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Dr. B. II: New Frontier

Chapter Text

Prologue

 

The redheaded man stepped into the store, seeming to instantly fill it up entirely not only with his sheer size but also with a commanding presence that could only be natural to him. He was accompanied by an Indian on one side, and at his other was an enormous wolf.

Murtagh didn’t seem as intimidated as I felt, and merely growled at him and pointed over to the notice board. “Can’t you read?”

Confused, I glanced back at the board, only just noticing that above the board itself was a wooden sign that said, “NO DOGS OR INDIANS.”

“This one’s certainly seen its day,” I clipped, taking the sign down and deliberately avoiding the gaze of the redheaded man.

One of the men who’d been talking with Murtagh, a soldier, stomped over to me and snatched the sign out of my hands. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw the redheaded man flinch. “That’s private property!” the soldier snapped, rehanging the sign.

I was ready to back down. I’d made my point, and it was foolish of me to antagonize the people of this town when I needed them as patients, but the very instant the sign was back on the wall, it was being split in half and knocked right back down by a flying ax.

No…a tomahawk.

The Indian at the redheaded man’s side tensed, and the wolf bared its teeth, letting out a chilling snarl.

The redheaded man strode forward, and I took an involuntary step back. But he only reached over my head and yanked his tomahawk out of the wall.

When he looked down at me, it was with quite possibly the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. They were drawn and flashing in anger, but softened when they turned to me.

Still intimidated, but not quite so fearful, I spun on my toe and neatly stuck my notice on the nail the sign had been hanging on. When I met his eyes a second time, his held something like amusement in them.

“Time to go,” Charlotte said, reminding me of the unbearable tension in the room. “We need to go see about that horse.”

“Horse?” I asked dazedly, following her to the door. “What horse?”

“The one you’re gonna need for your doctoring!”

“Oh,” I turned back, realizing I’d left my purse. I skirted nervously around the wolf and back to the redheaded man, having to reach around him to grab it. “That horse.”

I started to leave, but the redheaded man was blocking my way. I in no way felt threatened, but still my heart rate increased. I could feel warmth coming off of him, even though he wasn’t touching me. I could smell him, horses and campfire smoke and something herbal. I was leaning closer without really meaning to.

“Sassenach,” he said, and I realized he had leaned in too, and his mouth was brushing against my neck as he spoke. I also realized then that it was the first time I’d heard him speak, and his deep tenor and Scottish burr sent a pleasant chill down my spine.

He put his arm around me, and I tried to remind myself that there were other people there. Something long, and hard pressed into my lower back. The handle of his tomahawk?

 

I moaned as I awoke, stretching my body and arching my neck, to better give my husband access to it.

I couldn’t stop the giggle that rose up out of me, though I covered my mouth with the back of my wrist to try and muffle it.

“What’s funny?” Jamie murmured, nipping me on the shoulder in retribution. 

I rolled my hips back, making Jamie give a moan of his own as I pressed into the tomahawk he was holding against me.

“Oh nothing,” I sighed, liking his response so much I rolled my hips a second time. “I was just remembering the day we met.”

Jamie hummed, and his hand started slowly drawing up the hem of my nightgown. “That was a long time ago, Sassenach, d’ye remember that far back?”

When I rolled back this time, it was with a hard snap of my pelvis, earning a grunt and brief retreat. 

“Are you calling me old , Mr. Mac?”

“Never, Dr. Beauchamp,” his hand finally slid between my thighs, where I was slick and ready.

I rolled over onto my back, looping my arms around his neck, holding him close to me. I raised my knees, and sighed as he entered me.

“Christ, ye feel good, mo nighean donn ,” he murmured into my ear. 

I grinned up at him. “You’re not tired of me, yet?”

Jamie smirked, then grabbed my hands and raised my arms above my head, pinning them there. His eyes drifted downward, to where the position of my arms thrust my breasts upward. 

“I’d sooner tire of breathing, Sassenach.”

He drove into me, and I closed my eyes, giving over to sensation. His mouth sealed over one of my nipples, sucking hard.

“Harder,” I commanded, and his entire body obeyed. 

The flood of warmth inside me sent me over the edge, but Jamie knew to abandon my breast to cover my mouth with his own, to muffle both of our cries. 

He collapsed on top of me, and I kept my legs wound around him to keep him there. He no longer worried about crushing me, since he knew by now that I enjoyed the weight of him, but it never hurt to remind him. 

The house was still quiet, the sky outside still not quite light, and no one was at our door yelling for Dr. B. Time enough to take advantage of the peace and get a little more sleep. 

Jamie was way ahead of me, nestled into the crook between my shoulder and my neck, snoring lightly. I wrapped myself tighter around him, dug my fingers into his hair, and closed my eyes. 



Chapter Text

I leaned against the railing of the post, smiling drowsily as I sipped at my coffee.

It was a glorious sunrise, but the sky wasn’t what had my attention that morning. Instead, it was my husband, working on training our new yearling. 

He led the filly around and around, speaking in low, soothing Gaelic. His ability to turn even the wildest of horses into love-struck kittens was captivating, as were the muscles in his arms when they flexed thanks to the sleeveless Cheyenne tunic he wore.

The sound of his low chuckle reached across the yard to me, and my smile widened, loving the sound. 

I felt so relaxed and at home, a feeling that I’d worked toward having for my whole life, even though there’d been a time in my life that being married and having a family had been the farthest thing from my mind. All I’d ever wanted was to be a doctor, and I was. I ran my growing medical clinic in town with the same drive and determination that my uncle did when establishing his practice. Or, at least I tried to. I was lucky to have not only the steadfast support of my family, but also of my many patients, some of whom I’d grown to care for as family themselves.

So right then, my only struggle was deciding between remaining where I was, watching Jamie, and going out to be nearer to him.

After a moment, the latter option won out, and I made my gradual way across the yard to the corral.

Seeing my approach, Jamie stopped and smiled, then removed the lead from the filly and gave her a loving swat on her flank.

“Mornin’, Sassenach,” he said, sauntering over to me. “How long have ye been standin’ there?”

“A while,” I said, resting my arms on the railings. “How’s Alainn?”

“Doing well,” he said. “She’ll make a fine horse for wee Lotte, one day.”

Jamie came up to the railing, so I stood up on the bottom post, bringing myself a head above him, and putting him in the uncommon position of having to look up at me.

“You haven’t kissed me good morning,” I informed him.

“A grievous oversight,” he murmured seriously, ignoring the fact that he’d kissed me and then some before the sun rose. But that wasn’t technically this morning, and he knew that, so he tilted his head back. “Ye should take what’s owed ye, then.”

Take I did, grabbing the back of his neck to pull him closer.

He opened his mouth, fully submitting, and I grinned against his lips as I took advantage. I wondered sometimes if I’d ever tire of kissing and touching my husband, but I doubted it.

Just then, I felt something tugging my skirt, distracting me from my kiss, and it was followed by musical laughter.

Breaking away from Jamie, I looked down, just as a little face grinned back up at me, surrounded by a riot of red curls.

“Well, good morning!” I cried, greeting my youngest child.

“What are you ‘n Da doing ?!” Lotte exclaimed, still laughing as if we’d done something hilarious.

“Why, I’m kissing Da good morning, of course!” I said, hopping down and swinging my daughter up into my arms and pressing a smacking kiss to her cheek before turning it into a raspberry that had her howling with laughter.

I looked back at Jamie, finding him watching us in unconcealed adoration. 

“Da! Mama is attack-in me!” Lotte squealed.

“What should I do, a leannan ?”

“Get her!”

Jamie immediately hopped over the fence of the corral, and lunged toward us, getting his long arms around us both from behind and lifted me off my feet, then planted his face in the side of my neck, blowing a retaliating raspberry. I squealed, just as Lotte had done.

After Jamie was done “getting me,” he set us down, and in turn I set Lotte down. Her feet were moving before they even touched the ground, taking her to her next mission of chaos with Rollo, her constant shadow, right at her heels.

I blew the hair out of my face, leaning back against Jamie. “How I envy her energy. Would that I could just bottle it.”

“Ye’d be the richest doctor in th’ world, Sassenach” Jamie said.

“We could call it Eau de Four-Year-Old .”

I turned in his arms, resting my head on his chest. “What mayhem will she wreak today?” I asked, pitching my voice low and ominous.

“All of it,” Jamie said into my hair. “But God love her for it.”

“Mama!” she yelled, running back outside. “Fergus willn’a play with me!”

I chuckled and rolled my eyes, pulling away from Jamie. “Maybe Fergus is still asleep, darling.”

“No, he’s ‘wake!” she said, propping her fists on her little hips. “He closed his door and won’t let me in!”

“Lass,” Jamie said, patiently, going over to pick her up. “I’m sure Fergus will play wi’ ye later.”

Charlotte followed Fergus about like a puppy, and Fergus was generally very indulgent, but for all that he loved his little sister, he was still a fifteen-year-old boy, and often struggled for some time alone. I could relate.

The boy in question came out of the house then, running a hand through sleep-tangled hair. “Mama, I’m going into town. Do you need anything?”

“No, sweetheart, thank you.”

“FERGUS!” Lotte cried, struggling to get out of Jamie’s arms. “I’m comin’ with you!”

Fergus sighed, raising one dark eyebrow. “Lotte…”

“Darling,” I said. “Wouldn’t you rather stay home with Da and me?”

“No! I wanna go with Fergus!”

She stopped before her brother, and I couldn’t see her face but I knew she was giving him that wobbly lower lip that she was very aware was the weakness of every man in our family. (Okay, every man and woman in our family. And town.)

“Oh, alright,” Fergus said in resignation. “Come on.”

In a well-practiced move, Fergus swung himself up onto his horse before reaching a long arm down for Lotte, who wrapped both her own little arms around it to be hauled up into the saddle in front of him.

“Be careful,” I told them both. “Home before supper.”

“Yes, Mama,” they called back in chorus.

I didn’t need to warn Fergus to watch out for his little sister, fully aware that despite his occasional frustration, he was deeply devoted to her, and was just as careful with her as the rest of us. As for Lotte, as much as she loved her Mama and Da, she was never happier than when she had her big brother’s full attention.

Jamie put his arm around me as they rode out of sight, Rollo trotting along behind them. “Sassenach…” he said slowly. “I do believe we have th’ house to ourselves for a time…”

“So we do,” I said, grinning. “What shall we do about it, hm?”

“I can think of a few things,” he took my hand pulling me toward the house.

We’d just made it to the door, giggling like children, when another horse rode up to the house, making us both sigh in defeat.

Jamie growled, and I elbowed him. “Now, now, he’s our son and we love him, remember?”

“Oh aye,” he agreed. “But th’ lad sure has a knack for awful timing.”

“Hey, guys,” William said, bounding up the steps. “You’re not busy, are you?”

“Almost,” Jamie muttered, and I elbowed him again. “No, Willie,” he amended more loudly. “Come on in.”

“Oh, I can’t stay,” he said. “I need to get back to the ranch, but I just went through town and Denny flagged me down with a letter from Bree.”

All thoughts of alone time with Jamie flew out the window at the sight of a letter from our eldest daughter. “What does it say?!” I asked, taking the letter from him.

“I didn’t read it,” he said, chuckling at my excitement. “It was addressed to you, Ma.”

After completing two years at the University of Denver, Brianna was accepted to Harvard Women’s College to get her degree in science and engineering. We were thrilled, of course, but the distance meant she couldn’t visit as often as she could while she was in Denver. Three visits in the past two years, with the last having been eight months ago. I missed her like mad.

“Brianna’s coming home!” I exclaimed, almost tearing the letter in two in my enthusiasm. “She’s completed her exams early and she’s coming home for the summer break!”

“Really?” William exclaimed. “That’s great!”

“Does it say when she’s arriving?” Jamie asked.

I scanned through the rest of the letter, too eager to take in the particulars just then. “She says she’ll be home...June 4th!”

“The 4th?” Jamie asked, taking the letter to look at it. “Sassenach, today is the 4th!”

My eyes widened and I snatched the letter back. “She’s coming home today ?!”

I darted back into the house, grabbing bits of clutter in the process.

“What are ye doing?” Jamie asked, following me. “We should go. Th’ train could be coming in any time.”

“I have to tidy first,” I informed him, though I felt it should be obvious.

He chuckled. “Why? This is her home, Sassenach. She’s seen it in worse disarray than this! I daresay she’s been the cause of it a time or two!”

I sighed, putting down the wooden ducky toy I’d been holding. He was right of course, but I couldn’t help it. I should be holding a celebratory welcome home dinner for Brianna, or something, and felt woefully unprepared.

Jamie took me by the shoulders, give me a slow, gentle shake before kissing my forehead. “She’s our daughter, Sassenach. No’ a guest. Why don’t we go get her, and bring her home, hm?”

I sighed, and let my head fall against his chest. “You’re right, of course.”

“I’ll remember ye said that, later. Now, let’s go get our girl.”

 

“Mornin’, Dr. B., mornin’ Fraser,” Joe greeted as we rode past the livery. “Your little one just came tearing through here a minute ago, giving Fergus a run for his money!”

I groaned. “Oh dear. She hasn’t broken anything has she?”

Joe chuckled. “That angel? Nah.”

I arched a brow at him. My precious baby was many things, but I wasn’t quite sure angel was one of them. “Well, Jamie and I are headed to the train station. Brianna is coming home today!”

“That so?!” Joe exclaimed. 

“Brianna’s coming home?” Roger asked, freezing mid-step as he was heading toward the cafe. 

“We received a letter just this morning!” I grinned at his reaction, then glanced over at Jamie, who didn’t looked as amused.

Roger and Brianna had been pen pals for the past several years, and spent time with one another during her visits, but it had never gone beyond that, owing mostly to her busy life. She’d had brief flirtations with young men in Boston, which I was glad for, if it only meant she was getting to experience the world in a way I never had. She clearly had a more open and adventurous personality than I’d had in college. So I wondered what may or may not happen between her and Roger now that she would be home for an extended time.

“There’s our wee angel now,” Jamie said, which was the only warning Roger got before our daughter launched herself at him with impressive strength.

“Roger!” she cried. 

“Well, hello there!” Roger laughed, scrambling to hold her up.

“Lotte,” I said, climbing down off of Flash. “Time to calm down, now, love. Did you know that Bree is coming home today?”

Granted, I knew that statement would hardly have a calming effect, but I did so enjoy the dramatic rounding of her eyes.

“Bree?!” she squealed. “Roger!” she kicked her plump little legs, as if trying to spur him into motion. “Let’s GO!”

Rolling into the horse bit, Roger swung her up to sit on his shoulders and neighed, before trotting toward the train station.

I laughed and shook my head, then rolled my eyes at Jamie. “Oh, what is that sour expression for? He’s wonderful with Lotte.”

“Oh aye,” he agreed genuinely. “There are few I trust more w’ Lotte than th’ reverend. It’s our older daughter I’m no’ so sure I trust him with.”

I rolled my eyes again. “ What has Roger ever done to make you distrust him? He’s never been anything but a perfect gentleman with Bree. Believe me, she would have told me otherwise. And you can’t even use the excuse anymore that she’s too young. She’s twenty years old, Jamie. Well of an age to be considering a husband. Not everyone has to wait as long as I did, you know.”

Jamie sighed and let his shoulders slump. “Aye, I ken. I suppose she could do far worse than him.”

“God help poor Charlotte when she comes of age.”

Jamie glared at me. “Bite your tongue, Sassenach.”

I grabbed his hand to pull him in the direction of the train station. “I do so love the over-protective side you, but let’s put it away for right now.”

“Mama,” Fergus called, trotting to catch up. “Willie just said that Bree’s coming home, is it true?”

“According to her letter,” I said.

“Well hurry up! The train’s coming in!”

 

We arrived at the station as the first passengers started filing out, I wrung my hands, ever worried that she could have been delayed on her journey, or worse. But Jamie took both my hands in one of his and squeezed, and I tried to force my worrying down. 

The more people who alighted from the train, the more I started to feel dismayed, but then, wearing a smart new lavender gown and matching hat, red hair pulled back into a sophisticated bun, was Brianna.

“Bree!” I exclaimed, waving my arm, which was unnecessary. She could hardly miss the large group of people all there just for her.

“Mama!” she cried. “Da!”

She trotted toward us, and I threw out my arms for a hug. “Oh my darling,” I said, squeezing her tight. “I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she murmured. “I’m so happy to be home.”

She pulled away to hug Jamie, then greet her siblings, and I was struck by how different she seemed. I wasn’t sure if it was just the amount of time since I last saw her, but she carried herself with a new maturity and confidence that gladdened my heart to see. 

“Fergus, you’re as tall as I am now!” she exclaimed, needing to reach up to ruffle his hair. 

When she turned to Roger, who still held Lotte, her smile softened. “Hello, Roger,” she said quietly, then leaned around to try and see Lotte, who had her face buried firmly in Roger’s neck.

“Lotte?” she called. “Aren’t you going to say hello to me?”

I frowned. It wasn’t like Charlotte to be shy, not even with strangers, so I went over to them, taking her in my arms. “There now, love. It’s Bree! You were so excited to see her!”

Lotte glanced at Brianna, then away. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who felt like Brianna was a little different.

“Don’t mind her,” I said to Brianna when her smile fell. “I think she’s just in need of a nap.”

Brianna’s shoulders slumped a little in disappointment, but she still smiled. “Oh, I’m so happy to be home!” she enthused. “I take it you got my letter?”

“Just this morning,” I chuckled. “So I’m sorry to say I haven’t anything special prepared, but I thought I would stop at Murtagh’s and pick up the things to make your favorite supper! Is it still pot roast?”

“You know it! And believe me, I don’t want anything special beyond that. It’s just good to be back.”

“Ye’ll have tae tell us all about Harvard,” Jamie said, putting an arm around her. “I ken ye’ve told us in letters, but it’s no’ th’ same, aye?”

“Aye,” she agreed, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she grinned. “And...oh! I have a surprise for you!”

“What’s that?” Jamie asked, just as someone shouted his name.

We all turned back to the train, where emerged quite possibly the last person I would expect.

“John?” Jamie gasped.

John made his way over to us, dropping his suitcase with a flourish and a winning smile. “Surprise?”

Laughing, Jamie pulling his friend into a hug. “I had no idea you were coming! Christ, man, it’s been years!”

“I didn’t either,” John admitted. “At least not just now. Of course I meant to write you when I arrived back in America, but I was just so busy all of a sudden, with my new position at Harvard.”

“Position?” I asked, reaching up for a hug of my own. “Are you saying you’re teaching at Harvard?”

“That’s how we ran into each other,” Brianna said. “Imagine my surprise when I walked into my last lecture of the year and it was Lord John Gray standing there at the podium! I thought it might be a fun surprise to drag him home along with me to visit!”

I smiled at her, but then I caught the look she was shooting John, and inwardly groaned. 

Jamie was oblivious, but one person who did quite obviously notice, was Roger. He stood back, watching on with a slightly lost expression. 

“How long are ye in town for, John?” Jamie was asking.

“I’m only passing through on my way to see my brother,” John said. “Or making a detour, rather. I hope you don’t mind? Brianna said…”

“Of course we don’t mind,” I assured him, although my mind was frantically going over the logistics now that it seemed we’d be having a houseguest. What was it with John and his reluctance to write ahead of his visits?

“Well,” he said, putting his hands behind his back. “Bree has told me all about the charming new hotel here in town,” he held up a hand to stall my and Jamie’s protests. “I’ll hear nothing more about it. You deserve your quality time with your daughter, and I’ll be more than comfortable at the hotel.”

“It was already decided on the train, Mama,” Brianna added.

“Very well,” I relented. “But you will be joining us for dinner?”

“That, I can hardly argue with,” John said. “Now, I believe another introduction should be made. Tell me this isn’t the famous Charlotte that Jamie has raved about in his letters and that Bree talks nonstop about?”

“Say hello, Lotte,” I requested, jostling her a little on my hip.

“Pweased t’meet you,” Lotte recited quietly but dutifully. 

“Very honored to make your aquaintance,” John said, taking her little hand and kissing it gallantly. 

Won over at once, Lotte giggled.

“Oh sure, he gets a smile,” Brianna griped good-naturedly.

“Well then,” I said. “William, would you mind going with John and getting him settled into the hotel, then meet us back at the house?”

“Sure, Ma,” William said, grabbing John’s suitcase despite the other man’s protests.

As we readied to leave, I noticed Roger still standing by silently. “Roger,” I called. “You’ll join us for dinner, won’t you?”

“Oh...I…” he stammered, looking ready to protest, but then suddenly his shoulders squared. “I mean, yes, Dr. B. I’d love to. Thank you.”

“See you there, Roger,” Brianna said as he walked away, taking Lotte from me. “In the meantime, I think you and I have some reacquainting to do.”

Fergus trotted to catch up to Bree and Lotte, and I lagged back with Jamie, watching the children disperse.

“Well, that was interesting,” I said to him.

“What was? John’s arrival?”’

“No, well, yes…” I said. “I mean Brianna . Didn’t you notice...anything?”

Jamie gave me a puzzled look, then shrugged. “She looks older in that bonny dress of hers. But otherwise, I dinna ken what ye mean.”

I rolled my eyes, thinking how men could be so obtuse sometimes. “You mean to tell me you didn’t notice how Brianna practically dismissed Roger, or her moony eyes for John, or John’s for her for that matter?”

For a moment Jamie just blinked at me, then to my annoyance, threw back his head and laughed. “Ye’re no’ serious!”

I stuck my chin out at him. “ All I’m saying is that they two of them seem suspiciously close for a girl and her professor, or even for a girl and her father’s friend. I wonder if visiting us is the only reason John came along.”

Jamie was still chuckling, shaking his head. “I dinna think John is interested in Bree that way, Sassenach.”

“What makes you so sure?”

All at once, Jamie’s humor dissipated, and he flexed his shoulders the way he did when he was uncomfortable. “Weel, for one thing, he’s far too old for her.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “He’s, what, a year older than Roger? Two?”

Jamie snorted. “I happen tae think he’s too old, too. But, trust me, Sassenach. John isn’a interested in Brianna.”

“If you say so,” I relented. After all, Jamie knew the man far better than I. But who I did know, was Brianna. “I’m afraid that feeling may not be mutual though. Not for Bree.”

Jamie groaned and put his hand on my back to lead me back to the wagon. “That lass is gonna turn my hair gray,” he complained.



“She didn’t!” William gasped, his jaw dropping.

“She did!” Bree insisted, gesturing broadly. “She just took off all her clothes, right down to her bloomers, and jumped into the fountain! She kept saying that if men stared at her, they should gouge out their eyes, like it says in the Bible.”

“It’s true,” John agreed, his eyes crinkling in mirth. “I saw it myself, though I do swear I averted my eyes the moment they registered what was going on.”

William rolled his eyes at John then glanced over at me from across the dinner table, eyes twinkling. “Sounds like something you’d do, Ma.”

My eyes widened. “I would do no such thing!”

“I dinna ken, Sassenach,” Jamie said. “Ye’re all about women’s rights.”

I scoffed. “Well, yes, but that hardly means I’ll be taking off my clothes and swimming in a park fountain anytime soon.”

“More’s th’ pity.”

“Are you a...a...suffrigate, Bree?” Fergus asked.

Brianna smiled. “Not really, but I support what they’re fighting for. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to vote?”

Fergus shrugged. “I didn’t know they couldn’t. They vote here.”

“This town is a bit of an anomaly, Fergus,” I said. “We’re allowed to vote on small elections here if we own property, like I do. But Bree or I wouldn’t be allowed to vote for President.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Doesn’t seem fair. The country’s president affects women as much as it does men.”

I looked over at Jamie. “We’re raising this boy right, I say.”

Jamie grinned at me. “We sure are.”

I looked over at Roger, who’d barely said more than five words all through supper. He only sat there, glumly staring at his food. 

John must have caught my look, and attempted to pull the other man into the conversation. “What say you, Reverend Wakefield? Should women be given the right to vote?”

Roger looked up, seeming caught. “Well...I mean…”

“Too slow, Roger,” Brianna sang teasingly. 

Roger narrowed his eyes at her, but thankfully seemed to regain a little of his confidence. “Of course they should,” he said firmly. “Although I see no problem with the method we have here in town, which is any person should have the right to vote if they own property.”

Brianna sighed. “But that leaves out the majority of women voters! Most women are basically property themselves to their fathers and husbands.”

“But it would even the playing field,” Roger argued. “Black, white, Indian, male, female...it wouldn’t matter if there was but one basic qualification.”

“It’s a good point,” John allowed. “But as difficult as it is now for a woman, or even a man if he’s black, Indian, or really any other color but white, to become a property owner, imagine how much harder the government could make it if that was what allowed them to vote?”

Roger opened his mouth, but had no further argument, so I smoothly steered the conversation away from politics. “John, how long will you be in town?” I asked.

John dabbed at his mouth with his napkin. “Only a few days. Hal will be most put out if I don’t make the most of my availability to visit him.”

“But you gotta at least stay until next Saturday!” Fergus exclaimed, earning a swift punch to the shoulder from his brother. “Ow!”

“What’s next Saturday?” I asked lowly, narrowing my eyes.

“We...erm...only thought we’d have a dinner, ken, for...Bree,” Jamie said, so unconvincingly for a man who was normally capable of lying quite well.

“Oh really?” I asked, perching my chin delicately on my fist. “A dinner for Bree? Almost two weeks after her arrival? Why not this Saturday?”

“Gale wasn’t available,” William said quickly. “Way to go, Fergus, you ruined the surprise...for Bree.”

“Sorry!” Fergus said quickly.

“Oh well,” Brianna sighed dramatically. “But Fergus is right, John, you should stay!”

John was looking back and forth between all of us with an utterly confused expression. “Um...well...I could perhaps arrange that.”

“Perfect,” Jamie said. “No more talk of it. John, would ye like tae have a taste o’ the whisky?”

“Of course!” John said, standing up. “So you’re finally getting production from the still?”

“And it even tastes like whisky, now!” I said, winking at Jamie as he smiled ruefully in memory of the first batch of whisky he’d developed, that tasted more like something that belonged in my medical cabinet than the liquor cabinet.

“I’ll go fetch it,” Jamie said. “Roger, ye’ll stay as well?”

“Erm, actually I better be getting home,” Roger said. “I have a sermon to prepare. Thank you for dinner, Claire, it was delicious.”

“Bye, Roger!” Lotte squealed, leaping up from where she’d been playing with her dolls on the floor beside Rollo and jumping into his arms. 

I smiled as Roger’s smile turned genuine for the first time all evening as he hugged her close. “Bye, Lotte Loo.”

“I’ll walk you out, Roger,” Brianna said.

“I hope you don’t mind if I extend my stay,” John said quietly to me after they left. “I truly don’t mean to intrude.”

“Why would I mind?” I asked genuinely. “You’re welcome here, John. And I know Jamie’s thrilled to have you. Bree seems so as well…”

“Yes,” he agreed, smiling softly. “Your Bree is a marvelous young woman.”

I hummed thoughtfully. 

“So this dinner next Saturday…” he hedged.

I laughed. “Ah, yes, you noticed my family’s complete lack of subtlety. Strange, don’t you think, that they’d plan a dinner for Bree on the exact day of my birthday?”

John’s eyes widened in understanding. “And let me guess, you don’t want a fuss?”

I glowered, but it wasn’t sincere. “What woman does want a fuss made over the fact she’s turning forty ?”

He chuckled. “One who’s lived a remarkable life thus far, and has an adoring family ready to give her all the love and attention she deserves.”

I narrowed my eyes playfully at him. “You make it very hard to stay grumpy about things, do you know that?

 

When Brianna came back inside, Jamie, John, and William made their way to the porch to drink whisky.

“Fergus, would you mind terribly putting Lotte to bed for me?” I asked.

“Sure, Ma,” he replied, scooping his sister up in the process.

“Can I have a story?!” Lotte asked excitedly on their way up.

One story,” he said.

“Three stories,” she countered.

“Two.”

“Two...and a half?”

Brianna shook her head as the sounds of their bartering faded away. “I’ve missed this place,” she said softly. “I can’t believe how much Lotte’s grown. Or even Fergus, for that matter. He’s not a little boy anymore, is he?”

“No, he isn’t,” I agreed as she helped me to clean the table. “You’re all growing up far too quickly for my taste.”

“How’s William doing with the ranch?” she asked. “Has he still not been caught by one of the no doubt hundreds of women in town who are after him?”

I chuckled. “Not quite hundreds, but he is quite the sought-after bachelor in these parts. And no, none of them have really caught his eye. He courted Becky briefly, but you knew that.”

“That was over a year ago,” she said. “I guess I just worry about him.”

“I know, but he seems happy. He’s still younger than I was when I finally settled down, after all.”

“Sometimes I think he never really got over Rachel.”

I hummed. “I’m not so sure. He was very young then. Have you heard from them lately, by the way? We haven’t received a letter in some time.”

“Well, you know how far they live from a post office,” Brianna pointed out. “Last I heard, Rachel still had her little clinic, and Ian was teaching orphaned Indian children how to hunt. How’s Two Moons?”

I smiled. “Fine, you’ll see him tomorrow, no doubt. Now...I’d like to hear more about you .”

She smiled. We’d finished tidying the kitchen and made our way to the den. “What’s there to tell? I tell you everything in my letters.”

I grinned. “That’s hardly the same as you telling me in person. Plus, there’s the added interesting little detail about you showing up at home with your professor?”

Brianna rolled her eyes, but I didn’t miss the way she blushed. “He came to see Da , Mama. Being my professor, however briefly, was just a coincidence.”

“Really?” I asked. “You seem like you’ve gotten to know each other quite well.”

“It was a long train ride,” she said with a shrug. “Besides, we’ve always gotten on well, even when he was here years ago.”

I could tell she was holding something back, but I knew that pushing her wouldn’t have the desired results. No, it was normally better just to stare her down, and wait until she spilled it on her own.

“Well…” she began. “We have seen each other a few times before we came back. Just coffee, and dinner once...nothing...nothing inappropriate.”

I felt my brows go up. “I wasn’t even thinking anything on inappropriate lines,” I said. “I only meant you seem interested in him. Brianna, are you and John courting?”

“Sort of?”

“Sort of? How do you sort of court someone? Bree…”

“It’s nothing so official as courting,” she said with an exasperated sigh. “We’ve had dinner, we’ve talked, that’s all. He hasn’t exactly made any overtures toward me, but then it wouldn’t be appropriate, since he’s a professor at the women’s college.”

“But you do like him?” I surmised. “Bree...what about Roger?”

Brianna bit her lower lip, casting her eyes to the side. “I...I don’t know. I care very much for Roger...but I may also have feelings for John. I’m certainly very...attracted to him.”

I swallowed, sending a silent prayer up to Charlotte Cooper that I was ready to deal with this sort of situation with our daughter. 

“And...Roger?” I asked. “Are you...attracted to him, as well?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “But...they’re so different from one another, how is it that I’m drawn to both? Is this the way you felt, when you had to decide between Da and Frank?”

I huffed out a laugh, then blew the hair out of my face. “God, I haven’t thought about that in ages. It wasn’t the same situation at all, darling. What I felt for Frank was nothing but the remnants of what I’d once felt for him as a girl, and I suppose there was a moment there where I still clung to my girlhood emotions. But your father…he’s held my heart from the time I met him. There never could have been anyone but him.”

Brianna smiled dreamily. “So, what if that’s me and John? What if what I feel for Roger is a girl’s feelings?”

“Brianna,” I sighed, taking her hand. “You can’t base your relationships on me and Jamie.”

“But I want what you and Da have!”

“And you will! You deserve absolutely nothing less than someone who loves you as much as Da loves me. But you’re not me, and neither John nor Roger are Jamie. You have to go by your own heart, darling. Just because you fell for Roger when you were younger, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real...but neither does it mean that your feelings aren’t entitled to change. Only you can be the judge of how you feel. Not me...and not your father.”

Brianna grimaced. “He wouldn’t be happy about me and John, would he? So what if he’s older...Roger’s older too!”

I chuckled. “And it’s taken him this long just to get over the age difference with Roger. But I don’t think that would be as much of an issue as the fact that he and John have so much history, and it’s a history he doesn’t much like getting stirred up.”

I opted not to add how Jamie was convinced that John did not have feelings for Brianna. If that was true, it was something Brianna would unfortunately have to find out for herself.

“I guess I can understand that,” Brianna said. “But that isn’t John’s fault, or mine! And Da obviously likes and trusts John! That’s gotta count for something.”

“You’re right,” I allowed. “But as you said, you and John haven’t even made the step toward courting, so let’s try not to worry about your father until that happens. In the meantime, give us a break, hm? It’s still hard to come to terms with the fact that you aren’t a little girl anymore.”

Brianna smiled, then leaned into my side. “But I’m still your little girl. I think I’ll go outside and see what the boys are getting up to.”

I kissed her head. “Go on, I’ll go up and see how many books Lotte conned Fergus into reading. I paused when I stood though, wincing as I turned back to her.

“You mentioned you’d done nothing...inappropriate with John. You’d tell me, wouldn’t you, if you’d taken...further steps...with a man?”

Brianna flushed scarlet and looked away. “Would you need to know that?”

“As your mother, I suppose I don’t. But as your friend , and more importantly, your doctor…”

“No, Ma,” she said firmly. “No further steps have been taken with anyone. Yet.”

I tried not to let my relief show. “Good. I mean...that you’re being honest with me. You can always tell me anything, you know that, right?”

Brianna smiled. “I know, Mama. You’re the only one I feel I can tell everything to. I promise, I’ll tell you if I’m preparing for...steps.”

I nodded, then resumed my journey upstairs, sending a silent thanks up to Charlotte Cooper.



Chapter Text

“Angus, this isn’t a debate . Your liver can only handle so much .”

“I’m not giving up drinking!” he railed. 

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I’m only saying you need to cut back . When in excess, alcohol is a poison. Your liver is an organ that filters poison. You came to me because you’re in pain in the exact area that your liver is. The pain is because your liver is working overtime because you won’t give it a rest .”

Angus grunted, then slid off the bed. “Then give me a medicine that makes it work better.”

I crossed my arms. “It doesn’t work that way, Angus. Look, do what you want, but it’s your funeral.”

Grumbling, Angus begrudgingly paid me and then stomped out. I watched him through the window as he stormed his way across the street to the saloon, but then he hesitated, stood still in indecision, then with a petulant stamp of his foot, wandered off in the other direction.

I smiled and shook my head, not under any illusion that Angus would give up drinking. But maybe I’d at least scared him into showing some restraint.

I straightened up, then checked my book to see when my next appointment was. 

Though the town had been steadily booming since the arrival of the train, I wasn’t overworked, thanks to the second practice that Dr. Raymond had opened at Philip Wylie’s hotel and hot springs.

I’d initially tried to discourage Raymond from going into business with Wylie, not trusting the shifty little man, but if anyone could handle him, it was Raymond. 

But even though Raymond shared the workload, was at my side in emergencies, and there if I needed time with my family, I still regretted the loss of Rachel’s assistance, even all these years later.

It wasn’t only her invaluable help that I missed, but also being able to share what I knew of medicine with someone who wanted to earn. My family helped whenever and however they could, but none of them had the passion for it that Rachel had. 

All the same, I was proud of her for going out on her own, still continuing with her passion for healing, but in her own way. She was a lot like me, in that respect.

I was shaken from my thoughts by a shrill cry, one that I knew in an instant and that sent my heart shooting into my throat.

I barely got a step toward the door before it was being shoved open and Roger was there, holding Lotte, whose mouth was open in a loud wail. 

“I’m sorry!” Roger was exclaiming, rushing Lotte to the bed. “I looked away for a second and…”

“Roger what happened?!” I demanded, considering whether I needed to slap him, since he was almost as hysterical as Lotte.

By the time he’d gotten her sat down, I could already tell that she wasn’t in mortal danger, so my own panic had subsided somewhat. She was hurt though, and I needed to know where .

Roger gently tried to raise Lotte’s arm, but she shrieked and pulled it away.

“Darling, show Mama where you’re hurt,” I cooed, brushing her hair back off her face.

Sniffling pitifully, she crooked her elbow and showed me the underside of her forearm, where there was an angry red mark.

“What happened?” I asked again.

Roger sighed. “I don’t even know for sure. We were walking, and then we stopped to watch Joe, who was running around trying to catch that new pony of his that got out. Next thing I know, Lotte was by the forge, reaching for a horseshoe, and...I don’t know...she must have touched the coals...she was just screaming all of a sudden and…”

“It’s alright, Roger,” I said calmly, reaching one hand over to rest it briefly on his arm. The poor man was close to tears, and since I now knew for a fact that my daughter would be alright, I was able to find his distress for her sake endearing. “It doesn’t look like a serious burn, I don’t even think it’ll blister.”

“It hurts,” Lotte said, having stopped crying but was now hiccuping.

“I know, baby,” I said in sympathy. “Mama is going to put some medicine on it that will make it feel better, but it might hurt a little at first, okay?”

She frowned, seemingly at war between her trust in me and not liking the idea of anymore hurt.

I smiled at her as I reached for the salve and bandages. “I think we’re going to need Roger’s help for this one,” I told her. “Roger? Would you mind sitting here beside Lotte? And roll up your sleeve, please.”

Roger hurried to do as asked, lifting himself up on the cot next to her. 

“Alright,” I said theatrically. “What I need you both to do is take a deeeep breath.”

Child and man each took a breath, holding their arms at identical angles. 

“Now,” I continued. “Puff out your cheeks, like you’re about to blow out your birthday candles.”

Lotte had to fight a smile to do as instructed, and then nearly succumbed to giggles when she looked up at Roger and saw the ridiculous face he was making.

“Next, I’m going to put the medicine on, and when I say go, you blow out, just like the candles. Lotte, would you like Roger to go first?”

Cheeks puffed out like an adorable chipmunk, Lotte nodded.

“Ready, Roger?” I asked, grinning at him. His eyes twinkled with mirth when I said go, and he blew at me at the same time I rubbed salve on his arm. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“Not at all,” Roger said. “I was a little scared at first, but now I feel better.”

I turned to Lotte. “You ready?”

Lotte nodded, and I counted to three before saying go, and while she blew, I lightly dabbed on the salve, blowing on it myself. After that I quickly bandaged it up, and Lotte was no worse for the wear.

“What a brave girl you are,” I said, picking her up and cuddling her close. “ However , you know fine well to stay away from Mr. Joe’s forge.”

“He said he was gonna give me a horseshoe!” she exclaimed.

“And was he there to give it? No. When adults tell you not to do something, it’s because of things like this. If you’d only listened, you wouldn’t be hurt. I also think you owe Roger an apology, you scared him.”

“Sorry, Roger,” she said earnestly, leaning her head on my shoulder.

Roger smiled, but the poor thing looked drained. “I’m so sorry, Claire,” he said. 

I set Lotte down and told her to go to the room I had set aside as a playroom of sorts for her. “Accidents happen, Roger. It’s not your fault. But I don’t understand, I left Lotte with Jenny this morning.”

Roger shrugged. “One of her calves got stuck in the fence. She was on her way this direction, to leave her with either you or Brianna, but I know you’re busy and Bree took John riding, so…”

“Roger,” I began, smiling. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it, and you’re wonderful with Lotte, but you know you needn’t…”

Roger held up a hand to stall me. “I wasn’t busy, and minding Lotte is no chore for me...or at least, it wouldn’t normally be, until she decided to give me a heart attack today.”

“You’re going to be an excellent father someday, you know,” I said fondly.

Roger flushed, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Thanks. Well, do you need me to take Lotte now?”

I shook my head. “I only have a couple short appointments left, and she’ll probably nap now after all her excitement. Thank you for getting her here so quickly.”

“Of course. Good day, Dr. B.”

“Roger,” I called before he could make it to the door. “You said Bree and John went riding?”

Roger grimaced, and nodded.

I sighed. “Look, just...don’t give up on her, okay?”

He chuckled self consciously. “Not sure how I can compete with someone like Lord John Gray. But thanks, Claire. I’ll see you later.”

 

After seeing to my last patients, I woke Lotte from her nap, but at that point she was grumpy as well as hurting, and was completely irate over the fact that she’d left her favorite toy, Mac the bunny, at Jenny’s house that morning.

She wasn’t the only one annoyed, because Jenny’s house was in the opposite direction of home, but I knew there’d be no getting Lotte to bed that night without Mac, so I sat her in front of me on Flash and we headed for Jenny’s ranch.

“Mama, can I still have one of Joe’s horseshoes?” Lotte asked along the way.

“I’m not so sure about that,” I said. “You disobeyed and went near the forge, I don’t think that’s very deserving of a reward, do you?”

“But I won’t do it again!”

“I should say not. Joe might not even want to give you one anymore after you disobeyed him,” I knew fine well that wouldn’t be true. Joe was possibly an even bigger pushover when it came to Lotte than Roger was. “But if he does, you may have it, so long as you apologize to him for disobeying. And I hope every time that burn hurts, you’ll remember why you should listen to people who love you.”

Lotte nodded. “Just the people who love me?”

I chuckled. “Well, yes, I suppose you need only obey people who love you.”

I could hear the grimace in her voice as she spoke next. “But lots of people love me. That’s a lot of people I have t’obey.”

“That’s the price we pay for being lovable, Lotte Love. Now come on, let’s hurry and get Mac so we can get home to start supper. No dawdling about, understood?”

“Yes’m.”

I swung myself off of Flash, then reached up for Lotte and set her down. She skipped ahead, scattering chickens in her wake, then let herself into the house. I followed her in, calling out a hullo, but there was no one there.

“She must be in the field still,” I said. “I hope that calf of hers is alright. Suppose we should look for Auntie Jenny and make sure?”

Lotte nodded eagerly, charging out of the house with Mac under her arm and leading the way to the pasture with the ease of one who’d been roaming the area her whole life.

“I see Auntie Jenny!” Lotte exclaimed. “And...and... what are you doing ?!”

I skidded to a stop, reaching down and yanking Lotte back and attempting to turn her around, though she was having none of it.

Jenny was pressed up against the wall of the barn by none other than Two Moons. They flew apart at the sound of Lotte’s voice, red-faced and gasping.

Thank God they were mostly fully dressed, else I’d be forced to answer some very awkward questions from my inquisitive four-year-old. But my mind would forever be imprinted with the image of Jenny shoving her skirts down and yanking her blouse up, and Ian turning away to tie up the fly on his buckskin trousers. 

“Ah, Ian,” I said, clearing my throat awkwardly. “I didn’t know you were back already.”

“Erm, yes,” he said, looking everywhere but my face. “Hunting was scarce. I have come just this morning.”

“Have you?” I asked, my own embarrassment becoming surprisingly overcome by humor. “ Just this morning?”

Jenny’s eyes flew open wide. “Claire!”

I pinned my gaze on Jenny.“Is this the calf whose head was caught in a...ehem...fence?”

If it were at all possible, Jenny’s face turned even redder. “ No ,” she hissed. “I got that sorted this morning.”

“Where’s the calf?” Lotte asked.

“Excellent question, darling.”

Two Moons, seemingly wanting desperately to change the subject, looked down at Lotte. “This cannot be my niece Charlotte Faith Nayawenne…she is far too big.”

“It’s me, Uncle Ian!” Lotte exclaimed, running toward him. “Look, I got a burn!”

While Two Moons admired Lotte’s wound, I smirked at Jenny.

“Shut up,” she muttered.

I rolled my eyes, then grabbed her arm to lead her a few paces away. “I didn’t say anything. I just...I had no idea that you and Ian had progressed to...well…”

“Well, it’s not like I was going to put an advertisement in the newspaper!” she exclaimed. “Besides, it’s nobody’s business.”

“Perhaps not, but you know, when you do that outdoors where anyone can come waltzing up, it sort of becomes their business. For God’s sake, Jen, what if it had been Murtagh, or Jamie?”

“God in Heaven,” she groaned. “Don’t even speak that into existence!”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Are you telling me you still haven’t told your Uncle Murtagh?”

“Are you joking? It would give the old man a heart attack! He may not be as narrow minded as some, but there’s no way he’d accept my relationship with Ian.”

“So, what then? You’re just going to hide it forever? Have you two even given any thought about what you’re going to do ? Have you talked about marriage?”

Jenny leveled me with a grim look. “And, what, run away to the Quaker village with Young Ian and Rachel? That would be about the only way we could get married. No. I don’t need marriage anyway. I have my home, my ranch.”

“I didn’t say you needed it,” I said. “But...you love Ian...don’t you?”

Jenny looked back at where Two Moons was holding Lotte so that she could pet one of the cows. “Yes. But I don’t need to marry him to love him.”

“No,” I agreed, thinking back to my courtship days with Jamie. Of course I would have wanted to be with him with or without matrimony, but it had felt, to me, like the last piece of the puzzle. I supposed it was an entirely different story for me, though, because Jamie wasn’t an Indian. “But what about children?”

She shrugged. “What about them?”

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “What about them? Are you being careful at all?”

Jenny blushed again. “Yes, Dr. B. I’m not a complete fool. What happened earlier was...well...it was sort of spur of the moment.”

“Well, I can’t say I don’t relate…”

“Ugh.”

“What?” I laughed. 

She frowned at me. “You’re married to my brother , Claire.”

“At least we’ve never given you cause to see it!”

“No, but I’ve been a guest at your house enough times that I am far too familiar with certain...sounds.”

I wrinkled my nose in discomfort. Jamie made fun of me constantly...my seeming inability to keep...quiet.

Speaking more loudly, so that Two Moons could hear, “Are you coming to dinner tonight? Jamie’s old friend John Gray is in town.”

“I would love to, Claire, thank you,” he replied.

“What is going on with him and Bree?” Jenny asked. “The two have been joined at the hip all day. I’m pretty sure I saw smoke coming out of Roger’s ears.”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Brianna says they’re not courting, but it sounds an awful lot like courting to me . Jamie’s absolutely convinced that John has no interest in Brianna that way, but I think it’s just that to Jamie, Bree is a girl, and he just can’t imagine a friend of his , who he sees as being his own peer, looking at Brianna as a woman.”

“I could understand that,” Jenny said. “Maybe Jamie should have a talk with John himself, man to man, and find out exactly what his intentions are.”

“I agree. And I know how fond Jamie is of John, so am I, but how much does he even really know the man? He’s seen him twice in the past fifteen years, and really only knew him when they were scarcely more than boys.”

Jenny chuckled. “I don’t know, that might be your over-protective side talking.”

I glared playfully at her. “I’m entitled. Lotte! Time to go! Ian, Jenny, I’ll see you at supper,” I took Lotte’s hand, leading her begrudgingly away from Two Moons, but before I left, I looked at them from over my shoulder. “Oh, and Jenny? Your blouse is still unbuttoned.”

 

“Da!” Lotte screamed, and would have thrown herself bodily off of Flash had I not anticipated just that and wrapped my arm around her middle.

“There’s my wee ahyoka !’ Jamie exclaimed, hurrying over with his arms outstretched, and when he was in catching-range, I released our daughter to tumble safely into them.

“Da, look!” she said, showing him her arm.

Ah Dhia, what happened?” he asked, looking at first her, then me in concern.

“She got burned, playing too close to Joe’s forge,” I said sternly.

Jamie set Lotte on her feet, then reached up to help me down. “I see. Ye ken what they say about playing wi’ fire, lass.”

“No...” Lotte said, tilting her head to one side. “What do they say?”

Jamie chuckled. “That ye’ll get burned .”

Lotte stared at him a moment more, letting that set in. “Obviously.”

I laughed at Jamie’s stunned expression as Lotte marched imperiously away toward Rollo who was rushing to greet her.

“Where in God’s name did she learn the word obviously ?” he asked.

“Who knows,” I said. “She spends all of her time around adults. Do you think we ought to get her to spend more time with children her age?”

Jamie scoffed. “So she can learn tae pick her nose and whine? Nah. She can learn that just as easily from Rupert and Angus. Now, how was your day, Sassenach?”

I harrumphed. “Just fine until now, when I’ve come home to a husband who has scarcely greeted his wife…”

Jamie grinned at me before grabbing me by the waist and kissing me hard enough that my back bent backward.

“I’ve been verra lax in my duties of late,” he said. “Ye may need tae punish me.”

“Oh?” I asked, smirking. “And how shall I do that? A time out?”

“I’m thinking more along th’ lines of going tae bed early…”

“Ew, you’re just like Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian!” Lotte exclaimed, laughing.

“Lotte, I believe Adso needs to be fed,” I reminded her, and she took off again in search of the cat, Rollo at her heels.

“What’s this about Jenny and Ian?” Jamie asked.

I looped my arm around his, leading the way toward the house. “Well, Lotte forgot Mac at Jenny’s house, so we went back to fetch him and happened to stumble upon your sister and Ian in flagrante delicto .”

What?”

“They were…”

“No, I ken what ye meant, Sassenach, but ye mean ye saw them?”

I chuckled. “They were outside by the barn. They were hard to miss.”

“And Lotte saw them?!”

“They were dressed , Jamie,” I said, going into the kitchen and pouring myself a glass of water from the pump. “She didn’t see anything other than kissing, or at least she didn’t see anything she understood . But it’s definitely an image I won’t be able to erase from my mind anytime soon.

“Christ,” Jamie muttered, raking a hand through his hair. “I canna believed Ian didn’a tell me that he and Jen were...were…”

“I got the impression that it’s sort of recent development,” I said. “But Ian may have been afraid to tell you, in case you’d be angry.”

Jamie furrowed his brow at me. “Why would I be angry ? Aye, I’m concerned, for obvious reasons, but no’ angry . I canna think of anyone I’d like more tae be wi’ Jenny than him, but wi’ th’ way things are …”

“I know,” I said. “And they know, too. But Jenny wouldn’t be the first white woman to be with an Indian man. Ian’s first wife was white.”

“Aye, but normally a white woman joins th’ tribe,” Jamie pointed out. “A white man can sometimes get away wi’ having a squaw for a bride in certain communities, but look at what happened tae Young Ian and Rachel, they had tae run away.”

“And you don’t want that to happen to Ian and Jenny, I know, but Jamie, I think you really just have to let them figure it out for themselves.”

“I suppose,” he huffed. “So long as they dinna give my wife and wee’un anymore peep shows .”

I chuckled. “Speaking of couples...have you spoken to John today?”

“No’ since this morning,” Jamie started rooting around in the cupboards, and I knew he was searching for the tin of cookies we kept up and out of Lotte’s reach, but little did he know that I’d eaten the last one the day before. “Why?”

“You need to talk to him,” I said.

He glanced back at me before peering behind the flour container. “Why?”

Sighing, I picked an apple up off the counter and handed it to him. “He’s been out with Bree all day.”

“Aye?” he prompted, frowning in disappointment at the apple before taking a bite. “She took him riding. What of it?”

I let out a groan and sat down at the table. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Jamie, you need to find out what John’s intentions are with her. Even she doesn’t seem totally clear on whether or not they’re courting and…”

“Sassenach,” he broke in, sitting across from me. “I told ye, it isn’a like that for John.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“No, but...Claire, just trust me.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. There was something he wasn’t telling me, and that was something that hadn’t happened in some years. I didn’t much care for it. “Fine,” I relented. “But it is like that for Brianna, and she’s having a hell of a time figuring out her feelings between him and Roger, so if John truly has no romantic interest in her, then he needs to tell her.”

Jamie sighed, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright, alright, I’ll talk tae him.”

“Thank you.”

 

Dinner was an interesting affair of Jamie giving side-long looks to Two Moons and Jenny, Brianna giving shy glances to John, me watching Brianna with concern, while William and Fergus fought over the last roll.

Two Moons and John got on well, which I knew would make Jamie happy. In fact, John got on well with the entire family. So I just couldn’t understand why Jamie was so adamant that John and Brianna wouldn’t be a suitable pair.

Oh, I didn’t particularly think so either, but I was very partial to Roger, whereas he and Jamie had simply never really clicked as friends.

After dinner, and Jenny, Two Moons, and William had gone for the night, I went to tuck in Lotte, hoping Jamie would find a private moment with John to talk.

“Have you said your prayers?” I asked her.

Shaking her head, Lotte folded her little hands under her chin and screwed her eyes shut. “God bless me, and Mama, and Da, and Fergus, and Rollo, and Roger, and Willie, and Bree, and Auntie Jenny, and Uncle Ian, and Adso, and Mr. John, and Uncle Joe, and…”

I sat back with an indulgent smile as she rattled off virtually every citizen of town, all in a very precise order of how high they rate currently in her estimation.

“Amen!” she concluded at last.

“Very good,” I said, kissing her cheek. “Sleep well, Lotte Love.”

“Night, night, Mama,” but just as her eyes started to drift shut, they shot back open again. “Mama?”

I hadn’t even stood up yet, anticipating her usual line of random questions that only seemed to occur when she was supposed to be sleeping. “Yes, darling?”

“Is Bree and Roger gonna get married?”

I blinked, rather wondering if she’d heard Roger say something to make her think that. “I don’t know.”

“Is Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian gonna get married?”

I chuckled. “I don’t know that either, Lotte. Why?”

“Are you and Da gonna get married?”

This time, I laughed aloud. “Lotte! Da and I are already married!”

Lotte’s rosebud mouth turned down into a pout. “That’s not fair!”

“Why isn’t it fair?”

“Cause I wasn’t there!”

“You weren’t born yet, silly! Mamas and Das usually get married before having cute little babies.”

“But Fergus and Willie and Bree were there!” she argued. “They’re in the...the…”

“Portrait,” I provided. “Yes, your brothers and sister were at Da’s and my wedding. But they didn’t come out of my belly like you did.”

Lotte’s eyes went round. “They didn’t ?” she gasped.

I was certain we’d discussed this with her before, but I supposed at not-quite-five, she couldn’t be expected to remember every conversation. “No, Willie, Bree, and Fergus had different mamas. Willie and Bree’s mama was named Charlotte, just like you.”

“What about Fergus’s mama?”

I grimaced, having never realized until trying to explain it to a small child just how complicated our family sounded. “Fergus doesn’t remember his birth mother,” I said. “He was adopted by Charlotte, which means she decided to be his mama because she loved him. And then when Charlotte died and went to Heaven, I adopted Willie, Bree, and Fergus, because I loved them.”

“Oh,” she said solemnly. “Who’s gonna ‘dopt me when you die?”

I coughed, somehow not having expected that question. “Well, I don’t plan to die until you’re an old lady, but , if anything were to happen to me and Da, you have your brothers and sister to look after you. And Auntie Jenny, and Uncle Ian, Uncle Joe and Auntie Gale...you have no shortage of people who love you, my darling.”

“Okay!” Lotte chirped, unperturbed. “But if anybody does get married, can I be the flower girl?”

I sighed. Talking to Lotte could be exhausting sometimes. “Yes, I’m sure you can. Now go to sleep .”

Standing up, I looked down at the pair of yellow eyes watching me patiently from the floor. “Alright, mister. I have vacated your spot.”

Rollo jumped onto the bed, settling himself in his customary place, curled around Lotte like a furry fortress. 

I shook my head, amazed as I always was by the picture they made, the already gigantic wolf looking even bigger nestled next to Lotte’s tiny form. But there was hardly a safer child in Colorado.

I peeked in on Fergus, who was reading in bed, then on Brianna, whose reflection in the mirror smiled at me while she brushed her hair. “Where’s your father?” I asked her.

“He and John went out a while ago to check the horses,” she said.

I nodded, glad. “Goodnight, darling.”

“Night, Mama.”

I went downstairs and gathered up a couple whisky glasses that had gotten left out, when I thought I heard raised voices. Following the sound, I went out to the front porch, and could hear Jamie shouting from inside the barn.

“That’s not what I meant by talk ,” I muttered, heading toward the barn in case I needed to rescue John.

“Are ye out of your goddamned mind ?!” Jamie railed, and I paused midstep. I didn’t think I’d ever quite heard Jamie sound like that before. It was beyond angry, and I was no stranger to Jamie’s anger.

“If you would stop blustering and listen for a moment, you’ll see that I’ve quite thought this through!” John shouted back.

“Thought it through? Thought it through ?! She’s my daughter , John! D’ye no’ understand that?!”

“If she were your biological child, I’d never consider it,” John said. “But be realistic, Jamie, she was an adult before you even adopted her. I care about her, I can provide for her, I can take care of her. What more could you want?”

“Christ, man! I want a man who can love her! If ye care about her as ye say ye do, don’t ye think she deserves that?”

“What makes you think I can’t love her?! Love isn’t just about sex, Jamie. And I’ll have you know, I’m perfectly capable of…” 

Stop now, John…”

I wanted to go in, stop this somehow, because Jamie sounded murderous, but I was frozen as a few pieces to the puzzle fell into place.

“I’m only saying that I’m capable of being an adequate husband…”

The sound of a fist striking a nose was unmistakable, and I was spurred into action, barging into the barn, ready to stop a bloodbath if need be.

But Jamie only stood over John, his hands curled into tight fists, and John covered his bleeding nose with his hands.

“Jamie,” I said sharply enough to catch his attention.

Jamie whirled around to me, some of the fury fading from his eyes at the sight of me, but not completely.

When he turned back to John, he was calmer, but still growled at him through clenched teeth. “You will kindly make it known tae Bree that ye have no intentions wi’ her. Is that understood?”

John glanced at me then back again before nodding.

Jamie turned his back on his friend, gently but firmly grabbing my arm in the process. “Come on, Sassenach.”

“But Jamie,” I protested. “I should check his…”

“He’s fine, Sassenach.”

I supposed if John’s nose was broken or anything disastrous, he could just as easily get help from Dr. Raymond at the hotel. For the moment, it appeared to be more important that I go with my husband.



Chapter Text

I waited until we got into our bedroom, and until after I’d sat Jamie down at my vanity to wash his bloodied knuckles to question him. 

“So, you were wrong,” I said. Probably not the best way to open things, but it was true. “John did have intentions with Brianna.”

“But no’ honorable ones,” he muttered, hissing as I poured alcohol on the cut. “He needs a lass tae marry, tae keep up wi’ appearances, keep his name in good standing. Perhaps there are women out there who wouldn’a mind a husband that will never want her as a man wants a woman. Perhaps a woman who doesn’a want tae be bothered o’ermuch. But I’ll be damned if he tries tae turn my daughter into that woman. She might not know any better, but I ken she deserves more.”

“I agree,” I said softly. “And I believe so would Brianna, if she knew. How long have you known? About John?”

Jamie shook his head. “Almost as long as I’ve known him. I dinna care one way or th’ other, not unless it has the potential to hurt Brianna. Th’ Cheyenne dinna persecute them, th’ way white men do, ye ken. They’re known as Two Spirits, and they’re just like everyone else.”

I sat down beside him on the small vanity bench. “Why didn’t you just tell me that that was why you knew John didn’t have feelings for Bree?”

Jamie grimaced. “It isn’a something he likes talked about, for obvious reasons. I wasn’a meaning tae hide it from you, I’m just used to keeping his secret, I suppose.”

“And you thought I might react badly?” I asked.

This time, Jamie looked a little shamefaced. “I ken ye’re no’ a judgmental woman, Sassenach. But ye are a Proper Bostonian Lady, whether ye like tae admit it or not. I didn’a want ye tae think badly of th’ man, is all.”

I laughed. “I suppose I can understand your thinking. It must be a terrible burden to bear, living as John does. But he shouldn’t try to marry a woman just for appearance’s sake. My uncle never married, and no one ever questioned his special friend .”

Jamie blinked, then twisted in his seat to stare at me. “Wait, Charlie was…”

I giggled, and nodded. “Well, Uncle Lamb never admitted it to me, but, well, we did live in the same house, and he never expressly hid it. Uncle Lamb and Charlie were best of friends for most of my life, until Charlie passed away.

Jamie smiled. “Ye ought tae tell John of that.”

I harrumphed . “If the poor man hasn’t left town by morning. You hit him awfully hard.”

Jamie waved his hand. “Not th’ first time.”

“Is he going to talk to Bree? Maybe he should just tell her the truth, it might hurt her less.”

“Dinna ken if he’ll do that,” Jamie said. “But perhaps I will if nothing else, once he’s gone. She’ll no doubt be embarrassed, either way.”

I sighed, leaning against him. “I hope Lotte is a little less...impulsive with her infatuations.”

“Hmph,” Jamie grumbled. “I’ve told ye, I dinna want tae talk about Lotte having infatuations

I turned to give him a kiss. “It’s bound to happen someday, my love. But luckily for both Lotte and Bree, they’re being raised by a man who shows them every day just precisely how a woman ought to be treated by her husband. 

Jamie smiled and kissed me again. “Oh aye, wi’ regular spankings, is that it?” 

Before I could react, Jamie had one around around my waist and was yanking me to lay face-down across his lap.

“Jamie!” I squealed, though I tried not to be too loud as I squirmed and kicked ineffectually at him. “And just what have I done to deserve this?”

I gasped as his hand slid under my skirt and up the back of my thigh. “Ye went spying on Ian and Jenny, seeing things ye oughtn’t.”

I wrinkled my nose. “ Must you bring that up just now?”

“Fine. Then...ye keep trying tae marry off our daughters. Surely that deserves punishment.”

I felt cold air hit my rear end the second before Jamie’s hand gave me a swift slap, only hard enough to make a sound, not enough to hurt. 

“And now ye’re laughing at me!” Jamie exclaimed, which, I couldn’t deny that I was. He struck me again, a little harder, and this time I felt a slight sting. “Are ye sorry?”

I bit my lower lip, stifling a giggle. “No.”

Jamie slapped me again, then pinched me just under my arse, making me laugh harder and wriggle to get away. Succeeding in my escape, I sat up, but didn’t go very far. Instead, I straddled Jamie’s lap, since my skirt was already hiked up anyway.

“Did you know,” I said, draping my arms around his neck. “That as a little girl, I was positively convinced that I’d have a wife when I was grown up, not a husband.”

Jamie’s eyebrows went up. “Is that so? And just what sort of woman did wee Claire have in mind?”

I grinned, tilting my head to one side. “I imagine she’d be very pretty. Red hair, strong chin, muscles. A whiskery face.”

Jamie grimaced. “Doesn’a sound like a verra pretty woman to me . I think ye can do better, Sassenach.”

“I disagree,” I said, kissing him. 

I’d been led to believe, not only by uptight ladies in Boston but also by several of the women in town, that as the years went by, my romantic relationship with Jamie would mellow. We would perhaps (hopefully) grow closer as companions, but physicality would become less important, less needed.

It had been six years. I didn’t know when that mellowing was supposed to take place, when I was supposed to need his touch less…

But it hadn’t happened yet.

I raked my hands through his hair, hauling myself up to bring our bodies as close as possible.

Jamie’s hands gripped my thighs, his tongue skillfully seeking out all the places in my mouth that made me weak with want. 

Since my skirt was already hiked up thanks to his antics, there was nothing between us except for his trousers, and he quickly squeezed a hand between us to undo the flies, and in the process accidentally (or not so accidentally, more like,) brushed his knuckle across my core, causing me to bury my face in his neck to muffle my exclamation.

I pulled at his shirt, but neither of us seemed to want to find the time to undress. Jamie slid his hands back under my thighs and stood, taking me with him while I wrapped my legs firmly around his hips, not letting a breath of space come between us.

He sat me on the edge of the dresser, narrowly catching my jewelry box before it could fall and wake the entire house. 

“We willn’a get much farther if ye dinna let me move,” Jamie breathed in my ear with a chuckle. I was holding on to him so tightly, he couldn’t maneuver himself inside me.

We couldn’t have that. I loosened my death grip on his hips and reached between us myself, giving him a couple firm strokes, just enough to have him moaning into my shoulder before guiding him in.

Jamie fastened his mouth on the juncture of my neck and shoulder - when he’d gotten my blouse unbuttoned, I had no idea - and came into me hard. 

The dresser banged into the wall, and he reached a hand behind me to try and grab the edge and hold it still, but it was a losing battle...not that I had it in me to care.

