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A Place to Belong

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Claire stared at the deed of sasine, a hard lump forming in her throat. The weight that her signature would bring on this paper was insurmountable. Jamie was giving up his beloved Lallybroch, the place she had truly come to think of as her home.

“Will ye have me take it to Jenny?” Murtagh asked.

“No, I’ll have Fergus take it,” Jamie answered.

“Me, Milord?” the boy asked as he retrieved the ink and quill.

“Aye. Yer to ride to Lallybroch. Ye’ll leave now.” The boy returned to the table with the quill and ink, standing before Jamie. “This must reach Madame Murray without fail. It is worth more than my life. Or yours.”

“I don’t want to leave you, Milord. I refuse.” Claire’s heart broke at his words, tears springing into her eyes.

“Ye must,” Jamie said firmly. “And ye willna be alone. Milady is going wi’ ye.”

“What?” Claire’s eyes snapped up from the deed. “No. No I am not.”

“Claire,” Jamie said firmly, leaving Fergus’s side to stand before her, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Ye told me yerself,” he whispered, his face close to hers. “That the British are to kill every man, woman, and child that they see anywhere near this battlefield.”

“I can’t leave you,” she stammered, her tears flowing freely. “I won’t.”

“Yes. You will,” he resolutely, releasing his grip on her and returning to Fergus. “Go ready Milady’s horse. Ye’ll ride together.”

“Yes, Milord.” After hesitating for only a moment, Fergus was gone.

“Jamie…” Claire began.

“Ye need to sign, Claire.” He gestured to the deed. Murtagh’s name was already upon it. He handed her the quill, his face solemn. Her hand trembling violently, she took it and signed her name, a single tear slipping onto the page, blurring the Fraser of her name.

Jamie nodded and took the paper off the table, rolling it in his hands.

“Jamie…”

“Ye’ll no’ be arguing with me, Claire.” He started to walk back outside, and she followed him close behind.

“At the witch trial, if I’d have gone to the stake with Geillis would you have left me?”

“Left you?” He stopped, turning around. “I’d have gone to the stake with you. To hell and beyond if it had gone to that.”

“Then let me stay. I’ll die with you on that field if I must.”

No .” He stepped toward her, firmly taking her in his arms. “Ye won’t.”

“To hell and back! You said yourself…”

“It’s no longer about just you and me,” Jamie said, and Claire’s stomach flipped. Did he know? How could he possibly…?

“That lad needs you, Claire,” Jamie said, his voice brimming with emotion.

Fergus .

Then he didn’t know.

“He canna lose both of us. I mean…I meant ,” he corrected, tearily. “I meant to make him my son. Our son.”

Fresh tears spilled down Claire’s cheeks, her chest so tight she thought she could stop breathing any second. “Jamie…”

“Lallybroch needs ye, Jenny needs ye,” he continued. “No matter what happens here today…it’s important someone remembers. Ye must…tell my nieces and nephew…tell wee Jamie what I sacrificed for him to have that land. When he’s old enough.”

Claire grasped his face, desperate to feel him in her hands. “Jamie…”

“Promise me, Claire.” He squeezed her tighter, staring with a burning intensity into her eyes. “Promise me ye’ll be a mother to Fergus, and promise me that my heir will ken the weight of his owning Lallybroch.”

“I can’t…Jamie, I can’t…” She dug her fingers into his face, sobbing uncontrollably.

Promise me .”

His grip on her was almost painful. He was red in the face, his eyes glistening. He was desperate.

Claire took a moment to control her sobs, then swallowed thickly. “I promise.”

Jamie immediately kissed her, his mouth aggressively claiming hers in a heated moment of desperate passion, onlookers be damned.

“Thank you, Sassenach.” He cupped her face in his hands. “Thank you.”

Fergus returned with Claire’s horse, and Jamie outstretched his hand, beckoning him to join their embrace. He ran into both of their arms, crashing into them with a weight that broke Claire’s heart. For a moment, they simply stood there in each other’s arms. For just a brief, peaceful moment, they were a real family.

They pulled apart from each other, and Fergus looked into Jamie’s eyes with all the seriousness in the world. “I will not fail you, Milord.”

“I know ye won’t. You stop for nothing, except to sleep. And if you do, hide yourself and Milady well.”

“I will protect her, Milord.” Fergus nodded his head resolutely. “Forever.”

“You’re a soldier now, mon fils .” Jamie tenderly cupped the lad’s cheek. “I love you like a son.”

