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A Place to Belong

Chapter Text

 

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.

Chapter Text

Claire was lying in the dirt, wrapped in her shawl. Fergus was sitting dutifully beside her, stroking her hair.

Maman?” he whispered. “Are you asleep?”

Claire’s heart swelled; she was still not used to hearing the word. “Not yet.”

“I…I am sorry for earlier,” he said sheepishly. “I made you upset, on the horse. I am sorry.”

Claire felt guilt pressing down on her. A moment she’d already forgotten and pushed away was weighing heavily on his conscious still. She opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“No, Fergus, I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. Especially because…” She sighed deeply. “Because you were right. I am with child.”

His eyes lit up. “Really?” Claire nodded. “Why did you not tell Milord? It would have made him très joyeux.”

“I…” She couldn’t tell him the truth. “I don’t know. I was…scared. It might have hurt him more than anything.” It wasn’t entirely a lie.

“It is no matter,” Fergus said lightly. “You will tell him when he comes back from battle. He will be just as happy then.”

Claire’s heart sank into her stomach. He was so hopeful…how could she kill that hope?

“You know,” Claire said, pushing away that enormous weight. “This means you will be un grand frère.”

Fergus beamed. “Really, Maman?”

“Well, if I am both of your mothers, that does make you his brother, doesn’t it?”

Oui!” He nodded excitedly. “I’ve seen babies before, at Mason Elise. Born there, like me. I held them sometimes, to help, but none of them were ever my own.”

Claire’s heart felt lighter as she listened to his excitement and ignored her own anxieties.

Un grand frère,” Fergus repeated proudly. “You see, Maman? Now you know why I insisted you must sleep. I was protecting you of course, but now I must also protect mon petit.”

Claire smiled. “And I trust you with my life, with both of our lives.”

Fergus smiled. “I am glad. But now you must sleep. Madame Murray needs this deed, and she will be delighted to hear your news, no?”

Claire’s stomach flipped. News that I kept from her brother deliberately to deceive him, knowing full well that he would likely die before I ever got to tell him…

“Yes, I’m sure she will be.”

Bonne nuit, Maman. Do not fret. I will keep you both safe.”

Bonne nuit, Fergus,” Claire said, allowing her eyes to close.

She hadn’t realized just how exhausted she’d been, and it wasn’t long before a fretful sleep came over her.

  ——

She was woken by Fergus’s gentle shaking of her shoulders.

“I am sorry to wake you, Maman, but the sun will be rising soon,” he said. “We should return to the road while it is still dark, no?”

Still groggy and dazed, she sat up. “You’re right. Thank you, Fergus.”

She was quite disoriented. There hadn’t been any dreams, nor did she recall having fallen asleep. It felt like she’d simply blinked and hours had gone by. Her fingers were frozen stiff, and she briefly checked for frostbite, which to her relief, she did not find. She allowed Fergus to lead her to the horse, then she helped him on and mounted herself.

“Alright,” she breathed, shaking her head to rid herself of exhaustion, to focus. “Let’s go home.”

She set the horse off at a sprint. It seemed like her prediction had been right; they’d make it to Lallybroch before sunset today. She made note to pamper this poor horse to the ends of the Earth when they finally arrived.

She only slowed him down when she could feel that he could no longer sprint, speeding him up again when he seemed ready. During the slow periods was when Fergus would fall asleep on her back again. Between the loudness of the horse when he sprinted and Fergus falling asleep whenever they weren’t at a sprint, the day was passed in silence again.

They were at a trot when Claire could finally see Lallybroch in the distance.

“There it is, Fergus,” Claire said, breathless. “We made it.”

She could feel him smile against her back, and she set the horse at a sprint again. It was only a matter of minutes before they reached the archway. Jenny was already standing on the porch when they passed under it, and she ran to meet them.

“Thank Christ,” she breathed, catching the horse’s bridle. “Come here, lad.” She helped Fergus down and briefly embraced him. She reached her hands up to help Claire down. “Where is Jamie? Is he alright?”

Claire stared at her blankly, her tongue feeling like sandpaper. She, Jamie, and Murtagh alone knew the fate of those on Culloden Moor that morning. They hadn’t shared any of that with Jenny. How could she tell her?

“Claire.” Jenny grabbed her by the shoulders. “Tell me, is he dead? Just tell me, Claire.”

Claire felt her entire body start to tremble before everything went black.

Jenny gasped in shock as Claire’s full body weight fell onto her, and Fergus scrambled to keep them both from toppling over.

Mo Dhia…” Jenny exclaimed. Fergus held Claire around the middle and Jenny held her up by the shoulders. “Get her arm around yer shoulders, lad. We’ll get her inside.”

Just then, Ian emerged from the house. “What happened?” He rushed down the stairs.

“Fergus, hand her to Ian. Take care of the horse.”

“Yes, Milady.”

Together, Jenny and Ian dragged Claire’s limp body into the house. “Mrs. Crook!” Jenny called as they crossed the threshold. “Cold water and rags!”

They laid her down on the sofa, and Mrs. Crook quickly appeared with the water and rags.

“What’s happened, Mistress?”

“I asked her about Jamie, and she fainted dead away,” Jenny replied, her eyes brimming with tears. “Ian…” She turned to him fretfully, her heart seized with terror over the news Claire had yet to divulge. Ian wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders, squeezing gently, and Jenny covered her mouth to stifle her tears.

Mrs. Crook worked to revive Claire, dabbing her forehead with the cold water, gently pinching her cheeks.

“Milady!” Fergus burst into the room, and Ian and Jenny whirled around. “Milord wanted me to give this to you.” He presented the deed. 

Jenny crossed the room to him and took the rolled up paper. Ian followed, reading over her shoulder when she opened it.

“What is this…?” Jenny’s eyes frantically scanned the paper.

“He signed Lallybroch over to wee Jamie,” Ian said. “With me as his guardian and acting Laird until he’s of age.”

“Why would he do this?” Jenny said fretfully. “The date…it’s wrong…”

“He dated it before the rebellion began,” Fergus explained. “So everything would seem…ah, how you say…legitimate.”

“Why…” Jenny turned to Ian, tears in her eyes. “He’s not coming back, is he?”

Lost for words, Ian pulled her into a comforting embrace. “I dinna ken, Janet.”

"Mistress!” Mrs. Crook called.

Jenny practically shoved Ian away and rushed to Claire’s side, dropping to her knees beside the sofa. Mrs. Crook moved out of the way.

“Claire?” She grabbed her hand. “Tell me, Claire…”

“Easy, Jenny.” Ian came up behind her and placed steadying hands on her shoulders. “Dinna put her into shock again.”

“What happened…?” Claire moaned.

“Ye fainted, lass,” Ian said. “Ye alright now?”

“I…I think so…” She pushed herself into a sitting position, nearly falling over again with the wave of dizziness that came when she did so.

“Claire…” Jenny said again.

Claire looked at her and was immediately taken out of her dazed confusion. She remembered exactly why she’d fainted.

“I…I don’t know what’s become of him,” she said shakily. “He sent me away before the battle began. On Culloden Moor.” Jenny stared at her wordlessly, desperately squeezing her hands, urging her to continue.

Claire could not bring herself to look her in the eye. “They…they don’t stand a chance.”

She shook her head, tears spilling down her cheeks. A frightened, strangled noise escaped Jenny’s lips, and she fell back into Ian’s legs.

“The deed of sasine?” Ian asked gently, helping Jenny off the floor and onto the sofa beside Claire.

“He…he wanted to keep Lallybroch safe,” Claire said. “Keep it in the family.”

“How could he be so sure it wouldn’t be safe?” Jenny asked, desperate to be told all the worry was for naught. “How can ye be certain the battle is lost?”

“I’m sorry, Jenny…” Claire said. “I tried to get him to leave with me…I tried…”

Without another word, Jenny pulled Claire into her arms, and they both wept for the man they knew to be lost. Ian sat down beside Jenny and rubbed her back as the two women rocked back and forth in each other’s arms.

“Come on, lad,” Mrs. Crook whispered to Fergus. “I could use yer help finishing supper.”

Reluctantly, Fergus followed her out of the parlor, turning back and keeping his eyes on Claire until the very last moment.

Nobody bothered to keep track of how long they spent weeping in each other’s embrace, but when they finally both quieted they pulled apart far enough to be able to look at each other’s faces.

“Ye said…ye left before the battle began?” Jenny said.

“Yes, the morning before last,” Claire said.

“We should hear news in the next few days then.” Jenny sniffled.

Claire nodded.

“We can still hold out hope for that long at least.” Jenny gave Claire’s thigh a squeeze.

Claire tried to force herself to smile. She wanted to believe that, she truly did…

“The British,” she said, suddenly remembering. “They’re going to take your weapons, your tartans.”

“What’s that now?” Ian said. “Our tartans?”

“They’re going to destroy the Highlander culture in retribution for the rebellion,” Claire explained. “All of it, your weapons, your language, your tartans, they will outlaw it all.”

“How d’ye ken that?” Jenny asked fearfully.

“We…we overheard it. Shortly before the battle,” Claire lied. “Not all of Prince Charles’s generals believed they would be victorious, and they were talking about what the crown would do when they lost.”

“We’ll hide everything,” Ian said.

“They won’t take no for an answer. They know this is Fraser land, they know you’re of clan Murray. They know you have tartans,” Claire said.

“We can save a few,” Jenny said. “Hide them. Give over the rest.”

“Your Gaelic books as well,” Claire said. “You won’t be able to save them all, you’ll have to hand some of it over or they’ll suspect. But you can save a few.”

Jenny nodded. “Ian, sort through the books in yer study. I’ll fetch the tartans from the bedrooms, Fraser and Murray both.”

Ian set off to the study, and Claire got herself off the couch. “Ye alright to be moving?”

“I’m fine,” Claire insisted. “I want to help.”

They went in every bedroom, every wardrobe, drawer, and chest, retrieving every tartan in the castle. They’d decided to hide them in the priest hole, a hiding place that had yet to be discovered through the countless times the house had been searched. There hadn’t been any time for sentiment when they’d been rounding them up. Now they stood there, staring at the heap of tartan in the hall downstairs.

“Should we pull out the ones we’ll be saving, then?” Jenny said, hands on her hips.

Claire nodded, words lost to her.

They began sorting between Fraser and Murray tartan. Claire took one of the Fraser tartans in her hands, rubbing her thumbs over the fabric.

“That’s Jamie’s shoulder sash,” Jenny said.

“He wore this for our wedding.” Claire smiled warmly at the thought.

“Not that exact one, unless he stole it away from here wi’out my knowing.”

“You’re right,” Claire said, remembering. “He borrowed it from another Fraser for that day. We didn’t exactly have all the time in the world.” She chuckled softly.

She brought the fabric to her lips, breathing it in. “He would have worn this one if he could have. He…he wanted to get married in a way that would have made his mother proud. That’s what he told me.”

Claire felt Jenny’s hands on her shoulders, and she looked up to see her smiling. “And he did just that, I think.”

Claire smiled. “Did I ever tell you about the wedding ring?” Jenny shook her head. “He had it fashioned from his key to Lallybroch.” She touched it lovingly. “So I would know it was as much mine as his.”

“Sounds like something my brother would do.” Jenny playfully rolled her eyes. “Too romantic fer his own good.” She knelt down beside Claire, picking up a Murray tartan and separating it from the Frasers. “Lallybroch may no longer be yer husband’s land in name, but ye’ll always have a place here, Claire. Ye’ll always belong wi’ us.”

Claire smiled at her tearfully. “Thank you, Jenny.”

They eventually settled on keeping Ian’s kilt and shoulder sash along with Jamie’s shoulder sash in the priest hole. They’d have kept one of Jamie’s as well, but he’d brought all of his on the road with him. They returned the rest in easily accessible places around the house so the British could find them quickly and be done with it when they came by.

They met with Ian back at the entrance to the priest hole. He had a small stack of books with him.

“These are the ones I thought we couldnae part with.” He handed them to Jenny. “Anything missing?”

“These look good,” Jenny approved.

Claire had folded one of the Murray tartans they were keeping and was just finishing up with Jamies. Jenny knelt on the ground and tenderly wrapped the books in the Murray tartan that Claire had not yet folded. Claire handed her the folded tartans to add to her bundle. When she finished, she reached for the wooden lockbox that Ian had brought down and placed the bundle inside. As Jenny closed the lid and locked it, Claire couldn’t help but feel a terrible sense of finality. It made her heart ache terribly.

“I’ll keep this safe here until I can think of a place to hide it,” Jenny said, putting the key in a pocket of her skirt.

Ian gave them both a solemn look as he lifted the box, then nodded sadly before disappearing into the priest hole. 

“I thank ye, Claire,” Jenny said. “Woulda broke my heart to part wi’ all that. Ian’s too.” She breathed deeply. “And Jamie’s. He’ll be glad to know we’ve saved some Fraser colors when he comes home to us.”

Claire nodded, forcing a reassuring smile.

“Come on, then,” Jenny said stiffly, attempting to sound cheery. “Supper should be on the table any moment now.”

Claire wandered into the dining room as Jenny left to find the children. Fergus was setting the table with Rabbie and Mrs. Crook.

Maman!” Fergus cried, dropping the silverware to rush to embrace Claire. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Fergus.” She returned the embrace, rubbing his back. “I was just very tired from our journey.”

“We made it in time, no?” Fergus said, looking up at her proudly. “Madame Murray got the deed, and all is well?”

“Yes, Fergus,” Claire assured, smiling down at him. “Thanks to you, we got here in time.”

“Claire!” Rabbie said excitedly. “Guess what we’re eating tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Claire said playfully, sitting down across from him. “Would it perhaps be something containing…potatoes?”

“Yes!” He laughed. “I boiled them myself, right Mrs. Crook?”

“Aye, ye did.”

“Good job, Rabbie,” Claire said, genuinely smiling for the first time since she couldn’t remember. “I can’t wait to taste them.”

Jenny then entered, Maggie on her hip, wee Jamie holding onto her free hand.

“Auntie Claire!” wee Jamie said excitedly, running over to her.

“Hello!” Claire laughed, scooping him off the floor and sitting him next to her for a proper hug. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too!” 

“You’ve gotten so big,” Claire said. “You’ll be taller than your mother soon.”

He giggled.

“Dinna tell him that,” Jenny said, sitting down with Maggie in her lap. “I’ll be hearing about it fer months now.”

Claire laughed, ruffling the boy’s hair. Mrs. Crook reentered the room with the meal, followed by Ian, who sat down beside Jenny, giving Maggie a kiss

“Alright, hands everyone,” Jenny commanded, and everyone joined hands for grace, wee Jamie giving Claire a toothy grin as he took her hand.

“We thank ye Lord, for this our food, which we are about to receive,” Jenny began. “And we thank ye fer bringing Fergus and Claire back to us safely so that they may share in thy bounty. In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone echoed, crossing themselves.

Claire followed suit, and was all at once overwhelmed with love. Love for her family. For just a brief moment, when she became lost in the cacophony of children’s laughter, in watching little Maggie’s face become a mess of potatoes, she could forget the absolute terror and panic that seized her heart over Jamie’s fate.

Because no matter what happened, she was certain of at least one thing: She belonged here; Lallybroch was her home. And these people were her family, always.

Chapter Text

As the days wore on, Claire gradually settled into a comforting routine as she had at Lallybroch the last time she’d been grieving. Except this time, there was a nagging anxiety in the pit of her gut. It had been over a week since she and Fergus had arrived back after Culloden. Ian and Fergus had alternately gone to the village every day to see if there was any word on the battle, but the only news was that it was a bloody victory for the British. No specifics, no news on survivors.

Claire and Jenny were doing the wash, making small talk about the children.

“The other day Mrs. Crook comes outside wi’ her, and she’s screaming her wee head off,” Jenny said. “Apparently she tried to feed her a bannock and she just threw a bloody fit.”

Claire smiled, squeezing a shirt over the tub. “She isn’t taking well to solid foods, I suppose?”

“No’ at all.” Jenny rolled her eyes, scrubbing a shirt on the washboard. “She’s a holy terror, that one. I’ve gotten her to eat one or two bannocks, some mash potato, but it’s very rare. She’s only got eyes fer my milk.”

Claire laughed, hanging the shirt she’d been working on. “That’s quite common, actually. She may not adjust until she’s closer to two years old.”

“Jamie and Maggie both were chewing on bannocks at eight months, and walking at nine months,” Jenny insisted, wringing out the shirt and hanging it up. “Kitty refuses the food, and she hasn’t yet stood up wi’out holding on to something.”

“All perfectly normal,” Claire assured her, scrubbing a blanket that seemed to have been spit up on. “She’s just over a year old isn’t she?”

“Fourteen months and a week,” Jenny said.

“She’s still well within range to start walking,” Claire said. “Once she passes eighteen months, then we can be worried.”

“Are ye sure? I’ve no’ seen a bairn so late to everything before. Especially no’ my own.”

“A child’s development can often be used to indicate how their siblings will develop, but not always.” Claire continued to scrub at the yellow-white stain on the blanket. “Perhaps Kitty is determined to be her own woman.”

“Aye,” Jenny said, hanging up a skirt.

“If it would make you feel better, I can examine her the next time she eats a bannock, or a potato. See if it’s causing her any internal discomfort that would turn her away from solid foods.”

“Aye, ye could, but ye’d likely have to shove it down her throat first.”

Claire laughed. “Well, if the time ever comes, I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I thank ye, Claire.”

“Although, I think it’s more likely that she’s just inherited the Fraser stubbornness,” Claire teased, finally getting the blanket clean and wringing it out over the tub. “Perhaps it just skipped over Maggie and wee Jamie.”

“I dinna ken about that,” Jenny laughed. “More likely it’s just waiting to rear its ugly head until they’re older.”

“That sounds about right.”

They laughed again, but they were suddenly interrupted by hoofbeats coming from up the road. Claire dropped the skirt she was washing back in the tub and rushed to greet Fergus as he passed under the archway on horseback.

“Any word?” she asked, her eyes frantically darting over his face to read him.

“They are executing survivors. That is all I have heard.”

“Any names?”

“No. I am sorry, Maman .”

“Damn.” Claire ran a hand over her face, frustrated. She sighed, then reached up to help Fergus off of his horse.

“We are not the only ones that do not know what became of their loved ones,” Fergus said. “The British are not telling anybody anything.”

Claire pulled him into a hug, kissing his head. “It’s alright, darling. You’ve done your best.” She started to say that he ought to put his horse away and then get to the fields with Ian when she was overcome with a dizzying wave of nausea.

Maman ?” Fergus said fretfully, feeling her sway in his grasp.

Claire immediately released him, only able to stumble a few feet away before she was violently ill. Jenny rushed to her side as she doubled over, keeping her from completely toppling. As quickly as it began, it was over, and Claire breathed heavily to catch her breath. She spit onto the ground, the bitter taste of her own bile still lingering in her mouth.

“Ye alright, lass?” Jenny asked, rubbing her back.

“Yes…I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming,” Claire said, embarrassed.

“Go fetch yer mam some water,” Jenny said over her shoulder to Fergus, who obeyed immediately. “Let’s sit ye down, then.”

Jenny led Claire to the porch steps, and Claire quickly shook her off. “I really can walk straight. I’m fine.”

Once they were seated on the steps, Jenny looked at Claire knowingly. “That was the bairn, wasn’t it?”

Claire was very nearly ill again. She must have looked as shocked as she felt, because Jenny went on. “I suspected, but I didna want to ask if it wasna true. Would’ve upset ye, ye ken. But I ken morning sickness when I see it.”

Claire sighed, defeated. “How could you possibly be able to tell?”

“Ye had the glow about ye,” Jenny said. “Just now when we were talking about Kitty. Ye had this look in yer eye, like ye were keeping a secret, thinking about when yer own bairn would eat solids, would start walking.”

Claire blushed. “I hadn’t noticed I was doing that.”

Jenny took her hand in hers. “I’m happy fer ye, Claire. Especially after the sorrow ye saw wi’ the first one.”

“Thank you, Jenny.” Claire smiled at her.

“Does Jamie know?”

“No…I didn’t get the chance to tell him.” Her face burned with the shame of the lie.

Just then, Fergus appeared behind them. “Here, Maman .” He dutifully handed Claire the glass. She thanked him and gratefully sipped.

Nausées matinales ?” Fergus asked, sitting next to Claire.

“Ye told the lad but no’ me?” Jenny said, feigning betrayal.

Claire smiled, her lips still around the rim of the glass. “He figured it out himself. Like you did.”

“And ye kept yer gab shut about it?” Jenny said. “I’m impressed.”

“Of course I did.” Fergus puffed his chest out proudly. Claire chuckled and tousled his hair. “It would be a great betrayal to reveal Maman ’s news for her. It is her news to tell.”

“Oh, aye,” Jenny said, her tone revealing slight guilt. “I’ve gone and spoilt that haven’t I?”

“No…it’s alright,” Claire said, resting the glass on her knees and keeping it steady with her hands. “Truthfully I was…afraid to tell you.”

“Afraid to tell me?”

“Well, not you in particular,” Claire said, unable to meet Jenny’s eye. “I was afraid to…to say it out loud. Part of me didn’t want it to be real…part of me still doesn’t.”

“Why ever no’?” Jenny put a hand on Claire’s shoulder.

“Because I can’t imagine having to raise his child without him. I don’t think I have the…the strength to do that.” Claire stared shamefully into the water in her glass.

“Dinna be talking like that, now,” Jenny said firmly, squeezing her shoulder, then crossing herself with her free hand. “Ye mustn’t speak things like that into the world.”

“I’m sorry…” Claire shook her head guiltily. “I know it’s wrong to already be thinking like that but it’s…it’s all I can think about, Jenny.” She finally forced herself to look into her eyes, her own vision clouding with tears. “I’m so frightened.”

“I ken.” Jenny pulled her into an embrace. “I share that fear, I do.”

“I know.”

Jenny breathed deeply. “But a bairn?” She pulled apart so they could look at each other. Jenny was beaming. “Jamie’s and your flesh and blood, Claire. It’s wonderful.”

Claire smiled weakly. “I remember in Paris, Jamie said you wrote in one of your letters you were so excited you could hardly write.”

“Aye, my hand shook then something fierce. I’m feeling that way again, light and dizzy wi’ joy.” Jenny laughed. “How long has it been?”

“Almost three months.”

“Three months ye been carrying my niece or nephew and I’m just now hearing of it!” Jenny was incredulous, but her tone was lighthearted. “Come.” She stood and reached her hands down. Claire handed Fergus the glass and gave Jenny her hands. “We’ll celebrate.”

“Celebrate?”

“The news of yer child, Claire! We’ll have a dram and toast to him, to you, and to Jamie.”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Ye canna stop living because yer afeared, Claire,” Jenny said, momentarily serious. “No matter what happens, yer child is a blessing that deserves to be celebrated. Let yerself be happy when ye can.” She gave her hands a squeeze. “Fergus, fetch Milord.”

Fergus descended the porch, but Claire called after him. “Fergus, wait.” He stopped and turned, looking between the two women, conflicted. Claire then glanced back at Jenny, and she couldn’t help but soften. Jenny’s affection for her child was heartwarming, and her desire to see her happy was touching.

“Make sure you tell him it’s good news,” Claire said, smiling at Jenny.

“Yes, Maman !” Fergus scrambled off.

Jenny laughed gleefully and pulled Claire through the front door. “Mrs. Crook! Whiskey and our finest glasses! We’ve a toast to make!”

Jenny pulled her into the dining room. “Do ye think it’s a boy? Or a wee lass?”

“Oh I…I haven’t the foggiest.” Claire shrugged. “I just want him to be healthy.”

“Him, aye?” Jenny teased.

Claire smiled. “A Freudian Slip, I suppose.”

“A what now?”

“Nothing. Just…one of the names I have in mind is for a boy. That’s all.”

It wasn’t long before Ian appeared with Fergus, Mrs. Crook having already arrived with the whiskey and glasses.

“Alright, pour yourselves a glass. You too, Mrs. Crook,” Jenny said.

“What’s the meaning of this, Janet?”

“Hold yer whisht,” Jenny said, pouring glasses and handing them out.

“Alright, then. I’ve gathered us here because we’ve precious little to celebrate these days, and well, what Claire has to tell ye is certainly something to celebrate.” Jenny turned to Claire.

Claire peered up from her glass sheepishly. “Yes…well…I’m…” Jenny gave her a playful shove. “I’m pregnant.”

Mo Dhia !” Ian exclaimed. “Claire, that’s wonderful news!” He embraced her heartily with the arm that wasn’t holding his whiskey. He lifted her a few inches off the ground, and Claire squealed.

“God bless ye, Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said, squeezing her hand.

“Thank you,” Claire said to the both of them. “Thank you, all of you. I’m…I’m confident that our child will come into the world loved beyond compare. Thank you for letting this be our home.”

Jenny raised her glass. “To my wee nephew, and to family.”

Sláinte !” Ian cheered, and everyone echoed him.

They sipped their glasses, reveling in their mutual joy. For a moment, Claire truly could forget the anguish and terror that had been so prevalent in her mind merely minutes before. Jenny was right; her child deserved to be celebrated, and she deserved to feel joy about his soon-to-be presence in her life. Jamie would want her to celebrate, too. He wouldn’t want her spending every waking moment fretting for him when she was bringing his child into the world.

As they laughed and drank, Fergus began spewing absurd French names for the baby, causing everyone to laugh all the harder. All of a sudden, the front door slammed open, and the sound of boots echoed through the halls. Laughter and chatter immediately ceased. They all froze where they stood.

It didn’t take long for the Redcoats to realize they were all congregated in the dining room. They entered the room all at once, four of them.

“In the name of His Majesty King George, you are to surrender all weapons, tartans, and Gaelic reading materials.”

Claire’s heart dropped into her stomach. She hadn’t forgotten that she’d helped hide a few pieces of Highlander culture in the priest hole a week ago, but she’d thought they would have had a bit more time. To her recollection the Act of Proscription wasn’t made official until August of this year. It seemed they were getting a bit of a head start.

“Don’t trouble yourselves, we’ll search the house for you,” he continued. “Can’t have you leaving anything behind.”

He signaled for his men to begin the search. Claire cringed as she heard doors slam, furniture turn over. The Redcoat officer that remained in the dining room circled around the table like a vulture, regarding them with condescension, drinks still in their hands.

“And what are we celebrating today?” he asked smugly. “Surely not a Jacobite victory, seeing that there is none to celebrate.”

“There are no Jacobites in this home,” Ian said. “We are all loyal subjects of His Majesty.”

Claire’s stomach turned as he said it.

“Perhaps you drink to the health of your King, then?” He said, arching an eyebrow. “Or is it someone’s day of birth? To whom do I owe my regards?”

He was still circling them. No one said anything.

“Come now, surely you would not deny me in wishing you well.” He stopped before Ian, dangerously close. His tone completely shifted. “Tell me for what cause you drink. Now.”

“I am wi’ child,” Jenny said quickly. The officer’s head snapped to look at her. “My last birth was a fearsome one, and we didna think I could have another, but God has been gracious. We were celebrating our good fortune.”

A sickening smile grew across the officer’s lips. “Well, that is good cause to celebrate. My warmest congratulations to you. And to the father, I assume?” He turned back to Ian.

“Aye.”

He clapped a hand on Ian’s back, just slightly too rough. “Fine job.”

Ian nodded uncomfortably.

Claire was bewildered for a moment, but it didn’t take her long to figure out Jenny’s reasoning. If her own pregnancy was revealed, there would be a question of its father, being that Ian was the only man in the household at present. They might quickly deduce who the father was, knowing that this was the home of the Fraser Laird, and thereby deduce who Claire herself was. The broadsheets had Jamie’s face on them, not hers, but there was still a danger to her being Red Jamie’s wife. Jenny had acted wisely.

The sound of three sets of boots echoed through the halls, getting closer to the dining room. They entered the room, one holding books, the other swords and guns, the other tartans. 

“The materials in question, Sir.”

“Take them outside. Then search the stables and barns just for good measure.”

The three disappeared again, and the officer turned back to smile greasily at them once more. “My kindest regards to the happy parents.” He turned on his heel and left.

All at once they put their glasses down and scrambled to the front door.

“Mam!” Wee Jamie’s voice appeared behind them, and he stepped onto the porch with them. “What’s happened?”

“It’s alright, mo chridhe .” Jenny stroked his head. “Dinna fash.”

They watched in horror as the Redcoats unceremoniously dumped the tartans and books into the dirt. The officer from the dining room lit a match, then looked up at the family gathered on the porch. Maintaining his eye contact, an uncaring expression on his face, he dropped the match into the pile.

Claire had to restrain herself from rushing forward to put out the flames. She had known this was coming…so why did she feel so paralyzed by shock?

“Fire, Mam!” Jamie tried to bolt forward, but Jenny firmly grabbed him by the wrist.

“Stay put.”

“But Mam! Da’s tartan is on fire!”

“I know, mo chridhe .” Jenny picked him up around the waist and settled him on her hip.

“Why’ve they done this?” Jamie asked.

“Shh…” Jenny pressed his head into her shoulder, holding him there and rocking gently.

Claire’s eyes burned with tears as she watched all the things she’d come to hold dear up in flames, burning to ash. It wasn’t long before the officer added more matches, unsatisfied with how long it was taking for everything to burn. The flames were high now, the smoke billowing.

“Mrs. Crook,” Jenny said, her voice hitching. “Take the lad inside, and check on the other children.”

“Yes Mistress.” Mrs. Crook took Jamie from her, casting a mournful look behind her before disappearing into the house.

Ian wrapped a comforting arm around Jenny as she wept silently, and Claire did not miss the tear that trickled down his own cheek. Fergus leaned into Claire, and she put her arms around him.

Yes, they’d all known it was coming. But nothing could have prepared them to actually see their entire way of life literally up in flames.

It took all of fifteen minutes for the fire to burn itself out with nothing left behind but ash. All four of them stamped the ash into the dirt for good measure, and then they were off, their wagon of weapons clinking behind them as they disappeared up the road.

“Should we…clean it up?” Ian asked hesitantly, unable to tear his eyes away from the pile of ash.

“No. Let the wind take it,” Jenny said resolutely. “Let it become part of the very air we breathe, one with Scotland herself.”

Without another word, Jenny descended the porch steps and returned to the washtub they’d abandoned. The celebrating was over, the moment was gone.

Claire gave Fergus’s shoulders a squeeze before joining Jenny at the washtub, and Ian, too, returned to his work, taking Fergus with him.

Claire and Jenny worked silently now, neither of them having the right words after what had happened. As Claire hung a skirt on the clothesline, she was certain of one thing: As much as she prayed for Jamie’s safety and longed desperately for him to be by her side once more, she still thanked God that he had not been here to see that.

Chapter Text

“Look, Mam! She’s doing it!”

“That’s braw, Maggie! Keep it up!” Jenny called from the blanket that she and Claire sat on.

The month of May was well underway, and the weather had been brilliantly sunny lately. Jenny had insisted they all needed to get some sun away from the fields or the washtubs and clotheslines. So she and Claire had put together a small picnic and brought it to the mill, the lapping water of the stream welcome music to their ears. They’d eaten, and they were now watching the children play. Wee Jamie was teaching Maggie how to roll the wooden hoop by hitting it with the stick, and she was finally getting it.

Just at that moment, the hoop got away from her, and in her frantic attempt to catch up, she toppled over, disappearing into the tall grass

“She alright, Jamie?”

Wee Jamie clamored to where Maggie had fallen and peeled her off the ground by her arm. “Fine, Mam!” he hollered.

Kitty, who was nestled between Jenny and Claire, stretched her arms out toward her siblings and gave a loud shout, seeming to be mimicking how her brother called out to their mother.

“What’s that, little girl?” Claire said, holding out her finger, which Kitty immediately grasped with her little fist. “Shouting at your brother?”

“Like mother, like daughter,” Jenny said. They both laughed. Jenny dipped her finger into the strawberry jam again, then put her finger into Kitty’s eager mouth. They’d discovered that this was a particular “solid” food that she enjoyed, likely due to its sweetness.

“Do you think since she’s used to the jam now she’d take a bit of a bannock covered in it?” Claire said, looking up at Jenny as Kitty bounced her finger around.

“We could try it,” Jenny said, reaching into the basket and pulling out a bannock. “What do ye say, wean?” Jenny ripped a tiny piece of the bannock and covered it with jam. “Will ye let me get away wi’ this?”

To their astonishment, she did, greedily devouring the bit of bread on Jenny’s fingers. “A miracle, indeed!” Jenny said.

“She just needs a little sugar for encouragement,” Claire said in the ridiculous baby voice she used to speak to her. “Isn’t that right, sweet tooth?”

“If I have to put jam on everything she eats from now on, I swear I’ll do it,” Jenny said, feeding her another jam-covered bite of bannock.

They both laughed again.

“Jamie! Gi’ me!”

They looked up to see Jamie flying like the wind with the hoop and stick, Maggie flailing her arms uselessly to stop him.

“Jamie! It doesnae look like yer teaching her to me!” Jenny called over, not wanting Maggie to break into a full blown tantrum.

“I didna want her to fall again!” Jamie protested.

Och , I’m sure,” Jenny said quietly to Claire, who chuckled softly. “She’s a braw lass,” Jenny called to him. “Give her another go.”

“Yes, Mam.”

Claire smiled at Jenny. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Manage all three of them?” Claire said. “You’re a wonderful mother, Jenny. I can only hope to live up to the example you’ve set for me.”

“Oh, it isna so hard. Well, it’s hard, of course. What I mean is…it comes natural, ken.” She briefly paused to wipe Kitty’s mouth, which was pink and sticky with jam. “There’s something inside that tells ye what to do even when ye’ve not a clue. I was never taught how to nurse, fer example. I just did it. No one ever told me that Maggie would only fall asleep if I rubbed her wee belly. I just did it one day, and it worked.” Jenny shrugged, then placed a hand on Claire’s knee. “It’ll all come to ye, Claire. I ken it will.”

Claire smiled. Though she still believed there was something innate to Jenny’s way with her children that she wasn’t sure she possessed, Claire was still grateful that Jenny believed in her. “Thank you, Jenny.”

“Mam!” Maggie’s little voice called. “Look!”

“Aye, there ye go, mo chridhe !”

“Lovely job, Maggie!” Claire called. Wee Jamie was cheering her on, encouraging her to keep it up, directing her all around. “He is so sweet to her, isn’t he?”

“Aye.” Jenny looked at them adoringly. “He is. When he wants to be that is.”

They chuckled. Claire’s heart stung, if only briefly.

“What is it?”

Jenny was getting better and better at reading Claire; it wouldn’t be much longer before she could read her like a book, as Jamie could.

Claire sighed. “It’s just…seeing them together…it makes me wonder…” Her voice trailed off.

“How yer own would be together,” Jenny finished for her.

Like a book.

Claire smiled sadly. “They’d be so close in age. I can…I can picture her.” Claire’s eyes clouded with tears. “I can picture my copper haired little lass teaching her brother to run with the hoop.”

Jenny wrapped an arm around her, and Claire gratefully rested her head on Jenny’s shoulder. “May God rest her soul,” Jenny said. “And may He deliver the next to ye safely.”

Claire sighed, determined not to cry. She smiled. “I could watch them all day.”

Jenny sighed as well. “So could I.”

Kitty made another loud yelp, causing them both to jump, then to laugh. “Someone doesn’t like to share her mother’s and auntie’s attention, hm?” Claire started giving her little tickles, and her joyful laughter pealed like beautiful little bells.

The sound of hoofbeats interrupted Claire’s and Kitty’s game. She and Jenny looked up to see Ian riding toward them.

“Ye have news?” Jenny said, standing up and stepping off the blanket.

Ian looked grave. “Aye.”

Claire bolted off the ground. “What is it?”

“Take the children to Mrs. Crook and meet me in the parlor.” 

“Da!” Wee Jamie called, waving his arms. “Look what I taught Maggie!”

Ian simply waved to him before turning his horse and riding back to the house.

“Da?” Jamie called again.

“Not now, Jamie,” Jenny said. “Take yer sister’s hand and come here to me.”

Jenny bent down to pick Kitty up.

“Jenny…” Claire was starting to panic.

Hoop and stick in one hand and Maggie’s hand in the other, Jamie trudged toward the blanket. “You can keep playing, but ye’ll stay close to the house, now. Wi’ Mrs. Crook.”

“Yes, Mam.”

“Off we go, then.”

They quickly gathered the remnants of their lunch and solemnly marched toward the house. The sun was still just as bright, warming their skin, the breeze was just as pleasant, the spring birds still sang. But any warmth or comfort that they’d just felt was gone.

Jenny handed Kitty over to Mrs. Crook when they reached the front porch.

“Put her down fer a nap, then mind the others,” Jenny said.

“Yes, Mistress.”

Claire morbidly thought that it felt like she was marching to her own death as she and Jenny ventured into the parlor. Ian was already standing there waiting when they arrived.

“Ye both should sit,” he said.

Jenny instinctually grasped Claire’s hand, her blood running cold. Together, they sat on the sofa, hands clasped in each other’s.

Claire swallowed thickly, her gaze narrowing and focusing on the pattern on the arm chair across the room. “He’s dead,” she said flatly, not moving. “Isn’t he.”

Ian sighed. Jenny let out a choked gasp, squeezing Claire’s hand tighter.

“They finally released the names of the executed survivors of the battle. Jamie wasna one of them, and he wasna one of the escaped either. Unrecorded names are assumed to be dead on the battlefield.”

Claire’s jaw set hard, her eyes locked on one particular leaf on the chair, the way the stitching flowed, the spots where the color was faded. 

“Assumed?” Jenny said desperately. “Is it no’ possible that he survived but avoided capture?”

Ian knelt beside Jenny and took hold of the hand that was not holding Claire’s. “It was a bloodbath, Jenny. They stabbed every body on that battlefield and shot down any that ran away. Theres…there’s no chance.” His voice caught in his throat, and he swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry.”

Jenny shook her head and collapsed into Ian, wracked with pitiful sobs.

Claire remained unchanged. Her vision had narrowed; all she could see now was that leaf on the upholstery of that chair.

“Claire…I’m heart sorry…”

Ian’s voice fell on deaf ears. It seemed quite possible that Claire would die still staring at that leaf. It was starting to not even look like a leaf anymore. Perhaps it was a feather…

“Claire.” Something touched her shoulder. A hand, perhaps?

Maybe it was the petal of a flower…

“Can ye hear me, lass?”

A green blanket blowing in the wind?

A ringing started in her head, a high pitched stream of white noise in her ears.

It was starting to look blue…had it been blue this whole time? It couldn’t be a leaf then.

“For God’s sake, Claire! Can ye look at me?”

Perhaps it was a piece of the sky, cut out of the atmosphere and stitched into the upholstery of the chair.

The ringing got louder, and she suddenly could not remember a time where she could not hear it.

Now it was turning purple.

There was a very sudden sting in her right cheek, and the leaf was gone, the ringing stopped. She couldn’t see or hear anything at all for a moment.

The first thing she heard was someone breathing, and the first sight she was aware of was the carpet in the parlor. The parlor…is that where she was?

She looked up in front of her, placing the breathing to the woman who knelt before her. She was red in the face, her eyes swimming with tears. Jenny. That was her name.

Her cheek still vaguely stung, and she realized that she’d been slapped across the face. By Jenny.

“Jenny…?” Claire didn’t recognize the sound of her own voice.

“Will ye no’ say anything?” Jenny said, her voice muffled by an excess of mucous in her airways.

“I can’t feel my fingers.” It was the only thing that came to her mind to say. She watched as Jenny clasped her hands in her own, but she didn’t feel it.

“Her hands are cold as ice.”

“I’m going into shock,” Claire said automatically.

“What’s that?” A new voice. Ian. He was there, too.

“I’m going into shock.”

Ian and Jenny exchanged a fretful look.

“Can ye feel this, lass?” Ian placed a gentle hand on her back.

“Have the leaves always been purple?”

Jenny and Ian exchanged another look.

“Yer no’ making any sense, Claire,” Ian said. “Can I…can I get ye something to drink?”

Jenny touched her face. “She’s cold all over.”

“D’ye feel feverish, Claire?” Ian asked.

“Feel…?” 

“Can ye stand, Claire?” Jenny asked.

“I don’t…have feet…” Claire’s eyebrows furrowed.

“She canna feel anything,” Jenny surmised. Jenny put Claire’s right arm around both of her shoulders, and Ian followed suit with her left arm. They slowly got her to her feet, but as expected, she was dead weight, even fully conscious.

“Uncle Lamb?”

“What’s that?” Ian asked.

“I can’t see…” Claire muttered. “Everything is dark…what’s happened, Uncle Lamb?”

“It’s alright, Claire,” Jenny said as they dragged her to the staircase. “Hush yerself now.”

“I can’t see! I’ve gone blind! Help me, please!”

When Claire was eleven years old, there’d been an incident with some gunpowder at a dig that had briefly damaged her vision. After the explosion, when she’d woken up inside a tent, she was horrified to realize she was awake, but the world remained dark. She remembered feeling so lost and helpless. She called out to her uncle, begging him to give her her sight back, crying tears that burned as they left her eyes. It was the first moment in her life she’d been truly terrified. Thankfully, she could see again after about a week, but she couldn’t sleep without a lantern for months after, terrified of any darkness she inhabited becoming permanent.

She felt eleven years old again, locked in a black terror, unable to bear being alone with herself like this. Back then, as her uncle cradled her to his chest, she truly believed she’d never see anything again. She grieved her eyesight and wept like the frightened child she was.

This time when her eyesight returned to her, she was met with a stone ceiling.

“Uncle…I can see…”

“Claire?”

That was not Uncle Lamb’s voice.

“Can ye see me now, Claire?”

Claire turned her head to see the same woman from before hovering over her.

“It’s Jenny, Claire…can ye see me?”

Jenny. Sister of my husband. My husband…

“My husband…” Claire’s voice was hardly a whisper.

Jenny removed the warm rag that was laid across her forehead and stroked her hair. “He’s gone, Claire.” Jenny bit her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“He’s gone,” Claire repeated. 

Jenny began sobbing anew, covering her mouth in an unsuccessful attempt to quiet herself.

Jamie is gone.

That rushed goodbye in that field, those desperate kisses…that was truly the last time…

“He’s gone…” Claire said again, her voice strangely high pitched.

And suddenly, everywhere that had just been ice cold was now on fire. She was burning from the inside out, the worst pain she’d ever known.

She pushed herself into a sitting position, throwing the covers off.

“Jenny…” Claire said. “He’s really gone…”

“Oh, Claire,” Jenny sobbed.

“It can’t be true…” Claire shook her head, but the pain covering every inch of her body told her otherwise. “We had our whole lives, Jenny…”

“I know…” Jenny wrapped her arms around her. Claire’s arms remained limp at her side.

“His child…” Claire murmured. “He has to meet his child…”

Jenny clung to the back of Claire’s head, pressing her into her.

“I…I can’t do it, Jenny…” Claire still wouldn’t return the embrace.

“I ken he was yer heart. I ken it well.” Jenny sniffled and sighed shakily. “I’m…I’m so sorry…”

“I don’t…I don’t want to…” Claire tried to push herself out of Jenny’s grasp. “I don’t want to do this…let me go, please…” Jenny only tightened her grip. “Let go of me! I don’t want to…I don’t want to…”But despite every muscle in her body fighting against it, Claire’s words dissolved into indecipherable sobs, and her rigid body finally collapsed into Jenny. She threw her arms around her and wept gutturally into Jenny’s shoulder, clinging to her as if her life depended on it.

Chapter Text

It was impossible to say how long they’d wept, bore their broken hearts to each other. Where, in the beginning, Claire was hyper aware of strange, insignificant details, now, she was hardly aware of anything. Time was either rushing by faster than she could grasp or it was not moving at all. She hadn’t remembered Jenny leaving her side, when she’d come to be alone in her room. And she certainly couldn’t remember a particular boy entering the room and sitting beside her. When he spoke, it was as if he’d appeared out of thin air.

Maman?”

His voice sounded like it was underwater. She knew he needed her comfort, knew he’d lost him too…but she couldn’t move. She was paralyzed.

Fergus had seen her lost in her grief once before. After Faith, when Jamie was in the Bastille. She thought she’d lost them both back then. Oh, and he was so good to her, even through his own suffering. He could set aside his youth to be strong for a woman nearly triple his age. Now she could not bring herself to move to give him even an ounce of comfort, for fear her fragile shell may shatter.

She truly didn’t deserve him.

But she had made a promise. A promise to Jamie. Jamie, the man whose loss had made her this way.

She’d promised to be a mother to him.

Mothers weren't afraid to look at their sons and see pain in their faces. Not good mothers, at least.

I’m not strong enough, Jamie. I can’t carry his pain as well as mine.

I’ve failed him.

But even as she thought it, she second guessed herself. Jamie knew he would die on that moor. He knew it when he said goodbye, and he knew it when he asked her to be a mother to Fergus. He knew exactly the burdens she would have to carry, precisely how difficult a time it would be for her. And he still asked it of her.

Because he believed in her.

He believed in her capacity to love, above all else, even when she was hopeless.

I will not let you down.

She forced herself to pick her head up and focus her vision on Fergus’s face. It almost broke her. His eyes were red, swollen. His face was splotchy and stained with dried tears.

At Prestonpans, when he’d confessed to killing an English soldier, and he melted into her panicked embrace, she’d been overcome by the reminder of how young he was. It was easy to forget, the way he carried himself, the things he was capable of.

With trembling hands, she cupped his dear face, then ran a hand over the length of his beautiful curls.

“Oh, my darling…” she whispered, her chest tightening.

Jamie was the only father he’d ever known, his friend, his hero.

“My poor darling…” She pulled him into her, cradling his head to her chest. She could feel him weeping anew as tears trickled over her skin, and she gently rocked him.

“He loved you, Fergus.” Claire willed her voice to not tremble. “You were his son.” She pressed a tender kiss to the top of his head. “Even without him here…you will grow to be a remarkable young man, just like your father was. He will…” She breathed a deep, shuddering breath, steeling herself. “He will always love you. And you will forever make him proud.”

There it was. Proof that Jamie was right. He’d believed she was strong enough and possessed enough love in her heart to be able to give what little strength she had left to those around her.

“Will you die without him?” he said suddenly, tightening his grip around her middle.

“What…?”

“Will you die of a broken heart? Please do not, Maman…I will do anything to make you happy, anything.”

“Oh, Fergus.” She held him tighter, if that were even possible. “My heart is broken…into a million pieces. I am in…so much pain. I won’t ever be the same again.” She released her grip on him enough to tilt his chin up so she could meet his eye. “But what will always be the same is how much I love you. I will never leave you, Fergus. No matter what happens…” She swallowed thickly, recalling words that seemed a lifetime ago. “You will never be alone again.” She caressed his cheek.

“You will never be alone either, Maman,” Fergus said, dutiful even through his tears. “I will take care of you. I promised him.”

“I know. You are such a good boy.” She stroked his hair again, then kissed his forehead. He leaned into her embrace again, curling into her lap.

“You know, when my parents died when I was little, my Uncle rocked me to sleep every single night. I slept right next to him for months. Now when I think back on it, I think he needed the comfort from me as much as I did from him.”

“Like us,” Fergus said. “You need me and I need you.”

“That’s right, love.” Fresh tears trickled down Claire’s cheeks. “And if you need me to hold you until you sleep, right here in this bed, I will do it for as long as you need.”

“Will it bring you comfort, too?”

Claire sighed. “Yes. It would.”

“Then I will.”

Claire settled into the pillows, and they adjusted themselves until they were both lying down, nestled into one another as mother and son.

She had no concept of what the time was as she slipped into a surprisingly peaceful sleep, Fergus’s even breathing lulling her into a sweet oblivion.

——

Maman?”

She awoke to Fergus’s gentle shaking. She peered up at him through squinted eyes.

“Mrs. Crook has brought us supper.”

“Just some broth,” Mrs. Crook’s voice took Claire by surprise. “It’ll be easy to keep down.”

Claire’s head was splitting. Even the small amount of candlelight in the room was killing her. Candlelight…it was broad daylight when she’d fallen asleep, wasn’t it?

“Mistress Murray told me to insist that ye eat it,” Mrs. Crook continued. “And that she’ll be in later to make sure ye have. Both of ye.”

“Yes, Madame,” Fergus said.

Mrs. Crook turned to leave, but stopped herself. “I’m…I’m heart sorry, Mistress Fraser. Yer husband was a fine man. God be wi’ ye.”

So it’s real, then.

Claire’s head was turned away from her, covering her eyes with her hands to block out the light. Fergus nodded to Mrs. Crook on Claire’s behalf, and she left, gently shutting the door behind her.

Maman?” Fergus gently touched her shoulder. “Did you hear me?”

Every single limb weighed thousands of pounds. Her head was throbbing. She couldn't move.

“Will you eat the broth, Maman?”

She was trying to move, trying to make sound in her throat, but she couldn’t.

“Maman, you must eat.”

After waiting briefly for an answer, Fergus gently took Claire’s hand in his and pulled it away from her face. She winced in pain.

“Food will help your headache,” Fergus said.

Finally, Claire was able to muster enough energy to turn her head and open her eyes so she could look at him.

“I understand…I am not hungry either.” Fergus squeezed her hand. “But you have to eat, Maman. Please. For mon petit.”

Claire blinked slowly, painfully. As much as she wanted to, she could not let herself waste away. To let herself get away with telling herself she was too upset to eat even one time could put her child in danger. If it all came back up right away, then at least she could say she tried.

Claire nodded, and Fergus helped her sit up. He carefully picked up the tray that held two bowls from the nightstand and put it on the bed between them.

“I eat, you eat,” Claire said groggily.

“Fair is fair.”

They both ate slowly. It tasted like nothing, like a tasteless liquid heat sliding down her throat and landing heavily in her stomach. Fergus was watching her carefully all the while, waiting for her to swallow before taking his own spoonful.

There was a knock on the door, and whoever it was didn’t wait for a response before opening it.

“Glad to see yer eating,” Jenny said. “Ye’ve got to keep yer strength up even when ye don't want to.”

Claire nodded silently, putting down her spoon.

“And ye’ll be finishing it,” Jenny said pointedly.

“I will make sure of it,” Fergus said.

Jenny approached the bed and hesitantly sat down. “I just wanted to tell ye,” she said to Claire. “Ian will be sending for Jamie’s body come morning. We won’t be leaving him to rot on the moor.”

Claire very nearly lost all the food she’d just forced down, her stomach turning at the phrase Jamie’s body.

“We will bring him home to rest, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was thick with emotion as she closed her hands around Claire’s. “I swear it.”

Claire closed her eyes, heavy, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. Jenny sighed heavily. She pecked Claire on the cheek, briefly caressed Fergus’s head, then made for the door.

“Make sure it’s finished.”

“Yes, Milady.”

She shut the door behind her as she left.

Claire had no concept of how much time had passed; it very well may have taken her five hours to get through a single bowl of broth. Either way, she finished it, and Fergus put the tray back on the nightstand.

“Would you like a nightgown, Maman?”

Claire nodded, and he wasted no time retrieving one from the wardrobe. “I will help you with your laces and then turn so you may have privacy.”

Claire numbly swung her legs over the edge of the bed and allowed him to do just that. After he'd turned around, it was a struggle to finish undressing herself with how her fingers trembled. Somehow, she managed.

“I’m done,” she said, surprised by how croaky her voice sounded. Fergus got back into bed, having removed his vest and socks. This time, they actually got under the covers. They each lay on their pillow, looking at each other in silence for a long while.

“Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?” Claire said, cupping his cheek.

“Perhaps.”

“Well I am. And so is mon petit.”

“I am lucky to have you, too.”

It baffled her that he could be grateful for her when she’d become this empty, hollow shell, yet it also comforted her. This boy was grateful for her, every part of her. He wasn’t grateful for her despite what she’d been through, the losses she’d suffered, he was grateful for her because of it.

And that made her all the more grateful for him.

——

Days and days passed in a similar manner. Claire could not get out of bed. Broth would be brought to her, and Fergus or Jenny would see to it that she ate it. The morning sickness was becoming more and more frequent, which certainly wasn’t helping her already dwindled desire to eat.

She spent her days alternating between staring at the wall or the ceiling, feeling numb and feeling anguish. She couldn’t remember a time where her existence consisted of any more than this.

Fergus hardly left her side, comforting her when she was ill and fetching her water immediately after. He brushed her hair as he had in Paris. Fergus could be credited for being the one to actually get her out of bed. His insistence on brushing her hair and wiping her face and neck with cold water and just a dab of sweet smelling oils is what eventually made her feel somewhat human again.

Her sleep during those days she stayed in bed was fitful. She was constantly tired no matter how many hours she spent asleep. She neither dreamed nor completely blacked out. It was a horrible lingering between worlds, and it was exhausting.

There was a particular day where Fergus had asked to be held; he was overwhelmed with grief. As she rocked him back and forth, she was shocked to realize that she was not crying, not at all. Her chest felt tight, her stomach was churning, but her mind was blank, and not a single tear came. Even as her son wept for his father, her husband, she felt nothing.

Perhaps it would have been different if he’d died right in front of her. If she’d spent hours trying to tend his wounds or ease his fever, only for him to weakly take her hand in his, stopping her.

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” he would say. “You can let me go now.”

Then he’d drift away in her arms, and she’d shout at him, curse him for letting himself leave her, she’d spend hours trying to revive his long dead body before she’d collapse on top of him, fist his shirt in her hands, kiss him all over his dead face, stroke his hair. Someone would have had to pry her off of him, kicking and screaming. Almost like how they’d had to pry Faith out of her arms.

Perhaps then it would feel different. She would have those final moments to remember, horrible, painful memories, but concrete nonetheless. The way it had really happened, she could not fathom that he’d been alive when she last saw him. She could not fathom that he was dead and rotting without her having tried to save him. She could not fathom that he was just…gone.

After the initial shock had worn off, it didn’t feel like he was gone at all. She was not going mad; she knew what she’d heard and she knew it was true. But logic and what she felt in her soul were two different things. The week she spent lying in bed was not really grief or mourning. She literally didn’t know what else to do. With nothing to cling to, nothing to bury, there was nothing to do.

Now instead of grief, there was this emptiness, this complete helplessness, almost restlessness. It was what finally drove her to get out of bed and rejoin the household for breakfast one morning. She knew she looked haggard, though Fergus insisted she was beautiful.

She entered the dining room with Fergus, and all heads turned.

“Claire,” Ian said, a small smile on his face. “It’s good to see you, lass.”

Jenny offered a small smile as well. Feeling a stranger in her own home, Claire mechanically stepped into the room and sat down. “Good morning, everyone.” Her voice was small and scratchy.

“How is the morning sickness?” Jenny said, desperate to avoid awkward silence.

“It’s alright,” Claire said. “That might change after this meal, however.”

Jenny chuckled softly.

“Is there…” Claire began, averting her gaze from looking directly at anyone. “Uh…the body…”

“No news yet,” Ian said quickly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s…it’s alright,” Claire brushed it off. “I was just…curious.”

“It’ll take some time,” Ian said.

“I understand,” Claire said, finally looking up at him.

“Do ye need any herbs, Claire?” Jenny said suddenly. Claire looked at her, her brows furrowed together. “All those herbs ye use for medicine. Are ye needing any?”

“I…I don’t know…”

“I was thinking we could set aside a section of the garden fer yer herbs,” Jenny said.

“That’s…that would be lovely.”

“I thought we could gather some things today on the grounds that ye’d like to have closer to ye. If anything is missing we can take a trip to Edinburgh tomorrow.”

Claire hadn’t thought about herbs or healing in weeks. It had seemed futile to do so, knowing that so many were mangled and dead and she’d been powerless to stop it.

“Be nice to get out of the house,” Jenny continued when Claire didn’t answer. “Fresh air would be good for you, and the bairn.”

“I…I suppose,” Claire said.

“It’s settled then. I’ll have Mrs. Crook pack us a lunch and we’ll be off. Back by supper.”

Claire nodded. Breakfast continued rather silently.

She’d been hesitant to agree to a long day out of the house, but as usual, Jenny had been right. It felt good to be in the fresh air, and it felt good to feel useful and productive. There were even moments where she found herself genuinely smiling. It felt good to be able to teach Jenny as they went along, tell her what they were looking for, describe the medical uses for everything. She hadn’t met anyone besides Jamie in this time who was so eager to learn from her. Of course it occurred to her that Jenny could be simply humoring her, using this as a device to get her outside and have normal interactions with someone her age, but Claire wouldn’t have minded if that were true. But it helped that that didn’t seem to be the case. Surely that was Jenny’s motive, but she did seem to be expressing genuine interest, which did Claire’s heart good.

They did end up taking a trip to Edinburgh the next day to fetch some things they couldn’t find on the grounds that Claire would have liked in her garden. It was a small gesture, really, but Jenny’s insistence that Claire designate a piece of the Lallybroch garden for herself was another way that she was made to feel welcome, like this really was her home. And though she had lost so, very much, perhaps she could someday, with time, find comfort in the things that she’d gained.

Chapter Text

“Claire…”

 She inhaled deeply through her nose, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

 “Claire…mo nighean donn…”

 “Jamie…

 She reached out for him, but she couldn’t tell if she was really reaching, or if she was frozen in her body and reaching out with the edges of her mind. She couldn’t even tell if she was really speaking.

 “Come find me, Claire…”

 “I’m here Jamie…”

 She tried to sit up, but she found herself paralyzed in her own body.

“Mo ghràidh…”

 “Jamie…please come to me…

 She felt his fingers brushing her back, and a choked gasp escaped her lips. She tried to reach behind her to take his hand, but she could not move.

 “Jamie…touch me…

 His hands were all over her back, kneading her shoulders, running his fingers through her hair.

 Claire let out a tortured sob. She was sweating with the effort of willing her arms to move, of turning herself around and beholding his presence with her eyes. But she was rooted where she lay; there was a thousand pound weight pressing her into the bed, every inch of her trapped.

 “Let me see you, Jamie…

 He pressed kisses into her head.

 “Claire…”

 “Jamie, please…let me see you…

 His touch began fading from her.

 “No…please…let me see you!”

 She could feel his breath on her neck, in her ear.

 “Goodbye, Claire…”

 “No…please…please!”

 His touch was gone, his breath was gone.

 “Jamie!” 

 Her own scream reverberated in her head, ricocheting off the walls, piercing her skull like bullets. Every inch of her body was aching, screaming to be free from the paralysis that plagued her.

 “Jamie!”

 Her eyes shot open. She finally really heard her voice in her ears, rather than just echoing in her mind. Gasping for breath, trembling violently, she was finally able to move. She pushed herself into a sitting position.

 “Jamie!” She frantically searched the room. “Jamie…”

 The room was black, there was no motion, no sound but her own ragged breath.

 “Jamie…” She was hit with the crushing realization that it had been a dream. She’d had a sleep paralysis episode; she was asleep enough to imagine his voice, his touch, but awake enough to have believed it was really happening.

 Her nightgown was clinging to her. There was an outline on the sheet and pillow in her own sweat. 

 “Come back…” she called out into the blackness of her empty bedroom. “Come back to me…please…”

 Even knowing as she did that it was a dream, she still could not shake the feeling of his hands on her back, his voice, his breath…he was there. She would swear it on her life. She had felt him. Even if it hadn’t been real, she had felt him there with her.

 All logic left her for a moment as she desperately called for his return, until her words dissolved into incoherent sobbing. She curled into herself, hugging her knees to her chest and stifling her cries in her arms.

 The ache of his absence was almost too much to bear. Of course he’d been gone, but this was an entirely different kind of loss, it was like having him ripped from her arms all over again, unable to even turn around to look at him, knowing that he was there

 Claire picked up her head and wiped her face with her clammy hands. “I’m losing my mind…” she mumbled to herself.

 She briefly glanced at the empty half of her bed. Fergus had started to give her more space the more time that had passed, so there were some nights he’d decided to let Claire have the bed to herself. She selfishly never liked when he did this; she found herself feeling starved for affection no matter how much of it she received from nearly every member of the household. Tonight, for the first time, she was grateful that Fergus had decided not to sleep beside her.

 She forced herself out of bed and stumbled over to the window. She dropped to her knees on the windowsill and forced it open. The cool, night air flowed into her lungs, and she drank it in like a starved prisoner. The cold rushed over her wet skin, clung to her soaking nightgown, turning her entire body to gooseflesh in an instant. She welcomed the sensation. She let her head hang loose, breathing heavily at the ceiling. It felt odd, to have goosebumps and yet still feel like every inch of her was on fire.

 She’d heard about sleep paralysis, read about it. But she’d never experienced it before. She’d heard of the terrors of being trapped in one's own body, of feeling an evil presence and being unable to flee.

 She would have gratefully taken any form of torture, any evil spirit, any demon at her bedside. She would have endured that suffering without the ability to relieve herself of it. It could not compare to the agony of knowing that Jamie was right behind her and being unable to turn and look at him, to touch him with her own hands, or even to call out to him.

 She swallowed thickly, remembering the terror of the feeling of her throat closing around her words even as she spoke them. Just as she hadn’t realized how badly she’d needed air, she hadn’t realized how badly she needed water. She walked to the nightstand and gulped down an entire glass. She filled the glass again and made her way back to the window, missing the feeling of the cool air.

 She sat herself on the windowsill, her back against the one side, her feet against the other. Her hands rested on her bent knees, lazily holding the glass of water. She stared out into the night, the moon illuminating her pale skin. How many times had she and Jamie slept under the stars together, made love under an open sky? How many times had he told her the story of every single constellation as he pointed them out to her, his eyes lighting up like an excited little boy as he did so? She remembered leaning on his chest, her chin resting on the back of her hands, watching him speak into the sky, his eyes glittering in awe at the stars. She’d always been too busy watching him to pay any mind to what he was telling her. She nodded when he paused, smiled lovingly when he occasionally would glance at her face for approval.

 He was beautiful in those moments. He was always dashing, rugged, handsome, every second without even trying. But those moments were when he was truly beautiful. His eyes when he stared in wonder at the heavens, his gentle voice when he was alone with a horse, the enthralled expression when she’d first told him about airplanes, his laugh when he was with Jenny’s children. Those were moments where she was reminded just how deeply she loved him.

 The night sky began to blur, and she blinked to allow the tears to fall down her cheeks. Her chest ached so terribly. She suddenly lacked the energy to even hold the glass up anymore. She set it down on the floor beside her and slumped back into her position, suddenly feeling dead where she sat.

 She gazed absently into the sky again, weeping silently. She let her gaze slip to the tree tops beyond, then further down to the Fraser farmland, then further still, to the ground right below her window. Without even thinking, she swung her legs over so they dangled outside her window, her heels hitting the cool brick of the castle.

 She was only two stories up, but two stories of a Scottish castle were higher than two stories that she’d been accustomed to at one time. It was likely closer to three stories, perhaps a bit less. People had survived worse falls with only a few broken bones to show for it. 

 But on the other hand, if one landed the right way, they could be killed immediately.

 Claire hadn’t remembered when she’d stopped crying. All she could remember now was the wind brushing her dangling toes, beckoning her. It was almost as if she’d been on this window sill, dangling like this for years, even her whole life. Her existence had narrowed down to these moments. There was no thought in her mind but sweet, forgiving oblivion. She was at peace.

 Until there was another thought.

 A baby’s face, eyes closed, lips parted, translucent skin. Cold and dead in her arms. Her first born, dead before she could draw breath.

 Claire’s hands instinctively flew to her stomach, a wave of the most intense guilt she’d ever felt washing over her.

 She was not only contemplating suicide. She was also contemplating murder. Murder of her child. Of Jamie’s child.

 She was suddenly terrified at the height, no longer enthralled by it. Her peace was gone. Her chin trembled and her eyes widened. She scrambled to swing her legs back inside, terrified of making one wrong move and toppling over. Her legs safely inside, she firmly shut the window. Trembling, she stumbled off the windowsill, knocking over the glass she’d put on the floor. She staggered back a few steps, her eyes locked in horror at the window.

 New tears trickled down her cheeks, tears of shame, of absolute abhorrence of herself. She collapsed to her knees on the wooden floor. Her hands were trembling violently. She brought them to her abdomen, but she could not bring herself to rest them there. She was not worthy of the comfort of touching her child. Not when she’d been so ready to kill him.

 “I’m sorry…” she whispered into the empty room. “I’m so sorry…” She crossed herself, surprised even as she did it. The last time she’d done so had been at Faith’s grave. She brought her fingers to her lips. “Forgive me…” Whether she was begging for God’s forgiveness, for her unborn child’s, for Jamie’s or even Faith’s, she had no idea. Perhaps even all of them at once.

 “As long as I draw breath, your child will be safe,” Claire prayed fervently. “Forgive me, Jamie…forgive me…”

 ——

 “Claire?”

 There was an acute pain right at the front of her forehead, between her eyes.

 “Claire!”

 She groaned. She didn't remember having fallen asleep on the floor.

 “Thank Christ.” She recognized it now as Jenny’s voice. “What in God’s name are ye doing on the floor?”

 Dazed, Claire pushed herself up and opened her eyes.

 “Scared me half to death seeing ye sprawled out like that.”

 “I…I was hot, in bed…” Claire squinted as she looked up at Jenny, the light feeling like a sword through her skull. “The floor was…cool.”

 Jenny’s brow furrowed with confusion. “Were ye drinking last night?”

 Claire could have laughed. She must’ve certainly looked hungover. “No…but I do have a splitting headache at the moment.”

 Jenny was at her side, helping her up before she could even blink. “Let’s get ye into bed, then.” Claire hadn’t the energy nor the willpower to stop her from pushing her back into bed. “I’ll get ye some of that tea for headaches. For now, drink some water — where’s the glass?”

 Claire almost laughed again. “Windowsill.”

 Jenny retrieved it from the floor where it had fallen last night, and returned to Claire’s bedside looking skeptical. “Are ye sure ye weren’t piss drunk last night?”

 “I can assure you, I was painfully sober,” Claire said, though she could tell Jenny wasn’t about to accept the story about the floor being cold. “I…I had a frightening dream. I didn’t want to be in bed. I don’t even remember falling asleep again.”

 “Drunk wi’ dreams then,” Jenny said, pouring water into the glass and handing it to her. “Couldn’t free yourself from it then?”

 “No…I guess you could say that,” Claire said, guilt bubbling in her chest.

 “Ian used to have nightmares after France, when he came back wi’out his leg. He kept reliving it in his sleep. Even after I woke him he’d still be going mad, like he was still living in it.”

 Claire nodded. “That’s common for soldiers, especially those who suffered a trauma like he did.”

 Jenny nodded. “It only happens very rarely now. His soul healed wi’ time.” Jenny put a hand on her shoulder. “Ye don’t have to tell me. I ken what ye were dreaming.” Jenny sat down on the bed. “I dream of him too, suffering, dying, rotting in the ground where we’ll never find him.” She sighed shakily. “The only comfort we have is to know he isna suffering any longer. He’s free of pain in the eternal kingdom. Ye have to believe that.”

 “I do.” Claire’s voice wavered.

 “Yer soul will heal wi’ time.” Jenny quickly wiped her own eyes. “I’m hoping I can stop dreaming of him rotting and forgotten when we can finally bury him beside Father.” She spoke of it as if speaking of a business transaction, but Claire could see how deeply it pained her. “At least then I’ll ken he’s where he belongs.”

 Claire nodded. “It’ll be a great comfort to be able to visit.”

 “Aye.” She sniffled. “Ye know, I…I ken it’s foolish…”

 “What? You can tell me.”

 “I…I gave him that rosary. The one that brought Ian back to me. I truly thought…” Her voice trailed off.

 Claire put a hand on Jenny’s thigh, not knowing what to say.

 “The last thing I said to him is that I’d never forgive him if he never came back.” Her voice broke, and tears spilled down her cheeks. “I canna help but think of him in his last moments, remembering how I said I’d never forgive him…”

 “Jenny…” Claire gently rubbed her back. “I’m sure he knows you didn’t mean it…”

 “But I did,” she said resolutely. “I still havena forgiven him. I can’t.”

 Claire didn't know what to say.

 “Have you forgiven him?” Jenny asked. “Leaving his wife and child unborn? Yer whole lives ahead of ye?”

 Claire’s throat tightened briefly, remembering her final deception of him, keeping the baby from him. “I…I suppose I haven’t,” Claire admitted, deciding to not tell her that she purposely kept the baby from him. “I knew…we knew,” Claire corrected herself, not ready to explain how she alone had known the details of Culloden’s aftermath. “It was a doomed cause. I asked him if he wanted to flee the country, that day we found out Prince Charles had forged his signature. I suggested the colonies, a new life. He said he couldn’t leave his tenants, his family. You, your children.” Jenny looked at her guiltily. “And I understood. I suggested you and your family come with us but he just…he couldn’t leave his tenants to the mercy of the British. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself. And I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself either. But still…we could have done it. All of us. We could all be in the colonies, together, alive.

 “I understood…but at the same time I didn’t. Why were his tenants more important than me? Than the children he’d promised we would raise someday? All of his tenants that fought for the Jacobites are dead now anyway. All of their families are destitute and grieving now anyway. It all would have come to pass with or without him. He couldn’t save them from any of it. The only thing he could have changed…the only one he could have spared that pain was me. And he chose not to.” Claire inhaled, and was shocked to feel the breath catch in her throat. She hadn’t remembered beginning to cry, but she certainly was now. “I…I tried not to think about it before Culloden. I thought maybe he was right…that we could change history. And then we won Prestonpans and I truly believed, for just a moment…But now that he’s gone, I find myself wanting to grab him by the shoulders and scream at him…I told you so.”

 Jenny nodded, covering Claire’s hand that still rested on her thigh. “I’d like to join ye in that.”

 “Perhaps if I’d been firmer, I should have insisted we leave, I never should have let myself get carried away by that pipe dream…”

 “Claire,” Jenny said firmly, looking into her eyes. “Ye ken as well as I that nothing could have changed his mind. It’s that damnable honor o’ his. You know.”

 “His bloody honor…” Claire spat. “Honor…to his tenants, over his honor to me. To our family.”

 Jenny nodded. “I know.”

 “I wish I could just hate him for it,” Claire hissed through her gritted teeth. “Then I could…replace this…horrible emptiness with something…” She sighed, shaking her head, closing her eyes and letting the tears fall. “But I can’t.”

 “I…I know exactly what ye mean.” Jenny sniffled. “I feel just the same.”

 “It was the same when…when we lost Faith. I hated him for it, or at least I wanted to. I told him I did. It was easier to have someone to blame than to let myself feel the weight of what I’d lost. I want to blame him for this, too. Even more than I did for that.” Her heart ached so terribly. “But I can’t.”

 “But even knowing that ye can’t hate him, there still isna room to forgive him.”

 “No.”

 Jenny nodded. “And it hurts more that way. Unable to forgive someone ye love so.”

 Claire nodded. “Exactly.”

 “Come here.” Jenny pulled her into a tight embrace. Claire gratefully returned it, knowing Jenny needed it as badly as she did. “I’m grateful to ye fer making him as happy as ye did while he still walked on this Earth. And I’m grateful to him for bringing you here to us.”

 “I’m grateful for you too, Jenny,” Claire breathed, tears falling into Jenny’s shoulder. “He loved you so much.”

 “I ken.” Jenny kissed her cheek, and as she always was when Jenny did such a thing, Claire was touched beyond description.

 Releasing her grip, Jenny took a quick breath. “Right then. I’ll get ye that tea.”

 Claire laid back on the pillows, closing her eyes again and wiping her face clean of tears. Living without Jamie was the most difficult thing she’d ever had to do. Losing Faith was horrible, but she’d had Jamie (if not right away, then at least a few months after the fact) to carry her through it. Losing Jamie was like losing a piece of herself that she needed to survive all other injuries. And last night, she’d never been so certain that she would have to die without that vital part of herself.

 But Jenny saw something in her that she could not find within herself. Claire had always felt weak when she compared herself to Jenny, whether she liked to admit it or not. She was a force of nature that made Claire feel small even on her strongest days. But for some reason, Jenny believed in her. She could still see a kernel of strength beneath her grief, something Claire was certain had died with Jamie. Jenny was pulling her out of that wreckage, even if it was only inch by inch, and she would not rest until Claire was above water again. She would keep her afloat and deliver this baby, her brother’s child, and together they would raise him in his memory. Claire briefly prayed for strength, to never again feel the weakness that she’d felt last night, weakness that could have brought yet another indescribable pain to Jenny, to Ian, to Fergus. She prayed for even a fraction of the strength that Janet Fraser Murray had in her right pinky.

 And she prayed for her poor husband’s body to be delivered to them, so his soul could finally be put to rest, so they could finally bury him and begin to pick up the pieces he’d left behind.

Chapter Text

About another week passed by of peaceful uneventfulness. Breakfast that morning had been quiet aside from Rabbie and wee Jamie chattering away to each other. There was a solemnity in all of the adults present, and even in Fergus.

It had been almost a month since they’d inquired about retrieving Jamie’s remains from Culloden. They’d heard whispers of people sneaking past the barriers the British had put up and retrieving loved ones themselves. Ian had mentioned it many times, but Jenny had insisted they do things properly. Claire was in enough danger as it was being Red Jamie’s wife. They couldn’t afford to do anything foolish to draw attention to her.

Jenny and Claire were sitting on the sofa in the parlor. Kitty was sitting on the floor, Bran laying dutifully, and quite patiently beside her as the toddler patted his head, and picked up his ears and paws over and over again, giggling madly when they dropped back into place. Jenny was attempting to teach Claire knit. Transitioning from stitching up skin to stitching fabric hadn’t been too difficult to manage, but knitting was an entirely different animal. She was failing miserably, and Jenny had taken the yarn and needles from her about three times now to correct something.

“Just tell me the truth,” Claire said, falling into the back of the couch and laughing. “I’m hopeless.”

“Yer not a lost cause until I say ye are,” Jenny insisted. “Come over here, watch how I fix this…again.”

Sighing, Claire sat up again and leaned over to watch Jenny fix yet another one of her mistakes, but something else caught her eye.

“Jenny!” she whispered excitedly. “Look.”

Jenny looked up and followed Claire’s gaze. Kitty was standing, still right next to Bran, having not used any furniture to get up. Jenny gasped in excitement. She threw the knitting down on the sofa and scrambled to her feet, grasping Claire’s hands. They silently crept several feet away from her, not wanting to startle her into falling back down before she attempted to walk.

“Kitty!” Jenny called, crouching down. Claire stood behind her, beaming. “Come on, Kitty. Walk to me, mo chridhe!”

Kitty stared for a moment, gaping at her. She made a little grunting noise, causing Jenny and Claire to laugh.

“Come on Kitty!” Claire joined. “Come on, sweetheart, you can do it!”

Jenny began egging her on in Gaelic, and she finally took a step toward them.

“Good girl!” Claire cried joyously, and Jenny stammered affectionately in Gaelic.

Katherine took two more steps, causing the woman to squeal. They continued to cheer her on, to praise her, until she finally took six, continuous steps into Jenny’s arms, smiling triumphantly. Jenny laughed joyously and scooped her up, standing and throwing her over her head.

“You did it!” Claire said. “What a clever girl!”

“She finally did it!” Jenny exclaimed. “I was worried, I was but…oh, mo chridhe..." Jenny kissed her yellow head, and Kitty laughed gleefully.

“I told you she was fine, just a late bloomer.” Claire cupped her little head and kissed her cheek. “Auntie Claire is so proud of you,” she said, and Kitty latched her clumsy hands into Claire’s curls, causing Claire to laugh out loud. Babies always had a tendency to latch onto hair, but there was something about Claire’s curly mop that was much more intriguing to her than her own mother’s hair.

Kitty made quite an indignant noise as Claire and Jenny worked to detangle her hands. They laughed and fussed over her; they couldn’t wait to tell Ian.

Suddenly, Fergus burst into the room.

“Fergus!” Claire said joyously. “You’ll never guess what wee Kitty just did!”

“I am sorry to interrupt,” Fergus said. “There are English soldiers coming up the road.”

Claire and Jenny’s smiles disappeared.

“Go fetch Milord,” Jenny instructed. Fergus nodded and scampered off. Claire went to follow after him, but Jenny grabbed her arm. “Ye’ll be staying inside.”

Claire burned a white hot stare into Jenny, but she did not release her. “I ken what ye must be feeling right now, but we canna afford for ye to make scene wi’ the British. I wouldna blame ye if ye did, but we canna take the chance. Ye’ll stay inside while Ian speaks wi’ them.”

“It’s my husband’s body they’re discussing,” Claire spat.

“Aye, and his child yer carrying. Would ye like it to be born in prison?” Jenny challenged. Claire’s jaw hardened, but she had nothing to say in response to that.

With a frustrated sigh Claire pulled her arm free of Jenny’s grip and dropped back onto the sofa. Kitty made another noise, sounding troubled, as if she could sense the change of mood in the room.

Jenny bounced her and kissed her head. “Mrs. Crook!” Jenny called. Before long the woman entered the room. “Take her please.” She handed her off to Mrs. Crook’s outstretched arms. “She just took her first steps,” Jenny said, smiling proudly despite the anxiety in her chest.

“Ah, what a braw wee lassie!” Mrs. Crook said, giving Kitty a tickle. “I’ll keep her occupied fer ye, Mistress.”

Jenny thanked her and called for Bran, who snapped into a standing position and trotted after Mrs. Crook, leaving Jenny and Claire alone in the parlor.

Jenny sat down beside Claire, putting a comforting, steadying hand on her knee. “Nothing so pure as a child’s laughter, no?” Jenny said in attempt to lighten the mood.

Despite her own anxiety, Claire smiled. “Yes…it’s a beautiful thing.”

“Won’t be long before — ”

The front door slammed shut, causing them both to jump. They both listened with bated breath as Ian’s uneven steps came closer and closer to the parlor.

Ian entered the room, his face solemn. “That was a British courier responding to our inquiry.”

Jenny sighed, not waiting for him to say it. “They won’t give him back to us.”

Ian shook his head. “They don’t even know where he is.” Jenny scoffed, disgusted. She buried her face in her hands as Ian continued. “They buried the dead in mass graves right on the moor. Hundreds and hundreds of them.”

“Fucking bastards,” Claire spat, abruptly standing up. She began pacing. “They slaughter him like an animal on that field and they don’t have the decency to give us a body to bury? It’s barbaric! I could fucking throttle him.” Claire made for the front door, intending to follow that courier to the ends of the earth and kill him with her bare hands. Ian stopped her, gently placing his hands on her shoulders.

“Let go of me.” she said through gritted teeth, but Ian only tightened his grip.

“It’s no use Claire. There are hundreds of other wives without bodies to bury. I’m sorry, lass.”

“I refuse to accept that,” Claire said firmly. “Now let me go!”

“Claire.”

She writhed in his grip, to the point where he had to wrap his arms around her entire frame. “Let me go! You fucking bastard!” She was screaming now, unintelligibly, trying to throw punches, to knee him in the groin, but unable.

“Jamie!” she shrieked, long and drawn out, his name tearing through her throat in an agonizing, blood curdling scream. She cried out his name again, but this time her knees gave out beneath her, and she dissolved into uncontrollable sobs. Ian, holding her up under her arms, glanced up helplessly at Jenny, who hurried off the sofa.

“Let her down,” Jenny instructed, and Ian gently lowered her to her knees. Jenny dropped to the floor and caught her in her arms. She held her tightly and rocked her back and forth as guttural cries wracked her body.

Wee Jamie appeared in the entryway to the parlor. “Mam?” His voice was small and scared.

“Ian,” Jenny said exhaustedly.

“It’s alright lad.” Ian hurried to scoop him into his arms. “Dinna fash. Let’s see if we can bother Mrs. Crook for some biscuits, aye?”

They disappeared to the kitchen, leaving the two women alone.

“Claire…oh, Claire…” Jenny stroked her hair, rubbed her back, cupped her cheek. “I ken it’s no’ fair. It’s downright sacrilegious. I ken it’s no’ fair…” Jenny kissed the top of her head. “Try to calm down, mo ghràidh…I ken it hurts, and I ken ye need to scream and cry…but it’s no’ good fer the bairn, ye told me yerself.” Claire seemed to not hear her at all. She was inconsolable. She hadn’t even been this upset when they’d first been told of his death. Perhaps she’d expected him to die; she’d been prepared to hear it. But being deprived of a body to part with him properly was another matter entirely.

It wasn’t long before her lungs couldn’t keep up with her anymore, and she began breathing heavily, her back heaving. She very suddenly and abruptly vomited on the rug, startling Jenny. It was nothing she hadn’t seen before; she’d been spit up on by all three of her bairns. She got her onto her hands and knees and soothingly rubbed her back until she was dry heaving, nothing coming up.

“It’s alright, breathe deep now. That’s it.”

Claire was silent, breathing deeply and staring at her own sick. “I…” she stammered, her voice hoarse. “I’m sorry, I…I completely lost it…”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it isn’t.” She sat back on her heels and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand “My behavior was abhorrent…I’ve soiled the carpet like a bloody child…”

“Grief makes us all fools, Claire. I ken I’d be wailing like that if the British took my husband and buried him in an unmarked grave. And didnae care to remember where.” Her voice wavered, stroking Claire’s hair.

“But I feel selfish acting this way. I’m not the only one that lost him.”

“Oh, I ken that, too,” Jenny said, taking a deep shuddering breath. “But he’s yer man. It’s different. And the two of you…ye were like two halves of each other. Drove me to drink to watch the two of ye,” she attempted to tease, and it worked, even if only slightly, bringing a tiny, tearful smile to Claire’s face. “It’s just…different.”

Claire forced down the urge to burst into more tears. “I’ll clean this.”

“Ye’ll do no such thing,” Jenny said firmly. “Let’s get you cleaned up. The servants can see to this.”

Jenny helped her to her feet, which was admittedly more difficult than either of them thought it would be. Claire was quite dizzy after the ordeal, and the pregnancy surely wasn't helping matters. They made their way slowly up the stairs, and then into Claire’s bedroom. Jenny helped Claire strip down to her shift and then sat her in front of the mirror. Claire absently stared at her reflection as Jenny wiped her mouth, face, neck, chest, and shoulders. She was vaguely aware of how pale she was, how gaunt her face had become. Was her flesh rotting away like Jamie’s was at this very moment, in his unmarked grave? Were they so inextricably linked that she was wasting away with him even as she lived?

“Ye’ll start showing soon,” Jenny’s voice interrupted her morbid thoughts. “Nearly been four months, has it no’?”

“Yes,” Claire said, her hands absently resting on her abdomen. “It has.”

“Are you happy to be wi’ child again?” Jenny said, dipping the rag again, then dabbing at Claire’s hairline. “I ken it’s different wi’out Jamie this time. But how does it feel to be carrying a bairn again?”