When would I grow tired of it? When would the feel of him, sliding in and out of me...stretching me to my limit...become an afterthought? When would the look on his face...the one of utter bliss, abandon, and adoration...ever not be the most beautiful sight I can behold?

Never.

The answer is never.






Chapter Text

Brianna had already been gone when I woke up (admittedly rather late) the next morning, and Fergus was in the kitchen giving Lotte her breakfast.

“Thank you, darling,” I said, kissing his cheek as I passed. “Where’s your father?”

“He went up to check the still. Is everything alright? I asked him if John was going with him and he made a face and didn’t answer.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling. “I’m afraid your father and John had...a disagreement last night. Where’s Bree? I need to speak with her.”

“She left a little while ago,” he said. “Said something about meeting John for breakfast. Do you think the two of them are going to start courtin’?”

I sat down at the table beside Lotte, grinning at her as I playfully swiped a piece of apple off her plate, but she only giggled and offered me another. “No, I don’t think that is in the cards. That’s what I hoped to speak with Bree about before she left for the morning.”

Fergus shook his head. “All this nonsense about courtin’ is ridiculous. I don’t think I ever wanna court a girl.”

I smiled. “Never? I don’t know...forever is an awfully long time. Just wait, you might run into a young woman tomorrow and your life will just never be the same. It happened to me with Jamie, and I was quite convinced I’d remain a spinster forever.”

“I wanna court!” Lotte piped up. 

I laughed. “You will someday, my sweet. Just don’t let Da hear you say that just yet!”

We all jumped when, all of a sudden, the front door banged open.

“Where is he?!” Brianna exclaimed, storming inside.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked levely, having a good guess at the reason behind her flashing eyes and clenched fists. Sometimes it honestly amazed me that Brianna wasn’t Jamie’s biological daughter. Between their flaming red hair and equally as hot tempers, they were a lot alike.

“Jamie!” she snapped in answer. “Where is he?!”

I stood up slowly, then picked up a wide-eyed Lotte and handed her to Fergus. “Fergus, could you take Lotte with you while you do your chores?”

“Sure, Mama,” he said, beating a hasty retreat.

Once they were gone, I folded my arms. “First of all,” I began calmly. “I don’t appreciate you barging in here yelling like that. Second, your father is at the still and I sure as hell hope you find a very different attitude before you speak to him.”

Brianna calmed down some, but the anger did not abate. “I’m not a child, Mother, and I don’t need you or Jamie making decisions about my life!”

I shook my head. “Wait, I’m confused, what decisions have we been making?”

“You know what! John! He’s leaving today on the afternoon train. He thanked me for a lovely visit and that he hoped to see me around school in the fall. He would barely look at me! I saw the bruise on his cheek, and I know Jamie is who put it there! Why?! I thought they were friends!”

“That’s all John said?” I asked. “He didn’t offer any other...explanation?”

“He didn’t need to! Christ, he acted almost ashamed ! Who I’m with is my business, not yours, and not Jamie’s!”

“Yes,” I agreed. “And whatever goes on between Jamie and John is between them . Jamie was John’s friend long before he was your father. He knows him a lot better than you do. Anything he’s done, is because he loves you, and wants you to be happy.”

“It’s not up to him!” she hissed. “Maybe John made me happy!”

I tilted my head to one side. “Fine. Did he? If you’re in love with John, why are you standing here screaming at me about it? Go after him.”

My challenge caught Brianna short and she sputtered something unintelligible before taking a deep breath through her nose. “I didn’t say I was in love with John,” she said more calmly.

“Then what is all this about?” I asked. 

“I just…” Brianna threw her hands out and started to pace back and forth. I bit back a smile, since I doubted very much she would appreciate me telling her how much like Jamie she was when she paced that way. “Roger is already terrified of Jamie. So much that he’ll barely even…” she blushed, cutting her eyes over to me.

I took a deep breath of my own, mentally fortifying. “Go on,” I prompted.

“Once,” she blurted. “Roger has kissed me once. And not even then! I kissed him ! Any time I’ve tried to take any step toward a slightly more...mature relationship, he goes running. I’m not ready to get married, but he acts like we can’t even be alone together until we do. At least John seemed to like spending time alone with me. At least he treated me like a grown woman and not a little girl who needs protected. It felt nice . But then Da had to go and scare him away too! It isn’t fair!”

“You’re right in that your father’s...methods of meddling were wrong,” I allowed. “But you’re just going to have to trust me that he had very good reason. John is a good man, but he…” I bit my lip, unsure how to make her understand why John wasn’t a good prospect without telling her the truth about him when it wasn’t my place to do so. “John is in a very…difficult point in his life, much as you are. There are things about him you don’t know, but it isn’t for me to tell you. And besides that, it’s hardly fair to him for you to consider pursuing something with him when it’s abundantly clear that your heart isn’t in it, either.”

Brianna’s shoulders drooped. “I guess you might be right about that.”

I stepped closer to her and took her hands. “Brianna, I know you’re a grown woman with a mind very much your own, and Jamie knows that, too. But if you want…” I fought back the extreme discomfort I felt about this conversation. “If you want a mature relationship, then you’re simply going to have to approach it more maturely. And that would begin with not stomping into this house throwing a tantrum like a child. After that, you are going to have to talk with Roger. Make your expectations known to him. If he’s careful with you it’s because he cares so much about you, and he respects you and this family. Those are good things, even if they feel frustrating to you right now.”

Brianna huffed, but her ire began to fade completely. “I’m sorry for yelling,” she said at last.

“I forgive you,” I said. “Now why don’t you go up to the still and talk to Jamie? I think he’s upset about what happened with John, and he was probably afraid you would react much the way you did.”

Brianna’s jaw twitched but she nodded. “Alright.”

 

~~~

 

Working in the still was hot work, even early in the morning. Jamie seldom discarded his shirt outside his bedroom, but there was no one around, and no one likely to come around. That was, until he saw Brianna making her way up the hill. 

He put down the barrel he was carrying and mopped the sweat off his brow as she made her way toward him, her arms crossed. She didn’t look pleased, but at least she wasn’t fuming as he thought she might.

“I saw John,” she said without preamble. “I can’t believe you hit him.”

Jamie huffed. “Bree…”

She held up a hand, stopping him. “I talked to Ma. She made me understand a few things. I still don’t know why you’re so adverse to John and me, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I don’t love John, but you have got to get it through your stubborn head that my relationships with men are none of your business.”

Jamie grimaced, not entirely comfortable with the way she said relationships with men

“Oh?” he said. “Am I tae just stand around and smile and watch ye get hurt?”

“Well, yes,” she said without hesitation. “Because it’s my life. If I fall on my ass, then so be it. It’s my ass to fall on. If you had actual reasons for not wanting John and me together, as Mama insinuated, then you should have just talked to me about it, and let me make the choice on my own.”

“He likes men, Brianna.”

Brianna opened her mouth to say something else, then snapped it shut. “What?”

He arched a brow at her. “Ye wanted th’ truth? His attraction is tae men, no’ women. His interest in ye was because he does like ye, cares for ye even, and thought he could be a fine enough husband tae ye. But he would never desire ye as a woman, and you deserve a husband who loves ye mind and body, no’ one who is using you tae keep up appearances.”

Brianna blinked several times, her mouth opening and closing like a fish. “...Oh. So he was...using me.”

Jamie nodded. “Ye canna be too angry wi’ him, lass. You were using him, too.”

Brianna’s eyes flashed. “I was not! Testing the waters to see if I could love him is not using him!”

Jamie arched a brow at her. “Oh? And making Wee Roger green wi’ jealousy was just a happy side effect, hm?”

“I...I wasn’t spending time with John just to make Roger jealous!”

“Maybe no’ just to make him jealous, but I dinna believe for a moment that ye weren’t well aware of th’ fact.”

“How dare you!”

Jamie turned to Brianna fully. He’d had his shirt in his hands when she approached, but he tossed it down. “Brianna Ellen, you are my daughter, like it or not. Ye are mine tae protect, until such time comes that ye choose someone tae spend your life with. I will let ye make your own decisions, I will no’ try and stop ye from marrying who ye will, or no’ at all. But I will never stop trying tae keep ye safe, tae keep ye from hurt. I can accept that you are a woman grown, wi’ a life tae live on your own...but you will just have to accept that you will always be my wee lass.”

Brianna had her chin tilted defiantly up at him...so like Claire, she was, no matter that they shared no blood. But then her posture melted, and she collapsed against him, her arms going around his waist.

Jamie held her tightly, his hand cupping the back of her head. “Ye’re th’ child of my heart,” he murmured into her hair. “Ye canna change that.”

“I don’t want to,” she said. “I love you, Da,” she stiffened suddenly, then pulled away. “Roger!”

Jamie turned, surprised to find Roger hovering nearby. He could tell by the way Roger’s gaze flicked guiltily to Jamie’s face that he’d previously been staring at Jamie’s back. It didn’t bother him as it once had, though, and he stepped away from Brianna, nodding.

“Roger, lad. Have ye come tae speak wi’ Bree, then?”

“Well,” Roger began. “Yes. Claire told me she’d come up here, but I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Jamie nodded again, pulling on his shirt. “Nay matter. I haven’a kissed my wife good morning yet, and she gets most cross when I dinna.”

“And after that,” Brianna said. “Maybe you should talk to John before he leaves. I don’t want your friendship with him to be damaged because of me.”

Jamie chuckled. “Dinna fash, lass. Our friendship canna be hurt by one wee punch tae th’ jaw. Roger…”

“I know,” Roger said, smiling. “ Dinna be long about it , right?”

Jamie was torn between annoyance and admiration for Roger’s admittedly spot-on Scottish impersonation. “I was going tae ask if ye would mind putting out th’ fire when th’ two of ye leave.”

Roger nodded in surprise, and Jamie turned and made his way back down the hill, trying very hard not to remember what he and Claire were like in the earlier days of their relationship every time they found themselves alone.

Chapter Text

“Charlotte, dinna get too close tae th’ train now!” Jamie called to his daughter who pretended to ignore him, but he could see the way she slowed her steps and remained a safe distance from the hissing locomotive. 

“She’s a delightful child,” John said. “You should be very proud, Jamie.”

Jamie smiled at his friend. “Aye, I am. There are no hard feelings, are there, John?”

Despite his assurances to his family, he did genuinely hope that their argument hadn’t bruised more than John’s face.

John shook his head. “You were right, Jamie. Of course you were. I hope you’ll forgive me . I hope Brianna will, as well.”

Jamie smiled. “She’s a verra resilient lass. She’ll be fine. You’re sure ye willn’a stay for Claire’s party?”

“Thank you,” John said. “But I really should go and see my brother. I promised my nephew that I’d spend time with him this summer, and being around your lovely children has reminded me that I’m not fulfilling that promise.”

John looked away from him and smiled. Jamie turnedto follow his gaze, and naturally had to smile as well at his beloved wife, carrying their daughter as she approached.

“Travel safe, John,” she said. 

John nodded. “Thank you, Claire. I’m sorry that my visits always tend to bring such excitement.”

Claire chuckled. “That only makes it more fun. You’re welcome anytime.”

John put on his hat, tipped it, and boarded the train.

“Bye bye, Mr. John!” Lotte called, waving. 

“Brianna didn’t want to say goodbye?” Claire asked.

Jamie shook his head. “No. I left her having a conversation wi’ Roger. Hopefully they’ll sort things out between them.”

“I can’t believe how hopeful you sound about it,” Claire teased.

Jamie tried to give her a disgruntled look, but didn’t have the heart for it. “I just want Bree tae be happy, and Roger is a good man.”

Claire rose up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “You’re a good father, Jamie.”

Jamie didn’t bother trying to hide how her words made him feel, but before he could return the statement, they were both distracted by a sudden outcry, nearly drowned out by the departing train.

“Dr. B!” Tom called from near the clinic.

“Sounds like duty calls,” Claire said, setting Lotte on her feet. “Stay with Da, sweetheart.”

Jamie took Lotte’s hand and followed Claire to where Tom and another man were ushering a woman into the clinic.

“You have to help her!” the man was crying.

“Alright, alright,” Claire leapt to work, taking over the clearly pregnant and distressed woman as she shifted fully into her role of doctor, something that never ceased to impress Jamie. “It’s going to be alright,” she turned back to him. “Take Lotte home, Jamie, I may be late.”

With that, the door closed, leaving him outside with the upset father-to-be. 

“Don’t worry,” Tom said, patting the man’s shoulder. “Dr. B. is a good doctor, she’ll take care of your wife.”

Jamie eyed the man. He appeared considerably older than his wife, judging by the brief moment Jamie had been able to see her. He was also white, where his wife had been of darker complexion. He’d never seen the pair in town before, and wondered if they’d come that morning on the train.

“Aye,” he agreed with Tom, giving the man a kind smile. “My wife will do her verra best by her.”

The man nodded, then took a seat on the bench beside the door. Jamie didn’t understand how this man could just sit outside while his wife was in distress, but kept that particular thought to himself. Were it Claire, God forbid, nothing could have stopped Jamie from remaining at her side.

Before Jamie could stop her, Lotte approached the man and patted his knee. “Dinna fash,” she said. “My Mama will make her all better. See how she fixed my burn?”

The man nodded absently at Lotte’s bandaged arm, and Jamie took her by the hand. “Come, lass, let’s leave th’ gentleman be.”

 

“Was that lady havin’ a baby?” Lotte asked as they walked home.

“Aye,” Jamie said. 

“Then why was she crying?”

Jamie lifted Lotte, putting her on his shoulders. “It’s a painful thing, birthing a wee’un,” he said, trying to put it as delicately as possible.

“It is? ” she was quiet a moment, thinking. “Did Mama hurt when I was borned?”

“She did,” Jamie said. “I was there, ye ken, helping bring ye intae th’ world. Mama told ye, didn’a she, how th’ baby comes out?”

“Uh huh,” Lotte said. “Baby comes out of the mama’s belly from ‘tween her legs. Just like th’ baby calf.”

“That’s right, verra good, lass. It hurt Mama, but she said she didn’a mind it a bit, because it was worth it tae have you.”

“I don’t think I ever wanna have a baby,” Lotte said. “I don’t wanna hurt.”

Jamie chuckled. “And I dinna want ye ever tae hurt, a leannan . So if ye want tae just stay my bairn, and never grow up, that’ll be just fine wi’ me.”

“I wanna grow up, Da!’ she giggled. “I just don’t wanna have babies .”

“Fine,” he sighed. “Be that way,” he flexed his shoulders, jostling her about but keeping a firm grip on her legs. Lotte howled with laughter, and gripped his hair tight as he started to run, making horse noises as he did. 

“You’re silly, Da!” she shrieked.

Jamie slowed as they neared the house. “But d’ye love me anyway, mo ghaol bheag?”

“Aye Da. I love ye anyway.”

 

Jamie sat beside the fire in the sitting room, waiting for Claire. 

He’d heard from Brianna when she returned home that the woman giving birth was having difficulties, and so Bree had prepared supper while Jamie bathed Lotte and readied her for bed.

Once all of the children were asleep, Jamie had settled himself down with a book, with Adso curled up on the back of the chair. Rollo had been beside him for a time, but then the old wolf had moseyed upstairs to his rest beside his wee mistress, as he had ever since Lotte had been old enough to sleep in her own room.

Jamie knew that it was entirely possible and probable that Claire would not return at all that night. Birth was often a lengthy process, sometimes taking days, especially if it was a difficult one. But he knew that she would at the very least send a message to him that he shouldn’t expect her return, and he would not rest well without her anyway, so wait he did.

It was gone one in the morning before he heard a horse coming up the path. He got up, startling an annoyed ‘ mrow’ from Adso, and went to the door.

He was expecting a messenger; Rupert or Angus, or perhaps young Aiden, and so he was surprised, but happily so, to see Claire after all.

Smiling, he followed her to the barn so that he could unsaddle and groom Flash for her, knowing she was probably tired out. When he got there though, she was just standing next to the horse, her forehead resting on his neck.

Jamie could tell at once that all was not well. Tired, yes, but Claire was also pale and tense. 

She looked up as he approached, and he wordlessly held his arms open for her, which she gratefully stepped into, burrowing herself into his chest.

“What is it, mo nighean donn ?”

“Just hold me,” she whispered, and so he did.

 

They stood that way for some time, but Jamie could feel Claire begin to shiver, so he led her toward the house.

He led her straight upstairs toward their room, but Claire paused outside of Lotte’s room, quietly pushing open the door and peeking inside. 

Lotte’s face was angelic in sleep, her wee rosebud mouth twitching into a dreamy smile. Claire wrapped her arms around her middle, as if preventing herself from going to her sleeping daughter, so Jamie let his own arms join her’s, and they stood and watched their little one sleep peacefully, surrounded by her protector, Rollo.

Finally Claire sighed and stepped away from the door, shutting it to a crack as they normally did.

Jamie quickly went into Fergus’s room, tapped him awake, and explained briefly that his mother was tired and could he please go feed and stable Flash. Jamie would have done it himself, but he was loath to leave Claire like this, even for a moment. Fergus groggily muttered protestations, but did as he was asked at once.

When Jamie returned to Claire, she was sitting on their bed, staring at nothing.

Jamie went to her, kneeling at her feet, began unlacing her boots.

“D’ye want tae talk about it?” he asked her.

“The baby didn’t make it,” she said flatly, her voice tired and monotone.

Jamie’s heart clenched. He’d been afraid that might have been the case, and it certainly explained Claire’s condition, as well as her desire to see Lotte.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. 

Claire had lost patients, and she’d even lost children and babies, but he knew that it never got easier for her, especially after giving birth to a child herself. But something about this seemed different. He could tell.

“Th’ mother?” he ventured.

“She’ll be alright,” Claire said. “Physically, at least. She and her husband just buried their five-year-old daughter last month. She had Scarlet Fever. They were moving out here to try and escape the memory.”

Jamie closed his eyes, sighing. “Christ,” he whispered. “God be with them.”

“She begged me,” Claire continued, her eyes welling with tears. “Begged me that if I couldn’t save the baby, that I would let her die too. She was bleeding heavily. There was nothing I could do for the child, but I couldn’t let Maria die.”

“Of course ye couldn’a!” Jamie said. “She was mad wi’ grief, Sassenach. She didn’a know what she was asking. I’m sure her husband is sae grateful that ye saved her, even if there was naught ye could do for their child.”

Claire shrugged. “Thing is, I might have felt the same way in her position. To lose our Lotte? And then to immediately be forced to bury a baby? How does anyone come back from that, Jamie?”

Jamie shook his head. “I honestly don’t know how Maria and her husband will come back from that. But they are not us, Claire. Our Lotte is safe in her bed, thank God, as are our other three children. If, God forbid, anything were tae ever happen to any of us, we would survive because we all have each other. Maria and her husband will have to depend on each other now, as best as they can. You have done all ye can for them, Sassenach. Ye’re home now, wi’ your children, and your husband who loves ye more than his next breath.”

Releasing a choked sob, Claire collapsed against him, and he stood up, bringing her with him. He lay her gently on the bed, then tenderly removed her clothes, and then his own, so that he could wrap himself around her, skin-to-skin.

He stroked her back and hair, letting her cry into his chest until she cried herself to sleep. Once her breathing evened out, he still stroked her, wanting to feel her, wanting to reassure himself that she was there.

He’d spoken words of encouragement and love, but inside he shuddered to imagine the hell Maria and the husband he did not know the name of was in. He itched to go to Lotte, to bring her to their bed, so that he could listen to the sounds of her breathing and heartbeat beside that of her mother. But that would mean disturbing Claire, and just then Claire’s wellbeing was paramount, and that meant sleep. Lotte was safe and sound in her bed. If she woke she would come to them. If she were in danger, Rollo would alert them.

“May th’ Lord protect her,” he whispered. “Protect all of them. My children, my wife. And be wi’ those that have lost it all.”

 

~~~

 

When I awoke in the morning, I certainly felt less like I was falling apart, as I did the night before. I glanced down at my sleeping husband, thinking of how tender and understanding he’d been as he’d given me exactly what’d I’d needed in the moment, and my heart ached with love for him. 

But just then I had an urge to see my daughter that I could no longer ignore, so I climbed out of bed carefully so not to disturb Jamie, put on my dressing gown, and crept into the hall. 

I’d lost patients before. I’d even lost children, and their mothers, in childbirth. But it had never affected me quite this strongly before. Perhaps it was because I saw a little of myself in the young woman. She’d told me, between contractions, that she’d come from a wealthy family in Mexico. They hadn’t approved when she’d met and married Richard Collins, an Irish immigrant some ten years her senior, and so she’d left her family to start a new life in Kansas, where they’d had their daughter, Maria Jose. When Maria Jose died, they could no longer stay in their house in Kansas, so they’d gone west to try and start over.

And now they’d lost another child, a nameless daughter.

Rollo lifted his head as I sat down beside Lotte, stroking the red curls off her face. 

I was still deeply exhausted, and Lotte’s bed was a bit too narrow to fit the two of us plus Rollo, so I carefully picked her up, smiling at the way she went limp as a dishrag, and carried her back to my room.

Jamie roused slightly when I crawled back into bed, laying Lotte between us. He smiled lovingly, gathering us both up into his arms and falling back asleep.

But as tired as I was, I couldn’t quite take my eyes off the way Lotte cuddled so sweetly to Jamie’s bare chest. 

For so long, after my uncle’s death, and the supposed death of my fiancé, I’d resisted ever really loving anyone, so afraid I was of feeling that sort of hurt again. 

And now that fear was so much sharper, because my love for Jamie and our children was so deep it sometimes scared me all on its own just by how powerful it was. 

Now that the others were growing into adults, they would be going out and starting their own families, bringing more people into the world for me to love, to lose. 

I kissed Lotte’s head, glad to have her to love. Even if I would just have to live with the fear



Chapter Text

There was a small funeral for Mr. and Mrs. Collins’ baby. I’d entreated Mr. Collins to stay in town for at least a couple of weeks, to give Maria time to heal physically. He agreed, but I knew that they were anxious to be on their way, to leave this place behind them the way they did their home in Kansas.

I just couldn’t imagine burying my children and then leaving them behind, but I reminded myself that I’d never experienced loss such as they had, and so I was in no place to judge.

They were staying in a room in the clinic, so that they could have more quiet and privacy than if they were at the hotel, and also so that Maria could be close by in case she had complications. 

Maria was sitting out on the front porch one morning as I made my way to the clinic with Lotte tagging along, and when Lotte skipped over to Maria to say hello, I tried to stop her, unsure how Maria would feel about such a visit just then.

“Good morning!” Lotte chirped cheerfully. Jamie and I had explained to her, as best as we could, that the baby was gone, and that we should not ask Mrs. Collins about it, and I hoped dearly that she would remember.

“Good morning,” Maria said, smiling tiredly. “What is your name?”

“Charlotte Faith Nayawenne Fraser,” Lotte recited proudly. “But everyone jus’ calls me Lotte.”

Maria’s smile grew just a little more genuine. “You are a beautiful girl, Lotte. How old are you?”

Lotte held up four fingers. “But I’ll be five on my birthday. Mama says we’ll have a party and I can invite all my friends, like Roger, Uncle Joe, Uncle Murtagh, Uncle Ian, Auntie Jenny, Rollo...do you want to come too?”

Maria’s smile fell. “Oh, ñina , thank you for the invitation, but I’m afraid my husband and I will be gone soon.”

“Oh,” Lotte said, frowning. “Sorry.”

“Come on, Lotte,” I said. “I have a patient coming soon, and your sister will be here to get you any minute. Let’s leave Mrs. Collins alone now.”

“I don’t mind,” Maria said, almost worriedly. “You could leave her with me, until your other daughter comes.”

I hesitated, but they were safe enough there on the porch, plus Brianna would be by soon, and perhaps it was soothing to Maria to be around a cheerful little girl, instead of painful like I was afraid of.

“Very well,” I said. “Lotte, you will stay right here on this porch until Bree comes, or until Mrs. Collins sends you inside with me, is that understood?”

“Yes, Mama,” Lotte said, climbing up on the bench beside Maria to show her Mac.

I glanced down at Rollo, telling him to stay with Lotte, then went inside to prepare my clinic for the day.

 

“Mama?”

“I’m in the closet, Bree. Could you come help me carry these linens?”

Brianna appeared in the doorway to my supply closet, her arms outstretched to accept the stack of white bedsheets. 

“Lotte’s still out front with Mrs. Collins, isn’t she?” I asked her.

“And Mr. Collins,” Brianna said, carrying the sheets into the exam room. “They seem to be really enjoying her company. It’s the first time I’ve seen either of them smile.”

“Well good,” I said. “I was nervous at first, afraid having her around would be too much of a reminder. But, people grieve and heal differently, and if Lotte is able to help them just by being her usual sunny self, then that can only be a good thing.”

Brianna smiled. “And how are you doing?”

I smiled back. “Better now, especially now that the Collins seem to be doing alright. Are you going to take Lotte to the cafe now?”

“Mmhm. Roger is meeting us there for lunch.”

“He is, is he?” I asked, grinning. “You know, you still haven’t told me how that talk went at the still.”

“Nothing to tell,” Brianna said primly, shooting me a look. 

“You know that your father is going to expect a proper request for permission to court you.”

Brianna sighed, rolling her eyes. “Da didn’t ask anyone for permission to court you .”

“Not true,” I shot back. “He asked you kids! How quickly you forget.”

Regardless ,” she continued. “Lotte and I are meeting Roger, and Fergus and William and Auntie Jenny for lunch, so quit getting excited.”

I chuckled, shaking my head. “So be it. But wait a second, why are you all getting together for lunch, anyway?”

“I can’t have lunch with my friend, siblings, and Aunt?”

This time it was me rolling my eyes. “Of course you can, it just isn’t something you normally do.”

She shrugged. “I’ve been gone a long time, we’re catching up. Nothing unusual.”

She was right, that was nothing unusual, but Brianna was acting very evasive, and it was firing up all of my suspicions. “Hmm...well, have a nice lunch, darling, and I’ll see you for supper.”

“Bye!” she called, heading out the door and calling Lotte’s name as she went.

 

I went about my day, but my second appointment sent her son to cancel, stating she hadn’t “time” that day for a tooth extraction, and figuring I could convince her to quit putting it off later, I decided to grab a quick bite from Gale’s cafe, and perhaps say hello to my children. I wasn’t spying on them, of course. Merely seeing what they were up to.

When I got there, I was surprised to see a considerable crowd surrounding my children’s table. And sure, this could be explained away as everyone wanting to hear of Brianna’s time in Boston, but my eyes narrowed regardless, and I sauntered gradually closer, becoming infinitely more suspicious to see my own husband among the throng.

“Ma!” Fergus exclaimed upon catching sight of me, and everyone else looked up together.

“Oh, hello, everyone,” I said casually. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“I thought you had patients all day,” Brianna said.

I shrugged. “Mrs. Paquette canceled, so I just thought perhaps I could join you. Jamie, I thought you would be at the still until dark!”

“Erm, aye, Sassenach,” Jamie hedged. “I came tae see you , actually. I’ve pulled my shoulder again, ye see.”

“Then why didn’t you come to the clinic?”

Jamie skirted around the table and headed for me. “I was on my way, and saw everyone gathered around, listening tae Brianna, and I got distracted. Would it be a bother tae take a wee keek now?”

I stuck my chin out at him but acquiesced. He really had been complaining of soreness in his shoulder lately...the same one that had been dislocated and subsequently shot many years ago.

I led Jamie back to the clinic, and once we were inside I gestured for him to take off his shirt. “Alright, let me see your supposedly sore shoulder,” I said coolly.

Jamie smirked at me as he disrobed. “I would never lie tae ye, Sassenach. I truly did come down so ye could look at it.”

Once I sat him down on my examination table and saw the swelling of his shoulder, I felt immediately guilty for doubting his honesty. “Oh, I’m sorry, my love. I suppose I just can’t help but be suspicious this time of year.”

Jamie chuckled. “I dinna ken why ye fight it so, ye know it’s only cause everyone loves ye so much.”

I laughed as well and shook my head. “Oh, I know. But it wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t at least try to snoop. They aren’t going to make a very big deal of it, though, are they?”

“Your fortieth birthday only comes around once, mo nighean donn .”

“Ugh! Don’t remind me!” I groaned. “I hardly think turning forty is cause for celebration!”

“But why?” he asked, grabbing me by the hips and drawing me closer. “ Every year ye turn another year older is cause tae celebrate. You are cause tae celebrate.”

“Because I’m old ,” I droned. “You’re still going to be in your thirties for a few more years. You don’t know what it’s like.”

“I’d hardly call ye old, Sassenach.”

“No? Look at this!” I leaned my head down, pointing to the top of it. “Gray hairs!”

“Aye, I’ve noticed,” he said calmly, lightly touching my hair. “I like them, they’re bonny.”

“And I have wrinkles .”

This time he laughed. “Christ, lass. More than once have I overheard women in town complain about ye as walk by, about your smooth skin and perky breasts. ‘Tis th’ mention of perky breasts that always catches my attention,” his eyes narrowed in on the objects in question, and he raised one hand to lightly ‘test’ their perkiness. “And oh, aye, I’ve noticed that as well.”

I snorted, trying to resist showing him that he was making me feel better, if only to goad him into continuing.

Jamie’s expression grew softer as he met my eyes. “Every line on your face, every gray hair, every place where ye’ve grown just a wee bit softer is nothing but proof tae me of a woman whose bourn a child, who worries and loves and laughs, who I have kept safe and warm and fed these nearly seven years of marriage. Ten years ago, I kissed ye for th’ first time just outside. Do you remember?”

“How could I forget?” I said softly, leaning into him. “It was one of the most wonderful nights of my life. I had never dreamed that such a quick and simple kiss could make me feel the way that it did.”

Jamie leaned up as he pulled me down, kissing me as gently as he did the night of my thirtieth birthday.

“It was one of the best nights of my life as well,” he said as he pulled away. “And it was all I could do tae only kiss ye, and not pull ye into this very clinic and beg ye tae have me.”

“You wouldn’t have had to beg very hard,” I said. “Especially not after I’d had a few drinks.”

He hummed, kissing me again. “I’m glad I didn’a though, because it led tae a few of my other favorite nights. Like th’ one in that cave…”

I giggled. “Ah yes. Or the night you proposed.”

“When your head hurt, and I took ye tae soak in th’ hot springs.”

“Hm, yes, we should do that again sometime.”

“Th’ night ye became my wife.”

I kissed him again, harder, but then I started to laugh. “What about that one Halloween, where we both got very drunk and ran into the pasture?”

Jamie groaned, leaning his head back. “I still canna believe you convinced me tae dress up as a wolf for Halloween.”

“But Lotte was adorable as Little Red Riding Hood, and I thought I made a very pretty sheep.”

Jamie grinned...very wolfishly . “Ah, yes. Th’ poor wee lamb who was eaten by th’ Big Bad Wolf.”

A shiver went up my spine at the memory, foggy though it was, and I leaned my chest against Jamie’s bare one, forgetting for a moment entirely that we were standing in my medical clinic and I was supposed to be examining him.

“Oh! I’m...I’m so sorry…”

I flew away from Jamie guiltily, face flaming at the sight of Mrs. Collins coming downstairs. “N...no, I’m the one who’s sorry,” I said, pulling the privacy screen around Jamie and awkwardly smoothing out my apron. “That was inexcusable, Mrs. Collins. Please, accept my apologies.”

Maria smiled, a bit forlornly. “You needn’t apologize, Dr. Fraser. I’ll leave you with your husband, now.”

“I was just...examining him,” I trailed off lamely as Mrs. Collins stepped quickly out. I peered back around the privacy screen, glaring at my husband who was laughing like mad.

“It isn’t funny!” I whined. “It’s hardly professional to be caught... canoodling in my own clinic.”

Jamie tossed back his head, laughing all the more. “ Canoodling ?”

I scowled at him, not liking being laughed at. Jamie noticed, and he sobered.

“Come ‘ere, Sassenach, let me canoodle ye some more.”

“No,” I said primly. “I’m supposed to be checking your shoulder, now hold still, and quit trying to distract me.”

“Later, then?”

“Yes, later.”

Chapter Text

“Claire! What a delight.”

I gave Philip Wylie my most polite smile, the best I could normally manage. 

The sly entrepreneur had always given me an uneasy feeling, no matter that he’d never been anything but courteous to me, except for his odd insistence on calling me by first name as opposed to the more appropriate Dr. Fraser, or even the enduring nickname bestowed upon me long before marriage; Dr. B.

“Good morning, Mr. Wylie,” I said smoothly as I made my way past him.

I didn’t enjoy my interactions with Mr. Wylie, but he owned the only hotel in town, which was also home to the town’s second medical clinic, run by my very good friend.

“Ah, Madonna ,” Dr. Raymond said as I entered his small examination room. “I would say this is a delight, but I would not want to be echoing the words of your least favorite person.”

I chuckled, making sure to shut the door behind me. “Mr. Wylie isn’t my favorite person, but I’m not so sure I’d call him my least favorite, either. I don’t think I consider him enough at all to earn that moniker.”

Dr. Raymond arched a brow. “I shudder to think of who could stoke true ire in you.”

I huffed, able to think of a couple offhand, but they were mostly not of this earth any longer, and didn’t warrant thinking about.

“You could kill a man with a glance, Madonna ,” Dr. Raymond continued. “Either stop his heart with a come-hither smile, or eviscerate him with glare.”

“Remind me to keep my eyes to myself,” I shot back, well used to his teasing. 

He winked. “Except for where that strapping husband of yours is concerned.”

“Oh, he’s very well aware of both my smiles and my glares.”

Dr. Raymond chuckled, and started working on measuring quinine powder. “So what brings you all the way out here?” he asked. “You are well?”

“Just fine,” I replied, sidling up beside him to help. “I was nearby checking on Mrs. Paquette and wanted to stop by and see if you’d received any of that new medication, antipyrine.”

“Ah, yes,” he walked over to his medicine closet, casually nudging over a stool in the process. Dr. Raymond was barely 5 foot 2, and nothing in the clinic had been built for a man of his size, not that he’d ever let it slow him down.

After a moment of poking about, he located the bottle of the newly developed pain and fever reducer and handed it to me.

“Have you tried it?” I asked, holding the tinted glass bottle up to the light to look at the small pills. 

“Not yet,” he said. “It was the only bottle I could get ahold of, so I did not want to use any needlessly. Take the bottle Madonna .”

I looked up at him quickly. The medication wasn’t easily come by just yet, only being sent to particular doctors to become acquainted with. It was hardly surprising that I hadn’t been among the doctors to be sent any, as medicine was still not a celebrated career path for a woman. 

“You can’t give it all to me,” I said.

“You may need it more than I,” he said. “I wanted to wait to tell you, but I’m leaving, my dear.”

“Leaving?!” I exclaimed, nearly dropping the precious bottle. “Where? Why?”

“My nephew is ill,” he said. “I must go, see what can be done for him.”

“But you’ll be back,” I said. “Once your nephew is well?”

Raymond grimaced and shook his head. “I doubt he will ever be well, Madonna . Cancer, you see. But regardless, I would like to spend time with my sister and my other nieces and nephews in France.”

“Well...of course,” I managed. It was certainly understandable...but unexpected. “When do you leave?”

“I hoped to leave after Saturday,” he said. “But Denny said if I wait, I may not get another connecting train from Denver to Virginia for another fortnight. My sister sent a letter imploring me to come at once, and I fear waiting too long, so I am leaving Thursday. I have already placed my notice with Mr. Wylie and I’ll be sending word to my patients tomorrow. I’m sorry, Madonna . I do not mean to make more work for you, but Mr. Wylie said he would get right to work finding a replacement.”

“Yes, of course, and don’t worry. Dr. Raymond, I’ll manage just fine. I hope that you’ll be able to help your nephew.”

Raymond took me by the shoulders and pulled me down to kiss both my cheeks. “I wish you well, my dear, and I will truly miss you. Perhaps we will see each other again.”

“I hope so,” I replied, holding back tears. In the nearly five years since Dr. Raymond had run the hotel clinic, he’d become invaluable to me, both as a fellow doctor and as a friend. With him there to take on patients in our ever growing town, I was afforded more time to spend with my family, plus it was a comfort knowing that someone I trusted wholly was there in the case of an epidemic, or if I fell ill or injured myself. Plus he was the only person I could talk to about medical matters.

I doubted I would get as lucky twice if Wylie was in charge of finding a replacement. Oh, I was sure that he would hire a decent doctor, but it would be more likely that he would be someone who looked down on a female doctor. Or worse, someone who still held to ideas of bloodletting and resisted the concept of germs.

I was back to where I was before, as Colorado Springs’ only doctor, only now with over double the population of when I started a decade ago. 

At one time, I’d have absolutely relished the challenge, but even though I still truly loved being a doctor, my priorities had shifted over the years, and having the time and energy to take care of my children and be an attentive wife were just as important to me as medicine. 

I had a feeling things were about to get very challenging for me.

 

The town was tip-toeing around me, whispering behind hands, having conversations that trailed off whenever I came near.

I knew damn well the reason, but the knowledge that I was being talked about behind my back was a very uncomfortable one for me, though I did my utmost best to grin and bear it...and most of all, act clueless. 

“I know a secret,” Lotte sang with a wicked little grin as she skipped alongside me to the mercantile. 

“Oh?” I played along. “What is it?”

“I can’t tell you,” she said patiently. “That’s why it’s a secret .”

I hesitated, torn between wanting the children to have their surprise and wanting to truly play my part. “But I’m your mama, surely you can tell me .”

Lotte hesitated herself, pondering that, then shook her head. “Nope! Sorry, Mama, can’t tell you.”

“Oh, come now, I can keep a secret!”

“But she can’t,” Fergus said, appearing out of nowhere and scooping Lotte into his arms as she squealed in laughter. “I knew you couldn’t keep a secret!” he exclaimed without any real edge to his voice.

“But I didn’t tell!” she protested. 

“Well then I think I’d better just remove you from temptation,” Fergus said, turning Lotte so that he held under one arm like a sack of flour. “See you at home, Ma.”

“Don’t let her get dirty before supper, Fergus!” I called after them, knowing I was wasting my breath.

“You really don’t like surprises, do you, Dr. B.?” Murtagh asked me from where he stood, sweeping the porch to his store.

“I appreciate the sentiment behind them,” I said diplomatically. “But I can’t help it if I just like knowing what’s ahead whenever I can.”

Murtagh shrugged. “That’s just it, we never know what’s ahead.”

“Won’t stop me from trying to be prepared! And now I haven’t the slightest clue what’s in store. You heard about Dr. Raymond, I assume?”

He nodded. “Can’t say I’m too broken up about it. Always thought he was a bit of a strange one.”

I chuckled. “You think I’m strange, but you like me !”

He gave me a flat look, but there was warmth in his eyes. Murtagh had a soft spot for me, though he tried valiantly to hide it.

“You’re strange,” he agreed. “But I figure we’re stuck with you either way.”

“Very true,” I said, grinning at him as I made my way into the store, where Jenny and Gale broke quickly apart from where they were whispering beside the baking goods. I rolled my eyes, pretended not to notice, and went on to gather what was needed for supper.




Chapter Text

I was having the most pleasant dream; it was Jamie and my wedding night on the train car that Fergus had transformed into a honeymoon suite for us. Only instead of the nerves that had plagued me that day, I was nothing but happy and hungry for my husband’s touch.

My world upon awakening was even better than the dream world, amazing as that seemed.

Jamie’s lips were traveling slowly up my spine (when, and how had he removed my nightgown?) to leave feather-light kisses on my shoulder blades, then the side of my neck, the underside of my jaw.

His hand was making lazy, soothing circles on my belly, then slid higher to cup one of my breasts, his thumb running over a nipple that was already at attention. 

I moaned quietly, stretching my body so that I could feel him where he pressed against me from behind.

“Happy birthday, Sassenach,” he murmured in my ear before nipping the lobe.

“Very happy,” I whispered, sucking in my breath when the hand that hadn’t been distracting me by massaging my breast managed to sneak under me and stroke teasingly through my folds.

Jamie hummed in surprise. “Ye’re already wet for me, mo nighean donn . I saw ye smiling in your sleep...just what were ye dreaming of, then?”

I felt myself clench at the throaty, sleepy cadence of his voice. “I was dreaming of having my virtue taken...” I said, having to pause to gasp again. “...by a tall, rugged Cheyenne.”

Jamie chuckled, and I could feel the vibration of it everywhere he touched me. “Oh aye? I suppose he stole ye away to his tepee and had his way wi’ ye?”

I craned my neck turn and look at him. “More like I followed him into a train car, quite willingly, and then he had his way with me.”

Jamie’s eyes softened, understanding at once just what my dream had been about after all. “Are ye sure that’s how it went? Because I think ye might have had him completely at your mercy.”

After giving my neck one more suckling kiss, Jamie rolled me over onto my back, then leisurely kissed his way down my chest, paying special attention to each breast.

“How does it feel tae be forty?” he asked, after releasing my nipple with a wet pop .

“I’m not sure,” I sighed, raking my fingernails through his hair as he began making his way lower. “Do I look any different? Like an old woman?”

“Hmm, no’ from where I’m standing,” he murmured against my inner thigh. “Ev’rything appears tae be in order. But perhaps I ought tae take a closer look, just tae be sure.”

I hissed through my teeth, putting my wrist to my mouth to keep back any louder noise as Jamie’s tongue found every place that made me want to cry out.

Every time I was nearly at the crest, he would move away from my core to lick and nip and rub his stubble along the joint of my thigh, only to charge into another attack once I’d had time to calm down. He did this over and over until my heels dug into his lower back and my fingers pulled at his hair.

Jamie…

He looked up at me with a drowsily smug look. “How does th’ birthday girl want it?” he asked. “Like this? Or…”

“Get up here,” I growled, yanking again at his hair. “And get inside me.”

He obeyed at once, sealing his mouth over mine, plunging his tongue past my lips and the same moment he plunged his cock into my body.

Done with teasing, he hiked up my left leg to wrap around his back and held it there, angling his body in just the way he knew would send me careening over the edge. 

Careen I did, sinking my teeth into his shoulder as I shook and trembled around him, feeling wave after wave of pleasure wash over me.

Jamie held still, still hot and hard within me, giving me a moment to catch my breath though the muscles in his arms twitched from the effort of not moving.

I swung my other leg up to hook around his waist and snapped my hips up in the way I knew he liked. 

He wasted no time then, and in moments I felt him spill himself deep within me, and the sensation was enough to coax one more gentle orgasm from me, and I sighed into his neck, my inner muscles clenching around him as he relaxed his full weight against me and gradually softened.

“Thank you for my present,” I murmured happily after we’d both had a brief, pleasure-drunk doze. 

“Th’ first of many, my Sassenach,” he said. “Which reminds me…” he kissed my forehead and sat up, reaching to the foot of the bed where my nightgown had magically ended up.

“No, lay back down,” I whined, reaching for him. “It’s my birthday, and I want to stay in bed a little longer.”

“As do I,” he said. “But our wee’uns will be havin’ other ideas.”

I sighed, resting one arm above my head and smirking when Jamie’s attention was drawn to my breasts. “Just what do they have planned, anyway?”

Jamie smiled, then leaned down and kissed the tip of my nose. “I ken ye dinna like surprises, mo cridhe , but let th’ children and th’ town have their fun. Ye trust I wouldn’a let anyone do anything ye wouldn’a like, dinna ye?

“Of course,” I allowed, then sighed when he gave into temptation and began suckling my breast. 

There was a thump from somewhere outside, followed by a high pitched giggle, and Jamie sat back up, shooting me an apologetic look before handing me my nightgown and then jumping up to grab the cotton trousers he wore to bed on nights that we were visited by our youngest.

He’d just gotten back into bed when there was a quick knock on the door. 

“Oh good, she’s finally learning to knock before entering,” I said.

Jamie chuckled. “I might have told Fergus tae remind her of it this morning.”

“MAMAAA! DAAA!’

“Come in, Lotte Love,” I called.

The door crashed open and Lotte bounded into our room as excitedly as if it were Christmas morning.

“Happy birthday, Mama!” she exclaimed, holding up a small, crudely wrapped present.

“Why thank you !” I gushed, sitting up and taking the gift before pulling her up into my lap. “Is this for me ?”

“Uh huh!” she said, nodding rapidly. “Fergus said I should wait till later but I couldn’a !”

“Well, I can’t wait either!” I agreed, enthusiastically peeling off the old Christmas wrapping paper.

Beneath the wrapping was a small wooden carving. Devoid of any exact details, I could easily see that it was a woman holding a small child, with her hand over the child’s heart. The figurine was painted in a veritable rainbow of colors, most notable of which was the woman’s purple hair.

“Da helped me carve it,” Lotte explained. “But I painted it all by myself!”

“It’s beautiful ,” I breathed, holding the figure to my chest. “Oh, Lotte, darling, I just love it! Thank you! It looks just like you and me!”

“Uh huh, and see…” Lotte pulled the figure away from me so she could point at where a wobbly white line wrapped around the woman’s neck, of what I’d assumed to be a necklace. “It’s your stefascope!” 

“My stethoscope! What a clever detail!”

“‘Twas all her idea,” Jamie said proudly.

I gathered Lotte to me, cuddling her close. “Thank you so much, Lotte Love. I think it’s one of my favorite presents I’ve ever gotten.”

“You’re welcome!” she chirped, squirming to get down. Once her feet hit the floor, she was taking off toward the door. “Come downstairs soon! Bree’s makin’ a big breakfast!”

Once Lotte was gone, I turned to Jamie for a kiss. “It really is just darling. Thank you for helping her make it.”

“It’s as I said, all her idea,” Jamie said, kissing me back. “I only did as I was instructed. Ye’ll have tae wait until later on before I give ye my present.”

I chuckled. “I thought you’d already given me your present.”

Jamie hummed happily, then kissed me again. “Making love tae ye is like breathing, Sassenach. I need it tae survive. Ye’ll have your gift later.”

He leaned in to kiss me again, which I gladly obliged, but then I pulled back, my smile growing. “I smell pancakes.”

Jamie laughed. “Best get ye downstairs then, canna have th’ birthday girl go hungry!’

 

After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and potatoes, the family loaded up into the wagon to ride into town.

“Happy birthday, Dr. B.!” folk called out as we rode by.

“I still don’t see why you have to work on your birthday,” Fergus said.

I chuckled. “People don’t stop getting injured or ill just because it’s my birthday,” I said. “If it makes you feel any better, I was careful not to schedule any regular appointments for today. I’ll just be giving Mrs. Collins a checkup, and have the clinic open until this afternoon. I’m afraid I’m going to have to start working considerably more hours now that Dr. Raymond has left, at least until Mr. Wylie finds a permanent replacement.”

Jamie make a low sound in his throat, one I knew was meant to voice his displeasure. 

“Now, don’t you go blaming Dr. Raymond,” I said. “He never even meant to hang his shingle here in the beginning. I just got used to having his help all of the time, is all.”

“Is Mr. Wylie going to let you help choose the new doctor?” Brianna asked.

I snorted. “Not likely. And since he’ll be hiring for his private establishment, he won’t even need to get the approval from the town council. I get the feeling that Mr. Wylie will be on the lookout for someone a little more malleable than Dr. Raymond, someone willing to sell those silly, worthless potions and snake oils he keeps in stock.”

“Well, why doesn’t the town council just hire another town doctor?” Fergus asked. “The town is growing every day. You can’t be expected to take care of everyone with nothing but the help of a snake oil salesman.”

“He has a point,” Jamie said. “At th’ very least, ye should talk tae Tom. Maybe he knows of some way ye can make Wylie hire a reputable doctor.”

I wrinkled my nose. “I’m afraid if I start giving Tom too much rein with hiring new doctors, he’ll find a way of pushing me out.

“Still?” Brianna asked. “After all this time, Tom still doesn’t have respect for you as a doctor?”

“It comes and goes.”

“Th’ children are right though,” Jamie continued. “I dinna want ye going back tae th’ hours ye used tae work before Lotte was born. That th’ lass would miss ye too much is only th’ start of it.”

“Hopefully it’ll only be temporary,” I said. “But the extra money won’t be unwelcome.”

Jamie didn’t answer, and I knew it was because he wanted to avoid an argument.

That I made more money than Jamie was a well-known fact that led to endless ribbing from the other men in town. Which wasn’t to say that Jamie didn’t provide...far from it. He ran and maintained our small farm as well as hunted, which provided food and pelts for not only our family but much of the community, often at no cost to them at all. His whisky still was as of yet more of a hobby, but it had the potential to be a good business down the road. 

Jamie had never shown any resentment toward that fact that monetarily speaking, I brought more to the table, but at the same time, he wanted me to work because I wanted to work, not because we needed the money.

“There she is,” Joe said as we pulled up near the livery. He held out a hand to help me down. “You’ve finally joined me this side of forty. How does it feel, Lady Jane?”

I brushed some imaginary lint off my sleeve. “I can’t say...why don’t you ask me again when I’m nearing fifty, like someone else we know.”

“Forty-six is not nearing fifty ,” Joe exclaimed.

“Closer than I am,” I sang.

Joe chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. Hey I’ll see you…” there was a sharp hiss from Brianna, and Joe cut his eyes over to her guiltily. “...I’ll see you uh, later. Happy Birthday, Lady Jane!”

I exchanged an amused look with Jamie, then leaned down to kiss Lotte goodbye.

“But I wanna go with you , Mama,” Lotte said.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “What? Surely you’d rather go with Da. He’s going to go see Uncle Ian!”

Lotte shook her head emphatically. “No! I wanna go with you!”

It was a rare thing indeed that Lotte chose going to clinic with me over spending time with Da or her siblings, and I was loath to say no.

“Are you sure? You’ll have to go into the playroom while I’m examining Mrs. Collins.”

“I’ll help you set up!” she said, already marching in that direction. “I know how.”

“I suppose she’s going with me,” I said, kissing Jamie. 

“Weel, it is your birthday, after all,” Jamie said.

“I’ll come get her later, Ma,” Brianna said. “I just have a few errands to run!”

I hummed in playful suspicion, then hurried to follow my four-year-old to the clinic. 

“What do we do first?” I asked her upon entering. 

“Wash!” she exclaimed, darting for the basin and insisting she pour the water herself, though she struggled greatly and got half of it on the floor.

I watched in pride as she carefully scrubbed her hands, even remembering the backs and underneath her nails. She then trailed happily behind me as I started setting out and cleaning my instruments. 

“I’m gonna be a doctor just like you when I’m grown up,” she said, standing up on a stool and watching me carefully.

“Is that so? Well, I think you’d make a fine doctor. Would you like to hand me that scalpel? Be very careful...do you know which one?”

“I know!” she said, delicately picking up the scalpel with her tongue stuck out in concentration, then slowly turned it to give to me, handle first. “Scalpel!”

I laughed, not having realized she’d been paying that close of attention all these years. “You really do know! Here, do you know what?”

I turned and went to the storage closet, rooting around in the back. “I think...oh! Here it is!” I unearthed a small apron, and held it out to show her. “This was Brianna’s when she was younger and used to help me. It’ll still be a bit big, but would you like to wear it?”

Lotte’s eyes widened and she nodded, bouncing happily as I tied it around her. It went all the way to her ankles, but at least she wouldn’t be tripping over it.

“There! Now you look like a proper doctor-in-training.”

“Yay! Can I have my own scalpel?”

I laughed. “I don’t think you’re quite ready for that, but perhaps if you’re good, you’ll get a bone saw for Christmas.”

Lotte tilted her head at me in confusion, and then the front door opened, admitting Mr. and Mrs. Collins.

“Sorry, I’m a little early,” Maria said, smiling at Lotte.

“Oh, that’s no problem at all,” I said. “Lotte, darling, I need you to go to your playroom now, alright? I’ll come and get you when I’m finished with Mrs. Collins.”

“But I wanna help!” she protested.

“She could sit over here with me,” Mr. Collins said, indicating a waiting area strategically placed on the opposite side of the privacy screen. “I wouldn’t mind the company.”

I nodded at Lotte and she skipped happily over to take a seat, chattering on to Mr. Collins about how she was learning how to be a doctor. 

“She’s such a darling child,” Maria said as I guided her to lay down on the bed. 

“Thank you,” I replied. “She came along a little later than most children do, but my husband and I are thankful.”

My words to Maria were deliberate. She was only twenty-three, and still had plenty of good child bearing years left if she and her husband wanted to try again.

“You and your husband are very lucky,” she said wistfully, turning her head and smiling when she heard Lotte giggle. “To have four beautiful, healthy children.”

I helped her to situate her skirts at her waist, then positioned her legs apart. “Have you still been bleeding?” I asked gently.

“No, it’s stopped,” she said. 

“I know that I’m lucky,” I said carefully as I continued the examination. “But I only gave birth to Lotte. I adopted my older three when their mother died ten years ago.”

I was telling her this for a purpose, that even if she and her husband decided not to try for another child, that there were plenty of children out there in need of a home.

“Better to bury a parent than a child,” Maria said quietly, still looking at the privacy screen where her husband and Lotte sat on the other side of.

My throat tightened, knowing that there was nothing I could really say that would bring her any comfort. I simply had no idea how she felt, and I prayed to God I never would.

“Everything looks alright,” I said, pulling her skirts down. “Have you still been experiencing cramping? Anything at all?”

She shook her head no, but I knew her mind was elsewhere.

“Maria…” I began. “I know that it doesn’t even bear thinking about right now, but know that you’re still healthy. I see nothing to indicate any issue conceiving again.”

Maria shook her head. “Richard and I lost two babies before Maria Jose was born, and one when she was three. No, it is not meant to be.”

I sighed, not having known about her previous miscarriages. Of course it was entirely possible that there were issues I wasn’t able to see, and I could certainly imagine how disheartening it would be - to put it mildly - to want a child so badly and be faced with one tragedy after another.

“I’m so sorry, Maria.”

Maria sniffed and nodded, sitting up. “My husband and I will be traveling west next week. I want to thank you, Dr. Fraser, for everything you have done.”

She’d already stepped around the partition and was saying hello to Lotte, but I still responded quietly, “I wish I could have done more.”

 

I felt melancholy for the rest of the afternoon, but I did my best to put the Collins from my mind and let Lotte’s contagious joy cheer me, if for nothing else than for the sake of my family who were all so very excited over...whatever was happening that evening.

Brianna had never shown up to collect Lotte, but that was alright, because I quite enjoyed having her there, no matter at all that she was more hindrance than help. Just the chance to spend time just the two of us was a rare treat, and watching her enthusiastic exuberance for discovery would never cease to be a marvel to witness.

“It’s time to close up!” I called to her. “Are you going to help me tidy?”

Lotte came racing through the examination room, waving my reflex hammer over her shoulder like a tomahawk and making a sharp imitation of a Indian war cry.

“Alright you wee Brave,” I said, blocking her path. “You know better than to run in the clinic.”

“But I’m a Cheyenne!” she exclaimed, showing me the hammer.

I chuckled. “Fergus would be proud. But what happened to being a doctor?”

She gave me an arching look that gave suggestion that I was being very daft. “I can be a doctor and a Cheyenne, Mama.”

Grinning, I bent down to her level. “That’s called a medicine woman. Ma’heaona’e ...my Cheyenne name.”

Ma’he... ona…she echoed with relatively close accuracy. What’s my Cheyenne name, Mama?”

“You already know that, my love. Nayawenne . Named for a very brave, very kind Cheyenne medicine woman. But Cheyenne often earn new names as they grow. If you think you should have a new one, you can talk with Uncle Ian. Only a Cheyenne can give someone a Cheyenne name.”

Lotte nodded thoughtfully, and I enjoyed watching the gears in her head turn.

“Mama?” Fergus called, peering in through the open clinic door. “Have you finished for the day?”

“Fergus!” Lotte cried, running and leaping into his arms. “I’m a medicine woman!”

Fergus chuckled, hoisting her up to rest on his hip. “Good to know, in case I ever get sick. Mama? Are you done?”

I rolled my eyes fondly. “ Yes . We’re done for the day, I just have to finish tidying up.”

“Leave it!” he said, waving a dismissive hand. “Bree and I will come and clean up later. First, there’s a surprise waiting for you! There’s been a slight change in plans, but come on!”

Further cheered by my son’s excitement, I quickly followed him out. I was expecting to be led to some kind of party, but instead he paused just outside, where Jamie was sitting astride Gideon and holding Flash’s reins. Around Flash’s neck was a flower garland and a small paper sign that said Happy Birthday .

“...You’re giving me my own horse?” I asked in confusion.

No ,” Fergus droned. “Just get on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Just you and I, Sassenach,” Jamie said, smirking down at me. “We haven’a had any time just th’ two of us in some time, have we?”

I grinned. “No, we certainly have not,” I eyed the horses, which were not packed for a long trip. “Where are we going?”

“No’ far,” he said. “And we’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.”

Tomorrow ?” I asked, surprised. “We’re going overnight?” I looked to Fergus and back again. “But...I thought…”

“Don’t be disappointed,” Fergus laughed. “This isn’t your only birthday surprise. It’s just...extended, that’s all.”

“I’m not disappointed ,” I assured him. “I just...Jamie...we can’t! We’ve never left Charlotte overnight!”

Jamie gave me a patient smile. “She’s old enough, mo nighean donn , and Bree, Fergus, and Willie will be wi’ her, plus Jenny promised tae check on them. Please come wi’ me?”

I looked at Lotte, who didn’t appear to think anything was amiss. She’d evidently been given a talk to about all of this. “Lotte Love? You’ll be alright without Mama overnight?”

Lotte nodded. “Uh huh. Bree said we’re gonna make cookies, and Fergus is gonna play tea party with me and Willie said that I can stay up as late as I want!”

I laughed. “Oh, I see. And let me guess, you all decided to surprise me with this so I didn’t have time to fret?”

“Ye see right through us,” Jamie said. “Now get on your horse, Sassenach.”

“But…”

Letting out a playful growl, Jamie turned Gideon around and leaned over, getting an arm around my waist and hauling me bodily up to sit crossways in front of him.

“Jamie!”

“Mama’s gettin’ stolen!” Lotte cheered.

“Stay wi’ Lotte, Rollo,” Jamie said down to his wolf. “Dinna mean tae leave you out, lad, but I mean tae have my wife all to myself tonight.”

There was laughter from the children and a few onlookers as Jamie rode away with me, Flash following along.

“Bye, Mama!” Lotte called.

“Bye, Lotte!” I called back. “Listen to your brothers and sister!”

As we started riding away, I gave Jamie a look, my cheeks red from all the looks we were being given, but he only smirked unapologetically.

Once we reached the edge of town, he let me down so I could mount Flash, and we continued on, to wherever it was he was absconding with me to.

“So this is my surprise?” I asked him. “I must say, it worked. With the way the town was all whispering all week, I’d expected something else...not that I’m complaining, mind you.”

Jamie threw back his head, laughing. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. Ye’ll be having another surprise tomorrow. There was a wee hitch in timing today, is all, and we had to improvise. But when th’ kids suggested this, believe me when I jumped at th’ chance tae steal away wi’ you all night.”

“We haven’t had a night just to ourselves since before Lotte was born,” I said in wonder. 

“Aye, and I adore my lass something fierce, but I’ll admit, this feels a bit like a birthday present for me too.”

I chuckled. “Then we should make the best of it, shouldn’t we?”

Jamie grinned. “As ye say, Sassenach.”





Chapter Text

The air was cool and crisp, but not uncomfortably cold as we made our way up the mountain, though I knew by nightfall the temperature would drop, and fast. But that was alright, because I had a husband who excelled at keeping me warm. Both with his campfire making skills, and other...skills.

I watched him as he rode, admiring the strong shape of his face in profile. I truly couldn’t believe how long it had been since we’d last taken some time alone, for no other reason than just to be in each other’s company.

I still worried for Lotte, afraid that once night fell she might be scared without Mama and Da there, but I reminded myself that her siblings would take just as good of care of her as Jamie and I would, and that they were all mature, responsible young people.

“So, what is it that brought on a “hitch in timing” as you put it?” I fished, genuinely curious.

Jamie cut his eyes over to me in amusement. “My lips are sealed, Sassenach. Th’ children have been working verra hard on your surprise.”

“Fine,” I sighed. “I suppose I’ll just have to wait and find out. They’re so sweet, though, going through such effort to make my birthday special.”

“They love ye more’n anything,” he said matter-of-factly. 

“Can you believe it’s been ten years since I became their mother?” I asked. “It feels like just yesterday.”

“What I canna believe is it’s only been almost eleven years since ye first arrived in Colorado Springs. I remember so clearly, like it was but yesterday, th’ look on your bonny wee face when ye took down that No Dogs or Indians sign in th’ mercantile.”

“I remember,” I said in amusement, also remembering a dream I’d recently had of that day. “You’ve changed so much since then, sometimes I find it hard to reconcile in my mind the man you were, with the man you are now.”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, I understand what ye mean. Ye were different back then, as well.”

“Was I? I mean, of course I must have been in ways, one can’t live a decade, get married, have children, and go through the experiences we have without changing, but am I really so much of a different person now?”

He looked at me in surprise. “Aye, ye dinna realize? Th’ parts of you that are really you are th’ same, of course. Your kindness, intelligence, courage, ability as a doctor. But when I met ye, you were so afraid of appearing weak tae anyone, and of letting anyone in. Sometimes I think it was th’ children who were th’ first tae ever really know th’ real you.”

I nodded. “Well, the first would have been my uncle, but yes, I see what you mean. You were much the same way, you know.”

“I know. I like tae think I’m a bit more like how I was back home in Scotland when I’m with you.”

I smiled at him, once again trying to imagine him as a boy around Fergus’s age. “I wish I could have known you then.”

He smiled back. “As do I, Sassenach. Now come, we’re almost there.”

“You haven’t told me where there is yet.”

“Just on th’ other side of that meadow, yon.”

“That meadow, there?” I asked, pointing at the wide, sunny clearing ahead. Jamie nodded, and I offered him an angelic grin. “Well in that case...I’ll race you!”

I flicked Flash’s reigns and yelled a sharp “yah!” and the horse whipped his mane and took off like a shot, thrilled beyond measure to be given his head. 

I could hear Jamie’s laughter over the thundering of hooves as he and Gideon struggled to catch up. While the mustang was fast and powerful, he was simply no match for my smaller, more agile Cheyenne stallion. 

I pulled up at the other end of the meadow, with Jamie just behind. 

“Ye cheated, Sassenach,” he said, though he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Don’t blame me for your own slow reflexes,” I said primly. “You must be getting old!”

“I’ll show ye old,” he growled, reaching over for me.

Squealing, I slid off of Flash, releasing him to wander at will, then ran back through the meadow, dodging Jamie’s grabbing hands when he leapt off of Gideon and chased after me.

While faster on horseback, I had no hope of escaping Jamie on foot, and he caught me easily, wrapping a strong arm around my waist and pushing me down to lie in the thick, tall grass.

“Who’s old now?” he asked, his face a breath from mine.

“Not me,” I said, tilting my hips upward teasingly. “Not you either, I think.”

“Damned right,” he said, sealing his lips over mine.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, inhaling the warm scent of him mixed with the fresh smell of grass. 

Jamie pulled back, giving me a heated look, and I tensed in anticipation. It felt very scandalous, being this way here in the middle of an open clearing in broad daylight, but the way he was looking at me made me care very little whether or not we were spotted by anyone.

Then all of a sudden, Jamie’s eyes widened and he was yanking me up to my feet so quickly it made my head spin.

“What’s wrong?” I exclaimed, tightening my hold on his hands for balance.

“Sorry, Sassenach,” he said sheepishly, nodding downward. “Didn’a take th’ time tae really look at it. It’s no’ venomous.”

I turned and looked at where we were laying, to see that a small garter snake had been slithering calmly beside where my head had been. But then I supposed that seeing any sort of snake beside your wife’s head would be reason enough for a quick escape.

“I guess this meadow is taken,” I said in amusement. “Perhaps we should continue on to wherever you’re taking me?” 

He smiled. “As ye say, Sassenach. It’s just on th’ other side of those trees there.”

