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Familiar Black Eyes

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Claire steps outside into the crisp Boston air, her large anatomy textbook clutched tight against her chest, and breaths out a sigh. 

        “ Finally .” she thinks to herself. It’s often in moments like these she thinks about how grateful she is to finally be living out her passions again. Frank had been less than receptive to the idea of her trying to become a surgeon, but it wasn’t his opinion that mattered most to her. 

        With a slight shake of her head, she begins to make her way down the stairs and on her way to the car park to go home. The thought of Jamie was a constant ache inside of her and although she knows he must be watching down and beaming with pride at her tenacity -stubbornness if she’s being honest with herself- she still feels that omnipresent tug at her heartstrings. 

        “ This is what I’m meant to do, ” she tells herself for what must be the millionth time. “ This is what he would want. ” Claire lifts her head higher and begins the gut-wrenching process of trying to push the thoughts of her lost Highlander out of her head.

        She becomes so wrapped up in the memory of his glowing red hair that she almost misses the young woman calling her name. Almost .

        “Claire!” shouts the voice. Not wanting to be further delayed in returning home to her young daughter, Claire ignores the call and presses on. It’s not until she hears those two words together that she comes to a grinding halt, heels digging into the cobblestone. “Claire Fraser!”

        “ That’s impossible. ” she thinks. There are only three people left on this earth that know that name and two are Scotland, the other her now-husband. None of them are the owner of this young female voice. Claire begs her feet to trudge onward, forcing herself to believe she’s just hearing things but it feels as if every single drop of blood has left her body. Her fingers and toes have turned to ice and her head swims as if underwater.

        “Claire Fraser!” the voice shouts again, and the sound of running shoes behind her shoot her back to reality. She’s about to march on when suddenly a short young woman is standing before her. “It is you.” the woman says. “I wasn’t totally sure but you’re eyes are a dead giveaway. They really do look just like whiskey.”

        The words flow right through Claire’s mind and she barely registers them. She knows this woman. But how? The familiar black eyes stare up at her, and a kind smile dances at her lips. Claire is certain she’s never seen her before, but something about her is causing her hands to shake and mind to race.

        “I- I’m sorry but, d-do I know you?” Claire stutters. The woman’s smile grows and she shrugs her broad shoulders.

        “Not technically, but I know you.” she reaches her hand out and Claire grasps it, still trembling violently too shocked to question what the hell was happening. “My name is Bernadette. You were friends with my grandfather.”

        “How do you-” Claire starts but is unable to finish. She hasn’t heard her former name out loud in nearly three years. How on earth does this stranger know?

        “There’s something I need to talk to you about. Can we go somewhere a bit more private?” says Bernadette. 

        “French, ” Claire thinks absently. “ She’s French. ” the accent isn’t strong, but it is there. Still reeling from her sudden shot back in time, she’s frozen in place. 

        “Please,” Bernadette grabs her arm. “You need to hear this.” Bernadette tugs Claire gently, leading her away from the throngs of students milling about. 

        They walk in silence, Claire beginning to regain feeling in her lower extremities. Unfortunately, though, this means her mind starts to race. Images of her past life shoot across her vision as she is led to a small park on campus away from prying eyes and ears. Jamie is at the forefront of her thoughts and she feels as though she’s about to cry. Or scream. Or maybe both. 

        “Who are you?” Claire says, surprising herself with how steady her voice sounds. Bernadette smiles softly and sits them down at a small table. Claire places her heavy textbook down and busies herself by fiddling with pages to try and hide how badly she’s shaking. “And who’s your grandfather?”

        “I’m shocked you still haven’t figured that out, Madonna,” she says. “Many people say I bear a striking resemblance to grand-père.” it hits Claire like a bolt of lightning.

        Master Raymond .

        She can see it now. She’s soon not starring into the eyes of this strange Bernadette, but instead into the face of her old friend from Paris. The tall, wide forehead, the barrel chest, and short stature. This is Raymonds’ granddaughter.

        “But-but how?” Claire whispers after a minute of silence. “He’s-he’s not dead?”

        “Well, I’m not too sure how is now that he’s gone back,” Bernadette says with a coy grin. “Last he told me he was hoping to aid some American Indians trying to get to North Carolina. He was hoping to get them to Ocracoke in the 17th century I believe? I have every reason to think he was successful.”

        “He’s a traveler too?” Claire nearly shouts. Despite how unique a man Raymond was, this thought never crossed her mind fully. She might have thought or assumed he was simply otherworldly or different, but a traveler like her as well? She tried to think back to everything he ever said to her and figure out if he ever left any sort of clue or hint but her brain still isn’t functioning properly.

        “Oui,” says Bernadette, snapping her out of her inner spiral. “Same as me and my family for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

        Claire looks away from the woman and tries to focus on anything but the feelings being flooded inside of her right now. Of all the ludicrous things she imagined happening to her today this was the last on the list. In fact, it must have been so incredibly far down you would need to travel thousands of miles to reach it.

        “How much do you know?” Claire asks dumbly. Obviously, she must know enough to be sitting in front of her right now.

        “More than you,” she replies. Claire whips her head back to face her.

        “What the hell does that mean?” she bites.

        “That’s why I’m here, Madonna.” Bernadette replies calmly, resting a hand onto Claire’s now still one. It’s only then she notices the faint blue tint glowing around their connection. The very same as when Raymond healed her after the loss of Faith. 

        The remembrance of her first daughter sends a familiar pang through her but she pushes it away for now, alongside the memory of Jamie.

        Jamie

        “You know what happened to him don’t you?” Claire tried hard to never think about the fate of her true love. Not wanting to confirm that he fulfilled his wish of dying with his men on Culloden Moor. Without that knowledge, she could continue to live in ignorance that he was still alive and with her somehow. Brianna helps her with that illusion well enough, but to hear for certain that Jamie died some painful, gruesome death at the hands of the Redcoats would be enough to finish her for good. The image of him charging into battle, squeezing his left hand against his sword to feel the carving of the letter C she left was death to her enough.

        “That’s what I need to tell you. I promise that you want to hear this.” Bernadette once again interrupts her runaway train of thoughts.

        “I don’t think I do,” Claire states, resolutely, and makes to stand up and run as far away from this ghost of a friend as possible, but is stopped by three small words. 

        “He is alive.” Claire turns to face her so quickly she briefly feels as if she’s about to faint. Spurred by her silence, Bernadette continues. “He survived Culloden. Barely, I might add. He was supposed to be executed along with the other prisoners that survived as well but he managed to escape.”

        A humorless laugh bubbles from Claire’s throat. Of course, he bloody did.

        “I’m afraid I’m unaware of the particulars but he somehow ended up back at Lallybroch and with the rest of his family.”

        So it worked then? Young Fergus made it to Lallybroch in time? Claire begins to sit back down, both desperate to hear the rest of this story and not hear one more word at the same time.

        “How do you know this?” Claire says, firmly. “How do I know you’re not just… making this up?” Bernadette chuckles.

         “I knew you wouldn’t believe me without proof. Jamie arrived at Lallybroch gravely injured and at death’s door. Jenny Murray had absolutely none of it, however. She forced him to eat and drink when possible and remembered everything you said about keeping wounds clean and free from germs.” Bernadette pauses for a moment, seeming to choose her words with care. “Jamie tried to die. He tried as hard as he could. He couldn’t bear to live in a world without you. Or his child.”

        Of course, Claire had thought millions of times throughout the three years the pain that Jamie must have suffered through, but she never quite realized the true depth of it. Not only was he going to be marching headfirst into certain death, he was doing so while grieving not just his wife but his second child he would never meet or know. Remembering the pain that she went through after losing Faith and how much she wished for her life to end as well, she now understands his desire to want to end as quickly as possible.

        “How did Jenny save him?” Claire gets out. It’s just one of the thousands of questions she has, but it is the first one to escape her lips.

        “She remembered how you used polticies and heat to kill bacteria so she did just that. When his infection got so severe he was bouncing back between dead and alive she poured boiling water into his wound to clean as much as she could.” Bernadette grimaces. The thought of scorching water being dumped into an open gash is enough to make Claire squirm on the wooden seat. She knew Jenny Fraser Murray was made of stout stuff, but this only goes to prove it even more. 