Claire smiled. “It doesn’t feel like much yet,” she said. “I admit, I haven't given it much thought, with everything else going on.”

“Give it some thought now.” Jenny put the rag aside and began pulling pins out of Claire’s hair.

“I feel…swollen, already.” They both chuckled. “And it’s only just begun. My breasts are sore, I’m exhausted…but,” she paused to look down at her abdomen. “When I really think about it, it’s…it’s a miracle.”

“How’s that?” Jenny put down the final pin and started gently combing through Claire’s curls with her fingers.

“I’ve heard of women who deliver…stillborn children, and they can never get pregnant again. I thought, perhaps, after how horrible it had been for us that I’d never…”

“Every child is a gift,” Jenny said, picking up the hairbrush. “But this one especially is a treasure.”

“I know. He’s the last thing Jamie will ever give me.”

“The greatest gift yer man can give ye.”

Claire smiled in agreement in spite of her urge to cry. “And when I really think about it…I’m also terrified.” Jenny didn’t have to ask. “I’ve also heard of women who’ve miscarried three, four, five times, or delivered stillborn after stillborn. After the first one they just…can’t bring a child into the world.”

“That’s always a risk, ye ken that.”

“I know but…it…it was horrible enough the first time. But to lose another one of Jamie’s children…I couldn't bear it. Not after all of this. I couldn't bear to…to lose the last thing he ever gave me.” Claire quickly swiped away her tears, not wanting to give into hysterics again.

“I understand.” Jenny laid down the brush and rested her hands on Claire’s shoulders. “I canna imagine how that feels, the usual fears piled on all the rest. Tell ye the truth, I dinna think I could bear losing Jamie’s child either. Not after all this. Like ye said.”

Claire sighed shakily. “It’s the only thing keeping me from wasting away.”

“I know.”

“I’d have died on that moor with him if I didn’t know I was carrying his child.”

“I know.”

Claire felt a heavy burden on her chest, one that she needed to relieve. “Remember I said that I…I never told him.”

“About the bairn?” Claire nodded. “Ye knew before ye left for Lallybroch?” She nodded again.

“I feel horrid for not telling him. I think about it every day. I could have given him one last thing…and I didn’t. He gave me the child itself, and to bring him that news, I could have returned the favor. It would have made him so happy.”

“Then why’d ye no’ tell him?” There was no judgment in her tone, just genuine curiosity.

Claire thought carefully about what to say. She’d thought time and time again about telling Jenny everything, especially now that they’d likely be spending the rest of their lives together.

She would eventually, but now didn’t seem like the right time.

“I…I promised him something. Something that would have had to come to fruition if I was with child…a promise I knew I couldn’t keep. So I…couldn’t tell him.”

“The guilt’s eating ye alive, is it?”

“Some days it does,” Claire said.

“Ye don’t have to tell me. I ken that husbands and wives make promises and keep secrets,” Jenny said, and Claire briefly wondered if there was more behind her saying it; if she was inferring that she knew she and Jamie had been hiding something from her. “But what I do know, is that Jamie is quite aware that yer carrying his child now.” Jenny wrapped her arms around Claire’s shoulders from behind and rested her chin on the crown of her head. “He’s smiling down on ye both, and he’s smirking to himself because he knows if it’s a boy or a girl before we will.” This made Claire chuckle. “Ye didna have to tell him then. It might have made it all the harder. He knows now, either way.”

“I’m sure he does.” Claire smiled through her tears, covering Jenny’s hands, which were clasped above Claire’s chest, with her own. “You know, we hardly talked about names for Faith. There was so much going on and then she…she came too soon for us to make a decision and then I…I didn’t name her.” Jenny tilted her head so her cheek was resting on Claire’s head. “But then, later on, months after, back in Scotland, here in Lallybroch actually, we were talking about your father. What a good man he was.”

“Aye, he was.”

“I told him I wanted to name our son Brian. When we had one. It…it made him very happy.” Claire briefly became lost in the memory. “So I promised him then that our next child would be Brian.”

“Father’d be honored,” Jenny said. “Ye know, when I first heard my brother married a sassenach I was red in the face, screaming at Ian that father was burling in his grave.” Claire chuckled. “But I’ve no doubt now that he’d have blessed the match a thousand times over if he could.” Jenny picked her head up again, returning her chin atop Claire’s head. “He’d be proud to have a second daughter in you. Just as I am proud to have ye as my sister.”

Claire beamed at Jenny through the mirror, touched beyond description. “Sister…I’ve never had one before. Or a brother for that matter.”

“Trust me, yer not missing much. Having a brother I mean.” They both laughed. “But I never had a sister either. And I didna ken what I was missing until ye waltzed yer proper English self onto my porch.”

“Yes, when you called me a trollop.”

Jenny tossed her head back in a loud guffaw. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Indeed you did,” Claire said, laughing nearly as hard.

“Oh…” Jenny gave Claire a brief squeeze and kissed the crown of her head before finally releasing her grip. She crossed the room to the armoire. “Let’s get some clothes on you, ye wee trollop.”

Claire bit her lip and reached for the wet rag. Not bothering to ring it out first, she hurled it across the room, hitting Jenny square in the back with a loud, wet slap. Jenny let out an undignified yelp, the likes of which Claire had never heard from her. Claire giggled uncontrollably, and Jenny whirled around, hands on her hips.

“Well, I never — !”

Claire could not stop laughing, and it was made all the worse by the face Jenny was pulling. Jenny shook her head, laughing in spite of the giant wet spot on her back.

“Jenny?” Claire said, finally able to abate her laughter. “You’re the best sister a trollop could ask for.”

“Aye, I am.” She bent down and retrieved the rag from the floor. “I’d have to be to put up wi’ this.” She hurled the rag back at Claire, who caught it, not without a little splash to the face. She laughed again, returning the rag to the bowl and standing to let her sister help her get dressed.

Chapter Text

Another week had passed since the debacle of the missing body. Claire was in the kitchen helping Jenny prepare a few small meals for Ian. He had business in Edinburgh and would likely be gone for about a week. Though he’d be staying in a tavern, the less money he spent on meals, the better.

Jenny was chatting absently as they worked; Kitty was walking more and more now, and she was doing quite well with solid foods as long as they were smothered in strawberry jam.

“Even potatoes,” Jenny said. “It turned my stomach to see her eating such a vile mixture.”

Jenny looked up, expecting Claire to be chuckling as she was. Claire looked up and sighed uncomfortably.

“I’m sorry,” Claire said. “I promise I was listening, I just…”

“I ken.” Jenny sighed. “I’m sorry fer talking yer ear off. I canna help it. It’s the only thing that keeps me from thinking about…everything.”

“I understand.” Claire gave her a sad smile. “I find myself quieter than ever these days.”

“We’ll balance each other out then, will we no’?”

“I suppose.” Her smile widened a bit. “Potatoes and jam?”

Och , ye have to see it to believe it.” Jenny gathered their work and put it in a pouch for Ian’s travels. “Tell me, in all yer healer wisdom, when will she outgrow that?”

Claire chuckled softly. “I have no idea. Children hold onto the strangest things for the longest time.”

“I dinna think I can bear putting jam on a roast chicken, so she’d better outgrow it soon.”

The thought of it turned Claire’s stomach, and she had to brace herself on the high table.

“Oh…I’m sorry, sister. I didna mean to upset yer stomach anymore…”

“It’s quite alright…I think it’ll pass…” She reached into her pocket and retrieved the peppermint she’d been keeping there since their trip to Edinburgh. “This should help, either way.”

“It’s been getting better?”

“It has, actually.”

“That’s good. Just in time fer the real discomfort to set in, aye?” Jenny cocked an eyebrow knowingly, taking the pouch in her arms and leaving the kitchen.

“Oh, indeed,” Claire said, following after her. “Do you suppose Fergus is any good at foot massages?”

That made Jenny laugh out loud as they passed through the halls. “I think that lad’d be good at whatever ye asked him to be.”

Claire chuckled. “Oh, I couldn’t really ask him to do that…” She shook her head. “It helped a lot when Jamie did it, last time.”

“Why no’ ask the lad then? Ye ken he’d lay the world at yer feet.” They crossed the threshold onto the front porch.

“I know. That’s the trouble.” They descended the porch steps, stopping briefly to finish the conversation. “He’s just a boy. He’s my son, not my caretaker…and sometimes I feel as if he takes care of me more than I do him.

“Oh, he’s beyond his years, ye ken that.”

“I do.” Claire laughed, nearly rolling her eyes at remembering their first interaction: a ten year old boy commenting on the quality of her breasts. “He’s seen a lot. But that only makes me want to…shield him all the more.”

Jenny smiled knowingly. “And that, sister, is what it is to be a mother.”

At that moment, Ian approached them with his horse. Jenny handed him the pouch, and he secured it to the horse.

“I dinna like that ye won’t tell me what sort of business it is that ye’ll be doing,” Jenny said. “We dinna need you bringing us any more trouble.”

“Trouble? Me?” Ian said, feigning innocence as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Jenny audibly groaned as he kissed her, but she did not stop him. “Just hurry back, Ian Murray.”

“I always do, Mistress Murray.”

They kissed again briefly before Ian mounted his horse and rode off.

A shrill shriek suddenly erupted from around the back of the house, and they both rushed around in a panic. They both stopped however, breathing a sigh of relief to discover that it was only Maggie, squealing with delight. Fergus had tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and was spinning her about. Wee Jamie stood nearby, jumping up and down, begging to be next to be spun around. Claire’s heart warmed at the sight of her son so naturally at ease with the children.

“You will have to catch me first!” Fergus said to Jamie. He put Maggie down and began running at a full sprint, Maggie and Jamie scrambling to catch up to him.

“He’s still a wee lad at heart in spite of it all,” Jenny said warmly. “Don’t ye think?”

Claire watched, laughter bubbling in her chest at the sight of Fergus transforming into some strange beast that growled and chased after the young ones, causing them to squeal even louder, scrambling away with contrived terror.

“Yes…He’s quite the little imp.” 

Jenny chuckled. “He’ll be a fine brother.”

“Yes. He will.”

——

Another week went by, everyone having to work a little harder in Ian’s absence. This particular day had brought with it a water fight at the washtub. Claire had only meant to splash Fergus very lightly to get back at him for a light tease. Wee Jamie had seen, however, and got the idea to practically soak his mother. Jenny had yelped, biting her tongue to prevent expletives from escaping her lips.

“James Alexander Gordon Fraser Murray!” she exclaimed, hands on her hips.

“Don’t be cross with him,” Claire interjected. “I did start it, after all.”

It took a moment, but Jenny’s anger eventually faded into a wicked deviousness. “Right, then.”

Before Claire could process what had happened, Jenny had thrown a large handful of water at her, causing her to squeal. Jamie giggled uncontrollably, then squealed as Fergus soaked him as well. Before long, water and suds were being thrown back and forth by the four of them, and they were all dripping head to toe when Mrs. Crook had appeared on the porch with a hungry Kitty, hopelessly confused.

It was moments like that that made Claire certain that she’d made the right choice. When all her grief could disappear for even the briefest moment, and she could laugh, really, genuinely laugh. She knew that Jamie could see her here now, with his family, with their son, full of joy with them despite the emptiness he’d left in her. She knew that he, too, would agree that she’d made the right choice.

Then, in the following moments, where she dried herself off, put on fresh clothes, looked at herself in the mirror, flushed with laughter, she’d think of what Jamie would have looked like, soaked head to toe in soapy water. How his eyes would have crinkled with laughter, how he’d likely have picked up the washtub itself and emptied it over Claire’s head, just to prove a point. Then afterwards, he’d feign remorse, apologize but not be sorry at all he’d done it. He’d make a show of wrapping her in his plaid, but then once they were alone he would tenderly dry her hair for her and help her change into dry clothes, of course turning his undressing of her wet clothes into something erotic beyond comprehension.

Now, as she sat there, drying her own hair, she wept. In spite of, or perhaps because of the joy she’d felt without him, she wept.

——

Everyone went to bed in relatively high spirits, expecting Ian to be back the next afternoon.

Claire was woken that night from a dead sleep by hands violently shaking her by the shoulders.

“Claire! Wake up! Ian’s been shot!”

“What?” Claire sat up, shaking off her grogginess the best she could. “What happened?”

“The damned fool tried to grave rob Culloden Moor and he was shot at.” Jenny pulled Claire out of bed, and she swiped for her robe on the way out of the room.

“Culloden…?” Claire fought to shake off her sleepiness. “But he was in Edinburgh.”

“Apparently not. There are two men from Broch Mordha in the dining room with him who were apparently in on the whole scheme.”

“He’s been traveling for days with a bullet wound then?”

“Aye,” Jenny said. They rapidly descended the steps and Jenny pulled them into the dining room where Ian was sitting on a chair, servants already lighting candles.

“Help me get him onto the table,” Claire barked at the two men standing by Ian’s side, and they obeyed.

He grunted as he got on, laying down with a wince. “What were you thinking?” Claire reprimanded, finding the bullet wound on the thigh that used the wooden leg. “I need water, clean cloth, and whisky,” she instructed the servants.

“If ye weren’t hurt I’d throttle ye myself,” Jenny said, furious. “I might even do it still, once yer healed.”

Claire cut the fabric of his pants. “Jenny, fetch my medical box.” She obeyed, and a servant came back with cloth, another following behind with water and whisky. “I’m going to need to turn you over since the bullet entered from behind.” Ian nodded, wincing as Claire turned him onto his stomach. “It’s a clean entrance, but I think the bullet is still in there. It’ll have to come out.”

Jenny returned with the medical box. “Out of my house!” She barked at the men who stood by uselessly. Muttering apologies, they dipped out of the room. “Of all the stupid, foolish…!”

Claire poured whisky over the wound, causing a sharp intake of breath from Ian. Claire’s vision narrowed; the world was only her and her patient at the moment.

Jenny stood directly in Ian’s sight, pointedly not fretting over him or holding his hand while Claire cut him open to operate on him. She stared at him, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Janet…”

“Don’t you dare!” Jenny said.

“You shouldn’t talk, Ian,” Claire said, not looking up from her work.

“I dinna want to hear it,” Jenny continued. “I ken why ye did it, but it was a fool’s errand! What the hell would we have done if ye got yerself killed? Did ye think of that?”

Her voice was dangerously loud. Mrs. Crook put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “The children, Mistress.”

Jenny sighed, frustrated. “You’re right. I shouldna be disturbing their sleep because of this fool .”

“I’ll go check on them, make sure they’re still asleep.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Crook.” Jenny immediately turned her attention back to Ian, hands on her hips. “Is it no’ bad enough that I’ve lost my brother? Did ye even think about how I’d feel if I lost you, as well?” Ian could only respond with pained groans as Claire dug around under his skin.

“Jamie is dead, Ian. There’s no getting around that. It’s so fresh I havnae made my peace wi’ it yet, but I was just starting to process the idea of not burying him wi’ the rest of my family.” Her eyes swam with tears. “Do ye think I want him rotting away on the moor? Of course I don’t. But that isna worth yer life. What good would it be to have his body to bury if I’d had to bury yours as well?

“Ye might have thought ye were being brave and noble but ye weren’t. It was selfish.” She crossed her arms again. “Imagine me explaining to yer bairns that ye ran off to get yerself killed just so we could bury the body of the uncle that is already lost to them either way!”

Claire grunted, then sighed with relief. “I got it.” She dropped the bullet into a bowl. “I’ll just have to stitch it up and bandage it now.”

Claire had only vaguely been listening to the argument, if one could call Jenny’s one-sided tirade an argument. From what she could hear, she had to admit she agreed with Jenny. She knew that proper burials were extremely important to the people in this time, especially Catholics. But the aching pit in Claire’s chest would not be healed if there was a body. He was still gone, plain and simple. Did it make her sick to think of his unmarked grave? Of course. But there was little to be done about it, and she’d rather not lose anyone else because of the battle, even if it was indirectly.

“I’m heart sorry, Jenny,” Ian said, sighing in defeat. “And Claire, my apologies to you as well.” Claire briefly glanced up from her stitching to look at his face. “I just…I ken ye’ve both been feeling lost. I thought I could do something to help, so I asked the men and they agreed. They had kin on the moor as well. I’d move Heaven and Earth to bring ye home to me to bury ye properly, Jenny. I wouldna be able to sleep knowing ye were out there somewhere. I canna imagine how ye feel, Claire. I thought a body to bury would bring ye both some peace.”

“Peace that would be no good wi’ you dead as well,” Jenny insisted.

Claire was beginning to feel dizzy, and the bullet wound had nothing to do with it. “Ian…I appreciate what you tried to do for us…for me. But Jenny’s right. It’s not worth your life. I’d never forgive myself if something worse had happened because you were trying to give me peace of mind.”

“Tell ye the truth of it, I didna think it would be so impossible. Didn’t realize there’d be armed guards on a burial site.”

“Then yer a damned fool,” Jenny said. “If ye’d told me what ye were about to do I could have told ye that myself!”

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” Ian said.

“Till I stop being angry,” Jenny said. “Which will no’ be any time soon.”

“Alright. Stitches are done.” Claire cleaned the wound with whisky one last time, then worked to bandage it up. “I appreciate your worry, Ian,” Claire said softly. “But Lallybroch needs you. We can’t afford for you to be hurt, or worse.” She tied off the bandage. “There. You’re going to want to stay off of that for a while. Especially since it’s the bad leg.”

“That’s just what we need,” Jenny said dryly, rolling her eyes.

“Listen to me,” Ian said, trying to sit up.

“Don’t. You need to rest,” Claire insisted.

Ian swatted her away. “I dinna plan to sleep on the table, lass. I’ll get to bed eventually. Help me up.” Claire obeyed, sitting him up carefully.

“Jenny,” Ian said. “Can ye please look at me?”

Huffing indignantly, Jenny met his eye, putting her hands on her hips again. Claire began absently cleaning up her equipment, gathering the soiled cloth, cleaning her hands.

“I wasna able to bring him back to us, that much is clear,” Ian said. “But I did find this.”

“Yer bringing souvenirs back from the battlefield now?” Jenny scoffed. “God’s teeth, if I ever — ”

Her voice cut off, and Claire looked up from her work, shutting her medical box. From where she stood, she could not see what Ian was holding out to Jenny. Jenny suddenly sat down on the nearest empty chair, her knees seemingly giving out beneath her. Claire rushed to her side in concern, and her heart stopped when she saw what he held.

“I found it sticking out of the dirt. Lord knows how I saw it, as tiny as it is, on a field that big.”

Hand trembling, Jenny reached out and took it in her grasp. It was the rosary, the very same one she’d given Jamie all those months ago. Claire sat down slowly beside Jenny, her eyes locked on the wooden beads. Jenny rubbed a thumb over the cross.

“Must have been a message from Jamie himself,” Ian continued gently. “He wanted ye to have it back to remember him by since we couldnae bury him properly.”

Small, shuddery sobs erupted from Jenny. She buried her face in her hands, leaning her elbows on the table, rosary dangling between her fingers. Claire was overcome with grief, a blackness creeping into her heart. Weeping silently, she wrapped her arms around Jenny’s shoulders from behind, resting her head between her shoulder blades. Ian stroked Jenny’s hair, rubbed Claire’s back.

Jenny picked her head up after a while to look at the rosary again through her tears. She adjusted her position so she and Claire could wrap an arm around each other, Jenny’s head resting on Claire’s shoulder, Claire’s head atop Jenny’s. Neither of them had any words as they stared at the wooden beads, perhaps the last thing that Jamie ever held with his own hands that they could ever touch.

“I’ve…been thinking,” Ian said, his voice also touched with emotion. “We can have a proper burial here even wi’out his body. We can have a coffin fashioned and have a priest oversee the ceremony.”

“An empty coffin?” Jenny spoke for the first time in several minutes.

“I’ve heard families of men lost at sea do it sometimes. It’s their way of making peace wi’out a body.”

“Aye,” Jenny said, then sighed deeply. “I suppose that’s what Jamie would want. What do you think, sister?” They both picked their heads up so they could look at each other.

Claire nodded tearily. “Yes, I…I think that’s what he’d want us to do.”

“We can lay his tartan to rest in the coffin,” Ian said. “He’d want to be buried in it, ye ken.”

Claire bit her lip as her vision completely blurred with tears, the threads of her sanity beginning to come apart at the seams, threatening to let her completely break down right there and then.

“Aye,” Jenny said, her voice breaking. She put an arm around Claire again. “He would.”

“Oh, Jenny…” Claire said, coming undone. “I ken, sister…I ken.”

Chapter Text

In a week’s time, they had a coffin fashioned, a headstone made, and the priest’s blessing to proceed with the burial, if one could call it that. While Jenny knew Jamie would have wanted Fraser tenants at his funeral, it would have been far too public to have a large gathering of the like. If they found out they were having a burial for a Jacobite that perished at Culloden, the Redcoats would be upon them, likely assuming they’d stolen the body after all. They’d desecrate the grave without a thought. So they would keep the service small, family and their own servants alone.

Claire was sitting in the parlor, staring absently at the empty coffin. She was wearing that black veil around her shoulders, something she hadn’t touched since they’d said goodbye to Faith in Paris. She pulled it over her head as she approached the coffin. She ran her fingers over the wood and looked inside. She swore she could see him lying there, cold and lifeless, no smile on his face despite how it appeared that he was simply sleeping. His hair was combed back as it had been on their wedding day. He was dressed similarly as well, tartan and Fraser crest arranged perfectly. She longed to bend over, to kiss his cold cheek goodbye, to smooth his shirt so he would be perfect for God…

But she could not. Because there was nothing in the coffin.

Maman ?”

Claire was jolted out of her morbid thoughts by Fergus’s small voice. She turned around, and her heart broke anew at the sight of him dressed head to toe in black.

“What is it, darling?”

“I have been thinking...about burying Milord.” His eyes wandered the room, seemingly unable to look at her or the coffin. “What he would want. And I…I would like to be un porteur de cercueil .”

Claire’s throat tightened, overcome. “Fergus…”

“It is traditionally family, no? Brothers, Uncles…or sons.”

Claire sighed, a strangled, pained noise. She crossed the room and took the boy tightly in her arms. “He would be honored to have his son carry him.” Her voice wavered, and she pressed a long, tender kiss on the crown of his head.

Jenny and Ian entered the parlor just then, Ian leaning on the crutch Claire had fashioned to help him to stay off his leg as much as possible while the bullet wound healed. Jenny was carrying the Fraser tartan. Claire moved her arms around Fergus to hold him around the shoulders and guided him behind Jenny and Ian to the coffin.

Jenny held out a length of the fabric to Claire, and she took it in her hands. Ian and Fergus took hold of a piece of it as well. Simultaneously, they brought it to their lips. In Claire’s kiss that she pressed into the fabric was every ounce of love she bore for the man that had once worn it. She reminded herself that it was not that love that she was putting to rest. She would never, never stop loving him. The dull ache of his absence would be with her forever, and she would forever attempt to fill that void with memories of him, shared with those that loved him as much as she did. Memories she would share with their children.

After kissing the tartan, the four of them lowered it into the coffin with all the reverence in the world.

“Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said, having waited a moment before speaking. “The priest has arrived.”

They all turned to see Mrs. Crook, holding Kitty and flanked by Maggie, wee Jamie, and Rabbie, Father Gregor standing behind them. 

“Good day, Father,” Ian said.

“Good day. My blessings to yer grieving family in this time of great sorrow.”

“I thank ye.” Ian nodded.

“Who are the pallbearers today?”

“I am,” Ian answered. “And three men from the village, old friends of ours.”

“Two men,” Claire interjected. “The fourth will be Jamie’s son.” She placed her hands on Fergus’s shoulders, standing him directly in front of her.

“Well, bless my soul,” Father Gregor beamed. “I didna ken my Laird sired any sons before his passing.”

“He didn’t,” Claire said. “But Fergus is our boy nonetheless.”

“Oh, that’s fine, very fine,” Father Gregor said, nodding.

Fergus looked up at Claire, crossing his arm across his chest to rest his hand atop hers on his shoulder.

“I’ll go fetch the men, then. They’re in the dining room,” Jenny said, scurrying away and returning shortly with two men.

“Peter Dunkirk and Lawrence Quigley,” Jenny said to Father Gregor.

“Alright,” Father Gregor said, finally crossing the room and approaching the coffin. “Have ye all had, ah…proper goodbyes?”

“As proper as it can be,” Claire said bitterly.

Father Gregor nodded, then gestured for the men to put the lid on the coffin. Jenny, Claire, and Fergus stepped back, all holding onto one another. Peter, Lawrence, and Ian  lowered the lid on the coffin, closing Jamie’s tartan inside forever. It didn’t feel as final as Claire had expected it to, perhaps because it was only fabric and not her husband himself.

Father Gregor blessed the coffin in Latin, and everyone bowed their heads. Upon completion of the prayer, everyone crossed themselves. Father Gregor looked expectantly at Fergus, and he looked up at Claire with uncertainty. She gave his hand a squeeze and gently pushed him forward. The four of them positioned themselves around the coffin and hoisted it over their shoulders, Fergus having to hold it up with his hands, being the shorter of the four.

Father Gregor started out of the room, the coffin following behind him, then Claire and Jenny. Jenny paused in the doorway to scoop Maggie into her arms and settle her on her hip.

“Both of ye hold onto Mrs. Crook’s skirt. Dinna let go, and behave yerselves,” she said to Jamie and Rabbie. “This is to honor yer uncle’s memory. Treat it wi’ respect.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Satisfied when the boys took hold of Mrs. Crook’s skirt, she straightened and gave Kitty a brief kiss on the head, then turned to face Claire. She stretched out the free hand that was not holding Maggie. Claire gratefully took it, and hand in hand they processed after the coffin, Mrs. Crook following close behind, followed by the rest of the servants that had been congregated in the hall, waiting for the procession to begin.

The sky was gray, and a gentle breeze greeted them as they crossed the threshold onto the porch. The weather was finally starting to turn for the better. It was not hot, but there was no longer a bitter chill in the air. It was beautiful. The heather was blooming, something that Claire hadn’t noticed until today. Her eyes wandered to little Maggie, her head resting on Jenny’s shoulder, and Claire’s hand absently rested on her stomach, where a small bump had started to form. It had been just over four months; she’d start getting bigger by the day now.

She let her eyes wander everywhere but where they should have been, which was on the coffin. She watched the trees bend in the wind, she watched the heather dance in the breeze, she watched birds dart between branches. This land was truly beautiful, and she would raise her child on it, raise him to remember that his father had fought for this land that they stood on.

Claire hadn't even noticed when they’d arrived at the cemetery, but before she knew it, the coffin was down and Fergus was back by her side. Grateful to have him back in her arms, she held him close, kissing his head again. Her eyes lazily fell on the headstone, and something took hold of her heart.

Laying the tartan in the coffin, closing the lid, none of it had felt final. But to see his name etched into a headstone:

 

James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser

Born in 1721 and Died in the 25th Year of His Age

at the Battle of Culloden 1746

Beloved Brother, Husband and Father

 

It was unbearable.

Jenny must have felt her trembling, because she placed a steadying arm around her shoulders. Claire tightened her grip around Fergus, crossing her arms over his chest. He held onto her hands.

She wanted to run away. She wanted to pretend she’d never seen his name carved in stone, burn the sight from her memory. She wanted to wake up every day and sit on the porch, waiting for him to appear on the road. She wanted to live forever in denial, holding onto the hope that he would keep his promise and return to her.

But she had to face it. It was time to let him go. She could not raise his child to remember him properly if she thought all the while that he would be coming back soon. She could not be a mother if she was the grieving widow for all eternity. Her child deserved better than that. His child deserved better than that.

The ceremony finished before Claire had even started to pay attention. Jenny gave Claire a gentle shove, jolting her out of her thoughts. Claire blinked herself to consciousness, and finally noticed the priest standing before her, holding a small shovel out to her. Hand trembling, she took it and approached the mound of earth beside the grave. Nothing felt real as she scooped up some dirt with the shovel and walked mechanically to the hole in the ground. She turned over the shovel, watching as each individual speck showered down, eventually landing on the empty box six feet below her.

She stood there, frozen for a moment long after the dirt had fallen, hand and empty shovel hovering over the hole. A gentle hand closed around her hand that gripped the shovel, and she turned to see Jenny’s teary face, Maggie still on her hip.

“It’s alright,” Jenny said gently.

Claire nodded dazedly, relenting her grip on the shovel. Fergus was not far behind Jenny, wrapping his arms around Claire’s waist as soon as she backed into him. Jenny held Maggie’s hand on the handle, pouring the dirt in together. Jenny turned and handed the shovel off to Fergus. He followed suit of those before him, then handed it over to Ian, who brought wee Jamie up with him to pour it over together as Jenny had done with Maggie.

Ian held Jenny in his arms, Fergus and Claire held onto one another, as they watched the servants pour their own scoopfuls of earth into the hole. The small crowd gradually dispersed, the female servants wandering back after they’d thrown dirt in, except for Mrs. Crook, being that she was still holding Kitty. Once only the men were left, Jenny put Maggie down and approached the stone, careful of the gaping hole in the ground.

She removed the wooden rosary from around her neck, kissed it in her palm, and then lovingly placed it atop the stone. She stood up, wiped her eyes, and returned to the family.

“Off we go then,” she said, picking Maggie up again and beginning to walk off.

“I’m staying,” Claire said stiffly.

“Claire, it could take the men hours to get it completely buried — ”

“I need to see it,” Claire interjected. “With my own eyes.” Jenny looked at her quizzically. “I need to see it buried completely so it feels…final. So I can finally feel like…like it’s really over.”

Jenny sighed, rubbing Claire’s shoulder. “I understand.”

“I am staying, too,” Fergus said. “I want to help.”

“Yer needed inside,” Jenny said, trying to usher him away from Claire.

“No, it’s alright,” Claire said, tightening her grip on his shoulders. “If he wants to help then he should.”

Jenny nodded. “Try not to be out here all night.”

Claire nodded. Jenny took wee Jamie’s hand and headed back to the house, followed by Mrs. Crook holding onto Rabbie’s hand. Ian and Fergus grabbed shovels and got to work helping the other men fill the grave.

Claire stood there watching shovelful after shovelful, forcing herself to believe that he was really down there, that they were really laying him to rest after all this time.

Hours went by, and she remained rigid, watching dutifully as her husband was buried. Finally, the mound of earth was gone, the hole was filled. The servants touched the stone one last time before walking off with their shovels and disappearing back toward the house.

Claire watched as Ian struggled to kneel, and Fergus immediately helped him. He prayed silently for a moment, then crossed himself before kissing his hand and touching the stone. Fergus helped him up again, handing him his crutch. Ian started toward the house, beckoning Fergus to follow.

“I want to stay with you,” Fergus said, approaching Claire, those beautiful blue eyes wide with concern.

“It’s alright, darling,” Claire said, caressing his hair. “I need…I need to be alone for a moment, if that’s alright.”

Fergus nodded dutifully. “Of course, Maman .” He glanced behind him back at the stone.

“Go on,” Claire said gently. “Go say goodbye.”

Fergus obeyed, kneeling before the stone, silent for a moment. After a short while, he gently brushed his fingers over the name etched into the face. “Farewell, Milord.”

He stood up and turned to leave, but not without stopping to hug Claire again.

“I’ll be in shortly,” she assured him.

He nodded, and with that, Fergus and Ian departed the cemetery, heading back toward the house.

Claire slowly approached the stone, her heels sinking into the fresh dirt. She kneeled before the stone, gingerly resting her hand atop it.

“Hello, Jamie.” She smiled, despite the horrible pain. “I hope I don’t look too deranged trying to smile right now. I just…I know you hate to see me cry. And you always said that my smile was a…a sun in your cloudy day. So I’ll try to smile for you, Jamie.” She sighed shakily. “And I’ll apologize in advance for all the crying I’ll likely be doing, and all that I’ve done recently. It’s…very hard to go on without you. You made very certain that I’d be incomplete without you whether you meant to or not.”

Her hand lingered over the spot where Jenny had left the rosary, the very tips of her fingers brushing over the beads. “I know you’re not really here, or your bones aren’t at least. What matters is that…that I can feel you here, with me. When I touch the growing bump on my stomach…I can hear you whispering to him like you did to Faith. I can feel your kisses there. I can feel how much you love him.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about our child. I was afraid. I know what I promised…but I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t. I couldn't raise your child away from this world that I’ve grown to love as my own. But I promise you that he will be safe, and loved, and so happy here. He’ll run around this land with his cousins, like you did as a boy. He’ll grow surrounded by love, from his Aunt and Uncle. He’s going to learn French, and Gaelic, and play chess, and ride horses. All things you would have taught him. All of us, me, Jenny, Ian, Fergus…we will teach him. All the things you would have wanted him to know, he will know.

“He will be raised with our love for him, but also with the love that you bore for us, me, Jenny, all of us. The way you made me feel…I will carry that with me forever. I could never forget it. And our child will know that love, Jamie. I will make sure that he feels your love.

“And I will go on.” She couldn’t help the tears this time, and she cursed herself as they rolled down her cheeks. “For our child, I will go on. For Fergus, our son, I will go on. For Jenny, our sister, I will go on. For you, in your memory, I will go on. Every single day I will feel the pain of you being gone, but as you know by now, I’m a tough lady.” She felt a fraud even as she said it, never having felt weaker in her life. “Jenny has already seen me through my worst of days. She’s a wonder. Even if I wanted to give up, she wouldn’t let me. I can assure you that.

“At Culloden, we said a lot of things. But there was one thing I didn’t say…I couldn’t. But I’ve seen you buried now, the best we could, and I can’t spend my life chasing your ghost. Too many people need me. So, it’s time.” She pressed her lips to the cold, unforgiving stone, feeling as if they could fall off. “Goodbye, Jamie Fraser. My love.

“Rest easy, soldier.”

She gave the stone one last reverent touch before standing up and wiping her tears. “I’m sorry,” she laughed in spite of herself. “It’s going to take some practice.”

Breathing deeply and steeling herself, she made her way back to the house to join her family in celebrating the life of a man they all cherished.

Chapter Text

The warmth of June brought with it the promise of new life. A new life for Claire as she settled into an existence without Jamie, and quite literally a whole new life waiting to burst out of her.

She was sitting in front of the mirror, pinning her hair up for the third time that morning, her stubborn curls refusing to cooperate as always. She had just about gotten it now; one more pin and she could finally be done with it. Then, suddenly, a familiar fluttering sensation made itself known in her stomach. She gasped, immediately releasing her grip on her hair and resting her hands on her abdomen. Her fragile updo unraveled, pins clattering to the floor.

She exhaled shakily, closing her eyes to revel in the feeling. It lasted a couple of seconds, then stopped for a brief moment, then lasted a few more seconds, and then it was over. Claire kept her hands on her stomach for a moment, realizing for the first time that it was, indeed, a small bump; no longer was her baby flat and intangible.

“You’re real,” she whispered reverently, opening her eyes to look down at him, caressing the small mound.

She decided to not bother with a full updo today, instead pinning back the front pieces. In somewhat of a daze, she dressed herself and floated down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the dining room.

“Morning, Auntie!” Wee Jamie blurted.

“Jamie, quiet yer voice,” Jenny said. “Yer Auntie is right there, she can hear ye just fine.”

Claire chuckled. “Good morning everyone.”

“Well, aren’t you all aglow this morning,” Jenny said. “What’s the occasion?”

Claire sat down next to her, unable to stop herself from beaming. “I felt him.” She pressed her hands into her stomach.

“Oh, did ye?” Jenny broke into a grin. “Is he moving now?” Jenny put her hands atop Claire’s.

“No, not at the moment. He interrupted me while I was doing my hair.”

“Ah, already a trouble maker, then,” Jenny teased. She gazed at Claire lovingly. “Being wi’ child suits you, Claire. You really are glowing.”

“I’m just…so relieved.” Claire quickly wiped her eyes before the tears could trickle down. “Obviously I know it takes time before you really feel anything, but I spend so much time imagining the worst, so to feel him…alive. It’s…indescribable.”

Jenny’s smile widened even farther, if it was possible. Mrs. Crook entered with breakfast just then. Maggie was now insisting on no longer eating in her mother’s lap. She was sitting next to her, though, and still needed assistance in breaking food into small enough pieces so that she didn’t choke on it. For this meal, however, she was perfectly capable of spooning her own parritch into her own mouth, though not without leaving slop for Jenny to wipe up from the table. She also wasn’t really sitting; instead she was all the way up on her knees in order to reach anything.

And then, again, even as Claire reveled in the togetherness of her family, in the comfort and joy of feeling her baby inside of her, she still found herself glancing across the table, expecting to find those deep blue eyes, mad with joy for the confirmation of their baby’s life. She swore at certain moments she could really see that mop of red, flashing in an instant as he reached over to help his nephew.

It was strange. She was not any less happy than she had been. It wasn’t as if thoughts of Jamie had tainted the morning’s joy. Rather, it was as if those thoughts reminded her of something that was missing. Like suddenly remembering she was only wearing one sock. How could she not have realized that something was missing?

“You know,” Claire said abruptly, not even aware herself that she’d said it until she heard it reverberate back into her own ears. “In Paris, when we were falling asleep, Jamie would stay awake for hours just…rubbing my pregnant belly. Or maybe he wasn’t even awake, maybe he was doing it in his sleep.” She looked up from her food at Jenny, smiling. “He was in awe of it all. It was…I loved seeing him like that. Like a little boy.”

Jenny smiled. “He loved all my bairns like they were his own. It must have made him mad wi’ joy to see ye carrying one of his own.”

“He really did love children,” Claire said, finally feeling a twinge of sadness. “He wanted so badly to be a father.” Jenny nodded. “He loved her so much, even when she was this tiny. He even used to…talk to her.” Claire could not help but smile at the memory.

“And he’s talking to this one, too,” Jenny said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “They say that wee ones can hear spirits, angels. Especially when they’re still inside ye. And I’ll bet he talks his wee ear off.”

Claire laughed at that. “Yes, I’ll bet he does.”

Jenny gave her shoulder a squeeze, then returned to her parritch. “It does my heart good to hear ye speak of him, Claire.”

Claire paused her spoonful. She realized then that this was perhaps the first time she’d spoken of him . Talk of Jamie for the past several months had been in reference to his corpse, his lifeless body. But that was not him. His love for his nieces and nephew, his adoration of his wife and children, that was him .

Claire smiled at Jenny. “Me too.”

Breakfast finished and Ian took Fergus to the fields. Ian was finally walking somewhat normally, Claire having checked on the bullet wound recently and deemed that it was healing just fine.

“Claire,” Jenny said as they helped Mrs. Crook gather the dishes. “I have something for ye.”

Claire’s eyes narrowed at her questioningly.

“Come on upstairs wi’ me.”

They handed the dishes off to Mrs. Crook, and Jenny pulled Claire up the stairs and into the Laird’s room. A flood of memories came crashing into her as she took in the room. Nothing had changed in here since she’d been here with Jamie, when he was Laird, and she was his Lady, and they’d held each other in that very windowsill, conceived Faith in that very bed. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.

Jenny sat Claire down at the foot of the bed and then went to the wardrobe to fish something out of the back. Grinning, Jenny sat down next to Claire and presented her with a small bundle wrapped in white linen.

“For the bairn,” Jenny said proudly.

Claire took it in her hands and unwrapped the cloth, revealing a knitted white lamb, with stitching for a mouth and nose, and little black buttons for eyes. “Oh, Jenny,” Claire said. “It’s beautiful.” She turned it over in her hands to look more closely, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw the bow around its little neck.

“Is that…”

“Aye,” Jenny said. “From Jamie’s tartan.”

Claire reverently ran her fingers over the bow, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Figured the bairn ought to carry his father wi’ him somehow. No’ to mention I couldna bear to bury the only Fraser tartan we have left. Had to keep a piece of it for us, ken.”

“I…” Claire finally looked back up at Jenny. “I’m moved…beyond words, Jenny…”

“Then come here.” Jenny pulled her into a tight embrace. “The bairn will know him. I’ll make certain of it.”

Claire sniffled. “I will, too.”

“And he’ll know himself, as well. We’ll no’ let him forget he’s a Highlander. I’ll teach him Gaelic in the priest hole if I have to.”

Claire chuckled, and it morphed into a sigh. “I’m counting on that.” She released Jenny from their embrace, but they still held onto each other. “I’m afraid I’ll be rather useless on that front.”

“What’s an Auntie for, hm?” Jenny said, smiling despite the fresh tears still lingering on her cheeks.

Claire looked down at the little lamb in her hands. “You know, Lamb was my uncle’s name, the uncle that raised me.”

“Lamb?”

“Well, Lambert. I called him Uncle Lamb,” Claire explained, then exhaled, laughing. “If he could see me now…”

“He’d be proud,” Jenny assured her, obviously missing Claire’s meaning.

“He would,” Claire agreed, knowing that Uncle Lamb was watching her adapt and thrive in the strange world she’d fallen into using everything he’d taught her. 

What would he think of Jamie, she wondered? He’d thought very highly of Frank, being that he was a professor as well. He’d likely be incredibly fascinated by Jamie for what he represented, the perfect example of the extinct Highland Warrior. He’d be astounded when comparing her ruggedly handsome, enormous, wild Scotsman to the slender, intellectual history professor.

Frank…there was someone she hadn’t thought about in a while. She’d thought of him abstractly of course, of saving his existence from being wiped away, but she hadn’t really thought about him since Jamie had given her the choice between Frank and his time, or Jamie and his.

What must he think? Did he assume she was dead, or with another man? Was he able to move on, find happiness with someone else as she had, short lived as it had been? She could have had those answers if she’d kept her promise to Jamie. But, God…how would she have explained this? How could she have told him she was carrying another man’s child, a man who’d been dead for two hundred years? How could she ever move on knowing that Fergus, Jenny, Kitty, Maggie, wee Jamie, Ian, all of them, were dead and gone for two hundred years?

She prayed that Frank was happy and loved. Because even though the happiness and love she’d found with Jamie was gone, she’d found new purpose as a mother, sister and aunt. Despite her sorrow, she was still fulfilled, and in some fleeting moments, even happy. And to think of him suffering, completely in the dark about everything, while she existed with some semblance of happiness, made her feel deep pangs of guilt.

“What’re ye thinking about, sister?” Jenny’s voice brought her out of her reverie.

“My first husband, actually,” Claire admitted.

“Lived with him in Oxfordshire?”

“Yes.”

“Do ye miss England?”

“From time to time,” Claire admitted, though England had never really been “home,” per se. More what she missed from time to time was the life she’d had to leave behind in a different century. “But I wouldn't trade this, the life I’ve made with Jamie, all of you, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“Not even to be safe and well fed in England?” Jenny cocked an eyebrow.

“No. Not even for that.”

And it was true. She’d had more than one chance to leave behind the suffering in this time, in Scotland itself, and given the same options over and over again, she’d still make all the same choices.

Claire smiled down at the lamb again. “Now what do I do with this little one before my own little one arrives?”

“Once Kitty adjusts to sleeping in a bed ye can keep it in the cot, ready to sleep beside yer wee one,” Jenny said. “But we’ll be lucky if that one ever decides to leave the cot.” She rolled her eyes. “Ye ken how she is.”

“Have you tried putting strawberry jam in her bed?” Claire said, hardly able to finish the sentence before succumbing to laughter.

Jenny guffawed. “Now there’s an idea!” Then she sighed. “It won’t be long before there isna even any strawberry jam left. The crop isna doing well, ye ken. We don’t grow any here, but Ian says word in the village is that there willna be any berries at all this year. They’re saying the same in Edinburgh.”

Claire nodded sadly. “The famine is coming.”

“Aye…”

“We’ll be alright. So will all the tenants. The potatoes will save them,” Claire assured her.

“Aye. But what’ll I do about Kitty?” She rolled her eyes again.

“You’ll have to wean her off the jam like you’d wean a child off your breast,” Claire laughed as she said it.

“She’ll be the death of me, I ken it.”

“I pray mine isn’t as stubborn.” Claire placed a hand on her small mound again, smiling to herself. “Though I have to admit, I’d be a little disappointed if he wasn’t.”

Jenny chuckled. At that moment, he moved again, fluttering inside Claire’s womb. Claire gasped, and Jenny immediately touched her stomach.

“Can you feel it?” Claire whispered, as if it may stop if she spoke too loudly.

“Just barely, but it’s there.” Jenny looked up at Claire’s face, joyful. “There he is, Claire.”

“Indeed.” Claire smiled. As quickly as it began, it stopped. “Jenny?”

“What is it, sister?”

“Is it…wrong of me to feel…happy?”

“Wrong? Why the Devil would that be wrong?”

“I mean, I’m not always happy. In fact I’m usually empty, hollow…but sometimes, like when I can feel my baby…I’m overwhelmed with joy.”

“As ye should be,” Jenny said firmly. “It’s what Jamie would want ye to feel. Ye ken that.”

“I suppose…it’s just strange. I thought I’d never be happy again.”

“Yer a braw lass, Claire. Yer spirit is strong. My brother knew it and I know it.” Jenny stood, taking Claire’s hand and helping her up. “Come on, now, let’s find a home for wee Lambert,” Jenny said, a teasing grin on her face. Claire chuckled, allowing Jenny to pull her into her bedroom, where they decided they’d keep Lambert on the mantle for now.

Hope you don’t mind, Uncle. A stuffed animal for your namesake rather than my son.

Claire brushed her fingers over his tartan bow, winking at his button eyes. As long as the toy was loved by her child, she didn’t think he’d mind at all.

Chapter Text

Claire was woken from a deep sleep by the sound of whimpering. It took her several seconds to comprehend what she was hearing. She slowly turned herself over; changing positions in bed was getting more and more difficult in this, the middle of the fifth month of her pregnancy. Once she was finally facing toward the center of the bed, realization came crashing into her.

“Fergus?”

He was murmuring incoherently in French, tossing his head back and forth, kicking his legs.

“Fergus, it’s alright.” Claire struggled to sit herself up and gently touched his shoulder.

Claire’s heart was breaking, and she felt pangs of guilt surge through her. It had been over a year since Fergus had had his last nightmare, or so she’d thought. Had she been so consumed with her own grief that she had missed that her son was still struggling with his trauma?

“Fergus, love, I’m here. Wake up, it’s alright.”

She gave him a gentle shake, and his eyes finally popped open with a ragged gasp. His whole body froze for a moment, his eyes frantically searching his surroundings, then finally landing on Claire’s face.

“You’re safe, Fergus. I’m here. You’re safe.” She stroked his hair, watching as he slowly came out of his terror. He gradually dissolved into tears, and Claire scooped him into her arms, holding him close.

“He came for me! He dragged me away from you, right out of your arms! You were screaming, and he shot you! He killed you and the baby!”

“We’re alright, darling.” She rocked him and kissed his head. “I promise.”

“There was no one to protect me, he dragged me into the woods and he…he…”

“Shh…darling…” Claire blinked away her tears. “He is dead and gone. He will never, ever hurt you again. And there will always be someone to protect you. Always.”

“It hurt like it was real, Maman …” he whimpered.

“I know, sweetheart, I know…” Claire could not stop the tear that escaped her eye, unable to stop herself from imagining the pain he spoke of. “Oh, my poor darling…everything will be alright. I’m here.”

He wept quietly for several more minutes, Claire rocking him, kissing him. Fergus had not slept beside her in a few weeks now. She’d figured he wouldn’t do it forever, of course. Even now he was older than most boys that still enjoyed sharing a bed with their mothers. Today he’d asked out of the blue if he could join her again, and she’d of course agreed, figuring he’d just been missing his father a bit extra.

Now, she wasn’t so sure.

“Fergus?” Claire said gently. “Is this the first nightmare you’ve had in a while? Or have there been others lately?”

He didn’t answer right away, but she let him take his time.

“There have been more,” he finally admitted. “I thought…I thought maybe if I slept beside you it would stop. I am sorry for waking you…”

“No, no…” Claire took his face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing. I am your mother, and this is exactly what I’m here for.” She kissed his forehead. “Why didn’t you tell me you were having nightmares? I could have given you some herbs to help you sleep better.”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” he said, averting his eyes. “Worry is not good for the baby.”

“I have two children to care for, Fergus. I think mon petit will understand if his mother has to worry about her other child for a while.”

Fergus nodded. “I was…ashamed, too, Maman ,” he said. “It was so long ago, and I did not have any dreams for a long time. I thought it had…stopped.”

“I understand. Sometimes our dreams like to remind us of things we thought we’d already forgotten. It’s happened to me with lots of different things. Before Prestonpans I was…reminded of something terrible from another war I was part of, something I thought I’d forgotten.”

“When you fell, in the grass,” Fergus said. “I remember.”

Claire nodded. “It’s also happened to Jamie.”

“To Milord? I do not believe it.”

Claire smiled sadly. Jamie was an untouchable, infallible pillar of strength to this boy, and perhaps he always would be. “It’s true. I used to hold him and soothe him in our bed, just like I’m doing to you now.” He finally met her eyes again. “So you see? There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Fergus nodded hesitantly. “I do not…want to go back to sleep, Maman .”

“I understand.” She ran a hand through his curls again. “How would you like to go for a walk outside? I heard the weather in July is loveliest in the dead of night,” she teased.

He nodded. Claire got out of bed and pulled her robe on. She slid her feet into her slippers as Fergus pulled on his boots. They quietly tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

They left the house through the back door, and Claire wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into her as they walked aimlessly through the grounds. They eventually reached the mill, and Claire smiled at the sound of the rushing water, the sight of the mill turning.

“Would you like to hear a story about Jamie and this mill?” she said as they got closer.

“Yes, I would.”

“The first time he ever brought me home to Lallybroch the mill wasn’t working. So, being the pigheaded fool that he was, he marched himself over here and stripped down to just his shirt, and jumped into the water.” They stopped at the bank of the water, watching it flow, listening to the soothing white noise.

“Did he fix it?”

“Well, while he was in there, some Redcoats started riding toward us, and he still had a price on his head at that time. He took a deep breath and went under, and he stayed there the whole time. Jenny tried to get them to leave, but one of them insisted he could fix the mill. Somehow, while he was under the water with hardly any breath left, Jamie managed to get the mill moving again, and he’d put his shirt on one of the paddles to stop them from inspecting the cause of the problem.”

“So he was naked under there?” Fergus said.

“As the day he was born.” Claire shook her head, remembering how much she’d wanted to throttle him at the time. “When they left and he came up for air he had to cover himself with his hands.” Fergus laughed. “He looked quite foolish.”

“That sounds like Milord!”

Claire laughed as well, wrapping her other arm around him as well, rubbing his upper arm and resting her chin atop his head.

“Can you tell me more about him?” Fergus asked. “I never realized…or I never thought about your lives before Paris. I always thought of you as being in that house forever, but of course you were not.”

Claire’s heart swelled, leaving her feeling full and yet painfully empty. To be able to share details of Jamie’s life with her son would bring her such joy, and yet the fact remained that the reason she had to be the one to do so was because Jamie himself was dead. 

“Why don’t we sit down, hm?” She suggested, and she and Fergus settled into the grass. The night had left it wet with dew, but neither of them seemed to care. It was soothing to feel its coolness, in combination with the late night breeze that passed over them.

“Well, my first interaction with Jamie was putting his dislocated shoulder back into place.”

Fergus laughed. “Exactly as I would imagine!”

Claire laughed as well, and then proceeded to spin the tale of those first nights, Jamie stubbornly refusing to reveal his gunshot wound, toppling off the horse unconscious. How he’d threatened to throw her over his shoulder and carry her off; how much she’d utterly despised him in the beginning.

At some point, Fergus had laid his head in her lap, and just as she’d finished relaying the night that she’d caught him sleeping outside her door, she was interrupted by the sound of his even, heavy breathing. She sighed, gently running her fingers through his hair. Despite the catharsis that it brought her to talk about the time she had cherished with Jamie, it still overwhelmed her with the reminder of his absence, and it made her heart ache.

After briefly indulging her grief, she turned her attention back to the sleeping boy in her lap. She’d have to pay closer attention to him. She’d had no idea that he was suffering nightmares lately. She’d have to observe him closer during the day, make sure there was nothing triggering it, and she’d have to be sure to give him that tea that she’d given Jamie in Paris to soothe his nightmares. And of course let him stay in her bed for as many nights as he needed before he felt safe in his own mind again.

Her eyes felt heavy, and her head lolled from side to side. If she were able, she’d scoop him up into her arms and carry him to bed so they could both sleep through the rest of the night, but unfortunately he was too big for her. She suddenly had the strange realization that she’d never even known him to be small enough for her to pick up, and with that realization came a small pang of sadness. She wondered what he’d been like as a baby, as a little boy. Had he come out of the womb with that wild mop of curls? His eyes must have taken up half of his head when he was little. She smiled softly at the thought. He was a beautiful baby, I’m sure of it .

Jamie would carry him to bed if he were here.

As much as she craved sleep, she could not bring herself to wake him, and nor would she leave him alone in the grass. She leaned back on her hands and let her head hang loose, her eyes closed. She breathed in the earthy smell of Scotland, the fresh scent of the water as it ran by them. The sky had gradually turned from black, littered with stars, to the blank, grey-blue of early dawn.

Just as she thought she was about to fall asleep sitting up, she felt something unmistakable inside of her. Her head jolted up and her hands flew to her stomach. Then it came again, a gentle thud from the inside, pressing into her hand.

She exhaled loudly in awe. After a quiet moment of disbelief, he kicked again.

“Fergus,” Claire stammered. “Fergus, wake up!”

At that moment, she couldn't even think of how she should likely not be disturbing his sleep. Keeping one hand on her stomach, she shook him by the shoulder with the other.

Maman ?” he said groggily. “Are you alright?”

She wordlessly took hold of his hand and pressed it onto her protruding stomach. Confused, he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the hand that was not being pinned down by Claire.

“He kicked, Fergus.”

Any trace of sleepiness immediately vanished from his face, and his eyes lit up. “ Mon petit ?”

“Yes, yes! Just wait…he’ll do it again…”

As if on cue, another soft thud came again, and Claire cried out with joy, and Fergus gasped.

“You felt it?”

Oui, Maman !” He beamed up at her for a split second before glueing his eyes back on her stomach. “It is incroyable !”

Claire laughed, tears leaking out of the corners of her crinkled eyes. “It is, isn’t it?”

Fergus pressed both of his hands into her now, waiting patiently for the next movement. They waited with bated breath, but nothing else came.

“He’s all done now, I suppose,” Claire sighed.

“He tired himself out, no?” Fergus looked up at her again.

“Seems that way.”

“Does it hurt?” he asked curiously.

“Not at all,” Claire assured him.

“Will he remember when he comes out? That he kicked his brother?”

Claire smiled wistfully. “He might.”

Fergus beamed proudly.

“I’m so glad you were here for it.” Claire cupped his cheek. “All this time I imagined feeling it and…having no one to turn to like I did with Faith.”

“We promised each other we would not be alone, Maman . I am glad I was here, too.”

Claire pulled him in to embrace him and kissed the top of his head.

“Now, we don’t have to go to sleep, but I think we’d better at least go inside before your Auntie Jenny has a heart attack upon realizing we’ve disappeared.”

Fergus chuckled. “Alright, Maman .”

He stood up and then she gave him her hands to help her off the ground. It was trickier than she’d have liked it to be.

“God, this isn't even the largest I’ll be, and I can already hardly move…” she groaned, leaning into Fergus as they ventured back into the house.

“Do not worry, Maman . I will fetch whatever you need if you cannot move."

“I appreciate that, darling, but I actually need to keep moving. Of course I need rest, and I…I learned my lesson about running myself ragged.” She shuddered guilty at the horrible memory of her loss in Paris. “But it’s very healthy for me to go on walks, keep the blood and air flowing. For me and the baby.”

“Then our walk tonight was good, no?”

“Yes, it was. For both of us.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze.

Oui, Maman .”

Once they were back inside and in Claire’s bedroom, it took Claire all of two minutes to fall dead asleep, feeling guilty even as she did it, because she could not stay awake to make sure Fergus fell asleep again. The last thing she felt before she fell asleep was a tentative, brief kiss on the largest, roundest part of her stomach. Her heart burst, overwhelmed with love for her sweet, affectionate boy, and she let the comfort of his presence, his love, and his devotion carry her to sleep.

Chapter Text

Claire and Jenny were once again sitting in the grass near the mill, watching the children play. This time, Kitty was running around with them, and yelling as well. She was starting to speak in one word sentences, much to Jenny’s relief, things like “up,” “Ma,” “Da,” “jam”. More often than not, in chasing after her siblings, she toppled over, but after the first three times, Claire and Jenny stopped expressing concern. She was perfectly fine.

The little life inside Claire was growing more and more restless by the day. It was nearing the end of August, just over a month since the baby had started kicking.

Claire cried out softly, her hand flying to her stomach.

“Ye alright?” Jenny asked, looking up from the shirt she was mending.

“Yes, I’m fine…just a strong kick, is all.” Claire shook her head in disbelief. “Strongest one yet.”

“Sometimes it feels like they’re trying to bruise ye,” Jenny said, laughing. “Kitty was brutal to me. Though I’m sure that’s no surprise.”

Claire chuckled. “He seems quite eager to get out of me. I don’t know what the rush is,” she crooned, looking down at her swollen abdomen. “You’ve still got three months to go in there.”

They both chuckled at that, and then another thought crossed Claire’s mind.

“You know…” she absently stroked her bump, unable to take her eyes off it now. “He’s already further along than Faith ever was.”

“That’s a good thing, is it no’?”

“Of course. I thank God every time I can feel his life, even if it feels like a personal attack sometimes.” She gave a tiny smile. “It’s just…strange. I never actually got this big, her kicking never got this strong.”

Jenny put down her sewing for a moment to take Claire’s hand. “There’s no shame in celebrating what ye have wi’ this bairn, even though ye couldna have it wi’ the first.” Claire nodded silently. “Faith will always be the one to make ye a mother. Yer first born. But this one will be special to ye in his own way.” Jenny placed a hand on Claire’s belly. “D’ye ken what I’m trying to say?”

Claire nodded. “I do.” She covered Jenny’s hand on her stomach. “Thank you, Jenny.” Unexpectedly, her eyes filled with tears. “I wish…” She took a shuddery breath. “I wish she could have been buried here. And I wish we could have laid her father beside her.”

Jenny’s eyes swam with tears as well. “They’re together now, sister. Ye ken that.” Claire nodded, wiping her eyes. “He can be the father he always wanted to be. To Faith.”

Just then, Kitty shrieked, and both of their heads whipped up to see Jamie haphazardly holding her by the waist.

“Jamie! Put her down!” Jenny called. He released his grip, and she unceremoniously thudded into the grass, popping her head back up in no time and toddling away from Jamie.

“Christ…” Jenny groaned, but Claire started laughing.

“What do you suppose he was going to do with her?” Claire asked.

“Throw her into the stream I’d expect. He’s still angry she wasna a wee brother.”

Claire laughed out loud at that, wiping away the lingering tears that remained on her face.

“Auntie Claire!” Maggie’s voice squeaked, scampering toward them. She was clutching something in her wee fist, and she presented it proudly to her. “Flower. Fer yer garden.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” Claire beamed at her, taking it from her. It was a blue thistle, likely plucked somewhere near the mill. “This will be lovely with the rest of my herbs and medicines, Maggie. Thank you.”

Maggie smiled a wide, toothy grin, twisting her skirt in her hand.

“Give yer Auntie a kiss, Maggie,” Jenny said, knowing she needed it.

Maggie immediately obeyed, throwing her arms around Claire’s neck and planting a kiss on her cheek. Claire laughed joyously, returning the embrace and holding her tightly. It was hard to believe that come November, it would be three whole years since she had delivered this little girl. 

Maggie pulled away and bit her bottom lip excitedly before speaking again. “See baby?” she asked, looking down at Claire’s stomach.

“You’d like to see the baby?” Claire said, and she nodded, her strawberry blonde curls bouncing. “Come here.”

Claire took her hands and put them on her bump, and Maggie’s eyes lit up.

“If you are very patient,” Claire said, whispering to emphasize the importance of her words. “He may say hello.”

“Patient!” Maggie repeated, nodding again.

She practically bounced up and down, though she kept her hands glued to her Auntie’s belly the whole time. When the baby finally decided to kick, Maggie squealed. Claire and Jenny both laughed out loud.

“See?” Claire said. “There’s your wee cousin.”

“Hello baby!” she called, practically shouting at Claire’s stomach. “Baby cousin! Hello cousin!”

“You’re going to be so very helpful when he’s born, aren’t you?” Claire said, tickling Maggie’s own stomach.

She giggled. “Yes! I’ll help! Help baby!”

Claire kissed Maggie’s cheek. “Good girl.”

Jenny pulled Maggie over and covered her face with kisses, causing her to squeal all the more. “Run along now, make sure yer brother doesna damage wee Kitty.”

Giggling still, Maggie ran off to rejoin her siblings in the open field.

“Ye canna use that fer anything, can ye?” Jenny asked, picking up her mending once more.

“Not like this,” Claire said, smiling. “But I’ll cherish it nonetheless.”

She tucked the flower into a pocket in her skirt and picked up the sock she’d abandoned mending several minutes ago. Her cheek still felt warmed by the kiss that her darling niece had given her.

“Your children are so special to me, Jenny,” Claire said. “I can’t imagine what it will feel like to have my own child kiss me like that.”

“There are days when I take it fer granted,” Jenny admitted. She looked up at her children again, seemingly getting along for now. “But no’ today. The love ye feel fer yer child is…well, it’s the strongest thing I’ve ever felt. I look at them and I’m reminded I’d do anything fer them. Anything.”

Claire nodded in understanding, but she was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt. Would she really do anything for her child? If that were the case, wouldn’t she have let Jamie send her back through the stones? This was a volatile world to bring a child into, with or without the dangers awaiting them at childbirth. If she’d truly do anything for her child, wouldn’t she have set aside her own wishes to bring her to a safer world, even if her heart would have died?

“Claire?” Jenny prodded, noticing she’d stopped sewing again. “What’re ye thinking?”

Claire swallowed thickly. She couldn’t tell her. Not right now.

“Just…worrying, I suppose.” Claire shrugged.

“Look at Maggie, Claire,” Jenny said pointedly. At present, she was holding Kitty’s hands and circling round and round with her. “The beautiful lass who just gave ye a flower and a kiss. I thought she’d die, Claire, honest to God I did. The second ye told me she’d be a breech baby I started accepting my own death as well as hers.”

“I remember.”

“Look at her now. She’s braw, she’s happy. During those hours and hours of agony, I never could have imagined this. This moment, now.” Their laughter, all three of her children, was loud as ever. “It makes sense that ye worry. Sometimes our worst fears come to pass. But sometimes, they don’t.”

Claire nodded thoughtfully. Maggie’s birth could have been dangerous even in the twentieth century, and they’d survived it in the eighteenth. Perhaps the same could be said for the little one that she carried now. There was really no way to know, and there was only one way to find out.

Another swift kick came, causing Claire to exhale sharply. Claire smiled to herself. She could practically hear Jamie admonishing their baby, telling him to stop beating his mother so.

“After all the work of carrying him around, this is the thanks he gives ye?” he would say. And Claire would assure him it didn’t hurt so very badly, and she would kiss him, and he would kiss their baby, rub his hands over her belly, quietly pleading with him in Gaelic to be kinder to his mother.

God, she missed him so.

——

August wore on, and Claire found herself settled in a comforting routine of breakfast, then gardening, then helping Jenny with whatever task, like laundry, mending, cooking. The herbs they’d planted back in June were doing quite well, and she now had a healthy supply of dried herbs for medicines and teas. Jenny had set aside a section of an old barn where she could properly hang things to dry, then come back to collect them and add them to her medical box.

Tending to her plants, taking little cuts and snippets, drying them, crushing them, mixing them, brewing them…it was cathartic for Claire. She was very grateful that Jenny had insisted she start doing this all those months ago. Her work was diligent and therefore mind numbing, and yet she was not working herself to the bone. She was getting the fresh air, the distraction she needed, without bringing any harm to herself or her baby. 

Occasionally her blank mind would be forced to return to the present when her nephew would barge into the barn, or when her niece would bolt up to her as she tended the garden with yet another flower that she simply had to add. She’d scoop Jamie up, hold him as high as she could to allow him to tie up a bundle of herbs with the others to dry, and thank him so very much for being so helpful. She’d take the flowers from Maggie and “plant” them beside the herbs, promising her that it would turn into a wonderful medicine that she could use one day.

“Flowers, Auntie?” She’d toddle up to her every day to check on them. “Me’cine yet?”

“Why, I think so,” Claire would say. “Look.”

And she’d show her the exact spot that Maggie had watched her bury the flower, and watch as her eyes popped out of her head to see the greenery that had “sprouted” overnight, which was really only Claire moving a few things around. Indulging her in this way had proved more of a feat than Claire had originally signed up for, because the more and more Maggie saw evidence of her efforts proving helpful, the more and more she wanted to help.

After a while, she’d had to gently tell her that there was no room for any more flowers, but that since it was so full, she needed her help to take care of it. She’d wholeheartedly agreed, eager to help her Auntie. Claire had deemed her “my little garden faery,” her wee helper. And Maggie loved it. Claire also adored it. It touched her heart in a way she could not describe that she’d been the one to bring her into the world with Jenny, and now she seemed to be attached to her at the hip. It meant more to her than she could ever explain.

Perhaps someday, when she was old enough to truly understand, Claire could teach Maggie medicine, really teach her. Perhaps someday the tenants of Lallybroch would have two healers to go to.

Claire watched from her garden as Maggie plucked weeds and flowers alike out of the dirt around the porch and the goat pen, singing in Gaelic to herself.

Yes, perhaps someday…but why rush away the beautiful innocence she possessed right now?

September arrived, and they were now in the throes of harvest season. The potato crop had done splendidly again, and though there was always the lingering fear of unknown possibilities, everyone was certain that they’d survive the winter once more because of it. Game had been difficult, seeing as they no longer had any guns to hunt with. They’d taken to setting traps in the woods surrounding Lallybroch, and for most of the summer they’d been lucky enough to have rabbit on and off every couple of days. Fergus would march himself right into the kitchen, proudly brandishing the wee beast from the trap he’d set all by himself

Claire was enjoying watching him thrive here. In Paris, he’d been confined to one small building his whole life, not to mention how unsuitable an establishment it was for children. Then even after Jamie had liberated him, his free spirit was confined by the high, brick walls of the city, his lungs clouded from breathing in the slums. In Scotland, at Lallybroch, he was truly coming into his own; as much as Claire hated to admit it, he was becoming his own man.

Of course, he was still only eleven—no, twelve years old (just turned it), hardly a man by any means, not yet at least. But he was unencumbered here. He had a family to belong to, a family to protect and provide for using the wilderness that surrounded him. If it wasn’t for his obvious French-ness, in his manner and accent, one would not question that he was a Highlander through and through.

And Jamie would be so proud.

Today, September the twenty-second, Fergus was gone for a peculiarly long amount of time. On the days where he checked the traps, he was gone right after breakfast and back in no more than two hours. It was nearing a third hour, and Claire was growing anxious. Was it irresponsible of her to allow him to run off into the woods alone? No, he could take care of himself. She knew that. Or perhaps she overestimated him. Twelve years old was still a child , whether or not the people of this time believed it to be so.

Claire was working fretfully on her garden, unable to bear the worst-case scenarios that whirled in her mind for much longer, when she heard hoofbeats come up the road. She whirled around and breathed a sigh of relief to see her boy trotting toward the house. Ian had taught him to ride over the summer, and he was getting quite good. Yet another thing that would make his father proud.

“Fergus!” she called as he got closer. “What on Earth took you — ”

And then she noticed the enormous bundle draped over the flank of the horse, behind the boy in the saddle. Fergus was beaming ear to ear, slowing the horse as he drew nearer to Claire.

“Is that — ?”

“A deer, Maman !” he said smugly, sliding off the horse and surveying his work proudly.

“How did you—? You couldn’t have shot it—?”

“No, Maman , the poor thing was in one of my traps,” he said, and his pride briefly morphed into sympathy. “They are meant for very wee animals, as you know, so it did not kill her right away. Just hurt her leg.” Claire couldn’t help but smile at his use of the word “wee.”

“It was very sad to see her suffering when I came upon her, but I knew she would only suffer more if I let her free. So I gave her mercy with my knife.” He gave a curt nod, like a little soldier. “And now we have lots of meat for supper!”

Claire laughed jovially and pulled him into a hug. Her hugs had become quite awkward lately, having to careen him around to her side so they could actually embrace each other. Two more months, she thought to herself. Two more months of feeling like an absolute tank in the way of everything.

She tenderly kissed the top of his head. “Wonderful job, mon fils . Why don't you join your uncle in the fields and I’ll see about getting it butchered, hm?”

He nodded, stretched up to kiss her cheek, gave her swollen middle a pat, and then scampered off around the house. She briefly caressed the spot on her cheek that he’d so briefly kissed, smiling to herself. He would never know how much his affection, his love, meant to her. 

Claire grunted and clutched her abdomen, exhaling sharply. Speaking of affection, she thought wryly to herself, smiling in spite of the most recent, ruthless blow to her womb.

“Easy there, little one,” she said, rubbing the spot. “You’ll knock Mummy right off her feet if you keep that up.”

“Good Lord, what is that?” Jenny suddenly appeared on the porch.

“A deer that Fergus killed mercifully after finding her in his trap.” Claire smiled proudly.

Mo Dhiah !” she exclaimed, crossing herself as she approached the horse. “His bounty be blessed!”

“We’ll eat like kings tonight,” Claire laughed.

“Kings indeed!” Jenny gave the poor beast a pat on her flank. “Let’s get it ready then, shall we?”

It had been a great struggle to carry the animal inside to be butchered; many of their servants had had to be let go in the financial struggle that had followed Culloden. They were more apt to let go of the men first, as they would be more likely to find other work, and most of the male servants were attached to the female ones, either by marriage or because they were siblings. The Murrays were heart sorry to do it, and of course they hadn’t officially let anyone go until they found other work, but they simply couldn't afford to live like Laird and Lady anymore. The only servants left were Mrs. Crook, of course, who had firmly insisted that they’d have to drive her away with the switch (which had been met with “we wouldn’t dream of being rid of you, yer one of our own”), Rabbie, though he’d truly become more of a foster-son to the Murrays despite his status as their stable boy, and the Donnelleys, a widow woman and her wee daughter, serving as maids.

And so, Mrs. Crook, Jenny, Mrs. Donnelly, and even wee Laura, had struggled to get the beast inside. Claire had tried to help, but every single one of the three women had accosted her into stepping aside; how dare she, a pregnant woman at great risk, even think of lifting such an enormous beast?

Despite Claire’s initial annoyance, she was grateful for their concern. She hadn’t realized, but she was already quite sore without doing any heavy lifting. Once the beast was laid out, they each pitched in for its butchering. Jenny fussed over Claire all the while, never letting her do anything she deemed too strenuous. Even as her hormones raged and demanded revenge, she had to remind herself that Jenny was only looking out for her best interests, and she really was right. Claire had been very good so far about sparing herself from anything that would overwork her, and at seven months pregnant was perhaps the worst time to start changing that.

So she begrudgingly wielded the smaller knives, did not engage in any large swinging or hacking motions that would bring any greater pain to her back. Eventually the butchering was complete, and they separated the useful bits of meat and other things from the disposable bits. Mrs. Donnelly and wee Laura went off to be rid of what they didn’t need and then went about the rest of their daily tasks, leaving the sisters and Mrs. Crook in the kitchen to prepare the meat to cook.

It certainly was an all day affair, but the joy on the children’s faces, hell, even on Ian’s face made it all worth it. It was perhaps the heartiest meal they’d had in months. Everyone was all smiles, laughing, children and adults alike. Even Claire. She allowed herself to become lost in the food, in the drink, in the laughter of the children she had come to love and cherish more than her own life.

“Catching a full grown deer in one of those wee rabbit traps was surely God’s grace,” Ian said toward the end of supper, raising his glass to Fergus. “Either that, or our wee Frenchman is one lucky bastard!”

Fergus’s nose crinkled with the laughter he unleashed, and everyone else’s laughter followed.

Sláinte !” Ian cried, and everyone echoed, even the children with their cups of water.

God’s grace…

Claire gave the table a glance over, her cheeks sore from smiling, her throat aching from laughter.

Auntie ,” wee Jamie pulled at her left sleeve, whispering.

“Yes?” She answered with contrived secrecy, leaning her ear closer to him.

“May I try yer whisky, Auntie?” he whispered, but the desired effect of quiet was not achieved, as everyone at the table burst into laughter.

Claire’s head fell back with laughter, before promptly covering the lad with tickles, kissing his head over and over.

“If big Jamie could have heard you say that…” Claire shook her head, still laughing.

“He’d surely give it to him!” Jenny said rolling her eyes at the thought.

Uncle Jamie? He’d give me whisky?” 

“Aye, and I’d box his ears fer it,” Jenny said firmly. “No whisky until yer grown.”

“Fergus isna grown!” Jamie pointed across the table accusingly. Fergus put his hands up in surrender.

“Tell ye what, lad,” Ian said. “When you bring an entire deer home fer supper, ye can have all the whisky ye want.”

Without another word, Jamie sprang out of his seat and scrambled out of the room.

“And where d’ye think yer off to, and no’ excusing yerself?” Jenny called after him.

“I’m gonnae set a trap ! Fer a deer!”

“Lord ha’ mercy,” Jenny sighed, exasperated. Ian laughed so hard he started slamming the table.

“Best be stopping the wee huntsman before he becomes a drunk at five years old.” Jenny stood up from the table, and Claire could see the glimmer in her eye as she followed after her headstrong boy.

“When can I ha’ whisky, Da?” Maggie suddenly piped, rising all the way onto her knees.

Never ,” Ian said, taking another sip of his own drink.

Claire chuckled to herself at Maggie’s adorable wee pout. “Oh, don’t worry, Maggie, my little garden faery,” she whispered into her hair. “When you’re old enough, Auntie Claire will share her whisky with you. Our secret.” She put a finger to her lips to emphasize discretion, and she copied, making an adorable “shh” noise. Claire laughed and kissed her forehead, overwhelmed with love.

God’s grace indeed, she thought, that these people are my family. 

Family in a conventional sense had been lost on Claire for most of her life. Both parents dead at five years old had left her traveling with Uncle Lamb for her childhood and adolescence. Then she was flung into Frank’s arms, then Jamie’s. Jamie had felt the closest to family she’d ever imagined, but this was different. This was a whole family, an entire wee clan that welcomed her with open arms.

My own family.

Chapter Text

The crisp October air filled Claire’s lungs as she worked at her garden. Her little garden faery had been much too invested in her doll to join her outside this morning, which was probably for the best, seeing as it was perhaps the coldest day of the month so far. Fergus had left about half an hour ago to check his traps. Jenny was working beside her in the vegetable garden, and they were quietly chatting about this or that. Claire was vaguely aware of the dull ache in her lower back that would occasionally escalate to a sharp pinch, but she didn’t think much of it. Her entire body had been throbbing lately with one month to go in her pregnancy.

“Everything will freeze over soon, don’t you think?” Claire asked.

“Oh, aye,” Jenny said. “This’ll likely be the last of the turnips fer the year.”

Claire exhaled sharply through a particularly searing pain in her back, clutching it hastily. Jenny opened her mouth to say something in concern, when suddenly, the sound of hoofbeats started coming toward them, loud and urgent. Claire looked up from her work to see Fergus, flying on his horse faster than she’d ever seen him go. She watched him get closer, bewildered, not even knowing he could go that fast on horseback.

Maman !” he called as he crossed beneath the archway. He stopped the horse and jumped off, breathless. “Redcoats, coming up the road.”

Jenny and Claire exchanged a panicked look.

“Ye must be hidden,” Jenny said, snatching Claire by the arm and pulling her inside. “Fergus, take a blanket from Kitty’s old cot and wrap potatoes in it.”

“Whatever for?” Claire asked, bewildered, as Fergus flew past them to do as he was told.

“I told them last time they were here that I was wi’ child.”

“You’re going to hold a bundle of potatoes and pretend it’s a baby?” Claire sputtered in disbelief as Jenny opened the priest hole.

“Dinna have a choice,” Jenny said. “I canna tell them I lost the child. If they come back after the bairn is born they’ll be suspicious.”

Fergus appeared with the lumpy bundle, and Jenny struggled frantically to arrange it well enough.

“Does it look like a bairn?” she said. Fergus and Claire exchanged a look.

“Perhaps another blanket, Milady,” Fergus said.

Hurry !” Jenny cried. “Get inside now, Claire. Dinna make a sound.”

Claire descended the ladder and Jenny sealed up the hole above her. It was dark and damp. She could not see more than half a foot in front of her. She sat herself in the middle of the floor (struggling greatly due to the enormity of her size). “This would be easier if you really were a sack of potatoes,” Claire whispered wryly to her baby.

Fergus came back with another, thicker blanket. Jenny pulled him into the parlor, sat them both down on the sofa, and she wrapped the bundle in the new blanket. “That’s better, no?”

Oui , Milady,”

“What’s happening, Mistress?” Mrs. Crook appeared.

“Redcoats coming. Keep the children in the nursery.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said dutifully, her voice slightly tinged with panic.

“Dinna say a word about yer mam or about Jamie. D’ye understand?” Jenny said firmly to Fergus.

“Yes, of course.”

“This is my bairn. If they ask about his size, he came early.”

“He?” Fergus said. “What if Maman has a girl? And they come back later and it has changed?”

“Oh, Father help us.” Jenny threw a look up. There was no time to contemplate, however, as the door burst open.

The sound of boots echoed through the house. Jenny began bouncing the little bundle, and she nudged Fergus. He took the hint and started cupping the “head,” smiling at it as if it were a real baby.

“Ah! There you are.”

Jenny and Fergus looked up from the bundle, Jenny still bouncing it, Fergus still caressing it. The same officer stood in the entrance to the parlor, flanked by the very same men that had burned their tartans and their books.

“Good morning to ye, officer,” Jenny said.

“I understand congratulations are in order?” He took a few steps into the room.

“Yes.” Jenny stood to prevent him from peering down into the blankets. She pressed the potatoes into her chest. “Born just five days ago.”

“What a joyful occasion.” His smile made her stomach turn. “Early, was it not?”

“Oh, aye, just a bit.” Jenny bounced decoy and smiled down at it. “Gave us quite a scare, did ye no’, mo chridhe ?” She chose her words very carefully, deliberately not revealing a gender, her heart pounding in her ears.

“I dare say, it is quite a great deal quieter than it was during our last visit.” The officer gave a sweeping glance around the room. “Where is the rest of the household?”

“In the fields,” Jenny said. “Harvest season, ye ken.”

“Ah yes. The humble potato.”

Jenny’s heart leapt into her throat. Was he suspecting?

“Such a…hardy crop, is it not?”

“Indeed, sir.” Jenny bounced her own potatoes nervously.

The officer turned to his men. “Retrieve the man of the house.”

“Yes sir.”

“I’ll remain here with the bundle of joy.” He smiled again, slimy as ever.

Jenny’s breathing was becoming shallow. What did they want with Ian? How much longer would he believe that this still, lumpy bundle was anything more than a sack of potatoes? If he even believed it at all?”

“Care to have a seat?” Jenny said, gesturing with her head to one of the armchairs. “I could have the lad fetch ye a dram.”

The officer took the invitation to sit. “A drink would be fine.”

Fergus sprang up, but Jenny stopped him.

“Take the bairn to Mrs. Crook, will ye lad?” She carefully handed the bundle to Fergus. “Fetch the finest glass for our distinguished guest.” She turned to the officer with a smile. “And make sure Mrs. Crook holds the bairn close.” She gave Fergus a hard look, praying her meaning wasn’t lost on him: make sure Mrs. Crook holds the bairn close if they search the room so they willna see.

“Bairns need as much body heat as they can get when they come early,” she said, emphasizing as much as she could without raising the officer’s suspicions.

“Yes, Milady.” Fergus nodded deliberately.

He knows. Clever lad.

“Whatever is a French boy doing in your employ, Mistress Murray?” the officer said with a chuckle as Fergus went up the stairs.

“My husband employed him during a long stay in France and couldna bear to part wi’ him when it came time to leave. He’s like one of our own now. Very dear to us.”

“Charming.”

His dripping sarcasm was not lost on Jenny as she sat down on the sofa, smoothing her skirt uncomfortably.

“What can we help ye with today, Captain?”

“Where is the other woman?” he said suddenly, ignoring her question. “She was with you when you celebrated your being with child.” Jenny blanched for a moment. “Curly hair?”

“Oh, aye. She is my cousin,” Jenny said quickly. “She was visiting then, but she’s returned home since.”

“Cousin,” he said thoughtfully. “And would her home happen to be in England?”

“Beg pardon?” Jenny asked.

“Forgive me. Perhaps I was not clear.” He leaned forward in his seat. “This cousin of yours. Is she English?”

“Of course no’,” Jenny said, feigning confusion. “She’s my blood cousin, Scottish through and through.”

“I see.”

Fergus returned with the whisky and a glass. He poured it out and handed him the glass.

Merci ,” the officer said to him with deliberate condescension. Fergus’s eyes narrowed. He gave a mocking bow before joining Jenny on the sofa.

“You mean to tell me, Mistress Murray,” he continued after sipping the whisky. “That none in your family have ever… tainted your Scottish blood?”

Jenny could feel Fergus tense beside her, and it took everything in her not to tense up herself. “I’m afraid I dinna quite understand.”

“No one in your family married a sassenach , as you’d call it?” He took another sip of his whisky. “Your…brother, for example?”

Jenny swallowed thickly. “Oh, aye. A sassenach witch,” she said firmly. “Forgive me fer no’ saying it myself. He is a brother to me no longer. We dinna discuss traitors to the crown in this home.”

“A fine example, indeed.” He raised his glass to her before taking another sip. “I’m sure you know Red Jamie was killed in battle.” He raised an eyebrow from behind his glass.

Jenny’s heart stung, but she nodded curtly. “Makes no difference. He was dead to me the moment he joined that bloody cause.”

“Of course, of course,” he mused. “But his wife…this ‘sassenach witch’ as you say…do you know what’s become of her?”

“I always thought she was killed as well,” Jenny said dismissively, despite how saying it made her sick to her stomach. “Wished it, almost. Good riddance, ye ken.”

“Indeed,” he affirmed, nodding. “This uh…cousin of yours…no relation at all to the sassenach witch?”

“None at all,” Jenny said, feigning confusion once more. “She’s my blood cousin. No’ a drop of English blood.”

