sleep.”

I smiled. “No matter, I’m sure he just was up early. Go now and find him, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course Milady!” 

 

~~~

 

Jamie opened his eyes and squinted immediately in the sunlight. He’d meant to sneak back into his room before morning, but evidently he’d slept too soundly.

“Milord? Milord!” Fergus darted across the clearing, stopping at the base of the tree. “I have been looking everywhere for you! I do not know what Milady would have done if I could not find you!”

Jamie smiled at Fergus’s urgency. The boy was as anxious to please Milady as Jamie was.

Fergus climbed the tree, and Jamie’s smile widened, as the boy was almost as skilled in it as Jamie himself was. When Fergus made it to the branch Jamie was sitting on, he straddled it, facing him.

“Did you sleep out here all night?” Fergus asked.

“Yes,” Jamie admitted. “It is...peaceful out here.”

Fergus looked around at the sunlight peeking in through the leaves. “I suppose it is. But would Milady like it? You’re supposed to be learning to be a regular man.”

“I know. I’m trying.”

“Are you nervous? About tonight?”

Jamie nodded. “I do not want to disappoint her, or embarrass her.”

Fergus smiled sympathetically. “Milady will not be disappointed if you make a mistake. I make them all the time, and she’s never angry! She’s not at all like Madame Elise.”

“You love her very much, don’t you?”

“Oui, Milord. Very much. Do you?”

Jamie grinned. “Very much.”

Fergus straightened his shoulders. “Then that is why it is up to us to make her proud. I’m a child, people will be expecting me to do foolish things. So, if I notice you make a mistake, I will simply make a bigger one, and that way, no one will notice what you have done!”

Jamie wasn’t sure how he felt about that logic, but he was touched by Fergus’s efforts to help. “Thank you, Fergus.”

“Milady isn’t like Madame Elise, or any other woman I knew,” Fergus said. “And you, Milord, you are unlike any man in the world.”

Jamie grimaced. “Not sure if that is a good thing.”

Fergus smiled. “It is a very good thing, Milord. Trust me.”

 

A male servant arrived to help Jamie dress for dinner. Jamie had seen the man about the house, but was very uncomfortable with his presence, especially considering that Claire wasn’t there. He was tense and on edge, which made the man on edge, and when he tried to get Jamie to sit down to fix his hair, he leapt back, biting back a growl. 

“Hold on,” Fergus said, darting from the room returning a moment later with Joe.

“I got it from here, Charles,” Joe said, patting the irate servant on the back. “A little jumpy, Jamie?”

“I know how to dress myself,” Jamie snapped.

Joe rolled his eyes. “I know, it’s just a thing with rich people. Besides, I don’t think you’ve ever worn a suit like this. 

Feeling much more at ease with just Joe and Fergus, Jamie put on the trousers and shirt like normal, but he was baffled by the other articles set out for him.

“This is your waistcoat,” Joe said, helping him put it on. “These are cufflinks. You’re gonna feel like a frilly sausage when all this is on, but you’ll look like a million bucks. Claire’ll be panting at your heels.”

Jamie chuckled, surrendering himself over to Joe’s fussing. 

“Don’t know what to do with your hair,” Joe admitted, running a hand over his own short-cropped curls. “Never had to fix a white man’s hair before.”

“I do,” Fergus said, taking Jamie’s hand and leading him to a low stool. “Hand me that bottle, there.”

Joe handed Fergus what he asked for. “Hey, not bad, little man.”

“I’m used to doing ladies’ hair,” Fergus said, tying a ribbon around the ponytail he’d created. “So, men are easier.”

“Why did you do ladies’ hair?” Jamie asked.

Fergus shrugged. “I had to make myself useful somehow, and it was better than what the ladies did.”

“What did the ladies do?”

Jamie had wondered for a while just what it was that Claire had supposedly saved Fergus from. All he’d known of the place was a strangely dressed woman and the sounds of laughter.

“It was a brothel, Milord,” Fergus said, as if Jamie should just know .

“Fergus,” Joe said quietly. “He doesn’t know.”

Fergus gave him a look, and Jamie knew that he was missing something. 

“Why don’t you go check on your lady?” Joe asked Fergus. “Make sure her maids are doing her hair properly.”

Fergus grinned and ran out.

Joe pulled up a chair and sat beside Jamie. “I know you know what sex is, right? Mating?”

Jamie nodded, wondering what that had to do with it.

“The women at Fergus’s brothel, that’s what they did. They were paid to. I’m sure for a lot of them it was by choice, but sometimes...it’s not. If Fergus had stayed there, he would have been like them, eventually.”

“What?” Jamie asked, trying to wrap his mind around that. “Fergus isn’t old enough for...that.”

Joe sighed. “I really don’t want to be the one to disillusion you, but you should know, so you can protect Fergus, and Claire.”

“Protect Claire?!”

Joe held up his hands. “No, no. I’m not saying there’s anyone around that wants to hurt her, but fact is, there are some bad people in the world, Jamie. Men who would force themselves on women or children because they can.”

“I would kill anyone who touched Claire, or Fergus,” Jamie said with utmost certainty.

Joe smiled. “I believe you would. And just for the record, so I would I. Now, you ready for this thing?”

Jamie looked toward the door. “No. But let’s go.”



~~~

 

“You look beautiful, Milady.”

I had just been staring in the mirror, thinking I looked like a trussed up peacock when Fergus walked in. 

The dress was lovely. The recent styles were cut lower in the bodice than before, and the soft blue fabric had a slight sheen to it that made my skin look bright and rosy. 

But I was unused to wearing a corset anymore, and even though it did wonders for my figure, it wasn’t exactly comfortable.

“Thank you,” I told Fergus, bending to take his face between my hands. “And you’re looking awfully handsome yourself! I think this is the cleanest I’ve ever seen you!”

“I scrubbed behind my ears... twice ,” he said proudly.

“How’s Jamie faring?”

“Joe is with him,” he said. “I did his hair. Don’t worry, Milady, everything will be fine tonight.”

“I sure hope you’re right,” I said, smiling as I dismissed my maid. “If it doesn’t, I’m afraid it will turn Jamie off of being around other people ever .”

“Why would that be so bad?” Fergus asked. “So long as he has you, and me, Joe, and Uncle Lamb, why does he need anyone else?”

I smiled at him. “Because, he’s been so long without human interaction, he needs to get out and be around as many different sorts of people as he can, so he can decide the types of people he wants to be around forever.”

Fergus scrunched up his face. “He already knows that. He wants to be around you .”

I sighed, leaning over my vanity table to push a stubborn curl back into its place. “I’m the only woman he’s ever really known, Fergus. That doesn’t mean he’s meant to be with only me, forever.”

“You mean...you don’t want him?”

I snapped around to gape at him. “I didn’t say that! I just…I just want to be his choice . Not...not his only option,” I shook my head, feeling foolish for talking so candidly about my feelings for Jamie to a little boy. “Never mind. Don’t...don’t tell Jamie what I said, will you?”

“No, Milady,” he said solemnly. “But, for what it is worth...I don’t think you are right.”

I went to the window and peered out, seeing that several carriages were already parked on the lawn, and more were arriving. “We’d better get downstairs,” I said. “Will you escort me, Fergus?”

The boy grinned and held out his elbow to me. “It would be my honor, Milady.”

 

I descended the stairs, holding on to Fergus’s arm perhaps a bit too tightly.

Eyes were on us at once, and I scanned the room for familiar faces.

There was Mrs. Callahan with her son...what was his name? Bartholomew? He was obnoxious as a young man, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the years had improved him any. They had improved his looks, at least.

Mr. and Mrs. O’Neil with their daughters, Gertrude and Katerina, both of whom I’d hated as a child.

There were a few others I recognized, but none that had made enough of an impression that I could remember their names offhand.

“Ah, yes,” Uncle Lamb said, holding his hand toward me. “Might I present my niece, Claire.”

“What a vision,” Mr. O’Neil said, giving me a look I wasn’t altogether comfortable with. “Quinton, my good man, you failed to tell us just what a radiant young woman your niece has become.”

“You flatter me, Mr. O’Neil,” I said as politely as I could, especially with his wife and daughters scowling at me from over his shoulder.

“Miss Beauchamp,” Bartholomew made his way toward me, bending over my hand and kissing the air above it. “So wonderful to see you again. Do you remember me? We played together, as children.”

“Yes,” I said, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Bartie, wasn’t it?”

Bartie wrinkled his nose at the childish nickname, but didn’t correct me. “I cannot wait to hear all your harrowing tales of the wilds of Africa.”

“Oh, yes,” said a woman I’d known when we were both coming out. I recalled the name of Dunsany, but judging by the young man she was clinging to and the sizable ring on her finger, her surname had changed. “And we’re all just dying to meet this wild man of yours!”

“Now then, Geneva,” her husband said quietly, patting her hand. “Don’t fuss, so.”

“Wild man?” I echoed. “Uncle Lamb, just what have you told these people?”

Bartie chuckled. “My manservant heard it from one of your maids, and rumor has it that he is the same man who scaled Westminster Abbey earlier this week. By all accounts, he’s a mountain, and more animal than man.”

“That isn’t true at all,” I said defensively. “He’s simply a man, pure and simple.”

“It’s true,” Uncle Lamb said. “We encountered him on our travels, and are letting him stay with us while we locate his relatives.”

“Still,” Geneva said. “He is coming, isn’t he?”

I wanted to tell her no, but motion from the corner of my eye caught my attention, as it had most everyone else, to see Jamie and Joe coming downstairs.

“Hmph, seems they brought an African as well,” Geneva’s husband muttered.

I would have liked to sneer at the man, but my eyes were too busy taking Jamie in. 

He cut a striking figure in his three-piece suit, his hair pulled into a neat ponytail. He almost didn’t even look like Jamie...not the Jamie I knew him to be. But by God if he wasn’t beautiful.

“Oh my…” said Mrs. Callahan. 

“May I present,” Uncle Lamb began. “Our good friend Joe Abernathy, and Jamie...er, just Jamie.”

Jamie’s eyes found mine at once, and I hurried to his side, hoping my nearness would be enough to settle his nerves.

“Sassenach,” he whispered.

“It’ll be fine,” I whispered back.

“They were right about the mountain part,” Geneva said, looking Jamie up and down. “He’s positively enormous!”

“Is it true you were raised in Africa?” Mr. O’Neil asked.

Jamie nodded shortly, and though he was doing a fairly good job of hiding it, I could tell he was on edge.

“Claire!”

I turned, relieved to finally see a friendly face. 

“Geillis!”

Geillis Isbister had been the one and only person in London society I knew of that didn’t live like she had a rod permanently up her arse. She’d been a bit too conniving and money-hungry for us to have ever been truly close, but she was loyal to those she deemed worthy and always good for a laugh. And I knew she wouldn’t set her sights on Jamie, because she cared for less for looks than she did for money.

“You’re looking at Mrs. Duncan now,” she said, flashing her own enormous diamond ring. 

“Duncan?” I echoed, trying to remember members of that family, but the only one who came to mind was an old, portly man...who was very rich.

“That’s right,” she confirmed. “I got myself married to Arthur Duncan. He’s twice my age and a complete boor, but he spoils me rotten.”

“Erm, congratulations,” I managed.

“I’m the one who should be congratulating you ,” she said, apprising Jamie. “I knew you’d never marry for money, my dear Claire, but I do believe you’ve found yourself the next best thing.”

“He’s not...we’re not…” I stammered. “We’re not engaged, Geillie.”

“Well why not ?”

I sighed and rolled my eyes, grabbing Jamie’s arm to pull him closer. “Jamie, this is my old friend Geillis. Geillis, this is Jamie.”

Jamie nodded in hello, then after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed Geillis’s hand and kissed the back of it.

I smiled at his clumsy, but endearing effort, and Geillis seemed equally as charmed.

“He really is...unusual, isn’t he?” she asked quietly.

“You have no idea,” I said. “Geillie you have to help us. I need you to talk to Jamie, occupy as much as his attention as you can when Joe or I can’t. He has a difficult time communicating sometimes and the more overwhelmed he gets, the worse it gets.”

“Easily done,” Geillis said, shrugging. “I never liked a chatty man, anyway,” she looped her arm around Jamie’s. “Go on, make the rounds, be the polite hostess before you’re written about in a gossip column. I’ll watch over him for now.”

“Thanks,” I said, smiling encouragingly at Jamie. “You’re doing wonderful, darling. Stay with Geillie for now, and I’ll be back, alright?”

Jamie nodded, and I patted Fergus’s back, silently bidding him to stay behind with Jamie as well. I spotted Mr. O’Neil speaking to a very unamused-looking Joe, and decided to try and save my other friend for the moment.

 

~~~

 

Jamie watched Claire go, trying to stifle the nervous urge to follow her.

“Relax,” Geillis said. “I’ll just talk at you and we can pretend to have a conversation. It’ll at least keep you from looking unoccupied and in need of a small-talk partner. Trust me, you do not want to get trapped to talking to Geneva Peterson. Pretty thing, isn’t she? Younger than me and already on her second husband. He wasn’t rich, but that didn’t matter because her first husband was loaded…”

Geillis talked fast, even faster than Claire, and Jamie had a difficult time keeping up with what she was saying. It felt like everyone in the room was looking at him, even when they were trying to make it seem like they weren’t. But Jamie kept his own eyes trained on Claire, watching as she navigated these people with such confidence and ease, both so he could try and copy her, and so that if any of them proved to be a threat, he’d be ready.

“And just who is this?” Geillis asked, looking down at Fergus.

“My name is Fergus,” he replied.

“Did you come from Africa too?”

“Oh, no, Madame. Milady and Milord brought be from France.”

“Ah, are you Jamie’s young manservant then?”

“Fergus is not a servant,” Jamie answered without thinking, still watching Claire.

“Oh, well then,” Geillis said. “My, that voice of yours could thaw the polar ice caps.”

Jamie looked to her, wondering what that meant, but a glance at Fergus suggested that maybe he didn’t want to know.

 

~~~

 

“What sort of house did he live in?” Geneva asked, eyes twinkling.

To her credit, she had tried to ask Jamie questions directly, but when he didn’t answer, was content to just talk about him like he wasn’t even there. “Was it a treehouse ?”

I found myself unsure how to answer. I didn’t want to lie, because I didn’t want to give Jamie the impression that his upbringing was shameful in any way, but I simply wanted this woman to stop acting like Jamie was a circus attraction.

“Jamie here was raised among a troop of gorillas,” Uncle Lamb said for me. 

“Land’s sake!”  Gertrude gasped. “Is that why he can’t speak?”

“He can speak,” I said shortly. “When he wants to.”

“It’s true,” Geillis added. “He and I had a marvelous conversation just earlier.”

I smiled at her in thanks, catching Jamie’s eye in the process. The poor man looked trapped, but we weren’t even through the first course.

“What does he intend to do now that he’s rejoined civilized society?” Bartie asked, chuckling. “I think monkey-wrangling jobs are in short supply here.”

“Right now we’re focused on getting him settled in,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll find a suitable profession when he’s ready,” I glanced at Joe, eager to steer their attention somewhere else. “Joe is writing a book about him.”

Joe looked at me in surprise, but smiled and answered the questions that started getting tossed his way.

“Well, yes, I’d like to find out where he came from originally…” Joe shot me a dirty look that I didn’t understand until I turned to Jamie again, and saw the confused look on his face.

Christ ...I hadn’t presented the idea of the book to Jamie yet. What if he didn’t want Joe to write about him?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’ll explain later, I promise.”

The first course was removed, and plates of escargot were set in their place.

Jamie had barely touched his soup, and I watched as he slowly picked up the correct fork, holding it awkwardly. 

“I never liked snails,” Fergus muttered. I hushed him.

Jamie raised a brow at Fergus, then took a hesitant bite. His face scrunched up in disgust, and he grunted, shoving the plate away.

“My my,” Bartie laughed. “You’d think after years of eating jungle vermin, escargot would be a treat!”

I pushed my own plate away, earning a disapproving look from Uncle Lamb. “I don’t care for escargot either,” I lied. 

Looking back and forth between us, Fergus suddenly sat up straight in his chair. “The patrons of Madame Elise sometimes brought escargot and caviar to the ladies.”

Just like that, all eyes turned toward Fergus’s mischievous smile.

“Fergus…” I warned.

“What does he mean?” Mrs. Callahan asked.

“My old home,” Fergus said proudly, ignoring my silent pleas to stop talking. “Madame Elise’s brothel.”

That certainly got everyone’s attention away from Jamie, and I didn’t know whether to throttle the boy, or kiss him.

 

The rest of the dinner went much more smoothly. Since Fergus was only a child, Uncle Lamb and I were seen as humanitarians for taking him in, and didn’t fault him for his upbringing, unlike Jamie, for some reason.

We retired to the sitting room for dessert, and as people broke off into smaller groups, I pulled Jamie aside and pressed a tumbler of whisky into his hand.

“You’ve done wonderfully, darling,” I said, though he didn’t look convinced. “Look, why don’t you step out for some fresh air? Take Fergus.”

Jamie nodded, looking relieved, and I watched the pair slip out of the room undetected. 

“Ah, Claire,” Bartie said, sidling up beside me. “It is so lovely to see you again after all this time. I expect that after all your travels, you’re looking forward to settling down, hm?”

“Hm, I don’t know,” I said. “I might have a few travels left in me yet.”

“But, surely at your age, and being a respectable woman, you find that it’s time to start your family?”

“I’m not sure what being respectable has to do with starting a family or not,” I said, arching a brow. “But you say that I am one now. I suppose that means that my travels have not made me disrespectable.”

Bartie wrinkled his nose. “Not in a way that cannot be salvaged. But come now, Claire, the longer you wait, the smaller your pool of choices will become. You don’t want to end up like Geillis, do you?”

“Geillis is exactly who and what she wants to be,” I said firmly. “As am I.”

Bartie shook his head, snorting. “Figures. Quinton has let you run wild for too long, and now he has that...that...beast of a man living under his roof? Allowing him to do God knows what to his own ward. It’s despicable!”

“Then why, in God’s name, do you care, sir?” Uncle Lamb broke in suddenly. “As for Jamie, he’s far more of a gentleman than you ever were.”

“I never,” Bartie hissed. “Mother! Time to go!”

“Thank you, Uncle Lamb,” I said as Bartie grabbed his mother and all but dragged her away.

“He always was a miserable boy,” Uncle Lamb said. “Are you alright, my dear?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “I just want to find Jamie.”

Just then, I caught sight of Fergus walking through the hall, and followed quickly, leaving Uncle Lamb to our other guests.

“Fergus,” I called, catching up to him. “What are you doing?”

“Mrs. Fitz asked me to fetch these for her,” he said, holding up the washcloths he had in his arms.

“But where is Jamie?”

“In the garden,” he said. “Do not worry, Milady, he said I must do as Mrs. Fitz asked.”

I smiled. “Yes, he was right. Go on, don’t keep her waiting. I’ll go check on Jamie.”

If Jamie wanted to be alone, I certainly didn’t blame him, but I just wanted to assure myself that he wasn’t too agitated from the evening. And also, after the loathsome confrontation with Bartholomew, I just wanted to see Jamie.

I was surprised to hear his voice when I reached the garden, followed by a feminine giggle.

My feet froze, and my heart plummeted. 

Sure, I didn’t care for the women at the party, but they were all quite attractive, especially Katerina, if that was who was with him, and it certainly wasn’t a shock that they’d turn their attentions to him. 

But I felt like Jamie still too unprepared, still too unsure to begin any sort of...liaison. 

Mind made up, I let my feet continue, striving to make my interruption look like an accident. What I came upon though, was hardly a liaison, and instead I saw red.

Geneva was trying to pull a resisting Jamie to her, placing his hand forcefully on her thigh. His face was contorted in confusion and fear.

“Come now,” she purred. “A man like you? Raised like an animal? Surely you know what to do.”

No ,” Jamie said firmly, at the same time I snapped, “Get the hell away from him!”

Geneva released Jamie, and he stumbled away from her and toward me.

“What’s going on out here?” Uncle Lamb called, coming outside with the rest of the party on his heels.

I glared at Geneva, my hands curled into fists. She glared back only momentarily before suddenly bursting into tears. “This...this brute made advances to me!”

What ?!” I shrilled.

“You son of a bitch,” her husband snapped, lunging toward Jamie. 

Jamie side-stepped him, then effortlessly pushed him away when he tried to strike him.

“Jamie didn’t advance on her!” I yelled. “It was the other way around!”

“A man his size? Attacked by a small woman? You must be insane,” Mr. O'Neil sneered. “He’s an animal! He should be locked up!”

“Uncle Lamb!” I cried, growing panicked. “Jamie didn’t do anything! He’d never have fought her off because he wouldn’t have wanted to hurt her!”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Uncle Lamb called, waving his hands. “If my niece says that Jamie isn’t at fault…”

“She would say anything to keep her pet safe!” Geneva railed. 

“I have mind to challenge you to a duel!” Geneva’s husband said. 

“Those are illegal, Percival,” Uncle Lamb sighed. 

“Be reasonable,” Geillis broke in. “We all know that Geneva has slept with half the men in London, Percival, and so do you!”

Geneva was starting to turn purple. “How dare you!”

“Let’s go,” Percival said, taking Geneva’s arm. “If I were you, Beauchamp, I would think long and hard about keeping that wild creature in your house with your niece.”

They all filed away at that, with only Geillis turning to bid us farewell. “It was a lovely evening,” she said cheekily. “Let’s get together for tea soon, Claire.”

I sighed, feeling deflated and tired, and looked at Jamie, unsure what to say.

He didn’t let me say anything, however, turning to run away, toward the woods surrounding the estate.

“Poor boy,” Uncle Lamb said. “I’m sorry Claire, you were right. It was too soon.”

“I’m not sure it ever wouldn’t have been too soon,” I said in defeat. 

“It’s my fault, Milady,” Fergus said miserably. “You told me to stay with him, and I didn’t listen!”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “No, Fergus, you couldn’t have done anything. Jamie will be fine, I’ll go find him.”

I looked up at Uncle Lamb, who pulled Fergus aside. “Go on, my dear. I’ll look after the boy.”

I hiked up my skirts and hurried toward the trees, knowing that Jamie couldn’t go too terribly far before he just ran into someone else’s estate.

 

As I walked, I caught sight of his tie, hanging from a tree, then made my way toward the stream, where I found Jamie, angrily pulling off his outer clothes.

“Jamie,” I began softly.

He huffed at me in acknowledgment that I was there, tugging at his shirt in frustration.

I approached him slowly, then gently brushed his hands away, unbuttoning the shirt myself and slipping it off his shoulders. I pushed his shoulders until he sat down on a felled tree, then knelt to remove his shoes and socks, smiling when he wiggled his toes into the earth.

“There, does that feel any better?”

“Yes,” he said, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, Claire.”

My head snapped up at that, feeling instantly on alert. “Claire, not Sassenach?”

That got me the smile I longed for, though it was strained. “I’m sorry, Sassenach.”

“Sorry? Jamie, you haven’t a thing to be sorry for. You did so well tonight, I was so proud of the way you handled yourself, when I knew how horribly uncomfortable you were. What happened with that woman...that…Jamie, what she did to you was despicable, and all the worse to try and turn the blame on you.

“I tried to talk to her,” he said. “She asked if we had somewhere to...to go that was...private. I...didn’t understand w..what she meant until she…”

“I know,” I said, resting my hand on his knee. 

“She has a husband,” he said. “Why did...did she want to kiss me, if she...she has a husband?”

I snorted. “Some people don’t greatly value loyalty to their spouse.”

“Would you?”

I smiled. “What, be loyal? If I married someone, Jamie, it would be because I loved him. And if I love him, he will have every ounce of loyalty and respect I can give. What about you?”

He smiled. “Yes, Sassenach.”

I snorted, standing up. “That bitch, the nerve of her, laying her hands on you. I have a mind to challenge her to a duel.”

Jamie chuckled. “Those are illegal.”

I sat down next to him on the tree. “Look, Jamie, about what...well, what Geneva wanted from you…”

“I knew what she wanted,” Jamie said, then gave me a look from the corner of his eyes. “But I didn’t want that...not with her.”

“Good,” I said, then caught myself. “I mean...good, that you understand , that is. That’s not to say that it’s... bad to...to want... that with someone.”

“It’s not?”

“Well, no. Perhaps it would be wise, of course, to go about things properly . You know, court the woman of your interest, and whatnot.”

“Oh? How...how do I...court?”

I chuckled nervously. “Oh, you know, you make your intentions known to her. Give her...I don’t know, flowers, I suppose. Honestly, I’ve never really been courted before, Jamie.”

“When you are courting do you...kiss?”

I smiled, looking everywhere but at him. “I suppose so, yes.”

When I did look at him again, there was a little yellow wildflower in front of my face. Heart melting, I took the flower, resting it tenderly in my palm.

“Jamie…” I began. “I don’t want you to feel like…” I growled, suddenly feeling myself more at a loss for words than Jamie. “There are millions of women in the world Jamie. Your experience with them has been with me, a handful of women in the village you could barely communicate with, and those trollips at the party...no offense to Geillie. I don’t...I don’t want to be your only choice, Jamie.”

“I understand,” he said.

I looked at him, feeling a little disappointed, despite myself, that he’d given in that easily.

“My…” his eyes took on a faraway look. “My...father used to say that w...when I...found her, or she found me...I wouldn’t...” he looked down at me. “There would be no choice.”

“Your father?” I asked in wonder. “Not...not Kerchak, surely?”

He shook his head. “No. My father.”

“I can’t believe it,” I gasped. “You remember your father?”

He scrunched his face up in thought. “I remember...what he said to me.”

It felt like a door had been opened, but I didn’t want to push him. “No choice, huh?” I said instead. “That sounds sort of dismal, doesn’t it?”

He chuckled. “Not to me.”

I smiled down at my palm. “Thank you for my flower.”

When I turned to him again, his face was very close to mine. 

“Thank you , Sassenach.”

“For what?” I whispered. 

His lips touched mine, gently, carefully, but with none of the innocent curiosity of any kiss before. There was clear intent there, a question begging to be answered.

I answered it.



Chapter Text

The house was quiet when Jamie and I finally made our inside. Along the way, I’d shyly reached for Jamie’s hand, threading our fingers together. He had smiled in response, and squeezed my hand.

Uncle Lamb was sitting in the parlor beside the fireplace, and looked up at our entrance. I saw his hawk-like gaze narrow in on our linked hands, but he made no mention of it, nor did he seem to take exception to Jamie’s state of undress, but then again he was as accustomed to Jamie’s distaste for constrictive clothing as I was.

“Jamie? Are you alright, my boy? I am terribly sorry for what happened. I assure you that Mr. and Mrs. Peterson will be of no more bother to you. I’ll see to it.”

“I’m alright,” Jamie said, nodding. “Thank you, Lamb.”

“Where’s Fergus?” I asked. “Is he okay?”

Uncle Lamb smiled and nodded to the sofa, where I’d completely missed Fergus’s small form curled up against the cushions. “Poor lad wouldn’t go to bed without seeing you, first. Go on, the two of you should retire as well, it’s been a long day,” he gave first me a piercing look, then Jamie. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

I smiled at him, then kissed his whiskery cheek. “Goodnight, Uncle Lamb.”

Jamie wordlessly and effortlessly picked Fergus up in his arms, and I found myself captured by the tender way he carried the boy upstairs. 

When we reached my bedroom door, I paused, and Jamie stopped and looked at me expectantly. “I suppose this is goodnight,” I said, feeling my cheeks warm. 

Jamie smiled, glanced down at his small burden, then leaned over him to kiss me sweetly.

I leaned back up into him, quickly becoming addicted to the feel and taste of him, wanting more of him. However, we were interrupted by a giggle.

“Fergus,” Jamie and I said together, breaking apart.

Fergus’s eyes were cracked open, and he was grinning foolishly up at us. “Do not mind me, I am asleep! Carry on!” He screwed his eyes tightly shut, and let out an exaggerated snore.

I shook my head at him, then leaned down, kissing his cheek. “Goodnight, Fergus.”

“Goodnight, Milady,” he said, without opening his eyes. 

“Goodnight, Jamie,” I whispered.

Jamie’s lips quirked up at the corners. “Goodnight, Milady,” with that, he bowed...as best he could with a nine-year-old in his arms...and turned to go to his room.

 

“Morning,” I said, finding Joe sitting alone at the breakfast table.

“Spill it, Lady Jane,” he said, not looking up from his newspaper.

I was brought short, pausing before taking a seat across from him and reaching for the coffee pot. “Pardon?”

Joe lowered the newspaper, staring at me with lowered eyelids. “I heard you were spotted coming into the house late last night with a half-dressed Jamie and looking awfully cozy. Which, granted, none of that is exactly unusual for either of you but you do sound awfully chipper this morning considering yesterday’s shit show so...spill.”

“Jesus,” I said. “W...where did you even get all that?”

Joe scoffed. “Please, your maids could start their own spy ring. Now come on, did something happen? Tell me, before you uncle comes down.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, then relented. “Nothing as scandalous as you’re trying to insinuate. Jamie was upset over what happened with Geneva, but we talked and...he seems to, well, want... more from his and my relationship.”

Joe raised one eyebrow. “That’s it? That’s nothing new.”

“Well it is for me! God, don’t know how to court, and he certainly doesn’t. I was afraid that...pursuing anything with him would be taking advantage of his inexperience. But he seems very sure of what he wants...and who am I to undermine that?”

Joe chuckled. “Certainly. Hell, Lady Jane, Jamie was sure of what he wanted from the very beginning. Why else would he have set foot on that ship? Just because he’s new to it, doesn’t mean it's not genuine. We all have to start somewhere.”

“You’re right,” I agree. “This is all just...I don’t really know how to...proceed.”

“Before or after the uh...tumble in the haystack, so to speak?”

“Joe!”

“Oh come on ,” he needled jokingly.

I wasn’t in the mood for joking, though. “It’s not funny,” I said. “I want to do this right.”

Joe grew more serious, leaning forward against the table. “So you uh...you’re not as inexperienced as he is, are you?”

“No,” I admitted. “But damned if I don’t feel like I am. I’ve been with men but I’ve never…”

“I get it,” he said, holding up a hand. “Two very different things, that. And hey, I can help. I may be a bachelor, but I’ve courted my share of young ladies. I was even engaged, once.”

“Really? What happened?”

He grimaced. “It ain’t a nice story. I’ll tell you some time, but not now.”

“Thanks, Joe,” I said. “I would really appreciate any help you can give.”

“No problem,” he said. “Now, onto the subject of the book.”

I groaned, dropping my head into my hands. “I can’t believe I blurted it out like that. I haven’t even talked it over with Jamie yet!”

“Well, you need to,” he said. “It was one thing, writing about a man who lives in the jungle. It’s something else now that he’s here. I’ve got some ideas of how we can look for who his family was, but I don’t want to if it’s not what he wants.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I promised. “With or without the book, I think it’s important that we at least try to find out who he is. He remembered something his father told him last night.”

“He did? That’s pretty big.”

“Yeah. I think it’s coming back to him, Joe. I think if we look into it, maybe even take him to the Highlands, he might remember on his own.”

“We gotta be careful with that, Lady Jane,” he said warningly. “There’s a reason he’s blocked everything out. He had to have been around six or so when his ship sank for his speech, accent, and cognitive abilities to be what they are. That’s plenty old enough to be able to fully remember his life before the gorillas. Our minds are incredible things, you see, with the ability to protect itself from things that are just too much to handle. If it was bad enough that he blocked it out, remembering might not be the best thing.”

“I get what you’re saying,” I said. “But Jamie could still have living relatives out there, somewhere. And even if he doesn’t, they deserve to be remembered by their son, don’t they? And Jamie deserves to know his own last name.”

Joe smirked. “So he can give it to you, you mean.”

I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t fight a smile before it quickly turned to a silent, but urgent request for him to shut up, as Jamie and Fergus entered the room.

“Good morning, boys,” I said, smiling.

“Come, sit,” Mrs. Fitz said, bringing in more oatmeal. “Now, Fergus, I want ye tae eat all of it today. Ye need tae eat if ye’re tae grow as big and strong as Jamie.”

“Oui, Madame,” Fergus said, dutifully digging right into his bowl.

Grinning, and heedless to our audience, Jamie plopped down in the seat beside me and kissed me full on the mouth. I felt my face heat up and I pulled away in surprise.

“Well,” Mrs. Fitz said, blinking in shock as Joe nearly fell out of his chair laughing. “Who needs coffee when ye get a good morning like that !”

“Did I do something wrong?” Jamie asked quietly once Mrs. Fitz had gone back into the kitchen.

“No,” I assured him, certain my face was the shade of a tomato. “It’s only that...Joe, a little help?”

Joe chuckled. “Folk around here aren’t usually very affectionate in public. Don’t worry, I’m sure Claire’ll get used to it.”

“Thanks for the help, Joe,” I muttered. Truth was, Jamie’s affection was both heartwarming and exciting, it always had been. I didn’t want to make him think it was somehow wrong, but it was quite strange and out of my depth. 

“Jamie, about the book I mentioned last night,” I said, changing the subject for one possibly even more awkward. Jamie looked at me in interest. “Joe wants to write about you. About your life among the gorillas, about how you’re capable of doing things most men physically can’t.”

“I’d like to ask you questions,” Joe continued. “Claire would help me, make sure I tell the story right. But I want your blessing, first. Say the word, Jamie, and I won’t do it.”

“We would also like to do research,” I said. “Look into your past. But again, it’s entirely up to you.”

Jamie hummed, taking a bite of his oatmeal in thought. “You would write about the animals?” he asked.

“Well, yes,” Joe said. “They’re a big part of who you are. I, personally, would love for the world to know about Kala, and the rest.”

“Not just gorillas,” Jamie said. “Elephants taught me how to chart paths. Monkeys taught me how to swing. The crocodiles, how to swim. The lionesses, how to hunt. Kala...Kala is my mother, she taught me kindness, love, but the jungle raised me, not only her.”

Joe smiled in amazement. “Then...I have your permission?”

Jamie nodded. “Claire must read it first. But...yes.”

“And the rest of it?” I asked. “Looking into your past?”

“How would you do that?”

“There’s a library I heard of in Inverness,” Joe said. “It’s said to have a pretty extensive records vault. I thought we could try there first, see if there are any old newspaper articles about the shipwreck.”

“Are we going to Scotland?” Fergus asked excitedly.

“What do you say, Jamie?” I asked. “Are you up for a little trip?”

Jamie gave me a wry smile. “We won’t have to take a ship , will we?”

 

~~~

 

It was decided that they would take a train to Inverness the following week. Jamie couldn’t remember ever riding a train, but it couldn’t be any worse than a ship, so he would bear it. 

He didn’t particularly understand why Claire so strongly wanted to learn about his past, but if it meant that much to her, Jamie was happy to oblige. For himself, Jamie was content. If he dwelt on the past too much, he’d only find himself missing his mother and brother, and aching for the quiet and sanctity of the jungle. It seemed pointless to worry about the family who birthed him. All he wanted to focus on was the family he had with Claire.

But, it seemed important to her for some reason, so he was willing to go along with it.

Lamb stayed behind, saying he had work to do, so it would be just Jamie, Claire, Joe, and Fergus.

Jamie was more mentally prepared for going out into the city. The sights, sounds, and smells still overwhelmed him, making him feel dizzy and agitated, but he held tightly to Claire’s hand where it rested in the crook of his arm. And if he could focus on that small contact, he felt more grounded.

The train was intimidating. A big, long, snake-like thing that growled threateningly with occasional huffing noises that were like the ones gorillas made when they were challenging a rival. It set him on edge, and he bit his tongue, fighting the natural urge to crouch on all fours and take a defensive stance.

Inside, it was a little nicer, a bit like the cabins on the ship, but not as airless or dark. Hopefully it wouldn’t rock to and fro so much.

Jamie watched the people around him, especially the men as they escorted ladies in frilly dresses like the one Claire wore. He carefully paid attention to the way they allowed the woman to proceed them through doors, how they touched their backs gently. Some of it went against his nature, (he felt he should go before Claire into a room, to check for danger,) but he did his best to copy what he saw. 

And Claire looked happy, grinning every time he touched her back, or shoulder. She held her head high as they walked arm and arm, and it set Jamie’s spirits soaring. 

Fergus trotted along happily as well, though Claire had to remind him repeatedly to stay near them. 

“Here we are,” Joe said, motioning to the car they would be sitting in. “It’s a long ride, so settle in.”

“Excuse me, sir?” 

Jamie turned around, surprised and disconcerted to find that the conductor was speaking to him.

“I have your ticket, and that of your wife,” the man continued, nodding at Claire. “But not your son.”

Jamie couldn’t respond, and not for the usual reasons that he didn’t. 

“I’m sorry,” Claire said instead. “Fergus, you were supposed to hand that to him, silly.”

Fergus looked at the ticket still in his hand, then gave it to the conductor. “Oh, sorry!”

“Not a problem,” the conductor said politely, then smiled again at Jamie. “Beautiful family you have there, sir.”

“Th...thank you,” Jamie said, because that seemed like the most appropriate response.

Joe was chuckling when they took their seats.

“Shut up, Joe,” Claire said good-naturedly.

“Nah, I’m just curious. What does that make me in this scenario?”

“Weird uncle,” Claire replied with a sniff.

Jamie wondered why none of them corrected the conductor, but decided against asking.







Chapter Text

The train was blessedly far better than the ship. Jamie’s wame was a little unsettled, but he wasn’t ill, and he was even able to get some sleep.

Claire curled up against his side, looking almost as wee as Fergus where he slept on her other side, his head in her lap.

He watched out the window with pleasure as the sights of the city slowly changed and became greener, more open, more alive.

It still wasn’t quite like home, but as the distance between him and London increased, Jamie breathed easier than he had in months. Rain started to splatter against the window, slowly growing into a rumbling storm. It eventually drowned out the growl of the train, and Jamie felt his eyes grow heavy, lulled by the familiar sounds of thunder. He leaned his head on top of Claire’s, breathing in her sweet scent, and drifted off.

 

He struggled to keep up. Mother was starting to make him walk on the ground by himself instead of riding on her back, but he wasn’t as fast as the others.

Kerchak growled at him whenever he attempted to run the way he used to, so he made himself run on all fours the right way, even though he grew tired more quickly. Even though it hurt.

He was afraid of Kerchak, but Mother insisted that he didn’t need to be. One day, he would be a great and mighty ape like Kerchak, and take his place as leader of the Family alongside his brother.

He longed for that day, when he grow beautiful dark hair and strong limbs, when he would beat his chest and inspire the same fear and respect that Kerchak did.

But for now, he was just him. He used to be a boy, but not anymore. He didn’t really want to be a boy, anyway. He would rather be a mighty ape.

But he was lagging behind his Family, he couldn’t keep up.

“Jamie! What are ye doing, ye daft thing? Hurry up!”

He turned around, surprised. No one had spoken Human words to him in a long time, or used that name.

A girl and boy stood just behind him.

“Hurry up!” cried the girl. “Ye dinna want tae get lost!”

“Aye, Jamie,” said the boy. “Mam will have your hide if ye lag behind.”

“Mam?” Jamie echoed, turning back the direction his Family had gone. “Mother?”

“Hurry up, Jamie,” the girl said again. 

“Jamie?”

He gasped, hearing Claire’s voice. 

“Sassenach?”

“Jamie, wake up!”

 

“Jamie, wake up!”

Jamie’s eyes snapped open.

“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Claire said, grinning down at him. “My, you sure were sound asleep!”

Jamie sat up. He’d somehow ended up with his head on Claire’s lap, though he didn’t know how he’d gotten there. The dream he’d had left him feeling strange, though the exact details of it were already fading from memory.

“Are you alright?” Claire asked, brushing a lock of hair out of his face. “We’re almost there.”

“Aye,” Jamie said, giving himself a shake.

 

They got off the train, then took a carriage into Inverness. The town was nothing like London. It was so much smaller, so much quieter. There were still a few too many people around for Jamie to feel truly comfortable, but at least he didn’t feel like he was suffocating.

“Let’s get checked into the inn,” Joe said. “And then we can see about hunting us down some supper.”

Jamie looked at him. “We are going hunting?”

Claire chuckled. “I’m afraid that’s not what he meant, Jamie. We’re just going to find a restaurant. Don’t worry, after surviving that hellish dinner party, this won’t seem nearly as daunting.”

Jamie snorted. “If you say so.”

The inn was much smaller than the one in France, and smelled better as well.

“Welcome,” said the small woman at the counter. “I’m Mrs. Baird. How can I help ye?”

“We’ll be needing a couple of rooms,” Joe said. “One for the young lady here, and one for us gentlemen.”

Jamie felt more than saw Claire give Joe a look.

“Sorry Lady Jane,” Joe said out of the corner of his mouth. “I made a promise to your uncle.”

“I’m hungry,” Fergus complained.

“We’re going to eat soon, Fergus,” Claire said. “Just let us get settled into our rooms, hm?”

It seemed that both Claire and Fergus were a little testy after the long trip. Jamie gently rubbed Claire back, hoping to soothe her, and she offered him a smile in thanks.

After taking their belongings to their rooms, they ventured back out again in search of something to eat. Jamie would have loved to genuinely go and hunt. While the food that Mrs. Fitz prepared was delicious, Jamie was starting to feel like he needed more meat.

He remembered making that realization when he was young. The gorillas did not eat meat except for bugs, but the fruit and plants weren’t enough to keep Jamie full and thriving. That was when he learned to hunt the way the lionesses did. Surprisingly, Kerchak had never objected to Jamie hunting, so long of course that he used his growing strength and ability to fight to protect the Family.

“Fergus, I swear if you don’t stop tugging on my hand I’m going to box your ears,” Claire said shortly.

Fergus had been darting around recklessly so Claire had taken hold of his hand, but now Fergus was attempting to pull her along with him.

Taking pity on them both, Jamie grabbed Fergus by the scruff and leaned down briefly to swing him onto his back, the way Mother used to with him. A pair of men stopped in their tracks near them, staring at Jamie with open mouths before hurrying on. 

Fergus giggled, latching onto Jamie with arms and legs.

Claire sighed, shaking her head at them. “You’re spoiling him, Jamie,” she said, but Jamie caught a hint of a smile on her face.

“How about here?” Joe asked, stopping in front of a small building with the mouth-watering smell of cooked meat wafting from the open windows.

“Joe, that’s a pub,” Claire pointed out. “We can’t take a child into a pub.”

Joe gave her a look. “Have you already forgotten where you found the kid?!”

Claire glanced above Jamie’s head to Fergus. “Good point, and I’m starved, so let’s go.”

“Can I have a pint, Milady?” Fergus asked.

“No, you may not.”

 

To Jamie’s surprise, the small, dark establishment with all its loud, lively people, didn’t make him nervous. He figured he must finally be getting accustomed to it.

One group was being particularly raucous back in the corner; a table full of large, bearded men all laughing and banging their fists or mugs on the table. 

“What can I get for ye?” Asked a young, bonny lass when they all sat down.

“Beer for me,” Joe said. “What do you drink, Claire? Sparkling wine?”

Claire narrowed her eyes at him. “Beer, please. And milk, if you have it, for the boy. Jamie, would you like beer?”

Jamie nodded. He hadn’t tried beer, but he’d developed quite a liking for whisky back at Claire’s house, so he thought he’d give it a try.

The beer turned out to be delicious, as had the roast they’d been served. The first beer had been so good, Jamie found he didn’t even have a problem asking the barmaid for another.

“I think the alcohol is starting to loosen him up,” Joe said, laughing. “Maybe that was the secret all along. Get the man drunk, like a real Scot!”

Claire laughed. “Stop it, Joe. Fergus, stop picking at your green beans and eat them.”

“But I don’t like green things!”

“They’re good for you. Eat them.”

Fergus scowled, quickly shoving a single green bean into his mouth and grimacing all while he chewed and swallowed it. “Blech,” he said, then his attention was diverted back to the table with all the men, when their laughter suddenly increased in volume. “Milady, what are those men saying ?”

“I don’t know Fergus,” Claire said. “They’re not speaking English. I think it must be Gaelic. 

Jamie turned his head toward them, listening. 

The words they were speaking sounded foreign, yet familiar at the same time. It itched the back of his mind, the same way it did the first time Claire spoke to him.

He took another swig of his beer, liking the lightheaded feeling it gave him, and he suddenly wanting to get closer to thosemen, to better try and understand how and why he recognized some of what they were saying.

“Jamie,” Claire said when he stood up, finding that he felt just a wee bit dizzy, but not really in a bad way. “Jamie, where are you going?”

Coileach,” one of the men was laughingly saying to the other. They appeared to be playing some sort of game from either side of the table, where they held hands and apparently tried to push the other’s arm down. “ Tha thu fortanach gun do dh’obraich mi fad an latha!”

Jamie smirked. The man had called the other a cock, and then moment later, slammed his hand down on the table, and a cheer went up among the rest.

Có an ath fhear?!” Cried one of the men, asking who was next.

“Jamie?” Claire said, coming up beside him and taking his hand. He glanced down at her, and smiled in reassurance. 

Tha mise ,” Jamie exclaimed, looking at the winner of the game. 

Claire gaped at him. “What did you say?!”

The man who’d won stood up, looking Jamie up and down. “And just who might ye be? Ye think ye can take me on, laddie?”

“Aye,” Jamie said. “I can.”

“Jamie…” Claire said, her eyes wide and a little nervous. “What in heaven’s name are you doing?”

He smiled at her. “Playing.”

“Do you even know what the game is?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’a look hard.”

“Go on, Jamie,” Joe said, coming up behind him and patting his back. 

“Joe…” Claire hissed.

“What, Lady Jane? Jamie can wipe the floor with these guys.”

“Oh he can?” Said the bearded man, as he and his friends laughed. “Weel, we’ll see about that won’t we? Have a seat, lad.”

Jamie sat down opposite him, holding out his hand the way the others had done. The man braced his hand in Jamie’s, his elbow firmly on the tabletop. Someone else counted down, and the man started to push at Jamie’s hand.

The others cheered and shouted, even Claire, which gave Jamie a surge of pride.

“Go, Milord, go!” Fergus cried, jumping up and down.

Jamie didn’t know why the others had made this look difficult. The man across from him, while big and burly, was no match for Jamie in strength.

“He’s not even breaking a sweat!” Joe crowed. “Come on Jamie, take him!”

Grinning, Jamie finally put all his effort into it, easily slamming the other man’s hand onto the table with perhaps a little more force than necessary, judging by the man’s grimace of pain.

Jamie stood up, grinning, and reached over to put his arm around Claire.

For a moment, the other man looked angry, but then his expression cleared and he smiled at Jamie. “Ye’re a strong fucker, aren’t ye? Name’s Rupert.”

He stuck out his hand again, and Jamie hesitated, unsure of the correct response. It didn’t help that his head felt pleasantly foggy. Claire nudged him, nodding her head slightly to encourage him to mimic Rupert’s behavior. Jamie clasped the other man’s hand firmly. “Jamie,” he said.

“Canna believe someone finally beat Rupert!” laughed another man. 

“Ah, shut up, Angus! Come Jamie, ye and yer friends, sit! Have another round on me.”

Jamie looked to Claire for guidance, and her cheeks dimpled as she smiled and nodded. “Don’t mind if we do,” she said, introducing the rest of them.

 

~~~

 

I watched in happy astonishment as Jamie sat and talked and laughed with the men in the pub like he was just one of them. I knew the alcohol had something to do with his loss of inhibitions, but it was still a marvelous thing to behold.

Rupert, Angus, and the rest of the rowdy bunch were coarse and loud, but friendly and seemingly very kind. They didn’t bat an eye at Joe’s color when they pulled him into their games of arm wrestling, and had switched entirely to speaking English so that we could understand...except when I suspected they were making very crude jokes and wanted to spare my delicate ears.

But Jamie, remarkably, understood their fast-paced Gaelic easily, and I listened as his own speech grew more confident with every word, in English or in Gaelic. 

The men marveled at Jamie’s strength, and his elongated arms and hands, but they didn’t question it, or find him odd in any way. 

They were crude, dirty, and complete drunkards, but I found that I quite liked them.

But Jamie, bless him, didn’t have their fortitude for alcohol consumption, and it wasn’t long before he was wavering drunkenly. “Uh oh,” I laughed, putting an arm around him to make sure he didn’t fall, though God knows how I could have possibly stopped him from falling, especially considering I was a few sheets to the wind myself. “I think we’d best get you back to the inn before we have to figure out how to carry you there.”

Angus laughed. “He’s strong as an ox, but he canna hold his liquor!”

“Dinna fash, lad,” Rupert said, patting Jamie’s shoulder hard enough to almost knock him down. “Ye’re no’ drunk if ye can stand. Go and let yer sassenach lassie put ye tae bed, aye?” he nudged Jamie and winked suggestively.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed cheerfully, oblivious to the double entendre.