We took our horses’ reins and walked the rest of the way to where I supposed we’d be camping.

There was a small waterfall feeding into a stream, etched into the base of the mountain. The trees and other vegetation surrounded the little cove, giving it the impression of a private hideaway. 

“This is beautiful,” I gasped. “When did you find this?”

“Ian did and told me about it,” he said. “He says he’s stayed here often, and no one ever comes this far out. There’re no houses or farms for miles, we’ll no’ be disturbed.”

“I like the sound of that,” I said, grabbing his hand. “I love it, Jamie. Thank you for taking me here.”

Jamie leaned down, kissing me. “You’re welcome. There’s fish in that stream. I thought I’d catch one for our supper, but Bree also packed us some wine and a few other treats.”

“Are you going to tickle the fish?” I asked him with a grin as I went to dig into his saddlebags, finding the promised bottle of wine, and some wrapped food with a note on top from Brianna that said, 

Dear Mama,

Sorry that we’re not singing to you on your actual birthday, but don’t worry, we’ll all be together tomorrow, and I promise it’ll be worth the wait! I couldn’t let you go without though, so there are two slices of chocolate cake (not that you’re required to share with Da unless you really want to.) Whether you make Da sing to you is your own decision. Have a great time, and Happy Birthday!

Love,

Brianna, William, Fergus, and Charlotte.”

Jamie came over to read the note over my shoulder. “What does she mean by that? Is she suggesting I canna sing well and that’s why ye may no’ want me tae sing tae ye?”

I chuckled, since it was a well known fact that Jamie couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. “You’re more than welcome to sing to me if you wish, darling.”

“Thank you,” he sniffed. “Go sit, Sassenach. No need for ye tae work on your own birthday. I’ll set up camp and then catch th’ fish.”

“You go fishing,” I said, waving him off. “Surely you know me well enough by now to know that I’m not going to kick up my heels while you do all the work.”

Jamie chuckled, but did as I asked. We worked in companionable silence, setting up our camp and preparing the fish he easily caught for supper. 

 

Night was gathering as we sat close together beside the fire, feeding each other bites of the cake Brianna packed for us. 

“This almost feels like we’re honeymooning all over again,” I said with a content hum. 

“I’m thinking we should honeymoon more often,” he said, leaning down to lick a crumb off my bottom lip. 

I hummed again, this time in agreement, and nuzzled in closer to him. Though our marriage was far from going “stale,” I did have to admit that we didn’t make enough time to simply spend alone together, not counting our hushed lovemaking in our home at night, and it was something we really should try and make a point of doing occasionally, especially now that Lotte was getting older.

“Do you ever think about going back to Scotland?” I asked, having a sudden thought after what he’d said about wishing I’d known him in his homeland.

I felt his shrug against me. “No’ really. I like tae think there’d be no danger of it, after over twenty years. I really like tae think that perhaps Randall is dead, though I doubt I’m that lucky. But what is there tae go back to? Everything I love is here.”

“But your estate is still there, presumably,” I pointed out. “I don’t mean go back to stay but...wouldn’t you like to see it again?”

He gave that some thought, then tightened his arm around me. “No, I dinna think so. If th’ house even still stands, it’s no’ the home of my childhood any longer. I think maybe it’s better tae leave th’ past in th’ past. Ye ken what they say, ye can never go home again.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I said, thinking of the home I’d had long ago with Uncle Lamb, though that house in Boston had never felt like home in the way it did here with Jamie and children. “But I don’t like thinking that way in terms of the children. I want to hope they’ll always feel like they can come home to us, no matter where they go.”

Jamie kissed the top of my head. “They will, Sassenach. But no’ because we have a fine house in a fine land. It’ll be because of th’ love that is there waiting for them.”

I leaned into him, picking up his hand to thread our fingers together. “Do you know that I love you?”

Jamie hummed in pretend surprise. “D’ye? That’s a relief.”

I turned to him then, tilting my face up for a kiss, which he gladly supplied. It wasn’t long at all before we were pulling at one another’s clothes, our breathing picking up speed. 

“Ye haven’a finished your cake,” Jamie murmured in my ear.

“I’d rather a bite of you,” I said, nipping him in the shoulder. 

Jamie laughed and sat up to finish unbuttoning my dress. When he had it laid open, as well as my corset, he discovered that I was wearing only a short chemise beneath it all, and he gawked in playful shock.

“Sassenach! Look at ye, ye wanton wee thing. Ye’re no’ wearing your drawers!”

I chuckled. “At the risk of spoiling the moment and sounding terribly unalluring, I simply didn’t have any clean ones this morning.”

“So ye went without? And my wife has been going about bare beneath her skirt all day wi’out me knowing?”

“And what would you have done if you’d known?”

He smirked. “Well, I would ha’ had a great deal of fun, looking at ye all day and knowing that there was one less layer tae get through.”

His hands skimmed over the space between were my chemise ended and my stockings began, humming in appreciation. If I’d known he’d get so excited over a simple lack of underwear, I’d have done it ages ago.

He kissed down my neck, not making any move to take off the rest of my undergarments. He reached above my head and I opened my eyes to see what he was doing, perplexed when I saw that he was holding the plate with our half-eaten cake.

“What are you doing?”

“I told ye, we haven’a finished the cake,” he said lowly, setting the plate down beside me and swiping his finger across the frosting, making me yelp in surprise when he suddenly brushed the chocolate across my chest, painting a lopsided smiling face.

“What are you doing ?” I asked again, laughing, but he didn’t answer. Instead he untied the laces on the front of my chemise and pulled the edges back, exposing my breasts, then painted them with more of the frosting.

When he was done he sat back, appraising his artwork.

“I’m a mess !” I said, still laughing.

Jamie tsked . “Canna have that,” he said, and my laughter turned into a sigh when he began slowly and methodically cleaning the mess he’d made with his tongue.

I let my head fall back, and buried my fingers in his hair as he lapped hungrily at the frosting, leaving nothing behind.

“Delicious,” he murmured, looking up and me and licking his lips.

There was still some on his bottom lip, though, so I tugged on his hair, drawing him upward. “You should share,” I said, pulling him down to kiss me.

He did, but then pulled right back again, grinning mischievously and picking up another bite of cake, making sure to get the frosting on his mouth before eating the bite and returning to me for another kiss.

It was messy, and I knew we had to look like toddlers eating their first slices of cake, but it was delicious.

I was actually a little surprised when he thrust into me, having not realized he’d even undone his pants, but I was more than ready, and the unexpectedness of it sent a shockwave of pleasure running over my nerve endings.

I bit my lower lip, but Jamie pulled it out with the tip of his finger. “No, Sassenach,” he panted. “Dinna stifle yourself. No one is around. I want tae hear ye.”

So rare in our marriage that we hadn’t been within hearing range of any number of people in our house, I’d almost forgotten how to let go, but then Jamie drove harder into me, angling himself just right, and I cried out sharply, hearing myself echo over the rocks.

All of a sudden, Jamie sat up, pulling me with him until he was on his knees, and I was straddling his lap. I hooked my legs around him as he jolted up hard, and I felt my voice grow louder in volume, barely able to do anything but hold onto him.

Jamie wasn’t quiet himself, uttering a string of words that were a nonsense combination of curses and cries to the Lord, in English, Gaelic, and Cheyenne. 

“More,” I said, even though I could only barely handle the force of which he was taking me.

“Fuck,” he hissed, pushing me back down onto my back, and with one hand squeezed one of my breasts hard enough to bruise, and with the other slid between us to rub quickly above where we were joined. “Come for me, Sorcha ,”

I did as he commanded, bursts of light flashing in my eyes as I screamed loud enough to strain my throat, then clung to him as he followed a moment later, shaking as my body drew his release from him.

I held him close to me for a long time, tracing the scars on his back with my fingers, my breath shuttering as I came down from my high, still feeling pinpoints of sensation across my body.

“I think…” Jamie began, still catching his breath. “That for my birthday, ye and I should take another trip, and ask Bree tae bake us another cake.”

“Bigger cake,” I replied with a breathy chuckle. “And a longer trip.”




Chapter Text

“Everything is still on schedule,” Denny said with a smile. “I got a telegraph just this morning saying they’ll be here on the morning train.”

“Great, thanks, Denny!” Fergus said. Everything was working out perfectly for his mother’s surprise, despite the fact that there’d been a delay and they’d ended up having to wait until the day after her birthday. Regardless, he just couldn’t wait. “Alright, come on, Lotte, don’t dawdle,” he called, growing exasperated with the way his little sister was darting all over the place. “We still have a lot to do for Ma’s party tomorrow.”

“Partyyy!” Lotte cried excitedly, leaping recklessly off the porch of the barbershop. 

“Hey, watch it,” Tom said. “I ain’t responsible if that kid gets hurt at my shop.”

“Sorry,” Fergus mumbled to Tom. “ Lotte , come on .”

“Fergus!” Gale called from over by her cafe. “I need some input over here!”

“Coming,” Fergus called back, then looked around for his little sister. “Lotte, where did you...CHARLOTTE!”

Lotte was chasing after a butterfly, which was leading her into the middle of the street and in the path of an oncoming wagon.

Fergus raced into the road, but thank goodness Lotte was swept up into the arms of someone else, as he’d never have made it on time.

“Easy there,” said Mr. Collins, carrying Lotte back over to the side of the street and setting her down. “You shouldn’t play in the road, little one.”

“Charlotte, dammit!” Fergus hissed, grabbing her hand. “You could have been killed! What were you thinking?!”

Startled more by Fergus’s yelling than her brush with disaster, Lotte’s lower lip started to quiver and soon she was crying pitifully.

Sighing, Fergus picked her up, patting her back as she wailed into his shoulder. “Thank you, Mr. Collins,” he said. “I’m sorry, I should have been watching her closer.”

Mr. Collins smiled. “No harm done, son. I know how quickly little ones can get away from you. I can see you’re busy with preparations for your mother’s party, why don’t you let my wife and I watch Lotte for a little while?”

Fergus hesitated, unsure. Mr. and Mrs. Collins were very nice, and Mama had suggested that Lotte’s company seemed to be comforting to them in the wake of losing their own children, but he was still very wary of leaving his sister in the care of someone he didn’t know very well.

Mr. Collins caught on to Fergus’s hesitance quickly. “Oh, of course I mean we could sit with her at Gale’s Cafe. My wife is waiting for me there, now.”

That seemed harmless to Fergus, especially since he’d be there too and there’d be any number of other people around to help keep an eye on her.

“Okay, thank you,” he said. 

He carried Lotte to the cafe, then brought her over to where Mrs. Collins was sitting. Mr. Collins explained that he’d offered to watch Lotte for a little while, and Mrs. Collins enthusiastically agreed. Fergus went to go help Gale with finishing the menu preparations, and all the while Lotte sat happily with the Collins, eating pie, and enjoying the undivided attention. 

When time came to head home, he retrieved his sister, thanked the Collins, and swung the two of them up onto his horse. “ Tiugainn , Rollo,” he called, and the wolf jumped up from his resting spot by the livery and trotted home alongside them.

 

“I hope Mama doesn’t mind too much that her actual birthday celebration will be a day late,” Brianna said as they cleaned up after supper.

William chuckled. “Yeah, I really doubt she’s worrying much about that right now .”

Brianna wrinkled her nose at him. “Willie! Ew.”

“You’re twenty years old, Bree, surely you’re aware by now how our dear little sister came to be.”

“Well of course I know, dummy. But knowing and talking about it are two different things.”

Fergus had a thought, and looked over at his brother. “Willie? Have you ever done it?”

This time, it was William with the look of disgust. “Fergus! That’s no way to talk in front of girls!”

“But you just...and why? It takes a girl to do it with .”

Brianna laughed. “He got you there. Have you?”

William gave them both a flat look then leaned back in Jamie’s chair, propping his feet up on the footstool. “Nope. We are not talking about this. New subject.”

Fergus rolled his eyes. “Fine. Do you think Ma and Da will make us a new sibling tonight?”

“Fergus!” Brianna and William both groaned. 

“How do you make babies, anyway?” Lotte asked suddenly, looking up from where she’d been playing on the rug with her dolls and appearing for all the world to having not been paying attention. “I know how they get out , but how do they get in ?”

Fergus, Brianna, and William all looked at one another in panic.

“Uh...I think you’d better ask Mama that one, kiddo,” William said.

Brianna knelt on the rug beside Lotte, then pulled her into her lap and started to brush her hair. “I think about it sometimes...what it’d be like to have a baby. But I just can’t imagine it...being a mother I mean.”

“Why?” Fergus asked. “You’re great with Lotte.”

“I don’t mean that, really. It’s just…so many girls I know that are my age already have a child or more. But I still feel like such a child myself, sometimes.”

“Maybe when you’re married, it’ll feel different.”

“I think about how Ma was just a couple years older than I am now when she took us in,” William said. “Back then she seemed plenty old and mature, but now that I’m almost that age, I realize how young and scared she must have been, especially considering she didn’t have any experience with kids at all.”

“Sometimes I think about my birth mother,” Fergus admitted.

Brianna and William looked at him. “Really?” Brianna said. “You’ve never told us that before. Do you remember anything about her?”

He shook his head. “I don’t even know which of the women at the brothel she was, except that there was one girl who sort of sticks out in my memory. She was always extra kind to me, and snuck me sweets sometimes, but all I really remember about her was her long, dark hair, and that she was really young. Thing is, if she was really my mother, then she was only a kid. Like, my age now, if even that.”

Brianna smiled sadly. “Makes me glad that Mama didn’t give up on us when we made things so difficult for her in the beginning. Who knows where we all would have ended up,” she was interrupted when Lotte suddenly gave a massive yawn. “Alright, Lotte Love, I think it’s time for you to go to bed.”

“But Willie said I can stay awake as long as I want!” Lotte protested.

“That’s right, I did,” Willie said, holding his arms out for her.

Brianna placed her in his lap. “Fine, but you can be the one dealing with a little grouch in the morning. Remember, the train is coming in at seven.”

“How about a story?” William asked, cuddling her close and kissing the top of her head. He briefly imagined what it would be like to have a kid of his own, but had a hard time imagining loving one as much as he loved Lotte.

Lotte nodded excitedly. “Yeah! Tell me a story!”

“I know!” Fergus said. “Tell the story of the time I ran away, and Ma went looking for me.”

“And threw herself in front of a charging army to protect the Indians!” Brianna added excitedly.

Lotte’s eyes widened, already latching on to the story as William began.

“Once upon a time, there was a brave doctor, who had three children that weren’t her own, but she loved them just the same…”

 

~~~

 

As much as I’d enjoyed my short getaway with Jamie, I was happy to be going home to see the children. 

“Slow down, Sassenach,” Jamie laughed. “Poor Flash there is tired out. We’ll see Lotte before ye ken it.”

I pulled up on Flash’s reins. “Sorry, Flash,” I said, patting his neck. “I’m sorry, Jamie, I’m just anxious to see how her first night away from us went.”

“Ye’re going th’ wrong way,” Jamie said, pulling Gideon to a stop.

I looked at him, to the road, and back again. “We’re not going home?”

“No’ just yet, this way,” he pulled Gideon around, heading into town.

“Jamie,” I called, catching up to him. “I want to at least freshen up and change before the party!”

Jamie raised a brow at me. “Who says ye’re getting a party? Your birthday was yesterday, Sassenach.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, but I would still like to freshen up before going into town.”

“Ye’re bonny as ye are, mo cridhe . I did mean tae give us time tae change first, but as ye well ken, we were a wee bit...distracted.”

I chuckled, flushing at the memory. “Well, yes. And I suppose we did have a...bath in the stream this morning. So you’re really not going to give me any hint as to what I’m supposed to expect?”

He shook his head. “Nope. For once, ye’re just going to have to go along wi’out knowing everything.”

I stuck my tongue out him, but followed without further complaint. 

When we reached the town, everything was quiet, and the streets were empty. I smiled to myself, reminded of my thirtieth birthday.

Jamie was practically bouncing with excitement, and my smile broadened. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him quite this excited about anything before, and my anticipation continued to grow.

We passed by my clinic, and I gave the sign that read Dr. Claire E. Beauchamp, M.D. a fond look, remembering when the whole town pitched in to give it to me. I’d asked Jamie once if he minded that I didn’t have it changed to Fraser, and his answer was simply that I was, and would forever be Dr. B., and who was he to want to change that?

Jamie led me to the field beside the church, and as we crossed the little bridge I could already see the lanterns strung up from the trees, and the large gathering of people waiting there.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DR. B.!” everyone exclaimed.

Tears stung my eyes as I took in all the smiling faces, all remarkably there just to celebrate me .

Not for the first time, I wondered at how I could have been so lucky to find a place where I was loved and appreciated, not only as a person, but as a doctor. What had I done, to deserve all of this?

“Thank you!” I cried as William rushed over to help me down. I looped my arms around his neck as he set me down before turning to find the rest of my children waiting for me.

“Mama!” Lotte yelled, reaching her arms up for me. 

I picked her up, squeezing her tightly. “Oh, my Lotte Love! I missed you!”

I hugged Fergus and Brianna, kissing both their cheeks. “Thank you all so much, this is wonderful!”

“You’re welcome,” Brianna said. “But this isn’t your surprise.”

I blinked. “It’s not?”

Fergus laughed. “Nope! Well, actually, the surprise is sort of for all of us, but there was someone who just had to come celebrate your birthday with you!”

Now I was truly perplexed, and when I looked back at Jamie, I was shocked to find that he looked close to tears. “What? What are you talking about? Who?”

“Hello, Auntie.”

Gasping, I spun around, only to find two people had stepped from the crowd, and were standing just behind me with enormous smiles.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I breathed. “Ian! Rachel!”

Young Ian and Rachel rushed to embrace me together, laughing as we all nearly fell over from it.

The young newlyweds had left Colorado when Lotte was a baby, so that they could live in a community of mostly Quakers who allowed them to live together in peace, despite Rachel being a white woman married to an Indian man. Though we’d received letters, we hadn’t seen the pair since, and it had never ceased to feel like our family was incomplete without them.

“I’ve missed you both so much,” I said, close to sobbing. “You’re well?!”

“We’re wonderful,” Rachel said. “But we’ve missed our family.”

“Fergus wrote that your birthday was approaching and they were planning a party, so we decided to come,” Ian said, putting his arm around Rachel. 

I was astounded by the changes in both of them. They seemed to have both grown and changed much more than only four years allowed for. Ian had finally stopped growing taller, but he’d broadened, and had lost all of the last vestiges of boyhood. His skin had darkened with age and sun, however, and I imagined he was likely no longer able to pretend to be a white, even with the clothes he currently wore.

“Hello mo bhalaich ,” Jamie said warmly, pulling Ian into a crushing hug. “Welcome home.”

“We have one more little surprise for you,” Rachel said slyly. “We would have written about it, of course, but there have been delays in mail collection up north, and, well, eventually we decided how much fun it would be to share it in person.”

“Oh?” Jamie asked, evidently not knowing about this particular aspect of my surprise, either.

Rachel and Ian both turned, facing where the elder Ian stood, looking proud to bursting with a small bundle cradled in his arms.

My gasp this time might have been even louder as Jamie and I both hurried over.

“Meet my granddaughter, Dances in Rain,” Two Moons said with a beaming grin.

“Or, Rain, for short,” Rachel added.

I took the baby, scarcely nine weeks old, if that, and was mesmerized by her tiny, perfect face. “Oh, Rachel, Ian, she’s positively beautiful. Jamie, look!”

Jamie grinned down at the little girl, lightly touching her hand with the tip of his finger. He then bent and picked up Lotte. “D’ye remember being that wee, a leannan ?”

Lotte shook her head. “I used to be that little?”

“I can barely believe it myself,” I said, then looked up at Rachel. “I can’t believe I didn’t even know you were expecting! And the birth? Everything went well?”

“Everything was fine,” she said. “I did rather hope you wouldn’t mind examining Rain yourself, just to help put our minds at ease...particularly a certain new father over here.”

“I don’t doubt you ,” Ian said. “It’s only that Auntie Claire has more experience!”

“Of course I’ll examine Rain,” I assured them, ready to go right then until Jamie touched my shoulder and gestured to the party that was waiting for us. “Tomorrow, I suppose.”

I let Great Uncle Jamie have a turn a holding his new niece, and looped one arm through Rachel’s, and the other through Brianna’s to head into the celebration. 

“‘Bout time we get this party started!” Rupert exclaimed. “Jamie? Would you like to do the honors?”

Jamie laughed. “Go right on ahead, Rupert,” he glanced at me. “We’re opening up a brand new cask of whisky, Sassenach, just for you.”

I widened my eyes dramatically. “Now I really do feel special! Let the festivities begin!”

 

I sat with Brianna, Jenny, and Rachel while she told us all about life in Montana.

“The Quakers are certainly different than what I’m used to,” she said. “But their lives are so peaceful and uncomplicated. Plus, it helps that they’ve accepted Ian and me.”

“That’s what’s most important,” Jenny said. “I’m happy for you, Rachel.”

“I can’t believe you’re a mother now,” Brianna said. “It’s funny because just last night I was talking to the boys about how I just can’t picture it for myself, not yet.”

“I know how you feel,” Rachel said, laughing. “I couldn’t either, till it happened.”

“You’re probably not as far off from it as you think,” Jenny said to Bree. “I’ve seen how much closer you and Roger have been becoming lately.”

Brianna gave her a level look. “Regardless of what happens between me and Roger, I would like to finish my schooling before anything else.

“Think you’ll have another, Dr. B.?” Rachel asked slyly, giving my midsection a pointed look.

I laughed. “Oh, if it happens, it happens, but I’m absolutely content with the children we have. Of course, grand children wouldn’t be unwelcome…” I cut my eyes over to Brianna and she groaned.

“Oh no! Don’t you start! You’re too young to be a grandma, remember?!”

I hummed. “I don’t know. Two Moons doesn’t seem suddenly ancient just because he’s a grandfather now. I could get used to the idea.”

She rolled her eyes. “Just love on Rain to get it out of your system.”

“Where is Rain?” Rachel asked, looking around.

“You might not get her back for the rest of the night,” I joked. “I rarely got to hold my own baby during town celebrations, until she had to eat, of course.”

“There she is,” Brianna said, pointing. “Mrs. Collins is holding her. Looks like Lotte’s keeping an eye on her. She’s been so fascinated by her ever since they arrived this morning.”

“Who’s Mrs. Collins?” Rachel asked, looking to me to gauge how she should feel about this woman she didn’t know holding her baby.

“Mr. and Mrs. Collins are passing through town,” I said. “They arrived while Mrs. Collins was pregnant, but they unfortunately lost the baby, and have been taking the time to heal a little before moving on.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Rachel said. “It must be killing her, seeing everyone fuss over Rain.”

“I think it’s comforting to them,” I said. “They lost another daughter a few months ago, around Lotte’s age, and they’ve become so attached to her since they’ve been here. I think as far as dealing with grief goes, they’ve found a healthy way to go about it.”

Rachel clutched at her stomach, her face pinched. “Oh God, I can’t even imagine that.”

Understanding her needful expression at once, I stood up. “Don’t worry, I’ll just go tell Mrs. Collins that Rain needs her feeding.”

Rachel smiled at me in thanks, and I went over to where Mrs. Collins was seated, cooing at Rain while Lotte and Rollo looked over each of her shoulders curiously.

I laughed at the picture they made, particularly since Maria didn’t seem overly phased by Rollo’s nearness, the way most newcomers did when faced with the sheer size of the wolf.

“Rollo used to stare at Lotte the same way,” I said.

Mrs. Collins glanced over her shoulder and back and me, chuckling. “Well that’s a relief. I was a little worried he was considering her as his next meal.”

“Oh no,” I said, scratching Rollo behind the ear. “I used to think there could never be a dog more devoted to a person than Rollo was to Jamie…that is until Lotte was born. He’s been her constant companion since the day she came into this world.

Lotte put her arm around Rollo’s massive neck, leaning her weight against him. “Is the baby coming home with us, Mama?” she asked.

“I don’t know, dearest,” I said. “Perhaps, or they may stay with Auntie Jenny,” I didn’t mention that the reason they would stay at Jenny’s was because that was likely to be where Two Moons was as well, since his frequent residence in Jenny’s house was a poorly kept secret, but one everyone knew not to discuss in front of strangers. I smiled at Maria. “I’m sorry, but Rachel needs to feed Rain.”

“Oh! Of course!” she said, handing the baby over.

“Mama, can I have more cake?” Lotte asked.

“I suppose,” I said, figuring she’d probably find a way to get an extra slice either way. I’d already resigned myself to having a daughter with a bellyache that night. “But find someone to serve it to you, please. Don’t try and get it yourself.”

“I’ll get it,” Maria offered. “I think I’d like another piece myself!”

“Thank you, Ms. Maria!” Lotte said, taking her hand.

I brought Rain to Rachel, and the young mother took her into her arms eagerly, kissing her downy head. I felt a pinch of nostalgia as Rachel unbuttoned her blouse to offer her breast to Rain, feeling the ghost of a tug that I once felt while feeding Lotte. 

Jamie came up behind me, offering me another glass of his (actually quite good!) whisky, and put his arm around my shoulder.

“I ken that look,” he whispered in my ear. “Are your arms aching for another, then?”

“It would be lovely to have a baby again,” I admitted. “But Jamie, we’ve just gotten back to the point where we can spend time alone together again. I’m not so sure I’m ready to give that up...are you?”

He chuckled. “Canna say I am, no’ that we ever take many measures to prevent it either way.”

I laughed as well. “No, no reliable ones, anyway. I guess what I mean to say is, I’m fine if it doesn’t happen again.”

He kissed my cheek. “But you’d be fine if it did?”

“I do believe I would.”

 

There was drinking and dancing, well into the night. I was gleefully drunk in a way I hadn’t been since before Lotte was born, gone past the point that I didn’t care if I was dancing the steps correctly, and Jamie was in the same state as I, much to everyone’s amusement.

“Come on, Fergus, a deal’s a deal!” I heard William saying as Jamie and I laughed and stumbled our way from the dancing to get another drink.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, seeing my three older children locked in some kind of argument.

“Nothing, Mama,” Brianna said. “We were just reminding Fergus that he drew the short straw this morning, which means he has to take Lotte home,” she gestured to the child in question, who was sitting with her back against Rollo, eyelids heavy.

“Just put her somewhere out o’ th’ way wi’ Rollo and let her sleep,” Jamie said. “We’ll bring her when we go home.”

Fergus gave me a hopeful look. “Is that okay, Mama?”

I hesitated, but then I knew that once she fell asleep she’d be dead to the world, and no amount of noise would rouse her. “Get the blanket from the wagon and take her over by the church, just make sure Rollo stays with her and that everyone checks on her.”

“No problem,” Fergus said, picking her up, her head already lolling sleepily on his shoulder. 

There was a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to find Roger holding his hand out for me. “May I have this dance, Madame ?”

“You may ,” I said dramatically, giving him my hand. “That is, of course, if my daughter permits?”

“We’re not bringing that up again!” Brianna shouted.

“Bring up what?” William asked, looking fairly glassy-eyed himself. “You mean the time you tried to get our mother to court your boyfriend? Or the time you thought you were in love with our father?”

Brianna covered her ears with her hands. “STOOOP!”

Even Roger, our reverend ,  was drunk enough not to be embarrassed as I pulled him the rest of the way to the dance floor, followed soon by Brianna with Jamie.

“Any advice?” Roger asked.

“On how to dance?” I wondered. “Well, it’d help if you actually moved to the music. This is a waltz, not a polka.”

“No,” he said, ignoring my well-placed advice. “How to get that one to marry me,” he hooked a thumb over his shoulder to where Bree and Jamie were laughingly trying to decide who would lead.

“Have you tried asking?”

“What if she says no?”

Poor Roger looked like such a lost little puppy, I wanted to wrap him in a blanket and feed him soup.

“Speaking as the woman you formally tried to court,” I said with an imperial sniff, grinning when he flushed and rolled his eyes. “It’s not written anywhere that if you get engaged you have to get married tomorrow. Brianna is determined to finish school, and she’s aware how a husband and potentially children could make that difficult, if not impossible. She may appreciate you just showing her that you’re committed, yet content to wait, and most of all, that you support her in what she’s trying to do.”

“I do support her,” Roger assured me, twirling me around. “There was a time I thought like some of the other men in town, that women shouldn’t have professions. Then I met you , and I realized that I don’t want some simpering housewife. I want…” he stopped dancing, and looked over at Bree and Jamie. “I want what you and Jamie have.”

“So does she,” I informed him. “But all either of you need in order to have that is love, and acceptance of the other for who they are. I think you both have that, Roger, so it isn’t me you have to prove it to. And it’s not even Jamie. It’s her.”

Roger smiled at me, then leaned down to kiss my cheek.

“Now, now, then,” I warned teasingly. “My husband could see you.”

Roger groaned in exasperation, then twirled me again.

 

“I think the band has finally passed out,” Joe said, putting an arm around my shoulder and almost pushing me over. “Best party this town has ever seen, I think. Thanks for being born, Lady Jane.”

I chuckled. “You’re most welcome,” I stretched my arms above my head, yawning. “What time is it?” I asked.

Jamie glanced up at the moon. “Past two in th’ morning. What say we find our wee’un and then find our beds?”

I nodded, leaning against him as we walked. “My bed is sounding verra appearing right now. Where are Rachel and Ian?”

“They took th’ bairn home tae Jenny’s house a little while ago. They offered tae take Lotte, but last I checked she was sound asleep and looking most comfortable.”

We walked the short ways over to the church, where we’d set up Lotte to sleep on a makeshift bedroll beside the oak tree. 

The first thing I became aware of was that Rollo wasn’t curled up around her, the way he’d been last I checked on her not half an hour prior. But then when we got closer to the tree, nothing was there at all. Wolf, child, and blanket, gone.

“Where is she?” I asked, looking all around.

“I dinna ken,” Jamie said. “She must have woken up and gone looking for us. Come on, she would have only wandered back to th’ party. Th’ kids probably have her.”

We returned to the party, and I looked all around for the sight of a familiar head of red hair, and her large gray companion. 

“There’s Fergus,” Jamie said. “Lad, have ye seen Lotte?”

Fergus furrowed his brow in concern. “No...is she not still by the tree?”

“No, we just came from there,” I said, growing worried. “She’s not there.”

“Well...don’t worry, Ma, she’s probably with Bree or Willie. Come on.”

We quickly found William, then Brianna, but neither of them had her. 

“Mama, don’t panic,” Brianna said, even though she was sounding a little panicked herself. “ Someone here has her, she wouldn’t have just wandered away, and even if she did, Rollo’s not going to let her get too far.”

Most had already gone home, but we split up and began questioning those who had remained behind to clean up, but everyone said the same thing, that last they saw her, she was sound asleep near the church.

“Jamie…” I whimpered, hearing the hysteric edge to my voice.

“It’s going tae be alright,” he assured me, giving me a brief hug. “We’ll find her and be laughing about it by morning. Now...you, Jenny, Bree, and Gale will stay here and go over th’ churchyard wi’ a fine tooth comb. She could be playing a game, and hiding. Roger, Joe, Rupert, and Angus, go around and knock on doors, ask if anyone has seen her. Ian, William, Fergus, and I will look in th’ woods.”

“Jamie...the river…”

Jamie shook his head. “ No ,” he snapped. “Dinna you even go thinking like that. Lotte is a braw swimmer anyway, as is Rollo for that matter.”

“Rollo is an animal !” I exclaimed. “We never should have left her alone with only a fucking dog to watch her!”

Jamie gave me a long look, but didn’t respond, only turned on his heel and motioned for the other men to follow. 

I watched him go, feeling cold inside. Our town was a safe community full of people who looked out for one another. Truly the village that raised the children. Even men like Dougal and Wiley, for all their faults, would never hurt a hair on Lotte’s head. I should have felt sure that Lotte was simply with a member of her large, extended family, safe and sound.

But I didn’t. Something was wrong.

Very wrong.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s mind was in turmoil, his wame clenched in terror. 

He, along with Ian, William, and Fergus lit lanterns and slowly picked their way through the woods behind the churchyard, trying to leave no leaf unturned. 

“I see no tracks, child or wolf,” Ian said. “I do not think she went this way, brother.”

“Maybe they’ve already found her back in town,” Fergus said. “Or maybe someone should check the house, she could have decided to go home. She knows the way.”

Jamie nodded, cross that he hadn’t thought of that before. “Aye, ye could be right. Let’s go back and check.”

His ears picked up the sound of the river, and his wame clenched more. Despite what he’d said to Claire, he had to at least check.

“Da,” William said as he started in the direction of the river. 

“I need tae look,” he growled, though he almost couldn’t bring himself to breach the tree line to the shore of the water.

Of course if she’d fallen in, she could be a mile downriver already, but seeing the empty shore was still a slight comfort.

He put his fingers to his lips and whistled sharply, as he already had a dozen times. Never, not once in the some fifteen years since finding Rollo as a half-frozen pup in the snow had he not come when Jamie whistled. True, the wolf was getting on in years. Perhaps his hearing was going. Or perhaps his loyalty to Lotte was such that he remained at her side wherever she was and would not heed even his master’s call. Or perhaps something had happened to him, and Lotte was alone and scared.

Jamie shook his head, banishing that thought from his mind. His only comfort at that moment was the belief that Rollo was with her. He may have been only an animal, but he was smarter than any other animal Jamie had ever known, and loved Lotte with his whole being. He would protect her. Jamie had to believe that. He had to.

 

They returned to town, and the gathering of people where the party had been had grown again, though everyone was spread out, calling Lotte’s name.

Jamie’s heart sank. They hadn’t found her.

He looked all around for Claire, then saw her coming out of the clinic, and he called her.

“Jamie!” she cried, running toward him with a hopeful expression that fell at once. “Nothing?”

He shook his head. “No. No sign of her, no’ even tracks. What about th’ house? Could she have gone home?”

“Brianna went and checked already,” she said. “And I just turned the clinic upside down. Jenny went back to her house, and now she and Young Ian are searching her ranch. This just doesn’t make sense ! Where could she have gone ?”

“I dinna ken,” he said. “A child canna just disappear . And wi’out Rollo, I canna even used him tae track her scent!”

Claire’s eyes brightened. “The Hendersons have a bloodhound!”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, we need something wi’ Lotte’s scent.”

Claire turned and went back into the clinic, and Jamie followed. He paused momentarily at the entrance, surprised that she hadn’t been using a figure of speech when she said she’d turned the clinic upside town. Beds were turned on their side, objects tossed from the closets, a tray of instruments carelessly knocked over in her haste.

“Here,” she said, holding a teddy bear. “She plays with this all the time.”

“I’ll send one of th’ kids tae th’ Henderson’s,” Jamie said, holding the bear close, then reached over and put his finger underneath Claire’s chin. “We’ll find her, Sassenach. I promise ye this. We’ll find her.”

Claire nodded, swallowing tears. “I know. I know we will. We just...we have to hurry , Jamie. It’s cold, and she shouldn’t be out all night.”

“I know,” he whispered, kissing her. “We’ll hurry.”

He turned to go, then paused, looking up the stairs. “Sassenach, are th’ Collins still staying here?”

“Yes,” she said. “They’re not in their room, though. I figure they’re probably out looking with everyone else.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, then took her hand and led her back out into the night.

 

By the time Fergus went to the Henderson house and returned with the Hendersons and their bloodhound, dawn was beginning to break. 

There were dark shadows under Claire’s eyes, and he could tell she was only managing to keep herself from breaking down with sheer strength and determination to find their daughter.

“It’s all my fault,” Fergus said numbly. “If I’d just taken her home myself like I should have...”

“No,” Claire said. “It’s not your fault, Fergus. I’m her mother, I never should have left her unattended.”

“She wasn’t unattended,” Brianna said. “We were all right there.”

“It’s no one’s fault,” Jamie said firmly. “And it does us no good talking about it. Henderson?”

Gary Henderson took the teddy bear from Jamie and held it under his dog’s nose. “Come on, old girl,” he said. “Find.”

Hazel the bloodhound gave the toy a good sniff before turning and sniffing at the ground, making wide circles around the area, trying to pick up a scent. 

“Take her by the church,” Joe said. “Start there.”

Everyone walked together back to the oak tree where Lotte had last been seen, and Henderson offered the bear to Hazel once more before the hound threw back her head and brayed.

“She’s got something,” Henderson said.

But the dog only shuffled around the church, over the bridge, and around the main hub of town.

“It’s no use,” William said. “Lotte’s scent’s gotta be all over this place.”

Henderson shook his head. “Hazel’s the best huntin’ dog around. She’d be able to go straight to the girl...unless she’s not around .”

“What the hell does that mean?” Claire asked. “She can’t possibly have gone that far! She’s not even five years old, for Christ sake!”

“What if we tried giving her Rollo’s scent?” Fergus asked.

Jamie had considered that, but shook his head. “No, lad. We canna risk even th’ possibility that Rollo isn’a with her and waste time looking for him.”

“Look, I know you probably don’t want to hear this,” Murtagh said. “But if someone took the child on a horse, or wagon, that might be enough to throw the dog off.”

“But who would take her?” Claire asked. “Everyone in town knows her, and loves her. The only people at the party are the people who are here right now.”

“Where are th’ Collins?” Jamie asked, suddenly realizing there were two people not there who had attended the party.

“I...haven’t seen them since the party started winding down,” Jenny said. “Have they not been out here looking?”

Everyone looked around amongst themselves, but no one could say when the last they saw the couple.

“They’re the only ones at the party who aren’t townsfolk,” Murtagh said.

As grim realities started to make their way into Jamie’s mind, he became aware of Claire suddenly sinking to the ground beside him.

He rushed to catch her, but she wasn’t fainting, only falling to her knees. 

“They were so fond of her,” she whispered. “They kept saying how she reminded them of their daughter. Dear God...Jamie…they took her. I know they did.”

“Alright,” William snapped loudly. “We need a posse. They obviously didn’t take a train, so they couldn’t have gotten that far.”

“I’ll go,” Roger said, followed quickly by Joe, Murtagh, and several other men.

“We should form two,” Jamie said, standing up. “They may no’ have taken th’ main road, but we’ll send men that way anyway. The rest will take th’ mountain road. Go now and gather supplies and your horses.”

“I’m going, Jamie,” Claire said as the men dispersed. 

“Aye, I ken,” he said, touching the side of her face. “Take Brianna tae th’ clinic and gather medical supplies, then meet us at th’ house.”

Claire nodded, turning to go, but Jamie held her hand, pulling her back to him. “We will get her back.”

She nodded again, squaring her shoulders bravely. “I know.”

 

~~~

 

It was horrible, being both sleep deprived and hungover while needing my mind to be sharp and focused, but I only berated myself continuously for drinking the night away when I should have been minding my daughter.

“What kind of mother am I?” I muttered, not having realized I’d even spoken aloud until Brianna looked at me.

“An amazing one,” she said. “This is not your fault, Mama. It’s not anybody’s fault, except the people who took her. Are you really so certain that it was the Collins?”

I snapped shut the lid to my medical bag. “Dougal and Tom are checking around town to be sure, but no one has seen them and... Christ ...why didn’t I see it coming?”

“How could you? They seemed so nice.”

“Even seemingly nice people can do horrible things,” I reminded her. “And the Collins are grieving, they may not even be in their right minds.”

“But, they liked Lotte because they reminded them of their daughter. So that means they’re not going to hurt her.”

I tried to assure myself that that was true. But people in the grips of grief could be unpredictable, and we didn’t even know them. Who was to say that their daughter actually died of Scarlet Fever? What if they’d done something to her?

 

The house was surrounded by horses when Brianna and I reached it, and Jamie was outside with a map rolled out on a work table. He had the men gathered around, pointing to the roads that needed to be taken.

“Dinna stop until ye reach Manitou,” he was saying to Joe and Murtagh. “And once you’re there, head straight for th’ telegraph office and wire Denny. They’ve a sheriff now, I believe. Alert him, and spread th’ word.”

“Which way are we going, Jamie?” I asked.

“Durango,” he replied. “Tom said that Richard Collins mentioned early on possibly taking his wife tae Utah, but Maria was born in Mexico. I think they might have gone south, thinking no one would expect them to go th’ way they’ve come.”

I supposed that made as much sense as anything, but it felt like we were just taking a stab in the dark. Regardless, Jamie had search parties headed in every direction, so someone just had to find them. I found myself hoping though that it would be me and Jamie, or Joe and Murtagh...anyone but the temperamental gunslingers like Dougal or Tom. I knew that they wanted to see Lotte safe, but I worried that if things turned violent, she’d be caught in the crosshairs. 

“It will be you, me, th’ Ians, Fergus, and Roger,” Jamie said. “William is taking a party east, in case they went back tae Kansas.”

“I’m going with you,” Brianna said.

I turned to her, and she scowled, already preparing her argument. 

“Bree, listen ,” I said. “As much as I would like you with us, I need  you here in case one of the other parties brings her home first. Do you understand that? I need someone who she knows, who loves her like I do to be waiting for her no matter what happens.”

After a moment, Brianna sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I do understand. You’ll be really careful, right?”

I kissed her cheek. “I promise.”

 

Jamie had tried to get me to rest a little before heading out, but there was no way I could so much as close my eyes, not knowing where my baby was, or if she was safe. I did go upstairs and scrubbed the night off of me before changed into leather trousers and one of William’s old shirts with my sturdiest working boots. The sgian dhu that Jamie had given me years ago went into my boot.

After, I wandered into Lotte’s room, feeling my eyes water up at the sight, almost able to make out the shape of her under the covers.

I sat on the bed, touching her pillow, then noticed that Mac was tucked up under it.

I held the old stuffed bunny to my chest and cried, feeling like if I put it down just then I would surely shatter apart into a million pieces.

Just days ago...a week? I’d thought about how I could never recover from the pain of losing one of my children. I’d brought Lotte to my and Jamie’s bed, simply needing to have her close, assure myself that she was safe.

Actual, physical pain lanced through my body as scenario after horrible scenario ran through my mind of what could happen to my baby girl.

The sobs wouldn’t stop coming, though I didn’t realize that I was struggling to breathe until suddenly I wasn’t alone. 

Jamie had his arms wrapped almost painfully tight around me, and he was begging me to breathe through his own tears.

I pressed my ear to his chest, listening to his own breath go in and out, and forced mine to match until finally, slowly, I came back to myself.

“I ken you’re scared,” he said, rubbing my back. “I am too. But please, Sassenach, I need ye. I tell ye all th’ time that ye needn’t always be strong wi’ me but I need ye to be strong now. I canna do this without you. Please, mo cridhe , I need ye.”

I nodded, then sat back, taking a deep breath and then accepted the handkerchief he offered. “I’m sorry. I’m alright now. I just needed...a moment.”

“Aye, I ken. I felt th’ same which is why I came up here. I wish ye’d try and sleep a little before we go.”

My doctor’s mind knew that twenty-eight hours without sleep, and only minimal sleep the day and night before that, meant we were operating on the brain function of the heavily intoxicated. But my mother’s mind didn’t care.

“Only if you’ll lie down with me,” I bargained. 

Jamie nodded, and we lay down together on Lotte’s bed, falling at once into an exhausted doze. When William woke us an hour later, I quite possibly felt worse than I had before. 

 

Back outside, everyone had gathered back up again before heading out.

“I want to thank you all,” I said. “For helping us search for our daughter.”

“That little girl is like the child of this whole town,” Joe said. “Don’t you worry, Lady Jane. We’ll find her.”

I nodded in thanks, then turned to William. “I don’t like that you’re not going with us, but I know how Jamie wants his best men leading the search parties. Just be very careful, do you understand?”

“I will, Mama,” he said, kissing my cheek. “You be careful, too.”

“Dr. B.?” Rachel said, taking her daughter back from her husband. “I just want you to know that you don’t have to worry about the clinic. Jenny told me about Dr. Raymond leaving, and I can run things here while you’re gone.”

To my chagrin, I hadn’t given the clinic a thought, and even with the reminder I couldn’t find enough spare energy within me to worry about it, but I appreciated Rachel’s offer nonetheless.

“Thank you,” I said, hugging her, then kissing Rain’s head. “Just don’t work too hard, okay? You have this baby to think of.”

“Rachel’s gonna stay here at the house with me,” Brianna said. 

“That’s good. Perhaps Jenny wouldn’t mind staying too.”

There was a snort behind me and I turned to find Jenny standing there with her hands on her hips. “As if I’d let you run off on a search without me. I’m coming too.”

I didn’t even bother attempting to argue with her, and actually I felt like her level-headedness and practicality would be vital. 

I looked to Jamie, and we exchanged a nod. “Alright then,” I said. “Time to go.”

 

~~~

 

Lotte was worried, and very confused.

Mama’s birthday had been so much fun. Lotte had especially liked having that new little baby around, and she hoped that maybe Ian and Rachel would stay and let Rain grow up to be her friend.

She’d fallen asleep on Fergus’s shoulder, and had woken up once to see that the party was still happening, but someone had put her on a blanket by a tree. She thought that was sort of neat, like camping. Rollo was with her, so she wasn’t scared, and she went back to sleep.

When she woke up again, she was being carried. At first she thought it was Da, but when she opened her eyes, she realized it was Mr. Collins.

“Where are we going?” she had asked.

“Don’t worry,” he said quietly. “We’re taking you home. Go back to sleep.”

Lotte thought that was a little strange, but Mr. and Mrs. Collins were nice, and Rollo was following them, so she wasn’t scared.

She must have fallen asleep again, because when her eyes opened back up, she was in a wagon, and it was daytime.

She thought it was strange that they weren’t home yet, but then again, home was nowhere around! Lotte knew Colorado Springs like the back of her hand...that’s what Mama always said...but nothing around her looked familiar at all.

“Ms. Maria?” she called. 

Ms. Maria turned around where she sat on the buckboard and smiled at her. “Well, good morning, sleepyhead.”

“Where are we going?” she asked again. “This isn’t Colorado Springs.”

“What a smart girl you are,” Ms. Maria said. “No, dear, we’re going away.”

“Away? But where? Where’s my Mama and Da?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll see your mother and father later.”

Lotte frowned, then looked over the edge of the wagon for Rollo. Sure enough, he was trotting alongside. Da always said that she was safe if Rollo was with her, so surely she was okay.

But it was very strange. Mama and Da only ever let her go places with Fergus, William, Brianna, Auntie Jenny, Uncle Ian, Uncle Joe and Auntie Gale, and Roger. No one else in town had ever taken her anywhere. Did she even have permission? She hoped Mama and Da wouldn’t be angry with her.

They kept going for a long time. When Lotte needed to go, they stopped and Ms. Maria took her into the trees. When said she was hungry, Ms. Maria gave her some crackers and apple juice. But the road was long and straight, and Lotte was growing bored.

“Where are we going ?” she asked again.

“Quit asking,” Mr. Collins said. “I told you, we’re going home.

“No, we’re not. Home’s the other way!”

“We’re going to your new home, niña ,” Ms. Maria said.

New home?! But I don’t wanna new home! I want my Mama and Da.”

“Your ma and pa don’t want you anymore,” Mr. Collins snapped. “They gave you to us.”

Lotte stared at him, stunned. He couldn’t be telling the truth. Mama and Da loved her. They told her every day. They wouldn’t just give her away

“You’re lying!” she cried. “Take me home! I wanna go home!”

She didn’t really want to cry, but she was becoming afraid, so she did. Ms. Maria tried to hush her gently, but now that she’d started crying, she couldn’t stop.

Stop that!” Mr. Collins hissed. “Maria, do something, damn it.”

“I’m trying,” Ms. Maria said. “Stop the cart, let me get into the back with her.”

Mr. Collins stopped the cart, and Lotte decided that if they wouldn’t take her home, she’d just go herself. But when she tried to jump out of the wagon, Ms. Maria grabbed her around the middle and pulled her back.

“What are you doing?!” Ms. Maria exclaimed.

“Let me GO!” Lotte yelled, kicking and screaming. 

Rollo’s snarl was unlike anything Lotte had ever heard, and suddenly he was in the back of the cart, his teeth sinking into Ms. Maria’s wrist and jerking her away from Lotte.

Lotte screamed and cried as Mr. Collins hit Rollo with his fist, trying to get him off of Ms. Maria. Rollo did release Ms. Maria, but he only attacked Mr. Collins, instead.

Lotte huddled into the corner of the wagon cart, and the moment she saw Mr. Collins holding a gun, she covered her eyes with her hands.

There was a loud gunshot that made her ears hurt, and a yelp and whining. After a moment, the cart started moving again. Ms. Maria was crying, and Mr. Collins was cursing.

Lotte didn’t take her hands from her eyes for a while, and when she did and looked over the side of the cart, Rollo wasn’t following anymore.



Chapter Text

We rode as quickly as could be managed without wearing out the horses too soon. 

Those who were not part of a search party were staying in town to continue looking, and telegrams had been sent out to the surrounding areas to keep an eye out, and to send tracking dogs to Colorado Springs. However, my mind rebelled violently against finding Lotte still in Colorado Springs, because the possibilities of why she hadn’t been found yet in that case were too horrible to imagine. As perversed as it felt, I hoped Richard and Maria Collins had taken Lotte.

“We better let the horses drink,” Roger said as we neared the area where the river bent, leading it away from the road.

I sighed in frustration, but I knew he was right. It was good that Jamie and I hadn’t gone alone, as we needed people nearby to be more practical than either of us were of a mind to be.

“I got him, Mama,” Fergus said quietly, taking Flash’s reins. I sighed again, wishing I knew of a way to assuage the guilt that had been eating at him. There was no reason for the boy to blame himself, but I knew from experience that reason didn’t always matter.

“There’s a cattle ranch about eleven miles further down,” Jenny said. “It’s off the main road, but the rancher drives his herd back and forth across it to reach the stream. We can ask and see if he’s seen anything.”

“I feel like they would have to be fairly conspicuous,” Roger said. “A white man and a Mexican woman might draw looks on their own, but add a red haired child who doesn’t look a thing like either one of them?”

“We canna count on that,” Jamie said. “They could put a bonnet on her, simple as that.”

“But I can’t imagine that Lotte is just sedately going along with them,” I said. “She’s may like the Collins enough to trust them initially but soon enough she’s going to cry to come home.”

“And she won’t be quiet about her protestations,” Roger added. “She’s a fiery little thing.”

Jamie shook his head, and led his horse away to the river. “Aye, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

After a moment, I followed Jamie to the river, where he went a little away from the rest.

“What did you mean?” I asked. “Do you think Richard would do anything to her if she fought?”

Jamie heaved his shoulders in a tired shrug. “I dinna ken, Sassenach. But if were tae come down to he and his wife being caught, I worry that Lotte might become collateral damage.”

I put my hands on his arm, leaning my head against his shoulder, trying to give strength even as I took it from him.

We both jumped when, all of a sudden, Gideon flung his head, whinnying nervously.

“What’s th’ matter wi’ ye?” Jamie murmured. 

The other horses had caught on, and were flinching in fear.

“What is it?” I asked Jamie.

“A predator, no doubt,” he said calmly. “Mountain lion, maybe, or wolf. We probably ought tae move on.”

But then he watched Gideon’s ears flick to and fro, and a strange look came over his face.

Before I could ask him what he was thinking, Jamie put his thumb and middle finger to his lips and whistled loudly.

Everyone froze, holding their skittish horses still, listening.

Jamie whistled again, and then a high whine was our only warning before a familiar gray form emerged slowly from the brush.

“Rollo!” Fergus exclaimed as Jamie rushed to his wolf’s side.

“Where have ye been, Rollo? Where is...Sassenach, get over here.”

I hurried to kneel beside Jamie, the hope I’d felt at the sight of Rollo quickly dashed when I could see the shape of him.

Blood flowed freely from his shoulder and down his left foreleg, matting into his thick gray fur. He was panting heavily, shaking, and blood trickled from his mouth as well, though whether it was from licking his own wound or something else, I couldn’t be sure.

“He’s been shot,” Jamie said grimly. “He must have attacked them.”

I gently pushed back the matted fur, trying to see where the bullet went in. “Jamie, this is a fairly recent wound. It couldn’t have happened more than a few hours ago.”

“Then we have tae hurry,” Jamie said, framing the wolf’s large head between his hands, stroking his ears comfortingly. “Can ye take us tae her, lad. I ken you’re hurting, but where is Lotte?”

Rollo whined pitifully, and made like he was going to head in the direction of the road, but he could only limp slowly.

“He cannot go any farther,” Two Moons said.

Jamie’s eyes were red as he knelt again beside his old friend. “Ye’ve done well, mo caraidh. I ken ye tried your best tae protect her. Thank ye.”

“W...we can’t leave him here,” Fergus said. “Someone has to take him back to town.”

Jamie shook his head. “No, lad. We haven’a th’ time, and your horse would never carry a bleeding wolf on her back. I canna even trust that you or anyone else could tend him wi’out being bit.”

I watched as Jamie, his face contorted in pain, went to his horse, wondering if he could really bear to simply leave his beloved pet behind to die. When he withdrew his gun from its holster, my heart plummeted. 

“Jamie…”

Jamie shook his head, warding me off with a shaking hand. “I’ll no’ let him suffer, Sassenach. He doesn’a deserve that.”

“Da, no!” Fergus cried, but Jenny grabbed both he and Young Ian by the arms and started pulling them away.

Two Moons rested a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Let me do it, brother.”

Jamie shook his head. “No. He’s mine, it should be me.”

While I understood Jamie’s reasoning perfectly, my heart was breaking. Both for my husband who had depended on Rollo’s companionship when he had lost everything, but also for the wolf himself, when I looked down at his calm, trusting eyes. I could almost swear that Rollo knew what was going on, and he accepted it.

“Jamie, wait, no...let me tend him. He could very well survive!”

“We canna take him with us,” he said, checking that the gun was loaded. “And I won’t leave him tae be prey to something else. Roger, take Claire back tae th’ road.”

Roger grabbed my arm, but I snatched it away from him. “Jamie, please! Let me try! If I remove the bullet and bandage his wound, you can tell him to go home and he’ll go! It’s not that far!”

Jamie shook his head again, taking aim. “We don’t have time.”

I closed my eyes, unwilling to watch.

But after a moment, there was still no gunshot. When I opened my eyes again, Jamie was still standing there, aiming his gun at Rollo’s head.

I broke away from Roger and ran to Jamie’s side, pushing his shaking hand down. 

“Damn me, I canna do it,” he hissed, swallowing thickly. “Ian will have to.”

“Take Ian and Roger and go after the Collins,” I said. “I’ll take care of Rollo and send him home and then catch up with you.”

After a long beat, Jamie finally took a deep breath and nodded. “If ye canna fix him up well enough tae make it home, ye willn’a leave him to suffer?”

“I won’t, I promise,” I said. “If nothing else, I can give him enough laudanum to put him down painlessly. Now, please, hurry.”

Jamie nodded, gave me one last look, then leapt onto his horse’s back, riding away without a backward glance, Roger and Two Moons close behind.

 

I called for Jenny, Fergus, and Ian as I stroked Rollo’s massive head, murmuring nonsense words of comfort to him.

“Can you really save him, Mama?” Fergus asked.

“I’ll try,” I said. “But I need you to fashion some sort of muzzle for him.”

“He would never bite you.”

I looked up at him. “He’s a very special wolf, Fergus, but he’s still a wolf, and sometimes animals don’t know what they’re doing when they’re in pain. They’re no different than people in that way. Ian, could you get my medical kit?” 

“I have it here, Auntie,” he said, handing it to me. “Tell me whatever else you need. I help Rachel at times, so I still remember what to do.”

I coaxed Rollo into lying down as Fergus reappeared with a length of rope that he tied in a slip knot around Rollo’s muzzle, then he sat back holding the other end. As long as Rollo remained calm, the rope wouldn’t cause him discomfort, but Fergus would be able to pull the loop tight if he became aggressive. 

I briefly examined his mouth, but the blood wasn’t coming from inside. In fact, from the way it stained his teeth, it indicated that it may have come from a bite.

“You really did try to protect her, didn’t you?” I asked. “You’re going to be alright, Rollo.”

The bullet had entered Rollo at an angle that suggested close range, but a wild shot. It wasn’t deep, but he’d lost a considerable amount of blood. 

Though I was anxious to be back on the road and catch up to Jamie, the methodical process of doctoring the wolf helped my mind clear itself more than it had in over a day. I didn’t want to risk giving him laudanum in his condition, not knowing whether it was even suitable for wolves but also not wanting him to be drugged when we left him. However, despite how much pain I knew he had to be in, not once did he do more than flinch as I removed the bullet and quickly sewed up the wound.

All the while, I still debated with myself whether or not it would be kinder to put him down. I could give him a lethal amount of laudanum, and let him drift off peacefully, but it just felt so unfair to not at least give him a fighting chance. If for nothing else, Lotte would want him to have it.

“There you are, boy,” I said, removing the rope from around his snout. “The rest is up to you. Go home, Rollo. Dhachaigh .”

I stood up, and we turned to go, and Rollo whined, beginning to follow.

“No,” Fergus said firmly. “ Home , Rollo. Go to Brianna.”

Rollo’s ears perked in understanding, but he still didn’t move.

“Come on,” I said. “He may need to rest. We’ve done all we can.”

“Please, Rollo,” Fergus tried again. “Please go home.”

At last, Rollo stood on shaky legs, and turned to go the other direction. I sent up a quick prayer that the old wolf would be waiting on our porch when we returned home, with Lotte.

 

~~~

 

Jamie put Rollo from his mind as he urged Gideon to go faster. If Claire was right...and when was she ever wrong? Whoever had shot Rollo had not but a couple of hours on them, though there was no way of telling how fast they were traveling.

They reached Cañon City by midday, and were immediately on the lookout.

“Split up,” Jamie said. “Ask around.”

Roger and Ian took off in separate directions, and from his jacket pocket, Jamie withdrew the small photograph of Lotte he’d brought from home.

The portrait was old; she’d been two years old at the time, and he wished sorely that there was color so that one could see the shade of her hair, but it was better than nothing.

He went first into a tavern, thinking it would hold the highest concentration of men who worked all around town.

“What can I get you?” The barkeep asked in a bored tone.

“Whisky, if ye please,” Jamie said, wishing for something to settle his nerves as well as wanting to appear cordial to better receive answers.

When the barkeep returned with his glass, Jamie showed him the photograph. “Have ye by chance seen this lass? She’s my daughter, ken, and we believe she was taken from our home in Colorado Springs by a couple who may be headed south.”

The barkeep peered carefully at the picture. “No, sorry, haven’t seen her.”

“Thank ye,” Jamie murmured, throwing back his whisky before asking the other patrons, all of whom shook their heads no.

Frustrated, he went back out into the street, asking anybody he saw. A few of the women tutted in sympathy, but if Lotte had been in town at all, no one had taken notice.

“Jamie!” Roger called, trotting across the street toward him. Beside him, was a young boy.

“This kid thinks he saw something,” Roger said without preamble. “Go on, tell him what you told me.”

The boy peered up at Jamie with big, dark eyes that glistened shrewdly. Jamie took in the state of the child’s clothes, and his shoeless feet, and pulled a quarter from his pocket.

“Yours,” he said. “If ye tell us everything ye know. No lying.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “I saw a girl,” he said. “She was kickin’ and screamin’ that she wanted to go home. My boss said, ‘that child needs a switch to her behind.’ Her folks went into the mercantile, and then they left.”

Jamie knelt down, showing the boy the photograph. “Did th’ girl look like th’ one in this portrait, only older?”

The boy peered at the picture. “Maybe. I didn’t get that close to her. She had hair like yours though.”

“What about the couple?” Roger asked. “Anything notable about them? Do you remember what they looked like?”

“He was a white man,” the boy said. “She wasn’t. Her skin was dark, but not like mine,” he extended his own deep brown arm.

“That’s them,” Roger said. “It has to be!”

“How long ago did they leave town?” Jamie asked urgently.

The boy shrugged one shoulder. “Been a while. Saw them comin’ and goin’ on my way into work this morning, and now I’m headed home.”

An entire day. Hope warred with dismay as he withdrew a second quarter and pressed both into the boy’s eager hand. He’d missed them by a day, but at least now they had more reason to believe that they were even on the right track. He didn’t doubt the boy’s observations for a moment, knowing how children can pick up on things that adults sometimes don’t. 

“Let’s go see if we can find rooms for th’ night and wait for Claire and th’ others,” Jamie said resignedly. “We need tae rest and eat if we’re tae continue on.”

“Do you still think they’re heading south?” Roger asked.

“I do. We have tae just hope that we can travel faster than they, and catch up tae them.”

Roger hummed, thinking. “You go see about the rooms, I’m gonna go to the telegraph office. Maybe if we can get a wire to the neighboring towns to be on the lookout for them, someone will spot them and detain them.”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, good idea. I’ll find Ian and meet ye there.”

 

“So we’re on the right track,” Claire said when they found them later that evening at the inn. She’d reported to him that Rollo had been left looking relatively well, and Jamie was comforted by the fact that his old friend at least had a chance at survival. He still missed having him at his side, but he was glad that Claire hadn’t allowed him to put Rollo down.

“Aye,” Jamie said, rubbing his hands up and down her shoulders. “We were right about th’ Collins it seems. Th’ boy said himself that it was a white man and darker-skinned woman wi’ a red haired lass. It could only be them. Roger has sent wires to all th’ towns from here tae Durango. Before long, th’ entire region will know.”

Claire nodded, folding her arms around herself. Jamie pulled her to him, burying his nose in her hair. “We’ll leave at first light,” he said.

“But first,” Jenny said. “You both need a hot meal in you and a full night’s sleep. You won’t be a lick of good to Lotte if you don’t take care of yourselves, first.”

“Jenny’s right, Sassenach,” he said, kissing the top of her head. It willn’a be long now until we have our lass home wi’ us.”

