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Prodigal Son

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Outside Saratoga Springs, NY

September 1979

Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, as she liked to think of herself, was hot, tired, and cranky. The humidity hung thick in the air, sweat clinging to her skin. In fact, it felt as though everything was clinging to her skin; clothes, dust, even the smells of so many bodies crowded into one place. She sat down on a bench and sighed, taking in the scene before her. It was mid September, but the afternoon sun partially blinded her, so she had to lift a hand to her forehead and squint in order to bear keeping her eyes open. “Bloody well can’t believe I left my sunglasses at the hotel,” she muttered to herself, for perhaps the millionth time that day.

“Talking to yourself again, Mama?” 

Claire’s hand rose to her chest and she jumped. “Christ, you really shouldn’t sneak up on people, Bree.” Brianna giggled and let go of Roger’s hand to place it on her mother’s shoulder. She moved one long finger, frowning slightly as she collected a bead of sweat that had run down Claire's neck.

“Mama, you look tired. And I know that this isn’t really your thing. Why don’t you take the car and go back to the hotel and rest? Or go do something you enjoy. You’ve been traipsing around with us all week. You’ve been a trooper; we can manage without you for an afternoon.”

Claire sighed and stretched her legs. It was all true. This vacation to upstate New York had been Bree and Roger’s idea, and it was no wonder. A trip to visit old military forts and battlegrounds was the perfect getaway for a pair of historians, but Claire had already seen, had already lived , enough history for a lifetime.

Still, she had agreed to go along because it was their last chance to spend time together at home before Roger stole her daughter away to England. “No, Beauchamp,” Claire quickly lectured herself. “Stop thinking about it like that. You love Roger. Bree loves Roger.” 

This was part of growing older, she supposed, along with the new crick in her back, the ankle that always seemed to swell when she stood on her feet for too long, the gray that had infiltrated her formerly brown, unruly curls. All of this and her only daughter, “Only living daughter,” she corrected herself, falling in love and leaving to start a new life. It was a good thing, a natural thing. Those words formed a mantra that she repeated over and over in her mind, and yet, she could already feel the hole boring into her heart. 

“Hello? Mama, are you with us?” Bree's light-hearted voice pulling her back to the moment.

Claire turned her head and gave the couple a small smile. The sunlight sparkled off Bree's red curls and Claire had to take an extra moment to steady herself. My God, you are so like your father. 

“You’re right. I’m tired. I think I’ll go back to the hotel and take a rest. Maybe when the sun starts to set, it will cool off a little and I can take a walk someplace with a little more grass and a lot less dust,” she said, looking around at the bare ground surrounding the visitor's center, clearly having been trampled by day after day of summer tourists. Even as she watched, the footprints left by those gone by were replaced by others, tracks covered over and over again. She blinked, realizing she had once again become lost in the confines of her own mind, and refocused her attention toward her family. “How will you get back?”

“Och, dinna fash yerself, Claire,” Roger replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. Claire smiled, as she always did when Roger spoke to her in his melodic Scots. “The hotel said they had shuttles. If ye’ don’t mind, sign us up on the list for pick up at 4. That’ll give us time to get back and changed in time for dinner.”

***

Claire walked to the car, grateful to be getting out of the unusually hot September sun, feeling relieved to have some time to herself. The relief was accompanied by a touch of guilt, but not quite enough to change her mind about seeking some solitude. She was someone who appreciated, craved, alone time; needed it to survive. Each of the last five days had been spent with the happy couple, listening to their conversations in the car, trailing along behind them as they visited historic sites, and offering her opinions on items when they took a detour and went shopping. Each night the trio had lingered over dinner and drinks, staying up much too late, savoring each other’s company, with the unspoken knowledge that it would likely be a long time before they would able to do something like this again. It was important and it made her happy, but there was no denying that it was cutting into the peace and quiet that she desperately needed to feel like herself once more. 

She took a glance in the mirror, quickly determined there was no hope for the curly mass on her head in this heat, took quick stock of the number of wrinkles in the corners of her golden eyes, and started the car, slowly backing out of the parking spot. She was slightly turned around but confident that she could follow the winding Battlefield Road until she got back to the main highway. 

As she turned onto the narrow, paved road, she forced herself to feel happiness for Bree. Her little girl was not so little anymore, almost thirty-one years old now, high time to finally settle down; Roger was eight years her senior and Claire knew he would be eager to start a family now that Brianna had finally finished her Doctorate. She smiled, thinking of how proud Frank would have been when Brianna called with the news that her thesis had been accepted; that her hard work had paid off, that she was finally done. “Dr. Brianna Wakefield.” They were a family full of MDs and PhDs and her heart swelled with pride, though the pleasant thoughts were quickly drowned out by heavy memories, a sharp pang in her chest and dread in the pit of her stomach as the voice in her head reminded her, “Not all of you.” Your father would have been proud, too. 

Turning her focus back to the road, Claire realized that, while she had gotten further and further away from the visitor’s center, she also didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the main road. No bother, she thought to herself. It was all one big loop; she would eventually find her way to one of the landmarks, the main road, or even back to where she began.

“Ye always were terrible with directions, Sassenach.” 

The voice rang in her head loud and clear, as if Jamie were sitting right beside her in the passenger seat. She took a deep shaking breath and forced herself to concentrate on the road. 

“Aye, that’s right; you should watch where yer goin’, driving around in this death trap. If yer no careful, ye’ll wind up in a ditch.”  

Claire sighed, rolled her eyes at her long dead husband, and continued to ignore him. The older she got, the more he seemed to visit her, his presence haunting her dreams at night and following her around like a relentless spirit in the day. “Probably because I get closer to being with him every day,” she thought dryly. She chuckled to herself then, thinking of how much Jamie would hate riding in a car, how sick he would likely be from the motion. The two boat trips she had taken with him had been agony for him – and for Claire by extension.  

Her heart caught in her throat as she thought of the child she had been carrying in her belly on the trip to France, the child whom she did not carry in her arms when they had returned to Scotland. Faith

“Aye, I think of her too, still, Sassenach. Ye’ll no’ ever get over the loss of a child.” 

Claire shook her head vigorously, as if she could forcefully remove the memories from her mind and directed all her attention on the road again, looking for any sign that would point her in the direction she needed to go. Christ, for all she knew, she had been driving in circles while she daydreamed about her dead husband and child. “Pull yourself together, Beauchamp. This is the last time I’m going to tell you.”

She saw a small sign about fifty feet ahead and slowed the car. Squinting, she had forgotten her driving glasses at the hotel too, she inched up toward the sign. “Direction of Fraser’s Forces,” it read, with an arrow pointing to the left. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she muttered under her breath. She sat there idling for a few moments, trying to decide what to do before she swung the car to the left and followed the arrow.

It wasn’t that she had any particular interest in General Fraser and his forces. She already knew, from Bree and Roger' research into the Fraser family, that he had been a kinsman to Jamie, some distantly related cousin. And it certainly wasn’t that she had any interest in seeing another battlefield. It was just that, on days like these, when she felt surrounded by ghosts, it was easier not to fight it. Better to just give in to the universe’s way of forcing her to remember. 

The road narrowed until she reached an empty parking lot, covered in gravel that crunched beneath the rubber tires as she pulled her car off to one side. There was a small path ahead, surrounded by high, vibrant grass. She should have just turned around and tried to find the main road once more, but her botanist’s heart led the way. As if her body was acting on its own, she grabbed her basket and scissors, locking the car door behind her. 

The uneven, dirt path was just wide enough for two people to walk side by side comfortably and there were worn, informational signs resting on posts sporadically along the path. Claire ignored these and kept her eye out for any herbs or flowers that might be interesting or serve a medicinal purpose. She was concentrating so hard on the task at hand that she hadn’t even noticed that she was no longer on the path. She took one step, then another, before she noticed the low buzzing sound surrounding her. As the noise grew louder, she paused and turned in a circle to see if there was a swarm of bees nearby. Seeing nothing, she shook her head, trying to get her bearings, wondering for a moment if she was falling victim to a sudden onslaught of tinnitus. The rational side of her mind calmed her momentarily, enabling her to absent-mindedly take a few more steps, until a realization had her heart leaping into her throat. Her body knew the sound before her mind even registered it: standing stones, and close by. 

Taking a deep breath, Claire quickly turned around to head back to the path. As she did, her foot caught in a small divot and her ankle twisted beneath her. “Dammit that’s my bad ankle,” she thought as she went down, basket and scissors flying out of her grasp. The sound of the stones filled her body, vibrating, a siren song calling to her, their power drawing her in. She needed to get the hell out of this place as quickly as possible, but the moment she tried to stand up, even the slightest bit of pressure on her foot caused pain to shoot up her leg. She winced, squeezing her eyes shut and taking deep and measured breaths in an attempt to center herself. Just as the pain was finally abating and her heartbeat was steadying, through her closed eyes, she saw a bright flash of light as the air filled with a cacophony, as if the world’s largest lego had accidentally been sucked up into an industrial vacuum hose.

And then…silence.

The buzzing was gone, and the air was completely still. Claire slowly opened her eyes and blinked. As the spots cleared from her vision, she saw a figure standing about fifty feet away, silhouetted by the sun. 

He was tall, that much she could tell, taller than Bree’s six feet by several inches at the very least. He appeared to be frozen for a moment, a dark frame with no discernable features, a lean muscular build set against the sky, until a cloud passed over the sun. Claire could not hold back the choking gasp that escaped as she saw Jamie’s chiseled jawline, complete with a slight cock of his head. She closed her eyes again, willing herself to wake up. She must have hit her head when she fell. That was the only logical explanation. 

When she opened her eyes, he had moved closer to her. He still stood at a respectable distance, but now she could see his features clearly: blue cat eyes peering out under a tricorn hat, a long straight nose set between broad cheekbones. Her gaze shifted down, drawn by the glimmer of an Officer's gorget resting on a red uniform coat. At this sight, she choked on a scream, trying to scramble to her feet like a crab scurrying away from a predator, only to have lightning shoot up her leg from foot to hip bone, paralyzing her. At that, the scream let loose and the white orbs that had been hovering in the corners of her vision darkened and spread.

When she was able to open her eyes once more, he was inches from her face. She drew her breath in and didn’t let it out. A chestnut curl was peeking out of his hat, just above his left eye.

And then he spoke, and she heard not the broad, lilting tone of the Highlands, but a polished, crisp accent of London. 

“Are you all right madam?”

Chapter Text

Claire had still not let her breath out. Standing before her was simultaneously Jamie and not Jamie. How was this possible? As her vision began to fade at the edges again, she forced her breath out and then slowly back in.

Every fiber in her body thrummed in a visceral reaction to seeing him, but as she slowly regained her composure, logic crept in. The man who stood before her, though lean and muscular like Jamie, was much more slender, with that vague sense of teenage awkwardness still emanating from his features.  His head was covered by his tricorn and the small curl that peaked out from under the brim was a deep chestnut, not the flaming read that Brianna had inherited from her father. And of course there was the red officer's uniform and English accent.

Get a hold of yourself, Beauchamp.

Any normal person would assume she was looking at a reenactor, someone whose hobby, or perhaps even job, was to walk around in Revolutionary War uniforms, doing a terrible job of staying in character. But Claire knew better. The thrum of the stones echoed in her body and she could still see the flash of light that had blinded her through her closed lids.

"Madam? Are you injured?" His voice pierced through her whirling mind. 

Slowly she focused her senses, clearing her throat, gone dry. "Well yes, I suppose I am, Mr…?"

"Lord Ellesmere," he said formally, with a bow.

Definitely not a reenactor.

"Can I offer you some assistance, Mrs….?" he went on.

"Randall. Doctor Randall." Claire answered, attempting to sound calm, but her nerves betrayed her and her answer came out curt, "I don't know that you can, Lord Ellesmere. I seem to have injured my ankle and, unless you are planning to carry me out of here, I'm not sure there is much you can do."

The young man stood back, contemplating. Claire marveled at the deep brooding look of concentration on his face; he looked quite uncannily like Jamie had looked any time he was considering something carefully, placing one hand under his chin, his mouth set in a straight line. "Well, I suppose then I will have to do just that," he said in a tone indicating that the matter was closed.

This was all getting away from Claire too quickly and she needed to think. This young man, this Lord, was most surely in the wrong time, and it was obvious to Claire that he had no clue what had happened. "Why are you out here all alone?" she asked.

He stiffened slightly. “I could ask the same of you.” Something about his tone was strange; not suspicious, but more patronizing. Christ, she thought, realization dawning on her, He’s treating me like I’m an old woman. Hmmmph.

She pulled her upper body up as straight as possible. “Well, I was just collecting some plants, that’s all.”

“Madam,” his tone sounding more exasperated by the minute, “Do you really think the meadows surrounding an army encampment are the safest place to pick flowers?”

There it was. All the confirmation she needed. This young soldier had no idea that he had just traveled through time. How did it not have affect him? How could he stand there so calm and whole? Both times she had gone through the stones, her body had felt as though it was being torn apart and imploding simultaneously. It had taken her hours to regain consciousness.

Where to even begin with this stranger? How was she going to explain to him where he was, when he was? “You must have strayed rather far from the camp, don’t you think? It certainly doesn’t sound like there is an army nearby.”

“It appears you have me at a disadvantage, Madam. I am afraid that I am a little lost myself. I had wandered off for a little while, just to get away from all the….the…everything,” he paused, taking a deep breath. “I sat down on a stone to rest and then a…..a…..cannon must have been shot off. I saw a bright flash of light and I couldn’t hear anything. I came to beside what I thought was the same stone I had been sitting on, but I suppose it must have been a different one, because nothing around me is the same.”

“Lord Ellesmere –“ Claire began.

“Please,” he interrupted, his voice betraying the slightest shake. “Please, call me William, Dr Randall.”

“Well then, you may call me Claire. Agreed? Good. I need to tell you something, and you are not going to believe what I have to tell you. It isn't going to make any sense, and you may think me mad after the telling, but I ask only for one thing.” He nodded, examining her face. “Trust me. You don’t have to believe me, but I do need you to trust me. Does that sound like something you can do?”

He gave another slow nod, his adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.

“Good, then. Listen carefully. You are not near your army camp. Look around; do you see any sign of an impending battle?" She paused at this point, allowing him to take in his surroundings. "The stone you sat on, were there other stones around it? In a circle?"

He nodded slightly. His face had gone pale and she could see that his breathing was becoming shallow.

"Today is September 15, 1979," she said firmly, ripping the band-aid off.

His face went through several contortions before it settled on a neutral, firm look. He cleared his throat, "Yes, well,  Dr. Randall. Let's see about getting you home."

She could tell that he was patronizing her again, but she didn't argue; knowing the truth would be plain to him soon enough. "I think, if you help me up and support me, I can manage to hobble a bit."

He reached out a large hand and she placed her smaller one on it. A warmth flooded over her as she remembered the feel of Jamie’s hand, so much like the one that now grasped hers firmly, her body remembering the feeling of safety. She placed her other hand on the ground and hoisted her good leg so that the foot was ready to bear all her weight. Pausing to ensure her balance, she gripped the hand harder, feeling his own muscles tense as he gently pulled. With considerable effort she managed to get herself upright.

"Madame, do you mind if I…." his voice trailed off and she realized he was noticing her clothing for the first time. She ignored this and placed the toe of her injured foot to the ground to test its limits. There was only mild protest, so she started ahead in a slow, half-hop, half shuffle. William gripped her firmly, allowing her to hold his free hand, gripping for balance, guiding her and ensuring she did not fall.

They moved this way in silence for some time. When she stopped to catch her breath, the young soldier - showing no signs of tiring himself - asked, "How much farther to your home?"

"Oh," she said dismissively. "My home is nowhere near here. But my car is parked just a bit more ahead." No use beating around the bush.

He turned his head and gave her a puzzled look, his brow furrowed momentarily. "Right, let's forge ahead then."

They hobbled in silence again, though Claire’s mind was racing. Who was this young man who looked so much like Jamie? When did he come from? What on earth was she going to do with him?

Finally they reached the edge of the path. Her car sat where she had left it. Claire saw the veneer of William's face begin to crack. "What -" he croaked. But before he could stutter another word, a car pulled slowly into the parking lot, the rumble of the motor low and steady. Claire glanced at William and watched all the color drain from his face. She could feel him begin to sway.

"Oh no you don't," she said sternly, grabbing him by the chin and turning his face to hers. "You are not going to faint. Do you hear me? If you go down,  I won't stand a chance. Do you hear me?"

"Yes," he breathed.

***

Claire maneuvered the car carefully down the Battlefield Road, never breaking 20 miles per hour. William's face had regained some color, though lime green wasn't exactly an improvement. She glanced at him, one arm gripping the handle of the door tightly, the other pressed against the ceiling. Well, now I know for sure how Jamie would react to a car ride.

"Listen," she said, "it's going to be okay. I'm going to take you back to my hotel and we'll get you sorted out. My daughter and her husband, they know about the time travel, too. We can help you." She looked to her right again and saw in his eyes that he was listening, even if he didn't reply.

Finally she pulled back into the visitor center's parking lot. "We'll wait here for them. They should be back looking for the hotel shuttle soon." A pause. "William, I know this is a lot to take in. Trust me, I have been there." She reached her hand over and pulled his arm down, putting his hand.

He licked his lips and spoke, slowly. "So you're telling me that you time traveled to the 1740s and then came back to the 1970s?" She had given him the general outlines of her experience with the stones as they had set out in the car.

"Well, yes and no. I traveled from 1945 and came back in 1948. It was a very long time ago." Though the pain still feels fresh on many days.

"Can I...go back?"

"I suspect so, but I don't know if it's safe to go back through right away."

He looked down at his lap. "What will I do until I know it's safe?"

Claire looked into his eyes, "Don't worry.  You'll be safe with me."

A sudden tap at the window made her jump. Bree stood outside the car door rolling her fist in a circular motion. Claire obliged and rolled down the window. "Mama, who is this?" Bree asked, her voice high pitched and urgent. Roger stood behind her, worry etched in his forehead.

"Brianna, Roger, this is Lord --"

"William," he interrupted. "William Ransom."

"Get in," Claire said dryly. "We have a lot to talk about."

Chapter Text

As soon as they got back to the hotel, Claire wrapped her ankle, but it was already starting to feel better after a dram whisky. That taken care of, Claire and Brianna drove downtown to purchase William some appropriate clothing, leaving William with Roger. They shopped in silence for a bit, and then Bree took in a deep breath and said softly "Mama? Roger thinks he looks just like me."

Half of Claire’s mind was a million miles away but she responded, trying her best to sound casual. "Does he? That's interesting."

"Do you think so?" Brianna went on, ignoring her mother's tone, as they began flipping through the racks of clothes. 

"Do you think bell bottoms would work? Claire replied, holding up a pair of pants. 

"Mama, why are you avoiding my question?"

"I'm not avoiding it, Brianna. I just don't know what to say. He does look like you. In fact, if you've ever wanted to see what your father looked like, you finally have the chance," Claire tried to suppress the irritation in her tone as she spoke.

Bree frowned at this. She grabbed a shirt off a rack and walked over to Claire to pair it with the pants in her hands. "What does it mean, Mama? Is he related to me…..to my father?" She choked a little on her last words. 

"I don't know how he could be." Claire grabbed some more everyday clothing, eyeing it carefully as she spoke. "When he first introduced himself, he said his name was Lord Elesmere. And he's clearly English. How on earth could an English Lord have any connection to Jamie?" 

Bree was deep in thought as she grabbed some socks and undergarments. "How old did he say he was?"

"Nineteen, almost twenty. And I know what you are thinking Bree. I've already done the math. He was born two years after the last trace we found of Jamie. Besides, even if Jamie left Ardsmuir alive, he most likely was sent to the Colonies with the rest of the prisoners. This young man was obviously British-born. Taking into account all of that and the fact that there is no possible way for a convicted traitor from Scotland to be that closely related to an English peer, it just isn't possible." Bree frowned and a hint of tears glistened in her eyes. Claire threw the clothing she had gathered over one arm and put the other around her daughter's waist. "Look," she continued quietly, "it gave me one hell of a shock when I first saw him too. Perhaps there is a distant relation. I don't know. Maybe we'll find out, but I also know that he seems a rather sensitive young man who has obviously been through a lot. I am not going to press him with questions about his lineage right now."

"But -"

Claire cut her off. "Bree, if I had any reason to believe that there was an actual connection to your father, I would ask. You know I - " she took a deep breath, steadying her voice. The pain she felt was acute, different from the lingering, chronic pain she lived with daily.  "You know I would do anything to find out if he left Ardsmuir alive, for your sake as much as for mine." Tears clung to her lower lashes, threatening to fall if she so much as blinked. "But I've thought all the possibilities through and the best approach for all of us, is not to press him for details that he might not even have." She hugged Brianna then, a few tears escaping, and whispered, "I wish I knew what happened to him too. I think of him all day, every day. The worrying and wondering never stops." 

Bree hugged her mother back, feeling selfish that she had even pushed the subject. As much as it hurt her to think of her biological father and wonder what happened to him, she had never known him. She couldn't miss him in the way her mother so painfully wore on her face each and every day. She wished she could know him with a fervor that sometimes sent her mind into a hurricane of anger and grief and sadness, but it wasn't the same, and it wasn't fair for her to prod at her mother's festering wound because of her own morbid curiosity. She broke from Claire's embrace with a final rub of her mother's back. "You're right mama. Come on. Let's pay for these and go back to the hotel. I'm starving."

***

Roger had gotten through some of the salient details of William's life with him while Claire and Bree were shopping and he relayed them while William showered and dressed: he was born in the English Lake District in 1758 and become an Earl on the same day of his birth, his father perishing in the aftermath of his mother's death in childbirth. He was raised on his mother's family's estate, Helwater, and later adopted by his Aunt Isobel and her husband. His step-father, Lord John Grey, was made Governor of Jamaica in 1767 and Wiliam and Isobel left England to join him there the following year. Isobel died aboard the ship, leaving Lord John his sole guardian. They left for the Colonies soon after. He later attended boarding school in England before purchasing an Officer's Commission and being sent back to the Colonies as part of the forces that were meant to quell the Revolution. They had been preparing for battle when he had taken a walk away from the encampment and made the unfortunate mistake of sitting on the wrong stone at the wrong time.

Over dinner, they had gotten to know each other, William filling in the smaller details of his life, Roger and Bree discussing their impending move to Oxford, Claire giving the details of her medical career. Roger gave William the broad strokes of the rest of the war William had left behind, the latter having a hard time believing that the British had been bested. They all tried to fill William in on the events of the next two hundred years, all talking over one another in their excitement. Their easy banter and companionability was contagious and William found himself caught up in it, enjoying their company and trying to ask questions when he could get a word in edgewise. 

He was particularly captivated by the lovely Brianna. There was something about her curious eyes and broad smile that put him at ease instantly. He felt a sense of kindred connection to her, a feeling one would be lucky to find in only a few people in their lifetime. Her laughter was contagious and William surprised himself by joining her in it on several occasions, unsure of the last time he had laughed like that. She was a delight to be around and he was disappointed to learn that she would be leaving soon with her Scottish husband. 

The Scot himself was a delightful surprise. An educated man, a professor of history. He had a natural way of storytelling, easily captivating his audience, and the gentle, open manner of a teacher that made you ready to trust him with your life story. William felt a small pang at his easy, instructive manner; it reminded him of Mac, the groom at Helwater who had taught him everything he knew about riding.

Claire was a life-force unto herself and, while he was fascinated by her life story, what he truly wanted to hear about was the three years she left out at dinner. "That is a story best told over whisky," she had said in a hoarse, smoky voice. 

And now the four of them sat, sipping whisky on the terrace of Claire’s hotel room, the cool evening air a relief after the harshness of the day. Claire told him of her travel through the stones - he still had a hard time reconciling that idea -  landing in Scotland in 1743. She had fallen in love with a Highlander named Jamie Fraser. She had followed him into the battles of The Rising of '45 but left to go back to the 20th century before the Battle of Culloden, in order to protect Brianna's safety.

William spoke quietly, "My father and uncle were at Culloden, my step-father that is."

Claire merely gave a soft grunt at that, thinking that subject best not be explored further. 

"So you left? Without knowing whether or not he was dead?" William asked, unable to contain his curiosity.

"Well, yes," Claire replied, taking a deep drink of her whisky. It burned her throat, both soothing and punishing at the same time. "But I did find out later that he survived Culloden. He was imprisoned for a time at Ardsmuir, but when the prison closed we couldn't trace him any further. Eventually I gave up. A very good friend of mine told me a long time ago to not spend my life chasing ghosts, so I made the decision to let him live on in my memories. Once Brianna knew, it was different than before. I had someone I could talk to about him and could finally acknowledge that part of my life. It hasn't been easy, but I feel him with me everyday, and that is a comfort." Her face was a complicated mixture of pain and love.

William cleared his throat "Did you say Ardsmuir?" Claire nodded. "My father was Governor there when it closed." He said this quietly, unsure of what he could possibly say next. 

Roger and Brianna exchanged a sudden, eager look. Claire remained composed outwardly, though the slight tremor of her hand as she put her glass on the table in front of them gave her away. "Is that so?" she replied shakily.

William's voice was agitated, frustration clearly apparent, "I wish I could reach him somehow. I'm sure he would be able to tell you of your husband's fate. He knew the name of every prisoner under his charge." William was proud of his father and the care he took in his duties. 

Claire cleared her throat and looked down at her hands in her lap. "That's the hell of this time travel business," she said quietly, "You can't write a letter or pick up the phone. Your loved ones are simultaneously dead and alive, suspended in time, and there is no way to reach them." She looked up and attempted to erase the pain on her face, forcing a smile, "Well, I'm feeling rather tired. I think I’ll go to bed. William, there are pajamas on the second bed for you when you are ready to retire. Tomorrow we will try to figure out if it's safe or not for you to go back through."

At that she rose, favoring her bad ankle. She limped inside, leaving the three of them so she could escape to her dreams, where Jamie held her close and safe every night.

***

At breakfast the next morning, Claire was as cool and composed as usual, a sharp contrast to Brianna who looked like she hadn’t slept all night and spoke fervently of her opinion on the safest way to get William back to his own time. Claire could see it in her eyes, the genuine concern she had for this young man, who was not quite a stranger, but unfamiliar all the same. She recognized the look of fierce protection on her daughter's face, had seen it enough time on Jamie's. 

"If we send him back now, he could be dropped right in the middle of gun fire, not even considering the possible effects on the body of going through twice in such a short span of time." She cut a piece of sausage and pointed her knife at William in a manner that almost made Claire laugh. She could see Jamie in her daughter's sense of knowing what was best , not to mention her stubbornness. 

"No. It's too dangerous."

"Be reasonable, Bree," Roger responded. "Ye ken the battle willna start for another three days. If the lad wants tae get back to his men, we should take him today."

William opened up his mouth to speak but Bree cut him off. "You don't know that the time is an exact match, Roger. A few days margin of error is too close for comfort. It's too dangerous." She set her silverware down with an audible clank. "I won't have it."

William again tried to speak, but Claire beat him to it, "I agree we need to be cautious, but there also isn't any reason William should stay here longer than he has to. The worst thing to happen is for his command to assume he has gone MIA. He could be branded a deserter and his life will be in even more danger when he eventually goes back. Besides, I'm sure his family will worry about him."

This time Roger started to speak, but Brianna sent him a look that made him close his mouth again. He turned to William on his right and leaned over to speak to him while Claire and Brianna continued their debate. "Would ye like to go fer a walk? We'll bide while these two decide our fate." William nodded, glad to have an ally. They both excused themselves from the table, eliciting barely a wave from the two women.

Together, they walked out of the dining room and through the quiet hotel lobby, into the morning sun. It was noticeably cooler than the day before and both men breathed in the refreshing air, walking silently around the side of the hotel to a small spot of shaded grass with a bench and some flower beds.  William stood, leaning against a tree and Roger took the bench with a resigned sigh. 

William chuckled, "Never in my life have I seen women with such vehement opinions."

"Aye," Roger replied. "It's a lot more common in this time, I'm sure, than yers, but those two are a unique pair in any time." The love and admiration he had for both was clear not only in his tone, but also on his face. "They have yer best interest at heart, ya ken? Claire, well, she's been through this before, and Brianna…" his voice trailed off. William raised an eyebrow at Roger, urging him to complete his thought. Roger was hesitant, and he sat rubbing his beard for a moment before continuing. "Ye look like her, ya ken? I dinna ken why, but it's obvious to anyone with eyes. She feels a kinship wi' ye, wants to protect ye."

Realization dawned on William's face. He was silent, considering before he spoke. "Yes, I suppose you're right about that. I feel it too, begging your pardon."

Roger waved this away dismissively, "Och, I ken what ye mean." Then, changing the subject, "What do you want to do, William?"

William straightened, clearly determined,  "I want to go back. It's been a wondrous experience seeing all of this," he gestured broadly, "and I have very much enjoyed meeting all of you. But I am eager to lead my men; I have been waiting for this for quite some time. And my father will worry terribly about me."

Roger nodded. "Aye, let's get you ready then. I'll deal with our own Generals here while you get dressed." They turned and walked back to the hotel entrance in silence.

***

Roger turned the car into the gravel parking lot, dust swirling under the wheels as he put the car in park. William sat in the passenger seat in his soldier's uniform, his gorget around his neck, tricorn in his lap. Claire and Brianna were brooding in the backseat, neither satisfied with the outcome of the morning's debate. Roger saved putting his foot down with them for only the most important matters, so they both knew that he was serious when he told them he was taking William back whether they liked it or not.

"Well then," Roger said, turning off the ignition. "Best get on with it." They exited the car into the sunny day. A gentle breeze whispered through the tall grass as they walked on, somber as a funeral procession.

Claire attributed the pang in her heart to the deep, painful memories of Jamie taking her to the stones at Craigh Na Dun that chilly April morning, knowing she would never see him again. Reliving that day with this young man who looked so much like him was almost too much to bear. 

Brianna was equally pained, telling herself that it was her fear for his safety that made her entire being cry out to him not to go. But if she were being honest with herself, she knew it was more than that. The connection she felt with him ran deep in her bones and she wanted him to stay so she could get to know him better, spend time with him. A single tear ran down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away before anyone could take notice. 

William and Claire led the way, her ankle still slightly sore to be navigating the rough terrain. He kept one hand on her elbow protectively. Brianna walked with her arms crossed in front; Roger took up the rear. It was not far and soon Brianna broke the silence, "Do you hear that? It sounds like there's a beehive nearby." 

Claire paused, turning around. "It isn’t bees. That's the call of the stones.. You hear that?"

Brianna nodded and Roger spoke, "Aye, I hear it too." 

Claire looked at them both thoughtfully. "I'm certain that means you can travel too," she said. "You must be very careful. The stones can draw you in like a magnet. It's best if we all stand back once we get closer."

They left the path and got as close as Claire determined would be safe. Roger turned to William first, shaking his hand, "It was great to meet you, man. Wish we'd had more time to get know each other." 

William nodded and turned to Brianna. He began to make a bow to her, but she surprised him by putting her hands on his shoulders pressing a gentle kiss against his cheek. He flushed a deep red, and she whispered in his ear, "Please be safe," before turning and walking several feet feet away, her back turned to them.

Claire stood before William, memorizing his face. She held both his hands in hers and gave them a firm squeeze. "Remember, when you touch the stone, you must think of your family. That's the only way we know of to help guide you to the right time," she put her hands to his face, examining it for just a moment longer. "I am so grateful to have met you."

"And I, you, Claire. Thank you all for everything." William gave them all a brief bow and placed his hat on his head, pivoting to follow the buzzing to the stones. Reaching the stone he had sat on, just twenty-four hours before, he looked back at them one last time and smiled. Slowly, deliberately, he sat on the stone and disappeared. 

Chapter Text

Claire stood silent, looking at the empty stone, tears stinging at the back of her eyes. She breathed deeply and turned to face Roger and Brianna. They were both stunned, mouths agape. Despite the unexpected emptiness she felt, she knew it was time to move on. That was one skill she had learned, at the very least.

 

"All right then, let's go. Nothing more to do here,” Claire said in a crisp, reserved tone. She took two steps toward them before she was startled by the same deafening sound she had heard when William first arrived. A bright flash of light blinded her temporarily and she ducked down instinctively, covering her face with her arms.

 

Brianna, recovering first, stood and stared ahead.  Sprawled out on the ground near the stone was William. She ran toward him, rushing across the uneven terrain; it was a miracle that she managed to stay afoot given the little stumbles and trips along the way. He was unconscious when she reached him and she knelt beside him, gently tapping the sides of his face. "Mama!" she yelled over her shoulder.

 

Claire and Roger had gotten their bearings by this time and were moving toward Bree and William. By the time they reached them, William was rolling his head from side to side, eyelids beginning to flutter. Claire knelt next to Brianna and felt his pulse. Steady , she thought. Well that’s one small blessing. “William? William? Can you open your eyes?”

 

Opening one eye cautiously, he was shocked to see Claire’s face hanging over him, her greying curls grazing his face. He slowly opened the other eye, his long lashes fluttering, and gingerly pushed himself into an upright position “What the devil happened?”

 

“You didn’t make it through,” Claire replied. 

 

“That can happen?” His voice was incredulous.

 

“I’m not exactly an expert, but I suppose it can.”

 

Brianna reached over and touched William’s face. “Are you ok? What happened?”

 

William patted himself down, ensuring himself that all his limbs were intact, before replying. “I think I’m all right. I don’t really know. It was nothing like yesterday. I felt like I was spinning out in a dark abyss; I could hear screaming and my body felt like it was being torn apart. And then, I woke up here.”

 

“Were you thinking about your family?” Claire asked.

 

He nodded. “What will I do now?”

 

Claire sighed, her face etched with concern. “I suppose you will have to come back to Boston with me, at least until we can figure out how to get you back."

 

William reached his arms out to his new family and allowed them to help him to his feet.

 

***

 

They decided to cut the trip short by a couple of days, skipping their excursions to Fort William Henry and Sir William Johnson’s estate. None of them had much of an appetite for more military forts and battlefields anymore. Besides, it would be easier to get William settled once they were back in Boston. 

 

Roger drove with William riding shotgun in an effort to mitigate his motion sickness. He found that if he ate a bit, it really wasn't so bad, and he was surprised to be enjoying the trip. The music was certainly different than he was accustomed to, but it was a marvel to be able to listen to song after song with no musicians present. The snacks were wonderful too: small hard pretzels dotted with bits of salt, hard sour candies, and wonderful bits of chocolate with a sugary coating. These were called M&Ms , he learned, and he soon found himself indulging in the entire package. Brianna taught him car games and they played several rounds of "The Minister's Cat," and "I Spy." 

 

They stopped at a McDonald's for dinner about an hour outside Boston. They all ordered hamburgers and French fries, and Brianna insisted that William try a chocolate milk shake.  Her bright blue eyes stared at him in anticipation. She laughed with delight at the expression that morphed across his features, eyes widened in what could only be described as child-like wonder as he tasted the frothy liquid for the first time.

 

They must have looked, to any outsiders, like brother and sister. Claire was mesmerized by their easy manner with each other and their identical lopsided grins. Both so much like Jamie, she thought, and her heart ached as a vision of him directing that impish smile at her came to mind. This was interrupted only by a quiet, nagging voice that began taking root in the back of her thoughts and she was now actively working to ignore it. It isn’t possible, she told herself over and over again. Still. William leaned back in his chair, a quiet burp slipping out. Dismayed, he put his hand to his mouth and cried, “Oh, pardon me!” 

 

They all laughed, and Claire’s haunted mind came back to the present. She cleared her throat. "When we get back to Boston, perhaps William can be of some use helping you get the last of your apartment packed up and your belongings shipped off." 

 

Roger nodded in agreement. "Aye. It would be a great help and while we're packing, I can gi’ ye some more history lessons. And maybe you can fill me in on some of the details I'm missing." 

 

"Don't listen to him," Bree interjected. "He doesn't even get the names of the American generals right half the time! If you want to know about the Revolution, I'm the scholar to speak to."

 

Roger playfully stuffed a French fry in her mouth. "Ye ken he's English? He's no’ going to want to hear about being beaten by the rebels. He'll want English history, and she is not the one to ask about that."

 

William laughed. "I take it you have different specialties."

 

"I grew up in Boston," Bree replied. "It was inevitable that I would specialize in early Colonial America. Roger's specialty is actually Scottish history, but I suppose he dabbles in English history a bit."

 

"Did you meet at University?" William asked, his eyes wide with interest.

"Och, no. Brianna's father was a good friend of my adoptive father. When the Reverend, my father that is, passed, Claire and the young Brianna came to pay their respects and, well, the rest is history!"

 

Brianna and Claire both groaned at his joke, but William looked puzzled. "Your father? But I thought..." he trailed off, a small furrow forming between his brows as he tried to connect the dots in his mind.

 

"Brianna was raised by my late husband Frank," Claire offered. "It's rather complicated, obviously, but we were married before I went… to Scotland." She lowered her voice. "When I came back, he chose to raise Brianna as his own. He was also a history scholar, specializing in the Jacobites."

 

"I see," William said thoughtfully.  "I suppose the three of us have something in common, then."

 

"What's that?" Bree asked. 

 

"We were all raised by men who weren't our biological fathers."

 

"Well, you can count me in that club as well," Claire replied. "I was raised by my Uncle Lamb after my parents died in a car accident."

 

The jovial mood broken, they finished the last bites of their meal and headed back to the car, a quartet of orphans. 

 

***

 

They reached Boston after nightfall. William stared out the car window, astonished by the lights and activity of the city. He had been to Boston recently, in 1777, and he had a hard time reconciling the two. 

 

Claire dropped Bree and Roger off first, promising them she would bring William by in the morning. After the car doors were closed and Claire had watched them enter the apartment safely, she drove off.  Without their endless commentary and jovial banter, the silence in the car was deafening. Finally, William spoke up. "I can't thank you enough for helping me. Your kindness is overwhelming.”

 

"Well, I certainly couldn't leave you alone. Besides, I know what you are going through. I'm probably one of the only people who does." Claire’s voice trailed off as she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.

 

"I'm sorry if this is bringing up painful memories," William said quietly.

 

Claire was struck by how perceptive he was and what a kind heart he had. She pulled the car into her driveway and put it in park, leaning back on the seat with a sigh. "It's all right. The memories are there regardless. It's something I must carry with me." 

 

Alone.

 

***

The next morning, Claire dropped William off with Brianna and Roger as promised. Since they had cut their trip short, she still had a few days’ vacation left before she had to be back at work. 

 

She really needed to get the house cleaned and in order, but instead she found herself in the attic rifling through old boxes, trying to find the journal of Gillian Edgars. 

 

After she had abandoned her search for Jamie, she had packed everything up and placed it in a box in the attic, locking the physical evidence away, as if that could lock away the memories in her mind. She was foolish to think she could ever keep the ghosts at bay. Time had proven this and if anything, she felt Jamie's presence more keenly now than she had all those years ago. True, she had felt the pain of the loss of him more acutely then compared to her current dull ache. But as the years passed, she began to feel happiness for her memories of him. The ever-present sense of him with her always was growing even stronger these past few days, since she had met William.

 

Claire rifled through several bins, raising dust into the air, dancing across the beams of light shining in through the attic window. She covered her mouth and nose with her hand in a vain attempt to not breath it in.  

 

Several boxes contained what was left of Frank's research. Claire lifted one of the moleskin notebooks to her nose. It smelled of pipe smoke and spilled whisky. She could see him, bent over his desk late at night, taking notes, composing letters. Oh Frank, she thought, one tear escaping and traveling down her cheek. What life would we have led if we never taken that second Honeymoon? Would she have been happy, fulfilled, never knowing what it was to find the other half of your soul? She wouldn't change anything if given the chance, but she couldn't help but wonder if ignorance was bliss.

 

Moving along, she came across a box of old toys. Reaching in, she felt the soft, worn fur of bunny, Brianna's favorite toy all those years ago. She pulled bunny out and caressed her cheek with it. Of course ignorance wasn't bliss. If she'd never met Jamie, she wouldn't have Bree, and that thought was too painful to contemplate. 

 

She got up and walked to the top of the stairs, setting bunny down so that she would be reminded to bring it with her when she was done. She wanted Bree to take it with her so that on she could share this part of her past with her own child some day.

 

She stood, hands on her hips, surveying the attic. Now where the bloody hell did I put that damn journal? The attic was getting hot in the late morning sun. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she contemplated abandoning the task. She bent down again to pick up bunny.

 

"The Claire I kent would never give up so easily."

 

Bloody Christ. It was bad enough to be lectured by her dead husband, but now her sister-in-law was chiming in too?

 

"Ye ken if ye kept this place tidier, ye'd no’ be having such a problem finding things. My mother would be rolling in her grave to see the likes of this place."

 

"Sod off, Jenny!" Claire said angrily. Her face flushed and her stomach churned with shame. She’s right, and that’s why you’re mad, she told herself. Though part of her wanted to stubbornly refuse to continue, she knew she had to keep going. 

 

She rifled through several more boxes, making a path toward the back of the attic. There she found it, tucked against the wall under an eave. Kneeling, she slowly opened it. Her breath caught in her throat as she picked up the copy of the Deed of Sassine that made wee Jamie Murray, their oldest nephew, Laird of Lallybroch at the age of five.  A teardrop smudged her own signature on the document, captured in the photocopy, a symbol of the pain of that terrible day. The day she had lost half of herself, forever.  Taking a deep breath, she put the Deed aside and rifled through pages of court records, prison rolls, and ship manifests. Finally, she found worn leather underneath her fingertips, and she knew she had found her prize before laying eyes on it. She lifted the journal out of the box, replacing the rest of the contents, and headed back down the narrow stairs. 

 

Back in the living room, she sat in her tall-backed reading chair. She squinted at the pages, seeing a haze of black ink, appearing so smudged in her vision that she wondered if the contents had been rendered indecipherable before realizing that it was her eyesight that was failing. Locating her reading glasses in a drawer of the end table, she flipped through the journal and tried to find Gillian’s notes on “steering.” All she knew was that the first time she went through, she had landed two hundred and two years in the past. There was no explanation for ending up in that time, except that perhaps she had inadvertently steered toward Black Jack Randall, the ancestor Frank had been researching during their second honeymoon in Scotland. He had been the first person she ran into, and Claire shuddered at the memory. 

 

She wondered if that were the case, or if there had been some predestination at work. She had met Jamie shortly after her encounter was Randall, and they were destined to be together, that she was certain of. Was it truly possible to “steer” oneself through time or were the stones going to take you to where you were meant to go, regardless of when you wanted to go? Gillian seemed to think that gemstones could help with steering, but she also thought that a human sacrifice was necessary, so she wasn’t exactly the most reliable source of information. Unfortunately, Gillian was the only source of information they had. Or was she? Claire closed the journal, setting it down on the end table. 

 

She closed her eyes so that she could concentrate and allow the thoughts bouncing around in her brain to connect, settle, and order themselves appropriately. Brianna had dragged her to a meditation seminar several years ago and Claire had been surprised how helpful the practice was for finding answers when your mind was muddled with thoughts. After a few minutes of concentrating on her breathing and allowing the thoughts to marinate with each other, it came to her.

 

Fiona!  

 

Of course! She could have Roger talk to Fiona once they were back in the UK. Fiona’s grandmother had been a caller at the stones of Craigh na Dun and she had passed that wisdom and knowledge down to her. Fiona knew about the sacred rituals and ceremonies. She also knew about Time Travel. When Claire, Roger and Bree had been searching for Jamie all those years ago – had it already been almost ten years? – Fiona had deduced what they were up to and asked Roger about it. At the time, she wasn’t able to offer any help, but that was because they weren’t researching Time Travel, they were researching a person. Claire was certain that Fiona would have some useful information that could help solve William’s dilemma.

 

She sat down again, working her way through the details of William’s situation. He had no ties to anyone in this time that she knew of. He had traveled easily the first time, with very little consequence. William had assured her that he thought of his family when touching the stone. Claire didn’t know if that was necessary or even helpful for steering, but she had done it when she came back to the 1940s and Frank. There was no way to know if that had any influence on when she landed though, it could simply be that each person has a certain amount of time they can travel back and forth in, and that was that. That Claire had happened to end up exactly two hundred and two years in the past, practically into the arms of her soul mate could have been a mere coincidence of the universe. 

 

Jamie. She could still feel those large arms around her, his calloused hands running over her delicate skin. Besides the physical sensations, there was a sense of safety and protection. She closed her eyes, the memories enveloping her like the woven fabric of Jamie’s plaid. What would Jamie do? Jamie would never give up and he wouldn't let her either.