He opened his mouth to continue, but the back door opened and the stomping of boots started again, this time accompanied by the sound of wood dragging on the floor.

Ian’s leg.

Jenny’s throat went dry.

The officer put down the glass and stood. Jenny and Fergus stood as well. The three soldiers appeared, two of them each holding one of Ian’s arms, dragging him along.

“Ian Murray, sir,” one of the soldiers boomed. “Man of the house.”

“Ah, yes!” The officer beamed. “If it isn't the infamous Pegleg Grave Robber of Culloden Moor!”

——

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.

Claire’s heart leapt into her throat. She’d been listening as intently as possible, unable to hear very clearly until now.

How on Earth did they track Ian here? And why on Earth did it take them so long to decide to reprimand him for something that happened months ago?

“I’m sure I don’t know what yer talking about — ”

Ian’s voice was cut off by the sound of a blow, to the stomach most likely, based on the noise he made. Claire heard Jenny gasp.

“We want nothing to do with that bloody moor! Nor any Jacobites that were on it!” she heard Jenny cry out.

“Not even your darling brother? Was it not his body you were looking for?”

“I dinna have a brother any longer! Please, we are loyal subjects to the crown.”

“I have the word of a fellow soldier that he shot a man with a pegleg on the moor about three months ago.”

“Surely there are others — ”

“Others specifically having lost the right leg?”

A blinding pain suddenly surged through Claire, causing her to cry out softly, involuntarily. She immediately clamped her hand over her mouth. The shouting above her hadn’t stopped, thank God; they hadn’t heard her.

She began breathing heavily in panic.

It’s too soon…it’s too soon…

Another wave of pain came, and she clamped down on her hand, her teeth digging painfully into her flesh.

It’s too soon! It’s too soon!

“If he is indeed innocent, surely you wouldn’t mind if we took him in for questioning.”

“But the harvest!” A new voice. A young boy.

Fergus, don't you say another damn word.

“Milord is needed in the fields to finish the harvest!”

“Do they teach you to talk back to your superiors in France, then?”

The crisp sound of a hand on soft flesh sounded.

Claire bit down on her hand again, this time to stop herself from crying out to her son. Then another wave came. She clamped her other hand over her mouth as well, this time moans were audible, even through her hands. She pinched her nose in attempt to stop this as well.

God, please…not again…it’s too soon…

“The graveyard,” Ian’s voice panted. “There’s a grave wi’ his name, but it’s empty.”

No.

“We did it to honor him wi’out his body. If ye must, ye may unearth the grave. Why would we bury an empty casket if I’d taken his body from the moor?”

“To my recollection, you were shot before you could retrieve a body. This empty grave proves nothing.”

“Ask the mason in the village, and the carpenter. The date the stone and the casket was made will pre-date the night this other pegleg was on the moor. I swear it.”

Claire was trying to breathe evenly and yet quietly as possible, but she was interrupted by another contraction.

No. It can’t be that. It’s too soon.

She bit down on her hand, drawing blood now.

But what else could it be?

“Very well. We will question the mason and the carpenter of Broch Mordha. Until then, you’ll be taken into custody.”

The sound of Ian’s wooden leg dragging on the floor started again, along with the clomping of boots. Claire was seeing stars now, and whatever vision she had in the dark hole was becoming hazy.

“Oh…and we’ll be back to inspect this empty grave.” Even through the floor and walls, Claire could hear the slime in his voice. “We must be sure everything…lines up.”

Connard!”

“Fergus, don’t!” Jenny cried. Claire prayed she was holding him back. “Hold yer whisht, lad. It’ll be alright.”

“You are the grave robbers!” Fergus spat. “You will go to hell!”

“Silence that frog at once!” the Captain barked. “Or I will drag him away as well, child or not.”

Claire could picture him, yanking against Jenny’s strong grip like a bull ready to charge. And then blinding white pain surged through her again, and she squeezed her hand over her mouth, her nose. Air was blocked from any entrance into her body, her throat burned with the need to cry out, her chest begged for air.

She felt consciousness slipping away from her.

Perhaps that would be for the best…

——

Jenny watched from the porch as Ian disappeared in the cart, tears blurring her vision. She fiercely bit her lip as he vanished from her sight.

“I will kill them,” Fergus said bitterly.

“That’s enough,” Jenny said firmly. “If ye mouth off like that to them again ye may get Ian killed. No’ to mention yerself.”

Fergus sighed in frustration. “They will see Milord’s tartan when they return.”

“Aye. They will.”

“We must move it!”

“No, Fergus. They’ll know we’ve unearthed it ourselves and then they’ll know we’re hiding something.” Jenny sighed. “Best to let them find it and tell them we buried it before they came to take them away.”

“It is not fair!” Fergus exploded. “They take everything away!”

“I ken, lad…I ken.” Jenny wiped her eyes. “Best go check on yer mam.”

She put an arm around his shoulders and ushered him to the priest hole.

“Claire,” she called, opening it up. “D’ye need anything, sister?”

She didn’t answer.

“It is alright, Maman . They are gone for now.”

Still no answer.

“Claire?” Jenny descended the ladder, and her heart dropped. Even in the faint light she could see her limp form. “Claire!”

“What is wrong?”

“She’s fainted,” Jenny called up to him. “Claire?” Jenny gathered her into her arms. “Claire what’s happened?”

“What can I do?”

“A cold rag, she’s dripping wi’ sweat.”

Without another word, Fergus was off.

Claire uttered a pained groan, her eyes fluttering open.

“I’m here, sister.” Jenny clasped her hand. “Talk to me. Is it the bairn?”

“I’m…having contractions…” she panted, her eyes widening. “It’s too soon, Jenny…”

“I ken it is, but ye’ll be alright…” she assured her, despite the panic that was making itself known in the pit of her stomach.

“Here, Milady.” Fergus tossed the rag down the hole into Jenny’s hands.

“Fergus…?” Claire whimpered. “Is he alright?”

“He’s fine.” Jenny patted down Claire’s sweaty face. “Despite his being a damned fool, he’s just fine.”

Claire let out a short, breathy laugh. “How is…the potato baby?”

Jenny laughed at that. “Oh, he’s braw. Redcoats never knew any better.”

Claire smiled, breathing heavily.

“Is yer hand bleeding?” Jenny asked, bewildered.

“I bit down on it,” Claire said. “So I wouldn't scream.”

“Ye poor thing.” Jenny tutted in sympathy. “It’ll be alright now. When was the last one?”

“Before I fainted.”

Jenny nodded. “Let me take a look.”

She peered beneath Claire’s skirts, and Claire opened her legs to allow inspection.

“It doesna seem like anything has changed.”

“No bleeding?” Claire said desperately.

“None at all.”

“Thank God,” she breathed in relief.

“No more pains?” Jenny asked, looking up at Claire.

“No…not since you woke me.”

Jenny smiled with a relieved sigh. “False labor.”

Claire, too, gave an enormous sigh of relief. “Of course. Braxton Hicks contractions.”

Jenny cocked an eyebrow. “Is that what you fancy healers call it, then?”

Claire gave a soft chuckle. “I suppose you could say that.”

Jenny returned Claire’s skirts to their proper place.

“So…they took Ian?”

“Aye,” Jenny said distantly. “And they’ll be back to desecrate Jamie’s grave.”

Rage bubbled in Claire’s chest, tears of white hot anger gathered in her eyes.

“What more can they possibly take away from me?” Claire spat.

Jenny put a hand on her shoulder. “I ken, sister. It’ll turn my stomach to see them do it. Be grateful at least ye willna have to see it.”

“They’ll take his tartan,” Claire said flatly.

“Aye, they will.”

An angry sob left her lips and she pounded her fists into the stone floor. “ Damn them! Bloody fucking bastards!”

“Aye, that they are,” Jenny said, tears spilling out of her own eyes. “It’s alright mo ghràidh …” She wrapped her arms around Claire’s shuddering frame. “They canna take him away from yer heart, ye ken?”

“I know…it’s just…”

“I ken, sister. I ken.”

Maman , Milady! They are coming back!”

They pulled apart. “Will ye be alright?”

“Yes…I’m fine.” Claire sniffled and wiped her eyes. “As long as my little potato doesn’t cause any more trouble.” She caressed her stomach.

Jenny chuckled in spite of her anguish. “Alright. I’ll come back fer ye when they’ve gone again.”

Jenny climbed the ladder and sealed the priest hole up again. The Redcoats didn’t bother coming into the house this time, so Fergus and Jenny made their way to the graveyard. They watched from a distance as a small handful of Redcoats dug up the long undisturbed earth. Jenny kept her hands firmly on Fergus’s shoulders even as he struggled to break free, though she wondered if she’d be able to stop herself once they removed the casket itself.

Remove it they did, and they simply tossed the lid off and threw it aside. She could hear them laughing as they dumped the tartan out of the casket. Jenny’s blood boiled. Fergus jerked in her grip again, but she clamped down harder.

Even from the distance, Jenny could see the officer shake his head and light another match.

No !” Fergus cried.

“It willna help, lad!” Jenny said firmly, wrapping her arms around him from behind now. “It willna help.”

The bastard deliberately looked at them, as far away as they were, as he dropped the match into the casket.

Jenny bit her lip as the casket and the tartan went up in flames. Claire’s words echoed over and over in her head:

“What more can they possibly take away from me?”

Fergus finally stopped fighting her, and he burst into tears in her arms. Jenny laid her cheek atop his curly head and wept silently into his hair.

Forgive me, a bhràthair …I tried to honor ye properly…I’m sorry…I tried…

Chapter Text

Claire rubbed Lambert’s tartan bow between her thumb and fingers. She’d been sitting by the fire with her baby's little toy for a while now. It was a month since the Redcoats had come and destroyed the bit of peace she’d created for herself.

“They burned it, Claire…his coffin as well.”

How she had screamed, how she had raged.

“We can have another casket made, Claire. Bury it again, fix everything so it’s just as it was before — ”

“No,” she spat. “I’ll not fucking do it again. I will not.”

“I willna do anything ye dinna agree with sister.” She went to take her hand, but Claire yanked it away. She did not miss the pain in Jenny’s eyes.

“Would ye have me fill it wi’ dirt and nothing more? Whatever ye think is right, Claire. I want to fix it for ye.”

“You can’t.” Claire stood up.

She was being unfair. She knew it. But the true source of her anger, her utter fucking rage, was not here, and even if they were, they were untouchable. So she fled, she fled Jenny even as she called out to her, in pain. She fled to her room, slamming the door behind her, and collapsing against the door to scream in rage, in anguish.

After hours of screaming, the cot caught her eye. And then she'd remembered.

She’d held onto that little lamb and cried for hours.

And now every day since, she spent time rubbing the fabric between her fingertips, willing her flesh to become one with the colors that Jamie had been so proud of.

Ian had been returned to them about a week later. Jenny had sent Fergus into the village to inform the mason and the carpenter to alter their records of the purchase of the stone and the casket. They’d done so unquestioningly, and so with evidence supporting that Ian was not the pegleg in question (even though he was), the Redcoats had no choice but to release him. Jenny had admonished him and verbally torn him apart for going to the moor in the first place, all while kissing him and crying with relief.

A soft kick brought Claire back to the present, and she smiled.

“Why, that was very kind of you, darling,” she said softly. That was certainly one of his gentler kicks. “You want to see Lambert?” She knew it was foolish, but she put the little lamb on her stomach and let it balance there. “Since you asked so very nicely.”

She giggled to herself at the silliness of it all.

“Oh…my baby.” She caressed him, nearly fully grown as he could be inside her. “I’m going to have to share you soon, aren’t I?”

If Claire was being honest with herself, no matter how much she complained about being pregnant, no matter how badly she ached all over, she almost didn’t want to give birth. She’d come to cherish his moving around inside her, she’d come to truly believe that he could hear her when she spoke to him, and that he was kicking in response to his mother’s voice. The conversations they shared felt real to her. The way things were now, he was safe, in her womb, protected.

True, if harm had come to her, he’d be in danger, if there was undue emotional stress, it could harm him. But she had been extremely diligent in taking care of herself these almost nine months that she carried him. She hadn’t protested when she’d been told to cease a certain activity, she hadn’t objected to being taken care of. She’d allowed herself time to scream and cry for her dead husband, but then she’d allowed herself fresh air and distraction, and joy with her nieces, nephews, and her son. If her grief and mourning were going to harm her baby, surely she’d have known by now.

She possessively and protectively wrapped her arms around her middle, as if she could keep him there forever if she held on tightly enough. She tried to find comfort in images of a squirming, tiny baby with Jamie’s eyes, of a little boy running and shouting with his cousins, wild copper curls flowing in the wind, of little kisses to her cheek and tiny whispers in Gaelic. She tried.

But it terrified her.

Once the labor pains began, once her water broke, he was in danger. Faith had stirred and moved right up until her premature birth. She was alive when she was inside of her. It was only when Claire’s body tried to release her that she’d killed her.

Killed her.

For perhaps the millionth time, Claire prayed fervently to whoever was listening.

Please don’t take him, too. Please don’t take him too. Please don’t let me kill him. Give me the strength to see him safe…Please…

Don’t let my body fail me again.

Don’t let me fail him…

This child was all that would be left of him. Ever. The thought of her body purging that life and strangling it even as it came into the world made her sick enough to wish she’d never go into labor at all.

A soft knock on the door stirred her out of her reverie. Her eyes fell on the little lamb again, chuckling softly at the sight of him balancing on her large, round belly. She took him into her hands.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and she expected Fergus’s wide eyes, a stern look from Jenny, or even a lip-biting smile from her little niece.

“Good evening, lass.”

But she certainly hadn’t expected Ian.

“Good evening,” Claire said warmly, sitting herself up a little straighter in her chair. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, aye. Just fine.” He lingered in the doorway. “D’ye mind if I join ye?”

“Not at all, please.” Claire gestured to the other chair beside the fireplace, adjacent to hers. “Is it your leg?”

“No, Claire.” He waved her off as he sat down across from her. “I just wanted to apologize.”

Claire’s brow furrowed. “Apologize?”

“I ken ye’ve been in anguish since the Redcoats desecrated Jamie’s grave. And I ken well that it’s my fault they did it.”

“Ian — ”

“Please, I want to say my piece,” he cut her off gently, holding his eye contact with her. Claire wet her lips, swallowing thickly.

“It was damned foolish of me to attempt to retrieve his body. I didna think of the consequences, how easy it’d be to track down someone like me.” He gestured weakly to his leg, blinking shamefully. “And when they were here, I couldna think of any other way to save my hide than to tell them of the grave. I kent well what they’d do.”

“I said it the night you were shot, and I’ll say it again: a body to bury, a grave, is not worth your life,” Claire said. “Where would Jenny or your children be if you hadn’t thought to say something to support your innocence?”

“Aye. It’s true. But ye have anger, Claire.” His eye contact remained ever constant, and she felt her resolve crumbling under his gaze. “And I want ye to know that I ken it’s anger fer me. And well deserved at that.”

Her vision began to blur with tears and she quickly wiped her eyes. “Ian…I don’t resent you,” she said firmly. “You’re right…I have anger. I have…so much anger.” Her voice shuddered. “But it isn’t for you, or Jenny, or anyone but the bastards who killed him in the first place, and then blew apart the only grave we could give him.” She wiped her eyes again, taking a breath. “And perhaps God.”

Ian nodded. “Aye. I can understand.”

“What kind of God would create a society in which those with power can be so…so cruel to those that are helpless? Drive thousands of men to their deaths to stop it all from happening…and have it all be in vain?” Claire shook her head, then rubbed her hand down the length of her face and rested her fingers over her lips.

Frank had briefly recounted to her what had become of the European Jews, the Holocaust, they were calling it. Apparently, right under the noses of the whole world, those with power had rounded up the helpless and murdered them by the millions. A systematic erasure of a culture that they despised for the sake of despising it.

It was not a one-to-one correlation by any stretch of the imagination. What was happening here was no Holocaust, though it was cultural genocide to be sure. Claire supposed that if the powers that be in England could even wrap their minds around something so incomprehensible as death camps, perhaps they might have employed them. At least for the men. Jamie’s treatment at Fort William, at Wentworth, could certainly rival that of the paper thin, war weary Jews in rags that she’d seen on a rare occasion in Europe.

And what kind of God would let this happen? Not once, not even twice through history…countless times? Jamie took up arms to ensure that the ones he loved never had to endure the treatment that he did. To protect his nieces and eventual daughters from the treatment Jenny had received at Lallybroch all those years ago, to protect his nephew and eventual sons from his fate in prison. He fought for a better future for the ones he loved. He died for it. And it was for nothing.

Once again, she found herself possessively hugging her middle. This world is not safe for him.

And it would appear that no world would be safe. Not this one, in 1746, and not her own, in 1945. Here, her child would be targeted as a Highlander, in 1939 children were targeted and murdered for simply being born Jewish. So who was to say that two hundred years from now, some new evil couldn't arise and target her child for being anything? He could be ripped from her arms in any century, everything she loved and held dear could be destroyed for no good reason no matter where, no matter when she was.

“God created this world, aye, he created the people in it. But he didna create the evil,” Ian began. “The Devil lives, thrives in some people, and they drag others down wi’ them.”

Images of herself screaming, pleading for help from the soldiers in Wentworth flashed through Claire’s mind, followed by images of Jack Randall telling them to leave and ignore what they’d seen. And they'd obeyed.

The Devil thrives in some people indeed. And he managed to drag plenty down with him.

“For whatever reason, He canna purge the world of that evil,” Ian went on. “D’ye ken the only thing that truly does combat it?”

Claire blinked numbly at him.

“It’s love, Claire. Pure and undying. It’s the only thing that can never truly die.”

Silent tears trickled down her cheeks as she listened intently.

“After seeing the evils of war, what men are capable of doing to one another.” He gestured to his leg again. “I cursed the Lord as well. I couldna close my eyes wi’out feeling hatred and terror. But d’ye ken what dragged me out of it?”

Claire briefly closed her eyes, a tiny smile appearing on her lips, but not quite reaching her eyes. “Jenny.”

“Aye. That she did.” Ian’s face was now full of emotion. “That lass and her damned stubbornness refused to let me be lost. Her love reminded me why it is that God puts us on this Earth. And then I look at my bairns…and I’m so full of love I’m fit tae burst.” Claire wiped her eyes again. “D’ye see what I’m saying, Claire?”

“I do.” Truly she did. But she was not comforted yet. “And then what happens when they’re ripped away from you?” She didn’t mean to sound as harsh as she did.

“The love remains. I ken ye know that, Claire.”

That damned eye contact.

What had she said to herself when they’d buried Jamie’s tartan?

It was not their love that she was putting to rest.

“Love can’t be put to rest,” Claire said shakily.

“Aye. And neither can pain. And that’s the hell of it, I suppose.” He sighed. “You are loved, Claire. By those that have left us and by the ones still here. Throughout the Highlands, men have been slaughtered, and their families are hanging together wi’ love for each other. It’s all they have in the face of evil. Ye ken?”

She nodded tearfully. “I understand.”

He leaned over and placed a gentle hand on her knee. “Yer child will be brought up wi’ love.”

“I know.”

“It was love that brought him here.”

“Yes…it was.”

“I, uh…reckon ye havenae seen the graveyard as of late.” Claire shook her head. “We cleaned up everything that was burnt, filled the hole they left. Didna bury anything else. Jenny said ye didna want it that way.”

Her eyes absently landed on the tartan bow in her hands.

“It wasna salvageable,” Ian said, not waiting for her to ask. “The Redcoats made sure of that.” She nodded, rubbing the fabric on the lamb between her fingers again.

“We…we gathered the ashes. Of the tartan. Jenny argued against it seeing as how ye didna want to bury anything else…but I thought I should ask ye before we truly were rid of it.”

Claire bit her lip.

“Ye dinna have to say anything now. Or tomorrow, or ever, if ye dinna want to,” he continued. “But just know that we have them. The grave is cleaned up, the rosary is returned to the stone, and the ashes of the tartan are safe somewhere.”

She nodded, her chin trembling, not knowing what to say.

He took his hand from her knee before standing.

“I ken ye havena been joining us fer supper of late, and I dinna blame ye. Ye can stay in here of course, eat supper in peace wi’ yer bairn, and we’d think none the less of ye fer it.” He smiled warmly at her. “But I’d be honored if ye came to supper wi’ us, Claire. Wi’ the family that loves ye.”

With that, he turned to leave. Claire watched him go, her heart aching.

“Ian.” She stopped him just before he shut the door behind him. “Thank you.”

He nodded, and then left her alone to think again.

She’d be lying if she said that what had happened with the Redcoats hadn’t caused her to regress in terms of her grief. She was spending more time locked in her room than she had in months. Jenny was bringing meals to her room again, forcing her to eat it, Fergus was peeking in, frightened like he’d been all those months ago, walking on eggshells, frightened that he would shatter her. But unlike last time, the baby was much more concrete, much more real now. She was not just locking herself in her room, she was locking herself in with her baby. This made it all the easier to forget that she was shutting everyone else out.

Guilt clenched her gut. She’d been taking them for granted. The sister that was constantly putting her needs over her own, the brother that risked his life to bring her peace, the son that brought her comfort enough to sleep on nights where she otherwise couldn’t, the nieces and nephew that put so much light in her heart. She’d gotten used to having them, to having a family of her own. And she’d taken it for granted.

Resolutely, Claire pushed herself out of her chair. She reverently placed Lambert in the cot that would soon belong to her baby, smiling as she ran her fingertips over the mattress and blankets.

She would dine with her family. Tonight, and every night thereafter.

She was greeted with several boisterous “Auntie!”s when she entered the dining room, Maggie, then wee Jamie rushing to hug her around the legs. Even Kitty made an attempt, crying “Ah-ee!” and clapping her hands, mimicking her siblings’ delight.

Maggie tugged on her hands, dragging her to the seat beside her, where she’d become accustomed to having her during meals. Maggie had turned three during Claire’s self-induced isolation. Jenny had come into her room, and Claire, in her depression, had been none the wiser to the day.

“D’ye ken it’s Maggie’s birthday?” Jenny said, trying to suppress the salt in her words.

“Is it…?” Claire said dazedly.

“Aye. And she’s been asking fer her Auntie all day.”

Claire finally forced herself to look at her, her stomach wrangled with guilt.

“Remember, three years ago, Claire?” Jenny allowed a smile. “We were strangers, and I had ye pulling a bairn out of me wi’ yer bare hands.”

Claire chuckled softly. “I was terrified.”

“Oh, you were, now?” Jenny scoffed, then shook her head, smiling. “She’s a blessing, a blessing that I have because of you. A blessing that you have because ye brought her into the world three years ago today.” Jenny patted her shoulder and then stood up and made to leave the room.

“Just wanted to tell ye that.” She shut the door behind her.

That was the one and only day that month that Claire had forced herself to venture out of the house. The air was chilling, biting, even, but there was only one way to make this right. After her journey out of doors, Claire found Maggie in the nursery with her dolls.

“Auntie Claire!” She toddled to the door and threw herself on her legs. “D’ye ken the day, Auntie?”

“Of course I do!” She sat on Maggie’s bed and pulled her into her lap, though there wasn’t much room given the size of her belly. “It’s the day I helped your mother bring you into the world.” She poked her nose, resulting in a little giggle.

“Aye! Mam says ye saved me, Auntie.”

Claire looked into her eyes, so wide, so in awe of her, completely clueless as to how broken she, the woman who was her hero, had become.

“I did, Maggie. Because I already loved you so very much.”

She was very much like Ian, Claire decided. Wee Jamie was the troublemaker, like his namesake, Kitty was the stubborn devil, like her mother, but Maggie was so gentle, so sweet, caring beyond her years.

“I’ve brought something for the birthday girl,” Claire said in a sing-song pattern.

Maggie gasped, her face lighting up, clapping her hands.

Claire reached into her pocket and pulled out the very item she’d ventured outside for. It was a dried and flattened bluebell, something she’d been saving with her other dried herbs for experimental purposes, but also something she’d much rather give to a special little girl on her birthday.

“It’s a dried flower, a bluebell.” Claire held it out to her, and she gaped at it in awe. She took it in her little hands with all the grace of a grown woman holding a string of pearls. Claire didn’t have to tell her to be careful, how delicate it was. She knew.

“Someday, I’ll teach you how to dry flowers yourself, that way you can keep any flower you want forever. How does that sound?”

Maggie simply nodded, her mouth stuck in an adorable little “o” shape, unable to tear her wide eyes from it.

“It’s a special medicine flower,” Claire went on. “If you keep it in your pocket, you’ll always have the warmth of Spring, even in the dead of Winter.” Claire was never one to come up with fairytales, but she felt compelled to endow the simple little plant with something so that the poor girl wouldn’t realize her Auntie had selfishly forgotten her birthday.

Although, looking at her face, Claire decided that even if it was just a plain, non-magical flower, Maggie would have cherished it all the same.

“Do you like it?” Claire said, almost laughing at how her little awe-struck face still hadn’t changed.

“Aye, Auntie.” She nodded.

“I’m glad. I had to give my little garden faery something special for her birthday.” Claire kissed her head. “Keep it safe now, won’t you?”

“I will, Auntie. Promise.”

Now, Maggie clambered into her chair next to Claire, and she hoisted herself onto her knees. She looked up at Claire smiling, biting her bottom lip as she always did. She patted the pocket of her wee apron. “Safe, Auntie.”

Claire’s eyes welled up with tears, and she pulled the girl into a hug to hide them from her.

Dear, sweet girl.

Supper was…normal. It was as if she’d never left, as if she hadn’t spent weeks avoiding everybody. The children were boisterous, Jenny and Ian bickered, Fergus was…well, Fergus. Everything was as it should be. Everything was perfectly…normal. It unnerved her for some reason to feel that way, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Until halfway through the meal it hit her.

“Normal” no longer included Jamie.

She’d spent months imagining him at the table, hearing his laughter among the cacophony of noise. Now, his absence was normal. She’d gotten used to it.

She’d almost had to excuse herself, suddenly overcome with this burden of knowledge, but then wee Jamie spilled his glass, and the water reached Claire’s lap, even from all the way across the table. Maggie squealed, Jenny reprimanded her son, and it was enough to bring Claire back into the moment, out of her whirling thoughts.

She managed to make it through the rest of supper, despite her now being wet.

“What do ye say to yer Auntie, Jamie?” Jenny stood with her hands on her hips as Claire and wee Laura started to clear the table.

“Sorry fer getting ye all wet, Auntie Claire,” the lad said, peering up through his long lashes, trying not to grin.

“It’s alright, Jamie.” Claire ruffled his hair. “I needed a bit of a bath anyway.”

He couldn’t stop the giggle that erupted at that, and Jenny gave the back of his head a gentle smack. “Up ye get, lad. To bed.”

“Milady,” Fergus suddenly reentered the dining room, having gone upstairs to put Kitty to bed. “It would appear Katherine does not want to go to bed.”

Claire had to cover her mouth to prevent herself from laughing out loud. Fergus was holding onto the squirming toddler for dear life, and she was screaming her wee head off, positively red in the face. Fergus looked terrified.

Och.” Jenny sighed and took quick strides to retrieve her stubborn wee devil. “Ye behaved just fine fer cousin Fergus last night, Kitty! What on Earth could be the matter today?”

Tutting and muttering to herself, Jenny whisked the screaming child out of the dining room and upstairs, the sound gradually quieting the further away they got.

“I hope mon petit does not hate me as Katherine does,” Fergus said, his eyes wide.

“Oh, Kitty does not hate you,” Claire assured him, picking up dishes. “She’s just a fussy toddler. She does the same thing to her own mother. You’ve seen it.”

He seemed placated enough, nodding.

“You are a wonderful cousin to the little ones, mon fils,” Claire said. “And you will be a wonderful brother as well.”

He smiled proudly. “Thank you, Maman.”

“Alright then. Since Kitty so vehemently opposed your being on baby duty, it looks like you’re on dish duty with — ”

A familiar searing pain rushed through her, and the pile of plates she held slipped from her grasp, the bottom two shattering on the wood floor.

Maman?” Fergus was at her side in an instant.

She panted heavily, clutching her belly.

“It’s alright…I’m alright.” Claire assured him, taking the arm he offered her.

“False labor again?” Fergus asked.

“Very well could be,” Claire said. She allowed Fergus to lead her into a seat, exhaling heavily as she sat. “Look at the mess I’ve made…”

“Don’t worry, Maman. I will clean it up.”

He got right to it, returning the unbroken plates to the table and then picking up the broken pieces, gathering them in a pile in his arms. He disposed of them and then returned to her side. Her breathing felt regular again, no more pain.

“Alright. Back to the dishes then. Though perhaps you should carry them,” Claire said sheepishly.

“Are you sure, Maman? Perhaps you should go to bed,” Fergus said, rushing to help her stand before she could even attempt to do it herself.

“I’m fine, darling, really. It’s — ” She suddenly cried out and doubled over.

And then her blood ran cold.

The liquid running down her legs and gathering at her feet was unmistakable.

Maman?” Fergus was panicked now.

Claire looked up at him, her chest heaving with panic. “My waters have broken.”

“Does that…is it…?”

“Yes, Fergus.” Her mind was racing, her head was spinning. She was squeezing his arm with white knuckles.

“The baby is coming.”

Chapter Text

“Milady?”

“Christ, Fergus, ye scairt the bowels out of me.” Jenny clutched her chest. She was sitting on Kitty’s bed, lulling her to sleep.

“Fergus?” Wee Jamie sat straight up in bed, followed by Maggie.

“Fus!” Kitty called.

“Milady, it — ”

“I’d just gotten her to fall asleep,” Jenny groaned. “Ye’d better have good reason fer keeping me in here fer another hour, lad.”

“I am sorry, Milady,” Fergus stammered. “It is the baby.”

Jenny leapt to her feet.

“Her waters have broken.”

“Christ! Why did ye no’ say?” She bustled out of the room. “Fergus, stay wi’ the bairns.”

“But I want to help!”

“Ye can help by getting the bairns to sleep and out of my hair.” She was already halfway down the stairs. “Ye can come by when they’re asleep!”

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jenny practically sprinted through the second-story hallway to Claire’s bedroom.

“Jenny,” Claire uttered her name breathily. She was pacing the room, but now she stopped, looking up at Jenny with panic in her eyes.

“Ye alright, sister?” Jenny was immediately beside her, feeling her forehead, her cheeks.

“I’m…” Claire swallowed, her vision blurring. “I’m scared.”

“I ken ye are.” Jenny squeezed her upper arms. “But I’m right here wi’ ye.”

There was a light knock on the door, but Ian was already in the room. “It’s true then? Bairn’s coming?”

“Aye.” Jenny nodded. “Get to the village to fetch the midwife.”

Ian nodded curtly, then he was off.

“Mrs. Crook and the Donnelly widow picked a right fine time to no’ be here,” Jenny sighed.

Before Claire could respond, another contraction came, and she braced onto the chair by the fireplace, clinging to it with white knuckles. She groaned through gritted teeth, the pain coursing through her. Jenny rubbed her back, reminded her to breathe.

Mrs. Crook’s sister had suddenly passed, so she was off to the services in a small village outside of Edinburgh. Mrs. Donnelly had decided to journey with her and stop in Edinburgh to see family, though she’d left Laura behind to do menial tasks and cleaning while she was gone.

“I’ll be fine without them,” Claire finally answered when the contraction ended. “I assured them both as much when they were concerned about leaving so close to the due date.” She released her grip on the chair and began pacing again. “I’ll have the midwife. And I have you.” Claire smiled warmly at Jenny.

“Aye. Ye do.” Jenny approached her and began untying her skirts. “Let’s get ye down to yer shift, nice and comfortable.”

Claire allowed her to help her undress, pausing once to brace herself for another contraction. After she was in only her shift, Jenny sat her at the vanity to unpin her hair for her. A tiny knock came at the door, and Jenny groaned, expecting Jamie or Maggie to burst in.

“What is it then?” she called.

The door opened just a crack, though, and wee Laura was standing there.

“Laura, should ye no’ be in bad, lass?” Jenny paused her attentions on Claire to turn and face her.

“I want to help, Mistress,” she said in a tiny voice. “Mother told me to be helpful.”

“Oh, aye, she did.” Jenny smiled. “Why don’t ye go fetch some clean rags and linens for Mistress Fraser, and a pitcher of fresh water as well?”

“Yes, Mistress.” Laura curtsied and then tiptoed off, shutting the door behind her.

“Sweet girl,” Claire said fondly, finishing up with her hair.

“Aye, she is. Too young to be birthing bairns yet. I’ll be sending her to bed once she’s done what I asked.”

Claire nodded in agreement, and then braced herself, as she felt another contraction coming on. This time she outright yelled, and Jenny rushed to her side. It passed, and Claire started breathing heavily through puffed cheeks.

“A strong one, aye?”

Claire nodded wordlessly, breathless.

“How’re ye feeling? Dizzy? Weak? D’ye want to lie down?”

Claire shook her head. “Not just yet. I’m alright.” Jenny helped her to her feet and then sat down, watching Claire pace the room.

“Is the bairn in a good position?” Jenny suddenly asked. “Didna even think to ask.”

“Yes…I felt myself,” Claire assured her. “He’s ready.”

Jenny nodded. “Are you ready?”

“Quite the loaded question,” Claire said, cocking her head. Then she sighed in defeat, resting her hands on the small of her back, turning her elbows outward. “I suppose I…” She stopped herself. “No,” she said simply. Why lie to Jenny when she’d get the truth out of her either way? “I don’t feel ready at all.”

“I understand.” Jenny nodded in sympathy. “What has ye scairt most?”

She scoffed. “Everything?” She started pacing again. “I can bear the pain, of course. But I’m not ready to face something going wrong. I’m not ready for my body to…to fail my child again.”

“Claire…dinna talk like that.” Jenny crossed herself, presumedly warding off any ill luck Claire had spoken into the world.

“I know I shouldn’t…and everything seems perfectly normal so far. But I…I’m not prepared for it to happen. And then there’s…seeing him.”

“What d’ye mean? Yer no’ ready to see the bairn?” Jenny almost laughed. “That’s the part most women are ready fer.”

Claire smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I know it doesn’t make much sense…but I…I’m not ready to…to see…” She stopped pacing and took a deep breath, forcing herself to look at Jenny. “I’m not ready to see Jamie in my baby.” Jenny’s face softened. “I’m afraid I’m going to…to look at him and just…fall apart.”

“Claire…”

“And then what of the rest of his life? What if I can’t look at my child without seeing him? And then I…I completely lose it?” Claire’s voice caught in her throat, and her chest began heaving with shallow breath. “What if I never stop grieving him and it’s too painful to even look at my child? What if I…I just can’t do it?”

“That’s enough, now.” Jenny stood up and crossed the room so she could firmly grab Claire by the shoulders. “I willna lie to ye, Claire, ye will see Jamie in this child. But as much as it’ll pain ye, is it no’ a miracle as well? To have him with ye still?” Claire’s tears were falling freely. “I ken ye know that’s the truth. Yer just scairt now, is all. Ye ken, don’t ye? The miracle that this child is?”

Claire nodded, sniffling. “I do.”

“Good.” Some of her firmness melted away, and she cupped Claire’s face in her hands, swiping her tears away with her thumbs. “I also ken that ye’ll never stop truly grieving him. As much as I want to tell ye otherwise. He’ll always be missing from ye. But you are strong , Claire Fraser. Ye’ve survived hell and back, I ken it well. I know yer heart. Ye’d do anything fer yer bairns, no matter how it pains ye. A mother doesna quit no matter how her heart aches.” Jenny pulled her face down to kiss her forehead. “And you are a mother, Claire. Through and through.”

Claire pulled her into a tight embrace, clinging to her. “Thank you, Jenny.”

A little knock sounded again, and Jenny went to the door to take the pitcher from wee Laura. It was almost comical how she struggled to balance the pitcher and all the linens she’d brought with her. Jenny was about to pour a glass when Claire cried out again, waving blindly for something to grab onto. Jenny rushed to catch her and guided her to the bed. Laura watched with wide eyes, frozen still, holding the bundle of linens.

Claire squeezed Jenny’s hands as the wave of pain flooded over her, and Jenny soothed her all the while. It ended, and Jenny finished the task of getting her a glass of water.

“What shall I do with the cloth, Mistress?” Laura’s voice was even tinier than normal, if it were even possible.

“Put them there on the table,” Jenny indicated with her head, making sure Claire was drinking the water. “And then off to bed wi’ ye.”

“But Mother said I must help.”

“D’ye ken the most helpful thing ye could do?” Jenny asked. Laura shook her head. “Ye could make sure ye get a good night’s sleep so yer ready to help when the bairn is here. How does that sound?”

Laura nodded. “Yes, Mistress.”

She curtsied, and was off again.

Jenny quickly set to work wetting one of the rags in the cool water, then dabbing Claire’s sweaty face with it.

“That feels heavenly,” Claire panted, letting her head hang loose so Jenny could get to her neck.

“Good,” Jenny said. “Here, let’s get ye against the pillows now. They’re getting stronger.”

Claire nodded, scooting back into the pillows arranged at the headboard. “I don’t think I could get back up if I wanted to.” Claire put the glass on the night table beside her and adjusted herself to get more comfortable, if that was even possible. Jenny tugged the blankets out from underneath her and then pulled them over her legs.

Claire smiled wistfully.

“What?” Jenny said, looking up from her current task of rearranging the pillows behind Claire.

“You fuss over me like Jamie used to,” Claire said.

“Do I, now?”

“Indeed,” Claire chuckled softly. “He’d be beside himself if he were here.”

“He’d no’ be here, I can assure ye,” Jenny said. “I’d have Ian tie him to a tree if I had to.”

“I very much doubt that.” Claire winced as pain surged through her lower back. “You’d likely have to sedate him and drag him out of here. And even that might not work.” They both chuckled. “Though I think I’d want him here. If he could be.” Her gaze became far off, her voice small and sad. “Especially after the last time. Being without him, being alone was horrible.”

“Yer no’ alone,” Jenny said firmly, squeezing Claire’s hand.

“I know.”

Several minutes and several painful contractions later, Ian returned to the room, his face grave. 

“Dinna tell me she’s no’ coming,” Jenny said, hands on her hips.

“She’s broken her leg and canna travel,” Ian said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Claire. I tried to rouse anyone that would listen, anyone to help.”

Claire opened her mouth to speak, but instead she wailed in agony again, her head lurching forward off the pillows, curling into herself. Jenny dutifully dabbed at her forehead. “It’s alright, sister, breathe now. There ye go.”

Exhausted, Claire collapsed back into the pillows, and Jenny held the water glass to her lips.

“Damnable woman is never here when we need her.” Jenny shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s alright,” Claire said, and Jenny put the glass back down. “I’ve delivered children before. I can guide you through this.”

“Through yer own birth?” Jenny said. “I can hardly remember the alphabet when I’m in this agony.”

“I’ll just have to find my senses somehow,” Claire chuckled.

“Is there anything I can do fer ye, lass?” Ian said.

“Ye can get to bed,” Jenny answered for her. “I’ll no’ have ye hovering.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mistress.” He bowed mockingly, and Jenny scoffed, waving him off as he left the room.

Ian was nearly barreled over by the lad coming down the hall.

Maman !” Fergus burst into the room without knocking. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Fergus,” Claire insisted. “Come here.”

He obeyed sitting on the edge of the bed.

“The bairns are asleep, Milady, I promise,” he assured Jenny.

“Good lad.”

“How much longer until mon petit arrives?” Fergus asked.

“Based on how far apart and strong the contractions are, I’d say about one or two more hours?” Claire said, looking to Jenny, who nodded.

“Then I will stay awake.”

“You don’t have to darling.” Claire cupped his cheek. “You can get some rest, and we’ll wake you when the baby is here.”

“Are…are you sure?” He looked frightened, terrified even.

“Fergus…” Claire wrapped him in her arms. “The last time I had a baby it was not normal. Everything is fine right now. We’re both fine.”

He nodded in her arms, and she kissed the crown of his head.

“I promise we’ll get you if something happens.”

He pulled away and looked into her eyes, nodding. “One or two hours?”

“Maybe three,” Claire said, smiling.

“Alright, Maman . Good night.”

“Fergus.” She squeezed his hand as he tried to get up. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

——

Eleven hours.

Claire’s waters had broken at around eight in the evening, and she’d now been in labor for eleven hours.

Her entire body was aching, throbbing.

“Yer alright, Claire,” Jenny assured her for perhaps the millionth time. “Remember how long I was wi’ Maggie? A whole day and night.”

Claire nodded, bracing down as another horrible contraction wracked her body, her throat burning with the screams that ripped through her. Jenny was immediately upon her, dabbing her head, her neck.

“Breathe…that’s it. Good girl.”

Claire’s head fell back onto the pillows, her chest heaving. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…”

“Take some more water.” Jenny held the glass to her lips, and Claire gratefully sipped.

“It’s been almost twelve hours…” Claire panted. “I don’t know how much longer I can bear this…”

“Ye can bear it, and ye will,” Jenny insisted. “It can’t be long now.”

“It feels like I’m being split in half…” Claire groaned. “Do you think he’s alright? What if something is wrong…if I felt the position incorrectly?”

Jenny pushed the blankets down and lifted up her shift to feel for herself. “It feels just right to me, Claire. His head is right there, see?” She brought her hands down so she could feel.

Claire nodded. “I just…I hate that I can’t feel him while this is happening…he could already be dead and I’d never know…”

“Enough of that,” Jenny said firmly, crossing herself again.

Claire began whimpering. “Christ…this one is going to hurt…”

Jenny sat down beside her and let her squeeze her hands, wincing herself when her grip tightened as the wave of pain coursed through her. If this scream hadn’t roused the entire house, nothing ever would.

Claire collapsed onto the pillows again, tears leaking out of her eyes, wide with panic. “Something is wrong.”

“What?”

“It’s…it’s wet…” Claire stammered, and Jenny tore away the covers. She gaped in horror at the large blood stain on the sheet between her legs.

“It’s blood isn’t it?”

“Aye,” Jenny gulped.

“Jenny. You have to stop the bleeding,” Claire said firmly. “Clean cloth, just shove it between my legs. As tightly as you can.”

Jenny nodded and set to work. Claire closed her eyes and tried to regulate her breathing the best she could. It would do her no good to panic. She needed to be as alert as possible.

“Jenny, the bleeding has to stop, or at least be slowed, before the cervix opens.” Jenny looked up from between her legs, bewildered. “Before the…the baby is ready to come out. I cannot lose consciousness before I start pushing him out, or he’ll be in the birth canal too long and he’ll suffocate.”

Jenny nodded fretfully. “I willna let that happen. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

“Just get as much pressure on it as possible and change the rags when they’re full of blood.” Jenny nodded. “We may be able to slow it enough so that I can stay alive at least until he’s out.”

Jenny’s head whipped up from her work. “Oh no, ye’ll no’ be talking like that,” she said firmly.

“All I mean is…”

“I dinna care. I’ll not have ye writing a death sentence already. The bleeding will stop once the bairn is out, will it no’?”

“I…I don’t know,” Claire admitted, her heart skipping a beat. “I don’t know what’s going to happen…”

“Now, now.” Jenny moved back up to Claire’s side, taking her hand in hers and squeezing. “I’m right here wi’ ye, sister. Ye guided me through wi’ Maggie, and we are both alive and well. And I will do the same fer you.”

Claire nodded, trying to allow herself to believe that. The pain echoed through her again, this time unfathomably so. Jenny left one hand in Claire’s for her to squeeze and quickly got to work wiping her down with the rag in the other hand. The pain subsided after what seemed like an eternity, and Claire dissolved into sobs.

“They’re getting longer now,” Jenny said. “It’s alright.”

“I’m so frightened,” Claire cried desperately, unable to see through the pain or her tears. “I’m so terrified!”

“Hush now,” Jenny said, stroking her hair. “Tears won’t do the bairn any good.”

“Check the rags,” Claire stammered.

Jenny obeyed.

“Replace them immediately with clean ones, don’t leave it exposed.”

Jenny nodded, readying the clean ones and then working to unpack the soiled ones. Her hands began violently trembling and her throat closed. There was so much blood. She looked up at Claire, whose head was back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. She was still weeping. She quickly threw the soiled rags on the floor before she could see, and replaced them with the clean ones.

“How bad is it?” Claire said.

Jenny wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the nightstand to fetch the glass of water. “Here. Drink.” She held the glass to Claire’s lips.

“How. Bad. Is it?” Claire repeated.

Drink .” Jenny insisted, tipping the glass into her mouth. Claire coughed at first, but eventually was swallowing the water, more thirsty than she’d realized.

Satisfied when the glass was empty, Jenny set the glass down and got to work cooling her down again with the rag.

“He’ll be ready soon,” she said, forcing herself to smile at Claire. “Ye’ll look braw wi’ a bairn in yer arms, Claire. It’ll bring me great joy to see it.”

“The pain isn’t stopping…” Claire said. “It hurts…so badly…”

“I know, mo ghràidh , I know…”

“It’s not normal…” She was trying to raise her voice in alarm, but the energy she put into the words was dying on her lips. “I’m losing too much blood…” She was cut off by another wave of even more intense pain wracking her body. “Oh God …” She wailed, and yelled as the wave crashed into her.

“Breathe, Claire! Breathe…” Jenny rubbed her shoulders. “Breathe…that’s it…”

She was growing paler with every second.

Claire grunted and groaned as the contraction ended, panting heavily. “He’s coming…move…the rags…”

“Should we no’ get ye off the bed?”

“I shouldn’t be moved…that far…” Claire panted. “Would worsen the bleeding…Scoot me…closer to the foot of the bed…”

Jenny obeyed, helping her move and adjusting the pillows as she went. She rushed to retrieve more pillows from her own bedroom to keep Claire properly sitting up. She then got to work removing the cloth. She couldn’t tell if the amount of blood was just as bad or if it had gotten worse; the only thing she could tell is that it made her dizzy and sick to her stomach.

“Keep at least one…move it when…a contraction…”

Jenny nodded, understanding without forcing her to continue. “It’ll all be worth it when he’s here,” Jenny said, with a forced cheerfulness that did not manage to convince herself. “Should be within the hour.”

“Oh God…” Claire moaned, and Jenny could see her bracing herself for a contraction. Jenny quickly moved the rag, and was horrified to see the blood simply pooling on the sheet instead.

She gulped, forcing down the bile that had risen in her throat, and rushed to Claire’s side. “Alright, it’s time.” Jenny sat on the bed and gathered her weary body in her arms. “Take hold of me, now.” Claire desperately grasped both of Jenny’s hands that were wrapped around her. A high pitched keening noise started in the back of Claire’s throat, and it gradually transformed into an agonizing shriek.

“That’s it, push! Good, good!” Jenny encouraged, wincing as Claire bore her entire body weight down on her. The contraction ended, and Claire collapsed onto Jenny, eyes fluttering shut.

“Claire?” Jenny gave her a gentle shake, and they fluttered back open. “No time fer nappin’ just yet. One push isna enough.”

Claire breathed heavily, her chest heaving. Her arms were trembling. Jenny left her side to return to the foot of the bed to check in and to slow the bleeding some more. “I canna see him yet.” She stuffed clean rags between her legs, wiped her hands on her apron, and rushed to fill the water glass. She held the glass to Claire’s lips, her stomach churning at the way her eyes lolled open and shut, fighting to stay in focus.

“I think…” Jenny said, desperate to keep her awake by talking her ear off. “If the bairn is a girl, she and Kitty would be the best of friends, being so close in age.” Claire had been swallowing the water, but she suddenly began choking. The water was collecting in her mouth; she no longer had the strength to swallow.

“Or,” Jenny continued despite the new panic that set in. “If it was a lad, wee Jamie would be very pleased.” She put the glass down and set to wiping the cool rag on her face again. “Claire,” she said firmly. “Can ye look at me, lass?”

Moaning with the pain of the effort, she obeyed, her head falling onto her shoulder, her eyes glazed over. “He was so disappointed when Kitty was a girl. He wanted a wee brother so badly. He might keep this one all to himself if it’s a boy, ye may never see him again.” Jenny forced a small chuckle. Claire offered back a smile that made Jenny’s skin crawl; her eyes were half closed, her skin was so pale, it was almost ghostly.

“He’s going to grow up loved by so many people,” Jenny continued, putting down the rag and stroking Claire’s head with her hand. “All of his cousins will be all of his closest friends. Oh, and Fergus. I ken the lad is bursting to meet the bairn.”

“He’s…good boy…” Claire whispered.

“Aye, he’s a fine lad,” Jenny agreed, overjoyed to hear her speak. “He’ll be a fine brother to the bairn, boy or girl. Has he told ye which one he’d want?”

Claire shook her head. “He just…wants us…to be healthy— Ah !” Claire’s entire body seized up, and Jenny sprung up to remove the rags. Bloody still.

“Push, Claire,” Jenny said, rushing to grab her hand again. “Wi’ all the strength ye have!”

She obeyed, wailing in agony as she did. This one was a little longer than the last. When it ended, Jenny returned to replace the rags. “Still canna see him. The next one, surely.”

“Jenny…”

She didn’t hear at first…her voice was so weak.

Jenny…

Jenny poked her head out from between Claire’s legs, and her heart nearly stopped. She looked dead already, pale as anything and not moving at all.

“I’m here, sister…” She rushed to Claire’s side, squeezing her hand.

“Name…” Her eyes were a horrifying mixture of sluggish and desperate. “Brian…I promised…”

“None of that, now,” Jenny said kindly, yet firmly. “Ye’ll be naming him yerself.” She dipped the rag into the bowl of water and gently wet her forehead again. Jenny was startled to feel a strong squeeze of the hand that had previously been holding Claire’s. She looked down to see Claire’s hand trembling violently with the effort of squeezing Jenny’s.

“Save him…promise me…”

“Ye’re wasting yer strength, Claire.” Jenny firmly removed herself from Claire’s grip. “Ye’ll be needing it when the next wave comes.” She busied both of her hands with the rag on Claire’s face.

“Please…Jenny…” Her eyes lolled in and out of focus on Jenny’s face.

“Shh…” Jenny smoothed her hair and put the rag in the bowl. She started for the foot of the bed again, but she was once again stopped by Claire’s grip that should logically have not been as strong as it was.

Promise .”

Jenny looked at her face, glistening with sweat and tears, terrified. She would not rest until Jenny gave her peace of mind.

So peace of mind she would not give.

No .” Jenny said firmly, no kindness anymore. “I’ll no’ be promising anything. I’ll no’ give ye permission to waste away. My brother entrusted you to me, and I’ll no’ let him down. If ye die under my care, may he come from above and take me wi’ ye. I’ll not have it.” She hadn’t noticed that she’d been choking up until her voice caught in her throat. She swiped at her face with the back of her hand. “I canna live with myself if ye die. I ken he’d never forgive me.” It was Jenny’s turn to squeeze her hand, and tightly. “So I need ye to fight , Claire Fraser. And if the only thing that keeps you awake is my refusing yer peace of mind then so be it.”

New tears ran down Claire’s face, and Jenny mopped them up with the cold cloth. Her eyes began drooping closed, and Jenny threw the rag into the bowl and began repeatedly slapping both of Claire’s cheeks. It was enough to open her eyes again. Her face suddenly screwed up in familiar pain, and Jenny rushed to the foot of the bed. She removed the bloody rags from between Claire’s legs and threw them to the floor. Much to her dismay, she was still bleeding.

Jenny looked up at Claire, who was not screaming with the wave as it hit her. She was fading again, letting the pain take her into oblivion.

No !” Jenny returned to her face, slapping her cheeks, harder this time. “If ye dinna push now, the bairn will be lost.”

Claire let out a heartbreaking whimper.

“Push, now! Yer killing yer child, Claire! Now !”

Claire’s entire body tensed and began violently trembling. The cries began in her chest and escaped her throat in a blood curdling scream. Jenny rushed back to the foot of the bed.

“Keep going, mo ghràidh ! I can see his head!” It only lasted a few more seconds, however. The scream dissolved into sobbing, and Jenny hurried to shove more cloth between her legs in an attempt to slow the excessive bleeding that had still not abated.

“That was braw, Claire.” Jenny mopped down her face again, then held the glass of water to her lips. “Drink. That’s it. That’s fine.”

Even as she whispered words of comfort, Jenny could not ignore the horrific color Claire had turned. She was whiter than the sheets she lie on. Her lips were moving, but no sound was coming out, and they were tinged blue. Jenny’s heart was in her throat, but she swallowed thickly. She could not weaken, not now.

She pinched Claire’s cheek, stopping her from letting her eyes slide shut again. “Yer almost there, lass. They’ll be coming closer together now.”

As if on cue, Claire’s body tensed again. Jenny returned to the foot of the bed and removed the cloth again. She peered up at her face. “Claire!”

She obeyed without being told, letting out more horrible shrieks and pushing with every ounce of strength she could muster. “Dinna stop!” Jenny cried. “Don’t ye dare, Claire! Keep going!” The sounds she was making were tearing her guts out. Jenny thanked God she had never experienced a birth this painful, and yet simultaneously vowed that she would take this pain away from Claire and carry it herself if she could.

That particular wave ended, and Jenny sighed shakily from the foot of the bed. “Fine, fine.” She said, moving to her face again. Jenny’s heart nearly stopped. Claire was still as rock, her eyes closed.

“Claire!” She slapped her cheeks. She would not move. She pinched her cheeks. Slapped her again. Nothing. A Dhia …” Jenny ran a shaking hand through her hair, her chest heaving with panic. The bairn was not out yet, but there would be no more pushing. They would surely both die if she didn’t do something.

Chapter Text

Jenny’s eyes scanned over Claire’s lifeless body. She was at death’s door. Jenny quickly moved between her legs. The head was mostly out. Claire herself had pulled Margaret out of her by the feet. But that was with Jenny pushing…but Margaret hadn’t been poking out at all, had she?

Did Jenny trust herself to do it? What if Claire woke and she had to tell her that she’d killed the bairn with her own hands?

There isna time, Janet…make up yer mind…

She looked in panic at the color of the bairn. He was dangerously blue.

She resolved that it would be worse if they both perished and she hadn’t tried anything at all.

She rushed to the door and down the hall to the banister. “Ian!” She would need help keeping Claire alive while she dealt with the bairn, and without Mrs. Crook it would have to be the only other member of the household that wasn’t a bairn themselves. “Ian!”

“What is it, Milady?” Fergus appeared at the bottom of the steps. His face blanched at the sight of all the blood on Jenny’s hands and clothing.

“Where is Milord?”

“In the stables.”

“Fetch him to me immediately. ’Tis a matter of life and death.”

Fergus gulped uncertainly, but he nodded. “Yes, Milady.”

“And fetch more cold water.”

“Yes, Milady.”

Jenny hurried back into the bedroom and back to the foot of the bed. She willed her hands to stop shaking as she brought them to the bairn’s head. She could not find a good grip from the outside, so she attempted to reach around the head, inside, to find where his wee neck began. Once she found it, she took a deep, steadying breath, positioning her fingers underneath his chin and her thumbs on the crown of his head. She began gently tugging, and much to her amazement, he shifted. Determined now, she kept her pace gentle, but steady. Soon enough, his entire head was out. Not realizing she hadn’t been breathing, Jenny took another breath and continued to pull. His shoulder’s came next, and Jenny quickly moved to support his head and grip him under the armpits. In merely seconds she’d finished pulling him out.

She did not release the breath she’d been holding yet. This was not over until he let out his first cry…until she let out her first cry. She was still so blue…

Jenny expertly cut the chord and wrapped the bairn in a towel. She moved her to the pile of hay by the fireplace, laid her on her stomach, and began vigorously rubbing her back. It was then that the door opened. Ian didn’t have to say anything; all he had to do was look at Claire’s lifeless body in the bed.

“What can I do?”

Jenny’s head whipped up from the bairn. “Keep rubbing her back,” she instructed, leaving her side to return to Claire. “She’s no breathing.” Ian didn’t hesitate to follow his wife’s instructions as she brushed past him to return to Claire’s side.

“Oh, Claire…” Jenny pressed her ear to her chest, and she could have cried. Her heart was still beating, but only just.

“Is she alive?” Ian asked.

“Barely…”

The door opened again. “Fergus! Don’t ye come in here.” Jenny rushed to the door to take the pail from him without allowing him entrance.

“I want to help,” Fergus insisted, trying to peek around Jenny.

“Ye’ll not be seeing yer mam like this,” Jenny said firmly, taking the pail.

“She needs me, Milady,” Fergus pleaded, tears forming in his eyes.

“Quit my sight, Fergus, that is an order.” Jenny shut the door in the lad’s face. It hurt her heart to be so short with him, but it was for his own good. He’d seen enough suffering in his young life; this was a sight he did not need burned into his permanent memory.

Jenny dipped a clean rag into the pail and quickly wiped down Claire’s face. “She’s burning up, Ian…” She left the rag on her forehead and moved back down to the foot of the bed and frantically began stuffing cloth between her legs to abate the bleeding.

“Still no’ breathing…” Ian’s voice hitched with panic.

“Give her bottom a smack!” Jenny said from between Claire’s legs.

“I…”

“Do it! And dinna be gentle!”

He obeyed, and a little cough sounded through the room, followed by the glorious sound of a newborn screeching. Jenny let out a cry of relief.

“Oh, thanks be to God…” Jenny rushed to the fireplace, bringing the pail of water with her. “Go to Claire and keep cooling her face and neck. I’ll wash the bairn.” Ian nodded wordlessly and obeyed.

Jenny reveled in the sounds of the wee lass’s screaming as she ran the water over her head. The more she wailed, the more air would be carried into her tiny lungs. As she cleaned her, Jenny could clearly see that her hair was a wild red, just like Jamie’s.

“Jenny…” Ian’s voice snapped Jenny out of her adoration of the bairn. He gestured helplessly at Claire’s limp frame.

“She canna die,” Jenny said simply. “Simple as that.”

Ian gaped at his wife. “She’s…she is dying, Janet…”

“Dying.” Jenny expertly swaddled the bairn and stood, handing her to Ian. “Not dead.”

“What’ll ye do?” Ian said helplessly, bouncing the screaming child. “Ye’re no miracle worker.”

Jenny removed the cloth from between Claire’s legs, just as heavily soaked with blood as the rest of them. She paced at the foot of the bed uncertainly. “Something is missing, Ian. She willna stop bleeding …”

Then it dawned on her. The afterbirth .

After Jamie and Claire had returned from France, after losing their first born, Claire had divulged some details of the birth to her. The trauma of her near death experience was a heavy burden on her, but she hadn’t wanted to worsen Jamie’s guilt by sharing it with him. Claire told her that after she’d parted with the wee one, she’d begun wasting away, burning up with fever. The only thing that had saved her was a friend in the dead of the night pulling what she’d called the placenta out of her, later clarifying she meant the afterbirth. Apparently if the afterbirth didn’t come right after the bairn, it was dangerous, even deadly. It would stand to reason that the same complication would happen with the second birth if it had happened with the first. Perhaps Jenny could pull it out as easily as she’d pulled out the bairn.

But what was she looking for? What on earth was she supposed to catch her grip on? Was she to blindly grope around inside the poor woman, grasping for straws?

Yes, that was exactly what she would do.

Ian watched incredulously as his wife’s head disappeared between Claire’s legs again. “What are ye doing?”

“The afterbirth’s gotta come out.”

“The—Janet,” Ian stammered. “She’s got to…to push it, does she no’?”

“Aye. But if she canna I will pull it out. Just as I did the bairn.”

“Are ye mad, woman?”

“Madness would be to let her die.”

“Jenny — ”

“She is my brother’s wife, and my sister. I’ll no’ let it happen. Now hold yer whisht and let me concentrate.”

Ian fretfully continued bouncing the lass as Jenny blindly felt around Claire’s womb. A Dhia, she’ll kill her…

After several minutes, Jenny let out a strangled cry that sounded like relief.

“I think I’ve done it.”

Ian glanced over at the bed and nearly became sick. There was a grotesque collection of bloody bits of something all over the sheets. Jenny quickly set more cloth between her legs to stop whatever bleeding was left.

“Now what?”

Jenny sighed, standing up straight for the first time in several minutes. “Now…we wait.”

Truthfully, Jenny had no idea if she’d done the right thing. For all she knew she could've pulled out a vital organ or made the bleeding worse. Her attention suddenly turned to the bairn, screaming her poor wee head off, starved half to death, no doubt.

“Gi’ me the bairn. I can feed her.” Jenny stretched out her arms.

“Jenny…sit down, mo ghràidh ,” Ian said gently. “Ye’ve been at it fer hours. Ye’ll be no good to Claire or the bairn if ye faint dead away.”

Jenny suddenly became aware of the trembling of her own hands. Ian gently put the wailing child down in the hay and took his wife’s bloody hands in his own. He gently guided her to the chair by the fireplace.

“It’s alright.” He knelt beside her and got to work cleaning her bloody hands, arms, and the spots that managed to get on her face, ever so gently. Jenny’s trembling had not ceased for the entire process. Silent tears were trickling down her cheeks. “Breathe, Jenny. Ye’ve done all ye can now.”

She buried her face in her now clean hands, sobbing gently. Ian gently stroked her back. “It’s alright.”

“It’s no’ alright…” Jenny mumbled. “I swore on his grave that I’d keep her safe…”

“Ye’ve done all ye can, Janet.” She shook her head. “Ye need to calm yer shaking now. The bairn needs her Auntie’s milk.”

Jenny quickly wiped her face and took a deep, shuddery breath. She nodded, desperately willing herself to be calm. “Bring her to me.”

Ian retrieved the tiny, screaming bundle and placed her in Jenny’s arms. The child immediately quieted as she found Jenny’s breast. Jenny gently stroked her copper hair as she fed.

“Her color is changing…more red now than blue, no?”

“Aye. She’s braw.” Ian placed his hand on her arm. “Thanks to you.”

Jenny smiled weakly. “Can ye check the cloth between her legs?”

He did, and Jenny watched from the chair. “Bleeding seems to be slowing, thanks be to God,” she observed, watching the rags hit the floor. Ian crossed himself gratefully. “Once the bairn is done we can change the sheets beneath her.” Ian nodded. “Try to make all this blood go away so Fergus can see her. He’s beside himself no doubt.”

The bairn soon finished and fell asleep immediately. The room was eerily quiet without her crying, no noise at all save the crackling fire. Jenny put the sleeping bairn in the cot by the fire and got to work changing the sheets underneath Claire. Jenny changed her shift as well, feeling sick to her stomach as she rolled around her poor lifeless body.

Jenny and Ian stared at the bloody mess of fabric on the floor. “We’ll have to burn them,” Jenny said flatly. “There’ll be no getting them clean.”

“Aye,” Ian agreed. “I’ll do that.”

“Dinna let the bairns see ye wi’ it,” Jenny warned as he gathered the bloody sheets and rags in his arms. He nodded. Jenny followed him out of the room to find Fergus, only to see him sitting right outside the door.

“Fergus…I told ye…” She sighed in defeat.

“That is…a lot of blood, Milady,” the boy said uneasily as Ian walked past.

“Aye. ’Tis.”

“Is she…dead?”

“No, Fergus. But she’s…she’s no’ well.”

He stood up solemnly, attempting to put on a brave face that looked very strange with his youthful features. “May I see her?”

“Aye, ye can.” Jenny put a gentle hand on the boy’s back and guided him inside. He did not hesitate even for a moment in approaching the bed. He oh so gently stroked the crown of frizzled curls that framed her face. Jenny had to bite her lip to keep from crying at the sight of it.

“Will she wake up?”

“I…I dinna ken, lad.”

“The baby in France hurt her very badly,” he said. “They did not think she would live, but she did.”

“She’s a fighter.” Jenny forced herself to smile down at the lad, clapping a hand on his shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze. 

Oui , Milady. She is.”

“Do ye want to see the bairn?” Jenny asked gently. Fergus looked up from Claire for the first time since he came into the room. He nodded silently. “Here, come sit by the fire—”

“I would like to stay with Maman ,” Fergus said abruptly. “Please.”

Jenny swallowed. “Aye, alright.” She brought the chair from the fireplace to Claire’s bedside, and Fergus sat down. Jenny carefully took the sleeping child from the basket and presented her to Fergus.

“She’s a bonny wee lass,” Jenny said. “Careful not to wake her, now.”

“She is tres jolie ,” Fergus said. “Very pretty.”

“Aye. Wait ’til ye see her eyes. The brightest blue ye’ve ever seen.”

“Like Papa,” Fergus said, wrapping a tuft of her bright copper hair around his finger. “Her hair, too. Like Papa.”

Jenny blinked away tears. “Aye. Just like her Da.”

He looked up from the bairn at Claire. “What will happen to me?”

“What do ye mean?”

“If she does not wake up…what will happen to me?”

“Fergus,” Jenny began. “Do ye honestly think I wouldna take care of ye? Do ye really think I’d throw ye out?” He didn’t say anything. “I canna take care of yer sister without ye, ken.”

Fergus sighed. “I know, Milady. I know you will take care of me. Lallybroch is my home. But Papa is gone, and now Maman …I…I cannot put it into English words.” He shook his head in defeat, unable to communicate how lost he felt.

Jenny knelt next to the chair so she was eye level with the lad. “Well she’s not gone yet.” Jenny took the bairn from him and placed her back in the basket.

“Do you think she can see him?”

“What’s that now?”

“Do you think she wants to be in Heaven with him, instead of here with us?”

Jenny straightened in front of the basket, her breath catching in her throat.

“I think that’ll be in God’s hands, mo chridhe .” Jenny stroked his curly head. “Do me a favor lad. Go fetch some broth from the kitchen. Yer mam needs to eat to get her strength up. I promise ye can come right back in and sit wi’ her as long as ye like.”

“Yes, Milady.” Obedient as ever, the boy left the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Jenny sat down on the bed beside Claire, taking her frail hand in both of hers. “Don’t ye dare give up now, Claire. That lad needs ye. The bairn needs ye. If ye die on me I…I swear I’ll kill ye.” If her heart wasn’t aching so, Jenny might have laughed at how foolish that had sounded. “I ken yer heart aches fer what’s lost but ye’ve got to fight fer the ones that aren’t lost. And if ye give up on the bairn, on Fergus, on me…I’ll never forgive ye. Never.”

She smoothed a section of her hair and kissed her head. “If ye see her, Jamie,” Jenny said, throwing a look upward. “Give her a swift kick in the arse to get her back to us.”

Chapter Text

That night, the bairn was in the Laird’s room with Jenny and Ian. Fergus had refused to leave Claire’s side. Jenny almost hadn't either, but Ian insisted that she get a proper night's sleep after the trying day she’d had. Claire had been unresponsive to water or the broth. It was almost as if she were already dead, yet her heart was still beating.

Fergus had fallen asleep in the chair at Claire’s bedside, his head on the mattress, his hands each resting on her hand and upper arm. Jenny had left him, certain that he wouldn’t want to go to bed, but also knowing that he needed his sleep. He’d spent the day reading to her, singing French folk songs. Jenny didn’t understand, but he seemed to believe she could hear him. If it was a comfort to him, then who was she to tell him otherwise?

His sleep was not deep; his mind would not let his body fall asleep completely. The world was black, but he could vaguely hear sounds from the world around him; owls, the wind, a log falling over and thudding in the fireplace. It had all almost become white noise, a constant lull that kept him asleep and yet kept him alert.

Then there was a new sound.

Fergus slowly picked up his groggy head, unsure if he was hearing things.

That same tiny noise he’d just heard sounded again, and it was unmistakable. It was a pained moan from his mother’s lips.

Maman ?” He cried. “Wake up, Maman . Please wake up.”

She groaned again.

“Milady! Milord!” Fergus shouted. “Hurry!”

Fergus squeezed her hand, her shoulder. “Wake up, Maman . Please.”

The door burst open, and in came Jenny, her robe barely on. Fergus could hear Ian’s wooden leg not far behind.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“She’s waking up!” Fergus said.

Jenny sat down on the bed beside her. “Light a candle, Fergus.” She felt Claire’s face; still warm. She heard a groan. “Claire?”

“What is it?” Ian entered the room.

“She’s groaning, she may be waking up.”

Fergus held the candle in front of Claire’s face. “Claire? Can ye hear me, sister?” Jenny gently pushed her eyelids open. “Claire, look at me.”

She let out a pained, open mouthed moan. Jenny took the candle from Fergus. “Start feeding her the broth, lad.” He immediately obeyed, fetching the bowl and spoon from the table. “Yer boy is here, Claire. He’s going to feed ye some broth. I’m sorry it’ll be cold. Ye up and slept through supper.”

Claire’s eyes finally focused on Jenny’s face, and Jenny released her eyelids. “Can ye see me now?” A hissing sound was coming from her lips, but no decipherable words.

“Here, Maman ,” Fergus said, holding the spoon to Claire’s mouth.

“Come now,” Jenny said, gently cupping Claire’s head and lifting it up so she could comfortably swallow. Like an obedient rag doll, Claire let herself be held up and fed. She got through several spoonfuls before Jenny could see the tears coming out of her eyes.

“Dinna fash, Claire,” Jenny soothed. “Ye’ll be just fine, now.”

“Do not cry, Maman .” Fergus knew exactly what was plaguing her. “The baby is alright.”

Something in Claire’s face changed. Her lips trembled with the effort of forming the words. “Alive…?” Her voice was small and croaky.

“Aye, Claire. She’s asleep down the hall.”

“She…?”

“Aye. She’s bonny.” Jenny smiled.

Claire’s head began tossing back and forth and Jenny lowered her back onto the pillows.

“Give me…my baby…”

“Ye need food, Claire. Yer still too weak…”

Now .”

Jenny almost jumped out of her skin. Claire’s stare was wild, almost deranged.

“Fetch the bairn, Ian,” Jenny ordered. “She’ll no’ rest until she sees fer herself.”

Maman , please eat more,” Fergus pleaded. Claire’s head slowly lolled from the left, where Jenny was, to the right, where Fergus was. “You must be strong to hold the baby.”

Whether it was her own willpower or for the lad’s sake, Claire nodded, and she allowed Jenny to hold her up again and Fergus to spoon broth into her mouth. They managed to get two more spoonfuls in before Ian returned with the bairn.

“Here she is, Claire.” Jenny beamed at her. “Help me, Fergus.” Together, they lifted Claire into a sitting position, adjusting the pillows as they went so she would not slump over. Lord knows she didn’t have the strength to hold herself up. Jenny took the bairn from Ian and presented her to Claire.

Claire let out a strangled whimper. In that moment, the rest of the world fell away; all she could see was the beautiful angel right in front of her. Ignoring the trembling of her arms, she reached out for her, and she was placed in her embrace. She bent her face down to hers until their foreheads were touching. She was warm. She could feel the breath from her tiny nose. She could hear the little snores in the back of her throat.

“She’s alive…”

“Aye.”

Claire was suddenly aware that she was not holding her on her own; Jenny’s hands were still supporting most of her weight. She hadn’t even realized she was still that weak. All that had mattered was assuring herself that the child lived. And God, did she.

She had the same copper hair as her sister, as her father. Both dead and buried.

And yet both alive again in her arms.

“Ten fingers…” Claire panted. “And ten toes.”

Oh Jamie…she’s so beautiful…She’s alive, and she’s yours. Ours.

Claire began openly weeping, running her fingers over every inch of her precious face, tangling her fingers in her curls, kissing her head, her cheeks, her nose, her ears. Every inch of her flesh and blood, his flesh and blood.

Despite the utter exhaustion, the horrible destructive pain her body was in, it was nothing compared to the indescribable ache in her heart, pining for the father of this child to be there with her, adoring her as much as she did. She had never felt so wholly complete and yet so utterly empty at the same time.

She didn’t even notice when her arms gave out; she’d lost feeling in them a while ago. Jenny held the child close again, and Claire suddenly became aware of the hand that had been rubbing her shoulder. She turned her head away from the baby to look at Fergus.

“My sweet boy…” She croaked. “Take my hand…bring it to your face…” He obeyed, and she found just enough energy to stroke his cheek with her thumb. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks. “Come here, darling.”

He got onto the bed and gently wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on her chest. She mustered enough strength to kiss the crown of his head, and then her head fell back onto the pillows, eyes closed.

“Claire?” Jenny said fretfully.

She took a deep breath before willing her eyes to open again, this time to look at Jenny. “Brianna.”

“What’d ye say?”

“Brianna,” Claire repeated, staring adoringly at the bairn. “After Brian, your father. I promised.”

“That’s…that’s fine, Claire. A fine name.” Jenny smiled. Claire sighed with contentment and closed her eyes again.

“Claire!” Jenny cried.

“Her heart is still beating, Milady,” Fergus said softly, curling up closer into her. Jenny sighed in relief, briefly caressing the boy’s head. She let Ian lead her and the bairn out of the room and back to bed.

——

The next several days were harrowing. Claire drifted in and out of consciousness, never staying awake for more than a few minutes. They practically force fed her broth and water whenever she was awake enough to swallow. Jenny’s milk was being spread thin between Brianna and Katherine, so they'd had to resort to Jenny holding Brianna up to Claire’s breast while she lay unconscious. She was practically fit to burst anyway, so it only made sense to use it. But it still didn’t feel right.

“It feels like milking a cow,” Jenny had said one day to Ian. “Taking what we need from her like an animal…” She sniffled, then exhaled shakily. “It’s just no’ how a mother is meant to feed her bairn.”

Ian had pulled her into a comforting embrace, not knowing what to say.

Jenny had been able to convince Fergus that they could take turns sitting with her; he needn’t always be the one to lose the night’s sleep. They rotated throughout the day, alerting the rest when she stirred, and took turns with the night shift. Claire had hardly said two words since that first time she’d woken up. They could always tell she wanted to, that she was trying, but it was as if there wasn’t enough air in her lungs. Sometimes if she tried too hard she’d even faint dead away again before they could get any water in her.

On the eighth day, Jenny was sitting with her, catching up on the mending. Occasionally she would chatter to her. She’d picked up Fergus’s habit of talking as if Claire could hear her. Perhaps she could. Jenny suddenly felt a chill, and over her shoulder she could see the fire was dying, and the December air was biting. She pulled another blanket from the wardrobe to put atop the others on Claire, then set to getting the fire started again. She patiently stoked the flames, and chuckled to herself.

“How do ye think Fergus is getting along wi’ the bairn just now?” She said to Claire, keeping her attention on the fire, knowing she couldn’t answer. “Yesterday he interrupted my shift wi’ ye to change her nappy. Instead, I showed him how to do it himself. He wasna too keen to do it, but I told him that’s what brothers do, and if he wanted to be her brother he canna keep the good to himself and let us old folk do the dirty work. How much would ye bet he’s talking Ian into doing it as we speak?”

“I’d wager quite a sum at that.”

Jenny jumped clean out of her skin, dropping the metal poker and slamming her head on the fireplace. “ Och! A Diah… ” She could not focus on her pain, however. She whirled around. “Claire? Was that you?”

“I don’t see anyone else.”

“Oh, thank Christ!” Jenny rushed to the bed. She was still pale, her eyes were only half open but she was awake, and talking. She took her face in her hands and laughed joyously. “Claire…Oh, thank ye Lord…thank ye…” Jenny firmly kissed her forehead and began affectionately rubbing her hair. “Oh, mo ghràidh …”

“It’s good to see you too, Jenny.” 

“I thought we’d lost ye so many times…I thought surely if a week went by…and ye still wouldn’t wake…I thought ye’d surely die…”

“So did I.”

“Aye, but here ye are!” Jenny kissed her head again. “Oh, the bairn! How’d ye like to properly meet yer daughter?”

“I’d like that very much.”

“Fergus!” Jenny scrambled into the hallway. “She’s awake! Really awake! Bring the bairn wi’ ye!” Leaving the door open, Jenny returned to her side and began helping her sit up. “Fergus has been beside himself. He’ll be so happy to see ye…”

Maman !” Jenny reached for the bairn, knowing what Fergus wanted to do right at that moment.

“Be gentle wi’ her lad. Don’t be throwing yerself on her.”

Fergus nodded and hesitantly sat on the bed opposite Jenny.

“Hello, Fergus.” Claire outstretched her arms and the poor boy melted into her embrace, wrapping his arms around her middle. “I’m sorry I scared you,” Claire whispered into his curls.

“It is alright,” Fergus said, releasing his grip so he could look into her eyes. “But will you not do it again?”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ll try my best.”

At that moment Brianna made a very distinct grunting sound. “Someone is impatient,” Jenny said. Fergus scooted over to allow Claire enough room to take the child in her arms.

“Hello, my angel,” Claire whispered reverently, finally feeling whole again after days of feeling the dull ache of her absence. She’d reached out for her in the black depths of her unconsciousness, called her name, heard the screams reverberating back in her head, but no one could hear her. Claire felt her eyes well up with tears yet again. She briefly wondered when she’d stop crying at the sight of her daughter.

This was the first time she’d seen her eyes. They were his, too.

“Fraser eyes,” Jenny said proudly, noticing how Claire became lost in them.

“They’re beautiful,” Claire said, not looking away from her.

“She’s been so well behaved for her Auntie,” Jenny said. “She’s a braw sleeper.”

“Are you now?” Claire beamed, bouncing her in her arms. “What a good girl.”

“She likes when I tickle her nose,” Fergus said. “Like this.”

He used his pointer finger to rapidly tap her little button nose, causing Brianna to squeeze her eyes shut, toss her head back and forth, and make adorable little squeaking noises. Claire’s laugh bubbled up from her chest, and it was the most genuine happiness she’d felt in so long.

“See?” Fergus said.

“You like your brother’s tickles?” Claire said, imitating what Fergus had done. “What about Mummy’s?” Claire’s heart soared at her baby, alive, alive enough to react to tickling. It would be months before she would really laugh, of course, but to see her react, in any way, to her mother’s touch, was beyond description.

“My sweet girl.” Claire gently rubbed her cheeks, watching as those diamond eyes popped open again, wide as saucers. “God, you are so beautiful…”

Claire became lost in those eyes, the same eyes that she’d woken up to beside her in bed time and time again, the same eyes that she could pick out in a crowd of thousands, the same eyes that stared at her with hunger, passion, love, adoration, the same eyes that captured her heart and possessed her very soul.

“She’s going to look just like him, isn't she?”

She felt Jenny’s hand on her back. “Aye, she will.” Jenny sniffled. “It’ll pain ye to look at her some days. It pains me already.” Claire finally looked up from Brianna to meet Jenny’s eyes. “But the love will always outweigh the pain, ye ken?” She reached over to brush her wee cheek.

Claire sighed shakily. “I already cry every time I look at her.”

“That’ll fade, wi’ time. It won’t always be every time.”

Claire looked back down at her again, unable to imagine looking at her and not being overcome with emotion.

“He would’ve been a fine father, Claire,” Jenny said, wrapping her arm around her frame and firmly squeezing her shoulder. “He wouldnae left yer side these past days, he wouldnae let the bairn out of his sight. He’d have loved her fiercely.”

Claire sniffled and swallowed thickly. “I know.” Her voice was thin and frail.

Jenny sighed, and rested her head on Claire’s shoulder.

“Oh Jenny…” Claire’s voice broke, and she rested her head atop Jenny’s.

“I know, mo ghràidh …I know.” Jenny rubbed her shoulders, feeling Claire’s tears dissolving into her hair.

The two wept on each other for a while, Fergus going back and forth between smoothing Claire’s hair and cupping Brianna’s head.

After a while, the door creaked open, and whoever it was paused in the doorway. Jenny turned her head from atop Claire’s shoulder.

“I heard ye were awake,” Ian said. “Wanted to see it fer myself.”

Jenny released her grip on Claire, and the two straightened up. “Hello, Ian,” Claire said.

“It’s good to see ye again, Claire.” He smiled widely. “How is my niece? She behaving as well fer you as she did fer us?”

“Yes, she is.” Claire smiled down at her.

“She’ll likely need feeding soon,” Jenny said. “Hasnae fed since this morning.”

“What has she been feeding on?” Claire asked. “Have you been bringing her to me?”

“Aye, for these last few days. I was feeding her in the beginning,” Jenny said. “Didnae think ye were strong enough fer it at first.”

“What about Katherine? Was there enough for her? You don’t have nearly as much milk as I do.”

“Dinna fash, Claire,” Jenny assured. “Kitty is just fine. I was spreading myself thin, to be sure, but everything is just fine now.”

As if on cue, Brianna began squirming and mewling.

“Alright lads.” Jenny stood up from the bed and began ushering Fergus out. “Some privacy if ye please.”

“I will come back, Maman ?” Fergus called from the doorway.

“Please do.” Claire smiled.

With that, the boy disappeared down the hall. Ian approached the bed and pressed a loving kiss to the top of Claire’s head.

“God bless ye, Claire,” Ian said before giving Jenny’s hand a squeeze and departing. Jenny shut the door behind him.

Claire untied the top of her shift and brought Brianna to her breast. She briefly marveled at how incredible it was to be nursing her flesh and blood, to be literally giving her life with her own body.

“Thank you,” Claire said after a moment. “For feeding her.”

Jenny waved it off. “Ye’d have done the same fer me.”

“You saved her life, Jenny. Repeatedly,” Claire continued. “And mine.”

Jenny shrugged, winking at her. “I learned from the best.”

“How did you know…I mean, what did you do?” Claire shook her head, as if trying to shake the fuzzy images clear in her memory. “After the bleeding started I…I don’t remember much. Just the horrible pain, and the terror…but the specifics are gone.”

“Once she started coming, ye fainted dead away,” Jenny said. “I honest to God thought ye’d died on me. My only thought was the bairn. If ye were dead, ye were dead, and if the bairn didn’t come out, ye’d be dead anyway.” Jenny shuddered at the memory. “Then I remembered ye pulling Maggie out of me wi’ yer own two hands.”

“You…you pulled her out of me?” Claire said in disbelief.

“Wi’out yer pushing what else could I do? Her head was already out most o’ the way so I just…pulled her out. Gentle as I could.”

At that moment, Brianna fell away from Claire’s breast and began fussing. “Is your wee tummy all full then?” Claire said, smiling down at her.

“She needs burping. I’ll do it,” Jenny said, standing from the chair she’d been sitting in and approaching the bed.

“I can do it.”

“Ye think I canna see yer arms shaking?” Jenny said firmly. “Yer turning white as a sheet. She may no’ weigh much but in yer condition any weight is too much after so long.” Claire hesitated, her heart sinking. “I know ye dinna wannae part wi’ her, but there’ll be plenty of time to hold her when yer able.” Without waiting for permission, Jenny took the squirming bairn from her arms and put her on her shoulder. 

As much as it made her chest ache to see Jenny pacing the room, bouncing her, patting her back, whispering Gaelic to her, she had to admit she was grateful to finally have her arms free. She hadn’t realized how exhausted she’d become. She laid back on the pillows, allowing her eyes to close. She smiled to herself when she heard the little burps, and Brianna finally quieted.

