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Jamie had once imagined a life with a dozen bairns of his own, running wild in the fields of Lallybroch. He dreamed of coming home to them each day, hearing the excited shouts of ‘Da’, and chaotic family meals served on a long table, sitting opposite their mother, the love of his life.

 

Now, sitting on the floor of the children's playroom at Lallybroch, letting Maggie put wee plastic flower clips in his hair while Kitty and Faith play doctor and nurse with just about every single doll in the Murray household, he begins to reconsider his dreams of a football-team sized family. He's covered in the crusty remnants of Michael and wee Janet's dinner and perhaps a smear or two or whatever came out the other end when he changed their dirty nappies. 

 

He thinks TLC could come and film a special segment about it: Red Jamie and the Seven Bairns.

 

It's certainly the type of mind-numbing television he'd tune into.

 

By the time Jenny and Ian finally get home from their evening out, both a few drinks past tipsy and giggling like a pair of teenagers, he's half-asleep on the couch, Faith draped over him, drooling onto his shirt. It took him over two hours to put all the bairns to bed; each time he tucked one in and turned his back, another would sneak out to wreak havoc. He doesn't bother regaling his sister and brother-in-law with any details, knowing that they likely won't remember much of it come dawn. They thank him for ‘lookin’ after the wee beasts’ and stumble their way through the house and upstairs towards their bedroom.

 

He hears the slam of a door, the sound of things being knocked over and then his sister, shrieking and providing him with a mental image he could have done without. 

 

Horny buggers.

 

After checking to see that Faith is still sound asleep, he heads upstairs to wee Jamie’s room to rouse Fergus. The lad is knocked out, sprawled on the bottom bunk, and it takes three attempts to wake him.

 

“Come laddie, let’s get ye home and into yer own bed,” he murmurs.

 

Half an hour later, both bairns are tucked in and dreaming away, and he’s in the shower trying to scrub away the smell of shit and comb the snarls and tangles from his hair. Under the spray of the scalding hot water, it's far too easy to let his mind wander.

 

Had Claire received the items he left for her? And if so, had she rejected them outright or explored the contents of the bag first? Did she like the wee snacks he’d sourced from the farm? Were the colours of the socks to her liking? Would the book his mam read to him most nights as a child be entertaining, or brushed away as drivel and nonsense? Would the blanket be enough during the cold nights? Enough to warm her to the bone and keep her skin from being chilled?

 

He tries not to imagine it, to clear his mind and focus on the rivulets of water trailing down his skin. Paying little attention to anything but the patterns the fog is creating on the shower screen, he scrubs himself clean, lathering soap across his body and feeling it all melt away in the heat and steam.

 

Tomorrow is another day, he thinks. 

 


 

Saturday morning is spent going door to door at a residential tower, trying to find anyone who may have witnessed a burglary occurring in the building. It’s a refreshing change of pace from being cooped up at his desk, but these sorts of interviews rarely prove fruitful.

 

When he leaves work, he heads straight for the hospital. It’s a bad habit, one that he’ll need to eventually unlearn, force himself to make a different turn and pass on by. He’s conscious of all this as he parks his car and makes his way through the car park and inside the building. Perhaps it’s sadder that he’s aware of how pathetic he must seem to the staff, making such frequent visits and being turned away day after day, but he doesn’t mind it so much. 

 

He finds the reception and waiting area deserted, which is not atypical for this time of day. It’s likely to be busier later in the evening, but for now he leans against the counter, not in a rush to head anywhere in particular. Mrs Crook would have come by to tidy up the house earlier in the day, which means he’ll have no pressing chores to tend to when he heads home after collecting the bairns. 

 

He fiddles with his phone, browsing the internet for a bit, scrolling past articles filled with gossip and half-truths, and has just bookmarked one titled ‘Easy Recipes for Midweek Meals’ when his wait comes to an end. From the corner of his eye, he catches sight of a familiar nurse entering the area. Tucking his phone away, he looks up with an easy smile.

 

“Och there ye are, James!”

 

“Were ye expecting me then, Moira?”