 

Roger wouldn’t be able to touch base with Fiona for at least two weeks. Claire would have to continue to comb through Gillian’s journal for anything useful, and in the meantime, she would have the opportunity to get to know William better. Any information she could learn about his family and his upbringing could turn out to be useful. She would start with dinner that night. Roger and Bree could come too, and Claire would start her inquisition. 

 

***

 

The trio arrived for dinner right on time and Claire was pleased to see that their ease with each other had only increased over a day of work. Claire served pasta with marinara sauce, and William seemed vexed by the noodles. Brianna showed him how to loop them on his fork. His shirt ended up splattered with red stains and, though he looked perturbed at first, he soon relaxed and laughed along with the rest of them. “We listened to the most interesting music. Nothing like what you played in the car on the way home last night, Claire. There’s so much of it and it’s all so different. I can’t believe that there are that many ways to write a song in the universe!” Through his description of the wonders of 20th century music, Claire understood that he particularly enjoyed ABBA. The young man certainly had  good taste in music, but there were more important matters at hand.

 

Claire knew she had to steer the conversation so that she could get more information about Williams’s life. She cleared her throat, “William, please tell us more about yourself. You gave us the highlights the other day, but I’d like to really get to know you. What was it like growing up on your estate? Do you know anything about your birth parents? What were your adoptive parents like?”

 

William stiffened a little and wiped his mouth with a napkin. He fiddled with his napkin, folding and unfolding it in his lap, considering what to say. “I grew up on my mother’s parent’s estate, Helwater. My grandparents and my Aunt Isobel raised me until I was six years old. That’s when Isobel married Lord John and they became my parents. It was… very lonely growing up there. I had no siblings and my step-parents did not have any children of their own either.”

 

Brianna tilted her head to one side as she looked into his eyes. She understood the loneliness of being an only child all too well. “What did you do to entertain yourself? At least in this century you have TV and music to keep you entertained!”

 

He smiled at her, “I rode horses. I had my first ride when I was barely three years old, or so I’m told. I don’t remember it, of course. But I have no memory of a time when I wasn’t riding. I would spend the entire day out there with the horses and with Mac.”

 

Roger gave him a quizzical look. “Who is Mac? Sounds like a Scot.”

 

“He was. Mac was a groom at Helwater. He had been there since before I was born, and when it came time for me to learn to ride, my grandfather entrusted me to his tutelage.” William’s face was soft with memory and he smiled. “He was my first friend, which I know sounds silly. I’m sure he only thought of the time he spent with me as part of doing his job, but to me, he was a friend. I spent most of my waking hours either taking lessons with him or following him around while he did his chores. When I was big enough, I took on some of the work myself, but I’m sure I was more of a hindrance than a help. He was always so patient with me, though.”

 

Claire smiled. “It sounds like he was an important person to you. What happened to him?”

 

William pushed his chair back, the legs scraping against the floor with a jarring sound and looked down at his hands. “He left, right before my step-parents were married. He told me he had to go back to Scotland to his family. I don’t know if that was true or not.” He shrugged. “I had a very hard time adjusting to my new routines and new parents after he left. It was a lot for a young child.”

 

“And you never heard from him again?” Brianna asked, incredulously. “It sounds like you two were very close!

 

William shook his head. “A groom would never think to write a letter to his previous master in that manner. It’s unheard of. He did leave me a few things to remember him by, though, and told me he would always remember me. I keep them with me, one of them I always keep in my coat pocket. When I’m trying to learn something new and I work myself up into a terrible temper, I hold it and think of what Mac would say to me and it helps.”

 

“What were they?” Claire asked curiously.

 

“A wooden rosary and a small, carved wooden snake. The snake is the one I carry with me; I have to be careful with the rosary, lest someone think me a papist.”

 

Roger snorted at that and was about to make a remark about papists and Presbyterians, but he saw Claire and immediately closed his mouth. She had lost all the color in her face, and Roger could see her hand trembling as she reached for her wine glass. She swallowed slowly and took a breath. When she spoke, her voice gave off the slightest tremor. “Perhaps we might see them some time.”

 

“Aye,” said Roger, knowing his mother in law well enough to see that she wanted to see them right now. “I’d be interested as well. It’s not every day ye get to see two hundred-year-old artifacts when they’re new!”

 

“I don’t have the rosary with me. I wasn’t carrying it on my person at the time. But the carved snake is right up in the guest chamber. Shall I go fetch it?”

 

“Aye, that would be grand,” Roger replied, trying to keep his voice light.

 

William excused himself from the table. He paused, as if unsure whether or not to bow, but settled for nodding his head. As soon as he was up the stairs, Bree turned to Claire. “Mama what’s wrong?” Claire just shook her head, her lips in a tight, straight line, so they sat in silence until William returned.

 

Minutes later he came bounding down the stairs. “Here you go,” he said, handing it to Roger. “It’s nothing special really, just a simple carving, but it’s important to me."

 

Claire was staring at the small wooden snake in Roger’s hands. It was a simple carving, but she recognized it. Not an exact replica of the one that Jamie had always carried in his sporran, but close. Her breathing was becoming shallow, and she could feel a cold sweat breaking out over her entire body. Roger turned the snake over and declared, “Oh, and he carved your name on the bottom!”

 

The room suddenly felt hot and crowded, and Claire heard a faint humming in her ears. She pushed her chair back to excuse herself, but as soon as she stood up, the blood rushed from her head, her vision blurred, blackening at the edges. She could hear familiar voices, calling to her, but they seemed far away. No longer in control of her limbs, she tried to force herself to retreat, to make that first step. Instead, she dropped to the ground, collapsing like a lead balloon.








Chapter Text

The ringing in Claire's ears slowly began to subside, but her head was still swimming with faces and voices. Her eyes started to open and as they focused, she saw Bree, Roger, and - no it couldn't be - Jamie. Confused she reached out a hand to him and he grasped it. His voice cut through the haze. "Are you all right, Claire?" he asked her, but the voice wasn't his.

 

She pulled her hand away from his grasp. “What? How?" she asked in bewilderment.

 

"Mama, it's William," Bree said, squatting down by Claire's face. Her auburn brows were furrowed, and her hair had fallen in front of her face. "It's just William." Claire's mind began to clear, and she attempted to sit up. "Mama, go slow," Bree said, gently helping her to sit up.

 

Claire’s eyes focused on William and she put her hand to forehead. The events of the last few hours flooded back into her mind, remembering the revelation right before everything had gone black. She turned to her daughter and said, "Help me to the couch, Brianna."

 

Roger came over to help as well, and they carefully guided her on her feet. William had already retreated to the couch when he realized his presence was upsetting Claire. She went to him, sitting down beside him. "Everybody have a seat," she said. "I have some questions I need to ask William and then we all need to have a talk."

 

William's face crinkled in confusion, the fingers of his right hand tapping anxiously on his leg. "Questions for me? I don't understand," he replied.

 

Claire took his nervous, shaking hand in hers and said, "I need you to tell me everything you remember about Mac."

 

"About Mac?" William replied incredulously, shaking his head. "I don't understand what that has to do with…. anything."

 

"Please William. This is important," Claire said with an edge of impatience in her voice. "What did he look like? How old was he?"

 

"He...he...Claire, I was very young," William's voice stammered, his eyes searching Claire's for an explanation.

 

"Please, William," Bree chimed in, her eyes wide with anxious anticipation. "Can you just tell us what you remember?"

 

William took a deep breath. "Well, he was tall; I can't tell you how tall, but he was the tallest man I knew at the time. His hair was red and curly. He was funny, but he could also be very stern." His voice trailed off, unsure of what else he could say.

 

Brianna and Claire sat with their mouths agape, unable to make any sound, so Roger cleared his throat and asked, "Did he ever tell ye anything about his life? Where he had been before or about his family?"

 

William scrunched up his face in concentration and, after a few moments, replied, "Just before he left, when he was saying goodbye to me, he gave me the wooden snake. When he showed me that he had carved my name on the back, he said that his brother had made one for him when he was young." His eyes suddenly brightened as the memory became clearer. "He told me his brother had the same name as me."

 

Claire breathed in sharply at this and at the same time William's face went white as a sheet, another memory coming to the forefront. He gulped and went on, "I told him I wanted to be a papist like him, and he baptized me. He gave me a 'secret papist name,' and told me it was his own secret name."

 

Bree leaned forward so far in her chair she was practically falling out of it. "What was it?" she asked.

 

William glanced around the room, eager eyes meeting his as his eyes met each of theirs. Finally looking down at his hands in his lap, he very quietly said, "James."

 

Brianna stood and walked over to the couch, sitting on the other side of Claire. She placed an arm around her mother and leaned her head on her shoulder. "Mama?" she asked.

 

Claire reached her hand up and grasped Bree's. Nodding slowly and with her heart racing, her voice shook when she spoke. "It's him. I know it's him. Jamie." Tears flowed down her cheeks and mingled with Bree's. "He was alive. He…." her voice cut off and she reached over and grabbed William's hand. "He had a son."

 

Roger leaned back, one leg resting across the opposite knee, rubbing his beard. "What do we do now?"

 

Bree gave him a look as if he had just asked the stupidest question in the world. "We go back," she said. "Isn't that obvious?"

 

"No, it's not," Claire said firmly. "All we know is that he was alive thirteen years ago. We don't know where he is now or if -," she swallowed, trying to wet her dry throat, "or if he's still alive."

 

She looked at William, observing his pale face, his slumped shoulders. His face was a portrait of confusion, fear, and perhaps a hint of anger. She turned her body to face him completely and put her arm around him, rubbing his back. As he lifted his face and looked at her, she allowed herself to truly look at him for the first time since he had arrived, since that moment of confusion when she had mistaken him for Jamie - for his father.

 

Now she saw him as who he was for the first time. Jamie's son. He looked so much like him, it made her heart ache, but he was also different. Jamie's eyes always twinkled; his lips were always ready to twitch into a smile at any moment. Jamie had the look of a man who had grown up running wild alongside siblings, cousins, and friends. His face was always full of possibility and imminent adventure. William's eyes were more serious, reserved. There was a sadness in them, a loneliness. He had grown up on a rich estate, wanting for nothing but the most important things in life: a loving family and other children to play with. She pictured him as a little boy, spending lonely hours with tutors, with only the freedom of the horses offering him the chance of reprieve.

 

He had said his stepparents had been loving, and she had no reason not to believe him, but the great losses he had endured since the day of his birth were a weight that he carried on his broad shoulders. She had seen that same weight with Jamie at times, but it was always the exception; with William it was the rule.

 

This young man was yearning for a family, a soft place to land. And he had landed with them. His family. In that moment she was overcome with a fierce maternal desire to be that soft place to land, and her heart opened to this lonely young man. She put both arms around William and held his head against her shoulder, running her hand over his head. She loved him, both for being Jamie's child and for the child that he was in his own right. Holding him, she felt the tension slowly ease from his body, and finally release with a low, mournful sob. She rocked him back and forth, murmuring low, comforting words.

 

When his body was still and the only sound he made was the occasional sniffle, Claire pushed him gently so that he was sitting up, her hands on his shoulders. "William," she asked, her eyes searching his face, "what do you want?"

 

He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and replied, "I want to find my father." He reached across Claire to take Brianna's hand in his. "Our father."

 

***

Over the next several days, they formulated a plan. Roger and Brianna would leave for Oxford at the end of the week as planned. They would keep most of their packed items in storage, though, taking everything they needed for the short-term on the plane. Upon their arrival, Brianna would stay in their temporary housing in Oxford, researching the Dunsany and Grey families. Meanwhile, Roger would head to Inverness to research Jamie and his family, looking for any trace of where he was during the Fall of 1777.

 

They would all be going through the stones by New Year, no matter what. The best case scenario was that Roger or Bree would find Jamie in America and they could all travel through the stones together.  If the research proved fruitless, Claire would fly out and meet Roger in Scotland and they would travel through the stones at Craigh na Dun together, heading to Lallybroch from there. If they found him in Scotland or were unable to figure out his whereabouts at all, William would have to go through in Saratoga, as there was no way for him to travel to Scotland without a passport in this time. Brianna insisted she would fly back to America to travel with him in this case, not wanting to leave her brother to search for their father alone.

 

Claire watched as Bree and William's relationship bloomed over the few days they had together. Both of them had grown up thinking they were only children, and to find a sibling filled a void in both of their hearts that neither had been consciously aware was there.

 

On their last night, Claire popped some popcorn and set up the projector and screen. Pulling out the round tins of slides, they all sat together watching picture after picture of Brianna growing up, laughing together at photos of messy birthday cake faces and silly poses.

 

Claire's mind wandered as the sideshow advanced. In each picture, she imagined Jamie, and tears streaked her face thinking of all the lost time, thirty years that they could have had together. The birthdays, graduations, Bree's wedding.  Goosebumps rose on her arms, as she pictured Jamie walking Bree down the aisle.

 

The addition of William into these fantasies made them all the more painful. She imagined William as their own little boy, the child that would have completed their little family, if only Jamie hadn't sent her away. She swallowed down the irrational anger that rose in her throat; she knew he had done the right thing - neither she nor Bree would have likely survived if she had stayed, but feelings knew no logic. Damn you, Jamie. God damn you for making me go, and for taking this all away from us.

 

But even as the anger pulsed through her veins, the yearning for him rose in them as well. For the first time in almost ten years, she allowed herself to feel the possibility of Jamie holding her, touching her, lying with her again. Would he even still want me? Claire wondered. What if he had someone else? He obviously had other women in their thirty years of separation, the evidence was sitting on her sofa in front of her. If he had married again, what then?

 

She shook the thought away. It didn't matter. Looking at Bree and William snuggled close on the couch, laughing with matching smiles, she knew this was no longer about just her and Jamie. It was about their children being together and the relationship they deserved to have with their father. Jamie had the right to hold both his children in his arms and be a part of these moments of sibling companionship as much as she did. Even if she could not be a part of that family in the way she wished, she couldn't deny him this. Even if she had to continue to live alone, watching Jamie with another woman, she would endure it for the sake of this family.

 

Later that night, William and Bree fell asleep on the sofa together. Roger went to wake Bree, to take her home, but Claire gently grabbed his arm to stop him. "Don't," she whispered. "Let them have his time together." Roger nodded with understanding and headed for the guest room. Claire covered them with a blanket and placed a soft kiss on both of their curly heads before retiring to her own bed.

 

***

 

Jamie slept fitfully on his cot in the army camp. It had been less than a week since he had received word from Lord John that his son had gone missing, presumed dead. His sleep was never peaceful, but the last few nights it had been tortured. He could not make peace with the idea that he was dead. His son. William, his only child still reachable to him here and now, in this time. Must I endure the loss of all my children? he thought.

 

He sat up on the edge of the cot with his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. His once bright copper hair was now slightly faded and streaked with grey and white. His fist clenched against his forehead, tears welling in his eyes. He was angry at everyone - God, Charles Stuart, his friend Lord John, and even Claire. Damn you for leaving me, Claire. Why didn't you fight me? Why didn't you stay?

 

He knew the answer to that as much as he knew his anger was unreasonable. She had to go for the baby's sake. Lord that they may be safe, she and the child. Their baby was more important than either of them, and if he - or she - lived, all the pain and loneliness was worth it.

 

Laying back down, he sought the solace of sleep, Claire's face smiling at him behind his closed lids, as it was every night. He could almost feel her curled up next to him, fitting perfectly under his arm, with her head on his chest. Oh, Sassenach, to touch ye again just one more time. He prepared himself for another night of anguish.

 

That night, though, was different. He dreamed of William, saw his curly mop of dark hair resting on a similar head of copper hair. He hadn’t seen his son in years, but he knew it was him; even as he slept he could see the long straight nose and Viking jawline. William and the woman were on a sofa, sleeping; the room was unfamiliar, the furnishings different than anything he had seen before.  He couldn't see the woman's face, but he hoped that whoever she was, she was making him happy.

 

The dream faded, and he fell into a deep sleep for the first time in as long as he could remember.

 

***

 

After Brianna and Roger left for England, Claire and William fell into a comfortable rhythm together. Claire tied up some loose ends at the hospital and submitted her resignation, wanting to spend time getting to know William and get ready for what lay ahead. Their days were filled with preparations and errands. Bank accounts to close, trusts signed, safe deposit boxes opened. She entrusted the care of any legal and financial complications that could arise after she was gone to her friend Joe Abernathy.

 

But in the evenings, they talked. Claire shared stories of Jamie with him, hoping that he could get to know his father a little more than the faded memories he had. One night in mid-October, she told him the story of foiling a young soldier in Carryarrick.

 

"That poor young man," she laughed. "He came upon Jamie peeing against a tree and Jamie still managed to break his arm. Oh, what was his name? Damn," she paused, trying to recall before shaking her head and going on. "He refused to give away the location of the camp and poor Jamie was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He knew he was going to have to torture the poor boy, or even kill him. Jamie never shied from doing what was necessary, but he would not have taken the killing of such a young man lightly."

 

William was listening intently, his eyes brightening with realization. He smiled his crooked smile and asked, "Was the boy's name William Grey by any chance?"

 

Claire squinted her eyes inquisitively and smiled back. "Yes it was. Now that you say it, I remember. How did you know?" she asked.

 

"I've heard this story before. My fath - my step-father - told it to me. Lord John WILLIAM Grey," he said with a smirk. The more time Claire spent with William, the more he began to resemble Jamie. Not just in his facial features, but in his expressions and mannerisms. It was as if the more she made Jamie come alive for him, the more he began to emulate his father. He was relaxed and happy, despite the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.

 

"You're kidding me!" Claire laughed in surprise. "Did he tell you how it all ended up?"

 

"Yes, I believe there was an English woman who claimed to have been taken hostage. Years later, my father found out it was Jamie's wife," he paused, shaking his head. "That must have been you?"

 

She nodded and they both laughed together.  These small connections made her feel Jamie moving closer, and she silently prayed that their plan would work. The ache to be reunited with him, to see him alive and whole, was almost too much to bear.

 

William had spent enough time with Claire to be able to read the changing emotions in her face. He reached out and grabbed her hand. "We will find him, Mother Claire. We will. If nothing else, either his family or my stepfather will know where he is. It's only a matter of time."

 

Mother Claire. This new term of endearment warmed her heart. She stood and went to his chair, hugging him from behind. Placing a kiss in his soft curls, she whispered, "Yes we will. Now, I'm going to bed. I'll see you in the morning, William. I love you."

 

He reached up a hand and patted her arm. "I love you too, Mother Claire."

 

***

The next morning, Claire was woken from a dreamless sleep at exactly 6 AM. She reached an arm out from under the covers and grabbed for the receiver. "Hello?" she mumbled.

 

"Mama? Are you awake?" Bree's voice was loud and ecstatic.

 

"Yes, I am now. What's happening?" Claire asked.

 

"We found him Mama. We found him. He's alive and he is in Saratoga. Or was in Saratoga at least, a couple weeks ago. Well, not really a couple weeks ago, but…" Brianna was so excited, it was hard for Claire to make sense of what she was saying.

 

"What? Brianna slow down. Is Roger with you? Put him on the phone."

 

There were some shuffling sounds and mumblings and then Roger came on the line. "Claire. We found a copy of a letter. It was written by Lord John Grey to Colonel James Fraser of the Continental Army. The message details the disappearance of Grey's son, William, and asks Fraser to aid in the search for him, as both William and Jamie were in Saratoga at the time of the disappearance. I dug around in some of the army rolls and confirmed it. Jamie was alive and in Saratoga until the surrender in October."

 

Claire's heart was thumping so hard in her chest that she could hear the blood rushing in her ears. "Do we know if he's still there?"

 

"I dinna ken for sure, but he can't have gone far. Besides, don't ye think he would have stayed put to look for William?" Roger asked.

 

"Yes," Claire breathed. She sat upright in her bed, clutching the phone.  "Yes, he would. Roger, you and Bree get on the next plane. I have everything else ready. We'll leave as soon as you get here."

 

She hung up the phone and stretched, feeling the excitement rush through her body. Soon, she would see Jamie again, alive and whole. And if nothing else came of it, she would see the children safely to him, so that they would know each other and be a family.

 

***

 

Two days later, they stood together just outside the standing stones in Saratoga.  They were all dressed for the 18th century, with the few small things they hoped they could carry through in small bags and pockets. They each looped one arm around one other and stood before the small stone that William had traveled through. Claire glanced at each of them nodding as she met each of their eyes. "All right. Think of Jamie, and on the count of three we all touch the stone at the same time. Ready? One…. two…. three."

 

***

 

Claire woke with a ringing in her ears. Unable to move her whole body yet, she grappled to the right and her hand tangled in Bree's curls. Feeling Bree begin to stir, she reached to her other side and hit William's hard chest with the back of her hand. Slowly bringing herself to a sitting position, she saw Roger to the other side of Bree. Everybody safe and accounted for.

 

She looked around, taking in her surroundings, and her eyes focused on the figure of a man approaching. Bree and Roger sat up, their eyes drawn in the same direction as Claire's. As he moved closer, Claire could see that he was tall and lean, an Indian by the cut of his hair and clothing.  There was something about him that was so familiar to Claire, something she could not quite put her finger on.

 

He was close enough by then so that she could see the tattoos across his cheekbones and nose, obvious marks of a tribe, but his skin was pale, his hair strawberry blond. William had sat up and Claire glanced at him, unsure what to do. She saw recognition in William's eyes as he rose to his feet.

 

The Indian's posture relaxed, and his hand moved away from the Tomahawk that was strapped to his belt. A curious look rose on his face as he glanced at the four of them, and when he met William's eyes, a smile broke out on his face. William returned the grin. "Murray! Glad to see you.  You're just the person who can help us."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The tall man whom William had called Murray stepped over to grasp his hand in both a greeting and to help him up.  “Lord Ellsemere,” he said cheekily as William, “Good tae see ye. We’ve been lookin’ all over for ye.” It was clear to Claire that this tall Indian was actually a Scot, and she looked at him curiously as she rose to her feet, Brianna and Roger following suit. Murray gave Claire and Roger a brief nod, but when his eyes met Brianna’s, he paused, squinting his eyes and looking at her curiously. His eyes shifted from William to Brianna and back again before saying, “Ian Murray, Ma’am.” He bowed to Brianna never taking his eyes off hers.

“I’m sorry, did you say Ian Murray?” Claire interjected before Brianna could introduce herself.

“Aye, Mrs….”

“Randall. Dr. Randall,” Claire answered. The reason why this man looked familiar to her was becoming plain to her. “You aren’t by any chance Ian Murray’s son? Jenny and Ian Murray of Broch Tuarach?”

“Aye!” he said, surprised. “Do ye ken my parents?”

“I do,” she said. “From a very long time ago.” She suddenly felt very shy and unsure of herself. What am I doing here, dropping back into these people’s lives after thirty years? This young man wasn’t even born before I left. Am I supposed to just introduce myself as his Aunt? Will he even know my name, know of me?

Resigned, she sighed, “I was, or maybe I still am, married to your Uncle Jamie.”

Ian’s jaw dropped and the rest of the muscles in his face went slack as the color drained from his cheeks. “Auntie Claire? But yer dead!”

“Not yet,” she laughed. “It’s nice to meet you, Ian. You look a lot like your father. How are your parents?”

“They’re well! They’ll be awful surprised to find out yer alive, though,” he laughed. “Is Uncle Jamie expectin’ ye?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I…well it’s a rather long story, but I thought Jamie was dead all these years, and Brianna,” she said, gesturing to her daughter, “only recently discovered that he is alive, so we traveled here to see him.” She paused and put a hand on Brianna’s back. “This is Brianna, our daughter. Your cousin.”

“Cousin?! Uncle Jamie never told me about having a daughter!” He was shaking his head in disbelief, looking again from Brianna to William. “I should have known, though. Ye look exactly like him.”

Brianna blushed a deep crimson and gestured to Roger. “This is my husband, Roger Wa – “

“MacKenzie,” Roger interrupted, sticking his hand out to Ian. “Roger MacKenzie. It’s nice tae meet ye.” Brianna gave him an odd look but turned back to Ian.

“Do you know where…where your Uncle is right now?”

“Aye! The armies finally left last week. Uncle Jamie and I stayed back to look for William. I havena seen him in a few days, but I kent where he was stayin; I’m sure he’s still there,” Ian replied. “It’s no’ far.”

***

 

After a week of fruitless searching, Jamie was worn out and hopeless. He sat at a table in the Inn he was staying in, working on his fourth – or was it fifth? – whisky. He was bone tired and needed to shut his brain off and, at his age, the whisky was doing a fine job of that.

He had gone through so many scenarios and possibilities in his head and searched endlessly, but the lad seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. Even worse, he had dreamed of William every night, him and the red-headed woman, making him feel even more hopeless in his waking hours. What he needed was a good night of drinking to make it all go away.

By the time he had ordered and finished another drink – fifth or sixth? -  he had to take a pish. He stood up, swaying a bit as he did, wondering if he had maybe reached his limit. Auld age will do that to ye, he thought.

He walked out the door and the cool late afternoon air helped to clear his head a little. He went around to the back of the inn and relieved himself. Heading back around toward the front of the inn, he spotted four figures, three of which were exceptionally tall, heading down an old Indian path nearby. He didn’t have his glasses with him, and though he squinted his eyes, he could not make them out. Not wanting to be caught at a disadvantage, he stepped into the shadows against the inn and waited.

The first of the four to emerge was his nephew Ian. Jamie relaxed a little and began to step forward. He had only managed a step when he saw William emerge from the wooded path standing next to a tall red-headed woman who couldn’t have been more than 3 inches shorter than William. Christ, I’ve never seen a woman so tall, he thought to himself, before realizing that he was looking at the woman from his dreams, except that, in the dreams her face was featureless. Here in front of him, the angles of her face were clear, and they were an almost mirror image of William’s. They were talking together and when they laughed, their smiles matched, and they threw their heads back in the same way. It can’t be, he thought, shaking his head.

Before his mind had time to wrap itself around the thoughts floating through his head, the next traveler emerged, and it was all he could do to keep himself upright. Claire.  He gripped for the side of the inn to prevent himself from fainting. It canna be. I must have passed out from the drink. It canna be.

***

Claire walked behind Brianna and William, following Ian. The three were getting along jovially and Claire’s heart felt light despite the nervous energy coursing through her veins. Roger walked behind her, occasionally singing or whistling snippets of a tune.

They approached a clearing and all at once, the chatter in front of her stopped. She walked a few more steps to catch up with them and then glanced ahead to see what had caused their banter to cease.

Standing near the wall of a building was Jamie. Even from a distance, she would know his body anywhere, could pick him out from the cock of his head and the set of his shoulders. She put an arm on Brianna to steady herself, and she realized that he saw her as well.  

Suddenly all notions of being practical faded away. She had practiced this moment over and over in her head, the way she would be respectful and reserved, introducing him to his daughter, letting the children take the lead. In that moment, though, she was a young bride seeing her husband after an absence. She and Jamie were the only two people who existed.

As butterflies exploded in her stomach, she brushed past Bree and William and ran to him. He had been leaning on the wall, but when he saw her coming, he straightened himself and stretched his arms for her as she ran full bore into his solid chest, wrapping her arms around him, weeping. His arms enfolded her, and she heard him whisper "Sassenach," before he buried his face in her curls and wept with her.

***

She's here. Deo gratias, Claire has come back to me. I dinna ken how or why but she is here. He wrapped his arms around tighter and breathed in the scent of her hair, unsure what to do or say next. How to look at her. What to ask her first. He whispered soft Gaelic into the top of her head, feeling as though if he died in this very moment, he would die happy.

His tears began to ease, and he could feel her sobbing breaths steady. Slowly he unwrapped his arms, placing his hands on her shoulders and then pushing her away just slightly so he could see her face. It was red and puffy, streaked with tears, and so very beautiful. "Claire," he whispered hoarsely.

She shifted her gaze up, finally meeting his eyes. "Oh Jamie, I... I didn't know if you were alive. I swear I would have come back sooner if I did. I'm so sorry, Jamie." She began to weep again, and he placed his hand under her chin, holding her face up.

"Dinna fash, mo ghraidh. Yer here now, and that's all that matters," he replied, his voice shaking, hands trembling. Drawn like a magnet, he brought his face closer to hers and then paused. "I would very much like to kiss ye, Claire. May I?"

She nodded and slowly moved her face toward his, unsure. Jamie hoped her hesitancy was for the same reason as his and he whispered to her, "We havena done this in a verra long time," before meeting her lips. She kissed him back, shyly at first, but, as they both became surer of themselves, he felt her passion stoke as she kissed him with more urgency, their tongues tangling around one another, tears still streaming down both of their faces.

Christ, I want to take her right against the wall of this building, he thought as he allowed his hands to roam. She groaned and followed suit, desperately kissing and grasping at him until they were interrupted by the sound of a throat clearing and a nervous, "Uncle Jamie?"

They broke apart, both gasping for breath. He felt the heat of embarrassment rising and saw that Claire's cheeks were red as well. "Yes, Ian?" he responded, giving Claire a coy look.

"I sent the others in to sort out the rooms. Ye two should probably join us inside soon," Ian said. It was clear in his voice that he felt badly about breaking up their reunion.

"Aye, we'll be in momentarily," he replied, waving Ian away. He turned his full attention back to Claire. "Sassenach, tell me, who was the red-haired woman wi' ye?"

Claire smiled shyly and her lips trembled as she spoke. "That was Brianna. Our daughter."

Though he had suspected as such, to hear the words spoken out loud made his knees weak as his wame did flips. "Brianna?" he managed to squeak out.

Claire nodded, her mouth still trembling. "I named her after your father, just as I promised I would. Brianna Ellen."

He was losing his balance and, given no other option, he slowly lowered himself to the ground. Claire followed suit, kneeling beside him. She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder.  "And William?" he asked.

"He time traveled, Jamie. I don't understand it, but we were vacationing here, in Saratoga, in 1979 and he just appeared out of thin air. He gave me such a scare; I thought he was you before I saw his face and heard his voice."

"How did ye ken he was my son, Claire?" Jamie asked, casting his eyes to the ground.

"I didn't at first," she said quietly. "He told us about you, about your time at Helwater. He has a small wooden snake that you made him, and the pieces all fell together." She dipped her head to meet his downcast eyes. "It's alright, Jamie. I'm not mad. It's been thirty years; I know you must have loved other -"

He whipped his head up to look her in the eyes. "No Sassenach," he said firmly. "I never loved anyone but you."

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed his head to her chest. He took a deep breath and let it out, relaxing into her healing touch. He had forgotten what it felt like to be held in the arms of a woman who loved him, and who he loved in return. It was better than any amount of oblivion he could find in a bottle of whisky. "Jamie, I don't need to know everything right now," she said. "I wanted to bring your children to you; that was the most important thing to me. William needs his father, they both do."

"And do ye no' need me anymore, Claire?" he asked softly.

"Jamie, I have lived half a life for the past thirty years. You are the only thing that could make me feel whole. I feel it now, just being here with you," she swallowed, searching for the right words. "But if I tried to think about all the possibilities of what I would face seeing you again, I wouldn't have had the strength to come. I need you Jamie, but if I can't have you, I can at least live the rest of my life knowing I made you whole by bringing them to you."

"I will never be whole without you in my life, mo nighean donn. Never," he answered fiercely.

She grabbed his face in her hands and replied, "Then I will be here with you, no matter what has happened."

***

Hand in hand, Jamie and Claire entered the inn. Jamie saw the group of four sitting at a table in the corner, and paused, unsure how to proceed. Claire gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and he nodded before stepping forward. Ian and Roger noticed his approach and rose, announcing they were going for a walk.

Jamie stood before the table and Brianna rose, taking tentative steps toward her. "Brianna," he breathed out, reaching up a shaking hand to touch her face, brush a curl away. Bree swallowed hard but found herself unable to speak and she and her father explored each other's faces with matching eyes. "You're a grown woman," he choked. "I had ye in my mind as a wee bairn, always." At that, Brianna fell apart and Jamie enveloped her in his arms, whispering to her in his soft Gaelic, kissing the top of her head, rocking them from side to side. When they finally broke their embrace, she sniffed, and he wiped her eyes with his handkerchief.

"What did you call me?" she asked. "A-lee-nan? Mon-sock?" She pronounced each word slowly and deliberately, her strange accent emphasizing the wrong syllables.

"A leannan, means 'My Darling.' M’ annsachd, 'My Blessing,'" he told her. "And you are, Brianna. You have been my blessing since the day I knew you existed. I canna find the words to tell you how sorry I am for not being there for you. I hope yer mother told ye that if I had thought there was any other way." He let out a sob and pulled her close to him again. "I'm your father, and my job is to keep you safe. The only way I could do that was to let you go. I hope you can forgive me."

The tears flowed freely down his face and it was Bree's turn to comfort him. "I forgive you," she told him. "I forgave you the moment I knew of your existence. I'm just so happy I can finally stop imagining you." She pulled away from his embrace and looked up at him. "All this time I've wondered about you, and I never thought of what I would call you if I met you."

"You can call me Da, if ye like."

She nodded. "Da. That feels right," she glanced to her right and suddenly remembered that she wasn't the only one who was eager to meet their father. "I think you have someone else to talk to as well." She reached out to beckon William to them.

William joined them and Bree made to slip away, but Jamie held her back. "I just want to hold ye both together first." His big arms wrapped around both his grown children. He had never felt so much pride in all his life. My children. Both of them safe. Both of them whole. Both of them with me.

When Bree finally slipped away to sit with Claire, Jamie gripped William's shoulder with one strong hand. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice shaking and hoarse. "I'm sorry I couldna tell ye, and that I had to leave ye. I had to do it to protect ye. It sounds like such a weak excuse now."

"It's alright," William responded. "All my life there were whispers and rumors. I knew there was more to my story than anyone would tell me. I just never imagined I would find out the truth."

"There's still a lot to sort out and I ken yer father, John, will have a lot to say. But I'm glad that for now ye know the truth and I can see ye again." This was different with William, awkward. He didn't know if he should embrace the lad or shake his hand.

After a few moments of strained silence, William said, "I would like to stay with you for a while. I want to get to know my family. If that's alright with you." He glanced at Brianna who gave him a smile. "I've grown quite fond of my sister and Mother Claire."

Jamie beamed and pulled Wiliam in for a hug, forgetting the awkwardness. "I'm quite fond of them too," he choked.

***

Claire had never been so exhausted in her life. They had spent the evening eating and drinking and catching each other up as best they could on the last thirty years. Jamie had presided over the table, his smile so wide the entire time, Claire wondered if his face hurt. Despite the years, he took his place as head of the family and father as naturally as if he had been at the head of their table all this time.

Ian and Roger had arranged all the rooms while Jamie and Claire were outside together earlier. After dinner, they all retired to their rooms, and Claire found herself alone with Jamie again. The initial excitement of their reunion had faded, leaving them both feeling cautious and unsure.

A fire had been made for them in the hearth and they both sat in front of it in high backed chairs pushed close together. Jamie took Claire's hand in his. "I canna begin tae tell ye what it means tae me to have you back, Claire. And for bringing my children to me."

She squeezed his hand unsure even of what to say. After a long silence she said, "What happens next, Jamie?"

He shook his head. "I dinna ken just yet, but I will figure it out, Claire. I ken ye all are looking to me for our next steps and I promise ye Claire, I'll keep ye all safe."

"I know you will, Jamie. You always did. Even if it was the hardest thing you ever had to do." She squeezed his hand.

"I'm so sorry Claire. I've gone over that day in my head so many times, wondering if I did the right thing. I still dinna ken for sure, but to see our daughter," he choked on a sob at the word, "so bonnie and braw today. Mebbe I did do the right thing after all."

"I was angry at you for a long time, Jamie," Claire said quietly. "Maybe it was just easier for me to be angry at you than to deal with the grief. But I forgave you a long time ago." She paused before going on. "Jamie, I ask your forgiveness too. I found out about ten years ago that you had survived Culloden. Frank had died and Brianna and I went on a trip to Scotland, so I could tell her about you. When we found out, we traced you through your time at Ardsmuir but then the trail went dead. I didn't know what to do. We searched still for a very long time. But we didn't find anything. I decided to stop chasing a ghost and live my life. I'm so sorry I didn't try harder, didn't do more." The guilt and shame she had been feeling over the last ten years came to the surface and she put her face in her hands and wept, deep wracking sobs that shook her entire body.

She was unaware of anything around her for some time, until she felt Jamie's strong arms around her. He picked her up and brought her to the bed, undoing her various ties and laces so that she could breathe. Leaning back on the bedstead, he pulled her into his arms, "Dinna weep Claire. Ye did the right thing. How could ye have risked it, not knowing? What if ye came back and I was dead? What then? Ye did the right thing for you and our daughter. And now, ye've brought Willie to me, too. Ye couldna have done that if ye'd already been here. And Brianna? She's happily married! There's nothing to forgive, Claire, but if there were, I would have done so already." She began to relax, feeling the tension leave her muscles as he held her. "So much has changed, mo chridhe, but when I hold ye in my arms like this, I feel like a lad again."

"Well, I know I certainly don't look like a young woman anymore, but you do make me feel thirty years younger. Do you think - " she cut herself off, blushing.

"What, Claire? Ye dinna have to be shy wi' me."

"I was just wondering if it will be the same with us. Do you remember?"

"Aye, I do and I'm sure it will be the same as it was before. There's only way to find out for sure though," he replied, raising his eyebrow at her in a way that made her shiver with both memory and anticipation.

"Blow out the candles, Jamie. It's time for bed."

 

 

 

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Claire woke slowly the next morning. Every muscle in her body was pleasantly sore, and some other parts, too, she thought. She and Jamie had spent the night alternately making love and filling each other in on the past thirty years.

Jamie told her of his time living in a cave, his arrest, and his imprisonment at Ardsmuir. He told her of his friendship with Lord John, which led to his parole at Helwater, where he met William's mother. Quietly he gave her the details of Geneva's blackmail, manipulation, and violation of him. Of William's birth, Willie, he called him , and their time together. How he had left Helwater and his son behind, to protect him. 

He had returned to Lallybroch and tried to make a go of it. When his sister's attempts to see him wed, to Laoghaire of all people!, became too much for him to bear, he had left for Edinburgh to open a print shop and be a whisky smuggler on the side. After his print shop had burned to the ground, he had sought refuge with his cousin Jared in France, taking his nephew Ian with him. The idea had been that Ian would attend university, but trying to focus the lad on his studies was a Sisyphean task.

When Jared had needed someone to oversee his operations in the West Indies temporarily, Jamie had agreed to go, despite being terribly afflicted by seasickness. In typical fashion, nothing had gone as expected. Ian, who had been ordered to stay with Jared and continue his studies, had instead stowed away on the ship until they were too far out from land to turn around.  Fergus had joined Jamie as planned (Claire was so delighted to know that he was alive and well) . What wasn’t planned was Fergus bringing Marsali, Laoghaire’s daughter, on board the ship, declaring they had been handfast, and announcing his intention to marry her properly as soon as they reached dry land again. 

Having sorted out his various wards, the rest of the trip went fairly smoothly. It was on the return trip home when things really fell apart. They had been shipwrecked in a storm and though much of the crew was lost, Jamie had survived along with “the bairns,” as he referred to them. (Claire had laughed at this, considering Fergus had been at least 30 years old that time). As luck would have it, they had washed upon shore in Georgia. Intending to stay only as long as necessary to get the funds to go back to Scotland, one thing had led to another and to another and before they all knew it, they had been living in the Colonies for almost ten years. 

Her heart sang and her eyes glistened with tears when she had heard that Fergus was alive, albeit short one hand, lost to a British soldier in the horrible years following The Rising. Jamie had wiped them away with his thumb and whispered to her, “Aye, Sassenach. Our son is alive, and we are grandparents, mo chridhe, four times over. Germain came first, and then the two hell kittens, Joan and Felicite, and finally wee Henri-Christian. I canna wait for you to meet them.” His own tears had choked in the back of his throat then.

Jamie had been granted land by the former Governor of North Carolina and they had all settled there, calling it Fraser’s Ridge. Jamie’s description of it delighted her. A large settlement in the backwoods of North Carolina filled mostly with Scottish immigrants. “I slowly began to heal, the more tenants I had, the more I was able to help people,” he had whispered. “I felt like a Laird again. It gave me a purpose, people to care for. But I wasna fully healed until I saw ye yesterday, Sassenach, walking out of those woods like a wee faerie.” He promised her they would find a way back as soon as he could. “I’ll build ye a fine house, fit for the Lady of the Ridge,” he had proclaimed, kissing the tip of her nose. 

She was so accustomed to waking up alone (not having spent the night in the arms of the man she loved for so very long) that it took her a few moments to realize that Jamie was absent from their bed. Reaching over, her arm searched for him and found only blankets. She rolled toward his side of the bed and looked at the rumpled blankets, tracing the indents his body had left on the sheets. 

Last night her senses had become completely absorbed by him. The smell of him, gunpowder, woodsmoke, horse; the feel of him, muscles hard underneath her hand, coarse hair bristling against her fingers ; the sound of him, rolling Rs, the cadence of his voice as he told stories, the quiet incantations of Gaelic in her ear ; the taste of him, salty skin, whisky flavored mouth.

The door clicked open before she could finish her inventory, and the sight of him took her breath away. Faded copper hair mingled with wisps of gray and white peeking out under a tricorn hat (how had she never noticed before how dashing they made a man look?); his broad muscular body framed perfectly by his long brown leather coat; crooked smile and playful blue cat eyes. The memories of the mind may fade with time, but the senses never forget, and in a primordial way, her body had remembered, convincing her faulty consciousness that all of this was real.

"Sassenach, I'd forgotten how much ye like a good lie in," he said, removing his hat and coat. Setting them down, he sat on the edge of the bed and turned toward her, careful to not to dirty the sheets with his boots. He placed a hand on her cheek, and she wiggled and purred like a cat, nudging into his hand. "Do ye ken how beautiful ye look, all tangled up in those sheets with yer hair untamed?"

She reached out and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him into her nest of blankets and warmth. "Come back to bed," she said, the slightest hint of pleading in her voice.

He leaned over to kiss her softly. "I wish I could, but there's much to be done. I sent word to Lord John this morning about Willie, let him know the lad is safe, and that we would be joining him in Philadelphia as soon as we can. We've got to procure a wagon, horses, supplies. I'd like to leave tomorrow if we can manage, but certainly no later than the day after." 

Claire sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "What time is it?"

"Half nine," he grunted, making a distinctly Scottish noise of disapproval at her laziness deep in the back of his throat. 

She scooched over until she was behind him, resting her head on his back at the base of his neck. She wondered if she would ever not feel the need to be near him, touching him. Thirty years had passed with the absence of him and yet that same magnetism was there. She sat up and lazily traced figure eights on his arm. "Have you seen anyone else yet?"

"Aye, Ian was up and gone before I was. He's a lass that he's smitten with. Her brother is a physician that was with the army, Dr. Hunter. They stayed behind to tend to some of the injured that were too poorly to move. Ye'll like him fine, I think, Sassenach. I suspect Ian's gone to see the lass and fetch his dog from her."

"His dog?" she asked.

"Aye. The poor mongrel was injured and has been convalescing wi' the lass. Rachel."

"Is this a serious thing between Ian and Rachel?"

"I dinna ken for sure but the lad is absolutely besotted."

"It certainly sounds like he deserves some happiness," Claire replied, kissing Jamie's shoulder. 

Jamie had filled her in on Ian's story as well. How he had met a young Mohawk woman during Jamie's time as Indian Agent to the Crown, and had left with her tribe when they traveled back to their home in Upstate New York. Jamie had found a broken-hearted Ian when Jamie had traveled North with the Continental Army. His wife had died in childbirth, along with the child, and Ian had left the Mohawk, living alone in the wilderness for almost a year before being reunited with Jamie.

"Aye, Sassenach. She's a good woman, but I'm worrit that it willna work out. She's a Quaker, and Ian is anything but."

"Stranger pairings have worked out though, hmmm?" Claire teased.

"Oh, aye. Such as an eighteenth century Highlander and a 20th century Sassenach?" he replied, turning his head to kiss her again. "I canna tell ye how good it is to have ye to talk to again. No' that I didna talk to you anyway." He chuckled softly. 

"I talked to you, too. Sometimes you would show up even when I didn't want your opinion." 

"Aye, I ken that. I canna tell ye how many times ye chided me, Sassenach. But it was no' the same as having ye here to chide me in person." He stood and reached a hand out to help her off the bed.

She took his hand and joined him. "I haven't chided you once since I got here!" she protested.

He took her in his arms. "Ye've only here naught but a day, a nighean . I expect I'll have my first proper chiding by sundown." 

Playfully, she slapped his bottom. "You'll have it now if you aren't careful."

"I look forward to it." He pulled her in for another kiss, licking his lips quickly just before they met hers. 