“Thank you for everything,” I said. “It was lovely meeting all of you.”

“Same tae ye, lass,” Rupert said. “Hope we’ll see ye again while ye’re around. Be safe getting back.”

“I’ve got this one,” Joe said, picking a sleeping Fergus up from the bench he was laying on. “I think he was sneaking sips while we weren’t paying attention.”

“Of course he was,” I said, feeling too pleasantly foggy to worry about it just then.

The three of us stumbled and giggled our way back to the inn. Jamie kept getting distracted and wanting to examine mailboxes and lamp posts, and I laughed as I tried to herd him along. He finally released me, lowering to walk on all fours, but I sighed and let him, ignoring the looks he was getting from the other late-night corousers.

“I wanna drink with Jamie ev-ry night,” Joe slurred, having slowed down in his effort to carry Fergus. 

“I think we all might rethink that in the morning,” I said. “Here we are, finally .”

Mrs. Baird shook her head at us with a fond smile as we tried and failed to walk right through her lobby. 

Jamie was nuzzling my cheek with his nose when we made it to my room, and I giggled, feeling chills run up my spine.

“Come on, you,” Joe said, getting Fergus over one shoulder so he could grab Jamie’s shirt with his free hand. “No sneaking in with Claire. I told her Uncle I’d chap...shap...er, watch you two. Protect Claire’s virtue and all that shit.”

“What’s a virtue?” Jamie asked.

“Something I got rid of long ago,” I sighed. “But go on, I expect you’ll be dead to the world the moment your head hits the pillow either way.”

I watched as Joe and Jamie made their way to their room. Just as I was about to open the door to my own, another man came up from the other direction of the hall, slowing and giving me a look that made my skin crawl. “Spendin’ th’ night alone, lassie?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes, ignoring him, then looked once more to make sure Joe and Jamie didn’t collapse in the hall. Jamie had looked back, and now his eyes were narrowed dangerously on the man.

Shaking my head, I went into my room and carefully locked the door. I’d actually intended on leaving it unlocked in case Jamie or Fergus needed me in the night, but I now realized that might have been foolish.

Eyes growing impossibly heavy, I quickly washed in the provided basin, wishing for a proper bath to scrub away the smell of beer and sweaty men, but I wouldn’t have had the energy for it anyway. The bed was clean and very comfortable, and like I had predicted of Jamie, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

When I awoke, it was still dark, and I was still drunk. I frowned, wondering what had wakened me, when I heard a dull thump. Suddenly remembering the man in the hall, I tensed, fearing that Joe and Jamie might be too far gone to help me if that man had come back looking for something I had no interest in providing. I heard the thump again, and I groaned, knowing that the flimsy lock would provide little protection if someone really tried to get in. 

I tip-toed to the door, preparing for a good scream to at least alert Mrs. Baird, but when I pressed my ear to the door, I could hear a very familiar grunt.

Sighing in relief and mild irritation, I opened the door and Jamie fell backwards into the room from where he evidently had been sitting with his back against the door.

“Jamie, what in God’s name are you doing?” I demanded.

Jamie peered up at me from where he lay at my feet, clearly still tipsy as well. “Sleeping,” he said with a huff.

“Sleeping? In the hall? Why?”

Jamie grunted and climbed to his feet. “Saw that man,” he said. “Didn’t like how he looked at ye.”

“How he…oh,” I nodded, understanding. “You were protecting me.”

Jamie nodded. 

I smiled. “Well, come inside you silly man. You can’t sleep out in the cold hall.”

“But Joe said…”

I rolled my eyes. “Hang what Joe or Uncle Lamb said. We’re both too drunk to get up to anything too scandalous anyway. Come on, you can at least sleep by the fire.”

Jamie trudged further into the room. I’d meant that he could sleep on the devan by the fireplace, but he just dropped onto the rug and curled up like a contented cat.

Smiling, I sat down beside him, running my fingers through his hair. “You had fun tonight, didn’t you?” I asked him.

He nodded. “Aye,” sitting up, he lightly brushed the curls out of my face. Feeling his breath, I was surprised that it wasn’t foul considering all he’d drank, but he must really have been taking my instruction to care for his teeth seriously. 

“Jamie,” I whispered as he leaned in. “We shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t?” he asked, eyeing me innocently. 

“We’re drunk,” I reminded him. “It’s not a good idea to do things like this when one is drunk.”

“Things like what?”

I rolled my eyes, blushing. “You know, kissing. It leads to...other things, that I don’t think either of us are ready for.”

“Like what?”

Oh, this just wasn’t fair. His eyes were big, sweet, and sleepy, and I wanted nothing more than to just pull his head to rest on my breast and keep him there forever.

“How about we read?” I suggested, hoping to distract him long enough to fall asleep.

He shook his head, then kissed my cheek.

I sighed, knowing in my head that just because we had somewhat lowered inhibitions didn’t mean we should allow ourselves to get carried away. But in that moment, my body didn’t fucking care what my head thought about it.

Turning my head, I let my lips glide over his chin, loving the raspy feel of it, then finally brought my mouth to his.

Jamie was still against me, and though his lips felt wonderful, I knew that he didn’t know to do anything else.

I opened my mouth, slowly, giving him time to adjust, let his lower lips slip between mine. I felt him breathe out suddenly, and opened my eyes a little to see that his were wide open. 

I pulled back, realizing that this was all just too new for him, and that I shouldn’t rush him. I smiled, letting him know that he’d done well, and damn him he had . How could such a chaste kiss make me feel that way?

“Thank you,” I said, making him grin. 

Unceremoniously, he flopped down onto the rug then, finally giving into drunken sleep. 

“You’re a wonder,” I whispered, feeling my heart thump at the way he smiled in his sleep. The comfortable bed on the other side of the room was calling out to me, but so was the nook Jamie made with his chest and arm. The choice wasn’t a difficult one in the end, so I grabbed a blanket from the bed and curled up beside him.

Chapter Text

Joe’s unamused expression met me in the dining room of the inn the following morning.

“Nothing happened, I assure you,” I said imperiously. “The man from down the hall made Jamie nervous, is all. For my sake.”

Joe’s expression switched to a grin. “Yeah, I know. I heard him go in the night. Mrs. Baird gave me directions to the library, but you know what? I asked her if she knew anything about a ship sinking that carried families from Scotland around 20 or so years ago, and she actually did.”

“She did?” I asked, sitting down and glancing over at Jamie.

Joe nodded. “Yeah, apparently it was a pretty big deal, because several Scottish families, some affluent, from the area were emigrating to the states, but the ship was apparently diverted somehow off its charted path, and sailed straight into a hurricane. There were survivors.”

“Survivors?!” I exclaimed. “You’re saying there could be someone here that remembers Jamie?”

Joe held up his hands. “Look, I don’t know, Lady Jane. Mrs. Baird didn’t know any of them by name, and she said as far as she knows, all the survivors eventually made their way to America.”

I sighed in disappointment, then reached for Jamie’s hand. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Well, let’s go on to the library,” I said. “At least we have an idea of what to look for.”

 

Jamie was quiet as we walked along the street, and I was missing his carefree joy from the night before. I was beginning to wonder if Joe wasn’t right before about it being better to let Jamie keep his past in the past. A handful of survivors from an entire ship was by no means an indication of likeliness that his family survived, and I wondered if it would be better to just let Jamie move on with his life instead of digging at old wounds.

“We don’t have to do this,” I said suddenly, tugging Jamie to a stop. He looked at me questioningly. “I feel like I’ve pushed you into this. Jamie, we don’t have to search for any more information if it’s not what you want.”

Jamie looked away a moment, thinking. “I want to,” he said at last. “It’s strange...not knowing. I want to know.”

I nodded, then we continued on.

 

“Look at all these books!” Fergus exclaimed.

“Would you like to go pick out one to read while we check the records room?” I asked him.

Fergus thought that over a moment. “Alright. Call me if you need me, Milady!”

“I will, but do not get into any mischief!”

Fergus whirled around, giving me a “who, me?” expression.

“Yes, you, now behave!”

There was a librarian in the records room to assist us, and we asked for newspapers from 15-25 years ago, as Mrs. Baird hadn’t been completely sure on when the shipwreck had occurred.

Joe, Jamie, and I all sat around a large table, pouring over the old newspaper clippings.

“Oh look, another herd of sheep escaped,” Joe deadpanned. “News in these parts sure is boring.”

“Another member of the MacKenzie family arrested,” I said. “My goodness, they must be a troublesome lot.”

I glanced up, realizing that Jamie had suddenly gone very still. “Jamie? Have you found something?”

Brow furrowing, Jamie slowly set the paper flat on the table. Getting up, I went to stand behind him and look over his shoulder.

“Shipwreck!” the headline read, followed by an eye-catching byline, “ America-Bound Ship Carrying Hundreds of Scottish Immigrants Sinks off Coast of Africa.”

“This is it,” I said softly, resting my hand on Jamie’s shoulder. I glanced at the date. 1881, seventeen years ago. So, if Jamie was around 5 or 6 years old at the time, that made him only around 22 or 23 now.

“Does it say anything about survivors?” Joe asked.

“Seven survivors,” Jamie read, his voice low.

“It lists their names,” I said. “Do any of them sound familiar to you, Jamie?”

“Emily Grant,” he read slowly. “Robby MacGregor, June MacGregor, Thomas Innes, Samuel Grant, Harold Gray…”

“Milord! Milady!” Fergus exclaimed, bursting into the room. “You must come quick!”

“What have you done?” I groaned.

“Nothing, I swear it! But you must come see, there is a fire!”

“A fire?!” I cried, and the librarian looked up, equally as alarmed. “Where?”

“Down the street, come on !”

 

We ran from the library, seeing at once the crowd already forming around the shop at the end of the street that was engulfed in flames.

“Damn,” Joe breathed. “Hope to God there’s no one inside.”

“The print shop,” I heard someone say. 

“That damned boy!”

There was a man standing in front of the shop, waving his arms and yelling. “I told him to keep that boy out!” he shouted.

“Sir, is there anyone still inside?” One of the firemen demanded.

“My assistant! He lets his damned wee brother play in th’ attic and now he’s gone back in after him!”

“Oh my God,” I whispered, then suddenly Jamie’s hand disappeared from mine. “Jamie?! Jamie, where are you...JAMIE!”

 

~~~

 

Jamie watched the flames licking the sky, taking over the tall building. The moment he heard the men out front talk about the boys still inside, his ears picked up a small sound...a child crying.

He didn’t stop to think at that point, but released Claire’s hand and ran toward the burning building, heedless of Claire’s desperate cries for him to stop. 

The heat inside was unlike anything Jamie had ever experienced. Everywhere bits of paper fell, burning to the floor, like a fiery rain. 

Right away, he could see a boy, laying on the staircase. He ran to him, shaking him awake.

Brown eyes shot open and he gasped, only to start a fit of coughing.

“Come,” Jamie said, dragging him to his feet.

“No,” the boy said. “My brother...he’s still upstairs! I have...I have to…”

“I’ll get him,” Jamie promised, picking up the boy and carrying him outside.

“What are ye doing lad?!” One of the men yelled as he turned to go back in. “Th’ whole building is about tae come down!”

“Please,” the boy cried, trying to break free of the men holding him so he could go back in himself.

“Jamie!”

Jamie’s heart twisted at Claire’s panicked cry, but if there was a child still in there, and if no one else would try and save him, he had to.

He ran back in, his chest and eyes immediately burning, and stormed up the stairs as they started to collapse around him.

He wished he’d asked the child’s name so he could call for it, but beyond the crackling of fire and groaning of collapsing wood, Jamie thought he could hear a soft whimpering. 

He followed it up. Up another flight of stairs, then finally a ladder. When he reached the attic, it was so full of smoke that he couldn’t see. Couldn’t breathe.

“Where are you?” he called out, but it was more of a croak.

“I’m here!” came a small cry. 

The boy lay on the floor, where furniture and fallen bits of ceiling had created a small pocket of clearer air for him. “I’m stuck!”

Part of the wall and roof had already come down, and a beam was laying right across the boy’s legs. They didn’t look crushed, but a quick examination showed that there was no way of getting him out without lifting it.

Jamie glanced at the boy’s face, even younger than Fergus, covered in soot and so, so frightened. 

He flexed his shoulders, then knelt, getting his fingers underneath the beam, lifting with all his strength.

At first, nothing happened, and Jamie growled, straining, feeling the splintered, hot wood score his flesh. Finally, the beam lifted, inch by inch, until there was enough space for the boy to get his legs out.

Jamie let the beam drop, but then the entire building began to shudder all around them.

“Come on,” Jamie said, grabbing the boy’s skinny arm and flinging him onto his back before running toward the door on all fours. 

Flames engulfed the door, licking up between the floorboards, trapping them in.

“What now?!” the boy exclaimed.

Jamie ran for the window, smashing it with his elbow. It was a long way down, far too long to jump. Far below he could see the crowd of people, could hear cries of dismay as the building started to crumble. Somewhere out there, he heard Claire scream.

Jamie looked all around, desperate for an escape, and then he saw it; a rigging of some sort on the building across the street, and hanging from it was a long rope.

It was a long jump, but Jamie could make it.

He backed away from the window, huffing out a breath of air. “Hold on,” he told the boy, feeling small arms tighten around his neck.

Jamie ran to the window, leaping out of it, and kicking off from the sill the moment the building began to go down. He zeroed in on the rope ahead of him, just as he did with the vines in the trees. He’d never missed before, and he wouldn’t miss this time.

He grabbed hold of the rope, swinging out over the screaming crowd, feeling the rush of air replace the suffocating smoke. He let his hands slide, heedless of the way the rough rope burned his already injured palms, lowering himself toward the ground on the swing back.

Once his feet hit the ground, he dropped to his knuckles, far too tired to stand upright.

He could feel his vision start to swim, could feel the boy being lifted off his back. He saw Claire, shoving her way through the crowd, heard her cry out his name, and then all went black.

Chapter Text

I paced the hallway of the hospital, biting one fingernail to the skin.

“Lady Jane, sit down,” Joe said for the fifth time. “You’re not gonna hear anything sooner by wearing a hole in the floor.”

“It won’t hurt,” I said distractedly.

When that building began to collapse with Jamie still inside, my world started to collapse along with it. He was all but indestructible, but even Tarzan couldn’t survive fire, could he?

But then he’d quite literally flown from the window, to the complete astonishment of everyone witnessing, and to my horror. I saw the rope just before he grabbed onto it, knowing that was his goal. 

No normal man should have been able to leap 200 feet straight across to a thin rope, but Jamie did, and because of him, two young boys were alive.

I looked down the hall at the older of the two boys, who had already been released by the doctors and now paced back and forth as restlessly as I, waiting on word of his little brother.

He looked around twelve, whereas the brother couldn’t have been any older than Fergus, from what I could tell while men took the barely conscious child off Jamie’s back and carried him to a waiting ambulance cart.

Jamie himself had collapsed the moment he reached the safety of the ground. I had rushed to his side, with Joe and Fergus close behind. Joe quickly checked Jamie’s pulse and breathing, and declared them both to be strong. Jamie was covered in black soot, and here and there were angry looking burns, but he was whole, and that was the most important part. 

They’d taken him with the boy to the hospital where they were both wheeled away, and that had been the last we’d heard for the past hour at least.

“Will they even tell us anything?” I asked. “If we’re not family?”

“We’re all the family he has,” Joe pointed out. “He’s gonna be fine, Claire. If he can walk away from a gunshot wound, and a beating by a 500 pound gorilla, this’ll be a piece of cake.”

I sighed, letting my arms drop to my sides. “Damn it, Joe, you’re a doctor! Can’t you go back there and get answers?”

“Having a United States PhD does not quite give me license to walk around a Scottish hospital like I own it.”

I finally plopped down into the chair beside Fergus, feeling him pat my back.

“Do not worry, Milady,” he said. “Joe is right. Milord will be fine.”

“Jamie?!”

All three of our heads snapped up at the sudden, panicked cry.

A petite woman with black hair up in a neat bun careened around the corner with a tall, thin man just behind her. “Jamie!”

I furrowed my brow in complete confusion and concern. Who was this woman...and how did she know Jamie?

“Ma! Da!”

The older boy ran toward the woman, getting wrapped into her embrace, no matter that he towered over her. Oh, that was it. I hadn’t even asked the names of the two boys, and this one’s name was clearly Jamie, as well.

“Where’s your brother?!” The woman demanded.

“Th’ doctor hasn’a come out yet,” the young Jamie said miserably. “I’m sae sorry, Ma. When he showed up at th’ print shop, I sent him tae play in th’ attic where th’ old equipment is. I had no idea…”

“Hush,” she said, pulling him back to her shoulder. “It wasn’a your fault. Trouble seems tae follow Wee Ian wherever he goes. And just where is Mr. Poole? Why is he no’ here wi’ his apprentice?”

“Likely more worrit about what he can salvage from th’ fire,” the man who I assumed was her husband said, taking his turn hugging the boy. “I knew it was a bad idea lettin’ th’ lad apprentice wi’ him,” he glanced up then, catching me watching them.

The boy turned toward us. “They’re here wi’ th’ man who saved us. He pulled me out, then went back in for Ian. Ye should ha’ seen it. He leapt from th’ window like he could fly !”

The woman opened her mouth like she was going to speak to me, but suddenly a doctor appeared, and all of our attention was on him.

“Are you th’ boy’s parents?” he addressed the couple.

“Aye, is he alright?” the man asked frantically.

The doctor smiled. “Ian will be just fine, Mr. and Mrs. Murray. He’s got some bumps and bruises, a few minor burns, and smoke inhalation, but he’s young and braw. I expect he’ll make a full recovery. He’s being moved to a recovery room, but you can take him home later today, so long as he gets plenty of rest.”

“Thank God,” the woman sighed, hugging her older son. “Thank ye, doctor.”

“What about Jamie?” I broke in, standing up. “ My Jamie,” I added with a quick glance at the family.

“Dr. Drummond is wi’ Mr. MacTavish now, miss. He’ll be right out to speak with you.”

“MacTavish?” I echoed as the doctor left, glancing over at Joe, who shrugged.

“I had to put something, and I thought giving him your last name might be odd. Besides, he’s gotta be a Mac something , right?”

“Yer man saved my boys?” The woman asked, approaching me cautiously. 

I nodded. “That’s just the sort of person he is.”

She smiled at me. “I’m Jenny Murray, and this is my husband, Ian. Our lad here is Jamie, too...although it really ought tae have been him named after his Da, wi’ Wee Ian named for my brother, Jamie, th’ way their personalities are.”

I smiled back, though I could feel how strained it was. “I’m Claire. This is my friend, Joe, and my...well, this is Fergus.”

Jenny smiled down at Fergus. “My wee Maggie is about your age.”

It seemed surprising to me; Jenny only looked about my age, and yet she already had three children.

“Family of Mr. MacTavish?”

I whirled around, wringing my hands anxiously. “Is he alright?”

“Are you his wife?” Dr. Drummond asked.

“Sure,” I replied, not wanting to risk him refusing me information.

Dr. Drummond raised a skeptical brow at the way I answered, but continued on regardless. “Mr. MacTavish suffered a great deal of smoke inhalation, as well as several minor burns, and injury to his hands, but all-in-all he’s doing very well for someone who leapt out the 3rd story window of a burning building.”

I sighed in relief, though Dr. Drummond still looked awfully stoic to have just told me that Jamie was okay. “Can I see him now?”

Dr. Drummond frowned. “Mrs. MacTavish. Your husband is...unusual. And has...a rather disturbing amount of past injury…”

I scowled, glancing over my shoulder at the Murrays who suddenly looked away to pretend they weren’t listening.

“Dr. Drummond?” Joe broke in, extending his hand. “I’m Dr. Abernathy. I’m Mr. MacTavish’s friend as well as his physician, and I’m well aware of his past and recent injuries. I hardly see why it needs brought up right now, in public.”

“I apologize,” Dr. Drummond said at once, having the grace to look sheepish. “I only wonder if we might keep Mr. MacTavish here for a couple of days. I’d like to run a few more tests…”

“No,” I interrupted firmly. “If Jamie is well enough, I’d like to take him home, now.”

Dr. Drummond looked disappointed, but didn’t argue. “You may take him home once he awakens. He’s been given a sedative. But he’s going to need to rest for several days, with plenty of fresh air to help clear out his lungs. He’ll also need to be monitored very closely for signs of pneumonia.”

“We live in London,” I said. “Can he handle the train ride?”

Dr. Drummond grimaced. “Perhaps, though it would be mightily uncomfortable for him. What I would more concerned with is the quality of air in London. If you could, it really would be best to keep him here for a few days, at least.”

I looked at Joe as the doctor excused himself. “I suppose we can see if Mrs. Baird is able to keep us on at the inn for a few more days.”

“That rickety old inn is no place tae recover,” Jenny said. “I’m sorry, I couldn’a help but overhear. But why dinna ye stay wi’ us? We’ve more than enough room.”

I gaped at her. “I...th...that’s very kind of you, Mrs. Murray, but we couldn’t possibly…”

“Jenny is right,” Ian said. “Believe me, we have th’ room, and it would be th’ least we can do tae thank yer Jamie for rescuing our sons.”

“Tis a lovely farm,” Jenny continued. “Plenty of fresh air, lots for your wee lad tae do tae stay occupied, and we’ve a marvelous cook.”

I looked at Joe, silently asking his opinion. “It does sound better than the inn,” he said with a shrug.

“Alright,” I said at last. “Thank you, Mrs. Murray. We’re very grateful.”

“Please, it’s Jenny,” she said. “And I’m th’ grateful one,” she wrapped an arm around her Jamie. “My bairns are my life, ye ken.”

I returned her smile, ready to go see Jamie, but then there was a crash, a woman’s scream, and I knew at once what was happening. 

“Oh no…”

I ran, shoving my way past the heavy doors that led to the recovery rooms, vaguely aware that everyone was following me.

Before I could wonder which room Jamie was in, he burst out of one of them like a bat out of hell, hurtling over a bewildered orderly, leaping off of and knocking over a metal cart full of instruments, and colliding with the wall.

“Jamie!” I cried, trying to get to him, but I was held back by the orderly. “Let go of me! I have to help him!”

Jamie was looking all around, eyes wide and unfocused. But then he narrowed in on me, saw the man holding my arm, and bared his teeth in a feral snarl.

“Jamie, no!” I screamed when Jamie lunged for the man. “Stop! It’s alright!”

The large orderly grabbed one of Jamie’s arms, wrenching it behind his back, just as two other burly-looking men appeared to try and hold him down, but it took all of them to do so, and with great effort.

“What are you doing?!” Joe demanded, trying like me to push his way through.

Dr. Drummond appeared, looking nervous, but was preparing a syringe. “This is a simple sedative, it’ll calm him down.”

“He’s already been sedated!” Joe snapped. “He doesn’t know what’s happening! You’re only gonna make it worse!”

“Milord! It’s us!”

“Please, if you just let me go to him, I can calm him down!”

“Ma?”

The little boy who Jamie had saved, Ian, peered out of his room, dressed like Jamie in a long, white gown. He stared wide-eyed at the way the orderlies were pressing Jamie’s head to the floor. “What are they doing tae him?!”

“It’s alright, love,” Jenny ran to the boy, snatching him up into her arms.

“Doctor,” the elder Ian began. “Surely this isn’a necessary!”

While they argued, I shoved at the orderlies, daring them with my eyes to try and use force on me. “Let him go!”

Jamie’s eyes were rolling dazedly. He was awake, but whatever they’d given him must have affected him strongly. I pulled his head to my shoulder, shielding him from the harsh lights and smells of the hospital. He relaxed immediately, fingers digging painfully into my sides, though I did not dare try to remove them.

“See?” Joe said. “He’s fine. He was only frightened when he woke up and we weren’t there. Claire, come on, let’s just take him and go.”

Dr. Drummond looked like he wanted to say no, but no one stopped us from escorting Jamie out.

I looked back once at the Murrays, not bothering to ask if their offer to let us stay still stood. They seemed kind, and they were grateful to Jamie, but without understanding him, he’d looked like a caged animal, and I wouldn’t have blamed them for being afraid.

We collected Jamie’s clothes, and I pulled him into a corner just outside to at least get him to put on his trousers over the hospital gown so not to attract any more attention than necessary.

Once we were outside, Jamie’s mind started to clear, but he was still groggy and mute. It was growing dark by the time we made it back to the inn, and Mrs. Baird was blessedly not at her desk so that we were able to make it to our rooms without having to answer any questions about Jamie’s state. 

 

Joe said nothing as I led Jamie to my room, merely smiling tiredly at me and promising to have some food sent up for us. 

I had Jamie kick off his boots and trousers, but the cotton gown was clean and soft, and he seemed to be comfortable enough in it, so I simply nudged him toward the bed.

Jamie’s face was still covered in soot, so I went to the basin and wet a washcloth before sitting beside him and gently cleaning him.

“Are you alright?” I asked, wincing as he did when I accidentally brushed the cloth over a burn on his neck.

Jamie nodded, but wouldn’t even attempt to speak, telling me without words how very shaken he was.

“I know you feel strange, darling, but I promise it will pass. It’s just the laudanum they gave you. It’s almost like what happened when you drank all that beer, although I’m sure if you’d been drunk and awoken alone in a place as strange and alarming as a hospital you would have reacted the same. I’m so sorry, I should have insisted they let me stay with you.”

Jamie’s brow furrowed, and he breathed out quickly through his nose, looking at his bandaged hands. 

“The boys are alright,” I said, only guessing at his agitation, but it seemed I was right when he looked back up at me with a relieved expression. “You saved their lives,” I continued. “You’re remarkable, Jamie.”

Jamie gave me a weak smile and rolled his eyes, making me laugh. “Don’t argue with me. I think they and their parents would agree with me. Whoever you are, Jamie, wherever you came from, it’s a miracle that you’re here.”

When the maid brought up food, I only cracked the door open so that she couldn’t see Jamie inside, not that I particularly cared what she thought, anyway. I gently bullied Jamie into eating a little stew with me, then tucked him back into bed. 

I went back to the basin to wash, sorely wishing for a full bath. I kept my body angled away from the bed as I quickly stripped off my skirts, blouse, and chemise before giving myself a thorough scrubbing. When I reached for my nightgown, I glanced over toward the bed and started to find Jamie’s eyes firmly glued to me. 

I knew he couldn’t really see much in the dim light of the low-burning fire, but the way he stared made me wonder if his eyesight was as enhanced as his sense of smell. 

Face burning - as well as the rest of me - I yanked on my nightgown and ordered Jamie to scoot over.

He looked at me with such befuddled sweetness I couldn’t help but grin. That, and his wordlessness, reminded of me of when we’d first met, and it brought to my attention just how much he’d changed in a relatively short time. 

I loved all the changes, loved watching him become the man he was meant to be. But in quiet moments such as this, I enjoyed glimpses of the innocent, wide-eyed wild man he’d been.

“Goodnight, Tarzan,” I mumbled, rolling toward him to nestle against his side.




Chapter Text

Jamie awoke the next morning behaving much more like himself, though he was still a little more quiet than usual when it was just the two of us, but I chalked that up to tiredness and soreness. He also had a nasty cough that worried me, but Joe assured me that it was his lungs attempting to clear themselves of smoke, and that he should continue to cough to help prevent pneumonia from settling in. 

I sent Jamie to his room so that we could both get dressed for the day. I didn’t think he’d be up to venturing out of the inn that day, but we’d need breakfast, and I wanted to sit down with him, Joe, and Fergus to discuss what we should do next. I also needed to find a moment to write Uncle Lamb and tell him what happened, and of our extended stay.

There was a knock on the door, and I called out that they could come in, expecting one of the boys. It turned out to be a maid, informing me that there was someone there to see me.

A pool of dread settled into my stomach, afraid that it could be the doctors, or police, come to try and take Jamie away. 

Well, they could try , but they wouldn’t get very far with it.

But there, waiting in the lobby, was none other Jenny Murray. I glanced around, looking for her husband or sons, but she seemed to be alone, fiddling anxiously with her skirt.

“Mrs. Murray,” I said, not bothering to hide my surprise. 

“Please, call me Jenny,” she asked me again. “I dinna mean tae bother ye, but I came tae see how your Jamie is.”

I smiled, touched by her concern. “He’s much better this morning. How are your Jamie, and Ian?”

“Tired, but they’ll be back tae their old antics soon enough, I expect. Is...is Jamie up tae visitors? I’d like tae speak tae him, if I may.”

“Of course,” I said, then bit my lower lip. “Jenny, Jamie is...well, he isn’t like most people…”

Jenny chuckled. “I gathered that much, especially after my James and Wee Ian, as well as a few others who were witness told me of how he leapt from th’ building as it collapsed, and swung himself and Ian tae safety. And Ian told me how he lifted a beam like it was but a twig.”

I smiled. “Jamie is a wonder. But...what happened last night at the hospital…”

Jenny waved her hand. “Th’ poor lad was drugged up and scairt out of his wits. I could see he meant no real harm.”

“It’s only that it’s been a long time since he’s really been around people. He sometimes gets overwhelmed and frightened, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And...he doesn’t always like to speak.”

Jenny nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, I understand.”

Hoping that she truly did, I went upstairs to fetch Jamie, only to find him already on his way down. 

“The boys’ mother is here to see you,” I told him, taking his hand. 

Jamie swallowed, looking a little abashed as I led him to her. 

Jenny stared at Jamie with an unreadable look on her face, and I had to take a moment to admire how the tiny woman showed absolutely no nervousness despite Jamie’s size and the having been witness to the incident last night.

“I’m Jenny,” she said, holding out a hand. “I dinna ken how I can ever thank ye, Jamie, for what ye did for my lads.”

Jamie took her hand hesitantly. “D...don’t n-need tae thank...me,” he murmured politely.

Jenny reared back in surprise. “Ye’re a Scot! Sorry, I just thought ye were a sassenach, like your wife.”

Jamie blinked in confusion. “Wife?”

“We aren’t actually husband and wife,” I explained sheepishly. “I only let the doctors think that so they wouldn’t withhold any information from me.”

“Sound thinking,” Jenny reasoned, nodding at me in approval. “Well then, shall we get ye all out of here, then?”

“What?” I asked.

“Did ye change your mind, about staying wi’ us?”

I glanced up at Jamie, then back again. “N...no, I just thought you might have.”

She smiled. “I admit, I wanted tae meet him properly first, take th’ measure of him, so to speak. But I would love it if ye come and stay. A busy inn is no place tae recover.”

“Is it alright with you, Jamie?” I asked him. “Jenny says they live on a farm, with plenty of room.”

Jamie nodded.

“Grand! I’ve a carriage waiting outside, and Mrs. Crook should have breakfast on th’ table by th’ time we get there.”

“I’ll go get Joe and Fergus,” I said, briefly squeezing Jamie’s hand as I went.

 

~~~

 

Jamie leaned his head out the window of the carriage, watching the horses, wondering if they liked pulling people all around.

Watching them was a distraction from Jenny, however.

She was watching him constantly, and it made him a little nervous. Granted, most women except for Claire made him nervous, especially after what happened with Geneva, but Jenny didn’t look at him the way she did. She just...stared.

And there was something else, something tickling the back of his mind about her, but it was too faint, too fleeting to put his finger on.

“Are there dogs at your farm, Madame?” Fergus asked. “I like dogs.”

“Oh aye,” Jenny said. “Several. And cats, too. And pigs, goats, chickens, horses…”

“Milord likes horses!”

Jenny chuckled. “I can tell, he hasn’a stopped looking at them. D’ye ride, Jamie?”

Jamie glanced back at her, and shrugged.

“He hasn’t ridden much,” Claire answered for him. “But it seems like second nature for him. Though, I don’t believe there is an animal alive Jamie doesn’t like.”

Jamie snorted. “Sabor.”

“Sabor?” Jenny asked. “What’s a Sabor?”

“Cat,” he replied derisively, flexing his shoulder.

“Ye dinna like cats, then?”

“I think he means a leopard.”

“Bad run-in with a leopard, Jamie?” Jenny asked, laughing, like she must not have been serious.

“Yes,” Jamie said seriously. 

 

~~~

 

The countryside was positively beautiful, and I was already glad I’d taken Jenny up on her generous offer even before we made it to her home.

Lallybroch , as she called it, was simply astonishing. I’d expected a large house, since Jenny had seemed quite confident that there was ample room for us in addition to her husband and three children, but this was almost a castle .

Jenny laughed when I said as much to her, assuring me it was far from it, and if I wanted to see a real castle, there was one not too far away we could visit, called Leoch.

We rode through an archway to a small courtyard, where we exited the carriage.

It was much as Jenny had described; a bustling, lively farm full of animals. 

I turned to Jamie to ask him what he thought, but he was standing beside the carriage, frozen.

“Jamie?” I said. “What is it?”

Jamie’s brow was furrowed, and he looked at the house with an expression I’d never seen before.

“What’s that, over there?” Joe asked, pointing to a tall, slightly lopsided tower. 

“Weel, that’s Lallybroch itself,” Jenny explained. “This estate, ye see, is Broch Tuarach, which means north-facing tower, but it’s more affectionately known as Lallybroch, which means lazy tower, and that’s because it leans a wee bit, see?”

“But it’s round,” I pointed out. “How can a round tower face north?”

“The door faces north,” Jamie said quietly, absently.

“Aye, that’s right,” Jenny said, seeming a little taken aback. “Visitors dinna usually get it right away.”

I looked at Jamie again, confused and a little concerned about his behavior. I wanted to speak to him privately, but figured it might be awhile before I could manage that.

“Ma!” The younger of the two Ian’s exclaimed once we entered the manor. 

“Wee Ian, what are ye doing out of bed?” Jenny asked firmly. “Ye’re supposed tae be resting!”

“I wanted tae see th’ visitors!” Wee Ian said, cocking his head to one side and grinning shyly up at Jamie. “Hullo.”

“Ian, I believe ye have something tae say tae Mr. MacTavish, do ye ‘no?”

Wee Ian nodded dutifully. “Thank ye verra much, sir, for savin’ my life.”

“Aye,” Young Jamie added, coming up and placing his hands on his brother’s shoulders. “We canna thank ye enough.”

Jamie nodded awkwardly, looking to me for help, but I had none to give. He was just going to have to get used to well-deserved praise.

“Come,” Jenny said. “Ye all must be starved. After breakfast I’ll show ye tae your rooms.”

The house was beautiful, and appeared quite old, though clean and well maintained. 

“This is amazing,” Joe said, echoing my thoughts. “Mind if I ask how old it is?”

“Well over a hundred years old,” Jenny said. “My great-great-grandsire built it, but ‘twas my own Da who restored it to its former glory back before I was born. Ye see there?” she stopped and pointed at a wall where there was a long slash in the stone. “It’s said that that was put there by a redcoat soldier during th’ Scotland clearances back in th’ 1700s.”

“Amazing,” I said. “What must it be like to live in a place steeped in such history. My uncle is an archeologist, he’s going to be sorry he didn’t come along with us from London.”

I looked at Jamie, finding him staring at the slash in the wall like it was suddenly going to come alive.

A girl around Fergus’s age was in the dining room, setting the table.

“This is Maggie,” Jenny introduced. “Maggie, where’s your Da?”

“In th’ barn,” Maggie said, her voice high and sweet. “I’ll fetch him,” as she went, she cast a backward glance at Fergus, grinning at him from over her shoulder. I looked down at Fergus and smiled to see him gulp.

The elder Ian came in a moment later, and I was surprised to find him walking with a cane, having missed it the night before.

“Ah, welcome!” he said. “We’re so glad ye decided tae come. It’s been far too long since we’ve had visitors. Jamie, how are ye feeling?”

“Good,” Jamie said, even though it came out in a bit of a croak. 

An older woman brought in breakfast, smiling politely as she did.

“So, you’re from London,” Jenny said. “What brings ye here?”

“Oh, well,” I glanced at Jamie and Joe. “Research, more or less. Dr. Abernathy here is writing a book.”

“Oh?” Ian said. “How interesting? What about, or may we ask?”

“Still working on it,” Joe said as way of answer. “But it’ll be about the life of a very interesting person.”

 

After breakfast, Jenny and Maggie showed us upstairs to our rooms.

“This is your room,” Jenny said to Joe, opening the first door in the hall, then she turned to me, wincing. “I must apologize, I had you and Jamie together, see, thinking ye were wed. But Maggie here is verra happy tae give ye her room, are ye no’ lass?”

“Oh, I hate to put you out…” I began.

“I dinna mind at all!” Maggie chirped. “It means I get tae sleep in my brother Jamie’s room and he always tells stories!”

I smiled at her. “Well, in that case, thank you, Maggie.”

Joe snorted. “You sure it’s even gonna be needed?” he muttered, and I shot him a look that told him to behave himself. 

“Fergus,” Jenny continued. “I thought ye might enjoy bunking wi’ Wee Ian. He’s verra excited tae have ye.”

Fergus grinned and nodded. “ Oui, madame!”

“Now you look done in,” Jenny said, and after taking another look at Jamie, I could tell she was right. He’d been holding up remarkably well but I could tell he wasn’t feeling well. “Your room is just down this way.”

She started to walk, but Jamie didn’t move, and I kicked myself for not taking him aside and explaining that we would have to uphold propriety while visitors in someone else’s house

“He is anxious, Madame,” Fergus said, ever helpful, him. “He will not leave Milady’s side if he is anxious.”

Jenny blinked. “Well, Claire? Ye just going tae stand there, lass?”

Somehow, her brusque tone came off as affectionate rather than rude, but I hurried to follow regardless.

“Get him settled in, Lady Jane,” Joe called after me. “I’ll come to check up on him soon.”

Jamie’s room was done up similarly to the rest of the house in muted, natural shades of blue, green, and mahogany. 

“Have a lie down,” I ordered Jamie, patting his back when he started to cough. 

“If ye need anything at all,” Jenny said, folding her hands before her. “Dinna hesitate tae ask. I can show ye tae Maggie’s room, Claire…” I saw the moment she caught Jamie’s panicked look, and then she smiled. “...later. I’ll let ye both get settled in first.”

Jenny left, shutting the door behind her, and I turned my full attention on Jamie.

“You don’t feel feverish, do you?” I asked worriedly, feeling his forehead. He wasn’t warm, or any warmer than he naturally was, but I didn’t like how pale he looked so I quickly ushered him into bed.

Joe’s medical bag had been placed in this room mistakenly, so I picked it up and set it on the bed, hoping he wouldn’t be angry. There was a full pitcher of water on the vanity, so I poured some into the bowl and brought it to the bedside table before carefully and gently unwinding the bandages around his hands.

“You haven’t said much since we arrived,” I said quietly as I carefully examined his palms for sign of infection the way Joe had shown me, gently smoothing out his fingers which naturally curled inward at the tips due to way he used his knuckles for walking. His hands were so callused, it was surprising that he could be hurt there at all. The doctor at the hospital had attributed the gashes straight across his palms to the rope he swung on, but I knew that it was more likely the piece of the wall he’d lifted off of Young Ian. No one but the child was around, but I had a feeling that no normal man should have been able to do that. “What do you think of this place?”

“Peaceful,” Jamie said. 

I smiled, since his comment was perfectly timed to the high-pitched squeal of a child somewhere in the house, but that didn’t appear to change his opinion. “I’ll be nice for Fergus to have some children his age to play with.”

Jamie hummed in agreement.

I tenderly washed his hands in the bowl, then applied the medicine Joe had been using, then wrapped them up again.

“Sassenach?”

I smiled up at him. “Yes?”

“Why are there no’ portraits on th’ wall?”

I tilted my head in confusion. “What?”

Jamie furrowed his brow and flexed his shoulder, the way he did when he was either uneasy or searching for the correct words. “Portraits. There should be portraits in th’ hall.”

I still wasn’t understanding, but then it dawned on me. “Oh, do you mean because there are portraits in the hall at my house?”

“...Yes?”

“Well, I don’t know. They’re a young family, perhaps they haven’t had any done, yet.”

Jamie started to cough again, so I pushed him back to lay against the pillows. “You need to rest. Now, don’t look at me that way, I should go find my own room and make sure Fergus is behaving himself.

Jamie said not a word, but he probably knew he didn’t need to.

“Oh, alright. I’ll stay until you fall asleep.”

 

Once Jamie was asleep, I ventured back out into the hall. Once there I looked around, taking notice of what Jamie had, the lack of portraits, or any wall decoration at all.

“Can I help ye find anything, Mistress?” The elder Ian asked, appearing at the top of the stair.

I jumped slightly. “Oh, no, sorry, I was just headed back down. Jamie is asleep.”

Ian followed my previous line of sight to the bare walls. “It does look rather plain up here, does it no’? There used to be several portraits of th’ Fraser family here, but they took them all, when they emmigrated tae America.”

“Fraser, is that Jenny’s family?”

“Aye. She lost them all when she was a lass, ken. That’s why we never replaced th’ portraits.”

“That’s awful.”

Ian nodded. “I think part o’ the reason she’s taken a shine tae Jamie has more tae do than what he did for our boys...although that’s more than plenty for both of us, let me assure ye. But her wee brother was Jamie, as well. Our own James was named for him.”

“Jamie lost his family, as well,” I said. “He doesn’t remember anything about them.”

“Aye, Jen said when she asked him where he was from, he didn’a seem tae ken. I dinna mean tae sound rude, but Jamie is...different, isn’t he?”

I smiled at Ian’s hesitant way of fishing. I knew he meant well, but after the debacle at the dinner party, I was gun shy about sharing any details about Jamie’s life unless he wanted to be the one to divulge him. “He had an unusual upbringing,” I said evasively. “And an isolated one.”

“Well,” Ian said, smiling. “He seems a kind man, and quite devoted to you , I must add.”

I grinned shyly. “Yes, well...it’s mutual. I’d better go see what Fergus is up to.”

“He’s in th’ kitchen wi’ Jenny. Dinna fash none about any mischief he might get up to because it’ll be our bairns right there wi’ him.”

 

Jamie slept through the day, and I only woke him that evening to get some supper into him, and apply the salve Jenny had offered me to help with his cough, the same she’d been using on Young Ian. 

Jamie grumbled as I tucked him back into bed after urging him to change into a clean shirt.

“I know, I know,” I said patiently, pulling the quilt up over him. “You hate feeling unwell. I don’t blame you. But here, this might help,” I unbuttoned the top several buttons on his shirt and pushed the fabric aside, taking a brief moment to just admire him. Christ, but he was a beautiful man.

He watched me curiously as I opened the small jar, from which came a pleasant smell of peppermint and camphor. Jenny hadn’t given me explicit instruction, but I seemed to remember a nanny using a similar balm on me when I was a child and had a cold.

I took a generous amount on my fingertips then rubbed it into his chest in slow circles. 

I smiled as Jamie’s eyelids immediately lowered, giving me the impression of a lazy cat. Not for the first time, I thought whimsically that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to hear him purr. 

“How does that feel?” I asked quietly, taking my time, since I was perhaps enjoying this as much as he was.

Jamie only hummed in answer, and I could tell it wouldn’t be long before he was asleep again. 

I thought he had already drifted off, but then his eyes were cracked open again, and he slowly lifted his bandaged hand, touching my chest where the neckline of my blouse ended. He touched without purpose, lazily dragging his fingertips across my skin, and up to my neck. I held my breath, wishing he would keep going. Touch more. But it was hardly the time or place. 

When he brushed just under my jaw, I released the breath I was holding and his eyes darted up to mine in question.

“Go to sleep, Jamie,” I said, hearing how my voice pitched lower than usual. 

I leaned down, kissing his forehead, but he grabbed my shoulder before I could get up. Smiling, I kissed his lips instead, and by the time I sat up again, he was asleep.




Chapter Text

I sat beside Jamie long after he’d fallen asleep, trying not to nod off myself. I would have liked to curl up beside him and sleep, but I still needed to get settled into my own room, and check on Fergus before I could find my own rest.

I stroked the hair off of Jamie’s face, watching the corner of his mouth twitch in a sleepy smile, then reached my arms up to stretch my back before getting to my feet.

The hall was dark and quiet, the family having evidently retired already. I tip-toed down to Young Ian’s room, slowly pushing the door open to peek inside, noticing that a light was still lit within.

Far from being asleep, the two boys were sitting up in bed, giggling hysterically over something and looking up guiltily at the sight of me.

I smiled fondly and leaned against the door jamb. “Don’t you two think you should be asleep?”

“Ian was telling a story, Milady…”

“Shh!” Ian snapped, holding a finger to his mouth. “Don’t tell her!”

“Dinna fash, Ian,” Fergus said with the patience of someone who considered themself to be much older and wiser. “Milady can keep secrets. You won’t tell Ian’s mother, will you, Milady?”

I bit my lip, curiosity, along with the childish desire to be included winning over. “I promise,” I said with a grin, shutting the door and hopping onto the bed with them. Of course, I assumed that whatever the “secret” was, it was quite innocent, so I didn’t feel too badly about my promise.

“Well…” Ian began, eyes lighting up at the prospect of an audience. “There are stories of stone circles, built long ‘afore anyone can remember, and it’s said that if ye find one, ye may disappear and go tae th’ land of the fairies!”

“Is it true?” Fergus asked, brows going up. “Milady, are fairies real?”

“Could be,” I said, holding back a smile. “Have you ever seen any of these stone circles, Ian?”

“No’ yet,” he said with a slight pout. But once, Jamie...my brother, Jamie that is...he woke me up in the wee hours o’ the morning, before the sun, and we went out tae look for one!”

“Oh my…” I gave a dramatic gasp for effect. “Without permission?!”

Ian nodded his head, grinning mischievously. “We didn’a find a stone circle, but it was great fun! And ye willn’a tell...will ye?”

I shook my head, then drew an invisible X across my chest, privately thinking that Jenny very likely already knew about her sons’ late night escapades. “Cross my heart. Now, you two,” I said, standing up. “Time for sleep.”

“Milady,” Fergus said, burrowing under the covers. “Ian said we can be pen pals when we go home to London.”

“Sounds like a fine idea,” I said, stroking the curls out of his face then leaning down to kiss his cheek. “Goodnight, Fergus.”

I looked over at Ian, who was wiggling down into the covers with a very expectant look on his face. Chuckling, I reached over Fergus to kiss Ian’s forehead. “Goodnight, Ian.”

“Goodnight,” they chorused together. 

By the time I made it to the door, I realized I had been watched. Smiling, I followed Jenny out of the room and into the hall. 

“Sorry,” I said awkwardly. “I was checking on Fergus and they wanted to tell a story.”

Jenny chuckled. “Ye’re good wi’ them. Children, I mean. Fergus is a lucky lad, that ye’ve taken him in.”

“Thank you,” I said, blushing. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into, bringing him home from France. My uncle thought we’d just add him to our house staff, but it never really happened that way.”

“Children have a way o’ burrowing into our hearts, hm?” she said. “I dinna mean tae pry but, you and Jamie...ye said ye’re no marrit, but it’s clear ye’re close, and ye’re practically raising a child together. Are ye promised, then?”

I winced, having expected such a question eventually. “It’s a little...complicated.”

Jenny opened her mouth to say something else, but was interrupted by a loud thump. At first I thought it was the boys again, but then I caught a familiar grunting noise that could only be Jamie, and I was running down the hall before Jenny could say anything.

I threw open the door to Jamie’s room, looking around for him before realizing he was still in bed, but his thrashing around had evidently knocked the bedside table over. He was clearly in the throes of some sort of a nightmare, and I hesitated, wondering what to do. Jamie was inhumanly strong, and attempting to waken him in this state could be dangerous. But then I became aware that he was crying, and I rushed to the bed without another thought, trying to get a hold of his flailing arms.

“Jamie! Jamie, sweetheart, wake up!”

Jamie was tossing from side to side, issuing heartbreaking sobs. When I tried to grab his hands, he struck out, catching me in the shoulder and nearly knocking me off the bed. I hissed in pain, but bounced right back, half climbing on top of him.

“Jenny!” he cried, his eyes flying open.

I paused, looking around to see if Jenny was there, but she wasn’t. Before I could ask why he’d called for her, he was out of bed, leaving me to scramble out of the way, and then he was running out of the bedroom - thankfully still wearing his trousers, if nothing else.

I followed Jamie through the dark, quiet house as he stumbled almost drunkenly through on all fours. He skidded to a stop in front of a pair of double doors, and before I could stop him, he let himself inside.

It was a study. One rarely used, judging by the fine layer of dust on everything.

Jamie stood up and looked around, a drawn look on his face. I held back, wringing my hands, wanting to go to him and ask him what was wrong, but it seemed like he needed to work through whatever was happening.

“Where is th’ sword?” he asked lowly, barely audible. 

“What sword?”

He pointed at the wall above the desk, which was empty.

“Da took it when we left for America,” Jenny said, appearing in the doorway with the elder Ian hovering behind. She’d must have gone to fetch him when I’d run to help Jamie. 

She was staring at Jamie like she was looking at a ghost. “It was lost, just like everyone else.”

I looked back and forth between them quickly, wondering how I could have been so dim as to have missed it, but the pieces were clicking together at an alarming speed.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie said, crouching down again. “I tried tae hold on.”

“So did I,” Jenny whispered, looking like she was holding back tears. “I never forgave myself for letting you go, Jamie. When no one was ever found...I wanted tae hope...but I…”

Jamie had started pacing restlessly, growling low in his throat. He was nearing his breaking point, I could see it, but I didn’t know what to do.

“What happened to you?” Jenny asked, finally losing her battle with tears when she caught a glimpse of Jamie’s back.

“He was washed up on the beach in Africa,” I said for him. “He wound up alone in the Congo.”

“How could a six-year-old boy survive alone in th’ jungle?” Ian asked. 

“Wasn’a alone,” Jamie growled. “I had Mother...brother…”

“Ma? Willie?!” Jenny exclaimed, her voice raising.

“No,” I hurried to correct her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “He doesn’t mean them. He...he means...he was rescued by a female gorilla, Jenny. That gorilla raised him alongside her own infant. I found Jamie last year during my and my uncle’s trip there to study the gorillas. Until that point, Jamie hadn’t had human contact since the shipwreck. He couldn’t remember anything about his birth family...until now.”

“Mary, Mother of God…” Jenny whispered, then after an exchanged look with her husband, slowly walked further into the study.

I tensed in worry. Jenny was obviously a kind woman, but Jamie was incredibly fragile emotionally, and if Jenny spurned him, I didn’t know what it would do to him.

She knelt beside him, half reaching to him, but not quite touching. “I clung tae that piece of wood for a night and a day,” she murmured. “Until I was found by a whaling charter. They’d crossed by the wreckage and had picked up the other survivors. It was only by chance that they saw me. We were taken tae th’ Caribbean, and from there I went wi’ the other survivors tae Georgia. They wanted tae just foist me onto a family there, and there were some kind people willing tae take me in, but I wrote a letter myself tae our Uncle Colum. No’ someone I’d ever much cared for, but at least he was kin. He sent for me, and I lived wi’ him and Aunt Letitia for several years, but I was a hellion, and a poor influence on their own precious Hamish so I was sent tae foster wi’ Murtagh Fitzgibbons...do you remember him, Jamie? He’s your godfather.”

Jamie had slowly started to calm down while Jenny spoke softly and soothingly, his body relaxing.

“It was here, in Broch Tuarach, that I was taken under th’ wing of Ian’s parents,” she smiled over at her husband. “I think you can guess the rest o’ it.”

Jamie tried to smile, but I could tell that words had left him for the time being.

Jenny smiled back, and this time when she reached out, she touched the side of his face. “I’ve missed ye, brother.”

She began to gently pull him toward her, giving him freedom to refuse, but Jamie leaned into her embrace willingly, two long arms going up and around her. 

I just watched for a moment, then looking up, exchanged a tearful smile with Ian before we both stepped out of the study.

“I don’t know how I didn’t see it before,” I said once we were in the hall. “For all that they’re opposite in size and color, they’re very much alike in many ways.”

“Oh aye,” Ian said, his voice rough with emotion. “From th’ moment I saw him in that hospital, I wondered...wanted tae hope, but it seemed too impossible. I was too afraid tae even voice my thoughts tae Jenny, but she must ha’ been having th’ same ones. We were best of friends, ken, Jamie and I, when we were wee. I was heartsick when they left for America. None of us here in Lallybroch were ever th’ same when we got word that Brian Fraser and his family were gone. Getting Jenny back was a miracle, but th’ lass has suffered so much these past years.”

“They both have,” I said. 

Ian smiled at me, then grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Ye’ve brought our Jamie home tae us, Claire. It’s because of you he’s here, that he saved our sons. We’re forever indebted tae ye.”

I smiled back, but my stomach was twisting. Home , Ian had said. I’d brought Jamie home .

What did that mean for me?




Chapter Text

Jamie’s mind was running like a cheetah - so fast he was starting to get a headache.

Memories that had evaded him for so long came crashing back like a wave. 

But it was so much to handle, and Claire had walked out of the room. He was sure it was to give him time with Jenny, but his skin itched at her absence. 

“Ye dinna like it when Claire isn’t here, do you?” Jenny asked.

She hadn’t complained about his quietness, but he wanted to talk with her. He was getting tired of his words escaping him when he needed them.

“N...no,” he admitted. 

“Well,” she said, smoothing her hands over her knees. “It’s late, and you’re still recovering, so what say we go find my husband and your...Claire, and get ourselves back tae bed, hm? We can catch up more in th’ morning. But first, there’s something I want tae give ye.”

She stood up and went to the desk, returning a moment later with something small in her hand.

“Ye were heartbroken when we realized this was left behind. But I’m glad of it now. We’ve so little to really remember them by.”

She placed a small, wooden snake in his outstretched hand. It looked familiar, but at first, Jamie didn’t remember it.

“Willie carved that for ye,” Jenny said. “He was so proud of it and you thought it was simply th’ greatest thing ever...but then you would have thought that of anything Willie gave ye. Ye looked up tae him so.”

Jamie turned the little snake over in his hand, seeing a word carved there, and suddenly he remembered. “Sawny Snake,” he said in surprise.

“That’s right,” Jenny said with a wet chuckle. “Now come on, ye look ready tae keel over.”

Jamie didn’t know what that meant, but he rather felt it regardless, and followed Jenny to the sitting room where Claire and Ian were, drinking whisky by the fire.

Ian stood when he saw them, grinning. “Welcome home, Jamie.”

Jamie smiled back, recalling the skinny, funny lad who had once been his very best friend.

When he looked at Claire, she was watching him with a smile, but she looked a little sad, and Jamie had to wonder why. 

“As much as I know we could stay up all night gabbing,” Jenny said. “It’s gone two in th’ morning, and we’ve a household of children who’ll be up wi’ th’ lark. Tae bed, everyone.”

 