 

Never in his life had he imagined he would be on a first-name basis with hospital staff, but as he’s realised recently, life is often unpredictable.

 

“Aye weel, no’ exactly. A certain English lassie asked after ye today, seemed in an awful rush tae speak wi’ ye.”

 

His excitement is barely containable. 

 

He thanks Moira profusely and turns down her offer to escort him, assuring her that he is perfectly capable of finding his way. 

 

When he makes it to Claire’s room, the door is shut, and he pauses before knocking firmly. He hears only a muffled noise but takes it as a sign to enter.

 

It’s the blanket he sees first, covering the entire lower half of her body, tucked up and around her waist. He studies it for a moment, sees a circle of the pale blue of the hospital sheets; he’d missed a stitch there, distracted by something playing on television, though it’s been far too long now for him to remember what. It takes a great deal of restraint not to hurriedly scan the rest of the room, wondering what she’d made of the other items of comfort he’d provided her with.

 

“Ye wished tae speak wi’ me?” he asks, only slightly out of breath from the brisk pace (frenzied rush) he’d made from the reception to her room. He studies her face, tries to gauge her reaction, and it’s very clear to him that she’s trying not to think.

 

To conceal her emotions.

 

“I want to see my daughter.”

 

To hear her voice once more brings him such comfort, even if it sounds as though her vocal cords have been met with gritty sandpaper. It’s no surprise to him that she’s requested his presence to enquire about Faith, though he would be lying if he claimed to not be the slightest bit disappointed.

 

He’d hoped to speak with her eventually, to clear the air between them. When they go their separate ways once more, he wants to do so with a clear conscience, without the weight of their past hanging over his shoulders, crushing his chest — a heavy burden that he can’t rid himself of. But for now, he supposes he should be grateful that she’s speaking to him at all, having pieced together enough to make a guess of what she’s endured.

 

“Claire.”

 

He says her name, not for any other reason than his own need to hear it. 

 

Calm. 

 

Level.

 

Without fear.

 

Without anguish.

 

She appears to take a moment to process it too, glancing down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap, before looking back up at him with newfound determination in her eyes. 

 

“Her social worker came to see me. Said that Faith had settled in well with her foster father. I hadn’t expected to hear it was you who had been looking after her all this time.” She pauses then, taking a deep breath, her eyes fluttering shut. He waits, watches as her shoulders rise and fall, bides his time until he’s staring into the finest pools of whisky once more. When she says nothing else, he awkwardly clears his throat, rubbing at the back of his reddened neck with one hand.

 

“Aye, she’s been doin’ verra well. Misses ye somethin’ fierce. Hasna stopped askin’ me tae come and see ye since we kent ye were awake.”

 

He leaves out the finer details, choosing to be deliberately brief. Claire is a strong woman, he has no doubt about that, but hearing recounts of how much anxiety and panic her child has endured won’t help her now. Learning of all the tears and nightmares would only bring her more pain. 

 

“I didn’t want… not after what happened…”

 

Her words say very little, but her eyes speak a language his heart understands. She hadn't wanted to reach out to him after their first interaction went south, and he feels guilt wash over him like a tidal wave. 

 

“I’m verra sorry about that, Claire,” he tells her, hoping that he sounds as sincere as he truly feels. “I didna mean tae scare ye like that. I wasna thinkin’ right.” 

 

“It’s fine.” Her response is short, clipped, and doesn’t leave much room for him to reply. And so he stands there, trying not to fidget, hands tucked in his pockets as he waits for her to speak again. The silence is not awkward; it’s not anything, really.

 

It’s quiet.

 

He doesn’t mind that.

 

She’s looking into her lap once more. This time, her fingers are worrying the edge of the blanket, smoothing over the careful stitches. He stares at her while she stares at her hands — the time passing so slowly, like trying to pour honey in the winter. 

 

“Thank you for the gifts. You really didn’t need to,” she murmurs. 

 

He allows himself a grin, shaking his head a bit. “Nurse MacAllister is a wee bit chatty.”