"What about the others?" she asked after their lips parted.

"I havena seen Brianna and Roger," he replied. "Willie was up early and I've already sent him to look after finding the horses we need. It'll be no' easy task wi' the armies having just left but he's a clever lad. He'll find a way."

Claire began the arduous task of getting back into her 18th century clothing. This was one thing she did not miss. "Does he let you call him Willie?" 

"No, I have tae watch myself when I talk to him directly, but he'll always be Willie to me."

"I'll fetch Bree and Roger and then we can divide up the tasks to speed things along."

Jamie raised an eyebrow at Claire. "This Roger," he said, rolling the R a little harder than he would naturally, "doesna seem like he'll ken what he's doing here, Claire. I'm not sure that a university professor from your time will have many survival skills."

Claire laughed at his disapproval. She supposed it was only fair that he get a few jibes in at his daughter's husband, having not been able to have any say in the matter when she married him. "I think he will surprise you, Jamie. You're going to have to give him a chance, just the same, seeing as how they're already married."

His answer to that was another grunt. He walked to the door, picking up his coat and hat on the way out. "Meet me downstairs in half an hour, Sassenach.

"Yes, Colonel," she replied, giving him a mock salute that elicited a half smile that melted her heart.

***

Though Jamie had all intentions of splitting up the work that needed to be done, he soon realized that there was no good way to collect the provisions they needed without first procuring a wagon.  Claire still had not made her way down from their room, but Brianna and Roger were up and eager to help. Finally, he decided that he would take Brianna with him in search of the wagon, leaving Roger to wait with Claire at the Inn. Hopefully, by the time he and Brianna returned, Willie would be back with the horses and they could set about the rest of their errands quickly.

He opened the Inn door and gestured for Brianna to go ahead of them. “The stables are just across the way, lass. Ye’ll have to ride with me, if ye don’t mind.”

Bree smiled at her father. “I don’t mind.”

Jamie stepped into the stable and after a few minutes emerged with a gorgeous chestnut mare. “She’s gentle as a kitten,” he said, bringing the horse close to Bree so that she could acquaint herself with it. He was surprised to see that she knew exactly how to approach the horse, handle her, make both of them comfortable. “Ye ken your way around horses, then?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, rubbing her hand up and down the horse’s muzzle. “My father taught me how to ride.”

Jamie was caught off guard briefly, but quickly recovered himself. “Ah, Frank. Well, I’m glad for it; it will make things a lot easier on ye now that yer here.” He mounted the horse and then reached out a hand to Brianna. She mounted in front of Jamie easily and they set off. “Tell me,” he said in her ear as they headed toward the business district, “did yer Ma tell ye much about what it's like to live here...in this time I mean?"

"Well, she mostly told me about you . But, being a historian, I could mostly fill in what she didn't tell me from what I knew."

"Yer - uh - Frank, he was a historian, was he no'?" he asked, brushing away a loose curl that kept blowing into his face.

"Sorry," she said. "Now I know why women wore their hair back so neatly back...I mean, now."

"Dinna fash. Yer mother's hair used tae do the same thing to me."

"Anyway, yes, my father was a historian. He was a professor at Harvard and I spent a lot of time with him there growing up. Mama was in medical school and then at the hospital a lot; he and I were very close."

Jamie made a noise in the back of his throat and they rode together in silence, neither sure what to say next. It troubled Jamie that he didn't know what to say to her, the right questions to ask. The night before had been easier somehow but alone, just the two of them, he realized that his daughter was a stranger. 

Soon, though, they reached the livery and both dismounted to see if any wagons were available for purchase. A quick discussion with the proprietor told them that he had two for sale, giving a nod of his head in the direction of the back of the building. Jamie and Bree headed back to look.

Bree followed Jamie as he inspected them both carefully. He pulled a pair of glasses out of his coat pocket and walked around each one, bending and kneeling as necessary. As he started to seem more interested in one, she drew up closer behind him, looking over his shoulder. Clearing her throat nervously, she said, "Da? You don't want this one."

He looked over his shoulder at her, peering down over the rims of his glasses. "Why no'?"

She stepped to the side and crouched down next to him. "You see this, here? There's a slight bend in the spoke." Jamie leaned in closer. Bree went on, "And here? This piece is off kilter. It's going to loosen with every turn. We'll be stuck with a broken wheel before we've made it out of New York." She smiled at him shyly and stood up.

Jamie peered at the wheel again and ran his hand over the flaws she had pointed out. Christ, the lass is right. A feeling of pride swelled in his chest as he rose to his feet. "Aye, yer right," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Let's have another look at this other one then."

***

Jamie helped Brianna up into the wagon seat next to him.  He flicked the reins and made a quick sound with his tongue and the horse headed off at a steady pace. "That's a fine eye ye have there, Brianna." 

"I've always had a knack for machinery," she replied. "I almost switched my major to engineering at one point."

"Why didna ye?" She sighed and Jamie saw the furrow of her brows and small frown on her lips. "Ye dinna have to be shy wi' me, lass. I ken ye have a whole history that I dinna ken about. You'll no' hurt my feelings if it has something to do wi' Frank." 

She smiled at him, grateful to him for getting the awkwardness out in the open. "When I found out about you, for a while I was angry. I was angry at Mama for betraying my father and keeping such a huge secret from me. I was angry at you for…..existing, I guess. And was angry at my father for not being my father. And for keeping you from me." She looked at him and he gave her a small nod. "I had wanted so badly to be like him, so when I found out he wasn't my re-, my biological father, I felt like...I don't know." She shrugged, struggling to find the words.

"Like ye didna deserve to be like him anymore?" Jamie offered.

"Something like that, yes." She gave him a warm smile. "I'd always had an interest in engineering, so I considered it, even took a few classes."

"What made ye decide to stay with history then?"

"I stopped being angry. Mama started talking to me about you and Daddy and everything that happened. Eventually I realized that history was my true passion after all, and it felt like a way to honor both of you, in different ways."

"I'm glad ye were able to stop being angry at Frank. I didna ken him, but I ken he was a good man and I'm grateful to him," Jamie replied, choking up a bit on the last words.

"You don't hate him?" Brianna asked.

Jamie chuckled. "Mebbe a bit I do. No' as much as I did thirty years ago. But mostly I'm grateful to him for being a good father to ye when I couldna be. And fer takin' yer Ma back and loving her." 

The wagon jostled along the bumpy road, kicking up an endless cloud of dirt, as Brianna considered what to say next. "They weren't happy together, you know. I don't know what Mama has told you so far, but they weren't happy. If it weren't for me, I don't think they would have stayed together."

"If it weren't fer you, yer mother would have died at Culloden," he said, staring ahead as they drew closer to the Inn. 

"You didn’t," Brianna pointed out.

"Aye, but that was pure dumb luck. The English slaughtered everybody; man, woman, and child. And yer Ma was a wanted woman, just as I was a wanted man."

"You two are a regular Bonnie and Clyde!" Bree declared, giggling.

"I dinna ken who Bonnie and Clyde are, but yer Ma and I certainly kent how to find trouble." 

They went silent for a moment as they approached the Inn. He pulled the wagon alongside the building and turned to Bree, placing a hand on her cheek. "You are the best thing to ever happen to us. To me, to yer mother, and I would guess to Frank too. Don't ye ever think that yer existence caused any of us any pain that we didna gladly welcome fer the sake of you, M'annsachd ." He kissed her other cheek gently and climbed out of the wagon. Reaching a hand out, he helped her to the ground, and after she had both feet on the ground, she surprised him by wrapping her arms around him in a bear hug.

"Thank you," she whispered quietly.

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William returned to the Inn shortly after Jamie and Brianna. He rode one horse and was leading the other by a tether. Claire and Roger had taken the wagon to get supplies, and Brianna was in her room, taking a nap.

Jamie went outside to greet William and inspect the horses he had procured. William dismounted and stood side by side with Jamie, mirroring each other’s movements as they walked around each horse, checking the legs, hips, and teeth. When Jamie was satisfied, he nodded at William. “Good job. How much did ye end up paying for them?”

“I paid all that you gave me.”

“Ye mean tae tell me that ye spent the entire purse I gave ye on them?”

William must have been shocked by the sudden change in Jamie’s voice and demeanor because his own shoulders straightened, and he spoke with a terse tone. “I wasn’t aware that you didn’t want me to spend the entire purse.”

“Of course I didna want ye to spend the entire purse,” Jamie answered, shaking the empty bag in disbelief. “How could ye be such a wastrel?”

“If you had a certain price in mind other than what was in the purse, why didn’t you tell me before you sent me off?” William asked, clenching his fists at his sides. “Look, if there is an issue with how much I spent, I can assure you that when we get to Philadelphia, my fath – “

Jamie’s entire body turned red all the way to the tips of his ears. He leaned in closely to William and spat out, “This isna about money, and I dinna want John Grey’s money even if it was.”

William’s color now matched Jamie’s and they were nose to nose, both breathing heavily, blue eyes wild with anger. “Is my father’s money not good enough for you then?”

Jamie turned and threw his hands in the air in frustration. “Iffrin! This isna about yer step-father, so why do ye have tae keep bringing him into this?”

William moved closer to Jamie again, forcing them face to face. “Then what is it about? If you didn’t want me to spend that much money on the horses, then why did you give me that amount in the first place? Christ! I’m not a mind reader! It’s not like we have some vast history with each other so that I can know exactly what you’re thinking!”

Jamie threw his hands in the air once again. “Christ, if ye canna understand what this is about now, then I dinna think ye ever will.” With that, he turned on his heel and stalked away, leaving William to tend to the horses.

***

With some difficulty, Claire and Roger were able to procure most of the provisions for their trip. Both were eager to get back to their spouses. With Jamie in such close proximity, she felt him like a powerful magnet, a deep ache in her stomach, constantly pulling her toward him. She had lost so many years with him, and her body yearned to spend every minute with him, touching him, listening to him, all those little constant signals to her body that he was there, real.

Roger had been quiet, and Claire assumed it was because he was worried about Bree. She had lost her appetite and felt poorly, so Claire had sent her back to her room for a rest. They had a long journey ahead of them, and she hoped it was just the excitement of the last few days or even the aftereffects of going through the stones rather than an illness. Once they left Saratoga, she had no way of knowing if there were any other stones, any other way to send them back to the 1970s. If any of them were to fall ill, she would be left only with her medical skills and whatever medicinal herbs and primitive medicines she had on hand.

When she could stand the silence no longer, she turned to Roger. “If you’re worried about Bree, I’m sure she’s fine. It’s just been a lot these last couple days.”

“It’s not that. It’s just….eh, never mind.”

“Roger, what is it?”

“Well, did ye…. I mean…. I get the feeling that Jamie doesn’t really like me.”

“Like you? He hardly even knows you, Roger. We’ve only been here for one day.” Claire was trying to reassure Roger, but Jamie had mentioned some doubts he had about Roger that morning.

“I don’t know, Claire; It’s just the way he was looking at me, like he was sizing me up.” Roger shook his head and looked away, worry lines etched into his forehead.

Claire didn’t answer at first. She was trying to put herself in Jamie’s shoes, which she found surprisingly difficult. She could imagine what the Jamie of thirty years ago would have said and done, but she realized that she didn’t really know Jamie like she did before. Yes, he was the same person at his core that he always had been: honest, loyal, trustworthy, willing to protect those he loves at all costs, but there were differences in his behavior, his words. Of course, she should have expected that; Claire was no longer the hot-tempered young woman she had been at twenty-seven. Changes were to be expected, but it pained her to realize that she could no longer predict what Jamie would say, how he would react to a situation. Oh get yourself together, Beauchamp. Give it time, she told herself.

But her mind wandered in spite of her pep-talk. How do you make up for thirty years of lost time? Thirty years of experiences that molded you into the person you now were. How do you get to know a person again? Would their deep love for each other help or hurt their efforts to adjust to the people they had become? If she were to do something or act a certain way that was unexpected to Jamie, would the hurt feelings run deeper?

She took a deep breath and brought her mind back to the previous night, the way all of her dormant feelings for him had awakened, the way their connection had clicked into place immediately. That was all that mattered in the end, but she would be fooling herself if she thought that there wouldn’t be some stumbling along the way as they found their new rhythm.

But what to say to ease Roger’s mind? She could do nothing but draw on the Jamie she once knew and hope that her instincts were correct. “Well,” she finally replied, “I’m sure he was sizing you up Roger. You have to put yourself in his shoes. He has spent the past thirty years not knowing if his child lived, or even whether she was a boy or a girl. Now, she’s suddenly here and he feels like he has to make up for being missing from her life for thirty years. If he had been around, you would have had to prove yourself worthy to him, asked him permission to marry her. I suppose in a way you will still have to prove yourself to him, if you want to earn his respect, anyway. But shouldn’t any husband expect to have to do that with his wife’s parents? You’re just a little behind with Jamie.”

Roger gave her a skeptical look. “What if he doesn’t think I’m worthy, Claire? What if his ideas about what a husband should be are not the same as mine?”

“Jamie is a man of his time, that’s for sure. But I don’t think the important things, the qualities that really matter, are all that different. Honesty, loyalty, the ability to provide, those things never really change,” she paused and pointed ahead. They had arrived at the Inn. “All right, we’re here. You stay here with the wagon and I’ll go find out where Jamie wants to store everything overnight.”

***

When Claire found no sign of Jamie or Bree at the inn, she went around to the stables to see if either of them were back there. Instead, she found William, mounting a horse she hadn’t seen before. “William? Where are you going? It’s going to be time for supper soon.”

“Mother Claire! I’m glad you're back,” he said, dismounting again. “I’m very sorry to be doing this to you, but I’ve…I’ve got to go.”

Claire furrowed her brow, grabbing William by the shoulders. “What on earth are you talking about? Where are you going? We’re leaving for Philadelphia in the morning!” William’s eyes were red and puffy, but his mouth was turned up in a scowl that Claire recognized immediately though she hadn’t seen it in a very long time. “William, what happened?”

“I don’t think now is the right time to become…reacquainted with Mr. Fraser. And I certainly don’t think we should all be going to Philadelphia together. It’s better if I head out on my own; please have Mr. Fraser write to my father and let him know that I will not be joining him in Philadelphia.”

William’s attempt to speak calmly may have fooled most people, but Claire had seen this calm veneer too many times. There was a sea of rage and hurt boiling under the surface and Claire needed to tread very carefully. “William, please tell me what happened. I can’t help fix this if you don’t talk to me.”

He shrugged her hands off his shoulders and shook his head. “There’s nothing you can do to fix this. I should have known this was a mistake. I’m sorry.” His voice cracked at the last and he looked down at the ground, kicking mindlessly at a small stone in the dirt.

Claire decided to take a different tact. “If you aren’t going to Philadelphia, then where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet. I need time to think.”

“If you don’t have a plan, maybe it’s best that you didn’t run off at near dark then? Let’s have some supper and talk to Jamie and maybe we can get this whole thing sorted out.” Claire moved to place her arm tentatively around William’s shoulder, but he stepped away before she could reach him.

“No. I’m not going to eat supper with him,” he spat out. But he looked around at the bright oranges and reds of the encroaching autumn sunset and Claire could tell that he was at least rethinking his plan to leave immediately. “I won’t leave tonight, though. This way I can at least say a proper goodbye to Brianna.”

Claire nodded but said no more about reconciliation. William turned and led the horse back to the stables, while Claire set off to find out where Jamie had gone off to. She knew he would at least tell her what happened, and then maybe she could start to sort everything out.

"Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!" she said out loud, suddenly realizing she had forgotten about Roger. She walked hastily back to the wagon to help him.

As luck would have it, when she returned to where she had left him, she found both Roger and Jamie, along with Brianna and Ian. All four were rummaging through the supplies, ensuring they had everything they needed. Claire approached them and stood with her hands on her hips. After a moment, she cleared her throat and interrupted their chatter. "Jamie."

Jamie looked up at her from the wagon bed and raised one eyebrow at her before glancing nervously at Bree and Roger. He stood and hopped down from the wagon bed, approaching Claire slowly. "Thirty years couldna erase the meaning of that look. What have I done, Sassenach?"

"Why don't you tell me, Jamie? I just ran into William attempting to run off into the dead of the night without saying a word to anybody. What on earth happened?"

Jamie glanced again toward the wagon where their three spectators quickly attempted to busy themselves. Jamie nodded his head to the side and gently took Claire's arm to lead her far enough off so they could speak privately.

When they were out of earshot of the rest of the group, Jamie turned to Claire, "What do ye mean he was going tae run off?"

"He had a horse and wanted me to tell you to send word to Lord John that he wouldn't be joining us in Philadelphia. Jamie, what happened?"

"Och, it was my fault, Sassenach. We had a disagreement over the price o' the horses and we both lost our tempers." He filled her in on the rest of the argument.

When he was finished, Claire took him by the hands gently, trying to mask the frustration that leaked out in her voice. "Jamie, what on earth possessed you to get upset over that? William was right; he's not a mind reader."

"I ken! He just caught me at a bad moment, and I would have apologized but then he had to bring Lord John into it, and I lost my temper." His face was growing red and Claire saw the same scowl on it that she had seen on William's minutes before. "To have him suggest that I would need Lord John's...charity was too much for me to bear after…" His voice cut off, choked by a sobbing sound from his throat.

Claire's face softened and she took Jamie in her arms. "I know, Jamie. I understand."

Jamie sniffled into Claire’s hair and kissed the top of her head. "I couldna stand the idea of owing him one more thing, Sassenach. Not when I've finally got my family back."

Claire lifted her face and kissed him gently. "I realized today that this is not going to be easy for any of us, in many ways. You can't just shut the door on your friendship with Lord John any more than William can forget the nearly twenty years that John was the only father he knew. And you don't want that, anyway, Jamie. I know you're grateful to him for all that he's done, and you must know that he is always going to be William's father."

Jamie pulled Claire into him again. "Christ, Sassenach. How have I managed wi'out ye for the last thirty years?"

"I really don't know, Jamie. You must have had a lot of visions of me telling you what to do." She reached up and touched his face, smoothing a stray gray hair back behind his ear. "I'm glad I'm here though, even if the keeping of you is a full-time job."

"Aye, it is, mo nighean donn." He bent down to kiss her. "That's why I've no' had anybody else willing to take on the job yet."

She playfully slapped his bottom and then asked, "So what are you going to do about William?"

"I'll have tae apologize to the lad. What a mess I've made of this already!"

"Can I offer you one more piece of advice, Jamie?"

His lip twitched in one corner. "One more, for the rest of our lives?"

"No, just for this conversation," Claire replied, raising her eyebrows at him. "But it's important. Jamie, he's not one of your soldiers. He's your son. And if there's one thing I've learned about being a parent, it's that they never stop needing you to be a parent. William may be an adult, but he needs your approval. You've known he's your son his entire life; he's only known that you're his father for a few weeks. He's still getting accustomed to the idea. You'll push him away if you're too hard on him."

Jamie nodded, "Aye, Sassenach. I hear ye."

"Oh, and one more thing.

"Ye said that was yer last one!" he teased.

She gave him an exasperated look and went on, "He's just like you, so if you two are going to navigate this without blowing the entire ship up, you're going to have to practice being a little less you when he’s got his dander up."

"I can try," was the best response he could give.

***

It was a quiet dinner. William did not show up, which worried Brianna, who was already looking peaked. Roger nervously tried to keep up a conversation with Jamie, who was sullen and not prone to answering questions in such a mood. Ian had returned from visiting Rollo and found that the dog was not quite ready for the journey to Philadelphia, though Rachel and her brother were planning to head in that direction themselves in a few days’ time. Ian was torn between waiting behind for Rollo and Rachel, and spending time with his new family.

When it was clear that nobody was going to eat anymore, though their plates still had plenty of food left on them, Claire announced that they should all get to bed early, since they planned to leave before full sunrise the next day. When all had cleared away except for Claire and Jamie, she put a gentle hand on his arm and leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. "What are you going to do?" she asked quietly.

"I dinna ken. I think mebbe I'll go into town and check the Taverns there, tae see if he's out carousing. If I were a lad of near twenty and had a mind to be angry at the world, that's where I'd be." He moved to get up, but Claire stopped him.

"You know, he might not be at a Tavern," she suggested. Jamie raised an eyebrow at her. "A young man of twenty might also find solace in a woman."

The tips of Jamie's ears turned pink and his lip curled down into a frown. "Christ, do ye think the lad is cavortin' with hoors?"

Claire shrugged. "I don't know, but it's a possibility. But Jamie, wherever you find him, be gentle with him. Don't lecture him. He's doing this to push you away, and you have to show him you're not going anywhere."

Jamie's face softened and his eyes lit, as if the advice Claire had been giving him finally clicked into place. "Aye," he said. "I'll find him and see him safely home."

***

Jamie's search of all the taverns in town had been fruitless, so he resorted to looking for him amongst the whore houses, grumbling the entire time about it. He was bone tired and felt too damn old to be out this late, in this part of town. Feeling like a lecher, he questioned the girls outside the buildings and, on his third try, managed to find one who told him that a man of William's description was, in fact, inside.

He was tempted to run inside, find the lad, and drag him out by his ears, but Claire's words were echoing in his head and he knew she was right. William was a man now and he would make his own choices, whether or not Jamie agreed with them. At this point in both their lives, and their relationship, Jamie could only be there to help him, maybe guide him toward better choices with time.

There was a bench across from the brothel, and he sat down, easing the aches in his knees and back. The air was chilly, but not unbearably so. He watched the people go in and out of the building. As fatigue began to overtake him, he imagined he saw the same faces going in and out on a loop, as if they were all just moving in an infinite circle. It was to this image that he dozed off, head tilted back against the building behind him.

He startled awake when he felt a gentle tug on his arm. His eyes came into focus and he saw William looming tall over him, swaying a bit. "Willie," Jamie said as he shook himself further into wakefulness and stood up. "Are ye alright, son?"

William nodded, but the movement seemed to cause a disturbance in his equilibrium and he almost tripped over his own feet. Jamie took a firm grasp of his arms and held him upright. "I believe I may have had a bit too much to drink," William slurred.

"Aye, I can see that. Come, let's get you home and to bed. Yer sister's worried sick about ye." Jamie lifted William's arm and put it around his own broad shoulders and secured his other arm firmly around William's waist. "Let's go, Willie. One step at a time."

William grunted at that and began moving. "Nobody calls me Willie anymore, you know.

Jamie nodded. "Aye. I ken that."

Tentatively, William leaned his head down and on to Jamie's shoulder. "I don’t mind if you do, though."

Jamie got them to the spot where he had hitched his horse and with much effort, he managed to get William foisted upon it. Jamie mounted the saddle behind him and put one arm firmly around William's waist before taking off. The lad soon dozed off and as Jamie rode, he was reminded of all the times he had ridden with William like this, at Helwater. Feeling a bit foolish, he gave his son a small kiss on the back of the head as he had always wished he could have done in those days. He felt content, despite the turmoil of the day, and rode the rest of the way back with a small smile curling at the corner of his mouth.

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Claire watched the scenery go by as the wagon rolled along. She thought she would never tire of seeing America like this, green and tree-covered, quiet. She realized one of the things she had missed most about the past, other than Jamie of course, was the lack of ambient noise ever-present in her time. There were no automobiles beeping their horns, no airplanes roaring overhead, no constant chatter of the radio. It seemed to make her other senses come to life; the colors seemed brighter and the smells stronger. Even the constant breeze on her skin from their movement felt like a soft caress.

She slipped an arm through Jamie's as they held the horse's reins. He turned and gave her a smile as she rested her head on his shoulder. Despite everything on her mind, she was consumed with an underlying happiness. It was a strange, foreign feeling, this contentment. How had she gone thirty years without it? Like the lack of noise, it was something she didn't realize she missed until she had it again.

Normally, she would have preferred to ride horseback, side by side with Jamie, but neither Bree nor William were feeling well, and they were worried about them. She glanced back to see the two of them, cramped and curled up amongst the supplies in the wagon bed, lulled to sleep by the motion as they moved along.

Dragging a hungover William out of bed early that morning had been quite the task considering his size and temperament, but between Jamie, Ian, and Roger, they had managed to get some water and bread in him before loading him into the wagon. Bree had been less difficult, though no less green in the face, and Claire had a distinct feeling she knew what was causing her nausea, even if Bree hadn't realized it yet.

Claire reached above her head and stretched her body as best she could. Jamie turned to her again and leaned over to kiss her cheek. "We'll stop soon and make camp, a nighean. I want tae get a few more miles in."

She scooched over on the wagon seat and leaned into him again. "I wish we could get some alone time," she whispered.

He raised an eyebrow at her and licked his lips. "Aye, as do I. I suppose we'll have to do with being verra quiet after everyone has gone to sleep."

The idea of making quiet, secretive love to Jamie under the stars made her stomach do flips. She felt the heat rising to her cheeks. Apparently, Jamie saw it, too. He smiled mischievously and reached his arm under her to grab as much of her ass as was possible while she was sitting on a wagon seat. She squeaked, causing William and Bree to stir in the wagon bed. She looked at Jamie and mouthed, "Behave," at him before turning around to check on the two ailing travelers in the back.

William sat up slowly. His chestnut hair was tousled, and he had sleep lines on his face. He reminded Claire so much of the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago, it made her heart melt. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

He attempted to smooth down his wild hair. "A bit better. What time is it?"

"Near time to make camp!" Jamie chimed in.

"I'm sorry I slept all day. I should have been helping," William replied.

"Dinna fash yerself. There was naught for ye to do anyway. I'd rather have ye feeling better."

Claire smiled and reached back to shake Bree's leg. "Wake up, darling. It's almost time to stop for the night."

Though William was looking better, Bree still looked wretched. As soon as she could grab a moment alone with Bree, she would speak to her to confirm her suspicions.

***

The opportunity arose sooner than Claire expected. Soon after Jamie stopped the wagon, she and Bree set off to collect kindling together. As soon as they were out of earshot, she grabbed Bree gently by the arm. "Brianna, when is the last time you had your period?"

Brianna looked taken aback at first but then her eyes begin moving back and forth and her fingers twitched as she did the mental math. After a moment she quietly said, "Oh my God, it's been almost two months. With everything going on, I guess I lost track!"

Claire smiled and hugged her. "Congratulations, Bree! I'm so happy for you."

Bree's face was worried, though. "Won't it be dangerous, having the baby here?"

Claire gestured to a large rock and they both sat down. "Childbirth is a risky business, no matter what, but even more so here without modern medical equipment. Bree, I know it's a lot to take in, but if you truly don't want to have the baby here, you will need to decide soon. I don't know if there are any other standing stones in America, and we're traveling farther away from the ones we came through in New York. You really need to make the decision sooner rather than later. Talk to Roger and then let me know."

"Does Da know?"

"No, I didn't tell him I suspected; I wanted to wait until I was sure. Do you want me to tell him or should I wait?"

"Give me a few days, please," Brianna asked. "I want to know what I'm going to do before I let him know. I don't want him to get excited about it and then let him down by telling him later that I'm leaving."

Claire nodded. She knew Jamie would be devastated to find out Brianna was leaving with his grandchild in her belly, but in her head, she knew it would be for the best. Still, she couldn't help but begin to picture a life of being grandparents with him, having been denied raising their own children together. "Alright," she said, standing and then reaching out to help Bree up as well. "Best finish up quickly before Jamie thinks we've wandered off."

***

Jamie and William went out to look for game, leaving Ian and Roger to tend to the camp. They walked along quietly together until William finally cleared his throat and spoke. "I'm very sorry about all the trouble yesterday."

"Dinna fash," Jamie replied. "It's I who should be apologizing. I lost my temper wi' ye and I'm sorry for it. It had nothing to do wi' ye, lad."

William nodded and they continued on in silence. Suddenly, William lifted his rifle and took a shot, taking down a rabbit. Jamie laughed and clapped him on the back. "Aye, yer a braw shot, Willie. I didna even see that rabbit!"

William smiled and walked off to retrieve his game. He knelt down to quickly dress the game. "Mind ye save the pelt!" Jamie hollered after him.

After William had dressed the game, they continued on. "Did Sir John teach ye tae hunt?" Jamie asked.

"Yes," William responded.

Jamie sighed, cursing the fact that he had to navigate these conversations with his children. He knew in his mind what he did for both his children, giving them up, was the right thing to do at the time. But that didn't stop his heart from aching at the fact that they both thought of someone else when they thought of their father.

At least with Brianna, he didn't have to face the idea that her father was still alive and wanting to claim her. Frank had been dead for more than ten years and Jamie knew the lass had room in her heart for him. William was a different story entirely. Lord John was alive and would soon be awaiting the arrival of William.

Lord John was his friend and he had always been grateful to him for his care of Willie. But now that Willie knew the truth, it changed things. Jamie was no longer the silent father in the shadows. He was vying for a piece of his son's heart and even if William was willing to give it, would John stand by and let it happen? Would John understand that Jamie was willing to share Willie's heart with him?

His heart had never felt so full in all his life, but with that brought worry, fear, and the potential for pain. All he had ever hoped for had finally come true. He had Claire and the children by his side, but he had never anticipated the difficulty of that. For years he had only to worry about himself. Of course, there had been the everyday worries of ensuring his sister and her family were provided for, but it had been thirty years since he had held anybody's heart in his hands. Suddenly, out of the blue, he had been handed three hearts, wounded ones at that. He felt the responsibility of that immensely.

They continued on, father and son, until they had collected enough game to feed his large family. As they walked back to the camp, Jamie silently put an arm around Willie, who did not protest or pull away. He supposed that was as good a start as any.

***

Later that night, Jamie and Claire made love slowly, their attempts to keep each other quiet ending up with both of them dissolving in laughter. After, they laid tangled together smiling and kissing, still craving intimacy. "I never thought I'd laugh in the bed of a woman again, Sassenach."

Claire giggled and held his hand tightly. "We're not exactly in bed."

"Ye ken well what I mean, Sassenach," he replied, nibbling at the back of her neck.

She let out a small shriek and Jamie clamped a hand over her mouth. "Shhhhh, mo nighean donn, ye'll wake the bairns."

"This trip reminds me of what life was like when Brianna was small, glued to my side. I don't think I had any privacy for at least ten years." Jamie went quiet suddenly and stilled. "I'm sorry if it pains you to hear me talk about her as a child."

"It's no' that, Sassenach. I love hearing about her and someday I hope to be able to say that I’ve learned everything there is to ken about her."

"What is it then?" Claire asked, turning to face Jamie. She stroked his cheek tenderly with the back of her hand.

"It's difficult for me to think of ye and Frank needing privacy," he responded gruffly, his voice choking a bit on Frank's name.

Claire sighed; she knew this conversation was coming. They had barely any time to talk alone those last few days, with all the energy they had been spending on William and Brianna. Jamie had managed to fill her in on most of his life in the last thirty years, but they hadn't spoken much, if at all, about her relationship with Frank.

"Did ye...did ye lie with him, Claire? I need to know."

"Yes, Jamie. I did have sex with Frank, though not often. He was my husband." Despite her best efforts, her voice had a defensive edge to it.

"I ken that."

"I'm sorry that hurts you, Jamie, but I can't take it back, and I don't know that I would anyway."

His eyes flashed with fury, reflecting off the light of the campfire. He disentangled himself from Claire and sat up with his knees pulled to his chest. Claire sat up and reached out to touch his shoulder, but he flinched back. Breathing heavily, he asked, "Did ye fall in love with him again, then? After ye left?"

"No," Claire replied simply. "I never loved anyone else after you."

"But ye shared yer bed with him?"

"Yes."

"How could ye if ye didna even love him?" His voice was a quiet fury.

"I tried to make my marriage work, damnit," Claire hissed back. She breathed deeply trying to quell her desire to scream.

"And did it, Claire? Were ye happy with him?"

"I just told you I didn't love him, Jamie. But I did what I could to make a happy family for Brianna. And fuck you for trying to make me feel bad about it. I did what you asked, and now you're going to hold it against me?"

"Fuck me? Like ye fucked Frank?"

"You are not allowed to be angry about that. You told me, you made me promise to go back to a man that loved me and would protect us. Do you remember that or have you lost your memories in your old age?"

"Aye, I asked ye tae do that, for Faith and then I asked ye again for Brianna. But I didna ask ye to lie with him. I never asked that of ye."

"And how did you expect me to make the marriage work then, Jamie? I lived in a loveless marriage for twenty years, dammit. And I did it for you." Jamie looked at her incredulously. "Yes, that's right, Jamie. Everything I did for the last thirty years was for you or because of you."

"Well ye didna have tae do me any favors!"

"Christ, Jamie. Is it not enough that I sacrificed any chance of happiness for you? If you had preferred I died at Culloden instead, then you shouldn't have forced me to go through the stones in the first place."

"It isna my fault ye werena happy. Ye canna blame that on me."

"Can't I? Do you know that Frank gave me an out, when I first went back? And again, after we moved to America? He told me I could go, divorce him. And I chose not to. It would have been the best thing for me to divorce him and live my own life, raise Brianna on my own, but I didn't. I made the difficult choice, chose a life with a man I didn't love, and who made me regret my decision more and more with each passing day. And do you know why I did that, Jamie?"

"Ye did it for Brianna," he hissed, "so she wouldna grow up without a father."

"No, Jamie. Brianna loved Frank and he loved her. He was a good father to her. But she would have been fine growing up without a father. I did it for you. I did it because it's what you wanted for us. I did it to honor what I thought were your final wishes." Tears were streaming down her face and she didn't bother to wipe them away.

They sat silently for a while, Claire crying, Jamie breathing shakily. Finally, he reached a hand out and took hers in it, squeezing. "I'm sorry, Claire. I never meant for ye to lead a life that wasna happy."

"What did you think my life would be like if I went back to Frank?" His touch calmed her, evening out her voice.

"I dinna ken. I didna think much about it, really. I thought I would be dead. It didna matter much to me at that point to think about yer future, except that you and Brianna were safe."

"We were safe, Jamie. And Brianna was loved. The fact that I was not was a sacrifice I made willingly for you, and I won't resent you for it. But I won't have you resenting me for it either. I'm not asking you to treat me like a martyr, but I need you to know that I did it for you."

"I ken, Claire. And I'm grateful to ye. And Frank."

"Frank asked me to put the past behind me, Jamie. It was a condition of him taking me back."

"A condition? That bastard put a condition on protecting ye and the bairn?" His hand squeezed her harder than he intended.

"Ouch!" she whispered, pulling her hand away. "Yes, he put conditions on it. And to honor your request, I accepted them. I had to lock you away for twenty years. And even so, he never let me forget my betrayal. And I could never truly forget you. Every time he touched me, I wished it was you. When we had sex, I closed my eyes and imagined you. And Frank knew it, resented me for it."

Jamie put his hand on the back of her head and pulled her in close, their foreheads touching. "Did he hurt ye, Claire?"

She shook her head, the tears falling freely again. "No, not in the way you're thinking. He never beat me, never laid a hand on Brianna in anger. But he hurt me nonetheless, in a thousand little ways every single day."

He kissed her nose and pulled her down so her head was in his lap. "Tell me, mo nighean donn. Tell me, please, so I can make it better." He twined his fingers through her hair over and over.

"I don't know that you can erase twenty years of emotional abuse, but I'll tell you if you want to hear."

She paused and Jamie squeezed her shoulder, encouraging her to go on. So she did. She told him everything she could remember. Frank's infidelity and the pain she felt each time she found evidence of a new affair. The way he undermined her parenting with Brianna, ignoring her choices and doing what he wanted. How he openly disparaged her decision to go to medical school and used her absence at home to isolate Brianna from her.

"We could fight about anything, and he would bring it around back to you and what I did. He made me put the past behind, and I tried. But he refused to do the same. While I struggled every day to put the past behind me and move forward, he would continually throw it in my face. I was completely trapped. And that was how I spent twenty years."

"I'm sorry, Claire. I'm so verra sorry," Jamie said finally, stroking her hair softly. "If I had known that was the kind of man he was, I never would have asked that of ye. Ye never told me -"

"Don't blame yourself, Jamie. I didn't know he had that part of him either. He was never like that before. A bit possessive, perhaps. A little condescending at times. But I never knew the depths of his vindictiveness."

Jamie reached down and lifted her into his lap. Her eyes were red, her nose puffy. He pulled her into his arms and whispered to her softly. "Mo graidh, mo chridhe. I love ye, and I'm so sorry ye went through that and still didna resent me. I couldna blame ye for it if ye did. To hold ye in my arms again is the greatest gift. I'm sorry I get jealous. It was so hard for me to think of ye with him, and him with our bairn all those years. Sometimes I was happy, knowing ye were safe, but other times it would make me so angry I wanted to reach through the stones and strangle ye."

"I felt the same way, you know. It took me a long time to stop being angry at you. But I always loved you."

"And I you, Sassenach." He kissed away the tears on her cheeks before placing his big hands on both of them, practically enveloping her entire face. "Let's get some sleep now, aye? The bairns will be up in a few hours and we've another long day of travel ahead of us."

Claire nodded and moved out of his lap, lying down on their meager pallet of blankets. Jamie shifted himself and laid behind her, molding his body to hers to keep her warm and safe. Before she drifted off to sleep, Jamie whispered into her hair, "I love ye mo nighean donn, now and forever."

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Three days had gone by and Brianna still had not told Roger or Jamie about her pregnancy. She was still sickly and pale, and Claire was finding it harder and harder to stave off Jamie’s anxious inquiries about her health. They could have secrets, but not lies, and her answers to his questions were definitely teetering on the line between the two. To make matters worse, Bree was avoiding her, as difficult as that was under the circumstances.

On the fourth afternoon of their travels, they came upon a small village on the Hudson River. Most of the towns they had passed along the way had been burned by the Redcoats as they left Saratoga, but, likely owing to its small size, Catskill had been left mostly unscathed. There were only a handful of houses and a small general store, but one of the town's more opportunistic residents had turned their home into a makeshift tavern.

It was there that they stopped, stretching their travel-weary legs as Jamie went inside and saw about the business of arranging rooms, hot meals, and some semblance of hot baths for everyone. Claire couldn't wait to bathe; their four days on the road had afforded them little opportunity to do so, but her most pressing concern was getting Brianna alone.

As soon as Jamie signaled for them to make their way inside, Claire grabbed Brianna firmly by the arm and announced that she was taking her to their room to examine her. Brianna opened her mouth to protest but Claire turned her best mother glare on her and forged ahead.

When Claire closed the door to the small room, Brianna turned on her. "Mama, what are you doing? You can't treat me like a child!"

"Well, you're acting like a child! You've been doing your bloody best to avoid me for days, like some sullen teenager." Bree opened her mouth to protest but Claire stopped her with one raised finger. "Brianna Ellen, you have to tell Roger what's going on. And it has to be tonight."

Brianna's pale face seemed to melt in front of Claire's eyes as tears began to stream slowly down her cheeks. "Mama," she sobbed, "I'm scared."

Claire pulled her in close, rubbing her back and whispering, "Shhhhh….shhhh, darling. It's alright. It's alright." Even though Brianna stood several inches over Claire, she still felt like a small child in her arms.

She led her daughter over to the bed, pulling a handkerchief out of her sleeve and handing it to her as they sat. "Brianna, what are you scared of?"

"Everything!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air. "I'm scared to tell Roger because I know he'll want to go back.  I'm scared to tell Da that I'm leaving so soon. And I'm scared of…..of never seeing any of you ever again." She leaned on Claire’s shoulder and sobbed.

Claire put her arms around her again, this time rocking slowly back and forth as she had when Brianna was a baby. She felt her own eyes begin to burn with tears as she realized that her daughter was telling her that she had already made up her mind to go back. "It's ok, Bree. It's ok. Shhhhh. I understand, I do." She smoothed down Bree's hair while her own tears fell into it, mingling with the fiery waves.

"Mama," Brianna finally said, pulling herself upright and looking Claire in the eye. "Can you tell Da? Please. I can't...I can't bear the thought of looking him in the eyes when he finds out I'm leaving him."

"You will say goodbye to him, though, right?" Claire asked.

Bree nodded. "Yes of course. I just...I need you to tell him first. I know it's barely been a week, but I see how you look at each other, how he calms when you're near him. I need him to hear this from you first."

"Alright," Claire replied, taking a deep breath. "There's no time like the present. Let's all get ourselves settled in our rooms and get this sorted out, alright?"

Brianna nodded and Claire pulled her in to kiss her forehead. Then, lifting Brianna's chin, she looked her in the eye and said, "I know what it is to sacrifice for your unborn child. So does Jamie. We'll support you, even if it breaks our hearts."

***

After they bathed, Claire snuggled up with Jamie in their bed, using him as her personal furnace. It was not yet dinner time, but they had nowhere to be and nothing to do. The bed was a haven after sleeping on the ground for three nights. Her mind wandered to all the cold nights she had spent on the road with him all those years ago, her body molded into his as if they were made to fit together.

"What're ye smiling about, mo nighean donn?"

She kissed the hollow just above his collarbone. "Just thinking about how many nights you've kept me warm and how good it feels to know that I'll get to spend the rest of my nights being warmed by you." She fiddled with the top button of his sark nervously. "I never thought I'd get to feel safe and loved like this again."

He kissed the top of her head. "Aye, Sassenach. Tis a gift that ye've come back to me, you and the bairns, a gift I'll no' take for granted."

How will I ever tell him what I need to?

He cleared his throat and gripped Claire’s shoulder tightly. "Brianna," he whispered hoarsely. "She's with child."

It wasn’t a question, but Claire answered him anyway. “Yes.”

“Is that no’ good news, Sassenach? Should we no’ be celebratin’? Is there something wrong with the bairn? Or Brianna?” His voice was on the edge of panic and Claire held him tightly.

“As far as I know, both Bree and the baby are perfectly fine, though it’s really too early to know for sure.” Claire sighed and sat up in the bed. “She’s not going to stay, Jamie. It’s too dangerous for her to have a baby here. She wants to do what’s best for the baby, and that means going back.”

“I see.”

“Jamie, you have to know that it’s for the best.”

His fingers tapped nervously on the side of his legs as his face turned crimson. “Aye. I ken.” He choked on the words.

Claire stood up and reached into her satchel, searching for her hairbrush. Once she retrieved it, she sat down on the edge and began brushing her hair, slowly and methodically. Jamie was clearly on the verge of an emotional eruption and the brushing soothed her and, she hoped, him. He remained silent, but it was the kind of silence that was louder than any shouting or raging imaginable.

After a time, Claire set the brush back on the nightstand and sat in front of Jamie. “Will you plait it for me?”

He looked at her as if she had wakened him from a dream but nodded and started working on the braid. “Talk to me, Jamie,” she said simply, once his fingers had found their rhythm.

“I dinna ken what there is to say.”

“You could start by telling me what you’re feeling right now.”

He shrugged. “I dinna see what it matters how I feel about it. It willna change anything.”

“No, but it might make you feel better.”

He finished the plait and tied it with a leather string she had handed to him. “Feel better? Ye think that if I tell ye how I’m feeling right now, I’ll feel better? Feel better about what exactly? That my daughter, having just arrived a week ago, is leaving me again? That she’s taking the only grandchild of my blood wi’ her? And how exactly am I supposed to feel better about any of that?” He had gotten off the bed and was pacing the room like a caged lion.

“I didn’t mean to imply that there was anything I could say to make this situation any better. I just meant that – “

“Did ye tell her to go, Claire?”

“No, I did not. I talked to her about the realities of what she would face giving birth here, but I did not advise her either way! Do you think I want to lose her, Jamie?”

“Of course not, Claire, but I dinna think you understand what this is like for me,” a small sob escaped his lips and he had to steady himself on the back of a chair. Claire took a deep breath. She wanted to tell him what it was like for her, thinking about never seeing her baby again, never holding her grandchild in her arms. She wanted to lash out, tell him to stop being so selfish. But this was not Frank, and this was not about her. Not at that moment. Jamie wanted to lash out, wanted her to yell at him so he could feel angry and scream back, but that was not how they were going to deal with this.

“You’re right,” she finally said. “I can’t possibly imagine how difficult this is for you. I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do to make this better.” She walked over to him, tentatively, and put her arms around him.  This small gesture of tenderness from his wife broke him. Tears began to fall from his eyes as his breathing turned into small, wracking sobs. Claire helped him sit in the chair before his knees gave out completely. She sat on the floor at his feet and placed her head in his lap.

“Why Claire? Why me? You came to me, ye carried our bairn, but she was ripped away before I could even lay my eyes on her.” Claire felt her own tears fall at the mention of Faith. “Then you were taken from me wi’ my second bairn in yer belly. And I never thought I’d see either of ye ever again. I even started to get used to the idea. But ye came back to me. God brought ye back to me and my bairn too. Do ye ken how happy that made me? I thought that maybe after all my years of sufferin’, I was finally getting my reward. But no. It was just a cruel joke because no more than a week later, she’s being taken from me again, and taking my flesh and blood with her. So, I want to ken why. I want to ken what I have done for God to be sae cruel to me. Is there something wrong wi’ me? Am I no’ suitable to be a father? A grandsire? I canna think of any other reason than that.”