        “What next?”

        “Well, Jamie eventually healed in and stayed at Lallybroch to help his family during the aftermath. You know all about the raids and the clearances I assume?” Claire nods silently, urging Bernadette to continue. “He lived in a cave for some years, only coming by the house once every month or no since it was too dangerous to be around more than that. Him being a wanted criminal and all.”

        Bernadette goes on, telling Claire how Jamie, the Murrays, and Fergus survived the years following Culloden. She tells her about how Jamie turned himself into the Redcoats willingly in order to spare his family from the danger of harboring a fugitive. Claire then hears about his time after prison, spending years at an estate called Hellwater as a stable hand. It’s not until Bernadette says he eventually moved to Edinburgh and opened a print shop that Claire stops her.

         “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” as much as Claire wants to believe every word she’s hearing, it still feels as if she’s listening to some fairytale. Some made-up story to help her sleep at night and not think about the fact that she’s essentially trapped in the 20th century for the rest of her days.

        “That’s why I’m here.” Bernadette grins, and reached into the knapsack she placed on the table. “This is what I mean by you will want to listen to me.” Claire sits up straighter as she carefully hands her a weathered-looking rolled up document. “Open it.”

         Once again shocked by how steady her hands had become, Claire carefully unrolls the paper. Along the top in a delicate scrawl reads, The Commonwealth of North Carolina .

        “What does this have to do with me?” Claire says, looking up the paper.

        “Look at the bottom,” Bernadette replies, pointing a stubby finger to the end of the page. 

        Claire freezes once more, eyes glued to the names written in cursive script gracing the document signed in 1767.

        James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser

        Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser

        “I go back?”



Chapter Text

        Claire sits outside of her house tapping on the steering wheel of her car. She’s been waiting here for the past twenty-seven minutes, but for what, she can’t say. Rationally, she knew that there would be absolutely no way she really would try to go back and find Jamie, but now that she has proof. . .

        The slamming of her neighbors front door jars her from her reverie and she finally bites the bullet and heads inside. The house is quiet downstairs, meaning that Brianna is likely still asleep, and Frank is tucked away in his office working. She shoves the land grant further into her purse before hanging it onto the coat rack and heading off in search of her daughter.

        As expected, the two-year-old redhead is asleep on her back with a small, pudgy arm draped over her eyes. A pained smile crosses Claire’s face as she approaches the bassinet. She discovered early on that Brianna inherited a majority of her traits from her father. One of them being the small smile she releases if you touch her hair while she’s asleep. For the first few months of her life, Claire spent hours trying to pick out Jamie’s features in her daughter while she napped or nursed, but this was the clearest way to see the resemblance.

        “Christ!” exclaims a voice quietly behind her. Claire jumps and turns to face Frank, her hand quickly moving away from Brianna as if she’d been lit on fire. “You’re so quiet I didn’t hear you come in. How long have you been back?” he asks before planting a chaste, cold kiss on her cheek.

        “Not long,” she replies, leaving out the time she spent pondering her future inside the driver's seat of her car.

        “How was class?” Frank bends slightly to tuck the knitted blanket around Brianna’s shoulders.

        “Alright,” Claire responds. Frank turns to face her and furrows his brows.

        “Are you feeling okay, darling? You seem a bit pale.” Claire touches a hand to her face where Franks’ lips had been a moment ago. While there was no physical affection with him that ever felt right , this one, in particular, sent ice down her spine.

        “Yes, yes I’m fine. Just a bit tired is all.” she tries to put her most convincing smile on her face but knows that she isn’t fooling anyone. Frank huffs and turns to exit the room.

        “I told you that raising a child and going to medical school would be tough. Tried to warn you.” he leaves without closing the door. Claire unconsciously curls her fists at her sides and forces the tears welling in her eyes to recede. She only lets herself be frustrated for a moment before taking a steadying breath. 

        “ It’s not his fault, ” she tells herself. “ He’s just trying to look out for you. ” she gives Brianna one last look then leaves the bedroom. 

        It’s a few hours later when she’s sitting on the settle with her textbook propped on her legs, barely reading a word. Her purse on the coat rack behind her feels as if it’s boring a hole into her skull, but she knows she can’t pull it out again right now. Not until Frank has gone to bed. Claire sips her glass of whiskey and places it back down onto the coffee table.

        “Mama look!” shouts Brianna, shoving the board picture book onto her lap. “Dog!”

        “Yes, very good! That’s a dog!” Claire replies with one of her first genuine smiles of the evening. “What’s his name?” Brianna pouts her lower lip, looking so much like Jamie that Claire feels a visceral reaction and picks up her glass again, gripping the sweaty cup tighter than necessary.

        “Bozo,” Brianna finally answers.

        “That’s not a nice word, sweetheart.” Claire gently taps Bree’s nose, eliciting a giggle.

        “Daddy says it all tha’ time.”

        “Well then looks like I will need to have a little talk with Daddy, won’t I?” Claire ruffles Brianna’s hair before turning her head down and back to her book.

        “Have a talk about what?” says Franks’ voice from behind her. His gait is slightly staggered and Claire believes he likely had a bit too much to drink up in his study. A more and more common occurrence of late.

        “About what words are appropriate to say around my daughter.” while her response was meant to sound lighthearted and playful, Frank tenses and takes a stiff sip from his glass.

        “ Your daughter?” Claire glances up at him as her smile falls.

        “ Our daughter. Sorry.” Frank grunts again before scooping Bree off the couch and into his arms.

        “Well, I think it’s about time for somebody’s daughter to head to bed.” Claire hides the roll of her eyes. Somebody is right. She was expecting a voice of complaint from her stubborn child, but instead, she just nods and tucks her head into Franks’ shoulder.

        “I’m no’ tired,” she mumbles.

        “I think you are, princess. What book would you like to read tonight?” the sound of Franks’ heavy footfalls as he ascends the stairs echo throughout the house. Giving up on studying for the night, Claire tosses the textbook onto the couch cushion next to her and finishes the whiskey in one large sip. Just as she reaches for the decanter to pour herself another finger or so, she feels her hands begin to quake. Bits and pieces of her conversation with Bernadette still play throughout her head and she quickly decides she wants to find out more. 

        She still hasn’t quite decided to believe her fully or not, but it might not be too difficult to do some further research. Part of her deal with Frank was to never talk about the past, to just let it go. That promise hadn’t really been too hard in practice. While she thought about her time in the 18th century constantly, it was easy to not disturb Frank with it. She still vividly remembers the look on his face while he stared at her as she told him everything. So void of emotion and feeling.

        There has to be some way to look into the validity of Bernadettes’ story without him finding out. She resolves to simply wait until he is asleep before doing some research in his office. If he really did drink slightly more than normal he should fall asleep and stay asleep tonight.

        Claire quietly heads upstairs to say goodnight to Brianna before getting herself ready for bed. She finds Frank sitting on the rocking chair pulled next to the bassinet, reading from one of the dozens of books in her room. His head turns to her as she enters and sits on the chair on the opposite end of the room.

        “Is she asleep yet?” Claire whispers.

        “Just,” he replies. “But I like sitting here and talking to her.” the sincerity in his voice breaks her heart further. How could she ever leave him here? She’s already caused him enough pain and suffering from her return, how could she do it to him again? Not to mention she has no idea whether or not she brings Brianna with her or leaves her here. Neither option soothes her in the slightest.

        “Me too,” she answers plainly. “She’s a very good listener.” he chuckles before standing up and returning the book to the shelf. He holds his hand out to her in a silent apology for the minor confrontation from earlier and she accepts it, pulling herself up to her feet. Before she has a chance to understand what is happening, his arms are around her waist and he’s burying his head into her hair.

        “I do so love you, you know,” he says into her curls. At a loss for appropriate words, she just responds with,

        “I know you do.” then she pulls away and goes off to her room. He lingers for a moment, then follows Claire soundlessly.

        After dressing and preparing herself to sleep, she sits at her vanity brushing out her curls and placing them into a loose plait.

        “What happened today, Claire?” Frank asks as he unbuttons his shirt. “You’ve been off since you came home from class." Claire releases a deep breath.