 

To his surprise, the corner of her mouth quirks upwards. Not quite a smile, but close enough.

 

“You’re not wrong, but she didn’t say anything to me. You weren’t exactly very subtle.” Her tone is lighter now, eyes less narrowed, and he goes along with it, feeling his body relax a little.

 

“Aye?”

 

She looks up at him then, head cocked to one side and eyebrows raised just a little. 

 

“Lallybroch Farms? A book from the library of Ellen Mackenzie? A Fraser tartan patterned blanket?”

 

It hadn’t been his aim to be a mystery. He could have easily purchased supplies for her at Tesco, nothing linking back to him or his family. But he wanted each of the items to have a personal touch, for her to feel cared for. He’d been shocked enough when she whispered his name that night, the first time he’d held her in his arms in years. She’d remembered him (not in a particularly positive light), but he hadn’t expected her to remember much more. Not his family home, his mother’s name, the pattern of his clan’s tartan. 

 

Fearing that he’ll embarrass himself should he speak his mind, he makes a joke of it instead, wanting to continue the light-hearted banter they’ve begun.

 

“Och, wi’ such keen observation skills, ye could take my job.”

 

She shakes her head lightly.

 

“You found me, didn’t you? Inspector Fraser?”

 

The way she says it — so measured and calculated, without the slightest quiver in her voice — it makes him wonder just how much control she’s exerting over her each and every move. Jamie doesn’t know what to think of it, how to process the flare of something running down his spine, his nerve endings tingling. It takes a moment longer to truly register what she’s said, no — asked, and he inclines his head in response. He doesn’t know how much she remembers of that night, but the memories of it still have him feeling as though his soul is leaving his body. 

 

The last thing he wants is to bring up something that may send her careening down a rabbit hole.

 

Like Alice, tumbling into Wonderland — a place filled with not so much wonder at all. 

 

And so he says nothing and they lapse into silence once again, just gazing at one another, a silent staring contest that only ends when she blinks and looks away.

 

“Tomorrow?” she asks, voice lowered in volume. It takes him a second to process what she’s asking, a minute more to find a response. He considers her request, the feasibility of arranging a meeting in such a short time frame, but he’ll not force mother and child to spend any more time apart if he doesn’t have to. Geillis hadn’t mentioned anything about Faith not being allowed to visit, only that he should exercise his own judgement about the matter and adhere to all the usual protocols. It would be easier to bring her by on Monday; he has the day off work and Faith needs to visit the hospital anyway for a follow-up session with her doctor, but delaying it any longer to avoid himself some minor inconvenience feels wrong.

 

In truth, it’s only one more day of waiting, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Before he can truly think through what he’s agreeing to, he nods.

 

“Aye, I’ll bring her by before work. It’ll have tae be early and probably willna be a verra long visit.” He’ll need to squeeze in a couple of extra journeys in the time he has before work. It’s an inconvenience to be sure, but he’s more than willing, for her — for them.

 

“It’s… it’s fine. I just need to see for myself that she’s okay.”

 

He has a feeling she’d be content with holding Faith for only a minute if he could somehow materialise the lass to be in the room with them at this very moment. 

 

“When we come and see ye tomorrow... if ye need anything else, you only need ask.”

 

His instinct is still to reach out — to take her hand, perhaps give her a squeeze of reassurance — but he restrains himself, offering her a weak smile instead.

 

“I’ll be seeing ye then.”

 


 

Jamie has always been a morning person, but waking up and leaving the warmth of his bed on a chilly winter day does lack appeal. He doesn’t have much of a choice though; sleep is not easy to find when he has an over-eager five-year-old, determined to have him fix her hair before the sun has even risen for the day. Faith manages to sit still long enough for him to brush out her curls and fix a wee clip in her hair before running off to get changed. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her this excited or full of energy, not even after a double helping of dessert.

 

Yawning widely and not entirely awake, he sets about the gruelling task of rousing Fergus for the day. The lad flops back into a content slumber each time, despite sitting up and answering Jamie’s calls, and it’s only twenty minutes later when he finally leaves his room, disappearing into the bathroom with an echoing slam of the door. In that time Jamie manages to brew a pot of coffee, sort out the papers he’ll need for work, almost scald his mouth with the aforementioned coffee, and take a very quick, very cold shower.