Claire cupped his other cheek. “Like our own son.” She pulled him into both of their arms again, and Jamie tenderly kissed the top of the boy’s head, his and Claire’s tears becoming lost in his curls.

Jamie ushered them both to the horse and lifted Fergus onto it. He handed him the deed, letting his gaze linger on him for a brief moment before tearing his eyes away to behold the sight of his wife.

“Jamie…” She threw her arms around his neck, throwing her whole body weight on him. “Come with us…we can hide you, and then sail away, anywhere…”

“I’ll no’ put you and my sister’s family in jeopardy fer the time it’ll take for the ports to reopen. My destiny is on Culloden Moor, Claire.” He stroked her hair, holding her close.

Claire released him, just far enough to be able to press her lips to his. She held the kiss, deepening it as far as she dare go in the midst of all these people, attempting to freeze time, to memorize the way his lips felt.

“What, no goodbye for me?”

Claire broke their contact to see Murtagh standing close by. Jamie released her and Claire opened her arms. Murtagh approached her and she held him close.

“Please, watch over him,” Claire whispered. “And take care of yourself.”

“I will. Always.”

Murtagh gave her back a gentle rub, then released her back to Jamie. She threw herself back onto him, a small gasp of anguish escaping her lips.

“Come back to me, James Fraser. Do you hear me?”

“Claire…” He peeled her off of him, holding her at arms length to look into her eyes. “Ye ken as well as I that anyone not killed on that battlefield is to be killed at the end of a rope.”

“You’ve dodged the noose before.”

“Claire…”

“Please, Jamie. Please promise that you’ll come home to me.” She stroked his hair. “You have to…I…” She stopped herself.

The last time she’d been with child was when he’d made her promise.

“If anything should happen to me, I want there to be a place for you. Someone to care for you. For our bairn.”

“If the time should come.”

Was this what he’d meant? It couldn’t have been, he wasn’t taking her to the stones. He was sending her back to Lallybroch. He was asking her to promise to mother Fergus, to be there for Jenny, for her children. To Jamie’s knowledge, there were no children of theirs that needed protection from the harsh world that awaited them after Culloden. Faith was lost to them, and they hadn’t been blessed with another child before fate caught up to them.

At least, that was to Jamie’s knowledge.

Would he send her back if she told him what she suspected?

Suspected…though it was really too soon to tell, she knew deep in her soul that she was carrying Jamie’s child.

Right now, Jamie believed that she was needed here, for Fergus, the child that had come to be their son, for Jenny, the woman that had come to be like a sister to her. But if he knew of a child on the way, he’d immediately return to his thought that their place, Claire’s and their child, was on the other side of the stones, away from this. Without the child, Claire was a widow with a boy to take on as her son, with nieces and nephews to love. But with the child…she was suddenly the mother of his child, their miracle. Claire had always said it would be a miracle if she got pregnant again after Faith. With the child, she was much more in need of protection. He’d certainly send her through the stones, away from Fergus, Jenny, all of them.

She couldn't do it.

He stared at her expectantly, waiting for her to finish her sentence. “I…” she stammered. “I love you…”

And as he kissed her with all the love and passion he possessed, she felt guilt eating her alive.

“And I you.”

“Come home to me…” She was sobbing now fisting his shirt in her hands. “I don’t care how long it takes.”

“I…I canna promise ye that, Claire,” he said reluctantly. “But I can promise that I will try.”

She kissed him again, feeling herself going mad.

“Claire…” He pushed her away after indulging her in the kiss for a moment. “You have to go. There isna time.”

“Blood of my blood,” she whispered reverently.

“And bone of my bone,” he responded, cradling her head.

“Till our life shall be done.” She kissed him again, knowing this time that it would be their last.

Claire would not let him go. He waited for her to move, but she wouldn’t. He picked her up around the waist and lifted her onto the horse herself. He may as well have ripped her heart out right then and there, and taken it to the moor with him, to be smothered and trampled as she knew he would be.

His hand lingered in hers for a long while.

“Goodbye, Claire.” He squeezed her hand, then released it, slowly, painfully, their skin lingering together until the final second. Fergus wrapped his arms around Claire’s waist. “Goodbye, son.” He gave the horse a swift slap on the rear, knowing that Claire would not start him herself.

Startled by the sudden start, Claire scrambled to grab hold of the reins as the horse took off beneath her. She threw a glance behind her, watching as Jamie, Murtagh, the entire bloody Jacobite army faded away.

He will come back to me. He will.