“No, Jamie. You were born to be a father. I don’t know why God, or the universe, or fate has taken so many children from you. I wish I knew. I wish I knew why I didn’t get to be a mother to Faith. I wish I knew why I had to leave Fergus. But you know that it’s not because either of us are unsuitable parents. Look at you! You’ve been collecting your own army of children since before Faith was even born. Fergus, Ian, Marsali; do you not think you’re a father to them?”

“Claire, I love them with all my heart. I would do anything for them, just as if they were my own flesh and blood. But why canna I do that for my own flesh and blood?”

“William is your flesh and blood. You got to have a hand in raising him, for a while anyway.”

He scoffed. “Raise him? I was no’ but a servant to him.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You stubborn bloody Scot. Do you really not know that he thinks you walk on water? Jamie, when he was telling us about you, before he ever knew who I was or that you were his father…he said those were the happiest years of his life. He said you were his best friend. He was devastated when you left.”

“Is that true, Claire?”

“Yes. Why would I lie to you? Jamie, he wanted to come back to find you.” She stood and climbed into his lap, pulling his face between her hands. “You are a wonderful father and grandfather. I know it. This isn’t about you, Jamie. That’s the hell of being a parent, isn’t it? It can’t ever be about you. It’s always about what’s best for them.”

“I ken, Sassenach.” He buried his head in her hair. “That doesna mean it doesna hurt, though.”

“I’m hurting, too, Jamie,” she said quietly. “The thought that I might never see her again…”

“Claire, listen to me. If ye want to go back with her, I’ll no’ blame ye. Ye’ve brought both of my children back to me. I got to see ye again and ken that yer alive and well. If ye want to go with her, and be with her and the bairn, I willna resent ye for it.”

“You stupid man. Don’t you know by now that I’m never leaving you again, Jamie? Nothing could make me leave you again. I gave thirty years of my life to Brianna, and if there were a way to give her thirty more and still be with you, then I would do it in a heartbeat. But it’s our turn to be happy now.” She pulled his face to hers and kissed him slowly, passionately. “I love you, Jamie Fraser,” she gasped, pulling back briefly to catch her breath. “And I’ll never be parted from you again.”

***

They decided on the particulars of the MacKenzies' departure over dinner. William sulked like a sullen teenager the entire meal, and Claire felt sorry for him. In a short time, William had come to believe that the sun rose and set on his sister.

"Ye'll take two of the horses wi' ye." Jamie was stoic, his face inscrutable, though his voice was gruffer than usual. Claire doubted anyone else would notice. "Ian'll go wi' ye." Ian nodded his agreement. "If the Hunters havena left Saratoga yet, ye can come back wi' them." He gave Ian a knowing look and Ian's pale skin flushed red.

"And how will ye get back from there, Cousin?"

"Roger has family there. We'll stay with them through the winter and then return to Boston in the spring," Bree answered.

"Are you sure this is safe?" William asked.

Jamie turned on him and raised an eyebrow. "Dinna fash. They'll be safe with Ian."

William clamped his mouth shut and sat back in his chair.

"Well," Jamie said, slapping his hand on table. "I think this news calls for a celebration, does it not? Ian, go fetch us all a dram and we'll toast to the wonderful news."

Jamie reached over to William and clapped him on the back affectionately. "It's alright lad." William nodded and gave a small smile.

Ian came back with the drinks. Jamie stood up and moved behind Brianna, raising his glass. "To my beautiful daughter, Brianna, and the child that she carries, beannachd Dia dhuit. May he be healthy and strong, and his life filled wi' love. Slàinte mhath."

"Slàinte mhath."

Tears were pouring down Bree's face. Jamie bent down and said quietly to her, "Dinna weep, a leannan, M’annsachd. I'll always be wi' ye."

***

Jamie and Claire tossed and turned all night, reaching and clinging to each other for comfort. Claire's stomach felt like it was full of lead. How was she going to do this? How could she say goodbye to her daughter, knowing she might never see her again?

Memories of Faith came flooding back to her, that long day when she had held her baby in her arms, sang to her, and then finally kissed her goodbye as Mother Hildegard took her away. She felt again the choking grief; once she had been sure she would drown in it. But she hadn't. With Jamie, she had picked up the broken pieces and put them back together again, slowly and clumsily, like a child mending a broken vase. Piece by piece they had filled the cracks with their love, until they were whole again. Not the same, but whole, nonetheless.

She rolled to her side and clung to Jamie, seeking his warmth, his stability. Yes, they had done it before, and they would do it again. The cracks would be deeper this time. Small pieces would crumble to dust, leaving tiny gaps and fissures. But they would put themselves back together again.

Jamie had once said to her that the only way to move ahead was to carry their burden together. After thirty years of carrying hers alone, she would accept this additional hardship for the sake of being able to carry it with the man she loved.

***

They were up before dawn, ready to say their goodbyes. Silently, Jamie and Claire put together a satchel of provisions for the travelers and readied the horses.  Brianna was inside with Roger, saying her goodbyes to William.

Jamie glanced at Claire and her weak smile both broke his heart and filled it with hope. All he had dreamed about had come to pass. He would not let the sorrow of letting his daughter and grandchild go overshadow the fact of their being. Brianna was alive and whole. She was loved and cared for. And though he might never meet him, he and Claire would continue to live on through their grandchild, and his children, and theirs. That was what was important, not his selfish desire to keep them close.

Brianna came outside, eyes already red rimmed and swollen. Claire nodded at Jamie, and he pulled his daughter aside, sitting on a small bench with her. He picked up her hands and brought her knuckles to his lips. "Brianna."

"Da, I'm so sor-"

"No. Dinna be sorry, lass." He kept one hand clasped around hers and used the other to push a strand of her hair away from her face. "Dinna ever be sorry for protecting your child. I told ye that when ye were in yer Ma's belly, I sent her away to protect ye. Ye canna be sorry for doing the same."

"I just wish we'd had more time together." She sniffled and blew her nose into her handkerchief. "I barely got to know you."

"Did ye no' tell me that yer mother told ye all there was to ken about me already? I'm sure she flattered me o'er much, so mebbe it's best ye leave before ye get tae ken the real me."

This brought a smile to her face. She leaned against the back of the bench and Jamie put his arm around her, their heads leaning in together. "The day I thought would be my last day on earth, yer mother didna want to leave me. She hadna told me yet that she was wi' child, but I kent it. I told her she had tae go tae protect ye, that ye were the only thing that would be left of me on this earth. Now I sit wi' ye, an auld man, and I'll tell ye the same. Someday, yer mother and I will both be gone, but you will still be here, and so will this child. I had to let her go, and now I have to do the same wi' you, and it breaks my heart, a nighean, but ye must do it for the bairn."

She buried her face in his coat and he put both arms around her. "Tis a gift that I was able to hold ye in my arms, even for this short time, mo chridhe."

"Take care of Mama? And William? They both need you, Da. And be gentle with him. He seems prickly on the outside, but he's soft on the inside. He needs you to help him find his way."

"Aye, I will. And ye tell that Roger Mac that if he ever hurts ye, I'll wait 200 years just so I can haunt him." This elicited a small smile. Jamie wiped the tears from her face with his sleeve and kissed the top of her forehead. "I love ye, mo nieghan ruadh. Now go say goodbye to yer mother."

***

Claire had retreated into the inn, wanting to give them privacy. She sat at a table, breathing slowly, in and out. When Brianna entered, she stood, greeting her with a warm embrace, kissing her cheeks and running her hands over her red curls. She gestured for Bree to sit and pulled up a chair close to her. She clasped their hands together, taking a deep breath before she spoke.

"Brianna, my baby. Did you know I can look at you and still see you as you were, tiny and plump, with the most adorable shock of red hair on your head, your ears sticking out a little?" Self-consciously, Bree brought her fingers to her hair, to cover them, but Claire pushed the hand gently back down. "You will always be my baby, and now that you are going to be a mother yourself, you will know what that's like.

"I can't believe I might never get to look at your face again. I used to watch you for hours, studying every bit of you, memorizing you.  I thought I was foolish for doing so sometimes, always worrying about what I should be getting accomplished instead, but now I'm so thankful for every minute of it. Remember that." She paused and Bree nodded, not quite able to meet her mother's eyes.

"I wish there was a way I could guarantee your safety here, that I could promise you that I could protect you both, but I can't. The hardest thing for a mother to learn, Brianna, is that you can't protect your children forever. Even if I went with you, I couldn't protect you." Her voice broke and Bree leaned forward, placing her forehead on Claire’s.

"Mama, I don't want you to feel guilty about staying, ok? I've watched you staring out the windows too many nights with a look of loneliness on your face. I know that I would never be enough, that this baby would never be enough. You need Da; I see that now, and he needs you. You two are a life-force together." She chuckled, the tips of her ears turning pink. "I joked with Roger that it was a good thing I hadn't seen you together when I was younger; you would have been the most embarrassing parents. I can see you both chaperoning my school dances and giving each other, little looks, dancing together too close. You would have destroyed my reputation."

They both laughed then, and Bree went on. "Take care of each other, please. I want to always be able to think of you growing old together. Please keep each other safe."

Claire nodded. "I will; we will."

"I love you, Mama. I hope you never regret that I kept you from him for so long."

"Bree, no. Don't ever think that. I could never regret sacrificing anything to keep you safe, even losing Jamie. Even losing you. You are the most important thing I have ever done in my life, and I'd do it all again if I had to.  Jamie would too. You are our greatest gift."

Brianna sniffed. "Da said just about the same thing."

"Because we mean it. Do you know how much we wanted you? I don't know that I ever told you that before."

"You didn’t, but I knew."

"I love you, Brianna. I am your mother and that will never change, even if we are separated by two hundred years." She stood then, straightening her skirts and brushing back her unruly hair.

Brianna stood with her, towering over her. Neither of them had any more words, and Claire hoped fervently as she embraced her that it would be enough.

They walked out of the inn together, arms looped around each other's waist. Jamie was standing by the horses with Roger and Ian. Jamie was talking to Roger with a stern look on his face; Roger looked like a child being chided next to him. Claire smiled to herself and hugged Bree one last time.

Brianna walked away from her, slowly moving toward the horses. Jamie reached a hand out to her and pulled her in. Claire could see him murmuring into her air, sure he was speaking to her in his melodic Gaelic. They broke apart and Roger reached over to her, Jamie handing her to him as if it were their wedding day.

Head down, he walked back to Claire and stood with her looping his arm around her. William joined them at Jamie's other side, and they stood together, holding each other up as the MacKenzies and Ian mounted the horses and slowly began their journey. Bree was riding behind Roger, her head resting on his shoulders. As they moved away, she turned around one last time and gave her parents and brother a small wave. Then they were gone.

Chapter Text

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Claire and Jamie rode in the wagon in companionable silence for some time. William was somewhat ahead of them; his broody mood had only worsened with Bree’s leaving. “Were you that insufferable as a young man?” Claire asked, teasingly.

“Sassenach, when I was his age, I’d already been flogged twice by the British and was on the run from the law.”

“Hmmmph. That didn’t exactly answer my question, you know.”

“The answer is no, I wasna broody, as ye say. I didna have time to be broody.”

“What about when you were a teenager? Before Fort William and everything that happened?”

 He considered this carefully, trying to remember all those years ago. “Weel, no. I wouldna say I was like that. I was a fairly happy lad then.” He paused, unsure if he should go on. “Willie’s mother was like that. Broody. And that’s putting it mildly. His temper’s all mine, I’ll admit to that, but that dark cloud over him isna from me.”

“When he first came to me in Saratoga, I thought he must have had a very unhappy childhood. He just seemed so sad and lonely all the time.”

“I wouldna say he had an unhappy childhood, Sassenach. Lonely, mebbe, but Bree was an only child and she didna seem to think she had an unhappy childhood.”

“What is his stepfather like? Lord John? Do you think he’s treated William well?”

“Lord John?” Jamie’s voice showed his shock at her question. “Claire, John is one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever kent. And he loves Willie as if he were his own. Ye’ve nothing to worry about. The lad’s been loved, well-cared for, and educated in the finest schools. He’s never wanted for anything. “

“Sometimes I used to worry that Brianna was going to grow up spoiled. I would think about how little she would have had here, but I think it would have made her appreciate what she had even more.” She laughed, almost to herself. “Whenever Frank and I gave her a present, for a birthday or Christmas, I would try to picture what you would think of it.”

Jamie slid over on the wagon seat, moving closer to her. He put his arm around her. “And what did ye think I would say.”

“Usually something about a waste of money!”

He made a Scottish noise in his throat. “Do ye think all those things made her happy, Sassenach?”

Claire considered this carefully. “I think they made her happy in the moment, but they aren’t what made her have a happy nature. But if what you say of William’s mother is true, I suppose he comes by his melancholy honestly.”

Jamie made another grunt, inviting no further comment on William’s mother. Claire was just about to change the subject when Jamie slowed the horses and looked at her with a finger to his lips. She shook her head, unsure what was happening at first, until she heard the thundering sound of horse hoofs approaching. Jamie handed her the reins and was on his feet with his pistols at the ready. Claire’s heart raced as the sound moved closer and closer.

Slowly, Jamie lowered his guns. Claire looked at him and he glanced back. “It’s Ian. He’s got Brianna wi’ him.”

“Brianna?” Claire whipped around and saw that William had joined them. He had double backed around when he’d heard the horse approaching. Claire thrust the reins back in Jamie’s hands and scrambled down from the wagon, but William reached Ian first. “What happened?” he demanded of Ian.

Ian held Brianna in front of him, unconscious.  “Help me get her down!’ I shouted at William, but he was already reaching up and taking Bree from Ian’s arms, carrying her to a soft patch of grass to lay her down on. “What happened?” she demanded. She leaned over Bree, assessing her injuries.  She was bleeding from the side and back of her head, but an assessment of her pupils did not reveal any of the telltale signs of a brain bleed.

Jamie had frantically hitched the wagon and ran over to Claire, kneeling beside her. He gave Claire a questioning look, his eyes wide with fear. “I don’t know,” Claire replied. “I don’t see any signs of permanent injury, but without the proper equipment or even light I can’t be sure. Ian, did she vomit or have any sort of irregular breathing?”

“No Auntie, not that I could tell. She was just out cold.”

Claire nodded and let out a breath of tentative relief. She looked at Jamie. “I think she’ll be alright. I can’t be sure, but it doesn’t sound like there’s any serious internal damage.”

Jamie nodded, the worry etched in his brow relaxing so slightly, only Claire noticed it. He turned to Ian. “What the hell happened?”

“I’m sorry Uncle. They came upon us at night. I tried to fight them off, but there were three of them. They took most of our provisions and one of the horses. They would have taken that one too, but I dragged Bree over to it and took off before they could.”

“What did they do to the lass?” Jamie asked through gritted teeth. Claire could tell he was holding on to his temper by a thread.

“They hit her over the head with their rifles. Both of them did.”

Jamie stood and began pacing frantically.

“Ian,” Claire asked looking around. “Where is Roger?”

Ian shifted his weight from side to side and shook his head.

“Where is Roger?” Claire demanded again.

“They shot him, Auntie Claire. At least twice. I didna stay around to count.”

“You left him there?” Claire roared.

“Auntie, I had tae. He was already gone, and I had tae take care of Brianna. I couldna go back for him, wi’ Brianna fainted dead away and no idea if they were still around or had friends nearby!”

“Roger…” Claire choked. She looked down at Bree and stroked her hair gently.

“Where was this?” Jamie asked.

“I couldna tell ye exactly, Uncle. I dinna ken how many miles we rode yesterday.”

Jamie stalked over to the wagon and began unhitching one of the horses. Claire was trying to tend to Brianna, but when she saw what Jamie intended to do, she turned to William, “Here, William, sit with Brianna for a moment.”

“Jamie,” she said, running over to him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m goin’ back and I’m goin’ tae retrieve Roger’s body.” His hands shook with anger, his fingers fumbling on the harness straps.

“No, you are not,” Claire replied sternly.

“Claire, dinna try tae stop me. I need tae make this right for Brianna.”

“And what if you run into the deserters yourself while you’re out there? What if you put yourself in danger and the body isn’t even there anymore?”

“If I do run into them, all the better,” he roared. “Claire, I’ll no’ sit here wi’ my son-in-law dead, and my daughter –.” He choked on his words, unable to finish. He turned from Claire, focusing again on the harnesses.

Finally, overcome by the flood of emotions coursing through her body, Claire stomped her foot on the ground and screamed, “Jamie, listen to me, goddammit!” Tears ran down her beet red face and her entire body was shaking. Suddenly, it became all too much to bear, and she put her hands over her eyes and fell to her knees, sobbing.

She cried for Roger and the loss of his steadfast friendship. She cried for Brianna, knowing all too well the endless sea of grief she was going to wake up adrift on. She cried for their unborn child, who would never know his father. Everything Claire had gone through, everything she and Jamie had sacrificed, all the suffering they went through, and all she had managed to do was make her daughter a widow at the age of thirty, just as she had been.

Suddenly, she was thirty years old again, on top of the hill at Craigh Na Dun, saying goodbye to Jamie. She was waking up on that same hill in 1948, a pregnant widow ripped away from the love of her life. She was raising a baby who she thought would never know how much she resembled her father, would never see with her own two eyes the love that had created her.

And now Brianna would be doing the same thing.  She truly was a widow. Her baby truly would grow up without a father. She would never get a second chance.

Claire became aware of Jamie’s arms wrapped around her, and she leaned into his embrace, his touch the only thing keeping her moored in reality. She had her eyes squeezed shut and her ears were ringing loudly, but she could feel those strong arms around her, and she knew she would find her way back from the brink.

Would Brianna?

***

She woke up in a strange bed, confused by the unrecognizable surroundings. Was she at a hotel? Had she been on vacation?  Had Brianna been with her?

Then she heard a voice say softly, “Mo graidh,” and felt a calloused finger push away the flyaway hairs on her forehead. Her mind slowly came into focus as Jamie murmured to her in Gaelic, touching her reverently the entire time. I am in the year 1777. Jamie is with me. Roger is dead.

“What happened?” Her voice cracked and she suddenly felt how parched her lips were. “Water, please,” she requested, but then saw that Jamie already had a mug of water in his hands. He helped her to sit up and held his hands over hers to steady them as she lifted the cup to her mouth and drank slowly. “Where are we Jamie?”

“We’re at an inn. Ye fainted dead away on me, and at first, I was sure I’d lost ye. I thought yer heart gave out. But then I remembered what ye taught me about checking for the heartbeat in a person’s wrist. Then I kent that ye were just sleeping, no’ dead. We didna ken what tae do, so we decided to load ye both in the wagon and keep moving until I found a place for ye to rest."

"Is Bree awake?"

"No, Willie is with her."

"That's not good. I should go check on her." She made to get up but Jamie gently pushed her back. "No' yet, mo chridhe. Ye need yer rest."

"Jamie, I have to make sure-"

"Claire. There's naught ye can do for her here. The lass suffered two blows to the head. She just needs tae rest, as do you."

"Jamie, please. I need to see her. Please." The pitch of her voice was going higher and she could feel the panic rising in her chest.

Jamie sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. "I can see ye'll no' rest until ye do, a nighean. Alright, let's get ye on yer feet."

He helped her up and the room began to spin. She gripped Jamie’s arm and let his strength steady her. "Are ye alright?"

"Yes," Claire said as her head stopped floating and the room settled. "Let's go."

Brianna's room was just next door. William sat in a chair next to her bed, his eyes closed, dozing. When he heard Jamie and Claire enter, he scrambled to his feet. "Mother Claire. Are you well?"

"Yes, William. I'm alright. How is Brianna?"

He glanced at her shape on the bed. "I don't know. Nothing has changed."

Claire moved to the bed and sat down on the edge of it, grasping one of Bree's hands in her own. Her auburn curls were splayed across the pillowcase and her face looked so peaceful Claire could see the baby she once had been. Brushing a few stray hairs off her forehead, Claire gently lifted the lids of her eyes and examined her. She ghosted a finger over the lump on the side of her head. Christ, if it had been an inch lower, they would have gotten her in the temple. Gently, she lifted her head off the pillow and examined the lump on the back of her head. She felt her pulse, strong and steady, and lowered her ear to her chest to listen to her breathing.

"What do ye think, Claire?" Jamie asked quietly.

"Everything seems to be alright. I suppose we just have to wait for her to wake up. Hopefully by the morning." She bent down to kiss Bree gently on the forehead.

"Sassenach, time for ye tae go back tae bed." Jamie reached out a hand to help her up. "I'll settle ye in and then see about having some supper brought up. Willie, ye make sure ye eat as well. Ian can bide wi’ Brianna for a while." William nodded and sat back down in the chair.

Jamie escorted Claire back to their room and insisted she get back in bed. "Jamie, I'm perfectly capable of going down for dinner."

"Claire," he said, gently leading her to the bed and settling her down on it. "Let me take care o' ye fer once. Fer all the times ye've mended me, can ye no' just let me take care of ye?"

She gave him a small smile and settled back into the bed. "Fine," she said. "But only because I love you."

***

"Jamie," Claire said later that evening. They were curled up in the bed together, Claire resting her head on Jamie's chest.

"Hmmm?" He was gently running his fingers through her hair, twirling it around his fingers absent-mindedly.

"I can't believe that Roger's gone. I've known him since he was just a little boy. How can he just be gone?"

"I'm sorry, Sassenach. I ken ye cared for him very much."

"When I think about telling Brianna when she wakes up. I don't have to imagine the pain she's going to go through." She snuggled in more closely and squeezed Jamie. He was there; he was alive.

"Aye," Jamie said hoarsely. "I'm sorry fer all that ye went through, Sassenach, grieving me."

She started to cry again, regret and pain and love storming inside of her. Finally, through a choked sob, she admitted the thought that had been pestering her mind all day. "It's my fault."

Jamie squeezed her tightly, pressing his lips into her hair. “No, mo chridhe. Dinna ever think that. Do ye remember just the other day ye told me tae stop blaming myself for everything? I willna let ye do it either. I –.”

“It’s my fault,” William’s voice said from the doorway. They had left the door unlatched so that he could easily update them of any changes in Bree during the night. He had apparently inherited his father’s cat-like ability to sneak up on people undetected.

“William, no.” Claire said immediately.

“Mother Claire, please. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. This is all my fault.” His voice was strained, and Claire could see that any argument with him could result in an explosion of emotions. “If I had never gone through those damn stones, none of this would have happened. Brianna and Roger would be living happily in England, and their baby would be safe. If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be traveling to Philadelphia in the middle of a bloody war. I am responsible for all of this.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “I accept my responsibility. My sister is my responsibility now, her and the baby. I will take care of them and make sure they are safe and want for nothing, ever.”

Claire’s heart broke for him then, this passionate, honorable, capricious young man who had become her son. She knew what his sense of honor meant to him, and though she couldn’t bear the thought of him bearing the burden of this tragedy, she knew that nothing she could say would change his mind. He was a stubborn, bloody Scot, just like his father, whether he looked the part or not.

Jamie got out of the bed and went to William, placing one hand on his shoulder. “Yer a good man, son. I ken ye’ll always take care of yer sister.”

“William,” Claire asked. “Was there something else you wanted to tell us? Has there been a change with Brianna?”

“Yes,” he said, shaking his head at himself for forgetting his purpose. “She’s been moaning and moving about in her sleep. Do you think that might mean she’s waking up?”

Claire was out of bed in a flash, practically running to Bree’s room, Jamie and William following. She sat down on the edge of the bed and placed a hand on her daughter’s cheek, gently patting at it. Jamie crouched on the floor next to them. “Bree? Brianna?” she said. “Wake up for mommy, darling.”

Brianna’s eyelids fluttered and then slowly opened. “Mama?”

Claire clasped her hands and bent down to kiss her cheek. “Yes, darling. It’s me. How do you feel?” She searched her eyes for any abnormalities.

“My head hurts.”

“Aye,” Jamie responded, stroking the top of her head. “Ye took quite a blow to the head, lass, but we’ll have ye feeling braw in no time.” Claire could see tears welling in his eyes. “Can ye sit up, a nighean?” He stood and reached his arms around her helping her into a sitting position against the headboard. He carefully eased himself on the bed next to her.

Her eyes searched around the room. “Where’s Roger? Is he ok?” Claire exchanged a glance with Jamie that Brianna did not miss. “What? Where is he?” She looked desperately between her mother and father.

The words choked in Claire’s throat and she shook her head. Jamie put an arm around Bree and reached out his other hand to Claire. “He didna make it, m'annsachd. He’s gone.”

“No.” Bree said. Once, driving in the dark on the way home from a late night at the hospital, a deer had run out in front of Claire’s car. She had slammed on the brakes but was unable to stop. In the briefest moment before the car collided into the beast, she had seen the panicked, desolate look in the deer’s eye. It was the same look she saw in her daughter’s eyes as she processed the news of her husband’s death. “It’s not possible,” she said, her voice a mixture of panic and doubt.

“I’m sorry, a leannan,” Jamie whispered.

William came forward then, crouching by the bed where Jamie had been moments before. “Sister,” he said quietly. “You don’t ever have to worry about being alone. I will be with you, always.”

Jamie patted Williams hand and nodded. “We all will,” he said to Bree. “We’ll always care for ye and the bairn.”

At the mention of the baby, Bree’s face changed from a stunned look of panic to a melted look of excruciating pain. She let loose a low, moaning sob. Jamie gathered her in his arms completely, rocking her back and forth. “Shhhhh….shhhhhh…” He whispered his Gaelic prayers to her over and over as he had always done for Claire.

William stood slowly and sat back in the chair by her bed. Claire carefully crawled onto the bed on the other side of Bree. She wrapped her arms around her, her head resting on the top of Bree’s and leaning slightly on Jamie’s.  They held their baby as she moaned and sobbed, until she eventually cried herself to sleep.

When her breathing had slowed and steadied, Jamie carefully disentangled himself and stood. He helped ease her back down until she was lying flat, and Claire adjusted herself, snuggling against her. “I’m going to stay here tonight,” she whispered to Jamie.

He nodded, leaning down to kiss Claire and then place a quiet kiss on Brianna’s forehead. “We’ll have to leave in the morning as long as the lass feels well enough to travel, Claire. I’m afraid we’ve been delayed too much already, and I’m worried that we willna reach Philadelphia before the weather turns worse.” He turned to William. “Go get some sleep, Willie. Ye’ll no get any in that chair, and Claire has Brianna safe now.”

William stood and impulsively put his arms around Jamie, seeking the comfort of his father in his grief. When he pulled away, he simply nodded at Jamie, who clapped his son gently on the shoulder. They left the room quietly, closing the door behind them.

Claire settled into the curve of Brianna’s body, holding her baby as she had on so many nights when she was small. Unable to fight the sleep that was washing over her, she closed her eyes to rest up for the difficult journey ahead.

 

 

 

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The rest of the trip to Philadelphia was a quiet affair. Thankfully, the weather was on their side and they had no further delays, but the mood amongst the small group of travelers was a sharp contrast to the sunny fall weather.

The one bright spot had been the appearance of Rachel and Denzell Hunter, along with Ian’s dog, Rollo. With the delays the Frasers had experienced, the Hunters had a chance to catch up to them . Rachel was a darling girl, quiet and demure, though Claire could see a fire in her eyes that didn’t quite match her modest appearance. And Denny was an absolute delight. As Jamie had predicted, Claire took to him straight away as they compared stories of gruesome medical procedures and illnesses they had treated.

Ian was beside himself in Rachel’s presence. Besides Jamie, Claire had never seen a man dote on a woman more fastidiously. “Have you ever seen such an odd match?” Claire asked Jamie one day, marveling at the apparent love they had for each other, despite their differences. “The Quaker and the Warrior?”

“Many people thought we were no’ a suitable match, Sassenach,” he reminded her.

“Well, I supposed we aren’t, if you look at it objectively. Of course, most people don’t realize how often you need someone to patch you up.”

They were riding ahead of the wagons, and Claire glanced back guiltily before allowing herself to laugh quietly and smile. It had been three weeks since Roger’s death, and Brianna was not doing well, not that she would talk to Claire about it. She spent most of her time with William, closing herself off to Claire and Jamie except for polite, necessary conversation. 

“She’ll come around, Sassenach,” Jamie said, as if he were reading her thoughts. “Ye just have to give her time. When I thought I’d lost ye, I didna want to speak to anyone about it. I never even told Jenny what happened to ye for years.”

“What did you tell her, when you finally did?”

“I said that I’d sent ye to a village tae hide until ye could get safe passage to the Colonies, but the British had come through and killed everyone.” His face was etched with pain at the thought of it.

“What do you think she’ll say when she gets your letter telling her I’m back?”

“I dinna ken, Claire. I hope she’ll be happy for us, but ye ken my sister. Ye could show her the finest stud in yer stables and she’d tell ye his bullocks were crooked.”

Claire couldn’t help laughing at that. God, I love this ridiculous man , she thought. But her mirth was soon dampened by thoughts of Roger. He had always made the both of them laugh; what would it be like for Brianna to know he would never make her laugh again?

The problem was that Claire did know what it was like to think she’d never see her husband again. She knew what it was like to think she’d never collapse in a fit of giggles over the ridiculous things he would say. She knew all of the pain that Brianna was going through, so much so that she could feel it echoing in her bones. But Claire’s story had a happy ending, and she did get to experience all those things with Jamie again. Brianna never would, and Claire was quite certain that was what was causing Brianna to distance herself. How could Claire possibly offer a perspective that wasn’t tinged with her own good luck?

The road they traveled was getting busier, the houses getting closer together. "How much longer?" Claire asked Jamie.

"The city's right ahead, Sassenach. We'll be at Lord John's before supper."

***

Ian took the wagon and parted ways with the Frasers to seek accommodations at an Inn with the Hunters for the time being. He looked all too eager to not be a part of the awkward reunion that stood before them.

Jamie gripped Claire’s hand as they ascended the steps to John’s front door. William, ahead of them, hesitated as if he wasn't sure if he should knock. After a moment he shook his head and opened the door. "Is anybody home?" he called, timidly.

A small crashing sound came from upstairs and then a man came rushing down the stairs. "William!" he cried as he threw his arms around his stepson.

Almost a foot taller than his stepfather, the two men made a comical picture as they embraced. "Papa,” William said quietly, his face relaxing, erasing the lines that had been etched into his forehead for weeks. 

When they pulled apart from their embrace, Claire got a good look at Lord John Grey for the first time. He was about the same height as Claire, with fine, delicate features, the complete opposite of William and Jamie’s sharply defined bone structure. He wore his long blonde hair in a simple ponytail at the nape of his neck.  He was quite handsome, if not conventionally so, and Claire felt her apprehension begin to diminish slightly.

When the man turned to look at Jamie, though, Claire saw something in his eyes that caught her off guard. She took a breath and didn’t realize that she was holding it in as the two men looked at each other, John’s eyes full of what could only be described as lust. For his part, Jamie’s eyes held a look of love and admiration, but didn’t appear to be returning the same fire that was so clear in John’s eyes. 

“Jamie,” John breathed out finally. “Thank you so much for bringing him home.” He stood awkwardly as if he wasn’t sure if he should move in for a hug or shake Jamie’s hand.

Jamie answered the question in John’s body language and pulled him in for a hug. Claire watched John’s face relax into the embrace. Feeling awkward, she shifted from one foot to the other and cleared her throat. Jamie pulled away and put an arm around Claire. “John,” he said proudly, “I’d like ye to meet my wife.”

“Wife?” John stepped back, eyes boring into Claire as if he had just noticed her presence for the first time. “You’ve married again?” 

Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, he didn’t even tell him that he was bringing me along with him? Why would he withhold that information when he sent word that William was found safe?

Jamie’s smile widened, his eyes dancing in a way that comforted Claire. He was so very in love with her. “No’ again, a charaid . This is Claire!”

Claire noticed the slight buckle in John’s knees as his face went pale. He may as well be looking at a ghost. He probably felt like he was. “Claire?” he said, the name choking in his throat as it rose from him. But he gained his composure quickly. It was obvious that he was well practiced in hiding his feelings and keeping his composure when needed, though it didn’t come as naturally to him as it did Jamie.

The Claire?” he asked again.

“Aye,” Jamie said, his own eyes glistening with tears. Just the thought of her coming back to him still made him swell with emotion.

“I don’t understand,” John went on. He looked from Jamie to Claire, searching for an explanation.

Finally, Claire reached out her hand to shake his, an instinct she had from thirty years of living in the 20 th century. John gave her an odd look and bent his head down to gently kiss the back of her hand instead of taking it in a handshake. “It’s nice to meet you, Lord John. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“I wish I could say the same, Mrs. Fraser, though Jamie has told me a few things. Most importantly, that you have been dead all these years.”

“Gone,” Jamie interjected. “I said she was gone, no’ dead.”

“I see.” John said quietly. “So you left him?”

Claire smiled nervously. “It’s very complicated. Perhaps we can talk more of it after we’ve all had a chance to eat something and have a dram or two.”

“And, I take it this is your daughter?” he asked, noticing Brianna.

“Aye,” Jamie said proudly. “My daughter, Brianna.”

Brianna ducked her head and gave a small curtsy but didn’t say anything.

“John,” Claire said finally. “Could we trouble you with some soap and water for washing up? I’m afraid it’s been an age since we’ve been able to wash properly, and I’ve got layers of road dust to wash off.”

“Of course, of course!” John said. “I’ll have Mrs. Figg prepare rooms for you and get you set up for washing and changing.”

“I’m afraid we won’t be changing anytime soon. Unfortunately we haven’t anything but the clothes on our backs right now.”

John gave her an odd look, but Claire refused to provide further explanation. Finally, he nodded and said, “We’ll find you a sempstress first thing tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go find Mrs. Figg and have everything set up for you.”

***

Mrs. Figg had their rooms set up in record-breaking time, making Claire think fondly of Mrs. Fitz, back at castle Leoch all those years ago. When she’d arrived with Jamie, surprising everyone with news of their nuptials, Mrs. Fitz had gone into a frenzy to fix rooms up for them, their marriage earning them a more comfortable suite than either of them had previously. She wondered if Mrs. Fitz was still alive, realizing that she never even knew how old she was all those years ago. Perhaps in her fifties? Sixties? It was hard to tell in this century that aged and hardened people in a way that was almost incomprehensible to anyone living in the twentieth.

Brianna bathed in Claire’s room, surprising her mother by letting her assist with her hair. Claire tried to push all of her disconcerted thoughts about John and Jamie out of her head and focus on Bree, but she couldn’t help making a list of questions for her husband in the back of her head as she helped Brianna with her bathing.

“I haven’t done this in a very long time,” Claire said quietly as she worked the soap through Brianna’s long curls. Bree remained quiet, soaking in the warm water. She could see the physical changes happening in her daughter already, the slight motherly swell of her breasts and the tiniest convex curve on her abdomen, nearly imperceptible.  “How are you feeling, Bree?”

Brianna glanced up at her mother and raised one eyebrow, just as her father always did. Seeing them together now, she was reminded even more each day how alike they were, right down to their inscrutable faces. “Physically or…?” she asked.

“Either.”

“Well, physically, I’m tired. But I’m not vomiting every half hour anymore, so that’s nice. I must be getting close to the end of the first trimester.”

“That sounds about right. The baby should be born at the beginning of June, if my calculations are right,” Claire told her. “Are you excited, Bree?” she asked. “About the baby?”

Bree took a deep breath and pulled her knees into her chest. “Yes and no,” she finally answered. “Of course I’m happy; this baby is very much wanted. But I feel so empty inside, Mama. I can’t truly get excited about this because I can’t feel anything but this horrible numbness.”

“You’re still in shock,” Claire said. “This is your body’s way of protecting itself. You know, in one of my in-service trainings, we learned about the stages of grief. The first one is denial.”

“What’s next?” Bree asked.

“Anger, usually. But they don’t always go in order. Or you might feel one for awhile and then go back to another.” Claire began rinsing Bree’s hair. 

“I am angry,” she said. “I can feel the anger inside me, underneath all the numbness.”

“Are you angry at me?” Claire asked anxiously.

Bree turned to Claire, a look of surprise on her face. “At you? Why would I be angry at you?”

Claire felt relief wash over her. “Because I’m the one that dragged you back here.”

“Mama, I wanted to come here. I wanted to meet Da. And despite everything that’s happened, I would do it again.”

“It’s just that you’ve barely been speaking to me. I can’t help but feel like you… resent me.” Claire confessed.

“I don’t resent you Mama. It’s just hard to see you and Da so happy together is all. It’s just easier with William right now.”

“I understand,” Claire told her. “And I’m here when you need me. Jamie is too. We love you so much, Bree.” Brianna smiled and sniffled quietly. 

“All right,” Claire said finally. “Time to get you dressed.”

She helped Bree out of the tub. Mrs. Figg switched the water out for Claire, and she washed quickly, hoping to talk to Jamie before supper. Unfortunately, Mrs. Figg was reliably punctual, and they were called for supper just as Claire was getting dressed again. 

Jamie and William were already seated at the table, sitting on either side of John. Claire took her place next to Jamie, with Bree across from her. Everybody was quiet, unsure of how to navigate the complicated web of relationships between all of them. “John,” Claire asked as dinner was being served, “tell me a little about yourself. How long have you lived in Philadelphia?

“Not long at all. I’m here because my nephew Henry has gone missing, and my brother Hal has asked me to aid in the search for him.” 

“Your nephew is missing too? These past few months must have been very hard on you.”

“Yes,” John said, raising his glass. “And I am so grateful that Jamie was able to assist in finding my son. Cheers.”

Jamie raised his glass with everyone else, but Claire saw the faintest flash of hurt in his eyes before he smiled and said, “ Slàinte Mhath .”

“And I am so pleased to meet your daughter,” John went on. “Though I will say it comes as quite a shock.” He coughed nervously.

“Aye,” Jamie said. “It was quite a shock to me as well to have my children show up out of the clear blue sky together. But I’m verra grateful to have them together.”

John cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with Jamie pointing out the elephant in the room. Did he think we were just going to continue to pretend we don’t know about Willie?

“I’m curious as to how it was that you came to all end up together,” John said, taking another long gulp of wine.

“Well, actually I found him,” Claire spoke up. “Brianna and I were visiting relatives in Saratoga and we came across William. He was ill, so I helped him. I’m a healer.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Fraser. I am in your debt.”

“Please, call me Claire.”

“Claire, then.” 

They all ate silently for a time, the sounds of chewing and clinking silverware floating into the air, adding to the cloud of tension that hung over them. Finally, John asked, “How long do you plan on staying in Philadelphia?”

“We’ll be here until the early summer,” Jamie answered. “I’ll be speaking to my son, Fergus, in the next few days about working wi’ him at his print shop. We’ll have tae find a place to rent.”

“Nonsense!” John said. “You can stay here. I have plenty of room.”

“Thank you for the generous offer, Lord John,” Claire said. “But we have our nephew Ian here with us as well. Plus, our family has just been reunited after a very long separation; we will likely want some privacy to spend time together. But we would appreciate it if we could stay with you while we are looking for other accommodations.”

“You can stay as long as you need.”

“We dinna want tae put ye in any danger, John,” Jamie chimed in. “Given my association with the Continental Army.”

“I should think given the circumstances; it would not be a concern,” John replied. “Speaking of which, William, we have some issues to sort out regarding your going missing. That being said, I believe an attestation from Mrs. Fraser regarding your illness should go a long way to help settle the matter.”

“I’d be happy to,” Claire interjected.

“Thank you.” He gave Claire a nod and then turned back to William. “You are lucky. The rest of your company is being sent back to England, but since you didn’t participate in the battle, I believe you will be able to avoid that. Once those matters are settled, we should write to Hal for advice about your next post.”

William looked at John, his brow furrowed. “I’m not going to take another post,” he said, setting his fork on his plate. 

Lord John lowered his glass and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He smiled nervously and asked, “What do you mean you’re not going to take another post?”

“What I mean is, I’m not going to do it. I’m done with the military.”

John laughed in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. All you have ever wanted to do is go into the military. Now you want to just give it up?”

You never wanted me to go into the military, Papa. I should think you would be pleased.” William answered. 

“You’re right,” John said. Claire could tell he was trying to keep his temper in check. “I did discourage you from military service. But now that you have committed yourself to it, you can’t just stop .”

“Why not?” William shrugged. “You said yourself my entire company is being sent back to England. I’ll resign my commission.”

John looked at Jamie, seeking an ally. “Did you know about this?”

Jamie shook his head. “He didna mention it to me, but I canna say I’m disappointed. The military is no’ the life I’d choose for him.”

Claire sat back in her chair, looking from Jamie to John. If I wasn’t so perturbed by the fact that this man is obviously in love with my husband, I would find this quite amusing.

“I did not choose it for him,” John said tersely. “He chose it for himself. He made a commitment to his country and he needs to see that through.”

“He’s a grown man, John. He’s old enough to make his own choice, and if he doesna want to be in the military anymore, then I willna stand in his way,” Jamie replied. He still had his fork in his hand and was gesticulating with it as he spoke. 

William slammed his hands on the table. “Nobody is going to stand in my way, because it is my decision. I’m not going back.”

As William’s temper rose, John spoke more slowly, more calmly than before. This was obviously a dance that they were used to. “All right. And let’s say you do resign your commission. What then? Do you plan to idle away your life?”

Jamie chimed in before William could open his mouth. “Yer acting like those are his only two choices, John. Willie’s a smart lad; there’s no reason he can’t find something else tae do with himself.”

“By all means, William. Please, then, tell me what you plan to do with yourself.”

“Will ye stop pushing the lad? If he hasna figured it out yet, he will. Ye canna expect him to have just decided already.”

“Jamie, please, with all due respect, you don’t know William. If he isn’t pushed to make a decision – “

Jamie threw his fork down on his plate. He spoke at John through gritted teeth. “Just because I havena had a hand in raising him, doesna mean I dinna ken him. And it doesna mean I dinna get tae have a say in what happens to him.”

John leaned forward in his chair, meeting Jamie’s gaze. “You entrusted his care to me . And I have been providing that care, that guidance for most of his life. Perhaps you should continue to trust that I know what is best for my son.”

Jamie turned red from the neck up. His nostrils flared as he tried to control his breath. “He isna only yer son and if ye say it like that one more time, I’ll find a new place fer yer nose on yer face.”

“Jamie!” Claire interjected.

William pushed his chair back from the table so violently that it fell backwards. “Neither of you gets to decide what I do with my life. You ,” he said, pointing at John, “Aren’t my real father and have been lying to me my entire life.” He turned to Jamie. “And you didn’t bother to stick around long enough to get to know me. So, if it’s all the same to the both of you, I’ll be making my own decisions from now on.” With that, he turned on his heel and walked away, slamming the front door as he left the house. 

Jamie turned to John, furious. “I suppose he’s going off cavorting with hoors again. Did ye ken he spends his free time in brothels?”

John had already managed to look composed again. “Yes, I do. In fact, I took him to the brothel myself when he was sixteen.”

“Ye did what?!?!?” It was Jamie’s turn to stand up, knocking his chair over and nearly upsetting the entire table in the process. Claire glanced over to catch Brianna’s eye and saw that she had already fled the table, her dinner plate untouched. 

John stood as well, hands behind his back, looking squarely at Jamie with no fear. Claire had to admire the man at least for that. She didn’t know many people who wouldn’t cower in the face of Jamie’s rage. “Better he satisfies his needs with a whore than ruining his life by getting a girl with child or marrying the wrong woman just so he can bed her.”

“Christ, I kent ye werena Catholic. I didna ken ye were an actual heathen. Though I should have!

“That’s enough!” Claire yelled, joining the men standing. “Jamie, it’s time for bed.” She grabbed his arm and gently pulled him away from the table. “Thank you for dinner, Lord John.”

In their room, Jamie paced the floor angrily. Claire stripped down to her shift and sat down to brush her hair. Finally, he said to Claire, “Are you no’ going tae say anything?”

“Don’t you dare,” she replied, not bothering to look at him. “You are not going to turn this into a fight with me. Especially not tonight.”

“What the hell is that supposed tae mean, ‘Especially no’ tonight?’”

“I’d really rather not discuss this with you when you’re already in a temper.”

“Say what ye need tae.”

“Well,” she said, turning to look at him. He had stopped pacing and was leaning against the hearth with his arms crossed, a scowl on his face. “I’m just wondering why it is that you failed to tell Lord John that your wife and daughter would be accompanying you to Philadelphia.”

“I didna want to complicate matters any more than they already were.”