 

No better way to wake up than to freeze his entire body. 

 

He shaves and combs back his hair, using a wee bit of gel to keep it in place and then dresses. A sky-blue button-up shirt, a pair of dark trousers and a jacket to ward off the nip of the air. When he leaves his room, Fergus is stumbling from the bathroom, dressed in a dark sweater and jeans, suffering from a major case of bedhead. He smiles at the sight, seeing his son so grumpy in the early morning, and decides to leave him be until they need to head out. 

 

When he pops in to check on Faith, he finds her sitting on the floor against her bed, engaging in a staring contest with her wee boots, the same ones she’d worn when she first came to stay with him. It takes him another moment to realise she’s dressed in the same coat too, and jumper and leggings. Seeing her deliberate choice in her outfit gives him a warm and fuzzy feeling, much more useful at warding off the cold than any jacket would do.

 

“Can you help me with my shoes, please?" she asks, and he’s at her side in an instant, kneeling as he reaches towards the wee boots. They’re laced up on the sides, clearly designed for someone with far more nimble fingers than him to undo, but he manages in the end.

 

“Ye look verra bonny, a leannan,” he tells her, but there’s no shy giggle or smile in return. She looks terribly nervous, the poor thing, and he doesn’t understand why until she shares her fears with him.

 

“What if Mama doesn’t remember me?”

 

He sits down beside her with a muffled groan, pulling her onto his knee and straightening her coat. She looks every bit the scared lassie who had come into his life not two months past and it pains him to see.

 

"Now, tell me lass, do ye still remember yer mam?" 

 

At her indignant stare, he continues.

 

“Do ye think ye could tell me a wee bit about her? What does she look like?”

 

Faith nods, entirely serious. “Mama has hair like mine but it’s longer. We have the same eyes. She’s tall but not tall like you.”

 

Watching Faith speak, hearing her descriptions, he can imagine exactly what Claire must have been like as a child. He nods along, listening with rapt attention as she talks about how ‘Mama puts stuff on her face sometimes. She says people do it to look and feel pretty’. She wrinkles her nose as if remembering an unpleasant smell, and he chuckles.

 

“Och, and what did ye have tae say to that?”

 

She shakes her head, looking far more exasperated than a child should have the capability to. “I told Mama that she was always pretty, even without the funny powder.”

 

Oh, what a sweet lass

 

He reaches over and smooths one of her shiny curls back into place, securing it with the wee ribboned clip he’d used to hold back her flyaways.

 

“Now, ye remember everything about yer mam, do ye no'? And yer mam is a doctor, so she’s verra smart. Do ye no’ think she’d remember everything about ye too?”

 

There’s complete silence as she contemplates his words, and he lets out a breath when she finally nods, evidently convinced by his completely logical reasoning. He counts it as a victory, the first crisis of the day averted, knowing it would be foolish to even hope there won’t be a second or a third. 

 

By seven, they’re out the door, making a quick detour to grab breakfast along the way. By the time they pull up at the hospital, he’s left with greasy fingerprints all over the car, crumbs in every crevice and a stain on the carpet by the passenger’s seat after he’d turned a corner a little too fast and the lid had popped off his coffee.

 

A stark contrast to the day before, the hospital is bustling with activity. He keeps a firm hold on both bairns as he signs them in on the visitor’s log, marvelling at their ability to sense their surroundings and knowing to behave. 

 

He sits Fergus down in the waiting area just down the hall from Claire’s room, handing over his mobile and trusting his son to not run off if left unsupervised for a couple of minutes. 

 

“Why don’t ye wait right out here? Ye can play wi’ my phone fer a bit, and then I’ll drop ye off at Rabbie’s.”

 

Fergus accepts the device without a second glance, quickly navigating to search for his favourite games. Content that the lad is taken care of for now, Jamie turns his attention back to Faith, standing silently by his side.