        “I just… heard something this afternoon, is all. It’s slightly rattled me.” she’s not sure why she’s at least somewhat telling the truth. In all honesty, the last thing she wants is for Frank to learn of what she’s discovered.

        “Would you like to talk about it? A problem shared is a problem halved after all.” she can see his coy grin in the reflection of the mirror. That was something they used to say to each other in their time reconnecting after the war. They both had suffered through some horrendous things and often found solace in telling the other in the safe darkness of their bed. She turns to face him on the stool.

        “I’m alright.” she eventually says. “Thank you though. Truly.” Frank comes to kneel down beside her and grasps her hands gently.

        “You can still talk to me, love. I know that things have been… unsteady between us lately, but I am always here for you. Always.” he presses his hands to his lips and looks up at her through his eyelashes. He looks so much like the young man she fell in love with so many years ago that it takes her breath away. It’s so rare to have moments where she feels like the foolish 19-year-old Claire in love that she always takes and appreciates them. She places her hand on the side of his face and smiles.

        “I know you are. Thank you.” 

        They make their way to bed not long after. “This is where you need to be. You can’t go back.” As painful as it is to think, she knows that she’s right, and ultimately decides to abandon her idea of searching through his office. She tosses and turns for hours that night, unable to settle her mind in the slightest. 

        What the hell is she going to do?

Chapter Text

        His rough, calloused hand trails down her face as light as a feather. Sparkling blue eyes bore into her, spilling thousands of words of love and affirmation without making a single sound. Claire tries to reach her hand up to touch his but he quickly moves it away.

        “No, Sorcha.” he whispers. “Let me look at you.” his eyes move slowly down her face, neck, and body, taking everything in. His other hand gently graces her waist above the thin fabric of her chemise.

        “I love you,” Claire says, voice cracking with unshed tears. “I should’ve told you that more. I love you.” Jamie just smiles and pulls her body closer to his. His natural warmth radiates throughout her entire being, heating her up from the outside in.

        “You didn’t have to. I can feel it,” he says. Present tense. He can feel it. Still does, and always will. As long as we both shall live.

        “I love you,” she repeats, tears now flowing freely down her cheeks. He kisses the tears away and pulls back to stare into her eyes once more.

        “I love you too, mo nighean donn.” he drops his forehead onto hers. She again tries to reach up to feel the rough stubble of his chin, but her hand moves straight through his face. Claire’s head whips up to find Jamie gone, and her standing alone in the middle of a field of rolling hills. Without warning, a screeching fills her ears and she claps her hands over her head to try and muffle the sound. 

        “Please! Help me! It hurts!” screams a voice. Claire looks around wildly trying to find the source but instead finds herself face-to-face with the monolith. It’s imposing height making her feel two inches tall in its shadow.

        “No, no,” Claire says to the stone. “I can’t do this again. No!” she begins to feel herself pull towards the stone, unable to stop her feet from moving. Then, it’s her own screams filling the air around her.

        “Claire,” a distant voice calls to her. “Claire!” her body is shaking violently, begging her to stop this torture. “Claire, darling wake up.”

        “Jamie, help me!” she cries, wishing for release from the pain.

        “Claire!” Franks’ face pops into her vision as her eyes fly open. Her heart pounds in her chest, and her entire body shakes terribly. “Love, you were having a nightmare. Everything is okay, I promise.” Claire bolts up from the bed, throwing on her dressing gown, and nearly running down the stairs. She can hear Frank following behind, calling her name. She ignores him completely and swings the door to the back garden open. 

        The humid air hangs around her like a warm blanket, but still does wonders to soothe her racing mind. She looks up to the sky, longing to see the endless expanse of stars that scatter across the Scottish Highlands instead of the light-polluted Boston night. Despite the heat, she wraps her robe tighter around herself, trying desperately to emulate the feeling of Jamie’s arms, failing miserably.

        She hasn’t had a dream that realistic in months. They usually consist of fleeting moments or memories or touches. Never has she been able to see his full face and feel his hands on her body. All of the feelings she has kept repressed inside of her are dangerously close to either pouring out or choking her. She doesn’t know which she would prefer.

        “Claire,” Frank appears in front of her, snapping his fingers in her face. His eyes are hard as steel, so very different from the ones full of adoration that were looking at her in her dream just moments ago. “What happened to you today? And don’t give me some ridiculous excuse this time.”

        “Frank I-” she starts.

        “You screamed his name out loud.” he interrupts. Claire freezes, digging her nails into her palms. “I haven’t heard you even whisper it in almost three years, but tonight you come home looking white as a ghost, say that bullshit about your daughter, and now you’re practically begging for this man to come to help while your husband is laying in bed right next to you.”

        “Nothing happened Frank I promise. I just-”

        “Lies!” Frank exclaims. “More lies! Just talk to me Godamnit!” he places his hands roughly on her shoulders.

        “You are the one that made me promise not to!” Claire shouts back, stepping away and out of his grasp. “You said that after I told you where I was that I was to never speak of him again.”

        “But here you are screaming his name in the dead of night!” his voice has somehow raised even higher, and for a brief instant she worries about the neighbors hearing, but the feeling is gone the second it arrives. “Jesus, Claire, I just want you to, for once, think about how I feel in all of this. I’ve been endlessly patient with you but… God, you’re making it incredibly difficult right now.”

         Claire feels as if her mouth is full of cotton. Her brain too. Both incapable of forming a single, coherent thought. Her eyes dart all around the garden and her hands fidget with the tie of her robe, trying to keep steady.

        “How… how you feel?” she stammers. Frank laughs, humorlessly.

        “Has that thought never once crossed your mind? How I might be feeling in this situation?” his voice sounds hauntingly low.

        “Of course it has. Constantly.” Claire whispers. She finally brings her eyes to his, only to find that his are glaring into her.

        “You’ve always been a terrible, terrible liar,” Claire swears she can feel her heart shattering into millions of tiny, jagged pieces. Has that not been the reason for her inner turmoil? How Frank would feel about her return to Jamie? Still, she can’t find it in herself to tell him the truth, despite how much it pains her. To think that just a few years ago they were once a living, breathing unit, an unstoppable force of love and passion, and now they can barely look at one another without thinking of all the terrible things both done and said tears her apart.

        “Do you really not have a single thing to say?” Frank says. It’s at that moment she realizes that minutes have passed since she last spoke. All she can do is shake her head and move her gaze away again. 

        Another minute passes before Frank turns on his heel and goes back inside the house. She later hears the sound of their car engine revving, then speeding away down the road. The outside air soon becomes stiflingly warm, so Claire goes back in, locking the back door behind her.

        She stands in the living room staring at her bare feet considering what to do next. Knowing that she won’t be able to fall asleep again tonight, and selfishly not wanting to look at her daughter in fear she’ll burst again, she just stands.

        It could be seconds or hours later that she discovers her feet are moving again. She’s halfway to Franks’ office when she realizes where she’s going. This might be the only time she’ll have to find out as much as she can. 

        The door is locked, as always, but Claire knows where he keeps the key. She stands on the tips of her toes to reach the crown molding above the door and slides her hand along until the small brass key falls to the rug. With the door unlocked, she slowly steps inside. It’s not that Frank forbade her from coming in, -the door being locked was mostly for Briannas’ safety, after all- but he had never explicitly told Claire she could.

        The bookshelves are lined floor to ceiling in books, and various stacks of papers litter the entire room. Unsure of where to start, she first steps to his desk and rifles around for a bit. Finding mostly essays from his students, she begins to turn away, until a folded paper catches her eye. She carefully picks it up and unfolds the well-handled parchment.

 

        Frank,

 

        I have completed the research you mentioned in your previous correspondence. While some insight as to why I needed to find this information for you would have been appreciated, I have done so nonetheless. Below you will find everything about one James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser after his time at the Battle of Culloden that I could easily procure. It’s not much, mind you, but it is a start.

        James Fraser appeared to be the only one of five officers from Simon Fraser, 11th Lord of Lovat’s’ army to survive. He spent many years hiding away in an estate called Lallybroch where eventually he was captured and taken to Ardsmuir prison. Here is where I begin to lose track of him. The prison closed for some reason or another, and the next time I find his name in full is years later on a muster roll for a militia in North Carolina, circa. 1770. He appeared to be their colonel.