~~~

 

We trailed upstairs, and when we came to the point where my room was one way and Jamie’s was the other, he gave me an agitated, but resigned look. 

I opened my mouth to make some sort of excuse about applying more of the salve, or checking his bandages or something, but I snapped it shut again. I didn’t want Jenny and Ian to think ill of me, but Jamie’d just had his world set on its axis and there was just simply no way I could leave him alone when I knew he didn’t want to be. So I squared my shoulders and led him to his room.

To my surprise, other than wishing us goodnight, Jenny and Ian didn’t say a word, and continued on to their own bedroom. 

Heaving a mental shrug, I followed Jamie into his room, smiling at his relieved expression.

“Do you want to talk?” I asked him, shrugging out of my dressing gown. “It’s perfectly alright if you don’t. I just want you to know that I’m all ears, if you do.”

Jamie chuckled, and I arched a brow at him until I realized and rolled my eyes playfully. “You’re picturing me being made of all ears , aren’t you?”

He nodded with a sheepish grin.

I straightened the bed clothes from where Jamie had mussed them up with his nightmare, then crawled into them. Instead of joining me, however, Jamie said opposite me, fiddling with something in his hands.

“What’s that?” I asked, and he handed it over.

It was a hand-carved wooden snake, with something etched on the bottom in scrawling letters. “Sawny,” I read.

“Willie called me that,” Jamie explained. “I think...I think it had tae do wi’ my name. He made th’ snake for me.”

I smiled, stroking the snake’s head. “He must have loved you very much.”

Jamie nodded.

I peered up at him. “Speaking of your name...you have a last one now. You’re a Fraser.”

Jamie smiled and nodded. “I remember it now. All of it.”

“All of it?”

He straightened his back, looking as if he was about to recite a sonnet. “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser,” he said slowly and carefully, but without a single stammer.

I gaped at him. “My! That’s quite a name. It all suits you, somehow. So you remember everything now?”

He winced, and shrugged one shoulder. “Here and there. Pieces are coming back.”

“I can’t tell you how happy for you I am, Jamie,” I said, taking his hand. “I wanted to help you find answers, but finding a living sister...it’s a miracle.”

“It is because of you , Sassenach,” he said, brushing his knuckle across my cheek.

I looked away bashfully. “Yes...well...don’t forget about Joe. Oh my goodness, he’s going to be so sorry he missed all of this when we tell him in the morning. He and Fergus. But for now, let’s try and get a little sleep, hm?”

Jamie nodded and flopped ungracefully down beside me, making me laugh. He pulled me to him with just as little grace, but I relaxed the instant I was in his arms, and he sighed in relief against my hair.

 

Everyone was already awake when Jamie and I made our way downstairs, and seated at the breakfast table.

“Finally,” Joe said when we appeared. “Jenny and Ian said you have a surprise for us but wouldn’t tell us what .”

“Are you having a baby?!” Young Jamie blurted, and everyone gave him an alarmed look. “What? When my parents say they have a surprise at th’ breakfast table, it’s always a bairn!”

No ,” I said firmly. “It’s only that Jamie…” I glanced at him. “Has remembered some things, including his name. Jamie?”

“You remember who you are?!” Fergus exclaimed.

Jamie, uneasy with being the center of attention, squared his shoulders bravely. “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser,” he said, just as proud to recite it as he’d been the night before.

“Fraser…” Joe began, looking at Jenny. “Didn’t you say you...wait…”

Jenny chuckled. “Aye, it seems there has been quite a coincidence, and ye’ve brought my wee brother home.”

What ?! You’re sure?!”

“It was Jamie who remembered first,” I said, sitting down with Jamie beside me.

“Ye missed a part of your name, though,” Jenny said, smirking at him.

“I did?” Jamie asked, frowning.

“Aye. ‘Tis James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, Lord of Broch Tuarach.”

Lord ?” Joe, Fergus, and I all echoed.

Jenny nodded. “Our father was Lord Broch Tuarach, and Jamie is his eldest surviving son. The estate, everything...is his.”

I looked at Jamie, who looked horribly confused. “But Jenny surely...that is...you’re older than Jamie, and it’s your family’s home.”

I glanced across the table at Young Jamie, who would have been the heir to the estate, but he looked as oddly unaffected as the rest.

“Well, we dinna expect Jamie tae throw us out into th’ snow,” Ian said with a smile. “It’s clear he’ll need a wee bit of help that we’re happy tae give, but we’ll no’ deny him his right.”

Jamie looked too bewildered to be anxious, but I was certainly feeling it. “Now hold on,” I said. “Jamie is still acclimating to living among people. He isn’t ready for...that.”

“Nothing needs tae be done now ,” Jenny said. “There’s certainly no rush. We just want him tae know, is all.”

I supposed that made sense, but it still felt like a hell of a whole lot to foist onto Jamie all at once.

“Do you understand what she’s saying?” Claire asked Jamie.

“Not...really…” he admitted.

“I think it means you’re rich,” Fergus said.

“Maybe not rich ,” Ian said with a laugh. “But plenty well off. Though, Jen and I never touched his or Willie’s inheritances, and I dinna even ken how much they are.”

I felt someone nudge my foot underneath the table, and looked up to find that it was Joe. I realized my glass face as Uncle Lamb called it must be betraying how I felt, so I was quick to school my features.

Truth was, I didn’t know how I felt. Jamie had become a completely new person literally overnight. Yesterday, he was a wild jungle legend. Today he was a wealthy lord? 

Where did that leave the rest of us?

 

After breakfast, Joe began to tell the Murrays about his book, and Jamie went outside with the boys and Maggie, all thrilled to get to know their Uncle Jamie better, so I decided to take a walk myself and get some air. 

It was truly a beautiful estate. Sprawling green hills, merry little bubbling streams, and a sort of other-worldliness that one only really found in the highlands. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth would lead Brian Fraser to pack up his family, abandon this beautiful home that was his, and take off to an unknown future in a new country. 

I caught sight of Jamie and the children near the horse stables, and smiled. It figured that Jamie would find the animals and want to be near them.

He was in the corral with a white colt who pranced around him playfully. He was grinning, making low noises in the back of his throat, and I could swear by the way the horse flicked his ears toward Jamie, that he could actually understand him.

The children laughed and clapped as Jamie mimicked the horse’s behavior, letting out an incredibly believable whinny. I leaned back against a tree, watching.

Ever since arriving in England, I could tell that Jamie had felt a little stifled. Oh, he did well to hide it, never once letting on that he was anywhere other than where he wanted to be. But a man like him didn’t belong in a bustling city. He probably never would have, even if the shipwreck had never altered his life forever. 

It wasn’t quite the wilds of Africa, but he was more in his element here. More free, more at ease. 

And me? Well, I didn’t suppose that I really belonged anywhere. I had no love for London, but Uncle Lamb...we were the only family each other had left, and even though he would deny it...he needed me.

Jamie caught me watching and his smile softened, then he blinked both eyes slowly, like an owl, and I laughed when I realized that he was attempting to wink.

“Claire!” Joe called from the house. “Jamie! Get in here!”

Startled by the urgent tone of his voice, I turned on my heel and raced inside, with Jamie and the children not far behind.

“Joe? What is it, what’s wrong?” I demanded.

“Not sure if it’s wrong per say,” he began. “But it’s...well, here, have a look.”

It was that morning’s newspaper, and splashed across the front page was a crude drawing of Jamie swinging over the street. That was the only reason I could tell it was him, as no other aspect of the illustration looked a thing like him. He was drawn as hairy and bulky, more like the missing link than Jamie. Above the somewhat offending picture was the headline, “ Part Man, Part Animal? Wild Man Rescues Children; Terrifies Hapless Hospital Staff.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” I muttered.

“Granted, the article doesn’t read quite as defamatory as the headline,” Joe said as I quickly skimmed its contents. “Makes him sound like a magical hero, which I guess ain’t too far from the truth. Bad part is, it specifically names Lallybroch as where he’s staying. Reporters are gonna be coming out of the woodwork any second now.”

“I suppose one of those hapless hospital workers must have tipped off the press on that,” I said between my teeth.

“What does this mean, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, reading over my shoulder.

I offered him a reassuring smile. “Only that people took notice of what you did for Young Jamie and Ian, and now they’re anxious to meet you for themselves. Honestly I figured this would happen eventually, after Joe’s book came out, but I didn’t think it’d be that soon.”

“Aye,” Jenny said. “I thought tae give Jamie more time than this, but I suppose we ought tae go ahead and announce him as Lord Broch Tuarach. We should show them he’s no savage .”

I bristled at Jenny’s choice of word, but I did see her point.

“Are you ready for this, Jamie?” I asked him.

He gave me a grimace. “It will be like the dinner party, won’t it?”

I sighed. “I don’t know, darling. I’m afraid it might be even worse.”




Chapter Text

In a matter of days, Jamie’s life had completely changed.

He supposed this was the third time this had happened. The first had been when he joined his gorilla family. The second, the moment he saw Claire. But this...this felt the most jarring of all.

He was thrilled to be at his childhood home with Jenny, Ian, and their children. Every day he remembered more and more of his life before the shipwreck. The fact that Claire was there with him, Claire along with Fergus and Joe, only made it feel that much better. 

The only thing that could possibly have made it perfect in his eyes would be if Mother and Akut could be there too, but he knew that was impossible.

So no, being in Lallybroch with all the people he cared about most wasn’t what was making him want to run away into the woods and hide.

Lord Broch Tuarach.

He vaguely remembered the sound of the title. It had, after all, belonged to his father. But it never should have been Jamie’s. By rights, the title and land should have gone to Willie.

But Willie was gone.

He wanted to do right by his family.  He wanted to make his parents proud. But what did he know about being a lord? Running an estate? His lessons in leadership all came from Kerchak, and while they weren’t invaluable, he didn’t think they would apply here.

The worst part was that something was wrong with Claire. Jamie didn’t know what exactly, and she didn’t say anything, but he could just tell that something was making her unhappy, and it was eating at him. He wanted nothing more than for her to be happy. She’d done so much to see to his comfort and safety, he felt at such a loss not being able to do the same for her.

Just as Joe had predicted, reporters started showing up at the door to Lallybroch, begging to Photograph him.

Jamie didn’t think he’d ever had a Photograph taken, nor did he particularly want to.

Joe was hurrying and trying to finish his book, so that he could publish the truth of Jamie’s life before, as Joe put it, “the press could spin it out of control.”

To that end, Jamie and Joe spent a great deal of time together, simply talking. It meant that in the past days, Jamie had scarcely seen Claire at all. He’d seen her here and there - the children had all taken a shine to her, Wee Ian especially, so she was frequently in the garden with them - but it was always in passing, or at meals. She hadn’t even come to him at night, and he resisted going to her, trying not to cling to her too much in case she was beginning to tire of him. He knew that sometimes Mother grew irritated with Kerchak, and Kerchak always knew when to keep his distance from her.

Jenny was planning a party to formally announce him to Broch Tuarach and, by extension, the world. Jamie was trying to mentally prepare himself for it, telling himself that if he could survive a beating from Kerchak, he could survive anything, but it didn’t stop him from wishing he could just tune it all out and go be in the trees again.

Uncle Lamb wrote, saying he was “pleased to punch,” whatever that meant, that Jamie had discovered who he was, and promised to attend the party. It was a relief to Jamie to hear of any familiar face that might be in attendance.

 

Another visitor arrived later that week, one who struck Jamie as familiar at once, but at first he could not place him.

“I’m hunting in th’ forest,” the darkly-bearded, gruff looking man said when he stomped through the door. “When out of nowhere pops some whelp demanding I return tae Lallybroch post haste, th’ pretentious wee twat. Now I come and some eejit sassenach in a bowler hat outside wants tae know if I’m a relative to the lord and can he have a photograph . Ye mind telling me, Janet, what th’ devil is going on?”

“Haven’t ye read a paper, ye auld coot?” Jenny asked, her voice tinged with obvious affection, obviously unaffected by his anger.

“No, I haven’a read a paper! I came straight here as was commanded of me. Now, out wi’ it!”

Jenny turned to the hall, where Jamie was half-hiding, and motioned him into the room. “I’ve a surprise for ye, Murtagh.”

Jamie remembered Jenny mentioning a Murtagh, but he hadn’t remembered him until the moment he got a good look at the older man in the foyer, who was eyeing him suspiciously. 

A ghoistidh,” Jamie whispered.

Murtagh’s eyes slowly widened, his jaw going slack. “It canna be…” he said. 

“It is,” Jenny said, beaming. “I could hardly believe it myself, but it’s him. Jamie.”

Murtagh just stared at Jamie for a long moment, before letting out a loud, startling laugh and yanking Jamie into a rough hug.

“God Almighty! Ye’re alive!” Murtagh exclaimed, pounding Jamie’s back. “I thought I was seeing a ghost! How? Where in hell have ye been?!”

“M…” Jamie began, swallowing nervously. He glanced at Jenny for help, but she was happily watching, and didn’t seem to catch his difficulty.

“He has been in Africa,” Fergus piped up from beside him. “He didn’t remember who he was.”

“And who might you be?” Murtagh asked, glancing down at Fergus then back to Jamie. “Have ye a son?”

“I am his friend,” Fergus said with a chuckle. “Sometimes Milord does not speak, and it’s Milady and I who speak for him.”

Murtagh raised one bushy eyebrow. “And just who is Milady ?” he looked at Jenny. “Not you, surely?”

Jenny chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, no. That would be th’ lovely Claire. I won’t need tae introduce ye. Ye’ll ken her when this one here turns into a drooling puppy.”

Jamie somehow felt like that was meant to poke fun at him, but he didn’t quite grasp how.

“Well,” Murtagh continued, patting Jamie’s arm. “No matter how it’s happened, it’s a fine thing tae see ye, Jamie lad, so big and braw.”

Jamie smiled, getting the distinct feeling that this Murtagh didn’t normally throw compliments around.

 

~~~

 

Maggie and I had been picking vegetables in the garden together while Young Ian ran about and generally got in the way - but he was too cute about it for me to mind all that much.

When we went back inside, I found Jamie in the sitting room with Jenny, and an older man with an angular frame and dark beard. He took a long look at me when I appeared in the doorway, glanced back at Jamie, and then smiled.

“Ah, so you’re Claire,” he said. 

“So I am,” I said, wondering why Jenny was hiding a chuckle behind her hand. 

“Claire, this is Murtagh, Jamie’s godfather,” Jenny introduced.

I smiled, able to see from Jamie’s expression that this was yet another happy reunion. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“So, gorillas ?” Murtagh said. Apparently they’d been in the middle of explaining to Murtagh where Jamie had been the past seventeen years. “It canna be, a child canna survive being raised by an animal .”

I bristled, as did Jamie, and since he didn’t appear in a mood to speak, I did for him. “I’ve seen them. I’ve been among them. Jamie’s mother may be an animal, but she’s highly intelligent, as they all are.”

“Tis remarkable,” Jenny said with a polite smile. “But must ye call her Jamie’s mother ? He had a mother, ken.”

“He has had two,” I said firmly. “The mother who gave him life, and Kala...the mother who raised him from the time he was six years old.”

Jamie had been looking back and forth between us in discomfort. I could understand why Jenny didn’t want their mother forgotten or slighted in any way, but I was well aware of how Jamie felt about Kala, and having seen them together myself, I knew for a fact that it was nothing short of a genuine and loving mother-child relationship. I didn’t have to fully understand it to know that it was real.

“Never mind,” Murtagh said, looking eager to stem off an argument. “I look forward tae hearing more of these animals, in time.”

“Aye,” Jenny said. “In time. For now, we should focus on Jamie’s introduction, and moving forward with his life, aye Jamie?”

Jamie hesitated before nodding, but I could see in his face that he wasn’t entirely happy. I held my tongue, but it grated on me. Jamie could, and should, move forward, but why did that need to mean he leave behind the life that made him?

Jenny seemed so dead-set on reclaiming the man that Jamie would have become had their parents not died, but the simple fact of the matter was that that man did not exist, could never exist. Jamie had been born to the Highlands, but he’d been shaped by the Jungle. He was a leader by nature, and strong and courageous, but not because he was a lord. He was also wild, and I was beginning to understand more and more that no amount of society could tame him.

It was just that he hadn’t seen it, yet.

 

~~~

 

“Another night, another party. How you holding up, there, Jamie?”

Jamie tried to smile at Joe, but it felt more like a snarl, so he gave it up. “I’m fine,” he said.

Joe chuckled. “Yeah, you really look fine. Hell, I’m kind of nervous too. A dinner party is one thing, but this soirée that your sister has planned...it has quite the guest list, have you seen it? There’s even a duke in attendance.”

“What’s a duke?” Jamie asked distractedly, attempting to straighten his tie.

Joe hummed in thought. “Know something? I don’t even think I know.”

“Joe?” Jamie said, turning from the mirror to face his friend. “Have you talked to Claire?”

“What do you mean?” Joe asked. “I talk to her every day, but so do you.”

Jamie shook his head. “Something is wrong. She’s unhappy.”

Joe scratched the back of his head. “Really? I don’t know...I guess I haven’t picked up on that, but then no one’s more attuned to her than you are. Maybe she’s just been trying to give you space, now that you’re here with your family. Maybe she’s a little intimidated by it all.”

“In...timidated?” Jamie asked. “What does that mean?”

Joe walked over and straightened Jamie’s tie for him. “It means...well, like scared, but not really scared . Like, your gorilla family, they don’t really scare me, but their size and strength intimidates me, because I know how much more powerful than me they are, know what I mean?”

“I think so…why would Claire be...in-tim-i-dated?”

Joe raised his arms, as if to indicate the room, or maybe the house. “Think about it. Ten days ago, you were Jamie... just Jamie. And you practically solely relied on Claire. Now, you’re James Alexander...whatever the fuck the rest of it was... Lord Broch Tuarach . You have a sister, brother-in-law, godfather, a niece, nephews, uncles...all manner of family that you can depend upon. Maybe she’s just sort of wondering where she fits into all that.”

Jamie furrowed his brow. It was ridiculous...how could Claire wonder that ? With all the many changes that had taken place in Jamie’s life of late, one thing hadn’t changed, and wouldn’t change...was his want, and need of Claire.

“Tip of courting a woman,” Joe said, breaking through his thoughts. “They like to be reassured of their importance in your life now and then. Maybe you should consider that?”

Jamie nodded, now feeling nervous and unsettled for a completely different reason. 

The bedroom door opened to admit Fergus and Wee Ian. The two had become fast friends in the days that they’d been at Lallybroch, and it made Jamie happy to see.

“Guests are arriving, Milord,” Fergus said. “You should see them. Some of the men wear more ruffles than the ladies in France!”

Jamie nodded, swallowing thickly. “Have...have you checked on Claire?”

“We’re on our way there next,” Fergus said. “I thought I would escort her down like I did at Uncle Lamb’s...unless...you would rather do the honor, Milord?”

Jamie smiled at Fergus’s waggling eyebrows. “Aye, I would. Would you tell her?”

“Right away, come on, Ian!’

“Coming!” Ian said, then grinned up at Jamie. “Ye look grand, Uncle Jamie!”

Jamie watched the boys run out fondly, feeling just a wee bit calmer than before.

 

~~~

 

I sighed at my reflection, trying again to get my hair to cooperate, but as were their wont, my curls had a mind of their own.

There was a tap on the door, and I called for whoever it was to come in with a bit more irritation in my voice than I’d intended.

“Ah, hair troubles?” Jenny said with a smile in her voice.

I turned around, not having expected it to be her.

“I envy your neat, smooth hair,” I said, mustering a smile.

“My wee Maggie is a bit more like you, though,” she said, gesturing to my hair. “No’ as curly, but unmanageable. Like my mam.”

Jenny gestured for me to sit at the small vanity in Maggie’s room, then began picking at the stubborn curls that refused to stay in my updo, and instead wrapped them around her finger until they smoothed out and fanned around my face.

“Our uncles are here,” Jenny said. “I didn’a really expect them tae come at all when I sent the invitation.”

“You don’t sound terribly happy about it,” I said. “Is one of them the uncle you lived with as a child?”

“Oh aye, Uncle Colum. He’s here wi’ his younger brother, Dougal. Neither of them are unkind men, but they can be verra conniving and manipulative. I worry about Jamie, being...as he is.”

“I see what you’re saying. Don’t worry, either Fergus or I will be at his side the entire time. And besides, Jamie may be a bit naive still, but he’s an uncanny judge of character.”

“Good, he’ll need that. They want tae get their hands on Lallybroch, ye ken. Family duty would have guided Colum tae send for me in America when I wrote tae him, no matter what, but I think it was the estate that made him take me in himself instead of fostering me off straight away. Dougal is just as bad, if no’ worse. Now that they know the deed is changing hands, along wi’ Jamie’s inheritance, ‘tis no real surprise that they’d be sniffing around now.”

I took a deep breath. “Anyone else I should worry about?”

Jenny came around to my side. “Ye do know, don’t ye, that I’m no’ trying tae make a spectacle of Jamie? I want th’ estate, and its tenants and anyone else hoping tae catch a gander at th’ wild man tae see that he’s just my brother, and a good man.”

“I do know,” I said sincerely. “My uncle had the same intent back in London. I just...I’m starting to wonder if perhaps it isn’t right to try and make everyone think he’s a normal man. He isn’t, Jenny. I’m not even sure anymore how much of it is because of his upbringing and how much is just what is innately him .”

Jenny crossed her arms and huffed, but looked flustered, not angry. “What would ye have him do then? Join a circus? Swing from a flying trapeze for a crowd?”

“Of course not. I just…” I sighed, lifting my hands out of my lap and then letting them drop. “I don’t know.”

Jenny put a hand on my shoulder. “I can see, as plain as th’ nose on my face, how ye feel for Jamie, and how he feels for ye. He’s verra lucky, tae have someone like you that cares for him, and who could see th’ real him past th’ wild man.”

I smiled at her. “I’m the lucky one.”

“Milady?” Fergus called, peeking in through the partially open door. “Ah! Ye look bonny, Milady! Milord is waiting for you, he said he wants tae escort ye downstairs.”

That Jamie had requested it himself sent a flush of warmth right through me, and I grinned, telling Fergus I’d be right there. I had scarcely said more than five words to Jamie in the past week, as busy as he’d been with Joe - plus, I’d been trying to give him space to work out his new identity. And now, even though we were potentially walking into a lion’s den, I was inordinately pleased at the prospect of spending an evening at his side.

I walked out of the bedroom to find him waiting for me in the hall. He was dressed in the same suit he’d worn to the London party, and his hair was smoothed back in a similar fashion, but he seemed a little different, somehow. Perhaps it was the way he held himself; his back straight and his shoulders squared. I had to pause a moment, struck by how standing that way made him seem even taller, if that was possible. 

He didn’t tell me I looked nice, but the way his eyes roved over every inch of me...from my shoes to the top of my head, with an intensity I’d only ever known of him ...I felt beautiful. 

“Are ye ready, Sassenach?” he asked, holding out his elbow in a slow, practiced move for me to take.

Two minutes ago, the answer might have been no. But now...“I’m ready,” I said as I took his arm.

Jenny chuckled from behind us. “D’ye ken, the Fraser motto is Je Suis Pres.

Jamie squeezed my arm, translating without missing a beat. “I am ready.”





Chapter Text

“Everyone, I am verra happy to reintroduce tae ye, my brother-in-law, Lord James Fraser of Broch Tuarach, and his companion, Miss Claire Beauchamp.”

A cheer went up at Ian’s announcement, and I felt the muscles in Jamie’s arm tense, though his face remained placid. 

The rooms and halls of Lallybroch had been transformed into a festive wonderland, with flowers everywhere and a hundred candles. Mouth watering aromas of fresh baked bread, salted meat, pastries and more wafted through the house as Mrs. Crook and then other maids brought them out to the tables.

There wasn’t anything resembling a ballroom in the manor, but the sitting room was very large, and when the large double doors were open it joined with the dining room, so it was plenty of space for everyone to gather to greet Jamie and even for dancing. 

As we descended the stairs, I could tell at once that there was more of a jovial, family atmosphere of this gathering than in London, more like a holiday, which was a relief to be sure.

“How are you holding up, darling?” I murmured out the side of my mouth, getting a low hmph from Jamie in response. I took it to mean as well as I can .

“Jamie!” a young woman cried, beaming as she walked up to him. “Ye probably dinna remember me, but we played together as children!”

“This is my cousin, Mary,” Ian said, patting Jamie’s shoulder. 

Mary batted her lashes up at Jamie, and I had to catch myself from rolling my eyes. It certainly hadn’t taken long for that .

A few more relatives of either Ian or Jamie, or merely tenants on their land made their ways over to introduce themselves to him, and it was interesting to try and gauge whether their exuberance was genuine gladness that Jamie was alive and there, or an effort to be in his good graces as their lord. 

“Hmph, look what th’ cat dragged in!”

Jamie and I both turned to look at who’d just spoken, and I was delighted to see none other than Rupert and Angus, from the pub.

Jamie’s expression suddenly split into a genuine smile, and he didn’t even need prompting to extend his hand for a shake. 

“Ye know these buffoons?” Jenny quipped. 

“We met them on our first night in Inverness,” I said.

“Aye,” Angus said. “And he slaughtered Rupert at arm-wrestling!”

“I was already tired by then!” Rupert shot back, shoving his friend. “And if it’s no’ th’ beautiful Claire. D’ye think Jamie here will pommel me if I sneak ye a kiss?”

“He might at that,” I said, even as I was pulled into a bear hug with a smacking kiss on my cheek. Angus did the same, but he attempted to aim for my mouth, which I neatly avoided and gave him a shove of my own for the attempt. 

“Rupert is a distant cousin,” Jenny explained. “But thank God we’re of no’ relation tae Angus.”

“I couldn’a believe when I heard th’ news,” Rupert said. “Tae think, wee Jamie Fraser, come back tae life after all these years! And I was th’ first tae meet him! And then tae hear tell that ye were living in Africa th’ whole time?”

“What are th’ women like in Africa?” Angus asked.

Jamie shot Angus an uneasy look, then suddenly pulled on my arm, glancing up over my head.

I turned, and gasped in delight. “Uncle Lamb! Geillis!”

I released Jamie’s arm long enough to run and embrace my uncle and friend, but quickly returned to his side, having learned my lesson there. “Jenny, Ian, everyone, I’d like you to meet my uncle, Quinton Lambert Beauchamp, or Lamb as he is to me. And this is my friend, Geillis Duncan...Geillie, I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Posh,” Geillis scoffed with a wave of her gloved hand. “When I heard of Jamie’s sudden rise in station, and a party tae celebrate, I had tae come! Your uncle was kind enough tae escort me.”

“Jamie, my boy!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed, pulling Jamie into a hug. “I’m so very happy for you! So very happy indeed! I do say our trip to Africa was the best decision we’ve ever made, wouldn’t you say, Claire?”

I smiled at Jamie, thinking just how very glad I was that Lamb and I took that trip. “I would say.”

“Thank ye, Uncle Lamb,” Jamie said quietly. 

“We’re so verra grateful tae ye, Mr. Beauchamp,” Jenny said. “For everything ye’ve done for my brother, and for bringing him home.”

“It was nothing,” Lamb said, cheeks reddening. “But now, Jamie, don’t you be a stranger, do you hear me, boy? You’ll visit Claire and I often, won’t you?”

Jamie blinked in slight confusion, but nodded.

“And ye both are welcome tae visit whenever ye like, of course,” Jenny said. “Right, Jamie?”

Jamie furrowed his brow, and looked to me, but I just mustered a smile and squeezed his arm. 

“Now,” Lamb continued, clapping his hands together. “Where is Joe, and that rascal, Fergus?”

“I think I saw them both over by the refreshment table,” I said. “And you must meet Ian and Jenny’s children. I’m sure they’re over with Fergus.”

“I think I would like a refreshment as well,” Lamb said. “Miss Duncan?”

“Lead th’ way,” Geillis said. “I would so like tae meet that Dr. Abernathy again…”

I shot a look at Geillis, silently warning her to stay away from my friend, but she gleefully ignored me and she and Uncle Lamb excused themselves. 

“Well, ye needn’t root yourselves tae one spot,” Jenny said. “Why don’t ye have a walk around?”

I looked up at Jamie, but there was clearly something else on his mind, so I tightened my arm around his and led him off toward the refreshment table for a drink. 

“Something wrong?” I asked when we’d escaped the main hub of people.

“Visit?” he said, and I knew then that I’d been right about his disconcertment. “Are...are ye leaving, Sassenach?”

“Well…” I began. “I must admit, I hadn’t given all that much thought to what happens next...but, I suppose that when Uncle Lamb returns home on Friday...I’m expected to go with him.”

“But why ?”

I shrugged. “I don’t live here, Jamie. Fergus, Joe, and I, we’re guests. Plus, I get the feeling that Jenny wants some time alone with you, with just the family.”

“But…” 

Whatever Jamie was about to say was cut off by Murtagh, appearing suddenly beside us.

“Look alive, lad,” he said. “Yer uncles have arrived.”

“I have to say, I’m dying to meet the infamous Colum and Dougal,” I said. Everyone thus far had spoken of the brothers in hushed, fearful tones until I had a picture of them in my head of being enormous Viking-like giants who could kill you with a glance.

“Well, here’s your chance,” Murtagh said. 

Jamie took a breath, and squared his shoulders, and we followed Murtagh through the room to where the crowd was parting for two men.

Well, one of them was quite large. Tall, though not as tall as Jamie, but heavily muscled and with the same square jaw that Jamie had. 

But where Jamie’s face showed only kindness, this man’s showed something harsh and shrewd. 

The other man was nothing at all like I’d imagined of the MacKenzie brothers. He was very short, with long white hair, and piercing blue eyes like Jamie. The cause of his height became apparent when he took a step farther into the room and I noticed his badly bowed legs. 

I had a feeling, though, that it would be a mistake to underestimate this man.

“Jamie, meet Colum and Dougal MacKenzie, your uncles,” Murtagh said, gesturing first to the shorter man, and then the taller.

“Risen from th’ grave,” Colum said, fixing Jamie with a look that said he was trying to read Jamie. “What d’ye take yourself for? Th’ Son of God?”

Jamie’s mouth quirked in an almost-smile, and he bowed at the waist. 

“Have ye forgotten how tae speak while ye were on your wee holiday?” Dougal asked.

“He speaks when he has something he wants to say,” I said coolly.

“Well, ye better get tae wanting, lad,” Dougal said. “Ye’re a lord now, and lords canna be having their women speak for them.”

“Her name is Claire,” Jamie said suddenly. “Or rather, Miss Beauchamp, and I’ll have ye address her as such.”

I tried not to gawk at Jamie, but anytime he was able to speak in such perfect and high-handed English, it took me by surprise...and rather made me want to drag him away and have him speak to just me like that…

“I apologize for my brother’s manners,” Colum said. “I beg your pardon, Miss Beauchamp, and it’s a pleasure tae meet ye.”

I bobbed a short curtsy. “The pleasure is mine, Lord MacKenzie.”

We exchanged a couple more pleasantries, and then Jamie, Murtagh, and I were able to make our escape from the brothers.

“Well, Colum is a far sight more likable than Dougal, but something tells me that only means he should be watched all the closer.”

“Ye’d be right about that,” Murtagh said. “Dougal is a brute, and a canny one at that, but it’s Colum wi’ all th’ brains, and all th’ manipulations. I’ve no doubt he’ll try to charm his way into Jamie’s good graces. Or, rather, charm his way into your good graces so they can try tae persuade Jamie intae giving up Lallybroch. Colum will try wi’ friendliness. Dougal, on th’ other hand, will try tae bed ye, mark my words.”

Jamie put his arm around my waist and glanced darkly over his shoulder at where Dougal had been while I grimaced at Murtagh’s implication.

“Fat chance, on any of that,” I said firmly.

A victrola was playing in the corner of the room, and several couples had begun to dance. 

I glanced up at Jamie, smiling as he watched them. “Not quite like in the village in Boma, is it?”

He shook his head. “How do they all know the steps?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Same way anyone knows anything, I suppose, with practice. Do you want to try?”

Jamie grimaced, and I laughed. “Alright, next time, maybe.”

“I’ll dance with you, Milady!” Fergus exclaimed, popping up beside me.

I hesitated, unsure of leaving Jamie, but he gave me a fond smile and a jerk of his head, so I took Fergus’s small hand and let him lead me to the dance floor. 

Fergus followed the steps surprisingly well, and what he didn’t know he quickly caught on to. After a time though, my uncle appeared beside us, asking if he could cut in. Fergus stood aside with a bow, and I reached for Uncle Lamb just as a more sedate waltz began to play.

“How are things going with Jamie really ?” he asked. “I know that he tells you things he doesn’t let on to others.”

“Actually, I haven’t gotten to talk to him much myself,” I said. “He’s been busy with Joe’s book, and getting to know his family. A lot’s happened in a short amount of time.”

Lamb nodded. “Indeed it has. Poor boy, his head is probably spinning. And poor you . This is a lot for you to handle.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I’m not doing anything.”

Uncle Lamb raised a bushy eyebrow. “In less than a year, your entire life has become wholly focused on one man. Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong , but I just hope that you’re not making your own feelings and wants take a back seat just for Jamie.”

“I’m not,” I said. “If most of my energy is going to him right now it’s because I want it to, for as long as he needs me. But it’s not just Jamie. I have Fergus to consider, as well.”

Lamb’s expression told me he still had reservations about the responsibilities I’d taken on myself, but he didn’t comment further about it.

“He looks well,” he said instead, looking over at where Jamie was talking with Murtagh. I glanced over, and narrowed my eyes when I saw Mary hanging nearby him, though he appeared completely oblivious to her presence. 

“I think he’s happy here,” I said. “And not just being with his family. Being here, in his homeland, it’s brought out a completely different side to him. I could see it even before we met the Murrays.

“And you?” Lamb asked. “Are you happy, my dear?”

I smiled, then nodded. And it was true, I was happy. There was simply a dark cloud hanging over me making me afraid of having the rug pulled out from under me.

 

~~~

 

Jamie watched Claire dance with Fergus, smiling to himself as they laughed, the differences in their height making things difficult. Soon she moved on to dancing with Uncle Lamb, and they talked and smiled as they danced.

“She’s bonny,” Murtagh said, watching them as well. 

“Aye,” Jamie agreed wholeheartedly. 

“I should warn ye…” Murtagh began, clearing his throat. “Your sister has it in her mind tae make a match wi’ one of the lasses from Lallybroch.”

“Match?” Jamie asked, unsure what he meant by that word.

Murtagh nodded. “A marriage match, aye?”

Jamie tilted his head to one side. “Jenny means to find me a mate?” he asked. 

Murtagh made a face at Jamie’s choice of words, but nodded again. “If that’s how ye want tae put it, yes. She particularly has young Mary in mind...see?”

Murtagh nodded toward the other side of the room, where Jenny and Mary were talking with their heads close together, both looking in Jamie’s direction.

“But why ?” Jamie asked. “I dinna need a mate. I have Claire. We are…” he tried to remember the proper phrase. “...courting.”

“Oh aye, that’s plain tae anyone who looks. But Jen...she means well, she does. She sees ye still as the wee brother she lost, no’ th’ man ye’ve become. She’s afraid ye’ll leave again, so she figures if ye marry a lass here, it’ll give ye cause tae stay. ‘Tis nothing at all against Claire.”

Jamie watched as Claire went from dancing with Uncle Lamb, to dancing with Joe, and thought about what she’d said, about returning home when Lamb and Geillis left.

He was in a difficult situation...one that felt very out of his depth. He understood that he now had responsibilities to his family and the people of Lallybroch, just as he had with his Family back home. He’d forsaken that family for Claire, broken their rules and turned his back on them, and it had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. Could he do the same thing to the family he’d been born to?

But being mated to anyone but Claire, or even just living without her close by, didn’t seem feasible to him.

“Hmph,” Murtagh made a noise in his throat that reminded Jamie of his gorilla Family, and it would have made him smile had his mind not been in such turmoil. “Not this sod. Canna believe Jenny invited him.”

Jamie looked in the direction Murtagh was, and saw a short, round man grinning as he made his way their direction.

“He doesn’t look threatening,” Jamie said.

“Aye, well, keep your guard up regardless, and mind your hind quarters.”

Jamie looked to Murtagh in alarm just as the short man reached them.

“Lord Fraser!” he exclaimed in an accent similar to Claire’s, but much more...put upon. He shot Murtagh an expectant look.

“Ah,” Murtagh said dutifully. “ Lord Fraser , may I present His Grace, Clarence Marylebone, Duke of Sandringham.”

Jamie bowed at the waist, as had been instructed, unnerved by the way the Duke raked his eyes over him. It was like a hungry hyena.

“What a treat to meet The Flying Man ,” Sandringham said, nearly bouncing with excitement. “I’ve heard tale of your heroics last week, and I was most intrigued! Now I hear you were brought up in the wilds of Africa ? Incredible, just incredible! I have a few knick-knacks acquired from Africa...bits of jewelry, figurines and such. Oh, you just must come and see them sometime, perhaps you’ll be able to assure me of their authenticity!”

Jamie didn’t really know what this man was talking about, but nodded shortly, hoping it would appease him for the time. But it was in that moment that he’d noticed, from the corner of his eye, Claire disappear through a hallway, and shortly after was followed by his Uncle Dougal.

He turned on his heel, ignoring Sandringham’s profession of his rudeness, and followed.

“...if you’ll excuse me,” Claire was saying as Jamie crept into the hall.

“I must admire ye for your cunning,” Dougal said, making Jamie pause only because he wondered what Dougal meant by that. “Bringing that lad here, surely ye kent he was heir to a fortune.”

“I know absolutely nothing of what Jamie is an heir to,” Claire said shortly. “I brought him to Scotland in hopes of determining who he is, and we did.”

“And how fortunate that th’ lad clings tae ye like a wean at his mother’s breast,” Dougal sneered. “Though I canna fault ye there, either, I suppose. What woman wouldn’a want a strapping boy who she can bend tae her every desire…”

“Sir, I do not appreciate what you’re implying. You do not know me, and you certainly don’t know Jamie!”

Jamie was already about to intervene, but then Dougal grabbed her by the wrist, and Jamie lunged into action, forcing himself between the two of them and baring his teeth at his uncle with a snarl.

Dougal only chuckled. “So ye are a savage after all. Interesting.”

“Jamie, stop,” Claire said, putting her hands on his chest, then glared at Dougal. “ Both of you, stop. This isn’t the time or place for either of you to start beating your chests.”

Dougal nodded. “Aye, th’ lady is right, of course,” with another nod at Jamie, Dougal turned to go. “Another time, perhaps.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Claire said after he was gone. “He’s just posturing.”

“He sees me as rival,” Jamie said. “It is something I understand.”

She smiled up at him. “Man and beast are often alike in that way,” she said teasingly.

“Come,” he said, taking her hand. “I would like some air.”