 

He grabs an alcoholic wipe and thoroughly cleans her hands, smiling as she patiently holds them up in front of her. Once satisfied that she's ninety-nine percent germ-free, as claimed by the label on the package, he cleans his own and disposes of the used wipes in the rubbish bin.

 

“Alright then. Let’s go and see yer mam, a leannan.

 

She slips her hand into his, and with one last glance over his shoulder to check on Fergus, he leads them down the hall towards Claire’s room. The door has been left open, likely at her request, and he catches sight of her, sitting up in bed with a wide smile that must cause an ache in the muscles of her face. She’s radiating happiness as she catches sight of the precious wee lassie by his side.

 

“Faith… lovey-”

 

He sees a light in her eyes, a joy that’s been missing in all the time since he found her, one that is quickly fading. Faith’s grip on his hand tightens, to the point where her wee fingernails are digging into his skin, and his heart sinks to his stomach as the blood seems to drain from Claire’s face.

 

A high-pitched whimper echoes through the silent room and he looks down, sees the tears begin to trail down Faith’s cheeks as she lets out a wail.

 

“Noooo!”

 

His attention is torn between the two of them. 

 

Claire, sitting huddled in bed, looks even smaller and more broken than when he first found her. The anguish written clearly on her features tears at his gut, makes him feel as though someone is trying to physically disassemble him.

 

Faith is quickly going red in the face. She wraps herself around his leg, shaking her head and continuing to weep. He can feel her trembling, sobbing as she tries to get the words out, to tell him what it is she wants. 

 

“Nooo, please! Can we go home?”

 

He casts a quick glance towards the bed and Christ, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. He’d wanted nothing more than a happy reunion between the two of them, and the sight of Claire, her glass face betraying the emotions doing battle beneath the surface – he feels as though he’s being torn in two. 

 

“Lovey… it’s okay, Mama’s here.” Claire opens her arms out towards them – towards Faith. The smile she’s wearing now is unnatural. He knows… he knows what joy looks like spreading across her features, and this isn’t it. 

 

She’s far too controlled.

 

He can only imagine the pain she feels.

 

He can only admire how strong she is –

 

A cliff battered by a stormy sea –

 

Pieces being chipped away by relentless waves –

 

And yet still standing.

 

Swallowing back his own tears, he extricates himself from Faith’s grip and tries his best to direct her attention back towards her mother. “Come now, lass,” he says, laying a hand on her back and urging her forward a little, “yer mam is right there.”

 

“Faith, it’s okay. I know you’re scared, lovey, but everything is going to be okay.”

 

Jamie hears the waver in Claire’s voice, sees the way her arms are trembling from the strain of reaching out towards Faith, who refuses to budge – refuses to even look up, gaze trained on the ground. He feels his own shoulders slump as he bends down to her level, cupping her face with one hand.

 

A leannan, ye’ve been askin’ fer yer mam for weeks and now ye want tae leave?” he asks gently, hoping to calm her, to change her mind.

 

She shakes her head, then nods, then wails even more loudly than before, her wee hands reaching out to tug at his coat.

 

“Please, please can we go home?”

 

Home.

 

She’s said it twice now. 

 

She means back to his house, with him, not in the arms of her mother, where she truly belongs.

 

“Faith…” he tries once more, brushing away a tear with his thumb only to have another replace it, endless streams cascading down the curve of her cheeks. 

 

“I don’t wanna stay here,” she whispers, but it’s a childlike whisper, one that is most certainly loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. There’s a sharp inhale from Claire, and he wants to go over there, to put his arms around her trembling form and tell her that Faith doesn’t mean it, that she’s just afraid. But he knows his words won’t help, that his touch is unwanted, and there’s a little lass right in front of him that needs his comfort more than anything. 

 

He rests his chin on Faith’s head, cradling her close as he looks over at Claire, seeking her guidance, seeking her permission. 

 

Claire – whose fists are clenched so tightly her knuckles are white. 

 

Claire – trembling fiercely even as sweat gathers at the nape of his neck.

 

Claire – tears beginning to pool in her whisky eyes, stubbornly refusing to fall.