“Oh, I see. You didn’t want to complicate things. So, rather than give John a heads up that your wife was back in your life, you thought it would somehow be less complicated for us to show up, on his doorstep like a couple of stray puppies that followed you here.”

“Claire, I – “

“No. You wanted to talk about this now, so you’re going to listen. Did you also think it would be less complicated for me to show up and have to realize for myself that the man who you claim is one of your best friends , who raised your son, is in love with you?”

“Claire, it’s…. complicated!”

“Well, try to explain it to me in little words then, so that my tiny, pea-sized brain can comprehend it.”

“Yes, John has had… feelings for me for a long time. Since Ardsmuir. But he’s an honorable man, and he wouldna try tae act on them. I offered myself to him once, and he refused.”

“YOU WHAT?!?!?!”

“Oh God, Claire no. It wasna like that. When I asked him to take care of Willie, I offered him my body in exchange for taking care of the lad. That’s all. And he refused to take me up on it.”

Claire gripped the back of the chair and sat down again. “So let me get this straight. He is in love with you. And you offered your body to him in exchange for taking care of your son. And he refused, but he’s been raising your son all these years anyway. And that’s somehow supposed to make me feel better?”

“Well, when ye put it like that – “

“I mean this whole thing is kind of fucked, wouldn't you agree?”

“Do ye have to have such a foul mouth? Christ, ever since ye came back ye swear even worse than ye ever did when we were young.”

“Don’t try to turn this around on me. Now, I asked you if you ever loved anybody else, and you said no. Is that true, Jamie? Or have you…. reciprocated John’s feelings for you?” The tears she had been fighting back started rolling down her face.

Jamie took a deep breath and stepped toward her. “Sassenach, mo chridhe , no. I dinna love John. No’ like that. And I canna help the way he feels about me. He kens that nothing will ever come of it; I’ve always been honest with him about that.”

“Except for the time you told him you’d sleep with him in exchange for taking care of William!”

“Don’t ye see, Claire? I was desperate. I’m no’ saying he’s anything like Black Jack Randall, but dinna ye remember that I gave myself to him tae save ye? I’d do it all again for my son. And my daughter. And after ye’ve been through what I’ve been through, being buggered by your best friend doesna seem like that much of a sacrifice when it means yer son’s life.”

Claire’s face softened and she stood, walking over to him. She took his face in her hands and said, “Sometimes I wish I could stay mad at you.” 

“I’m sorry, Claire. I should have told ye about John and I should have told John about ye. Can you forgive me?”

Claire put her forehead against his. “Forgiven.”

“Can I take ye tae bed now, Claire? I need ye.”

She nodded and kissed him as he laid her down on the bed. 




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Jamie was never one to avoid uncomfortable situations, but as he woke up his first morning in Philadelphia, all he wanted to do was hide under the covers and go back to the sweet oblivion of sleep. He rolled over and found Claire’s body, warm and inviting. To hold ye in my arms again, Sassenach. He put his arm around her waist, curling his body against her back so that they were touching from head to toe. He buried his face in her curls and breathed in her scent. I could stay like this all day - all my life, and be happy.

The pull of responsibility nagged at him, though. He had to set things right with John, with Willie. And Brianna needed his attention. Then there was Fergus and Marsali to visit, work to consider. There was no doubt that his life had become far more complicated since Claire had dropped back into it just a month ago. Far more complicated, but far more full.

He had closed off his heart many years ago, unable to deal with the pain of losing her. He took care of the responsibilities he had, ensuring his family at Lallybroch were well cared for, being a grandsire to Fergus's children, but he had given up on having any true happiness of his own. He'd resigned himself to a life without Willie, respecting John's wishes that he remain in the dark about his true parentage. He'd never believed he would ever meet his other child, Brianna, who had been a faceless, genderless bairn to him until she had walked back into his life, a grown woman. And Claire. Had he ever held hope in his heart that she would find him again, the pain would have killed him.

But she was here, bringing with her all the complications of being part of a family again. With her, though, he could open his heart again, even to pain, because she would heal him. Every time she looked at him, smiled at him, spoke to him, she healed his heart and gave him the strength to move forward. And at night, when she came to his bed, and they took their pleasure in each other, he was made whole. She could heal everyone else's body, but for Jamie, she healed his soul.

She stirred and reached back to place a hand on his thigh. "Good morning, soldier." She turned her head for a kiss.

He obliged, kissing her firmly. "Good morning, Sassenach. Time to face the day, I suppose."

"Mmmmm," she replied. "You’ve got a lot of things to sort out."

"Dinna remind me. I dinna ken where to start."

She turned over and buried her face in his chest, breathing him in. "Start with John. If William is home, I'm guessing he's nursing a hangover. I'll whip up a remedy for him while you and John talk things through."

"Ye have a hangover remedy and ye've never shared it wi' me, Sassenach?" He kissed the top of her head gently.

"Something I picked up over the last thirty years. You haven't given me an opportunity to use it yet, but I'll gladly help your son out."

"He's your son now, too, Sassenach."

"Well," she replied, rolling onto her back, "I can't deny that I feel that way about him. But I don't want to push him. When we were in Boston, we truly formed a bond, but things have just been so damned complicated since we got back, I can't tell how he feels anymore."

Jamie chuckled and shook his head. "Ye dinna see it, mo nighean donn? He looks at Brianna like she hangs the moon and at ye like ye put the stars in the sky each night. I only hope that someday he'll feel half as much toward me.'

"Jamie, you're ridiculous," Claire laughed. "All that boy wants is to feel like your son. I see it in his eyes every time he is with you. He just doesn't know where to start. And having another father he loves makes it hard for him."

"Aye, I suppose so," he paused, running a finger along Claire’s collarbone, making her shiver. "As much as I'd like to stay in this comfortable bed rogerin' ye senseless, I best get moving."

Claire sighed and stretched. "We have plenty of time for that. Go on. I'm going to check in on Brianna and then I'll be down to make William's hangover cure."

Jamie nodded, getting out of bed and wasting no time. He was dressed and headed downstairs quickly, seeking out Lord John.

He found him in the dining room, eating breakfast and reading through some papers. With a nod, he indicated to Jamie that he should partake in the small buffet that was laid out. Jamie filled his plate and sat at the table next to Lord John, as he had the night before.

Sipping his coffee - God, it tasted like real coffee, not the brown sludge he had become accustomed to - he watched John willfully ignore his presence. If anybody was going to start the conversation, it would have to be Jamie.

"John," he said, clearing his throat. "I apologize for losing my temper last night and contradicting ye in front of the lad. Perhaps it would have been better if we'd had a chance to speak and sort things through beforehand."

John put the paper down and sipped his own coffee thoughtfully. "Perhaps. I suppose it was foolish of us to think this day would never come. We should have prepared for it long ago."

"I didna intend for Willie to find out…"

"How did he find out anyway?" John asked, arching his eyebrow at Jamie.

"Claire figured it out, actually. When he was convalescencing with her, she couldna help but see the resemblance." John gave a small nod. "And wi' Brianna there, weel, ye can see how odd that must have been for her. There's no mistaking they're siblings."

"Yes, I found that to be quite a shock as well," John replied, wiping his face with a napkin.

"I'm sorry I didna tell ye about Brianna and Claire ahead of time, John. I should have given ye the chance to prepare. I have no good excuse except that I was a wee bit overwhelmed myself at the time."

John nodded and waved Jamie’s apology away. "I understand. But how did Claire figure it out when she thought you to be dead?" Jamie filled him in on the rest of the story, leaving out the whole traveling through time part. When he was finished, John sat back in his chair. "My God, what a fascinating story." He looked positively gobsmacked.

"Aye, so ye ken it was never my intention to cause such a kebbie-lebbie. It couldna be helped."

"How did William react to meeting you?" John asked quietly.

"It's been a bit rocky. The lad is obviously a bit torn apart learning that he's the bastard son of a twice over traitor, and a Scot tae boot. But we've had some good moments as well. He's relieved to be clear of the cloud of rumors he's lived with his whole life, anyway."

"I can see that," John said thoughtfully. "I must apologize myself for my behavior last night. I've grown quite accustomed to being the only parent in Williams's life. And trust me, that boy doesn't make things easy." John and Jamie both shared a light chuckle at that, but John’s tone was serious when he went on. "To see you show up here with your wife and daughter and William, well, I can't explain it. You all just looked like such a happy family. For God's sake, nobody would even think Claire wasn't his mother. It gave me such an intense feeling of suddenly being an outsider, as if I'd had my only family ripped away from me. You just looked like you belong together and then where does that leave me?"

"Yer still his father, John," Jamie said quietly. "Probably more than I'll ever be. I'm just hoping for a chance to fit in his life somewhere."

"What do you intend to do after you've moved on from Philadelphia? You said in the late spring?"

"Aye. My Brianna is wi' child. We will go back to North Carolina, to Fraser’s Ridge, after the bairn is born."

John broke into a huge smile. "That's wonderful news. Congratulations, Jamie."

Jamie tried to contain the look of joy on his face, but the thought of his grandchild was too much, even for his practiced stoicism. "Aye. I couldna be happier."

"If you don't mind me asking, where is her husband? You mentioned him before."

Jamie filled John in on Roger’s death. "I didna ken the lad well, but I'm heartbroken fer Brianna," he concluded. "And now Willie's got it in his head that it is somehow his fault. I hate tae see the lad carrying the world on his shoulders like that."

"Well, he comes by that trait honestly," John pointed out.

"Aye," Jamie agreed.His mouth twitched, his lip curling into a small smirk. “I suppose he does.”

"Do you think William will go with you to North Carolina in the spring?" John asked.

"I canna see how he wouldn't, if he's vowed tae take care of his sister. Ye ken he's a man of his word." Jamie paused, considering his next words carefully. "I would be pleased if he decided to come anyway. It will be good to spend time with him, teaching him about his people, our traditions and such. If he'll be willing to learn, that is."

"I can understand that."

"Now listen tae me, John, and try tae keep an open mind." John nodded.

"I ken how this war is going to end. I canna tell ye why or how, but I can tell ye that I ken it to be true. The British will no' win this war. Ye may think that's just the wishful thinking of an auld man who's been beaten by the British his whole life, but I need ye to trust me that I ken it to be the truth. Can ye do that?"

John shook his head incredulously. "How am I supposed to believe that? You say you can't tell me why, but you expect me to believe such a preposterous notion?"

"John, I've put my trust in ye for twenty years. Can ye return the favor? Have ye ever known me tae be a man who asks such things lightly? Please trust me. And if ye dinna want to get o' of the military yerself, at least accept that it's the best thing for Willie."

John looked at Jamie as if he were trying to decipher something, anything from his face. He took a sip of tea and finally said, "I cannot believe this to be true, at least my mind cannot. History has shown us over and over again that the British army cannot be beaten. But at the same time, you are the most honest, honorable man I've ever known. I can't say that I can truly believe it, but I can see that you believe it, and for now, that's enough for me. I won't push William on the military anymore."

"And John, I hope ye ken that yer welcome at Fraser's Ridge as well. Any time. Say the word, and I'll set aside a nice plot of land and start workin' on yer cabin, though I ken the accommodations willna be as lavish as yer used tae."

"Well, we've time to think about that, I think," John replied.

Claire walked into the room then. "Well, it's nice to see that the two of you haven't run each other through with your swords. Everything alright?"

"Tis fine, Sassenach," Jamie replied.

"Lord John, would it be alright if I used your kitchen for a bit? I want to make a hangover cure for William."

"Please, you can just call me John. And yes, the kitchen is right that way," he replied, pointing in the direction of the kitchen.

"Thank you," she said, leaving them.

"I truly am very happy for you, Jamie," John said when Claire was out of hearing distance. "Claire seems like a wonderful woman. I can see how no other woman could hold a candle to her for you."

Jamie began to dig into his breakfast. "Aye, she is. I canna say how happy I am tae have my whole family together for the first time. I ken this is no' what ye imagined for William, but I canna say I'm disappointed."

"Jamie," John said softly. "I hope you know that my reasons for wanting to keep your relationship to William a secret never had anything to do with you. I always knew you'd be a wonderful father. I only wanted to protect his titles and shield him from the judgment of the society he has to navigate because of them."

Jamie nodded, swallowing. "I ken that, John. Ye've been a good father to him, too. He's a fine young man."

"But now it's your turn," John said quietly.

"Aye," Jamie replied hoarsely. "I suppose it is."

Claire came back in then, carrying a glass filled with a greenish concoction. "Christ, Sassenach, is that supposed to make the lad feel better?"

"It doesn't look very appetizing, but it works like a charm. I'll just bring this up."

***

Claire knocked quietly on William's door. She heard a rustling inside and called quietly, "It's me, Claire. Can I come in?"

"Just a moment!" he called back. After a minute, the door opened and William stood before looking much worse for the wear, his hair untamed and sticking straight up on top of his head. He stepped aside and gestured for Claire to enter.

"Here," she said, handing him the drink she had made him. "Drink this."

He took it from her and sniffed it as he sat back on his bed. "What the hell is in this?" he asked, his nose scrunched up.

Claire sat down in a chair at his desk. "You look just like your father whenever I offer him food," she laughed. "Trust me. It will help."

He sniffed one more time and then tipped the glass back, taking the entire drink as quickly as he could. "Oh my god, Mother Claire. That was awful."

Claire smiled at him. "Other than the hangover, how are you feeling?" He shrugged but didn't say anything, so Claire went on. "I know I've told you this a hundred times, but you're just like Jamie in so many ways."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Is this the part where you tell me I have to control my temper, because I've been hearing that all my life."

"Not exactly. I was going to say that one way you're different from Jamie is that you tend to run away when things start to get tough." He opened his mouth to object but Claire put up a hand and went on. "I understand it must be hard to have grown up with that temper, always trying to keep it in check. And I can even understand that running away seems the best option sometimes. What's happening to you right now is difficult. You've been through so much in the last month. But the only way for you to get through this is to have the difficult conversations."

"The problem is that the difficult conversations always seem to end in fighting."

Claire shrugged. "So, you fight. Sometimes that's the only way to see yourself through it."

"You and Jamie don't fight. You and Brianna don't fight," he pointed out.

Claire laughed at that. "Do you think I've spent my life with Frasers without doing my share of fighting? If you knew Jamie and I when we were younger...anyway, those are stories for another time. The point is, we communicate. We get through it. And we build trust that way. You'll never build a relationship with Jamie if you keep running away from him every time it gets hard."

"What if we can't ever do that…build a relationship, as you say? Maybe it's just been too long and we're just too different." He shrugged and looked down at the floor.

"Well, you know the latter isn't true. Yes, you've led very different lives, but there is so much of you that is the same. And I'm not talking about your tempers."

"Like what?"

"I think I'll leave that to you to discover yourself. There's no fun in it if I give you all the answers. But also, look at what Jamie and I have after thirty years apart. You and Jamie have been apart half that time."

"But you and Jamie were in love. You spent so much time together before you went away," he pointed out.

"Three years," she shrugged. "It's almost madness when you think about how little that amount of time is in the grand scheme of life. You and Jamie spent more time together than that. And you can't tell me there wasn't love there."

"I can't argue with that," he said quietly.

"Why don't you start there. I know you don't know what to call him. Why don't you call him Mac? At least for now." He nodded. "And last night, Jamie was on your side. You know that, right?"

"I suppose it was nice to have someone to back me up against Papa," he chuckled. "Though I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle it if they are constantly fighting over me."

"That's not going to happen. Look, last night was hard. We were all tired and Jamie put us in quite a predicament by not telling John about Brianna and me. There were a lot of things said on both sides that weren't meant. They both have your best interest at heart."

There was a knock at the door then. "Who is it?" William asked.

"It's, ehrm, me," Jamie's voice replied from the other side of the door.

"Be right there," Claire called back. She stood and patted him on the shoulder. "Feeling better?"

"Yes," he smiled. "I think your hangover cure worked."

"Good," she said, leaning down and planting a kiss on the top of his head. "And good luck."

She opened the door and gave Jamie a kiss before patting him on the cheek. "Good luck," she whispered.

***

Jamie sat down in the desk chair and looked at his son. They both looked at each other, unsure of how to begin. Jamie tried to think of what his father would have said to him but came up short. Luckily, William began. "I'm sorry I walked out last night. I know you were trying to help me, and I shouldn't have left."

Jamie grunted low in his throat. "Ye ken I dinna mind so much that ye left. But I remembered where ye went last time ye took off, and I couldna help but wonder if ye did the same last night."

"Yes, I went to a brothel, if that's what you're asking me." He jutted his chin out in defiance.

Jamie sighed, tapping his fingers on his leg. "I ken I didna raise ye, so ye dinna ken how I feel about...that. But I wish ye wouldna do that anymore."

"You never went to whorehouses when you were my age?"

"No, I didna. I've never…wi' a whore. I was a virgin when I married Claire at twenty three, and I'll tell ye that once ye lie with a woman ye love, ye'll ken why it's so cheap tae take yer pleasure with a woman ye dinna care about."

"Did you care about my mother?"

Jamie was not expecting that. He took a deep breath. "What happened between yer mother and me was complicated. I dinna think I'm ready tae tell ye all of it, or if I ever will be. What I will tell ye is that, I didna love yer mother, and if it hadna been fer ye, I would have regretted that night fer the rest of my life, because I've only shame about it."

"I don't regret it when I lie with whores," William argued.

"Look, yer a grown man, and I canna stop ye from doing what ye will. But mebbe it's time ye start looking for a woman to court. Someone tae settle down with."

"You were older than I am when you married Mother Claire."

"Aye, but I was also on the run from the law for four years. Still was, actually, when she married me. I wasna much of a prospect for most women, nothing like the Ninth Earl of Ellesmere."

William shifted uncomfortably at the mention of his title. "I don't want a woman to marry me because of my titles. I don't even care about them anymore. I want a woman to marry me because she loves me. Like you and Mother Claire. She married you even though you were an outlaw."

Jamie felt the corner of his mouth twitching. "She did tell ye that our marriage was arranged, did she no'?"

"She did, but I know both of you well enough to know that neither of you would have done anything you didn't want to do."

"Well, that's true, and I was mad for her, though she didn't feel the same way, at least not right away. Dinna fash yerself; yer no' going tae have an arranged marriage anyway. But yer definitely no' going tae meet yer wife in a whorehouse either."

William shrugged. "Everybody here knows who I am. How will I know if a woman wants me, and not my titles or money?"

"My Da, yer grandsire, Brian, told me that when the right woman came along, I would ken it. And he was right. Ye just have to be patient."

"I never really thought about having another grandfather," William said, shaking his head.

"Aye, ye've got a whole family tae learn about, if ye want tae ken about them. And ye've a brother tae meet right here in Philadelphia. Nieces and nephews too." Jamie couldn't hide the smile on his face.

"I would like that. I also want you to know that I plan on going with you to North Carolina after Bree has her baby. I meant what I said about being there for my sister."

Jamie nodded as he fought back the sting of tears in his eyes. "Aye," he said hoarsely. "That would be fine." He cleared his throat. "Now, get dressed. I'll go check on Brianna. We'll all go to Fergus and Marsali's after lunch."

He got up to leave and as he stood in the doorway, William added, "Thank you...Mac."

With his back turned to his son, he didn’t bother to stop the tears this time.

Chapter Text

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"Are you ready, Sassenach?" Jamie stood in the doorway of their room. As Claire turned around to greet him, the sight of him took her breath away. To have him standing before her, in the flesh, was still a novelty, the realization of thirty years of imagination. He leaned casually against the doorway in his leather coat, a crooked smile on his face, and those lovely blue eyes that looked into her soul; bedroom eyes, they would have been called in 1979. The only thing that would have made it better would be if he were wearing a kilt. God, I miss that kilt. Age had done nothing but enhance his features. She had spent a long time longing for the boyish face framed by auburn curls, but the reality of what stood before her now was so much better than she could have ever hoped for.

She walked slowly toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "You are a sight for sore eyes." He leaned down, licking his lips quickly before kissing her gently.

"The sight of you, Sassenach," he started, echoing her own thoughts. "Ye've aged like a fine whisky." He reached up and fingered one of her curls, the ringlet a mix of brown and silver. Self-consciously, she tried to push the strand out of his hand, but he stopped her. "I like the grey. Calman geal. The way the light hits it, like a piece of silver moonlight."

Claire buried her head in Jamie’s chest. "How could I not love a man who says such things. If you were to say something like that in the twentieth century, you would be the king of all men."

Jamie smiled and held her closer. "That's very flattering, Sassenach, but I think I'll settle for being your master and servant here." He kissed the top of her head. "Ah, mo chride, there's nothing I'd like more than tae spend the afternoon serving ye well, but I do want ye tae see Fergus and meet the bairns."

She gave Jamie a tight squeeze before letting go. "I'm excited to see them too. I can't tell you how much I grieved over the loss of Fergus."

"Let's go then. He'll be so happy tae see ye." He gently pushed her away and kissed her again. "I love ye, Sassenach."

"I love you too, soldier."

They collected Bree and William from their rooms and made the short walk to Fergus's print shop. Claire’s breath shook as they approached the building with the sign that read Fraser’s Printing and Booksellers. They stopped outside the doorway and Jamie turned to his family. "Are ye ready?"

Claire smiled at him. "Je Suis Prest."

His eyes smiled warmly at her sentiment. He leaned over to give her a kiss between turning the knob and opening the door.

A bell rang as the door hit it. A short blonde woman stood at the counter and Claire gasped. It can't be. But when the woman looked up, Claire saw the differences between this woman and Laoghaire, most notably a genuine smile and eyes that did not denote insanity.

"Jamie!" she cried, quickly lifting the hinged part of the counter and coming over to envelope Jamie in a warm hug. "Och! It's so good tae see ye! And ye've brought company." She carefully eyes Jamie’s companions, her eyes widening with curiosity at the sight of William and Brianna. "Won't ye introduce -"

"Grandpère!" A blonde-haired boy of about ten came running to the front of the printshop. He ran into Jamie full force. Jamie picked him up and embraced him, kissing him on the cheek. The boy wiped his face with the back of his hand. "Put me down, grandpère. I'm too old to be treated like a baby."

Jamie obeyed, setting the boy on the floor. "Aye, yer a braw laddie Germain. Are ye being good for yer Ma?"

"Of course, grandpère," Germain answered, but the hint of mischief in his eye told Claire that was only a part of the truth.

Jamie squatted down so he was face to face with his grandson. "Where's yer da? I've some people he'd like to meet."

"He's in the back. I'll go fetch him!" His adorable accent was a mixture of French and Scottish, which Claire found endearing. Her heart was already bursting out of her chest at the sight of her first grandchild.

Germain turned around and ran off to find Fergus. Marsali put her hands on her hips and asked, "Now who is this company ye've brought, Da?"

"I'll tell ye in a moment, when Fergus joins us." Just then Fergus emerged from the back of the shop, wiping his hands on a rag. "Milord! This is such a surprise! I didn't know…" he paused, seeing Claire. His face went absolutely white and he gripped the table he was standing next to. "Milady?"

"Fergus!" Tears ran down her cheeks at the sight of her son. The roguish young boy was still apparent in the face of the grown man that stood before her.

Without thinking, she made her way behind the counter. When she reached Fergus, she embraced him. Tentatively he wrapped his arms around her. "You're not dead?"

"No," she said through tears. "No, I'm not. God, it's so good to see you again."

Fergus broke their hug and held Claire away from him a bit, exploring her face. "Where have you been?"

"Boston. I thought you were all dead. I had no idea you were all living here in the Colonies. I just recently found out Jamie was alive. My goodness you have grown into a handsome man."

"Aye, I have," he said, making Claire laugh.

"You haven't changed a bit, have you, you little imp?" She reached to take his hands in hers and pulled back when she felt cold metal. Gently lifting his left arm, a hook at the end of it in place of his hand. "How?" she asked.

"Lost it fighting the Redcoats. Do not worry, Milady. It was many years ago now."

She smiled, gently letting go of his hand. "I am so glad to see you again. Jamie and I have some people to introduce you to." She led him back to the front of the store.

"Fergus," Jamie said when they reached him. "I'd like ye to meet yer brother and sister. William and Brianna."

"Milord?" Fergus asked, looking from Jamie to Bree to William and back to Jamie.

"It's a story that I'll tell all of ye when we have more time, but I can tell ye that Brianna is our daughter. Claire was pregnant when she thought we had all died at Culloden. And William is my son from during my time at Helwater."

Fergus approached Brianna first, picking up her hand and placing a soft kiss on it. She gave a polite curtsy and bowed her head slightly. "Mon sœur," he said quietly, "I am delighted to meet you. I cannot wait to get to know you better."

Brianna blushed at his charm and answered, "It's lovely to meet you, mon frère."

Fergus smiled at her use of French. He kissed her hand again and then turned to William, sticking his hand out. "Mon frère. It's wonderful to make your acquaintance."

William took Fergus's hands and shook it. "You're French!" He proclaimed in a dazed manner.

Everybody broke out in laughter then, except for William, who blushed fiercely. This set Claire's giggles off even more; any time William did something that was so Jamie she couldn't help herself.

"Oui," Fergus answered, his eyes dancing with mirth. It was amazing to Claire how some of his gestures and mannerisms were also very Jamie, and she unexpectedly felt a pain in her heart at all the things they had missed by not being able to raise their children together. Not only had those thirty years robbed them of time together, but it had also robbed her of being able to see Jamie raise their children.

What an amazing father he would have been to all of them if given the opportunity. She could see him holding an infant Brianna on his bare chest, soothing her to sleep, could picture him playing games with them, rough housing with the boys. He would have loved to teach his children Gaelic, a secret code used to keep silly secrets from Claire. And if they had not lost Faith. What would have been different in their lives if he had a baby to keep safe during the most trying time of their previous life together? She felt the sting of tears behind her eyes and quickly pushed her longings down so as not to spoil this happy reunion.

"Well, ye must all stay for lunch!" Marsali was saying.

"Och, no. We've already had lunch," Jamie replied, "But I would love to see the children."

Marsali gestured with her head. "They're all in the kitchen. Go on in. You go too, Fergus. I'll keep an eye on things up here."

"Thank you, mon amour," Fergus said to her, giving her a quick kiss.

He led them through the back of the printshop and through a door that opened onto a small kitchen and living area. They stood in the doorway for a moment as Claire looked around the room.

Germain sat in a chair whittling. Nearby, two dark haired little girls were sitting on the floor playing a game of jacks. And next to them, playing with a small wooden soldier was a tiny dark-haired boy. Claire at first thought he was a baby, but then he looked up at them and smiled, showing a full set of teeth and a face that looked closer to that of a four-year-old. The realization sunk in slowly. Dear God, he must be a dwarf.

Jamie cleared his throat and entered the room. "Sassenach, ye've already met Germain and those two little hell-kittens are Joan and Félicité." He crouched down and tousled the hair of the small boy. "And this handsome lad is wee Henri-Christian."

At the sound of their grandpère's voice, the girls and Henri-Christian scrambled to their feet screeching and vying for his attention. Jamie scooped Henri-Christian up in his arms and kissed him gently on the cheek as the two "hell-kittens," wrapped themselves around each of Jamie’s legs. Their enthusiasm was infectious and soon Claire, William, and Bree were all laughing and smiling.

Jamie attempted to peel the girls off his legs to no avail. Finally, he gave up and walked over to Claire with them both still attached. He handed Henri-Christian to Claire and the little boy smiled at her sweetly. "Quiet now...I said quiet." The noise in the room died down as Jamie spoke. "I want to introduce ye tae yer Granny, Claire."

"Granny?" Germain asked curiously. "She doesn't look much like a Granny."

"And what are Grannies supposed to look like, lad?" Jamie asked as his lip twitched in the corner.

"Well," Germain said, "they're usually a lot plumper. And they have less teeth."

The group erupted in laughter. "Well, I willna say yer Granny is a typical Granny, but she is yer Granny nonetheless."

"Hi, Granny," Germain said. "What's yer real name?"

Claire shifted Henri-Christian onto one hip and walked over to Germain."I'm Claire."

Realization struck Germain's face. "Claire? The fairy?"

"I promise you I'm not a fairy,” Claire smiled. “It's so very nice to meet you."

The girls, having heard this exchange, ran over to Claire excitedly. The older of the two, Joan, pulled on Claire’s skirt. Claire looked down at her. "Hello."

"Granny Claire, do you live in a dun?" she asked sincerely.

"No, darling," she answered, unable to keep the smile from her face. She was absolutely smitten with these children already. "I lived in Boston for many years."

"Daddy," she said, turning to Fergus. "Ye told me that Granny Claire was a fairy."

Fergus gave Claire an apologetic look. "Joan, those were just stories. Your real Granny is not a fairy."

Joan made what Claire assumed was the children's version of a Scottish noise and went back to her game, dragging Félicité with her.

"Not so fast, lass," Jamie said, catching Félicité by the back of her dress. "Ye both have more people tae meet."

The girls reluctantly stood by Jamie as he introduced them to Brianna and William. "Ye've got hair just like grandpère!" Félicité observed when she was introduced to Brianna.

"I guess I do," Bree said, smiling for the first time in weeks. "Are you ladies playing jacks? May I join you?"

Joan looked scandalized. "I've never met a lady who plays jacks before."

"Well now you have," Bree answered, sitting down on the floor. The two girls looked at each other and through an unspoken agreement, sat down with her and resumed their game.

"Oof," Claire said. "This little lad is getting heavy." Henri-Christian had curled up in Claire's arms, resting his head on her shoulder.

She went to put him down when William surprised her by volunteering to hold him. "He looks tired," William said by way of explanation.

Claire placed the boy in his arms and William walked over to the sofa, sitting down with the tiny boy curled up against his chest in his lap. Well this is a side to William I haven't seen before.

Fergus escorted Jamie and Claire to the kitchen table, where he busily began making tea. "How long will you be in Philadelphia?" he asked.

"At least until July," Jamie answered. "Brianna is with child and the bairn willna come until early June."

"Will her husband be joining you all soon?"

"No," Jamie said, clearing his throat. "She's widowed now, just this last month."

Claire was grateful when Fergus did not inquire further. It wasn't that she wanted to hide the details of Roger's death, but rather that she was feeling so light and happy at the moment that she did not want to bring up anything that would dampen her spirits. She reached over and grabbed Jamie’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"I'm so happy to see you again, Fergus," she said as he placed teacups in front of them. "And to meet your children is a joy I never thought would be possible. They are beautiful and I'm so proud of the life you've built."

Fergus blushed and poured the tea. "It is all thanks to Milord. I would probably be in a French prison or hanged by now if it weren't for the both of you. And Milord has made sure I've always been cared for, especially since I lost my hand." He sat down at the table with them and sipped his tea. "Do you think it's safe to stay here?" Fergus asked. "The British have fully occupied the city and Washington has his troops camped out in Valley Forge."

"Dinna fash," Jamie replied. "I've resigned my commission."

"Still Milord, it might be safer if you went by a different name. It could save you a lot of trouble."

"Aye," Jamie said thoughtfully. "Perhaps we could spend our time here as the Malcolms." Claire shot him a quizzical look. "I went by the name Alexander Malcolm in Edinburgh for a wee time," he said by way of explanation.

"You might be right," Claire said, nodding. "That last thing we need is to be harassed by the British," She shuddered thinking of all that had occurred at the hands of the British the last time she had been in the 18th century.

Jamie gave her hand a squeeze. "It'll be alright. Just remember you're Claire Malcolm for awhile. No' Fraser."

"As long as I'm your wife, I don't care what my name is."

Fergus smiled at them both. "It is such a joy to see you back together. I haven’t seen Milord look this happy in a very long time. And you look so beautiful, Milady. Germain is right. You don't look like a Granny."

Claire blushed. "I'm happy to be here. And so thankful to meet my grandchildren."

They spent the next few hours catching up. Eventually Bree joined them as did William, still holding a sleeping Henri-Christian. After a while, the boy started to stir. William placed a tender hand on the boy's back as he opened his sleepy eyes and looked quizzically at the stranger who was holding him. "Grandpère?" he asked sleepily.

William laughed quietly. "No. Uncle. Uncle Willie." He turned the boy to point him towards Jamie. "There's Grandpère."

The boy looked between the two men a few times before deciding he was satisfied with their account of who was who and started wriggling to get down. William gently let him down and Henri-Christian ran off to play with his siblings.

Claire watched the scene unfold with wonder. She had never seen this side of William before, possibly no one had, and her heart warmed to this tender part of him.

Jamie put his hands down on the table, his spine cracking as he slowly stood. "We best get back now. We dinna want tae be late for supper." He reached out to Claire; she took his hand and let him pull her up and into him closely. "Are ye ready, Mrs. Malcolm?" he asked, planting a kiss on the top of her head.

"Yes," she answered. "I'd like to wash before supper."

They said their goodbyes and left the print shop, all of their hearts lighter. Jamie looped his arms around Claire’s waist, and she leaned into him, feeling like a teenager on a date.

There was something about Jamie that made her feel timeless, ageless. One look from him could devolve her into a giggling, giddy mess. She felt all of the tension she hadn't realized she'd been carrying for the last several weeks begin to melt away. She never doubted that she belonged here with Jamie, but with everything that had happened, she realized she had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now it felt like everything was falling into place. She stood on her tiptoes to give Jamie a kiss. He laughed into her mouth, "Sassenach, yer going to cause quite a stir, acting this bawdy in public."

"Bawdy?" she responded in mock indignation. "I'm a married woman! Besides. I've always caused a stir here."

"Aye, ye have. And I love ye for it," he said cheekily, giving her another kiss.

"Mother!" Bree said, exasperated. "People are looking!"

Claire blushed and smiled. "Sorry, darling. You may have to get used to it." She leaned back into Jamie and started walking again.

Bree and William both rolled their eyes and picked up their pace to distance themselves from the lovebirds. Claire and Jamie laughed as he gave her waist a gentle squeeze. She had missed these small gestures that said to her I am here.

I'm here, too, Jamie, she thought. I am here.

Chapter Text

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February 1778

William glanced at the small clock on the counter in the back of the print shop and stood up straight, stretching his back and neck. Being 6'4" had many advantages, but they weren't often apparent when he was bending over a printing press. Glancing out the window, he saw that the wind was picking up, whipping the snow that covered the ground in glittering circles. It looked beautiful from inside, in the warmth of the shop, but he shivered in anticipation of making the walk home. He missed Virginia, though he couldn't say he would give up all he had gained here for a little less cold and snow.

It could be worse. Had he not fallen through the stones all those months ago, he would probably be freezing in an army camp in Massachusetts right now. His company had yet to be sent back to England as originally planned and the conditions in any army camp in the middle of winter in the middle of war were bound to be horrifying. As it was, there were hundreds of men dying in the Continental Army camps outside of Philadelphia.

He felt a small tug on the leg of his pants. He looked down and saw Henri-Christian, his little shadow, staring up at him. "What are you doing running around underfoot?" he asked, reaching down and picking up the little boy. "I told you you're going to get stepped on with all of us giants walking around."

"Uncle Willie? Can you come play with me? Germain says he's busy and Joanie and Félicité are playing with dolls. I dinna want to play with dolls cause I'm a boy."

William's face softened and he placed a small kiss on the boy's cheek. "I'm sorry, but I can't. I have to finish this up and go home for dinner. Your granny would be very upset if we were late."

"I wish you could live here with us. You're the only one who wants to play with me."

"I think your house is a little crowded already. But I promise on Saturday, after work, we'll do some puzzles together, all right?" He ruffled the sweet boy's hair and set him back down. "Go find your mother and see if she has something for you to do. And tell your grandpère that I'm just about finished in here."

Henri-Christian scooted away and William smiled, shaking his head. He bent back down to his task, finishing up the setting of the type for the next day. He had been skeptical when Jamie suggested he come work in the print shop with him, but he actually enjoyed the work. It required precision, attention to detail, and no little physical effort, all of which appealed to him.

And it was good to spend time with his new family. He had never experienced anything like it - the constant chatter, the children running around making trouble, the simple joy of sitting down for a cup of tea around Marsali's warm hearth and listening to his nieces and nephews playing. He'd had a good, though unconventional, childhood, but there was just something about the chaotic rhythms of his brother's household that made his heart feel light.

"Are ye ready, Willie?" He jumped at the sudden intrusion. Now I know what Papa meant when he said I moved like a cat.

"Yes, I'm all set." They walked together to the front of the store and put their coats on, saying goodbye to Fergus on their way out.

Though Jamie had a lot to say when he had an opinion on something, he could be quite taciturn at the end of a long day. After spending a day in the constant din of the print shop, it was nice to make the walk home together in companionable silence. The more time he spent with Jamie Fraser, the more he came to appreciate the man he was.

Mac had been a larger than life presence in his childhood. When he'd met him again as an adult, he'd at first seemed nothing but a caricature of every Highlander he'd ever heard about - big, loud, and uncivilized. But now he could see the nuances in him, the things that made him Jamie Fraser. Yes, he could be loud, especially when he was in good company and a few drams of whisky in. But his true nature was much quieter, more calculating, and thoughtful. He knew when to be gregarious and when to sit back and observe. And while his temper would cause most people to run and hide, William knew that it was when he was quietly stewing, or spoke in a low, deliberate tone, that you had better make yourself scarce.

When he'd known him at Helwater all those years ago, he'd been a Groom. A respected member of the staff, no doubt, but never seen as anything but a Groom. Would he have ventured a guess, he would have assumed the man to have no formal education and little interest in anything beyond the stables. The man he knew now was educated, moreso than some of his own wealthy peers, and worldly. The stories of his travels could rival Papa's. He'd eaten grass to avoid starvation, lived in a cave, and been imprisoned; he'd also been a respected guest at Versailles, a trusted counselor to Charles Stuart, and, if rumors were to be true, a favorite of General Washington.

Yes, these last five months had turned his entire life upside down, but he was grateful for it. Jamie, Mother Claire, Brianna, Fergus and his family, and even Ian Murray had woven their way into the very fabric of his being, and he was all the better for it. All his life he'd been a son, nothing more. Now he was a brother, uncle, and cousin. He had two fathers, one he'd always loved and one he'd grown to love, though he couldn't quite bring himself to admit that part yet.

They reached the house on Chestnut Street and stepped into the warm front hallway, stomping the snow off their boots. Claire came hurriedly into the room to greet them. She gave William a quick peck on the cheek before turning to Jamie and greeting him more amorously. William blushed as he glanced Jamie’s hand grabbing Claire’s buttocks as he kissed her in greeting.

He didn’t think he would ever grow accustomed to how physical they were with each other, but their love and respect for each other was something he could only hope to find with someone one day. But for now, he wasn’t about to stand around and watch them. He quietly excused himself and went into the sitting room. “Good evening, sister,” he said to Brianna who was resting on the settee. “How are you feeling?”

She gave him a warm smile and pulled herself up to a more upright position. “I’m fine. I feel huge though.” He sat in the chair closest to her and helped her put a pillow behind her back.

“You look lovely,” he replied.

She rolled her eyes at him in response. Neither noticed that their parents had joined them until Claire said, “If you think you feel huge now, I hate to see what you think of yourself in a couple more months.” Claire sat on the edge of the settee and put Brianna’s feet in her lap, massaging them absent-mindedly. 

Jamie had gone to the sideboard to pour a dram for each of them. He handed the glasses around and they all gave a quick “Slainte,” before they resumed their conversation. It had become a bit of a custom for them to start their evenings together in that way.

Bree carried on, “I know I’m going to get bigger and that’s what scares me. I’ve got three months to go and I’m already huge.”

“You are carrying a baby that’s half Fraser,” Claire shrugged, gesturing around the room at the three Frasers in front of her. “You’ll be fine.”

“Where’s John?” Jamie asked, holding an extra glass of whisky.

“He’ll be down in time for dinner,” Claire answered. “He had some correspondence to finish up.”

There was a knock at the door and Jamie went to answer it. William heard the sound of jovial greetings and soon Jamie was ushering in Ian along with Rachel Hunter.

William's heart sank. He'd tried, truly tried, to not love her anymore. He'd turned to the comfort of whores, but he no longer found their company very consolatory after Mac had made his feelings on that matter clear to him. He'd gone to dinners and parties at the homes of Papa's acquaintances, all of whom had young, eligible daughters who were looking for well-bred husbands. That had only made him hate himself more and pine for the pure simplicity of Rachel. He'd tried to push her out of his mind by throwing himself into his new life with his new family. Unfortunately, that presented its own set of problems.

He and Ian had formed a tentative friendship over the last few months. He really was a good man, and it was obvious that Rachel had chosen him. He wanted to be over it, to stop loving her, but he just couldn't.

Her hazel eyes sparkled in the lamp light as she greeted everyone. Brianna sat up and made room for her on the settee, but Rachel shook her head. "We cannot stay for very long. We just came to tell thee of our good news."

William's stomach twisted into a thousand knots. He'd known this had been coming sooner or later, but the reality of it was so much worse that anything he had imagined. He blinked his eyes hard, trying to get them to focus.

Ian beamed. "Rachel and I are tae be married."

The room erupted in cheers of congratulations and well wishes. He heard Papa come down the stairs and ask what all the noise was about, then another round of congratulations.

Suddenly, panicked, he realized that he must be making an utter fool of himself because he had yet to move, let alone say a word. His face was hot and he could feel the sting of tears behind his eyes. Quickly, he stood up from his seat and walked over to the happy couple.

"Congratulations to you both," he managed to choke out. "If you'll excuse me, I'm not feeling well and need to lie down."

Without waiting for an answer, he bounded up the stairs and ran into his room, slamming the door behind him. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Get a hold of yourself. But the tears came hard and fast. With nothing else to do for it, he curled up on his bed and waited for the flood to be over.

After some time had passed, he felt a heavy weight settle on the edge of the bed, and he knew Jamie had managed to sneak in undetected. "Leave me alone," William said, but Jamie just put a hand on his back as if to say, "I am here."

After a while, William, finally starting to come to his senses, sat up slowly and asked, "Don't you want to go eat? I'm sure it's past supper time."

"Aye," Jamie replied, "But the food will bide."

"There's nothing to say," William said quietly, picking at a loose thread on the quilt.

"I didna ask ye tae say anything," Jamie replied, just as softly.

"I...I am happy for them."

"I ken."

"Do you think I'll ever love anyone else?"

Jamie turned to him, his blue eyes soft and understanding. "Aye, ye will. That I ken." He paused for a moment, his eyes taking on a bemused look. "Did I ever tell ye about Annalise de Marillac?" William shook his head and Jamie went on.

"Well, Annalise was the first woman I loved, or at least I thought I loved her at the time. It doesna matter if I truly did or not because I was heartsore over her."

"When was this?" William asked, finding it hard to imagine Jamie loving someone besides Mother Claire.

"Och, when I was a young lad of eighteen at University in Paris. She was a beautiful girl and so tiny and delicate, like a wee cheetie. She had many suitors; she was a wicked flirt, a wee vixen. And I was infatuated with her.

"I had my heart set on marrying her; I thought I'd bring her home wi' me to Scotland or perhaps that I'd stay in Paris wi' her and work for my cousin, Jared. The one day I came upon her kissing Charles Gauloise.

"I felt so angry and betrayed I wanted to kill the man. So I challenged him to a duel."

"Was dueling outlawed in France then?" William asked.

"Aye, it was, but there were certain parts of the woods ye could go where the Gen d'Armes didna patrol. He accepted and we met at the Bois de Boulogne."

"What weapon did he choose?" William couldn't help but be intrigued.

"Small swords."

"I assume you lost? I thought you were an expert swordsman?" William teased.

"Aye, I was and I still am. And I did win." Jamie answered proudly.

William laughed. "So what happened?"

"When she saw the wee gomerel bleedin' on the ground, she ran tae him. They were marrit a month later."

William grimaced. "That must have hurt."

"Aye, it did," Jamie responded, giving William a pat on the leg. "But eventually I got over it. And four years later I met Claire."

"How did you know what you felt for Claire was real, though, and not just another infatuation?"

Jamie sighed, considering how to answer. "I canna say exactly, but I did ken almost from the moment I laid eyes on her. It was different, though. For Annalise, I was willing tae duel, but that was just a show. I wounded Gauloise, but I never intended to kill him." He paused, hesitating. "I would do anything for Claire. I have killed tae protect her. I have sacrificed my dignity, given my soul tae protect her. I even sent her away to protect her. And I would do it all again if I had tae."

"Do you ever think about what would have happened if you hadn't sent Mother Claire through the stones?" William asked.

"Every day for the last thirty years. But I try not tae dwell on it. She could have been killed, she could have died in childbirth. And what life would it have been for her? Would she have lived in that cave wi' me with our bairn? And what if I'd never turned myself in? I…" his voice broke and he cleared his throat, "I wouldna have you if I'd never sent her away. So as painful as it was, I canna regret it."