 

~~~

 

We rode hard for many days, stopping only to sleep and eat when we had to.

My own sleep came in fits and bursts, though I could scarcely go an hour before a nightmare would waken me, and I would look around in panic for my daughter, only to have the crushing reminder that she wasn’t there.

Jamie wasn’t much better, I knew, but he was strict in making sure I at least tried to keep myself well nourished and rested.

In every town or community we found, we’d ask everyone we saw after Lotte and the Collins. Eventually we found that word had beat us, and folk knew already that there were frantic parents on the search for their young child. 

I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, or not. It was nice knowing that people cared, and were keeping an eye out, but it also meant that the Collins could get wind of it and potentially stop entering towns.

Jamie, Fergus, and I went straight to the nearest inn when we reached the town, while the rest went to the taverns and shops. 

“Sorry, laddie,” the innkeeper said, giving the portrait a good look. “Haven’a seen anyone tha’ looks like ye described.”

“Thank ye,” Jamie said. “We may need a few rooms for th’ night though, if ye have them.”

“Pardon me…”

Behind us was a tall, heavily mustached man with a golden sheriff's star pinned to his shirt. “I couldn’t help but overhear,” he continued. “Are you the folks who reported a kidnapped child?”

“Yes!” I said quickly. “Have you heard anything?!”

The sheriff grimaced, and my heart sank. “Unfortunately, ma’am, I received the telegram a day late. A couple and their child, matching the descriptions given, were sold train tickets yesterday morning. They left on the 8 o’clock.”

“Do you know where they were headed?” Jamie demanded.

“The ticket clerk said they bought three one-way tickets to Mexico City.”

“My God…” I whispered. “Jamie…”

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” he said, grabbing my hand. “We’ll simply go there and bring her back.”

“Sir, it may not be that easy,” the sheriff said. “I’ve already wired a sheriff there, but if Mrs. Collins is a Mexican citizen, she could seek asylum across the border.”

“I dinna give a rat’s arse what she does!” Jamie exclaimed. “She’s taken my daughter. Being in another country doesn’a change that!”

“I’m only saying you’re not likely to receive much help from the law there if you go in guns blazing. You don’t know what kind of connections Mrs. Collins have, if there are people who will hide them. I think the safest bet is to bide your time, get into contact with some diplomats…”

“Do you have children, Sheriff…” I peered at his badge. “Fowler?”

“Erm...no, ma’am. I haven’t settled down just yet, myself.”

I crossed my arms, fixing my eyes firmly on his. “Then you can’t possibly understand that there is simply no way my husband and I are going to sit here, biding our time while other people try and negotiate the return of our own child. Is there some reason...legally speaking, that we will not be able to cross the border?”

Sheriff Fowler looked flustered as he glanced at Jamie, as if expecting him to scold me for talking as I was. When Jamie didn’t, he stammered a response. “No ma’am. But there’s some dangerous lands out there, dangerous people,” he looked to Jamie. “Surely, sir, a lady shouldn’t…”

“Dinna fash, lad,” Jamie interrupted, patting the Sheriff’s shoulder as we moved past him. “She’s no’ a lady.”

 

We met the others at an outdoor cafe near the inn, and told them what we’d learned. 

“An imaginary line,” Two Moons said. “That is what I’ve heard my people call the border. There were once tribes whose people spread out across these lands, but the white men are who drew the lines in the sand.”

“The sheriff wasn’t wrong about the possibility of running into trouble,” I said. “I visited Mexico City once with my uncle, years ago. Granted, this was before their war with France, but Lamb and I had to stay near armed guards the entire time. The roads in and out of the towns were rife with bandits, but the police forces put into place to control them were sometimes known to be worse. I doubt we, as outsiders, will get any answers from anyone, particularly if the Collins have family there to hide them.”

“We we certainly willn’a get any answers unless we go there and try,” Jamie said. “I’ll go now and buy th’ tickets. Th’ question I have is...who would come wi’ us?”

“I’m coming,” Roger said. “I already promised I’d help find Lotte. I’m not turning back now .”

“Me too!” Fergus said.

“You have to think about this, though,” I said. “We don’t know how long this may take, or what we may have to do to bring Lotte back. Ian, you have a wife and newborn baby back home, and Jenny, you have your ranch. You all have lives to get back to and Jamie and I can’t ask you to put everything on hold.

“You weren’t asking us,” Ian said. “We offered.”

“That’s right,” Jenny agreed. “We are, after all, family.”

“I may not be family,” Roger said. “But I love that little girl. I’m not going back without her.” Two Moons nodded in agreement.

Jamie took my hand and squeezed it, and I gave them all a watery smile.

“Thank ye,” Jamie said. “All of ye. Truly.”

 

I wired Colorado Springs at once, to give them an update. I then wrote a more detailed letter to Brianna, pleading with her not to hold off on school. I didn’t know if she’d listen, but I had to try. 

I wrote another letter for William, and took the ones Ian and Roger had written to Rachel and Brianna and mailed them all. 

Our previous inn stays had seen Jamie and I sharing a room with either Fergus or Jenny, as accommodations had been scarce. That night, the inn wasn’t very full, so Jamie and I had a room to ourselves.

We laid in bed, Jamie wrapped around me from behind. In my arms I held Mac, toying with its ear.

“She doesn’t sleep well without her bunny,” I whispered.

“I know,” Jamie said. “It’s good ye brought it, so that she can have it back right away when we find her.”

“Sometimes she gets a bellyache at night, and I give her warm water with honey. I’ve never told her what it was, though, so she might not know how to ask for it.”

“What Maria has done is verra wrong,” Jamie said. “But I dinna think she’s a cruel woman, Sassenach. I think she’s trying tae replace th’ child she lost.”

“But why my child?” I cried. “Why did she have to fixate on Lotte?”

“Because Lotte is a special lass. She spreads light and love wherever she goes. She’s also brave, mo cridhe , and canny, and strong. She’s going tae be just fine.”

“She has to,” I said, digging my fingers into his arm. “I can’t go back without her, Jamie. I can’t. I’m not strong enough.”

“Oh, Sassenach,” he whispered, kissing the back of my neck. “Ye are th’ single strongest person I have ever known. But ye willn’a have tae go home without her. I’m going tae give our child back tae ye, Sorcha . Or die trying.”

“Don’t say that,” I said, rolling onto my back. “I can’t go without you, either.”

“Then I suppose we’ll just have tae all go home together then.”

Jamie kissed me, then gently took Mac from my hands and placed him on the nightstand. 

As Jamie made love to me, it wasn’t about pleasure or passion. It was simply the best way we knew to be as close to one another as possible, to breathe the same air, to taste the salt of each other’s skin. To know that in that moment, we were both alive, and together. As the universe crashed down upon our heads, we still had that, and we clung to it with both hands.



Chapter Text

“Best I can do,” the stable manager said. “Wish I could pay more. These two, especially, are beautiful beasts.”

I watched with an aching heart as Jamie accepted the money offered for our horses. 

It was over a thousand miles to Mexico City. Too far, and too long on horseback, the train had no room for horses, and besides, we would need all the money we could get.

I stroked Flash’s nose, tears stinging my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I whispered to him. “You’ve been such a wonderful friend.”

Not only for loving the horse, Flash had been a gift to me by my dear friend Nayawenne, before she was killed in a massacre.

Flash had always been such a smart, loving horse, and fast as his name suggested. I once won a male-dominated race on him. When riding him, I felt like I was flying.

Jamie patted Gideon’s shoulder fondly, stoically holding back his own emotion, but I knew it hurt him too, especially considering the way he’d recently left Rollo. Though ornery and nearly impossible to train, Gideon had been the only horse Jamie would even consider after the sudden death of both our old horses, Donas and Bear. 

Perhaps it was silly growing so attached to one’s horses, but we couldn’t help it.

It was almost worse seeing Fergus say goodbye to his childhood pony, Taffy. He’d saved and bought the animal himself when he was only eleven years old, but even he agreed that it was what needed to be done.

The stable manager was a kindly older gentleman, who assured us that he would see to it the horses were sold to good owners.

We used some of the money to restock our supplies, and before long, it was time to board the train for Mexico. 

Fergus sat down beside me in our car, and handed something to me.

“What’s this?” I asked, holding up the tiny figure on a string. 

“It’s Saint Anthony,” he said. “I found it at a stand just outside. Da told Lotte and me that he’s the patron saint of lost things.”

“That’s right,” Jamie said, smiling. 

I tied the leather string around my neck, then tucked the figure into my blouse. “Thank you, Fergus.”

“When we find her, you can give it to her,” he said. 

I put my arm around him, kissing the top of his head, and he leaned into me, curling into my side in a way he hadn’t done since he was probably twelve years old. 

In all my stress and worry about Lotte, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that we were inadvertently pulling our son into a potentially dangerous situation, no matter that it was too late to back out now. He was near grown, tall and strong, but he was still a boy in many ways. I sent up a prayer to Saint Anthony, to God, to the Great Spirits, to Charlotte Cooper, and to anyone who would listen, to protect my children. 

All of them.

 

Stepping out of the train in Mexico City, I felt a slight sense of deja vu. It took me a moment to determine where that feeling came from, but then I realized that the nerve-rattling sense of stepping into an unknown land, among strangers, was the same as when I left my plush Boston life to head West.

The farther west we traveled from Colorado, the fewer cross looks Two Moons and Ian had gotten. Here, it was Jamie, Fergus, Jenny, Roger and I who got looks.

I wasn’t unfamiliar with that. Growing up I’d gone to many different countries with Uncle Lamb where being a rich white girl earned me either novel fascination or scorn, but I could tell that Roger especially was uncomfortable with the stares.

Hola, ” Jamie said in halting Spanish to an older gentleman pushing a vegetable cart. “... Policia?

The gentleman gave Jamie a gruff expression, but pointed east. 

Jamie nodded to a restaurant with a large covered outdoor seating area. “Th’ rest of ye get something tae eat and wait for us. Claire and I will try tae find someone who can help us.”

We wandered down the streets, and I mustered polite smiles for the women trying to sell me jewelry and scarves. I understood only a smattering of Spanish, but I could pick out the complimentary things they were saying in hopes of getting me to buy their admittedly beautiful wares.

In another situation, I might have liked the bustling, colorful city. It was different from what I remembered during my visit as a girl, though at that time Lamb had been mostly working in slums, helping poor people who couldn’t get to the better hospitals.

I paused momentarily in front of a little girl. She barely looked older than Lotte, perhaps six or seven, and she was sitting cross-legged against a building, selling beaded bracelets out of a little box. 

We’d traded our money at the train station for the proper currency, and I knew we didn’t have money to burn, but the way she looked at me with tired eyes inside a dirty face, I couldn’t resist. I handed her a peso, accepting the blue bracelet she selected for me with a smile. 

“Come along, Sassenach,” Jamie said, placing a hand on the small of my back to steer me along, though his expression was fond. “There are many more wee urchins about. We’ll be broke before we reach th’ police station.”

It took asking several more people before we were able to find the police station. It wasn’t anything like the sheriff offices from back home. In fact it reminded me a little of a newsroom. It was certainly as busy as one.

There was a man sitting near the entrance behind a desk, so we approached him first.

¿Puedes ayudarnos? ” Jamie asked.

The man peered up at Jamie from beneath his glasses and replied in rapid-fire Spanish that I maybe caught two words of.

“I...I’m sorry…” Jamie fumbled. “I don’t…”

“Ah, American, I take it?”

We looked up, beyond the desk to see a man standing there smiling at us. 

He was young, maybe a little younger than Jamie, and handsome, with a friendly smile and warm, dark brown eyes.

“Aye,” Jamie said sheepishly. “I’m sorry tae say we dinna have much Spanish.”

The young man blinked. “I must say, your accent was surprisingly accurate, especially considering you do not sound American after all.”

“Weel, what does an American really sound like, anyway?”

“True,” he chuckled. “Forgive me, I have forgotten my manners. My name is Inspector Miguel Ángel Garcia Torres. Is there something I can help you with?”

“I’m James Fraser,” Jamie said. “And this is my wife, Dr. Claire Fraser. We’ve come all the way from Colorado in search of our daughter. She was kidnapped.”

Miguel, who’s eyes had flicked to me in surprised interest when Jamie introduced me as a doctor, went back to him in obvious concern. 

Señor , I am so sorry to hear that. Please, please, step into my office.”

The relief I felt that there was someone here who not only spoke English, but at least had interest, was dizzying. He led us into a small, sparsely furnished office. It was uncomfortably hot inside, even with the window open, but Miguel didn’t seem to notice.

“How long has your daughter been missing?” he asked, motioning for us to sit.

“Fifteen days,” I said. “...and six hours.”

Miguel’s face pinched in sympathy. “The person who took her...do you know them? Are they a relative?”

I shook my head. “No. They were just passing through our town when Maria went into labor. They’d only recently lost their five-year-old daughter to Scarlet Fever, and unfortunately their newborn died moments after birth. I believe they were lost in grief, and became quickly attached to our daughter. There was a...a party, in town. For me. They took her in the dead of night, when no one was paying attention.”

I held my hand out to Jamie for the photograph, then in turn handed it to Miguel. “Her name is Charlotte Faith Nayawenne Fraser. She’s four...well, she’ll be five soon. Her hair is red like my husband’s, only a little darker. Her eyes are blue.”

“She is a beautiful child,” he said. “And the man and wife who took her...their names? And what led you to believe that they took her here?”

“Richard and Maria Collins,” Jamie said. “When Charlotte disappeared, they were th’ only other ones missing. We heard in a nearby town that a pair matching their descriptions were see wi’ a lass matching our daughter’s description, and she was crying for her ma. We trailed them as far as Durango Colorado, where we learned they’d bought tickets here. So, here we are.”

“Maria was born in Mexico,” I said. “I don’t know where exactly. Her family disowned her when she married Collins. It’s possible, though, that they have attempted to return to her family here.”

Miguel nodded thoughtfully. “ . It is certainly possible. I wish only that you knew her family name.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “She never told me that.”

“There canna be that many couples like them around here,” Jamie said.

Miguel shrugged. “I wouldn’t be so sure. It isn’t so uncommon for American miners to come here seeking fortune, and beautiful young wives. They do not usually find their fortunes, but young women in search of husbands with money are abundant.”

“Will you help us?” I asked him, pleaded really.

“We haven’t much money now,” Jamie said. “But I can find work, and we’ve come wi’ several companions who will do th’ same. I can also send for some from home.”

Miguel waved him off. “I am not a private investigator, Señor Fraser. Hold on to your money for now. I don’t want to rule out the possibility of a ransom. But yes, I will help you.”

Thank you,” I sighed. “Thank you so much.”

He made a face. “Do not thank me just yet, Señora. We have very limited manpower here, so I am afraid we will be on our own.”

“We’ll do whatever is necessary,” Jamie said. “It doesn’a matter, so long as our Charlotte is safe.”

Miguel nodded. “Of course. And you say you have companions?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, five more of us. Our son, our friend, my sister, and my adopted brother and nephew.”

“Good,” Miguel said. “We’ll need them.”

 

We led Miguel back toward the restaurant where the others were waiting for us. As we walked, Miguel kept glancing at me, as if working up the nerve to say something, until finally he did.

“You are...a doctor?”

I nodded. “Yes, I am.”

It had sounded a little harsher than I’d really meant it, but then I was used to people I didn’t know either scorning me for my profession, or laughing about it.

“Forgive me, it is only I have never met a doctor who is a woman,” he said. “But I suddenly cannot imagine why. Women are generally kinder, with a more delicate touch. Why shouldn’t they be doctors?”

I smiled. “I’m often told it’s because I don’t have the intelligence or emotional fortitude for it.”

Jamie chuckled from where he walked a little ahead of us. “They dinna think that way for long after they get into a verbal sparring match wi’ her.”

When we reached the restaurant and met up with the others, introductions were made and we sat down to discuss our next steps.

“The best thing is to do what you already have been doing,” Miguel said. “Ask around, try and learn something about Mrs. Collins’ family. Of course I can help with translating, and I have people that can dig around as well.”

“Some of us should find work,” Jamie said. “We’ll no’ be able tae survive on what we have for long. Mr. Garcia, d’ye know of anything for me?”

“Leave the working to Fergus and I, Uncle Jamie,” Ian said. “You and Auntie Claire should focus on the search. Between us, we should be able to find enough work to support us.”

Roger nodded. “Yes, and I as well.”

Jamie gave them all a grateful nod in return.

“I was actually thinking of seeing if there’s anywhere that could use my services as a doctor,” I said. “Besides making money, I could talk to people.”

“It’s a good plan,” Miguel said. “Doctors here can be very expensive, so there are many in need. And people always talk to their doctors.”

“Will ye go wi’ her, then?” Jamie asked. “She’ll need help translating, and I’ll no’ have her go anywhere alone.”

“Of course. I’ll find out where the need is most pressing and we can go tomorrow.”

“I thought I’d visit some churches,” Roger said. “Maria buried her child with a rosary, and wore a cross necklace, so she might seek out the church once here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Jenny said. “I know a fair amount of Spanish.”

“Good,” Jamie said, standing. “We’ll start first thing in th’ morning.”

“Come,” said Miguel. “I know of a good hotel where you can stay.”

“What will you do tomorrow?” I asked Jamie as we left.

“Same as before. Taverns, businesses.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Two Moons.

Jamie shook his head. “No, I’d like ye tae stay wi’ Claire. Mr. Garcia seems a good man, but I’d rather be safe.”

“But what about you ?” I demanded. “You think it’s safe for you to be on your own?”

Jamie smirked at me. “Ye tell me all th’ time that I can charm my way out o’ a paper bag. I may seem less threatening alone, more approachable.”

“More of a target,” I muttered.

Jamie gave me a look. “For just once, Sassenach, do as I say?”

I wanted to fire back with something scathing, but I could see the tiredness etched in Jamie’s eyes, and the worry and stress rolling off of him in waves. I knew that he considered the safety of all of us to be squarely on his shoulders, and whether or not that was true was of no consequence. So I didn’t argue, deciding that, for once, I would simply obey my husband without a fuss.

Later, when we were safe at home with all our children, I would be happy to inform him what a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence it was.

 

“There now,” I said, bandaging the young boy’s foot where I’d removed a sizable splinter of wood and placed a single stitch in the wound. “You were very brave.”

Miguel translated quickly, and the boy smiled, handing me a small basket of eggs before limping back to his mother.

Miguel had taken me to a poorer area of the city, where once people got word that there was a doctor offering services with no set fee, they were lining up within the hour, no matter that I was a woman.

These people didn’t have much money, and I didn’t really want to take anything from them at all, but Miguel told me that working for free might seem suspicious to some people. Like I had a hidden agenda. I did have one, but I could see his point, so I merely did what I did when I first started my practice in Colorado Springs, and accepted whatever they were able to give. I wouldn’t come out of it with very much extra money, but the food and supplies they offered were certainly welcome.

Two Moons had hovered nearby for a while, helping me, but eventually I told him to take Lotte’s photograph and show it around to the waiting families. 

Miguel was friendly and kind to the patients as he helped me to communicate with them, and he even offered his assistance, not even blinking in the face of lanced boils and rotted teeth.

An elderly woman with a young child were next in line. She placed the little girl in front of me, and urged her to show me the bruising on the side of her face.

“How did this happen?” I asked darkly, gently turning the girl’s head to catch the light. “This child looks like she was struck.”

“Her father,” the woman said in heavily-accented English, her face drawn and sad. “My daughter does nothing to help mi nieta .”

I smiled at the little girl, stroking her hair. “Is there anything you can do?” I asked Miguel.

Miguel sighed. “I can go to their house, make threats...but there’s little that can actually be done. A father can discipline a child as he sees fit. No matter how unfit we know it to be.”

I pulled the girl into my lap, surprised when she cuddled into me immediately. It caused my heart to make a painful lurch, feeling the warm weight of a small girl against me, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and went to work. I wet a cloth, and dabbed it lightly on the bruises as I carefully prodded along the rest of her body, looking for more injuries.

“You are mother?” The child’s grandmother asked.

“Yes,” I said. “My youngest daughter isn’t much older than your granddaughter.”

Miguel spoke in Spanish, explaining Lotte’s disappearance to the woman, and her eyes softened in dismay. “I am so sorry, Señora . I pray your daughter is returned.”

I smiled in thanks, then kissed the child’s head. “If there’s any way you can take her out of her parents’ house, please do it.”

She sighed, taking her granddaughter from my arms. “I will try…” she paused in thought, then spoke to Miguel in Spanish. 

“She asks your daughter’s name,” Miguel said. “So that she may remember her in her prayers.”

“Charlotte,” I replied. “We call her Lotte. What is your granddaughter’s name? I’d like to pray for her, as well.”

The old woman stood, cradling her granddaughter. “Gabriela,” she said. 

I waved at Gabriela as they left, then felt my shoulders fall. “What sort of god allows this?” I wondered aloud to no one in particular. “He allows a child from a happy, loving home to be taken away, and yet nothing can be done for a child trapped in a home where she’s abused?”

“I wish I had an answer for that,” Miguel said. “I see it every day. Children in pain, frightened, unwanted. Their mothers beaten. And the men walk free, allowed to do it again and again. And yet, when a man yearns for a wife and family to love, they’re cruelly taken away.”

I looked to Miguel in surprise, but his eyes had taken on a faraway look. 

“My little Juanita was four when God took her. Emilia, she tried...and I tried so hard for her...but she could not stand it,” Miguel met my eyes again, and suddenly he looked so much older. “She took her own life a year later. So you see, Señora Fraser, I simply could not stand by without at least trying to help return your little one to your arms. No one should suffer what I have.”

“No, they shouldn’t,” I agreed. “I’m so very sorry, Mr. Garcia.”

“Please, call me Miguel,” he said, releasing a breath as he stood.

“Only if you’ll call me Claire,” I replied.

Miguel smiled warmly. “Claire. You’re a woman of many names, I think. I’ve heard Dr. B, Sas...Sas…”

I chuckled, accepting his hand when he offered to help me up. “Dr. B. is a nickname from back home, from my maiden name, Beauchamp. But Sassenach is who I am only to my husband. Would you like to know my favorite name that I’m known by?”

“Of course,” he said. 

“Mama.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie walked into the small, dimly lit tavern, ignoring the looks shot his way. He was no stranger to being an unwelcome intruder, having spent years treated with similar distrust and disdain because of the way he dressed like a Cheyenne, and spent all his time among them. He learned long ago that the best thing to do was act like you were simply above all of it.

Someone nearby muttered something about a gringo, but Jamie ignored that, too, simply taking a seat at the bar and waiting patiently for the barkeep to see him.

I’ve seen you around the city,” a man said in Spanish as he took a seat near Jamie. “ Something you’re looking for?”

My daughter,” Jamie replied carefully. His Spanish was nominal, but it was gradually coming back to him. “ She was taken from my wife and I. We’ve come to find her, and take her home.”

You should be careful,” he said, taking a slow sip of his beer. “ There are those here who might not appreciate the way you are poking around where you do not belong, asking questions.”

Jamie sneered at him. “I dinna give a...a maldito rat’s arse about anyone’s business except where it applies tae my daughter.”

The man chuckled. “ I am only offering friendly advice. The Maldonado family will not take kindly to you meddling with their own .”

Jamie thought that it was likely anything but a friendly warning, but then his words caught up to Jamie and he froze. “ Wait , what did you say? Who are the Maldonados?”

The man smirked, tapped the side of his nose, finished his beer, and walked out. 

“Maldonado,” Jamie murmured. Forget the warning . It seemed there were more questions needing to be asked.

 

“The Maldonados?” Miguel said when Jamie returned to the hotel and met up with him, Ian, and Claire. “Did he say anything else?

“Only that I dinna want tae be meddling in their affairs,” Jamie said. “D’ye ken th’ name?”

“Well, yes, of course. They’re a large, very prominent family. The patriarch of the family, Don Antonio Garza Maldonado is one of the few main investors of the railroad that isn’t foriegn. He is quite influential, and many of his dealings are...unsavory, to say the least, but he’s untouchable.”

“So then why did this man warn Jamie about them?” Claire asked. “All Jamie’s done is what we’ve all done, ask about Charlotte.”

“Unless he did us a favor, and answered our question about Maria Collins’ family,” Jamie said. “Our first thought was that they may have fled to be with her family. If the Maldonados are her family…”

“Then this is bad, very bad,” Miguel said. “I’ll do some digging. There could be any number of Maldonados named Maria, but the family is well known for liking to keep their bloodlines “pure.” If a Maldonado girl married a gringo , there would have been talk.”

Jamie looked to Claire, his gut twisting. This was all becoming so much more than simple search and rescue. But he didn’t care. He would do whatever it took to get Lotte back, and see her, Claire, Fergus, and the others home safe. 

Whatever it took.




Chapter Text

Fergus brushed the sweaty hair out of his eyes, hurrying around the busy passerby, the cask on his shoulder straining his back.

He banged a fist on the wooden door, waiting impatiently for it to open.

You’re late,” the pudgy, foul-smelling camarero regarded him with disdain.

“Better late than never,” Fergus said with mocking cheer. “Do you want it, or not?”

The barkeep snorted, then held out a handful of coins. Fergus sneered. “ No. Not enough ,” he said, switching to Spanish.

You’re late,” the camarero repeated.

Fergus shrugged, though his muscles screamed in effort of holding up the cask. “Oh, well. I’m sure there are others who will pay the asking price.”

Fergus turned to go, and the barkeep barked at him to come back. He handed Fergus the money, took the cask with annoying ease, and then pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and gave that to Fergus too.

Fergus walked away, squinting at the writing. He’d have to let Ian take a look at it, as he was better with Spanish than Fergus was, but from what he could tell, it was another “ job .”

On the surface, the work he and Ian had found, ferrying food and alcohol between businesses and homes along with occasional messages, was perfectly on the up-and-up and decent money, and it was what they told their parents they were doing.

But over the past five months, they’d begun to be tasked with other things by the tavern owners, freight merchants, and railroad barons.

The first time Fergus was asked to take an accounting book from a busy freight manager, his wame had tumbled in anxiety and guilt. The second time, the guilt had lessened. The third time, the guilt returned when he realized he was good at stealing.

Ian rationalized that they needed money, full stop, and the good money came from the less honest dealings. But what was more, they were finding that the further they went into the seedier dealings on the city, the more they learned about the Maldonado family.

Apparently the family had their hands in practically everything, and it was actually Fergus himself who’d heard that the Maldonados were celebrating the return of a prodigal daughter. His parents were thrilled with him for learning that tidbit, though he’d felt terrible for lying and saying he’d simply overheard it on the street.

Ian had far fewer scruples about what they did. He assured Fergus that, in the end, Jamie wouldn’t care what he did if it led to the rescue of Lotte. That as a father himself, he could well understand the lengths a father may go to protect his child.

Ian’s darker skin made him blend in better in the city, and far from being scorned for his tattoos, people instead gave him a respectably wide-berth. Fergus was more out of place, but being in Ian’s intimidating company had given him a modicum of respect himself.

Fergus went to where he and Ian normally met up during the day, behind a row of workhouses. 

Ian was already there, leaning against the back stairs. “How did it go?” he asked around the cigarette in his mouth.

“He paid the full amount, at least,” Fergus said, tossing the bag of coins to his friend. “After a bit of bullshitting. He also gave me another job, but you try to read it. I can’t even make out the handwriting.”

Ian took the cigarette out of his mouth, and traded Fergus for the sheet of paper. While Fergus took a long draw on the cigarette, Ian tried to make heads or tails of the message.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…” Ian breathed. “Do you know what this says?!”

“I already told you, no. Why, what is it?”

“Fernando Maldonado,” Ian said. “I think he’s the great-nephew of Antonio. He’s the owner of that tavern you delivered to.”

Fergus’s jaw dropped. “Well...what does it say?! What does he want?”

Ian chuckled. “He suspects his wife of being unfaithful, and wants someone to find out if it's true.”

Fergus wrinkled his nose. “Well...spying? I guess that’s not so bad. I could do that.”

Ian gave him a knowing look and shook his head. “Not exactly. He wants someone to try and woo her. And if you’re successful, you report back to Fernando directly.”

Fergus blinked a moment, letting all those pieces click together. “Wait... woo her? Like...as in...is he out of his mind?! Why would I do that?! I can’t do that!”

“Will you shut up?!” Ian hissed, slugging his arm. “You want the whole city to hear you? Do you not understand what this means? You’d be going into the home of a Maldonado. And you know what they say about bedroom talk…”

Fergus wanted to retch. “No, actually I don’t know. You should do it.”

Ian gave him an affronted look. “I’m a married man! Look, you probably wouldn’t actually have to bed the woman, you just need to know how easily she’s willing, to be able to report back to Fernando. Besides, he picked you for a reason, and I’m guessing it has to do with your big blue eyes and pretty face, and knowing he can kill you if you’re too successful with his wife.”

Fergus glared at Ian for that last comment, but thought on it a moment. He thought he’d seen the owner’s wife before. She was very pretty, with full red lips and enormous breasts. But then he tried to imagine himself in the role of seductor and shuddered. 

“I can’t, Ian. I’ll fuck it up. It’s too important. What about Roger? He has the right looks.”

“He’s a minister , Fergus. Plus, Uncle Jamie would have his head...or his cock...if he found out, since Roger’s supposed to be courting Brianna.”

“Da would have my cock if he found out! To say nothing of Ma!”

Ian grabbed Fergus’s shoulder. “If there’s even a ghost of a chance that this woman could know something about Lotte’s whereabouts, don’t you think it’s worth the risk?”

Fergus bit the inside of his cheek, considering. Ian was right, of course. Whatever it took to find Lotte would be worth the cost. But the problem was he genuinely didn’t think he could

“I’ve never…” he hesitated, flushing. “You know.” 

Ian blinked, then patted him on the back. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Easy for you to say, you’d already...when you were younger than me!”

Ian waved a dismissive hand. “As I said, you probably won’t have to actually make love to the woman…”

Probably?!”

“...but you’ll need a bit more confidence. Some practice! Auntie does always say that practice makes perfect.”

Fergus glared at him “I don’t think this is what she had in mind.”

“No matter! Come with me, I have just the thing.”

Fergus groaned, but followed his friend. He had no idea what his plan was, but Fergus trusted him...theoretically.

 

~~~

 

Roger stood before the altar, admiring the ornate stained glass window which let in beams of rainbow colored sunlight. 

Even though he was a Presbyterian minister, the small Catholic sanctuary was peaceful, and a good place for Roger to clear his mind. 

He didn’t believe God minded where he prayed, and no matter the religion, a church was a church, and as good a place to talk with God as any. 

They’d been in Mexico City for about five months, and since learning Maria Collins’ family name, they were no closer to learning Lotte’s whereabouts. 

Claire and Jamie had become shells of themselves. They barely ate, barely slept, ran purely on sheer willpower and their classic stubbornness. The worst part was Roger didn’t see them talk to one another much, except to exchange news. Jamie spent all  night every night combing the streets, talking with anyone who would speak to him. He’d come back to the hotel more than once with bloodied knuckles, and not even Claire seemed inclined to question him on it, at least not in front of the others. But then, Roger couldn’t imagine when they would have time to talk, for while Jamie was sleeping through the day, Claire was at least keeping to more normal pursuits for her.

Nearly every day, she went with Inspector Garcia to treat patients in the poorer areas of the city, all in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who knew something.

Roger wasn’t entirely certain what Jenny and Two Moons did during the day, and the only reason he knew what they did at night was because Two Moons was ostensibly sharing a room with him...but Roger was almost always on his own…that and he shared a wall with Jenny’s room.

It was the boys who were perhaps most worrisome. They’d gotten jobs making deliveries, but Roger had several suspicions that that wasn’t all they were doing. He didn’t know Young Ian that well, but he knew Fergus, and he hated how the bright, cheerful boy had become serious and hard. The loss of his baby sister had been perhaps hardest on him of all the siblings, and Roger hurt for him.

Roger took the letter he’d received the day before and opened it, reading it for maybe the twelfth time.

He missed Brianna, dreadfully. She’d barely been home from school any time at all before Roger had to leave, and now, according to her letter, she was considering following through on her mother’s request to return to school - at least until she received word that they were on their way home with Lotte.

She was debating about it, as she’d been helping Rachel to care for baby Rain while Rachel ran the clinic. Roger wanted to write her back, tell her that there were others in town who could help Rachel, and that she should finish what she’d started, but he knew by the time she received his letter, her decision would have been made already, and most likely already followed through with.

He folded up the letter and returned it to his pocket, then closed his eyes, repeating the same prayer for Lotte, and all of the Frasers, that he’d been praying for close to months now. 

But this time, he said an additional prayer, that Brianna would go back to school, become an engineer, and if she still wanted him when Roger got home, he would stop worrying and dragging his feet and ask her to marry him the moment he saw her again. 

And hope she said yes.

 

~~~

 

Jenny stood out on the balcony of her room, watching the sun set over the buildings. 

A warm hand touched the small of her back, gently rubbed her there, and then a kiss was pressed to the side of her neck.

“It’s rather nice here, is it not?” Ian asked, wrapping his arms around her middle. “Where no one seems to care who other people spend their time with? I’m beginning to really understand why my son and Rachel had to leave Colorado.”

“So do I,” Jenny said, leaning back against him. “But when you’re young like they are, it’s a lot easier to just pick up and go.”

Ian moved her so that he could see her face. “Jenny, I did not mean...I wasn’t asking you to…”

Jenny leaned up on tiptoe and kissed him lightly. “I know you weren’t. But that’s just it, it is nice. The anonymity. But Ian, I worked so hard for my herd, my ranch, my home.”

“Things that are waiting for you as we speak,” Ian said lowly.

She nodded. “I’m not saying I’m wanting to leave. I’ll stay as long as it takes, it’s just...I don’t want to sound like I’m losing hope but…”

“But how long is too long?” Ian finished for her.

She sighed, leaning against him again. “Jamie and Claire are never going to stop. Never. But what happens to them if Lotte is never found? What happens to Fergus? They don’t even realize what all this is doing to them, to say nothing of Bree and Willie. They may be adults, but they need them too. All of this started with a man and woman lost in grief, and now it’s like the cycle is just continuing.”

Ian sighed. “We just have to have hope that she’ll be found...for all our sakes.”

And …” she continued, biting her lip. “There is another...concern.”

This time Ian released her, coming around to face her. “What? Is there something wrong, hemé’oono ?”

Jenny took a deep, fortifying breath, then she took Ian’s hand, pressing a kiss to his palm before settling over the barely-there rounding of her stomach.

For just a moment, it didn’t click with Ian, and Jenny smiled in amusement as the gears in his head turned. Then at once his jaw dropped and his eyes widened. “Y...you’re…?”

Jenny nodded, her eyes stinging. “Yes.”

She’d been steeling herself for his dismay, for the litany of reasons why everything about this was wrong; the timing, the place, their relationship. But instead, Ian let out a piercing whoop and swung her into the air, laughing with joy.

“You’re happy?” she asked in genuine surprise, laughing along with him.

“Happy?” he asked, and her heart warmed at the sight of tears in his eyes. “Oh Jenny...I have not felt this happy in a very, very long time.”

“But...but what do we do ? We can’t even get married.”

He frowned. “Well, why not? My people need only to promise themselves to one another to be considered husband and wife, and we have done that already. But if you would like to marry, Roger could do it for us.”

“Do you think he would...considering?”

Ian kissed her forehead. “He is our friend, and a good man. Besides, Brianna would be cross with him if he did not. How...how long?”

Jenny touched her belly, imagining the life growing inside, wondering who they were. When she first made the realization, she’d been petrified. Life for an Indian was a hard thing in these days, and if this child looked like their father, it wouldn’t matter to the eyes of everyone else that his mother is white. Young Ian was proof of that.

But at the same time, she loved the little glimmer of life within her with every fiber of her being, to hell with the troubles or dangers. Seeing Ian’s happiness only solidified her feelings. 

“About five months along, I think.” she said.

“Have you spoken with Claire?”

She shook her head. “I only just made the realization myself recently. With everything going on, I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t gotten my courses lately. I can’t talk to Claire about it now, not with everything she’s going through.”

“She’ll want to know, Jenny. She’ll want to examine you.”

“But…”

“No buts,” Ian said, more firmly than she’d ever heard him before. She was a little compelled by the chills it gave her. “We will speak to Claire at once. And then…” he kissed her again, but more deeply. “Then we will speak with Roger.”




Chapter Text

“It’s incredible.”

“What is?” I asked without looking up from my work. “The leeches?”

A man had had his arm nearly crushed inside the train engine. Miraculously, he’d gotten off with nothing but some impressive swelling and bruising. My medical supplies were limited, and I was carefully rationing my medications, using them only where absolutely needed all while saving some in case my family needed them, so I resorted as much as I could to holistic medicine. And in this case, the use of leeches to help take down the swelling and relieve some of the pain.

“No,” Miguel said, leaning over my shoulder. “The way you work. With such concentration. Such...knowledge.”

I gave him a quick smile, then returned to my business with the leeches. “Thank you. There we are,” I said as I finished wrapping gauze around where the leeches were hungrily feeding away. “Now, you’re to keep that on. The bandage will keep them from being dislodged,” I looked up at the disgust on the young man’s face and chuckled, switching to careful Spanish. “ And also to keep you from having to look at them . Come back tomorrow, and I will see if they are ready to come off.

The man nodded, handed me a few pesos, then shuffled away.

“You’re Spanish is improving as well,” Miguel continued. “You may not even need me here to translate anymore.”

“Well,” I said, packing up my bag. “I like the company, either way. Besides, Jamie doesn’t like me being out in the city alone.”

“With good reason,” Miguel said, offering me his arm. “But I get the impression you are not a woman accustomed to doing as she’s told.”

“You would be correct,” I said. “But Jamie has enough on his mind without his wife being her usual reckless self. At least not now, when there’s nothing I can do.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “You are helping people.”

“Which is all fine and good, and likely the only thing keeping me sane at this point. But it’s done nothing to help Lotte.”

Miguel hummed, nodding. “I feel like I am failing you. It has been so long, and nothing.”

I reached over and patted his arm. “You’ve been a great help, Miguel. I don’t know what we would have done without someone on our side who understands the people here, the culture. And you’ve been a very good friend.”

The past five months and three days had been the longest of my life. I was getting on by going through the motions of healing, the practical and methodical nature of it the only thing that could distract me anymore.

I barely saw Jamie, and I didn’t like thinking about what he was doing all night, every night, prowling the seedier parts of the city and coming to bed with mysterious bruises and reeking of alcohol, smoke, and cheap perfume.

Oh, I never thought Jamie was being unfaithful, but I knew the sorts of places he must be frequenting, trying to catch any clue about Lotte, and I knew them to be the sorts of places my normally honorable and quiet husband despised.

But we didn’t talk about it. We scarcely spoke about anything at all. And it was tearing at me, making me miss him in a way I might if we were hundreds of miles apart, and not just in the same room. 

Miguel had been a godsend. He was polite, respectful, and had learned to understand me enough that he knew days when he could try and converse with me, and days when it was best just to stay silent. He’d admitted that his profession wasn’t a safe one. The Maldonados controlled most of Mexico City, if not Mexico itself, and that included a large portion of the police. If Miguel tried to reach out to his brethren for help, or even made it known exactly what he was doing, he likely wouldn’t live to see the following day. And I hated it, hated endangering another person, but if it would help me bring my daughter home, then so be it.

 

We made our way to the café near the hotel where we normally all tried to meet for supper. Being a little late, I was surprised to see only Roger sitting there.

“I was beginning to think I was eating alone,” he said, standing and pulling out my chair. 

“Where is everyone?” I asked.

“I saw Ian not that long ago, so he and Jenny will probably be here soon. I haven’t seen Young Ian and Fergus since this morning and Jamie...well...when was the last time I saw Jamie?”

“He got in early this morning but left not long after,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll be here though. But I have got to have a talk with Fergus and Young Ian. I haven’t even the slightest idea what they’ve been up to.”

“Same as all of us,” Roger said. “Trying to help. Don’t worry about it, Dr. B., I can talk to them if you like.”

“Here are Ian and Jenny,” Miguel said, as he and Roger stood for Jenny.

“Where are the others?” Jenny asked, sitting down.

“We don’t know,” I said. “What about you, are you okay? You look like you have news?”

“Not about Lotte, I’m sorry,” she said quickly, but I’d had my hope dashed so many times, it struggled to get raised at all anymore. “But we do have news…”

“Sorry we’re late,” Fergus said, as he and Ian practically crashed into chairs.

“What in God’s name have you two been up to?” Jenny demanded.

I looked at Fergus, then realized with a jolt that I hadn’t really looked at him in some time. He looked harried and thin, and there was the beginnings of facial hair growing on his face. When had that happened?

“Nothing, Auntie Jenny,” Fergus said with just a touch too much innocence. I glanced at Roger, and he returned my look, telling me silently that he’d picked up on it too.

“I heard you say you have news,” Young Ian said, reaching for a tortilla. 

Jenny and Two Moons exchanged a long look, and then he took her hand before Jenny fixed her eyes on me. “I’m with child.”

What ?” Young Ian exclaimed. “You... really ?”

“I know it’s...unorthodox,” Two Moons said, looking at Roger. “And you may have reservations about our relationship. But it would mean a great deal to Jenny and I if you would marry us.”

Roger smiled. “It would be my honor,” he said. “When would you like the ceremony performed?”

“Sooner better than later,” Jenny said with a nervous chuckle. It was then I became aware that everyone’s gazes were flicking periodically to me, and I realized that everyone was looking for my reaction, as if needing it to model their own.

Though the pain that was living constantly in my breast worsened slightly, I also felt a genuine happiness that I hadn’t felt in a long time. 

“I’m so happy for you, Jenny. Truly. And I think there has never been a better time for a wedding than right now.”

There seemed to be a collective release of breath, and Jenny beamed in relief. “I hoped you’d say that. And I hope also that you’ll be my matron of honor?”

“Of course I will.”

Jenny looked over at Young Ian then. “Well, young man? You won’t mind it too terribly much, will you?”

In answer to that, Young Ian leapt out of his chair, and might have knocked Jenny over in hers with a bear hug had it not been for Two Moons holding the chair steady.

“Congratulations...Ma,” he said.

 

We decided to hold the ceremony in the park near the hotel. Miguel was pleased to receive an invitation, and I went with Jenny back to her room to get ready. She didn’t have a wedding gown of course, or anything resembling one, but at least she would put on her cleanest skirt and blouse, and I could do her hair. 

“I hope Jamie gets here soon,” Jenny said as I brushed her long, black hair. 

“We’ll wait for him,” I said. “How far along are you?”

“Five months?” Jenny said. “Six at the very most. That’s when Ian and I first…and, well, I’ve never had regular courses, not since I was a girl, so I didn’t notice anything was amiss. I did bleed a little last month…”

“It can happen,” I assured her. “I’ll need to examine you. And then, Jenny...I think you and Two Moons should go home.”

Jenny spun around on the stool. “What?”

I sighed and gave her a patient look. “Jenny, think about it. It won’t be long until it won’t be safe for you to travel so far. We don’t know how long we’ll be here. It could be tomorrow, it could be weeks from now. It would be much healthier for you and the baby to take the trip now, and give birth at home. If I’m not there, you’ll have Rachel and Louise there with you.”

“I can’t just leave you, Claire.”

I sat down on the corner of the bed, and took her hands in mine. “You and Two Moons dropped everything to come with us. For that alone I can never repay you.”

“You don’t need to repay us, Claire. You and Lotte are our family.”

“Going home doesn’t mean you’re giving up on her,” I said, determined not to cry. “You’ve put your life on hold for my child. Now it’s time for you to focus on yours ,” I smiled. “And soon we’ll all come home, and Lotte will have a brand new cousin to love.”

Jenny leaned forward to hug me. “I’m thankful for a sister like you, Claire.”

I squeezed her back. “And I am so very grateful for you,” I leaned back, chuckling. “I suppose you won’t be needing the talk about your wedding night, will you?”

Jenny smiled. “Well, did you want to have a practice? I imagine you’ll be having it with Brianna, before long.”

 

After getting Jenny ready, I went to go freshen up in my own room, when I ran into Jamie in the hall.

I smiled tentatively in greeting, the expression feeling almost unnatural on my face after so long. “Jamie! You missed…” I trailed of then, as he stepped into the lantern light. “Jamie...dear God…”

The right side of Jamie’s face was a litany of black and blue, his eye swollen shut, and his lip split open and bleeding.

“What the hell happened?!” I exclaimed, grabbing his hand and dragging him into our room.

“It’s nothing, Sassenach, I’m fine.”

“Like hell you’re fine” I pushed him to sit on the bed, then grabbed and lit a lantern to see his face. “You were fighting. Why, Jamie?”

“I wasn’t fighting ,” he said.

“Oh? And I suppose next you’re going to tell me you walked into a door?”

I wet a wash rag in the basin, and Jamie hissed as I dabbed his lip. “I wasn’t fighting...I was jumped.”

“Jumped? You mean attacked? By who? Where?! I’ll go get Miguel, he’ll…”

Jamie grabbed my hand, and pulled me back to him. “Let it go , Sassenach. It’s over. They made their point, and now they’re done.”

With a frustrated growl, I threw the rag onto the bed. “ Who made their point? Damn it, Jamie, what is going on?”

“She’s being protected,” Jamie said. “Maria. I don’t know what she’s told them about Charlotte, or maybe they dinna care, but some hired men were sent tae send me a message . And I believe the message amounted to “back off.”

“Oh Jamie, I whispered, stroking the unbruised side of his face. “What are we going to do?”

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. We’ll sit down wi’ Miguel, see what he has tae say about it,” he looked up at me then, his swollen eye struggling to open. “You were going tae tell me something either. Did ye’ learn anything new?”

“No,” I said, the happiness I’d felt so briefly souring. “Not about Lotte. Jenny and Ian are getting married, Jamie. Tonight.”

Jamie blinked in confusion. “Wh...tonight? Where did this come from?”

I smiled, though it was far more strained than before. “From the fact that if they waited any longer, Jenny’s pregnant belly would be proceeding her down the aisle.”

“Preg...Jenny’s having a bairn ?”

I nodded. “She is. Roger is going to perform the ceremony in the park. She wants you to walk her down the aisle, as it were. I promised her you would,” the last was said in a bit of a warning, daring Jamie to protest.

Jamie’s smile looked quite ghastly with the state of his face, but it was still a nice thing to see after all this time. “Aye, of course I will.”

“And after…” I continued. “I told Jenny that she should have Two Moons take her home.”

Jamie nodded. “You’re right. Before it’s too late for her tae travel.”

“It will help if you tell them, too. They’re not going to want to leave us.”

Jamie stood, then kissed my forehead. “It’s their time now. Time for them tae go start their lives. They’ll have enough trouble as it is. Now come, I need tae try and make myself presentable so I can walk my sister down th’ aisle.”

 

While we were getting ready, Fergus and Young Ian had employed the help of some local girls to drape flower garlands from the trees in a little corner of the park. Candles were gathered up from here and there, and placed on the ground to give the illusion of an actual “aisle.”

Jenny gave Jamie’s face an alarmed look, but a quick shake of my head told her not to bother commenting on it. 

“Something old,” he said, reaching into his pocket and revealing Sawny Snake, which he pressed into her hand. “And borrowed , so I expect it back.”

Jenny grinned, accepting the toy and tucking it carefully into her own pocket. 

“Something new,” I said, coming up beside her and touching her stomach. “And...let’s see...oh!” I quickly pulled off the beaded bracelet I’d bought from the little girl when we first arrived in the city. “Something blue.”

“Thank you,” she said, her eyes red with tears. 

“Don’t forget these!” Young Ian exclaimed cheerfully, popping up out of seemingly nowhere to hand Jenny and I bouquets of wildflowers. “After you, Auntie.”

Giving Jenny one more grin, I held my bouquet and led the way down the aisle. When I reached Roger and Two Moons, it suddenly looked like they were trying not to laugh, so I turned around to see Fergus prancing merrily along behind me, tossing flower petals into the air with a flourish.

Everyone lost their battle against laughing, which further eased some of the tension that had been living within us for months. 

Jamie and Jenny were next, and no matter that she didn’t have a veil, or a wedding gown, or that her boots were dirty and her hair only brushed and clean, not styled. She was a glowing bride, with eyes only for her soon-to-be husband. 

“Who gives this woman to be married?” Roger asked.

“I do,” Jamie said, kissing his sister’s cheek before giving her hand to the brother of his heart.

The ceremony was short, very simple. Jamie’s gaze never left mine, remembering, no doubt, as I was, the way we felt when we were first married. 

We’d been so separate the past months, together but apart, seeing love in his one good eye was a balm to my weary soul. I hoped he could see the love in my eyes, as well.

When Roger said the words, “you may kiss the bride,” Two Moons swept Jenny into his arms and kissed her passionately while Young Ian and Fergus tossed the rest of the flowers into the air.

 

“I still think you should go home, too, Ian,” I said as we all escorted Jenny and Two Moons to the train station directly after the wedding and brief supper at the hotel. The next train out wouldn’t be leaving for another week, and Jamie and I managed to convince Two Moons and Jenny that they really needed to make the long journey as soon as possible. “You have your own family to think of, as well.”

“I know,” he said, looking to Two Moons. “And you will apologize to Rachel for me, won’t you, Father? And take care of her and Rain?”

“Of course we will,” Two Moons said. 

Young Ian turned back to me. “I must stay, Auntie. The Spirits do not speak to me much anymore...but if they did...I think that’s what they would say. Not just for Lotte, or for you, and for Uncle,” he walked over to Fergus and placed his hand on his shoulder. “But for my brother.”

Jamie, for his part, smiled fondly at the two young men, no doubt reminded of himself and Two Moons when they were younger.

I had my thoughts on Fergus going home as well, but that could be a fight for another day. 

“It pains me to leave you in your time of need, brother,” Two Moons said, locking his arm with Jamie’s.

“Aye, but your spirit goes with me,” Jamie said. “Take care of my sister. Mind I’ll have your hide if ye ever hurt her.”

Two Moons grinned. “Aye.”

I hugged Jenny, already missing her presence acutely. “Make sure you write to me to tell me how Murtagh reacted when you got home and told him.”

Jenny laughed. “I think I’d rather tell you in person, when you bring Lotte home. Make sure you give her a kiss from me, okay?”

I promised I would, and we hugged them both once more before they had to board the train. 

They were going home, with their child. As happy as I was for them, I was also so envious, and I prayed that my turn to do the same would come soon.

 

I returned with Jamie to the inn, feeling that I could actually sleep for once. I stopped short though, when Jamie looked like he was preparing to leave.

“Wh...you’re not leaving again ?” I exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” he said. “I’m expected tae be somewhere tonight, and if I’m not there, it’ll be suspicious, and we canna afford that right now.”

I shook my head. “Jamie, no . You haven’t slept in almost twenty-four hours. I know I’m not exactly in a place to lecture right now, but you have to get some rest.”

“I won’t be long,” he said dismissively, pointedly not meeting my eyes. “I promise I’ll sleep when I return.”

“Jamie,” I said more softly. “Please stay. I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

Jamie paused at the door, his hand lingering on the doorknob. He took a deep breath, and I thought he would turn around and take me into his arms. When he didn’t, I felt a stab go through my heart.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he said. 

And then he was gone.



~~~

 

There you are, my sweet. A little treat before supper.”

Ana stared at the plate, making no move to take a bite, even though it smelled delicious. 

“What’s wrong? Mango is your favorite.”

“I want to go outside.”

“In Spanish, Niña . You must practice.”

Fuera de ,” she repeated obediently. “ You promised we would go outside today.”

Ms. Maria stared at her for a long moment, and Ana tried not to squirm. 

Very well. I suppose a short walk would not hurt.”

Ana grinned in surprise, then made short work of her mango. 

Though the house she and Ms. Maria lived in with Ms. Maria’s grandfather was very big, there was no yard to play in, and Ms. Maria almost never took her outside, telling her over and over that there was plenty of room to play inside .

But Ana couldn’t stand being inside for so long. She wanted the fresh air, to see the trees - even though there weren’t that many of them here.

She wanted to go home. She still thought about home sometimes. She still missed Mama and Da. But she’d learned a long time ago not to ask to go home anymore, or to even talk about Mama and Da. 

This was her new home, Ms. Maria said. She said that Mama and Da had told her to live there now, and be happy.

She didn’t want to believe that was true, but the longer Mama and Da didn’t come and get her, the harder it was to believe that they ever would.

Mr. Collins had gone away. Ana didn’t know where, but she didn’t care either. Mr. Collins had used to be nice, but he’d gotten sour and twitchy and yelled at Ms. Maria. Now it was just her, Ms. Maria, some maids, and Ms. Maria’s grandfather. The maids were nice, but Grandfather scared her, so she did her best to stay away from him.

They left the house and walked down the street. Ana held Ms. Maria’s hand, watching the other people as they went by. In her other hand she clutched the little yarn doll named Fiona that Ms. Maria had given her. She liked Fiona, but not as much as she liked Mac the bunny. She missed Mac.

Down the street from Grandfather’s house was a little place that Ms. Maria called a park, but it was really just a big square of grass with two trees and some benches for sitting. It wasn’t very much fun, but sometimes after it rained, she could find worms in the dirt.

There hadn’t been any rain lately, so no worms. But maybe a beetle or two, if she was lucky. 

When they got to the little park, there was someone else there for the first time since she had been going. A nice-looking grandma lady with a girl a little younger than Ana.

Releasing Ms. Maria’s hand, Ana ran toward the park, overjoyed at the prospect of having someone to play with

Hello! ” Ana called once she reached the patch of grass. The other little girl looked up at her with a smile, holding up her own doll. Ana gasped in delight. “ Do you want to play with me?”

The little girl nodded, but then all of a sudden, Ms. Maria was grabbing Ana’s arm.

Ana Maria! You cannot run away like that!”

“I only wanted to play with the little girl!”

But Ms. Maria didn’t listen, and started to pull Ana away. “ They are strangers. We do not talk to strangers, Ana Maria.”

Digging in her heels, Ana snatched her arm away from Ms. Maria. She had been taught not to talk back to adults...but she’d also been told a long time ago that she only had to obey adults who loved her. She didn’t think Ms. Maria loved her very much. Someone who loved her wouldn’t want her to be so sad.

“My name is not Ana Maria!” she yelled in English, not Spanish, stamping her foot. “It’s Lotte !”

The hand came across her face before she could blink. It didn’t really hurt, but the surprise of it stunned her. She’d been spanked before, after a long talking-to about why she was being spanked...but no one had ever hit her face.

When Ms. Maria took her hand again, she didn’t fight her anymore. But she looked back once at the grandma lady and the little girl. The grandma lady looked like she wanted to call out to her, but she didn’t.

On the walk home, she wondered if that little girl had been slapped in the face too, and if that was why she had those bruises.

 

Chapter Text

Ian and Fergus’s plans to prepare Fergus for his next job were disrupted by Jenny and Two Moons’ wedding and departure, but a few nights later, they put their (Ian’s) plan into motion.

“I don’t know about this,” Fergus hedged. 

“Just trust me,” Ian said. “You’re supposed to show up at Fernando Maldonado’s house tonight, after he’s left for his card game. We have to get your confidence up STAT, as Auntie Claire would say.”

“Please don’t mention my mother right now,” Fergus groaned.

“Where are you going?”

Fergus and Ian nearly leapt out of their skin, spinning to face Roger guiltily.

“We have a job,” Ian said.

Roger gave them a skeptical look. “Well, do you have a minute? I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you both.”

Ian grabbed Fergus’s arm, dragging him toward the door of the inn. “Sorry, Roger, no time. Later, maybe?”

Roger sighed. “I suppose so. Be careful out there, alright?”

“We will!” Fergus called, snatching his arm away from Ian once they were outside. “What’d you drag me away like that for?”

“I knew that look on your face,” Ian said. “You were about to admit everything to Roger.”

“I was not. Besides, what happened to ‘we’re not doing anything wrong’?”

Ian shrugged. “We’re not. But Roger isn’t likely to see it that way. And he’s a snitch.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie cracked the knuckles in his hands as he walked, trying to flex his arms without looking like he was in pain. 

In truth he was bone weary, in both body and mind. Weeks upon weeks of sleepless nights had taken their toll, as had countless rounds of flying fists.

He hadn’t lied to Claire about being attacked, but he hadn’t been completely forthcoming, either.

He had been cornered by some of the men who worked for the Maldonados, but it hadn’t been completely unprovoked, and it hadn’t been for the reasons he told her. 

Guilt twisted inside him for even the small lie of omission, to say nothing of the guilt he felt for not staying with her the night she’d asked him to. He’d wanted to. More than anything. He missed his wife like an ache in his very soul, but the long nights and constant state of tension had put a strange chasm between them that he didn’t know how to cross. 

It was just so difficult for him to be with her and not tell her the things he’d been doing. To not lean on her. It was only that his Sassenach had been so tired and worn thin. One morning he’d arrived back at the inn, gazed upon her beautiful, sleeping face, and noticed the new streaks of gray in her hair. The gray was bonny, but it had put a crack in his already badly damaged heart to know the reasons for it being there. She had enough to worry about without him adding to that. But still, they’d promised each other long ago to be honest and open always, and that was why he couldn’t be around her. Pure and simple shame. And cowardice.

So the night she’d asked him to stay and he’d promised to return soon, he hadn’t. He’d deliberately waited until she’d gone with Miguel the next morning before stealing into their room for some desperately needed sleep, and so had been his pattern in the nights since.

Jamie swore to himself that he’d make it up to her, somehow. Someday. Starting with returning their daughter to her arms. 

“Mac,” Jamie was greeted at the door of the cantina by Jorge, the owner. 

Jamie nodded back in turn, and entered the establishment, taking stock of the patrons as he always did.

“Cantina” was the polite word used to describe El Gallo de Oro - essentially a hall of “entertainments.” Entertainments including but not limited to gambling, prostitution...and fighting.

Maldonado’s men were there that night, the same men who didn’t take too kindly to Jamie making them lose their money and decided to gang up on him to “teach him respect.”

Jamie was glad to see them, and gladder still to make them lose their money.

It was hardly a glamourous pastime, but since becoming embroiled in this world of sin and gratification, Jamie had learned all about the inner workings of the notorious Maldonado family. 

Antonio Maldonado was everything Miguel had said he was and more. He made his fortune with extortion, thievery, and slave labor. He had family and employees everywhere, including the police. Jamie had never even seen the old man, but his presence was felt everywhere. 

Jamie knew he had a granddaughter who had recently come to live with him. 

The only thing Jamie didn’t know was exactly where Antonio lived. He apparently had multiple homes, all heavily guarded. All Jamie needed to find out though was where exactly Charlotte was being kept.

“You’re looking pretty rough,” Jorge said, slapping his back. “Sure you’re up for tonight?”

Jamie snorted, tying gauze around his knuckles. “Who am I against?”

“De le Cruz,” he said, nodding to the hulking man in the corner. “Are you sure you want to face him? They call him The Bear.”

Jamie smirked. “Where I am from, there are some who call me Bear Killer.”

Jorge chuckled. “If you say so. The Maldonados hand-picked him. They want to see you brought down.”

“They can try.”

Jamie removed his shirt, heedless of his scars. He let the men of the cantina believe he earned the marks in fighting. He let them see them as badges of honor. In a rather twisted way, this experience had made Jamie feel a strange sort of pride in them.

He entered the ring with El Oso - the ring being nothing but a circle of dirt in the middle of the cantina, where the men gathered around to gawk and cheer. A young prostitute came up and kissed Jamie’s cheek for luck, as they always did. And as he always did, Jamie ignored her, as opposed to grabbing her or stealing another kiss, as most of the other fighters did. This girl let her hand linger on his back, and he only barely managed not to visibly recoil, though she must have felt the sudden drawing of his muscles and backed off at once. There was only one person who could touch Jamie’s back without Jamie feeling discomfort, and this reminder made him miss her even more acutely.

Even though this was a disreputable pastime, one Jamie only partook in to get himself in with people with answers, he couldn’t help but find a sliver of enjoyment in it. It was a way of losing himself, to release the ever-present stress and anger that boiled within him. To be able to picture Richard Collins’ face every time he struck an opponent. He imagined it wasn’t too unlike Claire and her medicine. A way to keep living when everything in them felt like dying.

There was no sound to start the match, only a game of waiting to see who would strike first.

Jamie always waited. Bided his time. Took the measure of his opponent and detected their weaknesses.

It wasn’t due to luck that he was undefeated. 

El Oso charged with a shout, but for all he was large and likely packed a powerful punch, he was slow, and Jamie dodged him with ease. 

The onlookers laughed as Jamie avoided El Oso’s swinging fists again and again, taunting the Goliath into anger, and from there, mistake.

When he saw his opening, Jamie struck, catching El Oso in the stomach. 

He doubled over only briefly, and then he was on the warpath, managing to grab Jamie by the arm and throw him to the ground.

Jamie had the air knocked out of him, but he was still able to roll away from where El Oso brought both fists down.

Jamie sprung to his feet and struck El Oso in the jaw, and again, then again.

Two more good hits and he’d be on the ground. It was working perfectly until…

He caught sight of a familiar pair of boys, standing in the absolute last place they should be.

Fergus and Ian were watching Jamie in slack-jawed awe, and if their presence there wasn’t bad enough, the harlot draped around Fergus was.

The distraction was more than enough for El Oso to rally and catch Jamie in the side of the head. He went down, seeing stars, heard Fergus cry out for his Da. 

Being killed in these fights was an everyday occurrence. Jamie himself could never, would never deal that final blow, not except to protect his own life or the lives of others. El Oso didn’t look like he would have any qualms about it, but just before he brought his fists down on Jamie’s chest, Jamie rolled and kicked the heel of his foot into El Oso’s throat. 

El Oso collapsed, gasping for breath, and Jamie stood, giving him one swift punch to knock him unconscious, and just like that, he was declared the winner.

He expected to see the Maldonados outraged again, but when he looked over at the group, they were watching him in something like interest. 

But just at that moment, he couldn’t spare any more time on them. He had another beating to administer.

This one, to his son.

 

~~~

 

I sat in my room, staring out at the stars...what stars I could see what with all the light of the city. 

Jamie would be out late again, on into the early morning no doubt, and Roger had reported that Ian and Fergus had given him the slip. He’d offered to take me to dinner, but I had no appetite, and even less desire to pretend to be good company. Where I thought the levity of Jenny and Two Moons’ wedding might bring Jamie and I together again, instead it seemed to have divided us even more. I hadn’t seen him in days. I only knew that he returned to our room during the day because of the way he left the bed mussed. 

I toyed with the St. Anthony figure around my neck, wondering idly if Fergus had purchased a dud. He certainly didn’t seem to be doing much to help us find our lost daughter.

There was a light tap on the door, and I got up to answer it, expecting Roger there to try and bully me into eating. Honestly the man had been a dear, and since Two Moons and Jenny had left, he was really the only one making sure the rest of us didn’t completely neglect our health.

But instead it was Miguel, standing there with his hands behind his back. 

I hadn’t noticed until then, seeing him in my doorway, how tall he was. He was probably close to Jamie’s height, but Jamie’s very presence sometimes made him seem larger than life. 

“Miguel,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

Miguel smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late…”

I shook my head, then pushed the door open wider to admit him. “No, I’m sorry. That came off rude. I only meant...is there something wrong? I only just saw you this afternoon.”

Miguel seemed hesitant to enter the room, but I walked over to the where a settee and table with chairs made a little sitting area, to make it seem different than leading him into a bedroom.

Appeased, he entered the room, but didn’t sit down.

“I don’t know if you could call it good news,” he said. “To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what it means.”

“Well, now you have me very interested,” I said, crossing my arms. What’s happened?”

“Richard Collins’ body was found in the Rio Magdalena this evening.”

Miguel hurried toward me, and I didn’t know why until I belatedly felt my legs turn to liquid, but he helped me sit on the settee, then sat beside me.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why? What happened? What about Maria and...and…”

Miguel grabbed my hand, squeezing it. “Claire, they never approved of Maria’s marriage. This was most likely their way of...how do you say…cleaning the slate for her.”

“Do they know how long he’s been dead?”

“Several weeks, at least. Claire, listen to me, this doesn’t mean that anything has happened to Lotte.”

I got to my feet, pacing around the room helplessly. “My baby is trapped with these...these...murderers, and there isn’t a fucking thing I can do about it!”

Miguel sighed, holding his hands out pleadingly. “Please, don’t lose hope. Come...come with me. Get some fresh air.”

Fresh air sounded good. The room had suddenly become small and stifling. I longed for Jamie, but hadn’t even the slightest idea where to find him. The thought bothered me.

I followed Miguel out into the cool night air, feeling like if a feather fell on me, I would shatter into a million pieces. It wasn’t only the hopeless situation I was in that was making me angry. I was angry that Richard Collins was dead, and that I couldn’t see his face again before watching my husband end his life.

It was a strange, sick fantasy that had lived in my mind for months. One that warred furiously with my doctor’s oath.

Miguel and I walked silently for a time, until we reached the park where Jenny and Two Moons had gotten married. Had it really been only days before?

“Her birthday came and went, you know,” I said flatly as we slowed to a stop. “She’s five now, and I missed it. We usually have a birthday party for her at the cafe in town.”

“You will again,” he said. “Claire, I promise you, you will celebrate many more birthdays with your little girl.”

The tears started to come, and I had no hope of stopping them. “I want my baby. I just want my baby.”

Miguel touched my elbows with his fingers, then gently guided me into his embrace, giving me the space and ability to refuse. But just then, I felt like if something didn’t wrap around me, I’d surely fly apart, so I went willingly into his arms, my head on his shoulder.

“I will do everything I can, Claire,” he whispered. “I promise. You’ll get her back.”

I pulled back just far enough to look at him. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“Don’t underestimate me. I certainly wouldn’t underestimate you.”

When Miguel kissed me, it almost felt natural for a moment. Like it was a very obvious thing to do, to try and breathe life into someone who was drowning. 

I leaned into him without thought. His lips were warm, soft, and dry, his hands soothing where they rubbed along my back. He smelled of paper and tobacco and the peppers he must have had with dinner. Nothing at all like…

With a gasp I pushed away from him, heart thundering in my chest.

“Oh my God…what have I done?”

“I...I’m sorry, Claire...I shouldn’t…”

“No,” I snapped. “You shouldn’t have! But...Christ...neither should I. I should go.”

I turned to do just that, but Miguel reached for my hand again, dropping it immediately when I gave him a look. “Please, let me walk you back to your hotel. It isn’t safe for a woman alone at night.”

I turned away from him again, more ashamed than angry, and I saw that there was a woman just ahead, and she looked quite alone. I thought perhaps I ought to walk with her, instead.

But then I realized she was coming right for us, with a little girl in tow.

I recognized them then as little Gabriella and her grandmother.

“Hello,” I said. “You are out very late.”

The grandmother smiled, her hand on Gabriella’s shoulder. “I am taking my granddaughter to my home. Her mother is allowing her to live with me.”

Gabriella beamed at me, and it was amazing to me that I still had it in me to smile back.

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “I’m happy for you both.”

The grandmother came closer, taking my hands in hers. “I have prayed, night and day for your little one. For your Lotte. She is not in a safe place, Miss.”

“Safe…” I looked at Miguel. “What do you mean...are you saying...do you know where my daughter is?”

“I saw a child. Red hair, eyes like yours. The woman with her kept calling her by a different name, but the child said her true name. Lotte.”

“Where?!” I demanded feverishly “¿Dónde?”

The directions the old woman gave me where barely three miles from where we were. I grabbed her shoulders, kissing both her cheeks, then took off at a run.

“Claire!” Miguel called after me. “What are you doing?!”

“What do you think I’m doing?” I asked. “I’m going after my daughter!”

“W...alone?” He grabbed my arm, forcing me to stop. “Claire…”

“There’s no time,” I growled, snatching my arm away, and suddenly feeling more alive than I had in an age. “Every minute I wait is another minute she’s in that house. If you really want to help me, you’ll go find Jamie and meet me there.”

“And leave you alone? You’re insane.”

I snorted. “You wouldn’t be the first to call me that. Now either come with me, or get the hell out of my way.”

 