 

A crack in the glass, fracturing, breaking into a thousand tiny pieces.

 

She shakes her head and whispers a single word. 

 

“Go.”

 

With a heavy sigh, he stands, pulling Faith up into his arms and letting her cry against his shoulder, setting one hand over her back and holding her close. 

 

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he whispers, before fleeing the room.

 

The last thing he sees as he makes his abrupt exit, is her – crumbling. 

 


 

It has to be the cocktail of drugs in her system because she’s rarely this outwardly emotional. She’s had a glass face her entire life, unable to conceal her thoughts and feelings, but she wasn’t prone to publicly bursting into tears. It was important to her to be strong in front of Faith, especially today of all days, having not seen her daughter for over a month and a half.

 

Claire had expected a tearful reunion, perhaps silently sobbing into her daughter’s girls, kissing her cheeks and holding her so that her little head rested right over her heart. 

 

She had not anticipated that the sight of her would scare Faith, would render her so terrified that she ran into the arms of another and begged to leave. 

 

It breaks her, shatters her beyond repair. 

 

She tries to rein herself in, to gain some semblance of control before the nurses have her transferred to the psychiatric ward for her unpredictable outbursts. Her nose is stuffy, snot and tears mingling on her face and pooling in the bow of her upper lip, and she wonders if she should cut her losses and wipe it off on the sheets or try and locate a tissue like a civilised person. 

 

It’s in the midst of this decision when she finds she’s no longer alone. The door — which had been left ajar when Jamie ran off with Faith bawling in his arms — is inched open, creaking the entire way, until a boy steps into the room, peering around, eyes alight with curiosity. With a head of chocolate brown curls and distinctive cherubic features, he doesn’t look old enough to be classed as a teenager.

 

When he speaks, it only adds to her confusion.

 

“Are you alright, milady?”

 

She’s grown used to the Scottish brogue of the medical staff and the Americanisms from Doctor Abernathy, but the boy’s accent is one she hasn’t heard in quite a while.

 

French.

 

Not bothering to wait any longer for a response (or an invitation for that matter), he pushes the door closed behind him. It doesn’t quite click into place, giving her the reassurance that she could still scream for help if this innocent child turns out to be a prolific serial killer. 

 

She sits up a little straighter, aware that she’s as far from authoritative as one could possibly be, pulling her arms across her chest and trying to sound confident when she speaks.

 

“Who are you, and what are you doing in my room?”

 

He puts a hand over the centre of his chest, wearing an expression of apologetic disbelief as he walks up to her. “Pardon, I have forgotten to introduce myself. Fergus Claudel Fraser.”

 

Fraser. She takes it all in once more — the tousled curls, ocean blue eyes, and charming smile — and she echoes her first thought aloud, seeking confirmation.

 

“Fraser?”

 

The boy, Fergus, nods enthusiastically.

 

“Oui! Milord— Jamie, he is my père, non papa. He took la petite outside to get some fresh air… she would not stop crying.”

 

And just like that there’s a fresh wave of pain, the knowledge that right now, her little girl is being comforted by another, all because she’d been scared to see her own mother. She sniffles, tries to keep the tears at bay, but it’s a hopeless endeavour. Just as she’s about to cave and wipe her face with the back of a hand, a box of tissues is thrust into her field of vision. She grabs two handfuls, wipes away all the bodily fluids, and blows her nose twice for good measure. Before she can even think to ask, Fergus is holding up a wastebasket, ready to receive the mound of crumpled tissues. 

 

Of course, Jamie Fraser’s son would be gallant and polite, the image of a perfect young gentleman. 

 

“Thank you,” she whispers. 

 

“No need to thank me, milady. It is an honour to finally meet Faith’s maman.”

 

She’s not entirely sure whether Geillis had mentioned any siblings; if the woman had, it must have been after she revealed the identity of Faith’s foster father. As much as it fills her with shame to think about, Claire had zoned out for the rest of the conversation, not paying much attention to anything that was said after the words Inspector Fraser. It’s good that Faith has another child for company, she thinks, especially seeing how well-mannered the boy is. The only thing that troubles her is wondering where the boy picked up his accent. 