 

~~~

 

I could tell that Jamie had a storm raging within him, and that it wasn’t entirely to do with the confrontation in the hall.

I’d only been stepping out to go to my room and change my shoes, which had started to pinch while dancing. But then out of nowhere Dougal had appeared, and immediately started interrogating me about my intentions with Jamie, regarding his inheritance.

I’d tried not to feel intimidated, but of course the bastard had managed to corner me in a dark, empty hallway. But it was barely any time before Jamie was there, in the same moment that Dougal grabbed me by the wrist.

Now Jamie was agitated, his jaw clenching as we walked, his two middle fingers tapping restlessly against the back of my hand.

It was a dark, moonless night, but Jamie led me unerringly out of the house and toward the stable, supporting my theory that he had superior night vision.

It was even darker inside, but he found a lantern and lit it with a match from the wooden box set beside it. 

“Why are you leaving?” he asked without preamble, not looking at me.

“I told you, Jamie, I don’t live here, and your sister and brother-in-law won’t exactly expect me to stay forever. Like I said, they want time with you, and that’s understandable, isn’t it? I thought, perhaps, I would ask Fergus if he would like to stay with you. He is so very fond of the children, especially Young Ian. Would you like that?”

I turned my head away, biting my lip. Leaving Jamie would be torture enough, but leaving Fergus as well might would be more than my heart could handle...but if it was what was best for the boy and for Jamie, I would do it.

Jamie shook his head. “He will not leave you. And should not. Jenny wants me to marry...did you know that?”

I snorted. “I got that impression from the way she’s tried to coax Mary toward you all evening. Too bad for her that you’ve had a steady stream of well-wishers. Is…” I swallowed, wringing my hands in my skirt. “Is that something you want to...to explore? Courting Mary? I told you before, I don’t want you to feel like I’m all there is…”

“And I told you ,” Jamie whirled on me, shocking me with his anger. Never, in the year that I’d known him, had he ever shown me anger. “That I do not want choices! I do not want another! Is it you that wants another?”

“No!” I exclaimed, half reaching for him before deciding he might not be as comforted by my touch as he normally was. “No, Jamie, I don’t want anyone else but you!”

“Then stop …” he trailed off, seeming unsure of how to put his thoughts into words. “If you leave Lallybroch, I will leave with you!”

“You can’t, Jamie…this is your home!”

Jamie paused, his limbs relaxing as he slowly lost his anger, then looked at me with that same wondering, intense expression that he wore the night we met. “You are my home, Sassenach.”

It felt like the air had been let out of me, and I didn’t know what to say. But in the end, words weren’t needed as I put my hands behind his neck, and pulled him into a hard kiss, trying to show him what words could not say.

One of Jamie’s hands went around my waist as the other went into my hair, destroying my hairstyle that Jenny and I had worked so hard toward.

I pulled myself up on tip-toe, trying to get ever closer. Jamie smelled strongly of aftershave, but beneath that was still Jamie , and I wanted to melt into it. Melt into him .

Jamie heard it a split second before I did; giggling coming from outside.

“Sounds like we weren’t the only ones looking for a bit of privacy,” I said with a breathy chuckle, listening to the man and woman outside talk in secretive tones. “People will start to leave soon anyway, and be coming for their horses. We’d probably better go.”

“Aye,” Jamie whispered, his mouth still hovering over mine. But then, he suddenly broke into a grin, that was nothing if not mischievous. “Come,” he said, lapsing back into monosyllables and making me smile. 

“Are we going back to the party?” I asked coyly, already knowing the answer.

Jamie’s expression was both playful and predatory, and it sent pleasant chills down my spine. “Nah,” he breathed, taking my hand.

But instead of leading me away, Jamie turned and gave me his back, and I understood at once what he wanted, but was unsure of what he planned to do.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and let him hoist me easily onto his back, as if I weighed nothing. 

The door to the barn was creaking open, admitting the amorous young couple, and I stifled a yelp as Jamie leapt straight into the air, catching a beam and pulling himself through the rafters, to the hayloft, and right out the window and into the night.



Chapter Text

I closed my eyes and held on tight as Jamie leapt out of the hayloft window, landing on all fours and launching straight into a run. 

It was strange, to be sure, to quite literally ride the back of a man. I thought that if anyone were to see us we would be quite the sight, but I didn’t care, and laughed merrily into the night. 

I didn’t know where Jamie planned on going. The woods surrounding the estate were quiet and peaceful, but were dotted with neighboring homes and farms, and although it was dark, it wasn’t yet late, and anyone could be about. When he headed back toward the house, I wondered if he’d simply changed his mind about returning to the party. 

But then he skirted around to the side of the house, not hesitating before leaping over some befuddled pigs in their pen to propel himself off the chicken coop and onto one of the lower outhangings of the house. 

I was mesmerized by the strength in his hands as they faultlessly found bricks and vines along the outer wall to climb up and up, never faltering as before I knew it, we were at the top floor of the house, and at his bedroom window.

I chanced a glance downward, tightening my grip on Jamie’s neck reflexively, but he only smirked back at me, then pushed open the window and climbed inside.

My knees were a little weak when he put me down, but perhaps it wasn’t only because of the ride. 

“Well then,” I said, hearing the nervous wavering in my voice. “You have me alone...what now?”

Jamie acted like he wasn’t listening, but stepped closer, leaning down as if to kiss my neck, but he remained a breath away, only the tip of his nose grazing my skin and making my own breath catch in my throat.

“Do you like the way I smell?” I asked, fully realizing that I was rambling. “You did that when we first met as well.”

“Aye,” he whispered. “Especially when ye want me.”

“When I…” I was brought up short, my desire-fogged brain catching up to what he meant. “You can tell that just by smelling me?”

He chuckled. “Yes, Sassenach.”

“Christ.”

He closed the distance between us, fastening his lips to my neck before running his tongue up the length of it, alternating licks and tiny nips so that I knew that I would have marks, but couldn’t find it in me to mind.

“Are you sure about this?” I whispered, even as I held his head firmly to me as he moved down to my chest, nosing at the neckline of my gown. 

“About what?” he asked, not looking up from what he was doing.

My heart melted at his naïveté, thinking he must not understand where I’d assumed this was going.

“About...about what we’re doing Jamie,” I said, needing him to understand before this went any farther.

He chuckled, and looked up at me, eyes dancing. “Ye mean like when Allistair ravished Emilia?”

I tried not to let myself be distracted by the surprising feeling I got hearing Jamie say ravished with his rolling R’s. “Yes like...wait a second, are you the one who stole my book?”

Jamie grinned sheepishly, stepping away only to retrieve my missing book from inside his trunk and offer it to me.

“Why you sneak!” I laughed. “You must have read all those parts I always skipped, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Didn’a understand them all, but that one I figured out. D’ye want me to ravish you, Sassenach?”

I felt my stomach clench again at the sound of that word. And the bastard could tell, too, judging by his smug expression. “Fuck,” I murmured.

Jamie tilted his head to one side, suddenly turning genuinely curious, and his easy switch between smirking seductorer and green lad was almost too sweet for me to handle. “What does that mean?” he asked.

I chuckled, blushing at how my voice cracked. “It means the same thing as ravish, more or less.”

“Oh…” he said, then grabbed me by the waist, pulling me close until I put a hand on his chest to stop him.

“Wait…” I said. “The door…”

“Hm?”

“Lock it, silly.”

Jamie gave me a look that said he didn’t quite know why that was so important, but did as I asked, turning the lock with an exaggerated motion that made me laugh, which in turn dispelled a little of my nervousness. 

When he returned to me, he wrapped me in his arms again, but merely held me there, and I was soothed by the contact.

“I um...I have done this before,” I admitted, wishing to be fully honest with him. “With erm...other men...do you understand?”

Knowing of his jealousy, I was nervous about telling him. Of course most men might be shocked or put off, and if they weren’t it would be likely they pegged me as a whore to start with. 

But Jamie showed neither surprise or jealousy, but simple understanding. “Oh?”

I nodded, glad he wasn’t offended. But then came my next question, and it was something I’d shamefully wondered since the early days or our acquaintanceship. I wasn’t sure at all how to put it tactfully.

“And...you?” I ventured. “Have...have you…”

“Mated?” he asked, chuckling. “With who ?”

I looked up at him from beneath my eyelashes, silently imploring him to get it without me having to explicitly say the words. “I only mean…you mightn’t have known any better...and I wouldn’t be upset or anything...I would understand if, perhaps as an adolescent especially you might have had a…a need...and the gorillas were your family…”

Before I even finished the sentence, Jamie was laughing. “Did Jamie mate with gorilla?” he asked incredulously, seeming not to notice his brief regression in language. “What gorilla would have me?”

“One who sees what a strapping specimen you are!” I argued, shoving ineffectively at him for laughing at me.

He shook his head. “No, Sassenach. I never had the want. Even though I lived as gorilla, I always knew I was not one...and they knew, too. To have approached me as a mate would have been verra shameful.”

“Well,” I sniffed. “Their loss.”

He smiled. “I am glad one of us knows what to do.”

Jamie kissed the smile off my lips, and I melted into him again, feeling the way the muscles in his back tensed in barely-restrained desire. 

I started unbuttoning his shirt, and he quickly took over the task, anxious (as always) to be rid of the constricting clothes. 

I’d seen Jamie naked more times than I could count. I’d even seen him in a state of...excitement, as he was now. But it never failed to take my breath away, and now I was practically trembling in want...but also in nerves.

“Well?” I prompted, grabbing one of his hands, and bringing it up to the buttons on the front of my gown. “Aren’t you going to lend me a hand?”

Jamie’s genuine look of surprise almost made me laugh. It was like he’d expected to be nude, but not me . His fingers, while strong and dexterous, weren’t used to such delicate work as undoing tiny pearl buttons, and he furrowed his brow in concentration, until I took pity and finished the job, letting the gown fall to the floor.

This time I did laugh at Jamie’s disappointed expression when he realized how many layers were left.

“Trust me, I miss being able to go about wearing nothing but my chemise and a sarong,” I said. “But polite society just loves a corset and petticoats.”

“Looks uncomfortable,” Jamie muttered.

“Dreadfully. Help me out of them?”

It took quite a bit of work and awkward laughing until I was down to just my chemise, and when I slid that off, Jamie stood back in wonder.

I knew he had seen a naked woman before. The women of the tribe bathed in the open, and frequently walked about with their breasts bared. I also knew he’d snuck peeks at me a time or two. But he stared at me like he’d never seen anything like me, and it warmed me, even as it made me a little self-conscious.

“You can touch me,” I whispered, grabbing his hand and bringing it to my breast.

He easily took over, massaging my breast and appearing almost mesmerized by it. He licked his lips, but furrowed his brow in consternation, as if unsure how to proceed.

“It’s alright,” I said, cupping his cheek in my palm. “Do whatever feels good, Jamie.”

Glancing once more at my face to be assured of my sincerity, Jamie bent and took my nipple into his mouth, sucking hard before moving and first licking, then biting the understand.

There was pain when he bit me, but I tangled my hands in his hair so that he wouldn’t stop. I’d known from the start that he might not be able to keep himself from hurting me, and it had been an odd realization for me that far from minding...I’d been looking forward to it.

I also knew that this first time at least would be about him, not me, but I relished that as well. Ever since I met him so much of my life had become about him, and less about me. I understood why that might concern Uncle Lamb, but what he just didn’t see yet was my very heart was no longer my own, but it was alright, because Jamie had given me his for safe keeping.

I wasn’t surprised when Jamie tried to turn me around to face away from him, but I resisted, wanting to see his face. It was clear he found that peculiar, but didn’t argue.

I fell back onto the bed, pulling him with me so that he was stretched at length on top of me. 

He didn’t break his stride, kissing and licking every inch of me that he could reach. Even though I’d decided that this was about him, I felt like I could reach my own pleasure just from this alone.

He crawled lower, following his nose so-to-speak, until he was brought to the juncture between my thighs, much as he had the night we met. This time, he looked to me for guidance and permission, and I nodded, wanting him to do whatever it was that pleased him, even if it felt a little strange to me.

And pleased he was as he hummed happily, nuzzling my navel before going lower.

I fought back embarrassment as he nosed me there , then nearly leapt off the bed when he took a curious lick. 

Jamie looked up at me in alarm. “Is that not...done?” he asked, struggling for words.

“I honestly don’t know,” I whispered, trying to get myself together. “But by God did it feel good…”

Jamie did it again, this time smiling up at me when I squirmed. 

“Get up here,” I growled, getting a handful of his hair and hauling up to me so that I could kiss him. 

I snuck a hand between us, wrapping it around him and marveling...with just a little bit of trepidation...the sheer size of him. 

Jamie grunted, moving into my hand, and I knew that he wasn’t going to last long, so I gently guided him to me, wrapping my legs around his hips.

“It’s alright,” I said as he hesitated in uncertainty. “Do it, Jamie.”

Jamie’s eyes flashed as he snapped his hips forward, thrusting into me and setting a rapid, desperate pace. 

I held onto him for dear life, biting his shoulder and feeling more than hearing him growl in response before he bit my shoulder in turn, sinking sharp teeth into my flesh in a way that should have hurt, but only made me cry out in pleasure.

I felt the heat of his release inside me, realizing a moment too late that I probably should have instructed him to finish outside of my body, but I only clung closer, letting him ride out his pleasure.

After a moment he collapsed on top of me, spent, and I embraced his weight until it grew difficult to breath, so I gently nudged him to roll to my side.

I smiled at his sleepily dumb-founded expression, running my fingers along his jaw. 

“How do you feel?” I whispered.

Jamie smiled. “Do not know how to say it.”

I chuckled. “Me either.”

The only problem was, while Jamie was sated and boneless, I was still coiled up tight in need. It wasn’t long though until he noticed my squirming, and looked at me as if to ask what was wrong.

“Give me your hand,” I said, taking it and bringing it down between us. “As you just did...only with your fingers.”

Expression clearing in understanding, Jamie plunged first one, then two fingers into me, quickly able to mimic the pace he’d made with his cock. 

The so-called deformity of Jamie’s fingers meant they were longer and wider than a normal man’s, the tips being wide and blunt. They curled naturally inside me, touching me where I most needed. I was barely aware of Jamie watching my face in amazement, so absorbed I was in what I was feeling. 

I broke with a cry, arching up into him, clenching hard around his fingers. He didn’t stop until I guided him to, and then we lay facing one another, allowing our breathing to return to normal.

“Those she-gorillas didn’t know what they were missing,” I quipped, making Jamie smile. 

“Are you alright?” he asked, a bit shyly. “I didn’a hurt you?”

I touched the spot on my neck that still stung from his bite. “You didn’t hurt me,” I said. “At least...not in a way I didn’t like.”

His cheek dimpled as he smiled again, and we both, it seemed, became aware at once of a sudden silence. 

“The music downstairs has stopped,” I said. “The party must be over. We should probably go downstairs so you can see your guests off.”

Jamie grimaced, and I chuckled. 

“It’s either that or have your sister or worse...my uncle come up looking for us.”

“This isn’a proper , is it?” he asked.

I laughed. “What, lying naked in bed in the throes of post-coital bliss? No, Jamie, I’m afraid it’s not proper . But I don’t regret it...do you?”

He shook his head, and I kissed his nose. “Come on, help me get back into my gown and into at least a semblance of rights.”

“Yes, Sassenach,” he said. “Sassenach?”

I turned from where I was sitting up, searching for my chemise. “Hm?”

He grinned. “Thank you.”




Chapter Text

Jamie and I managed to get our clothes in order, but my hair was a lost cause. I only hoped that everyone still at the party was too drunk and/or tired to notice.

That hope was dashed when the moment Jamie and I walked back into the sitting room, Joe’s eyes found me at once and his face broke into the most shit-eating grin I’d ever seen in my life.

“Not a fucking word,” I hissed, hurrying to his side before he said anything foolish.

“Jesus, Lady Jane,” he laughed. “If you two are trying to look like you just blew each other’s minds upstairs...you’re succeeding. Your hair is a disaster and you have actual bite marks all over your neck.”

I pressed a hand to my neck in self-consciousness. “Is it that obvious?”

He hummed, nudging my hand away and rearranging my hair to hang on the side. “Maybe not if you don’t have as dirty a mind as Yours Truly. But damn...while the house was full of people?”

I jutted my chin out at him. “I really don’t need your judgement right now, sir. Did anyone notice we were gone?”

“Just Jenny, and she was pissed,” Joe said, nodding to where Jenny had pulled Jamie over to say goodnight to Mary, making me clench my teeth. “She keeps hoping to distract him with Mary Murray. As if her looks could compare to yours.”

“Thanks for thinking that Jamie only cares about my looks,” I joked as I watched Jamie smile politely at Mary, though he kept himself at arm’s length.

“She wants Jamie to herself,” I said, crossing my arms. “Jenny, not Mary. It’s not as if I blame her. She lost her entire world seventeen years ago, so who could fault her for being afraid of losing her brother all over again? But he won’t let me leave without him...and I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t,” Joe said. “ Jamie is lord, here. That’s what everyone keeps reminding him of. If he doesn’t want you to go, there’s nothing Jenny can do about that.”

I turned to him, wringing my hands in my skirt. “Do you think he can really be happy here? Being a lord ? Can either of us?”

Joe shrugged. “I honestly don’t know, Lady Jane. That’s something the two of you will have to figure out. But give it time. You never know, you could both do good things for this community as Lord and Lady Broch Tuarach. And it’s not like nobility never gets to travel, if that’s what you’re afraid of. In fact, I quite insist you both pay a visit to me in America. Which brings me to my next point,” he pulled out a rolled-up stack of papers, clipped together, from his jacket pocket. 

“What’s this?” I asked as he handed it to me.

“First draft of my book,” he said. “As promised, you’ll read it first, let me know if there are any changes to be made, before I send it off to the publisher your uncle found me for me. They’ve been chomping at the bit ever since that article came out, so take your time. I’m making them think I’m deliberating between publishing houses so they’ll pay more!”

“I’ll read it with Jamie,” I said. “Though I trust what you’ve written.”

“Well, there you are,” Geillis said. “I’ve been looking for you all evening,” she looked me up and down, then gave me a smirk that matched Joe’s. “But it looks as though you’ve had quite th’ party yourself.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” I muttered. “That’s it, I’m out of here before my uncle finds me.”

“Too late,” Geillis said cheerfully. “Mr. Beauchamp! I found her!”

“Claire, there you are,” Uncle Lamb said, looking me over. “Good lord, child, what have you been doing?”

Geillis shook her head and tsked . “That enormous hound dog made off wi’ her glove,” she said. “And instead of merely asking one of the lads tae fetch it for her, she fought th’ beast for it herself.”

“Honestly, Claire,” Uncle Lamb scolded. “That isn’t ladylike.”

“Sorry, Uncle Lamb,” I murmured, shooting Geillis an unamused look, then another to Joe for laughing.

 

After all of the guests were seen off, (including Jamie’s uncles, who each smiled politely and promised to visit again soon,) everyone else tiredly made their way upstairs.

“Is that Joe’s book?” Fergus asked after he’d readied himself for bed and returned to me to say goodnight, eyeing the papers in my hand. 

“Yes,” I said. “I thought I’d read at least some of it with Jamie tonight, would you like to join us?”

Fergus nodded excitedly, grabbing my hand. 

We went to Jamie’s room, and Fergus covered his eyes as I quickly changed into my nightgown and dressing gown, while Jamie watched with unabashed admiration that had my cheeks heating. 

It felt quite awkward to me, remembering what Jamie and I had done there scarcely hours before, and now we were supposed to just act normally, and with Fergus there to boot. 

But Jamie displayed no such qualms, scuffling playfully with Fergus while I quickly divested the bed of the quilt that could have who-knows-what on it, and replaced it with a spare blanket from the cupboard. 

We situated ourselves on the bed, with me in the middle to read, when there was a soft tap on the door, and a little blond head peeked in.

“Hello, Ian,” Fergus called. “Milady is reading Joe’s book to us!”

Ian shuffled his feet and I smiled. “Would you like to listen, Ian?”

Young Ian grinned and quickly let himself in, shutting the door behind him and bounding toward the bed, not hesitating before launching himself into Jamie’s lap.

I smiled as Jamie cuddled the small boy close, catching a few slight similarities between the two, no matter that Young Ian took after his father in looks.

“What is this story about?” Ian asked.

“Well, it’s about your Uncle Jamie,” I said, silently wondering if there was anything in the book unsuitable for children, (knowing Joe,) particularly children that were a far sight more sheltered than Fergus.

“What’s it called?”

I looked at the first page, smiling at Joe’s choice in title. “It’s called The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.”

 

Jamie and I took turns reading, deep into the night, long after Fergus and Young Ian fell asleep.

Joe’s book was riveting, informational, and most of all, full of heart. It captured Jamie’s spirit and nobility perfectly, as well as his struggles with speech and the choice between his gorilla family and the human world. It presented arguments of nature vs. nurture, how a seemingly normal child can adapt and evolve to survive, even surpassing what human genetics have laid out. 

There were things even I didn’t know, things Jamie told Joe about Kerchak’s leadership of the gorilla troop.

I knew that Jamie had mixed feelings about the silverback. Fear, since Kerchak had been aggressive to Jamie as a child, even coming close to killing him. He would have, had it not been for Kala. But Jamie also deeply respected the great ape, and the book talked about how Kerchak had saved one of the infant gorillas from a flood, how he never ate unless each and every member of the Family (Jamie included) had eaten first, how tender and loving he was with his mate, Kala. 

I also learned more about Akut, how Jamie had grown up right alongside the infant, how some of Jamie’s more human-like qualities such as smiling and the use of tools had rubbed off on the young one.

It talked of the Waziri people, who revered Tarzan, thinking him a spirit of the jungle, who wrote songs of him.

All in all, it was a beautiful tale. By the time I was finished reading, Jamie had fallen asleep, curled up in the covers with the boys. I ran my fingers through his hair, smiling when he did in his sleep.

“I wonder if the world is ready for you,” I whispered. “I wonder if I’m ready to give you to them.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“So you approve?” Joe asked when I handed him back his manuscript.

“Whole-heartedly,” I said as we sat in the garden the following morning. “As does Jamie...and Fergus and Young Ian, as well.”

Joe beamed. “Excellent! Thanks, Lady Jane. I couldn’t have done it without you. Once I get it to the publisher, and they accept the edits, my work here will be done.”

“Done? What do you mean, done?”

He chuckled. “I mean, it’s about that time...for me to go home.”

I frowned. “Home? You mean America?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, I mean the pub in Inverness. Of course I mean America. I have a whole practice there I’ve been neglecting all year. I have to go and see if I have any patients left.”

“But you could find patients here,” I argued. “Jamie, for one. Me, for another. I can’t think of any other physician I’d trust more than you.”

“That’s sweet, Claire, but I’m not licensed to practice here. I only intended to take a few months off to visit my uncle in Boma, and it turned into this whole journey...which I don’t regret, mind you, but eventually we’re all going to have to get back to work-a-day life, you know?”

I sat back in the wrought iron chair, fully aware that I was pouting. Uncle Lamb and Geillis were leaving later that afternoon, after Geillis had gotten word that her husband had fallen ill, and she needed to go see to him. I still hadn’t told anyone that I had no intention of leaving Jamie, unsure what Jenny would have to say about that...or my uncle, for that matter. Now Joe spoke of leaving as well…

“Aw, come on,” Joe said, scooting his chair closer so he could put his arm around me. “We’ll keep in touch, I promise.”

“It’s just…” I started, trying to put my feelings into words. “I’ve come to love the strange group we make. You, me, Jamie, Fergus, Uncle Lamb.”

“Me too,” he said warmly. “I’ve been on my own a long time. It’s been really nice, having a family again.”

“Then stay ,” I insisted. “Stay here! Like you said, it’s Jamie’s house now, and you know that he wouldn’t want you to leave! Besides, you still have to see that book published. You can’t haul off to America before you can become famous!”

Joe’s smile became soft, and he sighed long-sufferingly. “You have a point. Alright, no more talk of leaving for now . But this can’t be forever, Lady Jane. You and Jamie are going to have to figure out your own lives together, start work on your own family. I hope to have that myself, one day.”

“You will,” I promised, leaning my head on his shoulder. “But until then, you have the very important role of weird uncle in this family.”

He scoffed. “Weirder than Uncle Dougal?”

“Dougal is the creepy uncle,” I corrected. 

“I stand corrected.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie was carrying Geillis’s trunk to the waiting carriage.

“I canna apologize enough,” she was saying to Uncle Lamb. “Th’ old man is sick more often than he’s well, but, well, duties must.”

“Think nothing of it,” Lamb said, waving her off. “I’m only sorry that I must drag Claire off so soon. The poor girl must be heartsick.”

Geillis raised her eyebrows, giving Jamie a look.

“I wanted tae tell her, th’ lad Fergus is more than welcome tae stay,” Jenny said. “He gets along so well wi’ the bairns, and I ken Jamie would like tae have him.”

Jamie cleared his throat, formulating the words first in his mind so that he didn’t stammer. “Claire is not leaving,” he said firmly.

All eyes turned to him. “Oh, is she staying longer?” The elder Ian asked, seeming pleased by the fact.

“She’s staying ,” Jamie emphasized. “With me. Claire stays, or I go.”

Jenny blinked. “But...Jamie...she canna live here, ye’re no’ wed!”

“I’m afraid Mrs. Murray is right,” Uncle Lamb said. “Especially now that you’re Lord of this estate, keeping Claire under your roof, even with your family in inhabitance, would bring her ruin, to say nothing of your own reputation.”

Jamie scowled, not seeing how anything could possibly even come close to ruining Claire.

Ian put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “What they mean is...Claire wouldn’t be respected. You don’t want her seen as a mistress do you?”

“Mistress?” Jamie asked. 

“Like…” Uncle Lamb cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Like the women in the brothel, Jamie.”

Jamie snarled at the implication. “Fine,” he said. “Then I’ll wed her.”

He didn’t understand why that garnered surprised expressions.

“Christ, man, ye dinna even understand fully what marriage is !” Jenny snapped.

“Exactly!”

Everyone turned at Claire’s sudden exclamation as she stomped into the foyer. “And I have no intention of marrying a man just because society says I must. I haven’t given a rat’s arse what society thinks of me this far, and I’m not about to start now!”

Jamie wasn’t sure if he admired Claire’s persistence, or if he was disappointed that her reaction to the idea of marrying him was vehemence. 

Jenny looked to Uncle Lamb in frustration. “Well? She’s your niece.”

Uncle Lamb sighed and heaved his shoulders. “And I’ve yet to understand her.”

“It hasn’a done any harm so far,” Ian reasoned. “And I hardly think anyone would dare disrespect Claire...to her face, at least.”

Claire smirked at Ian in thanks.

Jenny huffed at her husband, then threw up her hands and stormed away.

“Why does she dislike me so?” Claire wondered aloud.

“She doesn’a,” Ian said gently. “She’s just a wee bit like her brother, is all...doesn’a always ken how to regulate her feelings.”

Claire sighed, then turned to Uncle Lamb to hug him. “I wish you could have stayed longer. You’ll come again soon?”

“You can bet upon it, my dear,” he said, patting her back. “I don’t know how I feel about this…” he said more quietly. “I’ve never not had you with me, my girl. Not since you were five years old.”

“I know,” Claire said, her voice thick with emotion. “I don’t much like this part either. But I’m not terribly far away. And I have Jamie and Fergus to watch over me...and Joe. I’m sort of holding him prisoner.”

Uncle Lamb pulled away from her, quickly brushing a tear off his face. “Jamie, my boy? Take care. And my thanks to you and your wife, Mr. Murray. Mrs. Duncan? Shall we?”

“We shall,” Geillis said, taking his arm, then winking at Claire. “Have fun,” she said with a smirk.

Claire watched them go forlornly, and it tore at Jamie’s heart, making him wonder if it wouldn’t be better for all of them to just go back to London. But then he remembered the suffocating air and noise, and shuddered. 

“Where are ye going?” he asked when she turned away.

She smiled at him. “To talk to your sister.”

 

~~~

 

I found Jenny outside, sitting on the back steps, facing the garden. 

“I shall have tae write tae your uncle, apologizing for no’ seeing him and Mrs. Duncan off,” she said without looking up.

“Don’t worry,” I said, sitting beside her. “They’re not fussy like some Londoners.”

“Ye must think me a jealous child,” Jenny said.

“I don’t think that,” I said honestly. “I think you’re a woman who had her childhood ripped away from her far too soon, along with her sense of stability and safety. I think that the moment she got a piece of that back, she did what anyone else in her shoes would do. She grabbed onto it with both hands, never to let go.”

“Wee Jamie was th’ apple of Ma and Da’s eyes,” she said fondly. “All of us, really. He was so bright, happy, infectiously joyful. My Wee Ian is so much like him.”

“Jamie doesn’t seem to have changed much,” I said.

Jenny smiled. “No, he really hasn’t. I think that’s part of what I canna quite handle. He’s kept everything about him that’s Jamie . Despite everything he’s been through. But I...I feel nothing like th’ lass I was.”

“How can any adult feel like the child they were?” I asked. “We’ve grown and had experiences and we slowly lose that carefree innocence. A lot of that seemingly has to do with environment, since growing up isolated from humanity allowed Jamie to hold onto his. But that doesn’t mean he’s the exact same as when he was a child. He has night terrors sometimes...you were witness to that. He has debilitating anxiety that sometimes takes away his ability to speak. Every day he’s fighting against the instincts he’s lived his entire life learning to trust and follow for his very survival. This isn’t easy for him, either, Jenny.”

Jenny looked at me finally, smiling. “I suppose I got it in my heid that if Jamie fell in love with a girl from Lallybroch, he’d never have cause tae leave. You’re a well-traveled, well-educated woman. I canna see ye digging your roots in here for always. And Jamie...he’ll follow ye tae th’ end of the world.”

“I’m not so adversed to roots,” I argued. “I admit, I’ve never had them...but I’ve never had anything to stay for, either. But having a home and traveling are two different things. I want Jamie to experience things, if that’s his desire. I don’t think he’d be happy, never leaving this estate. He deserves to see the world, but trust me when I say that having a home and family to go back to after a long journey is a wonderful gift to have.”

Jenny nodded. “Aye, I suppose I see what ye mean. I guess I never had that...th’ desire tae go out into th’ world. Our Da did, that’s why he packed us up tae go to America. He thirsted for adventure. Ma was happy here, but...like Jamie with you...she would have followed him tae th’ ends of the earth...and she did.”

I took Jenny’s hand, squeezing it. “The way I hear it told, it was my mother who was the adventurer. But I’m afraid I don’t remember much about her and my father. I was even younger than Jamie, when they were killed in a carriage accident.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenny said. “No’ child should have tae lose their parents that way.”

My eyes traveled downward, where Jenny had one hand on her stomach.

“I’m no’ that much younger than she was...my mother, when she died. And soon I’ll be just as she was. Two lads, a lass in th’ middle, and one more. I imagine it’s a boy, like my wee brother, Robby.”

“I didn’t know you were with child…” I said, smiling briefly before it fell. “I...I also didn’t know that Jamie had a younger brother.”

Jenny nodded. “I watched my mam fall into th’ water, holding him. And Da jumped in after her. He could never have left her tae th’ icy depths, even for our sakes. ‘Twas Willie who saved Jamie and me, and I think he knew that he would die, but he did it anyway, for us.”

I wondered what it was like, the sort of love between siblings that Jenny shared with her brothers.

“I’m sorry you lost them,” I said, though the words felt terribly flat. “But you haven’t lost Jamie. And you won’t. You just need to try and get to know him as he is now , not as the little boy you knew.”

Jenny nodded. “Aye, I ken you’re right,” she looked up at me, her eyes wet. “I’m sorry for how I’ve treated ye, Claire. Especially after everything ye’ve done for Jamie. And if nothing else, ye’re everything tae him. You and that wee imp ye’ve brought. That alone makes ye family.”

I brushed away tears of my own. “For my whole life, I’ve only ever had Uncle Lamb for family. As a child, I always dreamed of what it would be like to have...well, a family like this one.”

A sharp squeal and a fluttering of terrified chickens proceeded Maggie barreling through the yard with Young Ian on her tail, wearing nothing but his trousers and covered head to toe in muck and growling like a monster. He was followed quickly by Fergus, Young Jamie, several dogs (not all of whom belonged to the Murrays) and Mrs. Crook who was waving a wooden spoon at the lot of them.

“Well, now ye have it, Claire,” Jenny said, shaking her head, though she had a twinkle in her eye. “God help ye.”




Chapter Text

It was an overnight success.

Once word got out that a book was being released about the already famous “Flying Lord of Lallybroch,” people near and far were clamoring to get their hands on it.

Jamie took his fame in stride...that is he paid absolutely no attention to it.

The folk in Broch Tuarach and the neighboring hamlet of Broch Mordha were already growing used to Jamie’s presence, so he was able to wander about the village without attention. (Well, without any more attention than his looks already got him from women.) But if he ventured to Inverness, he was bound to be stared and pointed at.

But it was mostly just in admiration, not scorn or fear. 

“Lord Broch Tuarach!” cried a little girl on one of our trips into Inverness. Her friends hovered nervously behind her, but she marched bravely right up to Jamie, grinning. “Is it true that your mother was a monkey?!”

Far from offended, Jamie smiled and knelt down, placing the knuckles of one hand on the ground. “No,” he said, pausing long enough for the children to all look crestfallen. “She is a gorilla.”

“Wow…” the children all intoned.

“Will you go back to them?” the little girl asked. “Back to the gorillas?”

This time, Jamie’s “no” was more final. “That is not my life anymore,” he said. 

 

I would have loved a repeat performance of what happened the night of the party, but in the weeks following it, Jamie and I were watched like hawks by an entire household bent on keeping my reputation intact...even though they had to all know that that was the only thing intact. 

Even the children had been tasked with keeping us company almost constantly, though of course they didn’t understand why. (Fergus probably did.) That in itself wasn’t exactly a trial, though. I already loved spending time with Fergus, and the Murray children were all well behaved and truly charming. 

After my talk with Jenny, she warmed to me tremendously, and I actually began to feel at home in Lallybroch, more than I’d ever felt in London, no matter how much I loved Uncle Lamb.

Another of the spare rooms had been redone to give me a permanent room, and of course to give Maggie back her room. No one even questioned Joe’s extended stay, and he didn’t appear in a great hurry to return to America anymore, especially in light of his bestseller. 

I entered the family room to find Jamie, Joe, and Ian donning coats. “Where are you going?”

“Th’ lads are going out carousing,” Jenny said wryly from her place on the sofa. 

“We’re not carousing, ” Ian said. “We’re meeting Rupert, Angus, and Murtagh at th’ pub in Inverness for drinks.”

I glared at Joe in betrayal. “Rupert and Angus are my friends, too. Why wasn’t I invited?”

“I tried to,” Jamie muttered, giving Joe a look of his own.

“Come on, Lady Jane,” Joe wheedled, making his “on” sound more like “aan.” He looped an arm around my shoulder. “Jamie’s never had a boys-only night before.”

“Aye,” Ian agreed. “It’s a time when men can cut loose a bit.”

I crossed my arms, not really angry, but not ready to stop pretending. “You’re forgetting that Jamie doesn’t alter his behavior around me at all, thus not needing to cut loose . He’s never learned to...unless that’s what you’re trying to teach him?”

“Fine,” Joe said. “Maybe we’re just hoping to go out without getting drunk under the table by a skinny slip of a woman.”

“Fine,” I shot back, wagging a finger at him. “Go out and carouse. But if you allow a prostitute anywhere near him I’ll have your head, Joe Abernathy.”

“That goes for Ian, as well,” Jenny added, narrowing her eyes at Joe.

Joe held up his hands. “Okay! I get it! Everyone’s virtue is my responsibility around here. Shall we go, gentlemen?”

Jamie gave me a puppy-dog look that said, “do I have to?” And I chuckled and stood up on tiptoe to give him a brief kiss.

“Go on, you’ll have fun,” I promised.

“What about me?” Fergus asked. “I am a man!”

“If he’s a man, then so am I!” Young Jamie exclaimed.

“Neither of ye are men,” Jenny snapped. “And ye’re staying right here wi’ your mothers until told otherwise, aye?”

Young Jamie walked away sulking, but Fergus beamed, and I didn’t see why until I caught that Jenny had said mothers , plural. 

Jenny shook her head as the men made their way out. “Jamie’ll come home wi’ a new vocabulary of curse words.”

“Surely none that I haven’t already taught him,” I said in teasing affront. 

I was a little disappointed to not be going with them, but at the same time I was glad that Jamie felt secure enough to go out and have fun without me. (Even if he wasn’t completely on board, at least at first.)

 

~~~

 

Jamie didn’t know how he’d let Joe and Ian talk him into this.

It wasn’t that he minded going to the pub. He’d had a wonderful time there before...but why couldn’t Claire come along? Why did men always seem to be itching to be away from their women? Ian didn’t normally seem to be that way, but even he was excited to go.

“There’s th’ monkey man!” Rupert crowed when they entered the place. “Ronnie, another round!”

Jamie smiled as he took a seat, already starting to relax amid the boisterousness that always surrounded Rupert and Angus.

Jamie took a grateful sip of whisky when it was handed to him, liking the slight burn on the way down.

“So, Jamie lad,” Rupert continued once they all had their drinks. “How is that lovely Claire?”

“She couldn’a come, because it’s a...a…”

“Boy’s night,” Joe supplied.

Angus laughed. “I think what Rupert means is how are things between ye, ken? Or rather, between her…”

Angus was cut off when Murtagh suddenly reached across the table and boxed his ear. “Enough, ye eejit . Have a wee bit of respect for th’ lass.”

Jamie didn’t understand how Angus had been disrespectful of Claire, but he was glad for Murtagh for catching it before he could. He realized then that he wanted to know exactly how women should and should not be treated and talked about in public so that he could know how to properly treat his Sassenach. He resolved to ask Joe about it, later.

“Think ye’ll marry th’ lass?” Murtagh asked instead.

Jamie furrowed his brow. “She doesn’a want to.”

Joe snorted. “Doesn’t want to? Where’d you get that idea?”

“She says she willn’a marry a man b-because that’s what...society says to do.”

“Of course no’,” Murtagh said. “She wants tae be romanced , lad.”

“Flowers?” Jamie asked. 

“Aye,” Ian said. “Flowers are always good. Jenny likes to have supper alone with me sometimes after we’ve already fed the children and put them to bed.”

“Reciting poetry,” Angus suggested.

“Jewelry,” Rupert said firmly. “Women love jewelry.”

“Jewelry?” Jamie asked. He knew what that was, but didn’t often see Claire wear any except for a gold necklace that she’d explained to him that once belonged to her mother.

“Not just any jewelry,” Joe said. “A ring.

“Ring?”

Rupert shook his head. “Lads, we have our work cut out wi’ this one. I’ll get us another round.”

 

~~~

 

I’d gone to sleep rather early, tired after an evening of games with the children, and a few (perhaps more than a few…) glasses of brandy with Jenny after they’d gone to bed.

I roused when I heard a sharp thump followed by the creaking of my bedroom door as it opened.

I smiled, knowing that the footfall was much too heavy to be Fergus, or really anyone else but Jamie...although he wasn’t normally so loud .

I tried to pretend to stay asleep, but when he collapsed onto the bed I laughed. 

“Jamie, what are you doing?” I asked, rolling over. “Your room is down the hall. And why is your hair so wet?”

“I bathed,” he said proudly and very drunkenly. “Jus’ for ye, Sassenach.”

I hummed. “Oh, and just where did you bathe? The stream?”

“Aye.”

I rolled my eyes fondly, unable to keep from smiling at his sweet, intoxicated face.

“Did you have a nice time tonight?” I asked.

He nodded. “Would ha’ liked it better if ye’d been there.”

“Good answer,” I said, leaning down to kiss his nose. “Now, drink some water and go to sleep, you’re bound to have a raging hangover tomorrow.”

Jamie frowned and rolled over, sitting up on his knees. “Dinna want tae sleep.”

“And just what do you want to do?” I asked slyly. “You can barely sit up.”

Jamie gave me a predatory grin and tackled me to the mattress, kissing me messily, and I was a little surprised that as drunk as he was, he managed a rather impressive erection that was jabbing me hopefully in the thigh.

But, he was quite drunk, and he suddenly flopped his full weight on top of me, giggling all the while.

Laughing, as quietly as I could, and shushing him in the process, I shoved at his shoulder until he rolled over on his back, gazing up at me in sleepy adoration.

“What am I to do with you?” I whispered, glancing at the tent in his trousers. 

Perhaps it was wrong to take advantage of a man while he was intoxicated, but I would have felt even worse leaving him in such a state. I let my fingers trace the shape of him through his pants, and he gasped, his eyes clearing a little.

When I unbuttoned his flies, I could see that he had probably been in this state for a while, and decided I’d better have a talk with Joe and make sure there wasn’t a reason for that.

While I didn’t exactly have a wealth of experience in the male anatomy, I had a little more than some, and felt quite confident that Jamie was a particularly admirable specimen of masculinity.

Jamie moaned as I stroked him slowly, his muscles all coiling and bunching beneath his clothes. I wanted him to be rid of them, and I was sure he did too, but I wasn’t sure if he could manage that just now. Just now, all it seemed he could do was lie there with his face contorted in such unabashed pleasure that it took my breath away.

After my last experience with a man, I’d sworn to myself that if I were ever with someone again, I would demand my own needs to be met first. I hadn’t accounted then, on the incredible pleasure of giving it to him , watching him discover a woman’s touch. 

I leaned down, kissing the tip, loving how he nearly threw me off of him when his entire body jolted.

But then his hand was on my shoulder, gripping tightly. “Y...you…” he stammered, gazing down at me with hooded eyes. 

I sat back up quickly, pulling my nightgown off over my head, and pausing just long enough to enjoy Jamie’s expression before throwing a leg over and straddling him. 

With anyone else, it might have been unnerving the way Jamie watched so intently as I guided him into me, but with him it was rather intoxicating. Like he was just so astounded, he couldn’t look away.

I guided his hands to my hips and began rocking slowly, closing my eyes in bliss as he stretched and filled me. I unbuttoned his shirt, at least wanting my hands touching his skin, and quickened my pace.

Jamie never closed his eyes, never took his gaze off of me, whether it was my face, my breasts, or where we were joined. He watched everything, and I swear it felt like he was seeing me straight to my soul.

He was groaning again, and I laughed, trying to hush him, but it was becoming rapidly more difficult to keep myself quiet. 

And then something unusual happened.

I knew that Jamie’s ability to growl was almost inhuman. But when he let out a low snarl, almost too deep to be heard, I felt it go straight through his body and directly into mine.

I covered my mouth with my hand to keep from crying out, then lunged down, kissing Jamie, inhaling him.

He realized what he’d done, and did it again, and again, pushing up into me so hard I almost fell off of him. 

I came hard around him, seeing flashes of light behind my eyelids and biting down on his lower lip, tasting blood.

When I finally came back to myself, I realized I’d stopped moving, but Jamie was still hot and hard within me. I chalked up his stamina to his inebriation, and smiled, starting to move again no matter that I felt boneless and sleepy. 

Jamie licked his bloody lip, smiling up at me in drowsy bliss. Following a hunch, I leaned back down, sinking my teeth into the skin on his chest. 

I felt his body seize up, and then the flood of heat inside me. 

I collapsed on top of him, laughing when I felt him already begin to snore.

I wasn’t at all sure that Jamie was sober enough to remember everything that happened come morning, but I knew I sure as hell would.

Chapter Text

“No...you have to carry the two, see?”

“This is hard,” Fergus whined.

Joe fixed him with an unamused look. “It’s only as hard as you make it. Jamie? Let’s see yours.”

I leaned against the door frame leading to the office, shaking my head with a smile.

From the start, I’d wanted a tutor for Fergus, but now that Jamie would someday be stepping in fully to his role of lord, he would be needing a more formal education as well. 

We’d yet to find a suitable tutor, one with patience enough to handle a hyperactive little boy and a grown man with only so much of an attention span, so in the meantime Joe had been teaching them math and science, while I taught grammar and writing. 

The Murray children all attended a small school in the village, but I obviously couldn’t send Jamie there, and Fergus wouldn’t even consider going without him.

Jamie was intelligent, and picked things up with astonishing speed, but the simple fact of the matter was that at the time of the shipwreck, he’d only known how to read and add and subtract simple numbers. Granted, he must have been quite advanced for his age at six years old, but he still only had a very basic education. He had a very long way to go if he hoped to take over the more intricate ins and outs of running the estate.

“I wonder if Uncle Lamb would consider coming and tutoring him,” I wondered aloud after Joe had finished the day’s lesson. “What he doesn’t know about business could fit in my shoe.”

“Might be a good idea,” Joe said. “He’s bored with this basic stuff, even though he needs the foundation. It might help to supplement with something a bit more interesting.”

“History,” I said. “He knows nothing about Scottish history, or really any at all. He’ll need that, as well as an understanding of current events to make it as a lord.”

Joe nodded. “You’re right there, but it’s going to be an awfully disillusioning thing for him. The boy wouldn’t even know anything about, say, slavery.”

I winced. I hated to expose Jamie to some of the harsher things about the world, but he did need to understand it all. He couldn’t be shielded forever, no matter how much I wanted him to be.

“School is over, Joe?” Jamie asked, popping his head out of the study.

Joe chuckled. “Yes, Jamie, you and Fergus are free to go. Good job, today.”

Grinning, Jamie grabbed my hand. “Sassenach...take a walk with me?”

I smiled back at his enthusiasm. “Well, sure. Anything particular you had in mind?”

Rrr romance!” he exclaimed, dramatically rolling his R while twirling me around.

I laughed, giving Joe a look since he appeared way too savvy about what Jamie was up to. “What have you been telling him?” I asked.

“Nothing, Lady Jane! Go, go have fun.”

Rolling my eyes fondly, I followed Jamie out of the house and into the cold, but unseasonably sunny day, his hand a warm presence on my lower back. 

He’d been especially affectionate of late, really ever since the night he’d come home drunk off his ass and had proceeded to give me multiple orgasms of the like I’d never experienced. Constantly touching; a hand here, a knee there. But his desire for touch was entirely mutual, and I found myself having a difficult time keeping my hands off of him while in the mixed company of his family.

“Christmas is coming soon,” I said. “Do you remember Christmas, Jamie?”

He rocked his head from side to side. “A little. I remember Hogmanay more.”

“Yes, Jenny said your family always went all out for Hogmanay. She’s been meaning to ask if you’d like a big celebration like you used to have. No one that would make you uncomfortable, mind. Just the family, Rupert and Angus, people like that.”

Jamie nodded. “Yes. And Uncle Lamb?”

“Well of course! Would it be alright if he came for Christmas, and stayed through to Hogmanay? I’ve never had a Christmas without him before.”

Jamie gave me a peculiar look. “Why do you think you need to ask?”

I was brought up short. “Well...I...it wasn’t so much as asking permission as...well it’s your house, Jamie. It’s polite to make sure you and Jenny don’t mind the extra company before I just invite him over.”

“If it is my house, it is your house,” Jamie said firmly. “You do not need to ask.”

Fine ,” I said just as firmly. “I’m inviting Uncle Lamb for Christmas and Hogmanay, and I’d like to invite Geillie for Hogmanay as well.”

Jamie nodded in satisfaction. “Good.”

I smirked at him. “I suppose we both have some learning to do, hm?”

Jamie hummed in agreement, and we walked on. I noticed that Jamie was walking a little stiffly, and I wondered if the cold was hard on his joints due to the effort of walking upright. 

“You can walk like you normally do, you know,” I reminded him. “It’s only me here, after all.”

Jamie grunted. “I should get more used to walking as a normal man walks.”

“Perhaps,” I allowed. 

He’d been trying so hard the past few months. Trying to be a “normal” man. He kept his back straight, focused carefully on his words, and I could see his constant fight to break the habit of grunting, by trying to replace it with clearing his throat. He’d taken to tapping his fingers a lot, either against his thigh, a table, or just a discreet twitch against his own hand. It was all in effort to reverse behaviors he’d grown up with. Sometimes, when in town or talking with people outside the family, I noticed that he tended to keep his hands in his coat pockets, and I wondered if it was to hide their unusual appearance.

I understood his need to fit in, to be a regular man. But it hurt me in a way, to watch him struggle to change himself when the way I saw it, he was perfect the way he was.

He wanted to be a “normal man,” he said. Up ahead, I saw the large tree with the multitude of wide branches that the children loved to climb on. “But it’s too bad that normal grown men don’t climb trees!”

I released Jamie’s hand and took off for the tree, pulling myself up on the lowest branch before scrambling my way higher.

I heard Jamie laugh behind me, and it was but a moment before he was following close behind, having been able to gain on me in a heartbeat. 

“You’re not being ladylike,” he teased.

“I’m no lady!” I shot back, knowing full well that he was allowing me to maintain the lead. “And you, sir, are no normal man!”

I finally reached the end of how high I could climb, and sat with my back against the trunk. Normally I would be nervous of the height, but being with Jamie had gotten me over most of my fears, knowing, as I did, that he could catch me in an instant should I falter.

Jamie pulled himself up and sat straddling the limb facing me, his cheeks red from cold.

“Don’t change too much,” I said, breathing hard from exertion. “I know you must adapt to life here but I like the man you are. I...I love the man you are.”

Jamie smiled softly, his eyes telling me how much he loved me more than words could ever say. He kissed me then, just as softly, and I crawled into his arms, letting him support my weight, letting him keep me safe.

I ran my tongue over the seam of his cold lips, then gently pressed my way in. But Jamie gasped suddenly and pulled away, blinking at me in surprise.

I couldn’t help it...I started to laugh.

“What is so funny?” he asked in offense, his cheeks reddening further, thinking, no doubt, that he’d done something wrong.

“I’m so sorry, my darling,” I said, trying to get control of myself. “It’s nothing you did, it’s just...after everything we’ve already done...you just looked so shocked by a French kiss!”

“What is a French kiss?” he asked, still offronted, but softening. 

“It’s...have we honestly never...oh, come here, love,” I yanked him to me, encouraging his mouth to open with my own. When he did, I thrust my tongue inside, lapping at his and urging him to copy. He did, with as much gusto as he did with any new thing he learned, and as with everything else, he was a remarkably quick study, and in moments we were breathing heavily and pawing at one another’s clothing.

I pushed away from him when my ears caught the sound of squealing children, but it took Jamie a little longer to come back to himself.

“I think outdoors in the middle of the day is probably not the best time and place for this,” I breathed.

Jamie huffed like he didn’t really believe there was ever a wrong time and place for this, but relented. 

“What are you two doing up there?” Maggie called up, having spotted us. 

Ian ran up beside her, grinning impishly. “Uncle Jamie and Auntie Claire, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”

Jamie took a split second to spell the word in his head before shrugging at me. “He isn’t wrong.”

“So he isn’t,” I agreed wryly. “Now help me climb down.”

 

Chapter Text

Christmas at Lallybroch, for a girl who’d grown up with either quiet holidays with just my uncle, or exciting, but not-so-traditional celebrations in various countries, was downright magical.

Jamie and the children had disappeared one afternoon and returned hours later with an enormous evergreen tree that we decorated with ribbons, popcorn (what popcorn that Jamie and the children didn’t eat, that is,) and handmade ornaments.

Young Ian even made an ornament just for me. It was a small piece from the cut end of the tree, that he painted my name on with blue paint. When it came close to making me cry, the poor boy had been so concerned, until his mother assured him that it was only because his gift had made me happy.

I’d noticed Jamie holding hushed conversations with Joe and/or Ian, that always stopped dead when I came too close. I would narrow my eyes at them suspiciously, but considering the season, let them have their secrets.

For my part, I struggled with what to give Jamie for Christmas. What do you get for possibly the most unmaterialistic man in existence? I knew, of course, he’d like whatever I gave him because it came from me, but I still wanted to get him something he genuinely liked for its own sake.

“What about this for Fergus?” I asked Joe on the afternoon I’d dragged him to Inverness to go shopping with me.

Joe eyed the little ruffled coat dubiously. “Think, Lady Jane. Did you enjoy receiving clothes on Christmas when you were ten?”

“You have a point,” I sighed, replacing the coat. “I’ve never had to buy for so many people before! It’s always just been me and Uncle Lamb and I always just get him cologne and digging tools.”

“Have you decided on what to get Jamie, yet?”

“No,” I groaned. “He’s hardest of all! He has everything he needs, and wants nothing!”

“Well…” he drawled, then held up a silky woman’s nightgown. “I can think of one thing he wants…”

I gave him a flat look. “I want to give him something he can open on Christmas, Joe.”