~~~

 

Fergus had already decided to abandon this half-brained plot of Ian’s before they even stepped foot into El Gallo de Oro. 

‘If nothing else, you’ll be a man,’ Ian had said gleefully.

The cantina was loud, and packed full of men. The only women there were the barely dressed ones flaunting their wares to interested customers.

Oh, Fergus was no stranger to this life. It was the one he was born into. In fact, it gave him a funny feeling of nostalgia to see the women flirt with the men while small boys snuck by and took what they could from unsuspecting pockets. Had he done that as a boy? Was that why thievery seemed to come so naturally to him? He couldn’t remember.

These young women were no different than the one who gave him life. How could he possibly do what Ian was suggesting?

But when the first woman gave him a sultry smile and a crook of her finger, his resolve wavered. 

“Just smile at them, brother,” Ian said, patting his back. “Charm them with that face of yours. Try to let them think you have eyes only for them.”

For one particular girl, it was easy. She was petite, with long, wavy black hair, big, soulful eyes, lips that naturally quirked up at the corners like she was forever smirking at a hidden secret. He had no trouble acting like he had eyes for only her.

“Hello,” she said sweetly, approaching them. 

Fergus gulped, his pulse rushing. Ian gave him a nudge and he almost fell into the girl, but she only giggled and touched his arm. 

“Hello,” he said, pleased when his voice didn’t crack. “What is your name?”

She giggled again. “Your accent is funny! Talk to me some more.”

Fergus glanced back at Ian, getting a congratulatory gesture with his hands. 

The shouting in the middle of the cantina was increasing. Fergus had been aware of some sort of fight happening when they first walked in, but then the girl had made him forget everything, including his intended purpose. But the shouting reached a new creciendo and his eyes were drawn that direction, only to fly open wide at what he saw.

“Uh...Ian?”

“What?” Ian hissed impatiently.

It was his father in the fighting match, facing a man almost twice his size...and winning! 

It was almost enough to distract Fergus from the girl until she put an arm around his neck and blew into his ear.

But then, Jamie chose that moment to catch sight of them.

“Fuck,” Ian and Fergus said together, wincing when Jamie came close to getting his ass handed to him before pulling through and managing to beat his opponent .

“I’m sorry,” he said to the girl, delicately removing her arm from around him. And he really was.

She huffed at him and stormed away, just as Jamie stormed toward them.

“Da…” Fergus began.

“What in God’s name are you two doing here?” Jamie demanded lowly, looking frightening and even bigger than he usually did with his shirtless torso covered in blood and bruises and his eyes glaring murderously.

“We could ask the same of you,” Ian said, crossing his arms, not looking half as intimidated Fergus felt. “Mac.”

“Why are you fighting?” Fergus asked. “Does Ma know?”

Jamie grabbed them both by the shoulders and dragged them out into the night air.

“I’m looking for answers, getting in wi’ people who ken th’ Maldonados. Now, answer my question. What are ye doing here and with a hoor curled up around ye?!”

“Same as you!” Fergus exclaimed. “Getting in with the Maldonados!”

“By hiring a strumpet?!”

“Fergus was hired to spy on Fernando Maldonado’s wife,” Ian said. “Fergus is supposed to just put on some charm, and see if he can sway the wife, while Maldonado is at a card game.”

“Where?” Jamie asked.

“Paseo de la Reforma,” Fergus said. “Da, all Ian and me were trying to do was…”

“Build up his confidence,” Ian said. “Learn to woo a lady.”

“Ye dinna learn tae woo a lady like that,” Jamie spat. “And ye were probably walking into a trap at any rate! Where is th’ card game?”

Fergus and Ian looked at each other. “The idea was to try and get that information from the wife.”

Ian shrugged. “You know, pillow talk.”

Fergus glared at his friend then turned back to his furious father. “I wasn’t going to actually bed her, Da!”

“Enough,” he said. “Take me there. I’ll go in and talk t’ th’ lass myself, see what I can get from her while she’s alone.”

Ian winced. “You look like you were just in a fight. I don’t know if that’s your best look for seduction.”

Fergus never believed that his Da would hit someone he loved. But just in that moment, as he glared at his nephew, Fergus thought he looked tempted.




Chapter Text

Jamie was mad enough to spit. His blockhead son and nephew had gone and gotten themselves in way over their heads.

But then, he supposed he only had himself to blame. While he and Claire had been locked in their own private grief, while everyone had been working separately for the common goal, who had been paying attention to what the two young men were doing?

It was Jamie’s responsibility to look after them, protect them. The boys, Roger, Claire.

He paused at a fountain to wash the dirt and blood off his face, and luckily since he didn’t wear his shirt in fights, it was clean, plus he’d actually shaved the night before. Still, he knew he must look a fright, hardly someone to catch a young woman’s eye, but he wasn’t about to let his fifteen-year-old son walk in there, even though he agreed it was worth a try to see if she could tell them where to find the Maldonados.

“Is this it?” he asked, eyeing the house. They were in a nice part of town, where the wealthy lived. It stood to reason that Lotte was being kept nearby.

“Yeah,” Fergus said, handing him a folded up piece of paper. “You’re supposed to deliver this message to her. It says that her husband will be late getting back. You don’t really fit the bill for messenger boy, though…”

“I’ll do,” he said gruffly.

“What do we do, Uncle?” Ian asked.

“Stay outside, keep watch.”

“Um...Da?”

Jamie turned back to Fergus, raising an eyebrow.

Fergus grimaced. “Just erm...what are you going to do ?”

“If ye’re asking if I’m going tae be unfaithful to your mother, the answer is no,” he turned to walk toward the house. “If ye’re asking if your mother would approve of what I’m going tae do...the answer is also, no.”

 

He knocked on the door, and within a moment a young maid answered. 

Jamie tipped an imaginary hat to the girl. “ Hello. I’ve a message for your mistress.”

The girl narrowed eyes at him that seemed far too shrewd for her age. “ I can take the message to her.”

Jamie smiled in a way he hoped was friendly. “ Apologies, miss. I was asked to hand-deliver it to Mrs. Maldonado herself.”

“Is the message from my husband?”

Jamie looked over the head of the maid to see a rather bonny woman, a little younger than himself, perhaps, with silk-straight black hair pulled over one shoulder, and a tight red dress that left little to the imagination. 

She gave him an appraising look, then asked her maid to let him in.

You look like you have been fighting ,” she said, in a manner that suggested she didn’t find that fact distasteful. 

Jamie smirked, then inadvertently switched to English. “Th’ other fellow was worse off than me, I assure ye.”

Señora Maldonado’s eyes lit up in delight. “You’re Irish!”

Jamie gave her a flat look. “Scottish, actually. Common mistake. Would ye like th’ message, then?”

Señora Maldonado sat on down on a small stool and looked up at him expectantly. “Read it to me.”

“Erm…” he unfolded the paper, but the writing was barely legible. “Dinna...read much Spanish, Señora , but it amounts tae th’ fact that Señor Maldonado will be late home.”

She rolled her eyes. “When is he not? Always out gambling, running about with women. He is just like his uncle, Antonio.”

Jamie carefully schooled his features so that he didn’t look too eager. “Is that no’ th’ way of all men, Señora ?”

“Please, call me Emiliana. Is that the way you are?…”

“Mac is th’ name,” he said, smiling, and swallowing what he wanted to say, which was not in this life .

“I would’a say I’m a corouser,” he said. “But how can a man be expected tae say no tae a beautiful woman?”

Emiliana stood up and stepped close to him...too close for his comfort. Seemed Señor Maldonado was right about his wife. But then, it also seemed that the husband was no better, if not worse.

“Will ye have me deliver a message back tae your husband?” he asked. Tell me where to find them!

She hummed. “No, I think not. Would you stay and have a drink with me, Señor Mac?”

Jamie resisted the urge to grimace, run the other direction, or both. “Aye, I would.”

 

~~~

 

“Please, Claire, reconsider…” Miguel said for the hundredth time. “At least wait until your husband returns, and we can come up with some plan!”

“We have no idea when that could be,” I said. “He wouldn’t want me to wait.”

Miguel ran around me, blocking my path. “And you’ll run in there with empty hands?! You don’t even have a weapon!”

You do,” I reminded him, nodding toward his pistol. “And I don’t intend on charging in. I’m going to look first, try and determine if she’s even in there. I’m not a fool .”

Miguel sighed, his expression clearly stating that whether or not I was a fool was in some debate, but he stood aside to let me pass.

The house Gabriella’s grandmother directed us to was the largest on the street, with a tall iron fence surrounding it like it was some sort of fortress.

“I’m surprised there’s no moat,” I muttered, looking for a way through.

It was too tall to climb, and anyway the sharp spires at the tops would have made that difficult at any rate, and there would be no way of cutting or bending the rods.

“I’ll go back to the delegación , I’ll get help,” Miguel tried again.

I glared at him. “You said yourself you don’t trust all of the other officers, that you have no way of knowing who might be in Maldonado’s pocket.”

“But this is suicide!”

“Then leave .”

For a moment, it looked as though he would. And really, it would probably be better that way. 

I knew I was being reckless, even foolish. But from the moment that woman told me that she’d seen Lotte, I’d been seized with the overwhelming panic that if I waited even for a moment, even to get help and develop a plan, that she would be ripped away again, gone from our lives forever. If I did nothing tonight but see with my own eyes that she was alive and well, it would be enough, for now.

I continued walking, and Miguel followed, heaving another resigned sigh. 

Though regret and disgust still boiled in my gut below my current urgency over what had happened between me and Miguel, I was still glad he was with me if Jamie couldn’t be. 

“Look,” he said, pointing to an area of the fence partially blocked by hedges. “It looks like a dog or something has dug there. You might be able to make it under.”

I moved aside the hedges, and sure enough, there was a sizable gap between the ground and the bottom of the fence. I didn’t hesitate to lower myself to my stomach, and slid through. “Can you make it?” I asked in a whisper.

Though it wasn’t as easy, and far less dignified in practice, Miguel managed to squeeze through, then we both hurried toward the house, keeping to shadows.

The windows were mostly dark, but there was one on the south facing side that was lit.

I peeked inside, my eyes quickly scanning for Lotte, but all I could see was an old man, sitting at a desk.

“Is that Antonio?” I whispered.

“I’ve never actually seen the man’s face,” Miguel whispered back, staring darkly at the man. “But it has to be.”

Antonio didn’t look all that threatening. He looked like a simple, elderly man, hunched over his work. But I knew also that he’d done terrible things, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to do them again.

“No Lotte,” I said.

“Maybe up there,” he pointed up toward the second story window, which also cast a warm glow.

I looked around for a way to reach the window, and saw a tree not too far away, that partially hung over the roof. If I could reach the roof, I could probably climb down to the narrow edge beside the window.

“Stay here and keep watch,” I said as I shamelessly hiked up my skirt, tied it into a knot at my hip, then pulled myself up onto the first branch.

It was higher than it’d looked from the ground, and the tree was treacherously thin near the top. Twice I felt and heard the bark groan and crack, and both times I paused and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the bow to break and sending me crashing down...cradle and all.

But the branches held strong, and I made it to the roof. I glanced around, making sure there was no one on the grounds who might see me, but everything seemed quiet.

Getting down to the ledge was not going to be as easy as climbing the tree, but I took a deep breath, and gritted my teeth. 

Turning around, I lowered myself to my stomach, letting my legs dangle over the edge. I couldn’t reach, so I slowly lowered myself more and more, nudging with the tips of my toes to find purchase.

My arms screamed, unused to the holding my own weight that way, but I gritted my teeth harder, and finally I could feel the edge.

I very almost fell back when I let go, but I plastered myself to the wall, wincing when it made a dull slapping noise.

Freezing, I waited for a call of alarm, but when nothing happened, I slid my feet along the ledge, gradually scooting toward the window. 

Leaning down, I looked into the room, finding what looked like a nursery. There was an enormous dollhouse, a chest overflowing with toys, a rocking horse, a stuffed bear as big as me, and a child-sized bed with a white ruffled bedspread. 

And there...nestled in the covers...sleeping peacefully…was Lotte.

My heart leapt into my throat, and I have to cover my mouth to stifle a sob. 

She was there, just on the other side of a window, safe and sound and whole. 

And she was alone. All I had to do was get through the window, and she would be in my arms.

I tried the window quietly, unsurprised but frustrated to find it locked. Looking down for Miguel, I could just barely see him watching me from the bushed. I pointed at the window, trying to convey that I’d found her.

“Come down!” he said up in as loud of a whisper as he could. “We know where she is, we can come back with help!”

I shook my head. There was no way in hell I was walking away without her.

I had absolutely no qualm about smashing my fist through the window, but it would only draw attention. So instead, I lightly tapped on it, praying to God that she wasn’t too sound asleep.

It took three tries, but finally a pair of precious blue eyes fluttered open and she looked at the window curiously.

I tapped again, and she got out of bed and padded over, a little doll tucked into the crook of her arm, staring out at me like she didn’t know who I was.

But surely she could see me? 

“Lotte,” I said, taking a risk on being heard. “Lotte, baby, it’s Mama. Open the window.”

“Mama?” I saw her lips form the word, but so quietly I couldn’t hear her.

“Yes, please, sweetheart. Open the window for Mama. Hurry.”

“Fuck...Claire!”

The frenzied whisper-shout caught my attention, and I looked down just as a pair of men appeared, apprehending Miguel with guns to his back.

And then it was just a flurry of chaos. Miguel fought against his captors, an alarm went up and more men appeared, shouting in Spanish. 

I reached back, preparing to smash my fist through the window after all, when Lotte turned to look behind her. 

The bedroom door opened, and there was Maria, staring out at me with horrified eyes. Lotte began to cry as Maria rushed inside and grabbed her by the arm. 

“Charlotte!” I screamed. 

Something whizzed by my head...a bullet? And I felt myself start to lose balance. I tried in vain to hold on, but there was nothing to grab, and I braced myself for the inevitable.

The fall felt both instantaneous and forever, all at once. The air was forced out of me the moment of impact, and I lay for a moment in the grass so thick and soft it was likely the only reason my back didn’t shatter, senseless of what was happening around me, and unable to breathe.

A face hovered over mine for a moment, and then something struck my head, and all was black.

 

~~~

 

“Can you see what’s happening?”

“Nothing, really, they’re just sitting there.”

Fergus had found an empty clay pot and was using it to stand on to look through the window into Señora Maldonado’s lounge where his father was currently having a drink, smiling with her as if he was having a grand old time.

It was making Fergus vaguely ill.

“Auntie would have a fit if she knew,” Ian said, keeping watch.

“If she’s able to actually tell Da anything useful, Ma might forgive him. Might . Oh...wait...she’s getting up.”

Now Da did look uncomfortable as Señora Maldonado stood and crossed the room to where he was seated on a chaise lounge. She sat close to him with her body angled toward him, a hand resting intimately on his thigh.

Just how far was Da planning on taking this? Surely he hadn’t taken what Ian had said about pillow talk to heart? 

“Someone is coming,” Ian murmured lowly.

Fergus jumped down from the window and they hurried to the side of the road, making themselves look like they’d been there all along. 

A lone man was hurrying up the road, looking all around, and Fergus watched him, wondering what he was about until suddenly he recognized him. “Roger!”

Roger’s head snapped up, and he sagged in relief. “Oh thank God,” he sighed, trotting over to them. “Have you two seen Jamie?”

Fergus and Ian glanced behind them at the house. 

“Uncle Jamie is a wee bit...preoccupied,” Ian hedged. 

“Claire is gone,” Roger blurted. “I can’t find her anywhere.”

Fergus grabbed Roger’s sleeve, dragging him into the shadows between houses. “ What ? What do you mean? Where did she go this late?”

“I don’t know! I saw her walk out of the hotel with Miguel a couple of hours ago. I noticed she looked upset so I waited for her, and she never came back.”

Fergus frowned. “Why would Ma have gone off with Miguel in the middle of the night?” He wondered, getting an uncomfortable feeling. Fergus liked Miguel fine, but he wasn’t blind to the way he looked at Claire. It was only that it wasn’t unusual. Claire garnered looks like that from just about every man she encountered, she just never noticed.

“I don’t know. But I do know there was some kind of commotion down the street a while ago. Shouting and guns fired. I have a bad feeling.”

Fergus did too. In fact, his wame, as Da called it, or his gut as Murtagh called it, was suddenly tied in a knot. “We need to get to Da,” he said to Ian. “But how?”

Ian shrugged. “Through the front door, I suppose.”

Fergus, Ian, and Roger ran back to the house and directly inside, ignoring the outraged maid. 

“Da!” Fergus called.

“God almighty…” Roger blasphemed at the sight that met them in the lounge.

Señora Maldonado had Jamie pressed back on the lounge, and had been in the process of half-crawling on top of him while his hands fidgeted limply at his sides.

“Fergus,” he said, sounding grateful for the interruption as he unceremoniously removed the woman from his lap and stood.

What is the meaning of this?!” she exclaimed.

“Ma is missing,” Fergus said without preamble. “Roger said she left a few hours ago with Miguel, and that he heard guns fired from somewhere else in the neighborhood.”

Something flashed behind Jamie’s eyes, and he whirled on Señora Maldonado, yanking her to her feet and then backing her up against the wall. For just a moment, Fergus thought she looked disturbingly excited about it, but then Jamie’s hand was around her neck, and fear replaced arousal. 

“Ye ken where Maria Collins is,” he growled in her face. “She wi’ th’ wee red-haired lass.”

No entiendo ,” she rasped.

Jamie shook her slightly, hitting her lightly against the wall. It wasn’t nearly enough to hurt her, but Fergus had never seen Jamie use any sort of violence against a woman, and it was disturbing to see.

Let me be understood,” he said, switching to Spanish. “ You will tell me where my daughter is. Is she with Antonio? Where does he live? You will tell me right now, or I will burn this house to the ground, along with everything in it.”

Señora Maldonado spat out an address, and Jamie looked over his shoulder at Roger.

“I know where that is,” Roger said. “It’s not far.”

Jamie released the woman and stalked away toward the door. Fergus took one glance back at her, at the way she rubbed her neck, and was very unnerved by the besotted smile on her face.

 

~~~



Jamie ran, badly missing Gideon’s speed and Rollo’s reassuring presence at his side.

He didn’t know what his Sassenach had done, but the twisting feeling inside him that he’d had all night had nearly doubled him over when Fergus told him that they didn’t know where Claire was, and that trouble was brewing down the street.

Naturally, the two occurrences could have nothing to do with one another, but he knew Claire, he knew the trouble that followed her (or she followed it) like a loyal pup and he somehow just knew that whatever they were running headlong into, she’d be in the thick of it.

The house Señora Maldonado had told them to go to was a sprawling fortress. While it had lavish gardens, trailing vines, and ornate architecture, it lacked the cheer and beauty that most of the other homes boasted. 

Unsurprisingly, there were two men posted at the fence gate, and then at least three more could be seen at the door, though there were likely others slinking around the shadows.

“What d’they think this is, Fort William?” Jamie muttered.

“All this added protection makes me think they are hiding something in there,” Roger said. “But how can we know if it’s Claire?”

Jamie couldn’t have explained it, nor did he want to even try, but he knew, somehow, that Claire was inside that house, without a shadow of a doubt. And if Claire was in there for whatever reason, he believed it was because so was Lotte.

“She’s there,” was all Jamie said, and Roger nodded, accepting it as fact.

“What do we do, Da?” Fergus asked.

Jamie looked at him. It was his first instinct to send Fergus and Ian back to the hotel, where they would be safe. But the two boys beside him now were not boys at all, but men, ready and willing to do what it took, and Jamie needed them.

“Ye said ye’ve been working as messengers?” 

Fergus exchanged a glance with Ian before looking back at him guiltily. “Among other things…”

Jamie arched a brow at him. “Out wi’it, lad. We dinna have time for lengthy excuses, or beating around th’ bush. I surmise your work th’ past months hasn’a been strictly legal.”

Fergus shook his head. “We’ve been hired to steal and spy for the rich men in town, including the Maldonados.”

“Then they’ll ken ye. D’ye think ye can go up to the guards and be let in?”

They looked at one another again.

“See…” began Ian. “They’re more used to my face. I usually talk to the muscle, and Fergus...well, he’s really quite good at thievery…”

Jamie chuckled, imagining the gloriously furious tirade Claire was going to go on when she learned of all this later. After everyone was safe. “Good. Ian, go tae the guards, distract them. Fergus, see if ye canna find your way intae th’ house and let Roger and I in through th’ veranda yon. And whatever ye do, do not get yourselves killed.”

Looking glad for the opportunity to do something, Fergus and Ian nodded shortly and disappeared into the dark.

“How do we get over the fence?” Roger asked, eyeing its pointed top skeptically.

“Verra carefully,” Jamie said. “Alright, Wakefield, lad, climb on my shoulders, and be damned quick about it.”




Chapter Text

A message for Mr. Maldonado,” Fergus heard Ian saying to the guards in nearly flawless Spanish, but he couldn’t see them, already having found a slightly larger gap between the bars of the fence from the rest of it. He only narrowly made it through, thinking that if he hadn’t been skipping meals lately he probably wouldn’t have fit.

The guards were arguing with Ian, apparently not inclined to let even a well-known messenger past the gate. So they were on edge...that wasn’t good. Or was it?

Fergus slipped through the shadows, even avoiding the spots where the moon filtered in through the trees. The sun would be rising in just a couple of hours, so whatever was going to happen, needed to happen soon.

There were lights lit in the back of the house, but the top floor was dark. He found a trellis that he was able to climb to a balcony, and after peering inside to make sure no one was sleeping within, he used his knife to pry open the lock.

Once inside the house, he crept carefully through the darkened room, cautious of furniture and loose floorboards. But as he’d discovered a natural talent for thievery, so had he learned that he could be as silent as the dead when need be.

He ran through the general layout of the house in his head, as seen from the outside, and the typical way most of the houses in the city were arranged. The veranda Da had pointed out was in the street-facing side of the house, which made it tricky, but it was well-sheltered outside by trees and bushes, making it better for Da and Roger to sneak to.

The hall was empty when he peeked out into it, but also completely bare of anything he could hide behind, so there was little he could do except walk quietly and plan to pretend to be a new servant if he was discovered.

He found a servants’ stair, half-hidden by a pillar, and so he went down it, hoping against hope that the actual servants were still in their beds. 

When he reached the first floor, he could hear voices, and he was just about go the opposite direction when he stopped cold at the sound of his mother’s voice.

He couldn’t quite understand what she was saying. The walls were thick, or perhaps they had her muffled somehow, but she sounded furious and Fergus breathed a slight sigh of relief. Fury was better than fear. A furious Claire Fraser was a force to be reckoned with.

By some miracle, he made it to the veranda without being spotted, and he cracked open the glass door and hissed through it.

Jamie, Roger, and Ian all popped out from behind potted ferns and slide into the house.

“Ma’s here,” Fergus whispered, and pointed in the direction he’d heard her voice coming from.

 

~~~

 

My head pounded as I awoke, nausea rolling through me.

I was lying on a chaise lounge in a lavishly decorated sitting room, and a grandfather clock was striking three in the morning. 

Sitting across from me, was Maria Collins, looking pale, and beside her was the older man who I assumed was Antonio Maldonado. He was sipping tea as if we were gathered for a nice chat, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

I launched into a sitting position, ignoring my roiling stomach and bruised body to look for Lotte, but she was nowhere to be seen. What I could see was Miguel, lying unconscious or dead on the floor, and two large, armed men standing on either side of me.

“Where is my daughter?” I demanded.

“She is safe,” Maria said. “She is happy here.”

“Bullshit,” I hissed, gripping the edges of the chaise to prevent myself from lunging at her. “No matter how many fancy toys you give her, it will never make you her mother.”

“Children have the remarkable ability to adapt, doctor Fraser,” said the old man. “Apologies, my granddaughter seems to have forgotten her manners. I am Don Antonio.”

I shook my head. “Why are you doing this? We have done nothing to you.”

Antonio narrowed shrewd eyes at me. “When my granddaughter came back to me on her knees, with that gringo husband of hers, I did not care about the bastarda she brought along. But then you and your husband and that…” he snorted in the direction of Miguel. “ Pendejo have decided to meddle in my business. That cannot be tolerated.”

“I don’t give a fuck about your business !” I exclaimed. “All I want is my child!”

“You are a rather foul-mouthed woman, are you not?”

“Oh, I haven’t even started, you decrepit piece of shit.”

Antonio narrowed his beady eyes at me, but instead of insulted he looked almost fascinated, as if I were a monkey who had learned how to play piano.

“It is a shame, really,” he said in a bored tone of voice. “If only my granddaughter had half of your spirit.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie led the way, creeping through the dark halls, an even darker feeling brewing within him.

“Just give me my daughter and you’ll never have to see any of us again,” he heard Claire seethe, his heart leaping into his throat at the sound. Hearing the anger and frustration in her voice was reassuring, because she didn’t sound hurt.

“She’s my daughter,” that was Maria Collins, sounding like she was crying. “You have other children. You could give birth to even more!”

“Well how nice for you,” Claire spat sarcastically. “That you can so easily replace your dead child with someone else’s, but my child is not replaceable, and I’m not leaving here without her!”

A man spoke next, and Jamie held up a hand for the others to be at the ready. “You are leaving,” he said calmly. “One way or another…”

Jamie heard the cock of a gun, and hesitated not a moment more. 

Throwing the door open, he found Antonio Maldonado, or who he assumed to be the old man, at once and aimed his pistol at his head.

Claire’s arms were being held between two men, and she cried his name at the sight of him. He kept a tight hold on his temper, not wanting to lose his head and risk her safety, but he was seething as he saw the dark bruise on her temple.

“Ye will be releasing my wife,” he said with a calmness he didn’t feel, leveling his pistol at Antonio. He wasn’t the one with a gun, but he didn’t dare aim for the men holding Claire. “Now, if ye dinna mind.”

Antonio snorted. “You must be the one who keeps making me lose money,” he said, seemingly completely unfazed with the gun pointed at his head. “I rather expected you would show up. You and your family have been causing me a great deal of trouble, and I do not take kindly to it.”

“Easy enough tae remedy,” Jamie said. He could feel Roger, Ian, and Fergus at his sides, and from the corner of his eye he could see Claire, glaring daggers across the room at Maria, but Jamie kept his focus on the old man, refusing to underestimate him. “Just give us our daughter, and ye’ll never have tae see our faces again.”

Antonio folded his hands neatly in front of him. It was difficult to guess his age; he looked like he had to be at least seventy but had a bright, shrewd look to his eyes that made him appear younger. He wasn’t tall, but carried himself like a man who held considerable power, and knew it.

“The problem with that, Señor , is my dearest granddaughter says the child is hers . And who am I to doubt the word of my own blood?”

Jamie gave a snort of his own. This old coot knew damn well Lotte wasn’t Maria’s.

“Then why dinna we call th’ lass in and ask her, aye?”

“We will not be disturbing the child,” Antonio said with a narrowing of his eyes. “It would only confuse, and upset her. She has settled in just fine here, and if it is any comfort, know she will be well provided for.”

Jamie looked away briefly, to see how Claire was faring. There was a small trickle of blood coming from her temple that made his anger rise, but she kept glancing away, to a side door, and Jamie wondered if that was where Lotte was. 

Behind Claire and her captors, he could just make out a pair of legs belonging to a man lying on the floor. Miguel? Jamie couldn’t tell if he was dead, or not.

 

~~~

 

The guards grabbed me the moment I leapt to my feet, their fingers digging painfully into my arms, a pair of guns aimed at either side of my head.

I sighed in relief when Jamie, Roger, Fergus, and Ian all came crashing in, having feared that they wouldn’t know where to look for me until it was too late. While Jamie and Antonio talked circles around each other, I tried to figure out a way to get away and get to Lotte. 

Maria was beside herself. Despite my better judgement, I almost felt sorry for the woman. She’d lost considerable weight, to the point where she was no more than a wraith, and her hair had started to go gray and fall out despite her only being in her twenties. There was clearly something psychologically wrong with her, whether it had always been there, or was the result of repeated trauma. First her children, and now it seemed that her own family had murdered her husband. No matter the cause, she was dangerously unhinged, and now appeared to genuinely believe that Lotte was her own daughter, named Ana. 

But regardless of my sympathies, all I really cared about in that moment was getting my child away from these lunatics and back home, where she belonged. 

“Fine!” Maria exclaimed suddenly. “You want to see her?! You want to see that she is my daughter?”

Antonio looked highly skeptical and a little annoyed as Maria disappeared through the side door and reappeared a few moments later with Lotte’s hand in hers. 

I heard a sharp intake of breath from Jamie, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, all but daring Maria to make one wrong move. 

Lotte was still dressed in a ruffled nightgown, her doll tucked tightly to her chest and bare feet peeking from beneath the long hem. It was a small relief that while Maria looked horrid and sickly, Lotte was clean, rosy cheeked, and the very picture of health. If they had done nothing else, they had at least fed and cared for her properly.

“Tell them!” Maria said, shaking Lotte roughly by the hand, making me start to truly see red. “Tell them who you are!”

Lotte stared wide-eyed at everyone in the room, but then her gaze landed on Antonio, and she shrank back in fear. “Ana Maria,” she said quietly. 

“Lotte, it’s alright,” I said, quick to assure her that I wasn’t cross with her about the lie. “Don’t worry, darling, we’re going to get you out of here.”

“Shut up!” Maria screamed. “You heard her! She is mine!”

Jamie cocked his pistol, still aimed at Antonio, but then I heard the cock of another gun, and felt cold metal against my temple. 

“Go ahead,” Antonio said. “Shoot me. Then my men will shoot your beautiful wife, and then the rest of your friends here, and you, right in front of the child. But, rest assured, little Ana Maria will be just fine. I would prefer to do this peacefully, away from her eyes, but know this; you will not be leaving this house.”

I saw a hint of motion from the corner of my eye. Jamie saw it too, I could tell by the sudden flex of his arm.

All at once was a sudden explosion of activity. A body hit mine with crushing force, pulling me from my captors’ hold as multiple gunshots rang out. 

I became aware that Miguel was on top of me at the same time I became aware that Maria had picked up Lotte and was carrying her out of the room, with Fergus right behind them.

I squirmed out from under Miguel as the room was flooded by more mercenaries, and there was yet more shooting, but I left it all behind, my sole focus being on my children.

 

~~~

 

Jamie’s first sight of Lotte in over five months had knocked the air right out of him. She was taller, her hair longer and a little darker. But she was still his wee girl, and his arms ached to hold her. 

But while Maria tried to prove to Claire that Lotte’s mind had been turned, Jamie had surreptitiously watched Miguel begin to stir. 

He could see, even from the very corner of his eye, Miguel make a split decision between lunging at Antonio, or reaching for Claire. Jamie could see the moment the decision was made, and was ready the very second that Miguel launched himself bodily at Claire, removing her from the line of fire so that Jamie and Ian could shoot the two guards immediately in the head. 

It was pandemonium after that, as more of Maldonado’s men arrived. 

Jamie made a beeline for Claire first, but she was already weaseling out from underneath a barely-conscious Miguel and taking off after Maria and Lotte.

Leaving his Sassenach to it, Jamie turned his attention to where Antonio’s men were trying to get him away.

Jamie had no desire to kill an elderly man. Normally, no matter their crimes, an old man could be confined to prison where he would await his eternal reward for his sins. 

But this man has willfully kept his daughter from him.

He had captured and hurt his wife.

He had spent a lifetime raping, murdering, and ruining the lives of so many.

And the final drop in the bucket; he had denied Jamie his revenge against Richard Collins.

Jamie swiftly shot and killed the guards fleeing with Antonio before stopping to stand before him.

But Antonio only stood there and closed his eyes. And he would never open them again.