“There ye are,” Jenny said. “I’ll put her down fer a nap here.” Jenny placed her in the basket by the fireplace. “We can move her cot in here if ye’d like. She’s been spending nights wi’ me and Ian, just in case.”

Claire reluctantly opened her eyes. “I’d like that.”

“ ’Course someone would be needing to spend nights wi’ ye both, seeing as ye’ll not be getting out of bed any time soon.”

Claire sighed in frustration at that. “Lovely.”

“Fergus would happily sleep on the floor in here wi’ ye both.” Jenny smiled, shaking her head at the boy’s stubbornness. “He adores ye, ken.”

“I know he does.”

“Speaking of, ye ought to be getting some rest. After ye drink some water, o’ course.” Jenny filled the glass on the nightstand and raised it to Claire’s lips. “Drink all of it, slowly.”

Claire gratefully sipped, again not realizing how much she’d needed it. When the glass was finished, she gratefully thanked Jenny. Jenny began fluffing the pillows behind her, adjusting the blankets.

“Jenny,” Claire said, but she didn’t stop. “Jenny look at me.” Jenny finished straightening the blanket, then she looked up at Claire. “Come here.”

She obeyed, sitting on the bed beside her. “Tell me more. What happened once you got her out?”

Jenny sighed and smoothed her skirt. “She was blue, no’ breathing. Ian rubbed her back and smacked her bottom until she finally started crying.” Claire threw an instinctual glance over to the basket, her heart seized by a moment of panic at the thought of that sweet, pink baby cold, blue, and breathless.

“Did the afterbirth come naturally?” Claire asked, knowing it had to be out of her or she’d already be dead.

“Ah, no. I pulled that out, too.”

Claire was gobsmacked. “You…how…how did you know to do that?”

“I remembered what ye said about…about the last time.” Claire’s heart stung at the memory. “I listened fer yer heartbeat, so I kent ye werena dead. But the bleeding wouldn’t stop, and ye were so pale, and feverish…I was scared out of my wits, ken.” Jenny took a breath. “I wasn’t even sure what I was doing. But I ken ye said that ye’d have died in France if yer friend hadn’t showed up and pulled it out. So I had to try.”

“Jenny…”

“Those days when ye were just laying there, unconscious or delirious, I thought I must’ve done something wrong.” She quickly sniffled and patted Claire’s leg. “But here ye are.”

Claire smiled, tears clouding her vision. She covered Jenny’s hand with her own. “You saved my life, Jenny.”

“I didna have a choice.” She shrugged. “My brother’d have struck me down where I stood if I let ye die.” They both chuckled. “No’ to mention I’d never forgive myself.”

“You did wonderfully, Jenny,” Claire insisted. “Jamie would be so proud.” Jenny nodded tearfully. “ I am so proud. And grateful. I can’t wait to tell Brianna how her Auntie Jenny saved her life.”

“Oh, dinna fill her head wi’ that nonsense.” Jenny shook her head. “Can’t have her thinking I’m some sort o’ saint. She’s got to fear me, ken.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I know you won’t be disciplining her one bit,” Jenny teased. “Ye practically give my own bairns sweets after I’m through wi’ ‘em.”

Claire chuckled. “You’ll have to teach me.”

“Aye, that I will. But now,” Jenny stood up. “Ye need yer rest. I’ll let ye alone in here, but I’ll be in to check on ye while ye sleep.”

“Alright,” Claire said, already feeling herself drift away.

“Dinna even think about trying to get out of that bed,” Jenny said firmly. “If ye want the bairn someone will bring her to ye. Understood?”

“Aye, aye, captain,” Claire teased, her eyes closing.

“Right then. Sleep well.”

Claire attempted to thank her, but the only sound that came out was a breathy grunt, and then the world fell away into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Claire’s waking up was a good sign, that was certain, but no one was convinced that she was completely out of harm’s way, including Claire herself. Fergus had taken up permanent residence in her room, sleeping beside her again as he’d done all those months ago and retrieving Brianna when she fussed. He burped her as well when she fed in the night, even changed diapers if need be. There were nights when Claire couldn't bear to part with her little baby, and she’d simply laid down with Brianna in her arms, drifting away in bliss, knowing that the little one was safe and protected, nestled between her mother and her brother.

During the day, Jenny was mostly the one who helped, who fetched Brianna from the cot, burped her, changed her. Mrs. Crook and Mrs. Donnelly returned, and they were beside themselves with guilt for having missed the birth, knowing that so much had gone wrong. They, too, were a great help when Jenny could not be.

After another week of rest, of Claire going back and forth between sleep that felt drug-induced and tending to her daughter, Jenny had allowed the children in to see her and the baby. Maggie was over the moon, dragging herself onto Claire’s bed and squealing at the sight of the baby, kissing her, fussing over her. Wee Jamie was, of course, crushed that it was not a boy, but even he could not hide his excitement.

“Are ye no’ sick anymore, Auntie?” he asked, looking up at Claire.

She smiled. “No, Jamie. I’m not. I’m still very tired, but I’ll be alright.”

“Good.” He nodded curtly, eliciting a soft chuckle from Claire.

“Auntie, Auntie!” Maggie cried. “May I hold her? Please, Auntie?”

“Calm yerself, Margaret,” Jenny said in a warning tone. “Wild wee beasties canna hold bairns.”

Maggie immediately stiffened, ceasing her bouncing and her squealing at once. “I’ll be good, Auntie. Promise .”

Claire beamed at her. “Alright, here you go.” She carefully transferred Brianna into Maggie’s tiny arms. “Support her head, just like that.” Maggie’s face broke out into the widest grin Claire had ever seen. Claire half expected her to start squealing again.

“Hello baby,” she instead was whispering, almost reverent. “Baby cousin.”

“Her name is Brianna,” Claire said gently.

“Baby Brianna,” Maggie whispered. “Hello Brianna. Hello baby…”

Maggie continued to whisper incoherently at her baby cousin, but Jamie quickly grew tired of women fussing over babies.

“Can I go now, Mam?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Off ye get then.”

He scrambled out of the room, leaving Claire, Maggie, and Brianna on the bed, and Jenny standing holding Kitty.

“What do ye think, Maggie?” Jenny said, sitting on the edge of the bed, restraining Kitty in her lap.

“I love her, Auntie.”

Claire let out a soft laugh, her eyes welling up with tears. Kitty suddenly gave an indignant cry, the usual for her, and Maggie looked up from Brianna for the first time to put a finger to her lips, giving Kitty a “shh.”

“See yer cousin, Kitty?” Jenny said softly into her ear, kissing her temple. “Baby Brianna, d’ye see, mo chridhe ?”

“Banna!” Kitty repeated loudly.

“Shh…” Jenny hushed her, rocking her. “Yes, baby Brianna.”

“Banna! Banna, Banna, Banna…” she repeated it over and over until it became an indecipherable babble.

“Well, Banna , it certainly seems like the whole family approves,” Claire said, smiling down at her baby like a fool.

“Aye.” Jenny smiled. “At least us lasses, aye?” She tickled Kitty who giggled, and Maggie nodded.

“Jamie’ll be good to her,” Jenny assured.

“Oh, I know,” Claire said. “Fergus will show him how.”

“How have ye been feeling?” Jenny asked.

“Tired,” Claire admitted. “Sometimes just holding her for ten minutes is exhausting. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve just fallen asleep with her on my chest, and then I wake up, not even remembering that I fell asleep.”

“Ye lost a lot of — ” She stopped herself, made sure Maggie wasn’t looking and then mouthed blood .

“I know. I’m lucky to still be here.” Her eyes instinctually fell on Brianna, her heart constricting when she remembered what Jenny had told her. She was blue, not breathing…

“We both are,” Claire said, reaching down and stroking Brianna’s cheek.

“Aye. It’ll take time fer ye to get yer strength back. Any pain?”

“Oh, only everywhere.” Claire rolled her eyes. “This dull ache all over my body. And a throbbing…there.”

“Aye, I ken it well. That’s normal. Though I’m sure it’s worse fer ye just now.”

Claire sighed in frustration. “I can’t get my legs back without walking, but I can’t see myself getting out of bed without toppling over.”

“That’s why ye go slow,” Jenny said firmly. “Yer no’ ready to be traipsing about yet. I can see just by looking at ye that yer still dizzy.”

Claire smiled lazily, her eyes beginning to drift closed. “That easy to read, am I?”

“Indeed,” Jenny said. “Come now, Maggie. Time to let yer Auntie sleep.”

“Can I bring Brianna?”

“Absolutely no’.” Jenny said. “The bairn needs to be right by her mam if she needs anything.” Jenny left Kitty on the bed so that she could take Brianna from Maggie and put her in the cot.

“And,” Jenny continued, turning to face Maggie again once Brianna was settled. “Yer not to touch the bairn wi’out me or yer Auntie in the room. Dinna even think about looking at her if we’re not wi’ ye. Is that understood?”

Maggie was staring at Jenny as if she’d just put the fear of God in her. “Aye, Mam.”

“Right then, off we go.” She heaved Kitty onto her hip and took Maggie’s hand. “Get some rest, now, sister. I’ll be keeping an ear out fer any crying. Dinna try to get up.”

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Claire slurred, feeling consciousness slipping away as she spoke.

——

Another week went by, and Claire was truly starting to feel stir crazy. It was beginning to genuinely anger her that she couldn’t drag herself four feet to take her own child out of her cot. On her fourteenth day of bed rest, not including the eight days she spent unconscious, she put her foot down (figuratively, of course), and insisted on being assisted in getting up and walking around the room.

If Claire hadn’t been living it, she was sure the situation would have been quite comical, like a comedy of manners. She’d managed to swing her legs over the bed, which was a good sign, and Jenny and Fergus were each positioned firmly under her arms, ready to hoist her up.

“Alright.” Claire breathed deeply, puffing her cheeks. “Ready?” They both nodded. “One, two, three.”

She heaved herself up, and was both shocked and overjoyed that she’d managed to at least get to her feet. But then came the wave of dizziness from standing up after weeks of sitting, and she wavered. But Jenny and Fergus held on tightly, and she wasn’t going anywhere.

“Wait fer it to pass,” Jenny reminded her, and she nodded.

After about twelve seconds, she felt alright to move again, and it took all her strength to take that first step. By the third step, she was already dripping with sweat.

“Do you need to rest, Maman ?”

“I’m fine, damn it.” Claire hadn’t meant to snap at Fergus, but he didn’t appear to take it to heart.

It’s just one foot after the other, Beauchamp. Infants do it. So can you.

Several minutes and many buckets of sweat later, they’d managed to walk her across the room to the chair by the fireplace. Victorious, Claire allowed them to plop her into it. Glistening with sweat, she grinned like a fool.

Braw , was I not?” Claire said.

“Braw indeed,” Jenny said, half rolling her eyes at Claire’s smugness.

“Bring her to me,” Claire said. She knew better than to push her luck and walk around with Brianna. She’d not put her in danger like that until she was certain she wouldn’t drop her. Fergus scooped her out of the cradle, making faces at her and smiling until he put her in Claire’s arms.

“Hello, darling,” she cooed, cradling her precious girl. “Look at this, hm? Mummy has legs, would you believe it?” Fergus and Jenny chuckled, and Claire sighed in blissful contentment. “It’s much easier to hold her sitting straight up like this. I feel more human. Instead of a wobbly sack of potatoes.”

Jenny placed a hand on Claire’s shoulders. “Ye look well, sister. Color’s returning to yer cheeks.”

“Is it?” Claire said absently, lost in Brianna’s eyes. “Good Lord, I can’t imagine what I must look like. Or what I must smell like for that matter…”

“Would you like a bath, Maman ?” Fergus piped up.

Claire practically moaned at the thought of the hot water soaking itself into her aching, weary muscles. “That would be heavenly.”

“Tell the servants, Fergus,” Jenny said, and he bounded off to do just that. “Think ye’ll be able to get in and out?”

“Of course…with your help. And Mrs. Crook. And perhaps Mrs. Donnelly as well.”

Jenny chuckled. “Thought so.”

The tub was brought in and set up, the chair Claire was not occupying and the tables moved out of the way. Claire nursed Brianna, babbled nonsense to her, actually burped her herself, and rocked her to sleep by the time the bath was ready. Jenny put Brianna back to bed, and then the three able-bodied women helped Claire discard her nightgown and lowered her into the tub.

Claire sighed as her body submerged in the hot water. It stung a little down below, her birth canal and its related parts still burning from the traumatic birth. She quickly adjusted, however, and could think of nothing but how wonderfully relaxed her muscles felt. The servants helped her wash while Jenny changed the sheets on the bed, and soon enough the water started to cool off, and so she was heaved out of the tub again like a limp rag doll. Another comedy of manners ensued in drying her off and dressing her again, but by that point, Claire was too exhausted to care. She was, in fact, even grateful to be back in bed, as blasphemous as that would sound to an earlier-in-the-day version of herself.

——

The days dragged on, and every day Claire was able to walk about the room relying less and less on Jenny and Fergus, and by the end of the following week, she was even walking around with Brianna in her arms, with Jenny hovering over both of them in a frenzy, of course.

“Look at that, Bree,” Claire said. “Mummy can walk! Isn’t it a marvel?”

“Aye, a marvel indeed,” Jenny said quickly. “Be even more marvelous if she’d sit down now.”

“Auntie Jenny doesn’t believe in Mummy,” Claire cooed ridiculously at her. “What about that, Bree?”

“Why’re ye calling her that?”

“What? Bree?” Claire said. “It’s a nickname. Jamie for James, Jenny for Janet. Bree for Brianna.”

Jenny snorted with a short laugh.

“What?”

“It’s a Gaelic word,” she finally elaborated. “Means a disturbance of some kind.”

Claire’s face screwed up in disapproval. “Does it really?”

“Aye. And it’s no’ as if she won’t ken that once she learns the Gàidhlig .” Jenny was holding back more laughter.

Claire sighed, shaking her head. “I guess we won’t be calling you that then, hm?” She bounced her little bundle. “Though when I’m dead asleep and you insist on being fed, that does create quite a disturbance doesn’t it?”

Jenny chuckled.

“Or perhaps we’ll call you Banna instead. Throw cousin Kitty a bone. How does that sound?”

“Will ye sit now, sister? I’m sweating like a pack mule wi’ the fear ye’ll drop any minute.”

“Really.” Claire huffed indignantly and finally took a seat on the windowsill. The cool air leaking in from the closed window felt nice on her back, sweaty from the effort of walking. She tightened Brianna’s swaddle, not wanting the chill to reach her. “Happy?” She looked up at Jenny, eyebrows raised.

“Aye, that’s the word fer it.” Jenny rolled her eyes. “Canna believe two of the most pigheaded people I ever met created a child.”

Jenny meant to tease, she knew, but Claire’s heart felt heavy nonetheless.

“She looks more like him every day,” Claire said. And it was true. The squishiness of her newborn days was finally fading, growing into more decipherable features. Much to Claire’s relief, the blue in her eyes hadn’t faded, meaning she’d probably have it forever.

“One month,” Claire said incredulously. “I can’t believe in two days she’ll have been here for a whole month.”

“Aye. It flies by.”

“I feel like I’ve missed it all.” Claire frowned. “The first week of her life I was dead to the world, and then I couldn’t fend for myself, let alone care for her…”

“Now, now,” Jenny said. “Yer own health had to come first so ye’d live to see the day where ye could care fer her. And look, she isna all that big. When they’re this young all they do is eat, sleep, and piss.”

Claire chuckled softly. “Right.”

Her thoughts returned to Jamie. What would he look like, holding his child? This baby who was so undeniably his? He’d have been a frantic lunatic during Claire’s bedrest. He’d have carried her everywhere; he’d likely never let her walk again. But, Lord, he’d love Brianna so much. He’d be so tender with her. His one hand was bigger than Brianna’s entire head, but he would cradle it so gently.

“Thinking about Jamie?”

She always knew.

“Yes.”

Jenny draped an arm around her. “Canna wait to tell ye all about yer Da, Brianna,” she said, and her bright blue eyes shifted to look at her auntie. “Sweet, wee thing.” She delicately brushed one of her cheeks.

“She really is such a good baby,” Claire marveled. “Sometimes I just…I can’t believe that she’s here, that she’s alright.”

“Aye, I understand.”

“He’d be so…so happy.” Claire felt her throat constricting. “He was so heartbroken over Faith and he…he never held her, never even saw her. To see Brianna now, he’d…” Her voice broke.

“He sees her, mo ghràidh .” Jenny rubbed soothing circles on her back. “He sees her, and he’s mad wi’ joy. He’s here, wi’ us. I ken it.”

Claire nodded tearfully, sniffling. “I can feel him…when I look at her. I see him so clearly in her and I…I can feel him.”

Jenny kissed the top of Claire’s head and held her tighter. Claire reveled in this feeling, the love of her sister, her overwhelming, all-consuming love for her daughter, and she tried to hold onto it. Even as her world came crashing down around her, the grief eating her alive, she held onto it.

And she did not drown.

Chapter Text

Claire woke up the sound of a little grunt, and her lips instinctively curled into a smile.

My baby girl is a month old today.

For the first time since she’d gone into labor, Claire felt fully rested, she felt at peace. The previous two days, she’d remained confined to her room, but she’d walked around by herself, reveling in the feeling of her strength returning. She’d of course not walked around with Brianna unless someone else was with her, just in case. But she was confident now that she wouldn’t waste away; both she and her child had survived this birth and were all the stronger for it.

Claire lazily rolled over to face the cot, her smile widening when she caught sight of little fists waving in the air. Brianna was awake, but she was not crying; she was content. Claire briefly wondered how long she’d been awake, how long she’d kept quiet to allow her mother to sleep. Such a considerate daughter she had.

Slowly, carefully, Claire pulled back the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Taking her time, as she’d grown accustomed to, adjusting for feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness, she made her way over to the cot. By the time she reached it, her cheeks were sore from how wide her grin had become. She thought she would explode with love when she could finally see her darling face.

“There she is,” Claire breathed. “There’s my little birthday girl!”

She took care to be quiet; Fergus was still asleep in the bed. She reached in and scooped her into her arms, gasping and giggling at the adorable little noises Brianna made as she did so.

“Hello angel, yes, hello.” She knew she sounded like a fool, she knew she always did when it came to speaking with her daughter. She couldn’t help it.

Much to Claire’s relief, she did not feel dizzy, her arms did not feel heavy with her daughter’s weight. Perhaps today would be the first day of true normalcy for them as mother and daughter.

“How is my wee girl? Hm?” Her arms were swinging, her little mouth flapping noiselessly, her eyes darting about. “So excited today! I’ll bet you know it’s your birthday, don’t you?” She rubbed her little fists over her face, and Claire laughed again. “My beautiful girl.” She raised her to her face and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Mummy loves you, do you know that?” She nuzzled her with her nose, and Brianna responded by latching her hands into Claire’s unruly curls, eliciting more laughter from her.

Maman .”

Claire looked up to see Fergus awake, sitting up in bed.

“You are holding her by yourself.”

“I am,” Claire said, beaming at him. “And I feel just fine.”

“Are you sure?” He got out of bed and crossed the room to stand beside her. “Would you like me to help you sit?”

“Fergus is being a worry-wart,” Claire said to Brianna in that silly baby voice. “Your brother is fussing over me like I’m the baby.”

Maman …” Fergus rolled his eyes and shook his head. “ Mummy is being stubborn, ma petit ,” Fergus said to Brianna in retaliation.

“If it would make you feel better if I sat,” Claire said, deliberately side-stepping him to sit herself in the chair without his help. “Then sit I shall.”

“I’ll fetch breakfast?” Fergus asked.

“Thank you, darling.”

Claire smiled at Brianna as Fergus dashed off. Perhaps in a few more days she’d be able to make the journey down the stairs to join her family for meals again. Fergus returned and they ate together, and Brianna nursed, and Fergus offered to burp her and change her.

Claire had turned the chair away from the hearth to face the rest of the room so that she could watch her children together. She marveled at how gentle the boy was, how unabashedly he cooed at her, how devoted he was. And Brianna seemed quite content with him, like she knew she belonged with him. They were already like two peas in a pod.

Claire knew that Fergus had chores to do, but she couldn’t bring herself to interrupt him. Selfishly, she didn't want this moment to end. She could have sat there forever, watching her son bounce her daughter around the room, singing in French. Brianna was cooing eagerly in response, waving her arms. They were perfection itself, the son of her heart and the daughter of her blood. She wished in that moment that she could freeze time, stop Fergus from growing into the man he was already on his way to becoming, stop Brianna from getting any bigger. But of course, she couldn’t, and if truly given the choice, she wouldn’t. Watching Fergus grow had been one of her life’s greatest joys, and surely watching Brianna grow would be as well.

Maybe she would just…slow time if she could. Not stop it altogether, just…slow it down.

“She seems to like French, don’t you think?” Claire said.

Oui , Maman ,” Fergus beamed. “I will teach her when she is older!”

“That’s a fine idea,” Claire said. “I’ll have a trilingual baby: English, French, and Gaelic. Imagine that. She’ll be smarter than me in no time.”

Fergus laughed, and then he paused. “What is it, ma petit ?” He stopped bouncing her and looked at her carefully. “She is trying to tell me something,” he said playfully. “She is looking at the window! What do you see out there?” Fergus attempted to follow her gaze.

Claire’s brow furrowed. It looked as if she was trying to break free of her swaddle; her left side almost looked like it was twitching.

“Fergus, bring her here.” He obeyed, still smiling at her. Claire took her in her arms, and her heart dropped into her stomach. Her eyes were rolled to one side, stuck there. She rapidly undid the swaddle and saw that her left arm and leg were jerking. “Oh, God!”

“What is wrong?” Fergus said, panicked.

“Fergus, tell me the time, down to the second.”

Oui , Maman .” Though bewildered, the boy scrambled to do as she said, checking the clock on the wall. Claire dropped to her knees and placed Brianna on the floor.

“Nine-seventeen and…forty-two seconds.”

“Remember that.”

“I will.”

Claire completely removed the swaddle and the clothes underneath, stripping her to only her diaper. She was rigid as a board. “It’s alright, darling…” Claire’s heart was pounding. “Mummy is here, it’s alright…”

Claire repositioned her blankets and clothes to surround her head and turned her on her side. She held her up by cupping her back, not daring to touch her anywhere else so as to not restrain her in any way.

“What is wrong with her?”

“She’s having a seizure.” Claire’s voice caught in her throat, and her vision blurred with tears. “Go to my medicines and herbs and bring me chamomile. Hurry!”

Without even verbally responding, Fergus scrambled out of the room to do so.

Seizures typically stopped after about thirty seconds; surely it had been that long already. There was no way to tell without physically looking at the time. It seemed to Claire that she had been in this state of panicked shock for hours now, even if it was only a few seconds.

“You’re going to be alright, Brianna. It’s alright, darling. My sweet girl…”

“What’s happened?” Jenny’s voice entered the room.

“Brew the chamomile into the water. Quickly.” Jenny took the herbs from Fergus and threw them into the water bowl on the nightstand, poured water from the pitcher, and began mixing them rapidly. “Fergus, how many seconds have passed since you last checked?”

“Ah…fifty, about.”

Claire felt sick to her stomach. Longer than thirty seconds

“What’s got a hold of her? The Devil himself?” Jenny crossed herself instinctively.

“No, no…it’s called a seizure…it will stop soon…it has to…” Jenny put the bowl of lukewarm chamomile tea on the floor beside Claire. Claire dipped a finger in with the hand that wasn’t holding her back. “Here you go…” She put the finger in Brianna’s mouth, and then repeated this action over and over. She could not fully drink and swallow the mixture, but perhaps gradually mixing the herb with her saliva would help.

“What’s that fer?” Jenny asked, standing back, watching fretfully.

“The chamomile will act as a sedative to calm her muscles,” Claire said. “Come on, darling…please…” Claire really started to panic now. “Fergus?”

“Ninety-one seconds.”

A terrified sob escaped her lips. “Brianna, please!” She started using two fingers to shovel the chamomile into her little mouth. “Oh, God…Oh, God…”

Finally, as if God was answering her calling to him, Claire felt Brianna’s muscles begin to relax. Suddenly, a small amount of white and clear fluid ejected from Brianna’s mouth, immediately followed by loud shrieks. Claire cried out in relief and immediately scooped her into her arms, pressing her tiny frame into her chest.

“Thank God!” Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. “It’s over…it’s alright, it’s over…”

Jenny crossed herself again.

“It’s alright, love, it’s alright…” Brianna wailed in her ear, and Claire had never been more grateful to hear the sound. Jenny quickly approached with a clean blanket and draped it over Brianna. Claire shakily wrapped it around her the best she could without moving her. “It’s over…It’s over…” She repeated, almost more to herself than to Brianna, Jenny, or Fergus.

“Come on, sister,” Jenny said gently, helping her off the floor. “Ye look like ye could drop.” She helped her stumble into the chair by the fireplace. Brianna carried on for several minutes, Claire rocking her back and forth, whispering to her all the while. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally quieted, falling asleep on her mother’s shoulder.

Even after she was quiet, Claire did not stop rocking her, did not stop whispering. She kept her hand on her back, desperate to be sure she could still feel her breathing. It seemed to be regular now.

“Claire?” Jenny said gently. Claire noticed for the first time that Jenny had been kneeling by her side all the while. Dazed, she forced herself to meet Jenny’s gaze. “Will she be alright?”

“I…I think so…” Claire stammered.

“What made this happen?”

“You said she wasn’t breathing right away after she was delivered…” Claire began, and Jenny nodded. “I thought we’d been lucky, that there wouldn’t be any complications from it…” She took a shuddery breath, swallowing more tears. “But sometimes if the baby can’t get enough air, especially after such a long, difficult birth…it can lead to difficulties later on. Seizures being one of them.”

“Will it happen again?”

“It could…” Claire finally stopped rocking, though she continued to rub Brianna’s back, listening carefully to her breathing. “I’ve…I’ve seen it happen to men before, on the battlefield, after loss of blood, lack of oxygen to the brain from a head injury. But I’ve never…I’ve never seen it happen to a baby. I hadn’t even thought…”

Jenny comfortingly squeezed Claire’s shoulder. “Ye couldnae seen it coming.”

“I know…I just…” Claire’s voice broke again, almost like a pitiful squeak. “I felt so helpless…watching her like that…” She began sobbing. “I’ve never been so terrified in my life, and so helpless to do anything about it…”

“Hush now…” Jenny rose to her knees and wrapped her arms around Claire’s shuddering frame, minding Brianna as she did so. “It’s alright, mo ghràidh , it’s alright…dinna cry…”

Claire could not stop the what ifs racing through her mind. It had been a nearly two minute seizure. Neonatal seizures were incredibly dangerous to the child’s development. If it hadn’t stopped when it did she could have been without oxygen to the brain for an indeterminable amount of time, causing permanent damage. She might never have walked, or talked, or eaten a meal on her own…It was too much.

But the fact remained that that was not what had happened. It stopped, her breathing was regular, she was alright.

But what if it happened again?

Claire had done everything she could; she freed her of any restraints, kept her on her side, protected her head, relaxed her muscles, and yet it still lasted longer than was typically safe. What if next time the chamomile didn't work?

And what of the rest of her life? Most infants grew out of seizures, but in Brianna’s case, the lack of oxygen during her birth could have lasting effects. There could even be other effects. Why hadn't Claire seen this coming? Why hadn’t she thought to assess her for any damage that was not easily picked up on? She’d been too relieved that she was alive at all to even think of the possibility of something being wrong.

If she was in 1945, she would have taken her to a specialist, full well knowing that her medical judgement would be far too clouded by motherly concern. But in 1746 Scotland, any doctor that came to study her, even doctors with legitimate degrees, would likely think she was possessed by the Devil, as had been Jenny’s instinct to believe. Seizures were thought of as demonic possessions for centuries. They’d have to travel far and wide to find a doctor lacking in said superstition.

God…What am I to do?

“Are ye with me, sister?” Jenny’s voice snapped Claire out of her reverie. Claire willed her eyes to focus on Jenny’s face. “Let’s get her dressed and properly swaddled, hm?”

Still dazed, Claire nodded absently, allowing Jenny to help her out of the chair. Claire laid her on the bed, checked her pulse and breathing. Normal. Jenny gave her a clean diaper, which she needed, and clean clothes. Once she was changed, dressed, and swaddled, Claire took her back into her arms and pressed a reverent kiss to her cheek.

Maman ?”

Claire looked up, and her heart broke anew. She’d forgotten the poor boy had been standing there all along. “Fergus…I’m…I’m so sorry you had to see all of that.”

“Was it my fault?” he said. “I was holding her…did I…”

“No, Fergus, no…” Claire sighed sadly. “Come here, darling.” She sat on the bed, inviting him to sit beside her. “These things are beyond our control. They just…happen. Something happens inside the body that triggers it. It has nothing to do with you, or me, or anybody.”

A single tear trickled down his cheek. Claire freed one of her hands from holding Brianna and cupped his cheek, swiping the tear away with her thumb. “It’s alright. She’s alright now.” Fergus nodded.

“May I…may I please hold her? Just for a little?”

“Of course, darling.” Claire carefully handed her to him, and he held her close, tighter than she’d ever seen him hold her. Claire took his face in her hands and kissed his forehead. “She feels so safe when you hold her,” Claire said assuringly. “See?”

Fergus nodded, though he was still silently crying.

“She’s going to be alright,” Claire insisted, and she wasn’t sure if it was for Fergus’s benefit or her own. “I promise.” He nodded again.

After a considerably long silence, Jenny cleared her throat. “Would ye mind helping me wi’ the mending, Claire?” Claire stared at her blankly. “Ye’ll drive yerself mad if ye do nothing but stare at her every second for the rest of yer life. Ye ken?”

Claire sighed. “You’re right.”

“I’ll bring the basket up here, ye can lay her right next to us on the bed while we work. How’s that sound?” Claire nodded. “You too, lad. Milord could use yer help in the stable.”

“But — ”

“No buts. Off ye go.”

“We promise we’ll come get you right away if Brianna needs you. Isn’t that right, Jenny?” Claire looked at her expectantly.

“Aye, that’s right. We promise.”

Claire smiled at him. “You were very brave, Fergus. It was very important that I knew how long it lasted, and you were wonderful at keeping track. Thank you for helping.”

“Of course, Maman , anything for you and ma petit .” Fergus reluctantly relinquished Brianna to Claire and started to leave the room to join Ian outside, but he rushed back to press a kiss to Claire’s cheek.

Je t'aime, Maman .”

Claire’s heart swelled more than she could possibly imagine. “ Je t'aime, mon fils ,” she whispered, briefly cupping his cheek before he left the room.

Claire looked up to see Jenny smiling at her.

“What?”

“Yer a fine mother, Claire Fraser,” she said. “To both of yer bairns.”

Claire smiled tearfully. “I don’t feel like it some days. Today being one.”

“Well ye are,” Jenny insisted. “Finest I could have asked fer my brother’s children.”

Claire gave a sad laugh in spite of the tear that escaped down her cheek.

“No more crying today, sister.” Jenny began her brisk exit of the room. “Can’t have ye soiling the clean clothes ye’ll be mending.”

With another chuckle, Claire cradled Brianna close, kissing her head, vowing to live up to what Jenny had said.

Chapter Text

Claire stood over Brianna’s cot, watching her chest rise and fall. She had no idea how she was supposed to sleep. She reached in and ever so gently rubbed her finger down her little cheek. She was so warm, so soft, so alive. She still hadn’t gotten used to her baby being warm to the touch.

Faith had been ice cold.

Even knowing Brianna was alive, she’d still half expected her to be cold. Hell, she’d expected her to be dead. Her warmth, her life, was a gift. One that she thanked God for every single day, every time she looked at her. 

But now…was she doomed to feel only fear and panic whenever she looked at her? The first weeks were disbelief, gratitude, and unconditional love. Would that forever be replaced with the constant thought of losing her?

Claire knew that epilepsy was quite treatable; epileptics often lived mostly normal lives. But that was in the year 1945. What was she to expect in this time? If her baby had had a seizure in 1945, she’d have rushed her to a hospital, they’d hook her up to machines, scan her brain, monitor her vitals all night. They’d know exactly what part of the brain was being affected, they’d be able to tell her if she’d grow out of it, perhaps give her pills when she was older. The best she could do for her in this time was herbs and constant monitoring. Children in this time died every day of things that were perfectly treatable in 1945.

How could she live with herself knowing that Brianna could have been born in that time, could have had access to the things she needed? Hell, she could have even not developed epilepsy to begin with. The birth likely would not have been nearly as deadly. Jamie had said, when the time comes, to promise him she’d go back. Well, the time had come, and she hadn’t gone back.

Part of her told herself that if Jamie hadn’t been so bullheaded and hadn’t fought at Culloden, if they’d fled together to live the rest of their lives in peace, they’d still be in this time. Brianna’s birth would have been just as terrible. So what truly should have been the catalyst to her going back? Jamie’s death, or the birth of her child? If Jamie hadn’t fought or had survived, and he eventually learned of her pregnancy, would his concern for their health have made him send them back anyway?

The fact of the matter was it was something they’d never gotten the chance to discuss. And either way, it was too late. Brianna was here, and she was sick, and Claire had to do something.

But what?

Claire covered her mouth to stifle a sob, so as to not wake her sleeping baby. She exhaled deeply, shakily. “Oh, my little girl,” she sighed. “What am I going to do?”

Just then, the door opened. “I thought I’d find ye like this.”

Claire finally looked up from the cot to see Jenny in the doorway.

“How is she?”

“She’s…she’s fine right now,” Claire said. “Her breathing is normal, her pulse is normal. She seemed a bit anxious when I last fed her but it’s…it’s normal to feel disoriented. After.”

Jenny nodded. “Ye ken about these…seizures?”

“Yes.”

“Will it happen again?”

“Most likely, yes.”

“There’s no way to stop it.”

Claire sighed, defeated, crossing her arms over her chest. “No, there isn’t. Not here.”

“What do ye mean?”

“Never mind,” Claire said quickly. Jenny crossed the room to join Claire beside the cot.

“She’s a beautiful sleeper, is she no’?” Jenny said, smiling down at her.

“Yes, she is.” Claire covered her mouth again, but Jenny caught her.

“Claire…” Jenny put her hands on her shoulders. “Ye said to Fergus yerself that…that it just happened. That it wasna anybody’s fault. Including yers.”

“But it is…it is my fault…” Claire’s voice faltered. “ My body was unable to birth her properly. That’s what caused this…the same way my body couldn’t birth Faith…”

“Claire…”

“Perhaps I’m just…broken…” Claire sobbed. “I’m just…not meant to — ”

“Stop that right now, do ye hear me?” Jenny squeezed her shoulders firmly. “Ye lost yer wee Faith, God rest her poor soul. But Brianna is still wi’ us. And I won’t have ye talking of her as if she isn’t.”

“But if she has another seizure for that long, this young…her brain could just…turn to mush…” Claire wept, suddenly feeling nauseous. “She could be handicapped for her entire life. Because I couldn’t…because I didn’t…”

“That’s enough,” Jenny said firmly, but she pulled her quickly into a warm embrace. She held her as she cried into her shoulder.

“I let this happen…I let this happen…” she murmured, over and over.

Jenny hushed her, and soothed her, stroked her head, rubbed her back, but there was no consoling her. Jenny gently guided her to sit on the bed.

“How could ye have let it happen?” Jenny said, standing in front of her, hands on her shoulders. “You yourself took great care while ye carried her. Every precaution. Remember? Ye did everything ye could.”

“It wasn’t enough…I should have…I should…”

“You should have what, Claire?”

“I should have kept my promise!” she wailed.

Jenny processed for a moment. “Yer promise…to Jamie. The one ye told me about.” Claire nodded. “What do ye mean? How could that have changed anything?” Claire shook her head, wiped her face, and rubbed her eyes. “Tell me what ye promised, sister. Help me understand, I want to understand.”

Claire looked up into her eyes. She was genuine, she always was. Claire trusted Jenny with her life; she had even before she quite literally saved her life. In her eyes was all the care, fret, and love in the world for her, her sister. But though Jenny cast a warm light on those she trusted, she cast a cold shadow over those she didn’t trust. Claire had seen how it could be when she herself had yet to land in Jenny’s good graces. Jenny was deeply religious, superstitious. If she even believed her, who was to say she wouldn’t cast her aside, brand her as a witch, be terrified of her, never trust her again?

“Do ye hear me, Claire?”

Claire sighed. If Jamie were here, he’d want to tell her. He’d think that she deserved to know. And he would be right. She did deserve to know.

“Can you…can you check on her, please?” Claire said, her voice raspy. She cleared her throat. “Just…make sure she’s breathing alright.”

Jenny nodded and walked over to the cot, peering inside. “Aye. She’s braw.” She reached in and gave her head a tender stroke before looking up at Claire.

“I want you to understand, Jenny,” Claire said, wringing her hands. “But in order to do that I…I have to tell you something. Something that I haven’t told a single soul except for Jamie. Then he told Murtagh, with my permission.”

Jenny gave her a puzzled look and made her way back to the bed, sitting down beside her.

“You…you have to promise me that you’ll listen and let me fully explain everything.”

Jenny’s face was growing more and more troubled by the second, but she nodded. “I promise.”

“And just…remember that Jamie trusted me, totally and completely. He believed me and accepted it. He trusted me.”

“Alright.”

Exhaling deeply, Claire sat down beside Jenny. “Do you remember when I told you to plant potatoes? And you said that…Jamie told you I would tell you things?”

“Aye.”

“I told you to plant potatoes because I knew there would be a famine in Scotland, and I knew there would be a great deal of suffering because of the Jacobite uprising. I…I knew that the Battle of Culloden would happen. I knew your tartans and your books would be taken away.” Jenny said nothing. “I…I knew all of it because…I’m not…from this time.” Jenny’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “I was born on October twentieth in the year 1918. Two hundred years from now.” Jenny looked away, bewildered, fixing her gaze on the floor. “I was on holiday in Inverness in the year 1945, and I came upon the standing stones at Craigh Na Dun. When I touched the stone…I fell through time.”

Claire paused to let her process, and Jenny kept her gaze on the ground. “Yer telling me yer…from the future.”

“Yes. Believe me, I know how it sounds. But it’s true. I swear it on the life of my child.” Jenny’s face whipped up at that, incredulous and horrified. “You know I wouldn't say that lightly.”

Jenny stood up and paced away from the bed. “At Cranesmuir…the trial…”

“I’m not a witch,” Claire interjected, desperate, pleading. “I swear that’s not what this is, Jenny. Jamie asked me the same thing right afterwards, and that’s the day I told him the truth. I have a scar on my arm that they thought to be the Devil’s mark. It’s called a vaccine. It’s for smallpox. In my time vaccines make it so that you can’t contract certain diseases. So when he asked about it I told him.”

Claire pulled down her shift from the collar, revealing the small scar on her shoulder. Jenny stared silently at the mark, her eyes widening with horror.

She doesn’t believe me. She’s going to start screaming “Witch” any second. She doesn’t believe me.

“I fell through the stones by accident,” Claire continued desperately. “I didn’t do anything to make it happen, I didn’t conjure anything, because I’m not a witch. I was just…in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or perhaps the right place at the right time.” Claire smiled in spite of her uneasiness, trying to use her and Jamie’s love to put Jenny’s mind at ease. “I’ve come to think of it as the latter. Jamie…that day…he took me back to the stones. He…was prepared to let me go. To send me back to my time. He loved me so much that he was prepared to let me go. But I…I couldn’t leave him.”

Jenny was unreadable.

“I…I gave up everything to be with him. I…I had a husband in 1945.” She held up her left hand, showing the gold band. “I spent so long trying to get back to him that I hadn’t even realized that I’d fallen in love with Jamie. Until he let me make the choice between the two of them and I…I had to choose Jamie. I gave up my entire life to stay here with him. And he…he accepted me for who I was, even if he couldn’t understand it.” Claire waited for her to say something, but she still wouldn’t.

“Jenny, please say something…I don’t know what else to say…I had to tell you. Jamie was the love of my life, but you are my sister. The closest friend I’ve ever had. I owe you my life and the life of my child. I trust you so deeply, and I love you so much.” Claire stood up and stepped toward her. “Please.”

Jenny put her hands on her hips. “Well…it does explain a lot.”

“Do…you believe me?”

Jenny sighed and finally looked up at her. “I don’t want to. My head is screaming at me not to.” Claire swallowed thickly. “But my heart is telling me I should.”

“I would never, ever lie to you Jenny.”

“Well apparently ye have been.”

“I’m sorry…truly…but it was so complicated, and I didn’t want to frighten you or make you think I was a witch…but you’ve become this enormous part of my life. I couldn’t hide it from you anymore.” Jenny swallowed, and Claire continued. “What reason would I have to make this up? And you know me Jenny. If I were a witch don’t you think you would have seen by now? Don’t you think I…I would never have let anything happen to Faith, or Jamie, or Brianna?”

“The fits she’s having…”

Not the work of the Devil. Jenny please…” Claire was starting to panic. “They’re not…my fault.” Claire’s voice broke. Of course they were her fault; they were the result of a bad delivery. But it’s not like she wanted it to happen. “It’s common for people to think that, but in my time we know them to be called seizures, a symptom of a disease called epilepsy. It’s just a dysfunction of the brain, it has no supernatural cause.” Jenny looked away again. “Jenny, please! You know me! How could you possibly think I would inflict harm on my child? On Jamie’s child?”

“Ye’re standing there swearing on the life of yer child!” Jenny shouted. “What would ye like me to make of that?”

“That I’m telling the truth ,” Claire pleaded, stepping closer to her. “You know me, Jenny. Jamie knew me. I’m not…evil. You have to believe at least that.”

Jenny looked up at her again, assessing her for a moment. “No…I ken that, at least.”

Claire sighed with relief. “Then you believe I’m not a witch in league with the Devil.”

Jenny’s jaw hardened, but she relented. “Yes, I believe ye. Against all better judgment I believe ye.”

“You once said to me that love forces a person to choose. That it makes you do things you never thought you could do before. You said that of the love we both bore your brother. Surely the same applies for the love you bear your sister?”

Jenny sighed, looking at the ceiling as she did so, and then returned her eyes to Claire. “Aye. It does.”

“Thank you, Jenny, thank you…”

She went to embrace her, but Jenny took a step back. “Not…just yet.”

Claire stiffened and straightened. “Yes…I…I’m sorry.”

“My brother loved ye more than I’ve ever seen a man love a woman,” Jenny began. “It’d be easy enough to say ye’d bewitched him. But I ken my brother. He was pig headed and stubborn…but he was a good man. Honorable. The love he bore you was the purest I’d ever seen.” Silent tears slipped out of Claire’s eyes. “He knew in his heart that ye were a good woman, even after ye told him all this madness. Now we didn’t always agree…but if Jamie trusted someone then they were pretty damned special. And I knew that. I tried my hardest not to like you when ye showed up that first time at Lallybroch. But I knew. It wasna long before I’d grown to trust ye fer myself and no’ fer my brother. I started to see fer myself how ye were special.” Jenny seemed to be blinking back tears. “Now, I love you, Claire. I do. And no’ because yer my brother’s wife. That’s part of it, o’ course, but I love you now separate from all that. I love you because ye’re my sister. And I believe ye. But I canna help but feel as if I’ve been betrayed.”

“Jenny, I’m so sorry…truly. I wanted to tell you sooner, but it just never seemed like the right time. I promise you, no more secrets.”

“Swear to me, Claire. Nothing but the truth between us ever again. From you as well as from me.”

“I swear, Jenny. On everything I hold dear, I swear. Nothing but the truth. No secrets.”

Jenny nodded curtly. “Good.”

Claire smiled weakly, then strengthened her resolve again. “There’s…one more thing.” Claire sat down on the bed again, knowing this would be too difficult to talk about standing. Jenny didn’t move. “The promise I made Jamie. Remember before Brianna was born, I told you that being pregnant was a…a caveat of that promise.”

“Aye, I remember.”

“That promise…Jamie made me promise that if the time ever came that I…that I would go back through the stones. To my own time. Back to…my first husband. He said he wanted me to be able to go back to a man that loved me. He wanted to know I’d be cared for. At Culloden, I was afraid he would ask that of me. But he didn’t. He said he wanted me to…to take care of Fergus, and you.” Her voice broke as she looked up at Jenny. “For us to find…peace in each other. He wanted me to watch his nieces and nephews grow, to watch his namesake grow into his role as Laird.” Jenny’s eyes were teary as well. “But I knew…he would change his mind if he knew I was with child. The way the last birth had been…pregnancy is incredibly dangerous for me now, but it’s a danger that could be nearly eliminated if I was in my own time, with modern medicine. But I…I didn’t want to go. If he’d survived the battle, and I’d gone back…I’d never see him again. And even if he…didn’t.” She took a shuddery breath. “Lallybroch was my home. I couldn’t leave Fergus, I couldn’t leave you, Jamie’s family. So I…didn’t tell him about the baby. 

“And maybe I should have. Perhaps I should have wanted to go back. Brianna’s birth would have been almost painless, we never would have come as close to death as we did. She likely wouldn't have seizures, and even if she did, there would be doctors to help her. When I was laying there giving birth to Brianna, feeling my life…slipping away from me, so certain that she was already dead…I regretted it, so terribly. I felt guilty when we spoke of it before she was born…but in that moment I felt like the most horrible, selfish, wicked woman.” She paused to wipe the tears off her face. “Every day I’m…haunted by the thought of him watching me suffer that birth, watching Brianna suffer as she is now…and knowing that it’s because I lied to him.”

Claire covered her face with her hands, resting her elbows on her knees. Jenny finally moved, crossing to the bed and sitting down beside her. “I canna say if ye would have been better off in yer own time. Though, if I’d have known back when ye were in labor and I was pulling the bairn out of ye myself, I think I’d have thought so. But Claire…” Jenny put a hand on her back. “Having ye here…having the bairn here…it’s like having my brother wi’ me still. And I ken what I said, I love you separate from being my brother’s wife. That’s still true. It’s just…I canna imagine losing ye both at once. You…you’d be lost to us forever if ye’d…gone back. Right?”

“Yes,” Claire said, moving her hands from her face to under her chin.

“Well then…consider me a horrible, selfish, wicked woman myself.” Claire turned her head to look at her. “If it were up to me I wouldnae let him send ye back. The birth could have killed ye both, I ken that well enough. But if there was even a chance that ye’d both survive, which clearly there was, I wouldnae let ye go back. Pig headed brother be damned.” Claire smiled tearily at this. “I’m…I’m glad ye didna tell him. Lallybroch needs you. Fergus needs you. And…as much as I didna ken it at the time, I needed a sister.”

Fresh tears sprang from Claire’s eyes. “Can I…hug you now?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Come here, ye great weepy fool.” Claire sat up straight and pulled Jenny into a tight embrace.

“Thank you,” Claire whispered. “Thank you, Jenny.”

Jenny sighed. “I always kent my brother would give me grey hairs early on,” she said. “But ye’ve certainly done a fine job taking his place in that task.” Claire chuckled, pulling away so she could look at her. “Are ye planning on telling Ian?” Jenny said, cocking an eyebrow.

“I was. I wanted to tell you first, but he should know, too.” Jenny nodded. “You can tell him, if you’d like.”

“I will, then.” Jenny glanced over at the cot. “Will ye ever tell Brianna?”

Claire followed her gaze, smiling at the sight of that bright red hair, the only thing clearly visible among the bundle of white blankets. “I will someday. When she’s old enough to understand.”

“Would ye…would ye consider taking her back wi’ ye, to see yer fancy healers?” Jenny said, keeping her gaze on Brianna.

Claire’s brows furrowed in thought. “I…I hadn’t thought about it. I’m not even sure if she could do it. I don’t…know how it works.”

“But if ye knew she could, and she needed to, fer her health. Would ye?”

Claire’s heart was being pulled in two directions, but she knew the answer. “If I knew her life was in danger, and that was the only solution, then yes.” They both kept staring at her. “But like I said…I don’t know if it’s possible.

“Right,” Jenny said, finally turning back to Claire. “I dinna ken why I asked. Maybe I…” Her voice trailed off.

“What?” Claire asked, looking at her.

“I don’t want ye to feel like yer trapped here. I ken what I said about needing ye here, and by God it is true. But if…Heaven forbid,” Jenny crossed herself. “The lass were dying, I’d want ye to take her away from here. Even if…even if it meant I’d never see either of you again.”

“Oh, Jenny.” Claire pulled her into another embrace. Claire was reminded of how Jamie had, too, been prepared to let her go, her and their child. She’d been carrying Faith when he’d made her promise. He’d have watched them both go through the stones, never to be seen again, if it would have saved their lives. And now Jenny pledged the same.

Frasers and their damnable honor .

Claire released Jenny and returned to Brianna’s side.

“Are ye goin’ tae sleep standing up, then?” Jenny said.

“I don’t think I’ll sleep at all,” Claire admitted. “I don’t think I should. After a seizure, breathing and pulse should be constantly monitored.”

“Then show me how to do it, and you can sleep.”

“Jenny, you have your own young children. You need your rest as much as I do.”

“Then we’ll take shifts. Same as we did when we were watching over you on yer deathbed. I’ll go first, then I’ll get Ian, then he’ll wake ye up and ye can watch her in the wee hours of the morning. And if anything happens before then, someone will wake ye.”

Claire smiled. “You’d do that? You and Ian?”

“Ye’re family. Both of you. I’ll go fetch Ian.” Without another word, Jenny was off.

Claire bent down and pressed her lips to Brianna’s soft, warm head.

“She’ll be alright, Jamie,” she whispered. “I swear to you. I will do anything to make sure that your daughter is alright.”

Then suddenly, as if in a dream, a little smile appeared on Brianna’s sleeping face. Claire’s heart nearly stopped. A single tear tear trickled down her cheek as she captured this moment in her memory and her heart forever. She knew full well that babies did not smile out of joy until after the first few months of their life, so there was only one other explanation.

“Hello, Jamie,” she whispered reverently, knowing in the very depth of her soul that he could hear her, because he was here with them, right now.

Chapter Text

Brianna had been worryingly lethargic in the days following her seizure, and Claire had to keep reminding herself that it was perfectly normal for her to be tired. As long as her breathing and her pulse remained steady, and it did, she would be perfectly fine. Claire hardly let her out of her sight, toting the basket around and placing Brianna inside so she could watch her from the corner of her eye no matter the task. Claire had expected Jenny to admonish her for worrying too much, for driving herself mad with her hovering, but she hadn’t. It would appear that Jenny was as shaken up by the event as she was. More than once Claire had caught her peering into Brianna’s basket as well.

Fergus was beside himself. He had flat out refused to do any of his chores, insisting that his sister needed him more than the goats. Jenny had begun to scold him, insisting that the world didn’t stop turning and the estate still needed to be run, but Claire had stopped her.

“It’s alright, Jenny,” she’d said gently. “I understand, Fergus. Why don’t you go and sit with her?”

He had, leaving Claire’s side to gently rock the cradle, smiling at her dear, sleeping face in spite of his worry.

“Give him a few more days,” Claire whispered to Jenny. “It’s different for us. We’re inside with her all day. But if he’s outside working he’ll be worrying all day, not being able to see her. Surely you understand that.”

“Aye,” Jenny admitted. “I do.”

“Once he’s certain she’ll be alright, he’ll be back to it,” Claire continued. “Things affect him more deeply than he likes to let on, and he loves her so much…” Her voice broke, and she stopped talking, surprised by how emotional she’d become.

Now, it had been almost a week, and Brianna was finally just about back to normal. Claire and Jenny were standing on stools, arranging garland around the parlor. Claire heard Fergus’s laugh and turned her head to see him. He was sitting on a quilt that Claire had put down in front of the fireplace, leaning against one of the stone pillars that held up the mantle. His feet were flat on the floor, his knees bent, Brianna laying on his thighs as he held her torso. She watched, her heart warmed at the sight. Fergus was tapping his feet so that his legs were bouncing, a sensation that Brianna seemed to enjoy given the way Claire could see her little hands waving around. Fergus looked positively darling, his smiling, laughing face glowing in the firelight, his curls creating a perfectly lit halo around his head.

God protect my children, keep them safe, keep them happy.

“It’s good that she’s waving her arms again, is it no’?” Jenny’s voice interrupted her adoration of her precious children.

“Yes, I think it is,” Claire affirmed. “She always does that when she’s happy and comfortable.”

“Aye. She’s alright then.”

“It would appear so.”

She was loath to take her eyes off of the beautiful sight, but the garland was not going to hang itself. The servants were busy in the other rooms, hanging garland and wreaths, arranging the holly and stringing it to the chandeliers. Hogmanay was the night after next, and they all felt a bit rushed in decorating this year. Normally they’d have started much earlier in the week, but Brianna’s ordeal had kept them from being able to focus on anything but the wee one’s health.

“You know,” Claire said, stepping off the stool and moving over a few feet to hang the next section of the garland. “These decorations aren’t too far off from how Christmas looks in my time.”

She and Jenny stepped onto their stools again, and Jenny looked at her pensively. “Your time, aye?” Jenny was not yet fully accustomed to Claire’s time traveling, and quite frankly, Claire was not fully accustomed to talking about it so conversationally. It was freeing, like an enormous weight was lifted off her chest.

“Yes, we do celebrate the new year but it’s a little different. Christmas is the big holiday in the twentieth century. That’s when we give gifts.”

She laid the garland onto the lip of the wooden wainscoting, placing the rocks to weigh it down, then arranging the greenery to hide them, like Jenny had shown her.

“You still have garland and the like in yer time, then?” Jenny said.

“Yes, we do. Some things never change, I suppose.”

“Christmas was last week, was it no’?” Jenny fluffed the leaves as she looked up at Claire. “Why did ye no’ say anything? Fergus celebrated it in France, as well, I reckon.”

“Brianna’s seizure happened the day before Christmas Eve,” Claire said solemnly. “Time, dates and their holidays, seemed to make no difference. I spent Christmas Day staring at my baby and thinking that she might die any minute.” Claire instinctively looked behind her again, her heart rate relaxing to find that Fergus was still laughing, Brianna was still waving. All was well.

“Well, dinna fash, Claire. Yer first Hogmanay will be grand enough to make up fer missing yer Christmas,” Jenny said, stepping off her stool again. “Granted, it willna be as grand as I’d like it to be, what with things being as they are. Less food, surely. But ye’ll see. It’ll lift yer spirits well enough.”

Claire stepped down as well, and they moved over another few feet to raise the garland over their heads again. “I’m very much looking forward to it.”

“I used to think there was magic in this house during Hogmanay. When I was a bairn,” Jenny said, smiling wistfully. “Everything had a different glow to it, all the candles and the like. Everyone was always so joyful — though I ken now that’s to do wi’ the drink.” She and Claire both laughed at that. “It was always a special time fer friends and…and family.”

Jenny sniffled, and Claire did not miss the tears in her eyes. Claire’s own chest began to ache. “Holidays are difficult after you… lose someone,” Claire said, breathing shakily.

“Aye.” Jenny continued arranging the garland, not to be distracted. “Our first Hogmanay wi’out Mam was plagued wi’ sadness. Being a child still I thought that such a joyful time would make it all go away, ye ken? Everyone would stop being so heartsick, I would stop being so heartsick. ’Course I was wrong.” She gave a sad chuckle. “We tried our best, but nothing was the same.”

Claire nodded in understanding. “Not having Jamie must be just as difficult.”

“Aye.” Jenny nodded, though she was determined not to fall apart. “He wasna around for a long time, ye ken, what with the war in France, then the price on his head. Then we lost Da as well. I…I always thought…” She had to pause to steady herself, blinking away tears. “That once that bloody price on his head was gone, he’d come home to us and we could have a holiday like a whole family again. Different, but still whole.”

Overcome, Claire stepped off her stool and sat atop it. Jenny followed suit, sitting on the ground beside her and taking her hand.

“I hadn’t even thought about all this,” Claire admitted, her vision clouding. “I haven’t…been able to.”

“I ken.” Jenny squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry to burden ye wi’ it.”

“No…it’s better now than have it hit me in the middle of the dancing.” Claire sighed with a shudder and wiped her eyes. “I would have realized eventually.”

Jenny nodded in understanding. She pulled Claire into a comforting embrace.

“Well,” Jenny said lightly, releasing Claire. “Jamie’d no’ be pleased if the house was only half decorated on his account.”

Claire smiled sadly. “I suppose you’re right.”

They got back up on their stools to continue arranging the garland, but not before Claire threw another loving glance at her son and her daughter.

They are the greatest gift you could ever have given me, Jamie.

Thank you .

——

Jenny had been right.

The Hogmanay celebration that was unfolding before Claire’s eyes could rival any Christmas party she’d ever been to in the twentieth century. Despite how rushed their preparations had been, the parlor was beautiful. Claire remembered Jenny’s description of the Hogmanays of her youth, how everything seemed to glow. As she glanced around the parlor, Brianna pressed close to her, she couldn’t help but agree.

Dinner had been exquisite; Lallybroch livestock aplenty had been butchered and cooked, served in delectable sauces with vegetables cooked in just the right ways. There was more than enough whisky to go around, and Claire found herself sitting and nursing a glass that always seemed to refill itself, holding Brianna tightly with the other hand, bouncing her on her knee in time with the music. She watched lovingly as Jenny and Ian swung each other about, Maggie and wee Jamie watching their parents and trying to mimic their movements. Fergus had danced with a couple of different girls in attendance at the party, much to the chagrin of each of their fathers. Claire couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of her twelve year old son attempting to romance girls between the ages of ten and fourteen. 

At present, she couldn’t see him on the dance floor. As she looked around for him, someone tapped her shoulders, and she jumped with a small cry to see that it was the lad in question.

“There you are!” she exclaimed, laughing and setting her glass down on a table beside her.

“You have not danced yet tonight, Maman .” 

“My arms are a bit occupied at the moment.” She smiled down at Brianna, bouncing her again and holding onto her wee, waving fists.

“Someone can hold her. Come, dance with me.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of getting between you and your lasses ,” Claire teased, bursting into laughter when his face turned bright red.

At that moment, the fiddler concluded that particular tune, and the dancers all stopped to applaud.

“Claire Fraser!” Jenny was suddenly standing at her other shoulder. “Ye dinna intend to sit here like a log all night do ye?”

“I thought I looked a bit nicer than that. I did dress for the occasion.”

Och …” Jenny shoved her playfully. “Enough o’ that. Get off yer arse and dance!”

“Come on, lass,” Ian chimed in. “Nothing like dancing at a Lallybroch Hogmanay.”

“I need to stay with Brianna,” Claire said simply.

“D’ye no’ see all the auld biddies sitting about holding everyone’s bairns?” Jenny insisted.

“Brianna isn’t a normal child,” her tone suddenly became slightly biting, and her arms wove protectively around her.

Jenny sighed. “Wait a moment.”

The fiddler started in again, and Jenny disappeared into the crowd. It didn’t take long for her to return with Mrs. Crook.

“Here. Mrs. Crook kens well what wee Brianna has been through. None here is more qualified to watch her while her mam does a bit o’ dancing.”

Claire shifted her gaze between Fergus, Jenny, and Mrs. Crook, who outstretched her arms.

“Go on, Mistress. She’ll be safe wi’ me.”

Claire pressed a kiss to the crown of Brianna’s head before handing her to Mrs. Crook. Fergus didn’t waste a single second before grabbing her hands and pulling her into the center of the room, and Jenny laughed triumphantly.

It took Claire a moment to get her footing, but Fergus seemed to know well enough what to do, and it wasn’t long before she was right in time with the music. It felt so silly letting a boy who just reached her chin lead her about, and more than once she burst into a fit of giggles, particularly when she had to bend her knees and hunch over to duck under his arm. As she’d expected, there were moments where the dancers switched partners, and she’d ended up with Ian, Peter Dunkirk, Lawrence Quigley, and half a dozen other tenants whose names escaped her. She was dizzy with movement and drink by the time she got back to Fergus, and when time came for them to cross their wrists, hold hands, and spin, she was laughing her head off.

She hadn’t felt this uninhibited since…well, she genuinely couldn’t recall.

The fiddler stopped, and Claire joined everyone in a hearty round of applause.

“You are a bonny dancer, Maman !” Fergus exclaimed, and Claire laughed gutturally again.

“You’re not so bad yourself, mon fils ,” she said, curtsying to him absurdly. She looked up to see Jenny watching her, her eyes glistening, her smile wider than Claire could ever recall it being. Jenny caught her eye and winked at her as another song started up. Claire threw a glance over at Mrs. Crook, who was holding a very-much-asleep Brianna. Claire marveled at how she could sleep through all this ruckus, though she’d come to learn that her daughter could sleep through anything . And it was a good thing, too, because Claire did not want to have to part with her to put her to bed, and she was sure Jenny would not have allowed her to leave the party.

In the middle of this particular song, the clock struck eleven, and everything stopped.

“One hour until the new year!” Ian cried, and everyone whooped and clapped before the fiddle started up again.

Claire could see Maggie from the corner of her eye falling asleep beside Mrs. Crook, and then a -- miraculously -- very-much-awake wee Jamie dragging her out of her seat and back onto the dance floor.

The hour flew by, alternating between dancing, drinking more whisky, popping fruit into her mouth, checking on Brianna, and drinking more whisky.

At five minutes to midnight, the fiddler stopped, and everyone stared with bated breath at the clock in the parlor. Wee Jamie, still wide awake, was sitting on Ian’s shoulders, Maggie was on Jenny’s hip, fighting sleep (and failing, quite adorably). Kitty had long since been put to bed. Brianna was still dozing, though now she was nestled in Claire’s arms, her sleepy head resting on her shoulder. Fergus was standing right beside her.

Excitement bubbled as the minute hand drew nearer and nearer to the 12 on the clock, and a low humming started in the crowd just before it chimed midnight, escalating to a whooping shout as the chiming began. The fiddle started a lively jig again, and Claire felt a kiss planted on her cheek.

Bonne Année, Maman !”

Claire laughed joyously and kissed his cheek with equal fervor. “ Bonne Année, mon fils .”

She watched as Jenny and Ian shared a brief kiss, then Ian swung Jamie off his shoulders to give him a kiss.

“Now kiss yer mam,” he instructed, and Jamie obeyed. “And yer sister.”

“Wake up , Maggie!” Jamie admonished, shaking her a little before giving her a kiss.

Ian and Jenny laughed before both kissing one of Maggie’s sleepy cheeks.

Claire didn't recall when she’d started to cry. She supposed it was right at the moment she saw husband and wife kiss, and seeing their familial bliss certainly hadn’t helped matters.

How many New Years Eves had she spent in Frank’s arms, blissfully tipsy, counting backwards, kissing him until her head spun when the clock struck midnight?

And how many had she done the same with Jamie?

None .

Sighing wistfully, trying to blink back the tears, she pressed a fervent kiss to the top of her daughter’s sleepy head.

“Happy New Year, my beautiful little girl.”

If Fergus noticed her tears, he didn’t say anything. He gave Brianna’s head a kiss as well, eliciting a teary smile from Claire.

Bonne Année, ma petit .”

“Maybe next year, she’ll be able to say it back,” Claire said.

“In French?” He cocked an eyebrow.

“We’ll make sure of it.”

Despite Claire’s momentary lapse into grief, the evening continued joyously, with plenty more drinking and dancing to be had. The guests lingered in drunken celebration for another hour, and then they were off to begin the first footing. When the last of them were filtering out, Jenny plopped down beside Claire on the sofa in the parlor.

“I think this may be the drunkest I’ve ever been,” she breathed.

Claire laughed, gently rocking Brianna. “Certainly the drunkest I’ve ever seen.”

“Ye’re no’ exactly sober yerself, sister,” Jenny said, but then a grin broke out over her face again. “Time to exchange gifts.”

Claire blanched. “Jenny…I don’t…I didn’t…”

“I ken, sister. Ye’ve had a lot on yer mind. I didna expect a thing.”

“But — ”

“None o’ that.” Jenny put out a hand to silence her. “My wee niece is gift enough.” She reached for one of Brianna’s chubby cheeks and briefly stroked it with a finger. “Let me take her.” Jenny opened her arms for Brianna, and Claire handed her over.

“Ian!” Jenny called.

Ian came over to them, holding what appeared to be a wooden frame.

“Here ye are lass.”

He turned over the frame, and Claire gasped as she took it into her hands. The frame was obviously hand carved by Ian, and it was beautiful, but it was what was set inside that brought tears to her eyes. In the center of a beautiful border of flowers and leaves, embroidered in beautiful cursive read: Brianna Ellen Fraser , with her birthday stitched just below. Claire ran her fingers over the delicate stitching, her mouth hanging open in awe.

“Jenny…Ian…it’s beautiful .” She couldn’t take her eyes off of it.

“Had the border and the ‘Fraser’ done fer months now,” Jenny said proudly. “Had to wait fer the ‘Brianna Ellen’ and the date. She cut it awfully close to the holiday, I must say.” She affectionately patted Brianna’s bottom.

“Had the frame done months ago as well, as per Jenny’s request,” Ian said.

“Thank you…thank you both so much.” Claire wrapped her arms around Jenny and kissed her cheek, then reached up for Ian to do the same.

“Fergus, lad,” Ian called.

Fergus’s head popped up as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t be doing, and Claire couldn’t help but laugh. He’d been previously hunched over a table, undoubtedly still stuffing his face and drinking much more whisky than Claire would like.

“Come here.”

Fergus obeyed, wiping his hands on his trousers and rubbing his mouth with his sleeve.

“What is it, Milord?”

“Here.” Ian reached into his pocket and produced something that looked like a hunting knife, the blade bound in protective leather.

“But…I already have a knife,'' Fergus looked up at Ian in confusion.

“No’ one like this. Look.” He pointed to the wooden handle, and as Fergus’s eyes focused on it, his jaw dropped.

“Ye are a Fraser, lad,” Jenny said proudly. “About time something said so.”

“Let me see,” Claire said curiously. Fergus wordlessly lowered his gift to her eye level, and her heart swelled even bigger, if it was possible.

Carved with painstaking care into the handle was: Fergus Claudel Fraser .

Fergus was her son, that much was unquestionable. He’d been in her care for almost two years now, living in her home for almost a year, calling her Maman by name for almost a year. The Murrays had accepted without question that he was hers, and Jamie’s as well. To Claire, by that logic, he was a Fraser. But it struck her just then that he’d never been referred to as such, out loud or in writing, or in this case, carving. Claire watched Fergus with tears in her eyes as his fingers reverently traced over the letters, letters pairing his name with the name of the man he idolized and loved beyond a shadow of a doubt.

His father’s name.

This boy, the son that Claire loved with all her heart, had never had a family name. And now, here it was, carved permanently into his very own knife.

“It is…I…” Fergus looked up at Ian. “Thank you…Uncle.”

Claire’s heart was fit to burst. That was the first time Ian was referred to by anything but “Milord.”

“And thank you, Auntie.” He looked down at Jenny.

“Ye’re welcome, nephew.” Ian clapped him on the back. “Ye can get back to yer wee feast now.”

Smiling sheepishly, Fergus ducked away, tucking his new prize into his pocket.

“You have no idea how much that means to him,” Claire said, her voice tight with emotion. “And to me.”

“He’s a good lad. And ye’re a fine mother to him, Claire,” Ian said. “Frasers, through and through. The both of ye.”

“The three of ye,” Jenny corrected, bouncing Brianna.

“Aye, indeed.”

Claire sniffled and briefly wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry again that I have nothing…”

“Dinna fash about that, Claire! Ye’ve just given birth fer Christ’s sake!” Ian waved her off. “Though I expect ye to make up fer it next year.” He winked, earning a swat on the thigh from Jenny.

“Oh I will, I can promise that.”

Claire’s laughter settled into a contented sigh as Jenny placed Brianna back into her arms. Jamie and Maggie were curled into an armchair together, fast asleep, having hardly made it past the clock striking twelve. Claire watched lovingly as Ian lifted Jamie and Jenny lifted Maggie, feeling the warmth of her own child in her arms, watching her son content with a spread of food at his disposal. 

A familiar tune popped into her head, and she started humming absently.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?

Plucking up confidence from who knows where, she let her humming turn into singing out loud, her voice light and airy, giddy with drink.

“For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne…We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for days of auld lang syne.”

Jenny and Ian looked at her questioningly. “What’s that then?” Jenny asked, settling Maggie on her hip.

“It’s an old…well actually, it hasn’t been written yet. It won’t be for another twenty or thirty years.” Ian and Jenny exchanged a look. “It’ll be written by a Scot, actually. Apologies for making it sound so English. It becomes a worldwide tradition to sing it at the arrival of the New Year.”

Jenny made one of those Scottish noises in the back of her throat, and Claire smiled.

“Ye’ll have to teach it to us fer next year,” Ian said, putting a hand on Jenny’s back. “Goodnight to ye, Claire.”

“Goodnight Ian, Jenny. Thank you again for…everything.”

“Goodnight sister.”

The Murrays were off, leaving Claire, Brianna, and Fergus alone in the parlor. Claire stood up from the sofa and crossed over to Fergus.

“If you keep it up, you won’t have any room for that grand New Year’s Day breakfast your Auntie was talking about.”

“Believe me, Maman , my appetite comes back faster than you think,” he said, and Claire laughed out loud. “What did you mean? Just now, when you said that song had not been written yet?”

Oops .

Claire smiled wistfully. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you one day.”

He simply shrugged and went to pick up another grape, but Claire caught his hand. “I think that’s enough, mon fils . It’s time for bed.”

Pouting like he was much younger than twelve years old, Fergus allowed Claire to usher him up the stairs.

“What did you think of your first Hogmanay?” she asked as they approached her bedroom.

“I shall never forget it.”

The earnestness and genuine wonder in his voice almost made her burst into tears.

They stopped in front of Claire’s door, and she pulled him into a tight hug. “I am so grateful that your father brought you to me. I don’t know if I say it enough.”

“I am grateful, too.”

She fervently kissed the top of his head. “Goodnight, love.”

“Goodnight, Maman .” He disappeared down the hall and up the second flight of stairs to his bedroom.

Claire entered her bedroom and put Brianna down on the bed so she could put on a nightgown. She put the framed embroidery on the mantle, running her fingers lovingly over the stitching again. Just as she started to undress, Brianna began to fuss.

“Oh, it’s alright, love…you’ve been so good all night…just give Mummy five more minutes…”

She rushed through the rest of her clothing, unceremoniously throwing it to the ground and hastily slipping into a wool nightgown, not even bothering to tie the top.

“Alright…Here we go…”

Claire settled herself into bed, getting under the covers and taking Brianna into her arms. She briefly checked her nappy, and was satisfied to see everything was alright on that end; Mrs. Crook had just recently taken care of that for her.

“There you are, little girl.” Claire lowered her swollen breast to Brianna’s mouth, and she immediately latched on. Claire sighed in contentment, in awe, not for the first time, of her ability to literally give life to her own child like this. These quiet, intimate moments with her baby were something she would cherish eternally until she grew out of breastfeeding, and the memory of it would bring her comfort for the rest of her life.

“It’s been a long day, lovie,” she crooned, stroking her little cheek as she nursed. “Mummy is going to sleep quite well, I think. Let’s hope you do too, hm? Oh, but I’m sure you will. You are so good to Mummy, aren’t you?”

After she was fed and burped, Claire shimmied further under the covers with Brianna still on her shoulder, and then she maneuvered her so she was lying on the mattress right beside her. The first few nights following Brianna’s seizure, Ian, Jenny, and Claire had taken shifts making sure everything was alright. Now that Claire was sure that her vitals were alright, she had simply taken it upon herself to sleep with Brianna right beside her; that way if she began seizing again, she would feel it right away. She loved sleeping beside her anyway, especially since she normally slept right through the night. Of course Claire did sleep better when Brianna was properly in her cot, and she could stretch herself out on the mattress however she pleased, but to keep Brianna safe from whatever malfunctions her brain had to offer, Claire would face sleepless nights for all eternity.

With all the candles blown out and no light but the fire in the hearth, a golden halo framed Brianna’s sleeping, darling face. A drowsy, tipsy smile crept onto Claire’s face as her finger traced the squishy lines of her daughter’s face.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” she sang softly, curling her fingers into Brianna’s tufts of copper. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?”

As she drifted into sleep, she swore she could feel the weight of the mattress shift behind her and a strong arm drape over her middle. A large hand joined her in Brianna’s hair, lacing their fingers together.

“For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne…”

She felt a stubbled kiss press into her cheek, and she sighed contentedly.

“We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for days of auld lang syne.”

As consciousness fully left her, she leaned into the ghostly embrace behind her, relishing in it.

And then she heard it, faint, far away, a whisper that sounded suspiciously similar to the crackling of the fire, or the rustling of the wind

“Happy New Year, Sassenach.”

Chapter Text

It was a quiet and frigid January afternoon. Fergus, Ian, and even wee Jamie (due to his own insistence) were tending to livestock and other such things outside. Jenny and Claire remained in the parlor around the fire, watching Maggie and Kitty play on the rug. Maggie was quite taken with her Hogmanay gift, a darling little rag doll that she hadn’t put down since the moment it had been given to her on New Year’s Day. Brianna was nestled in Claire’s arms, waving around a wee rattle that Kitty had recently outgrown. Her bright blue eyes kept alternating between narrowed suspicion and popping-wide awe at the noises coming from the rattle. Every time she jolted in surprise, it sent Claire into another fit of giggles.

“Alright. There ye are,” Jenny said suddenly.

“Hm?” Claire absently looked up from adoring her baby to see Jenny holding something out to her. She’d been vaguely aware of Jenny stitching something white beside her, but had quite honestly been far too engrossed with Brianna to pay any mind to what it was.

Jenny unfurled the fabric and held it up, and Claire could now make out that it was a little white gown.

“Had to fix a couple of wee tears from ma own wee she-devil, but it’s good as new now fer Brianna.”

A Christening gown.

“Oh! Jenny…!” Claire shifted Brianna to her other arm so that she could reach out and run her fingers over the delicate fabric. “Oh, how darling. It’s beautiful…”

“Oh, and the wee bonnet.” Jenny reached behind her and produced the lacy little cap.

“Oh!” Claire took it in her hands and bit her lip with excitement. She haphazardly placed it on Brianna’s head, eliciting delighted gasps and squeals from both mother and auntie.

“Oh, what a sweet wee thing!” Jenny exclaimed, reaching over to straighten the bonnet and cup her little cheek. “She’ll be so bonny in the gown, Claire.”

“Oh, she will, won’t she?” Claire bounced her in her lap. “With everything going on I hadn’t even thought of a baptism. How soon can we have the ceremony?”

“Oh, it’s next week.”

Claire blinked incredulously. “Is it, now?”

“Aye,” Jenny said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Ian spoke to Father Gregor last week and everything is settled for next Sunday.”

Claire exhaled in disbelief. “And when were you planning on telling me this?”

“Right now, o’ course,” Jenny said simply. “Didna want to trouble yer heid wi’ any of the details. So now, the day is set, the gown is ready, and the meat is ready to be butchered.”

“Didn’t we butcher everything for Hogmanay?”

“No’ everything. Had to keep something fer Brianna Ellen’s baptism.” She smiled brightly. “Roast pig. Only the finest fer ma wee niece.”

“Should the mother not have any say in these decisions?” Claire was being playfully difficult, but she was actually quite grateful to Jenny for seeing to all of this. The thought of having to deal with it herself made her head swim.

“It’s no’ like ye’ve much of a menu to choose from.” Jenny rolled her eyes. “Would ye like to pick which pig Ian slaughters?”

Claire shook her head, laughing. “No, I think I’ll leave that to him.”

“That’s what I thought. Here, gi’ me the bonnet. I’ll put these away fer safekeeping ’til next Sunday.”

Claire pulled the bonnet off of Brianna’s wee head and handed it to Jenny. She kissed the top of her baby’s head, copper wisps tickling her chin. She shook the rattle and began cooing, a sound that made Claire dizzy with love.

“Jenny?”

“Mm?” Jenny was putting the gown and bonnet back into the box from which they came.

“Would you do me the honor of being Brianna’s Godmother?”

Jenny’s smile broadened as she fastened the lid of the box, straightening herself out proudly. “I’d be honored, sister.”

“And Ian? To be her Godfather?” 

“ ’Course he will. And proud to do it.” Jenny gave her knee a squeeze. “D’ye ken every Fraser ye ken has worn that gown? My father, then Willie, then me, then Jamie. Then every one of my bairns o’ course.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of Jamie of all people ever being small enough to fit into that gown.

“She looks like he did as a bairn,” Jenny said wistfully, as if reading Claire’s mind. “Jamie. Willie, too. Seeing her in that cap is almost like looking right at ma wee brother at his own baptism.”

Claire’s chest ached, but rather than give into the tears she felt rising, she wove her arms tighter around her precious girl and kissed her again, this time right on her pudgy cheek. “What was he like? As a baby?”

“He was sweet before he started talking,” Jenny said wryly, eliciting a hearty chuckle from Claire. “I used to cart him around like he was a wee doll. ’Course I was only a bairn myself and Mother didna exactly approve of my manhandling him.” She rolled her eyes upward in admonishment of herself. “I loved him, fiercely, right from the start. Willie was always there, born before me. He watched out fer me, and of course I loved him. But Jamie…he was ma very own. It’s…hard to explain if ye’ve never had a brother or sister…it’s no’ too unlike holding yer own bairn, watching ‘em grow. It’s very, very similar. Except the bairn grows up to be yer closest friend as well.”

Claire put a comforting hand on her knee, able to tell she was struggling. Brianna cooed gently and her rattle shook in the background, in addition to Maggie and Kitty’s babbling on the rug.

“I ordered him about like it was my job.” She laughed breathily at that. “And he loved to defy me, the very moment his wee mind figured out how to do it. I think he quite enjoyed seeing me red in the face. Even before he was a year old. I was always jealous of his bond wi’ Willie, brothers, ye ken. I had to force myself to be included, as ye well know.” Jenny looked at her knowingly, and Claire chuckled softly, remembering Jenny’s tale in the woods of putting bugs in her brothers’ supper.

“Then when we lost Willie…I thought it was my fault, ye ken.” She forced a strained smile, her eyes glistening. “I’d always wished that I could have my own special bond wi’ Jamie or wi’ Willie wi’out the other spoiling it. And I thought I’d wished him gone.”

“Jenny…you were a child.”

“Oh, I ken that now.” She nodded firmly, sniffling again. “But back then I was beside myself. I didna dare tell Mother or Father. I was so ashamed. But I told Jamie. He told me…he said ‘Dinna fash, Janet. I’ll love ye enough fer two brothers, now.’”

Claire bit down fiercely on her lip, unable to stop the few tears that spilled over at that.

“Six years old he was when he said that to me. Aye, he was a wee devil, a right bastard, but when he wasna all that…he was the greatest joy in my life.”

Claire rubbed Jenny's back, bouncing Brianna all the while, swallowing thickly to avoid sobbing. "He loved you too, Jenny. Your bond was special. Still is."

"I ken." She hastily wiped her eyes and sniffled. " Och , look at us. Went from talking about baptisms to weepin' like women."

"Hate to break it to you, Jenny, but we are women," Claire said, wiping her own eyes.

"Oh, aye, ye ken what I mean." She waved her off with contrived annoyance.

Claire smiled despite the pain still clenching her heart. She sighed. "Have I mentioned recently how grateful I am for you, Jenny?"

"Dinna ken."

"Well I am. I truly can think of no one I'd rather raise my child with."

"Good, because I'd no' let anyone else do it," she said, rather possessively.

Claire sat thoughtfully for a moment, her brow furrowed. "Do you...do you mean...Frank?"

"Aye," she said simply. "I'd be burlin' in my grave two hundred years from now to hear ma niece, my brother's daughter callin' someone else her Da." She nodded curtly and stood with the christening gown.

"Or callin' anyone else her Godmother." Jenny paused and stooped to kiss Brianna's cheek before stealing away to set the christening gown aside for next week.

——

Claire stood on the altar of the little church in Broch Mordha, her cheeks sore from smiling. Brianna had slept like a rock through the entire mass, and was only just now starting to wake. Jenny was holding her now in front of the priest, Ian’s hand on her shoulder, as it was time for the Godparents to present her to be blessed with the Holy Water.

“Brianna Ellen Fraser,” Father Gregor said, pouring water over her head. “ Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris , e t Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Brianna gave a little indignant huff at having water poured over her head, and she waved her little fists around to vainly stop the onslaught. Jenny bounced her gently and took hold of one of her fists, and Brianna quickly latched onto her finger. Not for the first time, Claire wished that she had a camera to capture this moment: her beautiful baby and her Auntie, two of the most precious people in the world to her, completely enamored with one another.

Deus omnipotens, Pater Domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui te regeneravit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, quique dedit tibi remissionem omnium peccatorum, ipse te liniat Chrismate Salutis in eodem Christo Iesu Domino nostro in vitam aeternam.

“Amen,” Jenny, Ian, and Claire echoed together.

Pax tibi, ” Father Gregor said.

Et cum spiritu tuo .”

Brianna looked up at her Auntie with those beautiful blue eyes, wide with astonishment. Jenny looked back at her with an exaggerated, goofy grin, and Claire could not stop the giggle that bubbled in her chest.

Vade in pace et Dominus sit tecum. Amen.”

“Amen.”

Mass concluded, Latin formalities dropped, and Father Gregor placed his hand atop Brianna’s head. “God bless ye, wean.”

Jenny turned to Claire, beaming. Claire reached out and sighed with blissful contentment as her baby was placed in her arms.

“There she is, Miss Brianna Ellen.” Claire kissed her cheek.

“My hearty congratulations to ye, Mistress Fraser,” Father Gregor said. “She’s a bonny lass. God has smiled down on ye.”

Brianna chose that exact moment to launch her hands into Claire’s curls, tearing at the fragile updo that Jenny had carefully constructed. Claire laughed heartily as Jenny tutted and worked to untangle the baby’s fingers.

“He has,” Claire confirmed, beaming at the priest.

The three of them, Ian, Jenny, and Claire holding Brianna, made their way down from the altar to where the children were sitting in a pew, watched carefully by Fergus. Maggie leapt out of her seat and threw her full weight onto Claire’s legs, smiling up at her. Ian quickly scooped her up, causing her to squeal as Jenny reached down for Kitty. When Maggie was settled on Ian’s hip, she reached over for Brianna and gently grasped one of her little hands.

“Brianna Ellen,” Maggie crooned softly.

“Banna!” Kitty yelled, and Jenny hushed her.