        His name appears a number of more times as a colonel, and even once as a general at the Battle of Yorktown. He apparently resigned his post as general after that battle for an unknown reason, but it was stated in correspondence by General George Washington. I’m curious to know how you came to hear of this man, as his military history is nothing particularly spectacular or noteworthy, and likely wouldn’t add any substance to historical text.

        I seem to lose him completely after that. No marriage licenses, death certificates, passenger logs, or anything of the sort. Not quite an enigma, but fairly close. I personally believe he likely perished at some battle during the Revolutionary War and either the certificate was lost to time, or was never recorded in the first place.

        Please let me know if I can be of any more help.

 

        Reverend Reginald Wakefield 

 

        Post scriptum: I performed a touch more research after completing this letter and can confirm I have indeed found a death certificate, however, the nature of it is rather puzzling and I cannot figure it out.

        The certificate states that on January the 21st, 1770, James Fraser and his wife Claire Fraser both perished in a blaze at their home on a settlement called Frasers Ridge in North Carolina. However, this predates the Battle of Yorktown, where he clearly fought and made a name for himself, by over 10 years. While I could have found a different James Fraser, I highly doubt that there were two men, both hailing from Scotland, bearing the exact same name, living in the same colony, and being high-ranking military officials. I have provided the death certificate as well as a copy of a newspaper article entry with this letter in hopes that you can perhaps see something that I am missing.

        If you can solve this puzzle please inform me of the answer at your earliest convenience,

 

        Post scriptum #2: How ironic! Upon further review of the article, I have discovered that James Frasers' wife was also a healer named Claire. My first thought was distant ancestor, but as your wife hails from the United Kingdom, I find that rather unlikely.

        Please let me know in your next post how your wife and daughter are doing. It lightens my heart to hear she is now attending medical school. Give her and wee Brianna my sincerest regards.

 

        Claire stares down at the letter from the Reverand trying to organize her racing thoughts. Not only has she again found further confirmation that she does indeed travel back to find Jamie, -and will eventually die there- Frank knows that she does. After checking the post date on the letter, she discovers it was sent nearly four months ago. 

        Claire rifles through the mountains of papers on the desk before finally coming into contact with the aforementioned death certificate and article.

 

        The Wilmington Gazette April 18 1770

        News from the country today, landowner James Fraser, along with his wife, a notable healer, Claire Fraser, have perished in a fire at their home on Fraser’s Ridge on January 21st, 1770. The cause of the fire is unknown. James and Claire Fraser leave behind no known children.

 

        Her world begins to spin so violently she crashes down onto the leather chair behind the desk.

 

        “That bloody bastard,” Claire says out loud. “That bloody, fucking bastard.”



Chapter Text

        Hands shaking with rage, Claire paces back and forth in front of the fireplace. It was nearing seven in the morning. Brianna would likely be awake soon. Frank still wasn’t home. After discovering the letter from the Reverend, Claire spent a couple of more hours rifling through Franks’ office, hoping to find anything else he may have written or read somewhere. 

        At this moment in time, she’s unsure what is a bigger shock to her. That she definitely, without a doubt now knows she will go back to the 18th century again, or that Frank has known this entire time, and never told her a word. She tried to rationalize with herself, saying that Frank has already suffered enough heartache and pain that he might just want to keep her around for as long as he can, but at the same time, he has seen first-hand how much she has struggled since her return. No matter how long she paces for, she can’t come to a conclusion.

        The sound of a key turning in the lock signals that Frank has finally returned home. Claire planned to approach him as calmly as possible and hopefully have a good, honest discussion about what the next steps are going to be, but after seeing him drunkenly stagger into the house with the support of a younger blonde woman, Claire forgets everything she was thinking.

        “What the fucking hell, Frank!” Claire shouts, startling the young woman. Her blue eyes widen and she begins frantically shaking her head.

        “I’m so sorry, I promise I had no idea! He told me he was single and-and that his wife died and-” the woman stammers.

        “Well, I’m not dead yet am I, darling?” Claire steps towards Frank, shoving her face into his view. His puffy eyes rapidly dilate in an attempt to focus on her.

         “Hmph,” he grunts. “Unfortunately not.” his head slumps forward, bringing his entire body crashing to the ground. The blonde squeaks as she tries to maintain her balance, but quickly sees it’s a losing fight so she lets him collapse face-first onto the hardwood.

        “I’m so incredibly sorry again, Mrs. Culpepper, it truly was an honest mistake. I would never in a million years see a married man-” 

        “I’m sorry… Culpepper?” Claire interrupts. The woman’s eyes somehow widen even further and her hands begin to fidget with her small purse.

        “Is that not… your last name? Frank Culpepper? And his wife’s’ name is Claire Culpepper?” she begins to chew on her lower lip. Poor woman . Claire thinks to herself. Through absolutely no fault of her own, she’s now embroiled in a married couple’s life and is likely feeling as if she’s about to get beat or taken to court.

        “It’s Randall, darling.” the name that once sounded sweet on her mouth now turns to ash as it leaves her lips. 

        “Oh. Well, I’m terribly sorry again, Mrs. Randall. Is there anything at all I can do? I feel absolutely shameful.” her big blue eyes plead to Claire. She can’t be more than… 22? At most?

        “Don’t apologize you didn’t know,” Claire’s anger has been quietly simmering inside of her this entire exchange, and now that the man she planned to release it all out on is snoring in the entryway, she desperately tries to calm herself down. “But I do have one quick question. How long has this been going on?”

        “Umm,” the woman taps her painted red nails against each other. “I think maybe six months? We uh- met in a bar.” her face blushes deeply and she turns her gaze away from Claire. Claire can tell she’s a great deal more embarrassed than upset, and thankfully isn’t taking her frustrations out on Claire herself.

        “I’m sorry you had to get yourself involved in this- this… mess. But thank you for bringing him home, Miss…?” 

        “Lipsky, ma’am. Gale Lipsky.” Gale gives a slight dip in the knees, then with a tight smile turns on her heel and runs out of the house and straight to the nearest bus stop.

        Claire stares out the door for a moment while Frank snores and grunts at her feet. She can almost smell the whiskey and rum coming off of him in waves. Perhaps she’s overtired, or already highly stimulated, but she’s not nearly as angry as she thought she was. There obviously still is frustration, and pain swirling around inside of her, but there’s absolutely no regret or resentment or betrayal. At least, for that aspect of their relationship anyway.

        She likely had an idea that something of this nature had been occurring, but had never confronted those feelings. The conversation they had together on the first night of their second honeymoon suddenly floods her memory. He had asked her if she ever made other connections while away at war. She hadn’t of course, but Frank never explicitly told her if he did or did not. Forever a flirt and charming man, he more than likely has wooed dozens of women in their time together.

        Another thought overtakes her. Frank stumbling into their hotel room looking pale as death and trembling violently. She asked if he had seen a ghost, and he responded with, 

        “I’m not entirely sure that I haven’t.” she put him off at first, but when he described seeing a man decked out in full Highland regalia staring up at her window, then disappearing into the rainy night. Was it Jamie staring up at her? Or his ghost perhaps? An unexpected warmth spills inside her at the thought. Though unlikely, it’s a nice thought to have.

        At remembering Jamie, her original anger at Frank returns. She planned to rage and scream at him the instant he returned but instead he’s still sleeping in the foyer and she’s staring at the solid oak door. Ultimately, Claire decides to leave Frank where he is and goes to rouse Brianna to get her ready for the day.


         Frank woke briefly around an hour after his return, only to ignore Claire completely in the den, to walk up the stairs to their bedroom. Brianna toddles around Claire’s feet while she reads from the physiology textbook out loud. 

        “The second component of respiration is perfusion. This process involves the circulation of blood through the capillaries, which facilitates nutrient exchange- Brianna, darling, take that out of your mouth.” Brianna quickly drops Claire’s ballpoint pen back onto the coffee table.

        “Okay, Mama.” she then plops down onto her bottom to begin the infuriating process of trying to remove her little socks from her feet. Claire smiles while watches her struggle for a few seconds, before relenting and taking the socks off for her.