 

~~~

 

I found them out on a wide balcony, and Maria was standing on a table holding Lotte, both of them leaning precariously close to the railing.

“Please let my sister go,” Fergus was saying, his hands shaking violently around his pistol. 

“She’s mine!” Maria shrieked. “Mine!”

“Mama!” Lotte cried as I came up behind Fergus, gently taking the gun from him.

I aimed the gun carefully at Maria’s head, my own hand steady as stone.

“Don’t make me kill you in front of her,” I said levelly. “Let her go, and no one will hurt you.”

It went against everything I believed in to kill a human being. The oath I’d taken as a doctor, to do no harm, was one I held to strongly. And yet, there on that balcony, I hadn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that I would shoot Maria Collins in the head, and feel not an ounce of remorse. The only thing staying my hand right then, was that if Maria fell, she would take my daughter with her.

Maria was crying and shaking as I slowly approached them, lowering the gun. Once I was close enough, I snatched out and got a handful of Lotte’s nightgown and held on for dear life, prepared to shoot Maria after all if it made her go.

Agonizingly slowly, Maria released Lotte and stumbled off the table before curling into a ball on the floor.

“Mama,” Lotte said as I wrapped my arms tightly around her, sobbing in relief, feeling like I could breathe again after weeks of suffocation, and those first lifesaving breaths smelled like my baby’s hair.

“It’s alright, Lotte Love,” I whispered. “Mama’s here. I’m here. Don’t cry, my darling.”

Fergus’s thin arms came around us both, and he cried into my shoulder.

“CLAIRE?!” Jamie called, nearly crashing through the glass door to get to the balcony. 

I looked up to see him pause, then his face crumble in exhausted relief as he sank to his knees beside us.

“Da!” Lotte shrieked, and though it was a struggle for me to release her, I unwound one arm to make room for Jamie, and he gathered us all up into his strong embrace, his body quaking as he wept brokenly. 

Mo chaileag ghràdhach. Tapadh le Dia.”

“Where’s Antonio?” I asked.

Jamie cast a quick glance at Lotte, but I pressed one of her ears to my breast while covering the other. There was no telling what she’d seen and heard over the past two months, but we wouldn’t be adding to it if we could help it.

“Dead,” Jamie said simply, offering no elaboration for the moment. “Th’ other lad are alright, mo ghràidh, except for Miguel. He needs your tending.”

I nodded, swiping my wrist beneath my nose before kissing Lotte’s head and murmuring for her to go to Da, able only to relinquish my hold on her as long as she remained in the safety of her father’s arms. Jamie took her gratefully, making her giggle by pressing a wet smooch to her cheek. 

“What about her?” Fergus asked, nodding to where Maria sat against the railing of the balcony, rocking back and forth, seemingly no longer aware of the goings on around her. Jamie tensed beside me, one hand going to the pistol on his hip, and I rather thought the only reason he didn’t simply shoot her was the same reason I hadn’t; because of Lotte.

“Leave her,” I said with a sigh. “There’s nothing we can do to help her.”

Help her?” Jamie asked. “After everything she’s done? She deserves tae be punished.”

Look at her Jamie,” I said, waiting until he did so. “She’s already being punished. Let’s just go home.”

I took one last look at the once beautiful, but wretched young woman, wondering if I could have ended up like her had my life held such trauma. When I turned to go, I could hear her humming under her breath.

It sounded like a lullaby.

 

When Jamie gave Lotte to Fergus and asked him to wait in the hall, I understood the moment I entered the parlor. 

Seven men lay sprawled across the furniture and floor, blood splattered over nearly every surface. 

I glanced up at Roger and Ian, the former of who looked like he was in mild shock, and the latter was as covered in blood as the room. My concern for him evaporated when I saw the antique Mayan spear in his hand that had previously been mounted on the wall, and I realized that not all of the men had died of gunshot.

A low moan finally shook me out of my trance and I knelt beside Miguel, who was bleeding freely from a bullet wound in his side, and more sluggishly from the one in his chest that he sustained while I was unconscious.

“I don’t have my medical bag,” I hissed in frustration, ripping his shirt open to better survey the damage.

“You cannot stay here,” Miguel rasped, grabbing my hand. “Someone will have heard the commotion, or a servant will have gone for help. They will come in hordes.”

“Servant,” I muttered, ignoring the rest of his comment. “Roger! Go see if you can find a maid, and get her to bring any sort of medicine they may have. Ian, go with him and find clean cloth, water...you know what I need.”

“Aye, Auntie,” Ian said, hurrying away with Roger a little more slowly behind him.

Miguel shook his head. “No, you cannot waste time on me. Fraser, tell her.”

“I would,” Jamie said. “But I ken my wife, Señor , and she’ll no’ leave ye. But…” he knelt down beside me, speaking more quietly. “Can we no’ move him, Sassenach? Take him back tae th’ hotel? He’s right, more Maldonados could be here any moment.”

“We can’t move him like this,” I said. “He’s losing too much blood. I’ll get him stable, and then we can go. Tell Fergus to take Lotte and go back to the hotel.”

Jamie nodded and stood, but I could feel him still standing beside me as Miguel grabbed my hand again, his eyes wide and pleading. “Please, mi alma , you must go.”

I wasn’t sure what Miguel had called me, but judging by Jamie’s suddenly rigid stance, I thought he did.

“I will go,” I said at last, squeezing his hand. “Once you’re steady.”

“The maids have fled,” Roger said as he and Ian returned. “But we have cloth, tequila, a sewing kit, and some boiled water.”

“And these,” Ian added, showing me the assortment of knives and cooking forceps that he’d managed to find.

“I’m not sure this is necessary,” Miguel said nervously.

“If you want to live,” I said, motioning for Ian to clean the tools in the tequila. “Then this bullet needs to be removed. The one in your shoulder went straight through, and you’re very lucky for it.”

I gave Miguel several healthy sips of the tequila, and went straight to work removing the bullet after directing Jamie and Roger to hold him down, while Ian stayed near the window to keep watch. 

“Bite down on this, man,” Jamie said, offering Miguel a strip of cloth.

Miguel screwed his eyes shut tight, but didn’t scream as I removed the bullet, even though I knew my rush job had to have been causing immense pain. 

“Ian, is anyone coming?” Jamie asked, sweat breaking out on his forehead as he struggled to keep Miguel from flinching, the other man being nearly as strong as Jamie himself.

“Nothing yet,” Ian said. “Not even any neighbors have come ‘round.”

“Probably used to unsavory goings-on in this house,” Roger pointed out, keeping his eyes carefully averted from what I was doing. “But those maids are going to get word to someone, if no one else does. We need to hurry.

“I’m hurrying as fast as I can,” I hissed. “The bullet is embedded in his damn muscle.”

I could see the glint of metal in between mounds of red flesh, but the blood kept obscuring my view, and I regretted not having my suction tube. 

Miguel had lost consciousness, which was a blessing, because the relaxation of his body allowed for me to get a grip on the bullet and pull it out. The rest was a quick and artless stitch-up, and I declared him relatively fit enough to be moved.

Jamie and Roger broke the legs off a low table and used it to carry Miguel. We slid out of the back of the house and into the night, just as some men appeared in the street, carrying lanterns and guns. I glanced once up at the balcony where Maria had been, but I didn’t see her. I didn’t know if she’d gone inside or…

I looked at the ground, at the dark shape laying there, and in a way I was glad that Maria Collins’ suffering was over.








Chapter Text

We all crowded into Jamie and my room at the hotel. Thankfully the external doors meant we were able to get Miguel’s prone form inside without having to answer any uncomfortable questions.

Inside, Fergus was sitting up on the bed, with Lotte sleeping peacefully beside him.

“She was out like a light as soon as we got back,” he said.

I went to her, gathering her up in my arms as Jamie, Roger, and Ian got Miguel onto the bed. Roger and Ian quickly left again to keep an eye out for trouble.

“Mama?” Lotte murmured, opening her eyes just a crack. 

“I’m right here, Lotte Love,” I said. “And I’m never gonna let you go again, hear? Now go back to sleep, you’re safe.”

Lotte’s eyes drifted shut and she snuggled against my chest.

I sat down on a chair with her curled in my lap, realizing now that the greatest urgency was done, how much she’d grown. Her birthday had come and gone, and my now five-year-old was sprouting long and lean arms and legs where only chubby little limbs were before. Some of the roundness of her face had narrowed into the promise of her father’s strong jawline, while the harsh Mexico sun had given her the same display of freckles that now dotted my own face. 

I tried not to disturb her as I cried, the weight of everything finally beginning to fall upon me as well as complete physical and mental exhaustion. I gently pried the little yarn doll out of her hand and tossed it into the corner of the room, replacing it with Mac the rabbit. Even in slumber, Lotte latched onto Mac firmly, rubbing her nose into the toy’s soft, worn fur.

Jamie’s hand smoothed up and down my back, and I wished everyone else would leave so I could just curl up in bed with my daughter and my husband. 

“I want nothing more than for ye tae have some rest, Sassenach,” he said gently. “But we need tae put as much distance between us and this place as we can. We need to go home.”

I looked back over at the bed. “We can’t just leave Miguel like this.”

“Ye’ve done all ye can for him, but there are doctors here who can tend him as well.”

I shook my head. “The Maldonados control the police, Miguel has said so. Leaving him here, injured, will be like leaving him to the wolves. After everything he’s done for us…”

Jamie inhaled deeply through his nose. “I ken we owe him our daughter’s life, and yours as well. And I ken…” his expression grew grim as he met my eyes. “I ken ye care for him. Don’t…” he held up a hand to stop me when I opened my mouth to respond. “I doesn’a matter. But Claire, we have tae think of Charlotte, and Fergus, Ian, and Roger. Th’ ones waiting for us at home.”

I knew Jamie was right, and I agreed. But it went against everything I believed in to leave an injured man...an injured friend behind to very likely be killed. But if we didn’t get out of town fast, we stood a good chance of being killed ourselves.

I looked down at my sleeping baby, and realized then that the mother in me would win over the doctor this time. Every time.

I stood, gently passing Lotte to Jamie. “Let me at least check him again, see if the stitches held the trip here.”

“Couldn’t we just try to take him with us?” Fergus asked. “We could steal...erm, I mean buy a wagon.”

I smoothed back Miguel’s hair after checking his wound, and his eyes fluttered open.

“You’re at the hotel,” I told him. “But we have to leave, soon. We could try to take you with us, though I have to be honest, I don’t know if you’ll survive the trip. But if you stay…”

Miguel smiled. “I will stay, and answer for what I have done. Antonio is dead. Perhaps not by my own hand, but it is enough.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“My daughter was killed because of Antonio,” Miguel said laboriously. “We weren’t involved with them. We had done nothing. I was nothing but a baker. My daughter was merely playing in front of our house, standing too near a man who Antonio Maldonado wanted dead. She died because of him, and now he is gone, and without him, his precious family will fall apart. If I die today, I will die...if not happy, at least at peace.”

“You deserve to be happy,” I informed him.

He gave me a long look, then smiled. “Not everyone gets what they deserve, or want..”

“Jamie, Claire,” Roger said urgently, as he and Ian entered the room. “There are police downstairs. They’re asking the owner about you .”

“Time to go,” Jamie said, shifting Lotte to rest on his shoulder as he grabbed his bag with his free hand. “Claire…”

I grabbed Miguel’s hand, and he squeezed it weakly before raising it and kissing my fingers. “Go,” he said. “I will be fine. You’ll see.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, touching his brow. “For everything.”

As I turned to quickly gather my things, I saw Jamie rest his hand on Miguel’s good shoulder, then nod. He then turned and grabbed my arm, and when I looked back once more, Miguel smiled and waved.

 

We took the long way around the building, toward the stables. Inside were several horses, but only three already saddled, so Jamie took one with a newly wakened and confused Lotte before him, while Ian and Fergus took another and I swung up behind Roger. 

Just as we rode out of the stable, there was a shout of “ Detener!” And the police had mounted their own horses and were after us.

Wishing I had the reins, I was left with nothing to do but hold on tight as we wound and wove through the busy streets, Jamie shouting for passerby to get out of the way.

Something whizzed by my ear a split second before I heard the crack of a gun.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered. “Are they not even concerned with hitting civilians?”

Another bullet flew by, missing Ian and Fergus’s horse by inches. 

“Apparently not,” Roger said. 

I grabbed Roger’s gun out of its holster and twisted my body as best I could while still keeping a tight grip on his shirt.

I was much more concerned with hitting innocents than the police were, but people were rushing into their homes as we rode past. I aimed high, hoping to make them dodge and lose speed as opposed to trying to actually hit them.

These men were well trained, however, and barely flinched as I returned fire, though the horse we rode threw back her head in fear.

“This way!” Jamie called, turning his horse to go sharply left, down a back alley. 

It was narrow enough we were forced to go through single file, with Roger and I bringing up the rear. The alley was littered with rubbage, and I began to fear one of the horses turning a leg. 

The police were close behind, screaming orders to stop, resuming their attempts to shoot us. 

I leaned around Roger, spotting a cart loaded high with barrels of beer. Knowing I’d have one chance, I cocked my pistol and took aim, waiting until Roger and I just passed the cart before firing. When the shot went totally wild, I growled in frustration and released Roger, swinging my leg around and bringing myself to face the back while Roger cried out in alarm and attempted to hold onto me, getting a handful of my skirt.

I fired again, and this time hit one of the barrels on the side, causing first a fountain of beer, which the pressure of disturbed the rest of the stack and sent the entire pile rolling to the ground. 

The avalanche struck the legs of the first two police officers’ horses, and the rest were forced into a very sudden stop.

“Ha!” I exclaimed in victory, turning myself back around to face Roger.

“That was a reckless thing to do,” he said.

“Better reckless than dead,” I reasoned. 

We rode out of the city but didn’t slow, not until we were miles away and the horses all stumbled to a stop, having nearly been ridden to death.

“Now what?” Fergus asked, stroking the exhausted mare’s nose.

“We let th’ horses rest, then continue north,” Jamie said. “Cover our tracks, so they canna follow. Th’ train left early this morning, so word about us won’t have reached them yet. I think if we cross th’ river here, and go over those hills, we might be able to catch th’ train as it comes ‘round th’ mountain.”

“And then what?” Ian asked.

“We get tae th’ border as fast as we can.”

 

We continued on foot for a time, leading the horses, to give them more time to recuperate, except for Lotte, who rode the mare that Roger and I had been riding.

I watched her covertly, not liking how quiet she’d been ever since we found her. I hoped it was just tiredness and uncertainty about the whole situation, and that once we had her home, she would go back to her normal, happy self.

“I hear a train,” she said suddenly, sitting up straighter in the saddle.

“Aye, good ear, a leannan ,” Jamie praised. “Here it comes.”

“Jamie, how are we supposed to stop the train?” I asked.

“We’re not,” he said. 

“Then how...oh, lord…”

“We’re gonna jump it while it’s moving?” Fergus asked incredulously. “Does nobody remember what happened to Bobby Smith?”

“It isn’a moving that fast,” Jamie said. “Th’ box cars are wide open. I’ve done it more’n once in my younger years.”

“In your younger years ,” I emphasized. “And not with a five year old in tow!”

Jamie gave me a flat look. “It’ll take us days just tae reach th’ next town on horseback, Sassenach, through unfamiliar lands, and by then the Maldonados will likely have people looking for us, we canna risk it. We have tae at least try and stay a step ahead. I’ll carry Lotte. Roger…”

“Yes?” Roger said, eyeing the train dubiously as drew nearer.

“I need ye tae make sure my wife gets aboard. Can I trust ye wi’ that, man?”

Roger snapped out of his reverie and looked first to me, then Jamie. It was clear that he understood what it meant for Jamie to ask such a thing of him. “Yes, you can.”

We mounted the horses again, and Jamie pointed to where the ground sloped downward, toward the base of the mountain. “When it makes that turn there, it’ll slow. I’ll hail th’ conductor, and he might send a man tae th’ box car tae help. We’ll have one chance tae get this right.”

“Da,” Fergus said urgently. “Look!”

Several men on horseback were heading in our direction, and I caught the glint of gun barrels. 

“It’s them,” Jamie said. “Come on!”

We spurred the horses down the mountain, and they slid and skidded on the loose gravel. I held my breath, waiting for one of them to fall, but all three horses remained steady as we made a break for the train.

Slow’ must have been a relative term, because even once it approached the bend, the train still looked like it was going awfully fast.

The crack of gunshot was almost drowned out by the roar of the train, and I didn’t even look back, too frightened of what lay before us to worry about what was behind.

“Fergus! You first!” Jamie yelled.

Ian steered the horse as close to the nearest boxcar as it would go, and my heart lodged in my throat as I watched Fergus swing his leg over, then push off to land in a heap on the floor of the car.

It was trickier for Ian, having to keep control of the horse and prepare to jump at the same time, but with his natural agility, he made it almost look easy.

Both boys held their hands out for Lotte, but she was clinging fearfully to Jamie’s neck. The train was starting to pick up speed again, and though I wanted to look away, I forced myself to watch and pray as Jamie jumped into the car with Lotte in his arms, quickly grabbed by Fergus and Ian.

Seeing my husband and children safe bolstered my courage somewhat, but a shout and the ping of a ricochet reminded me we were still being pursued. 

“They’re right behind us,” Roger said. “Get ready to jump!”

Jamie was leaning almost entirely out of the car, one hand held out for me while Ian held his other. I tried to rise up in the saddle, straining for his hand.

I was never sure what happened exactly, whether the horse stumbled, or was grazed by a bullet, but suddenly it was stopping on a dime, rearing back, and I was falling, tumbling head over heels down a hill, thankfully away from the train. 

I heard a chorus of my name being screamed, but once I stopped rolling, I forced myself back to my feet, deciding to wait until after I was safe to determine just how badly I was hurt.

I could see Jamie still in the car, being roughly held back from jumping by Ian and Fergus, but for a moment, I didn’t see Roger at all. 

“¡Ahì!” 

I whirled around, then immediately ducked when one Maldonado’s men fired, hitting the ground beside me. 

“Claire!”

“Roger!” I cried, and he rode back down the hill, firing back at the men before he slowed beside me and waited while I swung myself up in the saddle behind him.

He spurred the horse on again at a punishing speed, trying desperately to catch back up to the train. We would be able to cut it off at another bend, but it wouldn’t be slowing again, and I chose that moment to remember what Bobby Smith’s leg had looked like after the train wheels ripped it off when he tried to hop a train back when Brianna was a teenager. I cursed Fergus for having to remind me of that.

“Claire!” I heard Jamie scream in terror.

“There!” I cried, pointing at the caboose, and the ladder that hung off the back.

“Come on, girl,” I heard Roger mutter as he urged the horse on. “Claire, try and grab it!”

I pushed up on Roger’s shoulders, trying to get my hand on the metal bar, worried my sweat-soaked skin would slide right off, but I managed to get a grip on it, and kicked my legs off the horse, hooking them through the bars of the ladder instead.

I cried Roger’s name, reaching a hand back for him. I latched onto his wrist in the exact moment a gunshot rung out, and the horse beneath Roger faltered. Had I not had hold of his arm, Roger would have gone tumbling down the track.

I kept my grip on him by sheer will, a sudden searing pain lancing up my arm and across my shoulders as something snapped. 

Roger managed to get his feet on the ladder himself, and released me, and I had to just hold still a moment, cringing in pain.

“Get inside!” Roger snapped, and I realized the men were still firing, though they were gradually getting left behind.

“Claire, damn you!” Jamie appeared outside of the caboose, hauling me over the railing and dragging me into the car.

“Is Lotte alright?” I demanded at once.

“I’m fine, Mama,” Lotte said, safe and sound in Fergus’s arms.

A fifth man was there as well, and I thought I recognized him as the same conductor who was there when Jenny and Two Moons went home.

“This is Señor Perez ,” Ian said. 

I saw what happened, Miss, ” he said in Spanish. “ You are very brave for a woman.

I chuckled, cradling my arm. “So I’ve heard,” I looked at Jamie. “Is he alright with us riding along? Did you tell him we can pay?”

Jamie scowled at me. “I was a wee bit concerned wi’ my wife nearly getting kill’t just now!”

I know who those men were,” Perez said, making his exit. “They’re Maldonado’s men. You’ll find no love for them here. You’re welcome, friends.”

“Thank ye,” Jamie said, though he still hadn’t taken his eyes off me. “Sassenach, are ye hurt?”

As much as I wanted to say ‘no’ out of fear of just how badly I was hurt, I knew lying to Jamie would get us nowhere. 

“Yes,” I admitted. “I think I dislocated something when I grabbed hold of Roger.”

Jamie and Ian gently helped me to sit up against the wall of the car, and Jamie started to unbutton my blouse. “Her medical kit is in my pack, Ian. Fetch it, please.”

“Are you alright, Roger?” I asked, thinking he’d been awfully quiet.

“I don’t think I ever want to ride a train after today, but I’m fine,” he said.

Jamie turned to look at him. “I owe ye my wife’s life. Thank ye, Roger.”

Roger smiled tiredly as Ian returned with my medical kit, and Fergus took Lotte to the other side of the car to try and distract her by pointing at things through the window.

I bit my lower lip to try not to cry out as Jamie carefully pushed my blouse off my shoulders. That he didn’t take care with my modesty in front of Roger and Ian told me how rattled he was, not that I was in any position to worry about it myself.

“I dinna need tae be a doctor tae ken your shoulder is dislocated, Sassenach,” Jamie said, his face grim in sympathy. “Badly.”

“It’ll need to be set,” I said. “I’ll never be able to stand the pain if you don’t.”

“Me ?” Jamie asked incredulously. 

I gave him an impatient look. “You’ve seen me do it before, Jamie. I’ve done it to you for God’s sake.”

“That was verra different,” he said. “And all I remember of that is how it hurt like th’ devil.”

“I’ve seen Rachel do it,” Ian said. “I know that if you don’t do it just right, you could tear ligaments, or break her arm.”

Jamie blanched, and then even more when I nodded in confirmation. 

“Ian, do you think you know how?” I asked him.

Ian gulped, but nodded. “Can you get behind her and hold her, Uncle Jamie?”

Jamie hurried to do as asked, and I could practically feel the relief rolling off of him that it wasn’t he who would be forced to do the job. I managed a weak smile at him as he positioned himself behind me, his legs bracketing mine and his arms around my middle.

“Not quite like the last time we were in a train caboose together,” I quipped.

Jamie huffed out an almost laugh in response, but was otherwise clearly unable to play along. The poor darling looked almost worse than I felt, and that was saying something.

“Shouldn’t I give you something? Laudanum?” Ian asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t want a foggy mind right now. No, the worst of it will be over once it’s done.”

“Here,” Roger said, appearing at my side, and holding a strip of rawhide to my mouth. 

“Mama?” Lotte said in concern, angling her head around when Fergus tried to turn her away.

“I’m alright, Lotte Love,” I said. “Mama’s just a bit hurt, but I’ll be fine.”

“Like when I got a burn?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Roger said, moving closer to her to block her view. “And remember how when Mama put the medicine on, it hurt at first, and then it felt better? It’s like that.”

I nodded at Roger in thanks, then bit down on the rawhide, and gave Ian a nod that I was ready.

Jamie tightened his hold on me as Ian carefully positioned my arm up. It wasn’t quite right, so I spit out the rawhide and made a noise for him to stop. “It has to be higher,” I said, sweat pouring into and stinging my eyes. “So the joint is…” I hissed in pain. “...level. See?”

Ian nodded, brow furrowing in concentration, then pulled my arm up to the right place. When I nodded, Jamie replaced the rawhide back between my teeth, and I sucked in deep breath through my nose.

I wanted to be able to not cry out for Lotte’s sake, but the pain was so great, there was no way I could stop it. Ian underestimated the amount of strength necessary to pop the joint back into place - a common mistake the first time one performs the procedure - which served to prolong the agony until finally... finally , I felt the joint pop into place, and my body slumped back against Jamie’s in relief.

I could feel Jamie shaking behind me, his grip on my middle almost too tight.

“I’m alright,” I said, stroking his hand to encourage him to loosen his hold. “Well done, Ian.”

Ian looked a bit shaky himself, but smiled.

Fergus came to my side with Lotte, who was whimpering in fear, but she calmed at once when I gathered her against me. I didn’t immediately pull my blouse back on over my chemise, wanting the feel of Lotte against my skin the way I did when she was a baby. Jamie wrapped his arms around us both, sighing into my hair, then after a moment, he held one arm out, and Fergus hesitated only briefly before allowing himself to be pulled into a hug with the rest of us.

“Can we go home, now?” Lotte asked.

“Aye, a leannan ,” Jamie said. “We can go home.”



Chapter Text

Brianna shivered as she stepped off the train, a gust of icy wind getting up under her coat.

“Bree!” Rachel called, waving as she hurried up the platform with Rain on her hip.

Brianna grinned and waved back, running to hug her friend before taking her little cousin into her arms. “Look at you, Rainy! You’re getting so big!”

Rain gave her a big smile, showing off two tiny teeth, which turned into a giggle as Brianna peppered her chubby cheeks with kisses.

“She’s started walking,” Rachel said, her happy expression taking on a strained edge.

“Still no word?” Brianna murmured, and Rachel shook her head.

“It’s been over a month since Jenny and Two Moons got home,” she said. “And we’ve heard nothing since.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Brianna said firmly. “It just means they haven’t had the time or opportunity to send a letter. Communication has been iffy at best anyway. With how far it would have to travel, it would be no wonder that their letters might get lost.”

Rachel nodded, but Brianna could tell her heart wasn’t in it.

It hadn’t been easy, but Brianna had ultimately decided to return to school after all. It was a struggle to keep her mind on her schooling when all she could think about were her loved ones, but she just kept reminding herself that she wanted to make them proud.

Now she was home again for the summer break. She was taking a little more time than was usual, but her professors were all very understanding, particularly John, who insisted she go home and spend time with William, if nothing else. He was worried too, she could tell, and he’d begged her to wire him at once when she got news.

“William is at Jenny’s ranch,” Rachel said. “He’s been helping show Two Moons how to run things for Jenny.”

“I bet Jenny is just loving the idea of not being able to do it all herself,” Brianna said with a smile.

Jenny and Two Moons had returned to Colorado Springs not only married, but expecting a child. It was hardly a surprise though. In fact, the only ones who were surprised were Jenny and Two Moons themselves, when they were met with virtually no animosity. They still kept things quiet though, no town celebration, and their marriage was not openly talked about around outsiders. There were of course still snide comments and intense distrust of Two Moons, particularly from the likes of Dougal and Tom, but Brianna knew that Jenny had been prepared for much worse.

Brianna bounced Rain on her hip as they made their way to the ranch. The little girl had her mother’s fair hair and gray eyes, and her father’s distinctively copper skin. She was a stunning child, but Brianna’s heart hurt at the idea of her ever facing hatred and prejudice because of her coloring. Brianna couldn’t help but wonder what Jenny and Two Moons’ child might look like, since Jenny’s hair was almost as black as her husband’s.

They found Jenny sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair, patting her rounded stomach.

“Auntie Jenny!” Brianna exclaimed.

“Bree!” she cried, standing and opening her arms while Brianna ran into them, still carrying Rain. “You’re home!”

“Look at you!” Brianna exclaimed. “You look wonderful!”

“Can’t say I feel wonderful,” Jenny said wryly. “The morning sickness has passed, but now I’m just tired.”

“But you’re progressing just fine,” Rachel said with a grin. “Are you taking things easy, like I said?”

“Yes,” Jenny sighed, sitting back down. “But those men will be the death of me. It’s like neither one know how to properly mend a fence! If my cattle escape because of them…”

Rachel pulled up a barrel from the corner of the porch and helped Jenny put her feet up on it, and only then did Brianna notice that her ankles were a little swollen. “...Then you’ll let those men catch them. You’re fine to do your normal chores about the house, but the heavy lifting needs to be left to the others for now. Though, I see no reason not to expect a perfectly healthy birth.”

“I know, I know,” Jenny patted her belly and sighed again. “I wish Dr. B was here,” she looked up at Rachel suddenly, her eyes widening. “Not that I think you aren’t perfectly capable…”

Rachel chuckled. “I’m not offended. Trust me, I wish she were here, too.”

Brianna hummed in agreement, but smiled at Rain instead of responding, not wanting to get emotional.

“How long are you home for?” Jenny asked.

“Through September,” Brianna said. “Who knows, maybe even long enough to meet my new little cousin!” she bounced Rain on her knee. “What about you, Rainy? Are you excited to meet your new little auntie or uncle?” Rain babbled in response, then reached for Brianna’s hat.

“Bree!” William exclaimed, he and Two Moons coming up from the barn.

Brianna handed Rain to her mother and ran to the throw her arms around her brother’s neck.

“I wasn’t expecting you until next month!” he said.

Brianna shrugged. “I didn’t have any more assignments and...I just wanted to come home.”

William smiled, though it was a bit sad. He’d let his beard grow out a little, which made him look older. “Well, I’m glad you did.”

 

They had dinner with Rachel, Jenny, and Two Moons, but then after, they climbed into the wagon to head back to the homestead.

William glanced at Brianna from the corner of his eye. “I have to stop there, to see to the animals. Joe, Denny, and I are on a rotation to upkeep the property.”

Brianna nodded, but remained silent.

Pulling up to the “Big House” sent a pang through her heart, knowing that the beautiful home stood empty, the way it had since Rachel and Brianna had moved out of it once Brianna decided to go back to school.

While William fed the chickens, goats, pig, and cows, Brianna went inside to do a little dusting.

There was something about a house that hadn’t been lived in for some time that just felt cold . It made Brianna shiver, but she hurried about, dusting shelves and wiping down tables, trying to bring even a little bit of life back into it.

One of Lotte’s toys; a little wooden duck on wheels that you could pull around on a string, sat abandoned in the corner. Tears stung at Brianna’s eyes but she willed them away. It wasn’t like they were dead . Mama, Da, Fergus, Lotte, Roger...they were all coming home. They had to.

When she went back outside, William was finishing up with the goats.

“Any sign of Adso?” she asked. 

William grimaced and shook his head. “No.”

“It’s like the day Mama left, so did he.”

Though a beloved family pet, the old half-feral cat had never really warmed up to anyone the way he did to Claire. After they left, Adso had simply vanished one day, which, for him, wasn’t unusual. Except this time, he hadn’t come back.

“Would you rather stay here?” William asked. “I could stay with you.”

Brianna shook her head. “No. I don’t like being here without them. It’s too…”

She was at a loss for words, but William nodded in understanding. “Yeah. Come on, it’s getting late.”

 

The sight of the homestead was only marginally more welcoming. For years it had been a happy home for her, Fergus, William, and Claire. It had been a place of healing for them, when their mother died. The place where the four of them had navigated the uncharted waters of becoming a family. 

After Claire and Jamie got married and built their new house, Jamie had given his homestead to William, and he’d turned it into his own home. 

But it still felt like their place. Theirs with Claire, and Fergus, and Jamie always nearby. It still felt empty without them.

But there was a familiar face waiting for them on the front porch, and it was one that lightened Brianna’s heart to see. A face that gave a tongue-lolling grin at the sight of them.

“Rollo!” Brianna cried, hopping out of the wagon to greet the old wolf, who wagged his tail mightily. “Oh, he looks great!”

Jamie had written from Durango early on to update them on the situation, that Rollo had unfortunately been left behind, and injured. William and Joe had gone right out to try and find him, but had no luck. It was shortly after Brianna had returned to school that she’d received a letter from William saying that Rollo had miraculously appeared one night. He was skinny, weak, jumpy, and missing patches of fur, but he was in one piece. William sat with him for days, scarcely sleeping, nursing him back to health under Rachel’s instruction and supervision.

A letter from Rachel later told her how William had just about made himself sick from focusing all his energy on the wolf. But Brianna understood perfectly how helpless and impotent William felt, and if he could do nothing else but take care of the pet that meant the world to their father and baby sister, then he would. William had written to Mama and Da that Rollo had finally returned, but a late summer storm had disrupted mail service across the west, and judging by their last letter back, it hadn’t ever reached them, and it was soon after that Jenny and Two Moons returned.

“He still doesn’t get around much,” William said. “He pretty much just stays here on the porch, but both Rachel and Joe said that, for his age, he’s still pretty healthy. There doesn’t seem to be any physical reason for his lethargy.”

“You mean he’s sad ?” Brianna asked. “Can wolves really miss their owners like that?”

“Why not?”

Brianna stroked Rollo’s soft gray fur. “Poor old boy. Without even Adso around to chase.”

“I’d hate to be the one to have to tell Mama that Adso is gone,” William said. “But at least we’ll have some good news for them when they get home.”

Brianna must have made a face, because William frowned at her. “Stop that. They are coming home, Bree.”

“I know,” she said, though she wished she had his surety. It had just been so long , and she knew that they would never have wanted her and William to worry, so why haven’t they sent some sign that they were okay?

They went inside, and Brianna had to smile at all the ways William had turned the house from the home of a woman doctor, to the home of a young bachelor. That mostly meant a distinct lack of decoration, except for his rifle displayed above the fireplace, a set of whisky tumblers that Mama and Da had given him one year for Christmas sitting on the mantel, and a drawing of the four siblings that Brianna had done and given him for his birthday hanging on the wall.

“I should have gone with them,” William said suddenly, sitting down heavily at the table.

“What?” Brianna asked.

“I should have gone with them,” he repeated. “I should be with them, now, wherever they are. I should have argued when Da sent me with the other party, I should have insisted. It should have been me, not Roger.”

I sat down beside him, and covered his hand with my own. “Don’t say that. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here, either. You know that’s part of why they split us all up, so that if something happened, it wouldn’t happen to all of us.”

He grimaced. “Maybe. But if Roger and I had switched places, at least you’d have him.”

“I can’t stop thinking about him,” she admitted quietly. “Particularly all the things I never said to him. I just kept thinking there’d be time later, you know? I was so stupid.”

“You weren’t stupid , in fact you were the opposite. You were focusing on your studies, focusing on doing something with your own life before opening it up to someone else. That’s not stupid, Brianna.”

“It is if I never get the chance to tell him how I feel,” she said, feeling the tears start to sting her eyes again. “Isn’t that what we used to tell Da? That if he didn’t take a chance with Mama, he might not ever get the chance at all?”

William chuckled. “And neither of them listened until they were good and ready. Roger knows you care about him, but you’ll have a chance to show him how much when they get home .”

“I just hope you’re right.”

“I have to be,” he said flatly. “There can’t be another alternative.”

“Ten months.” Brianna said after a brief silence. “Two more and it’ll have been a whole year .”

In that time, all four of the kids had had a birthday. Out there somewhere, Lotte was five, Fergus was sixteen, and Brianna and William had missed it.

William reached over and grabbed her hand. “They’ll be home soon, Bree. I know it.”

 

Even though her heart was hurting, it felt good to be home with her brother, as well as her family and friends in town. Jenny and Gale had been watching Rain for Rachel when she was working in the clinic, but Brianna took that over again, reminded of when Lotte was small, and wondering how much she’d grown in almost a year.

She and William were sitting silently in his house one evening, he with a novel, and she with a medical journal addressed to Mama.

There was a whining from outside the open door, and Brianna and William turned to look at Rollo, who was sitting with his ears perked, eyeing the road.

“What’s wrong, boy?” William asked, but faster than lightning, Rollo was off the porch and bounding toward the road.

“Jesus, I haven’t seen him move like that in months!” William exclaimed.

“Come on,” Bree said. “Let’s go see what he’s after.”

They ran out the door after Rollo, but he didn’t stop at the edge of the property like he normally did, but just kept on running.

“Come on,” William said, grabbing the reign of his still-saddled horse and swinging up onto him, pulling Brianna up behind him.

“Where is he going ?” Brianna asked as they took off after the wolf.

“Maybe he got a whiff of predator or something, or maybe someone’s in trouble.

“I swear if Timothy Stroupe fell down into that well again…”

“Shit!” William snapped, yanking up on the reign to bring his horse to a quick stop.

Rollo had come to a sudden halt in the middle of the road, staring at the empty path leading into the woods.

“Rollo?” William called gently. “What is it?”

When a moment went by and the wolf still didn’t move a muscle, Brianna slid off the horse and went to stand beside him. “Do you think his mind is going, or something?”

“No,” William said. “He...hey, you hear that?”

At first, she didn’t know what he was talking about, but then she could hear it; horses coming up the road. Hardly unusual of course, so why was Rollo standing again, letting out a high pitched whine?

Five horses came into view, one after the other, and Brianna snatched at William’s hand, praying that her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.

“It’s them,” William whispered, then let out a choked sob. “It’s them!!”





Chapter Text

“I know that tree!” Lotte exclaimed, pointing. “We’re almost home!”

I looked over in the general direction she was pointing, but saw nothing but a bunch of identical trees. “How do you know a particular tree?”

“I think she means th’ one wi’ the split, see?” Jamie said, but I still couldn’t see a tree that was remarkable in any way. Granted, I was no expert tracker like Jamie, or like the daughter who inherited his natural talent.

“I’m gonna go to sleep in my own bed and I’m not getting up for a minimum of three days,” Fergus said decisively. 

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I agreed with a chuckle.

Once we reached New Mexico and the immediate danger was passed, the rest of our journey was nothing but long, tedious, and exhausting. Jamie still worried about some of Maldonado’s men following us across the border, so we stayed away from towns and kept to the wilderness, just to be sure. It meant no inns, no food but what we could harvest and hunt, a longer route, and most of all no opportunity to send word back home. 

We stopped only once for a few supplies and to hopefully barter for a couple of horses. We had very little money left, but when we returned to the stable where we’d sold Flash and Gideon, and saw both horses still in the pasture, I knew we had to at least try and buy them back.

Unfortunately, Fergus’s pony, Taffy, along with Roger’s mare, had already been resold, but Flash had been passed over for being an Indian horse, and Gideon for the obvious reason of being too ornery. 

“We can afford one,” Jamie said. “If nothing else, you and Lotte can ride. We’ll buy back Flash.”

“But...Jamie…” I began, my heart hurting. “You can’t leave Gideon.”

I didn’t say that he couldn’t leave Gideon after already being forced to leave Rollo, but that sentiment was hung in the air.

“Flash was a gift tae ye from Nayawenne,” Jamie said gently. “You should have him back. Besides, it’s more practical. Gideon willn’a let anyone but me ride him.”

“I still have a little money left,” Roger said. “Add it up, maybe he’ll make a deal for both horses.”

The stable master overhead us talking and walked over to us. “I know you want your horses back, and I told you that you’d be welcome to buy them back when you returned, but I was rather hoping to keep the mustang as a stud.”

Jamie glanced into the pasture and chuckled at the way Gideon was sidling up to a filly. “So I see.”

“What if I sell you back the Indian horse,” the man said. “Along with four of my other horses, and I keep the mustang? That’s a horse for each of you, for the cost of two.”

It was a good deal, better than good in fact, even if the quality of horses would likely be nowhere near that of Gideon. This gentleman was obviously being charitable, and I could see that practicality was quickly overrunning sentiment in Jamie’s mind. 

“So long as I can look at th’ horses, assure they’re at least fit for a long ride, and ye have a deal,” he said, shaking the man’s hand.

Gideon wouldn’t even come to the fence when Jamie walked over to say goodbye, too busy mooning over his girl. Jamie smiled sadly, but didn’t seem to mind that much, though I took his hand and squeezed it anyway.

Flash, on the other hand, greeted me almost like a puppy, throwing his head back and butting me with his nose. Tears stung my eyes as I petted his face, so thankful to have him back. 

The four other horses were all sturdy geldings, more suited for farm work than racing, but so long as they got us home, their lives of easy farm work would be waiting for them.

 

After months of travel, just smelling the familiar clean air of Colorado was a blessing. My body was practically thrumming in knowledge that I was almost home.

We skirted around the town, wanting a bit of a rest before our triumphant return, and not wanting to overwhelm Lotte with well-meaning excitement. 

We headed to the old homestead first, assuming we’d find William there. We were nearing the property line when Jamie suddenly stopped his horse.

“Jamie?” I said, pulling Flash alongside him and wondering at his stunned expression. “What…”

“ROLLO!” Lotte squealed.

There, in the middle of the road, like a faithful hound, stood Rollo. Though I’d done my best for the wolf, I hadn’t honestly held out much hope that he would survive, much less make it home, so seeing him there, healthy as ever, brought tears to my eyes.

Those tears came in earnest though when from around the bend came Brianna and William, all but leaping off their horse.

“It’s them!” William cried.

“Bree! Willie!” I exclaimed, leaping off of Flash and running for my children.

They swept me up into a crushing hug together, all of us laughing and crying and nearly falling over. Fergus joined seconds later, and for a moment I simply revelled in the knowledge that they were all there , and safe.

“Lotte?!” Brianna sobbed, breaking away and collapsing into Jamie’s arms, getting her own around Lotte in the process. 

Jamie relinquished Lotte to Bree, as she and William fussed over her. He came to me then, putting his arm around me, both of us knowing what the other was feeling. The complete and utter joy of being home with all of our children. 

“We were so worried,” William said, nearly beside himself. “We haven’t gotten any word in months!”

“We know,” I said. “And I promise, darling, we’ll explain everything. But first, can we go home ?”

“I wanna see Rollo!” Lotte exclaimed, wriggling to be put down. Once she was on her feet, she darted straight to the wolf who bathed her in licks while she giggled and hugged his neck tight.

Jamie followed her, and knelt down beside them, keeping one hand on Lotte’s back while he stroked Rollo’s head and murmured to him too quietly for anyone else to hear. But that was alright, because they were words only meant for his beloved companion, and the little girl who loved him just as much.

Turning from the heartwarming sight, I was just in time to see Brianna face Roger and hesitate shyly for only a moment before running into his arms, kissing him hard.

William and I exchanged an expression of raised eyebrows, and when I heard a low choking sound, I turned back to Jamie who was watching the scene with a pale face while Lotte giggled.

“Easy, darling,” I said to him. “Remember to breathe.”

When Brianna and Roger came up for air, they both flushed scarlet to find that they had an audience.

“On that note,” Ian said, still sitting astride his horse. “I have a wife and daughter I need to see. Not to mention a father and a mother...and a brother or sister?”

“Not just yet,” Brianna said, chuckling. “You haven’t missed it.”

“Thank you for everything, Ian,” I said, putting a hand on his knee. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Ian smiled and nodded. “It’s what family is for, Auntie.”

With that he turned and left.

“We’ve been taking care of the animals,” William said. “But there won’t be anything in the house to eat. Bree? Do you want to come with me to the homestead and get some food for dinner?”

I glanced back over at Brianna who appeared to still be quite absorbed in Roger, and I chuckled. “Bree, why don’t you and Roger go to William’s house and see about dinner?”

“Okay, Mama,” Brianna said as she and Roger turned away.

William wrinkled his nose. “Oh, thanks, Ma, now they’re gonna be alone in my house. Great.”

I shook my head at him, though judging by Jamie’s expression he agreed with William. 

I tsked at him. “Come now, don’t you remember when I got home from Boston? I believe you were quite anxious for a little time alone with me.”

“Exactly!” Jamie exclaimed. “I supposed you’ve forgotten what we were like back then?!”

“You can either try to keep them apart, darling, or they can find more creative ways of sneaking around.”

“Fine, fine , but when Lotte is of age, it’s chaperoned strolls in th’ meadow and suppers at home until th’ wedding day.”

“Here, here,” William agreed.

 

Brianna prepared us a hasty supper, but we were all practically falling off of our chairs before we’d finished eating.

We set up Roger in the guest room, (and Jamie and I both warned Bree sternly to stay in her own, to which she rolled her eyes and agreed,) then made our own ways to bed.

“She might waken in the night and be afraid,” I said worriedly as Jamie carried a sleeping Lotte to her room.

“She might at that,” Jamie said. “But we’ll hear her if she does, and Rollo will be here beside her.”

During our journey, Lotte had told us, haltingly and in the best way she knew how, that Rollo had remained with her until he bit Maria. She apparently didn’t witness Rollo being shot, which we were immensely grateful for, but we were able to fill in the blanks regardless.

I looked down at the old wolf with a new sense of admiration. He really had done his best to protect his little mistress. 

“What could make a wolf, a wild animal, be so loyal to humans?” I asked.

Jamie chuckled. “Love, Sassenach. Now come, I ken it’s no’ easy tae take your eyes off her, but I haven’a had ye alone in a verra long time, much less in our own bed.”

I took one more long look at our sleeping daughter as Rollo curled up around her like he always had. It was better for her, to get back to her normal life and routine as quickly as possible, but two months of having her wedged tightly between Jamie and I at night still didn’t feel like enough to me. 

“I’m exhausted, but I wish I had the energy to draw a bath before bed,” I said. “I feel disgusting.”

Jamie hummed. “Aye, I ken what ye mean. Come wi’ me.”

Jamie quickly gathered up clean clothes and bathing supplies, then  asked William, who was settling in to sleep on the sofa to keep an ear out for Lotte, and then pulled me out the back door of the house. I was reluctant to leave the house, but I knew William would fly to Lotte’s side the very moment he heard her. As would the rest of the household, no doubt.

I figured we were just going to the creek, but when Jamie didn’t head that direction, I almost protested, unsure if my sore legs and aching back were up for an adventure. But then I realized where we were going, and I decided it was a good idea after all.

“We don’t do this nearly often enough,” I said as we reached the hot spring.

“Easy tae say it can be done later, always later ,” he said, unbuttoning his shirt. “I dinna want tae be that way anymore, Sassenach. Our lives are too tumultuous to depend upon later .”

“I agree,” I said, pulling him down for a hug. 

We undressed quickly, too cold to delay in getting into the water, but once we did, we both sighed in pleasure. Jamie pulled me to him, my back to his chest, and we sat that way for some time, merely enjoying the closeness and privacy.

“Do you think Miguel survived?” I asked suddenly, then immediately cringed, regretting bringing him up at that moment.

“I dinna ken, Sassenach,” Jamie said. “I like tae hope he did, but the truth is, we’ll probably never know for sure.”

I turned around to face him, catching the way he was averting his eyes from me.

“Jamie…” I began. “I want to explain…”

In the weeks of our journey home, Jamie and I had not once spoken about Miguel, or anything that happened during our time in Mexico City. It was too raw, we were too focused on Lotte and our journey home, and besides that, we were never alone. Though we were tender with one another, we still hadn’t completely bridged the gap that had formed between us. There was no doubt in either of our minds that we loved one another, but I did so miss our secrets, our jokes, our friendship . It was our friendship that first brought us together, even before love, and I ached to have it back.

Jamie shook his head. “No, Sassenach, ye needn’t explain anything to me.”

“Needn’t I?”

He met my eyes then, and gave me a tremulous smile. “It’s only...I dinna think I want tae hear it, is all. Call me a coward, but I think I’m better off not knowing.”

I shook my head. “I would never be unfaithful to you, Jamie. You know that, right?”

“Of course I do, Sassenach. But I also know that you were stressed, afraid, sleep-deprived, and not getting what ye needed from your husband. Miguel was a kind man, and verra much in love with you.”

I winced at that. Of course, I knew that Miguel had developed feelings for me, but that it was so obvious to Jamie was uncomfortable, to say the least.

“He kissed me, Jamie. Only once, and I pushed him away...though, not quickly enough, I will admit that.”

“Did ye want him?” Jamie asked flatly. “Ye can be truthful, Sassenach.”

“No,” I said at once. “Yes, as you said, Miguel was kind. And yes, he provided some comfort that I needed in the moment, but that wasn’t because of some failing on your part. You were hurting, and afraid, just like me. It’s in your nature to internalize things, to try and bear the weight of everything alone. I know how responsible and guilty you’ve been feeling about everything. I never wanted Miguel like that, not even for a moment. I’ve never wanted, or loved, anyone but you, Jamie. I never could.”

Jamie smiled, and kissed me briefly. “Dinna say that, mo cridhe. If something, God forbid, were tae ever happen tae me, I wouldn’a like to think you wouldn’a be open to love again. Ye have so much love tae give, Sassenach. And a man as good as Miguel would be all I could hope for you.”

“Then I suppose you’ll just have to be careful not to die,” I informed him, looping my arms around his neck. “Because you’re it for me, Jamie Fraser.”

Jamie kissed me again, and pulled me closer. “As ye are for me. But say what ye will, I haven’a been a good husband tae ye, Claire.”

“But…”

No . Dinna make excuses for me. I neglected ye when ye needed me most, all because I was afraid.”

“You’re allowed to be afraid, Jamie,” I broke in. “Alright, yes. You shouldn’t have shut me out. We fell back into an old pattern that I thought we overcame back in the early days of our marriage. But we both made mistakes.”

“Ye only made your mistakes, because of mine,” he said bitterly. “I’m...I’m so sorry, Claire.”

I rested my head on his chest, relishing in the feel of his bare skin against mine. “Forgiven,” I said. “Do you forgive me, for what happened with Miguel?”

“Forgiven,” he murmured. “But...since we’re being truthful now, there’s something else I should tell you.”

I pulled back and arched a brow. “Oh? Does it have to do with Fergus and Ian’s unsavory dealings with a certain Maldonado wife? I’ve heard bits and pieces of that story already, but the boys were suspiciously mum on your part in it.”

Jamie’s expression almost made me want to laugh, but I made sure to keep my own expression stern.

“It was awful, Sassenach,” he said. “I tried tae pretend, but in truth I felt sick, particularly when she tried tae touch me.”

My private amusement vanished when I realized how truly bothered Jamie was by the experience. I pulled his head down to my chest, switching our positions. “We were both in a strange place that night, Jamie, and did things we might otherwise not, but it was all to save Lotte. Is that why you weren’t upset about Miguel? Because you felt guilty? Because darling, it was hardly the same thing…”

“A little,” he admitted. “But it was as ye said, none of us were ourselves. And besides, I can hardly place too much blame on Miguel for falling in love with you, can I?” he sat up. “Though, it was lucky for him that he was injured, because I would have hated tae have tae kill him myself.”

I shook my head at him, then kissed him again. “I’m so happy to be home.”

He hummed against my mouth, and I felt his cock begin to stir against my hip. “As am I, Sassenach.”

Except for one or two tired and hurried couplings for the sole purpose of comfort, Jamie and I hadn’t made love in months, and now that we were safe and home, my body suddenly came back to life in his arms, no matter how worn out I was.

All thoughts of Miguel, the Maldonados, and Mexico flew out of my mind when Jamie’s lips closed around one of my nipples, one of his hands bracing my rear, fingers digging into my flesh and nudging intimately into the crease there.

The hot water lapped around us as Jamie guided me to ride his raised leg, the friction delicious but not what I wanted and needed.

“Jamie…” I whispered.

He turned us and pressed me against the smooth stone surface surrounding the hot spring, the water making him slow and languid in his movements. 

I wrapped my legs around him, and reached between us to take him into my hand, stroking him firmly before guiding him to me. 

Jamie slid into me, and I closed my eyes in pleasure, but then his hand was on the side of my face, and he was murmuring for me to look at him. I did as he asked, and Jamie locked his eyes with mine as he thrust into me, over and over, his gaze never wavering, seeing into my soul the way no one else could ever. Would ever.

“I love you,” I said.

Jamie let out a low groan, driving me into the rocks, and the pleasure was so intense that I didn’t even feel the way they jabbed into my skin. How I’d missed him. My best friend. My lover. The other half of myself.

We still had a long way to go to fully heal from everything that had happened. But at least now we would be doing it the way we should have been doing it all along. 

Together.

The heat of his seed made me feel even warmer than the water around us. But Jamie didn’t stop, his fingers finding my center to push me over the edge. My body clutched around him as my core clutched around his cock, my nails digging into his back, trying to be all that much closer to him.

“And I love you,” he said quietly as we slowly came down off of our highs. “More than I could ever describe tae ye.”

“You just did, Jamie,” I said. “You just did.”




Chapter Text

I stood on the front porch, pulling my shawl tighter around me. Lotte was somewhere in the house, laughing madly, and it filled my heart to bursting to hear it.

From everything Lotte had been able to tell us about her time in the Maldonado household, she’d been treated well enough, though she’d been very irate over the fact that Maria had apparently once disciplined her with a slap to the face. It hadn’t hurt Lotte, only upset her, but the knowledge almost made me want to go back to that terrace and pull the trigger.

But all in all, Lotte had been relatively kept away from anything that could have left scars, and for that small mercy, I was grateful. Not to the Maldonados, but to God, and some kind-hearted maids. 

All of our hearts were broken when she asked us why we had taken so long to come for her, and we all tried our best to assure her that we’d tried . I hoped one day, when she was older, that she would be able to understand that we would never have given up on her.

But for the time, she was happy again, and other than a handful of nightmares, and a few new behavioral concerns, she was gradually bouncing back to her usual self with the resilience of childhood. It was Jamie and I who struggled the hardest to let her go back to normal, both of us loath to take our eyes off of her. We reminded each other constantly though that it was important for her to feel safe, whether or not she was under our protective gaze. Luckily, there was absolutely no shortage of protective gazes during the few times Jamie and I managed to pry ours away.

Instead of taking her into town that first day, William had gone and spread word of our return, and we’d allowed visitors to come one by one, so not to overwhelm Lotte.

It had started with a heavily pregnant and beaming Jenny along with Two Moons, Rachel, and a newly toddling Rain. This was followed quickly by Murtagh, Joe, Gale, Denny and Dotty and their newborn. Even Tom and Dougal had shown up eventually with Rupert and Angus, bearing gifts of candy for Lotte, whisky for Jamie, and probably the warmest greeting for me I’d ever gotten from them and likely ever would again.

Thanksgiving was approaching, and I was thrilled that we hadn’t had to miss another year of holidays. There was only one small thing missing.

Jamie came up behind me on the porch, placing his coat around my shoulders. “Ye should bundle up better, Sassenach,” he said, kissing my temple. “It’s cold. Ye dinna want tae catch a catarrh before Thanksgiving do ye?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, leaning back into him. “You’re right. I was just checking.”

“I’m sae sorry, Sassenach,” Jamie said.

“For what?”

He gave me a knowing look. “Ye ken what.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “I’m being ridiculous, I know that. Everything is fine now and I’m out here looking for an eleven-year-old cat that ran off a year ago.”

Jamie chuckled and kissed my temple. “You’re many things, my Sassenach, but ridiculous is not one of them.”

I smiled at him in thanks, then glanced down at my feet. “I think he misses Adso, too.”

Rollo perked up from where he’d been dozing beside me, sensing that I was talking about him.

“I think he does,” Jamie agreed. “But he’s verra glad tae have his wee mistress back. It was so good of William tae take such good care of him.”

I leaned back into him for a time, watching the late afternoon sun gradually make its way toward the treeline. I felt Jamie remove one of his hands to rummage in his coat pocket, and then he was nudging something into my hand.

“What’s this?” I asked, holding the small wooden carving in my palm, marveling at the miniscule details. “Did you make this?”

“Aye,” he said. “It’s a totem, ken. Ye’ve seen th’ big ones th’ Cheyenne build. It’s like that, only something ye can keep in your medicine pouch,” he pointed to each of the animals faces in turn, to explain their meaning. “Th’ wolf stands for family. Th’ fox stands for th’ special sort of courage within a woman. Th’ coyote, for recognizing one’s own mistakes, and on top here is a falcon, for soul healing.”

“It’s beautiful,” I murmured, running my thumb over the falcon’s wings. “Thank you, Jamie.”

He kissed my ear. “I ken ye dinna want much made of it, and I understand, but I refuse tae ignore th’ day that brought my wife into this world. Happy birthday, Sassenach.”

I swallowed thickly, trying to push back the tears springing to my eyes. As per my fervent request, the family had largely ignored that it was my birthday. I had no desire to celebrate myself, but it was mostly so not to remind Lotte of the day she was taken. Perhaps in years to come it could be different, but for the moment it was just still too raw. 

However, my heart melted at this small token of love from my husband, and I thanked God yet again for him, and that the events of the past year had failed to drive us apart.

“I love you,” I said, squeezing the totem once more before carefully and tenderly placing it in my medicine pouch. It gave the pouch noticeably more weight, and I was glad of that.

“And I love you,” he whispered into my ear.

Rollo’s ears twitched and he gave a little whine, looked in the direction of the road a beat before my own inferior ears picked up the sound of hoofbeats. “There’s Roger,” I said, wiping my sleeve across my eyes.

“It’s a bit late tae come calling,” Jamie said. “Hope there’s no’ an emergency.”

I had returned to the clinic, but was sharing hours with Rachel still, to give myself more time at home with Lotte and the rest of my family. After the holidays, I planned to return full-time, so that Rachel and Ian would feel free to return to their own home.

“I don’t think so,” I said with a smile, enjoying Jamie’s confused look.

Roger rode up near the porch before dismounting, offering us a wave.

“Brianna’s just inside,” Jamie said. “Go on in, lad.”

Roger hesitated at the bottom of the steps. “Oh, uh, thank you. But...I was wondering if I couldn’t have a word with the two of you, first.”

I stepped out of Jamie’s embrace and beckoned Roger to join us on the porch. “Something on your mind?” I asked him.

Roger mounted the steps but stood away from us, holding his gloves in his hands and wringing them. It seemed so silly, considering he’d recently spent months in close company with Jamie and me, and there was a point in our long journey where even modesty had to give way to necessity, and there was now practically nothing left to hide between all of us. And yet, here he was, the friend giving the rein to the nervous young suitor.

Jamie breathed out through his nose, and I thought it was finally catching up to him, the purpose of Roger’s visit this evening. “Well? Out wi’ it,” he said gruffly.

Roger swallowed thickly. “I just…” he glanced away, and I saw that Brianna had come outside, and was leaning against the door jamb with her arms crossed, watching on in amusement. 

“We’re not getting any younger, Roger darling,” she said with a fond, yet teasing smile.

Roger shot Brianna a flat look before turning back to Jamie and I with flushed cheeks. 

“You both know that...that I care very much for Brianna,” he began.

Neither Jamie nor I responded, and Roger swallowed again.

“I...that is to say we ...Brianna and I...we’ve talked, and...well…”

“Oh for crying out loud,” Brianna interrupted, joining us fully outside. “Roger, just say it! You weren’t half this nervous when you asked me !”

“I’d like permission to marry Brianna,” Roger said quickly, sighing in relief once it was finally out, but then caught a look from Brianna and amended his statement. “I mean...not permission ...but, your blessing. I’d very much like your blessing to marry your daughter.”

“Bree?” Jamie said. “D’ye want tae marry this man?”

Brianna’s smile turned soft and she went to Roger’s side, taking his arm. “Yes, Da. I do,” she turned back to us. “I’ve realized we can’t always count on tomorrow ,” she gave me a knowing look. “But Roger understands that I want to finish my schooling.”

“And I’m more than willing to live with her in Boston when she returns,” Roger continued. “The last thing I want is to be a hinderance.”

I looked up at Jamie, who sighed in resignation, then smiled. “Then what have we tae say but...welcome tae th’ family, Roger.”

Roger grinned from ear to ear, then turned to kiss Brianna warmly. I waited until they were done before wrapping them both in a hug.

“Alright everyone,” Jamie called loudly. “Ye can come out.”

William, Fergus, and Lotte, who’d all been listening near the door, poured out of the house to offer their own congratulations.

“I look forward to having you as a brother, Roger,” William said, patting the other man roughly on the shoulder.

“Why don’t we all go inside where it’s warm?” Brianna said. “I’ve made roast chicken with sweet potatoes, and chocolate cake for dessert...” she gave me a sly look. “Which just so happens to be Mama’s favorite. No special reason.”

I grinned at her, as the children all filed back inside, but I paused and looked back up at Jamie.

“How are you feeling?” I asked him.

Jamie smiled at me. “Roger’s more’n proven himself, as far as I’m concerned. He’ll be a good husband tae Brianna.”

I leaned up on tip-toe to kiss him. “Well, we probably shouldn’t give them a terribly long engagement, if we don’t want them getting up to the sorts of things we did when we were engaged.”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at me. “Ye must remind me of that now?”

I chuckled. “But aren’t the memories fond?”

Jamie growled and kissed me again, then pulled me toward the house. “Enough from you, ye wee minx. Let’s get inside, before I change my mind about th’ wedding altogether.”

 

It was with relief that I returned to work, but it wasn’t without trepidation, either. Our family now had a whole new awareness of strangers in town, and were all the more vigilant in watching over Lotte. She was always under the supervision of either her parents or siblings, and the rest of the town silently submitted to the fact that, at least for the time, we were not comfortable with letting her out of our sight, even in the trusted care of our friends.

The next strangers in town weren’t really strangers at all, but still not someone I had ever really cared for.

Laoghaire McKimmie, née McKenzie was a born-and-raised citizen of Colorado Springs, but had moved away some years prior with her husband.

She’d married her first husband at the age of fifteen, and the two had had a daughter together, Marsali. But he’d been a drunkard who’d gotten himself killed at a gambling hall in Denver before I moved to town, and she’d later remarried and moved to Nebraska.

Her return, along with Marsali and a younger daughter, but sans her husband, caused a bit of a buzz, but I resolved myself to ignore her.

I could never quite forget how she’d always visibly lusted after Jamie, even after she was remarried, and her attitude toward me had always bordered on hostile, as if she blamed me somehow for marrying him.

The only reason I couldn’t forget their presence altogether, was because I suddenly had a frequent visitor.

“Dr. B?” Marsali called, entering the clinic.

I looked up from the stool sample I was examining in my microscope. “Oh, hello, I’ll be right with you.”

“Do you remember me?” she asked. 

I smiled up at her. “Of course. Marsali, isn’t it? Are you alright? Feeling ill?

She shook her head. “Well, sort of…”

I left my work and gestured for her to sit on the examination table. She was a beautiful girl; all blonde hair and big blue eyes. She looked much like her mother, in fact, but I noted that she seemed to lack that air of self-importance that her mother always seemed to carry.

“What seems to be the problem?”

Marsali chewed the inside of her cheek and fidgeted. “It’s...well...it’s a womanly issue, you see…”

I fought against a smile, nodding. “Ah, I see. How old are you, Marsali?”

“Fourteen.”

“Well, I know your courses are a troubling time, what…”

“That’s just it!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have any courses! My mother said she started hers at eleven . There must be something wrong with me!”

I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Now, now, then. There’s no reason to be upset. It’s perfectly normal for some girls to develop differently than others. You’re still plenty young enough that there isn’t a single reason to worry that you haven’t begun your courses yet.”

If she’d already developed her woman’s body, I might indeed be concerned, but Marsali was still narrow of hip and flat of chest, which I was sure was likely the most irksome thing about this, since many of her peers were already much more physically advanced.

“You’re sure?” she asked.

“I’m sure . Though, I could give you a full examination if you would like, but it would be best to get your mother’s consent first.”

Marsali scowled. “She won’t say yes. She doesn’t think women should be doctors.”

I rolled my eyes. “Not everyone does. So why did you come to me, then?”

Marsali shrugged. “You seem smart to me. Besides, what would a man doctor know about courses?”

I chuckled. “You have a point there. Well, you’re old enough, so if you want an examination, you can make an appointment for one, but I’m afraid I’m nearly done for today.”

Marsali nodded and hopped down. “What were you doing, when I came in?”

I gestured toward the microscope. “Examining a specimen from a patient of mine, to see what his ailment is.”

“Specimen?” Marsali asked. “What kind of...specimen?”

I smirked, and hesitated only briefly before motioning her to follow me. “A stool sample.”

Marsali gave me a look. “Stool? Like...a chair?”

I chuckled and shook my head. “No. Come here, look.”

Marsali hesitated only briefly before skirting around me and peering into the microscope. “What am I looking at?

“Well, to put it indelicately...it’s shit, Marsali.”

Marsali reared away from the microscope like it burned her, and I had to laugh at her expression.

“Shit?! What on earth can you tell by looking at that ?!”

“Quite a bit, actually,” I informed her. “Think about it. It’s comprised of everything we eat that has passed through our bodies. You can tell a lot about a person’s health by what their stool looks like.”

I’d expected Marsali’s disgust, so it was a surprise to see the way her eyes lit in fascination. “Do they really teach you that in medical school?”

“Among other things. Look here…” I carefully removed the slide, then retrieved with a clean one. “Give me your hand.”

Marsali held out her hand, and I quickly grabbed a needle and pricked her finger, squeezing a drop onto the slide before she could so much as yelp.

I put the slide in the microscope and adjusted the candle before motioning her to have a look. “You can adjust the view with this little knob, here.”

Marsali fiddled with the adjustments a moment then gasped. “That’s my blood ?”

“Mmhm. Your blood is like a living thing, full of microorganisms...or, wee beasties as my husband likes to call them.”

“Wow,” Marsali breathed. “It’s...it’s sort of...beautiful.”

I watched the girl in surprise, trying to think if I’d ever heard anyone save myself and my uncle call something like a blood sample beautiful .

“If...you’re interested,” I began carefully. “I have books that you could borrow, that explain things in more detail.”

Marsali nodded excitedly. “Yes, please! I want to know more.”

I handed her one of the more basic medical books that Brianna and Rachel had read as children, wondering what Marsali’s mother would say if she knew.

Marsali grinned as she cradled the book, but hesitated at the door. “Dr. B.? Do you think I could come see you again? Not for an examination, but maybe just to see the microscope again?”

I smiled back at her, reminded a little of myself at her age, clutching a medical textbook like it contained the answers to the universe. “I’d like that.”

Marsali went to dart out the door, but as soon as she opened it, she ran headlong into Fergus.

“Oh, sorry!” Fergus said, grabbing her arm to hold her steady. “Are you okay?”

Marsali nodded, blushing furiously. “Um, yeah. I’m fine. Um...bye, Dr. B.!”

Fergus quirked an eyebrow as she ran out, then looked at me in confusion. “She sick or something?”

I laughed and shook my head. “Or something.”

 

“Is it time for bed yet , Mama?” Lotte asked me for the eighth time.

It was the one and only night of the year that my ever-in-motion daughter wanted to go to sleep early, to more quickly hasten the arrival of Santa Clause. But, the earlier I let my little one sleep, the earlier she would be waking the household up come morning.

“Da isn’t even home yet,” I told her, peering out the window. “Don’t you want to wait for him, so that we can all read A Christmas Carol together?”

Lotte pondered that for a moment. “I suppose .”

“It’s really coming down out there,” Brianna said, eyeing the thick snowfall. “What time did Da say he’d be back?”

I turned to Lotte. “Lotte Love, would you like to go into the kitchen and prepare a plate of cookies and milk for Santa?”

Lotte’s eyes widened. “By myself?”

“I think you’re old enough, just try not to spill.”

Lotte marched importantly into the kitchen, leaving me to grin after her. Once she was out of earshot, I returned to the window beside Bree.

“He should have been home hours ago,” I admitted lowly.

Jamie had left that morning to tend to the still, and then to check his traps, but he’d promised he’d be home early for Christmas Eve supper and our traditional reading of the Charles Dickens tale. Supper had come and gone, and the hour was growing late.

“Maybe he just had to make camp for the night,” Fergus reasoned.

“I’m sure that’s it,” I said, and it was very likely true, but that would mean he would miss Christmas morning, and after the year we’d had, and the previous Christmas simply not having happened, I hated for him to miss the look on Lotte’s face when she awakened.

There was a sudden, loud thump on the porch, and Rollo perked up his head, whining.

“Was that Santa?!” Lotte exclaimed, hurrying back into the sitting room as fast as she could without spilling the glass of milk, or plate stacked high with cookies.

Fergus opened the door, and I breathed a sigh of relief, even though it wasn’t my husband.

“Merry Christmas!” William said, shaking the snow off his coat before entering. “Look what I found, trudging through the snow!”

“Roger!” Brianna exclaimed, running forward and dragging the half-frozen man into the house. “You walked all the way here in this ?!”

“I told you I’d spend Christmas Eve with you and the family,” Roger said through chattering teeth.

“But I didn’t mean kill yourself for it!”

“Get inside, the both of you, and to the fireplace!” I ordered, helping them out of their coats and boots.

“Roger!” Lotte exclaimed, jumping into his lap. “Santa’s coming!”

“I know,” Roger said, pulling her close to soak in some of her warmth. “I think I may have even heard his sleigh bells on my way here!”

Lotte’s eyes went round. “Mama, did you hear that ? I think I better get to bed soon!”

“Lotte wants to go to bed early,” William chuckled. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”

“Alright,” I said, reaching over to smooth back her hair. “Go on, and brush your teeth and wash those cookie crumbs off your face. I’ll be up to tuck you in in a moment, alright?”

“Yes’m,” she chirped, turning to press a kiss to Roger’s red nose before sliding off his lap and making her rounds with her siblings. “Come on, Rollo!”

Rollo heaved an old man-like groan as he stood and followed her up the stairs, the cold no doubt getting to his poor joints.

“Da’s not home yet,” Brianna said, sitting on the floor beside Roger.

William frowned. “You’re serious? Jesus, it’s a blizzard out there!”

I got back up and returned to my post by the window, crossing my arms. “I’m sure he’s just found a place to shelter for the night. You know Jamie, he can manage.”

“But it’s Christmas,” William said.

“Maybe we should go look for him,” Roger suggested, earning a nod from both William and Fergus. 

“No one is going out looking,” I said firmly. “It’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack. No, you’re all staying right here. Willie, would you like to start reading from the book?”

William made a sad face, but got up to get the book from the bookshelf before retaking his seat and beginning to read, while I went to pour glasses of mulled wine for everyone.

There was another thump outside, louder this time, and we all jumped, turning to the door in hopeful expectation.

The door swung open in a flurry of wind and snow, nearly putting out the fire, and there stood a hulking figure in all white, eyes twinkling merrily. 

“Ho, ho, ho!”

“Jamie!” I exclaimed, nearly melting in relief as I yanked him inside and into a hug, heedless of the ice covering him. “Where have you been ?! I’ve been worried sick!”

“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” he said. “I never meant tae be so late, but then it started snowing and…” his entire frame shook in a bone-rattling shiver, and I ushered him to the fireplace where the children all hurried out of his way.

“I’m just glad you’re home ,” I sighed, trying to get his coat off of him, but he had his arms crossed over his middle. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

Jamie used his arm to wipe the melting snow off his brow and grinned at me. “No, Sassenach. I’ve just brought a wee gift for ye, is all.”

I gave a huff and propped my hands on my hips. “Don’t tell me that the reason you were out in this storm was to get me a gift ?”

Jamie shrugged sheepishly. “It took a bit longer tae find than I’d hoped, is all.”

Jamie , no gift is worth you risking your health this way!”

Jamie leaned forward, kissing me with icy lips. “I know, I know. But d’ye want your gift, or no?”

I tried to remain looking stern, but I lost the fight and smiled. “Oh...yes, of course I do.”

“Fergus, lad, get my coat,” Jamie said, and Fergus hopped up to help him out of it, all while Jamie worked to keep some sort of bulge in his shirt from falling.

I watched in bemusement as Jamie undid his scarf, and then undid a couple buttons of his shirt before pulling out something long, bedraggled, gray, and angry .

I gasped, my hands flying to my mouth as Jamie held the belligerent gift out to me, just as it let out an unhappy wail.

“Merry Christmas, Sassenach.”

“Adso!” I cried, taking the old cat from Jamie and cuddling him close. 

He was wet and cold and smelled awful, but once I was holding him he stopped meowing in protest and nuzzled into my neck, purring loudly. 

“Where did you find him?” I asked, my tears soaking into Adso’s matted fur.

“Hovering near tae one of my traps,” Jamie said. “Took a bit of doing tae catch him. I didn’a want tae say anything to you, in case I couldn’t find him.”

It was almost embarrassing how hard I sobbed for that cat, but even more than being relieved that he was alive, I just couldn’t believe my darling husband had spent hours in a snowstorm looking for him, just to make me happy.

“Thank you,” I whispered, and Adso let out a displeasured mroaw when he was pinned between us as I kissed Jamie soundly.

“It’s just like our first Christmas!” Fergus exclaimed. “When you brought Adso to Mama as a kitten!”

“Da!” Lotte exclaimed, bounding down the stairs in her red and green nightgown.

“Merry Christmas, a leannan, ” Jamie said, catching her up in his arms. 

“And look who else is here,” I added.

“Adso!” she squealed, wriggling to get down just as Adso did, so I put him down in the corner on his favorite chair, where he obligingly allowed Lotte to stroke him before hissing at Rollo who’d sidled up to offer his own greeting.

“Do you want to take over, Da?” William asked, offering Jamie the book.

Jamie smiled, but shook his head, taking me by the hand and pulling me to the sofa and onto his lap. “Nah, go on ahead, lad.”

I curled up into Jamie as William read, satisfied beyond measure to have all of my family there, safe and warm. Even the smaller, furrier members.

Lotte crawled up onto both Jamie and me, yawning mightily, but she had a pinched look on her face.

“Something the matter, Lotte Love?” I whispered.

“Is Santa gonna bring Ms. Maria any presents?” Lotte asked.

I clenched my jaw, too afraid of responding right away lest my true feelings be known and frighten Lotte. Everyone else paused and stared, wondering how we would answer her.

“D’ye think she should, lass?” Jamie asked instead.

Lotte shrugged. “I don’t think she was very good this year.”

Jamie leaned over, kissing the top of her head, then mine. “Put it from your mind, mo nighean rudhe. You’re home now, ‘tis where you’ll stay. Whether Maria has presents this year, well, that’s up tae her and Santa, is it no?”

Lotte seemed to accept that well enough, but I pulled her closer, wondering for how long she would have to try and make sense in her little mind, the events of the past months. How long before I would need to tell her that Maria was dead, so that she didn’t have to be afraid of her reappearing anymore. 

But now, Lotte was safe, and the Collins would never be seen again, and neither, hopefully, would the Maldonados. 

We would all need to learn to put them from our minds, as Jamie put it. And it wouldn’t be overnight, but it didn’t matter, because we were a family. We were together.

That was all that mattered.



Chapter Text

“What made you most nervous about your wedding day?” Brianna asked. “Not...not counting...you know, the wedding night .”

I smiled, tilting my head closer to hers.

It was well past midnight, and the two of us were lying together in her bed, our fingers linked beneath the covers. We’d ended up this way after I’d peeked in to bid her goodnight, and she’d invited me to chat, and we wound up simply talking the night away. At one point, Jamie had popped in to check on me, but had simply smiled lovingly at us and gone on to bed himself without a word.

“I think it was just the event itself,” I said. “I’d spent weeks planning it, and I just wanted everything to go well.”

“But you weren’t nervous about marrying Da at all?”

I shook my head. “No, not at all,” I turned to look at her. “Being married to him was the one thing I was completely certain about. Not that that means it’s wrong if you’re nervous. It’s perfectly reasonable to be nervous about pledging your life to someone, particularly if you consider our differences in ages when it happened. So long as you’re not...having second thoughts?”

“No,” she said immediately, rolling her head on her pillow to smile at me. “Not about Roger. I guess I’m just nervous about being a good wife to him .”

“One thing I do know,” I said. “And I know it all too well, is that you and Roger are both going to make mistakes. There will be times when you don’t feel like you’re being a good partner to the other, but that’s the real test of it, you know? A good marriage doesn’t mean it’s perfect and effortless. It means holding on, fighting for one another, even when the going gets hard.”

“You and Da…” she began, biting her lip. “The going got pretty rough in Mexico, didn’t it?”

Normally, I would not have wanted to discuss my marital concerns with my child, but Brianna was no child, and she was to be someone’s wife come morning.

Much to my chagrin, Brianna and Roger had decided on a brief engagement and a quick wedding, so that he could go with her when she returned to school. I was glad to still get a chance to plan my daughter’s wedding with her, but I hadn’t felt like I’d had nearly enough time.

Brianna sensed my hesitation in answering her question. “Roger has told me a little, but not much. He said it was up to you and Da to tell me if you wanted to, and that he wanted to respect your privacy.”

My estimation of Roger, which was already quite high, went up a little at that. 

“Fergus has said a little too, about the investigator that helped you? Miguel?”

“It was much more than Miguel,” I admitted. “Jamie...he shut me out. He just couldn’t emotionally handle everything. And instead of trying harder to reach him, I turned to the support of someone else. And no , nothing like what you’re thinking, happened.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” she said with a frown. “I know you’d never betray Da, nor he you…” she trailed off, then rocked her head from side to side. “ But , it’s a relief to hear either way.”

“It was hard,” I said. “And if Jamie’s and my relationship was just a little weaker, I’ve no doubt it would have torn us apart. We’re still working on things, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we’ll be all the stronger for it.”

“Do you think Roger and I can have a relationship like that?”

“Do you ?”

She smiled, then nodded. “It helps that we have parents like you to learn from. He admires you both so much, you know. And so do I.”

I kissed her forehead, then released her hand so that I could get an arm under her and pulled her closer, feeling my eyes grow heavy.

“Do you think my Ma would approve?”

She’d spoken so softly, I almost hadn’t heard her, but her question brought me back to full wakefulness. 

“I know she would,” I said. “She was raising a strong, independent, intelligent daughter, and I know with complete confidence that she would have wanted you to marry for nothing short of pure love. It breaks my heart that she didn’t have that, but I know she would have been damned if you were deprived of it. And we already know that she liked and respected Roger. In fact, I remember, soon after I came to town and I was still angry at him for dismissing me, she told me to offer him a little grace, because he was a good, honest man, who hadn’t led the easiest life, and that we were really quite the same in that way.”

Brianna chuckled. “Was she trying to marry you off to him?”

I laughed as well. “Oh, no. She informed me point blank he was far too ‘green’ for me - her words - and that I needed a ‘man.’ Naturally, she was talking about Jamie, but I was still refusing to listen to sense at that time.”

Brianna was quiet for a time, and I thought she had fallen asleep before she spoke again. “I wish she was going to be there.”

“Oh, my love,” I said. “I wish so, too. But know that she’ll be watching. Whenever you look at me, just imagine that she’s standing right beside me, because I know that’s where she’ll be.”

Brianna curled into me, cuddling close, and it struck me that this was the last time she would be there with us, as our child. Come morning she would be a married woman, starting her new life with the man she loved. I remembered that first day I brought her and her brothers home with me. I never could have known how that sullen, yet enormously brave little girl who had criticized my cooking would have become one of my best friends, and one of the best parts of my life. Losing Charlotte was one of the worst things to happen to any of us...and yet, it had brought us together as a family, and that , I could never regret.

“And... were you nervous?” she asked then, and I could swear I felt her face heating up against my shoulder. “About...the wedding night?”

I chuckled. “Very,” I admitted. “Ridiculous, really, considering Jamie and I had pretty much done everything but the deed itself.”

Brianna sat up then, staring at me wide-eyed. “Really? Like what?”

I frowned at her, blushing myself. “Oh...come now, you know.”

She shook her head. “No, not really.”

I sat up with her. “You and Roger haven’t…”

“No!” she exclaimed. “God, Mama, you know how petrified Roger is of Da. It was all I could do to get him to kiss me, or touch me even a little bit less...chastely than being in church would allow. Besides, he is a minister, after all. I...I did ask...just out of curiosity, if he’s a virgin. And he said he is.”

I took a mental note to ask Jamie to have a serious talk with Roger before the wedding night.

“Well, you know how it all works…”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “Of course. You told me all that, plus you don’t grow up with two brothers and not know a thing or two about the opposite sex. But what’s this... everything but the deed itself ?”

I grimaced, wondering how I was supposed to discuss this with my daughter . But damn it, I sure had wished someone had been a little more frank with me before my relationship with Jamie. It could have relieved a lot of stress, confusion, and guilt.

“Well…” I began. “The simple truth of it is there is a lot more to the marriage bed than the Bible would like women to believe…”

 

~~~

 

Jamie didn’t enjoy waking up alone without his wife, warm and sweet-smelling beside him, but knowing the reason behind it was because mother and daughter had spent the entire night sitting up, giggling like a pair of schoolgirls, was enough to make him smile. 

That smile remained on his face as their littler daughter came bounding into his bedroom, red curls in a wild disarray, with Rollo right behind her.

“G’mornin,” he said, opening his arms so that she could climb up in bed beside him. “Ye look a right wee beastie this morning, your hair sticking up in every which direction.”

Lotte half-heartedly attempted to pat a curl down before giving it up. “Mama said tae tell ye that her and Bree and Auntie Jenny and Rachel are busy gettin’ ready, so you have tae feed me.”

Jamie chuckled. Every now and then Lotte got it in her head to mimic his accent, and she was really quite good at it. Thing was, for some reason she only did it when no one else was around.

“Weel, best feed th’ wee beastie ‘afore she eats me up,” he said, deliberately deepening his accent and growling as he stood up, hoisting her along with him. He set her down long enough to pull on a shirt, then took her hand and led her downstairs, past Brianna’s bedroom where the girlish giggles had increased by two.

“Ye ready tae be a flower girl today?” he asked her as they entered the kitchen, and he started to gather the ingredients for parritch. 

“Aye!” she exclaimed, climbing up on a stool. “Bree says it’s verra important.”

“And it is,” he agreed. “Hardly a more important job in all th’ wedding.”

“But not more important than Bree’s job,” she said seriously. “ She’s the one who has to get married .”

Jamie nodded solemnly. “Oh aye, and Roger, as well.”

“At least Bree gets to marry Roger. If she had to marry anyone else that’d be awful.”

Jamie laughed. “Oh? Why?”

Because ,” she said, offering no other explanation. 

He set a bowl of parritch before her with a heavy drizzle of honey, and she dug in while he went to fetch his own.

“Da?”

“Dinna talk wi’ your mouth full,” he reminded her automatically

Lotte swallowed dutifully, then begun again. “Da? If Roger is the minister, but he has to be the groom, who does the...the...you know, the talkin’ part of the wedding?”

“An old friend of Roger’s Da has come tae town tae perform th’ wedding,” Jamie said, rather impressed with her for having thought to ask that. 

“Is Bree’s Da gonna come?”

Jamie grit his teeth, pausing before he answered to get his expression under control. 

Neither he nor Claire had been particularly happy about it, but Brianna had felt compelled to send her biological father and stepmother an invitation to the wedding. In the years since Claire had officially adopted the children following an ugly custody case, Brianna and her brothers had kept only occasional correspondence with their father, and most of that was via the man’s well-meaning wife. 

But Jamie had kept his mouth firmly shut on the matter, understanding that it was Brianna’s choice whether to include her father or not, and supporting her regardless of how much he hated the bastard for abusing his first wife and then abandoning her with three young children. He never even lifted a finger for them when Charlotte died, only to attempt to rip them away from the only other mother they had.

“Bree’s father didn’a answer th’ invitation,” Jamie said. “I dinna ken if he’s coming or not.”

Lotte looked a little disappointed, and Jamie knew it was because she was incredibly curious about this strange “other” father that her older siblings had, especially since he was still alive, and not spoken of lovingly the way Charlotte was.

Jamie looked up as Claire swanned into the kitchen, and he smiled, his foul mood at the mention of Ethan Cooper evaporating at the sight of his flushed and beaming wife.

“Good morning, loves!” she sang, kissing Lotte’s cheek around the mess she was making with her parritch before making her way to him to give him a much more thorough good-morning kiss.

“Morning, Mama,” Lotte said.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full, darling.”

“How are things going up there?” Jamie asked.

Claire chuckled. “We’re having a grand time. I’m sorry I didn’t come to bed last night.”

Jamie gave her another quick kiss. “Dinna fash. I ken ye needed th’ extra time wi’ her.”

Claire’s smile turned a bit bittersweet, and she nodded, blinking away tears.

It wasn’t only that Brianna would be married at the end of the day, but they would also be saying goodbye to her again. In lieu of a honeymoon, Brianna and Roger were going straight to Boston the next morning so that Brianna could continue her studies, and Roger could take up his new position as one of two ministers at Harvard’s campus chapel. 

“You best go and see to it that Roger is getting himself ready,” she sniffed. 

Roger, Fergus, Denny, and Young Ian had gathered at William’s house the night before for a stag night that they’d all promised would be kept relatively tame, forgoing the usual jaunt to the saloon in deference to Roger’s position in the community. Jamie had been invited, but he’d declined, thinking Roger and the other lads might have more fun without their father watching, and more importantly, because he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Claire and the girls home alone.

“Aye,” Jamie said. “Hopefully Willie didn’a drink him under th’ table.”

“I’d also like you to have a talk with him.”

“Who, Willie?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “No, Roger.”

“What sort of ‘talk?’”

“About…” Claire cut her eyes over to Lotte, who was feeding bites of parritch to Rollo. “You know, the wedding night.”

Jamie snorted. “Sassenach, Roger is a grown man, no’ a blushing wee lass. He kens what tae to do on his wedding night.”

She rolled her eyes again. “He’s also a minister’s son who’s lived his whole life in this one small town full of all the same people. Brianna said he told her he’s...inexperienced, and I’m inclined to believe that’s true.”

Jamie balked, not liking where she was going with this. “He’ll ken th’ basics of it, surely! I canna go and tell a man how tae bed my own daughter .”

“Jamie,” Claire hissed, glancing at Lotte, but it was too late.

“What does it mean to bed someone?”

“It means to tuck them in,” Claire lied easily. “Now, clean your face and hands and then go up and see what your sister and the others are up to.”

More than happy to be admitted into the sacred room where all the grown up ladies were, Lotte hurriedly did as she was asked before bounding up the stairs.

Claire turned back to him with a patient expression. “Jamie, Roger doesn’t have a father. Now, perhaps his father taught him well before he died, but you need to at least check and see if Roger has any questions or concerns at all. I know it’s uncomfortable to think about, but don’t you want Brianna to have a good wedding night? Like we did?”

As much as Jamie loathed to admit it, Claire was right, and the absolute last thing he wanted was for Roger, in his inexperience, to do anything that might inadvertently hurt or frighten Brianna.

“I’m sure if nothing else, Denny and Young Ian filled him in last night,” he gave one more last-ditch effort.

Or they might be like you and too uncomfortable considering it’s Brianna, or Roger may have been too drunk to retain it. Besides, I know nothing about what sort of advice they’d give, but I know precisely the advice you’ll give and that it’ll be the correct advice. Now, buck up, soldier. Off you go.”

“Soldier, am I?” Jamie asked wryly. “ Fine . Away I march.”

Pleased, Claire kissed him once more before patting his behind and sending him on his way. The suit he would be wearing was already at William’s house anyway, having been altered and pressed by Dottie the day before.

 

Jamie could smell the liquor as soon as he stepped through the door of his old homestead, but all the young men present were up and about and fully alert, readying themselves for the big day.

“Morning, Da!” Fergus called.

“Morning, lads,” he said, shaking Denny’s hand. “How goes it?”

“Roger’s had a good puke already,” William reported cheerfully. “Whether that’s from the hangover or sheer nerves is anybody’s guess, but he’s doing alright now.”

“I’m fine ,” Roger snapped irritably, standing before the mirror, fiddling with his tie. “I choked on my toast, is all.”

“Tell that to the gallon of regurgitated whisky fertilizing Willie’s begonias out back,” Young Ian said.

“I don’t have begonias,” William muttered.

“Ye look ready, Ian,” Jamie said. “Why don’t ye go and check on preparations at th’ church?”

“I’ll come too,” Denny said. “I want to check on Dottie before the ceremony. Rachel was going to leave Rain with her while she went to get ready with Bree, and I want to make sure she’s managing with Rain and Lucy.”

Ian chuckled. “Especially considering the little hellion my daughter is already becoming. We’ll see you at the church, Roger.”

“Thanks,” Roger said distractedly, still fussing with his tie.

“Come here,” Jamie said, grabbing Roger’s shoulder and turning him around before batting his hands away so that he could undo the knot Roger had made of his tie. “Nervous, lad?”

“N...no, of course not,” Roger said, holding his head back as if Jamie had a knife to his throat, and not a tie. “Why would I be?”

“I expect every man is a bit nervous before their wedding day,” Jamie said. “I know I was, both times.”

Roger blinked at him. “Even with Claire?”

“Especially wi’ Claire,” Jamie chuckled, but then grew solemn. “My first wedding was a...rushed affair. And aye, I was a nervous wreck, but it was because I was unsure of what I was getting myself into, and just a lad tae boot. Wi’ Claire...weel, it was very different wi’ Claire. I thought of every little way I could mess things up. First at th’ weddin’, wi th’ whole town watching, and then as her husband in general. And it was important that I didn’a mess things up, because of how much she means tae me. And then...of course...there was th’ fact that she was…”

He glanced over his shoulder at Fergus and William, who regrettably were listening attentively. Why hadn’t he sent them away, too?

“So sure of herself?” Roger offered, chuckling slightly.

“No,” Jamie said, surprised. “Christ, lad, ye’ve no idea how unsure she was. But then, I think it may just be that way wi’ people who are so naturally confident. Ye canna always tell when they’re not .”

“Are you saying Brianna’s having second thoughts?”

Jamie shook his head. He was mucking this up, wasn’t he? “No, no’ at all. What I was saying earlier was Claire was an innocent . That’s what she was so unsure about, and I was terrified of doing something that would put her off th’ marriage bed for good.”

“Wait a second,” William broke in, holding up a hand. “You’re telling me you and Claire never...before the wedding?”

“No!” Jamie snapped. “What...you thought we did all this time?”

“I think it was just sort of assumed,” Roger said apologetically.

“What about every time I’ve walked in on you ever ?!” William exclaimed.

“Aye, and can ye work on that ?” Jamie shot back. “I swear, when ye find ye a wife, I’m going tae barge into this house forty times a month as payback.”

“Can we get back to my wedding, here?” Roger asked in exasperation.

“Aye,” Jamie said, finally finishing with Roger’s tie. “Okay, so, perhaps Claire and I weren’a exactly... chaste before th’ wedding, but she was a virgin, and scairt, as I imagine everyone is at first.”

“What do you mean not exactly chaste?” Fergus asked, his expression saying he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“Fergus,” William said flatly. “Are you telling me everything you said you and Ian did and saw in those Mexican brothels was a lie ?”

“No!” Fergus snapped. “But Da wouldn’t do that with Ma …” Fergus stared at Jamie with wide eyes. “WOULD HE?!”

“Of course he would, you nitwit!”

Roger looked at Jamie balefully. “Are you hating this as much or more than me?”

“Definitely more,” Jamie grunted. “The point is ...I just want tae know if ye have any questions, or concerns, before proceeding wi’ today.”

Roger cleared his throat. “I appreciate it, Jamie, really. And while I may be...inexperienced, I’m no green lad, either. I’m sure Brianna and I will find our way, together.”

Jamie smiled, surprised to find himself reassured by Roger’s answer. “Good.”

“I have questions,” Fergus said. “ So many questions...”

“We haven’a all day, lad,” Jamie droned. 

“Actually,” William put in. “I...might have one or two, myself, if you’ve got a minute.”

Jamie’s jaw twitched. “It’s no’ your wedding day.”

“Oh, by all means,” Roger said, pulling up a chair. “We still have a few hours before we need to be at the church. They might have questions I never thought to ask, after all.”

Jamie sighed, cursing his beloved wife for this, and then he chuckled and took a seat. “Alright, laddies. Here’s what ye need tae ken…”





Chapter Text

“Something borrowed,” Rachel said, adding the crystal hairpin to Brianna’s elegant updo. 

“Thanks, Rachel,” Brianna said, beaming. “And thank you again, Auntie Jenny, for the new dress. It’s absolutely perfect !” she twirled before the mirror, pleased to punch with the brand new wedding gown ordered all the way from New York and paid for with three head of cattle. It was simple, but beautiful, just as perfect for Brianna as she said it was. The lace collar was high, so that the low back, shielded only by sheer lace, didn’t look immodest. The sleeves fluttered about her shoulders, none of the overdone poofs I’d seen in catalogs, and the bodice hugged her waist before fanning out in a full lace skirt that Dottie had altered to float just above the ground. Instead of a veil to cover her vibrant hair, she wore a circlet of white flowers.

“I have just the thing for your something blue,” I said, going to my jewelry box and returning with a small card, adorned with blue fleur de lis . “This might seem a strange thing to carry on your wedding day, but...when I first moved into the homestead and attempted to start my practice, your mother gave this to me.”

Gasping slightly, Brianna took the card, holding it close, and smiled. “You’re going to be great,” she read.

“Short and to the point, just like Charlotte,” Jenny chuckled. 

“She might have written that to me,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what she’d be saying to you, today. And not only your wedding, but your life . You’re going to be great Brianna, no matter where life takes you.”

“Thank you, Mama,” Brianna whispered, falling forward into a hug. When she pulled away, she lightly brushed her finger across the penned message. “Besides her Bible, I don’t think I have anything with her handwriting on it.”

“Now you do,” I said with a teary smile.

Brianna laughingly accepted a handkerchief from Rachel and dabbed lightly at her eyes after carefully putting the card in her pocket. “I still need something old,” she said. “Or, great-grandmother’s ring will do, won’t it, when Roger puts it on?”

I’d given Brianna my grandmother’s engagement ring when she was a young girl that my Uncle Lamb had given to me, and had taken it back a few days before to give to Roger so that they could use it as a wedding band. Roger had been hesitant at first, saying he should buy Bree her own ring, but I reasoned (with Brianna’s agreement) that Bree loved the ring, and they could use the saved money to start their new life in Boston, and he was able to see the sense in that.

“Your Da has that taken care of,” I said with a small smile. “He’ll be along soon.”

Brianna nodded and turned to the mirror, smoothing out invisible wrinkles from her dress. Jenny and Rachel exchanged a look before Jenny announced that they were going to head for the church and make sure everything was ready. 

“Mama,” Lotte called, entering the room in her darling, puffy little flower girl dress. “I keep dropping all the petals out of my basket!”

“Because you keep swinging it around!” Jenny exclaimed playfully. “You have to save at least some of them for the wedding! Now, come on, Roger might need a kiss from you for courage,” Jenny gave me a meaningful look. “And she won’t leave my sight.” I gave her a grateful nod.

“Okay!” Lotte chirped. “Bye, Mama! Bye, Bree!”

“Bye, Lotte,” Brianna said as Rachel swooped Lotte up and the three of them left the bedroom.

“I guess it’s almost time,” Brianna said breathily.