Rationally, Claire knew the promise she’d forced out of him did not hold much water. His chances of surviving the battle were slim to none, and his chances of evading capture after the fact were even slimmer. Logically, Claire knew he was lost to her forever.

But if she thought logically at the moment, she would faint dead away and fall off the horse, and they’d never get that deed to Jenny, she couldn’t see Fergus safely home.

She wouldn't see her child delivered.

And she would be damned if she let that happen.

Claire urged the horse to go faster, remembering Jamie had told Fergus to stop only to sleep. She would be able to ride through the first night, at least. Once they’d put a majority of the distance between them, they could rest the second night, and then ride through until they reached Lallybroch. At normal speed the trip was three days; Claire was confident she could make it in two, arriving at Lallybroch after sunset on the second day if they only stopped to sleep for one night.

Neither Claire nor Fergus spoke as they tore down the road. Claire was reliving her final moments with Jamie over and over again.

No. Not final. He will come back to me.

It was the only thing that kept her going, the only thing that kept her on that horse.

As night fell on them, Claire could tell that Fergus had fallen asleep on her, and she slowed the horse just a little. Her heart warmed at the sensation of his head resting on her back. He was such a dear, dear boy. It had taken her a while to realize it, but Fergus had been their son all along, as surely as Faith was their daughter.

All those times her heart leapt into her throat when she couldn’t find him, her sudden incessant need to get him to listen to her when it came to his safety, the few times she’d referred to him as “your boy” to Jamie. She hadn’t realized she was falling in love with the boy just as surely as she’d fallen in love with poor little Faith.

She felt when he awakened, sometime in the middle of the night.

“Don’t you want to sleep, Milady?”

“I’m alright, Fergus,” she said. “I’d like to cover as much ground as possible before we stop. We may not at all unless the horse needs to.”

“You must be careful, Milady, in your condition.”

Her stomach flipped. “My…what?”

“I…I saw you holding your stomach when you said goodbye to Milord, like you used to in Paris,” Fergus said. “Why didn’t you tell him? It looked like you were going to.”

Claire swallowed thickly and breathed shakily. “I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”

She hadn’t meant to sound as firm as she had, but she wasn’t sure how much longer she could bear speaking of it. Thankfully, Fergus didn’t press it anymore, likely upset by her tone.

Claire sped the horse up again, and they tore through most of the day in silence again. The sun had long set when Fergus spoke again.

“Milady!” he shouted over the loud hoofbeats. “Slow the horse! I have something to say!”

Claire did so, slowing him to a trot again.

“It is the dead of night. It is a good time to stop and sleep.”

“You can sleep on my back, I don’t mind.”

You need to rest, Milady,” Fergus said. “I promised Milord I would protect you. You must not fall off the horse in exhaustion.”

“Fall off the horse? Don’t be silly.”

“I have been holding onto you, Milady, and I can feel your hold on the reins weakening, and you are swaying back and forth. I wish I could, but I could not stop you from falling if you fainted. We must stop.”

With great reluctance, Claire slowed the horse again and led him off the path.

“Thank you, Milady,” Fergus said, sighing with relief.

Once they were far enough away from the road and down a small hill, she finally stopped the horse and dismounted.

“No, thank you, for watching out for me,” Claire said, helping him down. “Jamie would be proud of how you wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Fergus gave a small smile.

They carefully hid the horse among the trees and found themselves a spot surrounded by brush. They decided it best to not light a fire, despite the horrible chill.

“I will stay awake,” Fergus said as they sat on the ground. “I slept on the horse. I must keep you warm and keep watch.”

“Fergus…” Claire took him into her arms, holding him close. She kissed his head. “You are so brave, so selfless.”

“I try to be, Milady.”

“You heard me before, didn’t you? Jamie and I love you like our own son.” She released him from the embrace, putting her hands on his shoulders. “I don’t believe sons call their mothers ‘Milady’, do you?”

Fergus gaped for a moment. “Mother…?” Claire nodded. “I…I never had a mother before. The ladies at Mason Elise …I never knew which…I never called any of them…”

“What would you like to call me, Fergus?” Claire gently stroked his hair.

“I…I could call you Maman …if you like,” he said shyly, uncertain.

Claire’s heart skipped a beat to hear him say it. “That’s wonderful.”

“Are you sure…?” He still was so uncertain.

Claire tenderly kissed his forehead, then smiled at him tearfully. “I promised Jamie I would be a mother to you. I could think of nothing else I’d rather do.”

He threw his arms around her, crashing into her. “ Je t'aime, Maman .”

A single tear trickled down her cheek. “ Je t'aime aussi, mon fils.