As they bundled up and left the church, making their way toward the wagon, Claire had the clearest vision in her mind of her and her family standing on the front steps, posing for a photographer. Brianna would be so good about it; she’d either stare straight ahead, docile as a lamb, or she’d fall asleep again. Kitty would likely cry in Jenny’s arms, and every picture would feature her screaming face. Fergus would stand beside his mother, hand on her shoulder. Wee Jamie and Maggie would stand in front of their parents, wearing wide, toothy grins.

And Jamie would be there, too.

In the world that existed in Claire’s mind where photographs and the Murrays existed on the same timeline, so, too, did Jamie still exist. He would stand on the other side of Claire, arm wound around her, chin held high. He’d be so proud. Claire would hold the picture frame in her hands for years after and smile to see how beautiful he looked on this, the day of his precious daughter’s baptism.

Claire found herself pausing on the steps, closing her eyes, not ready to let go of the picture just yet.

Maman ?” Fergus called. “Are you coming?”

Claire opened her eyes to see him turned around, looking up at her, and the rest of the clan settled in the wagon, looking at her expectantly. They were waiting for her, the nieces and nephew that adored her, her daughter’s Godparents. She looked down at Brianna, quiet and content to chew on her fist, then back up at Fergus and the others.

She smiled warmly.

Click .

“Yes, I’m coming,” she said. “Just…capturing the moment.”

It was truly a mental photograph she woud never forget.

— —

As Jenny had promised, the meal awaiting them back at home was exquisite. The tenants of Lallybroch were all warmth and smiles, and Claire lost count of how many women and girls had held Brianna. There was plenty of drink to be had, so much so that Ian had to swipe a glass away from his five year old son before Jenny realized that he’d snuck some.

The celebration had gone on for hours, and Claire was almost as giddy and drunk as she’d been at Hogmanay. At some point, Jenny and Ian had gathered everyone in the parlor and silenced them.

“Alright, alright,” Ian’s voice rose above the hushing crowd. “I’ll let ye get back to yer drink soon enough.” A few chuckles and rowdy shouts followed this before Ian continued. “I just wanted — we wanted,” Ian said, following an elbow to his rib from Jenny. “To say a few words, fer our wee Goddaughter, and fer Claire.”

Claire’s heart swelled as she listened from the sofa, and she tightened her grip on Brianna, resting her chin on her head.

“Claire Fraser is a rare woman,” Ian said. “She’s a fine Auntie to our bairns, and a fine mother to hers.”

“Brianna is a blessing,” Jenny said. “A blessing from my brother to you, to me, to all of us. A blessing equaled only by Claire herself.” Jenny caught Claire’s eye, her doe eyes sparkling with love. “ ’Twas a blest day my brother brought ye home, Claire. Though I didna see it so at the time.” A few scattered chuckles echoed through the room. “I didna ken that I’d gained a sister, and that I’d one day gain a niece, bonny and rare as her mother.”

Claire bit her lip to swallow back tears.

“To home, to family,” Ian called, raising his glass. “To Claire, and to Brianna, Frasers both.”

“To Frasers!” Jenny cried.

“To Frasers!” the room echoed, dissolving into hearty cries and applause.

It took Claire a moment to realize through her blurred vision and swimming head that the tenants were urging her to speak. Fergus reached for Brianna, and Claire numbly obliged, handing her over and standing from the sofa. The room whooped and cheered for a moment before falling silent again, Claire staring at their eager faces like a deer in headlights.

“Ah, hello,” she said awkwardly, feeling her cheeks redden. “Funny how I can bark orders during surgery, but when it comes to normal conversation I’m a wreck.” A few scattered chuckles. “Uh…well…Thank you all for coming today to celebrate my daughter’s life. To celebrate Jamie’s daughter.” She paused for a moment, gathering herself. “I’m not going to cry, don’t worry.” A few more scattered chuckles, tuts of sympathy. “He’d, uh…he’d be very happy to see you all here. Every single day I am grateful that this is where I belong. Jamie gave me this family, gave me all of you, a community. And he gave me this daughter. So many…blessings. From Jamie.” She blinked rapidly and swallowed. “So…thank you. For being part of that.” She gave a tiny smile. “See? No tears.” She raised her glass. “To…to blessings.”

“To blessings!”

As the room fell into uproar again and the feasting and mingling continued, Fergus rose up and planted a kiss on Claire’s cheek. 

Beau discours, Maman, ” he said, handing Brianna back to her.

Merci, mon fils ,” she kissed his cheek in return, ruffling his hair.

“Papa is quite proud, no?” Fergus said, his eyes wide.

“Yes, darling, he is.” Claire bounced Brianna and kissed her cheek. “Your father loves you so much, lovie. Do you hear?” she whispered into Brianna’s hair, as Fergus stroked her chubby little cheek. “You are so, very loved. Always.”

Chapter Text

March, 1747

Claire stood in the old-barn-now-makeshift-clinic, spreading her herbs out all along the new wooden table that Ian and Fergus had cobbled together for Claire’s workspace. It was crude, but it would do, a sentiment Claire had found herself saying more often than not since she’d fallen through time.

Brianna was nestled in a little baby wrap, pressed tightly into Claire’s chest. In the weeks and months since Brianna’s baptism, the Lallybroch tenants had come by in larger and larger droves for healing of various sorts, and Claire was beyond thrilled to be applying her knowledge again. She’d wanted to do so much earlier, but Jenny had forbade Claire to partake in anything too strenuous, and then with the birth and Brianna’s seizure, it all just got away from her.

She’d told Ian to send word to the tenants that if there was a fever involved in what ailed them, to not travel, to remain in bed, and Claire would come see to them. Not only would it be safer for the patient, but she would not have anyone walking into the barn and bringing disease anywhere near her baby. Working in her little clinic with Brianna was a great comfort; feeling her constant, warm weight was something Claire would never tire of.

She perused the herbs spread out before her, then gathered several that she knew to bring down a fever and ease stomach pain and nausea. She’d be traveling to visit a sick child today; his father had come by this morning. The symptoms didn’t sound like anything worse than moderate food poisoning, but the herbs would help him feel better until his fever broke nonetheless. She also would like to check up on the rest of the family as well, because if one member of the family had it, everyone else was likely to have it as well, considering they all presumably ate the same food.

Claire was just packing up her box when she felt Brianna go stiff inside the wrap, and her heart dropped into her stomach. Claire scattered her gatherings and dropped to her knees, frantically working with trembling fingers to free Brianna’s seizing body from the wrap.

Fergus !” Claire screamed. “ Jenny ! Ian !”

Somebody, anybody.

She had to keep Brianna on her side, had to keep her safe. Someone else had to brew the chamomile.

She quickly undressed Brianna down to her diaper, laying her on her side atop the wrap, surrounding her head with excess fabric.

“It’s alright, baby…you’ll be alright…”

She picked up her head to cry out for help again, when Fergus burst through the doors of the old barn. He didn’t even have to ask.

“Chamomile, Fergus.”

“Yes, Maman .” He scrambled to the table to create the familiar mixture, though the water was far from warm. “How long has it been?”

“It’s hard to tell but I’ve been trying to count…maybe thirty seconds?”

Fergus knelt beside Claire with the glass, and Claire began scooping the diluted herb into Brianna’s mouth again as she’d done nearly three months ago.

“It’s alright, darling, Mummy’s here…”

After what seemed like far too long, Brianna spit up onto the wrap and immediately began shrieking.

“There you go…” Claire exhaled shakily and scooped her up in an instant, pressing her into her chest. “There we go…it’s alright…”

Fergus made quick work about folding the wrap so the vomit wouldn't touch Claire or the baby, and then draped it over Brianna’s mostly-naked little body. Claire gratefully wrapped the folded fabric around her daughter, protecting her from the March chill that reached them inside the barn.

“Thank you…would you pick up her clothes?” Claire stood up and adjusted the fabric again, covering Brianna’s body the best she could before opening the barn doors and making her way back to the house, Fergus trailing close behind.

As soon as they crossed the threshold, Jenny was flitting down the hall upon hearing Brianna’s shrieking.

“What’s happened?”

“Another seizure. In the barn,” Claire explained.

“Christ,” Jenny uttered, crossing herself. “She alright?”

“I think so…”

“Get inside, come on.” Jenny pushed Claire into the parlor and helped her dress Brianna again. “Put this wi’ the washing, lad.” Jenny handed the soiled baby wrap to Fergus and he scampered off to do as he was told.

After several minutes of Brianna shrieking, and Claire bouncing her, cradling her, kissing her, she finally quieted and settled into a deep sleep in Claire’s arms. Only when she was asleep did Claire allow herself to break down and cry.

“It’s alright, sister. She’s alright…”

Claire nodded through her tears, sputtering and hiccuping. “I thought…I thought maybe it was…just the one…” she stammered.

“It’ll keep happening, then?”

“Most likely…yes.”

Claire had foolishly convinced herself that the first seizure had been a fluke, one of those things that happened to babies one time and just disappeared, something she’d look back on and say: “That was scary, wasn’t it?”

But now it finally occurred to her that this very well might be something her daughter would have to live with forever, something Claire would have to watch her suffer forever.

“Dinna fash, Claire,” Jenny soothed, rubbing her back. “She’s a braw lass, is she no’? She’s made it through the two already, with her ma’s help. Ye ken how to keep her safe when it happens. She’s in good hands.”

Claire nodded, forcing herself to swallow back more tears.

“She is alright?” Fergus reentered the room, approaching the sofa to sit beside Claire.

“She’s alright, darling.” Claire quickly wiped her eyes and smiled at him. “Just gave me another scare, is all.” Fergus nodded timidly, and Claire could tell what he was dying to ask.

“Do you want to hold her, Fergus?”

He nodded again, his eyes wide with concern.

“Alright, here you go.” Claire sniffled as she transferred Brianna’s sleepy weight into Fergus’s arms. Hands free, she furiously wiped her face clear of tears and other such fluids. Jenny tightened her arm around her, and Claire finally allowed herself to settle in Jenny’s embrace, resting her head on the shorter woman’s. The sound of little footsteps suddenly reached her ears, two sets to be exact. Maggie and wee Jamie appeared in front of the sofa. They’d likely heard Brianna’s shrieks and everyone’s fretting voices.

“Baby alright?” Maggie said in a frightened little voice, looking back and forth between everyone’s worried faces.

“Yes, darling, Brianna is alright,” Claire assured her, sitting up again.

“Is she sick, Auntie?” Jamie asked.

“Yes, a little bit.”

“Ye’ll heal her, won’t ye?” Jamie said.

Claire forced a tiny smile. She reached out to cup his little cheek. “Of course I will.”

Told ye, Maggie,” Jamie said. “Auntie is the best healer in Scotland.”

Claire chuckled softly, then turned to the little girl. “Were you scared for the baby, Maggie?”

“Aye, Auntie.” Her little bottom lip stuck out.

“Dinna fash, mo chridhe ,” Jenny said, stroking her hair. “Auntie Claire is just fine when it comes to healin’ bairns. Remember how she healed you?”

“Aye, Mam.”

“Then ye have nothing to fear,” Jenny said. “Alright? Off wi’ ye now, the bairn needs her rest.”

They disappeared again, Jamie tugging on Maggie’s hand. Claire watched as Fergus stroked one of Brianna’s little cheeks, rocking her gently.

Claire sighed. “Would you be able to bring some herbs to that sick boy, Jenny? I’ll write down exactly what is for what, what you should say and look for. I don’t think I should leave her just now.”

“No, ye shouldna,” Jenny agreed. “I’ll go, sister, just tell me what to do.”

Claire nodded. “I also think we need to discuss a plan for any future seizures. I can’t be the only one that knows what to do.”

“Aye, ye’re right.”

Oui , Maman . I want to learn.”

——

May 12, 1747

Claire’s limbs already felt heavy as she slowly slipped into consciousness. She instinctively wound her arms tighter around the living, breathing baby sleeping beside her.

She’d be three years old.

For her first birthday, Claire had woken to Jamie winding his arms around her, kissing her head, and they’d wept silently in bed together for longer than she cared to remember.

For her second birthday, she’d just learned that Jamie was dead, and any loss other than his had completely left her mind. She hadn’t even realized that she’d missed it until it was April twelfth, a month before her third birthday.

Today, Claire awoke to her sister with identical hair.

Somehow, knowing she’d forgotten last year made her even more sick to her stomach to think of it. Very similarly to that first year, with Jamie, Claire stayed in bed with Brianna for longer than she cared to remember, holding her close, weeping.

Someday she’d be too old for Claire to be able to get away with this, she’d be frightened or upset to see her mother so broken. But for now, it was something that she’d never remember, and Claire could cling to her as tightly as she needed and cry as hard as she must.

She did not hold back.

Even as Brianna mewled and whined for milk, Claire continued to weep as she brought her to her breast.

I never got to feed her. Not even once.

The milk just sat in me…swelling me pointlessly, rotting inside me.

Today, every tug from her baby’s mouth was another tear in her heart.

When she finished, Claire bent her knees and laid Brianna against her thighs, watching her babble and wave her fists through her blurry vision.

Claire’s mind was suddenly invaded with images of a little girl who looked like Maggie, but had Brianna’s hair and Claire’s eyes, holding the little baby, her mouth hanging open in awe, saying:

“I love her, Mummy.”

Claire sobbed gutturally as the image became more and more clear, and she reverently stroked Brianna’s face, her head, her hair.

It wasn’t long before she couldn’t breathe.

There was a knock at the door, but Claire did not have the air or the strength to say anything. The door opened, and Claire could not move to see who it was. It wasn’t until the weight shifted in the bed, and thin, lanky arms were draped around her shoulders that she realized who it was.

Mon fils.

She leaned into him immediately, burying her face into his shoulder. He didn't say anything, he didn’t ask anything. He knew what today was, and he knew his mother’s grief.

It was Fergus that eventually got her out of bed that day, brushed her hair, helped her dress. The anniversary of Culloden, Claire hadn’t gotten out of bed at all. She’d had all her meals brought to her, and she’d subsequently vomited them all up. To think of an entire year having passed without Jamie was sickening, plain and simple.

But three years without the child she never even really had was overwhelming and unfathomable.

As Claire descended the stairs, holding Brianna close, the little baby began to feel more like a balm to her soul rather than the painful reminder she’d felt she was when she first awoke. She’d evidently missed breakfast, but Mrs. Crook was quick to heat some porridge for her. Fergus sat with her in the dining room in silence, holding Brianna so Claire could eat.

“It is a beautiful day, Maman ,” Fergus said delicately. “Wee Maggie will want to work in the garden.”

Claire nodded silently.

“I think it will be good for you, no? To be with your plants, and your little faery.”

Claire allowed a tiny smile, nodding again. He was being so careful.

“I agree.”

Fergus smiled back and sighed, as if he’d been holding his breath.

“Shall I fetch a wrap for the bairn?”

“Come here first, love,” Claire beckoned softly, stretching her arms out to him. Fergus adjusted Brianna before crouching down to her, and she folded him into a loving embrace.

Claire sighed with a shudder, blinking away more tears as she pressed a fervent to the crown of his head. “I love you, Fergus. So much.”

“I love you, too, Maman .”

She released him, giving him a teary smile.

“Let us get you a wee wrap, little bairn,” Fergus crooned, his voice leaping up a whole octave as he bounced his way out of the dining room.

Claire’s heart swelled as she watched him go.

I would have wasted away long ago without him.

——

Brianna was squirming like a wee beast in her wrap. When she delivered perhaps the tenth blow to Claire’s breast, she sighed in defeat.

“Alright, you restless thing,” she chuckled and worked to remove Brianna from her constraint, approaching the blanket that Kitty was sitting on with Bran.

“How does playing with cousin Kitty sound, hm?” Claire held her wee torso, lowering her onto the blanket stomach down. “Wee!” She cooed as she plopped her down.

“Banna!” Kitty cried out, reaching for her.

“Gentle, Kitty!” Jenny warned.

“Gen’l, Banna,” Kitty repeated, gingerly patting the top of her red head.

Claire chuckled softly. “Good girl, Kitty. Gentle.”

Kitty flashed a cheesy, toothy grin up at Claire, patting Brianna’s head again.

Shaking her head, Claire returned to the garden, where Maggie was waiting patiently.

“See those weeds, Little Faery?” Claire pointed at the patch of peppermint. “Not the leaves, that’s the plant. Peppermint. For your tummy.”

Claire tickled the body part in question, and Maggie giggled.

“Can you pull the weeds for me, darling? Down to the root, remember?”

“Aye, Auntie!” She crouched down and took a little weed in her fist.

“If you aren’t sure what’s a weed and what’s a plant what will you do?”

“Ask Auntie Claire,” Maggie said dutifully, nodding her head curtly.

“Good girl.” Claire caressed her head before returning to her patch of thyme, picking the bits that looked ready. They worked silently for a moment, no sound to be heard but the rustling of plants, Maggie’s quiet humming, and Kitty’s little giggles.

“So,” Jenny said as nonchalantly as she could, not looking up from her turnips. “How’re ye today?”

Claire smiled weakly, also not looking up from her own work, but knowing that Jenny was stealing not-so-inconspicuous glances at her. She knew what day it was.

“I’m alright,” Claire said airily. “Out of bed, at least.”

“Aye, that’s braw,” Jenny said. “It does my heart good to see ye out and about. I ken it still hurts.”

Claire nodded silently.

“And it was easier wi’ Jamie, I ken that as well.”

Claire nodded, pursing her lips together.

“Wouldna blame ye if ye didna leave yer room today, but I’m glad ye did.”

Claire nodded again, not saying anything. For a moment, she thought she might burst into tears again. She appreciated Jenny’s concern for her, but she’d almost have preferred the silence. Just then, a beautiful sound rang in her ears. It was a shrieking giggle, but not Maggie’s, and not even Kitty’s.

Her head whipped up from her plants. She looked up to see Brianna, pushed up on her little hands, holding up her head, and simply shrieking at Bran. Kitty was flapping his ears as she liked to do, and Brianna was simply tickled by it. Kitty seemed quite aware of this, and she kept doing it over and over, giggling madly now herself.

Claire stood up to full height, completely entranced.

“Banna laf-in!” Kitty squealed. “Banna laf-in!”

Banna let out another glorious shriek, sending Kitty toppling over onto her back in a fit of giggles. Claire’s vision blurred and she bit her lip. Brianna had cooed and made little snuffing, laughing sounds before, but she’d never completely howled like this.

It was the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard.

“Sounds like we’re in trouble someday wi’ those two,” Jenny said wryly, though her eyes were soft.

Claire couldn’t stop herself from trudging out of the garden to join the little ones on the blanket.

“Do you like the dog, Brianna?” Claire scooped her into her lap, sitting her up. “Is the dog silly, Brianna?” Kitty took the cue to flap Bran’s ears again, and Brianna gave another shriek. Claire tossed her head back in laughter, rocking backward a bit. Brianna gave another shriek at the sensation of rocking back, and Claire wasted no time in continuing to rock back and forth like a human rocking chair, and before long she was holding Brianna above her head, bouncing her more and more just to hear more of that beautiful sound.

She stared up into that perfect little face, the glow from the sun behind a sheet of gray clouds creating a glowing halo in her auburn curls, her wide, blue eyes squeezed almost completely shut from the gummy smile she was sporting.

It was the closest she would ever get to Heaven before she joined Jamie.

I know you’re gone, love. You and our first born.

Claire lowered her baby into her lap again and tickled her wee tummy, eliciting more laughter.

But the music of your laughter plays on.

Kitty had stood up, and very abruptly threw her arms around Claire’s neck from behind, nearly choking her. Claire laughed out loud again and pressed Brianna’s cheek to her own as Kitty settled her chin on the crown of Claire’s head.

Does Faith laugh for you, Jamie? It is music to your ears, too?

——

June 29th, 1747

“Once upon a time, there was a brave, dashing warrior.”

Brianna was laying in the middle of the bed on her tummy, chewing on her teething ring. She’d woken up howling in pain in the middle of the night, something that was becoming more and more of a common occurrence as more little teeth invaded her sensitive wee mouth.

“He had hair like flames and eyes like deep water.”

Claire was leaning against the headboard with her legs crossed, holding Brianna’s little lamb, rubbing the tartan between her fingers.

“He called himself Laird Broch Tuarach, and he lived with his Lady.”

Brianna hummed to herself, kicking her little feet behind her as she gnawed on the ring.

“His Lady was the most important thing in the world to him. She was Queen, and he was King. Their own little kingdom.”

Brianna decided at that moment to roll over onto her back, dropping the ring in the process. Claire quickly retrieved it for her and placed it back in her mouth before she could start whining.

“The Laird had to go away, leave his Lady. And their little princess.”

Claire placed her hand on Brianna’s wee tummy, stroking gently in soothing circles.

“The little princess was born, and it was the happiest day of the Lady’s life.”

She leaned forward, dangling Lambert over Brianna’s eyes.

“Her father left behind a special gift before he had to go away. Special for his little girl.”

Brianna kept the teething ring firmly grasped in one hand, but reached up for the lamb with the other. Claire smiled warmly and lowered it onto her chest, and watched as she clung to it, rubbed it on her face, over her eyes.

“Fraser colors. So little Brianna would always remember that her father was an honorable, good man. So he would always, always be with her.”

Brianna cooed, rubbing the lamb over her cheek again before waving it around.

“Your father loves you so much, darling. So much more than I’ll ever be able to say.”

She scooped her into her arms, settling Lambert in Brianna’s tiny lap and making sure the teething ring was secure before she started to rock her to sleep. A scratchy record started playing in her head, something the soldiers often put on in the final years of the war to drunkenly sway to, something she found herself swaying to with Frank before they had to part for the last time before the war ended.

I don’t remember much about my own mother, but I do remember that she used to sing to me.

“We'll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…but I know we'll meet again some sunny day…”

Brianna’s eyes began to loll shut as Claire rocked her gently.

“Keep smiling through, just like you always do, 'till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away…”

If Claire closes her eyes, she is dancing again, there’s a record player just to her left, but it’s not Frank this time. Strong arms encircle her tightly, fingers clasped, her head on his broad chest, his heartbeat in her ears. He’s so, very warm, swaying her slowly.

“So will you please say hello to the folks that I know, tell them I won't be long…They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go, I was singing this song…”

The teething ring slipped out of Brianna’s sleepy hand, but the little lamb remained firmly tucked under her arm, Fraser colors tickling her chin.

“We'll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…but I know we'll meet again some sunny day…”

Chapter Text

August 24th, 1747

The fields were just about ready to be harvested with September just around the corner. The barley stalks were nearly golden, the green gradually disappearing with each passing day. So, too, was Brianna changing gradually with each passing day. Her gaze grew sharper every day; sometimes Claire thought that her infant daughter could see right through her with those piercing blue eyes. Even though they were set inside chubby little cheeks, she could swear sometimes that it was Jamie looking right at her and not her daughter.

She was smiling all the time now, and laughing. God, that sound. Claire would never get enough of it. She often went far out of her way to do something that she knew would make her laugh, though she really didn’t have to whenever Kitty was around. At two-and-a-half, the little lass was cheeky as ever, learning more words to drive her parents mad every day. She was growing quite limber on her little legs, and was quite the troublemaker. Claire dreaded the day that Brianna became just as mobile and could join Katherine in her wee escapades.

Already they were getting into trouble together, with Kitty leading the way on foot and Brianna trailing behind on her hands and knees. Kitty hardly ever went anywhere without Brianna following, and Claire and Jenny had taken to calling Brianna “the little shadow,” or sgàil .

Today was one of those rare, gloriously sunny days, a perfect day for a picnic by the mill. Wee Jamie had become more and more insistent on helping in the fields, but seeing Maggie with the hoop and stick, ready to play, had made him rethink asking to help today. Jenny had admonished him, insisted that he had to finish the job he started, but Ian had waved her off.

“No need fer the lad to grow up so fast, aye?”

She’d relented, and now he and Maggie were running like little heathens with the hoop and their sticks, Kitty helplessly chasing them. Claire and Jenny were chatting over their mending, Brianna babbling to herself between them on the blanket with Lambert clutched in one of her fists. It wasn’t long before Kitty grew tired of being left out of Maggie and Jamie’s game, and she toddled over to the blanket.

“Banna!” she called as she got closer. “Come play, Banna!”

Claire looked down to see Brianna was looking at Kitty with rapt attention, Lambert hanging limply at her side.

“Go on, darling, go play with Kitty.” Claire set her mending aside and lifted Brianna from her middle, then set her on her hands and knees. “Go on, lovie.”

Brianna let out a little cooing noise and gave a wide, lopsided grin before crawling with impressive speed toward Kitty, who squealed with excitement at seeing her little shadow joining her in the field.

Claire chuckled to herself and shook her head. “You were right. We’re in for it with those two.”

Jenny smirked and glanced up from her mending. “Aye. Fer all we know Brianna could ha’ been a perfect wee angel, but now she’s met Kitty we’ll never know.”

Claire laughed. “I seem to recall you were nearly as much of a little devil as she is?”

Och , no’ nearly so bad,” Jenny said defensively.

“Really? I suppose only a perfect angel would put insects in her brothers’ supper?”

“You try growin’ up wi’ two brothers, yer scale will shift dramatically,” Jenny said, laughing. Claire joined in the laughter as well. “Ye’ve told me ye never had a sister. Did ye ever have brothers?”

“Oh, no. I was an only child. I was five when I became an orphan.”

“Oh,” Jenny said thoughtfully. “That uncle ye speak of, he…”

“Raised me, yes,” Claire said. “I’ll forever be grateful to him. He treated me like his own daughter. But I can’t say I wasn’t ever lonely. For a companion my age.”

Jenny nodded in understanding. “Canna imagine my childhood wi’out Jamie and Willie.”

“That’s why I’m so glad that we’re here, with all of you.” Claire looked up at the squealing group of little ones before her. “Brianna deserves to have all that I never could.”

“She’ll never be lonely, that’s fer sure,” Jenny said wryly. “I’d wager she’ll be begging Kitty to leave her alone in two years time.”

Claire chuckled. “We’ll see about that.”

“Claire!” Jenny suddenly dropped her mending and began swatting at her shoulder.

“What on Earth?”

Look !”

Claire looked up at the field and immediately dropped her own mending at the sight: 

“Banna stand-in’!”

“Dinna touch her, Kitty!” Jenny called, scrambling to her feet and helping Claire get up. They quickly and gingerly approached where Brianna was standing. Jenny lifted Kitty under her arms and deposited her out of the way despite her protests.

“Brianna!” Claire called. “Hello, darling! Come here! Walk to Mummy!”

Brianna’s face broke out into another adorable, crooked grin, and she flapped her hands a little, giggling incessantly at her mother.

“Don't you laugh at me,” Claire said, laughing out loud herself. “Come on, darling! Come here!”

The wee devil just laughed again, tossing her head back and causing her to land square on her little bum.

“Uh-oh! Banna fell down!”

Banna seemed completely unphased, however; she was still laughing her head off.

“You silly little thing…” Claire shook her head, quickly approaching where Brianna fell. “It’s alright, lovie, get back up, come on…” She took hold of Brianna’s little fists and got her back to her feet.

“That’s it, mo ghraidh !” Jenny said. “Come on, now!”

“Ready, baby? Ready to walk?” Claire kept a tight hold on her hands, crouching over her, and took a step. Brianna mimicked, taking a step with her. “Yes! That’s it! Good girl!”

Claire took a step with her other foot, and so did Brianna.

“That’s it, a sgàil ! Keep going!”

Step after step they took together, until finally, Brianna wrenched her hands from Claire’s grip and closed the distance to her Auntie all by herself. Jenny laughed out loud as Brianna launched herself into her arms, and Claire cried out joyously.

“Banna walk-in’! Banna walk-in’!”

Claire rushed to Jenny’s side and took her baby in her arms, her cheeks sore from smiling. “That’s right, little girl! Brianna is walking!” She held her over her head, eliciting shrieking giggles from her, before returning her to her hip and planting a huge, wet kiss on her cheek. “Mummy is so proud of you, baby. Such a big girl!”

Did you see, Jamie? Did you see what your daughter just did...?

——

November 23rd, 1747

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you …”

Claire sang softly in Brianna’s ear, bouncing her gently in her lap. Jenny put down the little cake Mrs. Crook had concocted on the table in front of them.

Happy birthday dear Brianna, happy birthday to you .”

The candle stuck in the middle was certainly no birthday candle, but it would do.

“Alright, darling! Ready to blow?” Brianna simply looked around aimlessly, causing chuckles all around the room. Claire blew out the candle herself.

“Yay!” she crooned, clapping her hands. Brianna giggled and copied her, clumsily clapping her little hands. Light applause from the whole family filled the room, and Claire kissed Brianna’s cheek.

Claire had declared that Brianna was going to get as close to a twentieth-century first-birthday as she could, and she’d gotten a kick out of Jenny and Ian’s reactions when she’d explained it all to them, the cake, the candle, the song. Jenny had rolled her eyes and begrudgingly agreed, and Ian had seemed completely fascinated, eyes lit up like a little boy as he asked to hear more. They’d explained it all to Mrs. Crook by saying it was some tradition from the East that she and her uncle had adopted along their travels. 

The candle was removed, and Claire pulled the dish closer to Brianna. “Go on darling, have some.”

As Claire expected, Brianna dove her hands clumsily into the cake. For a moment she just played with it, apparently unaware that she was supposed to eat it. Claire laughed and brought a bit of it into her mouth, and Brianna immediately perked up and took the hint. She began shoving fistfuls of it into her own mouth, causing everyone to laugh.

“She likes yer cooking, Mrs. Crook!” wee Jamie exclaimed.

“Good thing!” Mrs. Crook said. She began setting out dishes of other little cakes, having made one for each member of the family.

One year old. It was unfathomable to Claire.

In one year, her little girl had grown from a helpless little bundle into a feisty wee girl. She was walking regularly now; she hadn’t used crawling to get around in almost a month. She was regularly eating bannocks and soft, cut-up fruits. Claire was hopeful she’d be weaned in the next couple of months.

In one year, she’d also had six seizures.

None had been as bad as that first one, and after the second one, everyone had been much more prepared. Claire was confident now that they hadn’t had any lasting effect on her development, that she’d be a perfectly normal little girl aside from the occasional seizure. She’d stopped living in complete fear and guilt, but it was always in the back of her mind, waiting to pounce and claw at her throat at any given moment.

As terrible as it sounded, with more practice, Claire handled each seizure better. She’d of course prefer if they stopped happening altogether, but if they were going to happen, she may as well learn how to handle them. A routine had been established, and it was the lifeline she clung to to keep her grounded while her baby was spasming and vomiting on the ground. She had no choice but to get used to it; at this point, it seemed they were looking at full blown epilepsy rather than neonatal seizures that stopped after a certain age.

And yet, through it all, Brianna thrived. She smiled, she laughed, she played with her cousins and the dogs, she learned, she grew. She belonged here, in this place, in this time. Watching her daughter flourish here for an entire year made Claire all the more certain of that fact.

And she looks more like him every day.

——

January 3rd, 1748

Another Hogmanay came and went, and Claire was doing her fair share of treating tenants with various stages of hangover or borderline alcohol poisoning.

“However many farming accidents I treated during harvest season is insignificant to the alcohol related incidents from Hogmanay,” she said wryly to Jenny as she plopped onto the sofa in the parlor. The girls were sitting in front of the fireplace with Luke and Bran, rubbing bellies and flapping ears. She’d just finished giving a man stitches after he’d fallen face first onto the floor, apparently still drunk. According to his wife, he hadn’t stopped drinking since the party.

Jenny didn’t answer, and Claire looked at her, worried. “Are you alright, Jenny?”

“Oh, aye, just fine,” she said, forcing a smile.

“Are you sure? You look a little peaked.” Claire felt her forehead for any fever.

Och , perhaps I’m no better than all those drunks ye’ve been healing, aye?” She chuckled softly, and Claire smiled. “Ye’re enjoying all yer healing, aye?”

“Oh, of course,” Claire said quickly. “It’s an honor to help your tenants. And it’s wonderful to see how much they trust me.”

“They can tell ye’re a good woman underneath all that Englishness.” Jenny gave her a pat on the thigh, and Claire rolled her eyes.

Brianna’s giggle sounded just then, followed by an unmistakable sound.

Dog !”

Jenny and Claire both whipped their heads up.

“That wasn’t -- ”

“No’ mine -- ”

“Did she just -- ”

“Aye, I think she did!”

Claire immediately jumped to her feet and fell to her knees on the rug in front of the fireplace. “What did you say, Brianna? Dog? Did you say dog?”

“Dog!” she cried again, burying her hands in Luke’s fur and beaming at Claire.

“Yes! That’s a dog!” Claire laughed joyously. “Clever girl, Brianna!”

Before any more celebration could take place, Jenny’s smile disappeared and she abruptly dashed from the room.

“Jenny?”

“Mam?” Maggie said.

“Stay here, Maggie, it’s alright.” Claire quickly got to her feet and followed Jenny out of the parlor. She followed the sound of retching, and found her bent over the back porch.

“Jenny…” Claire quickly ran to her, putting a soothing hand on her back. “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling ill?”

She breathed deeply for several seconds, spitting the bitter flavor from her mouth. “Didna want to worry ye over something I wasna sure of.”

“What do you mean?”

Jenny looked up at her, face flushed with sickness and the bitter cold, smiling sheepishly. “I think I’m wi’ child, Claire.”

——

September 28th, 1748

Claire had had Fergus help her whittle some wood into something resembling the earliest stethoscope, which wouldn’t actually be invented for another hundred years. After several trials and errors, they finally figured it out, and Claire had been using it to monitor Jenny’s most recent pregnancy. It had been great fun to share this little scientific discovery with Fergus. For all he knew, they were inventing something brand new together. His genuine excitement was quite endearing. Even at his fourteen years of age, Claire could still see glimpses of that little boy that she’d fallen in love with.

Claire and Jenny were in the Laird’s room together for one of Jenny’s check-ups. She had the stethoscope pressed to her ear against Jenny’s swollen middle, listening carefully.

“The heartbeat is very strong,” Claire said, smiling. She put the wooden tube down and began to feel around, making sure of the position. Claire frowned slightly, feeling its head up top.

“Is it another breech baby?” Jenny said fretfully.

“I’m afraid it seems that way…though there is still time for it to move. I can see if palpating will help this time since your waters haven’t broken yet.” Claire felt around to get a grip on the baby, but she paused. If she wasn’t mistaken, she could feel its head at the bottom, in the correct position. Her brow furrowed. It could not have possibly moved that quickly. She felt up again, keeping one hand on the head.

Her eyes suddenly widened in astonishment. She immediately snatched the stethoscope again and pressed it into Jenny’s belly.

“What?” Jenny said worriedly.

“Shh!” Claire hushed her, listening very carefully through the wooden tube. Yes, certainly that was a heartbeat, right there. She then slid it around on Jenny’s large belly, keeping her ear firmly pressed into it, until she heard it again. Only it was not in the same place. Certainly the baby was not moving . There was only one other explanation.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire breathed in amazement.

What , Claire?” Jenny demanded.

“I think I hear two heartbeats, Jenny,” Claire said, her brows knitting in apprehension.

“Two?” Jenny looked bewildered. “How can the bairn possibly — ”

Claire bit her lip as she watched a wide range of emotions make their way across Jenny’s face. Bewilderment, realization, shock, terror.

A Dhiah!” she exclaimed. “ Two ? Ye mean…”

“Twins,” Claire confirmed, nodding. “You’re going to give birth to twins, Jenny.”

Jenny’s mouth flapped uselessly, blinking repeatedly.

“Do you need some water?” Claire said.

Jenny nodded wordlessly, her mouth still hanging open. Claire quickly retrieved a glass and placed it in Jenny’s hands.

“Are you alright?”

“I…I dinna ken how I should feel,” Jenny said. “It’s…joyful, no doubt, but we…we could barely afford to feed one more mouth…and now wi’ two …”

“I can’t imagine how frightening that must be, with everything so uncertain…but you’ll manage. We’ll manage. We have for this long, haven’t we?” Claire took one of Jenny’s hands in both of hers.

Jenny nodded hesitantly. “Christ…will I be in labor for twice the normal amount of time?”

Claire laughed softly. “No, it doesn’t work quite like that, thank God.”

Jenny breathed a sigh of relief, crossing herself. “Dinna think I’d survive if it did.”

“Labor is the normal amount of time, whatever that is for you, and then you just have to push two separate babies. There’s usually a bit of a wait in between.”

Jenny nodded. “And ye’ll be there? Ye’ll help the midwife? God willing she shows up.”

“Of course I’ll be there.” Jenny squeezed her hand. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Not only because you’re my sister, but I’ve never seen the delivery of twins before. This will be quite educational for me.” Her eyes sparkled teasingly.

“Glad that my extra pains will be exciting fer ye.” Jenny rolled her eyes, but Claire could see the smile she was trying to suppress.

“You’ll be alright. I promise. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Claire pulled Jenny’s shift back down. “I’ll pull the second one out if I have to. Again.”

“Father help us.” Jenny threw a glance upward, crossing herself.

“Like I said, there’s still time for them to move around. So we can hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“I trust ye, Claire,” Jenny said firmly. “I trust ye wi’ my life and the lives of my bairns. So if ye say all will be well then I believe ye.”

Claire smiled warmly and gave Jenny’s hand a final squeeze. “Good."

——

On October ninth, Claire found herself tearing through the potato fields to find Ian, her face flushed with adrenaline and the autumn chill.

“Ian!” she called, running toward him. “The babies are here!”

He threw down his tools and rushed to meet her in the middle.

“Well?” he said, breathless and impatient. “Tell me!”

“Janet Claire Fraser Murray,” she said, the name that he and Jenny had decided for another lass.

“Ah, Janet Claire. Another wee daughter.” He beamed proudly.

“And…” she bit her lip, leading him to believe for just a moment that she’d say the second girl name they’d picked out. “Michael Brian Fraser Murray.”

Ian’s face immediately changed from quiet pride to explosive joy. He laughed, louder than Claire had ever seen him laugh. Claire squealed as he crushed her to him in a bear-hug, lifting her off the ground and spinning her.

A Dhiah ! Another son!” He placed her back down and kissed both of her cheeks. “Ye’ve made me mad wi’ joy, Claire!”

Claire laughed, steadying herself on Ian’s shoulders.

“Dinna mistake me, Claire. I love my lasses wi’ all my heart, and I’ll love Janet just as fiercely. But another son…!”

“Well, go on! Go meet them!”

Ian laughed again, sprinting toward the house.

That night, Claire cried.

At first, she had no idea why. She simply sat down on her bed and wept bitterly. She should have been happy. She had helped deliver two healthy, beautiful babies today, one of which was named after her. 

But the more she thought about it, the clearer it became.

Her mind kept returning to that moment she shared with Ian in the fields, the senseless joy on his face.

A proud father.

And then her mind would wander to the scene she’d walked into shortly after, Ian sitting on the bed beside Jenny, each of them cradling a baby, delirious with baby-fever induced happiness.

A mother sharing her children with their father for the first time.

In the moment, it was tender, beautiful, heartwarming.

Now it seemed cruel and unfair.

Why were we denied that, twice…?

Claire shed her bitter tears, clamping a hand over her mouth to stifle the screams that were demanding to be released from her throat.

Why did you take that away from me?

“Mummy!”

Claire gasped softly and hurriedly wiped her face clean of tears. Brianna had recently mastered crawling up the stairs and sliding down on her bum, and she was now pawing at the bedroom door. Claire had tried to get it in everyone’s head that she should not be on the stairs unsupervised lest she have a seizure and fall all the way down, but she’d evidently managed to avoid detection.

“Mummy!”

“Coming, darling.” She took one more brief moment to compose herself before rushing to the door. When she opened it, she immediately scooped the squealing toddler into her arms and kissed her all over her little face.

God, that laughter.

No matter the pain Claire was in, nothing mattered more than seeing to it that Brianna was safe and happy; seeing to it that she never saw the depth of her mother’s despair, that she was never touched by that darkness that threatened Claire at every turn.

Chapter Text

Brianna’s second birthday came in the blink of an eye after the arrival of Michael and Janet. Two years, twenty-four months. Her vocabulary had quite expanded now, though her favorite word of all was “no;” it had, in fact, been her second word, shortly following “dog.”

“They learn that one fast,” Jenny had said.

Two years old, and Brianna was more stubborn than perhaps both of her parents combined. She was perfectly capable of verbally expressing her most basic needs, but Claire often had to pry it out of her like she was a locked vault. She often refused to use her words for whatever reason, and nobody could figure out why. Many a one-sided conversation would end with a tantrum of mass proportions, and Jenny would have to physically yank Claire away from the hysterical toddler.

“If ye stay there coddling her like that, ye’re giving her exactly what she wants,” Jenny said one day. “She’ll stop eventually if ye just let her alone.

From what little Claire knew about children, she was certain that Jenny was right, but that didn't mean it didn’t cause her physical pain to leave her child rolling in the middle of the hallway.

As predicted, she was also becoming more and more troublesome when it came to her escapades with Kitty. Both were more mobile than ever, and they were quite the experts on tormenting the dogs, and on sneaking biscuits right out from under Mrs. Crook’s nose. For that matter, they were experts on all things regarding pushing Mrs. Crook to the brink of losing her temper. They were like small dogs, always deliberately getting under foot and making a scene when they were nearly stepped on.

Maggie, just five years old now, was also becoming quite an expert; an expert at being mother-hen, that is. She could often be heard throughout the house, or outside, lecturing the younger ones in an adorable, high-pitched little voice, one that was trying its best to sound like her mother.

One day, Jenny and Claire were doing laundry, and Maggie came barreling around the side of the house.

“Mam! Auntie Claire!” she squeaked, her little cheeks red with exertion. “Kitty and Banna are bothering the goats!”

Jenny and Claire exchanged a knowing look, each rolling their eyes.

“Dinna fash, my wee lamb,” Jenny said. “The goats will be jest fine.”

“But they’re climbing, Mam!”

“The goats?” Jenny said, chuckling as she wrung out one of Ian’s sarks.

“Nae! Kitty and Banna!”

Claire’s heart immediately dropped into her stomach, and she and Jenny exchanged quite a different look. They dropped their laundry and hiked up their skirts and sprinted around the house to the goat pen. Kitty and Brianna were indeed standing on the second highest rung of the wooden fence, gripping the highest one, antagonizing the easily-angered ram. They arrived just in time to see the ram butt his horns into the fence, throwing both toddlers off to land on their backs.

Claire’s knees nearly gave out from under her, the world stopping as she screamed in terror. She sprinted to Brianna’s side, prepared for a violent seizure in response to the blunt force trauma to her head. Instead, she collapsed in the dirt beside her, and Brianna burst into a wild fit of giggles, joined shortly after by Kitty.

“Katherine Mary Fraser Murray!” Jenny howled, stamping right over to the three of them, standing over Kitty with her hands on her hips. “What the Devil d’ye mean by nearly getting yerself killed?”

Kitty’s laughter immediately ceased, and she sat up, the fear of God written all over her face.

“D’ye ken what might’ve happened? If ye’d gotten him just a bit more angry, ye could’ve hit yer head harder and died . D’ye ken that, Katherine?” Kitty’s face was uncharacteristically white, her blue eyes wide with terror. “Yer cousin could’ve died! D’ye ken that? Ye put wee Brianna in danger!”

That was when she burst into tears.

Claire, meanwhile, was fussing over Brianna, inspecting every inch of her head, checking her pupils, her pulse. Brianna’s laughter had stopped once Jenny had started yelling, but now she was upset in earnest.

“Why Kitty cryin’ Mummy?”

“Kitty is crying because Auntie Jenny is very upset with her,” Claire said, suddenly filled with her own rage at her daughter’s carelessness. “And I am very upset with you, Brianna.”

“Ye’re too young fer a thrashing, but ye will be taught a lesson. Up, now .” Kitty obeyed her mother, wailing in hysterics. Jenny seized her by the wrist and dragged her daughter behind her, marching right up to the house.

“Your Auntie is right. Something very bad could have happened to you, Brianna,” Claire said firmly, holding tightly onto Brianna’s wrists. “Do you understand? You could have triggered one of your fits. It could have hurt you very much.” Brianna was welling up with tears, but whether it was from what Claire was actually saying or just from the stern tone, Claire could not tell.

“Brianna. Do you understand?”

Claire watched as her little chubby face gradually turned red, and her nose and lips scrunched up.

No !” she suddenly wailed, yanking against her mother’s grip on her wrists.

Claire exhaled sharply through her nose, her jaw setting hard. “I said, do you understand?”

“NO!”

“Alright. That’s enough.” Claire abruptly released her wrists so she could scoop her up around the middle and carry her, screeching and squirming, into the house. Admittedly, she nearly lost her grip several times, and she wondered how it could possibly be so difficult to hold onto something that only weighed twenty-seven pounds.

By the time they got inside, Jenny was already in the dining room, holding Kitty over her knees and administering light but firm smacks to her bottom. Claire paused in the doorway with Brianna, wincing at each small blow. Jenny finished, and looked up at Claire.

“D’ye want me to do it?” she said pragmatically, nudging her chin toward Brianna.

Claire really considered it for a moment. She didn't really want to spank her child; it wasn’t something she ever thought she’d be willing to do as a parent. It would be all too easy to let Jenny be the bad guy, to wash her hands of the situation.

But she couldn’t allow that. Brianna had to know to follow rules set by both her aunt and her mother. And besides, spanking and beating were not nearly the same thing.

“No. I should do it.” Claire sat down, struggling to position Brianna’s squirming little body in her lap. Jenny removed Kitty from her lap and stood her up on the floor, holding firmly onto her shoulders.

“Watch yer cousin now, Katherine. She’s being punished as well because of yer actions.” Jenny looked at Claire. “I gave her five.”

Claire nodded resolutely. “Alright.”

Brianna howled and shrieked, probably much more than was actually warranted, but it wasn’t long before five swats were administered. Claire lifted her up again, settling her to sit on her knee.

“D’ye understand why ye’ve had to be punished? Both of ye?” Jenny looked back and forth between the two toddlers, and Kitty nodded vehemently. Brianna waited until Kitty nodded, but agree she did. “Ye canna be angering the beasts. They dinna ken how small ye are, and they dinna care. They’re wild, dumb creatures. They will hurt ye. D’ye understand?”

Kitty nodded, wiping her eyes sloppily with the back of her hand, and Brianna nodded as well.

“Good. Off ye get to the nursery, now. No more outdoors today.” Jenny departed and returned with Mrs. Crook to ask her to see the little ones upstairs. Claire resisted the urge to kiss Brianna’s head before she put her down on the floor.

Sighing heavily, Jenny led Claire out of the dining room, but they both stopped short as Jenny’s legs collided with something. They heard a little sniffle, and both looked down to see Maggie, her face stained with fresh tears.

“Maggie, mo chridhe , what’s the matter?”

She sniffled again. “Kitty and Banna got punished because I told.”

Och , my gentle wee lamb,” Jenny tutted, reaching down and heaving her up into her arms, settling her on her hip.

“You did the right thing by coming to us, darling,” Claire said softly, brushing a few curls off her damp forehead. “They could have been hurt.”

She hiccuped a little and nuzzled into her mother’s neck.

“That’s right, mo ghraidh . It’s a good thing ye came fer us. They had to be punished so they would learn, so they wouldna get hurt again. D’ye understand?”

She nodded, her lips still drooping in a sad little pout. Jenny gave a soft chuckle and kissed the top of Maggie’s head.

“I never had to swat at this one’s bottom,” Jenny said to Claire, leading them back outside. “No’ a troublemaker like the other two.”

Claire smiled lightly as Jenny set Maggie down next to the washtub.

“Would you like to help us, love?” Claire said, stroking Maggie’s hair.

“Aye, Auntie.”

“There’s my good lass,” Jenny crooned. “Up ye get.” She helped her onto the little stool by the clothesline so she could reach.

“She’s so sensitive, the dear girl,” Claire said softly, plunging her hands back into the frigid water.

“Aye,” Jenny said, chuckling again. “Dinna ken where she gets it from.”

Claire chuckled. “Do you think she’ll ever forgive me?”

“Maggie?” Jenny’s brow furrowed.

“No, no…”

Och , dinna fash about that,” Jenny scoffed. “She’ll be hanging on yer legs again by supper.” She rang out the previously abandoned sark and handed it to Maggie. “Ye ken it had to be done, aye?”

“No, I do. Yes,” Claire said.

“Ye’ll get used to it sister.” Jenny patted her wrist with a wet hand. “And she willna love ye any less fer it.”

Claire sighed. She knew Jenny was right, and she also knew it was only going to get worse from here.

——

In Brianna’s second year of life, she’d had four seizures. Two less than last year, putting her at ten for her whole small lifetime. Claire had certainly heard of worse cases of epilepsy, so she supposed she should be counting her blessings. But the guilt that gripped her stomach with every seizure was enough to send her spiraling into self-doubt and self-loathing for days at a time.

It was a good thing that Jenny would not tolerate it for very long.

She let Claire hover over Brianna as she slept, let her weep, let her coddle the child days after the post-seizure lethargy ended. But any admonishment of herself as a mother was where Jenny drew the line.

“If ye say it so often, ye’ll start to believe it, and then where will Brianna be?”

Claire couldn’t help but admit that Jenny was right.

It did no good to linger on her supposed shortcomings, because while Claire was still thinking about what she could have and should have done differently two years ago, a week ago, yesterday, or five minutes ago, Brianna was already getting into trouble again and needing intervention.

It was exhausting, being a mother. But it was something that Claire cherished above all else. No matter how many times she heard the word “no” from her daughter’s stubborn little mouth, no matter how many times she slipped naked out of her grasp and trailed bathwater all over the house before Claire could catch up, no matter how many messes of flour she managed to make in the kitchen, no matter how desperately Claire feared for her life every day, it was all worth it when she heard that little voice:

“Up, Mummy!”

“Hug, Mummy?”

“Mummy kiss?”

Or, her newest revelation, Claire’s favorite string of words she’d ever heard in her life:

“Love you, Mummy.”

When Claire cradled her sleeping toddler, her mouth hanging open and dripping with just the tiniest bit of drool, hearing little snores with every breath, the knitted lamb squeezed firmly into her little chest, it was impossible to remember anything but what an angel she was when she slept.

This is ours, Jamie. Those little red cheeks, her wee teeth, those pudgy hands, those smiling, sleepy lips, her soft, sweet smelling head. All ours, love.

Claire certainly didn’t forget -- his absence colored her every movement and affected every decision; the ache was tangible, always -- but it was easy for thoughts of Jamie to fall to the wayside when she was constantly dashing forward to stop her little troublemaker from toppling down the stairs or knocking something onto her head. In their waking hours, while Brianna squealed and caused a ruckus with her cousins, tormented the dogs and the other animals, trampled a few herbs in the garden when Claire wasn’t looking, it was impossible to think of anything but containing that bundle of energy.

But in quiet moments in the chair by the hearth, no light but the fire and the pale moon, watching the thick lashes that they had made flutter shut over the blue eyes that he had given her, listening to her babbling become less and less coherent as she drifted into dreamland, Claire could think of nothing else. Nothing else but how desperately she longed to see him hold her, to see him scoop her up before she could touch the hot metal grate over the fireplace, to hear them laugh together.

“Up, Da!”

“Hug, Da?”

“Da kiss?”

“Love you, Da.”

These were words that haunted her at night, words that kept her awake, staring at her daughter while she slept soundly. If she concentrated, she could really hear it, her  daughter’s squeaky little voice calling out to her father.

“Da is here, mo ghraidh. Mo chridhe. My wee lass."

She could hear that, too.

Chapter Text

In late February, the Redcoats came back.

They were evidently not satisfied that Claire was who Jenny said she was the last time they were here, when Jenny had shown off the potato-baby.

Claire was in the middle of changing Brianna’s diaper in her bedroom when the front door burst open. Claire’s heart leapt into her throat and her hands froze for a moment. She carefully continued tying off the diaper as she listened to the hushed voices from behind her slightly ajar bedroom door.

“...rumors in the village…”

“...a healer that lives here…”

“How is your cousin, Madame Murray?”

Claire swallowed, feeling like prickly sand was running down her throat as she did so. Her bedroom was no priest hole, but she felt it would be wise if she and Brianna stayed hidden. If they decided to search the house, well...she’d worry about that when the time came.

“Kitty play!” Brianna shouted.

“Shh!” Claire hushed. “We must be very quiet, Brianna.”

In deliberate defiance, Brianna gave a loud shriek, and Claire thought she might vomit. Brianna dissolved into a fit of giggles, quite amused with herself.

The voices downstairs stopped briefly, and Claire’s pulse only returned to normal when she heard Jenny’s voice again:

“One of the bairns. Ye ken how they are.”

Once Brianna was dressed again, Claire rushed to the windowsill, where Lambert had been left.

“Let’s play with Lamb, darling. How does that — ”

She turned around and Brianna was no longer sitting on the bed, and the door was slightly more open than before.

Fucking hell.

Claire dropped the lamb and sprinted out of the bedroom and down the hall after Brianna, toddling with impressive speed toward the stairs. Claire hiked up her skirts and reached her in four quick strides, scooping her into her arms, eliciting a shrill yell from the toddler that halted conversation at the bottom of the stairs again.

Claire looked over the banister at the three Redcoats cornering Jenny, who remained calm and level-headed as ever. All four of them were now staring upward. Claire wet her lips, her heart bruising her ribcage. She forced a pleasant smile and curtsied slightly before quickly turning around with the intention of slipping back into her bedroom and keeping Brianna occupied until they were gone.

“Madame.”

Fuck.

“Do come downstairs, if you don’t mind.”

That is not a request.

Claire took a shuddering breath, and her chin began to tremble.

“Brianna, love, we’re going to play a game, alright?”

“Play game?”

“Shh...yes, a game.” Claire was whispering into her hair, quiet enough that she barely heard herself. “A quiet game. You must not make any noise. If you win the game and stay quiet, you may have as many biscuits as you want.”

“Biscuit!”

“Shh...quiet, lovie. Yes?”

Brianna nodded silently, pursing her lips together absurdly. Claire slowly made her way to the stairs and descended, clutching Brianna tightly. No doubt the soldiers had heard Brianna’s half of the conversation, but thankfully what she’d said could pass as a child making unprompted requests.

The other children were likely in the nursery with Mrs. Crook, aside from wee Jamie, who was likely outside with Rabbie and Fergus. If only Claire had changed her diaper faster, had been able to get her to the nursery before they were noticed…

“Good day, Madame,” the captain greeted. Claire smiled woodenly.

“This is the very same babe ye saw the last time ye were here, Captain,” Jenny interjected before he could prompt Claire to speak. She stretched out her arms, smiling brightly as she took Brianna in her arms. “My wee Brianna Murray.”

“How very charming,” the captain said dryly.

“Lizzie is her godmother,” Jenny continued, flashing a secret look at Claire. “Ye remember my cousin.”

Elizabeth. Jenny’s cousin, Brianna’s godmother. The role I’m playing right now.

“Indeed,” the captain said, eyeing Claire suspiciously.

“Mistress Fraser is visiting us again just now,” Jenny went on, rocking Brianna gently, keeping her smile wide.

Thank God Brianna would do anything for a biscuit. If I hadn’t pulled the quiet game out of my arse she’d have called me Mummy eight times already.

“And does Mistress Fraser have any healing abilities?” he pressed.

“Oh, aye,” Jenny said warmly. “Whenever she visits she offers what help she can to our tenants. We’re very grateful to her.”

“Tell me, Mistress Fraser,” the Captain said, turning to address Claire directly. “Where did you learn such abilities? Family trade?”

“She — ”

“I’d like to hear her myself, Madame Murray,” the captain said, clipped and aggravated. “Go on, Miss.”

Claire was trembling head to toe. She cleared her throat and answered in a raspy whisper: “Aye, Sir.” She took care to emphasize the ‘r’ the best she could.

“Do speak up, please.”

Claire exaggeratedly cleared her throat again, then touched her throat before forcing herself into a coughing fit. Jenny immediately caught on.

“Apologies, Captain. My cousin has caught something from one of our tenants, and she’s been having trouble wi’ her voice lately, ye ken.”

Claire carried on with her coughing, and the three soldiers unconsciously stepped back a few paces.

“Collins. Get the lady some water, for God’s sake,” the Captain ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

“Dangerous for the child, is it not?” The Captain said. “Having a sick woman hold it so close?”

Claire finally let her coughing subside, and she allowed herself to start panting.

Och , the bairns have all had the sickness already. Canna catch it again,” Jenny said offhandedly, and despite the situation, Claire swelled with pride.

She’s been paying attention when I speak of these things.

“Ah. I see.” The captain took a step forward, unclasping his hands from behind his back. “Such a...vibrant color.” He reached a hand toward Brianna, and wrapped a curl around his finger. Claire’s stomach lurched. “Quite...red.”

Red Jamie .

“Aye, my mother’s color,” Jenny said with pride, though Claire could see the fear in her eyes. 

“None of your other children have it,” the Captain said, amused. “It’s astonishing, really.”

Collins returned then with a glass of water, and Claire accepted it with a polite nod, having to concentrate very hard to keep the water from sloshing out with the force of her trembling.

“My wee Maggie has a bit of it as well,” Jenny said dismissively. “Bits of red woven in wi’ blonde — ”

“Remarkable isn’t it,” the Captain went on. “The resemblance. Don’t you think, Collins?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Resemblance, Captain?” Jenny asked uneasily.

“To her... uncle .”

Och ,” Jenny said quickly. “Unfortunate that the traitor inherited much of our mother’s beauty as well. Suits the bairn much better, don’t ye think?”

“Indeed.” The Captain’s finger was still woven into Brianna’s hair, and Claire had never before felt such a deep urge to kill somebody.

Jamie would cut his bloody hand off.

“Are you a widow, Mistress Fraser?” The Captain said, abruptly turning his head to face her, his hand still touching Brianna. “And a mother, perhaps?”

Claire shook her head.

“Lizzie’s never been marrit,” Jenny said lightly. “I often tease her about it.”

Jenny made a move to shift Brianna, to inadvertently get her away from his grip, but he very abruptly seized a fistful of her curls and held on tightly, forcing Jenny to cause Brianna pain by pulling against his hand. Brianna yelped and began wailing. Jenny’s face turned white, and Claire’s vision went red, pressure building between her temples.

“Are you quite sure, Mistress Fraser?”

“Captain, please, ye’re hurting her — ”

“I’d like the truth, please, from Mistress Fraser’s tongue.”

Brianna shrieked again.

Claire forced herself to start coughing again, using all the breath in her lungs to create as realistic a hacking sound as she could manage.

“For Heaven’s sake, Madame. Enough .”

Claire let the glass slip from her grip and shatter at her feet, then rolled her eyes to the back of her head and dropped to the ground.

“Lizzie?” Jenny called. “Captain, please, she needs help, she’s ill — ”

“Get her up onto the sofa!” The Captain barked, beyond irritated.

Brianna’s shrieking was growing louder and louder, likely distraught to see her mother topple over. Claire’s heart was in her throat, tears gathering behind her closed eyelids, her arms aching to press Brianna into her.

Claire was roughly lifted by the two soldiers and laid out on the sofa. Jenny called for Laura and ordered her to take Brianna into the nursery with the other children. Claire bit her lip to stifle her sigh of relief; this meant that the bastard no longer had his hands on her daughter.

Jenny began fretting over Claire, putting a rag on her head, dabbing at her neck.

“She’s burning up,” Jenny cried, distraught.

In a different century, Jenny would make quite the actress.

“Captain, I’m heart sorry, I’ll be happy to answer any questions ye have, but my cousin is no’ well, as ye can clearly see.”

A heavy, tangible silence followed, and Claire could hear the Captain sigh heavily, almost giving way to a growl.

“Very well. When she wakes, offer her my well wishes and a fast recovery.” His voice was thin and tight.

Three sets of footsteps retreated, and then there was a great crashing noise that made Claire jump on the sofa. The footsteps continued and the front door opened and slammed shut.

Claire immediately shot up off the sofa, and Jenny firmly grabbed her shoulders. Claire vaguely registered that the contents of the mantle had been swept onto the floor, creating a mess in the parlor in the Captain’s rage.

“Stay, sister. In case they return.”

“Brianna...I need her…” Claire’s eyes were wide and frantic, her breathing shallow and panicked.

“She’s alright, Claire. She’s wi’ Mrs. Crook. He didna hurt her.”

“I could kill him...disgusting, loathsome man…” Claire spat, her entire body trembling under Jenny’s hands.

“I ken. It’s over now, sister. It’s alright.” Jenny wrapped her arms around her, and despite the urge to run, to kill, to scream, Claire simply melted in her arms, weeping bitterly.

“That was...horrible, Jenny…”

“I ken, mo ghraidh. It’s over now. Ye did well.”

“Her screams…Oh God…”

“I can bear pain myself, but I couldna bear yours . That would take more strength than I have.”

I cannot bear her pain.

“She’s alright, Claire. She willna even remember this.”

Claire nodded against Jenny’s shoulder, sniffling. At least there was that one small comfort.

“I think it’s been long enough, now. Let’s go,” Jenny said, smiling weakly. “I feel I must hold my own bairns just now, as well.”

That night, and every night thereafter, Claire wondered how much longer they’d be able to keep up this act.

——

March 19th, 1749

It was one of those rare moments of peace, a crackling fire accompanied by the glowing moonlight. Claire was knitting new arm warmers for Maggie, as she’d outgrown her old ones yet again, passing them down to Kitty, who passed her old ones down to Brianna. Brianna was restless beside Claire in bed, tossing and turning back and forth, Lamb tucked under her arm. “Mummy,” Brianna blurted.

“Shh...quiet darling,” Claire whispered. “It’s time to sleep.”

“Story, Mummy.” Brianna sat up and began tugging on the sleeve of Claire’s nightgown. “Story, Mummy.”

“Story, Mummy...what?” Claire looked up from her knitting, cocking an eyebrow at the demanding toddler.

“Story Mummy please?” Brianna said, her ocean-eyes widening, and her bottom lip sticking out in that irresistible pout.

“Well, alright,” Claire grinned, setting aside her knitting on the side table. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Brianna grinned a crooked, toothy smile and clapped her hands.

“Come here, lovie.” Claire opened her arms, and Brianna crawled into her lap, nuzzling herself into Claire’s breast, resting a pudgy palm on the soft flesh at the top of her nightgown, the latching instinct apparently not having left her just yet despite being recently weaned.

Claire hummed with contentment, feeling her little girl settling into her, safe and protected in her mother’s arms, where she belonged.

“Which story do you want to hear, darling? The one about the little princess, and the seven dwarves?”

Claire was not brought up on fairytales at all; any tales told to her by Uncle Lamb were folklore of whatever land they were currently occupying, based in culture, religion, or scientific fact. She hadn’t been raised on princes and princesses like other girls had. She hadn’t gone to see Snow White in 1938 for any reason other than curiosity at its novelty: the first full-length animated motion picture. She’d enjoyed it, and teared up more than she’d liked to admit during the dwarves’ funeral for the princess, mostly because Uncle Lamb had been openly weeping, surely remembering the funeral that Claire was too young to be affected by, a funeral of matching coffins.

It was a fond memory she kept tucked away, something she stopped speaking about after Uncle Lamb had passed. She found herself speaking of it again, telling Brianna the little fairytale as best as she could remember from her one viewing of it. It was simple enough: little princess runs away from an evil queen, lives with seven little men, is saved by her prince, and off they go to happily-ever-after. Brianna enjoyed it well enough, and it made Claire smile to think of telling her about motion pictures someday, and revealing that her favorite of Mummy’s stories was actually created by a man named Walt Disney, each frame individually drawn and painted with as much care as the portraits done by her Grannie Ellen and her Auntie Jenny.

“No Princess. No dw-avs,” Brianna says simply. “Queen, Mummy.”

Claire smiled wistfully, a quiet sadness settling in her chest.

The tale of Laird and Lady Lallybroch was another one of her favorites.

“Alright, lovie.” Claire kissed the crown of her head. 

“Once upon a time, there was a brave, dashing warrior.” Claire felt her little girl smile against her breast. “He had hair like flames and eyes like deep water. Just like yours, baby. He called himself Laird Broch Tuarach, and he lived with his Lady.”

“Lady Bock Too-wack,” Brianna cooed, and Claire gave a watery chuckle.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Lady Broch Tuaroch. She was the most important thing in the world to the Laird. She was…”

“Queen!” Brianna said.

“And he was…”

“King!”

“That’s right, lovie. Their own little kingdom. They loved each other very, very much.” Her voice got tight, and she wound her arms tighter around Brianna. “So very much, that they decided to bring a little princess into the world.” Brianna gave a little giggle. The more she heard the story, the more she began to process that the little princess in question was her.

“The Laird had to go away, leave his Lady and their little princess. But, he left behind a special gift before he had to go away. Special for his little girl.”

Brianna proudly held up the little lamb, and Claire chuckled again.

“That’s right, darling. Fraser colors, so that your father will always be with you.” She pressed a fervent kiss to the top of Brianna’s head.

“The end,” Brianna said contentedly, pressing Lamb back into her chest.

Claire didn’t say anything for a moment. She rocked Brianna silently, her chin resting atop her wild curls, feeling her squishy cheek pressed into the crook of her neck.

“Brianna?” She broke the silence. “Do you know that the warrior, the Laird, the King...do you know that he’s...he’s your Da?”

Brianna had heard the word before. Her cousins said it every day to Ian, about Ian. She wondered if her little brain could grasp it yet, what it meant to have a Da. Or to not have one.

She didn’t expect Brianna to say anything, didn’t expect her to understand well enough. This story was Claire’s way of telling her daughter that she had a father that loved her, even before she would understand. Someday she’d understand.

Claire thought she was hearing things again when Brianna’s little voice said:

“Da.”

She’s just parroting. She’s only two-and-a-half years old. She doesn’t understand.

But logic was powerless to stop the raw emotion that slammed into Claire at the sound of Jamie’s daughter calling out to him.

“That’s right, baby,” she croaked, squeezing her as tightly as she dared. “Da loves you.”

“Da…” Brianna cooed once more, before the sound morphed into a little snore, and she was fast asleep against her.

Claire allowed the tiniest of sobs to escape her lips before she clenched her entire body to silence herself. With the greatest care, Claire laid Brianna on the mattress beside her and then clamped a hand over her mouth, feeling hot tears run over her fingers.

How many tears must I cry? How many nights must I burn alive with this pain?

And yet...how blessed have I been…?

She took a shuddering breath, running her fingers lightly over Brianna’s downy soft curls.

How blessed am I to have you here still? How blessed am I to raise her in your honor, to teach her to love your memory as much as I loved your flesh and blood?

Could she? Could Brianna ever understand the depth of her father’s love for her, the depth of her mother’s love for him?

I’ll do my damndest, Jamie.

I will never stop telling our story.

Chapter Text

April 16th, 1749

Claire found herself lost in her reflection. Not in a vain way, not at all, rather in quiet contemplation, in subtle surprise. It had been a while since she’d sat in front of a mirror and really taken in what she saw.

It was strange.

The last time she’d done this, she could have been a skeleton. She remembered thinking to herself that she was rotting away like the bodies on the moor.

Now, it was different.

There was color in her cheeks -- cheeks that were not sunken in, there were no dark rings under her eyes -- eyes that were not bloodshot. The depths of her eyes held a sadness, of course (how could they not?). But she no longer felt like she was slipping away from herself, holding onto her own soul for dear life by tattered edges.

It was strange, especially today.

This was the first anniversary that she got out of bed for. The first one, she’d vomited into a bucket over the side of her bed all day, and Jenny had been in and out to tend to Brianna, to remind Claire that she needed feeding. The second one, there’d been no vomiting, but Claire remained in bed. Brianna was much more restless at this point, and Fergus had kept her busy and out of trouble while Claire stared numbly at the wall or the ceiling for hours on end.

Today, she’d gotten out of bed and put on a dress the color of the sky. Well, not the sky over Scotland, at least not typically. The sky when the sun was uncovered, when the clouds were white and puffy.

“It was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the sun came out.”

That’s what she wanted him to see today. The color of sunshine.

There was a small knock on the bedroom door, and Claire beckoned him inside.

Fergus crept in slowly, noticing how Brianna still slept on the bed.

“You look beautiful, Maman .” He looked in her eyes through the reflection.

Claire allowed a tiny smile and turned away from the mirror. “You look dashing yourself.”

He was wearing his Sunday best, a pale green vest over his white shirt.

“He will be happy to see you, I think. Looking so bonny.”

Claire let her smile widen, and she nodded. “He’ll be happy to see his family.” She reached for Fergus’s hand, and he gave it to her. She gave a little squeeze before getting up to rouse Brianna. She was loath to cut short any time her rowdy girl spent sleeping, but she wanted to make sure they had ample time with him before the weather turned.

“Brianna,” Claire crooned, giving her tiny shoulder a shake before smoothing her hair out of her face. “Time to wake up, lovie.”

Her darling little face scrunched up comically, and Claire chuckled softly.

“Come on, baby. Today is a very special day. Remember?”

Her face changed immediately, little blue eyes popping open as she propelled herself to sit up.

“See Da? See Da?”

For a moment, Claire’s vision left her, and she had to fist the sheets tightly to regain her composure.

“That’s right, darling. We’re going to see Da today.”

Fergus helped Claire change her diaper and put her into one of her sweetest little frocks, with a lovely bonnet to match. To keep Brianna from squirming, Fergus went on and on about all the lovely things Mrs. Crook had prepared for their picnic breakfast.

Claire adjusted Brianna’s bonnet one more time before settling her on her hip. As they departed the bedroom, Brianna gave an indignant shout and reached back toward the room.

“What is it, lovie?”

“Da see Lamb! Da see Lamb!”

Claire’s composure faltered again.

“Here, ma petit .” Fergus retrieved the toy from their bed and placed it in Brianna’s eager hands. “You are right, indeed. Da will want to see Lamb.” He gave her nose a little poke, eliciting a giggle. She settled happily into Claire's shoulder, and Claire took this to mean they were now ready to go.

Claire and Fergus strolled arm and arm over the grounds toward the graveyard, watching with amusement as Brianna toddled ahead, chasing after butterflies or stopping to pick dandelions. Walking side-by-side with Fergus, Claire was vaguely aware that he was very nearly the same height as she was.

“When did you get so tall?” Claire said wistfully, looking over at him, feeling a pinch in her heart to think of perhaps having to look up at him someday.

“I could not say,” Fergus chuckled. “Auntie Jenny says I am like a weed.”

“A weed, indeed.” Claire leaned into him.

“Not an unwelcome weed, I hope.”

He was teasing, she knew, playing into their little joke, but Claire could never stop herself from assuring him that he belonged in this family, that he was as much her flesh and blood as Brianna.

“Never, darling.” She freed her arm to press his head into the crook of her neck and embraced him around the shoulders as they continued on.

When they were just over halfway there, Brianna was tired of butterflies and dandelions, and she began tugging on Claire’s skirts and whining: “Up, Mummy!”

They continued the rest of the way like this, Claire holding Brianna close, Fergus carrying the picnic basket and the blanket. When the graveyard was in sight, Claire’s steps faltered a bit.

Maman , are you alright?”

Claire breathed shakily and wet her lips. She hadn’t been here since the funeral, since that sham of a burial, since she’d willed herself to believe there was a body under her feet as she said a final goodbye.

Three years ago.

The grave had since been desecrated and put together again, the ashes of the tartan in a location still unknown to Claire. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to come back here since that day. She hadn’t seen a point in visiting an empty grave, especially without the tartan.

This year was different.

Something had changed inside Claire when she’d heard the word “Da” come out of her daughter’s mouth. She wanted her to know him, of course, told her about him whenever she’d listen. But now she was desperate. If Jamie really was buried here, she’d take their daughter to see him all of the time. It seemed cruel to deny her that just because it was somewhat of a false grave.

That, and her reflection was so much different than it was three years ago.

She was so very weak three years ago, so sure she wouldn’t make it through the next day. Perhaps she still was weak; she surely felt that way sometimes. But to her daughter, to her son, she was strong. To her sister and brother, to their children, her adoring nieces and nephews, she was strong. According to her reflection, she’d gained strength, however superficial.

She wanted him to see. She wanted him to watch her get out of bed on this, the day she hadn’t walked on in three years, and see her smile with their children, dressed like sunshine.

She wanted him to be proud.

Claire steeled her nerves, swallowing back three years of guilt.

“I’m alright.”

They closed the distance to the graveyard, and she didn’t even think about where it was. She knew.

She put Brianna down to help Fergus spread out the blanket. Fergus set down the basket, and Claire sank slowly to her knees in front of the stone.

“Hello, love.” She extended a trembling hand to rest atop the stone, exhaling sharply as her skin came in contact with its coldness. “I’m sorry it took me so long.”

Though this was not his resting place, Claire had to believe his soul was not confined to that bloody moor for all eternity. She had to believe that he’d want to wander the grounds of his beloved Lallybroch, convene with the spirits of the many loved ones buried around them. That belief was one of the only things that kept her sane.

Fergus held Brianna on his hip for several minutes, allowing Claire a moment to feel peace here.

“I have...so much to tell you,” she continued, and she felt a bit silly. Surely if her belief held up, Jamie already knew everything she wanted to tell him. He already knew their daughter’s first word, when and where she took her first steps, how much she looked like him, how many children Jenny and Ian had now, and how one of them was even named after her.

But she told him anyway, all of it.

Before long, Claire was holding Brianna in her lap, Fergus sitting beside them with his hand on her shoulder.

“And look at this,” she said, holding onto Brianna’s fist so she could hold up Lamb. “Look what your sister made for her. It’s from your tartan. And she knows it’s from you, too. Right darling? Where did Lamb’s bow come from?”

“Bow from Da!” Brianna said proudly.

“That’s right, lovie. See? She says ‘Da’, now.” Claire kissed Brianna’s head. “She’s such a gift, Jamie. I know you’d love her so much.”

Claire sighed tremulously and pressed her cheek into the crown of Brianna’s head.

Fergus gave her shoulder a squeeze and allowed a brief silence to pass over them.

“Shall I tell him about how I caught a deer in a rabbit trap?” Fergus said, recognizing that Claire was at a loss for words at the moment.

Fergus regaled the tale with much enthusiasm, and the many other animals he’d caught and provided for the family, how he was a great help to his Uncle Ian in the fields. Before long, Claire’s silence was broken, and they were both laughing.

They dug into the food then, all the while going back and forth, occasionally letting Jamie in on the joke.

“You really should have seen her face when I told her there were two ,” Claire said in the direction of the stone, and Fergus laughed.

“We made a wee invention to hear the babies inside!” Fergus beamed.

“That’s right, Fergus helped me make a crude stethoscope. Something I used to tell you about from my time.”

Fergus didn’t say anything right away.

Maman ?”

“Yes darling?”

“You said it again.”

“What did I say?”

“‘My time.’ What does it mean?”

Claire momentarily blanched, mid-bite of a piece of bread. “Oh.”

“I hear you speak to Auntie and Uncle, you know,” he went on. “I hear you slip up. So I know you are some kind of fairy.”

Claire’s eyes widened before she burst into laughter, causing Brianna to look up at her strangely. “I’m not a fairy, Fergus. But I will tell you the truth.”

And so Claire went through the entire ordeal, as she’d done with Jamie, and as she’d done with Jenny. He listened with rapt attention, but instead of the disbelief she’d been met with during her previous confessions, it almost looked like he was concluding connections and realizations years in the making.

When she finished, he simply said.

“I see.”

“That’s all?”

He nodded, then shrugged. “It makes sense to me.”

Claire laughed boisterously and shook her head.

“Well, I thought you had everyone beat for how well you took it, Jamie, but it seems you’ve been outdone!”

They launched into more laughter, Claire recalling how things had gone over with Jenny when she’d confessed to being a time-traveler. The rest of the morning went by peacefully and contentedly. Once breakfast was done and Brianna was filled with food, she began to grow quite restless remaining on the blanket, not understanding why they couldn’t just let her roam around the graveyard like it was a playground.

Claire was reluctant to leave, but she supposed it had to be done eventually.

“I will take her, you can stay for a bit, alone,” Fergus said.

“Thank you, love. I’d appreciate that.”

Ma petit ,” Fergus crooned, stopping her from scrambling off the blanket yet again. “It is time to say goodbye to Da.”

He held Brianna around the middle so she was standing in front of the stone.

“Say goodbye, darling,” Claire said gently, stroking her pudgy cheek.

“Bye Da,” she said lightly.

“Good girl, Brianna.” Claire gave her a kiss, and then Brianna turned to plant a kiss on her mother’s cheek. This was new for Brianna, she’d only just started giving kisses over the past month or so. It was unlike anything Claire had ever experienced before, the feeling of her daughter’s clumsy lips, the loud, exaggerated smacking sound, and the warmth that spread from head to toe.

Brianna then pressed an equally loud and exaggerated kiss to the palm of her hand, and then threw her hand in the direction of the stone.

“Da kiss,” she said, her voice light and airy.

Claire had to cover her mouth to stifle the guttural sob that tore through her chest.

Fergus took Brianna’s hand, picked up the basket, and led her out of the graveyard so that she could play and get out all her energy.

Claire sighed and turned back to the stone. “She’s something, isn’t she?” Claire chuckled, smiling sadly. “Your daughter, through and through.” She swallowed thickly and shook her head. “I know this is silly. Coming here, talking to you here of all places. I may as well be talking to a tree in the woods, or to a mouse in the kitchen.” She rolled her eyes, then sniffled. “I know you’re always with me no matter where I am. I don’t have to be here. At first I wanted to have a place to take Brianna, to tell her that she could always find you here. Then I started to believe it myself.

“Strange, isn’t it? The way you believe the things you tell yourself...like that, for instance, or how I truly thought I wouldn’t be able to live without you...but I didn’t have a choice. I told myself I had to go on, and I did. I lied to myself enough times until it came true. Our baby deserves me to be fully present. Perhaps that’s why I decided to save my deluded talking to the spirits for the empty grave.” She paused to wipe her eyes. “I won’t let you see me cry, not today. I got out of bed, today of all days. For you, Jamie. To show you that I...that I can do this. Maybe to show myself, too.”

She smiled sheepishly at the stone, as if she could really see his eyes, giving her that knowing look, the look that says: I see right through ye, Sassenach.

“I love you, Jamie. I miss you so very much.” She placed her hand back on the stone, wrapping her fingers around the rosary that rested there perpetually. “You are my reason and my purpose. Even though you’re gone.” She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the stone. “Thank you.”

She gave the letters of his name one final, loving stroke with her fingertips before rising to her feet. She gathered the blanket, doing her best to fold it by herself.

“Oh!” she said suddenly. “I almost forgot.” She laughed to herself. “I think Jenny is pregnant again. She hasn’t said anything -- I don’t think she really wants to be -- but I can tell by now.” She folded the blanket over her forearm and let it rest there. “I always love helping bring new life into the world. It’s sad, too, of course; part of me will always wish that they could be ours. But I have Brianna. And being an Auntie is a joy in and of itself. I love Jenny’s children like they’re my own.”

Something hit her just then, crashed into her like a violent wave.

I didn’t mention her at all.

“Tell her...Mummy loves her, Jamie,” she whispered, barely audible. “Give her a kiss for me.”

——

Upon arriving back at the house, Claire found Jenny doing laundry, Kitty and Brianna running around like little heathens with the dogs. Maggie was dutifully helping her mother, occasionally scolding the toddlers. 

As Claire approached, Jenny paused her work to pull Claire in for a tight embrace. They didn’t need to say anything.

A loud yelp interrupted them, a cry certainly not from any of the little girls in the vicinity. They looked up just in time to see Fergus and Rabbie roll across the archway, apparently wrestling each other, wee Jamie following behind and laughing his head off. 

“Fer Christ’s sake…” Jenny muttered, striding over to them. “D’ye no’ have anything better to do?”

Claire heard Fergus attempt to apologize between bouts of laughter, and she couldn’t help but laugh herself.“Get up, both of ye. Dust yourselves off. I’ve half a mind to strip ye naked like bairns and make ye wash yer clothes right now.” Jenny scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Off wi’ ye now. Out of our hair.”

She shooed them away, and the pubescent hooting (and Jamie’s giggling) disappeared down the road and into the woods. Jenny returned to the washtub, where Claire had already started scrubbing.

“Beasts, the lot o’ them,” Jenny said, joining Claire in scrubbing again.

“He’s growing up,” Claire said wistfully, staring off in the direction that the boys had disappeared. “He’s almost as tall as me now.”

“Aye,” Jenny said. “Even wee Jamie is getting too big fer my liking.”

Claire allowed a small smile. “It isn’t even just his height. He’s different, too. Not in a bad way,” Claire said quickly. “He’s still my boy. But he’s with Rabbie more and more, and even wee Jamie, fooling around like…”

“Like lads ought to,” Jenny said pointedly. “It’s good fer him, ye ken.”

“I know, I know,” Claire said. “It’s just...it’s strange, because I see him every day...but I miss him.”

Jenny smiled. “Ye’re no’ used to no’ being coddled.”

“What?” Claire paused her scrubbing and looked up at Jenny. Jenny was giving her a look , and Claire softened. “You’re right, of course you are.” She sighed. “I’m used to him being attached to me at the hip.”

“He was afraid of ye disappearing. Being an orphan most o’ his life,'' Jenny said. “He kens now ye’re no’ going anywhere.”

Claire nodded in agreement. “It’s very comforting to see him at ease. To see him making friends apart from...well, me.” Claire squeezed out the wee frock she’d been scrubbing and handed it to Maggie to hang up from her little stool.

“I know I need to stop smothering him. I know he’s not a little boy anymore. He hardly was when I met him.” She picked up a shirt and dunked it in the water. “I just…”

“Ye miss him,” Jenny finished. “I ken. I feel the same way about wee Jamie. ’Course it’s different; I’m used to him being a clingy wee bairn, and seven years old is turning him into a lad. Fergus is just...different.”

“He’s a special boy.”

Jenny wiped her hand on her apron to put a hand on Claire’s shoulder. “Just because he’s growin’ up, doesna mean he doesna love ye wi’ all his heart.”

“I know.” Claire nodded, sniffling. She hadn’t expected to get so overcome. “It’s just...I’ve only just realized how much I rely on him. For...everything. I put a lot on his shoulders at such a young age. It isn’t fair of me to expect...to expect him to replace Jamie.”

Jenny sighed sadly. “He certainly tries his damndest. Fer you and Brianna both.”

“I know, God do I know.” She handed the shirt to Maggie. “He shouldn’t have to. Which is why I’m glad he’s acting his age for once.” Claire finally smiled again, absently brushing tears off her cheeks. “It does my heart good to see him roll around in the dirt like that.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it. Just know it doesna do my hands any good scrubbing the muck out o’ his clothing.” Jenny cocked her head and rolled her eyes.