“But look, it has a bow!”

“Joe!”

“Fine...fine. We’ll put a pin in that idea.”

I rolled my eyes, then paused when I came to a small writing set, complete with a fountain pen and a notebook. Ever since reading Joe’s book, I’d noticed that Fergus had started to scribble little stories in the margins of his schoolwork. Perhaps he’d enjoy trying his hand at writing? After getting Joe’s approval of the gift, we continued on where I found a toy sling-shot for Young Ian, a doll for Maggie, a smart billfold for “I’m-too-old-for-toys Young Jamie,” a shawl for Jenny, cigars for Ian.

Joe didn’t know it, but he was getting a whole bottle of the whisky he’d become fond of during our time in Scotland. I’d considered it for Jamie as well, but then I thought that it was probable that he’d get such types of gifts from his tenants. 

Joe and I wandered along down the street, contemplating where to stop for lunch, when I was caught by something in a shop window. 

“A vase?” Joe asked, looking over my shoulder.

“No,” I said. “Well...that is a really pretty vase...but no, there, next to it!”

“A knife?” 

“Not just a knife,” I said, darting into the shop.

“Oh, aye, this is a genuine 18th century dirk,” the shopkeeper informed me when I enquired about it. “It was found among some items confiscated during th’ clearances following th’ battle of Culloden, and it’s believed tae have been used in th’ very battle itself.”

He handed me the beautiful antique dagger, the handle and sheath engraved with detailed designs of the like one just didn’t see anymore. 

“Take care, Mistress,” the shopkeeper said kindly. “Tis still verra sharp! Ye could take this intae battle right now, ye could, if there was one to join!”

“It’s perfect!” I enthused. “I’ll take it!”

 

Uncle Lamb arrived Christmas Day, which was honestly the best gift he could have given, but the African sari he must have bought in Boma and saved for me was a very welcome gift, as well.

The day was spent eating way too much food, playing games, and watching the wonder in the children’s eyes at seeing the gifts Santa Clause had left for them.

Jenny had reminded me of the tradition the night before, and that she and Ian had selected some toys for Fergus to be from Santa, and I had given my full blessing, as well as my gratitude for including him.

The boy had appeared very skeptical of the whole thing, but upon realizing that he had surprises as well as the Murray children, he’d lit up in delight.

But he’d seemed even more excited over the gift I’d given him, making me very proud of the purchase.

His gift to me was, to my complete surprise, a square of cloth with a heart embroidered on it, and my initials in the middle. When questioned, he shyly admitted that Maggie had instructed him how to embroider at his request, and he’d made it himself.

I’d nearly suffocated the poor child with hugs and kisses, but his cheeks were pink with pride afterward.

I watched Jamie’s face closely when he opened his gift from me, and his smile upon unsheathing the dirk only grew when I explained what it was, and then more when Ian and Murtagh fought over who got to look at it first. 

“Merry Christmas, Lady Jane,” Joe said, kissing my cheek as he handed me a small wrapped package. 

I grinned as I tore the wrapping, gasping to find a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

“Every doctor needs one,” he said. 

I looked at him in shock. Though I’d voiced interest in medicine, I’d never expected anyone to really take me that seriously. 

“Thank you,” I whispered, cradling the book like a child. 

“Anything from Jamie yet?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “But then, I don’t know if he even knew to get anything for me. I didn’t think to mention it to him. But that’s alright, seeing how much he likes the dirk is enough gift for me.”

Joe hummed, but I shook my head at him and went to sit beside Jamie, giggling when Fergus suddenly held a sprig of mistletoe over our heads.

“It means you have to kiss her, Milord!” he exclaimed.

“A chore for him, I’m sure,” Ian quipped.

Jamie didn’t need to be told twice, and kissed me hard on the mouth. After, he had a look on his face of consternation, and I wondered why. I wondered again, later, when he and Fergus drew Uncle Lamb out of the room for a while, only to return as if nothing had happened.

 

It wasn’t until much later that I learned why. It was after everyone else had gone to bed, and Jenny was upstairs tucking in the children. Jamie and I stayed behind, picking up stray bits of wrapping and ribbon.

Everything still looked so beautiful in the candlelight, and I was loath to end the day, so I asked Jamie if he would like to share the last of the mulled wine by the fire.

We sat on the floor by the fire, passing the cup of wine back and forth, and looking at the Christmas tree.

“It was a perfect day,” I said, leaning my head against his shoulder. “Did you like it, Jamie?”

“It was better than anything I remember,” he said. “But I...I have not given you your gift, Sassenach.”

I smiled up at him. “My gift?”

He nodded, looking oddly nervous.

He held out his hand, still closed, and I waited patiently for him to unfurl his fingers. When he did, in the middle of his palm, was a silver ring.

Heart catching in my throat, I carefully picked it up, admiring the detailed etchings that looked like something of a cross between a Scottish thistle, and an African teak flower.

Inside the band was an inscription. 

Da mi basia mille ,” I read, recognizing it at once as my favorite poem, but I didn’t remember ever telling Jamie that.

“I...I do not...know how to recite poetry,” he said, as if reading my thoughts. “But...but I read it in one of your books. Give me a thousand kisses .”

“Jamie…” I whispered.

“I...I know I do not know much about the...the way of things. I…” he grunted, visibly irritated by his difficulty with speaking. “I don’t know how to be a husband. But I...I can learn, Sassenach. If y...if ye can teach me.”

I smiled, feeling my vision blur with tears. “I don’t know how to be a wife,” I said. “I suppose we could learn together.”

Jamie blinked. “Then...ye’ll marry me? Wait...I did it wrong!”

He jumped to his feet, dragging me to mine on the way. I laughed as he positioned me where he thought I should be, then dropped to one knee, looking like he was running through a mental list of things that should be done.

“Jamie,” I laughed, kneeling with him and sliding the ring onto my finger. “Yes, you darling man. I would love to marry you.”

Smiling like I’d just given him the world, he pulled me to him for a long kiss, one that was interrupted by a round of cheers coming from the direction of the stairs.

Fergus and the other children were peeking around the corner, and Fergus had an arm held victoriously in the air. 

“Alright, ye wee busybodies,” Jenny said, appearing to usher them back upstairs. “Ye’ve had your show. All of ye!”

I released Jamie and leaned around, realizing that it wasn’t just the children spying...but the entire household!

“Congratulations, my girl,” Uncle Lamb said, a wide grin on his face.

Jamie and I both laughed as Jenny bullied everyone back up the stairs, winking at us as she followed. 

I leaned back contentedly into Jamie’s embrace, admiring my ring. “Where did you get this?” I asked.

“Rupert and Angus helped me have it made,” he said. “I...I asked Uncle Lamb first. Ian said I should.”

I chuckled. “So that’s what all that has been about. You’ve been getting coaching.”

I felt him nod against my hair.

I leaned back to look up at him. “Thank you, Jamie.”

 

As Christmas led into Hogmanay, the house was brought to life again with celebration.

Rupert and Angus had arrived, looking mischievous, and had promptly dragged Jamie upstairs along with Ian and the boys. 

When they returned a while later, I nearly choked on my wine.

Jamie had inherited strong Highlander genes, with the strong bone structure and size of a Viking god. He was a sight to behold no matter what he was wearing (and particularly when he was wearing nothing at all!)

But what walked down those stairs that evening took my breath away.

He was not only wearing a kilt, but was bedecked in full Highland regalia, complete with sporran, plaid, tall boots, and the dirk I’d given him strapped to his side. I felt my jaw drop, my tongue go dry.

“Easy, lass,” Jenny murmured in amusement. “Dinna make me get a bucket of water.”

“Told ye she’d like it!” Rupert guffawed. 

I knew my glass face was probably displaying proudly the lewd thoughts running through my head, but I couldn’t get a reign on them. My suspicion was confirmed when Jamie approached me, pulling uncomfortably at his plaid until he saw my expression and his own melted into something warm and promising. 

“Ye like it?” he asked.

I nodded dumbly. “Yes. I do.”

“Good lord,” Uncle Lamb said, chuckling. “She didn’t react quite like this when he was prancing about naked!”

Everyone got a good laugh about that one, and having had enough with the spotlight, Jamie and I drifted to the side of the room for food and drink, though it was all I could do to keep my eyes off him.

At least now I understood why men reacted so strongly to gowns with revealing cuts and form-fitting bodices. There was simply something to be said about a well-dressed Highlander.

 

~~~

 

Where Christmas was quiet, Hogmanay was loud .

But it didn’t make Jamie nervous this time. It was only friends and family in attendance, people he liked and trusted, and it reminded him of the celebrations in the village.

He’d been resistant at first to Rupert and Angus’s idea of dressing him up in an old, traditional Scottish kilt. But it was considerably more comfortable than pants, and then seeing Claire’s response had made it more than worth it.

Everyone congratulated him and Claire on their engagement. Geillis especially had arrived, narrowed in on Claire’s ring at once, and squealed. (Afterward, she noticed Jamie’s outfit, and her reaction had been remarkably similar to Claire’s, only her’s made Jamie vaguely uneasy whereas Claire’s had made him want to drag her somewhere they could be alone.)

If Jamie had had his way, he would have done whatever it took to be married right away, but evidently an entire wedding was required, and Claire suggested that they wait just a little while before having another gathering such as that. The only thing that made him satisfied with that was the fact that Claire seemed very happy at the prospect of a wedding, and if Claire was happy, then so was he.

Ever since deciding to ask Claire to be his wife, he’d been thinking more about his family. Both the human one he’d lost, and the gorilla one he’d left behind. 

He stood beside Murtagh at Hogmanay, watching Claire play a game with the children.

“D’ye think my parents would have liked her?” Jamie asked.

Murtagh was quiet for long enough that Jamie wasn’t sure he’d answer, but when he did, he did so quietly. “Claire’s a bit like her, your mother I mean. What wi’ that fire in her spirit, and that smile that can warm a man tae his bones. I kent them well, lad, and all your parents wanted for their children was for them tae find th’ sort of happiness they had wi’ each other. Tis a rare thing tae find, ken. Ye’ve found it. Or rather, she found you, didn’t she?”

Jamie smiled. “Aye, I suppose she did. Will I make her happy?”

Murtagh chuckled. “Look at her, lad.”

Jamie did look, and at that moment, Claire’s eyes found his and her already radiant smile grew and did, indeed, warm him to the bones.

“Ye already do, lad.”

 

The night wore on, and there was much dancing and drinking. Most of the guests simply curled up into corners of the house, snoring away.

Jamie carried an equally as tired Fergus up to the room he shared with Young Ian.

“Did ye have fun, lad?” he asked on the way.

Fergus’s head rested sleepily on his shoulder, but he still answered. “More fun than I ever had, Milord. I’m glad you and Milady found me.”

Jamie felt a particular warmth in his chest at the words, and he patted Fergus’s back. “So am I.”

After putting Fergus to bed, Jamie returned to the hall to find Claire waiting for him. She was still a little drunk herself, and was giving him a look that sent pleasant chills down his spine.

“Is Fergus asleep?” she asked. Jamie nodded.

“Good,” she crooked her finger at him, and Jamie followed her as surely as if she’d had a leash around him.

When they reached her bedroom, Claire got a hold of his plaid and yanked him inside, kissing him hungrily.

In the weeks since she’d taught him the proper ways of kissing, Jamie had thoroughly enjoyed perfecting the skill. Once he’d had her body once, he’d craved it constantly ever since, sometimes to the point of distraction. And not only for the promised release, but for the simple pleasure of touching her, tasting her.

Claire’s mouth tasted like wine and Claire , and it was something he couldn’t get enough of. The smell of her, warm and spicy, grew more prominent whenever she had desire. And right now, the scent was so strong it was making him feel drunk all over again.

“I’ve been wanting to get my hands on you all evening,” she murmured against his mouth, sliding her hands down to grip his bum. 

“What is it about th’ kilt?” he asked, not really caring , but curious nonetheless.

Claire smirked devilishly, then suddenly hiked the kilt up. “Easy access,” she said as her hand wrapped firmly around him and making his eyes go crossed.

Iffrin, ” he grunted, trying to get her skirt up in return. 

Claire pulled away, making him whine in frustration, but she only smirked. “Like the animals, ken?”

While he wondered what she meant by that, she walked over to the bed, watching him over her shoulder while she flicked her skirts up, then leaned over the mattress, her hands planting firmly upon it.

Jamie understood then, and his heart thudded in his chest and his cock twitched as he walked up behind her, reaching between her legs where she was hot and wet.

Ah Dhia, ” he whispered, repeating a phrase he’d forgotten he knew.

He would never, in a million years, have admitted to Claire that a part of him had wanted this, too afraid of making her think him unnatural. But she was offering it to him, freely and of her own suggestion, and he would take it eagerly.

He took a moment, wanting to savor the sight of her, offered up to him that way, but then she’d whined and rocked backward against him, and he could no longer hold back, sliding into her with a low groan of relief.

He tried to be quiet, knowing the house was full of visitors, drunk as they were, but Claire had seemed to forgotten, as she was becoming louder with every snap of his hips.

Jamie leaned over her, putting a hand over her mouth, and then buried his face in her hair to try and muffle his own groans. 

It wasn’t working, he still couldn’t seem to be quiet, so without thinking, he nudged her hair out of the way and sunk his teeth into the back of her neck.

Claire’s reaction was instant and strong, crying sharply into his palm before biting him there, and arching back into him as her body clenched around his cock, sending pleasure washing over him in waves as he found his release within her.

They collapsed together on the bed, still fully dressed. After a while, Claire rolled over, grinning happily at him.

“Geillis was right,” she said.

“Right about what?” Jamie asked, but Claire was already asleep, snoring lightly.

Chuckling to himself, Jamie picked her up to get her properly into bed before gently removing her shoes and outer clothing, then pulling the quilt up securely around her.

He would have loved nothing more than to curl up beside her, but the house was full of people, her uncle included, so Jamie resigned himself to one more kiss on her sleeping lips before dragging himself tiredly to his own room. 

Chapter Text

“Not another public gathering,” Claire sighed. “Hasn’t Jamie suffered enough?”

“T’would be unwise tae ignore this invitation,” Jenny said. “Th’ Duke of Sandringham is a very influential man.”

The invitation had arrived by private messenger about two months after Hogmanay, announcing a ball at Sandringham’s winter home in Newcastle. He evidently had some new additions to his collection of artifacts that he was eager to show off, and I knew that Uncle Lamb would certainly be first in line to attend, no doubt having gotten an invitation of his own. 

“It is alright,” Jamie said, glancing at the invitation. “We can go.”

“But Jamie, this is a ball ,” I said. “It’s not like the dinner party, or even your introduction. There will be many many people there, people more like the ones in London. Likely some those same people will be in attendance, among others.”

Jamie wrinkled his nose. “But...if we must go…”

“Why must we?” I asked. “Why do we care what that creepy little man thinks of us?”

“It’s all politics , Claire,” Jenny said. “Ye ignore an invitation from someone like th’ duke, he’ll no doubt talk ye down tae anyone who will listen, and then th’ press will be giving ye all sorts of attention ye dinna want. Trust me, I’ve dealt wi’ this sort of nonsense since I was but a girl. I learnt tae play th’ game, and we live a much more peaceful life for it.”

“It could be fun,” Ian suggested, ever the optimist. “Dancing, plenty of free food and drink…”

“Do I get to go?!” Fergus asked excitedly.

“This isn’a a trip for children,” Jenny said apologetically, and although I didn’t like the idea of leaving him behind, it probably would be easier only having Jamie to worry about in such a crowd of people. “You and th’ others will stay here wi’ Mrs. Crook.”

“Can she handle all four of them?” I asked skeptically.

Jenny laughed. “She may be old, but what she doesn’a ken about minding children can fit in a thimble. Ye needn’t worry for th’ lad, Claire.”

“Joe?” I asked, turning to him.

He glanced up from the paper he was reading. “Does it include weird uncles in the RSVP?”

“Do you want to know how much I care?” I shot back, smirking.

He rolled his eyes. “So long as no one thinks I’m your servant .”

“Ye never know,” Jenny said. “Th’ future Mrs. Abernathy could be in attendance. Then ye’ll never have cause tae leave.”

Joe’s head snapped up to her. “Wha...you too? What, does everyone just like having me around for ornamentation?”

“Don’t forget your rapid-fire commentary,” I said. 

Jamie chuckled. “Jenny just likes having a doctor in th’ house.”

“Wi’ our boys?” she exclaimed. “D’ye blame me?”

Right on cue, Young Jamie had thrown a toy train at Young Ian, hitting him in the head and causing him to cry.

“Point made,” Joe said. “Alright, kiddo, bring that rock-hard head over here.”

 

A formal ball meant shopping for a new gown for me, and a new suit for Jamie. The rich food served by Mrs. Crook, and less physical daily exertion meant that Jamie had gained some weight.

But far from going soft, all it had done was built his muscle mass, taking the sharp edges of hunger-panged boyhood from him and turning them into solid, brick-wall bulk.

Luckily, Jamie knew what to expect this time from a measurement, and the tailor was considerably more patient than the one in France.

I liked the pleasant tailor...but I wasn’t terribly fond of his daughter, who watched from the wings, practically salivating over Jamie. It wasn’t as though I blamed her, but still...couldn’t she show some restraint?

When another customer came through the door, she was quick to offer to finish up Jamie’s measurement, and her father cluelessly handed the measuring tape over and I stood back and watched as she took her time measuring his inseam.

“Are you quite finished?” I asked. “I do believe you have everything you need.”

The girl was completely unabashed, finishing up the measurement while giving Jamie a “come hither” look that he completely ignored, much to my satisfaction. 

“What has upset you?” he asked as we left the tailor.

“That girl,” I explained. “She wanted you.”

Jamie huffed. “In my world, animals can smell when you already have a mate. It would be helpful if people could do the same.”

“She knew,” I said. “Thing is, she didn’t care.”

Jamie huffed again, then glared at a pair of men who were following me with their own eyes. “Sometimes I do not like people,” he said wryly. 

I laughed, tightening my hold on his arm. “I understand completely, darling.”

“Look, a bookstore!” I exclaimed, pulling him in the direction of the shop. “Perhaps we should find some books to read on the train.”

“Any books like Hills of Heather ?” he asked.

“Hm, I doubt we’ll find anything like that here. Nor do I think that would be the best reading material for a train ride. But let's look and see.”

 

I leaned against Jamie on the train, enjoying my new book on botany, while Jamie was absorbed in a novel called The Impetuous Pirate which he playfully refused to share with me.

I was nervous about the ball, even more than I’d let on. 

Jamie had come so far in the months of living at Lallybroch. He rarely, if ever lapsed into muteness and seemed perfectly content and comfortable. I knew that being a man of his station would mean being forced into social situations, but I only hoped that the duke’s ball wouldn’t be detrimental to his progress. 

And I missed Fergus, thinking it strange how I’d come to rely so much on the presence of a child in the eleven months since being robbed by him on the streets in France. 

He didn’t know his birthday exactly, but I decided that since it was nearly a year since finding him, perhaps we could mark that date as his birthday and give him a small party for it. 

I turned to Jamie to suggest it, but I found him to be fast asleep, his book resting on his stomach. I carefully removed the book, keeping his place in it, then nestled closer beside him. 

 

We learned upon our arrival in Newcastle that the ball was meant to be quite the event, with outdoor games during early evening, owing apparently to the unseasonably mild weather, and fireworks that night. Joe and I were careful to explain fireworks to Jamie, so that he wouldn’t be too surprised.

My gown was a lovely dark red with a daringly low neckline that drew Jamie’s gaze every time I was within his line of sight, which he assured was quite often.

We arrived at a massive, sprawling estate full of expertly manicured lawns, elaborate statues and fountains, and cobbled pathways.

Carriages were already lined up on the drive and people were milling around the grounds with canes and parasols.

“Is that an automobile ?” Joe gasped.

“What’s that?” Ian asked.

Joe pointed at the only carriage without a horse’s harness. “I didn’t even know those were being built on this side of the pond yet.”

“Maybe the owner will give you a ride, later,” I said, unsure if I would trust such a thing.

A butler took our invitation and admitted us into the manor, then we were led directly into an enormous ballroom with black and white tiled floors, numerous tapestries on the walls that, from a glance, looked to be from various cultures around the world, and most impressively of all, an electric chandelier. 

“Lord Broch Tuarach,” the butler announced at the top of the stair. “Miss Claire Beauchamp, Mr. and Mrs. Ian Murray, and Dr. Joseph Abernathy.”

“Marvelous!” The Duke of Sandringham exclaimed, finding us as soon as we descended the stairs. “I’m overjoyed that you could make it!”

“We thank ye for th’ invitation,” Ian said, nodding. “Your home is incredible, Your Grace.”

“Isn’t it though?” Sandringham said without modesty. “I must say, of my three houses, I do believe this one is my favorite. Miss Beauchamp, do you like it? It’s from India.”

I’d been admiring a small bust on a pedestal near the stairs, and looked up sharply when my name was said. “Oh...yes, it’s beautiful, Your Grace. But...India? Are you sure? It looks Lebanese to me.”

Sandringham produced a monocle from his breast pocket, and peered at the figurine. “What? No...I’m quite certain it is from India.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said demurely, knowing full well that he wasn’t. “I must be mistaken.”

The duke smiled at me. “You must have an interest in unusual artifacts, like me. I gather you’re a well-traveled woman.”

I smiled back. “I supposed I do have an interest. My uncle, as you may know, is an archeologist. I’ve spent more time in ancient tombs than I have in ballrooms, I’m afraid.”

“Sounds dirty,” he sniffed.

“Do you travel often, Your Grace?” Jenny asked.

He scoffed. “Me? No. I purchase these items from reputable dealers. I simply cannot wait to unveil my latest acquisition later this evening. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it especially, Miss Beauchamp, and you of course, Lord Broch Tuarach...now, honestly …” he huffed, distracted by something on the other side of the room. “They weren’t supposed to bring the salmon puffs out now . Do excuse me…”

“Well, we survived,” I said to Jamie. “There’re enough people at this thing that maybe we won’t have to talk to him again.”

“We should be so lucky…” Jamie muttered, and I looked to him, impressed and surprised by his snark, until I saw what he was staring at. 

“Oh good, Geneva Peterson,” I deadpanned. “Of course she’d be here.”

“Who is Geneva Peterson?” Jenny asked.

“A woman who threw herself at Jamie and tried to claim he molested her,” I explained. “No matter that I saw the whole thing. Oh, and look, my old friend Bartie is here too. Well this party just keeps getting better and better.”

“Come on,” Joe said, grabbing both my and Jamie’s arms. “Why don’t we go outside? I’ve never played croquet, nor have I ever had the desire to, but we can go find out just how boring it is.”

When we got back outside, I gasped to see a very welcome face, already watching the games. “Uncle Lamb!”

“Claire, my darling!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed, opening his arms for me as I flew into them, ignoring the scandalized gasps from nearby ladies who were appalled by my joy...which of course is unladylike. “I have missed you so!” he held me out to arm’s length. “Is it possible that you’ve grown?”

“I’m wearing heels , Uncle Lamb,” I laughed. “And we only just saw one another at Hogmanay, though I suppose this is the longest we’ve gone apart since...at least since my ill-fated stint in finishing school,” we both shuddered, earning curious looks for it.

“Lady Jane in finishing school,” Joe said. “Now that’s something I’d love to hear about.”

Uncle Lamb chuckled. “I could write a book myself about it. You wouldn’t believe the trouble this girl got herself into…”

“As much as I’d love to stick around for that ,” I droned, elbowing Jamie who looked as fascinated as Joe. “Did Geillis come, too?”

“Ah, yes, she’s here somewhere with her husband. Though the man spends more time searching for a fainting couch than anything else.”

“Ah, then that means Geillie has found herself a strong drink and some men to ogle,” I said, then looped my arm through Jenny’s. “Come on, I’d love for you to meet her.”

I glanced up at Jamie, but he seemed content with Joe, Ian, and Uncle Lamb, and I knew that the three of them would look out for him, so I smiled at him in reassurance and led Jenny away.

 

“This isn’t so bad,” I admitted as we strolled the grounds, having found a waiter bearing glasses of white wine. The air had a sharp bite of cold to it, but it wasn’t miraculously wasn’t raining, so it wasn’t unpleasant to be out of doors.

“I told ye,” Jenny said. “And th’ best part is if th’ evening wears on you and Jamie too much, ye can take your leave wi’out much notice.”

“How are you feeling?” I asked, shooting a quick but pointed look toward her abdomen. It had been a couple of months since she’d told me of her pregnancy, but had yet to reveal the news to anyone else that I knew of, and she was only barely showing, if you looked close enough. “Have you told Ian yet?”

“Aye,” she said, resting a hand there. “But no’ the children, not yet anyway. We lost one, ken, before Ian, and it makes us a wee bit hesitant tae share th’ news too soon.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I haven’t told anyone though, not even Jamie.”

She smiled. “I wouldn’a fault ye if ye did. I share everything wi’ Ian. Have you and Jamie settled on a date for th’ wedding, yet?”

“Well, no. Everything is just so new to Jamie right now, I want to wait until he’s more comfortable in his role as lord before he tries to learn his role as husband. Besides, what’s the rush?”

“Oh, I dinna ken, maybe tae make an honest woman of ye?!” she suggested with wide eyes. “Preferably before th’ bairn comes?!”

“I’m not pregnant,” I droned.

Jenny snorted. “No’ for lack of trying. Th’ halls echo , my dear Claire.”

I blushed hotly, looking away, but kept my chin stubbornly in the air. It was then I caught sight of Geillis, standing among a group of women near the fence to the horse pasture.

“There’s Geillie,” I said. “I wonder what’s caught all their attention.”

“Let’s go and see for ourselves,” Jenny said as we made our way that direction.

“Such power,” I heard a woman sigh as a beautiful mustang galloped by. “Such gracefulness!”

“Aye,” Geillis agreed. “What it might be tae mount a stallion like that …”

“Geillie?” I said, pulling Jenny through the throng of women. “What is everyone...oh.”

To put it simply, Jamie had found the horses.

He’d discarded his jacket on the fence and had rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, and ran about among the mustangs, grinning ear-to-ear as they pranced around him playfully.

I shot Geillis an arched look and she smiled back unapologetically. “There’s no’ crime in looking Claire. If ye didn’a want anyone looking at your man, ye should have found one that wasn’a quite so eye-catching. Oh look...he’s riding one of them bareback.”

The women around all sighed dreamily, and Jenny and I both shook our heads ruefully.

But in truth, he was a beautiful sight, one I scarcely tired of looking at. I rested my elbows on the fence, content to watch Jamie be as free and joyful as he deserved to be.

He caught me watching, always somehow knowing when I was there, and he offered a sweet little wave.

“Is he your husband?” one of the women asked me.

“My fiancé,” I said proudly, giving my ring a fond look.

“You’re so lucky ,” another woman sighed, sounding like she was torn between admiring me, and hating me.

“I know I am,” I said quietly, not taking my eyes off Jamie. “Believe me, I know.”

Chapter Text

The men of the party all laughed at the women’s fascination with... horses .

Finished playing, Jamie found me and vaulted effortlessly over the fence to join me, bringing his face close to my neck before remembering himself and stepping back a respectable distance. 

“Geillis,” he said cordially, nodding at her.

“Jamie,” Geillis returned, smirking. “Ye’re looking verra well indeed. I think th’ air in the Highlands agrees wi’ you. You’re making me positively homesick. I was just talking to your darling Claire about bareback riding...Claire, do finish what you were saying...that you find it perfectly satisfying?”

Jenny and I both groaned and rolled our eyes while Jamie looked on in confusion. “Enough with you, Geillie,” I said, noting Jenny’s somewhat concerned expression. “Don’t worry,” I said. “She’s shameless, but also harmless.”

“Harmless indeed,” Geillis agreed. “Claire knows I’m no competition for her fox cub, so she abides my nonsense. Do you remember how we competed for that lad in Cambridge, Claire? Samuel, was it? You won though, naturally.”

“Do tell,” Jenny said, grinning, while Jamie frowned.

“Samuel?”

“Never mind ,” I said firmly, glaring at Geillis and steering Jamie away.

“Who is Samuel?” he asked.

“A young man I knew long ago,” I said. “Long before you.”

“How did you and Geillis compete for him? Did ye fight?”

I should have known that’s where Jamie was headed with this conversation, not necessarily jealousy , but curiosity. “No,” I laughed. “We both just put on our best dresses, did up our hair, wore lip rouge and perfume, and pranced around Samuel like a pair of peacocks, coming up with every excuse we could to flash him a bit of ankle or pout our lips at him. It was positively shameful.”

Jamie chuckled. “Not shameful. Just makes me think that animals and people must not be so different after all.”

I laughed and shook my head, then tilted my head up toward him. “Should I do that to you? Prance about you like a peacock? Show you my ankles and pout my lips?”

Jamie rocked his head from side to side. “Ye could. But ye needn’t go through such effort. Ye already have me, Sassenach.”

I looped my arm through his and leaned into his side as we walked. “And don’t you forget it.”

“Murtagh,” he said suddenly.

We found Jamie’s godfather hovering near the house, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

“Funny, I didn’t peg you as the type to enjoy balls,” I joked once we reached him.

“Th’ only balls I enjoy are my own,” he muttered, taking a large sip of whatever it was he was drinking. “Lost a bet wi’ Dougal MacKenzie, wound up having tae come in his place.”

“In his place?” I asked. “Sandringham didn’t care?”

Murtagh chuckled. “Sandringham canna tell th’ difference between me and Dougal. He’s no’ th’ heir to th’ MacKenzie fortune, and I’m no’ the heir to th’ Fraser one, so we dinna matter tae him. Dougal and I make bets before ev’ry one of that jackass’s balls tae determine which of us goes. First time in three balls that I’ve lost.”

“What was th’ bet?” Jamie asked.

“Who would win at shinty.”

“What is shinty?”

Murtagh chuckled again and patted Jamie’s back. “I’ll have tae teach ye sometime, lad. Something tells me ye’d be good at it.”

 

It wasn’t shinty, but I found a badminton game going on that Jamie and I both failed spectacularly at, and then we took a few more turns around the grounds before finally making our way back into the ballroom in search of food and drink.

“You’re having a good time,” I said, smiling at how relaxed he seemed.

“Aye,” he agreed. “My mam and da used tae have big parties,” he said. “No’ so grand as this. They’d also go to balls. I remember them dressing all up, imagining th’ day I could be like them…”

Jamie got a faraway look on his face all of a sudden, and I slipped my hand into his. “What is it?”

“I used tae wonder th’ same thing...” he said quietly. “About th’ gorillas. I think...I think I had in mind that I’d grow up tae be one of them. I’d grow fur and long arms and just be one of them forever. I wonder how they are, Mother, Akut, th’ rest of th’ Family.”

“I’m sure they’re fine,” I said. “But I’m also sure that they miss you.”

Jamie smiled, but this time it was sad. “No, they don’t. It isn’t in their nature to dwell on the past.”

“I suppose it can be a good thing not to dwell in the past,” I said. “But then again, who are we without our pasts?”

The orchestra had picked up again after a break, and Jamie turned to me with his hand held out. “Will ye dance wi’ me, Sassenach?”

I placed my hand in his, even as I arched a brow skeptically. “You don’t know how to dance.”

“I’ve been practicing wi’ Fergus, and Maggie,” he admitted. “And Mrs. Crook, a bit.”

Grinning, and feeling my heart beat a little faster, I let Jamie lead me to the very edge of the dance floor where he pulled me into his long arms and started stepping confidently...if a little clumsily...in proper rhythm. 

“Color me impressed,” I said as he spun me out and brought me back again.

Jamie smiled back but didn’t answer, and I took notice of how he was carefully mouthing a count to himself. 

The music slowed down, and Jamie pulled me to him. I rested my hand on his chest, over his heart.

I thought about what Jenny had said about setting a date for the wedding.

It wasn’t that I had reservations about marrying Jamie. On the contrary, I was completely certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. It was only that I hated to disrupt the happy existence we’d carved out for ourselves in Lallybroch. And, perhaps, a part of me still worried that Jamie didn’t completely understand what he was getting himself into.

“Do gorillas mate for life, Jamie?” I asked.

Jamie gave a slow smile. “It depends on how you look at it, I suppose. Th’ silverback mates wi’ all the females, but they are usually loyal only tae him.”

I snorted. “Hm, and how do you feel about such practices?”

“Kerchak’s Family is unique,” Jamie said instead of answering. “Normally when a gorilla comes of age, they leave, but Kerchak’s Family grows and stays with him. His mate is Kala, and I’ve never known him to take another. Of course, I am not a gorilla, Sassenach.”

I chuckled. “I know that. Do you...do you understand what marriage means ?”

“It means being husband and wife,” he said simply. “Like my mam and da, like Jenny and Ian.”

I nodded. “And, typically, when a person marries...it’s forever. At least, that’s the idea .”

Jamie spun me around, making my skirt balloon out, and I laughed, but then he pulled me back again, closer this time, and pressed his forehead to mine.

“It has always been forever for me, Sassenach.”

The breath caught in my throat, and I leaned up into him, damning propriety. But then we both jumped apart at the sound of a gong, of all things.

“What is happening?” Jamie asked.

The orchestra had stopped playing, and were carrying their instruments off the stage as Sandringham made his way up.

“It looks like the duke is ready for his grand unveiling,” I said. “Come on, let’s find the others. I admit I’m rather curious about this.”

“As am I,” he agreed as I grabbed his hand and pulled him through the throng.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, honored guests…” Sandringham said, full of theatricity. “In a few moments, I invite you all outside for a glorious firework display with explosives imported directly from China! But first, I want to share with all of you a most incredible acquisition to my growing collection of oddities and keepsakes from some of the most savage parts of the world! I promise you’ll never have seen anything like it!”

I rolled my eyes, especially when he said savage parts of the world. “Easy to say when you’ve never been there,” I muttered under my breath, making Jamie chuckle.

We found Jenny, Ian, Joe, Uncle Lamb, Murtagh, and Geillis near the front just as Sandringham’s servants rolled something enormous onto the stage.

“What in God’s name d’ye think it is?” Jenny wondered aloud.

“Probably a statue or something,” Joe said. “Or, hell, maybe it’s some religious totem he had someone swipe from a holy ground somewhere.”

“Well, he claims all his dealers are most reputable,” Uncle Lamb said.

“Of course he’d say that,” I deadpanned. “Is he ever going to pull that sheet off or is he just going to blather on about it forever?”

“And now, without further ado,” Sandringham continued. “Powerful...majestic...straight from the wilds of Africa...much like our dear friend Broch Taurach here.”

A chuckle went up in the crowd, even as I tensed in unease, and Jamie in self-consciousness.

Sandringham ripped the sheet off his artifact, and for a moment, everything just seemed to stand still.

Frozen in a deadly snarl, glass eyes open eternally, staring at nothing. Arms positioned unnaturally upward like a bogeyman from a child’s book of fairy tales.

Powerful, majestic…

I turned to Jamie slowly, as if moving underwater, wanting to stop him...comfort him...do something . But he just stared, bewildered. Like he just couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.

His voice, when he spoke, sounded heartbreakingly young, and lost.

“...Kerchak?”

 

Chapter Text

“Dear God in Heaven…” Uncle Lamb cried.

“The hell is the meaning of this?!” Joe snapped.

“Claire?” Jenny grabbed my sleeve. “Claire, what’s going on?”

The crowd had gasped, taken a simultaneous step back when Sandringham revealed the enormous, taxidermied silverback, but all of my focus was on Jamie, trying to pull him from the grisly sight. 

“Jamie...Jamie, look at me!” I exclaimed, shaking him. “Let’s go. We should go. Now .”

“Kerchak…” Jamie whispered in disbelief. “Wh...how?”

“I know,” I sobbed. “I know, but we should go. You and me, come on! Please, Jamie!”

The identity of the gorilla was hard to mistake, owing to his unusual size. But even if I hadn’t been able to recognize him at once, Jamie would.

I saw it happening, saw it boiling beneath the surface, saw the reality of what had become of his beloved leader take root in his mind. Murtagh got behind him, tried to grab onto his arm, lead him away, but Jamie snatched his arm away without taking his eyes off of Kerchak.

“Yes, it is quite breathtaking, isn’t it?” Sandringham was rattling on. “This incredible beast was taken down in the Congo. And it was quite the battle, so I’m told.”

“You…” Jamie growled, his fists clenching. “You…”

“Jamie!” I cried desperately, but he didn’t even appear to hear me.

With a feral snarl, Jamie lunged past me on all fours, crashing onto the stage, and tearing after the duke.

At once there was screaming all around, men descending on Jamie like ants as he first struck Sandringham, then picked him up like a ragdoll and slammed him back onto the floor.

“JAMIE!” I shrieked, fighting against Joe and Ian as they held me back. “NO!”

Sandringham’s guards appeared, carrying rifles. Around a dozen men tried to hold Jamie down, but he threw them all off like they were nothing. I watched as he ruthlessly snapped the arm of one man like nothing more than a twig.

One of the guards drove the butt of his rifle into Jamie’s stomach, and then another against his temple once, then again, and Jamie slumped to the stage at Kerchak’s feet, barely conscious.

Joe and Ian released me, and we all ran up to the stage, surrounding Jamie.

“Get that animal out of here and lock him up!” Sandringham yelled.

“You did this!” I seethed. “You fucking well knew how would upset him! You did this to taunt him!”

“I didn’t know he knew the goddamned thing personally ! It’s just an animal!”

“He was Jamie’s father !”

“Then he should have challenged me like a man, not attack me like a rabid animal! Guards! Call for the police and have this crazy thing put in a cage where he belongs!”

“I’ll kill you myself!” I growled, lunging toward Sandringham but was held firmly back by Joe.

“No sense in you getting locked up too,” he hissed in my ear. “It’s gonna be okay, we’ll help him!”

I yanked my arm from Joe’s grasp and knelt beside Jamie, who was drifting in and out of consciousness. “Jamie, love, it’s going to be alright,” I crooned. “Please, I beg of you, don’t try to fight them. Don’t make them hurt you. I promise I will come for you, do you hear me?”

“Sassenach?” he murmured as the guards hoisted him up roughly.

“Be easy!” Jenny cried. “He’s hurt !”

“Don’t worry, Claire,” Ian said, grabbing my wrist. “We have a friend who’s a lawyer, and a good one. We’ll get Jamie out.”

“We should go,” Uncle Lamb said. “There’s nothing more we can do here,” he looked up again at Kerchak, and shook his head sadly. “That poor, poor creature. Whoever could do such a thing?”

“Who indeed…” I murmured, watching Sandringham retreat out of the ballroom. The others had gone ahead, following Jamie out of the manor, but I held back. “Uncle Lamb, I dropped my shawl.”

“I’ll get it...” he said.

“No, keep an eye on Jamie, I’ll be right back.”

I pushed my way against the flow of people as they fled the manor, the ball well and truly over. Since the guards were all occupied on dragging Jamie away, I slid easily through the door that Sandringham had gone, following the glow of lamplight through a narrow hall, and to a study of sorts, where the duke sat, surrounded by more of his artifacts , many of which were other taxidermied animals.

“Who was your dealer?” I asked simply, conversationally.

Sandringham jumped, turning to face me. I was satisfied to see the darkening bruises on his face, and his split lip.

“Get out of here!” he barked. 

“Where did you get the gorilla?” I demanded. “ Who sold him to you ?”

“What does it matter?” he huffed. “It’s not like you can bring the damned thing back to life.”

“Then it doesn’t matter if you tell me,” I argued, pasting on a sickly sweet smile.

Sandringham let his shoulders droop. “You are an exhausting woman, do you know that? The name is Randall. Franklin Randall. Happy?”

I wasn’t, not at all, but neither was I surprised, unfortunately. Only very, very angry. “Were there others?” I asked lowly. “Did he have more...like the one you bought?”

“How should I know?” he said shortly. “Though, if it pleases you to know, I have it on good authority that Mr. Randall deals mostly in live chattel. Though, that gets into a business too distasteful even for me.”

I frowned at him, wondering why animal corpses were intriguing artifacts but live animals were distasteful...unless he wasn’t talking only of animals.

“Thank you for the information,” I said coolly, turning to go. “Oh, and Your Grace?”

What ?”

I glanced back at him. “You had better pray to God that you never run into Jamie, or me , again.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie lay in the dark, dank cell. 

He didn’t know how long he’d been there, but it had been more than a day. Several plates of food sat untouched in the corner where they’d been shoved through the bars. 

There was a cot in the corner, but he detested the way it smelt, even more than the rest of the place, so he just lay on the floor where they left him, his head pounding.

He’d ruined everything. Turned into the exact sort of beast he’d been trying to convince everyone, including himself, that he wasn’t.

He thought again of Kerchak, the once proud and mighty king of gorillas, struck down and his body put on display like one of Wee Ian’s toys.

The memory turned his stomach and he breathed deeply through his nose, trying to avoid vomiting again.

What of the rest of the Family? What of Mother, and Akut? What of the infants? Were they all dead, too?

He could see them in his mind, their cold, lifeless corpses propped up for people to stare at.

He’d never in his life wanted to kill more than he had wanted to kill Sandringham. He would have, too, regardless of the men who tried to stop him, had it not been for the terrified, pleading screams of Claire that had finally broken through his rage after they’d hit his head.

And now he’d lost her. He was locked up like the animal he was, and he couldn’t even know if she was safe. His only reassurance was that she was with Uncle Lamb, and Joe, and Jenny and Ian and Murtagh. He trusted them to protect her.

The was a groaning creak, and a door opened, letting in a sliver of light.

Jamie expected one of the guards, but instead a short, older man, wearing a suit, walked into the jail and came to stop at his cell.

“Unacceptable!” The little man shouted suddenly, making Jamie flinch. “Guard!”

Jamie rolled to his haunches, tensed, watching to see what this man planned to do.

When the guard appeared, the small man spun to him. “This is an outrage ! Do you know who this man is? This is Lord Broch Tuarach, Fraser of the Frasers of Lovat, nephew of Lord Colum MacKenzie of Leoch. And you have him wallowing in a commoner’s cell, lying in filth! Has he even been seen by a doctor?”

The guard stammered a nervous “no,” taken aback by the smaller man’s fury, as was Jamie.

“I will have your job for this, sir!” he snapped. “Release this man at once into his family’s care or I will bury you in so much litigation your great grandchildren will be subpoenaed!”

The guard hesitated, and the little man crossed his arms. “Unless, of course, you’d rather me call down the MacKenzies to see to this themselves .”

That spurred the guard for some reason, and he hastily unlocked the cell, though Jamie didn’t move, staring in suspicion at the strange little man.

“My lord?” he said, bowing. “I have a carriage waiting just outside for you. This way, if you please.”

Jamie still hesitated, fearful of a trick. He’d learned the hard way that not every human could be trusted.

But when the man smiled, Jamie detected kindness there. “You don’t remember me do you? I’m your lawyer, Ned Gowen. I’ve brought you a clean suit, and saw to your every comfort for the trip…” he glanced at the bewildered guard and back again. “ Sassenach and all.”

That spurred Jamie into motion, and he hurried out of the cell before this Ned could change his mind. He let himself be ushered into a closet to change out of his bloody and filthy suit, then followed Ned out of the jailhouse and to the promised carriage.

“Jamie!” Claire gasped the moment he climbed inside, practically climbing right into his lap, not that he minded in the least.

He wrapped his arms tightly around her, letting her warmth chase away the chill of the cell, letting the comforting and familiar smell of her banish everything else.

“Are you alright?” she asked, pulling away and grabbing his head, turning it this way and that. He winced, but let her to as she wanted. “Joe should have come instead of me, so that he could tend to you…”

Jamie shook his head emphatically. If there was some sort of choice between Joe being here and Claire, he wanted Claire , no matter what.

“I apologize for my brusqueness, my lord,” Ned said, climbing into the carriage and tapping on the roof with his cane to signal the driver to pull away. “It’s better for appearances if I seem all business, you see. The guard likely will lose his job, but once we have you back in Scotland, it will be much easier to manage your case. We may all live under British government, but there are old laws still in place that prevent you from being removed from your estate. We may be forced to come to a monetary agreement with th’ duke, but I’m confident that this will all be over very soon.”

Jamie hadn’t the slightest idea what Ned was saying, but it seemed to please Claire, and that was enough for him. He pressed in closer to Claire, leaned his head against her shoulder, and closed his eyes.

 

~~~

 

The past two days had been the most hellish of my life. Ian had wired for Ned Gowen, the MacKenzie family lawyer straight away. I had reservations about seeking any assistance from the MacKenzies, but Ned had arrived on the next train; an older, jovial man with a razor sharp wit hidden behind a bumbling personality and I found an instant trust in him.

I didn’t sleep, only laid in bed in the inn we were staying at as images of that night flashed over and over again in my mind, along with all manner of imaginings of what was happening to Jamie in the prison, be it physically or mentally.

Joe had found me the second night, crying into the pillow and he wordlessly lay down beside me, over the covers.

“I know I’m a poor substitute,” he said quietly after a time. “But I also know how you don’t like being alone.”

I rolled over to face him, grabbing his hand and holding tight. We stayed exactly like that throughout the night. And no, he wasn’t a substitute for Jamie, but his warm and safe presence was the only reason I didn’t go mad with worry.

Mr. Gowen had devised a plan at once to use legal jargon to get Jamie out of prison quickly, get him home, and deal with the rest of the legal proceedings from afar. If it all went according to plan, by the time the judge caught wind of it, Jamie would already be home and there wouldn’t be much that could be done about it without creating a considerable scandal. 

It was the best we could hope for under the circumstances, and it was decided that Ned and I would go to fetch Jamie alone, able to travel more quickly with just the three of us, and then meet the rest at Lallybroch. 

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” Ned asked Jamie as we rode along. “I’ve known ye since you were born.”

I looked up at Jamie, my heart clenching at his blank expression. His relief to see me had been obvious, but now he only stared straight ahead, not really seeming to listen to us.

Ned looked at me in concern, and I tried to give him a reassuring smile. 

“I’m sure he’s just exhausted,” I said. “As am I. We’ll all feel better once we’re home.”

I turned in my seat and guided Jamie’s head to rest on my chest. He went willingly, but I watched his hand as it lay in my lap, clenching and unclenching, one finger tapping periodically. 

I took his hand, lacing our fingers together. He stopped clenching, but he squeezed my hand tightly, and didn’t let go for the rest of the journey home.



Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night by the time we made it to Lallybroch.

Jamie had slept fitfully off and on in the carriage, but I was wide awake, though completely exhausted and emotionally drained.

We crept quietly into the house, so as not to wake everyone. But unsurprisingly, someone had attempted to sit up and wait for us...well, three someones.

Jenny was curled up on one end of the sofa, while Fergus and Young Ian occupied the other end, all sharing one large quilt.

Jenny was awake the moment she heard a floorboard creak, bolting upright.

“Jamie!” she gasped, jumping to her feet and throwing her arms around his neck. “Are ye alright? Were ye hurt?”

Jamie returned her hug, but didn’t respond. His lack of verbal response was hardly unusual for him, but the way he barely acted like he heard anything at all was really beginning to worry me. He hadn’t said a single word since retrieving him from the jail. I couldn’t be sure if it was emotional trauma, or physical due to the blow to his head, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make him sit through an examination from Joe just then.

“I think he just needs some sleep,” I said. “We all do.”

“I’ll say,” Jenny said, rubbing her eyes. “Everyone tried to stay up, but I banished them all tae their beds around an hour ago. Only these two wouldn’a be moved,” she motioned toward the boys, who were waking up.

“Milord!” Fergus exclaimed, his eyes red and puffy from crying.

Jamie bent and scooped Fergus up, holding him tight, then extended his other arm for Ian who went gladly to it.

“We were worrit,” Ian said, leaning his head on Jamie’s shoulder.

“I wasn’t,” Fergus said firmly. “I knew Milady would save him.”

“It was Mr. Gowen who did the saving,” I said, smiling at the older man.

“We’re running low on guest rooms,” Jenny said to Ned. “But come, I’ll set ye up in th’ lads’ room.”

“I thank ye, Jenny,” Ned said. “But I think I’d just assume make my way home, as would my driver, I believe. I think we’ve all earned quite a lie-in tomorrow, wouldn’t you say?”

Jenny nodded emphatically.

“Thank you again, for everything,” I said. “Trust me, Jamie is grateful as well.”

Ned smiled. “I’ll return within a couple of days once I receive word from the duke’s solicitors. You really needn’t fear. He’s a blaggard to be certain, but one thing I know about the Duke of Sandringham is he detests lengthy legal matters. He’s most likely as eager for this ugly business to be done and forgotten about as you do so he can go back to planning parties.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said sincerely. 