"Thank you for telling me that story, Mac. I think it helped some."

There was a knock at the door then. "Come in," Jamie called.

The door opened and Mother Claire stood in the entry carrying a large tray. Brianna and Papa stood behind her with a bottle of whisky and tumblers. "You missed dinner so we brought some up," Claire said. "And we thought we could all have dessert and a night cap up here. If that's alright?"

William couldn't help but smile. He and Jamie sat at a small table near the hearth and dug into the food, while Brianna and Mother Claire sat on the bed sharing a piece of Mrs. Figg's cake. Papa sat quietly in his desk chair, sipping his whisky. They spent the next hour talking and laughing, eating and drinking.

When everyone finally said good night, Papa hung back. He took the seat that Jamie had been sitting in and poured another dram. "I would have come up," Papa started, "but Jamie insisted."

"I know you would have, Papa. He really did help."

"The thing is," Papa said, taking a sip of his whisky and shifting in his seat, "I know something about unrequited love myself."

William gave him a curious look. "Was there someone before Mama Isobel?"

"Yes, a couple someones, in fact. One died, though, when we were very young."

"And the other?"

"We went on to be good friends. But it will never go any farther than that," John replied, staring at his hands.

William leaned forward in his seat. "Is it someone I know?"

"Yes, in fact it is," he raised a hand to stop William before he could even begin to ask. "It won't do either of us any good for you to know, so don't even bother."

"How can you just be around someone you love, who doesn't love you back? Doesn't it hurt?"

"Well, there is a certain kind of love between us, though not the kind I wish it were.  And yes, it does hurt, but it used to hurt a lot more. I've resigned myself to what our relationship is, and I'm happy to be able to share whatever part of our lives that we can together." He sat back in his chair and sighed deeply.

"Do you ever think you'll find someone else? Mac said that he thought he loved someone before, but when he met Mother Claire, he knew it."

"I'm afraid I think that part of my life is past me, William," Papa said, getting up from his seat. "You see, the difference is that Jamie didn't really love the woman he told you about. I'm sure that was the point of his story. But I truly do love this person I've told you about; I have for many years."

He started to walk out of the room but paused by William, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You will find the right woman, someday. And you will love her and cherish he and she will do the same in return, just as it is with Jamie and Claire." He swallowed hard. "You are your father's son after all."

Chapter Text

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May 1, 1778

Jamie woke up on his fifty-seventh birthday a very happy man. His children were safe, his nephew was to be married soon, and another grandchild would be born in a month's time. And he had Claire. His heart hadn’t felt so full on this day since he was a young lad. Pushing any dark memories aside, he rolled over and began a trail of kisses starting with Claire's shoulder and moving up to her neck.

She let out a small moan and rolled over to face him. “Happy birthday, Colonel,” she said sleepily, reaching up to put a hand on his face. “How do you feel?”

He propped himself on his elbow, tracing her collarbones with his free hand. “Content,” he replied. “For the first time in almost forty years, I feel content. I’ve always had this restlessness in my soul, this feeling that I had tae keep moving. Sometimes it was out of necessity, other times it was just a nagging feeling pushing me forward, but it was always there. Every morning I'd wake up with an unsettled feeling in my wame that I couldna shake. But these last few months, I dinna feel that anymore.”

“Well, you deserve to feel settled, Jamie,” Claire told him. She pulled his head to hers and kissed him softly, rubbing her nose against his after their lips parted. “You’ve suffered enough hardship in your life. It’s time for you to finally have some peace.”

He made one of his Scottish noises low in his throat and sat up. “What is it?” Claire asked him.

“It’s nothing, Sassenach, just a foolish regret.” 

She sat up next to him and put a hand on his leg, resting her head on his shoulder. “Tell me, Jamie. What do you regret?”

He sighed. “I dinna want ye tae think I’m no’ grateful for all I’ve been given back these last few months. And I dinna begrudge ye the years ye spent in a safe place with Brianna. But my one regret is that we never got tae raise a baby together. William is the closest I ever came tae having any hand in raising my children from birth, and I just wish I could have had that experience with ye, Sassenach. I want tae see ye with a bairn in yer arms that is ours. I ken I sound daft, but I want tae be woken in the middle of the night by my child and lay him on my chest, talking tae him until he falls back asleep. I want tae watch ye rock and sing our baby tae sleep.”

“Babies grow up,” Claire pointed out.

“Aye,” Jamie replied. “That’s when yet get tae teach them about the world and how tae live in it.”

She rubbed his back gently. “You’ll get to do that with your grandchild soon.”

“I ken. And I canna wait for that. I just…I dinna think I’ll ever be able tae escape the feeling that I missed out on something important in my life.” He kissed the top of her head and smiled at her. “Dinna fash, ‘tis naught but a small regret. And yer right, my grandchild will be here soon.”

Claire turned her head and took Jamie’s mouth to hers. She kissed him deeply, pushing him to lay back down on the bed. “Time for you to get your birthday gift Colonel.”

He looked at his gorgeous wife hovering over him, untying the strings of her shift, and all thoughts of regrets disappeared from his mind. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she giggled like a schoolgirl. As she slipped the shift off her shoulder, teasing him, she started singing in a low, raspy voice, “ Happy birthday to you.”

She pulled the other side of the shift down, her bosom peeking out at the top of the neckline. “ Happy birthday to you.”

She straddled him, shift hiked up to her waist, rocking her hips. “ Happy birthday, dear Colonel.”

She pulled the shift down, her perfect breasts bare before him. He reached his hands up to fondle them eagerly. “Happy birthday, to…”

“Mrs. Malcolm!” called Mrs. Figg, the cook and housekeeper, from the other side of their door. She thumped her fist on the door and called out, “Mrs. Malcolm, you must wake up! Your help is needed.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire muttered, rolling off Jamie and fixing her shift. She got up and opened the door just a crack. “What is it, Mrs. Figg?”

The woman’s face was panicked, her arms flailing as she spoke. “There’s a woman on the other side of town, Mrs. Malcolm! Her labors have started and it’s not going well. They’re afraid for her life!”

“Can’t one of the midwives see to her? Or Denny Hunter? Normally I would help, but I have plans with Mr. Malcom today.”

“We can’t call on any of the midwives,” Mrs. Figg hissed, “And Doctor Hunter is not in the city today.”

“Why can’t you ask one of the midwives?” Claire asked; trying to get information out of Mrs. Figg was often like trying to untangle a large knot in a rope.

“Because,” she lowered her voice even more, “The child will not be white. But the mother is.”

“Ahhhh,” Claire responded, suddenly understanding. This woman needed to hide the fact that she was having a mixed baby. She’d likely been hiding her pregnancy and planned to have the baby ushered out of the house in the dead of night, so no one would be any the wiser of her secret. “I’ll get dressed, Mrs. Figg. Please pack some food for me to take. God knows how long I’ll be there with a difficult birth.”

“Yes, Mrs. Malcolm.” Mrs. Figg curtsied and ran off to prepare a basket for Claire to take with her. Claire sighed and turned around, giving Jamie a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I know you wanted to spend your birthday in bed with me, but can I get a rain check?”

“Rain check?” he asked. “I dinna ken what a rain check is.”

Claire laughed as she pulled on her clothes. “Sorry. I just mean that we’ll have to reschedule your birthday plans.”

“Aye,” he nodded. “I’ll bide.”

“Thank you,” she said, bending down to kiss him. “I promise we’ll pick up where we left off when I get back.”

“Be safe, Sassenach,” he told her, “And come home to me soon.”

“I love you, Colonel.”

“I love you, too.”

She left the room, hurrying to get to her patient. His plans for the day turned upside down, Jamie got out of bed and dressed. It was a Saturday and the printshop was closed; Fergus and Marsali had taken the children with them to attend a wedding outside of the city. Perhaps he could talk John or William into a couple of games of chess in the morning, and then take a walk with William and Brianna in the afternoon. Bree was largely pregnant and, though she wanted to do nothing but lie about, Claire had said it was important for her to get exercise.

He went downstairs and saw John eating at the large dining room table. His friend gestured to the buffet set out by Mrs. Figg and invited Jamie to sit with him. “I see the women have left us to our own devices,” John joked. “Mrs. Figg went with Claire to attend a birth.”

“Brianna’s here,” Jamie pointed out. 

“I don’t think Brianna will be much help in the way of women’s work,” John chuckled. “But I suppose we’ll manage for the day.”

“Aye,” Jamie replied, digging into his breakfast. “If we canna survive one day wi’out the help of a woman, I wouldna have survived the last thirty years.” He gestured toward Brianna and William’s empty seats. “I see my children are both still lying about.”

“Yes,” John replied, sipping his tea. “I haven’t seen either of them this morning. I’m not surprised about Bree, but William is usually up by now.” 

Jamie made a sound of disapproval low in his throat, recalling that William had gone out with some of his mates the night before. “I’ll go check on them both after I finish breakfast.”

John nodded. “I’ve heard rumors that General Clinton is thinking of pulling out of Philadelphia.”

Jamie looked up, surprised. “I hadna heard that. What will you do if that happens, John?"

“I don’t quite know,” he responded. “I suppose I’ll have to evacuate with everybody else.”

“Do ye ken when he’s planning to do this?” Jamie asked.

“No, I – “

A scream from above them cut John off. He exchanged a brief glance with Jamie and then both of them went racing to the stairs. “Brianna!” Jamie called. He took the stairs two at a time, his heart racing. When he reached the top, he saw that William was already running to her room; Jamie and John followed quickly behind. 

Brianna was standing next to her bed in her shift, bent over, clutching her stomach. A small puddle of water was on the floor at her feet. All three men, experienced soldiers trained to charge even as bullets were flying at them, stood frozen, flummoxed by a woman in labor. 

When her contraction passed, she pulled herself to her full height and yelled, “Don’t just stand there with your mouths open. Do something! Where’s Mama?”

“Yer mother’s no’ here, Bree,” Jamie answered quietly.

“Well go get her!”

Jamie berated himself silently for not finding out where Mrs. Figg had taken Claire. Now they were both gone, and Jamie had no way of knowing where they were or when they would be back. “I…I dinna ken where she went. She got called away to help with a birth earlier this morning.”

“She’s out delivering someone else’s baby?” Bree raged.

“Ye werena supposed tae give birth for a month now!” Jamie roared back.

“Oh, so this is my fault?” she yelled, right before she doubled over with another contraction.

William had gone white as a ghost. His hands were trembling, and he reached over to Jamie to steady himself. Jamie grabbed him by the arm and dragged him across the room, sitting him in a chair. “Put yer head between yer legs and dinna stand up again until ye're sure ye arena going tae faint.” William nodded slowly and did as told.

John had also come out of his stupor; he had one arm around Bree and was talking to her in low, soothing tones. When she was able to stand again, he kept an arm firmly around her waist and asked, “How long have you been having pains, Brianna?”

She shook her head. “Just since a few minutes ago. My back was hurting terribly last night, but no pain in my stomach. Then I got out of bed and I felt a….um, a…pop. As soon as my water broke, the contractions started.”

Jamie approached her and put his hands on her shoulders. “As soon as yer brother isna looking so green, I’m sending him out to get Denzell Hunter. Everything is going to be fine.”

Bree nodded at him, trusting him to see her safe. He looked in her eyes and made a silent promise that he would do so.

“I’m going to find something to put down on the bed,” John said, excusing himself.

Jamie took hold of Bree’s arm and she leaned against him. “Don’t leave me, Da.”

“I willna leave ye, a leannan ,” he told her. “Hold on to me; I willna leave ye.” She was seized by another contraction and Jamie let her grip his hands and bear down. Some of his experience in the stables started to come back to him and he told her, “It’s alright, m’annsachd . Dinna fight it. Let yer body do what it kens it needs tae.”

He looked over her head at Willie, who was still sitting with his head between his legs. Christ, the lad’s gone daft. Still holding Brianna’s hands, he walked her closer to William. As soon as the contraction passed, he let go of one her hands and cuffed him on the side of the head. William looked up, dazed. “Get up, ye clot-heid. I need ye tae go fetch Denny Hunter. We canna deliver this baby by ourselves.”

William rubbed the side of his head and gave Jamie an impertinent look but got up without argument and walked out of the room. 

“Christ this room is hot,” Jamie said, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Do ye want the windows open, Brianna?”

She nodded and he noticed for the first time that she was drenched in sweat. “Och, lass. I’m sorry. Ye must be thirsty. I’ll open the windows and fetch ye some water.” He led her to the chair and sat her down before scurrying around the room. When he brought her the water, she drank it greedily until another contraction washed over her.

John rushed back into the room. Jamie glanced at the clock, ready to admonish him for taking so long but stopped himself when he saw that only fifteen minutes had passed since they first rushed into Brianna’s room. He counted back and realized she’d already had four contractions in fifteen minutes. The labor was happening fast, and he said a silent prayer to St Raymond that William would find Denny Hunter quickly.

“There!” John said, having slipped several layers of horse blankets under the bedding. “Brianna, do you want to get in the bed?”

She shook her head, her lips a tight line across her face. “No, I need to walk,” she said, pulling herself up. Jamie grabbed her by the arm and walked her back and forth across the room, pausing every few minutes as her contractions got closer together. Where the hell is William?

John made himself useful fetching water and gathering as many sheets and cloths as he could find in the house. The afternoon sun was heating the room quickly, but Jamie didn’t dare close the windows. He couldn’t bear the thought of being in the still air of a shut-up room. Jamie continued walking with Bree in a monotonous circuit. 

William burst back into the house an hour after he’d left and ran up the stairs. Jamie looked at him and then over his shoulder, but William shook his head. “The Hunters have gone to the camps outside of Philadelphia to tend to the sick.”

Iffrin! ” Jamie roared, setting Brianna off in tears. He pulled her close, stroking her hair. “Dinna fash, a leannan . Dinna fash.” He made eye contact with John over her shoulder and a silent resolve passed between them. They would see this through together, no matter what happened. 

“Aren’t there any midwives?” Bree asked, pulling herself away from Jamie and sniffling. 

“I know there are,” John replied, “But I wouldn’t know who they are or where they are. William?”

William shook his head. “What are we going to do?” he whispered to John.

John turned to his son and said, “We’re going to deliver a baby.”

They fell into a seamless rhythm. The men took turns walking Brianna around the bedroom while the others fetched water or paced. William set a giant cauldron on to boil in the hearth downstairs, though he wasn't exactly sure what it was for.

Time passed by at an agonizingly slow pace. It was nearly supper time when Brianna’s contractions started coming harder and faster; it seemed as if one would start before the previous had passed. Jamie could see the exhaustion etched on her pale face. "Lass," he said quietly during a brief moment of reprieve, "do ye want to get on the bed?" 

She shook her head vehemently right as her knees buckled under her and she was down on the floor on all fours. Jamie crouched down beside her. "Brianna, let me lift ye into the bed."

"No!!!!" she growled through gritted teeth. 

Jamie had seen that look on many a brooding mare's face right before the colt would make its slow descent, and decided it was safer to let her do as she wished. "Is the bairn coming, a leannan ?"

"Yes, the bairn is coming! Now shut the hell up!" She closed her eyes and screwed her face in concentration.

William's face had turned green again, and he wisely took a seat. John was staring wide eyed at the scene before him. "Shouldn't you check if the head is there?" he asked. 

Jamie was sitting firmly by Bree's head and he hadn't anticipated moving. He looked desperately from his daughter's hindquarters to John and back again. Finally, exasperated, John began unbuttoning and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. "For heaven's sake!" he muttered before walking over and kneeling down by Brianna's backside.

Gingerly, he lifted her shift as if it were coated in venom. His entire face went pale; his eyes practically fell out of his head, but he kept his composure. Very calmly he told Jamie, "There is a large head with very red hair right here . I think we'd better prepare ourselves."

"Willie!" Jamie called. William scrambled to his feet and stood at attention, as if waiting for orders from his superior officer. "Go downstairs and find the sharpest pair o' shears ye can. Drop them in the boiling water for two minutes. Wash yer hands while they're boiling. Take them out carefully and bring them up here." William started to run toward the door. "Hold on!" Jamie added. "Take a clean cloth to wrap them in when they're done boiling. And get the strongest thread ye can find as well!”

Jamie turned back to John. "What's happening on your end?" he asked, as Bree bore down again. 

"Well, not a whole lot, actually. Brianna, I do believe you aren't pushing properly."

"Well then how am I supposed to be pushing?" she screeched with a voice Jamie was sure came from the depths of hell.

"Well I don’t know ," John replied. "I'm just telling you that what you're doing isn't making any progress." His face turned a deep shade of scarlet, and he cleared his throat. "Perhaps you should bear down as you do on the privy."

Jamie suddenly wished very much that he could crawl under the floorboards, never to be seen again.

But Brianna redoubled her efforts, and John cried out, "It's working! Keep at it, my dear!"

She pushed with all of her strength, every muscle in her body trembling with the strain. "The head is out!" John declared just as William walked back into the room. He took one look at the scene before him and fainted dead away on the floor. 

" Christ!" Jamie muttered. "I hope the wee bampot hasna hit his head."

John glanced back quickly and said, “He’s fine. I see him coming back around already.” 

Turning his attention back to Brianna, John put his hands out as if he were waiting to catch something falling from the sky. Brianna was red-faced and grunting. “Ye must breathe, m’annsachd ,” he told her gently, brushing her hair away from her face. She lifted her head and looked him in the eye. They both gave each other a nod, and he saw the reflection of his own in her determined face. 

She put her head back down and groaned, exerting every ounce of energy she had. “Dear God!” John exclaimed. Jamie looked up and suddenly there was a tiny baby lying face down in his friend’s hands. Brianna laid her head on the floor, breathing heavily, her body suddenly slack. 

John looked down at his hands, momentarily stunned. Jamie reached out his arms, taking the child from him. The room was silent, and he rubbed the bairn’s back gently. When that did not produce a sound, he gave the wean a swift pat on the bottom. 

Brianna lifted her head at the sound of the bairn’s cries, tears streaming down her face. Jamie bowed his head as he turned him over and announced, “It’s a boy!” The small lad looked at Jamie with blue, slanted eyes. Completely overcome, he kissed the child on his copper hair while tears fell down his face.

William had come to his senses and grabbed a blanket to wrap the wee one in while John gently helped Brianna roll over, propping her against the bed and trying to get some sheets underneath her. When she was settled, Jamie handed her the child gently. “Careful of the head now, lass. Ye must always support it.”

With her child safely in her arms, Brianna rested her own head against the side of the bed and looked down at him. Her red curls, soaked in sweat, dangled against her son’s head. He was howling, his tiny arms flailing about in anger at the sudden change in environment. “Here, lass,” Jamie said, gently cupping the back of the bairn’s head. “Pull your shift down a little and just put the babe’s mouth right to yer breast. He’ll ken what tae do.”

After some fumbling, Brianna cringed, then relaxed as the boy began suckling at her breast. “Willie,” Jamie said in a low voice. The moment seemed too momentous to speak above a whisper. “Bring the string and shears over here.” Willie handed the items to Jamie and crouched down next to Brianna, staring at his nephew while Jamie tied off the umbilical cord and made short work of cutting it. “Alright now, Brianna, we can get ye up on the bed as soon as the bairn’s done eating.”

John was already trying to clean the floor where Brianna had been laying moments before. Too weary to stand, Jamie laid back on the floor and stared at the ceiling, a smile on his face as he drummed his fingers on his chest. A grandson. And on my own birthday

The tranquility was broken by Brianna’s cry. Jamie sprang up quickly to see what was wrong, but his back revolted, the muscles seizing, forcing him back on the floor. “John, Willie! I canna move. It’s my damn back again. Ye have tae help her.” 

Willie took the baby from Brianna’s arms and moved to a chair. John gave Jamie an irritated look, asking, “What’s happening?”

“It’s just the afterbirth,” Jamie moaned. “Ye dinna need tae do much; she’s just got tae push a little. Just…ye need tae inspect it, John. I’m sorry, but I canna get up and do it myself. Ye need to make sure it comes out whole.” He remembered well Claire telling him of the puerperal fever that had almost taken her life when she had given birth to Faith.

John took a deep breath and turned back to Bree. “Alright, my dear. Your father says this will be quick. I just need you to push.” She nodded and gritted her teeth, bearing down once more.

“Oh dear God!” John exclaimed. “Is the afterbirth supposed to have hair on it?”

“I don’t think so,” Brianna managed to squeak out. 

“For heaven’s sake!” John exclaimed. “Jamie, there’s another baby coming.”

Jamie was helpless on the floor. When his back seized, there was nothing he could do but lie flat until it passed, usually several days later. But twins! To be blessed with two grandchildren in one day. He put his hand over his eyes to try to quiet his weeping. Lord may she be safe; she and the children. He turned his head and saw that Willie was focusing on the bairn in his arms. Good, we dinna need him swooning again. Turning his head to the other side, he could see John squatting in front of Brianna; he was encouraging her softly, always that kind gentility in his voice. 

Finally, Brianna’s grunts and bawls turned again to a more high-pitched keening. Within seconds this time, he heard the cry of the child. When Jamie turned his head again, he saw that John, now an expert in midwifery, had already wrapped the wean in a blanket and handed the bundle to Brianna. “It’s a girl,” he told Brianna, loudly enough so that William and Jamie would hear too. 

Jamie began weeping again in earnest and decided it must be the pain in his back, for the birth of two bairns was no reason to be carrying on like an auld woman. Still, these were his grandchildren. His blood. His bone. On his fifty-sixth birthday, he had never thought he’d see this day.

The light had grown dim, and Jamie wondered what was keeping Claire so long. John got up and collected the chamber pot. He took the baby and laid her on Jamie’s chest. “I’ll just see to Brianna,” he said quietly. Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle at John, so calm and reserved, as if he hadn’t just spent the better part of the day delivering babies like it was a completely normal thing for a retired military man near on fifty years old to be doing. 

Jamie brought one arm up carefully and rested it on the sweet lass, already sleeping contentedly on his chest. He could see wisps of brown hair peeking out from under the blanket as he began whispering Gaelic blessings over her. Soon after, John was removing the chamber pot from the room. They’d have to ask Claire later how to dispose of the afterbirth properly. 

“Well then,” John said. “Let’s finally get you more comfortable, shall we?” He lifted Brianna gently and placed her in the bed before taking the babies from Willie and Jamie, one by one, and returning them to their mother. 

“Have ye decided on their names yet?” Jamie called softly to Bree.

Though he couldn’t see her from his spot on the floor, he could hear the smile in her voice. “Yes. Jeremiah James William MacKenzie and Julia Claire Elizabeth MacKenzie.”

“Aye,” he said, choking up again. “Those are verra nice.”

“Alright, old man,” John said, towering above Jamie. “It’s time to get you into a bed as well.”

Jamie groaned, “Dinna try tae move me. I’ll just lay here.”

John rolled his eyes and tapped his foot impatiently. “You told me that the last time this happened to your back, you were in bed for three days. Are you going to stay on the floor for three days? I wouldn’t think so. William, get behind your father and support his back while I pull from the front. That’s it. Come on, you ridiculous dreadnought.”

Somehow they managed to get him off the floor. He shuffled off to his room, leaning on Willie for support. When they rolled him onto his bed, he bellowed out in pain. “Really, Jamie,” John said, helping him get comfortable. “Your daughter just gave birth to twins and here you are howling louder than she did.”

John turned to leave, but Jamie reached out and grabbed his hand. “Thank ye, John, truly. Things wouldna have gone so well today if it hadna been for ye. Seems I’m indebted to ye yet again.”

John’s eyes started to tear up and he patted Jamie’s hand before pulling his away gently. “Yes,” he said, his lips curling at the corner, “But do try someone else next time you need help with your offspring, at least for the next couple of days. I’m quite tired.”

Jamie chuckled, but glanced at William to make sure he hadn’t taken the joke personally. Willie’s lip was twitching, his blue eyes wrinkling in the corners. “All right, out wi’ the lot of ye. I’ll take some rest now, but if ye do make something tae eat later, dinna leave me tae starve.”

When they shut the door, he closed his eyes. As long as he was perfectly still, the pain in his back was bearable. He was worried about Brianna, but knew she was in good hands with William and John.

John. Christ, what more was he going to owe the man before his life was done? He’d saved his life, raised his son, given his family shelter, and now delivered his grandchildren. There were no words substantial enough, no gesture grandiose enough that would ever come close to expressing his gratitude to him. He didn’t deserve his friendship, let alone all he had done for him, but somehow he was lucky enough to have it bestowed on him anyway.

He must have drifted off because the next thing he knew, Claire was speaking to him in hushed tones as she lit the candles. He’d been sleeping heavily, and it took a moment for his eyes to focus in the dim light. She seemed to be wearing a small bundle across her chest, but he couldn’t tell what it was. She walked over to the bed and adjusted the pillows to prop him up. “John told me what happened to your back,” she said, kissing him gently. “You shouldn’t lie flat like that. You think you’re helping yourself but – “   

A small mewling sound came from the bundle and Jamie cut Claire off. “Sassenach, what is that?”

“Didn’t you hear me talking a moment ago?” She asked, shaking her head at him. Christ, she’s probably been on her feet all day, and she’s still running circles around me. “The delivery I was attending today did not go well. The poor mother," she shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes, "she didn't make it. I had to take the baby by cesarean section.”

“So ye brought the wean home wi’ ye? Did she no’ have any family?” Jamie asked. 

“It won’t be a bother, Jamie. It’s only temporary until she – “

“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” Jamie interrupted. “I didna mean that the way it came out. It’s perfectly fine; I was just surprised is all. Can I see the bairn?”

Claire nodded, and pulled the baby out of the makeshift sling. “She’s a girl,” she said, handing the baby to Jamie. 

He gasped when he felt her weight in his arms. “She’s frightfully small, Sassenach. Will she live?” He couldn’t help but think of wee Faith and how tiny Claire had said she was.

Claire nodded, swallowing hard. “I think so. She’s small, but she’s very strong. We’ll give her goat’s milk tonight and John has already asked Mrs. Figg to help us find a wet nurse.”

“Bonny,” Jamie whispered, entranced with the child. She had skin the color of almonds and the tiniest button nose he’d ever seen. On top of her head was a delicate puff of tight, dark curls. He gently probed her hand with his finger, so he could count hers, but her little hand grasped it instead, curling around so tight the pads of her fingers turned white with the effort. “And verra braw.”

“I better get her fed,” Claire said. “I doubt Brianna has enough milk, but we’ll try before I give her the goat’s milk. Then, I want to hear all about your little adventure today.” She gently lifted the baby from his arms, kissing him again as she leaned over. “You have had quite a birthday.”

"Aye," he replied. "It was better than I could have ever hoped for."

Chapter Text

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"Well good morning, my wee lass," Jamie cooed. The tiny baby Claire had brought home just a week before was squawking in her cradle, her tiny arms flailing about haphazardly. "Did ye get yer arms out of that swaddle again?" he asked, gently picking her up into his big arms. "Och, yer a braw lassie, are ye no'? I can see already ye’re a lass wi’ spirit."

He cradled her in his arms and closed his eyes, trying to judge the weight of her. "I do think yer a bit bigger than ye were last night, a leannan, though I suppose it could just be yer wet clout." He laughed at his own joke and laid the baby on their bed. Claire had thrown an old rug down at the foot so they could change the babies there without fear of soiling the bedding.

He changed her clout expertly, murmuring to her in Gaelic as he did so. Her eyes were wide with fascination as if she could understand every word he was saying. As he finished, he heard a faint knock on the door. "Come in," he called softly.

Aileen MacIntyre, the wet nurse they had hired to help keep up with the three constantly hungry babies, tiptoed into the room and held out her arms. Jamie transferred the baby, rubbing her head gently when she was safely snuggled in with Aileen. "I heard ye stirring," she whispered, so as not to wake Claire. "I hope ye dinna mind."

"Of course, no'," Jamie replied. "Saves me the trouble of having tae wake ye up myself."

Mrs. Figg had found Aileen through her vast network of women who worked in various service capacities for the more well-off families of Philadelphia. She'd been a blessing since the moment she walked in the door. They'd gone less than twenty-four hours without her, and Brianna had already been all but ready to throw the babies at her when she arrived.

A fellow Scot, Aileen was a widow; her husband had perished during their Atlantic voyage to the Colonies, leaving her and their child, a little boy less than a year old at the time, alone in a new country. Through the help of some women on board the ship who’d taken pity on her, she'd managed to secure meager lodgings in Philadelphia.

With a small child to care for, it had been difficult for her to find any work until one of her neighbors suggested she offer her services as a wet nurse. Her son, Tadgh, was old enough to be weaned, and the job would afford her comfortable lodgings and the ability to have her son with her. She'd worked with one other family before coming to the Frasers and her former employers had given her an excellent reference.

"I'll bring her back to you when she's done, Mr. Malcolm," she whispered before leaving the room.

Jamie smiled and crawled back in bed with Claire, curling up next to her. "How's the bonny lass doing?" Claire asked sleepily.

"She's braw, Sassenach," he answered, burrowing his face in her hair. "She's getting bigger every day."

Claire rolled over to face Jamie, stretching her limbs as she did. "We should give her a name, don’t you think?"

"A name?" Jamie asked. "I dinna think I can name her if she's no' going to stay with us." He paused, his breath catching in his throat. "It's going tae be hard enough to give her up when we have tae. I dinna think I could bear it if we give her a name."

"Jamie," Claire said, stroking his cheek with the back of her hand. "On your birthday you said that your only regret was that we've never been able to raise a baby together. I know we're older now, but we could still have that chance, if you want it."

"Do ye mean it, Sassenach?" he asked, taking her face in his hands. "Would ye want that too?"

"Very much so," she told him. “Besides, I don’t think she has very good prospects for finding a home elsewhere.”

Tears came to his eyes again and he wiped them away quickly. "Christ, Sassenach. I feel like I've done nothing but cry tears of joy this past week."

"You're getting soft in your old age," she laughed, leaning in to kiss him. He responded eagerly, pulling her body close to his. "Mmmm...maybe not all of you is getting soft," she teased.

"I may be auld, Sassenach, but my cock still stands up by itself in the morning."

Claire giggled and began reaching under the bed covers when there was another soft knock on the door. "Mr. Malcolm?" called Aileen.

"Yes, Mistress MacIntyre," Claire called back, removing her hand and sitting up in the bed.

Jamie grumbled, adjusted himself and sat up next to her. "Come in."

Aileen brought the baby in and placed her in Claire’s arms. "She ate well, Mistress Malcolm. She's a bonny lass," she said smiling at the little girl.

"Thank you, Mistress MacIntyre," Jamie said, though he couldn't take his eyes off the bairn.

"I'll just go see if Mistress MacKenzie needs anything," Aileen said with a small curtsy.

When she was gone, Jamie leaned over and kissed the top of his daughter's head. "Did ye have a name in mind, Sassenach?"

"I was thinking she should be named for you, somehow."

"Ye canna call a lass James, mo chridhe." Jamie replied.

Claire rolled her eyes at him. "Not James," she said. "Alexandra."

"Alexandra," Jamie echoed, trying the name out. "Aye," he choked out, "that'll do. Do ye like Janet, as a middle name?"

"That would be fine," Claire replied. "I'm sure your sister will be pleased. I was thinking, though, that I'd also like to do something to honor…" she paused, her breath catching in her throat, "our first daughter as well."

"Faith," Jamie whispered, instinctively placing a protective hand on Alexandra.

"I think it would be too painful for her to have Faith's name, but what if we gave her the name Hope instead? If you think about it, you can't have one without the other."

"I think that's a wonderful idea, Sassenach." Jamie leaned his head and rested his forehead on hers for a moment, remembering their firstborn.

Finally, Jamie spoke again. "Ye've made me a verra happy man, Sassenach. To raise a child wi' ye; it's a gift."

"I feel like the oldest mother on the planet, but I must say, I've been smitten with her since the moment she was born. I don't think I could have managed to let her go."

Jamie looked at his wife's face; she never had much of a way with words but peering into her glass face was all he needed to do to see the deep motherly affection she held for their wee lass. "To see ye with a bairn, Sassenach. It makes my heart fit tae burst." He put his arm around Claire and stared at the little lass in her arms. His lass, his Alexandra.

"I should be getting up to see if Brianna needs anything," Claire said finally, handing the baby to Jamie. She got out of bed and started getting dressed for the day. "Thank goodness for Aileen. I don't think we would have survived the week."

"She's a wonder. She reminds me a bit o' my sister; she'll be running the whole household soon." Jamie was only half joking. He'd already seen Aileen's no-nonsense approach with Brianna, showing her the right way to do things with the bairns in that same clipped, authoritative tone his sister took on with everybody who crossed her path.

Like his sister, he could also see the fierce, motherly affection Aileen had for her son. The two-year-old was a canty lad, bright and generally well behaved, though Jamie recognized a glimmer of mischief in the boy's eyes. He was sure once Tadgh became more comfortable in his new home, he would be up to trouble for sure. And just as surely, he knew Aileen would be on top of his every move, despite how busy she was helping to feed three small bairns.

"She does remind me of Jenny," Claire said, smiling as she quickly put her hair up. "I miss your sister, Jamie. We've been so busy; we haven't had a chance to write her about the baby boom." They'd corresponded with Jenny several times since their reunion, but the slow speed of the mail was frustrating.

She and Jamie had spoken briefly of going to Scotland to see her when Claire first came back, but that seemed impossible now with three newborn babies. "Jamie," Claire said, "We should see if Jenny and Ian can come for a visit once we're settled in North Carolina."

"Ye read my mind, Sassenach." Jamie smiled. "I'll write her today and suggest it. It'll be many months until we're back at the Ridge, so they'll have plenty of time to prepare."

"Good." Claire walked over to the bed and kissed Jamie sweetly. "Perhaps you can convince Rachel and Ian to put off their nuptials a bit longer. I know they’ve already put it off twice with everything that’s been going on with the war. If his parents were able to attend, don’t you think they would put it off a bit longer?”

Jamie grinned wickedly and said, “Ye overestimate the lad’s ability to hold out that long. Even the few weeks I had tae wait tae bed you were torture.”

Claire rolled her eyes but didn’t argue either. “Why don't you put our little lassie down in the cradle and come join me with Brianna?" she asked.

"I'll be wi' ye shortly, Claire. I just want tae hold her a bit longer."

"We'll have to get you a sling so you can carry her around everywhere with you." Claire joked.

Jamie gave her a thoughtful smile, "That's no' a half bad idea, Sassenach."

As soon as Claire was gone, Jamie pulled Alexandra to his chest and wept the tears he'd been holding back. He wept for Brianna and William, the children who he hadn’t been able to watch grow up. He wept for Faith, who he had never laid eyes on, never held in his arms. And he wept for the little heart, beating against his own, that would finally allow him to wholly fulfill his lifelong purpose.

***

William turned the horse down Chestnut Street and breathed a sigh of relief. He had finally been called upon to face the consequences of "abandoning his post," at Saratoga and his resignation from the Army, so he’d been away from home since the day after the birth of Bree's twins. After five days of questioning, affidavits, and threats of being put through a public court-martial, he was ultimately dismissed from military service with nothing but a black mark on his record.

It was no matter to him. He was done with the military life, done with his titles and the peerage and all the inconsequential nonsense that went with it. Papa had told him there was no way to officially give up his titles, but for all intents and purposes, he had. His Uncle Hal had always refused to use the title, the Duke of Pardloe, given to him by birthright, and William would do the same with his own. He was just plain William now, and just like his uncle before him, if anyone insisted on using his titles, they would be subject to William's temper, in whatever way it chose to manifest.

His heart was lighter, despite the grueling ordeal he'd been through, and all he wanted to do was get home and see his family.

He reached the stables and brushed the horse down, using the small flicks Mac had taught him all those years ago at Helwater. When he was satisfied and the horse was comfortable, he headed into the house.

It was unusually quiet inside; William supposed the babies must be napping, and the adults likely along with them. He climbed the stairs quietly, carrying with him the military uniform he'd been forced to wear all week. He didn't want to see the damned thing ever again, though burning it did not seem appropriate. He decided instead to put it in the wardrobe of one of the guest rooms and let Papa deal with it as he saw fit.

Ever so slowly he opened the door, trying not to make any noise that might wake the sleeping babies. He paused when, inside the room he assumed to be empty, he saw the sunlight hit a head of red hair, rocking one of the babies. At first, he thought it was Brianna, but the hair was different, more of a copper tone than his sister’s rich auburn. He pushed the door open the slightest bit more, and his eyes took in the sight of the woman before him.

She sat in a rocking chair. Her long copper hair had been pinned up at some point that day, but much of it had come loose. Her head was bent over the baby she was holding, Julia, judging by the hair. Her left breast was pulled out of her clothing and completely exposed, except where the baby's head obscured it. It was full and round, the delicate skin so pale it reminded him of the covered ground after a snowfall, before it was marred by the footsteps of man or beast, perfectly smooth and white to the point of almost glimmering.

His hand reached out, as if to touch her, and it hung there, suspended in mid-air. The only sound he could hear was the quiet suckling and swallowing of the child she was nourishing. She moved her head then, and he caught a glimpse of her face, delicate bone structure with the same pale skin, her bottom lip so impossibly plump he licked his own at the sight of it. He caught a glimpse of her sleepy green eyes, as they flicked upward and met his.

"Mr. Malcolm! Why are ye staring at me?" she yelled out in her surprise. William was thrown off by the sharp, Scottish brogue she spoke with. He stood stammering, his mouth agape.

"Yer, no' Mr. Malcolm," she shrieked. "Who the devil are ye? What do ye think yer doing, staring at me, ye wee pervert! Get o' here, before I scream!" If William had been capable of speech at that moment, he would have pointed out that she already was screaming.

He was suddenly aware of the stirring of the household. Babies crying, the sound of feet hitting the floor, soft murmurs and exclamations, but he was bewitched, frozen in place as she hurled expletives at him.

Suddenly, a hand clamped down on his shoulder and he was pulled back away from the door. Jamie pulled William down the hall by the collar of his shirt and tossed him unceremoniously into his bedroom. "What the hell are ye thinkin' peeping at the wet nurse like some sort of churlish rake? Have ye lost yer damn mind?"

William stammered, his head still reeling. "I...I... I didn't expect her to be in there. I just...I was caught off guard. I'm…. I’m so sorry. I'll go apologize." He tried to step toward the door, but Jamie stopped him.

"No! Christ, where's yer heid? Ye canna go in there now. What are ye doing, lad?" Jamie’s face was red with anger and William was sure from the heat he felt that his own was equally as flushed with shame.

He took a deep breath and sat down on the bed, his hands trembling. "I'm sorry," he told Jamie. "Truly, I was just...she…. I…"

Jamie made a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh. "She's off limits, mo mhac." His voice was firm, but there was a tenderness behind it.

William looked up at Jamie, who was hovering over him. "She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he told his father plainly.

Jamie sat down on the bed next to William. He looked tired and William felt guilty about causing so much trouble for him. "Willie, ye can have just about any woman on the planet, but ye canna have her. Ye understand that, do ye no'? As long as she's in our employ, she's under my protection, ye ken?"

"I understand, father," William said, not even realizing in all his confusion that he had completely let his guard down. "I wasn't planning on...bedding her. I would never dishonor you like that."

Jamie sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "Willie, ye just saw the woman. What other intentions could ye possibly have?"

"I...I... don’t know," William replied truthfully, "But I promise I will behave with the utmost honor. If she's under your protection, then she is under mine as well."

"Aye, I trust ye, son," Jamie told him. "Now, get yerself together and come downstairs. I'll introduce ye to Mistress MacIntyre and ye can apologize then. We'll fill ye in on all that’s happened in the last week.

After Jamie left, William stripped down and washed off the road dust with the cold water sitting on the vanity. He could have called for warm water, but he was too embarrassed to call any attention to himself. Down the hall, he could hear Jamie apologizing to Mistress MacIntyre, whose volume had at least decreased enough that the neighbors could no longer hear. He wished there was time to fully bathe before seeing her again, but he knew Jamie was waiting for him downstairs.

He dressed and shaved, brushing his hair neatly. His hands were sweating, and he wiped them on his trousers. Pull yourself together, William, he told himself. All you’ve got to do is apologize to her. She’s just the wet nurse for God’s sake! It was a small error in judgment, nothing to lose your head over. Still his pulse quickened as he prepared to go downstairs.

As he descended the stairs, he saw that most of his family was gathered in the sitting room, except for Jamie who was standing outside the dining room. William went to him and Jamie gestured for William to step into the room. Mrs. McIntyre stood, straightening her skirts and adjusting her shawl. She was more than a foot shorter than him, and her tiny frame made her appear as a miniature compared to the towering women he spent most of his time with lately. He imagined his hands spanning around her petite waist, and his breath caught in his throat.

Despite her height, her presence seemed to fill the room. She crossed her arms on her chest, jutting out the chin of her heart shaped face, a fire burning behind the green emeralds of her eyes. “Mrs. MacIntyre,” Jamie began, “this is my son, William Ransom. William, this is Mrs. Aileen MacIntyre.”

William opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out at first. Jamie cleared his throat and gave William a look that could shrivel a man’s testicles. He swallowed hard, and tried again, taking a small bow, as much as a stalling technique as a matter of formality. “Your servant, madam,” he said quietly. When his eyes met hers, he went on. “I’m terribly sorry for walking in on you when you were....um…. working earlier. I meant no harm.”

Aileen made a noise deep in her throat, not dissimilar to the grumblings his father often made, but she nodded at William and said, “No harm done, Mr. Ransom. I trust Mr. Malcolm’s word that nothing like that will happen again.”

“You have my word as well, Mistress MacIntrye,” William replied, placing his hand on his heart. “And should you require anything at all, you only need ask.”

Jamie cleared his throat again. “Thank you, William; that’ll do.” William nodded and backed out of the room into the hallway. Leaning against the wall he took several deep breaths. Father was right, he thought. When you meet the right woman, you just know.

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"How are you feeling, sister?" William asked. He was in the sitting room with Brianna on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Brianna was stretched out on the settee enjoying a quick break from having a child in her arms. William held a two week old Julia to his chest as she slept peacefully.

"Just exhausted. I feel like I'll never not be tired." As if adding emphasis to this statement, she yawned widely but smiled at her brother as he rubbed his niece's back and periodically planted kisses on her head.

"Why don’t you shut your eyes for a few minutes? I've got little Julia," he offered.

"That actually sounds wonderful," she said, already closing her eyes.

Just then, Tadgh, Aileen's two year old son, came running into the room like the winds of a hurricane. William's heart skipped a beat as he heard Aileen running behind. Expertly, he stood up with Julia in one arm and reached his other arm out to scoop up the little rascal, whose legs remained in motion for several seconds before he realized he had been thwarted.

Brianna sprang from the settee and grabbed Julia from William’s arms, giving him the ability to maneuver the boy into both arms. Tadgh giggled maniacally when he realized who had caught him. It had only been a few days since William came home, but the small boy with chestnut hair similar to his own obviously felt he had found an ally in William, who was one of the only adults in the house not constantly taking care of the babies. “Willie!” Tadgh cried out as William tickled his belly.

Just then Aileen came swiftly into the room, her skirts swooshing. When she saw William holding her son, she hastened over to him and curtly took the boy from his arms. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Ransom. He’s been such a wee heathen lately. I dinna ken what’s gotten intae him,” she said in her lilting Scots, a melody that had become synonymous with comfort and love in his mind. She gave him a slight curtsy and looked down at her feet.

William’s heart was in his stomach. How could she not see that he didn’t mind it at all? He enjoyed the little devil’s impish nature and endless shenanigans. Just the day before, he had hidden a frog in Mrs. Figg’s apron pocket, causing her to scream and drop the dishes she’d been carrying when the warty creature had jumped out onto them. He’d received a thorough thrashing for it and a stern lecture from Jamie, but William had a hard time stifling his laughter during the whole ordeal. Truth be told, he’d seen Jamie’s mouth twitch at the corner when Tadgh had exclaimed, “It was naught but a wee beastie, Mr. Jamie!”

He looked up and smiled at Aileen. “It’s truly no trouble at all, Mistress MacIntrye.”

She made a noise in her throat that William thought might be indicative of disbelief and gave him a courteous smile. “I’ll no’ be havin’ him runnin’ around the house disturbin’ everyone. He’s got tae learn tae play quietly.”

William cleared his throat. He didn’t want to seem like he thought he knew more about children than Aileen. It wasn’t even possible, but he did know a bit more than she about what it's like to be a small boy asked to sit still and mind his manners in a house full of adults when all he wanted to do was run around and play. Finally, he said, “If I may, Miss MacIntyre, I think perhaps the boy needs some fresh air and sunshine. If it would be alright with you, I’d be happy to take him to my brother’s house to play with his children sometime. They are a bit older, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind Tadgh tagging along now and again.”