Claire laughed out loud. “I’ll be sure to tell him that.”

They continued their washing, the occasional squeal from a little girl or bark from a dog filling their ears, Maggie tugging on Claire’s skirt and asking when they could garden.

“How many shirts left , Auntie? I need to check my flowers!”

“Patience, little faery,” Claire would say, patting her strawberry-blonde head.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so at peace.

Of course, there was a constant, dull ache. A nagging fear, panic every time she couldn’t hear Brianna’s voice for the shortest moment. But for the first time in three years, Claire did not feel like she was teetering over the edge of the precipice of grief.

I’m doing it, Jamie.

Chapter Text

September 14th, 1749

Jenny had indeed been pregnant. She was about six-and-a-half months along now.

But she was far too thin.

The potato crop was doing just fine, it always did. The famine touched them, of course, but so far it hadn’t directly affected Lallybroch apart from being unable to obtain certain fruits or vegetables. This year, however, that had all changed.

The barley wouldn’t ripen. It had apparently been overwatered and there was no saving it. No barley meant no whisky, which meant no direct income, nothing to trade with. Every scrap of food became precious; there wasn’t enough to feed the animals. Pigs and goats were going hungry, and the only option was to slaughter them before they lost all the meat on their bones and became useless when they wasted away. And even once they’d reached that point, there wasn’t much meat to be had.

The potatoes kept them alive. Even the turnips in Jenny’s garden had failed this year, so that starchy vegetable was all they had left. Even the game from Fergus’s traps were scarce of late. The grain harvest was not much better off than the barley, so bread and bannocks were a rare commodity for the first time ever.

Claire was terrified.

Janet and Michael always seemed to be hungry, and Jenny always seemed to be trying to feed them, but more often than not, there was nothing coming out of her to give them. She was not eating enough to produce milk. Claire knew her body could still produce some milk from the way her breasts occasionally still leaked at Brianna's cries, but it had been so long since her body had needed to nourish her child, she, too, was useless . The goats were hardly producing any milk, being as starved as they were.

And Jenny was much too thin.

Claire had never seen a gaunt pregnant woman in her life. And now that she had, she wished she could burn it out of her memory.

She noticed it for the first time during supper one night. They were eating potato stew -- again -- and Claire watched as Jenny emptied some of the contents of her bowl into Jamie’s, then Maggie’s, then Kitty’s, hardly leaving any for herself. Claire paused her own eating to really look at Jenny, wondering how long she’d been doing that. She noticed then that her arms were much smaller than she remembered them being, her cheekbones much sharper, her eyes more sunken in. Her pallor was gray.

How did I miss this?

Claire had declared at once that she did not feel well, and had foisted her stew upon Jenny and excused herself.

“Make sure she finishes that,” she’d whispered to Ian. He vowed he would.

Claire made sure from that night on to sneak just that little bit of extra stew into Jenny’s bowl, leaving less for herself. She noticed eventually that Ian was doing the same.

But even with the extra helpings, Jenny was hardly eating enough food for one, let alone two.

Claire was terrified.

Maggie started knocking on Claire’s door almost nightly, whimpering, horrible, sad little noises.

“My tummy hurts, Auntie.”

“Please heal me, Auntie.”

Claire gave her peppermint tea and held her by the fire until she fell into a fitful sleep, and Claire wept.

Peppermint tea was all well and good, but there was no real cure for hunger.

In late September, Fergus put his foot down. He knew there was a gun being hidden somewhere on the grounds, and he demanded to be told where it was so he could shoot some game with it.

“The traps are useless! We need to hunt , Uncle!”

They’d argued for a long while, and Ian and Jenny had almost won out, until Maggie wandered up to Claire and asked for more peppermint for her tummy.

That was enough for them to allow it.

He and Rabbie left for two days, returning with a small doe and a basket of fish. It kept them afloat for a few more weeks.

Then, on December second, the Redcoats came back.

Even they, high and mighty as they were, were apparently not immune to famine.

“Good afternoon, Master Murray,” The Captain greeted from atop his horse. For a moment, Claire was terrified they’d found out about Fergus’s hunting trip with a firearm, but it was soon abundantly clear why they were here.

“Many of our men are going hungry as we speak. Game has been scarce of late. We are requiring all farms near the patrol to offer rations.”

Jenny went paler than she already was.

“Captain, I’m sure ye know we are all loyal subjects to His Majesty,” Ian began carefully. “And if we had anything to spare, ye ken that we would. But, ye see — ”

“I’m quite aware that it’s been a difficult harvest. You are not the only farmers to have said so.” He dismounted and stood tall in front of Ian. “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to argue. Our men are starving.”

“Sir...my children are starving.” Ian gestured helplessly behind him to Jenny in the garden, Jamie and Maggie hiding behind her skirts. Claire stood near with bated breath.

“A pity indeed,” The Captain said flippantly. “Though I’m afraid you aren’t in a position to argue either.”

“How d’ye mean?”

“Come now, we’ve visited with you lot quite a bit, haven’t we? Surely you must realize you’re in a bit of hot water, what with Mistress Fraser as suspicious a character as she is. And you...suspiciously the wrong pegleg that night. Astonishing, isn’t it?”

“Sir...I dinna ken what ye mean about my wife’s cousin, and the matter about the grave robbing was resolved — ”

“Was it indeed?” He cocked his head, narrowing his eyes. “Funny that you see it that way.”

That was when it all clicked in Claire’s head.

Perhaps the men were starving; it was more than likely. But they couldn’t possibly have been nearly as destitute as they were claiming, couldn’t be so lacking in supplies that taking from Lallybroch was a necessity.

He knew they were hiding things, keeping secrets. And he was using that knowledge to taunt them, holding their starvation over their heads.

It’s a fucking game to him.

He intended to take from the Murrays because he wanted to, and because he could.

“Two bags of grain, and three bags of potato, Master Murray,” The Captain said, stepping toward him. “ Now .”

Claire saw red as she watched Fergus and Rabbie load their wagon with the requested supplies. She very much thought that Fergus would launch himself at them any minute, and she prayed fervently in her head that he would do no such thing.

No !” someone suddenly cried, their voice much smaller and nearer than Fergus’s.

“Jamie, no — ” Jenny tried to grab for him, but he slipped past her, dashing out of the garden and straight toward the Captain.

“Ye canna take it!” He stood his ground, dodging Ian’s attempts to swipe at him. “My Mam is gonnae have a bairn, and she needs to eat! Ye canna take our food!”

“Is that so, young man?” The Captain peered down at him over the bridge of his nose.

“Aye!”

“You know who that is, don’t you, Captain?” One of the others piped up. “That’s the future Laird of this land.”

“Is it, indeed?” The Captain sneered. “I suppose we ought to listen to what he has to say, then.”

“Aye! Ye should!” Jamie gave an indignant stomp of his foot.

Before anyone could blink, the butt of his gun collided with Jamie’s little head, and he collapsed in the dirt. Jenny shrieked inhumanly, a sound Claire hadn’t even thought her capable of. Claire’s stomach lurched, and she rushed to his side, turning his head over to check for bleeding.

Jenny suddenly cried out again, and Claire looked up to see her staring in horror between her feet.

Her waters have broken.

Ian got to her as fast as he could, catching her in his arms, holding her up.

“The midwife, Fergus. Quickly,” Ian called, and Fergus was off like a shot toward the stable.

“Quite the eventful day for the Murrays.” The Captain chuckled, watching as Ian helped Jenny inside. 

Maggie was wailing, tears streaming down her red cheeks. Claire gathered Jamie in her arms, cradling him to her chest, and struggled to stand. Her chin jutted out, her eyes burning hatefully into the Captain.

“I’ll leave you to it, then, Mistress Elizabeth .” His voice dripped with sarcasm. He mounted his horse, and the other men took their positions in the wagon. “My best wishes to the child on its way.”

Claire did not watch them go; she turned on her heel, cradling Jamie, and rushed into the house. 

“It’s alright, darling, come inside,” she crooned to Maggie as she crossed over the threshold. “I’m going to make him all better. Don’t worry.”

Laura was standing in the parlor frozen in fear, and Claire beckoned her to retrieve a cold compress for Jamie’s head. She laid him down on the sofa and checked his pulse, his pupils. There was no bleeding, thank God. They were likely looking at bruising or a concussion in the worst case.

“Maggie, love,” Claire said gently, taking her into her arms. “I promise everything will be alright. Can you do me a favor, since you’re such a big girl?”

“Aye, Auntie,” she sputtered.

“Can you go and check on all the babies? Kitty, Brianna, the twins? I think they need you very much right now.”

“Aye, Auntie. I can.” She sniffled and rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes, putting on a brave face.

“That’s my brave wee lass.” Claire kissed her cheek. “Go on, now. It’ll be alright.”

A ragged cry suddenly echoed through the house, coming from the Laird’s room. Maggie looked back at Claire fretfully.

“It’s alright. It’s just the same as when Michael and Janet were born. Remember? It hurts a little. Don’t worry.”

Maggie nodded before turning back to the stairs and trudging up them. Jamie suddenly groaned, and Claire turned back to him.

“Jamie?” Claire said, stroking his hair away from his face. “Can you hear me, darling?”

“Aye,” he said groggily. “My head hurts.”

“I know, love. It’s alright, I’m here. Can you see? Is anything blurry?”

“No...but it hurts.”

“Alright, it’s alright. Laura is coming back with something cold to put where it hurts. It will make you feel better.”

Jenny cried out again, and Jamie’s eyes popped open despite their previous lethargy.

“Mam? Is it the bairn?”

“Yes, she’s having the baby a bit early. Don’t worry. Babies come early all the time. They’ll be just fine.”

Laura returned just then with a bucket of cold water, and it was a struggle to keep the little boy still long enough to keep the wet rag on his head.

“Jamie, you mustn’t ever directly address a Redcoat again, do you understand me?” Claire said firmly, yet softly as she pressed the rag into his head.

“But Mam needs the food.”

“I know, darling. But you could get hurt a lot worse next time. And we all need you. Lallybroch needs you.” She stroked his cheek, her throat tightening. “Your uncle left you this land; It was the last thing he ever did. And you need to honor that by being smart, and brave. And being brave doesn’t always mean getting into trouble like that. Do you understand?”

He looked very thoughtful for a moment, an expression that combated oddly with his youthful face. “Aye. I understand, Auntie.”

“Good boy.” Jenny cried out again, and Claire’s stomach flipped. “Alright, can you hold this for me, Jamie?” He nodded, and took her place holding the cold compress on his head. “Laura will stay with you while I see to your mother. Alright?”

“Aye, Auntie.”

Claire pressed a quick kiss to his forehead, sliding past Laura as she settled beside Jamie with the bucket of water. Claire hurried up the stairs and into the Laird’s room.

“Claire!” Jenny choked out her name before she could even cross the threshold. “Is he alright?”

“He’s fine, Jenny.” Claire sat down on the edge of the bed and clasped Jenny’s hand between hers. “He’s awake, and he’s got a cold compress on his head. He’ll be fine.”

Jenny nodded tearfully, biting down on her lip. “Christ, I’d never been so scairt in all my life.”

Claire squeezed her hand. “I know. It’s alright now. They’re gone, and everyone is safe.”

“Go to him, Ian,” Jenny said. “Claire’s got me, now. Tell him I’m alright.”

Ian pressed a kiss to the top of Jenny’s head before departing. Mrs. Donnelly was flitting about, adjusting pillows and the fire, and filling pitchers and bowls with water.

“It’s alright, isn’t it?” Jenny said fretfully. “That it’s so early?”

“It should be,” Claire answered. “It’s very common for babies to come earlier and earlier the more you have. In fact, he should even come out in no time, considering how many times you’ve given birth.”

“Aye, ye’ve said that before,” Jenny said, nodding. “Ye’d better be right, or I may throttle ye.”

Chapter Text

December 3, 1749

Considering this was Jenny’s fifth pregnancy, the labor took considerably longer than Claire thought it would. Michael and Janet had taken a bit longer than expected, but they were twins, so that was understandable. Claire had been certain that any more children after those two would have been out in under an hour. 

So when the labor lasted well into the next day, Jenny was biting her tongue from slurring through every curse in the English and Gaelic languages.

“Ye swore, Claire, ye swore to me this one would be quick!”

“I know, Jenny, I’m sorry…sometimes it’s unpredictable even when someone has had as many as you have.” Claire dabbed at her forehead again.

“Ye’re sure the bairn is in the right position? That’s no’ the problem?”

“The baby isna breech, Mistress Murray,” the midwife assured. “Everything is perfectly normal. No blood, either. He’s just taking his time, is all.”

Jenny collapsed onto the pillows with a frustrated grunt. “If I knew it wasna going to get any easier I’d never have let Ian touch me again!”

“Now, now,” Claire chuckled. “You don’t mean that.”

“I think I know what I mean, Claire,” Jenny snapped.

Claire bit her tongue to keep from laughing again. “I’m sorry, you’re right. You’re the one in labor, not me.”

“That’s fer damned sure!” Jenny’s angry shouting dissolved into an anguished cry, and she blindly reached for Claire’s hand. “It’s coming! Now!”

They quickly moved her to the hay in front of the fireplace and positioned her properly.

All the rest happened much too quickly.

“He’s almost here, Mistress! Keep going!”

“Fine, Mistress Murray. One more push should do it!”

“Oh, thank Christ…”

Sure enough, a few minutes, much screaming, and one big push later, the baby was out.

“It’s a bonny wee lassie!” the midwife said.

“There, it’s over,” Claire said, wiping down her face again.

But something was not right.

The midwife cut the cord and whisked her away to be cleaned as Claire helped Jenny deliver the afterbirth. But aside from Jenny’s panting, there was not a sound to be heard. Claire went to the nightstand to get Jenny a glass of water, but by the time she returned, Jenny was already sitting straight up.

“She’s no’ crying…” Jenny pushed the glass away. “Why is she no’ crying?”

Claire rushed to the midwife’s side to check her breathing and pulse as she was wiped down. At first, Claire wasn't at all certain that she was alive; she had to feel around multiple different places to find her pulse. And she was so, impossibly small for a baby only a few weeks early. Claire’s heart sank when she finally found a pulse.

“Claire? What’s wrong?”

Her pulse was far slower than it should have been. And then she heard it: the slow, raspy breathing. The midwife paused her ministrations, seemingly realizing at the same time Claire did. She gave Claire a sad, knowing look.

This baby was not going to live very long.

“She’s breathing, Jenny…” Claire said, biting her lip. “But she…she’s weak.”

“She needs milk,” Jenny said curtly. “Give her to me.”

As the midwife finished up with the baby and swaddled her, Claire helped Jenny off the floor and back into the bed. By the time the midwife brought over the little bundle, Jenny had already untied her shift and freed one of her breasts. Jenny sighed with relief as the baby nestled in her arms, and the midwife shuffled about the room, cleaning up.

“Hello, wean,” Jenny whispered. “Come on, now, ye’ll be stronger when ye eat.”

Jenny held the baby to her breast, but she didn’t move. Claire watched helplessly, her vision blurring with tears.

“It’s alright, mo chridhe ,” Jenny crooned, stroking her cheek with one finger. She began coaxing her in Gaelic, holding onto her breast, pushing the nipple right up against the baby’s lips, but she would not latch on.

After several seconds, Jenny’s calm melted away, and her head whipped up to look at Claire. “She willna eat. Why will she no’ eat?”

Claire wet her lips and swallowed thickly, wracking her brain for the right thing to say…

“Do something!” Jenny shouted, causing Claire to jump and a single tear to roll down her cheek.

“Take her! Help her!” Jenny held the little baby up, reaching for Claire.

Claire stepped slowly forward. She placed a hand on the baby’s chest, gently pushing her back down into Jenny’s cradling arms. “I…can’t, Jenny.”

Jenny’s frantic expression melted into horror, and she jerkily shook her head. “Ye…ye have to help her, Claire…ye have to…”

Claire put a hand on Jenny’s shoulder. “There’s nothing I can do. She’s just…too weak.”

Jenny looked down at the baby, and Claire watched as tears dropped from Jenny’s eyes and onto the little bundle.

“I’ll get Ian.”

“No.” Her head snapped up again. “I dinna want him to see her like this…it’ll break his heart…”

“He deserves to meet his daughter, Jenny,” Claire said gently. “And you need each other right now.”

Jenny’s mouth opened and closed as if to say something else, but instead her eyes fell back on the baby. She nodded wordlessly.

Claire breathed deeply, steeling herself before opening the door. After she shut it behind her, everything seemed to catch up with her, and she had to bite her lip to stifle the audible sob that bubbled up from her chest. She covered her mouth, and tears fell freely over the back of her hand. After a few seconds, she took another breath, wiped her eyes, and put on as neutral an expression as she could muster. As if in a daze, she made her way down the stairs and out the back door, praying not to run into any of the children.

She found Ian near the stables, pitching hay. He noticed her immediately, and his face lit up.

“Has the bairn arrived?” he called, setting the pitchfork against the wagon and walking to meet her where she stood.

“Yes,” Claire said flatly. “It’s a girl.”

“Another wee lass,” he said with a hearty laugh, shaking his head in disbelief. He finally got close enough to see the expression on Claire’s face, and his smile disappeared. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s…she’s very weak.”

“What do ye mean?”

“She won’t live very long,” Claire said, taking all of the strength within her to not completely shatter. “I’m…I’m so sorry, Ian.”

Panic suddenly etched itself into every one of his features. “Jenny?”

“She’s alright,” Claire said quickly. “She just…needs her husband now.”

His eyes averted her gaze, and he nodded. “I’ll, uh…go to her, then.”

Claire nodded silently, staring at the dirt between her feet as Ian disappeared into the house.

Maman ?”

Fergus suddenly appeared from within the stable, pitchfork in hand. Claire slowly picked up her head to look at him. Fergus immediately set down the pitchfork and rushed to her side.

“The baby?” he asked gently, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Auntie Jenny?”

“Jenny is fine,” Claire assured him. She wet her lips again. “The baby is…she’s not going to make it.”

Without another word, Fergus pulled her into a strong embrace, and it was enough to make her fall apart. She could not allow herself to really cry in front of Jenny or Ian; it was their loss, not hers. She had to be strong for them. But to deliver four of their six children and lose one, to know so intimately the cacophony of little voices crying Auntie! and to know that there was one voice she’d never hear…it broke her heart.

And that pain…that pain that Jenny was feeling was all too familiar to her. It was a pain she would not wish on her worst enemy. To know that Jenny, her sister, her dearest friend, her very own pillar of strength had to endure the worst pain Claire had ever known shook her to her core.

She wept into Fergus’s shoulder, clinging to him for dear life. Somewhere through her veil of grief, she realized she couldn’t tuck his head under her chin anymore, that her face was buried into his shoulder instead of the other way around. When on earth had he gotten so tall…?

She lost track of how much time had passed; she didn’t realize when they’d started rocking back and forth. Claire finally came to her senses, swallowing the remainder of her tears. She pulled away from him so that she could look into his eyes, and she ran a hand through his curls.

“You are thinking of her, no?” Fergus said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Of Faith?”

Claire nodded, biting her lip as more tears threatened to resurface. “It’s a pain that…that never leaves you. Never.”

“Auntie Jenny is strong,” Fergus assured her.

“I know she is.” Claire nodded.

“It will be alright, Maman . We will grieve, but we will heal. Yes?”

Claire nodded, her vision blurring again. “I know, darling.” She caressed his face, painfully aware of the lack of boyishness in his features. “I love you, mon fils .”

“I love you, too.”

He hugged her again, briefly, and Claire’s heart suddenly leapt into her throat.

“Where is Brianna?”

“She is around front with the dogs. Mrs. Crook has been minding her and Kitty.”

Claire nodded. “I need to see her, to…to hold her right now.”

“I understand.”

Claire made her way around the house to the front yard, and she had to stop for a moment to collect herself when she caught sight of them. Brianna and Kitty were bundled head to toe to protect them from the December chill. They were positively squealing their heads off chasing after Jehu, the newest addition to the Murray clan of dogs. The first rat terrier, Luke, had passed away a few months ago, and the children were having a ball with Jehu’s never-ending puppy energy. Mrs. Crook was hanging laundry, and Maggie was sitting on the porch with Bran. Even in his youth, Bran had never been much for rambunctious play, but especially now, he was more than content to sit idle as Maggie pet him in long, gentle strokes.

The sound of her daughter’s laughter, accompanied by the laughter of her very best friend, her cousin, Claire’s little niece, was overwhelming. Claire steeled herself before walking closer, and Jehu immediately took note, sprinting toward her. The girls squealed again and darted after him. Claire smiled despite herself, stooping to pick up the little mongrel yapping at her feet.

“Ye caught him, Auntie!” Kitty giggled.

Claire handed him to her, and she shrieked in amusement as he lapped at her entire face.

“Take him to Maggie, would you Kitty?”

She nodded and began bounding back toward the porch, and Brianna started to follow.

“Brianna,” Claire called. “Stay here, please.”

Brianna whirled around. “In trouble, Mummy?”

“No, darling,” Claire assured her. She knelt in the grass and opened her arms. “Come here.”

Brianna obeyed, approaching her mother and allowing her to take her in her arms. Claire let out the breath she’d been holding, sighing shakily in relief. She held her daughter tightly, cradling her head into her chest, kissing the top of her head, breathing her in.

“Mummy sad?”

“Mummy just needed to hold you, sweetheart.” Claire stroked her hair. “Do you know that I love you? So very much?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“I do. I love you so much, Brianna.” She cursed herself when her voice broke, and she held her tighter.

“Love you too, Mummy.”

Claire felt pangs of guilt radiate through her chest, knowing full well that as she sat here, cradling her living, breathing daughter, Jenny and Ian were clinging to a baby girl that was withering away in their arms. She was reminded of the horrible jealousy she’d felt when she and Jamie had arrived at Lallybroch right after losing Faith to see baby Katherine, healthy and beautiful. She was reminded of the intense pain of watching Jamie cradle that little baby, her throat burning, her mind screaming that it should have been their baby.

How wicked of her was it to be jealous back then? She had never said it out loud, not even to Jamie, but she’d been downright resentful of Jenny back then. She’d been able to bring three healthy, beautiful children into the world. Claire had tried for years, and when the Lord had finally seen fit to bless her with a child, her body had killed her. True, Maggie’s birth had been dangerous, but she still lived and breathed. No one could save Faith.

Even through that jealousy, that misplaced resentment, Claire would never wish any harm on those beautiful children, or any Murray children that came thereafter. Knowing that their newest daughter lay dying in her mother’s arms was enough to rip Claire’s heart out of her chest. Death and tragedy do not know faces or names; no one is spared, no one is safe. For Claire to have assumed all those years ago that her womb was cursed and Jenny’s was blessed had been grossly unfair. Those feelings had gradually faded away as her grief and anger gradually lessened, and she’d honestly forgotten about them. Until now. And now the guilt of ever allowing herself to think that way was making her stomach turn.

“Mistress.”

Claire almost jumped out of her skin. She looked up to see Mrs. Donnelly standing before them.

“I’ve been sent to fetch ye by Master Murray.”

Claire quickly wiped her eyes before releasing Brianna. “Go back to Kitty, love. And mind Mrs. Crook.”

Brianna nodded, and Claire stood up, watching as Brianna bounded back toward the front of the house.

“The Priest is here to Baptize the bairn before the Lord takes her,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “They want ye there.”

Claire nodded wordlessly and made her way toward the house, hearing and yet not being able to process Kitty and Maggie calling out to her as she stepped over Bran on the porch. She ascended the steps again, her feet feeling heavy as lead. She made her way to the Laird’s room and gently knocked on the door. It was Ian who answered, and Claire almost broke down and cried again at the sight of the heartbreak on his face.

“Come in, Claire.”

Claire entered the room, and Ian shut the door behind her. She locked eyes with Jenny, and she had to bite her tongue.

Strong, Beauchamp.

Father Gregor was standing over Jenny, his hand hovering over the baby in her arms, chanting in Latin, his eyes closed. He finished that particular prayer and opened his eyes upon hearing Claire’s entrance.

“The Godmother?” he asked gently.

Claire’s throat constricted.

“Aye,” Jenny answered for her. “Claire is Caitlin’s Godmother.”

Claire swallowed thickly, then put on a tiny smile. “Caitlin?”

“Aye. Caitlin Maisri Murray.” Jenny was staring at her adoringly, bouncing her gently.

“Beautiful,” Claire said reverently.

Father Gregor nodded. “Shall we begin?”

Ian sat in the bed beside Jenny, a strong, solid arm around her shoulders. Jenny gestured for Claire to sit in the chair beside the bed, right next to Jenny and baby Caitlin. Father Gregor spoke in gentle Latin, and Jenny and Ian responded in Latin when necessary. Claire was, admittedly, lost, but she understood enough to know what was happening at least, and whenever a particular chant was repetitive enough, she joined in after a few times.

At a particular point, Jenny gently nudged Claire, and she snapped to attention to see that Jenny was holding Caitlin out to her. Numbly, Claire reached out for her, cradling her close when she was placed in her arms. Claire stood, facing Father Gregor.

Vis baptizari?”

Claire stared dumbly at the priest.

Volo ,” he whispered kindly.

Volo ,” Claire repeated, nodding. “ Volo .”

Father Gregor nodded, and gestured for her to hold Caitlin over the bowl.

“Caitlin Maisri Murray.” He poured water over her head once.

Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris .” Twice.

Et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. ” Three times.

Deus omnipotens, Pater Domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui te regeneravit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, quique dedit tibi remissionem omnium peccatorum, ipse te liniat Chrismate Salutis in eodem Christo Iesu Domino nostro in vitam aeternam.

“Amen,” Jenny and Ian said behind her.

“Amen,” Claire repeated.

Pax tibi, ” Father Gregor said.

Et cum spiritu tuo ,” all three of them recited together this time. Despite Claire’s lack of practice of Catholicism, years of Church in her youth could not erase the reflexiveness of the standard call and response.

Vade in pace et Dominus sit tecum. Amen.”

“Amen.”

Claire instinctively crossed herself, and she saw Jenny and Ian do the same from the corner of her eye.

“She will be in Christ’s embrace now,” Father Gregor said softly.

Claire pressed a brief kiss to Caitlin’s little forehead, unable to ignore the sound of her strangled, labored breathing. She placed her back in Jenny’s arms and sat back down in the chair beside her.

“Thank you,” she said to both Jenny and Ian. “I’m honored.”

“We thank ye as well,” Ian said.

Jenny was lost in adoring her baby for a moment, and Claire was lost in watching her.

“Will ye stay wi’ us, sister?” Jenny’s voice was thin and frail in a way that Claire had never heard before. “Until the Lord takes her?”

A tear slipped out of Claire’s eye and she nodded fervently, putting a hand on Jenny’s shoulder. “Of course.”

It was impossible to say how long they sat there, Jenny crooning to her daughter in Gaelic with Ian occasionally chiming in, Father Gregor chanting in Latin. It could have been hours and hours, days and days…but it was still not long enough.

Jenny pressed her face closer and closer to Caitlin’s as her breathing grew quieter and quieter, desperate to still be able to hear her very last breath. She rocked her gently, back and forth, pressing her closer and closer until Jenny was practically doubled over, their foreheads touching. Claire kept her hand on Jenny’s back, rubbing soothing circles. Ian brushed her hair back, kissed her temple, rocked with her, unable to let her go.

Claire would never forget the sound of the horrible silence that began the very second a little baby was no longer struggling to breathe.

Jenny did not stop rocking, but the sound of her sobbing was unmistakable.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

“Amen,” Ian choked out.

Claire could not speak.

Father Gregor approached the bed and placed his hand atop Jenny’s head as she shook with the force of her tears.

“May God grant you comfort in this sorrowful time. Take comfort that your daughter is at peace, and the little time she had in this world was full of love beyond measure.”

Ian nodded. “Thank you, Father.”

“I’ll return tomorrow for a burial?”

“Aye. Thank ye.”

Claire covered her mouth with both of her hands, and Ian gathered Jenny in his arms, tucking her head under his chin. Silent tears trickled down Ian’s cheeks and disappeared into Jenny’s hair.

Claire stood as Father Gregor gathered his things, and she followed him out of the room; if she’d stayed she would have felt like she was intruding on something very private.

She closed the door behind them, and as she turned to keep walking, she was surprised to find that Father Gregor had stopped. She looked tearily up at him.

“Have courage, my child.” He touched her head as he had Jenny’s. “He is with you, all of you. Have faith.”

Claire felt her throat close up.

Have Faith.

Father Gregor smiled kindly once more before disappearing down the hall and down the steps.

Her back against the wall, Claire sank slowly to the floor, landing with a soft thud. She curled into herself, arms resting on her knees, face buried in her arms, and she wept.

Have Faith.

That word, that name hadn’t destroyed her so thoroughly in a very long time.

Chapter Text

The service was almost unbearable.

Kitty was bewildered; she kept asking when baby Caitlin would come back so she could hold her like she’d held Janet and Michael when they were born. If Brianna had any confusion, she didn’t share it aloud

Jamie and Maggie knew.

Claire couldn’t be sure at first, but seeing the way the two of them held hands through the entire service, both of their sets of little knuckles white, made her absolutely certain. Oh, and the tears . Maggie was weeping, quietly enough that Claire could tell she was the only one who’d noticed, but weeping all the same. She was too young, much too young to have her heart broken like that. Claire had known for years that Maggie was sensitive. She was so quiet and reserved, especially in comparison to her siblings and her cousin. Things always touched her so deeply. Dead flowers in Claire’s garden still made her cry to this day.

And Claire could not forget how in awe she had been when Brianna had been placed in her arms.

“I love her, Auntie.”

Oh, and she did. Even at three years old Maggie’s heart was fit to burst with love. She’d behaved very similarly when she saw Michael and Janet for the first time, clasping her hands together and crying: “Oh, how darling! Oh very sweet!”

Claire and Jenny had laughed their heads off at that. She’d certainly gotten both of those phrases from her English Auntie.

She’d held them carefully, fussed over them both as she had Brianna.

As she would have Caitlin.

She’d been too young to hold Kitty when she was born, but the older they grew the more she fussed over her as she had all three of the infants in her life that she could remember. She hardly ever played with Kitty and Brianna, rather, she sat and watched, tutting and mother-henning them like Claire imagined Jenny had done to Jamie at that age. But it was not because she was bossy, or because she liked to hold power over them. It was because she loved them so fiercely.

As fiercely as she’d have loved Caitlin.

Jenny hadn’t wanted the children to see her cold and lifeless. It would have upset them far too much, and Claire couldn’t say she’d disagreed. But watching Maggie shuddering in the Lallybroch graveyard, she couldn’t help but feel as if they’d robbed that poor child of something that she’d needed.

For the life of her, Claire could not remember any other part of the burial besides those horrible tears on Maggie’s dear face, and the gentle reminder of Brianna’s hand in hers. Perhaps she didn’t take her eyes off of Maggie because she couldn’t bear to look at Jenny. A little girl, however sad she may be, could be comforted, could be rocked, could be soothed. In fact, Claire knew exactly what she could do to make Maggie smile again, even laugh. But Jenny…

There was nothing she could do to bring her out of that black despair.

The grief etched into every one of her features -- of Ian’s features -- was too real, too familiar to her. She couldn’t bear to look up and see her own old, still hardly-healed scars of grief in her sister’s face. It would have broken her.

So instead, she kept her eyes trained on Maggie, on that poor, broken-hearted little girl, on her big brother, how he held her hand, patted her head, hugged her around the shoulders, and on Brianna’s hand, occasionally rubbing gentle, reassuring circles with her thumb into her palm.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was time to trickle dirt on top of poor little Caitlin. Claire finally allowed herself a glimpse at Jenny and Ian as they poured dirt into the grave, and her stomach lurched. If she hadn’t looked away after that split second, she was sure she would have vomited on the spot. Claire had not been there when Mother Hildegard had buried Faith. It was something that she still felt guilt over to this day. Her mother hadn’t been there to guide her into the next world, to tuck her in with a handful of dirt.

But now, seeing Jenny and Ian do just that, she was blasphemously grateful she hadn’t been able to see her buried. She would have been feral. She would have thrown herself into that hole with her and demanded they throw the dirt upon them both. They’d have had to sedate her. She was not strong enough to bear it.

It was an absolute marvel to her that Jenny was still standing.

When it came time for Claire and Brianna to scoop dirt into the grave, Claire steadied her hand around Brianna’s on the handle of the little shovel.

Goodbye, my little Goddaughter. Tell your cousin that I love her.

Your uncle will take care of you.

——

Claire sat in one of the armchairs in the parlor, Brianna sitting in her lap. Jenny and Ian were sitting in silence on the sofa, Ian’s arms wrapped protectively around Jenny. Maggie and wee Jamie were nestled together in the other armchair, their tiny bodies fitting snugly right beside one another. The twins were napping, Kitty was flitting about, trailed closely by Fergus, keeping an eye on her. Dear boy .

Claire had watched Jenny carefully for the entire wake. She knew it was silly, what with Ian sitting right beside her the whole time, but she couldn’t help but take note of everything she ate, how much of it she ate, how much whisky she had. Last night, long after supper had ended for the rest of the household, Claire had returned to the Laird's room with two bowls of broth. It had not been all that long ago when Jenny was constantly pestering her to eat, urging her to keep herself alive despite the fervent wish to waste away.

And, by God, Claire would return that favor.

She’d been thankful beyond all measure that poor wee Caitlin was already gone from the room by the time she’d gotten there. She couldn’t bear having to be the one to say it:

“It’s time, Jenny.”

Too familiar.

Kitty tugged on her mother’s sleeve, and Jenny absently caressed the girl’s head, not hearing her when she said: “May I be excused now, Mam?”

Claire was very abruptly brought back to a time and a place she hadn’t thought about in a very long time.

Her own small voice, precisely Kitty’s age, tugging on a black skirt in her own living room, surrounded by adults that she hardly knew.

“May I be excused, Grannie?”

Kitty was tired of not understanding, of being met with nothing but sadness. She just wanted to escape back to her dolls, to her nonsense, make-believe faery world in her bedroom.

And, though the memory was older, etched with cobwebs at the very edges of Claire’s mind, it was a feeling that was, once again, quite familiar.

“Aye, mo chridhe ,” Ian answered for her. “Go play now.”

Kitty grinned and bounded over to Brianna, still in her mother’s lap, arms now draped around her neck.

“Come on, Banna.” She tugged on her little skirt. “Da says we can play now.”

Brianna untucked her head from underneath her mother’s chin, looking into her eyes. “May I, Mummy?”

“Go ahead, darling.”

Brianna slipped off of her lap, and Claire met Fergus’s eye from across the room, silently pleading: Make sure they don't trouble anyone. He nodded in understanding, conspicuously following the little troublemakers up the stairs.

The rest of the wake proceeded quietly, and within the hour most of the very few people that didn’t live in the house had trickled out. Mrs. Crook and Mrs. Donnelly started cleaning up, and Maggie was immediately on her feet, helping. Wee Jamie even helped, moved to action by Maggie’s example. They helped all they could before the servants grew tired of having to instruct them, and it wasn’t long before Maggie was tugging her brother by the hand to stand beside the sofa where Jenny and Ian still sat. Hesitating just a bit before doing so, Maggie gently kissed her mother’s cheek, then moved to do the same to Ian. Jamie copied Maggie, and Claire did not miss the single tear that trickled down Jenny’s cheek. Ian held Maggie’s face in his hands, pressing their foreheads together, whispering in Gaelic before kissing her forehead. He then did the same to Jamie, and then he sent them off upstairs.

Claire sat in silence, alone with Jenny and Ian for the first time since she’d brought them supper last night. She swallowed thickly, leaning forward in her chair slightly.

“Is there anything I can do?” Claire said, admonishing herself even as the words left her mouth. What could you possibly do that would be any actual help?

“It would appear not.”

Jenny’s voice genuinely startled Claire. She hadn’t spoken a word all day until then. Before Claire could process what she’d said or even begin to decipher its meaning, Ian chimed in.

“Thank ye, lass,” he said kindly, the sadness in his eyes palpable. “Ye can check on the bairns, if ye dinna mind. The twins.”

“Of course.” Claire immediately sprang up.

“If we need ye we’ll send fer ye,” Ian said.

Claire nodded, departing the room at once. As she ascended the stairs, her mind swam with questions over Jenny’s words, but she shook it off. She’s grieving. Leave it be.

——

A month passed quietly. The holidays were uneventful. Claire, Fergus, and Brianna had a quiet little Christmas morning in Claire’s bedroom in front of the fireplace. Claire had made a new dress for Brianna’s beloved doll, Miss Nettie, and Fergus had carved her a wooden snake exactly like Sawny (which had nearly caused Claire to burst into tears). Claire gave Fergus new arm warmers, since his old ones were tattered and quickly becoming too small. He was quite impressed that she’d knitted them herself; he was all too aware how painful a task knitting was for her. And for Claire, Fergus gave her a single glass jar. She’d recently shattered a jar of herbs and was short a jar, but not any longer. Christmas was a sweet, albeit quiet and brief moment for her little family, and Claire was grateful.

Hogmanay was almost as quiet and brief. It was the worst year of the drought so far, and perhaps the most painful December this family had yet to endure, so food was scarce and company was limited. The children had a nice time; they were none the wiser to its lack of grandeur, and they were each quite enamored with the wee arm warmers that Claire had made for them. She’d made a pair for Jenny and Ian as well, and Ian had apologized profusely on both of their behalf for having nothing to give her or her children. She’d waved them off, insisting that there was nothing she needed.

On January fourth, a month and a day since Caitlin was brought into their lives and taken away all at once, Jenny and Claire were bundled up with the goats, milking them. Claire had been surprised when, the day after Caitlin’s burial, Jenny was up with the birds, eating breakfast with the family and going about her chores. Her eyes were red, sunken in, rimmed with black, but she kept herself busy, useful. Sometimes she held her children close for far longer than she should have, sometimes she avoided them like the plague.

Claire supposed that that was somewhere they differed. When Claire suffered a loss, she wallowed, she wasted away. But Jenny needed to work until her mind went numb. Claire remembered very clearly the months right after they’d lost Jamie, how Claire had fallen dumb on most days while Jenny chattered away, one of them unable to find words, the other unable to stop her words. This time, however, was different.

Jenny had hardly spoken in the month and one day since Caitlin. She spoke in hushed whispers to Ian, she spoke lovingly to her children, to Brianna, but other than that, her lips remained sealed in a tight, hard line. When she did speak to Claire, it was brief, three or four word sentences. Claire knew she couldn’t compare Jamie’s loss to Caitlin’s loss, so she really couldn’t say that Jenny should have been handling them the same way. But something just didn’t seem right.

Claire was all too aware that anger was a normal reaction to grief. So she was never surprised when Jenny’s tone was clipped, when she seemed irritable. But it wasn’t exactly that. Jenny never snapped, never lashed out, never shed hot tears of rage. It was as if she was being cold

She is being cold to me.

It felt ridiculous, selfish, even, to be thinking that way. What should Jenny care about Claire's feelings? Her child was dead and buried, and however she chose to get through the day was not for Claire to judge. But there was something so terribly unsettling about seeing Jenny smile at her children, and then watching it fade into that coldness when her eyes settled on Claire again.

Claire tried to tell herself that she was being paranoid. But there was one particular instance she could not deny. Claire was sitting in the parlor with Brianna on the floor by the fire, rocking her, singing to her, when Jenny had entered with a basket of mending. Claire had been so engrossed in Brianna’s little giggles that she hadn’t heard Jenny. What made Claire notice her presence was that she felt her.

She could feel eyes burning into the back of her head. When she finally turned to see her, Claire almost jumped clean out of her skin. Jenny had never looked so hateful .

And that was when Claire had put it together. When Brianna had entered the world without breath, Jenny had saved her. When Claire was bleeding to death and burning with fever, Jenny had revived her. Jenny had worked herself nearly to the bone to deliver Brianna, and to see Claire through it safely. She promised it, vowed it.

But Claire had done nothing to save Caitlin.

There was nothing she could have done. She was too small, too weak from her mother’s malnourishment. Perhaps if she’d been full term she’d have lived despite the lack of nutrients, but even still. Her lungs were not strong enough to draw breath for more than a few hours. And there was nothing in this century that Claire could do.

Logically, she knew that, and she was sure that deep down, Jenny knew that as well. But that didn’t change the fact that Caitlin was gone, and Claire hadn’t stopped it.

So now, they sat in silence with the goats, the only sounds the squelching of the milk into the buckets and Claire’s heart hammering in her own ears. She’d been planning exactly what to say, exactly how to say it, for weeks now, but nothing could prepare her for how it would feel to actually say it to her.

“Jenny,” she began, ashamed at herself already to hear how thin her voice was. “You do know that I love you, don't you?”

She paused, waiting for a verbal response.

“Aye, ’course,” she finally said, not looking up from her bucket.

“Because I do. I care about you so much. You are my sister, truly, and I love your children like they’re my own.”

Jenny nodded wordlessly.

“I want you to know that I…that I understand why you’re upset with me,” she said carefully. Jenny did not stop milking. “I don’t blame you for hating me, Jenny.” Claire was looking at her, silently pleading with her to stop, to just look at her damn it .

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save her. I’m sorry I didn’t try. You can blame me; I want you to blame me. In all my knowledge, I was powerless to do something when it really mattered. And I understand why that angers you.”

Please, sister…look at me.

“My heart is broken for you, Jenny. If there was something I could do, anything , I’d have done it. I’m so, so sorry — ”

“Anything?” She finally stopped milking.

“What?” Claire blinked, shocked at hearing her speak.

“Ye’d have done anything?” She finally turned to look at her. So cold…

“Of course,” Claire said fervently. “If she could have been saved I would have done it, no matter the cost.”

“She couldna be saved?”

“No…she couldn’t. Her lungs were too weak, she was too small — ”

“Could she be saved in your time?”

Claire’s brow furrowed, bewildered for a moment.

Then it hit her like a ton of bricks.

Oh. Oh .

Oh, Jenny…

She swallowed thickly. “I…I don’t know.”

“Ye said Brianna’s birth could ha’ been painless in yer time,” she said. “That it would take no effort at all to save yer lives.”

“Jenny…”

“Ye said that Brianna’s seizures could be helped in yer time,” she went on. “Ye said to me, plain as day, after that first seizure, ye said that if her life were in danger ye’d take her through the stones wi’out a doubt.”

“Oh, Jenny …”

“What of my wee Caitlin?” Her face was reddening, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. “When her life was in danger?”

“Jenny, she wouldn't have survived the journey…”

“What of my other bairns? If something happened to them that would be painless in yer time?”

“I don’t know how it works. I don’t even know if Brianna can do it…”

“But it’s a possibility fer ye, it always has been!” she snapped. “Ye told my brother ye’d do it, leave this suffering behind so yer bairn would be safe. I didna ken how… why he’d ask such a thing of ye, I didna fully understand when first ye told me…”

“Jenny, please — ”

“But now, I canna...fer the life of me, Claire, I canna understand what ye’ve done.”

Claire was helpless to stop the tears that rolled down her own cheeks.

“Ye had that power to save yer child, and ye turned it down .” She was near to shouting now. “I’d give anything, anything , my own life fer a chance like that if it meant my Caitlin would live, if it meant I could stop any of my other bairns from dying needlessly!”

“Jenny, I swear to you on my daughter’s life that if I’d have known the pregnancy was dangerous, I’d have taken you to the stones myself to see if you could travel through. I didn’t realize, I hadn’t even thought…”

“No. Ye hadna thought at all.” Jenny swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I’m sorry…Jenny, I’m sorry ,” Claire pleaded, desperate. “What do you want me to say? What do you want me to do? Please, Jenny…”

She stared silently at the dirt between her feet.

“Do you…” Claire’s stomach flipped at the thought, a thought that hadn’t surfaced in many, many years, a type of doubt that hadn’t crept into her consciousness since she couldn’t even say when.

“Do you want me to go back?” Her voice cracked slightly on that last word. “Do you want me to take Brianna to my own time?”

Jenny’s face changed in a way that Claire could not quite put her finger on.

“I’d finally keep my promise to Jamie. I could take her to doctors for her seizures. She’s…she’s young enough that she would…forget.” Claire swallowed hard against the lump that had formed in her throat. “I could very easily write off the memories as dreams, as games. She’d be none the wiser, and she’d be safe.”

Jenny still said nothing, but now she was crying silently.

“We can all travel to the stones, you, Ian, Fergus, the children. There’s a way to know when you arrive if you can travel. There’s a sound, a buzzing. We can see if you can all…come with me. We can try.”

Claire was shocked to see Jenny shaking her head.

“Jamie couldna hear it,” she said flatly. “Ye told me that when he tried delivering ye to yer first husband that he couldna hear it.”

“But we could try — ”

“I’m no’ a fool, Claire.” She kept her eyes on the ground. “I’m no faery, I ken that.”

“Neither am I.”

“Maybe no’ to yerself.” She finally picked her head up to look at her. She sighed, wiping her eyes again. “I dinna even ken what I’m accusing ye of. I dinna ken what I expect ye to do. I’m just…I’m…”

“Angry.” Claire nodded in understanding. “Hurt.”

Jenny nodded.

“I meant it. When I said I understand why you hate me.”

“I dinna hate ye, Claire.”

Claire blinked dumbly. “You don’t?”

“I dinna want ye to go, either,” she continued, sniffling. “I’d never forgive myself if ye both disappeared. No’ to mention it would break Kitty’s heart, and Maggie’s…”

“But…you said…”

“I ken,” she said quickly, shamefully. “I’m sorry, Claire…I’ve been hating ye to my very core this past month and I’ve no good reason fer it.”

“You do have good reason. You lost your child. And it’s heartbreaking.”

“Aye…but ye were there…ye held her through her baptism, ye stayed wi’ us until she was gone.” Her voice caught in her throat. “Ye’ve been nothing but good to me, sister, to my family, even to yer wee Goddaughter.”

“But I…I couldn’t save her.”

“No one could. Like no one could save yer wee Faith.”

She was right.

“Just…just tell me one thing, Claire, the truth of it.” Jenny steeled herself, forcing herself to look Claire in the eye. “Would she have lived, in yer time? Or would she have perished anyway? I have to know, Claire.”

Claire swallowed thickly.

“I truly don’t know.”

“Is it certain that she’d be saved?”

“No. Not certain.”

Jenny let out the breath she’d been holding.

“I think…I think Faith would have been lost no matter what century I was in. That’s something I’ve come to terms with. Things are better in my time, but still not perfect. For Caitlin…I don’t know. She may have been lost either way, like Faith, or she may have been saved. I just don’t know.”

Jenny nodded, exhaling shakily. “Thank you.”

Claire nodded as well. “It’s safer there…but not safe . If that makes sense,” Claire reasoned. She thought back three years, to the time before Brianna was born, when she’d thought about the horror and absurdity of Jewish children being murdered in the century that was supposed to be “safer”.

“I told myself that a lot before Brianna was born, to justify what I’d done. To justify denying her something safer.”

“Suppose I was telling myself that the twentieth century was free of any sorrow at all so I could justify my thinking that ye were a wicked, selfish bitch.” She made a face somewhere between a smirk and a grimace. Ashamed.

“But…” she continued, sighing. “It would appear I was wrong.”

“It’s alright, Jenny,” Claire said gently. “Truly, I wanted you to hate me. If it would help you move past the grief, I wanted you to hate me for it.”

Jenny shook her head, more tears welling up. “Oh, I tried hard enough…and it didna help.”

Without thinking, Claire threw her arms around Jenny, and for a split second was terrified that she’d throw her off of her, but Jenny simply melted into her arms, falling apart, sobbing. Claire held her tightly, kissed her head, rocked her.

“It’s alright, sister…get it out, now, it’s alright…

“You’ll be alright.

“We’ll be alright.”

Chapter Text

January 27, 1750

Moonlight and the fire were the only things illuminating Brianna’s sleeping face as Claire rocked her gently in their usual nighttime chair in their bedroom. She had just finished tucking her in when there was a little knock on the door. She pulled a shawl over her shoulders and tiptoed to the door, expecting a hungry little Maggie to greet her. Instead, wee Jamie was looking up at her with those big doe eyes, his cheeks stained with tears.

“Jamie?” Claire said. “What’s the matter, darling?” She crouched down before him, feeling his head. “Do you feel ill? Is it your tummy?”

He sniffled, shaking his head. “My heart hurts, Auntie.”

Claire’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean, sweetheart?” She held onto his shoulder and pushed back some of his hair.

Fresh tears trickled down his ruddy cheeks, and he sniffled loudly.

“Did I kill the bairn, Auntie?”

Realization hit her like a ton of bricks, and her eyes immediately swam with tears.

“Jamie…Come here…” Claire wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly. He quietly blubbered into her shawl, and she rocked him gently in the doorway.

“It’s alright, darling…I’m here…” She swallowed thickly and blinked back her own tears. “Come on, let’s sit down. It’s alright.” She released him to take his hand, and shut the door behind them. She led him to the hearth and pulled him into her lap in the armchair, as she’d done every night with Brianna. He curled into her reflexively, resting his head in the crook of her neck.

“You didn’t hurt the baby, Jamie,” Claire said softly, stroking his head and rubbing his back.

“But I made the Redcoat angry. And Mam had the bairn because the Redcoat hit me.”

“Your mother had the baby because she was ready to come out,” Claire said, deciding to not explain stress-induced labor to an eight year old boy. “Little Caitlin was very, very sick, even before she came out. And that has nothing to do with what happened with the Redcoats. Do you understand?”

He hesitated a bit before he nodded against her.

“Da and Mam hate me.”

“What?” Claire adjusted him in her lap so she could look into his eyes. “Your parents do not hate you, Jamie. They could never, ever hate you.”

“But Da doesna play wi’ me anymore, and Ma doesna sing anymore. They’re mad because I hurt the bairn.”

“No, no, darling. You’ve got it all wrong.” Claire used the edge of her shawl to wipe his face clean of tears. “It’s like I said, you did not hurt the baby, and your mother and father know that. They don’t blame you, not at all. They’re just…” Her voice broke, and she swallowed and wet her lips. “They’re just very sad, sweetheart. Because they miss little Caitlin so much. When people are sad, it…it takes a long time for them to…to do the things they used to do before they were sad.” She sniffled quickly, wiping her own eyes. 

She knew too damn well what she was talking about.

“Your Da wants to play with you, and your Ma wants to sing to you. But it’s just…very hard for them. Because their…their hearts hurt, Jamie. Like yours.” I poked gently at his chest, and then placed a hand over her own heart. “My heart hurts too, love. For Caitlin, for your Uncle Jamie. When I lost your Uncle, I thought my heart would hurt forever, and I thought I’d never want to sing again.” She knew there were tears falling out of her eyes in earnest now, but she was powerless to stop it.

“But slowly, with time, the pain became easier to bear, and all of a sudden, I wanted to sing again.” She stroked his hair again, running her hand down his face to caress his cheek. “Your Da and Ma will be better again, someday. But even now, they still love you. So, very much. Do you understand?”

He nodded, sniffling again.

“Good lad.” She kissed his forehead. “You’re very, very brave, Jamie. Did you know that?”

He shrugged and averted his gaze.

“D’ye…d’ye want to sing now , Auntie Claire?”

Claire’s heart constricted in her chest. “Do you want me to sing to you, darling?”

He nodded, and then curled himself back into her, not at all different from the way his baby cousin did. Claire decided on a lilting French lullaby, rocking him gently as she sang. She waited for his breathing to become heavy and even before she allowed herself to weep quietly, stifling her tears in her shawl.

This poor, dear boy.

How long had he carried this guilt? How long had he felt like he couldn’t share it with anyone?

God, how she loved him. How she loved them all.

Claire debated not getting up at all, but eventually decided to try her hand at maneuvering her grip on him to get him into her bed. He only stirred a bit as she moved him, and he was out cold again by the time she pulled the blankets up to his chin. She nestled herself in between the two little ones and kissed both of their heads before falling asleep herself.

The next morning after breakfast, Claire pulled Ian aside and told him what had transpired the night before. The pain in his eyes upon hearing what Jamie had said to Claire was indescribable. He pulled her into his arms, hugging her perhaps tighter than he ever had.

“Thank ye fer giving him comfort, Claire. When I couldna.”

Ian brought his son outside to talk to him shortly after, presumably for a heart-to-heart that was a long time coming. Jenny was none the wiser, and Claire kept it that way. She was burdened with enough guilt; she didn’t need Jamie’s anguish added to the list.

And slowly, so very slowly, the family rebuilt, stitching together the fraying pieces of each other’s grief like a patchwork of hearts.

Gradually, they healed.

——

March 1750

A loud clap of thunder tore through the air, sudden and startling enough to cause Claire to drop her knitting needles. All three little girls on the rug gave shriek, and little Michael and Janet stiffened with shock, quickly bursting into tears, their red faces screwed up comically.

Och , dinna fash, Michael,” Maggie crooned, gathering her baby brother into her lap as expertly as a mother of three. Claire could tell she was still nervous at the loud noise, but she was channeling that energy into comforting her little brother.

“Kitty,” Maggie chided as she rocked Michael. “Hold Janet, like I’m holdin’ Michael.”

Michael was still weeping, but had considerably calmed, while Janet was still openly wailing.

“Dinna want tae!” Kitty blurted directly into Maggie’s face, causing Michael to cry out again, and Janet to wail all the harder. Brianna tossed her head back in a ruthless giggle.

Och , that’s enough ye wee devils,” Jenny tutted, setting aside her knitting to join them on the rug and gather Janet up herself. “When are ye going tae learn to be a good sister, Katherine? If ye keep makin’ the weans jump, they’ll grow to hate ye someday.”

Kitty just laughed again, echoed by Brianna.

“I want them to hate me!” she exclaimed, standing up and pulling Brianna off the floor as well.

“What a thing to say!” Jenny exclaimed, aghast at her daughter’s tongue.

“I’m bored , Mam,” Kitty ignored her, going on. “I dinna want tae sit in the house like a bairn .” She gestured emphatically at the whimpering toddlers in Jenny’s and Maggie’s arms. Apparently four years old was no longer a bairn in Katherine’s eyes, and recently having turned four was getting to her head.

“Well it’s storming something fierce outside. If ye’d like the wind tae carry ye away into the sky, ne’er to be seen again, be my guest,” Jenny quipped, kissing Janet’s head and stroking her cheek.

“Really, Mam?” Kitty’s eyes lit up, and Claire had to bite her lip to stifle laughter. She made eye contact with Ian, who was sitting at the hearth, showing wee Jamie how to carve wood. Ian, too, was desperately trying to hide his amusement at the absurdity that was his daughter.

“Come on, Banna! Let’s fly on the wind like faeries!” Kitty seized Brianna’s hand and dragged her roughly behind her, causing her to shriek with giggles.

“Faeries!” Brianna repeated enthusiastically.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Claire interjected, quickly throwing her knitting aside to stop the little heathens from marching right out the door. “You’ll catch your death from the cold, wet rain.” Claire caught both of their little arms in the hallway.

“Ye’ll heal me, Auntie. Dinna fash.” Kitty tugged against her grip, and Brianna copied, even repeating: “Dinna fash, Mummy.”

Soon, they were both grunting with the effort of breaking free of Claire, clearly not getting very far.

Claire opened her mouth to chastise them, but another loud thunder clap suddenly sounded, causing them both to squeal and stop pulling away, burying their little bodies in her skirt. Claire laughed softly, shaking her head.

“Still want to go outside?”

“Aye, Mummy,” Brianna said dubiously, her resolve having weakened considerably.

“Fergus and Rabbie are outside,” Kitty said stubbornly, despite the obvious fear still lingering in her blue eyes.

“They’re in the barn , silly girl,” Claire corrected.

“We’ll go in the barn. Right, Banna?” Brianna nodded.

“And get underfoot of the lads? I don’t think so.” Claire started ushering them back into the parlor, and they did not much attempt to fight her.

“Why do they get tae go outside when it storms?” Kitty complained.

“Because they’re big lads now, Kitty.”

“Da’s a big lad,” Kitty quipped. “Da’s inside wi’ the bairns.”

“That’s ’cause yer auld Da will lose his footing in the mud,” Ian interjected, patting his pegleg knowingly. “Come here to me, ye wild wee heathen.”

Kitty bounded over to him and scrambled into his lap, and Ian handed his block of wood and carving knife over to wee Jamie.

“Can ye teach me , Da?” Kitty said, pointedly staring at Jamie and the carving tools. Claire settled onto the rug with Brianna in her lap, joining the circle that Jenny and Maggie had started with the little ones.

“No, he canna," Jenny interjected quickly. "I'll no' have ye losing any fingers."

"Auntie will heal me!" Kitty said for the second time that day, sounding exasperated that nobody seemed to agree with her that it was as simple as that.

"Ye're too wee, Caitríona," Ian crooned.

"Because I'm a lass ?" she challenged, jutting her chin up. A wide grin spread over Claire's face. Her own little voice echoed in her memory, an ingrained response for when she was advised against — or strictly forbidden from — doing something she felt she should be allowed to do.

"Because I'm a girl, Uncle?”

Och , ’course no’,” Ian said. “I’ll no’ be coddlin’ ye because ye’re a lass, Kitty.” Jenny fired a look at him, and he just winked in return. “Ye can carve as much wood as any lad, but no’ today. Yer wee fingers need to grow a bit first, aye?”

Kitty pouted dramatically, crossing her arms with a loud huff. Janet and Michael began squirming; it was about time for their feeding and their nap, but there wasn’t any chance of them sleeping with the howling wind and the clapping thunder.

“I have an idea,” Claire suddenly piped up. “Why don’t we play a game?”

“A game, Auntie?” Maggie said, her soft voice pitched higher with excitement.

“Yes, a game we can play inside the house. No need to get all wet or carried away by the wind.” Claire tickled Brianna’s side, and she giggled, nuzzling into her breast affectionately.

Jenny threw Claire a look that could only be described as: God bless you . She departed shortly after with Janet, then returned with Mrs. Crook, who took Michael from Maggie. They disappeared upstairs together, presumably to get them fed and put down for at least an attempt at a nap.

“Alright, if you want to play, you must join me on the rug in a circle, and listen to the rules,” Claire commanded, gently pushing Brianna out of her lap. Claire got up on her knees, sitting back on her heels. Jamie looked to his father for approval, and he nodded, and the little boy scrambled to the rug, nestling between Maggie and Brianna. Claire made a big show about starting to talk, but then stopped, letting her eyes fall on Kitty.

“Kitty! Don’t you want to play?” Claire said, aghast.

She shook her head. “Games are for bairns , Auntie.”

“Ye are a bairn!” Jamie shot back, an edge of blatant annoyance to his voice.

“Am no’, clotheid!” Kitty shouted.

“Oi!” Ian cut in, clamping a hand on Kitty’s shoulder. “Ye’ll no’ speak to yer brother that way. Like it or no’, ye’re still a wee lass. And ye can either sit here and be a grump wi’ yer auld man, or ye can have fun wi’ yer Auntie and yer sister and yer cousin. And yer brother, clotheid that he is.” He whispered that final bit into her temple, coaxing the tiniest of smiles from her stubborn little face.

“C’mon, Kitty,” Brianna said, her diamond eyes wide with pleading, her little lips downturned in a begging pout. “Wan’ you play.”

Kitty looked at Brianna, then back at Ian. Ian whispered something softly in Gaelic, and another grin broke out over her face before she slid off his lap and plopped to her knees next to Brianna.

“Alright!” Claire said, pitching her voice higher for the children’s sakes. “This game is called hide-and-seek.”

“How d’ye play?” Jamie blurted.

“If you’ll be patient,” she playfully poked his nose. “I’ll tell you.”

Claire proceeded to enlighten them on the rules of this coveted childhood game, their eyes wide with wonder. She was occasionally interrupted by another clap of thunder, or a particularly loud gust of wind, but the children didn’t seem all that bothered, too engrossed in the new game.

“We can hide anywhere we want?” Jamie said.

“Anywhere inside ,” Claire said emphatically, looking directly at Kitty, then Brianna. “If you leave the house, you lose the game. And your mother will punish you.”

They all stiffened, nodding in understanding. Apparently one of those statements was far more weighty than the other.

“Alright. I will count first, all the way to twenty.” Claire stood up and tapped the empty chair by the hearth. “This is where we’ll go to count. Home base. Alright?”

Ian’s eyes were sparkling with affection from the other chair, a calm, peaceful smile having settled over his features.

“You have to close your eyes too, Ian,” Claire said, hands on her hips. “Can’t have you cheating and telling me where the children hid.”

“Aye, Da! Close yer eyes!”

“No cheating, Da!”

“Alright, alright,” Ian acquiesced, folding his hands and closing his eyes.

“Good! Now, are we ready?”

“Aye, Auntie!”

“Yes, Mummy!”

Her ears were assaulted with a cacophony of excitement, and Claire could not help but laugh.

“Alright! I’m closing my eyes…” She dramatically brought her hands to her eyes, and the four children squealed. “One…two…three…”

“Come on , Banna!” Claire heard Kitty hiss, and there was a great bustling of little feet.

They each giggled like mad when Claire found them, hiding in trunks, wardrobes, under beds, behind curtains or tapestry. Kitty and Brianna were always found stuffed in the same hiding places, hands clasped together and eyes squeezed shut. They played several rounds for almost an hour, the house full with pitter-pattering, squealing laughter, and not-so-quiet whispers. Ian helped the smaller ones count, Brianna especially never having counted so high. There was even a point where Ian gave up his carving and joined in, much to the excitement of all the children.

It hit Claire halfway through Ian’s second round: This was the first time he was playing with the children again, the way he did before Caitlin.

It’ll be alright, little darlings. Da is playing again, and maybe your mother will sing again soon.

——

April 16, 1750

Claire, Fergus, and Brianna were sitting on a blanket for their second annual picnic with Jamie. This year, Brianna’s vocabulary had vastly expanded, and she babbled on and on to the gravestone, most of it hardly understood by either Claire or Fergus. She proudly showed off her lamb again, describing all of the games they liked to play together, all of the things she did with Kitty and her other cousins. She eventually became restless, and Fergus took the cue.

“Alright, ma petit , time to go,” he said, putting a hand on the stone. “Say goodbye.”

“Bye, Da.” She blew a kiss at the stone as she had last time. Fergus stooped to kiss Claire’s cheek before erupting with a ridiculous growl to chase Brianna with. She squealed and scampered out of the graveyard, laughing her little head off. Claire turned around and watched them go, her heart warming as she watched her boy, not at all so little anymore, chase after his baby sister.

When they disappeared from view, their laughter still echoing through the fields, Claire turned back to the stone.

“Hello, love,” she said softly, resting a hand on the stone. “Somehow, I…” She sighed with a shudder, quickly swiping at her tears. “I feel weaker today than I did last year.”

“Christ, I don’t have any right to be so shaken by this, do I? I didn’t carry her for months and hold her as she lay dying…” Her voice broke. “But I suppose I know what that’s like.” She was crying in earnest now, her body trembling. “It’s so fucking unfair, Jamie. Hasn’t this family suffered enough…? It feels like…God, it feels like I’m the only one that can’t move past this. Your sister…she’s so strong, Jamie. She’s stronger than I’ll ever be. She’s…handling this all so much better than I could have hoped she would. So it makes no fucking sense that I’m so…”

She stopped herself in frustration.

Broken.

She wept quietly for a few minutes, unable to muster any more words, her hands aching to fist his shirt in her hands, her body pulsing with the need to be held by him.

“I just…I feel like I was holding it together, you know? Before I…I saw another baby buried.” She wiped her eyes again, finally catching her breath. “Now everything hurts again as terribly as it did after I lost you, after I lost Faith. I finally learned to live without her, without you…and then I had to hold my dying goddaughter in my arms.”

“Most of the time, I already know what you’d say. I can hear it in my head. But right now…I don’t know what you’d say, Jamie. I don’t know how you’d handle watching your family starve, watching your sister lose her child. I just…I don’t know.”

As she often found herself doing, Claire took hold of the rosary, squeezing it into her palm as if trying to permanently imprint God’s grace into her skin.

“But,” she said, lightly stroking the top of the stone with her free hand. “I do know a few things. I know that our daughter loves me, and needs me. I know that our son loves me, though he doesn’t need me as much as he used to.” She smiled a tiny bit for the first time in several minutes. “I know that all of our nieces and nephews love me, and they need me in a different way than they need their mother and father. And I know that Jenny and Ian love me and need me, too. Especially now.”

“I pretended long enough to believe it last time, so I can do it again, I suppose. As always, I’ll carry on, Jamie. Even though people starve and beautiful children pass away…there’s nothing else to do.”

She bent and pressed a kiss to the stone, gently returning the rosary to its proper place.

“Keep them close, my love,” she whispered. “Both of those little angels.”

Chapter Text

August 1750

Ma petit lapin a bien du chagrin, il ne saute plus dans son p’tit jardin.

Claire was holding little Janet under her arms, dipping her feet into the stream, causing intermittent squeals. Jenny was sitting with her feet dipped in, Michael in her lap, occasionally slapping at the surface of the water. Claire looked up from the little toddler in her arms, hearing a sweet song over the cacophony of the rest of the Murray children in the water.

Across the stream, Fergus was sitting in the shade with Brianna in his lap, teaching her a song about a little rabbit.

Viens, Brianna, saute comme un lapin !”

Brianna giggled and scrambled off his lap to her feet.

Saute, saute, saute, ma petit lapin !” They both sang, Brianna giving a little hop with each “ saute .”

Danse, danse, danse, danse ton p’tit jardin.” Fergus took her hand and twirled her by her finger.

Saute, saute, saute, ma petit lapin, et dépêche-toi d’embrasser quelqu’un!”

Fergus pointed at his cheek, and Brianna obliged with a sweet kiss in accordance with the lyrics of the nursery rhyme.

Très bien, ma petit lapin !” Fergus exclaimed, ruffling her wild curls.

“What the Devil is he teaching her to say?” Jenny said, pulling Claire out of the sweet scene and back to the baby in front of her.

“He’s calling her his little rabbit,” Claire said, her heart bursting with love. “It’s a song he’s been working on with her.”

“She’ll be talking circles around us all wi’ three tongues,” Jenny said, dodging a wild splash from one of her children — likely Katherine.

“Indeed,” Claire confirmed, giving Janet another swing, crying wee! as she did. “She can keep secrets from me in Gaelic and from you in French.”

“I ken some French, mind, but no’ as much as Ian or you. Or wee Brianna will I suppose.”

A loud splash suddenly cracked through the air, smacking both Claire and Jenny — and subsequently the twins — right in the face. The wee ones immediately began wailing from the surprise, and Claire sat back and held Janet in her arms to soothe her.

“See that, Mummy?” Brianna’s head poked out from the stream, a glint of fiendish pride in her cat eyes.

“Indeed…felt it, too,” Claire said wryly.

“I hopped!” she said. “ Je suis un lapin !”

Un très grosse lapin ,” Claire said, bouncing Janet. “Quite inconsiderate to the little ones, Brianna.”

“Sorry, Mummy!” she cried before toddling over to her cousins. The stream was deep enough for her to jump into but still be able to brush the bottom with her toes if she didn’t go too far.

Fergus waded in and sloshed his way across to Claire.

“She is braw with French, is she not?” Fergus said proudly.

“She is. She has a wonderful teacher,” Claire said, beaming proudly at him, mussing his wet hair.

He gave Claire a deliberately wet, sloppy kiss on the cheek before diving after the little ones like a raging sea monster sending squeals and shrieks into the atmosphere. Janet and Michael finally stopped wailing, both of them actually growing rather sleepy, much to mother and auntie’s relief.

As time went by, Claire could not help but notice that a particular squeal was no longer among the throng, and she looked up to see Brianna draped on Fergus’s back, arms around his neck, cheek squished between his shoulder blades.

“Fergus,” Claire called. He trudged through the water again, still carrying Brianna. “What’s the matter, love?” Claire felt her forehead and cheek.

“Tired, Mummy,” Brianna mumbled, sighing heavily into Fergus’s back.

“Are you sure you’re alright? Does your head hurt? Do you feel feverish?”

Tired , Mummy,” she said again, sounding more irritable.

“Alright, alright. It’s alright. Fergus.” Claire carefully shifted Janet into his arms, and he held her up, making sure to not submerge her in the water. Claire lifted Brianna off his back and pulled her into her lap.

Brianna hadn’t gotten sleepy in the middle of the day since she was still two years old, and she was going to be four come November. Claire waited until Brianna was dry before feeling her head again to be sure that the water hadn’t cooled off any fever she may have had, but she still felt just fine. She did a lot of squirming and whining in Claire’s arms, muttering over and over that she was tired, Mummy , and that she did not want to play anymore.

This seemed extremely out of character for her daughter, and Claire was starting to worry. Her wild little thing had never voluntarily asked to nap or stop playing.

“I’m going to take her back to the house,” Claire said to Jenny, who now had two little toddlers on her outstretched legs. “She may just need to get out of the sun.”

“Aye, that sounds best.”

“Come on, little love, it’s alright.” Claire stood up and sighed heavily as Brianna settled on her hip, and they began the short trek back to the house. All the while, Brianna made heartbreaking little moaning sounds against Claire’s neck and her right arm slipped off of Claire’s neck.

“Can’t hold on, Mummy…” she whined.

“What do you mean, darling?”

“Can’t hold on !” she wailed, starting to cry.

Claire’s heart leapt into her throat with panic, and she began racing back to the house double-time.

“Mummy’s got you, sweetheart. It’s alright. I’ve got you…”

Her cries were soft and small, and that was what frightened Claire more. Brianna was not quiet when she was upset.

Claire crossed the threshold into the house, calling for Mrs. Crook to retrieve her medical kit from the barn.

“Brianna?” Claire sat her down on the sofa in the parlor, trying as hard as she could to keep her voice even and calm. “Can you pick up your arm for me, darling?”

Brianna cried harder at this, her fingers wiggling.

Can’t , Mummy!”

“Do you feel this?” Claire pinched her upper arm, and she shook her head, her chin trembling. “Alright, it’s alright. Mummy’s here.”

Numbness and tingling in her arm, irritability and exhaustion.

Brianna was going to have a seizure, and this was her first time being able to vocalize what was wrong.

Mrs. Crook entered the parlor with the medical kit and Claire demanded that the furniture be cleared so that Brianna could sit in the center of the room and not worry about hitting her head. This was the first time they hadn’t been caught completely off guard by a seizure, and Claire was going to take advantage of it.

“What’s happening here?” Ian’s voice had Claire looking up from the floor with Brianna. He’d been at his desk taking care of the ledgers, which is precisely the reason the children needed to be out of the house, so that he could count without pawing hands and shrieking voices.

“I think she’s going to have a seizure,” Claire said.

Mrs. Crook was out of the room brewing chamomile, and Ian nodded. Suddenly, a sharp yapping filled the room, Jehu and Bran having apparently followed Ian from his desk to the parlor.

“Oi! Hold yer wheesht, ye wee fool,” Ian commanded, but the little thing kept carrying on.

He bounded from Ian’s side and right up to Brianna, and Claire instinctively wrapped her arms around her protectively.

“Jehu! Enough, ye mangy mutt!”

But on he went, barking viciously in Brianna’s face.

“Wait,” Claire said, releasing Brianna. “I think he’s trying to tell us something.”

“How d’ye mean?”

“Dogs have a nose for things. I’ve seen it myself, in Paris.” Claire thought back to Bouton at L’Hopital , how he could sniff certain illnesses and inform his mistress what ailed certain patients. “I think he can somehow tell that Brianna is about to seize.”

“A dog that kens what ails a person?” Ian exclaimed in disbelief.

“It’s alright, Jehu,” Claire said, reaching a hesitant hand to stroke his head. “Good boy, Jehu. Very helpful. Good boy.”

He continued barking intermittently, soothed only somewhat by Claire’s ministrations.

“Do you have a…a reward for him?” Claire said. “We should encourage this behavior, no?”

“Aye, I suppose.”

Mrs. Crook flitted back into the parlor with freshly brewed chamomile, only to be sent back out again to retrieve a small bit of raw meat for the dog.

“This is a good thing, Ian,” Claire said, her concern for her daughter briefly overshadowed by the excitement at the prospect of a medical discovery. “She can’t sleep in my bed forever, and even if she did, there’s no guarantee I won’t sleep through a seizure. He could stay in the room with us, wake me up with that barking if he can sense it.”

“Aye, and he’s loud enough to rouse the whole of our tenants from a dead slumber.”

“She could sleep in her own room, Ian, with the other children. A sense of normalcy,” Claire’s heart and head felt light as she scratched behind Jehu’s ears, feeding him the bit of meat that Mrs. Crook gave her.

“Good boy, Jehu. Very good boy.”

It was not long after that Brianna fell over, stiff as a board, and Claire tended to her. Jehu finally calmed down and Ian scooped the little rat terrier up, holding him securely in his large hands. For all the build up, it was a small seizure, only just under twenty-five seconds, but it was, of course, enough to wear out her poor girl.

She vomited as she always did, onto the blanket that Mrs. Crook had lain out atop the rug in the parlor for an easier clean-up.

Claire pulled Brianna into her lap and soothed her as she wept quietly, whining on and on about being tired, that her bones hurt, that her teeth hurt.

Claire put her to bed after giving her as much chamomile as she would tolerate, and Ian stood by, still holding onto Jehu.

“She’s alright?” Ian said, worry written into his every feature.

“Yes, she’ll be fine.” Claire sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed and brushing some curls out of Brianna’s sleepy eyes. “And I think with that little one’s help,” she looked up at Jehu. “It’s going to get a lot easier.”

——

December 31, 1750

Brianna was sat securely on Fergus’s shoulders as the whole of Lallybroch was gathered around the clock at five minutes to midnight. Claire had her arms draped around Fergus’s shoulders, stroking Brianna’s little feet, giggling in her tipsy haze. The hand on the clock crept closer to the twelve, and Brianna drummed mercilessly on Fergus’s head in anticipation. The buzzing chatter of the room escalated to whooping cries as it finally turned midnight, and the fiddler started in again as everyone tossed back more whisky.

Claire laughed joyously and gave Fergus a sloppy kiss on the cheek, clasping his face in her hands far too tightly. Fergus laughed and dramatically wiped his cheek like a snotty little boy, and then he tossed Brianna off his shoulders and caught her securely in his arms. She squealed and threw her arms around his neck.

Bonne Année, ma petit lapin !”

Bonne Année, mon frère !” She kissed his cheek as messily as her mother had, and then shifted over to kiss Claire. “Happy New Year, Mummy.”

“Happy New Year, my darling girl.”

The dancing picked up again, and Fergus swung Brianna around a bit too recklessly for Claire’s liking, but she was laughing too hard to be able to stop it. Her baby was four years old now, and her little boy was fifteen. It was inconceivable, impossible to wrap her head around.

And Caitlin’s first birthday had passed as well.

It had been a quiet, sad day. Jenny and Ian spent a long time at her grave. Claire had admired that Jenny had even gotten out of bed. It was more than Claire could say she’d done on Faith’s first birthday.

It had been a long, hard year, 1750. Strangely enough, perhaps the most difficult of all. Claire had gone through lower moments than any others in her life, Caitlin’s loss having dug up the deepest pain she’d ever carried, forcing it to claw its way to the surface. Even after all she’d survived, she wasn’t sure she could.

But she had, they had. She and her family, together.

She would be shattered, a hollow, empty shell without their love.

But with it, perhaps someday she would feel something akin to true happiness again.

——

February 1751

Claire and Jenny were trying valiantly to teach Kitty and Brianna how to milk the goats without much success. They kept getting distracted petting their soft coats, giggling with each other over little whispers that Claire couldn't decipher for the life of her, and chasing the goats that weren’t being milked, effectively disrupting the current milking. They very nearly even spilt the milk that had been collected, and Jenny had howled until she was red in the face.

“D’ye ken how valuable even a single drop is? D’ye want tae starve?”

They’d sat still as stone after that outburst.

Now, Claire was holding Brianna in place between her knees, both pairs of hands on the udders, teaching her how to squeeze, and Kitty was doing much the same, though she seemed much less pleased about it than her cousin.

“Mummy?” Brianna piped up.

“Yes, darling?”

“Are you English?”

Claire’s brow furrowed slightly in amused confusion. “Well, yes. Of course I am.”

“But you’re not,” Brianna said, her voice pitching higher curiously.

“Whatever do you mean?” Claire chuckled softly.

“You’re kind, Mummy,” Brianna said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Oh.

“Kitty said you’re English ,” Brianna continued, and the cousin in question shot her head up, gaping at Claire with wide eyes as if she’d been found out in some way. “But I said you’re not. Because you’re kind.”

It was Jenny’s turn to look up, exchanging a slightly flustered look with Claire.

A week ago, the Redcoats had dropped by again unannounced, and Jenny had launched into her usual protective scheming, declaring that Brianna and Kitty were to pretend they were sisters.

“That means ye’re my bairn, Brianna. D’ye hear me?”

Claire had listened with baited breath from the priest hole, grateful to have time to hide this time and not have to come up with more excuses to not talk.

“And ye’ll call me Mam, no’ Mummy. Understood?”

Claire listened to the usual droning of the Captain and his men, and to her horror, he actually addressed Brianna directly.

“Why does she not talk like a Scot?”

“Whatever d’ye mean? ’Course she talks like a Scot.”

“The speech seems…tainted.”

Jenny was always a quick thinker.

“Och, she’s just mockin’ ye, Captain. She repeats the voices she hears, ye ken. Cheeky wee thing.”

Claire heard Brianna give a small pained cry, and she supposed Jenny had given her a small swat upside the head.

“Ye’ll stop mocking an agent of His Majesty at once, Brianna Murray. Understood?”

“Aye, Mam.”

Good girl.

Claire had made note in that moment to speak to Brianna about the difference between English speech and Scots speech. Apparently such knowledge would come in handy.

It would appear the girls had picked up on more danger in that situation than they’d originally let on.

And now her niece and her daughter thought she was an evil Redcoat.

“Brianna…sweetheart…” Claire sighed in defeat, releasing their shared grip on the udders and drawing her daughter into her lap.

“I am English. And so are you, well half of you, at least.”

“I am ?”

Claire’s heart nearly broke at how horrified she sounded.

“Yes. But, Brianna, just because we share…speech and…background with the Redcoats doesn’t mean we are Redcoats. Do you understand?”

Brianna just blinked up at her, and Claire looked sheepishly at Jenny, then down at Kitty, who was blinking at her just as wide-eyed as Brianna.

“The soldiers that come to Lallybroch are…are not kind. You’re right about that,” Claire said, rubbing Brianna’s quickly chilling upper arms. “I chose to become a Scot when I married your Da. I have English blood, and I talk like an English lady, but I love Scotland very much. Don’t you?”

“Aye, Mummy.”

“See? I may be English, but I’m no Redcoat.” Claire gave Brianna’s neck a little tickle, eliciting a few giggles.

“D’ye hear, Kitty?” Jenny said, and the little blonde head nodded. “No more talk of yer Auntie being a nasty Redcoat now. Understood?”

“Aye, Mam.”

“Inside wi’ ye now, both of ye,” Jenny said. “Yer wee bones have been in the cold far too long. We’ll finish here.”

“Stay bundled up in front of the fire until Mrs. Crook says you can move,” Claire added as the two little girls started shuffling out of the pen. They took each other’s hands and walked gaily back to the house, Kitty emitting an ungodly shriek before they disappeared.

“Christ,” Claire muttered, burying her face in her frozen hands. “I didn’t expect anything like that .”

“Ye never know what’ll come out of a bairn’s mouth,” Jenny said, giving her a knowing look as they returned their attention to the goats.

“Do you think they understand, truly?” Claire asked, a lingering sense of guilt and doubt still churning in her gut.

“Dinna ken. Hope so at least. They know better than to think ye mean us any harm. They’re just…”

“Confused.”

“Aye.”

Jenny sighed, frustrated. “She’s dry already. Yers?”

“About done as well.”

They both attempted to squeeze the last bits of milk they could, and then shooed the goats off.

“Well, it’s a bit more than last time. Isn’t it?”

“Hard to tell,” Jenny said, standing up with her bucket, and Claire followed suit.

Claire opened the goat pen and stepped through, waiting for Jenny to close the gate behind them. Hearing the clunk of the wooden latch, Claire began walking, and then was surprised to feel an arm drape around her shoulders.

“Dinna fash, sister,” Jenny said. “Ye ken Kitty loves ye. Ye ken they all do.”

Claire smiled softly, returning the embrace, pressing their bodies together as they strolled toward the house. “I know.”

“Ye heard the way she asked, didn’t ye? She didna believe that ye could possibly be like them.”

“I know,” Claire said wistfully. “Just the fact that she even had to ask…that it was even something they talked about.”

“I ken.” Jenny gave her shoulder a squeeze.

“Do you ever wonder…how much…how much longer we can keep it up…?” Claire asked, the slightest tinge of panic stinging her heart.

“They’ll grow tired of sniffing out Jacobites eventually,” Jenny said, seemingly not at all fussed about the entire situation. “And besides, I’m quite the…oh, what was it ye said?”

Claire broke into a grin. “Quite the actress.”

Jenny tossed her head back in a hearty laugh. “Aye, that’s it! Tell me again about those moving portraits ye’d like to see me in.”

“Dear me,” Claire teased. “I do believe I’ve given you quite a big head.”

Jenny gave her a small shove, careful not to spill a drop of either pail of milk, and yet they held each other all the more tightly, stumbling up the porch steps and giggling like schoolgirls.

Chapter Text

May 1751

Lallybroch was all a-bustle. The Donnelly widow was getting married to a man from the village, the local printer, Harold Jenkins. She and wee Laura were going to move into the flat above the print shop, and so Rabbie’s mother, Mary MacNab, was taking her place as housemaid. Her bastard of a husband had recently passed, giving her freedom to seek her own life, and to be reunited with the son that she had relinquished for his safety.

Claire and Jenny were in the parlor, fussing over the bride, straightening her hair, smoothing out superficial wrinkles in the cream colored gown. It was to be a small wedding; immediate family of the bride and groom, which of course included the entire Murray-Fraser clan, and even Mrs. Crook. It was a remarkably rare sunny day, and the whole clan was loaded into the cart for the ride into the village. Claire was holding wee Michael in her lap, and Jenny was holding little Janet. Ian was driving the cart with Fergus sitting beside him and wee Jamie wedged in between them. They sang songs of good luck and blessings in Gaelic all the way to the church, and Claire noticed that even Brianna was singing along. Her daughter’s apparent trilingual abilities would never cease to amaze her. She simply bounced Michael in her lap and hummed in his ear, eliciting several happy giggles from him.