There were so many matters to discuss, to deal with, but in that moment all I could focus on or care about was getting Jamie seen safely to bed and get some desperately needed rest myself.

“Mrs. Crook and th’ lads brought a tub and water upstairs for Jamie,” Jenny said. “Fill it wi’ a couple more pots from th’ fire and it’ll heat right back up.”

“Thank you, Jenny,” I said, reaching out to squeeze her hand.

“Jamie…” Jenny began, starting and abandoning what she was going to say before settling on a quiet, “I’m sae sorry about your...about him.”

Jamie gave a minuscule nod, but at least it was response, then carried both Fergus and Ian upstairs.

I rather wondered if Jamie would want to keep Fergus, or maybe both boys with him for the night, but he carried them straight to their room, placing them gently on their respective beds.

I followed them into the room, first kissing Fergus’s brow, then Ian’s.

After closing their door behind us, Jamie grabbed my hand, almost roughly, and led the way to his room, as if to assure I went there with him...not that I had any other intention.

Not really wishing to fill the silence, I wordlessly started the process of boiling water to add to Jamie’s bath. Lugging the tub and water up and down the stairs was no mean feat...normally baths were taken in the kitchen, or behind a sheet in the garden, but Jenny must have wanted to give Jamie as much privacy and peace as she could, not knowing for sure what time we would arrive home.

Once the water felt pleasantly hot, I turned to where Jamie was sitting on the bed, staring blankly into the fire, and knelt before him, carefully removing his boots and socks before starting on the buttons of his shirt. His torso was mottled with bruises which I touched tenderly as I peeled back the shirt. I suspected that there were a few more even than he received at the ball.

He let me undress him almost like a doll, then went more willingly to his bath than he ever had before.

If the tub had been any bigger I might have tried to join him, but I settled myself to carefully wash him, letting myself enjoy the feeling of his wet skin beneath my palms.

Jamie gradually started to relax, started to lose the tense line to his shoulders as I massaged them.

But just when I thought he was finally at ease, his muscles bunched up again and he was suddenly climbing out of the tub, shaking his head to rid it of water before remembering himself then roughly scrubbing himself with the towel.

“Why don’t we lie down?” I suggested, but instead Jamie tossed the towel down and began to pace back and forth across the room. I hated to draw the comparison considered where he’d just been, but he looked like a caged animal. 

I went to the window and threw it open, hoping maybe the fresh air would help, and was about to suggest he put his trousers on and we could go outside when he suddenly turned to me with an intense, burning look in his eyes.

He took a quick step toward me, and only because my nerves were already worn tight did I flinch in surprise, but Jamie picked up on it at once and stopped, backing away in abashment.

“None of that,” I murmured, following him and pulling him down for a kiss.

Jamie’s every muscle was shaking as I ran my hands soothingly over his chest and down his arms. 

He was breaking, as surely as glass, and he needed me to hold him together.

I undressed quickly, shedding those layers he hated so much, then pressed my body against his, making it so I touched him with as much of myself as I could.

“I love you, Jamie,” I whispered against his lips.

He didn’t respond, but I didn’t need him to. He’d loved me almost from the start, I knew that. All that was needed now was for me to show him that I loved him every bit as much. That no matter the storm raging in his mind and heart, that he had me, and he would never lose me.

I pushed him to sit on the bed, and he looked up at me with wide, anguished, needful eyes. 

Straddling his lap I kissed him again, running my tongue along his bottom lip until he opened for me, and I tried to find places in his mouth to make him moan, to find his voice.

His hands kneaded my arse, pulling me tighter to him. It bordered on painful, but I rolled my hips against him, encouraging him to do whatever it was he needed. 

And yet he didn’t seem to be in a place to take charge at all. The other times we’d been together he’d chased his pleasure so eagerly and happily, so I decided this time he might need it given to him a different way.

I rested my hands on his shoulders, messaging him there a moment before gently pushing him to lay back.

His erection lay flat against his belly, and I ran a finger lightly up the underside, watching him shiver. 

I licked my lips, considering. I’d never attempted such a thing before, and not even the saucy Emilia had dared, but I was drawn to the idea in a surprising way, one that had my body clenching in anticipation. 

Jamie only watched in curiosity as I bent over him, first kissing the head of his cock, delighting in the way he nearly bucked off the bed.

Seeing how that could potentially be a problem, I pressed down on his lower belly, and he nodded at once, understanding my silent request to be still. 

I took a curious lick, pleasantly surprised to find the taste of him as intoxicating as everything else about him. When he whimpered, I opened my mouth and took him in, hollowing my cheeks.

Jamie gave a long groan, and twisted his hands in the sheets, though he obediently lay still. Glad to hear his voice, I rewarded him with another long draw, taking as much of him into my mouth as I possibly could, which didn’t seem like much as he was considerably large.

I could feel him unraveling, and I pressed my thighs together, trying to fend off my own need so I could focus on his.

But then his hand was on my upper arm, and he was frantically pulling me up.

I released him with a pop and looked up at him, smiling when I saw his slack-jawed expression.

You , his eyes said to me. Want you .

I crawled up his body to take him into mine, but he swiftly flipped us over, thrusting into me at once.

My body was more than ready for him, and he slid inside easily, nearly slipping out again as he started to come fast into me, snapping his hips in an eager rhythm. 

I rose up to meet him as best I could, whispering words of love and encouragement in his ear. 

I came around him with a cry that I buried in his neck, and he followed seconds later as I felt surge after surge of warmth inside me.

Jamie rolled to the side, bringing me with him so that I remained wrapped securely in his arms. In turn I wrapped myself around him as much as I could, arms and legs, as if I could meld us together.

For a long time we lay silently, only the sound of our breathing and the beating of our hearts.

But then he spoke, his voice low and hoarse.

“Are they all dead? Did I kill them when I left them?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “But Jamie, listen to me,” I twisted, then grabbed some of his hair so that I could turn his head to face mine. “ Nothing about what happened to Kerchak is in any way your fault, do you understand me?”

“I broke the rules,” he argued. “I brought men to them. I told men where to find them.”

“Frank Randall killed Kerchak,” I said, unsure at that point if the knowledge would help him focus his anger on someone more worthy of it or just reinforce his idea that he was to blame. “But he did it because that’s what he does . He’s a poacher, like what we talked about. Uncle Lamb and I didn’t know, so if anything, it’s my fault. I’m the one who coaxed you into the open. It was for me that you brought us all to see the gorillas. Frank would never have encountered your family at all had it not been for me.”

“I cannot regret you,” he said, after a brief pause. “No matter the cost.”

I sighed, pulling him to rest his head between my breasts, I felt him nuzzle the side of one, and inhale deeply.

“I spoke to Sandringham,” I said. “That’s how I found out about Frank. Sandringham did say that Frank normally deals in living things. So he may have only sought out Kerchak...you remember how he was with him, or he may have captured the others.”

“Captured? Do you mean...locked up?”

I felt him shudder, and I knew he was remembering how he felt about being locked up.

“It’s possible,” I said. “But at least locked up is alive . Uncle Lamb and I can alert authorities in Boma, Joe can get word to his uncle, we can try to save them.”

Jamie shook his head.

“Jamie, you can’t give up. Kerchak wouldn’t want that.”

“No,” he said. “I mean...I must go , Sassenach. I must go back.”

I tightened my arms around him. In a way, I knew it would come to this, but it was still frightening. “Okay. We’ll go as soon as we can get it arranged.”

He tilted his head back to look at me. “We? You too?”

I smiled at him. “What did you think? You’re my home, Jamie. If you go, I go.”

Jamie smiled back, and my heart soared to see it, to see that his beautiful soul was only bruised, not broken. 

 

Chapter Text

“But...ye canna!” Jenny exclaimed. “It’s dangerous tae cross th’ ocean!”

The panic in her eyes was well-founded, and my heart ached for her, but it wasn’t as if we could fly to Africa.

“I have to,” Jamie said simply.

“But I’ve only just gotten ye back!” she said. “I canna lose ye again!”

Jamie placed his hands gently on her shoulders. “Ye willn’a,” he said quietly. “Never. But now, they need me too.”

After a moment, Jenny nodded, rubbing her nose. “Aye, I ken. Christ, ye always were such a bloody hero, even when you were wee. Going out, saving rabbits from Da’s snares and th’ like. Ye’re just like Willie.”

Jamie chuckled, then kissed her forehead. 

“I’ll wire the charter we sailed with before,” Uncle Lamb said. “Hopefully they’ll have a ship leaving soon, though we’ll need at least a day to prepare…”

“We?” I interrupted. “Uncle Lamb, you don’t have…”

“Now you listen here,” he interrupted, wagging a finger in my face. “If you think for a moment that I’m going to kick back my heels and let my child run off to Africa to save gorillas - and what’s more, have an adventure without me - you have another thing coming!”

“Make that a ticket for four,” Joe added. “Figure you two will no doubt be needing a doctor at some point.”

I grinned at them. “I rather hoped you’d say that.”

“What about me?” Fergus asked.

Biting my lower lip, I knelt before him. “Fergus, I’d like for you to stay here, with Jenny and Ian, where it’s safe.”

“...What?” he asked in shock. “B...but I’ve always gone where you go, Milady! Except for the ball, and look what happened!”

“This is different,” I tried to make him see, though the hurt in his eyes was breaking my heart. “What we’re going to be doing might be dangerous.”

“All the more reason for me to come!” he argued, then spun around to Jamie. “I belong with you!”

Jamie looked up, meeting my eyes, then also knelt down to Fergus.

“Aye,” he said, putting a hand on the back of Fergus’s head and pulling it down until their foreheads met. “Aye ye do.”

I sighed, seeing I’d lost the fight. I took Fergus’s hand and turned him back to face me. “If you’re coming, you will obey everything we tell you, understand? No questions.”

“Aye, Milady,” he said happily, throwing his arms around my neck and kissing my cheek with a loud smack .

“Y...you will come back,” Jenny said weakly. “Won’t you?”

Jamie smiled at her. “You are my family, Jenny. I will always come back to you.”

 

The preparations for departure revitalized Jamie, and he started to seem more like himself. I assumed it was due, in part, to being able to actually do something as opposed to sitting back and dwelling on it.

But when the day came to leave, it hurt more than I expected it to. No matter that we intended to return, we were well aware of the length and the trials of traveling so far.

Rupert and Angus came by to see us off, thrusting a glass of whisky into Jamie’s and my hands for one more toast before we went, then kissing me soundly while I laughed and playfully tried to avoid them.

“Ye will be careful,” Geillis said, hugging me. “And ye’ll write, once you’re in Africa?”

“Of course,” I said. “Thank you, Geillie. You’ve been a wonderful friend through all of this.”

The Murray children’s faces were longer than an anteater’s as they bid us farewell.

“Ye won’t forget us, will ye Auntie?” Young Ian asked. He, naturally, had begged to come as well after Fergus had successfully been included, but everyone had firmly put their feet down about that.

The boy couldn’t know how the way he innocently called me Auntie all these months had made me feel, and I hugged him extra tightly. “Never ever. And don’t you fret, we’ll see you again very soon.”

I looked around to say goodbye to Jenny, but instead I found her standing beside Murtagh, both with bags in their hands.

“What…” I began.

“Jamie’s my brother,” Jenny sniffed. “I let him go once, and I’ll no’ do it again.”

“And I’m his godfather,” Murtagh said. “Tis up tae me to look out for him, and Jenny as well.”

Jamie and I both gaped at them, then looked to the elder Ian, who shrugged.

You try talking a Fraser out of something when they get their mind set on it,” he said. “We canna both travel and leave th’ children, so I’ll remain here.”

“Jenny,” I said carefully. “You’re sure about this? About traveling by sea? To say nothing about what may be awaiting us in Boma.”

Jenny didn’t look quite certain at all, but she squared her shoulders bravely. “I’m going, and that’s that.”

I looked at Jamie, who was smiling proudly.

“Then that’s that,” I said. “Uncle? Do you think you’ll be able to procure two more tickets?”

“Already done,” Murtagh said. “So can we get going, or not?”

 

If the Duke of Sandringham did decide to pursue legal action against Jamie, we would have been long gone by the time that went into action.

I did feel a little badly about leaving so quickly without even sending word to Ned first, after everything he’d done for Jamie, but there simply wasn’t time to waste, not for Jamie. 

Despite the support of his family and friends, no one, not even myself, could truly understand the depth of Jamie’s love for the gorillas. Where most people saw animals, Jamie saw family, pure and simple. He’d made a choice to leave them and be with me, but he would be a part of them always, and they a part of him. 

I think, in the back of my mind, I’d known that the jungle would call to Jamie one day, one way or another. I think I’d known from the moment we left Africa to start with. 

He could never fully be Lord of Lallybroch and nothing else. He was Tarzan, King of the Apes.

And he was going home.



Chapter Text

It was another seemingly never-ending voyage to Africa. Jamie handled his seasickness a little better than before, but he still struggled greatly. And where Jenny didn’t suffer seasickness like he did, she was certainly no seafarer, and her past trauma meant she was just as miserable. I could tell just by looking at her that she longed for her husband, and I regretted that he hadn’t been able to come for her sake if nothing else. Any amount of reassurance I tried to give was gruffly brushed off, so eventually I left her to her private struggles and focused on making sure Jamie ate and didn’t go too crazy.

Plus...there was the little added challenge of Jenny being pregnant.

“You’re what ?” Joe and Jamie exclaimed at once.

Joe pinched the bridge of his nose and inhaled deeply. “Did your husband know this before you stepped on a ship ?”

“Yes,” Jenny said primly. “Ian kent it. And he kens I’ll be returning tae him wi’ a babe in arms. We agreed that it was important that I’m here for Jamie.”

“It was foolish ,” Joe snapped. “There are all sorts of problems that can arise in childbirth, forget being on a goddamned ship bound for Africa!”

“Well, it’s a good thing there’s a doctor here,” Jenny shot back. “Besides, I’ll no’ be having this child on the ship. I’m scarcely more than four months along.”

“And hardly showing,” I pointed out unhelpfully. 

After his surprise, Jamie didn’t seem to think anything of Jenny being pregnant, but then gorillas would hardly interrupt whatever they were about just because they were with child.

 

Between Jenny’s hormones, Murtagh’s usual grouchiness, Joe’s annoyance about Jenny’s secret pregnancy, Fergus’s rambunctiousness, and Jamie’s seasickness, the entire lot of us were irritable and at each other’s throats.

It even led to the first proper quarrel between Jamie and I, and it all started absurdly over his copy of The Impetuous Pirate which he refused to loan me, which I found completely unfair considering he borrowed my books all of the time. We snapped and bickered over it for the better part of an hour, Fergus watching us in concern, until we all of sudden stared at one another and began laughing hysterically. 

Jamie handed the book over at that point, apologizing for having been selfish, and I suggested that he instead read it to me like we did with Hills of Heather. The way he flushed in pleasure told me the book must be on par in terms of romance .

 

When the shores of Africa finally came into view, I watched a change come over Jamie. It could only be explained as the sudden sense of ease that came with going home.

His nerves were on edge, though, worry about what was to come warring with relief at being back.

“It’s hot,” was the first thing Murtagh said when we stepped off the boat.

Uncle Lamb chuckled. “Yes, that it is, Mr. Fitzgibbons. But don’t worry, you’ll forget all about the heat when the insects start eating you alive!”

Fergus giggled at Murtagh’s expression, earning him a scowl in return.

“No horses available,” Joe reported, returning from speaking with the merchant. “But there’s a train that can take us to Kinshasa, and there should be horses, or a caravan we can join from there. I’m gonna take a guess and say we ain’t hiring a guide.”

“No,” Uncle Lamb and I said in unison. 

“Where exactly are we going?” Jenny asked. “It’s not as though we can go to Jamie’s family’s home and knock on their door.”

I chuckled. “We’re going to see the Waziri, a tribe in Boma. Joe’s uncle is their chief. Their village is just at the base of the mountain where Jamie’s family lives. If anyone knows anything, it’ll be them.”

“A tribe?” Jenny asked, with just a touch of nerves. “Like...a tribe ?”

“Not sure what you’re getting at,” Joe said with slightly narrowed eyes.

“Give th’ lass a break,” Murtagh said defensively. “Beside that one regrettable time as a child, she’s no’ left Lallybroch.”

Jenny scowled at Murtagh. “I was just wonderin’ what tae expect, is all! I’m perfectly fine!”

Jamie rested a hand on her shoulder. “They’re kind people, Jenny. Ye have nothing tae fear.”

“I’m not scairt,” Jenny muttered under her breath, and I took her hand as we started to head to the train, squeezing it in understanding.

 

It was a cargo train that allowed us to hitch a ride, so we watched out the open hatch of the boxcar as city opened up into the wide expanse of savanna, as seemingly limitless as the sea. 

Jenny, Murtagh, and Fergus all stared with slack-jaws. 

“It’s so big , Milady,” Fergus breathed. “So much bigger than anything I have seen in France, or in Scotland.”

I smiled. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how big the world is.”

The train slowed as it went around a sharp curve, and Jamie suddenly stood up, slinging his pack onto his shoulder. He’d scoffed at my suggestion of needing supplies at all, obviously thinking he’d lived his whole life living off the land, so I made him think most of what he carried was for me. “We should get off now.”

“What?” I and a few others exclaimed.

“Get off...what, Jamie, here ?” I asked. “There’s nothing here.”

He smiled at me. “The train will take the long way around the mountain. Faster to go straight,” he nodded toward the mountain itself.

“Uh, Jamie, buddy, you know we’re not all jungle men like you, right?” Joe asked. “And this is a moving train.”

Jamie quirked a brow. “Where is your sense of adventure?” he held out his hand for me. “Sassenach?”

I heaved a shrug and slapped my hand into his. “Well, alright then.”

The train slowed even more as it made the turn, and it was hardly more than a matter of stepping off, though I’d have fallen if Jamie’s arm hadn’t been around me. He quickly turned for Fergus, who leapt trustingly and unhesitatingly into his arms. 

Joe nudged Murtagh with his elbow, and Murtagh’s nervous expression melted into one of stubbornness, and both men jumped out.

“Jenny, come on!” I yelled, as Jamie and I ran alongside. 

Jenny held back, fear in her eyes and a hand resting on the slight rounding of her stomach. 

“Hurry!” I heard Joe call. “It’s gonna start speeding up again!”

Uncle Lamb had remained with her, and was now pulling gently on her arm. “Now or never, dear,” he said. 

“Jenny, I’ll catch ye,” Jamie said. “I promise.”

But Jenny was frozen, and I started to fall behind as the train began to pick up speed. Jamie jumped back onto the car, and I skidded to a stop as Uncle Lamb jumped out, tucking into a roll, and as I knelt to check on him, Jamie came flying out with Jenny in his arms.

“Put me down, ye brute!” Jenny exclaimed, shoving at him as he set her on his feet.

“Ye almost went tae Kinshasa alone,” Jamie growled. “Would ye have liked that?” he pointed a finger at her face. “Ye almost got Lamb hurt. You wanted tae come, I didn’a ask ye. So unless ye want me tae drag ye back to the port and throw ye back on a ship, you will do as I say while we’re here, is that understood?”

I was so busy gaping at Jamie I almost missed the way Jenny reared up in defense, clenching her fists in anger. “You’re no’ the boss of me!”

Jamie bent to meet her eyes. “Oh? Am I not Lord of Lallybroch ?”

“We’re not in Lallybroch!”

“No! We’re not! We’re somewhere far more dangerous, and so long as everyone’s safety may depend upon it, I am “boss,” Janet . Like it, or not.”

Jenny looked like she wanted to fight some more, but finally, she deflated, and not another word was spoken between them.

“Damn,” Joe muttered. “Outside of someone threatening you I didn’t think Jamie had an aggressive bone in his body.”

There was a chuckle from behind us, and I turned to find Murtagh, looking oddly amused considering the circumstances. “Seems like they’re right back tae th’ way they were as children,” he said fondly. “Dinna fash,” he nodded again to the siblings, and when I looked, Jamie was offering Jenny a sip from his canteen, and they stood together in a companionable air, as if their quarrel hadn’t happened at all.

“Perhaps you have to not be an only child to understand,” I said.

“Guess so,” Joe agreed.

 

We started off at a walk across the Savanna, and despite the urgency of our mission, I smiled at the opportunity to see the beautiful wildlife this way, and a glance at Jamie showed he felt the same way.

“Look!” Fergus exclaimed, pointing at the herd as they raced away. “Are those zebras ?!”

“Yes,” Jamie said.

“Why are they running?” Joe asked suspiciously.

“Jamie…” I whispered, grabbing his arm. 

A little way ahead, were four lionesses, feasting on the remains of a hapless zebra. 

“Christ,” Jenny hissed, backing away as Murtagh readied his rifle. 

Jamie grabbed the barrel of the gun, forcing it down. 

“They have their meal,” he said. “They have no need of us.”

“Ye sure?” Murtagh asked. “They’re looking this way.”

I tried to hold Jamie back as he took a step toward the lionesses, but he only smiled reassuringly at me and gently dislodged my hand. His throat convulsed as he emitted a low growl...almost more of a howl, and the lionesses all tilted their heads in interest. 

Jamie’s shoulders relaxed, and he moved toward them more confidently, and I relaxed myself as I understood.

But Jenny and Murtagh had no such understanding, and Jenny gasped in terror as Murtagh took aim once more. But I stood in his path. “It’s alright,” I said. “He knows them.”

Knows them?” Murtagh asked. “He…”

Murtagh trailed off, and I turned to watch as Jamie knelt down as an ape, taking the last few steps toward the lionesses as he naturally did. The lionesses surrounded him, butting his head with their own, just like overgrown house cats. 

I got a little closer, only to see better, and sat on my knees to watch. Jamie reverted back to his more animalistic ways so easily, and it felt like I was seeing him for the first time in months.

A fifth lion, a male that I hadn’t noticed before, took notice of me, and padded over to me. I held perfectly still, keeping my eyes on Jamie for cues on how to react. But Jamie appeared perfectly calm, so I was calm as well.

The lion sniffed over me curiously, then released a bored yawn and flopped down onto his side next to me, his tail thumping the ground in contentment. I hesitantly touched his mane, having always wondered what one felt like. 

“I would stay back,” Jamie warned the others and he came to my side. “Do not overwhelm them.”

“Why are they okay with me?” I asked, fighting down the nerves that threatened to rise when all of the deadly animals surrounded us. 

Jamie chuckled. “They smell me on ye, Sassenach. It’s as I told ye before, animals recognize one’s mate.”

I blushed at his implication, and scratched the scarred head of one of the lionesses. “Are they the ones who taught you?”

He nodded. “The scarred one is Ara. The others are her children. We all learned to hunt together.”

“And this one?” I asked, patting the side of the snoozing lion.

“Roe,” Jamie said with a chuckle. “He’s worthless. But Ara keeps him around anyway.

“Sounds about right,” Jenny muttered.

“How much farther?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said, scanning the horizon. “Those trees there,” he pointed to where one could just barely make out a line of green. “That’s where my Family’s territory begins. The Waziri live just beyond the mountain pass.”

It took the better part of an hour after leaving Jamie’s lion friends before we reached the outer edges of the jungle.

“You were all alone,” Jenny said quietly, peering up at the tall, winding branches. “Just a little boy like my Ian...out here alone.”

“It wasn’t for long,” Jamie said. “A couple of days, before Kala found me.”

It was clear that was little comfort to Jenny, who wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. No doubt she was envisioning little Ian in the same situation, orphaned and lost and afraid.

I looked down at Fergus, imagining him just a couple of years younger, and being dropped in the middle of a jungle with no one to take care of him, and I thought I knew a little of what Jenny was feeling.

“It must have been incroyable ,” Fergus enthused, clearly taking a completely different view of things. “No grown ups to tell you what to do. Have no responsibilities, just adventures every day!”

“And you’d like that?” I asked teasingly. “Not having me around, or Milord, or Mrs. Crook to bake the treats you like?”

Fergus bit his lower lip, considering. “Maybe you and Milord at least should be there.”

Jamie glanced back at me, and we exchanged a smile before continuing on.

 

Chapter Text

We stopped twice to rest, but managed to make it to the village before nightfall. 

Children who were playing near the outskirts of the village looked up in alarm at our arrival, but once they could see who we were, they cheered and ran to find the adults.

“Is that...Tarzan?!” Badru exclaimed, emerging from his hut. “You have returned!”

Grinning, Jamie hurried to greet Badru, clasping arms before Badru pulled Jamie’s forehead to rest briefly on his own.

“And you haven’t strayed far from the lovely Miss Beauchamp, I see,” Badru said, reaching out to me for a warm hug.

“What am I, Uncle, chopped liver?” Joe asked.

Badru laughed heartily and embraced his nephew. “I thought you would be back in America by now. How did you all know to come?”

Know to come?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

Badru’s normally cheerful expression faded, and I realized how tired he looked. “You do not know? Well, come, come my friends. Have rest and something to eat. Later, I will explain all,” he gave Jenny and Murtagh a somewhat suspicious look. “Friends of yours?”

“My sister,” Jamie said. “Jenny. And my godfather, Murtagh.”

“And this one here is Fergus,” I introduced, wrapping an arm around him. 

Badru smiled at Fergus, but looked perplexed about the rest. “Sister...but that would mean…”

Joe chuckled. “Uncle Badru, allow me to introduce James Fraser, Lord Broch Tuarach of Scotland.”

Badru gave Jamie a surprised smile. “So, you have found who you are? And look at you, even dressed as a lord! And I thought you hated clothing! Didn’t you once call shoes hooves ?”

Jamie chuckled ruefully and rolled his eyes before taking my hand to lead me toward the center of the village where the large cooking fire was.

The people all greeted us warmly, particularly Jamie, and even Jenny quickly began to relax in the welcoming atmosphere.

But even still, there seemed to be a tenseness to the air that I didn’t feel like was there before, and it was giving me a bad feeling.

“Has something happened?” Joe asked, clearly picking up on it as well.

Badru sighed, motioning for us to sit with him on reed mats strewn out around the fire. “There has been some trouble,” he said. “Mercenaries from the south. It is said that people are being taken.”

Taken ?” I asked. “Where? By who?”

“King Leopold,” Uncle Lamb said flatly, and I looked at him in surprise. “It’s a nasty rumor in England. Belgium is in debt, and the whispers are that he’s enslaving Congolese people to help pay it off. I rather hoped it was just that...rumors...but…”

“Has anyone here been taken?” I asked.

Badru shook his head. “No, thankfully. But my people fear to even venture into the jungle to hunt. My people are going hungry.”

“I didn’t know any of that,” Jamie said quietly. “We only came because...because I have reason to believe the gorillas are being poached.”

Badru nodded. “Yes. They kill the elephants, the giraffes, even the gorillas.”

“You’re saying the mercenaries kidnapping people are the same people poaching the animals,” I said, getting a sudden chill when I remembered something Sandringham had said. I looked at Jamie. “The duke...he said that Frank Randall normally dealt in live chattel. I thought he must have meant live animals but…”

“This is worse than we thought,” Jamie said, saying what I was thinking.

“I saw them,” a young man said, approaching us. I had to think a moment to recall his name, but it was Azizi, the teenaged boy who helped show Jamie the way men hunt...and the difference between a hunter and a poacher. He’d grown since last we saw him, and had a gaunt, haunted look about him that made my heart ache. “The men who took down the great silverback.”

“Kerchak…” Jamie said. “You saw them? Were...were any of the others killed?”

Azizi shook his head. “No. Some were captured, but most escaped. It was the silverback they wanted. The jungle has been crying out for your return, Tarzan.”

Jamie grimaced, and I placed a hand on his knee, not wanting him to start feeling guilty again for leaving. “We’ll find them, Jamie,” I said.

“There are more important things to worry about,” he replied.

“Your family is important, too, Tarzan,” Badru said, then he smiled. “You have changed much, boy. Your talk, your manner. You have come far. But are you still lord here?”

Jamie didn’t answer, and I didn’t think he really had one.

 

We were shown to a row of huts for us to use, the same that Uncle Lamb and I were given during our stay before.

“They look untouched,” I said.

“We lived here long enough for the Waziri to consider these places our homes,” Joe said. “So, no one else will ever live in them.”

“Where will we stay?” Jenny asked.

Joe nodded toward the larger hut that had served as a medical unit. “Lamb, Murtagh, and I can stay there. Jenny, you can take Lamb’s old hut there.”

Jenny glanced at Jamie and I. “But then...oh, hell, never mind. Fergus, would you like tae stay wi’ me, lad? I dinna think I’m much for being alone.”

“Sure!” Fergus chirped. “Is it alright, Milady?”

“Of course,” I said, then took note of the way he was watching some of the village children play in the field. “Why don’t you go play with them?” I asked.

Fergus grinned and took off at a run toward them. I stood and watched while he slowed as he neared them, wondering how they would manage, since most of the children spoke little to no English, and certainly no French. But in a matter of seconds, Fergus was being drawn right into whatever game they were playing, and it was like the language barrier didn’t exist. 

“I’m glad we brought him,” I said to Jamie. “I know it might be dangerous, but I’m glad he’s getting to experience this place.”

“As am I,” Jamie said.

“I must say,” Badru said, appearing behind us. “I know you are unusual, Tarzan, but...you work fast.”

Jamie and I both stared at him in incomprehension, but then it finally dawned on me that he meant Fergus, and I rolled my eyes. “We found him in France, Badru. He was an orphan, in a difficult situation.”

Badru nodded in approval. “Then you are...wed?”

“Not... yet ,” I hedged. 

Badru laughed. “We will have to see what we can do about that.”

I shrugged at Jamie to tell him that I didn’t understand either as Badru made his way back to where Joe and the other men were.

Jamie and I entered the hut where I had lived in my months staying in Boma, and I smiled when the sight of it brought back fond memories of sitting up late into the night, reading passages out of a romance novel and of a sweet, innocent man who had no clue what his nearness (and frequent nakedness) did to me.

The man who stood beside me was less innocent by far. A little more world-weary, a little more knowing, confident, and also very well aware of what he did to me.

He smirked at me, no doubt thinking along the same lines as me, and sat down on the bed that was still there.

“What are you going to do?” I asked him. “Are we going to go find your family?”

“I willn’a risk you or anyone else going into th’ jungle if it’s no’ safe,” he said firmly. “We have tae do something about th’ mercenaries.”

“Jamie,” I sighed, sitting beside him. “I know what you’re thinking, but what’s happening in the Congo...it isn’t your responsibility. We can...we can go home, maybe try and use your status and celebrity to pull influences and bring awareness to what King Leopald is doing, but you can’t just take it upon yourself to stop it. You’re just one man.”

“That is true,” he said. “But you are wrong, Sassenach. It is my responsibility. I’m not...not Lord of Lallybroch. I’m lord here . These people, this place, it needs my protection.”

I huffed, though I knew in my heart, that he was right. “Lallybroch is your birthright, Jamie. Who made you Lord of the Jungle?”

The corner of his lip turned up, and he took my hand. “Th’ jungle did.”

After a few moments of quiet, I finally took a breath, and responded. “Fine. Just promise me something, Jamie.”

“Aye?”

I looked him in the eye. “Promise me you won’t try to leave me behind. I know you think I need protected, but you need me .”

Jamie’s smile grew, but his eyes remained soft, and tender. He leaned closer, and kissed me gently. “I could never leave ye, Sassenach. I do need ye.”

 

No matter the uncertainty of the situation, the Waziri celebrated our arrival that night with food, drink, and music. 

I may have only lived in the village a short time, but it felt a bit like coming home, and there was a sense of peace, even though we were all aware of the dark cloud on the horizon.

They began to sing the same song they did before I even met Jamie, the one that spoke of the spirit of the jungle.

“What are they saying?” Jenny asked.

“They’re singing about Jamie,” I said, smiling, thinking that I was picking up additional lyrics that weren’t there before. “The Legend of Tarzan, guardian of this place.”

Jenny shook her head. “I dinna understand. He was just a lad who was raised in th’ wilderness. I ken he’s unusual, but how did he become this...myth?”

I looked over at Jamie, sitting surrounded by children, and staring into the fire. How had he become this? Was what he said about the jungle choosing him actually true? 

Not for the first time, I suspected that there was something about Jamie that was...for lack of a better term, otherworldly, and not just because he’d lived such a remarkable life. No, he wasn’t remarkable because of the life he’d lived.

The life he’d lived was because he was remarkable. 

Jamie met my eyes then from across the fire, and the flames lit them a brilliant, stormy blue.

“He didn’t become this,” I said to Jenny. “He just is this.”

“He wasn’t always,” Jenny said. “He was just an average lad.”

“Are ye sure about that?” said Murtagh from Jenny’s other side. “Because th’ lad I remember rode horses ‘afore he could walk, led packs o’ dogs around like an alpha wolf. Christ, before he was five he’d survived smallpox, a severe blow tae th’ heid, and then he didn’a drown in an ocean during a hurricane. He was never an average lad. I damn near think he’s immortal.”

Jenny snorted. “Or maybe just prone tae disaster wi’ a streak of dumb luck.”

I smiled at them, but then turned my attention back to Jamie, who gave me a warm look in return.

I hardly thought him immortal, but I just hoped that whatever was to come wouldn’t test that theory.

 

Chapter Text

Badru asked Jamie if he would lead a hunt into the jungle. 

I argued that Jamie couldn’t very well protect an entire hunting party against mercenaries with guns, but Badru explained that it was more about Jamie simply being there. A symbol that gave the people strength.

“There’s belief that Jamie’s return is a good omen,” Joe said. “That it’ll set the jungle to rights, I suppose.”

“I hope they’re right,” I said nervously.

“Wait, you’re going?” Jenny asked as she eyed my men’s trousers and sturdy boots.

“Don’t get them started,” Uncle Lamb laughed. “We’ve been through this before.”

Jenny made a face, and I was sure it was in part because she didn’t like being left out, but her pregnancy was steadily progressing, and now her belly protruded within her dress like a darling little ball. The elder women of the village fussed over her like she was one of their own daughters, something that made her flush with pleasure, and made me glad to see, since she - like I would be someday, if I ever was in the same situation - was without a mother in a time when a motherly presence was invaluable.

 

Uncle Lamb stayed behind, but Joe and Murtagh ventured out with us on the hunt.

The men of the village were tense and wary, and remained in a close-knit group, while encouraging us to do the same. It was nothing like the other hunt I’d gone on, where the men ran around like playful boys.

Jamie took up the lead, but I could see his eyes scanning the trees, hoping for a sign, any sign, of his family.

We walked for hours, but other than a couple of small birds that the hunters swiftly took down with their bows, we saw little in the way of game, or even encouraging hints that we were on the right track.

“The poachers have driven away the herds,” Azizi explained. “Animals understand these things, you see. They will not stay if the danger is too great.”

Jamie nodded in agreement, but then he paused, his head cocked to the side, listening.

“What is it?” Murtagh asked.

“This way,” Jamie said, motioning the rest to follow.

He led us to a small pond, and lying beside it, nearly blending in with the rocks and mud, was an elephant.

“Did the poachers do this?” I wondered aloud.

Jamie swiftly approached the elephant, which I realized was not actually dead - but close to it. When I walked around it and could see its head, I was filled with sadness.

I knew him by the way one tusk was sawed off closer than the other, and the notches in his ears. It was the Old One, a member of the elephant herd that Jamie called friends.

Jamie rested a hand on Old One’s face, murmuring comfortingly to him, while Joe did a quick assessment.

“Where is Day, and the rest of the herd?” I asked Jamie.

“It was unsafe for them to stay,” Jamie said, his expression drawn with sorrow. Normally they would not have left him, but he wanted the little ones to be safe.”

“Ye talk like he’s a man,” Murtagh said. “Like ye ken what he’s thinking.”

“I can’t see any signs of trauma,” Joe reported. “No blood, no wounds.”

Jamie shook his head. “No…this was not the poachers. It is simply his time.”

I jumped a little when Azizi suddenly began singing, followed by the rest of the hunters. I of course couldn’t understand the words, but it sounded like a mourning song. A sign of respect for this old, intelligent being.

I knelt beside the elderly elephant’s face, and he opened one big, brown eye, staring straight at me, though it was clouded over, the light slowly fading away. I rested a hand on his trunk.

Jamie touched my shoulder, and drew me up before leading me away. As we passed Azizi, Jamie nodded once to him, and I gasped as Azizi drew his knife.

“Jamie?”

Jamie pushed me gently, turning me to face away from the sight. “He should not have to suffer, Sassenach. With his life gone, the village will live.”

I huddled into Jamie’s chest, wincing at the sound of knife cutting flesh. Azizi slit the Old One’s throat quickly, and the elephant was mercifully gone within seconds.

Only after it was assured that the elephant was dead, did the men begin the task of butchering him, something that no doubt would take quite a bit of time, considering the size. 

The men were revitalized by the task, excited at the prospect of feeding their families for days to come. To that end, I think Jamie felt that they didn’t need his presence quite as much.

“Go, Tarzan,” Azizi said sympathetically. “We will manage from here.”

After assuring that Murtagh and Joe would be alright with the hunters, Jamie took my hand and led me further into the jungle.

“Are we going to look for the gorillas?” I asked.

He nodded. “They normally nest higher up the mountain this time of year.”

I squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry about the Old One, I know that was hard for you, but it was good of you to allow his body to feed the village.”

“It is the way of things,” Jamie said simply. “The Old One would either feed hungry children, or hungry hyenas. Both deserving of food. The elephants know this. In a way, he gets to live on.”

 

Jamie and I continued up the mountain, the peace and quiet of the jungle a welcome respite from the hecticness of everywhere we’d been before, and it was a relief to see him laugh at me for stumbling on the rocks. 

“I’m sorry for not being as agile as you ,” I teased him back.

“Not even as agile as a warthog,” Jamie muttered under his breath, and with an outraged shriek, I leapt on his back, nearly making us both tumble down the rocky hill. 

“Take it back!” I howled. 

Jamie laughed, then scaled up the rest of the way on all fours, leaving me clinging to his back like a baby gorilla. 

When we reached the top, I rolled off of him, still laughing, and he hovered above me. “I take it back,” he said, leaning down to kiss me.

He looked up then, and stood, taking in his surroundings. I followed suit, and let out a small gasp.

The last rays of the setting sun peeked through the tree branches just enough to illuminate the ground. The gorilla nests dotted the landscape - on the ground, in the trees, nestled in the rocks. It was clear that these nests had been built and rebuilt and inhabited for years and years.

But they were, unfortunately, all empty.

Jamie made a beeline to one particular nest, situated high off the ground in a groove made of rocks and branches. He sniffed it over carefully.

“No one has been here for some time,” he said as I picked my way up the rocks to join him.

“It only means that they didn’t come here, ” I said. “Like Azizi said, the herds have moved on. If your family no longer felt safe here, they probably did the same.”

Jamie dug around the nest a moment, then came up with something in his hand. “My mother liked to collect pretty rocks,” he explained, cradling the small object in his palm. “This was her favorite.”

I realized then - and really, I should have already known - that this was Jamie’s mother’s nest. And perhaps his at one point, as well.

“May I see it?” I asked.

Jamie handed it to me delicately, in a way that suggested he would have refused had it been anyone but me.

It wasn’t a stone at all, but a piece of petrified amber, and frozen inside was a near perfectly preserved dragonfly. 

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

“She used to let me hold it when I was afraid,” Jamie said. “Kerchak gave it to her as a gift when I was small.”

I smiled, then went to hand the stone back to him, but Jamie pushed my hand back, closing my fingers around it with his own.

I tucked the amber securely into my pocket, determined to keep it safe for him.

“So you spent a lot of time here as a child?” I asked.

Jamie nodded and stood up. “Yes. It was our home most of the year. The first one that Mother brought me to after she found me.”

I tried to imagine a little red haired boy in this place, trying his best to be a gorilla, and I smiled.

A roll of thunder heralded in a trickle of rain that quickly increased, and Jamie and I huddled back against the rock.

“I didn’t have the teeth to open fruits,” Jamie continued. “So Akut would do it for me. But then I learned to use rocks as tools, and so Akut would do it too...much to Kerchak’s annoyance.”

I smiled but remained silent, letting Jamie continue telling me about his childhood spent here, among the trees.

“My hands and knuckles bled as I grew used to walking on them, but I was determined to be like them. Mother put leaves on them, cool with water, to make them feel better. I learned to climb...on that tree, there,” he pointed across to a large tree with winding limbs. “The other females would climb behind me, to catch me if I fell.”

Jamie took my hand and led me into the downpour, and brought me to the base of the tree, nodding for me to climb.

Wincing in nervousness, I did as he asked, trusting him to catch me like his family did for him. 

When I reached a point I could no longer climb, Jamie sidled up beside me and had me hold onto him while he went the rest of the way up, coming to rest finally on a branch nearly as wide as he was tall, and I released him to turn and look around, able to see above the canopy for miles as the rain rolled on through.

“I know they’re animals,” Jamie said, remaining close at my side. “But everything I am is because of them.”

“I know, Jamie,” I said, turning to face him. “We’ll find them. Even if Frank has captured them, we’ll find them.”

Jamie just looked so lost, I sought only to comfort him when I rose up on tiptoe to kiss him. But it was like a switch was flipped, and suddenly he was kissing me back hungrily, devouring me as his hands roaming over my sopping clothes. 

Thunder crashed, a white light behind closed eyes, as he pressed me up against the trunk of the tree, tongue seeking out my own in desperation.

I clung to him, because I wanted him just as much as he wanted me, and also because I could feel the precariousness of our position, over a hundred feet off the ground. 

“You won’t let us fall?” I whispered against his mouth.

“Never, Sassenach,” he murmured, moving to kiss and bite my neck.

He divested himself of his shirt, tossing it carelessly to land somewhere on the ground, but he only unbuttoned mine, leaving it hanging off my shoulders.

Our wet skin moved slickly together, and I sighed at the sensation of my nipples rubbing against the coarse hair on his chest. He was hot and hard against my hip, and I squeezed a hand between us to undo his flies, getting through the fabric to wrap my hand around him and squeeze until he was moaning.

My own pants were a tougher challenge, now soaked through and clinging to my legs. When Jamie released me to wrestle with them, I gasped and pressed myself flat against the tree, more acutely aware of the sensation of height. And yet, the relative danger only made me want him more, and I managed to kick one leg out of my trousers, which was enough for Jamie to return to me and for me to wrap my freed leg around him, anchoring him to me, and me to him.

Jamie grabbed my wrists and held them above my head before kissing his way down to my chest, lapping the trickling water off my breasts like he was dying of thirst. 

The combination of the cold rain, the rough bark, and Jamie’s hot tongue on my nipple was almost enough to make me come right then and there, and he’d barely even touched me. 

“Jamie,” I whimpered, angling my hips toward his, seeking relief. 

Jamie kissed me again, and the tree beneath us rattled as thunder struck the same moment he entered me. 

The rain drove on as Jamie drove into me, the sound of flesh meeting wet flesh not quite drowned out by the rolling thunder. 

The bark of the tree bit painfully into my back and arms as Jamie moved his hand to hold both of my wrists still as his other got a handful of my arse, pulling me up to him as he plunged deeper than he ever had before.

I wasn’t sure if the flashing behind my eyes was lightning or not as I came hard around him, my scream lost in the pouring rain. I got one hand free of his to rake over the scars on his back, trying to pull him ever closer. To melt into me. 

But even as I thrummed in dizzying pleasure, Jamie wasn’t done, thrusting into me over and over, his teeth sinking into the place where my shoulder met my neck. Marking me. 

I came again remarkably fast, my entire body pulsing as he spilled himself inside me with an animalistic growl.

After just standing still for a long moment, letting our breathing slowly return to normal, we sank down to sit on the branch, and I held onto Jamie tightly, not trusting my own balance if I were to let go. 

As our bodies cooled, the rain slowed, but began to feel frigid on my overstimulated skin.

“We should probably be getting back,” I whispered.

Jamie grunted, pressed his face closer to my neck and pulled me closer, to cover as much of me as he could with his body.

I smiled at his lack of words, but since I felt a little warmer this way, I decided a little while longer wouldn’t hurt.

The rain would end, eventually. 

Chapter Text

The family resemblance was strong when Badru’s knowing eyes joined Joe’s as Jamie and I finally returned to the village, no doubt looking like we’d been through battle with a crocodile. Murtagh, for all that he didn’t look a thing like the uncle and nephew, matched them rather well.

Jenny huffed as she took a seat next to me as I warmed myself by the fire, pressing a hand to her lower back. “This child is kickin’ like he wants out. I rather hope he plans on waiting a while,” she said.

I winced in sympathy. “Does it hurt much when he does that?”

She crooked a brow at me. “How could it not, when a wee’un is treatin’ your insides like a game of kick th’ can? But, then again, there are pains that we dinna mind o’ermuch bearing. Like that mark on your neck, for example...or th’ scratches on your hands...Christ, Claire, just what did you and Jamie get up to while you were gone?!”

I grimaced, trying not to think of the many scratches all over my body. I rather thought that making love in a tree wasn’t something I wanted to repeat anytime soon, no matter how...pleasurable it had been had been at the time. “Do you really want an answer to that?”

Jenny snorted. “You’re right, I don’t. Th’ people are overjoyed about th’ meat th’ hunters brought back, but Murtagh said that Jamie was saddened by it.”

I nodded. “The elephant was a friend, but he was very old and had reached his time. Jamie is fine with it...though I doubt he’ll be eating…” I watched as an elderly woman kindly offered a bowl to Jamie, which he promptly refused.

Jenny and I both exchanged a wince when the bowl was passed our way. “You’d better eat,” I advised her, politely declining it myself. “That baby needs the protein.”

Jenny accepted the bowl with a sigh. “I suppose you’re right. If I can eat haggis, I’m sure I can stomach elephant. The women here think I’m further along than I thought I was. Seems this little one just carries closer to my back than my others.”

“How are you talking to them?” I asked. “I didn’t think any of the women knew English.”

Jenny smiled. “There are ways of getting the message through without words. Didn’t you say as much yourself, about Jamie, before he was able to speak well?”

I chuckled. “I suppose you’re right.”

I looked back at her, at the way she cupped her hands over her stomach. “Are you sorry that you’re not home with Ian?”

She hummed. “Of course I wish I could be wi’ him, and he wi’ me. But I’m glad tae get tae be here wi’ Jamie,” she smiled. “And it’s quite an adventure, I must say! I only wish my condition didn’a keep me from running off wi’ the rest of you.”

“I’m sure that little one will have you running in no time,” I said. “Have you spoken to anyone here about the birth?”

Jenny nodded. “Badru says th’ auld women here are verra knowledgeable on how tae bring a baby safely into th’ world. He assures me I needn’t fear.”

I patted her knee. “Good. And hopefully we’ll get everything sorted here soon, so you and the baby can get back to your family.”

“Do you think he’ll leave again?” Jenny asked. “Jamie, I mean. D’ye really think he’ll return tae Scotland?”

I had to admit I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought, focused instead on the matters immediately at hand.

“He just seems so much self-assured here,” Jenny continued.

“I really don’t know what he’ll want to do when this is all over,” I said. “But know that he loves you terribly . You won’t lose him.”

Jenny smiled at me in thanks. “Dinna want tae lose you either. I did always so want a sister.”

Grinning, I wrapped an arm around her for a hug. I met Jamie’s eyes from across the fire, and found them focused intently on me with a warm look. 

 

Jamie followed me into my hut that night, looking tired, but more relaxed than he’d seemed in some time, though he had fairly good reason. One that made me struggle not to smile.

“What’s next?” I asked him, gratefully stripping off my damp clothes for a clean, warm nightdress. “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and I sat back on the cot to admire him as he disrobed, letting my eyes travel along the sculpted lines of his body. “I want to keep looking for my family, but I think first we need to learn more about these mercenaries. And what they’re trying to accomplish.”

“You’ll be careful , won’t you?”

Jamie smiled and laid down beside me, kissing me lightly on the lips. “Of course, Sassenach. Now sleep.”

I gratefully burrowed into Jamie’s chest, and fell promptly asleep.