 

His mother, most likely.

 

A woman in France.

 

As she had once been.

 

Lost in a spiral of nonsensical thoughts, she’s only brought back to reality when Fergus takes her silence as an opportunity to begin chattering away. He speaks mostly of Faith, about her favourite toys and snacks, about the mischief they’ve gotten up to while playing with his many cousins, the fun they’ve had together in the past month. 

 

“I know she has not been with us for very long, but she is the best petite souer I have ever had. I will miss her when she goes back to England. Milord too. I think if he did not find you, la petite would have stayed with us forever. But it is better this way, non? She has missed you very much.”

 

She begins to consider the implications of his words. Fergus is clearly fond of her daughter and pays much attention to her, having learned so many of her quirks in such a short span of time. Having never had siblings of her own, she often wonders what a bond like that must be like. The second part of his declaration frightens her a little. There are many things about James Fraser she had once been sure about, things that she no longer believes to be true. But one thing she knows without a doubt is that he’s passionate.

 

If he truly cares so deeply for her child, she believes Fergus’ words, that Faith would have found a permanent home with them. Before she can allow herself to delve any further, to begin considering the effect that her mortality may have on their future, the door is pushed open once more, revealing a very frazzled Jamie and a now sleeping Faith. He pays no heed to her as he steps into the room, stepping right up to Fergus and placing a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. 

 

“Lad, I thought I told ye tae stay outside. Ye shouldna be in here botherin’ Claire.”

 

From Jamie’s tone of voice, she senses that the poor boy is about to get a very public scolding, and decides to intervene, grateful that he has taken the time to speak with her.

 

“No, it’s alright. He’s been keeping me company, haven’t you, Fergus?”

 

“Oui!”

 

She smiles at him, sees him smiling in return, and notices the odd expression on Jamie’s face as his gaze darts between the two of them. He doesn’t speak though — just stands there and observes, Faith motionless in his grasp. Before she can talk herself out of it, she clears her throat, drawing his attention.

 

“Do you…” she starts, feeling strange for even asking.

 

“Aye, what is it?”

 

“Could I hold her? Just for a minute, while she’s sleeping?” 

 

For a second, she wonders if he’ll say no, if he’ll flee the room once more, taking away the one thing that had bound her to this earth when she had grown close to giving up. But then he’s moving closer, very carefully setting Faith down in her lap, afraid to jostle her and disrupt her slumber. 

 

Despite her protestations earlier, Faith seems to have no reservations while unconscious, immediately curling up and resting her head on the centre of Claire’s chest. With her child at peace in her arms, she can see the changes that have occurred in their time apart. It could be that her mind is playing tricks on her, but Faith seems a little heavier now, her hair slightly longer than before. 

 

Claire is careful to keep her touches light, gently resting her cheek against the top of Faith’s head, fingers smoothing over her back. She closes her eyes and imagines they’re back home in England, curled up together early one weekend, not a care in the world but one another. 

 

And then Faith shifts and she’s brought back to reality. 

 

Inhaling, she’s hit with the gentle scent of honeydew melon and something else, roses perhaps. 

 

It’s calming.

 

Looking up and across the room, she sees Jamie standing there, arm draped over Fergus’ shoulder, the pair of them silent observers to quite possibly one of the most vulnerable moments in her life. She can’t explain why, but she’s grateful for their presence.

 

“Thank you,” she whispers.

 

“Dinna fash,” Jamie responds, biting down on the inside of his cheek as if to physically stop himself from saying any more.

 

It doesn’t hit her till much later that he hadn’t called her Sassenach.  

 

By her request, of course.

 

It takes her a little longer to realise that she wishes he had.

 


 

Jamie spends the day at work ridden with guilt and worrying about Faith, having little choice but to just drop her off with Jenny in order to make it back to the station on time. He doesn’t have a chance to see how she’s faring, to have a wee chat with her about the earlier incident, and it eats away at him. His mind cannot help but conjure images of her crying in his sister’s arms, unable to be consoled. 