“I guess so,” I said. 

Brianna turned from the mirror to face me. “I’m gonna miss you, Mama.”

“Oh, darling,” I whispered, rushing forward to wrap her in a tight hug. “No matter where you and Roger go, your home, both of your homes, will always be right here . And your family will always be here for you.”

“I know,” she said. “And that’s why I’m not afraid.”

I’d already heard Jenny’s wagon pull away, so the next horse we heard from outside, we assumed was Jamie, so I went downstairs to meet him. 

But when I opened the door...it wasn’t Jamie.

“Ethan?”

“Dr. B.,” Ethan Cooper greeted me with a tilt of his hat before removing it. 

“W...what are you doing here?”

Ethan frowned. “I’m here for my daughter’s wedding, of course.”

I sighed, standing aside to admit him, silently daring this man to do anything to ruin Brianna’s day lest I gut him like a cadaver. “Where is Emily?”

“I’m afraid Emily was feeling a bit too poorly to make the journey,” Ethan said, looking around the house with an appraising eye. “She sends her regrets, of course. Quite a home you have here.”

“Thank you,” I said shortly. “Well, you’ve made it just in time. The wedding will be at the church at noon. Why don’t you go on ahead and Joe or Murtagh will see to it that you're seated with the bride’s family?”

Ethan turned back to me and scowled. “Seated? I’m here to walk my daughter down the aisle.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m the girl’s father, after all.”

I heard a snort from behind me, and glanced over my shoulder to see Jamie in the doorway, glaring daggers. “Plantin’ yer seed doesn’a make ye a father , Ethan.”

“How dare you!” Ethan hissed. “Brianna invited me. Her father . It’s bad enough that I haven’t even had a chance to approve of this man she’s marrying, but I will be escorting her down the aisle, as is proper.”

Jamie squinted at Ethan like he was trying to figure out how someone could be so idiotic. “Ye’ve kent Roger since he was in clouts, ye eejit!”

“What did you just say to me?!”

I looked at Jamie. “I think he really doesn’t know.”

“Enough!”

We all looked to see Brianna come down the stairs, and I glanced back and got to see the expressions on the two men’s faces. Ethan, who was expressionless...and Jamie...who looked as if he’d just witnessed an angel come down from Heaven. 

I was worried that Brianna would be upset, but she just looked annoyed. She marched up to her father, arms crossed. “Ethan, I’m glad you came. Truly, I am. But my father is going to walk me down the aisle.”

“I am your father,” Ethan protested.

“No, you’re not,” Brianna said. “Or, you are, but you’re not my Da. And I don’t need to explain anything to you, because you already know . Now, if you love me, at all, you’ll leave now and enjoy the wedding, and I’ll save you a dance at the reception. Otherwise, I’ll send for Rupert and Angus to have you removed. They did it with General Custer and my Ma and Da’s wedding, so I know they’ll have no problem with it now.”

Ethan gave her a long look, and then without even a glance at Jamie or me, turned on his heel and left.

“Are you alright?” I asked Brianna.

She shrugged, lowering her arms. “Honestly? I knew that if he actually did show up that something like this would probably happen. I know I probably shouldn’t have invited him…”

I shook my head. “No, it was the right thing to do. Every wedding needs at least one uncomfortable relative at it, doesn’t it?”

Brianna laughed. “I guess so.”

I smiled up at Jamie, who was also relaxing. “I’m going to go make sure he actually left the property,” I chuckled, seeing myself out. 

 

~~~

 

Jamie took a deep breath to release the anger he’d felt upon seeing Ethan Cooper in his home, demanding to walk Jamie’s daughter down the aisle. In Jamie’s mind, it felt no different than if he’d waltzed in and insisted the same of Lotte.

But Brianna dealt with the egomaniac beautifully, and now he was free to simply admire how beautiful she was.

“I’m sorry about that,” she said. “You know I wouldn’t want anyone to walk me down that aisle but you?”

“Aye, I ken, but then again...surely if I weren’a around there’d be someone ye’d prefer tae Ethan.”

Brianna laughed. “Oh yes, let’s see...Willie, Fergus, Murtagh, Joe, Two Moons... Dougal …”

Jamie laughed with her, the last of the tension dissipating. “I do so love ye, a leannan .”

“I love you, too, Da,” Brianna said. “Mama said you had a something old for me? I’ve got everything I need but that.”

Jamie nodded, reaching into his sporran. “That I do.”

Brianna furrowed her brows. “Are those Mama’s pearls?”

“Aye, they were my mother’s, before her.”

Brianna nodded. “You gave them to her before your wedding.”

“And now I’m giving them to you.”

Brianna’s eyes widened. “ Giving them to me?! You can’t! Mama adores these pearls.”

Jamie chuckles. “Well, aye, and she adores you . T’was her idea, ken, but I asked if I could be th’ one tae give them to you. I always intended them tae one day go to my daughter.”

Brianna’s shoulders slumped a little. “But what about Lotte?”

Jamie frowned, opening his mouth to scold her for setting herself apart from Lotte again, but she cut him off.

“No, I mean...I already have Mama’s grandmother’s ring. What will be left for Lotte when she gets married?”

Jamie smiled at her. “She’ll have th’ opal necklace I gave your mother for our first anniversary, and when we die, she’ll have her wedding ring. Happy?”

“Well, not about the you dying part,” Brianna muttered. “But I suppose that’s alright.”

Jamie held up the pearls in question, and Brianna smiled and turned around so he could gently drape them around her neck.

“Are ye ready?”

Brianna turned back around, beaming with joy. “ Je suis pres, Da.”

 

~~~

 

I waited in the carriage, giving Jamie a moment alone with Brianna. When they came out arm in arm, laughing, their matching red hair bent close together, I knew Ethan’s appearance had failed to put a damper on this day. Not for the first time, I marveled that Brianna and Jamie weren’t actually related, but Jamie had pouted that time I teasingly asked him if he’d had a secret affair with Charlotte Cooper. 

 

When we pulled up to the church, the bridesmaids and groomsmen were outside waiting and waving.

Jamie hopped out of the wagon, and helped me down before turning to Brianna, who normally scorned assistance from wagons and carriages, but happily let him swing her down by the waist like he did when she was a child.

“I’ll see you inside,” I said, trying to keep a tight hold on my tears. No sense starting now .

“I dreamed about this once,” Brianna said absently, staring at the door to the church. 

“Only once?” I asked with a chuckle. 

“No, I mean this . This exact wedding day. It was before you and Da were even together, but even in my dream it was him walking me down the aisle. And my Ma was there, standing right beside you, just like you said.”

I smiled, kissing her temple. “Could you see the groom?”

She smiled. “No, I tried, though. But that’s alright, I know now who it was.”

Joe was at the door, waiting to escort me to my seat. I took a glance around the packed church, seeing all the familiar faces of people who had known and loved Brianna her entire life. 

Though invited, Geillis had sent her regrets of being unable to attend, but I noted with pleasure that John had made it, likely on that morning train since I hadn’t seen him previously. Ethan was seated on the third row. Still technically with “family,” but a row behind where Jamie and I would be sitting with Murtagh, Joe, Gale, and Two Moons.

Rachel and William were wearing matching grins as they walked down the aisle together as matron of honor and best man, the entire church getting a good laugh about Rain suddenly squealing for her mommy from where she sat with Dottie. Next came Jenny and Denny, and then another round of laughter due to the uneven number of groomsmen to bridesmaids, meaning Fergus and Ian came prancing down the aisle arm-in-arm.

And then, cute enough to melt even the stoniest of hearts, was Lotte, walking with her tongue sticking out in concentration, so not to spill any flower petals until she reached the aisle, at which point she threw them all in the air with abandon. Striding patiently beside her was her escort, Rollo, looking quite dapper in his own bow tie. 

When Brianna appeared in the doorway with Jamie, I couldn’t resist sneaking a glance at Roger, happy beyond measure to see an expression very similar to the one Jamie wore on our wedding day.

I watched, my heart in my throat, as Brianna made her way gradually to her new life. I felt a brush against my hand, and glanced down, thinking Joe was offering support, but he was standing a good several inches away. When I looked back up, Brianna was smiling at me.

“Who gives this woman to this man?” Reverend Lawhorne asked.

“Her mother and I do,” Jamie said, and likely only I would notice the way his jaw twitched as he passed Brianna’s hand to Roger.

Jamie’s hand found mine the instant he joined me on our pew, our eyes meeting for a long beat before turning our attention back to the new couple. And before we could scarcely blink, the reverend was introducing us to Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield. 

I squeezed Jamie’s hand, imagining I could hear Charlotte’s voice from beside me.

Look at our girl, Dr. B. We did it. Now the rest is up to her.



Chapter Text

The reception was held in the same meadow where Jamie’s and mine was. In fact, with many of the same oft-reused decorations, and the smell of new spring flowers in the air, I felt transported back to my own wedding day, all those years ago. I may not have been a young girl on that day like Brianna, but I certainly felt like I’d gone from child to woman since that time.

Brianna and Roger had their first dance, which was closely followed by a dance with Bree and Jamie, the two chuckling over some private joke while they swayed more than danced.

Ethan had taken his leave shortly after the ceremony, but at least he offered his congratulations to the couple, and gave them the gift Emily had sent along with him. Brianna scarcely seemed to notice, so absorbed in the magic of her special day, but William was more than happy to see him go. I honestly regretted that he had to despise his own father the way he did, but it only made me that much more grateful that he and his siblings had Jamie in their life, to be the sort of father every child deserves.

“May I have this dance?”

I smiled at Roger, and dropped my hand into his. “You may.”

Before I walked away with him, I quickly did another scan for Lotte, finding her safe in the company of William, who was leading her to the dance floor.

“I guess this is difficult,” Roger said, leading me into the dance. “An event like this, hard to keep your own eyes on her the whole time.”

I nodded. “Very. But Jamie and I discussed it, and we were determined to simply allow ourselves to enjoy this day with you.”

It had come with a thousand mental reminders that this day was nothing like that other. We were not drunk, Lotte would not be left to nap away from the party, and there was not a single person present that was not among the trusted circle of Lotte’s life.

“It’s going to take time, I think,” Roger said. “To be able to really relax again.”

I nodded, though privately I didn’t think I’d ever truly relax again.

Wanting to steer our thoughts back to the celebration at hand, I smiled over at Jamie and Bree. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her quite this happy.”

Roger smiled too. “Me either. But I plan to make it my life’s work to keep her this happy.”

“And so you shall,” I said, then smirked teasingly. “I heard about all the advice Jamie gave you and the boys this morning.”

Roger’s cheeks pinked, but he didn’t rise to my bait. “Indeed. Best advice of all being that it’s best to just assume that Brianna is always right. Jamie said it’s worked fine and dandy for him all these years.”

I laughed. “That it has, and that advice will save you years of frustration, my dear Roger. But in seriousness, I’m so very proud of both of you. I know that you’re going to take care of each other, keep each other safe, and loved, and for the first time, Brianna is going back to school and I’m not worried about her.”

Roger smiled softly, then kissed my cheek. “Thanks…” he wrinkled his nose. “Ma?”

We both dissolved into laughter at that, shaking our heads and saying “ Claire ” at the same time.

The dance ended, and Roger went eagerly off to attend to his wife, and I was going to seek out my own husband but found another hand offered to me.

“John Gray,” I said fondly, letting him lead me back to the dance floor. “I’m so glad you were able to make it after all.”

“It was a close thing,” he said, his dance posture and form so perfect I found myself scrambling to remember my own girlhood lessons, not having realized I’d gotten so laxed during my years in Colorado. “I only just arrived this morning.”

“Will you be staying a while?”

He shook his head. “Unfortunately no, I must return to Harvard in the morning. I’ve taken the liberty of procuring a private cabin on the train for the newlyweds.”

“How kind of you!”

He chuckled. “Hardly kindness, Dr. Fraser. I learned that I might otherwise have been sharing with them on the trip back to Boston, which, under other circumstances would have been a lovely arrangement. However…”

I laughed with him. “Enough said.”

“I don’t mean to pry, and I do hope you don’t think me indelicate, but where are Brianna and Roger passing the evening tonight? It’s only, Roger’s quarters behind the church seem…”

I laughed again. “Not quite appropriate for a wedding night you mean? And Christ, can you imagine them having to come to our home? No, Reverend Lawhorne will be taking up residence in Roger’s apartment until a new minister can be found, and as for the newlyweds, well, that was left up to Fergus.”

John frowned in confusion. “Fergus?”

I shook my head with a wry smile. “An odd tradition to be sure. From what I understand, he and Young Ian have set up an elaborate camp several miles outside of town. Brianna is thrilled.”

John smiled, twirling me out for a spin before pulling me back. “Well, if the bride is happy, that’s all that matters. I look forward to getting her back in class. And…I’d just like to say how relieved I was to hear of Lotte’s safe return. All your safe returns.”

“Thank you,” I said. “And thank you for all the support you gave Brianna while she was attempting to continue her schooling. She told me how you advocated for her in being allowed to take another extended break. I’m sure the deans didn’t look too kindly on it, being that most people don’t think women should be in college at all .”

“Well, Brianna is a very promising student,” John said. “And she’s going to have to work all that much harder to catch back up, but I have every confidence that she will.”

“So do I.”

“Mind if I cut in?”

John grinned broadly at Jamie, handing me off to him with a cordial bow. 

“Been trying tae narrow ye down for a dance all day,” Jamie said as he yanked me into his arms. Ye’re almost as popular as th’ bride.”

“You had only to ask,” I informed him primly. “You know you’re always at the top of my dance card.”

He caught me looking around, and tilting my face back to him with his finger underneath my chin. “She’s just over yonder, sitting beside Murtagh.”

“Sorry,” I murmured automatically. 

He frowned at me. “No sorrys needed, Sassenach. I haven’a taken my eyes off her all day...it only helps that I can see over most everyone’s heid, is all. Think we’ll ever cease worrying?”

I chuckled, then rested my head against his chest. “No. I think worry is just something we signed up for when we became parents.”

“Have I told ye today how verra beautiful ye look?” he asked me.

Grinning, I looked back up at him. “No, not today. But you’ve told me a thousand times before, so why is it I still always feel like a blushing schoolgirl when you do?”

He kissed my lips lightly. “There will be many thousand more chances for me tae say it again, Sassenach. I hope tae see that same bonny wee blush on your cheeks when I say it tae ye when you’re eighty.”

I laughed. “Eighty? Not sure how beautiful I’ll be then .”

Jamie leaned his forehead against mine, his hair falling forward to create a curtain around our faces. “So verra beautiful,” he said in a low voice.

Feeling myself begin to grow a little too warm for mixed company, I pulled away, though the twinkle in Jamie’s eyes told me he knew that it wasn’t because I wanted to.

From behind him, I caught sight of Marsali with her little sister, Joanie, watching the dance floor a bit forlornly. I smiled, reminded of Brianna at that age. Taking Jamie’s hand, I led him away from the dancing, finding Fergus helping himself to yet another slice of cake.

“Fergus,” I said, sidling up close. “You know Marsali, don’t you?”

“That girl that hangs around the clinic a lot? Yeah.”

I took him by the shoulder and turned him slightly, so that we were facing her without directly staring at her. “She looks like someone who would love to be asked to dance. Why don’t you go over and ask her?”

Ma…”

“Dinna argue wi’ your mother, lad,” Jamie said.

Fergus wrinkled his nose. “I’m not! But...come on, Ma, she’s a little kid, and she already won’t stop staring at me whenever I’m in the clinic! Besides I…” he looked over at Young Ian, who was beckoning him over. “Besides, Ian and I have to go help set up for Bree and Roger’s grand exit. Gotta go, bye!”

I glared at my son as he beat a hasty retreat. “And he used to be so sweet,” I groused.

Jamie chuckled. “Th’ space between fourteen and sixteen might as well be a million years for a lad his age,” he pointed out.

I gave him a flat look. “I wasn’t trying to marry them off , for Christ’s sake. I just remember how sad Brianna used to be when she was Marsali’s age, and no one ever asked her to dance at these functions.”

Jamie heaved an indulgent sigh, and nodded. “Verra well.”

I watched in amusement as Jamie turned and approached the two young girls, bowing gentlemanly before offering his hand to Marsali. Marsali’s eyes flew open wide, her face flushed scarlet, and she looked around, catching my gaze. I gave her a smile and an approving nod, and Marsali giggled as she took Jamie’s hand.

The dance was an upbeat one, one that Jamie only barely knew, but Marsali didn’t seem to notice, and looked to be having the time of her life. After a moment, Jamie gestured to little Joanie, allowing her to join them, and both girls were bouncing with glee. 

“Oh, now that’s just too darling,” Joe said from beside me, Lotte propped on his hip. “But that sure ain’t.”

I frowned at him. “What isn’t?”

Joe nodded in the other direction, and I followed his gaze to Laoghaire, who was watching Jamie dance with her daughters with a dark expression. 

“Ignore her,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “I do. I swear, I don’t know how such an unpleasant woman can raise two such sweet girls.”

“She wasn’t always that way,” Joe said. “As a kid, she was a lot like Marsali. I don’t think that first husband of hers treated her right.”

I hummed, but made no other comment, deciding I didn’t really feel like gossiping about Laoghaire McKimmie on my daughter’s wedding day.

Jamie returned from dancing with the McKimmie girls and held out his arms for Lotte. “Now, how about a dance wi’ my best lass, aye?”

“Aye!” Lotte exclaimed, all but leaping out of Joe’s arms.

Arms now free, Joe swung one of them around my shoulders. “You, Lady Jane, are a lucky lady. You know that?”

I grinned at him, though my eyes remained fixed on where Jamie was swinging Lotte around in a circle, while she cackled madly. 

“I do know that,” I said.

 

After the bouquet toss, (caught by none other than Lotte, held high in William’s arms, which caused Jamie to stomp around and grouse for the better part of an hour,) Brianna and Roger prepared to beat a hasty retreat to their campsite in an undisclosed location, to discourage the shivaree from following them there.

They fled the reception in a hurricane of birdseed and flower petals, while the men shouted crude taunts and the younger people banged pots and pans.

I’d offered the use of Flash, bedecked with a flower garland and a ‘Just Married’ banner tied to his saddle, being the horse most at ease with large commotions and easily the fastest in town in case any jokester wedding guest (Rupert and Angus...and Young Ian) tried to chase them. They did, but I later heard that Bree and Roger evaded them with ease.

“Don’t look so sad ,” William said, steering me back to the reception once Bree and Roger were gone. “You’ll get to say goodbye in the morning.”

“And then she’ll be gone ,” I sighed. “And this time, it might be forever.”

“Not forever, Ma,” he said.

I glared up at him. “You better not get married and move away, young man.”

He smiled down at me and kissed the top of my head. “Not that I see marriage in my near future...I promise anyway. I won’t ever move away. I’ll be the good child.”

“That’s all I ask,” I sniffed.

“Why don’t you and Da head home? I’ll stay and help see to the cleanup.”

I tried to refuse, but Jamie appeared at my elbow, agreeing with William. “Ye were up all night, Sassenach. Let th’ others take care o’ things.”

“Fine,” I sighed, having to admit that I was tired, and Gale and Dottie appeared to have everything well in hand. “Lotte, let’s go, love.”

“Nope,” William said, scooping her up. “She’s mine .”

I arched a brow at him.

“Fergus and Lotte are coming to my place for a sleepover, aren’t ya Lottie Loo?”

“Yeah!” Lotte exclaimed.

William gave me a meaningful look. “Safe and sound, with me and Fergus. Go and take some time for yourselves, Ma. It’s been way too long.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know...I know you mean well, Willie, and of course I trust you...but I think I’d just worry all night. Jamie?”

Jamie’s expression was unreadable as he gave it some thought. “She’s no less safe at Willie’s home than she is wi’ us, Sassenach. Maybe he’s right, it might do us a bit of good. Her too.”

“Where will she sleep?” I asked, nervously wringing my hands.

“Sandwiched between me and Rollo,” William reported with a nod.

“Well, sometimes, when she can’t sleep…”

“She drinks warm water with honey,” William finished. “My ma taught you that trick. Used to do it for us kids.”

I smiled, somehow relaxing all of a sudden. “I forgot that she taught me that. Alright. But don’t keep her up too late, and make sure you’re all at the train station on time tomorrow.”

“Promise,” William said, kissing my cheek. “Well, Lot, are you ready to go find Fergus and Rollo and start our sleepover?”

“Yeah!” Lotte squealed. “Can I have more cake?!”

“Of course you can. Tell Mama and Da goodnight.”

“Night night, Mama! Night night, Da!”

“Goodnight, a leannan ,” Jamie said, kissing her pudgy cheek. 

“Night night, Lottie Love,” I said, going in for my own kiss. “Be good for your brothers.”

It took Jamie physically steering me away to get me to leave, and even still I kept looking back over my shoulder at where Lotte was laughing and playing with her brothers.

“It’s good that she’s so comfortable with being away from home,” I said, trying to convince myself more than Jamie. “It shows that she’s healing.”

“It shows that she’s strong,” Jamie said. “And confident in the love and protection her family provides her. It isn’a easy for me either, Sassenach, but Lotte needs tae be allowed tae reclaim her childhood, and we need to be allowed tae have time tae ourselves wi’out feeling guilty about it.”

I sighed, agreeing with what he was saying, even if my paranoia said otherwise.

 

~~~

 

Jamie knew that they were both tired, yet they were still determined to take advantage of their evening alone. They sat together on the front porch, watching the sun set behind the trees, already on their second glasses of whisky.

“This batch is particularly good,” Claire said, swirling hers about in her glass. After the first one, she’d finally started to relax a little about Lotte’s absence, but it wasn’t easy, for either of them.

They both knew, realistically, that Lotte was perfectly safe and barely a mile away, but it set Jamie’s nerves on edge that he couldn’t simply peek into her bedroom to reassure himself that she was there . He could only imagine how it was for Claire.

“Aye, and they’re only going to get better with time,” Jamie said, taking another sip.

Claire smiled up at him. “Like us.”

He chuckled, kissing her nose. “Aye, like us.”

Claire cuddled into Jamie’s side, turning into that sweet wee cheetie she did when she’d had a bit to drink. A bit more, and she’d be turning into a feline of a different sort. Jamie couldn’t wait.

“It really was a beautiful wedding, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“It was,” he agreed. “No less than what our lass deserved.”

“Did it remind you of anything?”

Jamie smiled, hugging her tighter. “Blood of my blood, and bone of my bone.”

Claire sighed in pleasure. “I give you my body, that we two might one.”

“I give ye my spirit, till our life shall be done.”

Claire laced their fingers together, her thistle ring shining in the golden evening light. 

“It’ll be eleven years,” she whispered. “Since I pledged myself to you. But I think…” she looked up at him. “That after everything that’s happened, you deserve another one. I, Claire Fraser, take thee, James Fraser…” she sighed. “I take thee. That’s all.”

Jamie took her lips in a long kiss, relishing the taste of whisky and Claire, before pulling back to meet her eyes.

“I, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, take thee, Dr. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser, tae continue being th’ best decision I ever made. For richer, or poorer, through sickness, and in health.”

“Till death do us part?”

He kissed her again. “Much longer than that, Sassenach.”

That one kiss turned into two, then three, and before Jamie knew what was happening, he found that he had a lap-full of Claire, straddling his hips and pressing herself to him intimately. 

“Take me to bed, Fraser,” she whispered against his lips, and it may as well have been a command from a queen, not a quiet request, for all that he felt compelled to obey.

Jamie stood up, trusting Claire to hang on, and sure enough her legs wrapped tightly around his hips, her curves melting into the lines of his body.

They both laughed as he bumped into things trying to get through the house, but for once there weren’t children in the house to risk waking with their clumsiness. 

“Ouch!” Claire laughingly exclaimed after he backed her into the china cabinet. She let her feet drop to the floor, and Jamie found himself spinning and pressed against the wall, Claire’s mouth mapping a path across his jaw and down his neck, her fingers busy trying to free him of his shirt.

He obliged her, ripping the thing off so that her hands could have free access to his skin, which she took greedy advantage of. He tried to reach for her, to get her naked and fast , but she wouldn’t stand still for him, then suddenly she was gone altogether, and he opened his eyes to find her kneeling at his feet and looking up at him with a smirk that was positively filthy.

“Sassenach,” he sighed, feeling his chest tighten as she slowly undid his flies, letting his aching cock spring free. He didn’t even have time to prepare himself before she was engulfing him in her hot mouth. Her lips, turned red from arousal, wrapped around him sinfully, and he let his head fall back against the wall with a sharp curse.

She released him with a pop , looking up at him from beneath her eyelashes like the minx she was. “I’m sorry, was there something you wanted to tell me, Jamie?”

With a moan, Jamie tangled his fingers into her hair, guiding her back to him, and she went with a victorious chuckle that he felt go straight through him.

She sucked him deep into her mouth, so far he was afraid of strangling her, but then she came up for air, grinning as she stroked him and flicked the head of his cock with the tip of her tongue.

It was simply too much for him to handle, and he knelt, scooping her back up into his arms in a way which would probably have his knees crying out in regret tomorrow.

The nearest surface at the correct height was the bannister, where he set her down, letting her back rest along the angled railing.

“I’m going to fall,” she giggled, scrambling for purchase.

“No ye won’t,” he said, holding her firmly in place with one hand while his other impatiently yanked up her skirt.

Her drawers were soaked through, making him grow wild with need, and thanking every deity he could think of that they were the sort with the slit down the middle for convenience.

“Jamie,” she whined, her body attempting to keep its balance as he bent his head to her center, lapping at her like a man starved. And truly...he was. They’d made love plenty of times since returning home from Mexico, but always with the restraint that came from living in a home with several other people. Now he had her all alone, no one hearing, and he intended to make her scream for him.

Scream she did, her fingers clawing at his back as her body rocked back and forth, both from trying to stay balanced on the railing and from taking what she needed from him.

“Jamie!” she cried, tugging painfully on his hair. “Please...I need you inside me, Jamie…”

Unable to deny her request, he stood up, pulling her off the bannister and pushing her down to lay on the nearest surface, which happened to be the stairs. 

But Claire was one step ahead of him though, flipping him on his back, her arms angled behind her to loosen the fasteners of her dress. 

Jamie was quick to assist her, and after a few clumsy moments they were both naked, and she straddled his thighs, his back no doubt bruising against the edges of the stairs. But even if he didn’t have enough scar tissue there to keep him from pain, he doubted he’d be able to feel anything at all except for the places where Claire’s skin touched his.

She leaned into him, her nipples brushing lightly against his chest, and he tried to pull her closer, to crush her to him, absorb her into him. 

“Claire,” he moaned, a litany of pleas wrapped into that one syllable.

Her wee hand wrapped around him, squeezing him, before guiding him into the blissful embrace of her core. 

Jamie had a sudden urge to go slowly with her, to take his time and savor her every breath and whimper, but Claire had no such urge; riding him with an intensity that had him reeling. He eagerly let her take what she wished, his hands filling themselves with her plump arse to encourage her on.

Quickly giving up on going slow, he bucked up into her hard, using the stairs as traction. He watched the way her mouth opened in a silent scream, the way her eyes slammed shut in pleasure. He let it burn into his memory, along with all the other times she lost herself to him, heedless of everything but taking what she needed to bring herself to release. Nothing could ever be as beautiful to him. A side of her only he could ever see.

He could feel the pulsing of her body seconds before she cried out, her body going rigid, her fingers digging into the flesh of his chest and stomach. Jamie was only grateful that he was able to last until she had taken what was hers, because his own release came hot on her heels, shocks of blinding heat running through his every nerve ending.

With Claire’s full weight resting bonelessly on top of him, he gradually began to feel the steps digging into his spine, but he wasn’t quite ready to move just yet.

“What did you say?” she asked, raising her head, her eyes deliciously hooded.

He chuckled. “Didn’a realize I’d spoken aloud. I said, what was it that Walt Whitman called it?”

She frowned at him in confusion. 

“Ah, I remember. Th’ Body Electric.”

Claire smirked, then rolled off of him. “You’ll have to read that one to me sometime.”

“Ye dinna ken it?”

“Yes, but I’d like to hear it in your voice.”

“That can be arranged. But for now...I think we’d best get ourselves tae bed. I dinna ken about you, but I’m too old tae sleep on a staircase.”

Claire laughed, getting to her feet and pulling him along with her. They made their way upstairs, naked as the day they were born, feeling very much like newlyweds themselves. 



Chapter Text

Brianna and Roger were almost late getting to the train station. Not terribly surprising, considering the circumstances. 

I had to smile at the happy glow on Brianna’s face, then elbowed William sharply before he could make an inappropriate joke.

“I hate this,” she said, her joy dimming as she picked up Lotte, hugging her tightly. “You’re gonna just keep growing up while we’re gone, and I can’t stand it!”

“Why do you have’ta go away ?” Lotte asked, the reality that both Brianna and Roger were leaving starting to really sink in. As much as she loved Brianna, she was more or less used to her not always being there. But Roger...Roger had been a constant for her entire life.

When Brianna didn’t answer, I answered for her. “Because Bree has to finish her schooling, Lotte Love,” I said. “So that she can build amazing things, and Roger is going with her because he loves her.”

Roger was also looking particularly pinch-faced, as if his imminent departure was just catching up to him, as well. “I’m really gonna miss you, Miss Lotte,” he said, taking her from Brianna so that he could hug her.

Jamie and I watched as the couple made their rounds to their friends and family, but it wasn’t long before the conductor was making his last call for passengers. 

“Send a telegraph as soon as you’re settled,” I said. “...Actually, you’ll probably be so wrapped up in each other that you’ll forget. John?”

Turning from where he was handing his bags to the porter, John came and put his hands on Bree and Roger’s shoulders. “ I’ll make sure they send word. And I’ll look out for them as well.”

“Thank ye, John,” Jamie said, shaking his hand, then turned to Roger. “Remember what I’ve told ye, Roger. And take care of my lass, aye?”

Roger smiled, and nodded, holding out a hand to shake. “You have my word.”

“Write often,” I reminded Brianna, holding her by the shoulders. “If you need anything at all...money, advice, whatever, please just ask . And one telegraph will have me in Boston in a week’s time, if need be.”

Brianna chuckled. “I know, Mama. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away to school...and this time, I’m not alone.”

“I know,” I echoed softly. “But just because you’re a married woman, doesn’t mean you won’t need me every now and then.”

Brianna pulled me into a tight hug. “I’ll always need you, Mama.”

All aboard!

Brianna and Roger followed John aboard the train, waving to everyone as they went. After a moment, the train heaved a sigh, and slowly started its departure. 

Lotte was huddled close to my skirts, but then she was reaching for me to pick her up.

It was growing progressively less easy to lift her into my arms, but as long as I could manage it, I would, and I held her close as we watched the train roll away.

“Now, what do you say, Lotte Love,” I began. “Will you be going trapping with Da, or go to the clinic with Mama?”

Lotte tapped her chin to think it over, and I decided I might need to sweeten the pot.

“You’ll get to play with Marsali if you come with Mama…”

“Clinic!” she exclaimed.

Jamie snorted. “Ah, I see how it is. Verra well, lass, but be good for your mam, aye?”

“Aye,” she agreed.

“Da?” Fergus began. “Can I come trapping with you?”

O’course ye can,” Jamie agreed readily. 

“Good. Because I have a few more questions I wanted to ask you…”

Jamie made a face like he’d just taken a sip of spoiled milk, and I had to laugh.

“Have fun, you two!” I sang, turning to carry Lotte toward the clinic. “At least he’s getting an education,” I said as I went. “And I’m in the clear. Brianna is married, and you’re years away from needing The Talk .”

Lotte peered up at me. “ The Talk ? You mean where babies come from?”

I chuckled. “Yes, but you already know that, don’t you?”

She scrunched up her nose and nodded. “Yeah, but no one’s ever told me how the baby gets there.”

I stopped in my tracks, frowning at her. “Oh...well...how about I tell you when you’re seven ?”

“Okay!” she agreed so easily, I had to sigh in relief.

When we reached the clinic, Marsali was already waiting for me.

“Good morning, Dr. B!” she called happily.

“Good morning, Marsali,” I said as I set Lotte on her feet, after which she promptly made a beeline for the older girl.

“Mars-lee!”

Marsali hugged Lotte tight, then took her hand to lead her into the clinic behind me.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting too long,” I said, setting my bag down on my desk.

“Oh no,” Marsali said. “I knew you wouldn’t be here till after the train left. I bet you’re sad to see Brianna and Roger go, huh?”

“Very,” I said, smiling at her. “But that’s what people do sometimes. They grow up, and move away to start their own adventures. It’s what I did.”

Marsali smiled wistfully. “You were so brave, going cross-country all alone to practice medicine,” suddenly she scowled. “My mother says she’d never forgive me if I moved away from her.”

I frowned, pausing in my preparation to look at her. “I’m sure she doesn’t really mean that,” I said, attempting to be charitable. 

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Marsali groused, then shook her head. “Should I check your calendar for you, Dr. B.?”

“Thank you, Marsali,” I said, smiling as the girl hurried to do just that. I already knew what appointments I had for the day, but I could never deny such an eager assistant.

“Mars-lee, I had a sleepover at Willie’s house!” Lotte exclaimed, following after Marsali like a devoted puppy. “And Fergus, too!”

Marsali noticeably perked up at the mention of Fergus. “That so?”

“Uh huh, we played checkers, and Willie let me have extra cake for breakfast…” Lotte trailed off, her eyes darting to me. “Oops...I wasn’t supposed to tell Mama that…”

I fixed my expression into a firm scowl, one that quickly slipped into a smile when Lotte reported that she needed to go refill Rollo’s water dish on the porch and beat a hasty retreat.

Marsali chuckled. “She reminds me of my sister.”

“Why don’t you bring Joanie along with you, sometime?” I asked. “She’s only a little older than Lotte, isn’t she? I’m sure the two would get along, and Lotte has so few playmates her own age.”

Marsali grimaced. “Erm, maybe. My mother keeps a pretty close eye on her.”

I made a face, wondering what she meant by that.

 

The morning and afternoon were busy enough that it kept my mind distracted from Brianna’s departure. The girls were sent to the playroom when Mr. Albertson arrived with complaints that turned out to be a hernia, and then later I allowed them to return so that Marsali could observe me stitching up a gash on a young man’s pectoral, left by an irate rooster.

“Here,” I said, beckoning her closer. “Help me hold the skin together so that I can put in the stitches, and watch closely.”

Marsali flushed with pleasure at being asked to help hands-on, and from the corner of my eye I could see the way she watched my hands with eagle-eyed attention, seeming completely unbothered by the boy’s chest, which had given both Brianna and Rachel pause, the first times they encountered a partially dressed man. 

I had just finished tying off the last stitch when the door opened and was promptly slammed shut, making us all jump.

“Mother Mary preserve us! Marsali!”

“Mother!” Marsali exclaimed, stepping away from me and my patient. “What are you doing here?”

Laoghaire stormed in, eyes blazing. “I was in the Mercantile, buying fabric for you and Joanie some new aprons, when what do I overhear but Mrs. Abernathy and that savage boy’s wife saying how you have been here when you were supposed to be doing laundry at the hotel!”

“I...I have been doing laundry at the hotel!” Marsali cried. “I just...I come here before and after my shifts, that’s all!”

“Mrs. McKimmie…” I began.

“Don’t you start with me!” Laoghaire spat. “I’ll not have you poisoning my daughter’s mind with your fool ideas!” Her eyes narrowed in on young Jacob’s bare chest, and her already reddened face blazed brighter. “You have my child touching naked men!”

“He isn’t naked ,” I said. “Marsali was only helping with his stitches. I would never expose Marsali to anything untoward. Why, look, my own daughter is here as well.”

Laoghaire snorted. “The way you raise your children is your business, Mrs. Fraser . But my children will have no part of it! Marsali, come.”

“But Mother!”

“Now, Marsali!”

Marsali shot me a forlorn look before trailing after her mother. Knowing I should let it go, that Marsali was Laoghaire’s child to raise as she saw fit, I couldn’t stop myself from trying once more.

“Mrs. McKimmie...Laoghaire, wait!”

I caught up with them on the porch, and Laoghaire turned, sneering at me.

“Can’t we talk about this?” I asked. “Marsali is a brilliant girl, instinctive and curious, with a natural talent for science and medicine. I can understand your reservations, truly, and I would be willing to abide by any restrictions you have, if you’d just…”

“You just want it all, don’t you?” Laoghaire snapped. “You swan into town, making everyone bend to your will, turning the eye of every decent man for miles, collecting children like chattel, and now you want my daughter? Well you are to stay away from my children, Mrs. Fraser . Marsali will never become a vile, ungodly whore like you!”

I was left gaping in shock as Laoghaire stormed away, dragging a humiliated Marsali with her. 

Joe whistled lowly as he joined me on the porch, evidently having overheard our exchange. “Jesus…what the hell was that all about?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I said. “I’ve always known that Laoghaire didn’t like me, never knowing why, but what the hell did she mean by all that? Turning all the men’s eyes, collecting children?!”

“Well, the turning men’s eyes part I guess is true,” Joe said. “Hell, even I couldn’t help but look at ya when you first came to town, before I met Gale, of course. And if by ‘collecting children’ she means you adopted some, and keep your doors open to all others…”

I rolled my eyes, clicking my tongue. “What an insufferable woman. But poor Marsali. She really has so much potential, potential she’ll never be able to fulfill if she’s stuck washing bed linens every day until she marries.”

Joe gave me an arch look. “Easy, Lady Jane. I agree with you, and I feel bad for the kid, but don’t go butting that nose of yours into it. Laoghaire might not be winning any ‘mother of the year’ awards but she is that girl’s mother, and you’d only be stirring up trouble.”

I gave Joe a half-hearted swat. “Oh, I know that. I won’t do anything. I just wish I could convince her, is all.”

Joe chuckled. “I think you’d sooner convince Dougal to give up drinking and become a monk.”

I shook my head at him and went back inside to finally finish dressing the poor young man’s wound and send him on his way.

“Why did that lady call you a bad name?” Lotte asked once Jacob had left.

“What was that, darling?”

“Fergus said whore is a bad thing to call a lady,” she said.

Irritated anew at Laoghaire now that I knew Lotte had overheard, I picked my daughter up and sat her on the examination table. “Yes, it is a bad thing to call someone. Marsali’s mother was wrong to say it.”

“Why’d she yell?” Lotte asked. “Was Marsali doing something bad?”

“No,” I said firmly. “Marsali’s mother just wasn’t...happy that Marsali was here, is all.”

“Why do some people think it’s bad to be a doctor?”

I sighed, wondering how exactly to answer that. “It isn’t that people think being a doctor is bad, Lotte. Some people...some people think it’s bad for a woman to be a doctor.”

“Why?”

I clenched my jaw, wishing Laoghaire would come back so I could slap her. “I don’t honestly know the answer to that, Lotte Love. There are people who think women can’t, or shouldn’t do the things men do. But they’re wrong, do you understand me? Women can and should do whatever they wish.”

Lotte’s nose scrunched up in thought. “But...sometimes I wish to stay up past my bedtime but you and Da say no.”

I had to smile, loving my daughter’s shrewd mind. “That is because you ,” I tapped her nose. “Are not a woman. You’re a little girl, and little girls must do as their Mamas and Das say. Including Marsali, even if we don’t agree with what her Mama says.”

“So when I’m a woman, I can stay up past bedtime?”

Laughing, I picked her up and swung her around before setting her on her feet. “I’ve news for you, Lotte Love, women don’t have bedtimes!”

“I can’t wait to be a woman!” Lotte exclaimed, turning on her heel to run to her playroom.

“Well I can,” I said after she’d left. “I’d rather have a nice long wait before that, my darling.”

 

Chapter Text

“Unhand her, villain!” Lotte cried, mightily swinging her sword and striking her enemy, dealing what was most certainly a deadly blow.

Lotte,” Fergus sighed. “Take it easy with that stick, you’re making a mess!”

Lotte looked around at the bale of hay she was demolishing without really meaning to. “Oops, sorry.”

Da looked over from where he was helping Fergus load the fresh hay into the barn loft, and smiled. He put down his pitchfork to blow warmth into his hands as the early fall temperature began to drop, and walked over to her.

“What are ye playing, a leannan?”

Lotte grinned. Da was always interested in her games, and liked it when she explained them, saying he did so love a good story.

“I’m a knight,” she said. “Saving the fair princess from her tower.”

Da chuckled. “Ye’re no’ the princess, then?”

Lotte shrugged one shoulder. “Princesses ain’t knights. And I wanna be th’ knight.”

Da came over to her and knelt down. “Hm, ye ken, that’s what everyone said about your Mama becomin’ a doctor. That only men are doctors, no’ women.”

Wrinkling her nose, Lotte remembered what Mama had said about some people thinking women can’t do what men do. “But Mama is the best doctor in the world!”

“Aye, she is. So, instead of saying a princess aren’a knights, perhaps ye ought tae just be th’ first. Now, I think this villain has been defeated. Why dinna ye go play down by th’ creek instead.”

“Okay, Da,” Lotte said, taking her ‘sword’ and skipping away.

“But Lotte…”

“I know, I know,” she called back. “Don’t go past the creek!”

She rolled her eyes to herself where Da couldn’t see. Even when she was little she didn’t have quite so many rules about where she could go and when. But ever since Mr. Collins and Miss Maria had taken her away, Mama and Da barely let her out of their sight.

But darn it, she was six and a half years old! Not a little girl who’s gonna go and let herself get kidnapped again! She was not a damsel like in her books.

She was a knight.

She poked at some stones in the creek, seeing if there were any frogs to catch. Just then, she heard a low whine that she recognized as belonging to Rollo just before he appeared out of the bushes.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “You’ve been gone all morning!”

Rollo gave another whine and nudged her hand with his cold nose. She stroked his head, wondering what had him all antsy, but he didn’t look hurt or anything.

Uncle Ian had once told her that like her father was a Wolf Brother, she was a Wolf Sister. It meant that she and Rollo had a bond almost like he did with Da, and sometimes she could swear she could almost hear what the wolf was thinking.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

Rollo turned away, using the rocks to cross over the creek, then stopped at the other side to look back at her.

“I’m not supposed to cross the creek, you know that!”

But Rollo whined again, and whatever it was, it must be important.

Biting her lip, she looked back in the direction of home. Mama and Da had told her a thousand times to stay on their land, which ended here at the creek. But she knew that Mama and Da didn’t always follow the rules, not when it came down to helping a friend, or family.

And what was Rollo, if not friend and family?

Lotte took a breath, and turned to follow Rollo across the creek.

 

Lotte’s wame pinched the farther and farther they went from home. Rollo led her at a slow pace, but then, the old wolf didn’t move very quickly anymore.

Mama had sat her down a while back for a talk, explaining that Rollo was very advanced in years for a wolf, and that one day, he would pass away. It made Lotte’s chest hurt to think about it.

Da had said, that when Rollo’s time did come, he would join the Spirits.

“You mean he won’t get to go to Heaven, like us?” Lotte asked.

Da made a face, considering. “Th’ Cheyenne believe that when a person dies, their spirit joins th’ great Spirits in the sky. I think that’s rather like Heaven, don’t you? But when a wolf, or any other animal dies, their spirit becomes part of the Earth. And an animal that has become our companion, like Rollo, will be joined tae us for all time, as we walk this life, and when we die.”

It had made Lotte feel a little better, thinking of Rollo being joined to them forever, but she still rather hoped that Rollo would stay in this life a little longer.

“You’re gonna get me in such trouble,” she said as she realized that they were well into what was once the Cheyenne territory, but no longer, since the Army killed most of them and sent the rest to reservations. All except for Uncle Ian and Young Ian, and they only got to stay with special licenses. “It better be worth it, Rollo.”

Rollo finally led her to a small cabin, far in the woods and way apart from the town or any other house.

Lotte stopped, knowing better than to step foot on the property of someone she didn’t know.

Rollo …” she hissed as the wolf marched straight to the door, which she then realized was hanging open.

In fact, the whole cabin was falling apart, and looked like it hadn’t been lived in in some time.

Still, she hesitated fearfully. She knew that Rollo wouldn’t lead her inside if there was anything there that would hurt her, but still...what happened to the people who had lived there?

Rollo whined again, and Lotte sighed, forcing her feet to approach the cabin and slowly enter.

She grimaced at the scratch marks on the dirty floor, her heart thundering in her ears. She could smell something musty, and something else that was more animal, but at least she couldn’t smell anything dead .

Rollo was standing in the corner of the one-roomed cabin, watching her. When she got closer, she realized he was standing over a mound of something...fuzzy.

Actually, it was two somethings fuzzy. A pair of puppies, to be exact, waking from a nap and beginning to whimper loudly.

Gasping, Lotte hurried to them and dropped to her knees beside them. They were really young, barely able to stand on their wobbly little legs, but they were big, indicating that their parents must be too.

“How’d you know they were here?” Lotte asked Rollo, watching as he bent and licked one of them on the head, causing Lotte to gasp again.

The puppies were covered in shades of brown, black, red, and gray, but their tails were long and straight and their eyes, while still blue, looked just like Rollo’s.

“They’re your puppies!” Lotte exclaimed. “Rollo! You’re a da!”

Rollo’s tongue lolled out of his mouth, and Lotte thought he looked quite proud.

“But where’s their mama?” She looked around the cabin, wondering if the mother dog had gone out for food. But then she took note of the scratches on the floor again, and realized she could also make out streaks of blood and tufts of fur mingling with the dirt.

“Oh,” Lotte said sadly. “Whatever broke open that door must have gotten the mama, huh, Rollo? That’s why you wanted me to come.”

That made Lotte very sad. Not only for the puppies, but for Rollo too. Could wolves love their wives the way Da loved Mama? Lotte had to think so, since Rollo loved her , and obviously loved these babies.

“I’m sorry, Rollo,” she said, stroking his neck. “But you did the right thing by asking for help.”

The babies were climbing over themselves to get to Rollo, desperate for milk that he wasn’t able to provide.

“You guys must be starving,” she said. “I’ll just have to take you home. Mama will ken what to do.”

After thoroughly checking the rest of the cabin and around it for any more puppies, she finally decided that either there were only two, or that any others had been taken by whatever got the mother dog. 

She found a tablecloth in the house, and managed to tie it up so that there were two pouches on each end that she could put the puppies in, then drape around her shoulders, like saddlebags.

 

It was very slow-going, even slower than before, but the puppies were heavy, and Lotte’s arms and shoulders were aching within minutes.

Rollo was of course a very big wolf. Da said he was even an especially big wolf. Lotte had to wonder what sort of dog mothered the puppies, and if she was as big as Rollo.

The sight of the creek was an immense relief, even if the guilt swirling inside her mingled with the fear of the repercussions she would no doubt face for being gone so long.

Putting off the inevitable, she knelt by the creek to try and let the puppies drink, but they didn’t appear to know what to do.

“LOTTE!”

She winced. That was Da. And Fergus and Mama were calling too, looking for her. 

Lotte wasn’t allowed to curse. But sometimes, she found herself feeling like a simple oh darn it wasn’t really enough.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she muttered, feeling like that about covered it.

Picking the sling back up, Lotte exchanged a look with Rollo, and she could swear that his eyes said ‘ I’m sorry. Chin up.’

Da spotted her the moment she cleared the trees, and ran over to her.

“Charlotte Fraser!” he snapped.

Lotte grimaced and set the sling down, standing with her hands clasped until Da reached her, grabbing her by the arms. He wasn’t rough, Da could never be rough, but Lotte did get the impression that he wanted to give her a shake.

“Where th’ devil were you?!” he exclaimed. “Your mother, brother and I have been worrit sick! Ye know ye’re not tae go beyond th’ creek!”

“I know, but Da…”

No. Whether ye agree wi’ them or not, there are rules , Charlotte. And when I tell ye tae do something, ye’re to obey , d’ye understand me?!”

“Yessir,” Lotte mumbled. She didn’t think Da had ever been this angry at her before.

“I canna hear ye!”

“Yes sir! But Da…”

“Charlotte Faith Nayawenne Fraser!” Mama called, making her way their direction.

Oh Lord, she used her full name.

Da stood up and crossed his arms as Mama threw her arms around her, almost suffocating her. “Don’t you ever do that to me again!” Mama exclaimed, and Lotte’s guilt increased when she could hear the tears in her voice.

When Mama let her go, she looked at Da, who was still staring down at her with his arms crossed. “Get ye inside, lass, now.” he said.

“No!”

Da and Mama both froze, and Lotte felt her eyes widen at the look on Da’s face.

“What did ye just say?” he asked, his voice low.

Lotte gulped. “I...I mean…just listen to me!”

Da nodded calmly, but she could see the anger in his eyes. “Alright. I suppose ye’ve a right tae explain. Go on, then.”

The puppies had been suspiciously quiet the whole time, likely startled by Da’s shouting. But they piped up then, and Lotte knelt to remove them from the sling. “Rollo came and got me, and took me to where they were. I think the mother was killed. They’re Rollo’s puppies, Da! Don’t you think they have his eyes?”

Da took one of the puppies from her, looking it over. “Aye, they’re half wolf alright.”

“Where were they?” Mama asked, picking up the other one.

Lotte bit her lower lip. “In an abandoned cabin...out past the Cheyenne border.”

The glare her parents sent her sent a chill up her spine.

“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t know Rollo would lead me that far!”

“You should have come back for us,” Mama said. “You know better. That was a very dangerous thing to do!”

“But I’m not a baby, Mama! I know you’re worried about me gettin’ kidnapped again, but I’m not!”

“Oh,” Mama started. “‘ You’re not’. I suppose you’ll say that to any stranger you cross paths with. For Christ’s sake, Charlotte, there are still Dog Soldiers in the area, to say nothing of whatever killed these puppies’ mother!”

“I’m sorry ,” Lotte repeated. “I’ll never do it again, I swear! But look, they’re hungry...they would have died !”

Da gave the puppy in his arms another look. “Aye,” he said at last. “Ye’ll need tae milk th’ goat, and then come up wi’ a way of feeding them. They’re no’ old enough tae drink from a bowl, ye ken.”

“Yes, Da,” Lotte said.

“These pups are your responsibility, d’ye understand? Th’ Cheyenne would say that by taking them as ye have, ye have assumed th’ place of their mother. You will feed, wash, clean up after, and train them all on your own.”

Lotte nodded. “Yes, Da,” she reached out to take the puppy from him to do just that, but Da turned and handed it to Mama.

“Sassenach, would ye please take them inside, now?”

Mama and Da exchanged a silent look, and then she nodded and took both puppies to the house.

Rollo whined, and Da shot him a look. “Th’ only thing saving you from a hiding is that ye’re an auld man. Now get ye inside wi’ yer whelps.”

Rollo gave Lotte one more apologetic look before following Mama to the house, leaving just Da and Lotte.

“I dinna suppose I need to explain what ye’ve done tae deserve this?” Da asked.

Lotte shook her head and sighed, bracing herself. “No, Da.”

“Good. Now go over by th’ fence, a leannan , and let’s get this over with.”

 

~~~

 

I found a milk crate and some old blankets to make a bed for the puppies in the corner of the kitchen. Rollo hovered near them, the very picture of a worried father.

The terror I’d felt when we couldn’t find Lotte had been vicious and sickening. My rational mind knew that she was simply wandering about like Fergus had at that age, but my emotions simply hadn’t been able to come to terms with that.

It had been a year since getting Lotte back. Not nearly long enough to heal my fragile spirit.

And I knew Jamie had been just as panicked; his anger at her well-placed but exacerbated but fear. 

But oh, Lotte, how very like her father - and her mother, for that matter - to recklessly break all the rules and return home with a pair of orphans.

Lotte came inside some time later, with a pail of goat’s milk milk in one hand, while her other rubbed what must have been a very sore bottom.

I took the pail from her and set it down before pulling her into my arms, cuddling her into my lap and kissing the top of her head.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” she said into my blouse.

“I know,” I whispered. “Your Da and I were just so very worried,” I pulled back to look at her, wiping the drying tears off her sweetly freckled face. “I know you feel like we’re treating you like a baby. And you’re right, you aren’t one anymore and should not be treated as such. But you’re just going to have to understand that our rules for you are because we love you and want to protect you. Maybe we’re a bit overprotective, but you’re our little girl, and we don’t ever want anything to ever happen to you again.”

She nodded. “I know. I should have asked for help. I didn’t know Rollo would lead me so far away, or that there were Dog Soldiers in the area.”

“Because we didn’t tell you, and that’s our fault. Truth is, Lotte Love, you may not be a baby, but you’re my baby. Mine and Da’s. And it’s going to be very hard for us to ever let that go. But I’m going to try and do better, and from now on, I’m going to explain the rules to you better, so that you understand why you must follow them.”

Lotte smiled and nodded again. “So we can really keep the puppies?”

I chuckled, turning us toward them. “I suppose we must, after what you went through to get them. But I agree with Da, that they should be your responsibility. I had better not find any surprises on my floors.”

“You won’t!” She promised. “But how do I feed them? Can I use my old baby bottles?”

I shook my head. “It’s a good idea, but your brothers and sister might have babies in need of those someday, so no. But I think Fergus has a couple of empty pop bottles. I’m sure if you promise not to break them, he’ll let you borrow them.”

Fergus was more than willing to donate his pop bottles, and using a method I once used to help Fergus feed Pumpkin, his orphaned bull, I dug out my kid glove that I’d long since lost the mate to and cut off two fingers to use as nipples.

I showed Lotte how to hold the bottles for the puppies, and explained how afterward she would need to rub their bellies to burp them, and then use a damp rag to coax them into eliminating. Lotte had grimaced in disgust about that, but did it without complaint. 

Jamie came back inside, and we all watched as Lotte fed the starving puppies.

“They’re awfully cute,” I said, leaning into Jamie’s side.

Jamie grunted. “Aye, but d’ye see the size of their paws? They’re going to be massive, Sassenach.”

I groaned, imagining two giant dogs along with a giant wolf running around the house.

“Mama, are they boys or girls?” Lotte asked.

Jamie answered before I could. “Turn them over and have a keek, and see what you think.”

Frowning, Lotte picked up the one she was currently feeding and flipped it over, shaking her head cluelessly before picking up the other. “Oh!” She exclaimed. “Look! This one is a boy, and the other one is a girl!”

“That’s right,” I chuckled. 

Lotte set the girl puppy down so that she could feed her brother, and the girl wobbled over in my direction. I picked her up, scratching her downy-soft fur.

“Cuddle it all ye want,” Jamie said. “But I dinna want you helping Lotte wi’ their care, Sassenach.”

“I know, I know,” I droned. 

 

Lotte quickly proved herself to be a dedicated and proficient carer to the two pups. It was a shock to her how often they had to eat, and I felt so badly that she was forced to move their bed into her room at night so that she could wake up every few hours with them.

Jamie would laugh, teasing her that she was getting her payback for all the nights she kept us awake, but my poor little darling was becoming exhausted. I argued that six years old was too young for that much responsibility, but Jamie was immovable.

The sound of their whimpering woke me up late one night, and I bit my lip, trying to resist going to them to give my child a break. Jamie had been firm that he wanted Lotte to do it on her own, and I didn’t want to undermine him.

However, when I rolled over and found him missing from his side of the bed, I grew curious.

Tip-toeing down the hall, I peeked into Lotte’s room, finding her sleeping soundly in her bed, cuddled up to Rollo.

Peering farther into the room, I spied Jamie, sitting on the floor, half-asleep with his knees raised, holding both puppies in his lap and a bottle to each hungry mouth.

I covered my mouth as tears sprang to my eyes. Oh how I loved that man. 

I crept away before he could notice me, and hurried back to bed, curling into his spot to keep it warm for his return. 

 

Chapter Text

I peered underneath the kitchen table, scowling and growling to myself.

“Where could it be ?”

“Where could what be, Ma?” Fergus said, entering the kitchen.

“My other boot,” I said, propping my hands on my hips. “They went missing from the foyer. I found one by the stairs, but can’t seem to find the other one.”

Fergus chuckled. “I found it.”

“What? Where?”

Fergus pointed to the corner of the kitchen, beside the cabinet. I followed his gesture and gasped in anger.

“Why you little...CHARLOTTE!”

Lotte came skidding into the house from the back porch, eyes wide. “What is it, Mama?”

The puppy growled playfully as I yanked my boot out of its mouth. “ This is what!” I shook the shoe at my daughter. “Elina has been chewing up my boot!”

“Elina, no!” Lotte cried, kneeling beside her puppy. “How could you chew Mama’s boot?”

Totally unrepentant, the excitable pup bounced up on her hind legs, thinking her little mistress was going to play with her.

Luckily, she was still small enough that her new teeth didn’t do much damage to the leather, but still.

“Lotte, you need to take those puppies outside and get their energy out, and make sure they have plenty of rawhide about to chew on so that they don’t do things like this.”

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Lotte said, picking her puppy up. “It won’t happen again, will it Elina?” Lotte looked around. “Where’s Mao?”

It had been Two Moons who helped Lotte name her puppies when she insisted on giving them Cheyenne names. Elina, meaning intelligent - which she had yet to prove herself to be - and Maonehe, or Mao for short, meaning Red Wolf, for the pup’s burgeoning red coat, a match for his mistress’s hair. 

It was already becoming clear that Mao had inherited his father’s wolf-like features and characteristics, while Elina, with her single floppy ear, and black, tan, and gray coloring, seemed to take more after her dog mother, which Joe suspected to be one of the shepherd dogs from up in the mountains. There, farming families had been known to breed too many and let them run rather wild. If that was the case, Mao and Elina were destined to be enormous dogs, indeed.

“You’d best find Mao and make sure he isn’t destroying anything else.” I told Lotte firmly. “And you need to start training them to stay out of my herb garden.”

“Yes, Mama,” Lotte intoned. “Come on, Elina.”

Lotte ran out of the house with Elina on her heels just as Jamie was coming inside, mopping sweat off his brow despite the chilly temperature. 

“It was your idea to let her keep those dogs,” I accused Jamie, wagging my boot at him.

Jamie chuckled. “And I believe I remember ye cooing over them like wee bairns because they’re so cute.”

“Mmhm, that was yesterday ,” Fergus quipped.

“Well, today they’re not cute,” I sniffed. “And I refuse to be blamed if one of them ends up sick or dead because they chewed up the wrong plant in my garden, or one of my medicines in the cabinets.”

“Rollo will make sure they dinna wander intae there,” Jamie said, kissing my head, but I was still in a pique, so I pushed him away. “You’re sweaty,” I griped.

“That didn’a bother ye last night,” Jamie murmured under his breath, and luckily Fergus didn’t appear to hear him, but I still threw my boot at him anyway. Jamie ducked, chuckling.

“Fergus,” I said. “Have you seen Marsali lately?”

Fergus frowned. “Why would I have seen her?”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, I don’t know, you go to school with her?”

“That doesn’t mean I pay attention to her. She’s two grades below me.”

“Well, I wish you would pay her some attention. I miss having her in the clinic, and I worry a little about her. I see Laoghaire and Joanie in town all the time, but I almost never see Marsali. I hate to think her mother is keeping her cooped up just to keep her away from me .”

“Ah, Sassenach, now mothers must keep their wee’uns locked away, tae protect them from your wicked influence,” Jamie teased, leering at me from over his coffee mug.

“Hm, yes, you joke, but I truly believe that’s what Laoghaire believes. You want to know what else I think? I think she had her eyes set on you before I married you, and that’s part of why she dislikes me so.”

Jamie snorted. “Laoghaire dislikes everyone, Sassenach. Always has. But oh aye, she used tae follow me about like Lotte’s wee pups when we were younger, even after I started dressing like th’ Cheyenne, for all she scorned me for it like everyone else. Does it really bother ye that much that someone doesn’a like ye?”

“Of course not,” I said. “Good lord, if I worried about someone not liking me I’d be worried every time I set foot into town. I just feel badly about Marsali, is all.”

Jamie crossed his arms, leaning against the kitchen counter. “Aye, I ken. Ye saw in her a wee bit of yourself, is that it? But working as a laundress before marrying and startin’ a family like every other wee lass isn’a such a bad life, assuming Laoghaire takes pains tae find her a better husband than her father was.”

I snorted. “Oh, I’ve heard about Laoghaire’s first husband. I’ve also heard that she’s already on the hunt for a husband for Marsali, but she’s still just a child! And don’t you start on about how old the Cheyenne are when they marry.”

“No,” he said. “I agree wi’ ye, but there’s nothin’ tae be done, Sassenach. Laoghaire is just trying tae assure that her daughters are provided for should anything happen tae her. She doesn’a have the large family, or trust in her community that we do.”

“I suppose,” I sighed, then narrowed my eyes at him. “I hate it when you’re right.”

Jamie came closer and grabbed the back of my head, pulling me to him for a kiss. He wouldn’t have let me push him away this time, but this time I didn’t even try to. 

“It’s such a rare event though,” he murmured against my mouth. 

“I’m still here, you know,” Fergus groaned. 

I chuckled, nipping playfully at Jamie’s lips. “Go do your chores, Fergus.”

 

“But why do I have to go to school?” Lotte asked, both her hands holding Jamie’s and mine. “Why can’t I go to the clinic with you, Mama?”

I tried not to frown, but my rebellious mouth kept turning down at the corners. It was very difficult to convince Lotte to go to school at the same time I was convincing myself of the fact.

“Because you’re a big girl now,” I said, as much to myself as to her. “It’s time for you to learn new things, just like Fergus.”

Fergus was walking on ahead, having already caught up with his friend, Aiden. My only consolation in sending Lotte to school was that thanks to the town’s small population of students, the school was still only one room, and Fergus would be sitting in the back of the classroom with the other older children, able to keep an eye on Lotte as she sat in the front. If we were living in a big city like Boston with its large, multi-class schools, I would probably just be teaching my daughter at home.

“But who’s gonna take care of Mao and Elina?” she asked.

“I’ll be lookin’ after th’ pups for ye, a nighean ,” Jamie said. “Myself and Rollo.”

“But you said they’re my responsibility.”

Jamie met my eyes over Lotte’s head, and we exchanged an amused smile. “Aye, that’s true. But school is going tae be your responsibility as well. Just like Mama must go to th’ clinic, ye have tae go to school.”

Lotte sighed deeply. “I don’t like having so many responsibilities.”

I chuckled. “It’s not easy growing up, Lotte Love. But you’re going to have a grand time, and before you know it, school will be over and you and Fergus will come and meet me at the clinic, and we’ll all ride home together. Alright?”

“I guess,” Lotte droned, hesitating as we reached the schoolhouse, eyeing the other children entering it dubiously.

Lotte would be the youngest student at school, with the next being Joan, who was a full two years older. Louise’s youngest, Alfred, was a year behind Lotte and would be starting the following year, but in the meantime Lotte would be feeling like a very small fish in a very big pond.

“Come on, Lotte,” Fergus called from the school steps. “We don’t wanna be late!”

I had considered holding Lotte back a year and letting her start when she was seven, to better give us all time to heal from her ordeal. But Jamie had argued that Lotte needed the normalcy, and pointed out the fact that if we waited a year, Fergus will have graduated and wouldn’t be there to help ease her in. And once again, Jamie was right.

“Go on,” I said, bending down to give her a kiss and hand her her lunch pail. “I love you, my darling.”

“Love you too, Mama,” Lotte said. “Da, make sure you keep a real close eye on Mao and Elina.”

“Ye can count on it,” Jamie said, giving her a kiss of his own.

Lotte gave Rollo a hug. “Can’t Rollo stay with me at school?”

“No, lass, wolves dinna belong in school. No go catch up wi’ your brother, before you’re late.”

Lotte sighed again and then turned to race after her brother, just as Miss Hawkins, the young teacher, came outside to ring the bell. She waved at Jamie and me before guiding Lotte inside, and then the door was shut, and Jamie, Rollo, and I were left outside, all wishing the next seven hours would be over already.

“She’ll be fine, Sassenach,” Jamie assured me, putting an arm around my shoulders and kissing my temple. 