        “Is that better, love?” she asks, rolling the socks together. Brianna just laughs in response and bolts up to run around the living room. Claire had always been a calm child. Preferring to sit with her parents or uncle either talking or reading. While she never saw Jamie as a child, she can perfectly picture a young boy with the same fiery red hair wreaking all sorts of havoc at Lallybroch. From what she heard about his childhood from him, Jenny, and Ian, she knows that Brianna must be an exact replica. The little hellraiser. “Would you like to hear more about the respiratory system, Bree?”

        “Yes!” shouts Brianna from behind her, slightly out of breath from her exercise.

        “Alright. External respiration requires adequate delivery of blood to the capillary beds of the lungs via the pulmonary circulation. In the absence of this blood supply, there will be no transport mechanism for-” a crash and a high-pitched scream interrupts her speaking. Claire jumps up from the couch, expecting to see blood or injury, but instead, Brianna is already running again shouting,

        “I’m okay!” another trait of Jamie’s. His almost supernatural ability to not feel -or not care- about pain in the slightest. She places a hand over her chest to try and soothe her racing heart rate. 

        “Are you sure you’re okay, darling?” Claire asks, although she already knows the answer. Brianna squeals and barrels into Claire’s legs, wrapping her tiny arms around. She bends over and scoops her up into her arms. “What would you like to do today? Mommy doesn’t have class, so we could maybe go to the park? How does that sound?”

        “Can daddy come?” she asks, her bright blue eyes sparkling.

        “I don’t think daddy is feeling too well today, so it will just be us.” Claire walks up the stairs to Briannas’ bedroom to collect her tennis shoes and stuffed bunny. Bree pouts her lips and huffs.

        “I want daddy to come.” she sighs, after a minute.

        “I know you do, Brianna, but he’s sick right now so I don’t think he’ll be up for a trip.” with the items she was searching for collected, Claire and Brianna exit the house and walks towards Franklin Park, Frank briefly out of their minds.


        Brianna is dead weight in her arms as she enters the house a few hours later, completely worn out from playing with some of the neighborhood kids. Despite her age, Bree loves roughhousing with some of the older boys. Getting dirty and scraped up is the picture of a perfect day in her eyes. The minute she learned how to walk, she was running circles around Frank and Claire and seemed to find danger at nearly every turn. Never put off though, she didn’t let bumps, bruises, scrapes, or cuts get in the way of adventure. They both quickly learned they were unable to take Brianna to visit Frank at work as she would disappear from his office only to be found harassing all the other professors.

        Upon entering their home, Claire finds that the downstairs is still quiet and undisturbed. Either Frank is still asleep, or he hasn’t found his way out of bed yet. After putting Bree in bed, deciding not to wake her up even though it is still slightly early for her nap, Claire enters her own room to discover that Frank is laying in the dark with the curtains drawn closed. His head turns when she enters, then quickly burrows back underneath the duvet. Claire walks to each window and rips the curtains open, showering the room in warm sunlight.

        “Can you please close those? My head is splitting.” Frank groans, trying to bury himself in the blanket.

        “Is it now?” Claire responds, much louder than necessary. 

        “What are you getting on about? Just close the damn curtains.” he gruffs.

        “I’m afraid there is a matter we need to discuss.” she crosses her arms and stands directly in front of him.

        “Can this not wait until later?” he peers at her through one eye, mouth turned up into a scowl.

        “Well one matter can, but one cannot,” says Claire. “Who’s Gale?” the reaction is immediate. Frank jumps slightly, then corrects his face.

        “Gale who?”

        “Lipsky. Gale Lipsky.”

        “How do you know her?” Frank sits up slowly, clutching his head. “Oh God, I do feel miserable.”

        “She dropped you off this morning. I gave her quite a fright, unfortunately, given that I am in fact not dead.” Franks face instantly widens, eyes going round as saucers and mouth dropping open.

       “Well, she… um… I know her from… I-”

       “The bar? Which one? Poor Pauls? Or maybe Woodroths?” Claire cocks her head, feigning innocence. “You met her what… six months ago? And then apparently told her that you were a widower. Isn’t that right Mr. Culpepper?” Frank shoots up from the bed and begins to pace, running his hands through his hair.

       “Jesus Christ,” he mutters. “I do not need to discuss this with you right now.” he starts to walk towards the ensuite bathroom but Claire beats him to the door, successfully blocking him from entering.

        “You don’t need to discuss the matter of your affair with your wife? Are you really that daft, Frank?” Claire gapes.

        “Wife?” he says with a mirthless laugh. “I don’t think you really count as a wife when you’re constantly thinking about another man.”

        “But I’m not fucking him am I?!” Claire sees red and curls her fists at her sides.

        “You might as well be! You’ve not really been here once since you returned. I mean… Christ! You even call out his name in your sleep!” he steps closer, nearly pinning Claire against the door. Her chest heaves up and down as she helplessly tries to control herself.

        “So that means you just have to go out and sleep with other women and pretend that I’m dead?!” Frank takes another step and for an instant, she can see the face of his distant ancestor reflecting in his eyes. She instinctively tries to move further back but has run out of space. “Do you really despise me that much?” his mouth curls into a snarl so vicious looking that Claire briefly considers fleeing the room but instead continues to stand her ground.

        “I’ve been trying, Claire. Really, really trying to hate you.” his voice has dropped several decibels, so quiet that it’s deafening. “I hate every single thing you have done for three years. I can hardly look at you without thinking of all the nasty things I want to say or do to you. Do you understand that? I fucking hate you.” his words cut straight through her, leaving her feeling so empty she might just disintegrate right then and there. “But the worst part- the absolute worst part is that I still love you with every fiber of my being. I so desperately want this to work and I want to be the same people we were before all of this shit happened… but I- I can’t.”

        “Why?” she challenges. Frank grips her shoulders so hard she knows there will be bruises in a couple of hours. However, she still doesn’t move away.

        “Because every single time you exit the room, go to class, take a shower, or just leave my sight I pray to God that was the last time I laid my eyes on you. You make me sick now, Claire. I can’t stand to believe that I ever once mourned you and wished with everything in me that you would find me again, healthy, safe, and whole. I have wasted so much of my life with you. So forgive me, for trying to find that feeling with someone else. It’s the least you can do for me.” his grip only tightened as he spoke. Claire remains silent, too stunned to formulate a single thought. “Do you fucking hear me?!” he shouts, pulling her forward slightly to slam her back against the door roughly.

        “Yes,” she whispers. “I hear you, Frank.” Frank drops his hands with a sigh. Claire stands stoically.

         “Good,” he says after a moment. “Anything else you would like to discuss? While we’re here?” her mind is both moving too fast and too slowly, unable to either find a thought or catch one. But then she remembers.

        “Yes,” she thinks that Frank wasn’t expecting her to have anything else, so he lifts his eyebrows in question. “How long have you known?” he tilts his head to the side slightly.

        “Known what?”

        “About Jamie,” she whispers, afraid of his reaction to simply hearing his name. “That he’s alive… and that I go back?” Frank straightens his spine and stiffens. He formulates his thoughts for a minute.

         “A year. Maybe more. How did you find out?” he sounds detached now. Voice completely void of all emotions or feelings.

         “Do you remember when I came home from class yesterday and you asked if I was okay?” Claire curses the tremble in her voice. Frank nods. “A young woman approached me as I was leaving and she told me that she was the granddaughter of a man I knew in Paris. She told me that Jamie survived Culloden and that we buy land together in North Carolina.”

        “And I assume you believed her?”

        “I didn’t, at first. But then she showed me the land grant with my signature on it.” Frank finally moves away from her and she releases a breath that she was unaware she was holding. Rarely ever does Claire see similarities between Frank and Black Jack -aside from their physical appearance- but today she truly was afraid of him hurting her. Something she never, ever wants to feel or experience again.

        Frank walks back and forth across the room. He alternates his gaze from the ceiling to the floor repeatedly. 

        “How did you find out that I know?” Claire is grateful he didn’t feign ignorance and pretend to have no idea what she was talking about, that she’s clearly gone mad.

        “I found the letter from the Reverend in your office.” he turns sharply toward her. 

        “And just why were you in my office?” he snaps.

        “Oh drop it, Frank. I don’t think there’s anything else you can hide from me now. I went in to see if there were maybe any books with his name in it or anything else to prove the validity of what Bernadette had told me.” Frank stares straight into her eyes, barely blinking.