 

She’s quiet but free of tears when he picks her up after collecting Fergus, not making a peep all through dinner and bath time, and it scares him. When it’s time for bed, he sits with her, holding her tiny hand. He knows that she’ll be seeing her doctor tomorrow, someone trained to provide her with support, but he needs to do his part, whatever he can to make her life a little easier.

 

“I ken what happened today must have been verra scary for ye, a leannan. And ye dinna need tae explain yerself tae me. Sometimes we have feelings and we cannot control them.”

 

She nods, still silent, reminding him very much of the first few days they spent together. 

 

“Yer mam is trying her best tae get better, and I ken she doesna look as ye remembered, but she’s still yer mam. She loves ye verra much and all she wanted was tae see ye again, tae hold ye.”

 

He hopes his words don’t make her feel any semblance of guilt. It’s not her fault that she’d reacted the way she had. It’s something neither he nor Claire had paused to consider, that the injuries to her face (even partially healed) would be so terrifying for Faith to see. 

 

“Do ye ken that ye give the best hugs? Do ye not think yer Ma would get better faster if ye gave her a hug?”

 

He feels her nod against his chest and then wrap her wee arms around him, to the best of her ability. 

 

“Can we go and see Mama tomorrow?” she asks, newly determined and no longer afraid.

 

“Are ye sure, lass?” The last thing he wants is to pile on some additional emotional trauma for either one of them.

 

“I want to say sorry,” she tells him, eyes downcast, lashes dark against her pale skin. 

 

He softens at that, leaning down and pressing a kiss to her cheek. She pats his in return, wee fingers tapping against the line of his jaw. 

 

“Och, ye dinna need tae do such a thing. Yer mam understands, I promise ye.”

 

She shakes her head and then looks up at him, offering words of wisdom that linger in his mind even as he falls asleep later that night.

 

“Mama says it never hurts to show someone that you’re sorry.”

 


 

The first thing Claire does when she’s alone once more is to take stock of her injuries.

 

She examines her hands, the only parts of her body that have been left unmarred. Her wrists, the marks from where the shackles had cut into her skin. Her arms, slashes and gashes, all stitched back together, a rainbow of bruises, painted above and beneath the surface. It’s not possible to see the damage done anywhere else; she’s still bandaged up for the most part, and only catches a quick glimpse here or there when gauze is replaced or incision sites are inspected for infection. She’s healing up more slowly than they would like, her weakened body protesting each and every step of the way. They don’t voice their concerns to her; it’s foolish, because she can see for herself.

 

Mostly.

 

When a nurse comes in to check her vitals at midday, she asks for a mirror. He’s young, inexperienced, and doesn’t quite have it in him to conceal his reactions around patients. Claire can see the horror in his eyes, the reluctance, but she doesn’t back down.

 

Twenty minutes later, a small handheld mirror is set down beside her bed, just within reach. She waits until the door is firmly shut, knowing that she won’t be disturbed for the next hour, before grasping the handle and laying it face down in her lap.

 

For the longest time, she sits there —

 

— breathes — 

 

— tries to prepare herself for what she might see.

 

Finding a surge of courage, she turns it over and brings it upwards, holding it across from her face. 

 

She stares, but doesn’t recognise the woman staring back. 

 

She blinks, and the image does too. 

 

She shakes her head, and the motions are mirrored.

 

Vanity had never been more than a fleeting thought for her, with so many things in her life that were more important. 

 

But now, being unable to recognise the image of herself, it terrifies her. Makes her hands shake and body tremble, causes her heart to beat erratically. She’d been able to entertain other causes for Faith’s panic earlier, but now, seeing herself for the first time after, she understands completely.

 

Beneath it all, she thinks she can still see herself, the shell of what she once was. There are still parts she knows to be familiar, but there’s no denying that she isn’t the same person she was before.

 

And so there’s one thing she cannot make sense of, a riddle she cannot solve. 

 

She doesn’t understand how he could stand there and look at her so, as though she hadn’t changed at all.