The service was lovely. It was quaint, of course, and the only reception afterwards was humble: a toast with whisky outside the church, but a good time was had by all. It was quite refreshing to see a celebration of life, a kind of joy that was all too rare in the Highlands. During the toast, Mr. Jenkins had proudly professed his love not only for his bride, but for the daughter he had gained as well. Apparently the man never had children of his own, as he’d never married before, and he was filled with joy over the prospect of gaining a daughter.

“To my wife,” he said. “And to the daughter of my heart. You are, both of you, blood of my blood and bone of my bone.”

Slaínte!”

Claire couldn’t help but tear up at the man’s loving proclamation. She was happy for them both, truly.

“Laura’s new Da is a kind man, isn’t he, Auntie?” Maggie looked up at Claire as she sipped her whisky.

Claire smiled down at her, in awe as always of the girl’s emotional intelligence. “Yes, he is. Laura and her mother are going to be very happy.”

Maggie nodded in approval, biting her lip as she smiled. Claire stroked her strawberry blonde head affectionately, and then peeked over at her own little girl. She’d expected her to be babbling to Kitty about something, but Kitty was tugging on Jenny’s skirts several steps away. Brianna was instead staring very intently up her mother, Miss Nettie dangling limply from her arm. A single fiddle began to play, and Claire watched as the happy couple began to swing each other about. Everyone watched joyfully, and soon Laura was running in to join them, Mr. Jenkins swinging her about, eventually settling her on his hip, holding her between him and her mother. Claire’s cheeks were sore from smiling at the sweet sight.

Soon, others began to join in the dancing, and Brianna was still staring at her. “What is it, darling?” She scooped her up. “Would you like to dance, Mistress Fraser?”

Her face, which had previously been quite pensive, suddenly lit up, and she smiled a wide, toothy grin. She nodded, causing her mop of curls to bounce about. Claire made quite a sharp circle, causing Brianna to squeal. She rocked her back and forth on her hip, dipped her, twirled with her around the small open field, until Fergus cut in to dance with her. She watched, her heart swelling with love as Brianna stood on his feet, holding onto both of his hands. Brianna kept going back and forth between craning her neck up at Fergus and giggling wildly, to looking at Claire, her eyes glowing, searching for approval.

“Wonderful, darling!” she would call out to her, and Brianna would excitedly return her attention to Fergus.

It was truly a beautiful day, and Claire’s heart felt light (or was it her head from the whisky?) as the clan piled into the wagon again, this time minus Laura and her mother. The now-Jenkins family stood on the road and waved, and everyone in the wagon frantically waved back until they disappeared from view.

“I’ll miss Laura,” wee Jamie said wistfully.

“Oh, will ye now?” Jenny’s brow raised, eyeing her son.

“She was verra sweet,” he said simply.

“Was she? Or were you sweet on her?” Fergus teased, poking him in the ribs.

Och , no! I wasna!” Jamie protested.

Fergus laughed mercilessly, and Ian draped an arm around his son, squeezing his shoulder.

“Dinna fash, lad. There’ll be lasses a-plenty someday.”

Claire and Jenny could see the back of his neck turn bright red, and they exchanged a look before quickly biting their lips to avoid laughter. Claire wondered if Laura would miss Jamie’s incessant following of her, tugging on her braid, and chasing her in the fields, or if she was glad to be rid of it.

By the time they returned home, the sun was almost completely set, and everyone was quite famished. Mrs. Crook immediately set to making a quick stew that would only take about a half hour. Claire and Jenny set to putting the twins to bed, Jenny having nursed them both on the way home. Strangely, Brianna had insisted on following them up the stairs. Claire had expected her to run off with her cousins into their bedroom to play for a few sacred moments before supper, but instead she sat on Jenny and Ian’s bed in the Laird’s room, watching Claire and Jenny intently as they each set a baby into a cot.

“Mummy?” she piped unexpectedly.

“Shh…” Claire quickly turned with a finger to her lip. “Don’t wake the babies, Brianna.”

“But Mummy, I have a question.” This time, her voice was a very harsh, not-so-quiet whisper.

Claire couldn’t help but smile. She left the cots, leaving Jenny to fuss over both of the children, making sure they were really asleep as Claire sat down beside her daughter on the bed.

“What is it, darling?” Claire whispered.

“When will I have a new Da?”

Claire felt as though a frying pan had hit her square in the face and a brick had fallen into her gut. “When…what…darling?”

“When will I have a new Da? Like Laura?”

Claire’s mouth felt impossibly dry, and she swallowed numbly against a sandpaper throat. Jenny straightened up and turned away from the bairns, looking at Claire with eyes full of sympathy.

“It…I…” Claire hardly recognized her own voice. Of all things for her four-and-a-half year old to blurt out, this had been the last thing she’d expected to hear. “Laura has a new Da because her…her mother got married again.”

“Laura’s old Da is in Heaven,” she said lightly. “Like my Da.”

Claire could hardly breathe. She nodded. “That’s right, darling.”

“So when will I have a new Da, like Laura?”

Claire’s teeth began grinding. The phrase new Da was grating on her nerves -- tugging at the already fragile strings that held her heart intact -- every time it fell from her daughter’s clueless lips. Where had she even heard such a thing? Was it Maggie that had said it first?

“Ye dinna need a new Da, Brianna,” Jenny interjected kindly, but firmly. “Ye have yer Mam, ye have me, Fergus, yer Uncle.”

“Laura had her Mam, too,” Brianna shot right back, not one to be knocked down. “But she still has a new Da now.”

“Because her Mam got married, Brianna,” Jenny said.

“When will you get married, Mummy?” Brianna turned her attention back to Claire.

“I…”

“Brianna, that’s enough — ”

“No, Jenny…it’s alright.” Claire took a deep, shuddering breath, steeling herself. “I…I don’t have anyone to marry, Brianna.”

“Why no’?”

“I just…don’t.”

“You can find somebody, can’t ye?”

“I…I don’t want to be married, Brianna.”

“Why no’?”

Claire opened her mouth to speak, but her words were lost as her throat closed. Unexpected tears trickled down her cheeks, and she hurried to wipe them away.

“Why’re ye crying, Mummy?”

“I’m sorry, darling,” Claire said, her voice raspy, desperately trying to get herself together. “I don’t like crying in front of you. I’m sorry.”

“Did I make you sad, Mummy…?” Brianna’s lips downturned in the most heartbreaking pout, her eyes wide with concern.

“No, no, it’s alright…” Claire quickly enveloped her in her arms, grateful to be able to temporarily hide her face.

“I think I’ll…go help Mrs. Crook in the kitchen,” Jenny said, hurrying out of the room to give them privacy.

“Oh, Brianna…my little miracle…” Claire pressed a long, tender kiss to the crown of her head. “You didn’t make me sad, love. I just…I miss your father. I loved him very much, as much as I love you. It makes me very sad to think about him.”

“Then dinna think about him?” Brianna asked, pulling away from her mother, looking up at her with such earnestness that it almost made her burst into tears again.

Claire sighed shakily. “I never stop thinking about him, Brianna.” She caressed her darling little face. “How could I? You remind me of him every day.”

“I do?”

“Yes, but that’s not a bad thing.” Claire shook her head, reassuring her. “I love to look at you and see him, in your eyes, in your hair. You look so much like him.”

“I do ?”

“Mm-hm.” Claire kissed her forehead. “And that’s why I…I don’t want to get married. Because even though your father is gone I…I still think about him. I’ll always be married to him. He was…he was the love of my life, Brianna. Like the stories I tell you? About the prince who finds his princess?”

“Happily ever after,” Brianna said the familiar phrase, smiling.

“That’s right. Jamie…your Da. He was my happily ever after. Always and forever.”

Brianna nodded, but then her little brow furrowed again. “So why did he leave?”

God, if only you knew how many times I asked myself the same fucking question.

“He…he was a hero, remember? He fought for Clan Fraser, and for Scotland. Like I told you. And sometimes heroes don’t come home from battle, and God calls them to Heaven instead.” She was fighting tooth and nail to keep it together. God help her, her child would never think her weak.

“Oh.” Brianna briefly looked away, seemingly studying the pattern of the wallpaper before turning back to face her again. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why did God call Da to Heaven?”

Why indeed…?

“Because…”

Because I’m cursed? Because everything I love is ripped away from me?

She looked into her daughter’s beautiful, wide eyes.

No…not everything.

“Because He needed him.”

“For what?”

Christ…

She always loved her daughter’s curiosity, but this was a particular subject she wished she’d leave alone.

“He had family in Heaven, darling. They missed him very much.”

“Who?”

“His mother, Grannie Ellen, remember? Auntie Jenny talks about her a lot. And his father, Grandda Brian, and his brother Willie.”

“He had to go because they miss him?” Claire nodded. “But what about you ? You miss him, don’t you?”

Jesus bloody Christ

Claire had to bite her lip to stifle the sob that crawled up her throat. How could she make her understand? How could she tell this child that her father loved them both so much and yet he’d left?

Then it dawned on her.

“Because, Brianna…there’s another little girl in Heaven that needed a Da.”

Her little face screwed up in confusion. “Who?”

Claire took a deep breath, forcing herself to smile as the words left her lips: “Your sister.”

“I’ve a sister?” Her every feature lit up. “Is she little or big?”

“She was little when I held her. But she’s a year older than you. Your big sister.”

“Can I see her, Mummy?”

“No, darling, you can’t. God called her to Heaven when she was just a baby.”

“Why?”

“She…she was sick, darling. When people are sick God takes them to ease their suffering. Like baby Caitlin.”

“Auntie Jenny read about that from the Bible,” Brianna affirmed, nodding seriously.

“That’s right. And so…so your Da…he had to go be with your sister. God knew you’d be alright as long as you had your Mummy, but He knew that wee Faith needed somebody to take care of her, too, so He called your Da to Heaven to protect her.”

“Faith?” She looked up at her, eyes wide as saucers.

“Yes. That’s her name.”

“Faith…” she said again, and Claire felt the knife in her gut twist at the sound.

“You wouldn’t want your sister to be lonely, would you?” Brianna hesitated, but then she shook her head slowly. “Faith is a normal little girl who likes to play and laugh, just like you. And just like we play, and laugh,” Claire rocked her gently, her chin resting atop her head. “Your Da and Faith play and laugh in Heaven.”

“Does she like dolls?”

Claire’s vision blurred. How would I know…?

“Yes. She does.”

“And horses?”

“Of course.”

She let out a contented humming sound, and Claire felt her smile against her neck.

“Just like me.”

“That’s right.” Her voice broke, and she silently cursed herself.

“You’re crying again, Mummy.” Brianna broke free of her tight grip, despite Claire’s desperation to prevent her from seeing her tears.

“I’m sorry, love…” She wiped her tears and tried to steady the tremor in her voice. “It just…it makes me very sad to talk about your sister. And your father. Because I…I miss them so much.”

And then suddenly, without warning, Brianna burst into tears.

Claire’s heart had been teetering on the edge, but now it was entirely shattered. She crushed Brianna’s little body into her, stroking her head, weeping into her hair.

“What’s wrong, darling…? Talk to Mummy…it’s alright…I’m here…”

But she only blubbered incoherently.

Truthfully, between the two of them, it was a miracle the twins were still asleep.

By the time Jenny returned to inform them that supper was ready, Brianna had quieted to the occasional hiccup, Claire rubbing soothing circles on her back, still crying silently herself.

“We’ll be right down.”

Jenny ducked silently out of the room.

Claire sighed. “Are you ready to go down to supper?”

She shook her head against her.

“It’s alright. You can tell me when you’re ready.”

After about five more minutes, Brianna’s hiccups and shudders had stopped and she sat straight up and looked bravely into Claire’s eyes.

“I’m ready now.”

“Alright. Off we go, then.”

Claire took her hand and helped her hop down off the bed, and hand in hand they ventured downstairs into the dining room for supper.

Claire never exactly found out what had overcome Brianna in that moment; Brianna never told her. Perhaps she couldn't tell her, couldn’t put it into words. Perhaps four-and-a-half year olds were not as unfazed by grief as she’d thought. Maybe it was just as simple as seeing her mother cry. When she was a baby and Claire would desperately cling to her in grief, mourning Jamie, sometimes she would burst into tears, and she wouldn’t take her breast, she didn’t need a diaper change. Nothing would soothe her until Claire herself had stopped crying. Perhaps it was a deeply inborn instinct to despair at her mother’s tears. Or perhaps it was the knowledge of her sister’s existence, a sister she now knew she had but could never meet. Or maybe it was knowing that her father was not some imaginary, far off hero, but a real man that her mother had loved and lost, that she herself had lost. Or she was just overwhelmed by the busy day and the confusing tales her mother was spinning. She was only four years old, after all.

Claire supposed she’d never know.

Supper was relatively quiet; the children were worn out from the day’s excitement. Brianna was especially quiet. Claire carried her up the stairs, changed her into a nightgown, and tucked her into bed immediately after supper, and she was out like a light. Claire had just finished changing herself when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, and there stood Jenny.

“She alright?” Jenny peered around her at Brianna’s sleeping little body.

“Yes, just exhausted.” Claire smiled. She stepped aside to let Jenny in, and she poured them both a nightcap, handing Jenny her glass as they settled into the chairs by the fireplace.

“How did the rest of that conversation go?” Jenny asked before taking a sip.

“It was…difficult,” Claire said from behind her glass. “She had…a lot of questions.”

“What about?”

“About why her father was in Heaven, why her sister was in Heaven, why, why why.” She took a much needed sip of her drink.

“Sister?” Jenny paused. “Ye told her, then?”

“Yes…I told her that her father had to leave us to raise his other daughter in Heaven.” Repeating it now made it sound like madness. “Stupid. I know.”

She was surprised to feel Jenny’s hand on her knee.

“No. No’ at all.”

Claire swallowed thickly, giving Jenny a soft thank you.

“What did ye tell her about…about getting married?”

“I told her I didn’t want to be married to anyone else,” Claire said simply. “That it…it still feels like I’m married. Which is the truth. I couldn’t…I just…I couldn’t.” She shook her head, shuddering, and took another sip.

Jenny took a sip as well, allowing a short silence to pass between them.

“Ye…ye could, ye ken.”

“I could what?”

“Get married again.”

Claire blinked at her, certain she’d heard her wrong. “I…what?”

“There’s no shame in it. Widows remarry all the time, give fathers to the children left behind.”

“I’m…I’m not just some widow, Jenny. I am Jamie’s widow. Jamie .”

“I ken, I ken…I…I’m sorry if I’ve offended ye, sister. Wasna my intention. I just…”

“What?” Claire snapped, her face feeling hot with anger.

“I want ye to be happy, Claire. I havena seen the Donnelly widow smile so big in all the time I’ve known her as I saw today. Her bairn as well.”

“Brianna and I are just fine.” Claire’s knuckles were whitening with how tightly she was gripping the glass. “Yes, it’s confusing for her, it’s…it’s difficult as hell to explain that…that loss to her. But a new Da won’t make that go away.”

“That isna what I’m saying — ”

“She doesn’t need a father, Jenny. She needs me , she needs this family. She needs no father but Jamie. And she can’t have that. So she will not have any other father.”

“Claire, I’m sorry. I didna mean — ”

“And I don’t need a husband . I need Jamie , not some…some…some man who’s taken pity on a poor widow and her orphaned child. I don’t need some man to warm my bed. I need Jamie. And I can’t have him . I have survived this fucking long without him, even though it kills me slowly every day. And if I’m still alive to see another day without the person that I…that I need so desperately…then I certainly don’t need some man !”

“Claire, quiet yer voice…”

The sound of Brianna whimpering interrupted her tirade, and Claire’s blood ran cold, terrified that she’d heard any of that. She stood up and looked frantically at the bed, but Brianna just turned over to face them, her eyes still shut. The sound of her heavy breathing, her little snores, filled the room once more, and Claire sank back into the chair, emotionally spent.

“Claire…I’m sorry. It’s no’ my place. Ye’re right. Ye dinna need to be married. I’m sorry.”

“No…I’m sorry,” Claire said. “You’re just looking out for my best interests.”

“I am. I always have.”

“I know, Jenny.”

“Dinna think I mean to dishonor his memory,” Jenny said quickly. “Y’ken well I’d drag him back from the dead if I could. I’m heartsick, still, to this day, o’er how much I miss him.” She swallowed thickly. “I just…I thought about what ye said, about promising him to go back to yer Frank.” Claire’s eyes snapped up to her at that. “Ye as much told me that he said he wanted ye to have a man to care fer ye if he couldna. And watching the wedding today I just…I was thinking about that. That’s all.”

Claire allowed another brief silence to pass between them. “You’re right. He did want me to go back to Frank. He wanted me to go back to a different husband. But it’s not what I wanted. I deliberately went against his wishes for me; I didn’t keep that promise. Because I know full well that I…my heart would have died, Jenny. I could never, never call another man my husband, I couldn’t…I couldn't bear to hear Brianna call another man her father. It would kill me from the inside out.”

Jenny nodded silently, sadly. “I understand…I’m sorry.”

Another silence.

“Fer what it’s worth,” Jenny said. “I didna suggest it because I think ye need anyone. Ye’re a fine mother, husband or no.”

“Thank you, Jenny.”

She stood, putting her empty glass on the table beside her chair. “And besides, ye have me. What more could ye be needing?”

Claire tried to smile up at her, but even she could tell it was half-hearted at best.

“Good night, sister.”

“Good night, Jenny.”

Claire swallowed the rest of her drink in one go and crossed the room to join her daughter in their bed. She oh-so-carefully slipped under the covers, desperate to not wake her. She nuzzled as close to her as she dared, Claire’s nose just barely touching Brianna’s forehead. Brianna suddenly shifted closer, though she remained fast asleep, unconsciously drawing herself into her mother’s arms.

Claire sighed in contentment, wrapping her arms around the nuzzling little bundle.

I love her enough for the both of us, Jamie. I promise.

She will want for nothing.

We need nobody but you, my love, always.

I promise.

Chapter Text

August 1751

“I dinna want tae help…”

“Katherine Mary Murray,” Jenny warned. “If I hear another word ye’ll be dealt a thrashing, is that understood?”

Claire cocked an eyebrow at Brianna, who had also been complaining. Her lips were now sealed shut, the fear of God in her wide eyes. The two little heathens exchanged a look, and then they nodded simultaneously.

“Aye, Mam.”

“Good. Now gather the dishes wi’ yer sister and take them into the kitchen.”

Maggie was already silently clearing the table without needing to be told, as she always did after supper. Jenny rolled her eyes at Claire with an exasperated sigh, and Claire chuckled.

“They’ll be the death of me yet,” Jenny said, lifting Michael onto her hip. “Come on, ma wee prince, time for bed.”

“No!”

Claire bit her lip as she hoisted Janet into her arms, Jenny’s brows rising to her hairline.

“What was that ye said?”

“No bed, Mam!” He slapped a pudgy hand onto Jenny’s shoulder in defiance. With another heavy sigh, Jenny started shuffling out of the dining room, followed closely by Claire.

“Ye’ll go to bed and ye’ll like it, or there’ll be no bannocks tomorrow.”

That sent him into a veritable screaming fit, which sent Janet into a reactionary tizzy.

“Oi!” Ian’s voice sounded as they entered the parlor to get to the stairs. “What’s all this racket about?”

“Yer son is pitching a fit about bedtime,” Jenny said, thrusting him into Ian’s arms before he could protest.

“Always mine when they’re misbehaving,” Ian gave Claire a knowing look, and she chuckled.

“Christ, my back is screaming…” Jenny collapsed onto the sofa, hands resting on the swell of her six-months-pregnant belly. “Couldna carry him up the stairs right now if he was docile as a lamb.”

“Michael…” Claire crooned, setting Janet down on the floor in front of Ian. “Come here, little man. You’ll be good for Auntie, won’t you?”

He squirmed and shrieked, slapping his palms against Ian’s chest.

“You don’t want to make your Auntie sad, do you Michael?” Claire said, stooping down to his eye level.

“N-no…” He clumsily wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, sniffling loudly.

“I didn’t think so. Come here and let me hold you, then we can both stop being sad. Yes?”

After a moment, he nodded and allowed Claire to hoist him onto her hip.

“There we go. That’s a good boy.” She kissed his head and bounced him gently.

Jenny muttered something in Gaelic, something that Claire had come to learn translated roughly to: spoils him rotten .

“Come on, wee Janet,” Ian said, heaving himself off the sofa. “Take Da’s hand and we’ll brave the stairs together, aye?”

Janet nodded and took Ian’s hand.

“You rest until I can get something for your back,” Claire commanded Jenny, who nodded and waved her off.

Claire took the stairs at Ian’s pace, one step at a time.

“Where did Fergus get off to?” Claire said when they were almost at the top of the stairs. “When he said he had something to finish up I assumed he was with you and Jamie.”

“Nae, Jamie was wi’ me in the study. I was showing him the ledgers and such. Dinna ken exactly where he went off to.”

Ian’s voice held some sort of constrained mirth, and it puzzled Claire.

“He’s been doing that more and more,” Claire said, the thought suddenly coming to her. “Just...disappearing like that.”

Ian chuckled softly as they reached upstairs. Mary MacNab appeared from the second staircase and took Michael — who had apparently worn himself out with his tantrum — in one arm and Janet’s hand with the other so she could lead them up into the nursery.

“What’s so funny?” Claire said, crossing her arms once they were free.

Ian shook his head. “Yer boy. Gallivanting the way he does.”

Claire’s brow furrowed. “Gallivanting?”

“Dinna be daft, Claire. Surely ye know he’s wi’ a lass.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Who?”

Ian shrugged. “Couldna say. Seems to be different every time.”

Claire felt like she’d been slapped across the face. Her jaw fell open and her eyes bugged out.

“You...you mean... with a girl?” she stammered. Ian raised an eyebrow. “Sexually?”

“Ye really didn’t know ?” Ian said, clearly suppressing the urge to bust out with laughter. “He’s been running off like this fer almost a year now.”

What ?” Claire boomed.

“Dinna wake the bairns again, lass — ”

“He’s...he’s a child !” Claire’s cheeks were hot, and she uncrossed her arms to gesture emphatically in what evidently was a stupid and useless movement, given Ian’s chuckle.

“He’s a lad , Claire. A lad of nearly sixteen.”

Claire briefly saw red, and her jaw clenched. She stormed past Ian and stomped down the stairs.

“Jenny!” Claire shouted when she was halfway down the stairs. She crossed the room like a woman possessed and stopped right in front of Jenny on the sofa, planting her hands on her hips. “If you...knew something. About my son. Would you tell me?”

Jenny’s eyes narrowed. “What d’ye mean, sister?”

“I mean if you...if you knew he was... doing something that I wouldn’t approve of. Would you tell me?”

“Pickpocketing ye mean?”

No , not pickpocketing!” Claire spat, her temples throbbing.

Ian arrived at the bottom of the stairs then, and Jenny looked past Claire to see him, flushed red and trying not to laugh.

Oh .” Jenny looked back up at Claire. “Ye...didn’t know, sister?”

No , I didn’t know !” she exploded, dropping her hands from her hips into fists. “How on Earth should I have known?”

Jenny eyed her skeptically, brows raised.

“...He’s a lad, Claire.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Claire threw her hands up in exasperation and then crossed them over her chest.

Deep down, she knew that she really should have known. Claire herself had lost her virginity at sixteen to another clumsy teenager, a charming young lad in Egypt. But she had taken precaution. She was fully aware of the ramifications of her actions and had outright threatened to kill the boy if he’d ended up lying about his sexual exposure.

But that didn’t make it any easier to stomach that her little boy was having reckless sex. And he hadn’t even felt he could tell her about it.

“This is unacceptable,” Claire said once her spinning mind caught up with her.

“Claire, come now,” Ian said, approaching her from behind with a hand on her shoulder. “He isna a bairn and ye ken that.”

“If it was your son?” she fired.

“Well it’s no’ my business what my son does when he’s grown,” Jenny said, shifting uncomfortably. “I’d rather not know at all.”

“Alright. And what if it was a daughter?” Claire jutted her chin out.

“I’d thrash her senseless,” Jenny said without hesitation.

“That! That makes no sense!” Claire cried, pointing an accusatory finger at her. “So a-a boy can stick his cock wherever he wants but we must protect a girl’s virtue? He’s my child ! What about his virtue?”

“Would ye mind yer tongue?” Jenny said heatedly. “The bairns could walk by any minute.”

“This is unacceptable,” Claire said again, shaking her head. She made to leave the parlor, but Ian seized her by the arm.

“Ye canna go after him now, Claire,” Ian said. “Ye dinna even ken where he is.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” she spat.

“I suppose no’. But where d’ye intend to start?”

“And then what’ll ye do if ye do find him?” Jenny said pointedly.

Claire sighed with exasperation, jerking her arm from Ian’s grip. “Fine. But I will be talking to him about this. And I’ll thank you to not keep anything concerning my son’s health from me anymore!” She glared back and forth between the two of them before storming off toward the staircase

“His health…?” Ian’s brow furrowed, watching her as she went.

Claire whirled around at the foot of the stairs, jabbing a finger at him, nostrils flared, teeth clenched.

“No son of mine is going to contract syphilis.”

She whirled again, stomping up the stairs, trying her damndest to block out the sound of Ian’s snorting chuckles, lest she fly back down the stairs and throttle him.

——

The following morning, breakfast was its usual cacophony of shouting and laughter from the children and scolding from Jenny. Claire was on edge the entire time, having to put a conscious effort into not staring at Fergus or otherwise letting on that something was amiss. When the meal finished, Jenny stood to begin clearing dishes, and she made eye contact with Claire across the table, one final plea to just let things be.

I most certainly will not.

“Fergus,” Claire chirped as casually as she could muster. “Could you help me with something upstairs before you head out to the fields?”

Fergus quickly turned around, having already started to dash off with Rabbie and Jamie. “Oh, ah, oui , Maman .”

Claire nodded and brushed past the boys so she could lead the way to her own bedroom. She briefly wiped her palms on her skirt when they entered the room, sweating with nervousness. She had been going over and over what she would say to him in her head, even going so far as to recite certain bits out loud. When Claire closed the door behind Fergus, she saw his brow furrow and his shoulders tense.

“What is the matter, Maman ?” he said skeptically.

“Nothing, darling. I just...want to have a conversation with you.” She wiped her palms again and cleared her throat, then exhaled sharply. “Why don’t you sit down?”

Slowly, Fergus backed into the bed and sank down onto it. Claire opened her wardrobe and retrieved the parchment she had stuffed on the highest shelf.

“So,” she said brusquely, mustering a smile not unlike those that she’d used when lecturing soldiers during the war as their nurse. “I found something out yesterday that surprised me a little. And I thought that, as your mother, we should talk about it.”

She sat down, parchment still rolled, and Fergus blinked at her. “Are you...courting somebody, Maman ?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” she waved him off, laughing uncomfortably. “It’s actually about...you. Courting.”

His brow furrowed again, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“It came to my attention that you have been...well...having relations with girls.”

His impossibly big eyes became even bigger, practically bugging out of his head.

“I want you to know that I don’t think any less of you,” Claire said calmly. “It is perfectly normal for a boy your age to have those urges and desires.”

Fergus covered his face with his hands, and Claire could swear she heard him mutter: “ Sainte Mère de Dieu .”

“But, I don’t think you’re aware of how potentially dangerous such a thing could be.”

He kept his face in his hands, and Claire waited in uncomfortable silence before going on, talking to the top of his head.

“Do you remember your time in the brothel? Weren’t there times where women would get sick with...incurable diseases? Now, I don’t mean to imply that I believe you’re bedding whores, because I don’t.”

Fergus muttered something else unintelligible into his hands, visibly shrinking right before her eyes.

“But, those types of illnesses are not strictly catchable by whores and their patrons. It is very possible that you could catch any number of diseases that even I can’t help you with if you aren’t careful.” Claire started unrolling the parchment. “Things like syphilis...that can kill you, Fergus.”

His blush was bright enough to be seen through the cracks of his fingers.

“I...I want you to look at this. I think it will help you understand.”

Reluctantly, the boy picked up his head and looked at the parchment.

“This is called the sexual exposure chart. It’s a bit crude, but you get the idea.” Claire, in the state she was in the night before, had feverishly replicated the familiar chart with ink and parchment, needing him to understand the direness of the situation.

“Now, the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to catch something deadly and incurable. When you have sex with somebody, you are also having sex with everyone they have ever had sex with.” Fergus’s eyes raked over the parchment, widening further and further, his mouth agape.

“And even if every girl you have sex with only has the same number of partners as you’ve had, look at how many you’re technically having sex with. How many people’s diseases you’re coming into contact with.”

“I...I haven’t…” Fergus was staring in horror at the final row, the row that said twelve sexual partners between the two participants meant exposure to over four thousand people.

“I’m not implying that you’ve been with that many girls, darling. This is just an example, a warning, I suppose.”

Fergus shook his head in disbelief, and his red blush suddenly turned a bit green.

“I’m sorry to scare you, Fergus. But I do want you to be scared. This is very, very serious. Having sex can kill you. And I couldn’t bear it if something so preventable were to take you away from me. I know this time is different from where I come from, and that most people don’t know anything about all the things I’m telling you now. But if I can use my knowledge from the future to save you, I will.”

Fergus nodded dumbly, finally looking up from the parchment and staring at nothing in particular in front of him.

“Now, where I’m from, there are ways to protect yourself from diseases like this, but there aren’t here. So the only way to truly be safe is to either know the detailed sexual history of your partner, or to completely abstain from sex. And there’s no guarantee that your partner will be completely honest with you unless you’ve been courting for some time and can trust one another.”

Claire started rolling up the parchment, taking another breath.

“So, I’m not telling you that you can’t have any more...relations, but I’m telling you that you shouldn’t. If you value your life, and if you don’t want to give your poor mother any grey hairs.” Fergus swallowed, his Adam’s apple visibly bobbing up and down.

“Do you...have any questions? You can ask me anything, really.”

He vehemently shook his head, curls tossing back and forth.

“Alright.” Claire cleared her throat. “I love you, darling. And I just want you to be safe.”

He nodded.

“You can...you can go.”

Without another word, Fergus sprang off the bed and practically sprinted out of the bedroom. Claire released the breath she’d been holding and ran a hand down the length of her face.

That was certainly the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life.

——

That night, after supper, Claire, Ian, and Jenny were having a dram in the parlor. The children were upstairs playing in their rooms and the twins were being put to bed by Mary McNab. Claire noticed that Fergus also went straight to his room, and was briefly filled with pride that he would not be gallivanting after their conversation today. He had been uncomfortably silent for most of the day, particularly during supper.

“Christ...I wonder if he’ll ever look me in the eye again,” Claire said, sighing heavily in her arm chair. “He hardly looked at me at all during supper.”

“D’ye blame the lad?” Jenny said, shifting her pregnant body in her seat. “ I hardly want tae look ye in the eye, knowing what ye must’ve said to him.”

Claire rolled her eyes, and Ian sniggered quietly beside Jenny on the sofa.

“Did ye burn the damned thing?” Jenny said.

“What?”

“That wretched parchment,” Jenny shuddered. “I’ll kill ye wi’ my bare hands if any of my bairns ever lay eyes on it.” She took a generous sip of whisky.

“I can’t burn it!” Claire said. “It would be such a waste to have to make another one for Brianna someday.”

Jenny made an almost comical choking sound and spat some whisky back into the glass. Ian burst out laughing, roughly slamming the arm of the sofa as Jenny coughed violently.

“Blessed Michael, defend us!” Jenny sputtered as soon as she was able, Ian still howling beside her.

“I may have no say in how you approach the subject with your own children, but I’m quite content with how I’ve chosen to do so with mine.” Claire said with a curt nod.

Jenny crossed herself emphatically, and Ian wiped his eyes, tears leaking out in his hysterical laughter. Claire smirked into her glass, grateful, if nothing else came of today’s events, to have put her uptight sister in such a tizzy.

Chapter Text

November 15, 1752

Another shriek from Jenny pierced the air, and she bore down fiercely on Claire’s hand.

“There you go,” Claire soothed. “Good, good.”

“Ye’re almost there, Mistress,” the midwife assured. “Few more pushes should do it.”

“Christ…” Jenny groaned in pained exhaustion, throwing her head back. “He’ll...he’ll be alright, won’t he…?”

“Of course he will,” Claire assured her, though her heart clenched even as she did. “You’re fit as a fiddle this time around, and it’s been a quick delivery. Everything will be fine.”

Before Jenny could answer, she was seized by another contraction. Claire was not lying; the odds were certainly more in their favor for this pregnancy. But the terror of burying another child was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, no matter how different the circumstances were.

When Jenny collapsed onto Claire again, a loud bang abruptly sounded, causing Claire to jump violently.

“What the bloody hell was that?”

Before Claire could get up and run to the window, Jenny screamed again, squeezing the life out of Claire’s hand.

“Here he comes, Mistress!”

With a final shrieking howl, the midwife was catching a baby, who immediately started wailing.

Thank the Lord.

“What a braw wee laddie!” the midwife exclaimed.

“He’s alright, Jenny…” Claire breathed, tears gathering in her eyes. 

The midwife brought him before them, squalling and squirming, and Jenny chuckled breathily.

“He’s alright,” she confirmed, taking him in her arms with a heavenly sigh and pressing him into her breast. “And he’s feeding.”

Claire laughed out loud, wrapping her arms around Jenny’s shoulders and leaning her cheek into her head.

“Time we named one after the one that sired them, eh?” Jenny said, stroking his tiny cheek with her finger.

“Wee Ian,” Claire said, trying it out.

“Aye. My sweet wee lad.” She fervently kissed the crown of his head, and Claire kissed Jenny’s head as well.

Thank you God.

Jenny was moved into the bed, and wee Ian was properly cleaned and thoroughly inspected.

“He’s perfect, Jenny. He really is.” Claire was pacing the Laird’s room with him, drugged with sleep after his feeding, beaming down at him. “Perfectly healthy, and perfectly sweet.”

“Maggie’ll be over the moon,” Jenny said, leaning heavily into the pillows. “She’s been dying to hold a wee bairn again.”

“Little Jamie will be very happy, too,” Claire said softly, brushing at the little button nose on the baby. After the heartache the boy felt after losing his baby sister, the sight of a healthy wee brother would surely bring him joy.

“Shall I go fetch the children? I think the girls are just up in the nursery.”

Claire meandered into the hall, bouncing the little bundle and cooing at him. Suddenly there was another loud bang, a different sound than the last. It was the front door, followed by the clomping of several boots. Claire was reminded of the sound she’d heard just before Ian’s arrival: a sound that was most definitely a gunshot.

“Find the weapon!”

Why on Earth had someone been firing a weapon in the first place?

“Where is your mistress?” one of the soldiers demanded, and Claire saw that young Jamie, Fergus, and Rabbie were all struck dumb in the parlor below. Claire swallowed and hurried back into the Laird’s room as a small hoard of footsteps clambered up the stairs.

“You three search the rooms downstairs. MacGregor, come with me.”

Claire’s insides burned with hatred at the sound of the name, a Scottish Redcoat that had graced them with his presence a few times already. He was a thoroughly disgusting human being, with no respect for anyone, including himself if he could stoop so low as to betray his own people.

Captain Lewis strode in, followed by the traitor in question. Claire took several quick steps backward, flattening herself into the wall between the windows and pressing Ian’s face into her breast.

“Where’s the weapon?” Captain Lewis demanded

“Weapon? We have no weapons here, Captain,” Jenny said, clutching the blankets to her.

“My scouts heard a shot from the vicinity of this estate,” Captain Lewis went on as Corporal MacGregor emptied the wardrobe of linens and clothing. “So I ask again. Where are you hiding the weapon?”

“I canna answer fer what yer scouts heard, but I’ll tell ye again, I dinna know of any weapons here,” Jenny said, her voice calm and even. “We’d never risk such a thing.”

“I remind you, Madam, that as an officer of his Majesty’s Army, I am obliged to search this house should I have the slightest suspicion that the act of proscription has been breached.” MacGregor continued to clatter about, emptying the trunk at the foot of the bed and throwing its contents about the room. “And we will continue to do so until you comply with my request.”

Jenny’s eyes were wide with fear, but she steeled herself to continue. Corporal MacGregor tossed aside Jenny’s bed covers without a thought, exposing her wearing only a shift after having just given birth. “Captain,” she stammered, scrambling to cover herself up. “I have cooperated with every request made by His Majesty’s soldiers.”

Captain Lewis turned slowly to face Claire, who, upon instinct, pressed the baby further into her chest. His eyes swept the room, taking in the bloody rags and the hay in front of the fireplace.

“Have you just delivered this child, Madame?” he said over his shoulder to Jenny, keeping his eyes boring into Claire.

“Aye.”

“Is this the midwife, then?” the Captain sneered.

“No, sir. That is my cousin. Elizabeth Fraser,” Jenny said. “She always comes by to help wi’ a birth. She’s a healer, ye see.”

Captain Lewis was newly promoted. This was his first time paying a visit to Lallybroch, but of course he’d been told the suspicions of the two captains that came before him. The Fraser cousin and the red-haired child were certainly no secret, suspicious though they were.

Corporal MacGregor was suddenly tugging on Ian’s swaddle, and Claire fiercely tightened her grip on the child, shooting daggers at the Corporal.

“Hiding the pistol in there, are ye?” the man spat.

“It’s my child, Captain!” Jenny cried. “Please, dinna hurt him!”

MacGregor dug both hands around the little bundle, and Claire went blind with rage and fear.

“Corporal — ” Captain Lewis warned, but it was too late. Claire growled and yanked back on Ian, and then fiercely spit right into the Corporal’s face.

You’ll not harm another child I love as long as I live.

Claire panted heavily, like a fierce animal ready to kill for its young. MacGregor’s face was red with anger as he slowly and deliberately wiped Claire’s spit from between his eyes. Before another thought crossed Claire’s mind, he wound up his hand and brought it hard across her cheek with a loud slap, sending her tumbling to the floor.

Claire’s vision was blurry and her ears were ringing. She only vaguely registered Jenny’s cry of fear and Ian’s wailing; it all sounded like it was underwater. She blinked dumbly and curled herself around the baby as MacGregor wound his foot back to deliver a blow.

“Corporal!” Captain Lewis barked. “That’s enough.”

Claire was trembling, unable, in her dazed state, to stop frightened tears from spilling out of her.

“Here’s the pistol, Captain,” Mary MacNab’s voice floated into Claire’s hazy subconscious, and she picked her trembling head up to see that Mary had entered the room.

Corporal MacGregor marched over to her and seized a pistol from her hands. “ ’Tis mine.”

“Yours?” Captain Lewis said, skeptical.

“It belonged to my late husband, Ronald. It was the only thing I had left of him, so I kept it. It gave me comfort. Mistress Murray knew nothing of it.”

Claire finally gained enough of her senses to sit up and began hearing more clearly again. She bounced the screaming child in her arms, rubbing his back soothingly.

“And what occasion did you have to fire it?”

“I saw a raven land near the house while Milady was delivering her child. So I shot it dead.”

Claire felt liquid trickling above her lip, and upon touching under her nose, discovered that the blow the Corporal delivered had given her a bloody nose.

“Just one of their foolish Highland superstitions, Sir. Believing a common bird can bring ill luck,” MacGregor said, his voice thick with disgust. “Shall I take her into custody, Captain?” He roughly seized Mary by the arm, and she gasped, breathing raggedly.

Captain Lewis narrowed his eyes at her for several lingering seconds before answering. “We have the weapon. She’s no threat.”

Mary sighed with relief.

“But I warn you once more, Madam,” the Captain said, walking right up to Jenny’s bedside. “If another violation occurs, there will be no mercy.”

The Captain stormed out of the room, and MacGregor roughly threw Mary onto the bed. MacGregor made to leave the room, but he stopped, turning around to lay his beady eyes upon Claire, still curled into herself on the floor. He took menacing steps toward her and bent from the waist until she could smell his vulgar breath.

“I know ye’re a Jacobite hoor,” he hissed. “Ye may have everyone else fooled, but no’ me.” Claire’s chest heaved as she stared him down, blood from her nose running over her tight lips.

“Corporal! If you please!”

He straightened out at the sound of his Captain’s voice, but before he turned to leave, he delivered a final blow to Claire, stomping mercilessly onto her stomach.

Claire doubled over again, crumbling into the floor as she began sputtering with wheezing coughs, and yet never losing her grip on the baby. Mary scrambled across the room as MacGregor left, hastily taking the baby in her arms and delivering him to Jenny before dropping to the floor beside Claire.

“Mistress? Are ye alright?”

Ian quieted as Jenny brought him to her breast. “Sister? Can ye speak?” Her voice was pitched high with fear.

Claire continued coughing until her face was burning, and then she took a heaving breath that rattled her entire body.

“That’s it, Mistress. Breathe…” Mary soothed, dabbing at the blood on her face and smoothing some frazzled curls away from her face. “She’s just had the wind knocked out of her,” Mary said to Jenny. “She needs to breathe a moment, is all.”

Breathe she did, heaving and wheezing on the floor until she stopped seeing stars. When she finally felt air filling her lungs again, she reached her trembling hands toward Mary, and she helped her into a sitting position, leaning her against the wall again.

“Shall I fetch ye some water, Mistress?” Mary asked, and Claire nodded.

“Cold…rag...” she stammered. She gestured to her face, where already an angry bruise was blossoming.

“Aye, Mistress.” Mary scuttled off.

Claire looked up at Jenny from her position on the floor, new tears forming in her eyes.

“He’s alright, sister,” Jenny said. “Just a bit shaken up. Ye protected him jest fine.”

Claire sighed with relief, resting her head on the wall behind her and forcing herself to breathe deeply. 

Maman !”

Claire picked her head up and focused her bleary vision on a brown curly mop as it rushed toward her.

“I have brought you water. Mary MacNab is fetching the cold compress,” Fergus said handing her a glass. “Are you alright?”

In the corner of her eye, Claire could see wee Jamie had followed closely behind his cousin, and he was now sitting on the bed beside his mother, holding his new brother.

“I’m...I’m fine…” Claire said breathily, taking a grateful sip of the water.

“They beat you!” Fergus said, his face scrunching up with rage. “I will kill them!”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Claire said firmly, putting a hand on his knee.

“They are cowards! To beat a woman bloody! I will kill them!”

“Stop it,” Claire said, her breath returning to her enough to raise her voice. “That’s enough.”

“You are my mother and I must defend your honor,” Fergus spat, and Claire almost jumped. She’d never heard him raise his voice in this manner, never seen him so red in the face. “If they ever touch you again…”

He began slewing through all sorts of French profanities, some of which Claire could not even understand.

“Fergus!” Claire interrupted. “That’s enough . There’s a newborn in the room. Either calm yourself down right now or blow off some steam outside.”

Still red in the face, Fergus huffed impatiently and stood up, nearly bumping into Mary MacNab and her bucket of water on his way out of the room.

Claire sighed, exhausted, as Mary settled herself beside her. “D’ye think ye can get up, Mistress? To somewhere more comfortable?”

“I’m fine here…” Claire held the cold rag to her stinging, throbbing cheek. “That was very brave, what you did.”

“Aye, Mary. Ye did well. I thank ye,” Jenny added.

“It was the only thing I could do,” Mary said softly, dabbing gently at the dried blood on Claire’s face.

“You didn’t fire it, did you?” Claire asked. “I know it’s not really yours.”

“No, I didna.” Mary looked up at young Jamie, who was suddenly looking very bashful. “It was yer lad.”

“Fergus?” Claire said. “What on Earth was he thinking?”

“It was as I said, he saw a raven and thought to protect the bairn,” Mary explained. “Foolish as it may have been, it was well intended.”

“Did ye know about this, Jamie?” Jenny said, looking down at her son. “Answer me.”

“Aye, Mam.”

“D’ye ken it’s punishable to fire a weapon?”

“Aye, Mam.”

“And yet ye still made yerself part of something so damnably foolish?”

He hung his head. “Aye, Mam.”

Jenny exhaled through her nose, lips pursed tightly at her son. “I’ll be seeing to it that yer father gives ye a thrashing. D’ye see the beating yer Auntie took because of yer foolishness? D’ye ken that Mary MacNab could hae been dragged away, never to be seen again?”

Jamie was weeping now; sad, broken little sounds.

“I just…” He sniffled, his voice stuttering. “I wanted to protect the bairn, Mam...I didna want to hurt another bairn…”

Silent tears leaked onto Claire’s cheeks, and Mary hesitated in her ministrations. Even Jenny took pause, her entire resolve shattering for only a moment as she took in his words.

“Aye. I ken.” Claire could tell she was fighting to keep her voice stern. “Yer love fer yer brother is admirable at that. God love ye fer it.” She fervently kissed the top of his head. “But ye must answer fer the danger ye’ve put us in. I’m sorry. Off ye get, fetch yer Da to me.”

Head hanging, Jamie slid off the bed and dragged his feet out into the hall, shutting the door behind him. Jenny exhaled shakily and quickly reached up to brush tears off her cheeks. Mary MacNab left Claire on the floor to retrieve the sleeping baby and place him in his cot.

“Ye’ll no’ be too hard on him, aye?” Mary said softly. “His heart was in the right place, ye ken.”

“Aye, I ken it was.” Jenny sniffled.

“He isna so old as the others. My Rabbie should hae known better. But yer Jamie is still wee.”

“No’ so wee...but aye. I see yer meaning.”

“Rabbie will be dealt a thrashing, surely,” Mary said resolutely. “Damnable fool.”

“How about Fergus?” Jenny said, pulling Claire’s attention from the spot in the floor she’d been staring at. “He’s no’ too old fer a thrashing. I can ask Ian tae do it along wi’ Jamie and Rabbie.”

“No,” Claire said quickly. “I...I want to talk to him.”

“Are ye sure?”

“Yes.” Claire sat up a little straighter and wet her rag again to make it cold again against her hot cheek. “He hasn’t been himself lately, and this was straw that broke the camel’s back.” Jenny and Mary looked bewildered at her choice of expression, and she sighed exasperatedly. “He just needs to be spoken to candidly. I can handle it.”

“Alright. I trust ye. He’s yer son.” Jenny adjusted herself so that she was lying down. “After I’m finished wi’ Ian, I’m going to faint dead away.”

“You need your rest.” Claire made to stand up, and Mary rushed to her side to help her up. Despite Claire’s usual loathing of depending on someone as such, she was quite grateful for the aid, as she was certain she’d have toppled over without it.

“And what about you, Mistress? D’ye think ye should rest before talking to the lad?” Mary inquired.

“No...I just need to get my bearings. I’m fine.” Claire took a grounding breath before releasing her vice like grip on Mary’s forearms. “I’ve been dealt worse.”

Chapter Text

After getting her bearings, Claire made her way downstairs and outside. She wandered the grounds a bit aimlessly until she heard thudding from the stables. It was the time of day where the horses were grazing, so there was only one thing that could be making that noise. Claire peered inside to see Fergus hurling horseshoes at one of the beams, grunting loudly with every throw.

He depleted his stock, so he quieted and made his way to pick them up again. Claire rapped on the door, and he looked up in surprise.

“Is it alright if I come in?”

He sighed and threw down the horseshoes. He leaned against the beam he’d been aiming at and slid down into the hay, head in his hands. Claire took this as tentative permission and slowly made her way toward him, and he did not object when she sat down next to him in the hay.

“I heard about the pistol, Fergus,” Claire said, trying her best to keep her voice devoid of accusation, but firm all the same. “I know you’re the one that fired it.”

He kept his head in his hands, fingers threaded through his curls and elbows on his bent knees, staring blankly ahead of him.

“That was a foolish thing you did,” she said evenly. “You could have been arrested and flogged. Somebody else could have been. Rabbie, who is your friend. Or your Uncle. Mary MacNab just took the fall for you. Something seriously terrible could have happened to her.”

The boy’s jaw hardened.

“Why would you do something like that?”

“To protect the bairn,” he said simply.

“Fergus,” Claire said, demanding he look at her. He did, reluctantly. “Do you really believe that a raven could have hurt the baby?”

“If I did? Will you call me stupid since you know better because of where you come from ?”

Claire blinked back her shock for a moment. Did he really think so poorly of her to assume she’d berate him?

“No,” she answered, as calmly as she could muster. “I just...I think you know better than to bring very real danger to Lallybroch because of a superstition.”

He took a fistful of hay in his hands and started tearing individual strands with short, angry movements.

“So you are saying I am stupid.”

“Fergus…” Claire sighed with exasperation. “I’m trying to have a conversation with you. I’m upset by everything that happened today, and upset knowing that you had a hand in causing it.”

He started tearing more furiously at his strands of hay.

“And I wanted to try to understand,” she continued. “You’ve been...so different lately. I want to help you if I can.”

“I’m fine .”

“No, I really think you’re not! Even before today you’ve been irritable and very short with me.”

He abruptly stood up and punched the beam he was leaning against, and Claire jolted in surprise.

“This behavior is dangerous in this world! Don’t you understand?” Claire stood up. “If you’d gone after those men that hurt me, they’d have shot you without a thought! Or mutilated and maimed you! Is that what you want?”

His nostrils flared as he briefly nursed his now bruised and battered knuckles.

“If you don’t get that temper under control, something terrible is going to happen. You can’t be so bloody impulsive.” She went to reach for his hand to check for any blood, but he pulled away.

“I am not a child anymore,” he said hotly. “I do not need coddling.”

“Christ, Fergus! What has gotten into you?” She crossed her arms, eyeing him in disbelief. “Have you even heard a word I’ve said? Do you not understand the danger you’ve put this family in?”

“It is my job to protect this family!” he shouted. “I am a man now!”

“You will not be a man until you learn to think before you act!” Claire spat. “And shooting at a bloody bird with a weapon that you know was hidden for a damn good reason is not thinking before you act!”

“I do not need you to mother me anymore!” he fired right back, and Claire felt a harder blow to her gut than the Corporal’s boot. “You are afraid of the whole world, but I am not!”

Her throat began constricting with tears of rage.

“Fergus — ”

“You would hold on to me so tight I would choke if I let you! Because you are afraid!”

“I’ve very good reason to be afraid!” she cried. “Don’t you understand what it would do to me if something were to happen to you?”

“Happen to me? Or happen to Milord?”

She froze in shocked confusion for a moment. “What...?”

“I have been trying...for years to be what you need me to be, to be what you lost! And it is never enough! So now I will be what I need me to be! A protector, a man!”

Claire almost collapsed to her knees. Not because she was shocked, but because he was right. And she knew it.

“You have been...since Milord... figé dans le temps ...you cannot...you cannot let it go! And you want me to be...frozen with you! To never let it go!”

Claire felt the earth beneath her shifting and her throat dry up.

He’s right.

“Well I have grown while you stayed frozen. And you cannot be angry with me for that.”

“I’m...I’m not angry, Fergus. I just....I want you to grow, and have a life, but you can’t be reckless, especially since you’re claiming to be doing it for the sake of the family!” She chanced a step closer to him, digging her fingers into her arms for stability. She lowered her voice, softened it. “No matter how old you get, I’ll never stop worrying about you.”

“I survived in the brothel for almost eleven years before you and Milord found me, and I was just fine!” Claire felt a brick drop into her stomach, nearly jumping in surprise at his shouting in response to her soft words. “I have been a man for a long time already!”

Claire’s chest heaved with pained betrayal, and she was unable to bite back vengeful, spiteful rage in return. She and Jamie had rescued him from that place, from an eventual fate worse than death. How dare he throw that in her face?

“Oh, please! The only thing you learned from that place was how to sleep around, unsafely at that!”

Before the absolute horror at the words that had come out of her own mouth could set in, Fergus was already winding up to fire right back.

“You see? I knew it! This is not about a pistol and a bird!” Fergus spat. “ You need me more than I ever needed you! And now, you are angry with me! You are angry with me because I am not enough like Milord! Because no matter how I try, I will never be perfect like he was! And you will never forgive me for it!” He picked up another horseshoe and hurled it across the stable before storming away.

“Fergus!” Claire’s voice broke, and she felt fragments of her heart fly through her chest and cut her open. “Wait!”

What have I done…?

She hiked up her skirts and sprinted after him, her voice catching in her throat every time she tried to shout after him again, but a pair of arms caught her around the middle, and she yelped.

“Dinna follow him jest yet.” Ian’s calming voice entered her ears, and she ceased her feeble struggle. She hadn’t even noticed he was anywhere nearby. “He needs to be alone wi’ his anger fer a while.” He shifted her in his arms so he could look her in the eye. “As do you.”

Claire’s chin trembled and she bit down fiercely on her lip. “I said such...horrible things to him…”

“Come on, let’s get ye inside.”

“He’ll never forgive me…” Claire sputtered, unable to fight Ian as he gently pushed her toward the house.

“It’ll be alright, lass. He’s still yer boy.”

Claire shook her head, weeping quietly.

I’ve just lost him forever.

——

Claire stood and began helping the girls clear the table. Her eyes kept flicking up to the doorway, as if willing Fergus to appear. Claire had cried to herself in her room for a bit before Brianna came looking for her, and she spent the rest of the day escorting children in and out to see the baby, tending to Jenny, and watching the children while she rested. Fergus had been gone the entire day, and he hadn’t even returned for supper. Claire had insisted that Mary make a plate for him, nearly certain that he’d come home to eat. If she knew nothing else about him anymore, she knew he had the appetite of three grown men.

But he didn’t come home.

She teared up again as she took his untouched plate in her hands.

“Mary,” she said. “Could you keep this set aside in the kitchen...for when he comes home?”

“Aye, Mistress.”

Claire felt a tug on her skirt.

“Mummy?”

She looked down to see Brianna, fists full of utensils. “Where is Fergus?”

Claire sighed. “I don’t know, lovie. He didn’t want to come to supper tonight.”

“Is that why you’re sad?”

Always so intuitive, so full of empathy.

“I’m alright, Brianna. I’m just a little worried.” Claire caressed her head with the hand that was not holding dishes. “But he’ll be home soon.”

She nodded, content to accept her mother’s words as truth, and scuttled off after Maggie and Kitty toward the kitchen.

Brianna was now sleeping in her own bed, in a room with Kitty and Maggie. In the last few years, Jehu had proved incredibly effective in alerting the family of an upcoming seizure, and Claire finally felt comfortable letting her sleep in a separate room. After finishing with the dishes, Claire was dragged up to their bedroom by both Kitty and her little shadow. They passed the Laird’s room, and Maggie shyly tugged on Claire’s skirt.

“May I say goodnight to the bairn and to Ma, Auntie Claire?”

“Stop tugging,” Claire scolded the younger girls before turning back to Maggie. “Yes, love, wait here.”

Claire knocked on the door before poking her head in. She informed Jenny that Ian was taking a look at the ledgers before joining her in bed, and she led a procession of little girls to give Jenny and the baby a kiss. On the third floor, Mary MacNab already had the twins asleep in the nursery, and young Jamie and Rabbie were playing chess in their room; rather, Rabbie was helping the lad find his footing with the game. She noted that Fergus was not with them; he would be if he was home.

Claire stripped the girls down to their shifts and tucked them into bed, Brianna and Kitty squeezed into one bed with Jehu sleeping on Brianna’s pillow.

“Goodnight, little faery,” she kissed Maggie’s head. “Goodnight, little heathen,” she kissed Kitty’s, earning a giggle for the nickname. “And goodnight, my little girl.”

“G’night, Auntie.”

“Goodnight, Mummy.”

Claire blew out the candles and made for the door.

“Mummy?”

“Yes, darling?”

“When Fergus comes home, can you tell him to give me my kiss?”

Claire almost burst into tears again. Fergus kissed Brianna goodnight, every single night. When she was younger, she refused to go to bed without it.

“Of course, sweetheart. Goodnight.”

Claire checked on Jenny and the baby one final time before retiring to her own bedroom. She changed into a fleece nightgown and stoked the fire a bit. She was very reluctant to get into bed tonight. It had been several months since Brianna was regularly sharing her bed, but Claire still ached with that absence. It reminded her of when Fergus was still a little boy, and had decided he was ready to sleep on his own again after months of clinging to her in his sleep in grief or in fear. She remembered being woken by heartbreaking little sounds, feeling him thrash in his sleep, and she wondered if his nightmares still plagued him even after all these years. She wondered if she’d done enough to help him.

And of course she felt that she hadn’t.

Yes, she clung to Brianna in her sleep so she could feel if she began seizing; yes, she’d offered comfort to Fergus by letting him sleep beside her. But there was something inherently selfish in it as well, something that she now recognized and could see for what it was.

She realized suddenly that she had no idea how to sleep alone.

And then it hit her how painfully alone she was.

She was forced, then, to reconcile that she’d used that tangible pain of loneliness to hurt her own son, even without realizing, all those years ago. He’d never get back that youth she’d stolen from him.

Rather than get into bed and be reminded yet again of its emptiness, which would inevitably lead to being reminded of her shortcomings and failures, she curled up into her chair by the fire and stared at the burning embers. Hours into her silent, tearful reverie, slow footfalls graced the steps, and she assumed them to be Ian’s. But the more she listened, the more she realized that there were two feet, not one foot and a wooden leg. She had to physically restrain herself from throwing herself out of her chair and chasing after him.

Instead, she poked her head out the door in time to see him slowly make his way up to the third floor. She silently followed after him, making it up the stairs just in time to see him enter the wrong bedroom.

Brianna’s bedroom.

She stood outside the door, out of sight.

“Bonne nuit, ma petit lapin.”

She heard him kiss her head, and Claire could fully picture Brianna’s lips drawing into a smile in the light of Fergus’s candle, even as she slept. She always did that when offered affection in her sleep, like her father. So entranced Claire was by this idea that she didn’t even hear Fergus approaching the door again. They both jumped out of their skins when he shut the door behind him to see Claire standing right there, clutching her shawl tightly.

“I...” Claire stammered. “I’m sorry. I just...she wanted you to say goodnight. But I see I didn’t have to tell you.”

Fergus did not meet her eye, but he nodded.

“I’ll just...” She cleared her throat. “Goodnight.”

She quickly turned and fumbled her way back down to the second story without waiting for a response. She knew he didn’t want to see her, let alone speak with her.

She spent a few more lingering minutes before the fire before dragging herself into bed. She lay there for an indeterminable amount of time with her eyes wide open, her own hateful words repeating over and over in her mind.

And then there was a knock at the door.

She jerked into a sitting position and lit a candle, pulling her shawl around herself again. She opened the door to see Fergus standing there in his sark, wearing trousers that looked like he’d hastily pulled them on.

“I...couldn’t sleep,” he mumbled, still not meeting her eye.

“Me neither.”

They stood there for a moment, taking each other in.

“Do you...want to come in...?”

Without a word, Fergus stepped inside. Claire put her candle on the nightstand and sat on her bed, then patted next to her in invitation. Fergus sat his own candle beside hers, and then sat down.

“Remember when you used to be in here all the time?” Claire said softly. “You were so young then.”

Fergus nodded silently.

“So much has changed since then...and yet not very much has changed at all.”

He continued staring ahead, the moonlight illuminating his wild curls, and candlelight flickering in his wide eyes.

“What I said to you about the brothel was unforgivable.”

Claire felt her throat tighten and her pulse quicken after the words left her mouth, but she thanked God that they left her mouth at all.

“It is not your fault where you were born and how you were raised there. And I had no right to use that against you. It was despicable. And what you said...” she continued before losing her nerve. “Well, you’re right.” She debated whether or not to mirror him, to stare at the wall and pretend he wasn’t there. But she decided instead to look at him, to pour as much love and tenderness as she could into her gaze, just in case he should decide to spare her a glance.

“I’ve never, ever been angry at you for it, but you were right when you said that I wanted you to be like Jamie. I’m...” She swallowed thickly, fighting the urge to look away from him. “I’m so ashamed of it, but it’s true. I allowed you to put that pressure on yourself because...deep down I wanted you to. And that’s not fair. It was so wrong of me; it is so wrong of me. All these years.

“You were...you were a child when we lost him, Fergus. The things I expected of you...it was wrong. And you did it all without a second thought, and I took it for granted and expected you to be alright with it. Because I thought you could somehow handle more than normal little boys. And I realize now that that was grossly unfair. And you were right. I...I needed you, Fergus. And not the way that a mother should need her son. I used you for comfort when I should have been looking after your own comfort and safety. I leaned on you too heavily, so heavily that I...I’ve pushed you away from me now. And I don’t know if I can ever fix it.”

Her vision clouded but she forced herself to continue.

“I’m so...so sorry, Fergus. I don’t know how I can ever apologize enough. You don’t have to forgive me. I won’t blame you if you never do. And I won’t be angry if you never do. But please... please know...” Her voice broke and she inwardly cursed herself. “That I love you. And nothing could ever change that. No disagreement, no pistol or crow or bloody Redcoat.”

She chanced a trembling hand on his cheek, brushing her thumb over his delicate cheek bone. “You are and always have been my son since the moment I laid eyes on you. If I could go back and...and stop myself from failing you as I have...I would.”

She kept her hand there for a moment before pulling it away and folding her hands in her lap. She hadn’t lied; she didn’t expect him to forgive her. She expected him to get up and leave without another word. She sniffled and blinked back more tears, wringing her hands. The silence was stifling, tangible, and long. It felt like neither of them blinked or breathed for hours.

“You have not failed me, Maman .”

Claire blinked then, several times. In shock.

“I was...angry. When I said I did not need you,” Fergus continued. “You have never failed me, not for a moment since you saved me.”

Saved him .

“You apologize for needing me more than you should...but I needed you to need me. I needed petit to need me. I needed to...prove to Milord. That I...”

“Prove what, darling?” Claire didn’t reach for him, despite how everything in her urged her to do so.

“That I was worthy. That I deserved to have been his son.”

“Fergus...”

“Taking care of you was never a question, Maman . Milord trusted me to. I know he did. And if he knew about his daughter, he would trust her to me, too.”

“But you were so young...” Claire reasoned. “You couldn’t possibly have been a substitute for a father. For a husband.”

“You do not understand...” he said with quiet frustration, but directed more at himself than at her. “I went from...being nothing. Having nothing. To having...family.”

Claire’s eyes welled up again, and she bit fiercely down on her lip.

“It was...how you say... accablante ...”

“Overwhelming,” Claire said softly.

Oui . To suddenly...belong.”

A tear rolled down Claire’s cheek, and she did nothing to stop it.

“I went from nothing, to something that was...everything. I went from a nobody, to a son, to the man of a family. A broken, wee family...but still a family. I had to save it from being broken. Like you and Milord saved me.”

“Oh, my darling...” Claire said. “You didn’t need to repay us for taking you in. You never, ever had to do that.”

“I know. It was not repayment for your sake. But for mine. I cannot...explain it better.”

But Claire nodded. “Something for your soul. Not for us.”

Oui .” He nodded. “And when you put it that way...that is selfish too, non ?”

“No, Fergus. It isn’t.” She dared to reach for him again, putting a hand on his knee. “It’s noble and honorable. Like your father taught you to be.”

He finally turned to look at her then, meeting her eye.

“You are everything he would want you to be, Fergus. I know it in my heart. You had him for such a short time, but he raised you in his image, and it’s made you who you are.”

Non, Maman . You have raised me in his image.” Fergus covered her hand with his. “I would not be Milord’s son if you did not show me how.”

A small sob erupted from Claire, and she couldn’t stop herself from cupping his face in her hands. “He would be...so proud of you. Of the remarkable young man you’ve grown into, the wonderful brother you are. And the wonderful son you are.” She squeezed his face gently. “ I am so proud of you.”

“You forgive me then?” he asked. “For being un petit imbécile ?”

“Of course,” Claire sniffled. “As long as you can forgive me for being un grand imbécile .”

Oui , I can.”

“Oh...come here...” Claire pulled him to her, pushing his head into the crook of her neck, ignoring that he was far too tall for the position now. He didn’t seem to mind either, as he burrowed himself there and returned the embrace. Claire fervently kissed the crown of his head, and she heard him sniffle.

Mon petite soldat ...” Claire whispered into his hair. “ Mon fils. Mon fils courageux .”

They stayed like that for a long while, rocking gently and crying silently.

“We...will be alright? Won’t we?”

Fergus slipped out of her grip to look up at her, and for just a moment, she became lost in his eyes, and she swore she was looking at her eleven year old mischief maker.

“Yes, darling,” she answered. “We will.”

And then, in another instant, she could not see her little boy anymore. Before her was someone who was truly becoming a man, and she’d never been more proud or grateful to say it.

Chapter Text

In the months that followed, the situation between Claire and Fergus remained precarious, moving slowly toward something less fragile. He began kissing her on the cheek again after about a month and a half, when leaving the breakfast table before setting off to do his work, or while saying goodnight at the hearth in the parlor, or after telling her where he was running off to instead of just disappearing. Each and every peck left Claire warmed from head to toe, feeling more grateful than she ever had. In the beginning, she told herself that he’d stop eventually, that they were just lasting effects of their reconnecting, and he’d stop coddling her. But he didn’t.

In the end, Claire was glad they’d blown up on one another. It was painful and difficult, but they were all the closer now for it. They’d been able to bare their souls to one another in ways that they’d both been hiding, protecting each other from for years. And now that those things were out in the open, they no longer had to dance around one another; they could just be .

Fergus seemed hell-bent on reminding Claire that he loved her, without saying it of course. Hence the kisses, the reminders of his whereabouts, the little ways he helped around the house and the barn where she did her healing. He was not reverting to the little boy he’d been before, devoid of his own life; rather he was creating a healthy balance of devotion to his family and the establishment of his own life as a young man.

Brianna was none the wiser to anything that had happened; Fergus had never behaved any differently toward her, or any of the children for that matter. He was still their beloved big brother or cousin, the big boy that played the monster in all their games when they needed it. He still swept them off their feet and dangled them upside-down or over his shoulders like sacks of grain, still made them shriek and howl their heads off with laughter. He still called Maggie ‘Little Faery,’ still called his sister ‘Little Rabbit, Petit Lapin ,” still ruffled wee Jamie’s and Michael’s hair and carried Janet on his shoulders when she asked.

Claire had approached Fergus one day about perhaps sending him to university in France as Jamie had done, or even Edinburgh if he didn’t want to leave Scotland. But Fergus would not hear any of it.

“Don’t you remember? I belong with you,” he’d said simply. “And petit . I will not leave. Besides, I am a farmer now; what do I need with book learning?”

“Do you want to be a farmer forever, Fergus?” Claire had asked gently. “University can open so many doors for you. Or even just learning a trade. You don’t have to be stuck here. You’re a young man, I understand that.”

“I am not stuck here, Maman ,” he said. “I belong here. That is different.”

Claire would never say it, in case he changed his mind, but she was relieved to her core that he did not want to leave. She wanted more for him, of course; she wanted the world for him. But only if he wanted it. And if he was content to work the fields until he found a wife to settle with, then Claire was more than happy to allow it. Not to mention Brianna would be heartbroken if her brother left her.

Brianna was growing, too; it seemed every day she gained an inch in height. She and Kitty had reached full hellion form by the time Brianna was seven and Kitty was nine. If Brianna was Kitty’s shadow before, they were one being now, morphed together, sharing footsteps rather than one following in the other’s. Terrorizing the goats and chickens seemed to be their favorite activity, though it was likely a tie between that and visiting the horses in the stable. They knew better than to rile up creatures that could trample them, thank Heaven. They were shockingly gentle with the beasts, and Brianna loved them.

She’d taken to drawing them lately, the horses. Maggie started sketching at a young age, preferring this quiet activity to the rowdy games the other children played, and by ten years old she’d developed quite a beautiful talent. Brianna took notice and started trying her hand, and, if Claire did say so herself, she was really quite talented. The horses were eerily lifelike for a sketch done by a seven year old. Kitty could not be bothered with such things; while Maggie and Brianna drew or painted side by side, Kitty was busy outside teaching the twins how to get up to all sorts of mischief.

Claire was grateful for this new side of her daughter. Not that she didn’t love her as she was before; of course she did. She could remain wild and untamable for the rest of her life and Claire would be proud as ever. But there was something beautiful about watching her focus on her page, the way she held her charcoal, the way she glanced back and forth between Maggie’s work and her own to see how it held up. Claire never would have guessed that Brianna possessed the patience in her to sit still or to have the attention to detail needed for such a task. It was almost like she was growing up in this way, maturing and blooming in something that nobody had seen coming.

It was beautiful.

Claire loved to sit in the parlor while Jenny instructed Maggie and Brianna, listening to their questions, to their grunts of frustration. Much more in character for Brianna than the patience she’d been exhibiting, she was known to tear at her pages if she was unhappy and throw the pieces in the fire, then stamp away and leave Claire to trail after her.

“I’ll never be as good as Maggie! Or Auntie!”

“Maggie is older than you, lovie. And so is Auntie, much older. That isn’t fair to yourself at all.”

Brianna would then kick the dirt or throw a rock into the stream with a grunt of frustration, then refuse to continue the conversation. Claire waited for this to be the last time, waited for Brianna to give it up every time she had a little tantrum, but she never did. And Claire was more proud than she could ever say.

Now, when Claire looked at the portraits Jenny had done of the children, she could hear her calm and lilting voice instructing the girls on proportions and shading. She kept a miniature that Jenny had done of Brianna as a baby on the mantel in her bedroom. Jenny had done miniatures of all of the children as babies. All except Caitlin, of course. Jenny kept the blanket she’d been swaddled in on the mantle in the Laird’s room, folded neatly in the space between Michael’s portrait and Ian’s portrait.

Claire liked to take the portrait down and sit with Brianna in her lap and tell her all about what she was like as a baby.

“And these squishy cheeks that used to be so easy to pinch and kiss,” Claire would say, pointing to them. “Turned into these.” She’d pinch Brianna’s cheeks and kiss them incessantly until she was squirming away and begging her to stop.

Apparently they’re still easy to pinch and kiss, Mummy.”

“Listen to her! Apparently she says! This little thing would never give her mother such attitude.”

“This little thing couldn’t talk , Mummy.”

“Not right away. You were eight months old here. But do you remember what I said your very first word was?”

“Dog!”

Jehu always picked his head up at that.

“That’s right. And your second?”

“No!”

“That’s right, stubborn little thing.” Claire tickled her neck. “I suppose you were giving me such attitude from the moment you could speak, hm?”

“Oh, Mummy…”

The children would be due for updated portraits soon. The last ones had been done when Jamie still had baby fat on his cheeks. They hung proudly in the hall with the portraits that Claire had seen the very first time she’d come to Lallybroch, and so did hers.

Jenny had insisted on adding Claire’s portrait to the ranks about a year ago, before wee Ian was born.

“It really isn’t necessary, Jenny — ”

“Dinna be daft, sister. Ye were once Lady Broch Tuarach. There ought to be an elegant portrait of ye in the home. Yer bairn’s on the wall. Ye ought to be as well.”

She’d pointed to the foot-long portrait of Brianna at four years old, Jenny having perfectly captured the mischievous, almost devious grin that Brianna was known to sport at any given time.

So Claire had obliged her and posed for the portrait, and despite her initial reluctance, she was extremely proud to see herself hanging there beside her sister, brother, all their children, even portraits of Ellen and Brian and their children in their youth. Claire already knew she belonged, had known for years. But this final stepping stone made it all feel so generational, almost spiritual. She looked back and forth between Jenny’s work and Ellen’s and could hardly tell the difference. It was almost like Ellen was guiding her daughter’s hand in creation, to fully welcome Claire and her child to the wall of family portraits.

Apart from drawing, Maggie was blooming beautifully into a wonderful gardener and assistant healer. She was now regularly assisting Claire in the barn both with herbs and patients. The ten year old had now seen her Auntie lance boils, tend to styes, set dislocated shoulders and broken bones, and put in stitches enough for several of her small lifetimes. She’d even watched Claire deliver four babies now. She handed her tools and watched intently, never once fainting or becoming ill, despite how close she came sometimes.

She was delicate and sensitive, but not fragile. There could not be a Fraser-Murray child with an ounce of fragility in their soul no matter how sweet they were, and Maggie was living proof. Claire and Jenny had had a fair amount of disagreements over just how much Maggie should be seeing, especially after they’d had a patient die for the first time as a pair, a head injury that Claire was powerless to do anything about. Maggie was beyond distraught, and she wouldn’t come out of her room for days.

Claire knocked on the door and let herself in, sitting on the bed beside her.

“I understand if you don’t want to help anymore, Maggie,” she said gently. “It’s not easy to lose a patient. And your mother is right, you’re too young for such pain. I’m struggling with this one, and I’m a grown woman.”

Maggie sniffled and wiped her eyes. “It’ll happen again, aye Auntie?”

Claire sighed. “Unfortunately it will. If I’d have known how bad it was going to get, I would have sent you away. I’m sorry you had to be a part of it.”

She shook her head. “I just...have to get used to it, then.”

Claire blinked at her in shock.

“Jamie says you’ve seen hundreds of men die in war.”

“That’s true. I have.”

“But ye’re a braw healer, Auntie. Ye didna quit when ye got sad about death.”

“That’s right, I didn’t.”

Maggie picked up her head, wiping her cheeks and setting her eyes on her aunt’s, and Claire felt a chill down her spine, almost certain she was looking into the eyes of someone much older than ten.

“Then neither will I, Auntie Claire.”

Since that day, Claire did take better care in terms of what she exposed the girl to, but she took her training much more seriously. Her first death hadn’t scared her away; she was serious about this.

The other girls admired Claire and Maggie and the work they did, but they showed no interest in the healing side of things. Kitty and Brianna enjoyed helping in the garden, but Claire wasn’t convinced it was for any reason other than that it was permission to get themselves filthy in the dirt. They also enjoyed roaming the grounds for herbs and plants to move into the garden, but Claire had a feeling it had more to do with being allowed to romp and roam freely away from Jenny’s watchful eye. They did pay the smallest bit of attention when Claire gave little lessons about each plant they found, Brianna more so than Kitty.

Brianna’s seizures remained a small fear in the back of Claire’s mind, but it was evident by now that they hadn’t affected her cognitively in the slightest. She was bright and energetic as any child her age should be, her shimmering light only dulling when she was overcome with an episode and the following days of recovery.

She was old enough now to be able to tell an adult when she was feeling off, old enough to know her own symptoms. And Jehu was a wonderful help; the mangy little thing was practically a Godsend. He’d roused the entire house with his yapping during more than one nighttime seizure, possibly saving Brianna’s life by doing so. Claire, and more importantly, Brianna herself, felt secure. And it meant all the world.

Claire, Fergus, and Brianna were also keeping with their annual visits to Jamie’s grave. Brianna still slept with Lamb every night, even if it was no longer part of her line up of regular toys she played with, and she brought it to visit her father every year. It was beautiful for Claire to see Brianna really talk to him the older she got, as opposed to the babbling she used to offer when she was younger.

She spoke to Da about her drawings, how she was trying very hard not to compare herself to Maggie.

“Mummy says I’m my own person with my own...ehm...achievements. So I mustn't compare and I must focus on my own progress.”

She spoke to him about her horse, Alastair.

“He’s copper and gentle and just beautiful, Da. Someday, when I’m big, I’m going to ride him all over Lallybroch and feel the wind in my hair.”

She told him all about the mischief she and Kitty got up to, about Mummy’s garden, and about how she was good at helping Auntie Jenny with the baby.

“Sometimes, wee Ian doesna stop crying unless I hold him, Da. Not even Maggie can get him to stop sometimes. And Maggie is the Mother Hen. Auntie Jenny says Maggie has the touch wi’ bairns, but that Ian must have taken a liking to me.”

Claire and Fergus sat back, hand in hand, watching and listening. And despite the tears lingering on her cheeks, Claire felt at peace.

“Hello, love,” Claire said, kneeling before the stone as Fergus and Brianna disappeared from the graveyard hand in hand in reverent silence. “They’ve both grown so much, haven’t they? God, you’d be so proud of them. Fergus is coming into his own so beautifully and Brianna...she’s just remarkable, love. But sometimes…” She sighed heavily, bracing herself on the stone, fisting the rosary. “When she turns and the light catches her red hair, or I see her smile in her sleep...it takes my breath away. Because I see you. Every day, the older she gets, the more her baby face fades away...the more I see it. And it...it equal parts kills me and gives me life.”

“I wish she could meet you. God, that’s the greatest wish I have. I know you can see her, wherever you are, I know you know how wonderful she is. But for her to meet you, to feel what it’s like to be held by you, to hear your voice…” She stopped for a moment, swallowing thickly. “She knows you love her, Jamie. I tell her almost every day. But to really... feel her father’s love. That is the only impossible wish I have.”

She kissed the rosary and put it back in its place, then fingered the lettering on his name, a practiced, ingrained habit by now.

“Tell our baby I miss her,” she whispered. “I love you, Soldier.”

——

March 1754

“Mummy! Look at me!” Brianna cried gleefully. “Alastair loves me!”

“I see, darling! You’re doing beautifully!”

Tres bien, ma petit ,” Fergus encouraged.

Merci, mon frère ,” Brianna said, the French rolling expertly off her tongue. Eight years old, and she understood and spoke three languages, she was reading The Faerie Queen , she was drawing sketches, and now she was riding horses. Claire leaned on the fence, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand so she could more clearly see the joy on her little girl’s face. 

Brianna had been harassing Claire about riding horses since she was four years old. Back then it was simple enough to say: “You’re much too young, darling. Wait until you grow up.”

When Kitty was six and Brianna was five, it was: “Why does Kitty get to ride? She’s little, too!” And Claire could easily say: “You’re five, and Kitty is six. You are still too young.”

But then Brianna turned six. The day after they celebrated her birthday, when she’d finished her breakfast, she’d put down her utensils and quite matter-of-factly stated: “I’d like to ride horses now.”

It wasn’t so simple anymore. Claire was still hesitant to let her do anything physically strenuous, unsure how it would affect her seizures. Claire hadn’t had a single clue how to tell her six year old daughter that she couldn’t ride horses but Kitty could because she had seizures and Kitty didn’t. There’d been quite the tantrum when she tried, lots of rotten things said. Jenny had insisted that Claire let her give the girl a spanking, but Claire had very firmly insisted against it.

“It isn’t her fault she’s too young to understand.”

Now she watched her, grinning ear to ear, her wild copper hair shimmering in flecks of gold in the sunlight. And Fergus; he was truly a man now. He'd been the one to teach Brianna everything there was to know about horses, while Claire had sat in the grass behind the fence and observed.

“Faster, Fergus!” Brianna giggled.

“Don’t you dare!” Claire called.

“I know, Maman , I know!” he answered, laughing at her excessive concern.

“You won’t be laughing when you have your own children, Fergus!” Claire retorted, though she couldn't help but smile in spite of herself.

“Remember what I told you, ma petit , you may not go very fast until you are ten,” Fergus said.

“Twelve!” Claire corrected.

“Mummy! Must ye be such a bore?”

Fergus whispered something to Brianna, and she squealed with delight.

“Fergus! Don’t be putting any ideas in her head!”

“Oh, I wouldn't dream of it, Maman !” Claire swore she saw him wink up at Brianna, and she heard Brianna giggle.

Claire smiled, but she was never one to let up on the rules she set for Brianna. “Fergus — ”

“Claire!”

She whipped around to see Jenny sprinting toward her. “ Claire!”

“Jenny?” Claire called back.

“Come to the front of the house, now!” Jenny cried.

Claire turned fretfully back to the corral, where Fergus had stopped Alastair, his hand still on the bridle. “Keep Brianna back here,” Claire said.

“Yes, Maman .” There was no joking in his tone this time. He clicked his tongue to start the horse again. “Mummy has a patient, that is all.”

Fergus’s voice disappeared as Claire ran to catch up to Jenny. The closer she got, the more clearly she could see that Jenny was distraught. She was red in the face, tears in her eyes.

“What is it?” Claire asked, breathless. “The children? Ian?”

Jenny stammered incoherently and took Claire’s hand, dragging her the rest of the way to the front of the house.

“Jenny, you’re scaring me…” Claire said. “Is somebody hurt?”

Jenny once again did not answer, just kept dragging her behind her.

“Jenny, for God’s sake — ”

And then the world stopped turning.

Brianna’s hair, Brianna’s eyes, standing right in front of her on a six-foot, three-inch man.

It can’t be. It can’t be .

Claire’s breathing became shallow, her vision became narrow. She could see nothing, no shape, no color, no light, but him .

Every night for eight years she envisioned his form. Eight years .

It can’t be.

“Will ye no’ say anything?” Jenny shoved her, but she neither heard nor felt it.

“It’s me, Claire.”

God… God… his voice… It was so real …but it couldn’t be.

“I’ve come home to ye.”

She let out a pathetic, strangled sound, and all at once the feeling was gone from each of her limbs.

She hit the ground with an unceremonious thud.

Chapter Text

Jenny crossed the threshold with a basket of wash, Maggie and Kitty trailing behind. Kitty was dragging her feet and groaning.

“Why doesn’t Brianna have tae help wi’ the wash?” she whined.

“Because Brianna isna my bairn, and she’ll do what yer Auntie says,” Jenny said simply. “And she had chores to do while ye were gallivanting all over the grounds on yer horse wi’ yer Da. Today is her turn tae be wi’ her horse.”

Kitty kicked a pebble with her big toe, grunting in annoyance.

“I like helping wi’ the wash, Mam,” Maggie piped up. “Especially on a fine day like this.”

“Och, shut yer gab!” Kitty rolled her eyes.

“Oi! None o’ that talk!” Jenny smacked Kitty upside the head with her free hand.

Kitty rubbed the back of her head and stuck her tongue out at Maggie, who was more than happy to return the gesture, however daintily.

“Come on, lass. Get the stool.”

Kitty obliged, not without kicking another pebble.

Jenny constantly had to remind Kitty to stay put, stopping her from harassing the goats and chickens or from wandering down the road and into the woods. She got away somehow -- again, leaving Jenny to call after her.

“Mam!” her little voice answered. “There’s a man comin’ up the road!”

Jenny’s throat went dry, and she dropped the sark she was scrubbing and rushed toward the grand archway. “A Redcoat, Kitty?”

“Nae! It’s a great big man, and he looks dirty !”

“Come here to me this instant,” Jenny called, and Kitty’s sandy head soon reappeared, bounding back to her mother. Jenny firmly seized her hand and dragged her back into the front yard. “See why it isna safe to be roaming around alone? See why ye must do as ye’re told?”

“What does he want, Mam?” Maggie asked.

“He’s giant , Maggie. Maybe he wants tae eat ye!” Kitty splashed Maggie with the water in the tub, eliciting a little squeal from her. “He’s got hair like fire , and he’s tall as a tree!”

Jenny felt her blood run cold.

“Brianna’s got hair like fire,” Maggie said haughtily. “And she’s never wanted tae eat anybody, ye numpty.”