She looked up at him with her large, dreamy eyes. William would swear he saw just a hint of gratitude in them just before she plastered a stiff smile on her face. “That’s verra nice of ye tae offer, Mr. Ransom, but I wouldna dream of puttin’ ye o’ like that.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she quickly spun around and marched out of the room, dragging Tadgh behind her. As he had so many times over the last several days, William was left with his mouth agape and his hand in the air, reaching out for something that had already disappeared.

He sat back in his chair and turned to Bree, who was laying on the settee again, Julia asleep on her chest, giving him a bemused smile. “Why do you look at me like that, sister?” he asked.

“What was that all about?” she asked, trying to stifle a giggle.

William straightened his shirt and sat up stiffly. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Brianna rolled her eyes at him. “Do not get all formal on me, William. You don’t fool me one bit,” she whispered vehemently. "You like Aileen.”

“Well of course, I like her, Brianna. She’s a kind woman.”

“You know what I me--”

“I ken what ye mean just fine, Brianna. Ye dinna need tae speak it.” Jamie stood in the doorway, seeming to loom over them.

Brianna gave him a strange look. “So he fancies her, Da; what’s the problem?”

Jamie folded his arms in front of him. “The problem is that she’s in our employ, Brianna, and your brother canna take advantage of her when she’s in such a position. It wouldna be proper, especially wi’ her living under our roof.”

“She won’t be in our employ forever, Da!” Brianna protested.

“Aye,” Jamie nodded, “And when she isna, yer brother can chase after her all he likes, assuming he hasna made his way through ten other women by then.”

William’s turned a deep scarlet red, and he sprang to his feet. He had been enduring Jamie’s nonstop castigations for days, and he’d had enough.”Stop acting like you know what my intentions are. And, I find it particularly insulting that you feel the need to attack my character in the process of protecting Mistress MacIntyre’s honor. That is not how a father treats a son.” He brushed past Jamie and slammed out of the house without another word.

Tears stung behind his eyes as he headed to the stables to clear his head. He walked into the dim, cool building and grabbed a brush. When he turned around, he was surprised to see Papa sitting on a bale of hay. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m afraid you’ve found my hiding spot, William,” John admitted abashedly. “Don’t get me wrong; it’s an absolute pleasure to have the Frasers here, but the occupants in the house have doubled in size over the last two weeks, and I find that I need somewhere to escape to; a man needs to hear himself think once in a while.”

William smiled at him and started brushing one of the horses. “I was just out here to do the same thing.”

John looked at him curiously and stood, grabbing another brush to help him. “That doesn’t sound like you, William. From what I can see, you’ve never been more in your element in your entire life. I do fear I did you a great disservice by never being able to give you a sibling to grow up with. The chaos does you good; puts color in your cheeks.”

William made a voice low in his throat that surprised him, and continued brushing the horse quietly. John watched him thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “There’s something that’s bothering you, isn’t there?”

William ignored him and looked away, his eyes starting to burn again as he recalled Jamie’s words. John cleared his throat. “I understand that you may feel you have more in common with your real father, but I do want you to know that you can still come to me when you need to talk.”

William closed his eyes, pained at his inability to be a good son to either of his fathers. Jamie Fraser thought him a man of low moral character and in the meantime, he’d been ignoring the man who’d been a father to him his entire life. Putting down the brush, he walked over to the bale of hay and sat down with his head in his hands. Seconds later, John was sitting next to him with an arm around his shoulder. “What is it, William? What have I said?”

“I’m sorry, Papa,” William mumbled into his hands. He sniffled and looked up, quickly wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like you weren’t important to me anymore. Believe me when I tell you this has nothing to do with you.”

“Then do you want to tell me what it is about?” John asked soothingly.

William relaxed and leaned into his Papa in a way he hadn’t done in years. John ran a soothing hand over his hair and listened as William told him about the flood of emotions he’d experienced over the last few weeks: his rejection of the peerage, the overwhelming joy of welcoming his niece and nephew and sister into the world, and the absolutely hopeless way he had fallen in love with Aileen. “But the worst of it all,” William admitted, “Is that Jamie is acting like he doesn’t trust me to behave with honor around her. It’s insulting.”

“And hurtful, I imagine,” John offered. William looked away but nodded.

John stood and paced in the small space. William could tell that he was considering what to say next, so he waited patiently. Finally, John stopped in front of him and said, “Jamie Fraser is a man of honor.”

“I know, Papa, but - “

John raised a hand. “Don’t interrupt, please. He is a man of honor to a fault.” William looked at him quizzically.

“What I mean to say is that Jamie leans on his honor so much that it sometimes gets in the way of him seeing anything else." He stopped pacing and sat down with Wiliam again. “One time, when Jamie was imprisoned at Ardsmuir, we got into a disagreement. He was….well, he was very angry at me because he felt like I had dishonored him.”

“What did you do, Papa?” William asked incredulously.

“It’s not important, William,” he said, dismissing the question with his hand. “What’s important is that Jamie felt I had dishonored him. And I suppose that for a man in prison, his honor is probably the only thing he feels he has left. He could not let it go; he stopped taking dinners with me and refused to speak to me except when it concerned the needs of the other prisoners. Finally, it all came to a head. Another man broke a rule, and Jamie took the blame for it, forcing me to flog him.”

WIlliam gasped, knowing the story of Jamie’s flogging at Fort William. “I know,” John said, his eyes downcast. “I shall carry the guilt and shame of that flogging with me my whole life. But that isn’t the point. The point is that Jamie was so focused on the fact that his honor had been hurt that he subjected himself to a beating for it. When honor is involved, the man will cut off his nose to spite his face every single time.”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with what he thinks about my own character, Papa.”

John put his arm around William's shoulder. “Jamie isn’t even thinking at all about your character, William. Until you said something to him, I doubt he even took into consideration that he was being hurtful. All he can see right now is that he needs to protect Mistress MacIntyre. Jesus Christ himself could walk into that house and Jamie would stand between him and Mistress MacIntrye, daring the man to take a step closer to her.”

William couldn’t help but laugh at that, and as his good humor returned, he realized that Papa was right. It didn’t excuse the way Jamie was behaving toward him, but he understood it.

“As for Mistress MacIntyre,” John said, standing and grabbing his waist coat from where it hung on a nearby hook, “Your grandmother...my mother, that is, would be rolling in her grave at the thought of my son marrying a wet nurse. And don’t even get me started on your Uncle Hal." William started to speak but John cut him off. “I, on the other hand, understand that there is no way to stop your heart from loving someone, and I would never get in the way of true love. Though I suspect what you feel for Mistress MacIntyre is a bit more akin to lust right now, I don’t doubt that it could grow into something more. But Jamie is right, and you must respect her position in the household right now.” He sighed and pinched his forehead between his thumb and middle finger. “Besides, I don’t think the Frasers could last a day without her, and I don’t want anything to happen that could possibly make the screaming in there get any worse.”

William laughed, understanding that John’s depth of love for the Frasers was the only thing keeping his sanity intact. “Perhaps we can get some cotton for you to stick in your ears, Papa.”

“I’ve already tried that, William. I think I would need an entire garment to drown out that noise.” As if on cue, the sound of a wailing baby floated down from an open window. They both laughed and headed into the house.

***

"Christ, Sassenach," Jamie said as he paced around their bedroom with baby Alexandra propped up on his shoulder, "I've got two new wee grandchildren and a bairn of my own, and now I've got tae watch the twenty year old like a hawk so he keeps his hands out of the cookie jar?"

“I think you’re being a little bit melodramatic,” Claire replied. “Don’t you trust William?”

Jamie paused and glared at her. “Of course I -,” he paused, realization dawning on his face. “Dammit. That’s what the lad meant. Christ.”

Claire gave him a smug look and took Alexandra from his arms. “Exactly, you stubborn fool. For goodness sake, Jamie, we’re not talking about some urchin off the street. He’s your son. Do you really think he would behave anything but honorably?” She shook her head at her foolish husband. “Fifty- seven years old and not a day wiser than when I met you.”

“Dinna give up on me yet, Sassenach,” he said, pulling her in with the baby resting on Claire’s chest between them. “There’s still hope ye’ll get through my thick heid one of these days.” He planted a kiss on Claire’s forehead and then leaned down to do the same to his daughter. “Hopefully by the time this one is old enough to be courted by lads, I’ll have grown a little more sense.”

“By the time Alexandra is that age, you’ll be lucky if you have any teeth left, let alone your faculties,” Claire teased.

A worried look flashed across his face, but he quickly shook it away. “My hair will probably be completely gray by then, too,” he reminded her.

“I’ll still love you then, you know,” Claire said. She chuckled to herself and said, “There’s a song from my time...it was always too painful for me to listen to then. But now that I have you back, it’s been playing in my head quite a bit.”

“Really, Sassenach? How does it go? Will ye sing it to me?” He had his hands on her waist and she leaned into his chest, letting him support her and Alexandra as they swayed together, as if dancing to the song already.

“No, I won’t,” she laughed.

“Please, Sassenach? When ye sing all proper like ye’re in church, it makes me want tae do all sorts of unthinkable things to ye.”

“Jamie!” Claire hissed, jokingly covering Alexandra’s ears with her hands.

“I’ll keep it up if ye dinna sing for me, Sassenach.”

“Alright, fine,” she said, “But just one verse.” She cleared her throat and began:

I could be handy, mending a fuse

When your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside,

Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I'm sixty-four?

Jamie looked at her with rapt attention as she sang the song. When she was finished he kissed her and said, “I canna wait until I can give ye a wee garden again, Claire. But what in the devil is a fuse?”

***

Jamie woke up later that night and couldn’t get back to sleep. He slipped out of bed and peeked at Alexandra in the cradle, placing his hand on her tiny back. Satisfied, he crept down the stairs and into the kitchen. He lit a candle and was surprised to see William sitting at the small work table, drinking a cup of tea. “Sorry, son. I didna see ye there.”

“It’s quite alright,” Willie answered. “You can join me if you wish. I made too much tea, anyway.”

Jamie nodded and poured himself a mug, taking a seat across from Willie. They sipped quietly for a while, nearly mirror images of each other. Finally Jamie spoke. “I couldna sleep, ye ken, because I’m ashamed of how I spoke tae ye today. I wasna judging yer character, son."

"I know," William replied. "I hope you know that my intentions for Miss Macintyre are entirely honorable. She's…..she's just incredible. I can't explain it."

Jamie put his mug down and considered his next words carefully. "Does she ken yer intentions?"

William shook his head and looked down. "I haven't spoken with her except pleasantries."

"Weel, if ye want tae court her, ye'll have tae make yer intentions known," Jamie advised. "But ye canna bed her, Willie. I mean it."

"Why do you keep telling me that? I already told you that isn't my intention."

Jamie could see William’s ire rising again, and he reached out a hand, placing it on top of his son's. "I ken ye have good intentions, son. But I also ken what it's like tae be a young man lusting after a woman. That's all I meant."

William relaxed his posture and nodded.

"Alright," Jamie said, standing up, "I'm going tae try tae get some more sleep before the bairns start their screaming. Good night."

"Good night, father," William replied and Jamie's heart swelled at the acknowledgement from his son.

***

Wiliam still wasn't tired; he stayed in the kitchen, sipping tea by candle light, wondering why life was so complicated. He jumped when he heard a noise behind him. "Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" Aileen exclaimed when she saw him there. "Ye scairt me half tae death."

William stood and bowed slightly. "Very sorry, Mistress MacIntyre. I couldn't sleep so I've just been sitting here drinking tea. I can go," he offered.

"Och, dinna fash," Aileen replied. "I couldna sleep either. I woke expecting tae have tae feed a bairn but they're all still sleepin' like angels. I figured I might as well have myself a cup of tea, since they're bound to be up soon enough."

"Have a seat, Mistress MacIntyre," William said, gesturing to the empty chair. "I'll heat the tea." He lit the stove and put the kettle on.

"Thank ye, Mr. Ransom," she said crisply. Despite her curt manner, she gave him a warm smile, her plump lips curled up in the corners sweetly.

Willie leaned against the wall as the water heated. "Please, call me William," he asked of her. "I've never gone by Mr. Ransom. It doesn't feel right."

She looked at him curiously, pulling her shaw tightly over her shoulders. Her copper hair cascaded down her back, unfettered by its usual pins. "I dinna ken what ye mean. Why do ye no' go by Ransom? And why is yer last name no' Malcolm?"

"That is best explained when the tea is made," he laughed.

They waited in silence until the water was boiling. William poured the tea and sat down across from Aileen. "First, you must know that my family's name is Fraser, not Malcolm. They are only going by that name because my father was a Colonel in the Continental Army. It isn't safe for him to go by his true name while the British are occupying Philadelphia."

"Fraser," Aileen said thoughtfully. "I kent many Frasers back home."

"The second thing you should know is that...well, I'm a bastard." William took a deep breath and went on. "My mother was married to Ludovic Ransom, eighth Earl of Ellesmere at the time of my birth, but Jamie...Mr. Fraser...was my true father. Both my parents died on the night of my birth, and I was raised first by my grandparents and Aunt Isobel.

"Lord John, who I call Papa, married my Aunt when I was six, and they both raised me as their own son. Mother Isobel died when I was ten and after that it was just Papa and me.

"I grew up as the ninth Earl of Ellesmere, and knew nothing of my true parentage until about six months ago. That's when I met Mother Claire and Brianna. Eventually we found Jamie and were all reunited.

"I've resigned from the Army and no longer wish to use my titles. I am a Fraser now in all but name." He put his mug down and looked at Aileen sheepishly.

"Well," Aileen said. "I can see why ye dinna like tae be called Mr. Ransom."

"I hope you don't think any less of me, Mistress MacIntyre," William said quietly.

"Och, if I'm tae call ye William, ye can call me Aileen. And why would I think less of ye? Ye canna help who yer parents are, and ye all are a verra nice family."

"Thank you, Aileen."

They sipped their tea in quiet. Finally, in a shaky voice, William said, "Would you like to go on a walk with me after dinner one night? If you can get a break from the babies?"

Even in the dim candlelight, William could see Aileen's white skin blush pink. "I suppose we could do that." She lifted her mug and took one last sip, looking over the top of the mug with her mesmerizing eyes. "I best get upstairs now, Mr. - ...William."

She stood and started to walk out of the room. Her hand grazed against his arm on her way past him, sending a shudder through his body. "Good night, Aileen," he whispered into the dark.

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"I dinna like it, Sassenach. We keep hearing rumors at the print shop of the British abandoning Philadelphia.” He sat in the rocking chair he'd just finished just that afternoon, Alexandra in his arms. She was getting bigger and stronger every day, and Jamie often found himself mesmerized as he watched her grow and change.

Claire put down the book she'd been reading and asked, "What happens then?"

"The loyalists will be evacuated; John will likely have tae go back tae England," Jamie sighed, "And the Continental Army is no' likely tae just let the Redcoats march off quietly. There'll most certainly be a battle."

"What do you propose we do?"

"I think it's time tae finally go home, tae the Ridge."

"Are you insane?" Claire stood and started pacing in the room. "We have three tiny babies; they aren't even a month old. And what about Aileen?"

Jamie stood and set Alexandra in her cradle. He walked over to Claire and put his arms around her. "Do ye trust me, Claire?"

She looked in his eyes and nodded. "With my life."

"Good," he answered, kissing her forehead. "Dinna fash; I'll make sure everything works out. I'll have tae go see Fergus tomorrow and find out if he and Marsali will want tae come along. Then I have tae make some alterations tae the wagon. We’ll leave in a fortnight. Dinna tell anyone yet, Sassenach. I dinna want anyone to be alarmed; I’ll have everything all worked out before we let them know.”

Claire gave him a questioning look but just shook her head. "I'll leave it to you then, Soldier."

***

Ever since their middle of the night meeting, William and Aileen had started taking nightly walks after all the babies had been settled to sleep and Tadgh tucked into bed. William waited patiently each night while Aileen finished her duties, giving her his arm to take as soon as she was ready to go.

They walked up and down the streets of the city telling each other of their pasts and getting to know each other. Aileen, born a member of the Stewart clan, had grown up on a small croft in the Highlands. Her parents had both died of the morbid sore throat when she was young, and she'd been raised by her grandparents.

At fifteen, she'd met Lucas MacIntyre, a young man of eighteen. They fell in love and were married when Aileen was sixteen. She became pregnant with Tadgh soon after. A year and a half later they were setting sail for a new life in the Colonies. The voyage was treacherous and took much longer than expected. One night, during a storm, Aileen couldn’t feed Tadgh because she was so malnourished and dehydrated. Lucas got up in the night to see if there was any fresh water to be had. The days of rain had left a layer of murky water below deck that was teeming with the filth of all the passengers. He tripped in the dark and cut his leg on the side of a wooden crate; it was a minor wound that should have healed quickly, but it quickly became inflamed and he was dead of infection in five days.

“He was a good man,” she told William, “And I did love him very much.”

“I understand,” he answered, reaching his free hand across and squeezing her arm.

“What about you? Have you ever been in love?”

“I thought I was once, but I know now it was not the real thing,” he answered honestly, thankful that they were walking so that he could speak without looking her in the eyes. It was easier to tell her his feelings when they were both moving forward and didn’t have to see the other’s reaction.

Very quietly, she asked, “How do you know that?”

Even more faintly, he answered, “Because I know what real love feels like now.”

Aileen didn’t respond, but William could hear her breath quicken and she moved her body closer to his as they continued their walk.

When they reached the front door, they turned to face each other. William had not yet gotten up the nerve to kiss her, especially with the constant threat of one of his family members seeing them. He wasn’t keeping his affection for Aileen secret, but that didn’t mean he was ready to be teased incessantly by Brianna or be subject to an inquisition by either of his fathers. Once they went back into the house, they maintained a respectable distance. Aside from a few stolen glances, their interactions remained mostly about the babies or Tadgh.

William took Aileen’s hands in his. “Good night, Aileen.”

Aileen squeezed his hands back, and before he knew what was happening, she was on her tiptoes kissing him. It was only a soft, closed-mouth kiss, but William felt as if tiny explosions were going off throughout his entire body. He closed his eyes and kissed her back, slipping his arm around her waist and pulling her in closer. He could feel his face flushing with shock and furor and passion.

Then, as quickly as it had started, it was over. She pulled away, whispering, “Good night,” and quietly slipped into the house. William was left rooted to his spot on the front steps, trying to control his breath and make his limbs start working again.

***

The next day, Jamie went to see Fergus and Marsali about the family’s imminent departure. He arrived to the usual eager greetings of his grandchildren, except for Germain who sat sullenly in a chair in the sitting room. “What’s wrong wi’ the lad?” he asked Marsali as she poured him a cup of tea.

“Och,” Marsali said, waving him off. “He’s just mad because I willna let him go out today. I caught him pickpocketing yesterday and he’s bein’ punished.”

Jamie turned and gave Germain a stern look, causing the boy to shrink further into his seat. “I dinna ken what tae do wi’ him, Jamie. Of course, what can I say when his own father teaches him how tae do it?” She gestured toward Fergus who was just coming in from the print shop to join them.

“I just taught him for fun!” he said, throwing his hands up in innocence. “How was I supposed to know he would actually go out and steal from people!”

Jamie gave Fergus a look similar to that he had just given Germain, and Fergus clamped his mouth shut and sat at the table, looking down at his hands. “Well,” Jamie started, “As much as I’d like tae tan both yer hides fer bein’ sae foolish, I came here tae talk of something rather urgent, and I dinna want the lad tae hear. Can ye send him to mind the shop?”

Fergus looked over and spoke to Germain quickly in French. Germain slid out of his chair and sprinted out of the room, eager to break free of his prison. “What is happening, Milord?” Fergus asked. Marsali sat down with them, her brow furrowed with concern.

“Ye dinna have tae fash yerselves,” Jamie began, “Everyone is fine at home. But I’m worried about what will happen here if the British do decide to abandon Philadelphia. Ye ken I’m in a precarious position with my son having just left the British Army and John being a loyalist. If John has tae leave, we’ll have nowhere tae stay, and I willna risk William getting caught up in things again.”

“What are you saying, Milord?” Fergus asked.

“We’ll be leaving Philadelphia in little less than a fortnight; we’re going back tae the Ridge. I wanted tae let ye ken and ask if ye’d like tae come back with us.”

Marsali and Fergus exchanged a look but didn’t respond. Jamie looked back and forth between the two of them and cleared his throat emphatically. Finally, Fergus spoke up. “We need to stay. The print shop is doing well, and you know there isn’t anything for me to do on the Ridge anyway.”

“We’ve been talking, though,” Marsali chimed in, “And we kent ye’d be heading back to the Ridge at some point, and, well, with Germain constantly getting intae trouble here, we thought maybe the Ridge would be a better place for him. There’s so much temptation here in the city.”

Jamie chuckled, “Aye, there’s fewer pockets tae pick on the Ridge and even fewer that have any coin in them. If ye’re askin’ me tae take the lad wi’ me, I’d be happy tae. He’s a braw laddie and the farm work will do him good. Between Germain and William, I’ll have plenty o’ help tae get the houses built we’ll need.”

“Thank ye, Jamie,” Marsali said. She exchanged another glance with Fergus, who remained quiet.

“What is it, mon fils?” Jamie asked.

“We have something else to ask that is perhaps a bit more of a delicate matter,” Fergus looked at Marsali with a question in his eyes and she gave a slight nod. “Henri-Christian is not doing well here. He can’t go outside without being stared at or heckled. The children in the neighborhood will not play with him. We are in constant fear that he will be beaten or worse.”

“We wouldna ask ye if we werena frightened for his life, Jamie,” Marsali chimed in. Her face was painted with fear and heartache.

Jamie reached out a hand and placed it over Marsali’s. “Lass, ye ken I’d do anything fer the wee lad. Of course we’ll take him wi’ us.”

A sob escaped Marsali’s lips and she lowered her head over their clasped hands. “Thank ye, Jamie.”

“Yes, thank you, Milord,” Fergus said.

“Are we done, or are ye going tae ask me tae take the hell-kittens too?” Jamie teased.

Marsali sniffed but her mouth curled up in a smile. “No, we’ll keep the two o’ them here,” she responded. “And the one that’s on the way.” She patted her belly and broke into a genuine smile.

“Another bairn?” Jamie asked, his eyes wide with surprise.

Fergus got up from his seat and stood behind Marsali, placing his hands on her shoulder. “Yes, Milord. We’re very pleased.”

Jamie stood and clapped Fergus on the back. “Well, congratulations to ye both. I’m verra happy fer ye. Next summer, I’ll expect ye out at the Ridge for a visit with the new bairn.”

“We’ll try, Milord,” Fergus answered.

“I have tae go now; I’ve got my own bairn tae look after now.” He couldn’t stop the proud smile that came to his face every time he spoke of Alexandra. “I’ll let ye ken the exact date we’re leaving, but have their trunks ready by the end of next week, aye? And ye can tell the bairns, but I havena told anyone else but you and Claire, so please dinna say anything if ye see yer brother and sister.”

Marsali and Fergus nodded in agreement, and Jamie took his leave. He hurried home to see the bairns and continue working on his plans.

***

The next morning William came downstairs to find Tadgh curled up on the settee. "What's wrong, little man?" he asked.

Tadgh looked up at him with flushed cheeks and a glazed over eyes. "Throat hurts," he squeaked out.

William moved closer and put a hand on Tadgh's forehead. "You're burning up," he said in surprise, "Let me go get Mother Claire." Tadgh closed his eyes.

"Mother Claire!" William called, heading up the stairs. "Mother Claire!" In his panic, he threw open the bedroom door without knocking.

Claire's was on the bed with her legs draped over Jamie’s shoulders, covering his ears, Jamie's face buried between her legs. Claire’s eyes were closed, and she was moaning loudly, her hand slapping at the headboard. A choking sound escaped William's mouth before he could stop it and Claire’s eyes flew open and she started kicking at Jamie, trying to scramble up to a sitting position.

William backed out of the doorway, tripping over his feet and falling toward the floor. He grasped for the door handle in an attempt to stay on his feet as he heard Jamie shout, "Iffrin!" Half hanging from the door handle, William flung himself out of the room and kicked the door shut.

William scrambled back to his feet and ran into his room. He slammed the door and stood with his back leaning against it. His entire body was flushed with mortification and he wondered if he would ever be able to face Mother Claire again.

"Dammit!" He slapped his hand to his forehead, remembering what had brought him to their room to begin with. He took a deep breath and turned around to open the door; he crept out into the hallway only to find Claire standing out there in her robe. He cried out and jumped back.

"William," Claire said calmly, reaching out a hand to place on his shoulder. "It's alright; just tell me what's got you so worked up."

He took a deep, steadying breath. "It's Tadgh," he told her. "He says his throat is sore and it feels like he has a fever."

"Where is he?" Claire asked.

William pointed toward the stairs and Claire turned and hurried down with William at her heels. Tadgh was asleep on the settee where William had left him. Claire placed her hand on his forehead and pulled it back immediately. "Go get a cool rag," Claire commanded.

William ran out of the room and through the kitchen into the backyard. He raced to the well, pulled up a fresh bucket of cold water, and then walked back to the house as quickly as he could. He found a clean rag in the kitchen and dipped the rag in before returning to the sitting room with both the rag and bucket.

Claire had stripped Tadgh's shirt off; his entire torso was covered in an angry, red rash. William gasped and stared wide-eyed at the little boy. When Claire reached out to take the rag from his hand, William put the bucket down and dropped to his knees beside him. "It's alright, Tadgh," he whispered, running the cool rag over his forehead. His chest was seized with panic, but he kept his voice calm and steady. "What is it?" he asked, never taking his eyes off Tadgh.

"I think it's Scarlet Fever," Claire told him. "We really should get him upstairs. He needs to be isolated, so he doesn't get anyone else sick."

William nodded and scooped him up. "I'll take him to his room."

Just then, Aileen appeared on the stairs. "Stay back!" Claire ordered. She moved closer to Aileen and gave her a sympathetic look. "Tadgh is sick. You can't risk being near him; you could spread it to the babies even if you don't get sick yourself."

Aileen shook her head vehemently. "No! If my son is sick, I have tae take care of him!" She tried to dodge around Claire, but Claire moved to block her way.

"Aileen," William said with calm authority, "I've got him. I won't let anything happen to him. You have my word."

Aileen swallowed back a sob and looked William in the eye from her perch on the stairs. She nodded and told him, "Aye, I trust ye William." She turned around and dashed back up the stairs.

"I'll take him to my room," William told Claire. "Once I get him comfortable, I'll fetch the bucket of water. Is there anything I can do for him?"

"I'll get some medicines together and prepare some ointment for his rash." William nodded and turned to go up the stairs, but Claire stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I'm really proud of you, William," she said. William could hear the motherly pride in her voice and his heart filled with love and gratitude for her. He was finally starting to realize, in a small way, what it meant to be a parent and how blood relation often had nothing to do with it.

***

It was a good hour before he had Tadgh settled in his bed and sleeping fitfully. Plans for Tadgh’s care had been made through the closed door: Jamie would keep the fresh cold water coming; Claire would deliver medicines regularly; Mrs. Figg would bring up their meals. Everything was to be left outside the door for William to retrieve. Brianna brought him some books and thanked him profusely for his sacrifice to keep the babies safe.

When things finally quieted down, he heard a quiet knock on the door. “Yes?” he called to the visitor.

“Hi, it’s me,” Aileen’s voice came from the other side.

William stood from the chair he was sitting in and sprang across the room. “Hi,” he said, leaning against the door.

“Is he alright?” she asked.

“Yes,” William replied. “He’s sleeping and his fever hasn’t gotten any worse. I’ll try to get him to eat some broth at lunch.”

“Thank you again, William. This is much more than I would expect a person to do for the hired help.”

Dear god, doesn’t she know? Have I not made it plain? He reached his palm up and placed it against the door, as if he could make her feel his touch. “Aileen,” he said hoarsely, “Don’t you realize you’re so much more than that to me?”

He heard a sharp intake of breath and then there was a charged silence between them. Finally, she stammered, “Yes, well…thank you again.” Then, he heard her footsteps walking away.

William took a deep breath and walked over to the bed to check on Tadgh. His fever didn’t feel any worse and his breathing seemed normal, both things that Claire had told him to look for as she’d given instructions through the closed door.

Mrs. Figg brought them lunch at noon; when Tadgh woke up, William sat the boy up and tried to coax some broth into him, but Tadgh just shook his head pitifully and croaked, “It hurts.”

“Come on Tadgh,” William urged. “You have to get something in your belly. Just a few more sips for me?” Tadgh managed a few spoonfuls and some sips of water before falling back to sleep.

William paced the room, nervous energy boiling at the surface. He wanted to run until his legs collapsed, hit something until his fists bled, scream until his voice gave out. He couldn’t bear seeing Tadgh so sick, and even worse was the thought of how much Aileen must be worried about her son, fighting every instinct within her to not run to him.

It struck him, the level of trust that she must have in him to have allowed herself to be separated from Tadgh. He’d only known Tadgh for less than a month, but William couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else besides himself or Aileen taking care of him. She had placed the most precious thing in her life into his hands. The thought actually terrified him. What if something went wrong? What if…? No, no. I won’t think about that.

There was another knock on the door, and William answered eagerly, hoping it was Aileen again. Instead, it was his Papa. “William are you alright in there?” he asked, concern apparent in his voice.

“Yes, Papa, I’m fine.”

“I don’t want you getting sick, too.”

“I’ll be fine, Papa. There’s nobody else who can do this,” William insisted.

John sighed. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to let me help you?”

“No, Papa,” William said firmly, “I promised Aileen I would keep Tadgh safe. It’s my responsibility.”

“I understand. I’m proud of you William.”

William thanked his Papa, who then took his leave, leaving William wondering, why is everybody so proud of me for doing something that I had to do? Volunteering to care for Tadgh hadn’t even been a question in his mind. He wasn’t doing it to be heroic or to impress Aileen or out of obligation. He couldn’t quite explain why it felt so natural for him to pick the sick boy up and take care of him, but it wasn’t a choice he had made consciously.

He dipped the cold rag into the bucket and dabbed it on Tadgh’s fevered head, brushing the boy’s sweaty hair away from his eyes. “I promise,” he whispered, “Nothing will happen to you as long as I am here.”

***

Five days passed, and there was no change in Tadgh’s condition. He hadn’t gotten any worse, but he was showing no signs of getting any better. William was haggard; he hadn’t bathed properly in days and he slept lightly through the nights, waking often to check Tadgh’s temperature and ensure his comfort. He was also lonely and missed Aileen terribly, their quick meetings with a solid door between them not enough to sate William’s need to be in her presence.

On the sixth night, William fell asleep on the pallet he had made for himself on the floor. He dreamed of Aileen, of taking her in his arms, feeling her small body wrapped in his. She smelled of vanilla and fresh grass, with a hint of sour milk and he buried his face in her thick copper hair as his hands traced the delicate curves of her body.

Suddenly, he was distracted by a rustling sound and he had the distinct sensation of something shaking nearby. Slowly, he roused unsatisfied from his dream and realized that the sound had not been part of the dream at all. He shot up from the floor and looked at the bed; Tadgh’s entire body was shaking. “Tadgh!” he yelled. “Tadgh, can you hear me?” He reached out to grab the boy’s shoulders to still him or wake him or both. They were hot to the touch, much hotter than he’d felt in the many days he’d been caring for him.

Claire burst in the door, “William, what’s…” She looked at Tadgh and then turned to William, “Right,” she said curtly, straightening her spine and putting her hands on her hips. “He’s having a febrile seizure. They can be harmless if we can get his temperature down quickly. William, you’ll have to fill the tub with cool water as quickly as possible. Perhaps you can get John to help you. I’m just going to my room to grab the fever medicines for him.”

William was frozen, unsure if he should leave Tadgh, even for a second, in his current state. “Go!” Claire commanded with such authority that he practically ran into the half-opened door trying to move as quickly as possible.

He pounded on his Papa’s door explaining quickly what needed to be done. The two men bounded down the stairs together. William pulled the tub out and carried it into the yard where they worked in tandem to fill it. When it was finally filled, they each took one handle and carried it together through the yard, into the kitchen, up the stairs, and into William’s room. John bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath, but William felt like he could go on forever if only it meant saving Tadgh.

Tadgh’s seizure had ended but his fever was still dangerously high. William pushed past Claire and picked Tadgh up. Claire had already stripped him in an attempt to cool him down, so he placed the boy directly in the tub. Kneeling next to it, William scooped water in his hands and poured it over Tadgh’s head and torso. He mumbled soft reassurances and even quieter pleas, not even noticing that his tears were dripping into the tub.

When Tadgh started to shiver, William pulled him out and wrapped him in a blanket. He crawled onto the bed with Tadgh in his arms and leaned back against the headboard. He felt so small and fragile in William’s arms that William was afraid to let go of him lest he slip away. Instead, he held the boy to his chest and rubbed his back. When he leaned his head down to kiss Tadgh’s forehead, he gasped. “He’s not hot anymore,” he whispered to Claire and John.

They both smiled at him and Claire patted him on the shoulder. “You’ve done an excellent job, William.” She put her hand on Tadgh’s forehead and gave William a reassuring nod. “He may be through the worst of it now.”

“Come along, my dear,” John said to Claire, ushering her out the door. “I suppose we’ll have to find a place to quarantine ourselves now for a few days.”

William heard Claire murmuring to someone out in the hallway, and a few moments later, Aileen popped her head into the doorway. In all the chaos, William hadn’t even noticed that a small crowd had congregated out in the hallway. “Is he…”

“He’ll be alright, Aileen,” William reassured her. “I told you that you have my word.” She breathed a sigh of relief and slipped back out through the door.

The next morning, William woke up to the sound of a small, hoarse voice saying, “Thirsty.” He had fallen asleep half sitting up with Tadgh still cradled in his arms. He looked down and saw that Tadgh’s eyes were wide open and had lost the glassy, vacant look they’d carried during the worst of his sickness. William touched his hand to Tadgh’s forehead and smiled. The fever had finally broken.

He gave Tadgh a quick squeeze and then laid him gently on the bed, still bundled in a blanket, to fetch him some water. Tadgh sat up eagerly and drank. When he was finished, William asked him, “How does your throat feel?”

“Better,” he managed to croak.

He opened the door and called for assistance with fresh blankets and clothing. Aileen arrived with them and handed them through the crack in the door. It was the first time William had seen her face in six days and his heart jumped into his throat. “Claire told me what happened last night. She said you were keeping him safe. It’s the only reason I didn’t come bursting through this door. He’s alright now?”

“Yes, Aileen, he’s doing well. Please tell Claire to come check on him today. I think he’ll be up and around in no time.”

“William, I…” Her words were cut off by a sob.

William longed to reach out and touch her, pull her close and whisper assurances in her ear, tell her that he would always keep them both safe. Instead, he simply said, “I know. You don’t have to say it.”

***

Jamie slipped out of the house with Alexandra close to his chest in the sling Claire had helped him fashion. She was staying awake for longer periods and was more aware of her surroundings, picking her head up and looking around curiously, and he’d taken to bringing her with him whenever he was doing work outside. He talked to her endlessly, explaining what he was doing and telling her about what life would be like on the Ridge.

“I ken it doesna matter tae ye now because ye canna even crawl yet, but ye’ll be grateful for all the land when ye’re older, Sawny. You and the twins will have room tae run, trees to climb, places to hide. Ye’re going tae be so happy there, a leeanan; I promise ye.”

He had obtained an additional wagon to carry their belongings and supplies, and a cover for the one they had traveled in all those months ago. Near the front of the wagon, just behind the wagon seat, he had built in three small compartments lined with soft hay. When they left, he would add some blankets on top and there the weans would ride snugly and securely. He’d also added a wide bench secured to the wagon with strong rope. They could sit on it during the day and the ropes could be untied at night to make more room for sleeping on the floor of the wagon. He’d have Brianna and Claire sleep in there so that they could tend to the babies and Henri-Christian during the night. And if all went according to his plans, Aileen and Tadgh would be joining them as well. With luck, the weather would be fine and the men, along with Germain, could sleep outside.

The trip would take about two months, he estimated, and they would be safely at the ridge by mid-August, just in time to help with the harvest. His first order of business would be adding a loft in the cabin and perhaps even getting an addition on if he had the time. It was one room, and that on the small side, since it had only been himself and Ian in the past. Once the loft was built, they’d have a little space to spread out, and with any luck, Fergus and Marsali’s cabin would still be uninhabited.

That, he had special plans for. Plans that had been delayed due to Tadgh’s illness. But now that the boy was through the worst of it, he would speak to William as soon as Claire said it was safe. There wouldn’t be much time, but he was confident that he could work everything out as long as his pig-headed son didn’t decide to contradict Jamie on principle.

“Aye, Sawny,” he whispered, “We are ready to go home.”

***

The next day William and Tadgh were both given clean bills of health by Claire. The rash still lingered a bit on Tadhg’s skin, but otherwise he seemed to have made a full recovery. As soon as they were given the all clear, Aileen came into William’s room and swooped Tadgh into her arms. She stopped briefly to put a hand on William’s arm and thank him again, before taking her little boy to their own room.

William tried not to be hurt; Aileen had been without her son for seven days, and he knew how much she missed him and needed to spend time with him. Just the same, he had missed her terribly and his body ached to be near her. He scolded himself for being selfish and started about the task of straightening up his room. I need a bath and a shave, too, he thought, noticing his disheveled state in the mirror.

He was almost finished filling the tub when Jamie knocked on his door. William couldn’t help but chuckle at seeing the great warrior Red Jamie walking about the house with a baby strapped to his chest like an Indian carrying a papoose. “Can I see her for a moment?” William asked.

Jamie pulled her out of her bundle and handed Alexandra to William, who sat on the bed and cooed at his little sister. It felt as though she’d changed so much, but it had only been a week since he’d last seen her.

“Ye did a good thing, William,” Jamie told him. “I’m proud o’ ye.”

“I did it because I had to,” he murmured. His face flushed and he didn’t take his eyes of Alexandra.

“Aye, I ken,” Jamie assured him. “Now, give me the wean. I see ye’re getting ready to bathe. Come see me when ye’re done. I’ve got a verra important matter tae discuss wi’ ye.”

An hour later, William was dressed and shaved, feeling much more like himself than he had in days. Aileen was nowhere to be found, so he went downstairs to find Jamie. “He’s outside,” Mrs. Figg told him, “Over by the stables.”

When William found Jamie, he was still carrying Alexandra in her sling, checking out the wheels of the wagon, which had obtained a cover since William had last seen it. “Looks good,” William called out to him as he approached.

“Aye,” Jamie responded with a proud grin on his face. “Let me show ye the inside.”

They both climbed in and sat on the hanging bench. It was much more comfortable than the narrow benches often built into wagons and they both stretched their legs out. Even though he’d been with Jamie everyday over the past six months, it still shocked him sometimes when he noticed their resemblance. In a way, he’d grown accustomed to it, but at other times, the similarities would strike him so suddenly that he was taken aback.

“This is rather nice,” William told him, “Much more pleasant than just a bare wagon floor.” He pointed to the three boxes filled with hay. “What are those for?”

“Those are fer the bairns tae sleep in,” Jamie said cautiously. He took a deep breath before going on. “The British Army is likely to leave Philadelphia soon. I’ve heard they’ve already started evacuating some of the wealthy loyalists. It willna be safe for ye or John here. I canna risk the family’s safety. We must leave for North Carolina.”

“When?” William asked, his head already spinning with questions.

“Day after tomorrow if all goes as planned.”

“What about Aileen and Tadgh?” Panic was swelling in his chest and it took great effort to keep his voice calm and steady.

“I spoke tae her yesterday, told her she was welcome tae come wi’ us. The lass was a wee bit hesitant though. I canna blame her. Once she’s no longer needed for our bairns, there willna be much opportunity for a wet nurse on the Ridge.”

William clenched his fists as his panic threatened to turn to an all consuming rage. “I will not leave her,” he told Jamie through clenched teeth.

“I ken that,” Jamie said. “But I was thinkin’ there is a simple solution tae all of this.”

“And what’s that?”

“Weeeeeel....it hasna gone unnoticed that ye’re completely smitten wi’ the lass.” Jamie was trying to hide his amusement, but William could see the glint of mischief in his father’s eyes, plain as day.

“I suppose I am,” William said nonchalantly. “What does that have to do with this though?

Jamie shrugged casually. “I was thinkin’ that if ye were to marry the lass, she wouldna need tae worry about finding work again.”

“Marry her?” William sputtered. He knew his reaction should be shock and even anger at Jamie for meddling in his personal life. Instead, he felt a nervous energy building, a mixture of desire and need and gratefulness for his father for suggesting he do exactly what he’d been wanting to do since the moment he’d laid eyes on her. Still, he wasn’t even sure of what Aileen’s feelings for him were. There were moments when he was sure she loved him, and yet others when he wondered if she just thought of him as a benevolent employer. With this doubt in mind, he told Jamie, “I can’t possibly ask her to marry me. We’ve known each other only a month. I don’t even know if she feels the same way. I can’t rip her away from her life here.”

Jamie put up a hand to stop William’s spiraling. “Enough,” he said gently. “Do ye love the lass, son?”

Tears stung at the back of William’s eyes as he nodded and said quietly, “I do.”

“Then just ask her,” Jamie shrugged. “Ye canna ken how she feels unless ye do.”

Williams' hands were shaking and he couldn’t explain why tears were dripping from his eyes. He tried to shrink away from Jamie and cover his face in embarrassment, but Jamie reached out and pulled William close. For once he allowed himself to relax into Jamie’s affectionate nature; he was so bloody tired of fighting it from Jamie and from within himself. He was sick of always trying to be proper and do things the right way. It was as if Aileen’s presence in his life had cracked through a protective layer he had grown around his heart, and everything inside of him was exposed. And it felt good; he felt lighter. “Alright, Father,” he said finally, returning Jamie’s embrace, “I will.”

***

That night, William waited impatiently until all the children were asleep. When Aileen came down the stairs, he stood eagerly from his chair in the sitting room and approached her. They hadn’t seen or spoken to each other since their brief encounter that morning and he had to fight through his nerves. Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed her hand. To his relief, she did not pull away. “Would you like to go on a walk, Aileen?”

She smiled and nodded. “Just let me take this apron off and I’ll be right wi’ ye.”

“I missed this,” he told her once they were out of the house and away from prying eyes. He boldly looped his hand around her waist and pulled her closer.

“I did too,” she said quietly. “I will miss it when ye’ve gone.”

“You could come with us, you know.”

“I ken, but I have tae think of Tadgh and how I’m tae make a living after. It’s no’ easy being a widow wi’ a wee bairn, ye ken?” Her voice was shaking and William chanced a sideways glance.

In the moonlight, he could see the tears on her cheeks. Setting aside every pretense of propriety, he stopped in his tracks and pulled her close to him, stroking her copper locks. She let her head fall against his chest as she tried to steady herself.

When she had quieted, William pushed her away just far enough so that he could see her face. “You needn’t worry about any of that,” he started nervously, “if you were married again.”

“Aye,” she said, “there are plenty o’ men lookin’ for a poor widowed wet nurse.” She rolled her eyes and looked away from him.

He put his hand under her chin and moved her head back, tilting it up so that he could hold her gaze. He paused as goosebumps spread over his arms in the warm evening air. “They would all have to go through me first. I love you Aileen, and I won’t be parted from you. If you say, I stay, whether you agree to marry me or not. But I do hope you’ll go with us, as my wife.”

She shook her head slowly, searching Wiliam’s eyes. “William, ye’re the Ninth Earl of Ellesmere. Ye can likely have any woman ye want. Why would ye choose me?”

“I’ve loved you since the minute I laid eyes on you. Marrying you isn’t a matter of choice. It’s the only thing I can do.” They stared each other in the eyes silently until William smiled nervously and said, “Will you, Aileen? Will you be my wife?”

She shook her head as if she’d forgotten where she was. “Aye,” she replied as her plump lips spread into the biggest smile William had ever seen on her. “Aye, I’ll be yer wife, William.”

William bent down and kissed her until both their lips were swollen and they’d attracted a crowd of onlookers. He hadn’t even noticed that he had lifted her off her feet in his enthusiasm. They both laughed as he gently put her down and kissed her forehead. “Let’s go home,” he said. “We have a wedding to plan.”

 

Chapter Text

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William and Aileen rushed back to the house hand in hand, eager to share their happy news. They found the entire family gathered in the sitting room, and all eyes turned to them as they entered. William blushed from the tips of his toes to the tips of his ears, but he smiled broadly. Jamie stood up and clapped him on the back, urging the couple forward. “Son, we’ve just been talking about our impending departure. Mistress MacIntyre, have you made a decision about whether you will be going with us?”