         “Will you?” he asks. “Go back, I mean.”

        “Obviously I do, but I don’t know when or how,” she replies.

        “What about Brianna?” 

        “I don’t know,” Claire admits. “I can’t imagine leaving her behind here or taking her away from you. It wouldn’t be fair either way,” she admits. Frank nods, biting his lip.

        “Thank you,” he seems to soften considerably. “I appreciate that.”

        “But…” Claire starts. “If I do go back, I want Jamie to know her. He knows absolutely nothing about his daughter and I could never miss the only opportunity for him to meet her.” she had been having this thought since yesterday. While she doesn’t know the logistics of bringing a child through the stones, she knows that she would forever regret missing this chance for Jamie to meet his only child. Robbed of the experience once already, Claire would never take that from him again.

        “I don’t know what to say, Claire.” Frank slumps down onto the bed. “I can’t bear being parted from her, truly. She is the absolute light of my life… but I understand what you’re saying.” he says, surprising her to no end. Claire has no idea what is going through Frank's mind right now, but she’s grateful that he’s listening to her. “I have no reason to like or pity that man, but I can’t imagine the pain he must have gone through.” the complete 180 this conversation has taken leaves Claires’ head spinning. They went from screaming at each other to speaking in quiet, hushed tones in a matter of minutes.

        Claire moves slowly to sit next to Frank on the bed. She carefully places her hand on his arm. Frank drops his hands into his palms.

        “Frank…” Claire begins. “I love you, you know? So much. But you know what I have to do? Right?” he begins to shake. Slowly at first, and then his body begins to rack with sobs. A battle ensues in Claires’ mind. Part of her wants to recoil away from him, but the other feels for him as his wife. Frank was, and always will be her first love after all. She wraps her arms around him and immediately feels him melt into her grip.

        “I’m so sorry, Claire.” he chokes out.

        “I know. I promise you, I know.” she rubs calming circles on his back and makes quiet shushing noises until he finally stops. He lifts himself away from her, his face red and blotchy with tears.

        “You have to go.” he relents. The rock living in Claire’s stomach for the past 24 hours finally drops and relief floods her system. 

        “Thank you, Frank. You cannot know how much this means to me.” she wraps her arms around him again and he does the same. They stay that way for many minutes, all of the resentment that had been building uncontrollably has at last been released and is now flowing out of them into the air.

        “When?” he eventually asks. Claire pulls away and bites the inside of her cheek. 

        “I’m not sure. If what Bernadette told me is correct, he’s still at Lallybroch right now and will be for the next several years so I have plenty of time to figure everything out.” he nods again at her words. “But I would like to go as soon as possible, I think. I can’t bear the thought of him waiting any longer.”

        “I’ll help in any way I can,” Frank says. A smile overtakes Claires’ face and for the first time since she left Jamie at those stones, she begins to hope again.

        She’s really going back.



Chapter Text

        Claire runs the fabric of the rough homespun between her fingers. It feels familiar. It feels like home to her. Mrs. Graham had been an actual Godsend these past few weeks and continued to help Claire and Brianna in any way she could.

        “Will they do?” the aforementioned angel asks.

        “They’re amazing. Truly, truly amazing.” Claire smiles. “How were you able to get them?”

        “Och, it wasna’ too difficult. An auld woman is living across town who makes the fabric so I just bought a few yards and started to make them as soon as I received your letter.” Mrs. Graham grins, cheeks flushed.

        “There’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to repay you for all of this but… thank you so much.” Claire wraps her arms around the woman’s round frame and holds her tight.

        “There’s no need to thank me, darling,” she replies. “You know I would do anything for you and wee Brianna.” Claire pulls away and plants a kiss on her cheek.

        “Well, thank you all the same.” the garments that she and Brianna would be wearing on their return to the 18th century sat folded on her bed in the Reverend’s house. Seeing them in person sent an unexpected warmth through Claire. It’s really, really happening.

        It took months of planning and working through logistics with Frank to get to this moment. They knew that they couldn’t just rip Brianna away from Frank without warning, so it started slowly at first. It was painful for Frank to see less and less of the daughter he’d grown to love and adore, but he still did what he could nonetheless. It started with Claire and Brianna checking into hotels for a night or two at a time every couple of weeks. Then they moved to staying for longer periods more frequently. Before finally leaving for good for Scotland. Claire was also very careful to gradually remove as much modern technology from Bree’s life as she could, lest her now three-year-old mention an aspect of her old life when they return to Lallybroch.

         As for Frank though, they had a plan for that as well. Claire couldn't leave him with nothing, so they agreed that a few weeks after landing in Scotland, Frank would file for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. Claire would obviously agree, and make a settlement so he could receive some money and not have to worry about people questioning where his wife went. He was to say that Claire left to stay with family, which wasn’t technically a lie.

        The final part of the plan was to prepare Brianna for meeting her real father. Despite Bree being incredibly smart for her age, it wasn’t hard to get her to believe anything Claire told her. However, this was the most difficult part to execute properly. She started by telling her about Jamie and how he already loves her so much, and how excited he is to meet her. Brianna doesn’t know anybody else with hair her color, so when Claire mentioned that detail it thrilled her daughter endlessly. The rest of the convincing went by smoothly after that.

        Claire and Brianna leave in a few hours, on the eve of Samhain. Mrs. Graham further proved her resourcefulness by informing Claire when the portals would be most open and easiest to travel through. She was even able to procure old gemstones from unused jewelry to aid them in their journey, as well as some coins from a nearby antique store. Claire really would be forever indebted to her.

        “Is everything ready then?” asks the woman.

        “I think so,” Claire answers, the giddy feeling suddenly turning to fear in her stomach. “I just hope it works.” Mrs. Graham places her soft hand onto Claire’s.

        “I know it will. He loves you too much for it to not.” Claire smiles and nods at the reassurance. It’s almost time.


        They ascend the hill of Craig na Dun as the sun begins to rise. The hill has been a place of such fear and heartache in the past that now going in with hope and excitement feels foreign. Brianna tugs at Claire’s hand, begging her to move faster.

        “Please be careful, darling,” Claire says to her, picking her up into her arms. “You need to stay with me from now on. Do you understand?”

        “I wanna see Da with red hair!” she whines, struggling to break herself free from Claire’s grip.

        “You will soon, love, I promise.” Claire’s voice shakes as they get nearer to the monolith. The buzzing and faint screaming grow louder in her ears. Brianna places her hands over her head and buries herself into Claire’s chest. They had come here earlier in the week to ensure that she could hear the stones as well.

        “It’s loud,” she complains.

        “Dinna worry, lass. It’ll all be better in just a moment.” Mrs. Graham rubs a soothing circle on Brianna’s wool clad back. Another small mercy, Bree adored the small dress made for her. She felt as if she was playing dress up and for the first time ever, Claire loved the sound of Briana complaining when she had to take it off. 

        They reach the crest of the hill and are soon face to face with the stone. Claire stares up at it for a long minute, thinking through everything that has led up to this minute. It’s too late to regret anything now.

        “I can’t believe I’m back here.” she looks to Mrs. Graham, who smiles kindly in return.

        “I knew it would happen eventually.” she pulls the small diamond and sapphire from her pocketbook and gives them to Claire and Brianna respectively. “Hold on tight to this, a leannan.” Brianna grasps the gem in her tiny fist and gives a slight nod, still not wanting to pull away from her mother.

         “Thank you again. I wish there was more I could do to repay you,” says Claire, tears beginning to swim in her eyes.

        “Think nothing of it. Knowing that you’re finally going home is payment enough.” Claire hugs her as best as she could with Brianna still in her arms. Reluctantly, she pulls away. “Well, I think it’s time.”

        “It’s now or never. Brianna Ellen, do not let go of me no matter what happens.” Brianna burrows impossibly closer. With one last glance at her guardian angel, Claire steps forward into the stone, thinking of the feeling of Jamie’s arms around her.


        It’s the feeling of a leaf blowing across her face that wakes Claire. Instantly, she rolls to her side and vomits. It never gets easier. Panic grips her suddenly. Where is Brianna?   She whips her head from side to side trying to spot the head of curly red hair. 