 

~~~

 

Jamie lay awake for some time after Claire had fallen asleep, listening to the sound of her breathing. Her hand was resting on his chest, the ring he’d given her shining in the moonlight that streamed in from the gaps in the hut roof.

She was so beautiful, and so very brave. What would he do without her?

He wanted nothing more than to take her back to the safety of Scotland, if only to keep her from danger, her and his sister and godfather, yet at the same time, it was a relief to be back in the jungle. It was like it had been calling out to him all this time, pulling at him with an invisible thread. But at the same time, Scotland pulled at him too, with his nieces and nephews, his brother-in-law, and his ancestral home. 

When would he find a place that was simply for him? For him and for Claire together?

But as long as his Sassenach was with him, he’d be at home wherever he was. If he only could know that his family was safe, and that the village was free from threat, then he could be truly happy.

For the moment, he closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of his mate, and joined Claire in sleep.

 

The smell of smoke was a constant presence in the village, but when Jamie’s sensitive nose picked up a sudden increase, his entire body lurched into full wakefulness. 

“What is it?” Claire murmured sleepily. “Jamie? What’s wrong?”

“Fire,” Jamie said at the same moment they both heard screaming. “Stay here!” he commanded, hastily shoving his legs into his trousers before running out to see what was happening.

At first, all he could make sense of was smoke. The huts were burning, women were screaming, children were crying.

And in the midst of it all were men. Dressed similarly to how Lamb and Joe did, but they rode through the village on horseback, throwing torches onto the roofs of the homes.

Baring his teeth, Jamie didn’t hesitate to rip one of them off his horse, slamming him onto the ground and knocking him unconscious. 

Men were being forced into the center of the village - Uncle Lamb among them. Young men and women were being dragged away, and Jamie had a sickening realization.

He turned from the terrifying sight and went straight for the hut that Jenny was sharing with Fergus.

The two were awake and sitting on the bed, their arms around one another, wide-eyed and scared.

“Milord!” Fergus cried, leaping into his arms. 

“Fergus, listen to me,” Jamie said quickly. “I need ye tae take Jenny into the jungle. Dinna….no, dinna be afraid, lad. Go and hide, th’ both of ye, until I come for ye, aye?”

“What’s happening, Jamie?” Jenny asked, clutching her stomach.

“Th’ mercenaries,” he said. “That’s why ye must go and hide now . I’ll deal wi’ them.”

“What about Milady?!” Fergus asked as Jamie grabbed them both by the arms and led them out of the hut and toward the tree line.

“I’ll go get her and send her after you,” Jamie said, then knelt down. “I need you to be brave, my son. And protect my sister and her unborn child. Will you do this for me?”

Fergus’s eyes were full of tears and fear, but he nodded. “Aye. I’ll take care of them, Milord,” he turned and took Jenny’s hand, pulling her into the jungle.

“Be careful, brother,” Jenny called after him, but Jamie was already heading back to the village.

He was going to help as many people as he could, but first he had to go back for Claire. Just as he neared their hut though, he heard her cry out, and with a thundering heart, he followed the sound of her voice back to the village center, where she was running toward her uncle as the mercenaries forced the men onto their knees with guns at their backs.

“Lamb!”

Making a split decision, Jamie raced past Claire and straight for Lamb, planting both feet into the gun-wielder’s side with a powerful kick. The gunshot went wild, but then the other men were on him, aiming their guns.

A flash of golden light caught his attention, and he watched as Claire swung a burning branch directly into one of the mercinarie’s faces, and he went down screaming in agony. 

Jamie had only a moment to grin in pride before two more men grabbed her arms, dragging her back. With a roar he lunged for them, just as something went around his neck, yanking him backward. He landed on his back, the air knocked from his lungs. He thrashed his feet, pulling against the rope, but another was added, and another, pulling him down. 

“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Jamie knew that voice, and he snarled, struggling against his bonds.

Frank Randall stood above Jamie, shaking his head. “All that time in civilization, and you’re still a savage, aren’t you? 

“Frank, you son of a bitch!” Claire roared, fighting bravely against the hold of the men, even as they dragged her away. “Jamie!”

“Get him to the boat with the others,” Frank said. “Make sure he’s tied up.”

“CLAIRE!” he cried, forcing himself up, but the ropes around him tightened, guns were brought down, beating him. 

She was thrown into the cage like an animal, and he didn’t take his eyes from her as he threw his captors off of him and tore after her on all fours, desperate to reach her. 

The rope around his neck pulled, and his body was jerked back like a doll. Another was thrown around his neck. And another. They were on him like an army of ants, tying his arms and legs back like a hog, his noose forcing his head back. He struggled for breath.

As the world around him grew dim, he could hear gunshots. The voices of Joe, and Murtagh. People yelling.

But above it all, echoing through his brain, was Claire, screaming his name.




Chapter Text

“Jamie...damn it man, wake up!”

“Give him space!”

Jamie slowly opened his eyes, then took a gasp of air. 

For a moment, the world spun, similarly to when he’d drank far too much whisky. But when then it was still, and the sun was rising.

“Claire…” he breathed, rolling to his feet and looking all around.

“Easy,” Joe said, pushing him to sit back down, and Jamie was weak enough that he could not fight against the slight pressure. “Just take a minute okay? You had your air cut off for a scary amount of time, there.”

“Where is Claire?” he demanded, barely even able to take in the fact that the village was in ruins around him. The echo of her screams rang through his pounding head. Crying. Calling his name.

Joe sighed and looked up at Murtagh, who shook his head. 

“I’m so sorry, lad. I tried tae go after her, but they warded us off wi’ guns. They out-armed us. They took her, Jamie.”

Jamie let out something that was a mixture of a moan and a growl, shoving at Joe and getting to his feet. “I have to go after her,” he said. 

“Jamie, wait…” Joe began, grabbing Jamie’s arm.

Jamie whirled on him with a snarl. “He took Claire ,” he hissed, snatching his arm away before he lost his temper completely and hit the other man. 

Knowing when to back off, Joe held up his hands. “I know, I know. I know you have to go. Just…they also took a lot of the younger people, Jamie. Even Azizi. Many of the other men were killed.”

“Lamb?” Jamie asked in sudden fear.

“I’m here, my boy,” Lamb said, limping over to him. His arm was bleeding badly, and he had a gash on his head, but looked otherwise alright. “This is all my fault for ever hiring that bastard .”

Jamie shook his head. “It is no one’s fault but Randall’s. I will get her back, Lamb,” he looked up and found Badru, who looked utterly defeated. “I will find them all.”

“I’m coming with you,” Joe said.

Jamie shook his head. “The village needs your care. Lamb needs your care.”

“We can manage,” Badru said. “They did not reach the outer dwellings, where our elders live. We have the knowledge to care for those who are injured. But you will need all the help you can get, Tarzan…”

“I’ll go,” Murtagh said, shooting Jamie a level look when he started to argue. “I may no’ be a jungle man like you, but I can keep up.”

“I would travel faster alone,” Jamie pointed out. 

“You’re one man against an army,” Joe said. “And you’re not the only one here who cares about Claire, or the other people they took. So, we’re coming.”

Jamie sighed, then nodded. First, he had to find...

“Milord!”

Jamie spun around, relief flooding him as he caught Fergus up in his arms.

“Are you alright?” he asked the boy. 

“Fine,” Fergus said, breathing heavily. “But it’s Jenny!”

“Is she hurt?!” Murtagh demanded. 

Fergus shook his head, nodded, then shook it again. “It’s the bairn! It’s coming!”

Jamie led the way back into the jungle where Jenny was lying, panting on the ground. He fell to his knees beside her, taking her hand. He’d seen gorillas give birth many times, but never had they looked as pale and in pain as Jenny did. It terrified him.

“It’s too soon…” Jenny cried.

One of the elder women appeared, kneeling at Jenny’s feet, and said something to Jamie that he didn’t understand.

“She said that they’ll take care of her,” Joe said. 

Jamie looked at his sister, moving the hair out of her face. “They have Claire, Jenny.”

Jenny’s eyes widened in alarm. “Christ, man...ye must go after her! What are ye doing here?”

He didn’t want to leave her. She was his sister, and she was in pain. But Claire was out there, alone and at the mercy of a monster. And not only Randall, but any number of men who could…

Jamie shuddered. 

He knelt to Fergus, a hand on the back of the boy’s neck. “I must charge ye again, lad, in the protection of my sister.”

Fergus nodded, the responsibility shining through his eyes. “You can trust me, Milord. Please bring Milady home.”

“I promise,” Jamie whispered, touching his forehead to Fergus’s before standing. “Come,” he said to Joe and Murtagh. “But you must keep up.”

“We can keep up,” Joe snorted as Murtagh bent to kiss Jenny’s head, after which she was promptly surrounded by women.

 

Jamie was anxious as the other men gathered what supplies they thought they needed. Jamie needed nothing, certainly nothing that would weigh him down, save for perhaps a knife.

“I wish I was going with you,” Lamb said, his face drawn with worry.

Jamie shook his head. “You need to have your wounds seen to. Besides, I would prefer it if you watched over Fergus and Jenny.”

“That, I can do,” Lamb said. “And don’t forget, Claire is a force to be reckoned with. She is going to give those men hell.”

Jamie smirked, able to imagine the type of hell his wee, but fierce Sassenach could give Randall and the other men. “Aye.”

“We’re ready,” Joe said, swinging a rifle to hang over his shoulder by the strap.

Jamie nodded once, then started at a run out of the village, trusting the others to follow.

As he went, all he could think, hear, and feel were Claire’s cries for help as they dragged her away and locked her in a cage. All the while Jame had been laying there helplessly, unable to protect her when she needed it most.

He’d sworn to always protect her.

Why didn’t he protect her?

He would find Claire. And when he found her, he would kill Frank Randall.

 

It was of little surprise that the other men struggled to keep up with Jamie’s punishing pace, but he quite honestly couldn’t spare a thought to care. At least if they fell behind, they’d have each other, because otherwise it might mean their doom. Jamie had grown up in this land, he knew how to survive alone. He couldn’t expect just anyone to do the same.

It was why a painful part of him hoped sincerely that Claire was not able to escape on her own. She was certainly in danger while in captivity, but would possibly be in worse danger if she was alone.

“How do you even know which way they’re going?” Joe called ahead.

Jamie slowed, allowing the other men to catch up, then pointed at the ground.

“They have made no effort to conceal their tracks,” he said. “And I heard Randall say to take them to the boat. They are on the river past the bend. Any closer, the river is not wide enough for a boat.”

He knelt down, drawing in the dirt with the tip of his finger, “River is here,” he said, making a long, wavy line. “We will not catch them before they reach it. We must go over the mountain, here. Cut them off.”

Joe and Murtagh both raised their eyebrows, glancing up at the distant mountain in question.

“You can turn back,” Jamie said. 

“We said we’re helping you,” Joe reminded him, Murtagh nodding in agreement. “Lead the way, Tarzan.”

Jamie breathed out through his nose, but offered them half a smile. 

 

~~~

 

With no road, the ride was a bumpy one, and I sat in the cage beside some of the other men and women taken from the village. Azizi sat in front of me, casting worried looks my way every time one of the men walking alongside the wagons would peer in and grin lasciviously at me. It didn’t help that I’d run blindly out of the hut with only my sarong tied around my waist over my nightdress, and no shoes. I had plenty of skin on display for these lecherous men who’d probably never had a willing woman.

Frank was somewhere at the front of the troop, and my blood boiled in anger at the mere thought of them

Do not fight ,” I said to Azizi, or at least I hoped I said, in very halting Swahili. “ Bide time.”

I must have gotten the message across because Azizi nodded. “ He will come ,” he said.

I nodded back. When last I saw Jamie, he was being beaten and strangled. My heart constricted at the memory, of seeing them tie Jamie up like a beast.

But they’d failed to capture him, something Frank had been incensed about, so I knew that he’d gotten free, and would never stop until he reached me.

My job, for the moment, was to stay alive and unharmed so to give Jamie no reason to lose himself and get himself killed.

It was daylight before we reached the river, and we were all unloaded onto a large riverboat. The Waziri were all sat and chained up together, while I was separated from the rest, placed at the stern and chained to the railing.

I watched as Frank climbed up from the lower level, meeting his eyes with a glare.

“I must admit,” he said, coming to stand inches from me. “I didn’t expect to see either of you there. I’m rather glad for it now, though. I’ll forever be known as the man who captured Tarzan.”

I rolled my eyes. “You actually think you can cage him? Him ? You’re even more deluded than I thought.”

Lightning quick, Frank grabbed my chin, squeezing painfully. “When he comes for you, and he will come for you, he will walk peacefully into his cage. That is, if he wants to see you walk away alive.”

I used his nearness to my advantage by spitting in his face, enjoying the way he recoiled.

“Try it if you must,” I said airily. “But you will never chain him. You killed his king, the closest thing he had to a father. And now? Now you’ve taken the woman he loves.” I shook my head. “A normal man would kill you for less,” I leaned in, whispering. “But Jamie is not a normal man.”

I could see that Frank was shaken. Unsettled, at least. But then he rallied and smirked at me.

“What must it be like, being with a man who behaves like an animal?”

Instead of smirking back, I merely smiled prettily. “You could only dream of being able to satisfy like he does.”

This time, Frank’s disgust was plain, and I giggled as he stomped away.

Without eyes on me, some of my bravado faded, and I sat down, fighting for a comfortable position with my hands chained above me. I watched as the jungle slowly drifted by.

I wasn’t normally one to settle for being a damsel in distress, but there was precious little I could do that wouldn’t get myself and possibly the other prisoners killed. So I would bide my time, let Frank think he had the upper hand, and wait for Jamie to come.

“Please hurry,” I whispered. 




Chapter Text

Jamie wanted to run, but was resolved to keep up a steady walk, both so that the other men could keep up (regardless of what he’d told them,) and also because he was aware that after nearly two years since he’d lived here, he mightn’t have quite the stamina he once had. The last thing he needed was to tire out too much before they even started climbing.

He wasn’t worried about his strength, though. Two years of hearty meals and not having to fight for survival day in and day out had made him grow stronger than ever. Even if it hadn’t been so, it didn’t matter.

They had Claire, and he would move heaven and earth to get her back.

Storm clouds gathered as they reached the canopy, and beneath the ceiling of leaves, it was almost like night.

The ground tilted upward, but the way was not difficult. Not yet at least.

“What th’ devil is that smell ?” Murtagh asked.

“I know that smell,” Joe said. “Gorillas, Jamie?”

Jamie paused in his tracks, sniffing the air. 

“Not just gorillas…” he breathed. 

They appeared quietly, like shadows. Like they always did. Jamie would know them anywhere. Their smell, the way they looked. It was as ingrained into his very being as his heart. 

His Family.

“Careful, Murtagh,” Joe said quietly from behind him. “And whatever you do, don’t look them in the eye.”

“What d’ye mean?” Murtagh asked. “Does Jamie no’ ken them?”

“Do you?” Joe asked. “Is it them?”

Jamie nodded, feeling such happiness and grief all at once. Happy that they were there, alive and well. But grief at knowing what must come next.

“My brother Akut will have stepped up as leader,” Jamie said.

“That’s...good, right?”

Jamie looked at Joe, smiling sadly. “I have been gone too long. Kerchak allowed males to stay in the troop, but once they left they were considered deserters. Akut will still see me as gorilla...but now I am a rival male.”

Joe looked at him in horror. “W...you’re serious? But you’ve spent all this time looking for them!”

“To see them” Jamie said. “See they are well. And I have. We must cross now through their territory.”

“What does that mean?” Murtagh asked. “What are ye going tae do?”

Jamie took a breath, watching as the gorillas parted to make way for their new leader. 

“Akut and I must fight,” he said in resignation. “I’ll lose, but he’ll make his point, and let us through.”

“You’re going to fight that ?!” Murtagh gasped as Akut stood on his hind legs, beating his chest.

In two years, Akut had grown considerably. He wasn’t quite fully grown, but it was abundantly clear that he took after Kerchak, with a nearly unnatural size greater than any average gorilla.

But Jamie had taken on the father before and lived to tell the tale, he could certainly take on the son.

“Jamie…” Murtagh began as Jamie flexed his shoulders and approached the ape coming down off the rocks.

“Stay back,” Jamie said firmly. “Dinna try to help me...no matter what happens.”

Jamie stared Akut down, boldly meeting his eyes. Within them, he could still see the warm, cheerful soul that had been his brother for nearly as long as he could remember, but his time as leader, and all that had happened to his troop had hardened the young silverback. As he watched Jamie, his eyes spoke more loudly than words ever could.

Traitor. Abandoner. 

Jamie huffed and lowered himself to all fours, readying himself. 

With an ear splitting roar, Akut charged. Jamie followed suit, meeting the ape halfway. Akut grabbed him by the arm, slinging him like a child’s doll and flinging him to the ground.

Jamie’s back, already bruised and sore from the attack from the mercenaries, screamed in agony. 

He rolled out of the way just in time to avoid Akut’s fists coming down, and in that motion Jamie kicked Akut in the chest, knocking him off balance. 

Jamie was blind to anything and everything but avoiding the crushing strength of his brother. His own punches had little effect. He managed once to get around Akut and leap onto his back, wrapping one arm tightly around his neck while his his free one to strike his head. 

Akut howled in fury, grabbing the arm around his neck and flinged Jamie off.

Jamie heard and felt a sharp pop and he cried out, just before Akut sank his teeth into Jamie’s shoulder and then released him to collapse to the ground.

Jamie lay face-down, motionless as Akut growled and beat the ground on either side of Jamie’s head. 

He’d never truly been afraid that Akut would kill him. Kerchak perhaps might have, but no matter what instinct dictated, or gorilla law, Akut was still Jamie’s brother.

He lay still while Akut huffed a few more times, and then walked away. Joe and Murtagh were at his side in an instant, and Jamie rolled onto his back.

“Shit,” Joe hissed. “I don’t think I need to ask you if you’re okay.”

“I’ll live,” Jamie groaned.

“Yeah, well your shoulder’s out of socket again, and this bite wound looks nasty. I’ve got a few bandages and alcohol to clean it, but no needle and thread.”

“Quite a reception they gave ye lad,” Murtagh quipped, watching the gorillas go. 

“It is their way,” Jamie said. 

“Was Kala with them? Joe asked.

“I didn’a see her, but I didn’a see any of the females. But that only means they’re wi’ the young ones.”

“Let’s get th’ lad up,” Murtagh said. “And start a fire.”

 

~~~

 

I was honestly quite boring, sitting there. I ignored all the looks from men. Let them look. If they so much as tried to touch me, they would find themselves overboard.

I was given plenty of food and drink; more than the Waziri prisoners, but I wasn’t sitting close enough to them to share and I wasn’t stupid enough to reject it and let myself grow weak.

From what I’d been able to gather from listening to the men talk, the Waziri were on their way to Muanda, and the slave market. 

The thought made me nauseous. And what did it mean for me? Did they intend to sell me off with the others? Ransom me? 

Toss me in the river and watch the hippos tear me apart?

As the hour grew late, the jungle was plunged into darkness, the only light I could see coming from the boat itself. 

I could hear the men on the level below, drinking and singing, and my heart sank with each passing moment.

All my big thoughts before of fighting back slipped away with the reality of the fact that I was chained up, and helpless.

When the first pair of men stumbled to the upper deck, laughing and nudging each other, I stiffened in fear.

Azizi said something, and one of the men whirled around on him, giving him a kick that was so poorly aimed it really only grazed Azizi’s leg.

“Shut up, you,” the man grumbled before turning back to me. “Evenin’ Miss. Feeling pretty lonely up here, eh?”

“Not particularly,” I said, glad when my voice didn’t shake. 

“Figures, don’ it?” the other one asked, giving me a look that made me want to take a bath. “The pretty ones never want us real men. They pick maniacs like that monkey man or…” he turned around, giving Azizi another kick. “Dirty little n…”

“The only dirty maniac around here is you !” I broke in hotly. 

“That so?” he asked, stumbling closer and leaning close to my face, making me turn away from his putrid breath. “Suppose we’ll see about that.”

He grabbed my hair, yanking forcefully to bring my face to his. Azizi and some of the others cried out in anger while I thrashed against him, wondering if it was the smell that would make me vomit first, or the feel of his lips wet against mine.

I got my foot out from under me and leaned back, managing to kick the bastard square in the groin.

He released me with a yowl. “You little bitch!” he hissed, slapping me across the face.

The other one was on me in an instant, pulling my legs out straight and forcing them apart.

“Let her go!” Azizi yelled.

The chains around my wrists had been left long enough so that I could move around a little. They were just long enough that if I twisted just right, I could get them around the sickening, malodorous piece of shit’s throat.

He gasped and flailed, even as I struggled to breathe with his heavy bulk resting on top of me. One of my cuffs was swiftly unlocked by the other man, and the one on top of me was freed, red-faced and panting.

“You stupid little cunt,” said the skinnier of the two men, the one still holding one end of my chain. “We’ll teach you some manners.”

“We can’t kill her,” the big one said. “Randall said…”

“I don’t give a fuck what he says! Besides, we won’t kill her. We’ll just take her somewhere out of the way where she can decide whether our attentions might be desirable after all.”

He tugged sharply on the chain, making me fall painfully to my knees before dragging me upright again and pulling me along.

“Claire!” Azizi yelled, starting to struggle at his bonds, but I shook my head at him.

The men led me through a doorway, and then down a flight of stairs to the hull of the boat. It was dark and wet, and I could hear the skittering of rats all around. I did my best not to look down at my feet.

“I’ve got dinner for you,” the skinny one said, lighting a lamp. 

When the light went on, I gasped at what I saw. 

A row of cages, all packed to the gills with gorillas.

They backed away and bared their teeth menacingly as we approached the cages, and I realized that they weren’t just gorillas...they were members of Jamie’s family. I recognized them by their unusual size.

Would they know me if the men put me in the cage? Because that seemed to be exactly what they planned to do, and I wondered if they even realized it could very well mean certain death.

The growls increased as we drew closer, some beating their chests to ward us off.

Gulping, I looked down, keeping my eyes trained firmly on the ground, barely even flinching when a rat ran directly over my foot.

Maybe an hour or so in here will loosen you up,” he said, grabbing a sharpened stick and jabbing it through the bars to keep the gorillas back as the other one opened the cage door.

I was unceremoniously shoved in, the door swiftly locked behind me. I could hear the men laughing, but I kept my eyes down, my body hunched over. Remembering something Jamie had once told me, I held one of my hands out, palm up, to show I meant no threat.

“This is stupid,” one of the men said. “They’re not even doing anything. Hey!” There was a clang, and I thought he probably jabbed the stick between the bars again, and the gorillas snarled. “Do something, you worthless animals!”

Something warm and soft pressed along my side, and I looked at my hand, bracing my weight on the floor of the cage, and saw another right beside it. This one much larger, and much hairier. 

Taking a chance, I followed the hand up, and found myself looking into the face of none other...than Jamie’s mother.

“Kala,” I breathed, relief flooding me as I looked directly into her warm, kind eyes. 

She nudged me with the back of her hand, something I gathered was an affectionate gesture, because Jamie did something similar to me on occasion. I did it back, and huddled close to her.

I looked back at the men, and smirked to find the staring in astonishment. 

“Fuck it, just get her out of there,” the bigger one said.

But when they went to unlock the door, the three other gorillas in the cage rushed it, roaring angrily and forcing them to lock it back again. All the other gorillas, and there looked to be around ten altogether, growled and rattled the bars, until the two men finally gave each other a nervous look, and left.

The gorillas all relaxed the moment the men were gone, but it was clear they were all exhausted and terrified. 

The floor I sat on was caked with their waste, and the air was thick with flies. They had been trapped in these cages for some time.

Sitting there, away from the eyes of a dozen leering men, I succumbed to the tears that had been threatening to spill ever since the night before.

I just kept thinking of Jamie, tied down like an animal, the look of absolute agony on his face as they dragged me away.

Kala made a low sound in her throat, nudging me again with the back of her hand.

I looked up at her, and froze in astonishment as she slowly, gently, in a motherly fashion, brushed a finger across my cheek, wiping away the tears there.

“Oh Kala,” I whispered. “I swear we’ll free you. Whatever it takes.”






Chapter Text

I’d been sitting in the gorilla cage for some time before I heard what sounded to me like cries of distress from the neighboring cage.

The gorillas there were huddled around, and when I craned my neck I could just make out the small form of a baby gorilla in their midst, lying motionless on the floor.

I remembered the infant I’d held the first time I saw the gorillas, but knew that one would be much bigger by now. This one looked newborn. 

“He isn’t breathing,” I said, cursing the damned cages which prevented me from going to him. “Something is wrong.”

I tried calling for help, to no avail. And really, what did I expect? The men on that boat clearly cared nothing for these magnificent creatures except the money they could get for them.

The bars on the cage were set widely apart. Not wide enough for me to slip through, but perhaps wide enough for the baby. But how to communicate that to them?

I turned to Kala, remembering what Jamie had taught me about how words weren’t always needed. “I can try to help him,” I said, motioning toward the baby.

Kala stared at me a moment, then made a low sound. The gorillas in the other cage stopped and looked at me, and I held my hands out through the bars.

One of them, the mother perhaps, somehow understood, and picked the baby up by the arm and passed it through the bars. I winced at the way the poor thing’s head bobbled limply, but I quickly grabbed him and slid him through the bars again, cradling him in my arms.

His face was pale, his mouth hanging open. I would have believed him dead had I not felt his heartbeat, weak but obvious against my arm.

I rubbed his narrow chest, trying desperately to coax life into him, and then I remembered what Joe had done for Jamie, and I laid the little gorilla flat on the floor, tilting up his face.

Not at all positive I was doing the right thing, I held one hand over his nose and sealed my mouth over his, breathing into him.

The other gorillas surrounded us, watching anxiously. 

I didn’t know for how long I breathed for the baby, watching his chest rise and fall, feeling the heartbeat on my palm. Finally, miraculously, I felt him inhale on his own, and his body began to twitch. I sat back, rubbing his chest more firmly, and a pair of soulful brown eyes opened and fixated on me.

“There you are,” I whispered, tears in my own eyes. 

He was very weak, but alive, and I cradled him gently, wetting the hem of my skirt in the murky water bowl and allowing him to suckle it.

He was malnourished, but so were the rest of them, and I wondered if his mother was present after all, or had ceased the ability to feed him due to her own malnourishment. 

The gorillas all tensed a split second before I could hear voices coming down the stairs.

What were you fucking thinking ?!” I could hear Frank yelling before the door to the bilge was flung open by him and the two men that had put me there.

“I told ya,” the large man said. “See? She’s just sitting there!”

Frank snorted, wrinkling his nose against the smell of the place. “Just get her out of there before I toss you both overboard.”

“This baby is sick,” I said, trying whatever I could to get the poor thing help, even pleading to Frank. “Surely a dead baby gorilla isn’t worth much to you!”

“No,” Frank said calmly. “It is certainly worth more alive. If you come out of there peacefully, you may bring it with you and care for it.”

It was enough for me, and I stood, moving toward the door, but it wasn’t enough for the gorillas, and they growled menacingly. 

“I can sell more stuffed gorillas as easily as I can sell live ones,” Frank said. “Calm them down, or these gentlemen start shooting.”

The two men raised their rifles on cue, one of them aiming directly at Kala’s head.

I stepped in front of her. “I don’t know how to calm them, but putting your guns away is a good start!”

The gorillas didn’t understand. They were not going to let these men remove me from the cage without someone getting hurt.

“Just unlock it and stand back,” I said. “I can slide out quickly.”

Frank hesitated, but then nodded at the skinny man, who scuttled over to unlock the door before scuttling right back again.

“Lower your weapons,” I said firmly, one hand on the cage door.

Frank nodded again, and then men lowered their rifles. 

Taking a deep breath, and hoping I was doing the right thing, I threw the door open wide and crouched down, letting the gorillas leap over me and tear out of the cage, tackling Frank’s men before they could raise their rifles again. 

Amid the chaos, I found the keys on the ground and hurriedly unlocked the other two cages, then carrying the infant, I followed the stampede of gorillas over the two dead men and up the stairs. I caught sight of Frank, only once, hiding behind a barrel.

The gorillas launched themselves unhesitatingly off the boat and into the crocodile, snake, and God-knew-what-else infested water but I paused, remembering sharply my encounter with a hippopotamus.

I turned once and locked eyes with Azizi, wanting to try and unlock their chains too, but the other men were already advancing, and there was no way I could take them all on.

Nenda!” Azizi shouted urgently, imploring me to go. “ Haraka!”

I cradled the baby close to my chest and leapt overboard, just before one of the men could grab me.

The water was frigid, the shock of it stunning me for a moment as I struggled to swim and hold the baby at the same time. But the chill must have revived him, because he clambered onto my back the way he would with his mother, and held on securely as I paddled through the river, ignoring the shouts from the boat.

The moment my feet touched the rocky earth, I pulled myself out of the water and ran. The gorillas were all around, moving through the trees like lightning, but I lagged woefully behind, made even slower with the precious burden on my back. 

But then there was Kala, appearing before me and urging me to follow. I did, grimacing as she started to climb up a tree.

I still followed, as best and as quickly as I was able. I could hear mens’ voices, their boots crashing through the leaves. The baby grabbed onto a branch and I encouraged him to release me and keep climbing. 

When I reached one of the higher branches, I could see the other gorillas ahead, leaping from branch to branch like it was nothing. 

The baby’s mother appeared, grabbing hold of her child and continuing on. I gulped and took a deep breath, trying my best to channel whatever it was inside of Jamie that made him capable of doing this.

“There she is!” someone shouted below me.

A shot rang out, and I ran, trying to ignore the fact that I was fifty or so feet above the ground.

The branches in the canopy were so tightly wound together, it was far from impossible to make my way from tree to tree, but much more slowly that the gorillas were able. 

I really thought I would make it. I would be horribly lost, but Kala and the others might provide protection until I could reach Jamie. But then, a shot rang out, and I watched as Kala faltered, then with a cry plummeted to the ground, her fall thankfully broken by branches and greenery.

“No!” I screamed, seeing Frank’s men close in. I saw a tangle of vines, and swallowing thickly, grabbed one and checked its strength.

I didn’t let myself think before I kicked off, swinging out and down toward Kala, dropping in a heap in front of her.

They had their guns aimed, and I glanced back at her, thinking that the wound on her arm didn’t look serious.

“Leave her alone,” I said. 

Frank brushed past his men, glaring at me.

“You have cost me a considerable amount of money, Miss Beauchamp.”

“But they’re not really what you want, are they?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Just let them go, and I’ll go back with you. Willingly.”

Frank held his hand out for me, but I still hesitated, terrified that the moment I walked away from her, they would open fire.

“Go,” I hissed over my shoulder. “Don’t just stand there, go !”

Kala looked at me with sad eyes, but she must have understood, because with a mournful groan, she disappeared into the jungle. 

Only once she was gone did I step toward Frank and allow him to snatch my arm. But then, with me firmly in check, Frank made a gesture and his men charged into the jungle.

I screamed as the shooting began.

 

~~~

 

“You’re daft, it willn’a work.”

Joe smirked over his shoulder at Murtagh. “You’d be surprised, my good man. It’s quick, effective, sanitary, and it hurts like hell.”

Jamie was already in a great deal of pain, so the sudden and familiar pinch of an ant bite hardly rated. 

In the absence of thread, Joe managed to make Jamie sit down long enough to use a trail of large ants to suture the bite wound left by Akut. Joe held the insect over the wound, and once it latched onto the two ends of flesh, he swiftly pinched off the body, leaving only the clenching heads behind. 

Murtagh snorted, watching closely. “Hmph. Leave it to an American tae think of something like that .”

Jamie’s felt pushed to his very limit. His body was bruised and broken, every inch of him, to the very ends of his hair, hurt. He had so little left to give, but knew he had to keep going. For Claire.

“Easy,” Joe said when Jamie cautiously flexed his arm, testing the ‘sutures.’ “We should camp here for the night. Give you a chance to recover some.”

Jamie grunted, his heart rebelling against the very idea, and he stood, testing if he could stand the pain in his back.

“Joe’s right, lad,” Murtagh said, standing with him. “It’s as we’ve said before, ye’re worthless tae Claire if ye’re dead . Now sit ye down, have some more whisky, eat something, and rest. We’ll start out again in th’ morning.”

Jamie was ignoring his godfather, but when the older man lightly rested a hand on his good arm, Jamie turned to snarl at him.

Murtagh snatched his hand back, but his look of surprise quickly turned into a scowl. “Dinna you growl at me lad. I thrashed ye when ye were still in clouts and walked too close tae th’ river, and I’m no afraid tae do it again. I’d say ye’re too beaten up tae fight back anyway!”

Jamie backed off, but still jerked away, clenching his jaw.

“I canna say I ken how you’re feeling,” Murtagh continued, more gently. “But I do ken what it is tae lose someone ye love. I lost my dearest friend in your father, and your mam...weel, that was something else entirely. Then tae lose you, and Willie...it makes a man feel mightily helpless, and I do ken that. But ye’re no’ alone, lad. No’ anymore.”

Jamie felt himself deflate, exhaustion begin to roll over him. And finally, he nodded, and allowed himself to be led back to the fire and sat down beside it with a blanket draped around his shoulders and a piece of dried meat in his hand.

Jamie reminded himself that he needed his strength for Claire, but it was torment sitting there warm and full by a fire, not knowing how she was faring. It actually hurt , so much more than the physical injuries of his body. When had his very existence become so entwined with hers?

He had to smile a little, knowing the answer to that was the moment he saw her.

 

Jamie must have fallen asleep, because he was jolted awake some time later, still sitting upright, unsure exactly what it was that had alerted him.

“Something wrong?” Joe asked drowsily, sitting up. “Jamie? You alright?”

Jamie focused his attention on listening, picking out the usual cacophony of the jungle from the unusual.

And then he heard it, faint and distant, but unmistakable. 

Claire .

Her scream tore through his ears, mind, and soul and he was on his feet in an instant, injuries be damned.

“Jamie!” Murtagh shouted after him, but he ignored him. Jamie could hear her. She wasn’t close, but he had to move, now.

He ran through the jungle, his heart matching the thunder beginning to rumble through the air. 

He reached the edge of the cliff, just as gunshot rang out, and he leapt without hesitation, letting instinct take over as he crashed through the tops of the trees, getting hold of a vine and propelling himself onward, being more reckless than usual as he flew from one vine to the other.

His feet hit the ground as the rain did, and he tuned in his senses.

With the second gunshot, Jamie was on the move once more. He struck down the man without thought or even taking a moment to determine what he was shooting. 

But then he looked at the ground, saw the dark shape of a gorilla lying there in the mud. 

The man at Jamie’s feet groaned, and he spun down, lifting him off the ground before slamming him back down. 

They were gunning down the gorillas, and Jamie knew that they were the same mercenaries who took Claire. 

He could smell her.

Why was her scent on them?

They touched her.

Jamie tore after them like a shadow in the dark, ripping the guns from their hands, snapping their necks, ears closed against their cries of fear or pain. 

At one point, Jamie came face-to-face with Akut, following the cries of his own troop, and like Jamie, freezing in disbelief at the carnage before him. 

The two brothers locked eyes, and betrayal forgotten, at least for the moment, Akut shoved Jamie out of the path of a bullet and leapt onto the murderous human, snapping his back in two.

One of the men must have snuck up behind Jamie in that brief moment that he was righting himself, because another shot rang out.

He turned at once to this new threat, ready to kill.

Jamie!”

The cry of his name sounded muffled on the other side of the roaring in his ears. Jamie stalked his next prey, his muscles bunched and ready, until his vision finally cleared and the shape of Joe registered in his mind.

“Jamie, man, snap out o’ it!” Murtagh snapped from his other side. “It’s us!”

Jamie shook his head, shaken and alarmed that he’d very nearly attacked his friends.

“They’re dead,” Murtagh said, eyeing the bodies scattered on the ground. “I dinna see any sign of Claire, though.”

“They must have gotten her away,” Joe said.

Jamie turned back to Akut, who was watching them warily. He didn’t like these two other men being there, but seemed to understand that they were with Jamie. 

“Look,” Joe said, kneeling beside one of the fallen gorillas. “See this shaved off place on the back of her neck? She was marked. These gorillas were captured, but they must have escaped.”

Jamie nodded, knowing it was true. His heart, sunken by the deaths of his family members; innocent females and young, rose suddenly at a very familiar voice.

He turned at once to his mother, appearing from the greenery. Akut released a happy howl and hurried to her, but Kala greeted him only briefly before spotting Jamie.

Jamie went to her, wrapping her in his arms and breathing a deep sigh of relief.

“That’s his mother,” he heard Joe saying quietly.

Murtagh made a noise of surprise. “His...mother...”

Kala looked at Jamie, her eyes wide and frightened, but not for herself. She told him that his mate had been there. That she had saved one of the babies by sharing her breath with him, and then released them all from the cages. She told him that his mate was brave, and could fly on the vine like him, but that the Bad Ones took her away again and Kala had wanted to stop them, but couldn’t.

Jamie embraced her again, assuring her that she’d done right by getting away so that she could tell him what happened.

Her long, powerful arms came around him, and he suddenly felt just like he had when he was small and would cling to her back as they traveled through the jungle, safe and warm, nestled in her fur.

It was a relief to know that Claire was alright for the moment, even as regret that he’d been so close to her, and she’d so nearly gotten away warred with pride for what she’d done for his Family. 

Jamie suddenly became aware that the scent of blood clung more vividly to his mother, and he pulled back, realizing that she’d been shot in the arm. It didn’t look bad, but fear struck him all the same, and he turned frantically to Joe, frustrated at his sudden difficulty in communicating with them.

But Joe understood without needing to be told, and knelt beside Kala, watching her for a reaction before carefully touching her arm and motioning for Murtagh to bring the lantern. Murtagh did, but hesitantly, eyeing the surrounding gorillas worriedly.

“It’s not serious,” Joe said. “Bullet went in and out, it’s really just a graze. I need to clean it, though. Do you think she’ll let me?”

Jamie nodded, first to Joe, and then to Kala, but she didn’t need to be told. She understood that Joe was there to help.

Kala tensed but made not a sound as Joe poured alcohol over the wound, though she had to shoot Akut a warning look when the gorilla leader growled menacingly.

“There,” Joe said. “I won’t bandage it, but if you could somehow let her know to try and keep it as clean and dry as possible, that’d be great.”

Jamie stood and walked to the edge of the river, though the boat was long gone.

“What now?” Murtagh asked, appearing at his side.

Akut appeared on his other side, looking to him with an expression that asked the same question. He nudged Jamie with the back of his hand, and Jamie returned the gesture. 

Find the men. Find Frank Randall. See Claire safe, and then avenge her. Avenge the Family. Avenge Kerchak. 

Kill them all.





Chapter Text

“Take your hands off me you goddamned son of bitch!” I screamed, fighting tooth and nail against my captors.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Frank had sent his goons off to gun down the escaped gorillas after apprehending me again, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to go easily after that.

I was tossed unceremoniously onto the deck and promptly chained again.

“Ugh,” Frank said, wrinkling his nose. “You even smell like them now. Well, you did what I’d hope you’d do, you screamed for him. He’ll come, see his dead family, and come for you even angrier than before.” 

I stood up, sneering at him. “You seem to think it’ll make him careless, when all it will do is make him even more determined to kill you.”

Frank smiled. “We’ll see about that.”

They shoved me to sit near the Waziri, and I slumped back tiredly, both in body and spirit.

“You are hurt?” Azizi asked me quietly.

I shook my head. “No. I’m fine. I just hope that if nothing else, Jamie’s mother made it out alive.”

Azizi didn’t seem to understand all of my words, but he nodded sympathetically. 

“Alright Jamie,” I murmured under my breath. “I did my best, but if you could hurry on now, that would be great.”

 

~~~

 

“They’re going to end up at a port just a few more miles up river,” Joe said, sketching out the map on the sand. “The Waziri will be loaded onto a ship. Maybe Claire too, but I have a feeling Randall is just trying to bait you, Jamie. He must have a buyer willing to pay good for a wild gorilla man.”

Jamie reached down to make some amendments on the exact pattern of the river before making a slash right across it, right where it forked before reaching the bay.

“What?” Joe looked at him. “You want to try and stop the boat there? Okay...that could probably be managed. But it’s still pretty close to the port, close enough that Frank could send for reinforcement.”

“Th’ buyers likely willn’a stick around once things start going wrong,” Murtagh pointed out. “Jamie’s right, we should try tae stop them before they get there. Could be innocent people at th’ port, after all.”

“It’s a big job,” Joe sighed, standing up. “Jamie, I know there’s no turning back now, but we need help. We can’t save Claire and the others with just the three of us.”

Akut snorted, and Joe gave the gorilla a sheepish look. “Okay, four of us.”

Jamie nodded, knowing Joe was right. He looked to Akut, who nodded back before disappearing into the trees with a handful of the other males. The surviving nursing mothers had taken all of the infants and young to the safety of their nest, leaving the able-bodied females and Kala. Jamie and Akut both had pleaded with the elder female to retreat with the others, but she had refused, and Jamie knew well that once Kala made her decision, she was unmovable. It was, after all, the reason Jamie had been raised as a gorilla to start with.

Grunting once, Jamie knelt, placing his knuckles on the ground. He gave Joe and Murtagh a look which suggested that they at least try to keep up, and took off. As he went he released a yell that hopefully told Claire, and Randall, that he was on his way.

 

~~~

 

I gasped at the sound of the loud, ringing cry that sounded both completely foreign and yet I knew it at once to be Jamie. It sent a chill down my spine.

The Azizi and the others tensed around me, their eyes widening, and our captors clutched their rifles in fear.

“I’ve heard tales of that,” Frank said, looking out over the railing at the rising sun. “People here once thought it the tortured cries of the ‘Spirit of the Jungle.’ Who’d have thought it was just a man, raised like an animal, never sure of what sound he was supposed to make.”

“At least tell me exactly what it is you’re gaining from this,” I said. “You want to capture him, I get that. But to what gain? Is it really just the money? Who the hell wants to buy him, anyway?”

Frank turned to me and smirked. “You would be surprised, my dear. Surprised, and disgusted. As for why , well, the money certainly isn’t unwelcome. My cousin has offered quite an incredible sum for the delivery of Tarzan , alive. But no, all I really need from this is notoriety. For everyone to know that I am the greatest hunter alive, that managed to capture the world’s wildest creature.”

I snorted. “I’d almost respect you more if it was just for the money. And wait, you said your cousin ?”

Frank nodded. “Yes, second cousin, really, though I’m told our family resemblance is quite strong. I’ve never had many dealings with him, mind. He can be a bit...extreme. Even for me. And his...tastes, well. They aren’t my tastes, I’ll leave it at that. All I know is he has over a thousand acres in South Africa where he keeps his personal game and that Jamie will have plenty of room to run around while Jonathan works to...break him.”

I shuddered at just the implication of what Frank was saying, even if I couldn’t be sure of the extent of it. So this cousin of Frank’s wanted to hunt Jamie while he was trapped in a game preserve, unable to escape?

And what by God’s name did he mean by breaking him?

So it seemed it was even worse than I thought, and I knew I had to do everything in my power to keep Jamie from that fate, and that meant making damned sure that Frank didn’t get him in a position to trade himself for me.

I looked at Azizi after Frank had walked away. “You have to be ready to fight, as soon as there’s an opening.”

Azizi smirked at me, and I wondered why until he glanced backward and I discreetly leaned back and looked to find that Waziri had all gotten out of their chains, and were only holding them in place so that at a glance, they still looked trapped.

They’d been left there, ignored, for long enough that they’d steadily gotten themselves free, and were only waiting for the right moment.

I wasn’t in as good of a situation, now chained even more tightly than I had been before. But my feet were unbound, so as long as I could stand up, I could run, and probably swim. At least for a short while.

 

~~~

 

They climbed upward along the edge of the mountain, reaching an outlook that jutted out over the river.

From there, they could see the boat, approaching the fork.

“Left’s the port,” Joe said. “Right is some whitewater rapids, and then a waterfall. What’s the plan, Jamie? Run it aground?”

Jamie huffed, then jerked his head to the right.

“Tell me he isn’a saying he wants th’ boat tae go right?” Murtagh said. “Tell me that’s some sort o’ Jamie language for...something else? I thought we were saving Claire?”

Joe shrugged. “Take the boat, steer it right, get Claire and the Waziri off, let everyone else go over the fall. I mean, it does sound pretty efficient.”

“Considering it all goes tae plan .”

“Well, yeah, there’s that. I guess the question is, how much do we trust Jamie?”

Murtagh arched a bushy eyebrow in Jamie’s direction, then rolled his eyes. “Aye. I suppose we trust him enough tae get not ourselves kill’t . But I swear, if Claire wasn’a such a sweet lass…”

Jamie smiled at him and led the way a little farther along the ridge, finding a place where the trees all converged over the river, creating a beautiful curtain of branches and vines.

They needed a way onto the boat, after all.

“Oh no,” Murtagh said. “This is where I draw th’ line. I’m no’ an ape man. I canna swing on a vine .”

Jamie looked to the gorillas. It was not of their nature, either, to swing on the vine. It was only something Jamie had picked up and adapted from monkeys. But they could do it, and assured him that they would.

He turned to Kala, who halted his warning gaze by letting him know that she would cross the river on her own with some of the other females and be waiting for them on the shore.

“Oh God,” Joe muttered, grabbing onto a vine and testing its strength. “I’m gonna fucking die.”

“Aye, well, suppose I’ll be seein’ ye in hell, lad,” Murtagh said, grabbing one himself.

“You first.”

“No, you!”

Smirking, Jamie came up behind them, giving them both a light shove.

Somehow, Murtagh lost grip of his own vine, but before Jamie could leap to his rescue, he grabbed onto Joe and the two went plummeting down together, screaming all the while.

Shaking his head, Jamie leapt, trusting the Family to follow, and was able to guide Murtagh and Joe the correct direction to land on the deck of the boat.

Laying in a pile, arms and legs entwined, Murtagh and Joe stared at one another a moment before jumping to their feet, clearing their throats awkwardly and patting one another on the back for a job well done in forcibly deep voices.

The men on the boat yelled and went for their rifles, but the gorillas were faster, taking their revenge on the men who’d captured and tormented them, and killed their people.

Joe made his way directly to the captain’s cabin, knocking the hapless man unconscious before making the boat turn a sharp right, sending everyone aboard sliding across the deck.

 

~~~

 

It happened so suddenly. The boat was all a frenzy as men shouted and shot and ran around basically like chickens with their heads cut off.

I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I and the Waziri knew that the moment had come.

They all leapt to their feet, barely even betraying the fact in their faces that they’d been stuck in a seated position for days before taking off. The women leapt overboard while the men stayed to fight.

Only Azizi stayed at my side, and I assumed this must have been a plan discussed in hushed, Swahili whispers that I wasn’t privy to.

He helped me to my feet, and I groaned at how difficult it was to move with ten pounds of chain holding my arms behind my back. I’d been wrong before, and there was no way I’d be able to swim like this, but there was little hope of getting free without Frank and his key.

Azizi led me to the railing, but I resisted, unsure if even he’d be able to keep me afloat. And then, I saw him. There, on the lower deck, sending one of the men flying overboard.

That first sight of him was like air into my lungs, as well as worry in my gut.

“Jamie!” I cried without thought.

Jamie looked up, spotting me, his entire face morphing incredibly from one of complete animalistic fury, to one of relief.

Azizi pulled me away from the railing, but even though looking away from Jamie was difficult, I went with him willingly. We ran to the stairs, but blocking our way was none other than Frank, a pistol aimed at our heads. 

“Not so fast.”

I tried to step in front of Azizi, refusing to allow the young man to become another casualty trying to protect me, but he wouldn’t let me, keeping me firmly at his side.

“It’s over Frank,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. 

Frank smirked. “Oh, Miss Beauchamp. It is far from over. Now, come away from the boy, or I will shoot him in the face.”

Usijali ,” I said, telling Azizi not to worry. “Do as he says.”

Azizi’s jaw twitched as he released my arm, and I took one step toward Frank before the entire boat jolted violently and I fell right back into Azizi’s arms. 

Frank dropped his pistol, and Azizi and I exchanged one look before we took off, quickly discovering that the boat had run aground and the river around us had become rapids. 

I didn’t know where Jamie had gone, but Azizi was leading me off the boat, and I figured that was the best bet at any rate.

Acha!” Azizi shouted once our feet hit the sand, pulling me to a stop before guiding me to sit against a flat rock.

He found a stone the size of his fist and beat it against the lock on my chains.

“He’s coming!” I shouted, spotting Frank and some of his lackies emerging from the beached vessel. 

I heard a clink and Azizi was unwrapping the chains from my wrists, just as the very ground became alive

I thought at first that it was an earthquake, but suddenly the tree line split in half as an entire herd of elephants, as well as water buffalo, and gazelles crashed through the trees, straight for the river.

“Go!” I shouted at Azizi, shoving him in the opposite direction. Frank would come after me, not him, but also, he would not shoot me.

I took off without waiting to see what Azizi did, running straight toward the stampede.

“Stop, you bitch!” one of the lackies shouted, right on my tail.

I ran as fast as I could, dropping to my hands and knees right before the first of the elephants went charging around me.

I cowered down, covering my head, feeling legs and hooves thunder around me. 

One hoof caught me on the side, knocking me over, and I cried out, huddling further into a ball. 