“I have,” she said, jutting her chin forward, “And I will be joining you.” Claire and Brianna both breathed a sigh of relief.

“And I’ve good news fer ye, William. John has decided that he will be joining us at Fraser’s Ridge.”

William stepped forward and embraced John. “Oh Papa, I’m so happy to hear that. I couldn’t imagine going without you.”

“Now,” Jamie said, looking like a cat who’d had cream for his supper, “Do ye have any news for us, son?”

William stepped back and stood next to Aileen, looping his arm around her tiny waist. He looked at Aileen; she smiled at him with her pouty lips, her green eyes dancing in the candlelight. His mouth was dry, but he swallowed hard and looked back at the rest of the family. “Aileen and I are to be married. Tomorrow.”

The room erupted in cheers and congratulations. Though their courtship had been the topic of much gossip amongst the family, nobody but Jamie had known about William’s plan to propose. Jamie poured whisky for everyone and when they all had a glass, he raised his in the air. "To my son William and his bride to be. May tomorrow be the start of a long, happy life together. Slàinte Mhath!"

As his family clinked glasses and offered their congratulations, William couldn’t think of a time in his life when he had felt so happy. Aileen smiled up at him and he bent his head down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, pulling her close to his side.

Jamie cleared his throat and the room quieted down. "We've a lot to do tomorrow, so it's best if we all get tae bed. William, I've some plans tae go over wi' ye, so I'll meet ye in yer room shortly. I'd like tae have a quick word with Aileen first."

Jamie took Aileen by the arm but before he could whisk her away, Brianna stopped them and hugged her. "Welcome to the family."

Aileen thanked her and went off with Jamie while Brianna and Claire both hugged William. When they made their way upstairs, John approached him and placed both hands on William's shoulders. "I'm very proud of you, son."

"Thank you, Papa."

"Come upstairs with me, will you? I have something I want to give you." William followed John to his bedroom.

Once inside the room, John opened a small box he kept on the mantel. From this, he pulled out a small object and held it out to William. "This is the ring I gave Isobel on our wedding day. I don't know if Jamie will have arranged for a ring for tomorrow, but I'd like Aileen to have it all the same." He pressed the ring into William’s hand and reached into the box again.

"This was my grandfather's," John said as he placed a gold pocket watch in William’s hand. "See? It has the Grey Coat of Arms engraved on the back. I want you to have this, so you know you'll always be a part of my family."

William’s finger traced the engraving. “Papa, I can’t accept this. I…I don’t mean to say that I’m not your son, because I am. You have always been my father, and nothing will ever change that. But, shouldn’t this go to someone who…carries the Grey name?”

John reached out and folded William’s hand over the watch. “You are my son, no matter what name you carry. I'm so incredibly proud of the man you've grown to be, and I'm so happy for you."

Overcome with emotion, William threw his arms around John, who stiffened a bit at first in surprise and then relaxed into William’s embrace. "I love you, Papa," William said, wiping tears from his eyes.

When William released him, John set his shoulders again and straightened the tails of his waist coat. "Yes, well, you best go speak with Jamie now and find out his plans for you."

William nodded. “Good night, Papa.”

When he got to his own room, Jamie was already sitting in a chair in front of the hearth drinking a glass of whiskey. He stood and grabbed another glass he had already poured and handed it to William. “Have a seat, son.”

William sat down and smiled at Jamie. They clinked their glasses together and sat in silence for a few minutes. Jamie stood and refilled their glasses before he started telling William about the arrangements he had already made for the celebration. Jamie had a few questions that they sorted through and then they both sat back again, pleased with all the plans for the next day.

“There is one other thing,” William said, tapping his fingers against his thigh nervously. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my name and I don’t care to use the name Ransom anymore. I never knew the man, I have no blood ties with him, and I don’t want anything to do with my titles. When we move to Fraser’s Ridge, I…I’d like everybody to know that I belong there. And I’m not ashamed of the details of my conception, but if it’s all the same, I’d rather not have to explain it to people all the time.

“So,” he took a deep breath, “Starting with the wedding tomorrow, I’d like to be known as William Fraser. And Aileen and Tadgh will take that name as well. That is, if you’re alright with it.” He looked at Jamie nervously, unable to completely quiet the nagging fear of rejection.

Jamie brought a fist up to his mouth and breathed in and out shakily several times. William examined his face carefully and realized that Jamie was trying to hold back tears. When Jamie finally spoke, his voice was choked. “Aye. I’d be…verra pleased if ye would do that.” William nodded and they both sat back in their chairs sipping their whiskies in silence.

After a few minutes, Jamie leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “There is something else I’d like tae speak wi’ ye about.” William nodded and Jamie went on. "I...I ken ye've...been wi' women before. But have ye ever been wi' a woman who wasna a whore?"

William nearly spat out his drink. "Why...I...what…"

Jamie burst out laughing. "It's no' a difficult question, ye ken."

William huffed and sat up straight, his face burning with embarrassment. "Well if you must know, no I haven't."

"Aye, that's what I thought."

"What does that have to do with -"

"I'm no' lecturing ye," Jamie said, cutting him off. "It's just that I got tae wondering if ye ken that it's different wi' a woman ye love."

"So I've heard a few times," William answered pointedly.

"That's no' exactly my point." Jamie cleared his throat before going on. "It's only that, when ye’re wi' a whore, I dinna imagine that ye're verra concerned about making it feel good for her."

"I've never had any complaints," William replied sullenly.

Jamie laughed again. "I dinna suppose that would have anything tae do with the fact ye’re paying them?" William blushed an even deeper shade of red. "All I'm saying is that when ye’re wi' a woman ye love, ye need to think about how it feels for her. I ken most men dinna concern themselves with that, but I promise ye it will make ye a much happier man in the long term."

"That's all well and good but how am I supposed to know that it...feels good for her?"

Jamie had stopped laughing but his eyes were still alive with mirth. "I canna say fer sure, but I think Aileen will let ye ken either way. She's no' a virgin and I've never seen her hold back her opinion on anything. But generally, ye can tell, if ye take yer time and pay attention." He paused for a moment and then added, "And if she tells ye tae do something or how tae do something, I suggest ye do it, lest ye end up spending yer nights alone."

"Christ," William mumbled under his breath. "I wasn't nervous before, but now I'm scared to death."

"Dinna be scared lad. Just be attentive. I ken ye love Aileen and I only want ye tae be happy together." With that, Jamie rose from his seat. "That's enough of that. I'll leave ye now. Get a good night's sleep."

William stood, too, stretching sleepily. "I will. And thank you again, so much. For everything." And he meant it. Not for just the wedding or the advice, but for everything that was good in his life.

***

"That was quite the surprise," Claire said as soon as Jamie walked into their bedroom.

"Aye," Jamie replied with a twinkle in his eye, "I did a good job keeping it a secret." He leaned over the cradle and placed a gentle kiss on Alexandra's head as she slept.

"You know, there was a time when you would come in the room and kiss me first thing," Claire teased.

Jamie quickly stripped down to his sark and climbed in the bed with Claire, kissing her softly as they settled into each other. "That's more like it." She smiled triumphantly. "Now, tell me how you managed to pull all of these plans off."

"Och, it was nothing, Sassenach. Mrs. Figg's done most of the work. She's arranged for all the food and music. All I had tae do was arrange for the church and a few odds and ends."

Claire snuggled into Jamie's chest. "You don't think it's all a little fast?"

Jamie snorted. "Ye canna be serious."

"I am. They hardly know each other!"

"Sassenach," Jamie jokingly chided.

"Fine, you're right. I just worry. He's such a sensitive young man; he seems to fall in love rather quickly. And it's a lot to take on the responsibility of a child."

Jamie squeezed Claire and kissed the top of her head. "Dinna fash. I ken the look I see in his eyes when he sees her, the way he lights up when she walks in the room. It's the same way I look at ye."

Claire looked up and placed a hand on Jamie’s cheek. "Well that gives me some comfort. And I'm so happy that you two have grown closer."

"Do ye ken what he told me tonight?" Jamie’s throat constricted again with the memory. "He's...he's going tae call himself William Fraser from now on."

"Oh, Jamie. That must mean so much to you."

"The world, Sassenach. It means the world tae me."

***

William tossed and turned most of the night, his nervous excitement for the next day making his body buzz and his mind race. Finally, in the hour just before dawn, he tossed off the covers and dressed quickly.

The entire house was quiet, a rarity he savored. In just a few hours everyone would be hustling about with preparations and he wouldn't have a moment's peace. He decided a cup of tea was just what he needed, and moved soundlessly down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Aileen was there at the table, already enjoying her own drink. Her simple beauty took his breath away. He cleared his throat, and she looked up at him with sleepy doe eyes. When she saw it was him, she smiled and reached out her hand, inviting him to sit next to her.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked, taking her hands and pressing her knuckles to his mouth as he sat down.

She shook her head. "No, I'm too excited. And you?"

"The same." He moved his chair closer to hers and leaned in close. "I can't wait to be your husband," he said quietly before kissing her softly. When he broke his lips away, he rested his chin on the top of her head. "You mean everything to me, Aileen. You and Tadgh. I promise you I'll be a good husband and father."

"I have no doubt about that," she replied.

"The sun is about to come up. Would you like to go watch it together?" he asked.

Aileen nodded and they went out the front door where they had a good view of the East from the front steps. William stood behind Aileen and wrapped his arms around her as she leaned back into his chest. "This is it," he whispered, "We will always be able to say that we watched the sunrise on the first day of our lives together."

"Mmmm," she purred. "I hope tae watch many more with ye just like this."

"As many as God gives us, my love."

When Tadgh woke a bit later, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, his hair sticking out in haphazard spikes on top of his head, William and Aileen sat down on the edge of his bed and gave him the good news. He smiled and climbed into William’s lap, hugging him around the neck. "I love ye, Da!" he exclaimed cheerfully.

William's heart leapt into his throat and he squeezed his son (his son!) tightly. "I love you too, Tadgh." When his eyes met Aileen's, she wiped away a tear; he reached out and squeezed her hand. His heart felt like it would burst and the day had only just begun.

***

With only fifteen minutes left before they were to leave for the church, Claire paced in the living room, bouncing up and down as she held a cranky Alexandra. Brianna’s twins were laying on the floor together, kicking their feet and flailing their hands while they cooed at each other. Jamie had gone upstairs with William and Tadgh, and Claire glanced at the clock anxiously. She went to the bottom of the stairs and called, “Jamie? Are you almost done?”

Loud peals of laughter floated down the stairs when Jamie opened the door. “Ye best go ahead wi’ the ladies, Sassenach. I promise we’ll be there on time." Before she could ask any questions, he closed the door swiftly.

What is he up to?

Before she could decide what to do next, Aileen appeared at the top of the stairs. She wore her best dress, a lovely green floral gown, and when she descended the stairs, Claire saw how it made her green eyes pop. Her long hair was pulled back in a complicated twist of braids.

"Oh my, you look lovely," Claire told her, squeezing her hands. Brianna joined them, fawning over Aileen. "We best get going," Claire told them. "Jamie told us to go ahead and they'd meet us there."

They left the babies with Mrs. Figg and walked to the church. Brianna stayed near the back with Aileen while Claire went on to the front. Ian and Rachel were there along with Denzel and a woman Claire didn't recognize, dressed in the same plain clothes as Rachel. Next to her was a man in a British Army Officer's uniform. Claire had never seen him before but he bore a resemblance to John, so she guessed it was his brother, the Duke of Pardloe. Why he was sitting with the Hunters and Ian she couldn't quite figure out, but she was sure John would be able to fill her in later.

In the second row sat Fergus and Marsali along with all the children. Claire sat in front of them, and Germain immediately launched himself over the back of the pew, landing next to Claire with an impish grin.

"Germain!" Marsali hissed at him. "That's no' the way tae behave in Church."

"I just wanted to sit with Granny! And I thought it would be better than making you get up!" Marsali gave him a light smack on his head, and he turned around to Claire, pouting.

Claire couldn't resist the little scamp; he reminded her so much of Fergus when he was young. She hugged him close and planted a kiss on his cheek, which he promptly wiped off with the back of his hand.

The church doors opened and Claire turned in her seat to see who else was coming. Two figures stood in silhouette against the bright sun behind them, exceptionally tall with broad shoulders and chiseled jaw lines. Both men wore full Highland Regalia and when the door closed behind them, Claire gasped to see her husband, looking exceptionally dashing. But it was her stepson that caused her to briefly lose her breath - he looked almost exactly as Jamie had on their wedding day, bar the color of his hair.

The memories of that day flooded her mind and her eyes moved to Jamie. He was as devastatingly handsome as he'd been on that day, perhaps even more so; like a fine whisky, he only got better with age. A pleasant sensation flushed over her body and she fanned her face.

"Are ye going to faint, Granny?" Germain said loudly, breaking her out of her daydream.

She gave him an embarrassed smile, as Jamie and William walked down the aisle, one behind the other. Claire greeted them both, kissing William on the cheek. "You look dashing. Does Aileen know?"

William blushed. "No, I'm going to surprise her. I hope she's pleased."

"She will be; I'm sure of it." She looked at Jamie, giving him a coy smile. "Women find men irresistible in kilts."

William rolled his eyes at her as she slipped her arms around Jamie's waist. "Who is that with the Hunters?" she asked him curiously.

"That's my Uncle Hal and cousin Dottie," he said with a sigh. "I’d better go say hello."

As soon as he moved away, Claire turned all her attention back to Jamie. "I can't believe I have to wait hours to ruck up this kilt and have my way with you."

"Sassenach," Jamie whispered, "Ye canna talk that way in kirk."

Just then, John and Bree came down the aisle. John greeted Hal quickly and pulled William away while Bree joined her parents. "She's all ready," she told them, urging them to their seats. William headed toward the altar, but Jamie reached out his arm to stop him. "Are you ready?" he asked.

William nodded and answered, "Je Suis Prest," before joining the priest at the altar.

Aileen held Tadgh's hand as he proudly walked his mother down the aisle in his own little kilt and dress coat. Claire glanced back quickly at William; he was grinning broadly and Claire could almost feel the nervous energy radiating out of him. She was surprised he didn't run down the aisle to scoop her up in his arms. Just like that, all of Claire's misgivings about the speed of their courtship fell away; Claire knew the look of a Fraser in love and it was written plainly on William's face for the world to see.

When Aileen and Tadgh reached William, he bent down and scooped Tadgh up between them, holding him as the priest began the ceremony. When the priest asked, "Who gives this woman away in marriage?" Tadgh answered, "I do!"

Everybody chuckled at the adorable boy. William and Aileen both kissed him before William set him down and pointed him in the direction of the rest of the family. Tadgh ran over to them and climbed into Jamie's lap, apparently already enamored of his new grandsire.

She turned her attention back to William and Aileen, leaning her head on Jamie’s shoulder as they pledged their love and devotion to each other. She could have sworn she heard William's uncle choke when the priest asked, "Do you, William James Fraser, take this woman to be your wife?" and she stifled a giggle.

After William placed the ring on Aileen's finger, they held hands and repeated the vow she and Jamie had made to each other thirty-five years before:

You are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone.

I give you my Body, that we Two might be One.

I give you my Spirit, 'til our Life shall be Done.

She lifted her head to look at Jamie and saw tears in his eyes that matched her own, and when the priest told William he could kiss his bride, Jamie took that as permission to do the same, pulling Claire close and kissing her with all the fervor of their own wedding day.

Instead of walking to the back of the church, William and Aileen simply joined the family who all stood and wished them well, exchanging hugs and handshakes. Claire didn't think she had ever seen a happier couple and she thought maybe there really was something to be said about a hasty wedding.

***

Back at the house, William carried Aileen over the threshold. Seeing that Tadgh was already off playing with his new cousins, he took the opportunity to carry her straight up the stairs and into his room.

"William!" Aileen scolded as he set her down on her feet. "We canna start our wedding night before we've even gone to the party."

He slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. "I know. I just wanted to be alone with you for a few minutes." He lifted her chin and leaned down to kiss her softly. Aileen moaned and opened her mouth, deepening the kiss as her tongue met his. Though he truly hadn't any intentions except a few stolen moments alone together, he felt a stirring between his legs that threatened to tell a different story.

He reluctantly pulled away. "Mrs. Fraser, I think you're the one who needs to be reminded we have guests downstairs," he teased.

"I ken. Ye just look so fetching in this kilt, I'd rather spend the entire day up here wi' ye," she said with a giggle.

William had not seen this side of his new bride before and it was doing nothing to help the situation under his kilt. "We’d better go downstairs before I take you up on that," he replied, taking deep breaths to calm himself.

She nodded and they went downstairs and into the back yard where all their guests were gathered, drinking and laughing as a small group of musicians filled the air with mirthful tones. William squeezed Aileen's hand and they joined their guests.

They were talking to Hal and Dottie, William’s cousin, when William noticed Brianna sitting off to the side by herself looking dispirited. He excused himself, hoping Uncle Hal wouldn't say anything obnoxious to Aileen while he was away. When he reached Brianna, she looked up from her cup of ale and gave him a weak smile.

He sat down beside her and put an arm around her. "What troubles you, sister?"

"It's nothing...I was just thinking about my own wedding."

William felt a sudden pang of guilt and silently berated himself for being so thoughtless. "I'm so sorry, Brianna. I wasn’t even thinking about how this might affect you.”

“It’s okay, really. I’m so happy for you and this is a wonderful day.” She smiled at him. “I just miss Roger still and…”

William raised an eyebrow at her, urging her to complete her thought.

“Well I just wonder if I’m ever going to find love again. Does that make me an awful person? Is it disloyal to Roger?”

“No,” William replied. “It just means you want to be happy. And Roger would want that for you.”

Just then, Jamie and Claire joined them. Jamie reached out his hand to Bree and said, “Would ye like tae dance wi’ me, a leannan?” Brianna took Jamie’s hand and stood, walking toward Fergus and Marsali, who were already dancing.

“He didn’t get to dance with her at her own wedding,” Claire commented.

“Maybe he will again someday,” William replied.

“I do hope so,” Claire said wistfully. She put her hand on William’s shoulder. “I’m going to see to the children. And it looks like your bride needs rescuing.”

William jerked his head over to where Aileen still stood with Uncle Hal. Everyone else had dispersed, leaving Aileen stuck with him, too polite to say anything. William strode over to them, interrupting Uncle Hal's droning. "Excuse me, Uncle, but I would like to dance with my bride."

Without waiting for an answer, he took Aileen by the hand and walked her over near the other dancers. "Thank ye," she said quietly. "I didna want tae be rude but if that man didn't stop going on about his military campaigns in Scotland, I was going tae have tae punch him in the mouth."

William laughed heartily as he took her in his arms. "That's my feisty girl," he said pulling her in close and resting his chin on her head as they swayed together.

“I love ye, William,” she told him. “I’m sorry if I’ve told ye that too many times today.”

“You could tell me a thousand times and I would never tire of it.” William felt a tug at his waistcoat and looked down. Tadgh smiled up at him and William scooped him up, hoisting him onto Aileen’s chest so that he could hold them both.

***

Hours later, the party was finally dying down. Aileen helped Brianna feed the babies one last time for the night; Brianna had promised to be on full night duty so that William and Aileen could spend the one night of their honeymoon in peace. They tucked Tadgh into bed and then retired to William’s room.

He bolted the door and then turned to Aileen. He'd been waiting for this moment for so long, and now his hands were shaking as he reached out to her. "You...are so beautiful. I want to see every inch of you."

She blushed and looked up at him under her heavily hooded eyes. Her lips were plump and inviting; he pulled her in close and bent his head to kiss her, for the first time not holding back his desire. She tasted of ale and cake. When her tongue brushed along his hungrily, he moaned into her mouth and brought his hands to her head, working quickly to unleash her hair so that he could run his fingers through it and grip it in his hands.

When they finally broke apart, William reached for the laces of her bodice. Her breasts rose and fell with her heavy breathing and his need to touch them intensified. "You need to do the skirts first," she panted, turning around so he could undo the ties and remove the bum roll. With shaking hands, he untied her, dropping her skirts to the floor. He could see the outline of her small, plump bottom, and he brushed his hand over it briefly. Aileen shivered visibly and turned around so William could unlace her.

He did so quickly, despite his hands trembling in their eagerness, and did not waste any time taking her shift off as well.

She was stunning, a tiny china doll, but with delicious curves in all the right places. He'd never seen such perfection in a woman, and for a moment he just stared at her, mouth agape. Finally she giggled and asked him, "Do ye want tae catch flies or do ye want tae bed me?"

They both laughed briefly, until Aileen reached forward and undid William’s belt, his kilt dropping to the floor with an ease that made William wonder if he should make them a part of his everyday wardrobe. He certainly meant to make this a part of his day as much as possible.

With nothing between them but his shirt, he lifted her easily onto the bed, and hastily pulled it over his head. It was Aileen's turn to take him in and he let her look him up and down for a moment before he pushed her legs apart and stood between them. She leaned back on her elbows and he bent his head to her perfect, full breasts and worshiped them with his mouth as he wanted to do from the moment he first laid eyes on her.

He took each breast in his mouth one after the other, feeling her nipples harden under his tongue. They began to leak into his mouth and he looked up at her, startled. She laughed at him and put his face between her delicate hands, pulling him up so she could kiss him. He laughed into her mouth right along with her as his hands found their way to her chest, kneading, rubbing, and pinching gently.

She gasped and pushed herself back on the bed, laying down on the pillows and looking at him invitingly. He crawled onto the bed and nudged her legs apart with his knee, hovering above her. He kissed her again and asked, "Are you ready?"

Nodding, she grabbed his hand and guided it down to her hot center, slick beneath his fingers. He stared at her in awe, realizing that she was wet for him, because of him. Just the thought of it almost had him spilling his seed right then and there.

He wrapped his hand around his cock and guided himself into her, feeling her warmth wrap around him. When they found a rhythm, he brought his mouth to hers. He had never felt anything like the connection they created with their joining. Until that moment, he had never understood why it was called making love.

Aileen was moaning underneath him, panting out directions. Harder, faster, don't stop. She guided one of his hands down between her legs, and moved his fingers in a circular motion and cried out. He clamped his mouth over hers and continued thrusting into her, his fingers still working at the little nub between her legs.

Suddenly she tightened around him as her body trembled. She was throbbing around him, which sent him over the edge. It was as if she was milking the seed out of him, drawing him into her. He lost control of his senses as he collapsed on her, panting and dripping with sweat.

Aileen gently coaxed him off of her and curled into him, laying her head on his chest. She traced her finger along the muscles of his chest as their breathing slowed. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled closer, tangling his legs with hers to keep as much contact with her as he could. "I never knew it could be like this," he whispered hoarsely.

"Aye," she replied sleepily. "It's wonderful, is it no'?"

"Mmmmmm," he replied. "I love you, Mrs. Fraser."

"I love ye too, Mr Fraser."

She was snoring lightly moments later and William watched her for a while, tracing back all the events that had gotten him to this happy moment. It had been nine months since he'd sat on that stone in Saratoga and had his entire life turned on its head. None of it had made any sense at the time but with his new bride in his arms, a new father, a new name, and a new family, he knew that everything in his life since that day had been pointing him in this direction. He fell asleep with his heart full of hope for whatever was to come next.

Chapter Text

Photo-Grid-1599004225816

North Carolina

August 1778

Jamie raised his hand to signal the party to stop before dismounting and helping Claire down from the horse they rode together. William and Aileen, following closely behind, joined them. Brianna climbed down from the wagon; Tadgh, Germain, and Henri-Christian scrambled down, racing ahead to join Jamie. They were on the edge of a cliff, and Jamie watched as William reached out his arm, pulling Tadgh in protectively, his other arm around Aileen. John joined them and gripped the arm of the foolhardy Germain. Jamie lifted Henri-Christian in one arm and looped his other around Claire’s waist. Even Lizzie Weymss, the new maid, and Hilde Bauer, the new wet nurse, climbed down to stand with them.

The view was breathtaking. The valley below was all tree covered hills of various shades of green that would soon change to stunning reds, oranges, and yellows as fall approached. Claire laid her head on Jamie’s shoulder and breathed a deep sigh, relaxing into his embrace. She was already feeling at peace, and he was glad for it; he wanted Fraser's Ridge to be her sanctuary.

“This is it,” he told them. “Your first look at Fraser’s Ridge. We’ll be there verra soon now, but I wanted ye tae have your first view from here.”

“Da, it’s breathtaking,” Brianna told him. “It reminds me of Daniel Boone.”

“I dinna ken who Daniel Boone is, but I agree with yer assessment. This land is my legacy, and I now get tae share it with my children and grandchildren. I canna tell ye what it means tae me tae have ye all here.” He looked across the group to William. “What do ye think, mo mac?”

William smiled and looked at Aileen, before turning his head back to Jamie. “It looks wonderful. I’m eager to see it up close.”

“Aye, Jamie replied, “We should hurry, so we can get settled before dark.”

“I canna wait to sleep on a bed wi’ a roof over my head,” Aileen declared.

Though William tried to speak quietly, Jamie overheard him say in Aileen’s ear, “If we get a bed to lie in and some privacy, you won’t be doing much sleeping.”

She giggled and slapped his arm playfully as he pulled her close for a kiss. “Dinna start now!” Jamie teased, and Aileen pulled away, blushing.

As they returned to their horses and wagons, Jamie was relieved that his son and daughter-in-law would have some privacy soon. A light sleeper, Jamie had been awoken by Aileen’s moans or William’s grunts countless times in the past few months. He didn’t begrudge them their happiness or pleasure, but if he never had to witness it again, it would be too soon.

“Let’s go!” Jamie called as they all began the last leg of their journey towards home.

***

They first stopped at Jamie’s small, but well-built cabin. “Hullo, the house!” Jamie called as he dismounted. William started his own descent as an older man, hair and beard a mix of white and grey, came out of the front door. He was small and compact, with a rather grim face.

William’s feet hit the ground just as he heard Claire screech, “Murtagh!”

The older man’s dour expression broke out into a grin when he saw Claire. He hurried to meet her as she stumbled over herself to greet him. She fell into his arms and embraced him. William moved closer and saw tears in both their eyes. “Oh, I never thought I would see you again!” Claire declared, squeezing him tight.

"Yer a sight for these old, sore eyes, lassie."

Jamie gestured for Brianna and William to join him. When Claire finally released Murtagh from her vice-like grip, Jamie introduced them. "Murtagh, these are my children that I’ve been writing tae ye about, Brianna Ellen Wakefield MacKenzie and William James Fraser. Brianna, William, this is my godfather Murtagh.

Murtagh moved toward them slowly; William and Brianna both straightened themselves to their full heights. Standing side by side, he knew their resemblance was striking. Murtagh examined both their faces and looked back and forth between them before focusing on Brianna, his gruff expression once again transforming into an almost elvish grin. He grasped Brianna by the shoulders, his lips trembling slightly. “Ye are the spit of yer grandmother. I thought I’d seen a ghost when I first laid eyes on ye.” Brianna nodded and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, causing his face to blush a deep crimson.

Waving his hand in front of his face as if he could swat away his sentimental feelings, he turned to William. “And ye,” he swallowed hard. “Ye look just like yer Da when he married Claire. I feel like I’m the one who traveled back in time just now.”

William gestured for Aileen to join him. “This is my wife, Aileen, and that devil running around over there is my stepson, Tadgh.”

Murtagh glanced at Aileen and beamed. Turning back to William he said, “Well, ye dinna sound very Scottish, but it looks like ye married a Scot.”

Aileen curtsied. “It’s so nice to meet ye, Mr…”

“Mr. Nothing...it’s Murtagh to all of ye. I’m too old tae be dealing with formalities, ye ken. Yer a bonnie lass, Aileen, and I’m pleased tae meet ye.”

Claire and Brianna had gone back to the wagon while William and Murtagh were talking. They came back holding the three babies, now aptly nicknamed “The Troublesome Trio,” and showed them to Murtagh. “This little lad and lassie,” Jamie said, pointing to the babies in Brianna’s arms, “Are my grandchildren, Jemmy and wee Julia. And this one right here,” Jamie went on, taking Alexandra from Claire’s arms, “Is our daughter Alexandra. All three born on the same day.” Jamie puffed his chest out like a proud peacock as he always did when he got to introduce them.

While Murtagh fawned over the babies, William pulled Aileen in and kissed her forehead. “What do you think, lamb? Will you be happy here?”

“This place feels more like Scotland than any other place we’ve been so far. And I’ll be happy wherever ye are.”

“Mmmmmmm,” he replied, lifting her chin with his hand. “I feel the same way.” He bent down to kiss her, his hands falling to her waist as her mouth melted into his. Everything always melted away when her lips were on his.

“Alright,” Jamie said loudly, clapping his hands. “Let’s get these two tae their cabin.”

William broke away from Aileen. At first he’d been embarrassed when he got caught up in himself with her in front of other people, but after two months of teasing by his entire family, it didn’t really phase him anymore, not even when Murtagh elbowed Jamie and joked, “The lad’s just like ye when ye were first wed.”

“Right,” William answered. “Shall we get your things unloaded first here?”

“Aye, everything goes here except fer yer things. It’ll be a tight fit, but we’ll manage until I can get another cottage up for Brianna and the bairns.” Jamie looked at the cabin curiously, as if he had forgotten how small it was.

“Weel,” Murtagh said, rubbing his beard, “I dinna think ye all have tae squeeze into this one little cabin.”

Jamie looked at him curiously. “Why no’?”

“When we heard ye were coming with all the bairns, a few o’ us got taegether and built a new cabin.” He pointed and Jamie took a few steps until he could see the roof of a small cabin not very far away. “We didna have time tae do much, but I figured it would suit Brianna and her bairns fer now, until we can build something bigger.”

Jamie smiled at Murtagh. “Ye didna have tae do that, ye auld coot.”

“Weel, it’s a good thing I did. I didna realize ye’d be bringin’ the entire city o’ Philadelphia wi’ ye.”

“Let’s figure this out then,” William offered. “Aileen and I will stay in Fergus and Marsali’s cabin with Tadgh. We may as well take Germain and Henri-Christian too, seeing as how they’re thick as thieves. Brianna will stay in her new cabin with the twins and Lizzie, and Father and Mother Claire can stay here with Allie, Hilde, and Papa."

Jamie thought William's plan over briefly and clapped him on the back. "Aye, that will work for now. As long as Brianna can handle nursing the twins on her own."

"I'll be fine Da. I've been practically handling all three for the last few weeks until we found Hilde in Wilmington."

Aileen blushed, her face growing grim. Two weeks ago, the babies had started rejecting her unless they were starved, and even then, they fussed the entire time they drank. She opened her mouth to apologize again but Brianna held up her hand. "Aileen, do not apologize again, please. It's not your fault and I didn't say that to hurt you."

"Aye, I ken." Aileen leaned into William and he kissed the top of her head. She looked exhausted, and his brow furrowed in worry.

"If it's alright, I'd like to take Aileen to the cabin for some rest before supper," William said.

Jamie glanced at Aileen and nodded. "Let's transfer yer things to the one wagon and I'll lead ye down." He held out a hand to help Aileen into the front of the wagon and then went around to the back to help William sort through the various trunks and crates. "Is Aileen feeling poorly?" he asked quietly.

"She just seems more tired than usual. I'm sure she's just road weary. She'll be fine once she gets a few nights in a bed, I think." He was trying to convince himself as much as Jamie.

"Aye," Jamie replied, his eyes taking on a look of mischief that puzzled William, considering the circumstances. "We'll keep the boys up here fer a few days so she can rest and ye can have a few nights tae yerselves. I ken what it's like tae spend yer honeymoon on the road, surrounded by people."

William nodded and climbed onto the wagon seat next to Aileen. He kissed her temple and pulled her close as Jamie squeezed in on her other side, and they took off the short distance to their cabin.

Half an hour later, William was tucking Aileen into bed on a fresh straw tick mattress, courtesy of Murtagh's foresight, in the loft of Fergus and Marsali's cabin. He pulled the blankets up to her chin and kissed her softly. "Have a rest, lamb. I'll take care of everything." As he turned away, she reached out her hand and grabbed his, squeezing it firmly before letting go.

It didn't take long for William to unpack their things. They had purchased some household necessities in Wilmington, which he put away. He moved their trunk of clothing to the foot of the bed and took out their books and a few other items Aileen had carefully packed. He placed her rosary beads by her bedside and set the little carved snake his father had given him on the mantel next to a miniature portrait of Aileen's parents.

The small bedroom downstairs held two beds, and he made a mental note to ask Jamie to help him build a small trundle for Henri-Christian. He set the boys' small trunks in the room and made their beds quickly. Then, having nothing else to do, he brewed a pot of tea and sat in the small kitchen, enjoying the quiet.

Their journey had been uneventful in the way of the dangers of the road, and for that he was thankful. He was also thankful for his large, chaotic family. What he was decidedly not thankful for was two months on the road with three small babies who seemed to have formed a pact to never let any adult in their presence have a moment's peace. If one cried, they all cried. When one was being fed, they all wanted to be fed. If there was one dirty nappy, there were three.

However, if the babies were the Troublesome Trio, the three older boys were the Terrible Terrors. With Germain as their ringleader, along the way the boys had fallen in no less than four creeks, woken the babies up from their naps nearly every day, and gotten lost twice. The first night on the road, they got into the food supplies and ate all of the bannocks Mrs. Figg had sent them off with. Later on, they cut the meat stores down for a midnight snack and attracted a bear which William and Jamie had to run off in the dark. Though he knew they would still be trouble moving forward, at least they would be separated from the babies and the food stores would be harder for them to destroy. As for the nearby creek, he supposed they would just count it as their bathing when they inevitably fell in.

He was also looking forward to having a little space between himself and his parents. He’d only had one night of privacy with Aileen before they had only a blanket on the ground and were reduced to either sneaking away with the blanket for some semblance of privacy, or attempting to be very quiet. More often than not, they were interrupted by screaming babies, children who needed to relieve themselves, or, worse yet, the sounds of Jamie and Claire trying to do the same thing he and Aileen were. Nothing could destroy his own cockstand more than the elaborate vocalizations of his father and stepmother whilst making love.

He sat and enjoyed the silence until he heard Aileen stirring in the loft upstairs. He climbed the ladder and quietly slid into the bed behind her, moving her hair aside and burrowing into the hollow of her neck. She stretched her legs and sank back into him; her body seemed to be made just for his, the way they fit together like two halves of a whole. “Did you have a good rest?” he murmured quietly into her ear.

“Mmmmm…yes. I feel much better now. Thank ye fer taking care of me.”

“I will always take care of you.”

They laid together, feeling each other’s breathing. Two months on the road had brought them closer together as they learned to turn in toward each other when the chaos was too much or as a respite at the end of a long day. They spoke their own language of looks, touches, and gestures.

“Do ye know the date, William?” Aileen asked, breaking the silence.

“I think it’s August fifteenth, but I'll have to check with father or Papa to be sure.”

“Hmmmm…. how long were we on the road then? Eight weeks?”

“Closer to nine, I think. Why do you ask?”

“I had a dream while I was resting just now. We were in a room in a house I’ve never seen before, and ye were holding a bairn.”

“One of the Troublesome Trio?” He laughed into the back of her neck.

“No,” she spoke quietly, as if reliving the dream. “It was a wee bairn with copper hair and ears that stuck out a little. I couldna tell if it was a boy or a girl. Ye were holdin’ the bairn and weeping. When I woke, I realized that I havena had my courses since before our wedding. They dinna always come regular, but I havena gone this long since…since Tadgh.”

William’s hand moved to her belly; he spread his fingers and covered the entire expanse. “Are you with child?” he asked tentatively.

“I think I must be.” She turned herself around to face him, pulling him close so their foreheads were touching. "Are ye happy?"

William tried to blink back his tears. "Oh God, yes. I'm incredibly happy." He kissed her gently, placing small kisses all over her face. She wore only her shift, and he untied the top and pushed it down over her delicate shoulders, ghosting his hand over her collarbone and kissing the small hollow above it.

She shuddered and wrapped her legs around his, pulling his body close. His hard length pressed against her and they both moaned. William rolled her onto her back and pulled at the shift until it was around her waist. Aileen giggled and helped him shimmy it down her waist and down her legs.

He bent down to kiss her again, but she grabbed his chin and shook his head back and forth. "No' until ye get undressed too. I havena seen my husband fully naked since our wedding night." He stood and undressed as quickly as possible, tripping over his own feet as he tried to free them from his breeches.

She burst out laughing at his clumsiness, and he flopped on the bed beside her trying to control his own as he finally managed to push his breeches off the rest of the way. He pulled her close again, burying his face in her chest as their giggles subsided. “They feel a bit bigger already. Is that possible?” he asked, kissing and teasing them.

“Ye spend more time looking at them than I do, so I suppose ye would ken best,” she teased. She inhaled quickly, something between a hiss and a gasp and told him, “Be gentle, aye? They’re a wee bit sensitive.”

“What they are, is magnificent,” he said, pulling his mouth away and using both hands to push them together. “They're the first thing I noticed about you.” He brought his mouth to her nipple again, using his hand to gently massage the other.

Aileen giggled and gently clapped him on the side of his head, but her back arched, bringing her body closer to his. His motions became more deliberate as he licked and teased, alternating making figure eights with his tongue and suckling her. She gripped the back of his hair and rocked her hips against him. He looked up at her, nipple still in his mouth, and saw pure ecstasy on her face.

“Dinna stop,” she panted. “I’m so close.”

He doubled down his efforts as she grunted and groaned, her hips begging for friction against his leg. Slowly, he moved one hand down, tracing the line of her body until he reached her sweet center. When his fingers gently pressed onto the little bundle of nerves at the top of her quim, she exploded with pleasure. William rubbed in slow circles, letting her ride out the wave as long as possible, only stopping briefly to take hold of his cock and line it up with her entrance. She was still pulsing when he slid inside her.

As she came down, he rocked in and out of her reverently, locking his eyes with hers. Suddenly, he was stricken with grave fear and overcome with fierce joy all at once. I am going to be a father. “I love you, Aileen,” he whispered hoarsely, tears falling from his eyes, feeling the words insufficient for how deep and strong his feelings were.

As if she could read his mind, she reached her hand up and wiped the tears from his cheeks. “I ken, mo ghraidh. I ken. I love ye too.”

He lowered his head and buried his face against her neck as he lost control of his gentle rhythm. Their breathing quickened and she thrust her hips up to meet him again and again. He looped one arm under her leg and pulled it up at the knee so he could reach the deepest part of her. She cried out and shattered around him, and he let go, pouring himself into her.

William carefully lowered himself down to the bed and rested his head on Aileen’s stomach. He kissed it dotingly, wishing he could see signs of the baby's presence. Aileen absent-mindedly ran her fingers through his curls, using her fingernails to gently massage his scalp. After a while she let out a long sigh.

William lifted his eyes; Aileen’s brow was furrowed, her lips puckered into a scowl. He pushed himself up and embraced her, resting her head on his chest. “What’s troubling you, lamb? Aren’t you happy?”

She sniffled and nodded. “I’m verra happy, but I dinna ken why ye were weeping in my dream.”

“I’m sure I was weeping with gratitude for my prosperity. You have already given me so much, and now a child? There isn’t a treasure in the world more precious or abundant.” He stroked her hair, wishing he could wash away all her unease. “It was only a dream, lamb. All will be well; I’ll make sure of it,” he assured her, placing his hand on Aileen’s belly between them.

“I ken ye will, William. Ye’re already a wonderful father to Tadgh, and I ken ye’ll take care of our new bairn too. Every day I feel like the most fortunate woman in the world."

She pulled him in and brought her lips to his. She started out chastely but soon rolled on top of William, straddling him. As his cock once again stood at attention and he was about to take her breasts in his mouth, there was a loud knock on the door. "Hullo the house!" Jamie's voice rang from below.

Aileen groaned and flopped over on her side, pulling the blankets up to cover herself. "I'm no' getting out o’ this bed yet," she told him.

"You don't have to," William said as he stood to get dressed. He kissed her on top of her head. "Get some more rest. I'll wake you when it's time for supper."

"William, are ye sleepin' in the middle of the day?" Jamie called.

"I'm coming!" William hollered back, pulling his shirt over his head. He pulled up his breeches and climbed down two rungs of the ladder before jumping the rest of the way.

He opened the door and gave his father a wry smile. "What's so important that you had to interrupt the first privacy I've had with my wife in months?" he asked bluntly.

Jamie threw his head back and laughed. "Dinna fash. I'll deliver ye right back tae yer bride shortly. I have something I need tae show ye." Jamie gestured to the two horses behind him. "Come on, it willna take long."

"How's Aileen feeling?" Jamie asked as they mounted their horses.

"Much better now that she’s had some rest."

"Aye? Did ye let her sleep, lad?" he teased, his mouth screwed up in a crooked grin.

William rolled his eyes and asked, "Where are we going?"

"It's no' far. We'll be there in a few minutes."

As they rode together, Jamie pointed out various landmarks and told him the names of the families that occupied each home. William kept a mental list of everything, knowing Jamie would expect him to learn it all in one brief lesson.

He'd always known his father to be a proud man, even when he was a groom at Helwater, but watching him ride his horse along his lands and speak of his tenants, William saw a subtle shift. It was in the straightening of his spine, the broadness of his gestures, the deeper timbre of his voice. Jamie truly was born for this. William chuckled to himself at the irony. He had been told his whole life that he was born into greatness; he was an Earl and a wealthy landowner. But it wasn't until he met his true father that he came to understand what it truly meant to be a man of responsibilities. Watching Jamie ride proudly across the community he had built, he could only hope to be worthy following in his footsteps.

"Here we are," Jamie said, stopping his horse. They had climbed a tall hill, at the top of which was a clearing, and a house about halfway built. "This is tae be the Big House. Ever since I was granted this land, I wanted tae build a grand house, worthy of a Laird, but I couldna justify the labor and expense for just me. Now that I've returned wi' my wife and family, I can finally see it come to fruition."

"Who did all this work?" William asked curiously.

"When I wrote tae Murtagh about Claire finding me, he got tae work straight away wi' some of the tenants. I'm glad of it, too. Makes me think I can get a larger roof over our heads before winter."

William nodded. "Should be possible with enough help."

"I thought I'd have ye work on this, along with Murtagh, while I tend tae the harvest and the whisky, if ye dinna mind. I'll teach ye the whisky making after we've roofs over both our heads."

William waved his hand in dismissal. "Aileen and I are perfectly fine with the cabin."

"Ye've a family lad, and I'm sure it will be growing soon. Ye'll need more space soon enough. Come, I'll show ye what I have planned."

William shook his head as he urged his horse to follow Jamie, who was always at least two steps ahead of everyone else. They rode back down the hill until they reached a small valley. Jamie pointed ahead. "Ye see that hill there.? When I picked out where I would build my house, I set aside a plot of land for ye. I always hoped that one day I'd be able tae tell ye the truth, and when I did, I'd let ye know that ye'd always have a home with me."

"Thank you, father," was all William managed to choke out.

"I'm hoping we can at least get ye four walls and a roof before the snow flies, but it may not be until spring."

William nodded. Jamie turned his horse around to head back to the cabins and William followed. "What about Brianna?" he asked Jamie.

"She'll bide in the cabin until the twins get a wee bit older. Hopefully by then, she'll be marrit again. John can have my cabin to himself once Claire and I move out, until we can decide on something more permanent for him."

William shook his head and turned the horse to keep up with Jamie.

"Come on, mo mac. Let's get ye back tae yer bride. I'm afraid she'll tear me tae pieces if I keep ye away too long. Besides, ye both probably need tae wash and change before dinner."

When William arrived at the cabin Aileen was up and about. He leaned against the doorway quietly, watching the late afternoon sun dance off her hair, and listening to her quietly singing in a much richer brogue than she usually spoke in. She was moving around all the items he had put away earlier that day. “If I’d known you were going to move things around, I would have left them for you to unpack,” he teased gently.

She started and looked up, her face relaxing into a smile when she saw who it was. William walked into the small kitchen and embraced Aileen, kissing her gently. “Ye’re a new husband,” she joked. “Ye’ll soon learn no’ tae touch anything in the kitchen.”

“I’m going to get cleaned up and then we’ll head to my parents’ for supper if that’s alright with you.”

“I’d do just about anything tae avoid starting a fire in this heat.”

“When we return from dinner, we’re going to make our own heat,” he whispered in her ear. He brought one hand up between them, and gently massaged her breast. Aileen shuddered and slapped him on the bottom, pulling away.

“Dinna try tae start early,” she scolded. “Now go upstairs and get yerself washed and dressed.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied roguishly. He stole a sloppy kiss before scrambling up the ladder.

“William James Fraser!” Aileen chided.

“Yes?” he asked, poking his head out from the loft.

“I love ye.”