        “Brianna!” Claire shouts, desperate. What if she didn’t make it through? What if she ended up somewhere else completely alone? “Brianna!” she screams. Claire stands as quickly as she could, her vision going black around the edges. She begins to descend the hill and immediately spots her small daughter curled against a tree. Her heart drops from her throat as she sprints towards her. “Bree? Darling, are you awake?” Brianna’s blue eyes flutter open and shakily focus on Claire.

         “Mama?” she asks quietly, chin quivering. “I feel sick.” 

        “I know, baby, I know but you’re okay I promise.” the fact that Claire couldn’t actually promise worried her, but she knows her daughter. “Do you think you’re gonna be sick?” Brianna’s eyes look around wildly for a moment, then she just curls into Claire’s stomach.

        “I’m tired,” is all she answers.

        “It’s no wonder you are.” Claire laughs quietly. “Is it okay if Mommy carries you while we walk? Or do you want to stay still for a bit?” Brianna doesn’t respond, so Claire takes that as a sign she’s okay to move. 

        Claire stands up once more and fully takes in the sights around her for the first time. It looks eerily similar to that fateful day of Culloden. The sun is higher in the sky than when they left. She estimates it to be eleven in the morning. Claire, still feeling rather poorly, is spurred on by the thought of potentially seeing Jamie sometime in the next several hours. She forces her feet to move away from the damned hill and down to the road that leads to Inverness to hopefully find a horse.


        Through no small amount of bartering, begging, and pleading, Claire and Brianna are on a chestnut mare, making their way to Lallybroch. She asked many people in the village for directions and prays to any God that will listen that she’s heading the right way. Not blessed with Jamie’s talent for tracking, she mostly relies on the advice of strangers and her own memories. 

        Brianna woke up briefly as they walked through Inverness and insisted on walking on her own to stretch her sore legs. She was stunned to silence by the people around her, looking so different from the ones she knew in Boston. However, as they approached the horse her fears melted away to oblivion. Claire and Frank had always talked about taking her horseback riding but it never fit into their busy schedules. Brianna talked non-stop about how excited she was to finally be able to “Ride the pretty horsey.”  

        Her excitement wore off just an hour into their trek, and she was now asleep again with her back pressed to Claire’s front. Claire had a loose arm wrapped around her small frame to ensure she wouldn’t fall off. The sun was beginning to set and her body ached for a rest, but the woods were beginning to look familiar around her so she knew she was getting close.

        It was only when she crested the top of a hill that she finally saw the sprawling land that makes up Broch Mordha, Claire gets a renewed burst of energy. Breaking her horse into a near sprint, they fly through the remaining miles of the trek.

        It’s nearly full dark as her horse hobbles outside the stone gates of Lallybroch. Claire does feel guilty for pushing this horse well beyond her limits, but she was powerless to stop for even a moment. Claire gently rouses Brianna awake as she dismounts.

        “We’re here, my love,” Claire whispers, to a still half asleep Bree. She places Brianna down onto the ground and holds her with one hand and leads the horse with the other into the courtyard of the house she once called home for years. Everyone is likely inside eating dinner, so she ties her mount to a nearby post and makes her way to the front door on shaky legs.

        She doesn’t know how long she stands with her fist poised to knock, suddenly feeling very nervous. Brianna pulls her hand gently.

        “Can we go inside? I have to use the potty.” her young daughter pouts up at her. Claire chuckles and knocks before thinking twice about it again. It feels strange asking for permission to enter what was once your own home, but she knows for certain if she were to simply walk in unannounced she might cause more than one heart attack. She still might, honestly. 

        The door swings open without warning, showing a very pregnant Jenny Murray. Her eyes widen as her entire body freezes.

        “Blessed Michael defend us,” she whispers and crosses herself quickly. 

        “Jenny,” Claire says, a small smile playing at her lips.

        “Is that really you, Claire?” Jenny still hasn’t regained her voice fully. “Jesus Christ, please say you’re really here.’

        “I’m really here,” Claire replies as she reaches out to gently touch her arm. “I also brought a special visitor.” Jenny breaks her eyes away from Claire and notices Brianna for the first time.

        “Is that…” she starts, darting her gaze back and forth.

        “Yes,” Claire feels as if she can’t stop smiling at the sight of her sister-in-law that she thought she would never see again. “Jenny, this is your niece, Brianna Ellen Fraser.” the woman somehow pales even further. Claire has never seen her at a complete loss for words before in her life.

        “Jenny?” comes a voice from inside. “What’s taking you so long? Who’s at the-” Ian comes into her line of sight, and just like his wife, freezes completely.

        “Ian,” Claire breaths out. 

        “How?” pants Jenny. “We thought you dead!”

        “It’s… a very long story that I promise I will tell you all later but please tell me… is Jamie here?” Claire holds her breath.

        “Aye, but… it will take some time to get him to the house,” says Ian, ever the rational presence. “Please, Claire come in. And who is this?”

        “Jamie’s daughter,” says Jenny, still standing in disbelief. Ian’s face splits into a grin. 

        “Really? You two have a daughter?” Brianna, silent throughout the entire exchange seems to grasp the attention is all on her right now and giggles. “Christ she looks just like him.” Ian kneels to the ground as best he can with only one leg. “What’s your name, lass?”

       “Brianna,” her daughter says quietly. “But Mama calls me Bree.” Ian chokes slightly. 

       “Well, we’re gonna have to do something about that won’t we?” he responds. “We’ll call you Brianna for now if that’s alright with you.” Brianna nods and presses herself against Claire’s leg. Jenny is still staring at Claire with unblinking eyes. Claire turns to face her.

       “I know this is a shock, but I need you all to know that I never intended for any of this to happen. I didn’t want to leave him.” Ian puts up a hand as he slowly rises from the ground.

       “Let’s not worry about that right now. We’ll send Fergus or one of the lads to go fetch Jamie right now, then we can talk later,” says Ian, still grinning.

       “Fergus is here?” Claire asks, excitedly.

       “Oh aye,” says Jenny, at last, broken from the spell that held her. “He’s the leader of the boys around here. They absolutely adore him.”

       “Where is he?” Claire scoops Brianna up into her arms, ready to run to her son.

       “The dining hall I believe,” says Ian. “I’ll take you to him then get wee Rabbie to send for Jamie. It should be dark enough by now.

       The four of them walk in silence throughout Lallybroch. Claire feels so at home it almost breaks her heart. The halls seem to embrace her as she makes her way through them. It’s changed slightly in the few years since she was last here. Many of the paintings that once adorned the walls are gone, the ones that remain are slashed through by what Claire can only assume to be the bayonets of the British. Her heart really does break now as she thinks of what the Murrays’ have been living through since the terrible end of the rising.

        Jenny pushes the door to the dining hall open and Fergus looks up from the game of cards he’s playing with a group of boys. Claire briefly wonders if he’s employing any of Jamie’s cheating tricks.

        “Milady?” he says in wonder. His eyes squint at her slightly. “Milady!” he shoots up from the table, knocking the chair he was sitting in onto the ground. Fergus darts around the table and crashes into Claire and Brianna with enough force to send them reeling back.

        “Oh, Fergus,” Claire cries. By muscle memory, she moves to wrap her arm around his head but is instead met with his back. She pulls away and finds that she’s now looking eye to eye with him. “You’ve grown like a weed!” she exclaims, placing a hand on his face. Fergus blushes and nods.

        “Oui, I have.” his accent is still clearly French but dusted with Scottish as well. The thought brings tears to Claires’ eyes. “Is this your daughter?” he asks softly, glowing.

        “Yes. This is your sister Brianna.” Fergus’ face drops for an instant before splitting into a look of pure love.

        “She’s beautiful, Milady,” he says. “She looks just like Milord… Milord! You haven’t seen him yet have you?” Claire shakes her head back and forth.

        “No, and I’m rather anxious too. How long does it take for him to get to the house?”

        “It takes a couple of hours.” Claire’s heart sinks. She honestly doesn’t know if she can even wait one more minute.

        “Come on, sister,” Jenny pulls her arm. “Let’s get you and Brianna settled while you wait.” with one last hug, Fergus and Rabbie venture out into the night to retrieve Jamie. Claire and Jenny ascend the stairs silently and slowly due to her lumbering frame. When they reach the Lairds’ room, Claire stops.