A hand grabbed my arm, and for just a moment I hoped it was Jamie, but a glance up told me it was one of the slavers, and I rolled over and kicked out, getting him in the stomach. He fell back and I rolled back onto my stomach.

And that was when I met nose-to-nose with a lion, staring me down with hungry golden eyes.

The lion, who I believed was Roe, sniffed once at me before leaping over my head and onto the man pursuing me. 

I looked away quickly, not wishing to witness the carnage, and tried to get to my feet, though I was immediately knocked over again.

This time, when a hand wrapped around my arm, I knew at once that it wasn’t human.

I didn’t immediately recognize the silverback gorilla. He was enormous; nearly as big as Kerchak, with similar features.

“Akut?” I whispered.

The gorilla pulled on my arm once gently, and then again with more force, and I found myself being slung bodily up onto his back, like an infant.

I gripped his fur, finding purchase for my feet on his hipbones, then clung on for dear life as he charged against the raging river of stampeding animals. 

But they skirted around Akut, mindful of the powerful creature’s presence. 

I thought I saw Day, using her trunk to flatten a man before striking him with her tusks. And there was Ara and the other lionesses, joining their male in the hunt.

Akut carried me safely out of the stampede, but I wasn’t in a hurry to climb down, until a gunshot rang out and Akut howled in pain before curling in on himself.

I rolled free before the enormous ape could crush me, then looked up to find Frank there, his pistol still smoking.

I jumped up and ran toward the despicable man, desperate to keep him from shooting Akut again. I was too tired and weak from captivity to attack, so there was little I could do when he took my wrist in a bruising grip.

“I must admit,” Frank said, his breathing heavy, his eyes bloodshot and unfocused. “That beast will stop at nothing. But you are coming with me to my cousin’s ship. Of that, I am certain.”

“You are fucking crazy,” I hissed. 

Frank smiled. “Perhaps. Now come along, dear. Your Tarzan will be here very soon.”

I opened my mouth to retort, but was met with a pistol across my face.

 

~~~

 

Jamie!”

He looked up, seeing her there, riotous curls all around her, eyes so fearful. And yet, it was like he could breathe again, seeing her still whole and relatively unharmed. 

Azizi was with her, and he led her away from the railing. But that was alright. Jamie trusted Azizi to do his best by Claire, and Jamie had his hands full with Randall’s men. 

The Waziri women had fled the boat, but the men remained and fought at Jamie’s side, keeping them from overwhelming him like they had at the village. 

Somewhere, Joe was steering the boat, but before it could reach the rapids, it was run aground, and Jamie tore through the multiple levels of the vessel, searching for his mate.

In the distance, he could hear a deep rumbling, and Jamie smiled, knowing his brother had come through. 

Reaching the highest level of the boat, he could see Claire, running on the beach with Azizi. He cried out again, calling the animals to him. They would not hurt Claire; not intentionally, but he needed to reach her. He needed her in his arms.

He leapt down onto the lower deck, but was immediately tackled by some of the slavers. 

One of them stood over him while the others pinned down his arms and legs.

“You’re really a piece of work,” he sneered. “You better as fuck be worth the paycheck we’re getting for this.”

Jamie’s head jolted to the side as he was punched. He gritted his teeth.

“Oh, look what I found!”

An entire tea service was brought down suddenly on the slaver’s head, and it was enough for Jamie to free himself from the others, and between the two of them, he and Murtagh had them all unconscious or overboard in moments.

“I saw th’ lass,” Murtagh said. “Your brother was wi’ her. But Randall was after them. Ye best hurry, lad. We can handle th’ rest here.”

The other gorillas had reached the boat, along with the lion pride, and the slavers screamed as they were swiftly brought to justice.

Jamie leapt into the river, past interested crocodiles and one very annoyed turtle and swam for shore, just as the elephants and buffalo reached the water.

He ran as soon as his toes touched sand, and then on all fours once his entire body emerged from the water. Day trumpeted as he passed, guiding him with her trunk in the right direction. 

Beneath the shelter of the trees, the sound of mayhem and carnage was behind him, but he could smell Claire. Could smell her fear. It only served to fuel his anger.

He stopped short at the sight of a large, dark mound, laying among the leaves.

Akut was breathing heavily, but at least he breathed still. Jamie knelt beside his brother, touching his arm, and silently pleaded with the gorilla to hang on. That their Family needed him.

Akut snorted. No human weapon would take him down so easily. But he had Claire. The one who smelled of gunpowder and death. Akut had tried to see her to safety, for Jamie’s sake, but he’d failed.

Jamie touched his brother’s shoulder, thanking him, and promising he would come back for him, after he’d seen the end of Frank Randall. 

Jamie made his way through the jungle that had gone all but silent in the wake of what was happening at the river. Birds and small animals had gone quiet in interest and respect, watching the proceedings and the gradual elimination of the ones who threatened their homes and lives. He followed Claire’s scent and his own instinct. He finally broke from the trees at the edge of the cliff, where the waterfall fed the ocean below.

Far below was the port, and the slaver ship waiting to take them... him into captivity. And there, before him, was Randall...and Claire.

“Jamie!” Claire screamed before her head was wrenched violently back by Randall’s fist in her hair.

“Ah, there you are, my good sir,” Randall said with faux cordiality. “Miss Beauchamp and I have been waiting for you.”

Jamie bared his teeth, snarling.

“Look at him,” Randall said in Claire’s ear. “He barely even looks human anymore. You honestly want to be with that ?”

Claire winced as he wrenched her back again, her hands going up to grab his wrist, trying to relieve the tension.

“He looks perfectly human to me,” she hissed. “ You on the other hand…”

Randall yanked her again, and Jamie stalked closer. He remembered the lessons Ara and the other lionesses had given him as a boy. Wait. Wait until the moment comes. No matter how much you want to pounce.

“You’re awfully mum,” Randall continued, backing dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. “Nothing to say?”

Jamie locked eyes with Claire for the first time, gladdened to find the anger and frustration was greater than the fear and pain, though the blood and bruising on her face filled his chest with fury. 

“Now here is what is going to happen,” Randall said smugly. “You are going to walk peacefully onto that ship below, I am going to be a rich man, and then, and only then, will your mate walk free. Who knows, maybe she will even come to her senses and see that a right and proper man like me is more to her liking,” he jerked Claire back. “What do you think?”

“In your goddamned dreams you fucking cunt .”

Randall’s eyes did widen momentarily at that. “My, what a foul mouth you do have. Perhaps I should sell you to my cousin as well. I think he’d like you.”

From over Randall’s shoulder, Jamie noticed something, and he smirked, releasing a grunt.

Randall scowled. “What’s that? English, please.”

Claire chuckled. “He said to look behind you.”

Randall did, looking over his shoulder to see his cousin’s ship already retreating back into the ocean. The stampede of animals had reached the port, and the men had scattered and fled.

“There goes your money purse,” Claire said. “It looks as if your cousin has about as big of balls as you do. That is, to say, none at all.”

Randall gritted his teeth and wrenched her back again, making her cry out.

“Fine,” he bit out, before turning and shoving Claire over the edge of the cliff.

Jamie didn’t hesitate. Didn’t pause to evaluate the surroundings, or possibility of survival. He only leapt.

Claire broke the tree line below before he did, and managed amazingly to grab hold of a vine, scrambling for purchase, crashing through the branches.

It took two leaps off the tree branches before he was able to meet her, midair, grabbing the vine with one arm for support while the other wrapped securely around her body.

Claire’s arms released the vine at once, in favor of twining around him, her trust that he would hold her instant and complete.

Jamie let them swing out, not caring where they went, for Claire was in his arms, and she was safe. Her legs wound around his waist, doing all she could to merge herself with him.

He came to land on a large limb of a tree, releasing the vine but keeping Claire close, not that she seemed to be of mind to release him.

“Jamie,” she whispered, burying her face in his neck.

He stroked her hair, letting her scent envelope him. He didn’t like the notes of fear and pain that he could detect, nor the lack of bathing, but only because he knew how she felt about bathing. In truth, that strong scent that was only her, devoid of soap, was rather intoxicating.

He pulled back only enough to see her, to see her eyes and her bruised face and know that she was with him. 

She offered him a beautiful smile a split instant before her mouth was upon his, and he kissed her back with everything he had left within him.

He could have taken her, gladly, right there in the trees. But Randall was still up there, and he could not go unpunished. 

Jamie huffed, hoping she would understand. But Claire only nodded once, and easily moved until she was clinging to his back instead.

The climb up the side of the cliff was treacherous, and Jamie might not have managed had it not been for the knowledge that he held Claire’s life in his hands, as well as his own.

When he reached the top, they were greeted by the sight of Randall, being held captive by Joe, Murtagh, Akut, and the rest of the Family.

Jamie knelt so Claire could stand on his own, then approached Randall slowly. Joe and Murtagh released him and stood back, letting Jamie do as he would.

“Go on then,” Randall said, his voice quivering. “Be done with it. Be a man.”

Jamie arched a brow, then looked back to Claire. She had turned away, not wishing to see what happened next.

He caught Randall by the neck, lifting him off the ground, squeezing tightly.

Randall choked, his legs kicking ineffectively, eyes fearful.

Jamie breathed deep and brought Randall close to his face.

“Not a man like you .”

Jamie tossed Randall like the rubbage he was, right before Akut and his other brethren. 

Making sure Claire was alright was more important to Jamie than watching Randall be torn apart by the angry, grieving gorillas. He clutched her close, pressing her face to his chest so that she could not see, but she didn’t seem to be paying attention to anything other than breathing deep the scent of him, as he had with her.

When it was done, he led her back to the shelter of the trees, and there waiting, was his mother and the other females, along with the Waziri.

He felt Claire gasp, and she released him only to run to Kala and be wrapped up her motherly embrace. 

“You’re alright!” she cried.

“How about you?” Joe asked, lightly slapping him on the back.

Even the gentle touch made Jamie wince in pain, but he smiled nonetheless. 

“I can imagine,” Joe answered with a chuckle. “And I’ll be more than happy to give you a full examination but first, I’d like you to convince the big guy over there to not pulverize me long enough to dress his wound.”

Jamie looked over at Akut, who glared balefully back. The Family leader would allow the treatment so long as Jamie and Kala insisted, and then they all looked forward to returning home.

As for where home was for Jamie, he had but to look at Claire, who grinned happily back, beautiful despite the bruises coloring her face, neck, chest, and arms.

He was home, so long as he was with her.





Chapter Text

Jamie led me quickly away from what happened to Frank Randall.

I didn’t feel too badly about his demise, not after everything he’d done, but it wasn’t something I particularly wanted to see.

It had only been four days, but they had been the longest of my life, and I longed for nothing more than to curl up in bed with Jamie and sleep for days.

There was so much to consider. So much to discuss. About our lives, our future. But all of that could wait. Just then, I had everything I wanted. I had Jamie.

I pulled him to a stop near the edge of a creek that outbranched from the river, and I looked over his bruised and battered body, my heart breaking.

All of this is because of me,” I said, lightly brushing my fingertips over one of the bruises on his abdomen.

Jamie shook his head, pulling me closer. He hadn’t spoken since he’d rescued me, except for those few words he’d said to Frank, and it seemed like he was still struggling to find them, but that I was all right. I didn’t need them.

He leaned down to kiss me, and I met him eagerly, desperate for the taste of him. 

“I love you,” I whispered.

“I love you,” he whispered back against my lips.

I didn’t realize that he was moving us until my back was against a tree, and my hands were being raised above my head. 

I could feel him, hot and heavy against my thigh, nothin but his trousers and my thin skirt separating us.

I hitched a leg around his hip, urging him closer, desperately seeking his heat. But then suddenly, Jamie pulled back, making me whimper in disappointment.

“Sassenach,” he murmured, his voice gruff and grainy from disuse. 

“What is it?” I asked, arching my back so that my breasts were pressed tightly against his chest, hoping it would encourage him to touch me.

“There is...something we must do.”

I wryly thought that that was for sure, but Jamie seemed so serious, so I did not tease. “What?”

Jamie released me entirely, and I whimpered in protest until I realized that his entire ape family were surrounding us, watching in interest.

I smoothed down my skirt, feeling absurdly shy with our audience. Sure, they were animals, but they were my soon-to-be in-laws.

“I want to marry you,” Jamie said, and I grinned.

“I want to marry you, too,” I agreed

Jamie shook his head, making me feel like there was something I was missing.

“No, I want to marry you, the way my family does.”

I quirked a brow at him, confused. “The gorillas marry?” I asked. 

Jamie smirked, glancing back at his mother. “In a way. It is what was done with my mother, and Kerchak. Will you do this with me, Sassenach?”

Admittedly, I felt a little bit absurd, but if Jamie wanted it, I was more than happy to give it to him.

“What do we do?” I asked. 

Jamie smile was a bit sheepish. “You must...you must behave as the apes.”

Jamie demonstrated by kneeling down on all fours. My awkward feeling increased, but I obediently copied Jamie’s movements, struggling to support myself on my knuckles.

“Now what?”

“Come,” Jamie said, and I followed him…laboriously...to where his family was forming a circle in the clearing. They cried out and beat their chest, in a rhythm that I could swear sounded musical.

Jamie’s brother Akut emerged from the crowd, looking down at us for a moment before rearing back with a deafening roar.

It was then that I realized the gorilla’s sounds were a type of music...and it was growing.

I looked to Jamie, unsure, but he shot me a reassuring look before beating his own chest, as the gorillas did.

It was then that the very heavens opened up, and a bright light shone down.

I sat back on my heels, squinting in the light, wondering what on earth was happening.

The music around us increased in volume, and from the light above, descended...something. 

“Jamie...what…”

But Jamie was smiling serenely, obviously finding nothing unusual about what was happening. 

I watched, transfixed, as the object floating from above gradually took the shape of a man, and once his feet touching the ground, the light dimmed, and I could see him clearly.

He was unremarkable in looks, but something about him gave me a strange, yet peaceful feeling.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I murmured.

“I’ve heard all about you,” the man said, making me jump, for somehow I hadn’t expected him to speak. “I have been waiting for you.”

I looked at Jamie, utterly confused. “Jamie...what in the hell is happening?”

“He has come to bless us,” Jamie said. “To bless our union.”

“But who is he?”

Jamie gave me a look that clearly stated that he thought I was being daft for not knowing. 

“It is Phil Collins, Sassenach.”

“Phil Collins?”

“Aye,” Jamie pointed in the man’s direction. “Take it Phil.”

*A rocking rendition of Two Worlds plays from Phil’s heavenly music.*

 

Jamie and Claire live happily ever after.

The End.

Chapter Text

The walk back to the village would have been endless had Day and her herd not been gracious enough to give us all a ride. 

Joe was eager for the shot to ride an elephant...Murtagh, not so much, though it was mightily entertaining watching the older man cling to Joe’s back as they rode together. For my part, I was only grateful for the chance to sit and not have to think for a little while, the situation made infinitely better by the fact that I could do so while leaning against Jamie’s bare back.

He hadn’t said a word since the heroic rescue, and after embracing me heartily, Joe and Murtagh had intimated that it had been some days since he’d spoken, save for that one statement to Frank.

But that was alright. I knew the words became more difficult for Jamie in times of intense stress, and this entire thing must have been the most stressful of all.

In addition to saving the captive Waziri, there were about thirty or forty other Congolese in the port that had been captured and set to be sold into slavery. The stampede had scattered and killed the slavers, and the captives had gone free, chanting praises for Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. It seemed that the legend of him had spread far and wide beyond just the Waziri village.

That lord was now exhausted to his very limit. His body was covered in bruises and lacerations, and I could tell that even the gentle motions of Day caused him pain. 

At first I’d tried to ride behind him without holding on, so as to lessen any pain I could cause him, but he’d been so agitated by that I had then turned to clinging to him tightly, and only then had he been able to ride along calmly.

But I was worn thin too, and by the third time that I’d had to right myself after nodding off, Jamie smiled at me over his shoulder and then with seeming effortlessness, maneuvered until he was behind me, holding me securely against his chest.

I knew he had to be even more exhausted than I was, but I let him hold me up while I dozed, enjoying the feel of his arms around me, his breath against the back of my neck.

A round of cheering woke me back up, and I realized that we’d reached the village, and people were running out of their homes to greet us.

Azizi leapt off one of the elephants and rushed to embrace his sobbing mother, and then more shyly a relieved young woman who granted him a welcoming kiss that had him grinning bashfully.

While other families were reunited, Jamie made a low sound which made Day kneel down, and Joe was there to help me slowly climb down.

“Milady! Milord!”

“Fergus!” I exclaimed, tiredness lifting off of me at the sight of the beaming little boy, stripped down to only his trousers, bare feet flying across the grass toward us.

I caught him up in my arms, hugging tightly, but he pulled back with a look of dismay, and I knew I really must have been a sight.

“I’m alright,” I assured him quietly.

Fergus smiled again, but it was more timid, and he turned to Jamie, motioning for him to bend down. When Jamie did, Fergus hugged him, and touched their foreheads together in the way Jamie often did. “I knew you would bring her home, Milord!”

Jamie smiled tiredly, but lovingly at Fergus, and gently ruffled his hair.

“Oh my dearest,” Uncle Lamb crooned, pulling me into a warm embrace. “Just look at you! What did that horrible man do to you?!”

“It’s over now, Uncle Lamb,” I said, leaning my weight gratefully against him. “Frank Randall is gone, and we’re all going to be fine.”

“We are so grateful,” Badru said, addressing Jamie. “That you have all brought our families back to us.”

At the mention of family, Jamie looked up sharply, and I knew what that look meant. 

“Where is Jenny?” I asked for him.

“I’m right here!” Jenny said, joining us at last, a burgundy strip of cloth wrapped tightly around her. “Sorry, takes us a bit longer to get places just now.”

Joe and Murtagh had filled me in on that Jenny had gone into labor right after I’d been abducted, but I still gasped in surprise at the sight of the little bundle in her arms.

I stood back, letting Jamie approach them first, his expression gone soft as Jenny pushed back the wrap to let him see.

“Meet your new wee niece,” she said. “Decided tae go wi’ Ellen for this one. What d’ye think?”

Jamie grinned, carefully touching the baby’s downy head.

Unable to resist any longer, I sidled up beside Jamie, pushing Joe and Murtagh out of the way. “She’s beautiful, Jenny,” I whispered, tensing slightly when she suddenly slid the newborn out of her cozy carrier and placed her into my arms.

“And wee Fergus there has held up tae his end o’ the deal,” Jenny continued. “He’s been a been a braw help tae me.”

“You look quite natural there with a little one,” Uncle Lamb said, nudging me teasingly. 

I shot him a wry look, though I found myself melting at the feel of Ellen’s warm weight in my arms. “Uncle, please.”

But then I caught Jamie’s eye, and found the soft look he’d been giving his niece had turned into something a bit more primal, and just the slightest bit intimidating.

“Alright, well, these two look like they’re going to collapse, like, now.” Joe broke in. “So Jenny, let me look them over, and then I’d be happy to examine little Ellen.”

“Aye, and I want my hands on th’ wee’un,” Murtagh said, holding his arms out for the baby. I grinned and passed her over, marveling at how the gruff older man turned into a veritable puddle the moment the baby girl was in his arms.

“You need to rest, too, Joe,” I pointed out.

Joe put a hand on my back steering me on. “Soon. Come on, both of you.”

 

I sat still, wincing as Uncle Lamb bathed the cut on my forehead while Joe examined Jamie. He’d mentioned being worried about internal bleeding, so I watched them nervously, all the while Jamie was unable to keep his eyes off of me in turn.

“I don’t know how you’re so indestructible, but I tell you what, any normal man would be dead by now,” Joe said. “That said, you’ve got some cracked ribs, and so much bruising you may as well be a walking plum. You’re going to need to...Jamie, look at me,” Jamie did, and Joe pointed a finger at his face. “You’re going to need to rest , do you understand me? Sleep, slow movements, absolutely no vine swinging for at least a week. And Claire...you too, so set a good example, hm?”

Joe knew I wasn’t a fraction as bad off as Jamie, but I would be perfectly willing to pretend I needed a week of bedrest if it made Jamie do the same.

“Badru has told me of an excellent hot spring not terribly far from here,” Uncle Lamb said. “I think it might be just the thing for both of you.”

I arched a brow at him, a little surprised that he seemed so willing to send me off with Jamie for something that sounded rather intimate.

“Oh don’t give me that look,” he gruffed. “I’ve long since given up on your virtue. We will, however, be having a talk in the near future about that boy making an honest woman of you already. In the meantime, I think you both just need some time to heal.”

I smiled, leaning over to kiss my uncle’s cheek. Ever the romantic, my dear Lamb.

No matter how much I longed to bathe, neither Jamie nor I were up for a trek in the jungle just yet, so instead, Joe and Uncle Lamb left us to curl up in an exhausted heap on my bed.

Jamie pulled me to him almost painfully tightly, but I didn’t complain, and we both were asleep almost instantly.

 

It was dark when I awoke next, and judging by the silence outside, I judged it to be the middle of the night.

Neither Jamie nor I had moved once in twelve or more hours we’d been asleep, and I felt stiff and agonizingly sore. Unable to help myself, I tried to stretch without disturbing Jamie, but he jolted to wakefulness at once, eyes wild and looking all around for danger.

“It’s alright,” I whispered, rolling over and touching his cheek. “We’re safe, Jamie. I’m safe.”

Jamie relaxed against me, touching his forehead to mine.

“Safe,” he whispered back, fingertips tracing my jaw. “Claire.”

I sighed into his touch. “Do you feel as awful as I do?” I asked. “Do you think you can make it to that hot spring Lamb talked about?”

Jamie nodded, wincing as he sat up, then nodded again when I asked if he knew where it was.

Guards nodded at us as we walked hand-in-hand out of the village, the night chilled and damp. The sentinels hadn’t always been there; it wasn’t that long ago that the village and its people had slept in peace every night. But the recent events had caused a new hardness, a new awareness, and it was sad that it was so necessary.

As much as I ached, the walk at least worked to stretch out some of my stiffness. For his part, Jamie moved almost like he didn’t hurt at all, except I knew him and his movements enough to know better.

“Walk all fours, Jamie,” I told him firmly. “I know that it’s easier for you.”

It was a testament to how tired he was that he didn’t argue, but just gave me a brief smile before placing his knuckles on the ground and moving with more ease.

I smiled back, realizing for the first time just how endearing I found he looked walking like that, and a little sad knowing he could never get away with it without mockery in England, or Scotland.

Shaking those thoughts off for a later time, I gasped as we reached the hot spring.

It was bigger than I’d expected, all but hidden behind drapes of leaves and vines, speckles of moonlight making its way through the gaps.

Jamie watched intently as I gratefully shed my filthy clothes, kicking myself for not having brought clean ones along. He carelessly kicked off his trousers, but once I was unclothed, his eyes turned dark as they took me in - and not particularly in a good way.

I looked down, noting the smattering of dark splotches marring my skin, though it was nothing compared to the veritable rainbow of shades covering every inch of Jamie’s body.

“I’m alright, Jamie, truly,” I assured him. “Most of this came from the stampede, not the men,” I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but the men were all dead, so it was no use making Jamie feel worse about it.

“Did...did they…” Jamie began, the words coming with difficulty. “Did he ...touch you?”

I thought back to what those two men had tried to do to me before putting me in Kala’s cage, and all of Frank’s lewd looks and comments, but Jamie was far too fragile to hear about that now. Perhaps someday, when we’d both had time to heal. But not right now.

I shook my head. “No, Frank hit me, but he did not touch me the way you’re thinking.”

Jamie nodded, though the fury hiding just below the surface did not ebate.

Taking hold of his wrist, I led him into the water, my heart constricting at the way he hissed in pain as the hot mineral water touched his wounds. I’d only been given a brief overview of what had transpired after I’d been kidnapped. I’d witnessed Jamie be beaten by the slavers in the village, and then later had apparently come a most brutal fight for dominance with Akut.

We both sighed in relief as our bodies submerged into the water, and I gently looped my arms around his neck, guiding us until we floated together where the spring grew deep.

I leaned my head against his shoulder, listening to his heartbeat. “I never doubted for a moment that you’d find me,” I told him.

“I was so frightened,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I have never been so frightened.”

I held him tighter, reassuring him that I was there. “I love you.”

He pulled back, his eyes full of pain and love in turn. “And I love you,” he said. “But...when I...when I came for you, I was not a man, Sassenach. I did not fight as a man would. Randall was right; I am more ape, than man.”

Astonished, I framed his face in my hands, making sure he was looking at me. “James Fraser, you are a man. You are the son of Brian and Ellen Fraser... and of Kala, the ape. You are brother to Jenny, and William, Rabby, and Akut. So, part you may always be with the gorillas, and that part of you is what made you able to do what you did to save me, but you are a man. The single most extraordinary man there ever was, and mine .”

“Yours,” he breathed at once, clear that that was never in doubt to him. His mouth covered mine in a desperate kiss, all of his pent up tension pouring out of him, his hands running over my body beneath the water.

“And…” I panted, arching my neck as his mouth slid across my jaw to kiss downward, teeth dragging along my skin. “Who am I?”

The growl rose up from his core to his lips, the snarl feral and inhuman. I would forever be left wondering how his body was capable of making such a sound. “Mine. Only mine.”

“Show me. Show me I’m yours, Jamie.”

Jamie pulled back, and even in the dark I could see the wild look in his eyes, pupils so wide they were almost alarming to see.

His feet must have been able to touch the bottom, where mine couldn’t, and he lunged upward, grabbing my calves and wrapping them around his hips.

I inhaled deeply as I felt him hard and pulsing against my inner thigh. It was only in that moment that I realized it had been over a week since he’d been inside me, and even though at the time I’d been too preoccupied to think of it, I was suddenly aching in a way that went so far beyond my bruises.

Jamie was walking me backward, his lips finding mine again, the water lapping around us, sending pleasurable chills down my spine, as did the rushing warmth of it between my legs.

I whimpered as I rubbed myself against his cock, desperate for more friction, and Jamie stopped walking, groaning deep in his throat as he guided me to keep rocking.

The water made our motions slow and lazy, almost like being in a dream, and it really wasn’t what either of us needed at the moment, no matter how delicious the heat felt.

I slid a hand between us, gripping Jamie’s cock tightly before guiding him into me. Jamie bucked upward, bringing my upper body out of the water so he could fasten his mouth around my nipple, biting it sharply and making me cry out and grip his hair for support.

Jamie continued walking until he was carrying me just out of the water, and laying me on the muddy bank. 

I giggled, pulling back and raising a hand to see the dark mud covering it. “You’re going to have to wash me again,” I told him.

Jamie grinned, his teeth flashing white in the dark, then thrust up into me, stopping my laughter instantly.

We slid in the thick, slippery soil, unable to find proper traction, and I laughed again, thinking that I hadn’t had so much fun playing in mud since I was a small child.

Jamie stilled, pulling back, and I rolled my lips inward to keep from laughing anymore.

“It’s alright,” he said. “I like seeing ye happy.”

“I am happy,” I told him. “I’m always happy when I’m with you.”

Jamie kissed my lips gently, then started kissing back down my neck, my chest, breasts, down to my stomach, where he lingered a moment, making me giggle and squirm away by nipping the soft flesh there and dipping his tongue into my navel, before continuing down.

I let my thighs fall open, completely heedless that we were in the open, and it was entirely possible for one of the Waziri to happen by. In fact, a dark part of my mind actually revelled in the risk, of someone witnessing what Jamie could do to me. Perhaps it was Frank’s mockery that led to it, the desire for everyone to see just what sort of man Jamie was.

Jamie bit the inside of my thigh, hard, before spreading me wider and slowly licking me from bottom to top. He growled, low and possessively, gripping my hips to hold me down as I writhed and whimpered, my hands clambering for something to grip but finding nothing but the warm, wet earth. 

Jamie held nothing back, suckling and nipping and dipping his tongue as deep into me as he could, but just as the beginning fluttering of my orgasm became, he abruptly stopped, pulling back entirely and looking down at me with a smug look.

“You bastard,” I breathed, squirming beneath him and pressing my knees together to try and regain that relief.

Not wanting him to become too cocky, I raised one knee, digging it into his hip, gently enough so that I didn’t hurt him too badly, and then flipped us over.

My knees sank into the mud as I straddled him, bringing our sexes together, but not at the right angle for him to sink into me again.

Jamie laid back, watching to see what I would do, and I smirked as I took up a finger-full of mud and painted my name across his chest. “Mine,” I repeated with a breathy giggle.

Jamie nodded, his hands framing my hips. “Forever,” he said.

I leaned down, kissing him, tasting myself on his lips, delving deeper for more.

I kissed down his neck as he had done for me, paying extra attention to every bruise and cut I came across. I lapped delicately at a cut just below his left pectoral, tasting the copper tang of blood.

Jamie let out a soft whimper at that, his hands guiding me to grind against his throbbing cock. I glanced at the painful-looking wound on his shoulder that Joe has said was a bite wound from Akut. I touched it, lightly, and Jamie gasped in pain, yet pulled me closer.

I rose up, lifting myself slightly and guided Jamie back into my body, sinking down until he was buried inside me completely, relishing the feeling a moment before rising and sinking again, and again.

Jamie planted his feet in the mud and bucked up, nearly unseating me as we crashed together hard and fast, scrambling to touch one another everywhere.

Feeling my climax swiftly boiling up again, and so giving into an urge I’d initially suppressed, I bent down and sank my teeth into the soft flesh above Jamie’s clavicle, one of the only spots on his battered body that was unmarked. I bit harder until I tasted copper again, and Jamie howled ; a sound a little like the one that he’d used when he’d come to save me. 

The sound had me coming harder than I ever had before, pulsing and throbbing for what felt like ages.

Jamie’s hand was between us, gripped hard around the base of his cock, and I realized that he was trying to stave off his own orgasm, and I only wondered why long enough for him to suddenly pick me up and stand before turning me around and pushing me against one of the rocks. That rough movement was made up for by him pressing gently between my shoulder blades until I bent over for him, but that was the only gentleness he could display before he rammed hard into me from behind, the tip of him repeatedly brushing against something inside me that had me already clambering toward another orgasm.

I came again with a cry, and Jamie’s teeth sank into my shoulder as the heat of his release flooded inside of me. 

We were frozen that way for some time, panting, our heartbeats gradually returning to normal. Jamie kissed along my spine and shoulders, laving the mark he’d no doubt made with his tongue. Eventually I shivered with cold, and he helped me into a standing position. I turned, and couldn't help but giggle again at how covered in mud we both were.

I led us back into the water, and I thought I could speak for the both of us that we were so relaxed by our activities, the wounds of the past few days faded as we floated through the water.

After a while of quietly basking in the warmth and each other’s company, I noticed the sun beginning to rise, and knew we’d need to head back soon.

“Any idea what happens next?” I asked Jamie.

He pulled me to him, kissing me gently. “Not everything. But one thing, I am very sure of.”

“What’s that?”

He smiled. “You will see.”






Chapter Text

I took a deep breath, an unconscious hand brushing a curl off my face where it escaped from the flowers and beads meant to hold it back.

There was no logical reason to be nervous, of course, but my stomach filled with butterflies regardless.

“Your mother and father would be so proud of you.”

I jumped, not having realized that Uncle Lamb had appeared at my side until he spoke.

“Do you really think so?” I asked. “Do you think they would have...approved?”

Lamb chuckled, his eyes sparkling from behind his spectacles. “One thing I know about my brother and his wife, my dear, is that all they truly wanted for you in your life was happiness, and someone who would love you the way they loved one another. That’s all I have ever wanted for you. And that Jamie...yes, he may not be what any of us would have imagined , but never could you have found a man as honorable and devoted to marry. I know that Henry and Julia would be proud...because I am.”

I smiled, my lip wobbling slightly, and fell forward into his arms. “I love you, Daddy,” I murmured into his shoulder.

“And I love you, my darling girl,” he said, his voice suspiciously thick. “Now, are you ready?”

I pulled back, my nerves all fleeing. “While I was getting dressed, Jenny told me that the Fraser clan motto is Je Suis Pres.

“I am ready,” Lamb translated. “Well, I’m very glad that you are, because I’m not sure that I’m ready at all to give you away.”

I chuckled. “Oh, posh. Don’t think of it as losing a daughter, think of it as gaining a son.”

He harrumphed, but I knew it was all in good humor. “Yes, yes, as you say, Claire. So long as you promise not to disappear into the jungle forever without taking me along?”

Leaning up on tiptoe, I kissed his whiskery cheek. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Uncle Lamb held out his arm, and I took it, and together we walked out of the hut and toward the outskirts of the village, into the setting sun.

 

~~~

 

Jamie’s finger tapped a rhythm against his leg, eyes trained on the spot where Claire was supposed to appear from around the huts. The girls of the village had strewn flowers all around, filling the warm summer air with a beautiful scent, and all of the villagers had gathered round, sitting on the grass, allowing the small children to run about and play. What Jamie did know about the types of wedding his family and Claire’s family were used to, he knew this was nothing like it, but neither, he was told, was it a traditional Waziri wedding. It was something only for them, and in Jamie’s mind, that made it perfect.

Murtagh nudged him playfully, and Jamie squared his shoulders, forcing his hands to stop twitching.

Murtagh and Joe had been teasing him all day about how nervous he was, and how silly it was to be so. But Jamie simply couldn’t help it. Any amount of time spent apart from Claire, no matter that she’d simply been with the women across the village, was enough to set him on edge. But more than that...it was just anticipation.

Jamie already belonged to Claire, mind, body, and soul, just as Claire belonged to him. But after today, they would be so in all ways, and Jamie had never been so happy.

He glanced down briefly to check his attire. He’d wanted to look nice for Claire, and his filthy trousers just wouldn’t do, but neither would one of the sarongs that he’d worn when he and Claire first met and he’d still been in the process of adapting to any clothes at all. 

In the end, Murtagh had taken a dark blue sarong, and had laid it out on the ground before folding it into intricate pleats. He then instructed Jamie to lay on it, then folded it around him. In the end, it formed a surprisingly convincing kilt, and paired with Jamie’s last remaining good shirt, a Fraser brooch that Murtagh had, and a necklace of beads, feathers, and crocodile teeth from Azizi (for virility, he’d said. Whatever that meant,) Jamie felt like he was ready to meet his Sassenach.

Somewhere, one of the women was playing a flute as Jenny and Joe came around the corner, arms linked, both looking as though they’d just been laughing together, and it made Jamie grin.

Behind them came Fergus, carefully carrying wee Ellen in his arms.

Joe and Fergus came to stand at Jamie’s side, while Jenny took Ellen and went to stand on the other.

Jenny winked at Jamie, giving him a nod of encouragement, and Jamie took a deep breath.

Finally, after what felt like forever, there she was, so very stunning in a long, thin gown that left her arms bare, white but stitched with brightly colored thread and beads.

But that was all about her dress that he registered before becoming entrapped by her shining eyes, even from a distance. They remained solely on his the entire walk with Uncle Lamb, until finally... finally, she was before him, her scent filling his being, far more beautiful than any flower.

Uncle Lamb kissed her cheek, then gently took her hand from his arm and held it between his own.

“I don’t give this hand to you lightly, my boy,” he said to Jamie, firmly, but not without affection. “She’s all I have, and I’m trusting you to take care of her with your life.”

“And then some,” Jamie said without hesitation, his eyes never leaving Claire’s, until suddenly, she giggled and looked away.

“Looks like they made it after all, Jamie.”

Brow furrowing in confusion, Jamie turned as well and gasped to see his gorilla family emerging from the jungle, as silently as ever.

Those present all collectively held their breaths, watching the great apes approach and surround the wedding with a mixture of awe and fear.

Claire looked up at him, eyes shining with unshed tears, knowing just what this meant to him.

He smiled down at her, feeling so much love for her that he could burst, then after one look at his mother, feeling her encouragement, he took his beloved’s hand and together they turned to face Badru.

Jamie would never know exactly what Badru said to them exactly, only that he was asking Jamie to promise himself to Claire for the rest of his life, and that was a promise Jamie made with enthusiasm and ease. When Claire did the same, he wanted nothing more than to sweep her up into his arms and go away alone with her into the jungle, but he managed to refrain. Just barely.

Jamie was so lost in Claire that when the final words were spoken, he didn’t hear them, didn’t know it was over until Claire was giggling at him again and someone nudged him in the back.

“This is when you’re supposed to kiss me,” Claire whispered playfully loud.

That, Jamie heard loud and clear, and he yanked her to him with his hands on her hip and lower back, kissing her with everything he had in him, quickly losing himself yet again, this time in her taste.

Claire threw her arms around his neck, letting him support her full weight as she kissed him back, and he dimly heard the echo of cheers.

“Alright, alright, you two,” Joe exclaimed, patting Jamie roughly on the back. “Save it for the honeymoon!”

Jamie reluctantly pulled himself away from his wife, ( his wife!) and she grinned up at him, apparently quite comfortable and happy with his overt display of affection.

He looked over at where his gorilla family still stood off to the side, watching curiously. He took Claire’s hand, and together they walked over to them.

Claire released him and walked confidently up to Kala and Akut, drawing a gasp from someone behind them, (possibly Jenny.)

Kala reached up, offering her hand to Claire, and Claire took it with a soft smile.

“She’s giving us her blessing,” Claire said, turning back to look at him, and if possible, the warm certainty in her voice made him love her even more. She might not be able to understand their language like he could, but she understood their souls. Understood his soul.

Jamie nudged Akut with his fist and grunted softly to him, hoping he understood just how grateful Jamie was to Akut for saving Claire’s life, then he knelt to his mother, pressing his forehead against hers, the smell of her - repugnant to most, he knew - filling him with memories of safety and love. 

Claire’s hand on his shoulder drew his attention behind him, where the others were gathered, watching them. Jenny and Fergus - having never seen the extraordinarily large gorillas, had especially wide eyes.

“Come,” he beckoned to them both. “I want you to meet my family.”

Jenny squeezed Fergus’s hand and together they cautiously approached the apes. Fergus softened first, smiling and going to Jamie’s side, gently reaching out to touch Kala’s fur.

“Fergus,” Jamie said. “There is something Claire and I have been meaning to ask ye.”

Fergus looked to him. “What is it, Milord?”

“The Waziri have a tradition,” Claire said. “When a person is adopted into the tribe...or family, they change their name, so that everyone knows where they belong.”

Jamie smiled at him. “We happen to like th’ name Fergus. But we only thought...perhaps ye’d like my name to go wi’ it. Fergus Fraser?”

Fergus’s eyes went round as a pair of moons. “Truly, Milord?! Are...are you sure?”

Jamie turned Fergus to once again face Kala. “Look, Fergus. This gorilla found me, raised me as her own, never questioning that I was different, not her own. She is my mother, Fergus. And you are my son.”

Fergus lit up like the sun and flung his arms around Jamie’s neck. “Thank you, Milord! ...erm, Father?”

Jamie chuckled. “How about Da? It is what I called my own father.”

Fergus nodded, cheeks red with joy. “ Oui , Da,” he looked up at Claire then, smirking. “ Maman ...could I have a wee brother or sister?”

Everyone had a laugh at that, but as Claire pulled her son into a hug, she smiled at Jamie over his head, one that he returned shyly.

Lad might not have to wait as long as he thought.

Jenny came and knelt beside Jamie, eyes glued to Kala.

“This is my mother,” Jamie said. “And that,” he nodded toward Akut, who was keeping a more respectable distance. “Is my brother.”

“She’s nothing like I thought,” Jenny said quietly. “Her eyes...they’re so…”

“Aye, I ken,” Jamie said.

Kala peered down at the baby in Jenny’s arm, her brown eyes warming. Jenny reached out and touched Kala’s arm.

“Thank you,” she said. “For saving my brother.”

Akut let out a low, barking sound, and all the gorillas got up to leave.

“Where are they going?” Claire asked.

“Home,” Jamie said, standing and putting his arm around her. “Back to the mountains. They want to enjoy the safety they have now, because they ken it may no’ last forever.”

“It will as long as we are here,” Azizi said, resting a closed fist on his chest. “I have spoken with the warriors. We will defend them, the Mangani . You can rely on us, Tarzan .”

Jamie nodded in thanks to Azizi, then turned to watch his family go, wondering when next they’d meet.

One of the females held back, and the infant on her back slid off and scampered over to Claire, who scooped him up into her arms and hugged him tightly, before returning him to his mother. Jamie chuckled at the sight, his heart warming all the more.

The female and infant rejoined the others, and Jamie watched as one by one, they dissolved once again into the shadows of the jungle. The last he could see was Akut, who gave him one last, long look, before he too, was gone.

“You look so sad,” Jenny said. “Are ye no’ going to stay here with them?”

“What do you mean?” Jamie asked.

Jenny shrugged. “Ye ken how badly I want ye and Claire home, with me and Ian, but I also ken...you were never meant tae be a laird. Well, no, that’s not true. You weren’t meant to be in a world of men. You were meant tae be a lord. A lord of…” she waved a hand. “All this.”

Jamie nodded, exchanging a look with Claire. They’d discussed this, extensively. “I canna say where I belong exactly,” he said. “But I’ll no’ be leaving you and Murtagh tae journey home alone, and wi’ a newborn. Besides, I’d verra much like to see Ian and th’ bairns again...and show off my new wife, of course. Besides, I ken I have responsibilities to fulfill. For a time, at least.”

“Well that’s good,” Jenny said brusquely, to hide the tears in her eyes. “Ian will be sore that he missed this, but he’ll want tae have a right cheilidh tae celebrate.”

“I look forward to it,” Jamie said, turning his attention back to his bride. 

“Are you ready for our reception?” she asked. “I’m told that there is whisky.”

Jamie grinned at her. “Aye. And then...the wedding night?”

Claire raised her eyebrows at him. “Oh, you’ve been talking to Joe, I presume? He’s explained about a wedding night? Whatever shall we do all night anyway?”

Jamie chuckled, pulling her closer and kissing her. “I can think of a few things.”

“Might you discuss this later ?” Lamb asked, patting Jamie on the back. “There are children present...and me.”

Claire laughed, the sound so beautiful to Jamie’s ears, and tugged on his hand. “Come on, I want to dance with you again.”

And Jamie followed her, as he always had, and always would.







Chapter Text

Leaves crunched underneath my feet, and here and there I could detect the sounds of rodents and small animals scuttling about. 

Beyond that, was the magical orchestra of sounds from the jungle. The endless cacophony of birds, the distant call of a macaque, the rushing of a nearby stream.

I looked at Jamie, saw the relaxation of his posture, the ease of his gait. For however much he insisted that he was home as long as he was with me, I knew that deep down, this would always be home.

But the warmth in his eyes when he looked at me was unchanged, and I had to lean up and kiss him, just because I loved him so very much.

A little giggle had me pulling back, and grinning at the chubby-cheeked, redheaded angel in my arms.

“What’s so funny then?” I asked.

Brianna, our smart, spirited, and rambunctious three-year-old daughter didn’t answer, but only giggled some more.

“Mama!” Fergus called from up ahead. “Look at these flowers!”

“Lobelia, I believe,” I said. 

Fergus ran back to me, holding his arms out for Brianna.

“Come on, Bree! Come see the flowers!”

I relinquished Brianna to her brother, warning him to make sure she didn’t attempt to eat anything.

Watching our children play, I wrapped an arm around Jamie’s waist, leaning my weight against him. “You think they’ll be here?” I asked.

“Azizi said they have maintained the same migration schedule,” Jamie said. “But he admitted that it’s been some time since any of the Waziri have seen them. They could have decided to move to new grounds…”

“The Mangani have lived here for generations,” I said, using the term coined by the Waziri to describe the tribe of abnormally large and intelligent gorillas. “And they’ve been careful to keep the general public away.”

Ever since our return to Europe, the fascination with “Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, had only grown, and the Waziri worked tirelessly to protect Jamie’s gorilla family from poachers and well-meaning scientists alike. My own scientific mind agreed that the troop was fascinating, a marvel, but the world did not need to understand them. They needed to just live...as did Jamie.

In the past few years, I’d been studying medicine alongside my mentor, Joe. Women, of course, did not typically become doctors, but Joe told me that I was talented, and that there were hundreds of people in Congo that needed the care of a talented doctor, and did not care whether they were male or female. It certainly gave me a purpose, but the true reason we returned was because it was where Jamie was meant to be, and we both longed to share it with our daughter. 

Jamie would always be part of Lallybroch, and his family there. But he would also always be part of the jungle. He would always be half-wild. And he would never be like other men.

And that was just part of the reason I loved him.

“How come Uncle Lamb didn’t want to come?” Fergus asked, tightly holding onto Brianna’s hand as they walked.

“Oh, his lumbago’s been acting up,” I said, linking my own hand with Jamie’s. “Besides, he’s enjoying catching up with Badru.”

We continued on a while longer, Brianna’s aimless chattering joining with the other sounds around us, until Jamie suddenly pulled me to a stop, quickly bending to pick up Brianna.

“What is it?” I asked quietly, thinking of any manner of predictor nearby that he could detect and I couldn’t. Leopard, cheetah...a hippo. 

“Da?” Brianna asked, watching as fascinatedly as I, as Jamie tilted his head up, sniffing the air. But then, his expression melted into a smile, and I relaxed.

As if he’d summoned them, the gorillas emerged from the greenery, as silently as shadows.

Brianna gasped, tightening her hold on her father, and Fergus sidled up more closely to my side.

Jamie had been very reluctant about this trip, or at least, reluctant to bring me and the children. The last time he’d met with his brother, the leader of the troop, after a long separation, the two had clashed violently. But I reminded him that we would do this as we did all things - as a family.

Jamie let out a low grunt, the first I’d heard from him in years. (And I was comfortable enough in our relationship to admit I found it a little arousing. But I could tell him that later.)

Akut seemed to have grown even more since last we saw him, making his way to the front of the troop. 

“Gorilla!” Brianna exclaimed, pointing.

My biggest fear during all of this, was that when Jamie and I finally made our way back, that we might find his dear mother was no longer there. But then, there she was, nudging her son out of the way.

Sighing in relief, Jamie carefully approached the troop, Brianna in his arms. I held back with Fergus, my stomach in knots. 

Brianna clung tightly to Jamie, whimpering in fear. But then, as he knelt before Kala, Bree looked up from where she’d had her head buried in her father’s neck, and then blue eyes met brown.

Kala made a soft sound, almost like a coo, and brushed the back of her hand across Brianna’s face.

Brianna flinched slightly, but then she smiled, and reached out a hand.

Kala held up her own, and I watched Brianna’s tiny hand press against the much larger palm.

I looked at Akut, to gouge his mood, but he was calm, and grunted softly as Fergus and I approached. 

I knelt beside Jamie and Bree, brushing the back of my hand against Kala’s chest.

“D’ye see, Brianna?” Jamie whispered, his voice thick with emotion. “This is my own mam.”

Brianna looked at Jamie in surprise. True, we’d told her as much before, but she was still very little, and besides, seeing it all in person was very different.

Jamie set Brianna on her feet, and she immediately stepped closer to Kala, touching her face, while the gorilla stood still, watching on in adoration.

“Is your mama, Da?” Brianna sought to clarify. 

“Aye, a leannan .”

With a giggle, Brianna collapsed against Kala, as she normally would with me or Jamie, or any of the rest of her loving extended family, trusting us to catch her and hold her tight.

I held my breath, but Kala sat back on her haunches, expertly hoisting the little girl up in her long arms, holding her as gently and tenderly as if she were made of glass.

Akut huffed, tapping the ground, and all of the gorillas turned to go.

“Where are they going?” I asked.

Jamie smiled. “Only to the nesting grounds. It’s isna’ far.”

I watched in bemusement as Kala took Brianna by the arm and lifted her to sit on her back. Brianna tensed a moment, unsure, but as Kala began to walk, Brianna quickly found the way of holding on, and laughed merrily. “Mama look!”

“I see!” I called out, trying to tamp down my worry. “Hold on, Bree!”

“She’s alright,” Jamie assured me. “My mother will keep her as safe as your or I. Fergus, can ye keep up wi’ them, lad?”

“Sure,” Fergus said, already trotting to catch up with Kala. “Where will you be?”

“We’ll be along,” Jamie said, grabbing my hand. “But I haven’a flown in some time.”

Before I could protest, Jamie had swung me onto his own back and was scaling the nearest tree so quickly, it was like he’d never left the jungle.

I clung on, having forgotten the rush, but then let go once we reached the highest branch so I could attempt it alone...but not before just stopping to watch Jamie leap into the air, as if he really could fly, only to grab a vine at the last second and go swinging above the gorillas, making that strange, inhuman call that only he could, much to his children’s delight.

He would need to come back for me, of course, he would never leave me behind for long. 

But for a moment, just a moment, he was once again the wild man I’d first found, and loved.

He was Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. He was Jamie Fraser, King of Men. And most importantly, he was mine.

And he was home.