Kitty giggled madly as if she were planning on announcing to her cousin that she must have been a goblin all along.

“Enough,” Jenny said shortly. “Back tae work. If he comes to us, I’ll deal wi’ him.”

Jenny was doing quite a poor job of hiding how her fingers trembled.

There are other redheaded men in Scotland, Janet. Redheaded men that are alive.

Yer brother is dead.

She briefly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, then scoffed at her own stupidity, having gotten soapy water on her face.

She heard the sound of footsteps crunching up the road, getting closer and closer. She did her best to ignore them, to not appear as if she were ready to welcome a strange visitor without the menfolk nearby.

“Jenny.”

Her heart leapt into her throat, and she swore she stopped breathing. The hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up, and her hands froze in the water.

“He kens ye, Mam?” Maggie said in a small, frightened voice.

Jenny looked up from the washtub, and she screamed.

“Ma? Ma, what’s wrong?”

“Ma! Who is he?”

The girls were a cacophony of noise, tugging on her skirt.

Thig an Diabhal a mhallachadh sinn! ” Jenny cried, crossing herself several times. “Inside, girls, inside! Now!”

“But Ma!”

“Now, Katherine!” Maggie said, tugging on her sister’s hand, and they clambered up the steps, Kitty asking questions all the while.

“Begone!” Jenny shrieked. “We dinna welcome evil spirits in this home! Begone at once!”

“Janet -- ”

“Don’t ye dare say my name! I willna be Satan’s hoor!”

“Can’t ye see I’m flesh and blood?”

“Dinna come any closer!” Jenny lifted the washboard from the tub and held it over her shoulder, water dripping and all, poised to strike. She was aware of the absurdity of waiting to strike at a spirit, but every instinct in her could not listen to reason. “I rebuke Satan! We dinna want ye here!”

“It’s alright, a piuthar …” His voice was too soft, too sweet, too soothing. Too real.

Too Jamie .

“No!” Jenny shrieked, angry, hot tears spilling down her cheeks. “Enough! I’ll no’ bend to ye! I won’t!”

“I didna die, Jenny. I ken what ye’ve been told. All lies to keep ye safe. I’m home now. D’ye see?”

Jenny let out a fierce, high-pitched growl, hurling the washboard at him, which he sidestepped with ease as he moved closer to her.

Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…

“It’s really me, Jenny. I swear it. I’ve come home.”

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth -- Stop! Get away!” She was fully sobbing now, fully terrified, so deep in denial that even if it were true, she wasn’t sure she would ever accept it.

“Let me touch ye, sister. Let yerself feel that I’m no more than a mortal man.” He reached out with trembling hands.

...as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our tresspasses…

“Jenny…”

As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation…”

Dinna be tempted. It canna be true. It canna be true…

He was only arms’ length from her now.

“Jenny.”

And deliver us from evil…

His hand came to rest on her cheek, and she shrieked again.

“Janet!” he cried, very abruptly seizing her shoulders and shaking her violently, nearly lifting her off the ground, Jenny screaming all the while.

She stood on her toes, held firmly in place by it , whatever it was, frozen in terror. She couldn’t stop herself, could not resist the temptation to look in his eyes, her soul be damned.

“Christ…” she breathed.

No spirit could hold such depth in its eyes as her brother. No spirit could ever replicate their mother’s soul so completely.

It’s him .

“It canna be...It canna…”

“ ’Tis, Jenny. It’s me.”

She shook her head, her mouth flapping uselessly as her eyes watered again rapidly.

“It’s...very fine to see ye again, Janet.”

“You bloody bastard!” Jenny howled, her rage completely overshadowed by the guttural sobs of relief tearing through her. “Where in God’s name have ye been…? What the Devil d’ye mean just...just showin’ up here like this…?”

Jamie did not answer her. Instead, he crushed her to him and buried his face in the crown of her head. Despite herself, Jenny clung to the fabric of his shirt and buried her face in his chest.

“Damn you, Jamie...God bloody damn you…”

Jamie hushed her and held her tighter, whispering Gaelic into her hair.

She suddenly tensed in his arms. “My God...My God …”

Jamie released her immediately, pushing her away and gripping her shoulders, looking her desperately in the eye. “Where is she?” 

Apparently he’d read her mind.

“She’s here, brother, she’s here...my God …” Her voice caught in her throat.

“I need to see her, Jenny.” His voice was tight and rough, his grip on her shoulders nearly bruising her.

Jenny nodded wordlessly and dashed off, nearly certain she was not running in a straight line.

Claire !”

——

And then there she was.

She was even more beautiful than the image he’d conjured of her, even more beautiful than the angel that graced his dreams every night.

He watched as every possible thought and emotion danced over that glass face, and he thought his heart would burst.

“Will ye no’ say anything?” Jenny shoved her, but she remained rigid as wood, unblinking.

“It’s me, Claire.” It was difficult enough to breathe at the sight of her, let alone to speak.

She finally moved, however minutely; perhaps only he even noticed. Her chest spasmed, and her chin began trembling.

“I’ve come home to ye.”

She made a terrifying sound, and collapsed like a sack of grain, and whatever little was in his stomach leapt into his throat.

“Christ!” Jenny cried, dropping to her knees beside her. Before she could even blink, Jamie was upon her, scooping Claire into his arms, leaving Jenny to scramble to her feet, hiking her skirts and taking long strides to keep up with him. He stomped through the halls, right into the parlor. Jamie laid her limp form gently on the sofa, kneeling beside her on the floor.

“I dinna ken what ye expected!” Jenny said, exasperated. “Ye may very well have shocked her to her death!”

Don’t . Say that.” Jamie burned his eyes intensely into Jenny. She blanched, feeling her face and neck getting hot.

“I…I’m sorry, brother…I only meant…”

“I ken what ye meant,” he said quickly, though less aggressive.

“I’ll…I’ll get her some water.”

Jamie nodded, returning his gaze to Claire. He looked down at his hands, suddenly very aware that they were touching her. Her . The real Claire. He removed his hands, suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation. They hovered over her face, ghosting over her features, afraid to touch her. 

When he no longer felt like he would lose consciousness, he willed his violently trembling hands to move closer to her face. He swore he was lit afire as the very tips of his fingers came in contact with her skin again. He raked his fingertips down her cheeks, reverently, as if she were the Holy Mother of God herself. Still shaking fiercely, he willed his hands to cup her cheeks, ever-so-gently caressing her sweet face. He let his thumbs swipe over her eyelids, desperate to see them open, looking back at him with the same hunger that was in his eyes as he looked at her.

There was dirt on her forehead from her fall, and he gently wiped it with his thumb, smoothing her hair with his other hand. She suddenly whimpered, and his heart leapt into his throat. He dared not speak, lest he frighten her out of her wits again before she even opened her eyes. Her eyes fluttered open, dazed at first, but they quickly came into focus, and then widened. He heard her breath catch in her throat.

“You’re real…” she whispered.

“So are you,” he answered.

“You…they said…you’re dead…”

“I’ll explain it all…right now I…” Claire struggled to push herself into a sitting position, and Jamie helped her. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, removing his hands from her. “I dinna mean to presume…”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “Presume…?”

“Well I…I want to touch ye of course…but only if ye want me to.”

Her chin trembled again. “I do.”

He took her hands in his; they were shaking as fiercely as his. “I want…” he stammered, pausing to lick his lips in hesitation. “I would very much like to kiss you.” Claire thought her heart would explode. “But only if ye want me to.”

She exhaled sharply, and he could taste her breath. “I do.”

Both of their lips now trembled like their hands. They hovered over each other, feeling the vibration of each other’s lips, but still not touching.

“I havnae done this in a very long time,” Jamie breathed. Claire finally closed the distance, and her stomach felt like liquid fire. They could each feel the other’s tears slipping onto their cheeks. The kiss deepened, only slightly so, before they pulled apart to look in each other’s eyes.

“I’ve dreamed of you for so long…” Claire’s voice hitched, and she swallowed thickly. Touching him, holding him, kissing him…it was enough for her to lose herself completely in the bliss of it all. But the realization of exactly what this meant was starting to come to her, and she blinked rapidly, her chin trembling.

“I mourned you…for eight years …” She shook her head, her eyes widening in a mix of horror and astonishment. “You were dead…we had a bloody funeral for you! We grieved you for eight fucking years …I…I buried my heart in that empty coffin…I raised…oh God …”

Claire …” he groaned desperately. She was breaking his heart.

“There is a headstone with your name on it! I sat in front of it and talked to it like you were there…but you weren’t even there because they wouldn't give us your body…your body …and all this time you… Oh God!”  

Her hands balled into tight fists, grasping the collar of his shirt, shaking him furiously.

Where have you been ?” she spat. “I have been your widow for eight fucking years …” She opened her mouth to say more, to scream, admonish him, but the only sound that came out was a wretched, miserable sob. Her fists loosened and trembling fingers spread over his chest, pressing her palms into him.

“Claire…oh, Claire …” His hands hovered over her uselessly, entirely unsure of what he should be doing .

“Oh, hold me…” Claire sobbed. “Hold me, Jamie. Please.”

He obeyed immediately, enveloping her in his strong arms. Rather than Jamie getting onto the sofa with her, she ended up slipping to the floor beside him, melting into his embrace. She buried her face in his chest, weeping freely into his shirt. He held her as tightly as he possibly could without crushing her, caressing her beautiful, brown curls with one hand, pressing her head into him, desperate to feel closer to her than he already was. If he could fold her into himself permanently he was sure he’d do it.

Jamie…Jamie…Jamie… ” She whispered his name, over and over, as if to convince herself he was really there.

“I’m here, Claire…Oh, Claire… mo nighean donn …Claire…”

Neither of them kept track of how long they’d held onto each other, but they were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Claire only partially moved, just her head so she could see. Jamie did not relinquish his hold on her.

“Glad to see ye’re awake, Claire,” Jenny said. “I’ve brought ye some water.”

“Thank you, Jenny,” Claire said, her voice hoarse. Jamie suddenly felt her tense. She gently pushed herself out of his embrace so she could sit up to address her. “Jenny, keep the children outside. Tell Fergus to keep them busy. We just…need a moment, first.”

Jenny immediately understood her meaning, and she nodded vigorously. “Aye, I’ll do that.” And she was gone.

“Fergus? The lad is still here?” Jamie said.

“Yes. He…he calls me Maman now. He has for…a long time.” Claire eased herself onto the sofa, and Jamie followed, their hands not leaving each other all the while. “I did as I promised, Jamie. I raised him as my own... our own. Our boy.” Two lone tears trickled down her cheeks, smiling bittersweetly.

Jamie exhaled with a great shudder, another single tear escaping his eye as well. “I had no doubt ye’d be a fine mother, mo ghraidh .” He pushed her hair back, threading it through his fingers.

Her stomach flipped at his words, and she nodded. “Yes...which...I...” Her heart was bruising her ribcage. “Jamie…there’s something I need to tell you.”

Jamie’s hands immediately left her. “Ye remarried.”

No .” Claire said firmly, frantically taking his hands back into hers. “No. Never.”

He sighed in relief. “Even when ye let me kiss you, I couldna be sure.” He kissed her again, possessively this time. “That was my greatest fear, ye ken.”

“I…I couldn’t. Not ever, Jamie. You are the love of my life, only you.”

“And you are mine.” He hungrily kissed her again.

She put a gentle hand on his chest, separating their lips. “But Jamie,” she continued, their faces so close she couldn’t even discern his features. “There is something I didn’t tell you. At Culloden.”

“What are ye talking about?”

“Something I knew would…would make you change your mind about sending me to Lallybroch.” She took a deep breath, bracing herself. She backed up only slightly so they could look into each other’s eyes when she said it. “I was — ”

“Mummy!”

Fuck .

Her scampering footsteps got louder and louder, and Claire scrambled to detach herself from Jamie, scooting several inches away.

“Claire, why’ve ye — ?” 

“Mummy!” Brianna appeared in the doorway to the parlor and immediately approached Claire at the sofa. “Oh, Mummy, I ken you didn’t want me going very fast, and I promise it wasna that fast, but Alastair got to a trot , and I promise Fergus didn’t let go the whole time, and the wind felt so lovely in my hair, and Alastair was so pleased, he was so very bored before when we were only walking, and — ”

“I am sorry, Maman .” Fergus appeared in the entryway, breathless. “I tried to keep her in the corral, but she was too excited, and she got away from me…” His voice trailed off as his eyes fell on Jamie, his jaw falling slack.

“Fergus, tell Mummy it wasn’t really that fast, tell her! Tell her how I was a good girl and that’s why you let me go fast! Tell her, mon frère !”

Jamie very abruptly stood from the sofa, stumbling over it as he backed away from Claire and the child.

“Fergus!” Brianna started to panic. “Tell her!” She fretfully looked back at Claire. “Oh, Mummy, I’ll never do it again. I’m sorry. Please don’t be cross wi’ me.” But Claire wasn’t looking at Brianna; she couldn’t take her eyes off of Jamie, who couldn’t take his eyes off of Brianna. Brianna followed her mother’s gaze. “Mummy! Is that man a giant ? Did he come from a faery hill?”

Too little too late, Claire returned her attention to Brianna. “Darling, why don’t you and Fergus — ”

“He has hair like mine! Copper, and gold, and auburn, and red, and cinnamon,” she sang the words, a silly song that Claire had invented. It had first come about when she was a baby, still afraid of the water and the soap. It was a list of the “ingredients” that went into her hair. It was just nonsense words strung together in a sing-song pattern, meant to keep her calm while she got clean. Claire had planned on forgetting it after a while, but it kept coming back for every bath thereafter, and now they sang it together, in the bath and even when Claire brushed her hair.

Jamie turned suddenly, knocking over the little table that Jenny had placed the water pitcher on, shattering it as he quickly strode out of the room.

“Jamie!” Claire stood up, terror seizing her heart. She threw a distressed look to Fergus, then hurried after Jamie. “Jamie! Stop!”

“Mummy! Are ye angry wi’ me?”

Viens , Brianna. Now.”

“Jamie! Wait!” Claire followed him through the house and out the back entrance.

He stopped several feet away from the back door, his back to her, running his hand through his hair.

“Jamie…”

“Is that — ” He whirled around, pointing into the house. “ That …Is she…”

“Yours, Jamie. Yes,” Claire said. “She’s your daughter.”

Jamie opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. The hand that was pointing at the house ran through his hair again. He began pacing, putting the pieces together. “You were…you were with child, at Culloden. Ye were carrying my child…”

“I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid!” Claire cried. “I was afraid you’d send me back through the stones to keep her safe, and I couldn’t bear it! I couldn’t leave you!”

“The…the stones?” Jamie stammered. “The stones?”

“She’s safe here, Jamie! She always has been! We are both so much happier here than we ever could have been if you’d sent me back.”

“You…you lied to me?”

“No! I just…didn’t tell you…”

“That’s lying , Claire!” Jamie took several menacing steps toward her, pointing that finger again. “I canna believe…after what happened to Faith…ye gave up the chance to have yer modern medicines, ye risked yer life, and her life… my child’s life…”

“I know it was selfish! But I only regretted it one time, and only very briefly!” Claire’s voice threatened to break, so she paused, taking a breath and swallowing against the lump in her throat. “I never, ever thought of being happier in my own time with her,” she continued evenly, as calmly as she could muster. “I couldn’t leave Jenny, or Fergus. He needed me; you said he needed me to stay,” she reminded him pointedly. “My life at Lallybroch was just as much your idea as mine. She belongs here, and so do I. I’ve only ever once had cause to regret it.”

He took a deep breath, running his hand through his hair yet again. “Why…what made ye regret it? Even the one time?”

“Her birth was difficult…almost deadly. But your sister saved both of our lives. And I am grateful to her every day.”

“As am I, but she wouldnae had to do it if ye’d kept yer promise to me!”

Every word he said was another blow to her chest, widening the crack in her heart.

“Aren’t you happy I’m here? That she is here? You would never see me again, you’d never even meet her if I’d gone back!” Her voice was rising dangerously, her throat searing with pain. “I never could have known you weren’t dead! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Of course it does! Ye dinna think I’ve been burning for ye every day these past eight years? Ye dinna think I thanked the Lord and every Saint above to see ye still standing on this Earth? And ye dinna think…” His voice caught in his throat. “My heart wasnae fit to burst when I saw that…that bonny wee lass, calling ye her mam…” Tears spilled down both his cheeks, and Claire felt splinters in her heart. “It’s…it’s almost too much to bear.”

Fresh tears sprang out of Claire’s eyes as well. She fought the urge to run to him, to close the space between them and take him in her arms and never let go. Instead, she hugged herself around the middle, wetting her lips before she spoke, calm and level.

“I…I’ve told her all about you. How brave and strong you were…or, are. How you fought for your clan and country. How you…how you protected her from Heaven, how you…” She breathed shakily. “How you had to leave us to be Faith’s father in Heaven.” Her voice broke, and Jamie looked like he could collapse. “That’s what I told her. That’s how I got her to understand how you couldn’t be with us and still love us as much as I said you did. You’re…you’re her hero, Jamie.”

Jamie sank to his knees, and Claire could not stop herself from rushing forward and gathering his shuddering frame in her arms.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he wept. “Please, forgive me. I dinna mean…it’s just…my heart…I canna bear it…”

“I know, Jamie, I know…” She was all the way up on her knees, and he was back on his haunches, leaning into her, so she was able to press a kiss to the top of his head. “Forgive me for betraying you all those years ago. It was never my intention. I just…I wanted you to be able to meet her if you survived.”

He gently pulled himself out of her embrace, rising to full height on his knees. “Forgiven.” He tilted her chin up to kiss her, sweetly, tenderly.

“All the times I imagined you coming back...none of them ended up like this.” Claire offered a weak smile, feeling foolish even as she said it.

“Aye...I’m sure my shock could rival yers at the moment.” His brows furrowed, and his gaze became far off as he slowly sank back on his haunches. Silently, they settled into the grass together, sitting side by side, holding each other.

“What are you thinking?” Claire said softly, looking up at his face, following the patterns of the protruding veins with concerned eyes.

He remained silent for another brief moment before answering. “I’m thinking that I canna imagine what I’ve done to deserve ye.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Claire sat up straighter, taking his face in her hands, holding on perhaps just a bit too tightly.

“All this time I’ve been...a shell of a man. My soul wandered aimlessly, reaching blindly fer any semblance of...of you. To come home to you, Sassenach, my wife, to see yer face and hear yer voice...Christ, I was grateful enough fer that.” His jaw hardened; he was struggling not to cry. “The pain I know I’ve caused ye these eight years...fer ye to take me in yer arms again is more than I deserve…”

“Jamie…”

“But to know that through it all...ye brought my child into this world, ye raised her, even in yer pain. Ye told her...about me.” He swallowed thickly, and another tear trickled down his cheek. “I dinna ken what I’ve done to be so blessed.”

Claire’s face screwed up with the effort of holding herself together. “Raising your child is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. She has saved me over and over. And I only have her because of you.” She pressed her forehead to his, and he sighed shakily again. “I told myself...before...that you were saving me from beyond the grave through your daughter. And I was so... so grateful for that.”

He cupped the back of her head and kissed her, their tears mingling together on each other’s cheeks.

“No grave, Sassenach. I’m home now. To stay.”

Claire whimpered with a mixture of relief, disbelief, and fear -- fear that it was a vivid dream that would disappear any second.

“I mean to be yer husband again. And I mean to...to be a father to our child. If ye’ll have me...if she ...will have me.”

“Of course. Of course we will have you.” Claire kissed him fervently, holding his face firmly in place for several seconds, only pulling away when she was sure she would faint again for lack of air.

“This is more than I’ve ever dreamed of,” she whispered.

“Aye. I could say the same.”

They smiled tearily at each other for a brief moment, before Jamie pulled her into his lap, cradling her like she was fragile as glass. They sat for a while in reverent silence, relishing in the strange familiarity of each other’s embrace.

Chapter Text

They sat silently for a few more moments, before Claire felt Jamie inhale. She lifted her head off of his chest to look up at him, the sight of him taking her breath away again.

“Her name...what did ye name her?”

Claire’s heart strained, and she smiled tearily. “Brianna.”

His eyes closed, and he exhaled with a shudder. “Brianna,” he repeated, savoring each syllable as it rolled off his tongue. Her name…his daughter’s name. “Brianna.”

“For your father, Brian. Remember?” Claire caressed his jaw, eight years of separation not enough to suppress an instinct etched so deeply in the marrow of her bone.

“Aye...aye, I do.” His voice was hoarse with emotion. Claire stretched up to reach him better, pressing their foreheads together.

“Can ye...can ye tell me about her?”

She chuckled through her nose, the breath tickling Jamie’s skin.

“She’s...a hellion, for starters.”

Jamie laughed now, his lips trembling against her chin.

“She’s very smart, and she loves horses, and she’s empathetic, and stubborn and bold and brave…” Claire lost her voice for a moment, blinking away tears. She pulled away enough to look into his eyes. “She’s yours , Jamie. In every way.”

Every line of his face was hard, his eyes red, stagnant tears on his cheeks. “Mine.”

Claire nodded wordlessly, brushing her lips on each of his cheeks, kissing away his tears.

“She’s...she’s beautiful, is she no’...?” he said. “I could hardly see fer lack of air...but she’s...she’s beautiful, Claire.”

Claire nodded, tears slipping out of her own eyes now, and Jamie brushed them away with gentle caresses of his thumbs.

“She is.”

She was unable to resist closing the small distance between them and kissing him soundly, and she almost whimpered in disbelief. How many times had she tried to picture this, and yet his lips had vanished beneath hers every time...?

They stayed there, moved beyond words again, until Claire’s stomach lurched, remembering.

“There’s…there’s one more thing you should know.” Claire broke the silence.

“Her twin?” Jamie said.

“God, no…” Claire chuckled. “No…there’s…been a lasting effect of the difficult birth. It isn’t serious,” she said quickly. “We’ve become fairly good at managing it, all of us. Jenny and Fergus and Ian. And Brianna knows what to do now when she feels it coming on. She’s old enough to understand.”

Jamie nodded silently, urging her to continue.

“Yes…now she…she has something called epilepsy. From a lack of oxygen during her birth. She has seizures occasionally. They’re usually not very bad.”

“Seizures?” Jamie repeated the foreign word. “What does that mean?”

“She…she becomes rigid, stiff. Her eyes roll to the side, like this.” Claire demonstrated briefly. “Her left arm and leg twitch, uh…like this.” She bent her arm at the elbow to show him. “She loses consciousness during it. It isn’t serious,” Claire reassured again, sensing his growing panic. “It was far more dangerous when she was a baby. Could have caused permanent damage back then.”

“So it willnae cause damage any longer?” Jamie said.

“It shouldn’t, unless it’s a very, very long one. So it’s not terribly serious. I just thought you should know. It’s…quite frightening if you’ve never seen one before, especially in a child.” Claire shuddered at the memory. “She was just a month old when she had her first one. It was horrible. But I’m quite used to them now. You just…have to be prepared.”

Jamie nodded, though his brow was still furrowed with concern. “Ye’ll…ye’ll show me how to be prepared?”

“Of course.” Claire cupped his cheeks, resting their foreheads together. “I still can’t believe you’re really alive…”

Jamie wrapped his arms around her. “Sometimes I canna believe it myself either.” He kissed her head. “Can ye…can ye take me inside so I can properly meet my daughter?”

Claire stood up and reached down to help him up. “You’ll have to be…patient. She doesn’t know you at all.”

Jamie nodded sadly. “I ken that.”

“I’m going to have to explain where you’ve been all this time. We told her you died for Scotland. She thinks you’ve been in Heaven all this while.” Jamie nodded. “I thought of telling her that soldiers made a mistake when they brought news of your death. But how do I explain where you’ve been? I…I don’t even know where you’ve been...I haven’t even asked you yet.”

“Ardsmuir prison,” he said flatly.

Claire cringed, squeezing his hands in comfort. “We can talk about it later.” He nodded solemnly. “Perhaps I can tell her that…you were hiding from the bad men, or — ”

“Ye can tell her I was in prison.”

“Jamie, I don’t think — ”

“I committed treason. It’s a fact. I dinna wish to raise her on lies, ye ken,” Jamie said, and Claire frowned. “She canna keep thinking I’m some sort of God. I’m a man, a man wi’ faults, a man who’s committed sin and crime. It’s time she came to know her father as a mortal man rather than this mythical being that ye’ve created for her imagination.”

“Jamie, I didn’t tell her anything that wasn’t true…”

“I ken. But she’s likely been embellishing it in her head wi’out realizing, whether ye intended fer her to do it or no’.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his clasped hands on the small of her back. “After yer parents died, did ye no’ dream of them, even wi’out remembering what they looked like? Did yer wee head create the perfect memories of them since ye had nothing else to hold on to?” Claire’s eyes narrowed in thought. “I ken I did that wi’ my mother. I was a bairn when she passed. To hear everyone speak of her ye’d think she was an angel. And to me she was. No one was telling me anything that wasnae true. But hearing it, over and over, she became an intangible spirit rather than a concrete memory. I think even if she’d magically come back to us I’d never stop seeing her that way.”

Claire nodded in understanding. “I see what you mean,” she said. “I suppose for a while I had an idealized picture of my parents. Though in my case, no one ever talked about them. So it seems a little different.”

“So do ye understand why I want her to know the truth? I canna father a child who thinks I’m a Godly spirit-man.” He paused for a moment. “Now I…I willnae tell ye what to do. She’s yer daughter — ”

“Jamie…she’s your daughter, too.”

“I ken. But ye said yerself. She doesna know me.” Claire’s heart was breaking. “You were there for her…seizures, ye ken how to help her. Ye ken the name of her horse, her favorite color, how to make her laugh, what sorts of sweets she likes…”

“Jamie.” Claire cupped his face in her hands. “You will know those things, too. I know you can’t replace the years you lost with her…there’s no way to get that back. But you will know her just as completely as I do, and eventually in ways that I don’t. It will take time. But you will. I promise.”

Jamie sighed. “Do ye think…do ye think she can learn to love the man more than the myth?”

“Yes. I do.”

“What about you?”

“Me?”

“Ye’ve spent…eight years creating images of me in yer mind. I’m not the same man I was before. Can ye learn to love the man I’ve become?”

Claire kissed him. “Can you learn to love the woman I’ve become?”

He kissed her back. “‘Till our life shall be done,’ Sassenach.”

She sighed contentedly. “I do love you.”

“And I love you.”

“Come on now.” Claire began tugging him toward the house. “Someone is waiting to meet the giant from the faery hill.”

Jamie laughed out loud. “I ken if I hadnae been scared stiff I’d’ve had a good laugh at that.”

“Me too.”

They entered the house and wandered through the parlor, then to the kitchen. Jenny was there, helping Mrs. Crook with supper.

“Are you two quite finished howling at each other?” Jenny said, only briefly glancing up from the chopping.

“You heard that,” Claire said sheepishly.

“All of Lallybroch heard that,” Jenny scoffed. “I almost came out there and clopped yer heads together myself. Lucky ye finally quit just in time.”

“Aye, lucky fer us.” Jamie smirked.

“If yer looking fer Brianna,” Jenny said, rushing a handful of vegetables to the pot over the fireplace. “She’s in her bedroom. Crying to Fergus last I heard.” Claire and Jamie exchanged a guilty look. “She thinks her ‘mummy’ hates her fer riding her horse at a trot.”

Claire smiled despite the guilt bubbling in her chest. “We’ll be going to her, then. We’ll see you at supper, Jenny.”

“Aye.” She didn’t look up from the pot. Claire and Jamie started to leave, but then: 

“Brother.” They stopped and turned around expectantly. “Good luck wi’ the bairn. She’ll love ye. I ken it.”

Jamie smiled. “Thank you, Jenny.”

Claire laced her fingers with Jamie’s as she led him up the stairs in the parlor.

“Feels strange to be led around in my own home,” Jamie said wistfully. “I dinna ken where anything is. I dinna even ken who those bairns are.” He indicated Maggie, Kitty, and Janet running about the hall, squealing their wee heads off.

“You’ll catch up,” Claire assured him. Claire paused on the stairs. “See the golden haired one?” Kitty was currently trying to pry wee Janet off of her leg. Jamie nodded. “That’s Katherine.”

Jamie looked gobsmacked at Claire, then quickly back at Kitty, who soon disappeared into the hall with her sisters. “That bonny lass is little Caitríona…?” Claire nodded. “Last I saw her, her wee head fit in the palm of my hand…”

Claire rubbed his shoulder. “That’s how I feel every time I look at Brianna.” She tugged again on his arm. “Come on, she’s waiting.” They continued up the stairs, and Claire gestured to her room. “The guest room is my room now. Well…ours, I suppose.” She smiled sheepishly. “The children are up the next flight.” She led him up and to the door she knew Brianna was behind. “She shares the room with Kitty. Poor Maggie has to share with the youngest daughter, but Kitty and Brianna are inseparable. Maggie had her own room before Janet was out of her cot, and when the time came we tried to have Maggie and Kitty share, and then Brianna with Janet. But the two of them refused to sleep for even a moment, every night, until they were sharing a room.” Claire smiled at the memory, and Jamie softly chuckled in response.

“Ah…Janet?”

“Oh, that was the dark haired one hanging onto Kitty’s leg.” Claire smiled. Jamie nodded, and Claire could tell that he was already overwhelmed. She placed steadying hands on his shoulders. “Your nieces and nephews will love you just fine, Jenny and Ian will catch you up. But right now, you have a daughter that needs you.”

“I…have a daughter,” Jamie whispered reverently, still hardly believing it. Claire kissed him, smiled encouragingly, then turned to knock on the door.

“Hello?” Claire slowly cracked the door open “May I come in?”

She poked her head in to find Fergus and Brianna sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace. Claire almost laughed; they were each holding a doll.

“Come in, Maman ,” Fergus said. Brianna did not look up from her doll. “Miss Nettie and Miss Winnie were getting acquainted, right ma petit ?” Brianna did not respond; she kept her attention on smoothing Miss Nettie’s dress.

“That’s lovely,” Claire said, leaving the door open a crack and crossing to the fireplace. “Isn’t it kind of Fergus to play dolls with you, Brianna? Even though he’s a big boy now?” Claire sat on the rug beside Brianna. “Would you mind if I took over for him so he can go do whatever it is that big boys do?” Brianna shrugged wordlessly.

“Ah, big boy things are not as fun as Miss Winnie.” Fergus stood up, and Claire noticed how Brianna was fighting the urge to smile. Fergus kissed the top of her head. “See you at supper, ma petit .”

Fergus crossed to the door, and he jumped, not expecting Jamie to be right outside the door.

“Sorry, lad,” Jamie said.

Fergus gaped for a moment. “No, I am sorry, Milord. I did not see you.” Fergus bowed uncomfortably before disappearing down the hall. Though Jamie tried not to dwell on it, he couldn’t help but feel the sting, knowing that Claire was “Maman ” and he was still “Milord.” Pushing down that disappointment, Jamie peeked into the room, seeing Claire and Brianna’s backs.

“Brianna,” Claire said, taking Miss Winnie into her arms. “I’m not angry at you.”

Brianna kept her gaze on the doll. “You’re not?”

“No, I’m not.” Brianna finally looked up at her. “Could you tell me where you got such an idea from?”

“You don’t like when I do things like Kitty and Maggie,” she said sheepishly.

“Brianna…” Claire outstretched her arms, and she crawled into her embrace. “You’ve got that entirely backwards. I love when you can do things like the other children. It makes me so happy when you get to feel like a normal little girl. But I can’t help that I worry about you. Because — ”

“Because I’m special. I know, Mummy,” Brianna said. “I don’t want to be special anymore.”

Claire sighed, rocking her back and forth. “Unfortunately, only God can decide things like that. He made you special for a reason. You know that.”

“I know.”

Claire kissed the top of her head. “I love you very much.”

“I love you, Mummy.”

“Is there anything else bothering you?”

“The giant was cross wi’ me, too.” Brianna fiddled with Miss Nettie’s skirts. “He was so mad that he broke Auntie Jenny’s pitcher. Then he was yelling at you. I heard. Before Fergus took me away.”

Claire repositioned Brianna so they were sitting on the rug facing each other. “That wasn’t a giant, Miss Brianna.” She playfully poked her nose with her pointer finger. “He’s just a very tall, mortal man.” Claire held Miss Winnie up straight in front of her, as if she were standing on the floor and talking to Brianna.

“You know, there’s someone that I would really love for Mistresses Nettie and Winnie to meet,” Claire said. “They’re looking quite bonny tonight, don't you think?”

Brianna gave a tiny giggle. “Yes.”

“Then would it be alright if someone joined us?” Brianna nodded. “Such a good girl.” Claire briefly cupped her cheek. “Alright. You have permission to join us now,” Claire said in her faux-regal voice, causing Brianna to giggle again. They both turned their heads as the door creaked open and the six foot, three inch tall “giant” entered the room.

“Good evening, lasses.” Jamie gave a deep bow, and Brianna smiled despite her nervousness at seeing him again.

“Good evening, sir.” Claire gave a small bow with her head. “Care to join us beside the fire?”

“Aye, that would be fine.” Jamie crossed the room to the fireplace and sat down. Despite the warm smile on his face, Claire could tell he was nervous.

“Allow me to introduce Miss Nettie.” Claire extended the doll’s cotton stub of a hand to Jamie, who took the hint, taking it between his thumb and pointer figure and giving it a kiss. Brianna giggled again, even louder than before. “And this is…” Claire turned to Brianna.

“Miss Winnie,” Brianna said, extending the doll’s hand, giggling again when Jamie kissed it.

“Madame Claire Fraser.” Claire held her hand out to Jamie, who took her hand with all the care and reverence in the world, and pressed a tender kiss to it.

“And you are?” Jamie said.

“Mistress Brianna Fraser.” She extended her hand, copying her mother’s elegant manner the best she could.

Jamie blanched, not having expected her to give him her hand. His eyes flashed to Claire for help, and she made a gesture with her eyebrows that told him to go on. Desperately trying to hide their trembling, he took Brianna’s wee hand in both of his enormous ones, closing his eyes as he kissed it. He rubbed the spot over with his thumb before returning her hand to her.

“He hasn’t introduced himself yet,” Brianna said pointedly.

“Brianna…”

“No, no, the lass is right, Where are my manners?” Jamie said, looking into Claire’s eyes for approval. She nodded. “My name is James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser.”

“James…Fraser,” Brianna said thoughtfully. “Mummy, that’s Da’s name.”

Jamie’s heart leapt into his throat. Da. She calls me Da .

“That’s right darling. Actually, I… we have to tell you something.” Brianna looked back and forth between the two of them silently. “Do you remember what I told you about your Da?”

“He died fighting for Scotland and Clan Fraser because he was a hero,” Brianna said proudly. “You said I have his hair and his eyes and his thick skull.” Jamie swiped at his nose to conceal the grin he broke into. “You said that he lives in Heaven with my sister Faith, and they watch over us together.”

“That’s right, I did say that. And most of it is true, darling,” Claire said, and Brianna began to look confused. “Your father did fight for Scotland and Clan Fraser, and he was a hero. You do have his hair, and his eyes, and his thick skull.” She ruffled her hair. “And you do have a big sister watching over you. But Brianna, your father isn’t in Heaven with Faith.”

“Why not?” There was a twinge of panic to her voice.

“Because he didn’t die when he fought for Scotland and Clan Fraser. There was a mistake.”

“A mistake?”

“The British Army thought your father was dead, so that’s what they told us, me, your Auntie and Uncle. So I told you that as well. But it wasn’t true, because the British Army made a mistake.”

“So Da isn’t in Heaven.”

“That’s right.”

“And he’s a great big Scottish warrior. With my hair and my eyes.” Brianna very deliberately looked at Jamie. “Just like you.” Jamie smiled. “You’re my Da, aren't you? You’re Jamie Fraser?”

“Aye, lass, it’s me,” Jamie whispered. “I’m yer Da.”

Brianna looked at Claire, then back at Jamie, then back at Claire. “It’s him, Mummy…the love of your life.”

Claire couldn’t stop the tears from spilling over. “Yes, darling. The man I’ve told you all about all these years, the man I love, and your father. He’s come back home to us.” Claire instinctually reached for Jamie’s hand, and he expertly laced their fingers together without having to look at her.

“Why did God let you out of Heaven, Da?”

“Da was never in Heaven, Brianna,” Claire said gently. “Remember? He never died. It was a mistake.”

“Then he wasn’t protecting us.”

“Aye, I was,” Jamie spoke up before Claire could answer her. “I prayed fer ye both every single day and night. I prayed to God and to the Saints to keep ye safe. And it worked, did it no’?” Brianna nodded. “So ye had protection from Heaven even wi’out me there myself.”

“What about Faith?” Brianna was becoming visibly upset. “She doesna have a Da in Heaven. Who is taking care of her?”

“Brianna, it’s alright…” Claire said, blinking back her tears. “She’s…she’s with Mother Mary. Where all the orphan angels wait for their parents to join them in Heaven. Mother Mary was a wonderful mother to Jesus, right?” Brianna nodded. “So she is a wonderful mother to Faith, too.”

Brianna’s face had visibly darkened, and she no longer seemed receptive to what they’d been saying. “Brianna, I’m sorry I told you things that weren’t true. I honestly believed them to be true when I told them to you. Do you understand?” Brianna didn’t respond. “If I knew your father was alive all along I never would have told you those things. But I didn’t know, Auntie Jenny didn’t know, Uncle Ian didn’t know. We all thought Da was in Heaven, darling. Nobody knew the truth. Do you understand?”

Brianna kept her eyes downcast, thinking silently for a moment.

“Kitty, and Maggie, and Janet, and Ian, and Jamie, and Michael’s Da is Uncle Ian. Right?”

“That’s right,” Claire answered.

“Uncle Ian lives wi’ his bairns,” Brianna said. “He was never in Heaven or anywhere else.”

Jamie and Claire exchanged a look, silently agreeing Jamie would take this one. “Brianna, I wanted to come home and live wi’ yer mam, and you, my bairn. I wanted to so, verra badly. My heart…” He put his hand over his chest. “My heart was broken every day I was no’ wi’ ye. I wanted to be at Lallybroch. Do…do ye believe me?” She shrugged. “I couldna be, because the British Army captured me. They put me in prison, so I couldnae escape and run home to my lasses.”

“Are you a thief?” Brianna asked. “The boys play jailer and thief.”

“No, I’m no’ a thief. Ye ken how yer mam said I fought fer Scotland and Clan Fraser?” She nodded. “The King of England didnae like that. So he had everyone who fought for Scotland and their clans put in prison.”

“Mummy said you’re a good man.”

“Sometimes good men go to prison.”

“Why?”

“I…I dinna ken.”

Jamie was out of answers. Claire gave his hand a squeeze.

“Brianna, do you trust me?” Claire asked. Brianna nodded. “Do you understand what it means to trust someone?” She nodded, a bit more hesitantly. “Trusting someone is…is when you believe that they are good, and you know that no matter what they would do anything to help you.”

“Of course I trust you, Mummy. When I have seizures you do anything to help me.”

“Yes, that’s right. Very good, darling.” Claire cupped her cheek, resting her hand there. “Now I…I trust this man. I believe that he is good, and I know that he would do anything for me. And he would do anything for you, too. You don’t have to trust him if you don’t want to, Brianna.” Claire squeezed Jamie’s hand as she said it, assuring him that she didn’t mean she wanted it to be that way. “I just want you to know that I trust him.”

“Okay, Mummy.” Brianna said. Claire removed her hand from her cheek.

“Right now,” Jamie began hesitantly. “I’ll settle fer being yer friend. If that’s alright wi’ ye.”

“You’re not my friend.” Claire felt her heart sink into her stomach, and she could feel Jamie’s grip on her hand tighten, almost painful. “You’re my Da.”

Both Jamie and Claire sighed in relief. “Aye, I am.”

“Kitty’s Da taught her about horses. Does that mean Fergus can’t ride with me anymore?”

“No, lass,” Jamie assured her. “Fergus is still yer brother, and ye can do whatever ye please wi’ him. I dinna wish to interfere. I can…I can watch ye ride. Does…does Kitty’s Da watch her ride?”

“Yes.”

“Then I should watch you, too. Right?”

Brianna gave a tiny smile. “Yes.”

“Good.” Jamie beamed, and Claire’s heart was fit to burst. She had never imagined a situation where she could ever be so full of love.

“Kitty gets to ride out all over Lallybroch, and she goes very fast,” Brianna said, her smile disappearing. “Mummy says I have to stay in the corral, and I can only go slow, and Fergus can’t let go.”

“You’ve ridden all over Lallybroch before,” Claire said. “With me.”

“But no’ by myself,” Brianna insisted. “Kitty gets her own horse when she rides wi’ her Da.”

“Yer mam told me you were…special,” Jamie said carefully, using the word that they had used when he was listening from the hall. “I ken it’s hard. Do ye…do ye have fun wi’ Fergus in the corral?”

She hesitated. “Yes. But I’d have more fun out of it.”

“Ah, I’m not so sure about that. The horses feel quite safe in the corral. It’s like they’re sharing their home wi’ ye. They only let verra special people in the corral, ye ken. Have ye ever seen a man thrown from his horse in the corral?” Brianna nodded. “Ah, that’s because they didna trust him. They must trust ye quite a bit, lass.” He playfully poked her nose, and she giggled. “I’d love to watch ye ride.”

She smiled. “Do the horses trust you?”

“Aye, I’d wager they do enough.”

“Then you could come in, too. With Fergus and me.”

Jamie let out a breathy laugh, and Claire could see his eyes glistening. “Only if ye want me to, lass.”

“Well I do.” She nodded curtly, as if agreeing on a business transaction. Claire chuckled. “Da?”

“What is it, lass?”

“Kitty’s Da hugs her and picks her up and kisses her,” Brianna said nervously. “Like Mummy does to me.”

“Brianna, you don’t have to do those things until you’re ready,” Claire said. “He understands that you’ve only just met.” Jamie nodded assuringly, trying to hide his disappointment.

“I am ready, Mummy.” Jamie and Claire looked at each other, realizing they had misunderstood her nervousness. She wasn’t afraid he would do those things; she was afraid that he wouldn’t.

“Do ye…” He cleared his throat, and blinked rapidly. “Do ye want me to hug you, Brianna?”

“Only if you want to.”

Claire thought briefly that she’d never heard Brianna use that particular phrase, and then quickly realized she’d picked it up just now, from Jamie.

He looked at Claire, with an indescribable expression that she’d only seen once before: the first time he’d felt Faith kicking. Claire nodded. “Go on.”

Jamie released her hand and outstretched his arms. Brianna scooted over to him on her knees and hugged him around the chest. Jamie felt like all the air from his lungs had been emptied. His hands hovered over her for a moment before he regained his senses enough to return the embrace. Lord, she was so tiny. He was reminded of how overwhelmed he’d been by Claire’s smallness the first time he’d truly held her close. But Claire was a grown woman. Brianna, his daughter, was nay but a tiny lass.

My daughter .

One of his hands moved to cup the back of her head. Through the thick layer of wild curls, her head, too, was impossibly small. He remembered holding Katherine’s head in his palm all those years ago, then seeing how big she’d become. Then he remembered what Claire had said:

“That’s how I feel every time I look at Brianna.”

He was suddenly struck with the thought of this girl ever being as tiny as baby Katherine had been, and he was overcome at the idea of never having held her when she was that small, never watching Claire nurse her, never seeing her learn to form words in her wee mouth, never watching her swing around her wee fists, learning to take her first steps…

He could not stop himself from weeping.

Claire watched him silently crying, overcome with emotion herself. She covered her mouth to stifle a sob. She reached out to stroke Jamie’s cheek, wiping away the tears that lingered there.

After taking a moment to compose himself, Jamie released Brianna. He knew he could have held her there for hours, rocked her back and forth, kissed her wee head, whispered Gaelic lullabies, but an energy-filled eight year old would not likely welcome that.

“Thank you,” he said, cupping her cheek. “Brianna.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied, chipper as ever, blissfully unaware of the emotional affect she’d had on both her parents. “Can I play now, Mummy?”

“Yes, of course. Why don’t you go find Kitty? And bring Miss Nettie and Miss Winnie.” Claire handed her the dolls.

“Alright.” She scampered for the door.

“I love you,” Claire called after her.

“Love you!” She yelled back from the hallway.

Claire turned back to Jamie, and there were fresh tears on his cheeks. “Jamie…”

“She is…” He breathed shakily. “A gift.”

“She is,” Claire agreed, taking his face in her hands.

“Thank you, fer…” He was overcome, unable to continue. Claire wrapped his arms around him, and he returned the embrace. They both wept on each other for a while, unable to express in any other way how much that had meant to both of them.

After a while, they simply held each other, silently.

“I spent eight years,” Claire began, breaking the silence. “Thanking God for her, for you to father her. I prayed…so fervently, to you. Thanking you for…for leaving a piece of you behind for me. In her.” Jamie kissed the top of her head. “She smiles in her sleep. Like you do.”

Jamie chuckled. “She speaks words of a Scot with the tongue of an Englishwoman,” he said.

“Yes. She learned to speak by listening to me, but also everyone else in your family.” Claire laughed. “It was inevitable that her speech would become somewhat of a hybrid.”

“She speaks French?” He said, remembering how she’d addressed Fergus in the parlor.

“Yes, Fergus helped me teach her.”

“Gaelic?”

“Of course. Jenny wouldn’t raise a child under this roof that didn’t know Gaelic. And certainly not a child of yours that didn’t know Gaelic.”

“She’s bright, then,” Jamie said proudly.

“Oh, yes. Brighter than I was at that age.”

“Oh, I doubt that. Ye ken she gets it from you, after all.”

“I wasn’t reading Spenser at her age,” Claire said. “I told her that there was a character in The Faerie Queene that shared her name, and she insisted on reading it. She snuck into the Laird’s library herself to get it.”

Jamie laughed. “She’s resourceful.”

“Well, that’s one way of putting it,” Claire said dryly. “ That she gets from you.”

The door opened, and they sat up straight to see who it was.

“Pardon me,” Jenny said, and Claire didn’t miss the sarcasm. “Supper is ready.”

“We’ll be down shortly,” Jamie said.

Jenny smiled. “Ye ought to hear the lass. She’s going on and on to Kitty about her Da, how he’s gonnae ride horses wi’ her like Ian does wi’ Kitty.” Claire and Jamie exchanged a look. “I dinna ken how or why, what ye did to her wee noggin to make it so,” Jenny said, but they could both see the glint in her eye. “But she’s already crazy about ye.”

Jenny left, and Jamie and Claire beamed at each other. He stood up and stretched his hand down to her.

“Might I request the pleasure of your company for dinner, Madam?”

She beamed, taking his hand and allowing him to help her up. “You may.”

Once she was standing, he pulled her into a passionate kiss. Their lips parted, and arm in arm, they made their way to the dining room to eat with their family.

Chapter Text

The meal that Jenny and Mary MacNab had prepared in celebration of Jamie’s return had been as grand as possible given the limitations of harvest and money. It was indeed delicious and enjoyable, and the table itself was full of life. The children chattered on and on to their long lost uncle, and Claire could tell Jamie was careful to not address a single one of them by name except wee Jamie. There were several points throughout the meal where he became overwhelmed, but all it took was a squeeze of his hand from Claire and a reassuring smile, and she was able to pull him back to Earth.

He gradually became more comfortable, listening jovially to the children’s babbling. Claire noticed that he particularly could not keep his eyes off of baby Ian, sitting in Jenny’s lap, content to gnaw on the bannock in his hands for the entire meal with the occasional spoonful of mashed potatoes shoved into his mouth. Claire made a note to have Jamie hold the baby and play with him; it would do him good to leave an impression on a child that hadn’t yet known life without him. It would perhaps fill at least a small part of the cavern in his heart that missing Brianna’s infancy had left in its wake.

At some point, Mary MacNab had come by to scoop Ian out of Jenny’s lap to take him to bed, and it wasn’t long after that that Jenny was sending the rest of them upstairs themselves. She looked pointedly at Jamie, a strange look that Claire could not place, but one look at Jamie and she gathered that Jenny was coming through loud and clear to her brother.

You’re not going anywhere.

The children did a mass exodus out of the dining room, a cacophony of yells and giggles, and Claire couldn’t help but smile to hear Maggie’s voice above the throng:

“Dinna be so rowdy. Mother said it’s time fer bed.”

Wee Mother Hen .

Claire swept her eyes around the room and then landed on Fergus, who was staring intently at Jamie. She looked to Jamie, who was staring intently back at him. It took Claire a moment to piece it together, but it wasn’t long before it hit her: Jamie was fully expecting Fergus to disappear with the children. He couldn’t yet fathom that the lad had grown up. Perhaps he didn’t want to speak of prison in front of him, and he hadn’t been prepared to have to do so.

“So,” Jenny, never one to beat around the bush, was the first to break the silence. “Care to share how it is ye’ve been alive all this time after we spent eight years hearing of Red Jamie’s death?”

Claire felt Jamie stiffen beside her, and she instinctively reached out to take his hand, squeezing comfortingly.

Claire could see from across the table that Ian put his hand on Jenny’s thigh and whispered a low warning: “Janet. Easy now.”

She huffed indignantly and turned away from him, but she did not shake his hand off of her. It would appear that Jenny’s initial joy of having him back had already been replaced by angry betrayal. Frankly, Claire didn’t blame her. She might have felt the same if she wasn’t so God damned relieved. Perhaps that would come later.

“Well?” Jenny said, looking pointedly at Jamie.

“I ken I’ve got a lot to explain,” Jamie began.

“Aye, ye do.”

“Janet.”

“It’s alright, Ian.” Jamie looked up at them finally, his eyes pained, but understanding. “Ye have every right to be angry. All of ye.” His head turned and he faced Claire, looking her right in the eyes. Claire swallowed thickly and blinked back tears.

“Suppose I should start from the beginning,” he said, shifting again so he was facing Ian and Jenny and able to turn his head to look at Fergus if he so chose. “I was injured in battle, too much to run. Rupert brought me to a hut where other injured men were hiding. But it was hopeless, ye ken. We were all just…waiting to be found. Waiting to be shot.”

Claire gave his hand another reassuring squeeze.

“Well, found we were, o’ course. One by one they took our names and brought us out to be shot. There was nothing I could do but pray that ye’d all be safe when I was gone.” A single tear trickled down Claire’s cheek.

“When it came time fer me to give my name, nothing short of a miracle occurred. Claire, d’ye remember the lad who attacked me near Corrieyairack, before Prestonpans, and we brought him in to be questioned, but he wouldna budge until ye started pretending to be our prisoner?”

Claire’s brow furrowed, but the corners of her mouth involuntarily twitched up at the memory. “Yes…I do.”

“He told me he owed me a debt of honor fer sparing his life. D’ye recall?”

“I…I suppose…”

“I remember as well, Milord,” Fergus chimed in.

Jamie nodded towards Fergus before continuing. “He spoke of a brother, a Lord Melton. Well, this was the verra same Lord Melton who came upon us in that hut. When I gave my name, he insisted on carrying out his brother’s debt of honor.”

“He spared your life,” Claire whispered reverently.

“Aye, he did. But the death of Red Jamie was far too tempting of a feat to brag to His Majesty.” Jamie smirked darkly. “And Lord Melton didna want his reputation sullied. So they spread the word that I’d been killed in battle, and they brought an Alexander Malcom to Ardsmuir Prison.”

A Dhiah ,” Ian breathed in disbelief. “All this time, the one that spared yer life was a bloody Redcoat?”

“Aye. A man of great honor.” He nodded solemnly. “His brother as well. He became Ardsmuir’s new governor about six years into my sentence. Hardly recognized him, but it was the very same lad. He’s the reason I’m here wi’ ye now.”

“He got you free?” Claire’s eyes were wide.

“Aye. He did. He appealed to the crown fer the freedom of Alexander Malcom, and he won it.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire breathed.

“Why the Devil would he do such a thing?” Jenny fired. “There must be some catch. Does he ken who ye are?”

“Aye, he does ken the truth.” Jamie nodded. “But there’s no catch.”

“A bloody Redcoat who knows ye’re the most famous Jacobite traitor sets ye free and there’s no catch?” Jenny spat. “Ye must be mad, brother!”

“He’s a good man, Jenny, I ken it.”

“How? How d’ye ken it?”

“I just…I do! Alright?” Claire noticed he was trembling, red in the face. “Murtagh was ill, and he — ”

“Murtagh?” Claire gasped. “He’s alive…?”

“Oh, aye, didna mention that, I suppose.” He grinned sheepishly.

“Where is he?” Claire stammered. “Is he alright?”

“Sent off to the colonies wi’ the other prisoners when they closed the prison,” Jamie said. “That’s how I was able to be set free. No prison anymore, and John petitioned my freedom rather than indentured servitude wi’ the others.”

“Oh, ye’re on a first name basis wi’ him then?” Jenny said incredulously, her eyes wide.

“Janet,” Ian admonished again.

“No, I dinna like this one bit!” Jenny waved him off. “What in God’s name was so special about ye that ye were the exception out of every other prisoner? Why did he spare you? How do we ken we won’t be raided in the night and all of us killed now that ye’ve led them right to us?”

“That’s no’ why, Janet — ”

“Then why, Jamie? Help me understand!”

“He is — !” Jamie raised his voice frighteningly, but then he bit his tongue, letting his body relax for a moment. Claire squeezed his hand, waiting patiently, though she, too, was more than eager to find out this man’s motives.

“He’s…fond…of me,” Jamie said quietly, avoiding everyone’s eyes and staring into the grain of the table.

Claire immediately felt panic sear through her chest, her breath catching in her throat.

Someone has hurt him again. The bastard used his power to take advantage of him.

“Jamie…” Claire choked.

“No, Claire,” he said firmly, turning his head in her direction, but still not looking at her. His voice dropped to a whisper as he said: “He didna.”

Claire let out a trembling sigh of relief.

Jenny and Ian looked hopelessly confused. Neither of them knew the depth of what Randall had done to Jamie. No one did, save Claire, Murtagh, and the few men that had helped in his rescue. Claire looked over at Fergus, and he looked like he was in pain. He knew all too well what Jamie was referring to, what Claire was afraid of. 

Claire reached under the table to squeeze Fergus’s hand, now holding tightly onto both of her dear lads.

“He’s an honorable man,” Jamie said again, loudly enough now for everyone to hear. “We spoke a great deal and he…he kent I had a wife waiting fer me. Ye were all I could speak of Claire, every breath I took was fer you. And he could tell; he could see how deeply I loved ye. When he granted me my freedom, he shook my hand and he said to me: ‘Cherish that wife of yours, Fraser.’”

Another tear trickled down Claire’s cheek. Jamie looked deeply into her eyes, his pupils dilated, and she could hear him without him having to say it:

Cherish her I will.

“Alright.” Jenny exhaled and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s all fine and good, then. So where was any word from ye that ye lived?”

“I couldna put ye in danger like that,” Jamie said. “Don’t ye understand? If I had asked them to deliver letters to Lallybroch, they’d know straight away I wasna who I said I was. They’d ken that Claire was the very same wife to Red Jamie. ’Twas my face on the broadsheets, aye, no’ hers, but to send letters to where she lived would be as sure as putting her face on one.” Jamie shuddered. “I ken what they’re capable of, and so do you, Janet.” He stared at Jenny darkly, and she blanched, slumping over in her chair slightly, likely remembering what Randall had almost done to her all those years ago.

“I dinna wish to think of what they would do to Red Jamie’s wife if they found her here wi’ his family.” His voice was tight with emotion as he squeezed Claire’s hand. “And now that I know that my child dwelt here as well…I…I canna bear to think what they’d do to her.” He shuddered. “As much pain as it caused ye to hear no word, I dinna regret any of it. I’d do it again if it meant keeping ye safe. All of ye.”

“You were right to think that way, Jamie,” Claire said softly, reassuring him. “They already suspected. They came by many times asking where I was when I had time to hide, and trying to question me when I didn’t. Letters from you would have been my death sentence. You’re right.”

“It’s true,” Ian chimed in. “Trying to hide that she was English when they came by was quite the feat. All they needed was the slightest bit of confirmation, and I ken they’d be dragging her away. Her and perhaps wee Brianna as well.” Ian smiled gravely at Jamie. “Ye did the right thing, lad.”

Ian turned to look expectantly at Jenny, who had significantly deflated “Aye,” she said finally, not looking him in the eye. “Suppose ye did.”

“All that matters is that ye’re back, Jamie, and that none of us are in danger because of it,” Ian said, raising his glass to him. “ Slaínte .”

Slaínte ,” everyone echoed.

A loud shriek suddenly echoed through the house, causing everyone to jump.

Claire smiled. “That wasn’t mine,” she said teasingly, knowing by now what her daughter sounded like.

“Oh, aye, sounds like Janet.” Jenny sighed. “Michael is probably tormenting her again. Excuse me.” She rose from the table and quickly strode out of the room.

Jamie also couldn’t help but smile. “Ye’ve had a great many blessings,” he said to Ian.

“Aye, we have.” He smiled. “But a great deal of hardship as well.”

His face fell a bit. “Aye, I’m sure.”

“She’s just hurt, Jamie,” Ian said gently. “She’ll come back around to ye soon enough. It was hard fer her, losing ye so suddenly like that, all of a sudden having to raise wee Jamie to fill in yer shoes as Laird someday. She took on the responsibility of keeping this land safe, keeping yer wife and child safe.” He looked pointedly at Claire. “She carried the weight of the world on her shoulders to honor yer memory. She’s just hurt that it’s all been a lie.”

Jamie nodded, his jaw hard, his eyes misting over. “Aye. I…dinna blame her.”

“She will come around, Jamie,” Claire said . “She always does. Which reminds me…”

“Ah,” Ian said, grinning a bit. “Suppose he doesna ken that we ken?”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed. “I dinna ken that they ken what?”

Claire almost laughed at the absurdity of the conversation. “I told Jenny about my being from the future. Shortly after Brianna’s birth.”

Jamie’s eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Aye, then Jenny told me,” Ian said.

“And I demanded to be let in on the secret about a year later,” Fergus chimed in.

Jamie nodded thoughtfully. “Right. That makes sense. What about the bairns?”

“No, they’re too young to understand,” Claire said. “I suppose we’ll have to tell Brianna eventually, but when she’s older.”

“Aye…I suppose…” Jamie looked to Claire. “How did she take it? Jenny?”

Claire smirked. “Not too well, at first. Her first thought was witchcraft, of course, especially because of Brianna’s seizures and this century’s association of epilepsy to the Devil.” Jamie smirked as well, picturing all-too-clearly his sister on a tirade against his wife. “But eventually she let up and we came to an understanding.”

“I didna understand it at all; still don’t, truth be told,” Ian said. “But I believed Claire’s heart to be true, so it had to be the truth. Simple as that.”

“Aye, I told myself the same thing.” Jamie looked deeply into her eyes again, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles gently.

“I think I perhaps took it better than anyone,” Fergus said with a crooked grin. “I learned  to not ask questions when it came to Maman . I’m still not convinced that she isn’t La Dame Blanche .” He raised his eyebrows at her playfully.

Claire rolled her eyes. “Right.” She grinned back at him. “ Anyway ,” Claire continued, looking at Jamie again. “I only bring it up because she did come back around. Even when…after Caitlin.” Claire’s eyes flicked to Ian, not wanting to reveal anything he didn’t wish to speak of.

“Caitlin…?” Jamie looked back and forth between them.

“Aye. Our wee lass. Born and dead on the same day.”

Jamie looked like he’d been punched in the gut, and I squeezed his hand tighter.

“Christ, Ian. I’m…I’m sorry…”

“Dinna fash, Jamie,” Ian said, though his voice was twinged with sadness. “We’ve healed the best we could.”

“Aye…but ye…ye never truly heal from…from that.”

Claire looked at him, another tear trickling down her face.

I know, love. I thought of her, too.

She allowed a brief silence to pass between them and sent up a silent prayer for her lost Goddaughter and her cousin.

“Well…Jenny was angry with me then, too,” Claire finally continued gently. “Even more than when I first told her. She blamed me for losing Caitlin because I…because I had the power to be in a safer time and I didn’t use it to save her. She was…very cold. For over a month.”

Jamie wet his lips and nodded in understanding.

“But…she came back around. We talked things through, both apologized…and we’re all the more closer and stronger together because of it.” Claire released his hand so she could touch his shoulder. “It will be the same for you. Just give her time to process.”

Jamie nodded solemnly.

“Ian!”

The woman in question suddenly loudly called out, likely from upstairs.

“Get up here and give yer son a thrashing!”

A little shriek shortly followed, and Claire had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.

Ian rolled his eyes. “Suppose I should take care of whatever that is.” He stood up and made his way around the table. He clamped a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “It’s good to have ye back, a bhalaich .”

Jamie craned his neck and turned slightly, firmly grasping Ian’s hand atop his shoulder. “Thank ye…it’s…it’s good to see you too, Ian.”

Ian smiled warmly before releasing him and making his way out of the dining room.

And then there were three.

“Fergus?” Claire said softly after a brief silence. “How are you feeling over there?”

Fergus leaned back with a sigh, his eyes widening. “How you would expect, I suppose. I thought I might faint like a woman when I saw you in the parlor, Milord.”

“Aye, thought I might as well, seein’ my mirror image in Brianna, and seein’ you so grown,” Jamie said. Fergus chuckled, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Jamie’s eyes flicked over to Claire, asking for guidance, permission.

“Just say what you’re feeling,” she whispered, quietly enough so that only he heard. “I can — ”

“No. Stay,” he said softly, but firmly.

Claire nodded gingerly before turning back to Fergus.

“I uh…I missed ye, lad,” Jamie began. “I thought of ye every day.”

“And I of you,” Fergus said.

“Ye see, I didna ken about Brianna, so I couldna picture her at all. But you, Fergus, I’d sit in that damned cell and I’d picture you and Claire, together. I pictured ye both taking comfort in one another, bringing each other joy. Since I didna ken about the bairn, I told myself that leaving her a son was the best thing I ever did. Ye gave me that comfort, Fergus. And I’m grateful fer it.”

Fergus’s face was impossible to read. He’d always been a very sensitive child, but as he'd grown, he’d gotten a handle on it, as was expected for young men. Claire hadn’t seen him truly cry since he’d thought she was dying in childbirth, and even then he was trying to be brave. He looked very much like he wanted to cry now, but Claire knew he’d never allow the floodgates to open, especially not in front of the man that she knew Fergus had come to see as a God.

“I uh, I knew full well that time had passed,” Jamie went on, fueled by Fergus’s lack of response. “But even still, I couldna reconcile that ye werena the same wee lad I sent off with the deed on that day. It breaks my heart that I couldna raise ye into a man myself as I wanted to.”

Fergus nodded slightly. “ Maman raised me into the man you would want me to be, Milord. She was mother and father to me. For you.”

Claire thought she would burst into tears at any moment.

“Aye,” Jamie’s voice sounded tight. “I’m sure she did. Ye’re…ye’re a fine young man, mon fils . I’d be proud to still call ye my son. If ye’d have me.”

Fergus abruptly stood up, and for a moment, Claire was seized by the panic that he would dash out of the room. Instead, he stood there silently, and Claire could see several emotions warring with each other on his face. Jamie stood then, too, releasing her hand. She could see his arms trembling.

Without another word, Fergus closed the small space between them and threw his arms around Jamie, and Jamie exhaled heavily, crushing the lad to him. Claire covered her mouth to stifle a sob, silent tears trickling over the back of her hand.

“You have always been my Papa, Milord,” Fergus whispered into his shoulder.

Claire could not stop herself; she stood up and approached them, gingerly touching Fergus’s shoulder. They both welcomed her into their embrace, and Claire was so overwhelmed with love she thought she might faint. She was reminded of a moment that she’d never forgotten, a moment that she’d cherished as deeply as the moment she held Brianna for the first time:

The last time she’d held both of her boys together, right before Jamie had sent them away, when Fergus’s wee head still fit under her chin, when she and Jamie had cried into his hair, together.

A real family, for the first and last time.

But she knew now that it had not been the last time.

“Oh…my boys,” Claire murmured, craning her neck to kiss Fergus’s cheek, and then Jamie’s. “My darling boys…”

“We are together again, Maman ,” Fergus kissed the top of her head. “All is well now.”

And despite her uncertainty, her inability to let go of those eight years just yet, Claire could not help but agree.

All is well now.

Chapter Text

Claire spent far too long holding onto Jamie and Fergus for dear life, but it seemed to her they were equally as reluctant to let each other go. So they swayed together, saying nothing, just breathing each other in. At some point, they pulled away, though they all still touched somehow; Jamie and Claire’s hands laced together, Fergus’s hands on Jamie and Claire’s shoulders, Jamie caressing his son’s cheek.

His son .

Christ...his heart felt fit to burst.

“Yer mam tells me ye’re a fine brother,” Jamie said hoarsely. “Ye take good care of our wee lass.”

“Aye, I do,” Fergus said, nodding. “I have always loved her. I can’t remember what it was like to not have her.”

“Oh, and she’s always loved you,” Claire said, caressing his other cheek. “She looks at you like you’ve hung the stars.”

“Knowing you, ye’ve told her ye have,” Jamie teased, and Fergus broke into a teary grin.

“There is...so much to tell you…” Fergus shook his head. “So much I have said to your grave, in my head, in my prayers...but you have not really heard any of it.”

“I’m here now, laddie. There’ll be many years to come fer ye to tell me all of it.” Jamie caressed the boy’s face with both hands, and Claire took the cue to step away for a moment.

“Such a handsome lad ye’ve become.” Jamie’s voice was rough with emotion. He tilted Fergus’s head so that he could press a kiss to his forehead, giving him every ounce of fatherly affection he had held back for eight years.

It’ll never be enough , Jamie thought miserably.

“To bed wi’ ye now, son. I’ve a few things to discuss wi’ yer mother.”

“Aye. Catching up to do.” Fergus elbowed him playfully, and Jamie snorted.

“Fergus!” Claire exclaimed, aghast. She really didn’t know what she expected; she should have known the little imp would make some lewd comment as such. She gave a light tug on one of Fergus’s curls. “Really!”

“Sorry, Maman ,” he said, but he winked at Jamie.

“Incorrigible.” Claire gave Fergus a shove. “ Both of you.”

Bonne nuit, Maman .” Fergus bent down to plant an exaggeratedly sloppy kiss on Claire’s cheek, and she rolled her eyes through it all, giving his head a shove as he started strolling away.

“Goodnight, Papa,” Fergus called over his shoulder, then disappeared out of the dining room.

Claire crossed her arms, leaning into her hip, only to be surrounded by Jamie from behind.

“Papa, is it?”

“Hm.” Claire smiled warmly, leaning into him gratefully. “He called you that sometimes, especially when he was little. I told him to call me Maman straight away, and I suppose he...he thought when you came back, you’d be Papa.”

Her voice trailed off until it was a breathy whisper.

“I don’t think he realized at first. That you...wouldn’t. Come back.”

Jamie pressed a reverent kiss to her temple, inhaling the scent of her greedily.

“I think perhaps it hurt him too badly to call you that after a while.” Claire’s throat tightened painfully. “I think it was...easier to reconcile losing his Milord than it would be to lose a father.”

Jamie hummed thoughtfully, sadly.

“But no matter what he called you, you’ve always been his father, Jamie. Just like he said.”

“Aye.” He tightened his grip on her. “I ken.”

They swayed in silence for a while, savoring the warmth of each other’s living bodies, the rise and fall of each other’s chests.

“This Governor…” Claire said after a while. “The man who...got you your freedom.”

“What about him?”

“He really did so out of...complete selflessness? He expected nothing in return?”

“Aye,” Jamie confirmed. “He’s a good man, Sassenach. As I’ve said.”

Claire shifted in his arms so she turned around to face him. “Tell me the truth, Jamie.” She looked him in the eye. “You didn’t...offer. Did you…? Like...before?”

His grip on her shoulders tightened, and her breath hitched in her throat. Perhaps he’d been sparing her before during dinner, not wanting to upset her in front of the entire family.

“Jamie.” Her voice was firm, yet it wavered.

“I did, Claire.”

She felt like she’d been punched in the throat, kicked in the stomach. Jamie had to tighten his grip again to keep her from slipping to the floor, her having gone weak in the knees.

“How could you...how could you do that…? How could you put yourself through that again…?”

“He didna accept, Sassenach.”

“After all that we -- ” She refocused her bleary vision on his face, and she saw the truth in his blue depths. “What?”

“I offered my body to him, and he didna accept.”

A few silent tears dripped down Claire’s face as she gawked at him, waiting for an explanation.

“I knew that he was partial to men by the way he spoke of a friend of his that he’d lost at Culloden. This friend always made his way into conversation when I spoke of you. Didna take much thought to put it together.” Jamie’s tone was attempting to be impartial and indifferent, but Claire could see the struggle on his face.

“I...I feared him, ye ken,” Jamie said, averting his eyes shamefully. “Knowing what I know of him now, I’m ashamed to admit it. But I feared what he was. After the things that bastard put me through.”

Claire ran her hands up the length of Jamie’s arms so that she could rub his shoulders soothingly.

“He kent who I was from the beginning, ye see. His brother told him of the lie he’d told about Red Jamie, and he knew I was no Alexander Malcolm,” Jamie went on. “He managed to have private audience wi’ me to tell me as such. Somehow the game of chess came up in conversation. And before I knew it, I was playing chess wi’ the man who held me prisoner.

“There were...rumors. Lord Grey’s predilections were no secret. I beat a fellow prisoner so senseless I almost killed him when he so much as implied that the Governor was...rogering me behind closed doors.”

Another tear slipped over Claire’s nose, and she wrapped her arms around his middle, kissing his sternum, as if to give his heart the strength to go on.

“He could have, Claire. He could have had his way wi’ me. He could so easily have been another Randall. He had every means necessary to get away wi’ it.”

“But he didn’t.”

“No. Never so much as asked. I could feel the way he looked at me...like I always felt the way you looked at me. So I knew that he...wanted me. But he never had me. I thought maybe he was afraid of the shame his fellow officers could have brought upon him.

“But then...the prison was being closed, all the prisoners sold as indentured servants to the colonies. I...I nearly went mad, Claire. The thought of being so far away from ye, veritably sold into slavery, no means of ever getting back to ye...I was desperate. So our last meeting...I offered.”

“Jamie…”

“I begged him to have his way wi’ me to buy my freedom. Those other men...they’d lost everything in the rising. They were dead men walking. But I...I had something to hold onto fer eight years...and I was about to lose it. I’d rather have suffered any indignity than face the thought of being parted from ye forever. So I told him. I told him I was at his mercy.”

“You damned fool!” Claire whispered miserably into his sark. “How could you offer such a thing…?”

Jamie actually chuckled. “John may as well have said the same thing. He seemed more than offended that I thought he’d even consider. He laughed, even. ‘That I should live to hear such an offer,’ he said.

“Then, Claire...I swear I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. He told me he’d already pulled the strings to grant me my freedom.” Claire pulled away to look up at him, having heard his voice become hoarse with emotion. “I was prepared to whore myself out and he...he’d already given me the greatest gift wi’out expecting anything in return.”

“Oh, love…” Claire caressed his face. “As much as I want to bloody throttle you for even putting yourself in that position...I am relieved that this man wanted nothing to do with it.”

“It’s what I’ve been trying to tell ye, Sassenach. He’s a good, honorable man. He did all he did fer me out of...friendship.”

Claire was so overcome with relief that she kissed him soundly, and he eagerly responded.

“I wish I could thank him,” Claire said softly. “For...for all of it.”

“Ye can,” Jamie said. “Part of the agreement of my release was that he makes regular visits to the estate to ensure I remain a loyal subject to the Crown.” Jamie rolled his eyes. “The story he gave was that I was a puir cotter forced into fighting upon threat of harm to my wife, that I couldna fully be blamed fer my actions. As Mister Malcolm, of course.”

“Bloody hell,” Claire exchanged. “He completely bent over backwards to set you free, Jamie.”

“Apparently that family takes a debt of honor quite seriously.” He tenderly kissed her forehead. “So now, Lord John Grey, former Governor of Ardsmuir Prison, is to check in once a quarter wi’ the derelict Alexander Malcolm wherever he has decided to find work. Which just so happens to be as a farmhand at Lallybroch estate.”

Claire shook her head in disbelief. “And nobody finds it suspicious that the redheaded Mister Malcolm has decided to settle down on Red Jamie’s family land?”

“If they did, John would have a thing or two to say about it,” Jamie assured. “He’s got his superiors fully convinced that I’m exactly who I say I am. Red Jamie has been dead fer eight years in the eyes of the Crown.”

“It’s unbelievable...what about all the Redcoat Captains that have been harassing us for years? They’re convinced I’m the traitorous English wife, that Brianna is your demon offspring…”

“Those officers willna be around much longer if John has anything to say about it.”

She shook her head again. “It’s like he’s waved a magic wand and made all of our troubles disappear.”

“I dinna ken about magic wands, Sassenach,” Jamie clasped his hands on the small of her back, pulling her closer. “But it certainly feels as if all is right in the world again.”

Claire kissed him gratefully, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.

“Once a quarter, hm?” she said between kisses. “You’d better tell Jenny that.”

Jamie grunted in annoyance in the back of his throat. “Dinna speak of my sister while I’m kissing ye like this, Sassenach.”

Claire laughed a bubbly laugh that melted into a delicious moan, and Jamie swallowed it as his tongue probed the inside of her mouth. The kiss deepened, and Claire began feeling dizzy, every inch of her coming to life in a blazing fire.

“Mummy?”

They pulled away from each other like they’d just been burned, and Claire choked on a startled gasp.

“Hello, darling,” she stammered, her voice thin and high pitched. She could feel the heat of Jamie’s blush radiating off his body. “Is everything alright?”

“Fergus already gave me my kiss,” Brianna said. She was standing in the doorway in her nightgown and bare feet, holding Jehu in both arms. “I waited for you to come in, but you didn’t. So I came to find you.”

Claire forced a light chuckle, leaving Jamie’s side to kneel in front of her. “I’m sorry, lovie. Your Da and I were talking about something important.”

“Talking?” Brianna challenged, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“Yes, well…” She threw a glance back to Jamie, who looked like he was trying not to burst with laughter. “We were talking. We got a little...off topic.”

Brianna blinked mutely at her, and Jehu licked his own nose and gave a little snuffle.

“You know that...married people kiss, don’t you, Brianna?” Claire said.

“Aye,” Brianna said, almost sounding offended that anyone would ask such a thing. “Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian kiss at midnight on Hogmanay. But they dinna look like that .”

Jamie did make a noise, then, a veritable snort, and Claire shot him a dangerous look.

“Right, well…” Claire made a mental note to tease Jenny about the absurdity of her niece only witnessing affection between her aunt and uncle one time out of the year. “At Hogmanay, there’s a whole room full of people. Kisses in private are just a little bit different.”

“You weren’t kissing in private, Mummy. I was right here.”

Jamie laughed out loud.

“For Christ’s sake, Jamie!” Claire snapped over her shoulder, but as she turned back to Brianna, her facade melted away, and she started laughing as well.

“What’s funny?” Brianna demanded.

“I’m sorry, darling,” Claire said. “We’re not laughing at you, I promise. Your father is a ridiculous human being.”

Brianna looked back and forth between both of her parents as if trying to decipher what the joke was, but came up short.

“I promise we’ll be more careful about being private next time. Alright?”

“Alright,” Brianna agreed, but her brow was still furrowed skeptically.

“Let’s get you to bed now.” Claire stood. “Would it be alright if...if Da joined us to say goodnight?”

Brianna looked around Claire at Jamie, then back up at Claire, and she nodded.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

Claire turned Brianna around by the shoulders and began gently pushing her along. Jamie was upon them almost immediately, no longer laughing at all.

He was joining his wife to put their daughter to bed.

It was beyond anything he’d ever dreamed he’d have.

He followed behind Claire, who trailed behind Brianna as she bounced up two flights of stairs, muttering in nonsense-Gaelic to Jehu, who panted with contentment in her arms. They reached her bedroom, and Kitty sat straight up in bed when they arrived.

“Sorry, Kitty,” Claire said. “We’ll be out in a bit. Go back to sleep.” Claire crossed the room to kiss her forehead and gently push her back into her pillows. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“G’night, Auntie.” Kitty pulled her blanket up to her chin, and then looked around Claire. “G’night, Uncle Jamie!”

She was attempting a whisper, but addressing her long-lost uncle that had come to be somewhat mythical in her young mind was far too exciting, so it came out hoarse and just a bit too loud.

“Aye,” Jamie said awkwardly, waving at her. “G’night, lass.”

She giggled a bit, pulling the blanket up higher, under her eyes. Brianna put Jehu down and he settled in at the corner of her pillow as he always did. Brianna climbed in after him, and Claire sat on the edge of the bed. She looked up at Jamie and took his hand, and he slowly crouched down beside the bed so that he was level with Claire.

“It’s been...quite an exciting day, hasn’t it?” Claire said, and Brianna nodded. “I know it’s…a lot to process, your father being here. Are you doing alright?”

Brianna nodded again. “I’m fine, Mummy.”

“Alright. If you ever have any questions, or you’re feeling uneasy, you can talk to me. You know that, don’t you?”

“Aye.”

“Good. Good girl.” Claire cupped her cheek. 

“I’m, uh...I’m here fer ye to talk to as well, lass. If ye like,” Jamie said hesitantly. “Ye dinna have to, of course. Only if ye’re comfortable.”

“Alright,” Brianna said warmly. “I like talking to you, Da.”

Jamie laughed softly, feeling warmth spread from head to toe. He squeezed Claire’s hand tighter, and she reciprocated. “I like talking to you too, m'annsachd .”

“Good.” Brianna nodded curtly, and both of her parents chuckled.

“Alright. Kisses,” Claire said, leaning in with puckered lips. Jamie’s heart felt fit to burst watching them peck each other lovingly on the lips. “Goodnight, baby. I love you.”

“Love you.”

Jamie thought Brianna might just nestle into her pillow, but she turned to look at him expectantly. He chuckled again, feeling tears burning behind his eyes. He cupped the back of Brianna’s head and pressed his lips reverently to her forehead, breathing her in, cherishing her.

“Goodnight, Brianna.”

“G’night, Da.” She pecked him on the cheek, and Jamie squeezed Claire’s hand so hard he thought it might fall off. Claire kissed his cheek as well, cupping the other one lovingly. The three of them sat there for a moment, just taking each other in, just being . Jamie watched as Claire tenderly brought Brianna’s blanket up higher and brushed her hair back.

“We’ll see you in the morning.”

Brianna smiled sleepily, and Jehu nuzzled into the crook of her neck. Claire stood up and began walking out of the room with Jamie’s hand in hers, but was met with resistance. She turned back around, her heart breaking at what she saw.

Jamie could not take his eyes off of Brianna, whose eyes were now closed. His hand was hovering over her hand, trembling like a leaf. It came down to rest on her curly head, and he exhaled with a heavy shudder, closing his eyes. Claire crouched down beside him, and then she paused, hearing him whisper in Gaelic. He was praying over her.

Claire rested her cheek on his shoulder and listened to the soothing tones of his prayer, wrapping her arms around his bicep and stroking him soothingly. His prayer ceased, and Claire looked up at him.

“She’ll still be there tomorrow, love,” she whispered.

Jamie nodded tearfully, swallowing so that Claire could see his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“Look,” Claire whispered, cocking her head toward Brianna.

“She smiles in her sleep,” she said. “Just like you.”

Jamie let his fingertips trail down her face, his touch light as a feather, and his pointer finger brushed over the corner of her upturned lips. Her lip twitched at the contact, the smile widening, her head unconsciously turning toward his touch.

“I could watch her sleep fer hours…” Jamie whispered hoarsely.

“I know. I always felt that way when she was a baby. I still do sometimes.”

Claire gave him a moment in silence, waiting until he was ready. He cleared his throat after a moment, and then crossed himself. Claire gave his hand a squeeze, grounding him, giving him the strength to get up and leave his daughter’s side.

“She’ll still be there tomorrow,” Jamie said, confirming it.

“She will.”

With a curt nod and a visual sweep of the room (as if double checking for danger as an ingrained behavior) Jamie made for the door, gently pulling Claire behind him. Claire shut the door as quietly as humanly possible, and when she turned around, she was immediately and abruptly met with Jamie’s hands on her face and his lips on hers. She whimpered in shock, but then melted into him, threading her arms around his neck. He probed her lips with his tongue and she greedily accepted, whimpering again, this time for a much different reason.

Jamie pulled away far too quickly, and Claire was breathless.

“What was that for…?”

“Fer creating that beautiful child.”

Overcome, Claire kissed him again. “You created her too, Jamie.”

“Oh, aye, I’m well aware.”

He swallowed her again, and Claire felt that unmistakable hardness against her hip. Something ignited within her, something left dormant for far too long. She lapped at the inside of his mouth, becoming desperate. She pulled herself ever closer to him, and she had to physically restrain herself from gyrating her hips to relieve the pressure building between her legs.

Jamie abruptly pulled away again, his lips -- swollen and pink from Claire’s assault -- quirked into a smug grin.

“Not here, mo nighean donn .”

He took her hand, kissing it chivalrously, as if he hadn’t just had his tongue down her throat, and then he pulled her behind him toward the stairs.

Every step on the staircase had Claire’s heart hammering faster and louder. Every step was a step closer to her bedroom, a place where she was absolutely certain of what was to come. By the time they reached the bottom, she could hardly feel her legs, and the floor felt like it was tipping beneath her. Her mouth was dry, swallowing was painful.

Jamie paused at the door, turning back to grin at her before opening it and pulling her in after him. Claire was trembling from head to toe, most of all her hands, and she attempted to steady them on the door. She deliberately took longer than she should have to close the door, terrified to turn around and find what awaited her.

She knew he’d be looking at her with fire in his eyes, and she knew she’d be powerless to resist him if she didn’t slow down. Her heartbeat was pulsing in her temples, and she was warm . Everywhere. She took a deep, stuttering as she pushed the door shut, steeling herself for the conversation that they needed to have before anything continued.

Christ, she was terrified.

Chapter Text

Claire shut the door and slowly turned around. The way he was looking at her set her skin afire and turned her insides liquid. He was burning for her, she knew. And she’d be a fool to say she wasn’t burning for him. But she had to tell him.

“Jamie,” Claire said, breathless, surprised and embarrassed by how wanton it sounded. “You know…you know I want you.”

“Aye. Ye ken my wanting of you is…is maddening.”

“I know…but we…we have to talk about something first.” She only just now realized she’d been staring at the ground as she talked, and she finally forced herself to look up at him again. The desire was still there, but there was apprehension on his face now as well. Claire wordlessly moved to the