        “Did you and Ian not move in here?” she asks. 

        “Not in a million years,” says Jenny. “It hasn’t changed a hair since you and Jamie left to go fight.” Claire steps in carefully. It really hadn’t changed in the slightest. The only thing that looks different is that there aren’t any flowers in the vase on her vanity.

        “Why didn’t you change it?” Claire asks as she lays a falling asleep Brianna onto her and Jamie’s old bed. She pulls the wool blanket around her daughter as she snuggles deep into the pillow. Jenny braces her back and sits onto one of the wingbacked chairs by the fireplace, Claire following her lead.

        “Jamie forbade us.” she still has a look in her eyes that screams she doesn’t really believe Claire to be sitting in front of her once again. “He convalesced here for a time. Then after the redcoats started coming around more frequently he left the main house to reside in a cave ‘bout two to three miles south of here.”

        “How… how long has he been there?” While Claire did know this detail, thanks to Bernadette, her voice still shakes as she asks.

        “It’s nearing three years now, I reckon. But that’s no’ why we kept the room as is.” 

        “Then why?”

        “He comes up to see us every month or so. To visit the bairns and bring us some of his hunting.” Jenny pauses, caressing her belly. “While he normally will sleep in the priests’ hole, lest a redcoat comes in the night, he comes in here every single time.” she didn’t think it was possible, but her heart continues to shatter for her husband. “I walked in on him once when he didna’ come down for supper and found him asleep on the bed wi’ one of your old dresses pressed into his face, tears streamin’ down. I had no idea what to do, so I just prayed to St. Anthony and closed the door.” Claire feels frozen in place. While she never felt whole being apart from Jamie, at least she always had Brianna. Jamie had nothing .

        “Jenny-” Claire starts. “I promise I will tell you everything soon, but I need you to know that I didn’t leave your brother by choice. I would… could never do that. And the moment I found out he was still alive I came as soon as I could.” Jenny tightens her mouth in thought. After a few silent seconds, she sighs.

        “I know you couldna’ ever bring yourself to that.” Jenny grabs Claire’s hand and they both feel an atmospheric shift in the room. “Were you wi’ child when you left Lallybroch?”

        “No, I got pregnant sometime after.” heat rises in her cheeks. “She was born that November.”

        “And her name? Brian and Ellen?” Jenny asks.

        “Jamie made me promise to name our firstborn after your father. I decided on Ellen later.” Claire smiles softly. They fall back into silence, but it’s comfortable this time. She hears Jenny laugh and sees her shake her head.

        “I canna even imagine what Jamie’s going to do.” Jenny turns to face her. “He’s been so lost wi’out you, you know. Barely a shell of who he once was.”

        “I hated being apart from him,” Claire admits. “I thought of him constantly. And little Bree takes after her father so much it was physically painful at times.” they both turn to look at the quietly snoring little girl on the bed. Whisps of curly, bright red hair sticking out at all angles.

        “I see why you dinna bother wi’ a cap. There’s no way she could fit both your and Jamie’s curls under it.” Jenny smiles.

        “It’s only gotten harder as she grows. I swear it gets longer and longer every day.” Jenny and Claire lapse into comfortable conversation, trying to avoid the elephant in the room. They talk of aging children and how Lallybroch has faired these few years. Apparently, the potatoes have been worth their weight in gold around the village. She thinks she’s having another boy. Kitty and Young Jamie have been raising hell together, the two of them thick as thieves at times.

        It’s probably about two hours later when the door to the room flies open and reveals a flushed and gasping Fergus.

        “He’s here,” Jenny casts a reassuring look to Claire and leaves the room, closing the door behind her. Claire paces back and forth in front of the bed, alternating from checking her appearance in the mirror to practicing what to say when she sees Jamie again.

        Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ she’s about to see Jamie. Her hands shake for an unknown reason and the butterflies in her stomach do somersaults. She hears Jenny’s voice from the hallway.

        “Please, brother, just go inside.” she pleads.

        “No,” replies Jamie. Just his voice alone is enough to freeze Claire in her spot. It sounds rough with disuse but still sounds just like him.

        “Someone wants to meet you,” says Jenny.

        “Why the hell are they in her room?” Jamie growls his voice cracking on the word “her”.

        “Why don’t you just go in and find out for yourself, ye daftie.” Claire hears Jenny stomp away and go down the stairs. It’s another minute or so before the doorknob begins to slowly turn. She wrings her hands together to beg them to stop trembling. Jamie rounds the doorframe and stops dead as his gaze land on her. He looks weathered and so exhausted with dark smudges under his eyes. He has a thick red beard growing as long as she’s ever seen.

        He looks beautiful.

        “Jamie,” she breaths. She envisioned herself running into his arms to feel as much of him as she could, but instead they both stand, staring at each other.

        “This isna’ real.” Jamie shakes his head and closes his eyes. When they reopen again to find her still standing in the same place his heart stops. She carefully reaches a shaking hand towards him and he grasps it gently. It instantly hardens as it comes into contact with hers.

        “This is real,” she whispers. “I’m here.” without any warning he pulls her roughly into him and wraps her in a bone-crushing hug. He’s shaking just as much as she is, and soon she realizes it’s because he’s sobbing. She doesn’t know when she started crying as well. After years of separation and pain, she’s finally home again. He pulls away to look into her face.

        “Sassenach,” Claire reaches her hand up to wipe his tears away.

        “Hello,” is all she says before his lips crash into hers. They feel so familiar and comforting to her, a far cry from the kisses she shared with Frank after her return. Her knees start to feel weak and soon they’re both tangled together on the ground, her in Jamie’s lap, still wrapped in his arms. She regretfully moves away once more. “I missed you,” she’s powerless to say any more, but he understands.

        “Aye, me too.” he laughs. They sit that way for what could be minutes or hours, but it’s irrelevant. They have forever now. “How?” he asks after a time.

        “It’s a long story and one that I have all the time in the world to tell.” 

        “You’re staying? Truly?” he tightens his arms around her waist. Claire nods, beaming.

        “Yes, Jamie. I’m staying for as long as you’ll have me.” he kisses her again, slowly this time, pouring his answer into her. I’ll have you forever. She runs her fingers through his hair and warms at how similar it is to their daughters… their daughters! Somehow she managed to completely forget the fast asleep girl in the bed right next to them. Her smile impossibly widens. 

        “What?” he asks, grinning as well. 

        “I have someone I want you to meet,” she answers. His face drops.

        “Our… our child?” he stutters. “You brought them wi’ you?”

        “I did, and they’re really excited to meet you.” she clambers up from the ground and reaches a hand to help Jamie stand as well. She sits beside Brianna and gently nudges her awake. Given how much they traveled today, she stubbornly remains asleep. “I’m afraid she’s terribly knackered. It’s been a long day.”

        "She?” Jamie asks, stunned. “We had another girl?” Claire smiles at his expression, one full of awe and adoration.

        “Brianna,” she says. “Brianna Ellen Fraser.”

        “Does she know about-?” he starts but stops when Bree grunts softly and sits up. In the candlelit room her features so strongly resemble the man standing before her. Jamie delicately steps forward and sits next to Claire. “Hello, Miss Brianna.” they both began to cry again. Neither thought this moment would ever happen and now that it is…

        “Can you say hello, darling?” Brianna uses Jamie’s outstretched arm to pull herself to her feet then excitedly pushes her pudgy hands through his hair.

        “You have my hair!” she exclaims. “Mama he has my hair!” she grabs his curls and begins to climb onto him.

        “I do, mo chuisle, I do. Well, actually you have my hair.” Jamie laughs as he tries to pry the little monkey off of him to look at her face. When he succeeds, Claire can literally see his insides melt at the sight. A replica of him stares back with a toothy grin. “I’m your Da, lass.” Brianna turns to Claire for confirmation and when she nods Brianna wraps her skinny arms around Jamie’s neck.

        “Hi Da,” she says. Words can’t even begin to describe how Jamie must be feeling. With one hand wrapped around Brianna and the other grasping Claire, he feels as if he’s about to wake up from a horribly good dream. Claire inches forward on the bed until she can rest her forehead against his shoulder. 

        Thank God.