“I know she will,” I sighed. “I’m not so sure I will. Or him,” I looked down at Rollo, who was whining and staring at the schoolhouse door with a forlorn expression.

Jamie smiled, then turned to steer me back toward town. “Ye will be. Because daughter is like mother, and ye’re both as brave as wolves.”

 

I laughed, pulling my stethoscope out of my little patient’s mouth. 

“You see?” Jenny groaned. “Every little thing this child picks up goes straight into her mouth!”

“That’s normal ,” I assured her. “It’s how babies explore the world, and I daresay wee Maggie is teething already.”

Teething? !” 

Jenny picked her daughter up, trying to get her to open her mouth a little so that she could see. “But she’s only four and a half months old!”

I shrugged. “It happens. Lotte was five months old when she cut her first tooth. Jamie would wet his finger with whisky and rub her gums with it, and that seemed to help. The fever Maggie ran last night would be explained by that. It’s not an easy thing, growing one’s first tooth.”

Jenny cradled Maggie, looking up at me ruefully. “Is everything to do with a child so frightening?”

I leaned against the examination table and stroked the wispy hair on Maggie’s head. “I’m afraid so. They scare us so, and yet we love them more than anything.”

“That I do,” Jenny said. 

Margaret Claire Ishaynishus came roaring into the world in the middle of the night, during the biggest storm of the year. Flooding was so bad, Young Ian and I almost didn’t make it back to the ranch after he’d raced to fetch me. But make it we did, and luckily Rachel had been there to help turn the baby when she discovered that she was coming out feet first. 

Jenny’s labor remarkably only lasted six hours, and her cursing could be heard at the saloon even over the howling wind.

At the end of it though, was the tiniest, most beautiful little girl, already set with a head full of pitch-black hair. Though rosy pink at birth, it was mere days before it became apparent that Maggie would take after her father in almost every aspect, save the distinctive bright blue, slanted Fraser eyes. 

Jenny of course didn’t care a whit, nor did anyone else close to them, but Jamie told me how much Two Moons worried about what sort of future Maggie would have - a Cheyenne living a white child’s life. It was one thing to live in a small, close-knit community where everyone either embraced Maggie, or looked the other way - but it was another thing for her to go out into the world, or even remain at home while Colorado Springs continued to grow.

But for the moment, Maggie was just a warm bundle of innocence and sweetness, and the world could wait.

“Rachel and Ian are still planning to return to Montana?” I asked.

Jenny frowned. “Yes. I so hoped that they would stay. I want Maggie and Rain to be able to grow up together, and my Ian wants to be able to teach Rain about her people.”

“Well, I suppose Young Ian can do that. And there are other Indians in the Quaker community.”

“Hm, yes, but to the Cheyenne, it’s the grandparents who are meant to pass along their family history, and the other Indians in the community there aren’t Cheyenne. Ian is so afraid of his people being forgotten.”

“Well, that won’t happen,” I said firmly. “He’ll be able to teach this little one here, and any others you might have. Besides, you just have to hope Young Ian and Rachel will come home to stay one day...or at least, that’s what Jamie keeps telling me about Brianna and Roger.”

Jenny chuckled. “How are the newlyweds anyway? Any word on a baby Wakefield yet?”

I smiled. “No. But I think Brianna is trying to be careful. She would prefer to wait until after she graduates before starting a family.”

Jenny snorted. “Well sure, she can try, but I know from experience that it don’t always work!”

I laughed at that, swatting Jenny with Maggie’s blanket, but then nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard voices screaming my name.

“Dr. B.!”

Jenny gathered up Maggie and her blankets and retreated to the corner just in time for the door to crash open, and for Fergus to run in, carrying a lifeless child in his arms.

For a moment, all I saw was his panicked expression and a head of red hair and my stomach plummeted while my heart shot into my throat, but then Marsali was there, crying, and I was able to identify Joan’s pale face against Fergus’s shoulder, not Lotte’s.

“What happened?!” I demanded.

“We were eating lunch,” Fergus said, laying Joan on the examination table. “And Joanie just suddenly started coughing and gasping, and now I don’t think she’s breathing!”

“Please help her!” Marsali sobbed.

My first thought was choking, but as I tilted Joan’s head back to attempt to loosen the airway, I took note of the redness around her mouth.

“Marsali, is Joan sensitive to eating anything?” I asked, keeping my voice steady and calm to encourage the same of the distraught older sister.

“N...no? I...I don’t think so.”

“What did she have for lunch today?”

“Same as me. Roast chicken and greens. Leftover from last night.”

“Anything else? ” I demanded, prying open the child’s mouth. I could feel the barest whistle of air making its way through her esophagus, but not much.

“Just...just some boiled peanuts from the mercantile. Mother bought them for us this morning.”

“Has she had peanuts before?”

“I...I don’t think so.”

I reached for the glass tube I kept for these sorts of emergencies, and doused it with alcohol. “Fergus, take Marsali out of here, please.”

“Come on,” Fergus said, pulling on Marsali’s arm, but she resisted.

“No, I want to help!”

I looked up at her. “I know you do, but doctors shouldn’t treat their own family members.”

“You do,” she shot back, all panic being replaced by stubborn calm.

“Fine,” I said. “No time to argue. Hold her head still.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Her airway is closing,” I said, positioning the tube. “I need to insert this down her throat to let her breathe. Fergus, holding Joanie’s arms in case she wakes up.”

Fergus did as asked, though he turned his head away as I began slowly inching the thin tube down the girl’s throat, hoping that there was still enough space left to do so. 

“There,” I said once the tube was in place, watching color gradually return to Joan’s cheeks as her chest rose and fell. 

“What now?” Marsali asked, looking pale and queasy, but steady.

“I’m afraid not much can be done,” I said. “Could you please bring me the vial that says ‘stinging nettle?’”

Marsali hurried to do just that. “What will this do?”

“Maybe nothing,” I admitted, removing the dropper and carefully dropping a bit of the liquid on Joanie’s tongue beside the breathing tube. “But hopefully it will help bring the swelling down.”

“You think the peanuts did this?” Fergus asked.

“Possibly. Some people have extreme sensitivities to certain foods or plants. Sometimes it only causes hay fever, but sometimes it causes a reaction called anaphylaxis, which is what I believe this to be.”

“Is it fatal?” Marsali asked in a small voice.

I gave her a long look. “Often it is, but you and Fergus got Joanie here quickly, before her throat could completely close up. I can leave this tube for however long it takes for the swelling to go down. But one thing is for sure, is that Joanie must never again eat peanuts. She should not even touch them. I would like you to go home and remove every trace of them.”

Marsali nodded, taking Joanie’s hand and stroking the hair out of her face.

“Do you need anything, Dr. B.?” Jenny asked.

I smiled over at her, having forgotten that she and Maggie were there. “No, thank you, Jenny. You take Maggie home and both of you get some rest. Fergus, you can go on back to school now. Well done, sweetheart.”

Fergus nodded, giving Joan a worried look before touching Marsali’s shoulder and smiling at her.

“Thank you for getting her here,” Marsali said, smiling back.

“Sure thing,” Fergus said before letting himself out.

 

Thankfully, Joan quickly improved, the extract of stinging nettle doing its work in bringing down the swelling and redness. She panicked briefly when she awoke with a tube in her throat, but Marsali and I both calmed her down, assuring her she would be alright, and once she understood what had happened, she handled it all with impressive bravery that I made sure to inform her of.

Jamie returned from taking Fergus and Lotte home to see if I needed a hand, and managed to have Joan smiling around the tube by telling her silly Highland stories. 

Unfortunately, when her daughters didn’t return home from school, Laoghaire came in search of them, and it wasn’t long before she caught wind of where they were.

She burst into the clinic, eyes blazing. “Where are my children?!”

“Mrs. McKimmie…” I began. “Please, Joan became ill at school and…”

“If my daughter is ill, why wasn’t I informed?!” Laoghaire demanded shrilly. 

I sighed. “You’re right, you should have been informed right away, but Joan’s airway closed, and I had to…”

“Get the hell out of my way!” she exclaimed, brushing past me and gasping at the sight of her daughter. “What have you done?!”

“Mother, Dr. B. saved Joanie!” Marsali cried. “She couldn’t breathe, and the tube saved her!”

Laoghaire glared at her daughter. “I told you not to come anywhere near this place! I’ll deal with you later. And you …” she turned to me. “I told you to stay away from my children!”

“Joan was going to die ,” I snapped. “I am this town’s doctor, whether you like it or not, and I was not about to stand by and do nothing!”

“If my child needs medicine, I will give it! Anything else is the Lord’s will!”

“Lord’s will?! Are you telling me you would rather your child die than let me treat her?!”

“Get out of my way,” she hissed. “I’m taking Joan home.”

“You can’t! I need to take the tube out! Jamie!”

Jamie got to Laoghaire just before the woman could yank out the breathing tube herself, restraining her by the arms while she howled like a screech owl.

I turned to Joan, murmuring words of comfort as I stroked her hair. “It’s alright, darling. Everything is alright. I’m going to take the tube out now, and it may hurt a little, but I promise you’ll be fine. Okay?”

Joan nodded, her fearful eyes wide and filled with tears. There was no easy or painless way of removing a breathing tube, but she withstood it without a sound, and I watched her take breaths on her own before allowing her to sit up.

“You may take her home now,” I said, nodding for Jamie to release her. “But Laoghaire, you need…”

“Don’t tell me what I need!” Laoghaire hissed, taking Joanie’s hand. “Marsali, let’s go.”

Marsali gave me an imploring look, and I quickly pressed the vial of stinging nettle extract in her palm while her mother wasn’t looking, and reminded her to remove the peanuts. 

“That woman is mad,” Jamie muttered after they were gone, taking me into his arms.

“I just hope Marsali and Joan don’t end up suffering for it,” I said. “Take me home, Jamie. I want to see my little girl.”

Chapter Text

“Mama! Mama!”

I ran out the front door, heart thundering in my chest at the sound of Lotte’s panicked cry.

“Mama!” she yelled, running out of the barn. “Da’s hurt!”

“I’m fine Lotte!” Jamie called out from inside the barn.

I slowed my rushed steps a little, comforted that Jamie wasn’t unconscious or something on the barn floor.

He was on the floor, but his expression looked a little more irate than in pain. Though, he did seem to be in pain, as well.

“What happened?” I asked, kneeling beside him.

“Nothing,” he said, moving as if to get up. “I’m fine, I just…” he hissed through his teeth, his entire body going taut as he slumped back against the stall door.

My worry came back anew, and my hands smoothed over him, checking for where he was injured. “Jamie, I need you to talk to me, love. What’s hurting? Did you fall?”

“He was just carryin’ a feed bag,” Lotte provided. “When all of a sudden he went ACK !” she mimed dropping a bag and then pressed her hands to her lower back. “And just fell down!”

Thank ye, Lotte,” Jamie bit out irritably.

“Lotte Love,” I said. “Do you think you’re a big enough girl to finish feeding the horses?”

Lotte’s eyes widened and she straightened her shoulders importantly. “Aye!”

“Well, go on. Hurry, because it’s almost time for school.”

I turned back to Jamie after Lotte hurried away to complete the work, thus getting her out of the way as well as the line of fire.

“Did you pull a muscle?” I asked him. “Bend the wrong way?”

“No!” he snapped. “I just...I dinna ken. I lifted th’ bag like I’ve done a thousand times and suddenly my back just...gave out. I just need tae rest a minute and I’ll be fine. There’s no need for your fussin!”

I sighed. “There’s ‘ no need’ to rip my head off about it, Jamie. You’ve thrown your damn back out. Now, are you going to let me help you inside or would you rather me leave your stubborn arse out here on the ground?”

Jamie glared at me, but held out a hand. I tried to get my shoulder under his arm to help lever him up, but he bit out a Gaelic curse and wrenched away, forcing me to ease him back down lest I drop him.

“Lotte,” I called.

“I’m done feeding the horses, Mama!” Lotte reported.

“Well done, love. Now, could you go find Fergus and send him in here, please?”

Happy to be given so many important jobs, Lotte marched away, and I stood up and crossed my arms, peering down at my grumbling husband, and wondering if I would need to send for William and Two Moons.

In the end, Fergus and I were able to maneuver Jamie inside, though there was no way of us all making it up the stairs together, so we brought Jamie to the guest room on the ground floor and helped him into bed.

“Do you need me to stay home today and help, Ma?” Fergus asked worriedly.

I smiled at him. “No, we’ll be alright now that he’s in bed. Go on, you and Lotte had better hurry on to school. And please tell Murtagh on your way that I’ll be here if there’s a medical emergency.”

Fergus nodded. “Yes’m. Send out Rollo if you need help.”

“Bye, Da, feel better!” Lotte called from the doorway.

“Thank ye, a leannan, ” Jamie said, barely managing to unclench his teeth long enough for it.

“I know it hurts,” I said once the children were gone. “But I really need to take a look at your back. I can rub some peppermint oil on it in the process, it will help with the pain.”

Jamie nodded, and together we slowly and painstakingly got him out of his shirt, and laying on his belly. He groaned as I pressed along his lower back and spine, but nothing felt swollen or displaced.

“Seems I was right,” I said. “You simply threw it out. It isn’t uncommon in a man, especially one of your…”

“Dinna say it,” he hissed. “I am not an auld man!”

“I didn’t say you were!” I protested. “But you’re not in your twenties, either, and you’ve put this body through quite a lot in your lifetime!”

I ran my back along the mottled ridges of his scars. “It’s a wonder you’ve never had any back troubles before, considering what was done to you. Although, your pain seems to me radiating from your lower back, and your scars end there.”

Jamie was breathing heavily through his nose, and I hummed in sympathy before reaching for the peppermint oil. He groaned loudly as I began rubbing it into his skin. First in pain, then relief.

“I’m sorry I’m being such a bastard tae ye,” he said quietly. “It wasn’a meant for ye, just at my own damned body.”

“Apology accepted,” I said. “I know you’re hurting. Just remember I’m here to help, alright?”

I leaned over his shoulder so I could see him smile at me. “I willn’a forget it again, Sassenach.”

I kissed his nose. “See that you don’t.”

I tugged his trousers down so I could reach lower on his back, and he chuckled. 

“I’m no’ opposed, mo nighean donn , but I’m afraid I willn’a be verra recipitory.”

“Hush you,” I chuckled, swatting him lightly on the rise of his arse cheek when it became visible. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay in bed until your back feels better. Moving too soon could only make your recovery longer.”

Jamie groaned again, but this time in frustration. “I have too much tae do tae laze about in bed. Th’ south fence needs mended, Flash needs reshod, th’ roof needs several shingles replaced before th’ rains come, I promised Lotte I’d let her help me build a pair o’ doghouses for th’ pups, tae say nothing of th’ still.”

I ran my hands up from the base of his spine, toward his shoulders. It wasn’t where his pain was, but there was a tenseness there I wanted to try and rub away as well.

“Let’s see...Fergus is perfectly capable of mending the fence and shoeing Flash on his own. He and William can replace the shingles and I can help them keep the still running. The puppies’ houses can wait.”

Jamie grunted. “Ye’re forgetting that Fergus has school and plenty of chores of his own, you have th’ clinic, and Lotte, and th’ running of this house, and William has his own home and ranch tae look after. Th’ rest is my responsibility. I’ll no have ye all overworking yourself for my sake.”

“We’re family, you daft man,” I said, kissing his shoulder. “It’s what we do. Christ, you’re acting like you’re facing a month-long convalescence. You’ll be back to your normal, ever-in-motion self in a couple of days.”

Jamie sighed, smiling as I carefully rested some of my weight across him, careful to avoid the small of his back.

“I’m sorry I’m being a bear, Sassenach,” he said.

I hummed, nipping his ear. “Just think, you’re on bed rest, the children are in school...imagine what I could do to you while you can barely move a muscle…”

“Oh, I’m imagining. And ye may need tae help me roll over...I’m getting wee bit uncomfortable this way.”

My heart ached at the pain written across his face as he laboriously turned over onto his back. 

“I know a surefire way of relieving your pain completely, for a moment at least,” I said, kissing his lips languishly before making my way down his chest.

“Oh?” he breathed.

“It’s true,” I looked up at him. “Scientists believe that our brains release chemicals during orgasm that work the same way that morphine does.”

Jamie chuckled, clearly not all that interested in the scientific side of orgasms. “I suppose that would explain why it’s so addictive.”

I undid his flies and went ahead and pulled them all the way off so that he would be more comfortable, then sat back on my heels to admire the rather impressive erection he was managing considering how much pain he was in.

“Looks like I missed a spot,” I said innocently, reaching again for the oil. Jamie’s eyebrows shot up.

I poured just a drop of the massage oil on my palms and rubbed them together to warm them before wrapping my fingers around him.

He groaned in pleasure as I started to slide my hands up and down his shaft, and then let out a low “ Ifrinn” when the mild tingling sensation from the peppermint started to register. 

“Christ Sassenach,” he gasped, his hips rolling up automatically, which unfortunately made him hiss in pain.

“Now, now, then,” I murmured, laying my hand on his hipbone and pressing down firmly. “You need to stay still, Jamie.”

Jamie groaned again, but remained perfectly still while I continued his massage

I grew distracted, watching the way my oil-slicked fingers slid along him, watching the flushed head disappear and reappear from between them.

“Do you know,” I said. “I see a lot of these in my profession, and I don’t think I believe this only because you’re my husband, but you have a very attractive cock...as far as they go.”

Jamie chuckled breathily. “I dinna ken how much of a compliment that was...or whether I like tae be reminded just now of how many ye’ve seen...but thank ye, I suppose. Now, could ye say th’ word cock again?”

I smirked at him, then doubled my speed, effectively removing his ability to say anything more than “A Dhia…”

It wasn’t often that I was able to simply enjoy the pleasure of seeing to Jamie’s pleasure. He normally was so insistent on seeing to me first, or making sure we were mutually finding bliss - not that I was complaining. But just watching him lay back and enjoy the things I was doing to him was its own brand of arousing.

Once Jamie closed his eyes, I smirked again and lowered my head, giving the tip of him a wee lick.

I looked up in time to see his eyes shoot open again.

“Mm, peppermint,” I sang quietly before going in for another taste.

Jamie often talked about all the wee sounds I made in the bedroom, but he certainly wasn’t a quiet one. 

“Oh God...Claire I... ifrinn ...Fuck, Sassenach!”

I ran my tongue up the length of him, methodically cleaning the oil off before sucking him back into my mouth, hollowing my cheeks and letting my teeth just barely graze his skin. 

The taste of him flooding my mouth was better than peppermint, and when I looked up, delicately wiping my mouth, he’d gone boneless.

“Feeling any better?” I asked him cheekily.

Jamie grinned, his eyelids already growing heady. “Oh, aye.”

I crawled up beside him, covering him with the quilt in the process, then had just enough time to kiss him before he was asleep, and I smiled lovingly at him.

Since I wouldn’t be leaving the house that day, I figured I might as well get a little nap in of my own. Carefully getting up to remove my dress, I laid back down beside him and curled myself around him. Soon, I would probably need to talk him into taking a pain reliever, but nature’s pain reliever would do just fine for now.



We met Young Ian and Rachel at the train station to see them away, and I stood clutching Jenny’s hand to help keep her steady. In the time since we returned from Mexico, she’d become incredibly close with both Young Ian and Rachel. Young Ian truly regarded her as a mother, something I knew set Two Moon’s heart alight. Of course, there was also the bond that came from raising infants in a house together, and both Jenny and Rachel would be regretting that loss.

“I’m going to miss you,” I cooed, squeezing Rain tightly. “You all have to promise not to wait too long before your next visit. I want all of our children to have a close relationship.”

“You can count on it, Dr. B.,” Rachel said, taking Rain before coming in for a hug of her own. “I feel so badly about leaving you with the clinic again…”

“Don’t you even think of it,” I assured her. “You and Ian need to follow your own path. I won’t lie and say I don’t hope it doesn’t lead you back home again, but that’s because I love you, not because of the help you provide.”

“Goodbye, Auntie,” Ian said, hugging me.

“Jamie’s so sorry he couldn’t be here,” I told him.

Ian smiled. “Dinna fash, Rachel and I went by and said our goodbyes. Willie,” he said, turning to my left. “You know, you really should think of coming with us. I know of a few very pretty Mohawk women in want of a pretty husband.”

William smiled and narrowed his eyes at him. “I don’t know how I feel about you calling me ‘pretty,’ but thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

Two Moons took his son’s hand, gripping it tightly. “May the Spirits guide you, my son.”

“Thank you,” Ian said. “Don’t worry, Father. Rain will grow with the knowledge of her nation. We won’t let it die.”

Jenny was next, squeezing Ian tight. “Just make sure you write home often .”

I grinned, watching how she’d become a mother to Ian, just as I’d become one to William, Brianna, and Fergus.

“Goodbye, Little Sister,” Ian said, kissing Maggie’s downy head from where she was held in Two Moons arms. 

He and Fergus didn’t say anything, but exchange a long look and embraced heartily. I knew that the two, though always close, had become so much more so in Mexico, and that it would hurt to be separated again. 

“Goodbye, Lotte Loo, stay out of trouble, little one.”

I resolutely fought back tears as they boarded the train, knowing how hard Jenny was trying not to cry.

Fergus picked Lotte up so that she could wave as the train made its way down the track, and more loved ones made their way out of Colorado Springs.

Two Moons turned to me once the train was out of sight. “It never gets easier, does it?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t think it will. That’s why I’ve made these two,” I jutted a thumb over at Fergus and William. “Promise they’ll never leave to be all brave and successful elsewhere.”

Two Moons chuckled. “Now, what are they conspiring about?”

I turned to look at my sons, noticing that they were whispering and looking rather secretive. 

“Oh Lord, who knows. Honestly sometimes I just prefer to stay in the dark. Fergus! Lotte! It’s time to go home.”

“I have something to do, first, Ma,” Fergus said. “But I’ll be home for supper!”

He turned to race away before I could stop him, so I glared up at his brother instead. “And he expects me to do all the evening chores alone, does he?”

William smiled and put his arm around me. “No, he just asked me if I’d mind helping out, and I don’t.”

“So, what’s he up to?” I asked.

“Don’t worry, Ma, it’s innocent. I’d tell you if it wasn’t.”

I grimaced. “Why does that just make me worry more ?”

 

“Easy,” I said as Jamie laboriously made his way upstairs. “I don’t know why you’re so determined. We managed just fine in the guest room last night.”

“That bed is too small,” Jamie said. 

I chuckled. “Funny, I don’t recall you complaining about me laying half on top of you all night.”

Jamie glanced back at me, smirking. “Aye, wasn’a any different than any other night, was it? Either way, we’ll both be more comfortable in our own bed, though, I appreciate ye staying wi’ me last night.”

“What? You think I would have slept in that big ol’ bed all by myself?” We reached the landing and I skipped in front of him, stretching my arms exaggeratedly. “Aaall that space aaall to myself?”

Jamie grinned and grabbed me by the waist, pulling me to him. “Wee minx.”

Your wee minx,” I corrected, putting my arms lightly around his shoulders, still mindful of his back. “Now, go lie down. I’ll lock up the house and come join you soon, and I think tomorrow you might be well enough to venture out to the hot springs, don’t you?”

Jamie’s eyes filled with something warm and expectant, and I felt myself grow as warm in response. “Aye, I do think so.”

I left Jamie to ready himself for bed, and went first to check on Lotte before going downstairs to run through the end-of-day check that Jamie performed each night. All windows shut, check. Fire completely extinguished along with all candles, check. Rollo and puppies all indoors and in Lotte’s bedroom, check. Adso snoring away on the sofa, check. 

The animals had already been seen to for the evening, so all that was left was to lock the front door. However, when I reached the door, I heard a shuffling on the porch and I frowned, wondering if the White Sow had gotten loose again.

I opened the door just a crack, astounded to see Fergus creeping up the steps.

I actually had to do a double-take, glancing up the stairs in the direction of his room as if I would turn to see him standing up there as well.

“W...I thought you were in bed! What are you doing out here?”

“I...I heard a noise. Worried it was a...a coyote…” he said.

Honestly, if the boy had just fed me that excuse more calmly, I’d have believed it, but his wide eyes and floundering expression gave him away.

“Inside. Now,” I commanded, standing aside to admit him. “I watched you go up to bed over an hour ago, so you’re going to tell me what you were doing out this late.”

“I told you…”

“And you’re a terrible liar,” I deadpanned, reminded of how Jamie used to say that to me all the time. Had Fergus somehow picked up my “glass face?”

“The clock is ticking, Fergus Fraser, and if I have to drag your father out of bed to get the truth out of you, none of us are going to be very happy about it.”

Fergus shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “I met up with a friend, that’s all.”

“What friend? Aiden?”

“No…”

“Is this the friend you ran off to meet this afternoon?”

Fergus frowned. “How’d you know?”

I smirked. “I didn’t.”

Fergus groaned. “Can you please just drop it? I came home, and technically I’m before curfew, so there’s no reason to get all upset.”

I crossed my arms. “No, I won’t drop it. Curfews don’t count if you don’t even tell me you’re going out.”

“I’m seventeen years old, Ma!”

“I don’t give a damn how old you are! You’re still living under our roof, and we have a right to know about your comings and goings and what the hell is going on during your goings!”

“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “I would have told you I was going out, I was just trying to avoid all these questions!

“Well, you screwed up, so now you have to answer them. What were you doing ?”

“I’m going to bed.”

“Fergus!” I followed him to the stairs, ready to throttle him.

We both froze however, when a booming voice called out. “Fergus Claudel Fraser, dinna walk awa’ from your mother!”

Jamie was wincing as he came down the stairs, but I refrained from going to help him.

“Da,” Fergus sighed. “You shouldn’t be up.”

“I wouldn’a be, but ye and ye’re mother are down here shoutin’ th’ house down! Now, want tae tell me what th’ devil is going on?”

“He snuck out,” I said. “And refuses to say what the hell he was doing.”

Jamie turned a stern look to Fergus, who shuffled his feet nervously. 

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

“Ye left th’ house wi’out telling us, and ye’re lying tae us. I’d say that’s wrong,” Jamie said. “Ye were seeing a lass, is that it?”

For some reason, that thought hadn’t occurred to me, though why, I didn’t know. Fergus had always had an eye for girls, ever since he was a child, though he’d never seriously considered any of the girls in town.

“If you’re gonna thrash me, then thrash me,” Fergus said, standing his ground.

Jamie raised his eyebrows. “Fine. But ye’re too old for a hiding. For th’ next month, ye’re tae stay within sight of your mother or me at all times, save from when ye’re in school, and at that time ye’re tae stay wi’ Lotte and yes , we’re going tae ask her if ye obeyed.”

Month?!” Fergus exclaimed. “You’ve gotta be crazy!”

Jamie advanced on Fergus, making the boy take a hasty step away. “Dinna make me take back what I said about a hiding, lad . And aye, a month. If, during that time, ye get in mind tae tell us th’ truth , I’ll shorten it to a week.”

“It’s none of your business ! Christ, you’re treating me like a child! Well, here’s news for you, I haven’t been a child since we returned from Mexico! And I don’t have to tell you shit !”

“Ye will not use that sort o’ language in front of your mother!”

“SHE CURSES LIKE A SAILOR!”

Even I took a step back when Jamie’s fists curled, wondering if I was going to need to get between a fist fight that Jamie would undoubtedly lose with his back the way it was...if the man didn’t have a heart attack first.

“Jamie…” I said warningly. “Fergus, both of you stop! You’re going to wake the whole town!”

Fergus shook his head, brushing past Jamie to march up the starts. “Maybe I should just move in with William!”

“FINE!” Jamie shouted, groaning when the half-motion he made caused a spasm of pain.

Sighing, I grabbed him by the arm, steering him to a chair. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Jamie.”

“What are ye fussin’ at me for?” he asked. “ Fergus is th’ one being a disrespectful little…” he was cut off by another spasm, and he hissed through his teeth.

“Well, you managed to make matters worse! What if he really does go to live with William?”

“Then he’ll be a mile away, and Willie’ll most likely talk him intae coming back home. Fact is, he is of an age that he could leave if he wants tae, but that doesn’a mean he’ll be allowed tae disrespect us or th’ rules of this house.”

“Of course not,” I agreed. “But why wouldn’t he just tell us? He tells us everything. He told us all about the brothel in Mexico and I certainly hope whatever he was up to tonight wasn’t any more sordid than that.”

“I dinna ken,” Jamie said. “Chances are, he has a good reason for it. I’ll have a talk wi’ him tomorrow, when he’s cooled down.”

“When you’re both cooled down...and if you’re even able to move tomorrow. Now come on, let’s get you back to bed.”

Jamie nodded, letting me help him up. “Aye, we should all go back to bed. That right, Lotte?”

Lotte made a high squeak from where she, Rollo, and the puppies were all watching from behind the bannister at the top of the stairs, and she hurried to gather her menagerie and retreat back to her room.





Chapter Text

Fergus was a very sour-faced helper in the clinic the following morning. To his credit, he did apologize first thing that morning for the way he spoke to me, but not for sneaking out or lying. 

It being Saturday, he didn’t have school, so he had to stay with either Jamie or I all day, and I knew he wasn’t about to choose Jamie, nor was Jamie too gung ho about volunteering, no matter it was his idea.

Jamie was able to get up that morning and do some of his lighter morning chores without much pain, so that was something, but the two men would barely even look at each other. And that, naturally, set the entire household on edge. Even Lotte had been uncharacteristically quiet at breakfast, looking back and forth between Fergus, Jamie, and me nervously.

“What’s wrong with him?” Rupert asked as I applied salve to a cut on his lip, jerking his head to where Fergus was sulking in the corner.

“Oh, just the general woes of being a seventeen-year-old boy, I suspect,” I said distractedly, dabbing at a last trickle of blood.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, boy,” Rupert said jovially. “Just start washing your own sheets and your ma here’ll never have to know!”

Fergus gaped at Rupert and I shoved the overgrown child off my examination table. “Enough from you! Get out of here and stay out of bar fights!”

“What fun would that be?” Rupert asked cheerfully, handing me my money.

I shook my head at Rupert’s retreating form, then turned to Fergus. “Alright, you can either sit there like a lump or be useful, take your pick.”

Fergus narrowed his eyes. “I’m guessing this isn’t so much a choice …”

“You’d guess right. You can sanitize my instruments, and I don’t think I need to remind you how important it is that it’s done correctly, so no doing a half-arsed job.”

“I won’t,” he sighed, getting to his feet.

“Mind if he holds off on that a bit, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, coming through the door. “I’d like tae have a word wi’ my son, if I may.”

Fergus shot me a look that read please make me clean the instruments , but I shook my head.

“No, go on ahead.”

Jamie stood aside, waiting for Fergus, who headed for the door like a man headed for the noose.

I chuckled and shook my head at both of them. 

“Men.”

I looked over at Lotte who’d spoken, playing on the floor with her dolls, not appearing to have even paid attention, much less paid enough attention to appropriately impersonate Auntie Geillis.

“Men, indeed,” I agreed with her. “Just wait until you have one of your own.” 

Lotte looked up, puzzled. “A son, or a husband?”

“Both. Either. They’re all still boys, at the heart of it.”

 

~~~

 

Jamie led Fergus toward the meadow, fighting off a smile at how the lad looked like he was being dragged through mud.

“I dinna ken what ye looked so scairt for,” Jamie said. “I thought we agreed ye’re too old for a thrashin’.”

“I think a thrashing would be preferable,” Fergus groaned.

Jamie stopped once they’d crossed the bridge and turned to him. “Why? Ye’ve made this intae something when it didn’a have tae be. Your mother and I ken ye’re no child, and dinna mind giving ye freedoms when ye’ve earned them, which, until just now, ye have done. But how d’ye think your ma felt when she realized ye’d been gone and we didn’a ken? If something had happened tae ye, we wouldn’a known until morning. Think, lad. What if I left th’ house wi’out a word? Or your mother? Would ye no’ worry?”

“You’re right, I would,” Fergus allowed. “And I’m sorry , alright? I shouldn’t have snuck out. That was childish. I just don’t feel like talking about it just yet. Can’t you understand that?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, I can. I’m a wee bit disappointed that ye dinna feel like ye can tell us, but I do understand. Ye’re a man, and ye’re entitled tae secrets. But not lies. It’s an agreement your ma and I made wi’ one another before we were marrit, and I’ll ask th’ same of you now.”

“No lies,” Fergus agreed. “I promise.”

“Verra well. Th’ punishment for your disrespect stands, but for a week, no’ a month, and ye’re never tae sneak out again. If ye do, ye dinna even want tae ken what I’ll do.”

Fergus nodded again. “Yes, sir.”

“Now...if this is all about a lass…”

“Da…”

Jamie held up a hand. “Do not interrupt me. If ye were seeing a lass, then this becomes not just about you but about her . Ye already ken all about sex and no’ gettin’ a lass wi’ child…”

“Da! I’m not…”

“But ye will not be dishonoring a lass, is that clear?”

Fergus grunted. “I’m not dishonoring anybody , Da. I swear. I wouldn’t.”

“Good. Now, get ye on back tae th’ clinic. And help your mother, dinna just sit there.”

“Yes, sir,” Fergus sighed, turning on his heel and striding away. Jamie didn’t bother following him, trusting him to go where he was told.

He really was a good lad, after all.

 

~~~

 

It was all of one day post Fergus’s punishment being lifted that the other shoe dropped. 

Jamie, William, Lotte, and I were just finishing up a late breakfast with Murtagh at Gale’s cafe.

“So, you know all about what Fergus has been up to, don’t you?” I asked William.

William gave me a half-smile. “Yeah, sorry to say I do. But like I said, Ma, if it were anything bad or dangerous, I’d tell you.”

“Then why does it have to be a secret?” I prodded.

“Sassenach,” Jamie said, laying a hand over mine. “Dinna ask Willie tae betray Fergus’s confidence.”

“I’m not!” I growled, throwing up my hands.

Murtagh chuckled. “She just can’t stand not knowing something.”

The others laughed, and I jutted my chin out. “So I like to be in the know. Where’s the big sin in that?”

“None at all,” Jamie said fondly, patting my hand. “We all ken it’s only because ye care.”

I turned back to William. “Will you at least tell me if it is a girl or not?”

“Ma…”

William was saved from having to answer at all when Aiden came scrambling through the cafe, looking panicked. 

“Dr. B.! Mac! You all better come out to the hotel, and quick !”

“What is it?!” I demanded, all of us already on our feet. “Is someone hurt?”

“No,” Aiden said. “But Fergus is sure gonna be!”

While William and Jamie were already following Aiden away from the cafe, I hesitated, looking at Lotte.

“Go on,” Murtagh said. “I’ll look after the girl.”

“Thank you,” I said, ever anxious about leaving Lotte, but I trusted Murtagh to keep a careful watch over her. I then turned and took off running to catch up with the men.

We all piled into William’s wagon to ride out across the creek to Phillip Wiley’s hotel, and my head was in a whirl wondering what sort of trouble my son could have gotten into there, what he was even doing there to start with, and Aiden refused to offer an explanation. Apparently he was sworn to secrecy, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t drag us along to see for ourselves.

“Willie, have ye got an idea?” Jamie asked.

“I’ve got an idea ,” William said grimly. “And if I’m right, we’re all in for a world of trouble, not just that little idiot.”

Aiden leapt out of the wagon before it stopped, beckoning us to follow him around the back of the hotel, toward the servants’ entrance, past a crowd of bemused out-of-towners.

I could hear screaming before we even entered the building, and by the time we reached the laundry room, I recognized the voice very well.

“Shit,” Jamie and I muttered in unison. 

The scene that met us when we entered the laundry room was an interesting one to be sure. 

On one side of a long work table, laden with white sheets in need of folding, was Laoghaire, brandishing a dolly-stick over her head like a baseball bat. Behind her, closer to the door, was Wiley, flapping his arms like a flustered hen. Behind him was a small group of laundresses in white smocks and scarves clutching each other in fear.

On the other side of the table stood none other than Fergus and Marsali, the former standing protectively in front of the latter.

“I’ll castrate you!” Laoghaire shrieked.

“Mother, please!” Marsali cried, clutching Fergus’s arm. “It’s not what you think!”

“What I think is you are going to be on the next train to the convent if you don’t get away from that boy right now !”

Laoghaire made to skirt around the table, swinging the dolly, and Fergus and Marsali scrambled around the other way in a merry-go-round that looked to have been going on for some time.

“What th’ devil is going on here?” Jamie boomed, deliberately projecting his voice above the screaming to make the madness stop.

“Oh thank God ,” Wiley sighed. “Can you please get your boy and this...this madwoman out of my hotel before the guests hear?!”

“Ma!” Fergus cried. “Da!”

“Fergus, what is happening?” I asked, grabbing his free arm when they made their circuit around the table to our side. Jamie and William stood to block Laoghaire from the children, and William snatched the dolly-stick out of her hands.

“I’ll tell you what happened!” Laoghaire snapped. “Your bastard of a son defiled my daughter!”

William groaned, shooting his brother a dark look. “ Tell me you didn’t…” he muttered.

“I didn’t !” Fergus exclaimed, then turned to Jamie and me with a pleading expression. “I swear it! Marsali and I haven’t done anything!”

“It’s true, Dr. B.,” Marsali cried. “Fergus has never touched me!”

“I believe you,” I told them. “But I don’t understand...since when are you two…” I waved a hand in their general direction.

Fergus flushed red. “For a while,” he said. “But all we’ve done is talk and...and...okay, I gave her a kiss once but it was just a peck!”

Marsali rolled her eyes. “He’s telling the truth about that too,” she mumbled, looking as if she’d been wishing for a bit more.

“While th’ children were wrong ,” Jamie shot Fergus and Marsali a pointed look. “For sneaking around, I dinna see anything wrong wi’ th’ two spending a bit of time together, Mrs. McKimmie. Surely if ye just stop and think…”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Laoghaire spat. “I don’t want that boy anywhere near my daughter! You forget, I was here when Dougal brought him to town with his whores! I know what he is!”

There was a sudden tenseness in the air, or maybe it was just me, but I was beginning to see red. “...What he is ?”

“A whore’s son!” she said. “And he still is!”

There was a collected gasp in the room, and I didn’t even realize I was charging Laoghaire until Jamie had an arm around my waist, holding me back. However, he didn’t pull me away fast enough, and my fist shot out, striking Laoghaire right in the jaw.

Laoghaire screeched in outrage, though I was satisfied to see blood trickling out of her mouth. She might have lunged at me, but this time Jamie did pull me away and William got hold of Laoghaire.

“That’ll be enough!” Jamie snapped. “Laoghaire, take yer lass and go. Now .”

Laoghaire shoved William away and stormed toward the door. “Marsali!”

Marsali looked around at all of us, eyes full of tears, before landing on Fergus and giving him an apologetic look before following her mother out.

Fergus jerked like he was going to go after her, but William grabbed his shoulder to stop him.

“Just great,” Wiley said. “I’ve lost my best laundress!”

 

The ride back to town was quiet as we first took Aiden home, then picked Lotte up from the Mercantile, where she’d been gorging on free candy. Murtagh was obviously curious, but I promised him he’d find out sooner than later.

“Lotte, best go and feed your pups,” Jamie said once we were home, lifting her out of the wagon.

“Yes, Da,” Lotte said, appearing to understand for once that something serious was afoot, and agreeably removed herself.

I waited until we were all inside before turning to Fergus with an expectant look and crossed my arms. “Well?”

Fergus sighed. “Seems like you know the gist of it.”

I gave him a patently unamused smile. “I think we’d all like to hear the full version, if you don’t mind.”

He shrugged. “Well you told me to pay attention to her!”

Fergus …”

“Okay! Okay! I’m sorry. It started that day Joanie got sick from the peanuts. I went by their house after school just to see if she was okay. Marsali was out feeding the chickens and saw me, and yelled at me to get away and not show my face, because she knew her ma would be furious if she saw me. We talked behind the barn for a little while, and, well...I liked her. She’s smart, and funny, and not at all simpering like most of the other girls in town. She’s tough. I also feel kinda bad for her too, because of how her ma is. Marsali says she’s not a bad mother, she even got rid of all the peanuts when Marsali said to, but she wants Marsali to marry some rich older man as soon as possible, and Marsali doesn’t want that at all. She wants to be a doctor like you , Ma, and she just doesn’t understand why her mother is so against it. So, after that, I started going by the hotel to visit her sometimes. The other servants all knew, and they didn’t mind. I swear to you, it was always innocent, and we were almost never alone.”

“It’s the almost that can get you,” William pointed out.

“How did Laoghaire find out?” Jamie asked.

“Accidentally,” Fergus said. “She came by the hotel because Marsali forgot her lunch and just happened to catch me comforting Marsali. She has these painful blisters on her hands from the lye soap. I wanted to bring her to you , Ma, but she said she didn’t want to risk bringing you any more trouble. I was holding her, that was what Laoghaire saw when she decided that I was defiling Marsali.”

“Ye’re sure that’s all?” Jamie asked.

Fergus scowled. “ Yes ! I didn’t lie to you when I said I hadn’t dishonored anyone! I care about Marsali way too much to put her in that sort of situation. She’s still just a girl, and besides, she deserves better than that!”

Jamie smiled and nodded. “Alright, son. We trust ye.”

I smiled too, feeling strangely happy despite the terrible situation. My little boy was in love. Maybe he didn’t even realize it yet himself, but the truth was written on his very face. I knew that look so well...because I saw it on Jamie’s face every single day.

“What now?” Fergus asked helplessly.

I looked at Jamie, and sighed. “I honestly don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t think Laoghaire is ever going to change her mind.”

Fergus scoffed. “Not that it matters. Now that she’s told Marsali where I come from, Marsali probably won’t want anything to do with me anyway.”

“Fergus...you can’t honestly have taken what that witch said to heart? The circumstances of your birth have nothing to do with who you are now.”

“Maybe not, but what girl would want to marry a man...have kids with a man who doesn’t even know what sort of people made him?”

I know what sort of parents made you,” William broke in. Fergus looked at him in shock.

William smiled. “Charlotte Cooper made you a kind-hearted, smart, contented little boy with the ability to speak English when before, you couldn’t. Jamie Mac Fraser made you a brave, adventurous, and compassionate kid with a love of all things nature and a deep empathy for other people. And…” he grabbed Fergus’s shoulder and turned him toward me. “Dr. Claire B. made you a man that loves completely, has a deeply ingrained sense of what’s right and wrong, has a quicker wit than just about anyone, and never gives up on what he believes in. Those are the parents that made you who you are, Fergus. They made me, too.”

Fergus smiled softly, swiftly rubbing at an escaped tear. “Thanks, Willie.”

“So, I suppose th’ real question now,” Jamie said. “Is what are you going tae do?”

Fergus took a breath and squared his shoulders. “I...I don’t know. Yet . But I do know I don’t wanna lose Marsali...even if it means I have to wait a few years for her.”

“Well, whatever ye decide, lad, ye’ll have your family behind ye.”

“Thanks Da,” Fergus said, letting himself be pulled into a hug. “You were right, you know, when you told us we wouldn’t know what hit us when we met her.”

Jamie chuckled. “Then ye’ve chosen well, mac gaolach .”

 

“Well, it’s not like I disapprove of his choice...” I said as Jamie, William, and I sat with Jenny and Murtagh at the cafe, explaining to them the situation.

William laughed. “Of course not! Marsali’s like a miniature version of you .”

I gave him a flat look. “ However , he managed to pick quite possibly the most unattainable girl in town.”

“Typical man behavior,” Jenny tsked . “Always after what they can’t have.”

“Why doesn’t Mars-lee’s mama like Fergus?” Lotte asked. “Fergus is the best .”

I snorted. “I doubt it really has anything to do at all with Fergus. She just hates me ,” I looked over at Lotte expectantly. “What? No, ‘but you’re the best, Mama?’”

“You are,” Lotte allowed. “But people do get mad at you sometimes.”

Joe laughed from where he was eavesdropping with Gale by the kitchen. “She’s got you there, Lady Jane!”

I demurely shot him a rude gesture while my daughter’s back was turned.

“I have a secret for ye, a leannan ,” Jamie stage-whispered. “A lass that doesn’a make people mad sometimes is a boring lass indeed.”

Lotte giggled, and I gave Jamie a teasing swat on the hand.

WHERE IS SHE ?!”

“Oh God,” William sighed. “Doesn’t her throat ever hurt from screaming so much?”

Laoghaire stormed right toward our table, actually looking more angry than I’d ever seen her, and that was saying something.

We all stood, standing tensely around the table. “What are you talking about, Laoghaire?” I asked as calmly as I could, fighting back a smirk at the ugly bruise on her cheek.

“My Marsali,” she hissed. “She ran off this morning and she didn’t show up at the hotel. I know she’s with that boy of yours, so tell me where she is!”

“We dinna ken where Marsali is,” Jamie said coolly. “If she’s run off wi’ Fergus, it would only be because ye suffocated th’ poor lass until she couldn’a stand it any longer, but we’ve nothin’ tae do with it.”

“You’re lying! I’m taking Marsali and Joan far away from this town and you . You can’t keep my child from me!”

“For Christ’s sake, Laoghaire, no one is keeping your child from you!” Jenny exclaimed. “You should be counting your lucky stars that Marsali has set her eyes on a boy as good and kind as Fergus.”

Laoghaire scoffed. “You’re just like the rest of them. Blindly worshipping this...this snake ,” she gestured to me. “Well I’ve had enough.”

“No, we’ve had enough,” Murtagh growled. “By God, woman, little Maggie don’t bellow as much as you! Seems like you need a switch to your hide.”

“I was born here, and yet you all take her side!”

“What sides ?” I asked, genuinely beginning to believe there was something seriously wrong with the woman. “I don’t know what the hell I did to make you hate me so much, but I’ve had enough too! You attack me, you attack my child, you insult my family. I wish you would leave town, but that would hurt Fergus and Marsali, and they shouldn’t have to suffer for whatever crazy vendetta you have against me!”

“Mac was mine !” Laoghaire cried. 

What ?” Several people, including Jamie, exclaimed.

I was the one to comfort him when Geneva died!”

“Christ almighty, Laoghaire,” Jamie said. “What th’ devil are ye talking about?!”

Laoghaire stared at him aghast, as if she couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. “I was the only one there for you, when everyone else turned their backs! I only married Marsali’s father because my father didn’t give me a choice! And you...you defended me from him, when he struck me!”

Jamie raised an eyebrow, looking at me. “Weel, that part’s true. Th’ bastard got drunk at th’ saloon and struck her in th’ street. I flattened him.”

“I knew you care for me!” she cried. “I got away from him as soon as I could and then... she was here,” she sneered at me. “And suddenly you and everyone else was just fawning over her every word.”

I frowned in confusion. “I’m sorry? Are you completely forgetting the constant persecution my first couple of years?”

Laoghaire ignored my words, plowing on ahead with her mad tirade. “Do you know what Marsali said to me last night? That she wishes you were her mother, not me.”

“Who can blame her?” I heard Angus mutter from a nearby table.

“Well, I’ve had enough,” Laoghaire hissed. “You’ve taken too much from me already, Dr. B. but you will not take my daughter!”

I was still rolling my eyes in frustration when a sudden gasp rose up among the diners.

The glint of the gun barrel took me by surprise and I just stared at it in shock for the split second before it went off.

Chapter Text

The woman was insane, that was the long and short of it.

Jamie would almost have felt sorry for her, if it weren’t for the way she treated Claire. He stood tense as Laoghaire ranted and raved into Claire’s face, wondering if he was going to have to break up another fistfight. His wife may be quick to temper, but she was slow to violence, and he knew that when she’d struck Laoghaire before it meant that the other woman had really gotten under her skin. Lotte stood behind Claire, clutching her skirts and staring wide-eyed up at the madwoman, and it made Jamie all that much angrier.

He started slowly inching his way around the table to reach Claire’s side, and then, it was as if time slowed down.

He never realized that Laoghaire was holding the gun in her skirt pocket. He should have seen the way she held her arm stiff. Should have recognized the fearful, anticipatory look in her eyes.

When she withdrew it, Jamie leapt forward, shoving chairs and people alike out of his way, but he was too late. Not fast enough.

The crack of the pistol, the sound of his daughter’s scream, Claire’s soft and sudden intake of breath, would all echo in his mind for the rest of his life.

He was forced to watch his wife’s body lurch back, a bloom of red appear immediately on the bright white, perfectly pressed blouse that he’d watched her don that morning.

He tried to get to her, to catch her before she fell, but he wasn’t fast enough for that either.

He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. He didn’t feel his knees hit the hard-packed earth beneath him, but he felt her soft curls between his fingers as he gently held her head.

“MA!” William cried, leaping over the table to reach Claire’s side seconds after Jamie did.

“God almighty,” Murtagh said.

Her eyes were still open for a moment, looking up at Jamie with such fear, pain, and confusion that he wanted to die right there with her.

As he lifted her upper body into his arms, he was soaked instantly in her blood, the copper smell of it turning his stomach.

Sassenach ,” he whispered.

“Da, what do we do?!”

“Someone wire for another doctor!”

“Christ, man, she ain’t gonna make it that long!”

“Mama! Mama wake up!”

No.

Claire would not die. Not like this.

“GET A WAGON!” he screamed at whoever would listen, his hand covering the wound and pressing down hard, harder than his mind wanted him to, unwilling as he instinctively was to hurt her. “I need something for the bleeding…”

“Here!” Gale exclaimed, appearing with an armful of dishtowels. 

Jamie grabbed several of them, hating the way they turned red the moment he held them over the wound. “I canna tell if there’s an exit wound,” he ground out. “There’s too much...can anyone else see?!”

Of all people, it was Lotte who knelt down at Claire’s side, soaking her lavender tights in blood, to bend in order to see Claire’s back.

“No, Da,” she said, her voice shaking.

“Da, Joe’s got a wagon,” William said.

“Help me get her there,” Jamie ordered, keeping his hand sealed over the wound while William picked up her lower body.

Together they laid her flat in the wagon bed, then sped as fast as Joe’s horse could go the short distance to the clinic. 

They hurried her into the clinic and onto the examination table, the blood seeping around Jamie’s fingers and dripping onto the floor.

So much blood. How much was too much?

“What do we do, Da?” William asked, tears forming in his eyes.

“I dinna ken,” Jamie admitted brokenly, trying to keep from falling into useless hysteria. “I dinna ken .”

Joe, Gale, Jenny, and Murtagh had all followed them into the clinic, watching in horror.

“Jenny, Gale...ye’ve helped Claire in th’ clinic before…”

Gale shook her head. “With sick people. Never anything like this.”

“What about Two Moons?” William asked. “He knows medicine!”

“He’s out hunting,” Jenny said tearfully. “He won’t be back for a couple more days!”

The rags were soaked through. “William, more bandages,” he ordered.

He replaced the cloth as quickly as he could, watching Claire’s naturally pale face blanch to a ghostly white, blue starting to take over rosy lips. 

“Dinna do this, Claire,” he cried. “Ye canna do this tae me! I won’t let ye!”

“Da...Tom’s removed bullets before,” William said softly. “Maybe…”

“No,” Jamie spat. “It’s after five. Th’ lout’s already drunk for th’ day, even I was inclined tae let him anywhere near my wife.”

“We don’t have a lot of options, unless you plan to do it!”

“I will if I have tae!” 

“And will you be able to live with yourself if you do it wrong?”

Jamie glared up at his son, dimly noticing that the others had left. No doubt thinking that they were leaving them to say goodbye. 

Over my dead body .

“I’ll no’ be able tae live wi’ myself if I dinna try ,” Jamie hissed. “Get her instruments, make sure they’re sterilized.”

His own face paling, William turned to do as ordered, carefully getting out and cleaning each scalpel and tool.

There were so many. He didn’t need all of them...but which ones did he need? He knew their names. Claire had told him, and he’d paid attention. But what were their purposes?

He thought that the bleeding was slowing down, and he pressed two fingers to her neck - the way she’d shown him - and painstakingly counted her heartbeats. 

“I dinna ken if I can do this wi’out you, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, barely able to get the sound out from his lips. “Ye’ve taught us what ye could, but we dinna have th’ gift you have. But I know for damn sure I canna go on wi’out ye, so I have to try . I hope ye’ll forgive me, mo cridhe .”

He took a deep breath, prayed that God would have mercy, and then he asked William for the scissors.

Jamie cut her blouse and chemise up the middle, finally releasing pressure long enough to peel back the sodden fabric. The wound oozed blood more sluggishly now, but steadily, and Jamie covered it again with clean bandages.

The bullet entered just above her right breast, and the sight of them painted red the way they were was enough to turn Jamie’s stomach, but he viciously fought his weakness back. But then… the mere thought of putting a blade in her skin was unfathomable, even if it was to save her.

“Should we use the chloroform?” William asked.

Jamie ground his teeth. “I dinna ken...her heart rate is already slow...I think...I think maybe it wouldn’a be good.”

“But what if she wakes up?”

Jamie wanted to cry with helplessness, but his Sorcha was running out of time, and they couldn’t just stand there deliberating. 

“Ma?!”

The clinic door flew open, and Jamie and William looked up to see Fergus and Marsali run in, jaws dropping at the sight before them.

“Oh God,” Fergus cried, blanching.

“Where have you two been ?!” William snapped. “This is all your doing!”

“How could we have known?!”

“Enough!” Jamie exclaimed. “Shut up th’ both of ye or leave ! I have tae do this now!”

“You’re going to remove the bullet?” Marsali asked. “ You?

Ma’s the only one here who knows what to do!” William said. “Doctor Raymond and Rachel are gone...the only other person who could do it is Bree and she’s days away!”

Marsali looked down at Claire, squaring her jaw. “You have to widen the entry wound, clean out any bullet fragments or cloth, and then…”

Jamie whipped his head around to stare at her. “You ken what tae do?”

Marsali froze, then nodded hesitantly. “Y...yes. In...in theory. Dr. B. taught me, and...and I’ve read all her books...but…”

“Marsali, listen tae me,” Jamie broke in, nearly placing a hand on her shoulder before remembering the blood. “I don’t know what tae do. I could very well kill my own wife today on this table, but tae do nothing at all will make me just as guilty of her death. Please, lass, if ye ken anything about this, I beg of ye tae help me.”

Marsali swallowed thickly, then nodded once, suddenly looking far older than her fifteen years. “Alright. Fergus, please fetch me Dr. B.’s apron, then get the chloroform ready but don’t use it just yet. Jamie, do you know the names of the instruments?”

Jamie nodded, relief rolling off him in waves. Perhaps it was cruel to pass off Claire’s very fate to a child, but it was her best chance. “Aye, lass.”

Marsali scrubbed her hands, first with the soap, and then with alcohol, then went to stand on Claire’s right side. 

“William, I’m going to need you to stand on her other side and hold her shoulder down in case she moves, and tell me if she feels like she’s waking up.”

William nodded and crossed to Claire’s other side, gently stroking her hair back over her face before laying his hands on her shoulder and ribcage.

Jamie quickly stepped around Marsali to stand by Claire’s head, peering down at her beloved face, so beautiful even now. 

“Tha mi ceart an seo mo ghaol,” he whispered, lightly kissing her lips.

“You can do this, Marsali,” Fergus murmured. 

Marsali looked up first at him, then at Jamie. “I hope to God I can.”

 

Jamie tried to keep his focus on following Marsali’s orders promptly and efficiently, to distract him from what she was doing to Claire. He’d watched his wife operate on people before. The sight of the blade, of the open flesh, no longer turned his wame like it once did. But it was Claire . Claire’s skin marred by bullet and scalpel, Claire’s flesh open for him to see. 

Every now and then, he would look up to watch Claire’s chest rising and falling, to reassure himself that she was still holding on.

Fight, Sorcha. Fight for me. Fight for us.

What little part of his mind that wasn’t focused on Claire and his job, couldn’t help but take notice of the way Marsali became completely absorbed in what she was doing with a single-minded ferocity that he’d only ever seen from one other person. 

 

“I think I’ve gotten all of it,” Marsali said, slowly withdrawing a minuscule scrap of Claire’s blouse with the forceps and depositing it in the tin bowl beside the other scraps and the bullet.

It had miraculously avoided her lung and arteries, going in at an angle and lodging itself in her shoulder, meaning it took an even larger incision to extract. “How’s her pulse?”

“Slow, but steady,” Fergus reported. 

“I’m going to close her up now. Jamie?”

Jamie already had the needle and thread ready, held out to her on a clean towel. 

He watched as Marsali made neat, small stitches, a near copy of Claire’s, and soon, it was over.

“Well done, Marsali!” Fergus exclaimed.

Marsali gave him a tired look. “Don’t praise me yet, please. She’s not out of the woods yet.”

Jamie tenderly pulled the sheet up to cover Claire’s chest. “Regardless,” he said, his voice hoarse as if he’d spent the last two hours screaming instead of just silently gritting his teeth. “Ye’ve given her a greater chance than she might have had otherwise,” he looked at the girl, waiting until she met his eyes. “For that, ye’ll forever have my gratitude, Marsali. No matter what happens next.”

Marsali smiled tremulously and nodded.

“Why don’t ye go and rest, lass?”

“Once we get her to a recovery room, she’ll need bathed, and then I’ll need to go home and see to Joanie. What...what did they do with my mother?”

Jamie’s jaw twitched, fury engulfing him at the thought of that woman. “I didn’a see, but I imagine she’ll have been locked up until a sheriff can be wired for.” He looked at Marsali’s pinched face, sympathetic toward the child. It wasn’t her fault her mother was mad. “Go on and wash up so ye can go tend to your sister. I’ll see tae bathing my wife. Bring Joan back wi’ ye, and ye’ll both stay here in th’ clinic.”

Marsali nodded and turned to go, looking back at Fergus, who hesitated. 

Jamie gave Fergus a nod, telling him to go with her. “Willie, lad, let’s get Claire tae one of the recovery rooms.”

The examination table she lay on was an invention of Brianna’s, and unlatched at the top so that patients could be carried flat on the surface to the rooms without risk of injuring them further by picking them up. 

Once they reached the nearest room, they slowly and carefully got her into the bed, and Jamie asked Willie to fetch the basin and sponges.

As soon as he left, there was a light rap on the open door.

“Fergus told us the surgery went well,” Jenny said, coming in to lay a hand on his shoulder. “You should have seen it. Once word got out, the entire town wound up waiting outside the clinic. People here may not always agree with her, but you can’t say she isn’t very loved.”

Jamie nodded, unable to take his eyes off of Claire’s face to properly respond, except to ask, “Where is Lotte?”

“Gale and Joe have her. They said to tell you to let them know if you’d prefer to keep her here, otherwise they’re more than happy to bring her to their home for the night.”

“Thank them for me, but I think I’d rather she stay here in her playroom.”

“I’ll mind her, Da,” William said, setting down the basin. “Poor kid must be terrified. Should we wire Brianna?”

Jamie grimaced, hating to interrupt Brianna’s schooling again . But then...if God forbid the worst happened, Bree would never forgive him for not sending for her immediately. He nodded. “Thank ye, Willie,” he managed to tear his eyes off of Claire long enough to look up at him. “Ye’ve done me proud today, son.”

William smiled. “Thanks, Da. You’ve done me proud, too...and her,” he nodded lovingly down at his mother, then quietly left the room.

“Would you like me to wash her so you can rest?” Jenny asked.

Jamie shook his head. “No. Please, I’d like tae do it.”

Jenny rubbed his shoulder. “Aye, I thought so. I’ll go and wire Bree, then.”

Jamie quirked a small smile, glancing up at her. “‘Aye?’ Ye’re starting to sound like a Scot.”

Jenny chuckled. “Well, aren’t I?” When Jamie’s smile fell again, she put her arm around him. “Hey, she’s gonna make it, alright? There’s not a more stubborn woman in all of America...and that’s saying something coming from me.”

Jamie raised Claire’s cold hand to his mouth, kissing it and trying to warm it between his own. “I canna lose her.”

Against his wishes, the tears he’d been holding back all day finally fell, and he leaned into his wee sister’s strong embrace, and cried.



Chapter Text

Jamie dragged the washcloth with feather-light touches over Claire’s body, meticulously removing every trace of blood. Sometimes he would let his fingertips brush her skin, but she was so cold, he felt like if he touched her too much she would shatter like ice.

He kept watching her long, graceful neck, seeing her pulse-point still thrumming with life, and he willed it to keep going. 

God preserve her, ” he murmured in Gaelic, the prayer a constant presence on his lips. “ Please, let me keep her.”

“I’m going tae wash th’ rest of ye now, Sassenach,” he said, switching to English. Claire had once told him that sometimes, patients awoke with memories of things that were said while they lay unconscious. That even if they couldn’t respond, they might still can hear. With that in mind, Jamie spoke to her like she was awake, knowing how she liked to know what was going on.

“No one else is here,” he said, mindful of her modesty. And even though it was only his eyes on her, he kept her body covered except for where he washed her, just in case anyone were to enter. “But I ken ye wouldn’a want tae lie here all dirty. Dinna fash...I wouldn’a take advantage of ye.”

He tried to chuckle at his own joke, imagining Claire rolling her eyes at him, even as a smirk graced her sly lips, but the laughter dried up in his throat and came out as a cough instead.

“I dinna think I...I ever told ye that I saw...back when ye were ill wi’ the grippe. So verra long ago, it seems. I saw th’ women washing you. I didn’a actually see anything, if that’s what you’re worrit about. But I did feel like a right lecher for no’ turning away at once. It was only that, ye were so beautiful, even sick as ye were...as ye are even right now. But no’ only that, you were so vulnerable , and I’d never seen ye so. Never thought I would . Ye seemed so infallible tae me, back then. Knowing you, ye’d probably feel embarrassed about that. Ye’ve always hated appearing weak, especially back then. But there is nothing weak about you, Sassenach. No’ even when ye were lying in a fever, and no’ right now. Do you have weaknesses? Aye, so do I. And I thank ye, and God, for letting me know them. Letting me keep them safe.

But you, mo cridhe , are stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. Even when ye dinna feel like it yourself. I live every day in awe of ye, my Sassenach. And if ye think I’m ready tae do wi’out ye…” he reached up, gently stroking her cheek. “Well then, I have tae say you’re wrong, as rare as that is. We all gotta be wrong sometimes, lass. And you and me have many, many more years that I mean for us tae spend together before we part. Adventures tae go on, arguments tae have, rules tae break. One day I’ll build us a pair o’ rocking chairs, and we can grow old and gray together as we sit and watch our wee grandchildren play.”

He raised her icy hand to his lips, meaning only to kiss it, but left it there a moment, trying to give her even a little of his own warmth, wishing like hell that he could just trade places with her.

“Please, Sassenach. I’m not ready for goodbye.”

 

“Marsali? Marsali!”

Fergus raced to catch up, grabbing Marsali’s hand.

She jumped, as if broken out of trance, realizing that she’d been headed not for home to get her sister, but for the livery, where her mother was being held.

“I understand wanting to see her,” Fergus said. “But maybe you should give yourself time to calm down a little, first.”

“Why?” Marsali snapped, whirling to face him. “So that I can be civil when I speak to her? After what she did ?! Actually, you’re right. I don’t want to see her now. I never want to see her again .”

She changed direction, now headed for her home, and Fergus trotted alongside her, ignoring the looks people were sending their way.

“I would say to give it time,” he said. “But honestly? You might not have much time. I don’t want you to regret not having spoken to her before the sheriff comes and takes her.”

Marsali snorted. “Beyond what she did to Dr. B., my mother has effectively abandoned us, Fergus. They’re going to hang her, and then what becomes of Joan and me?!”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Fergus assured her. “I’ll take care of both of you.”

Marsali sighed, then stopped, looking up at him. “Fergus I...I know that’s what you want but...you need to be realistic. You can’t take care of us.”

“Yes I can! Just this morning, you agreed to run away with me. Well, we can still do that, once my Ma is on the mend. Only difference now is we’ll have Joan. We’ll both work, save money, get a place in the city…”

Marsali was shaking her head as he spoke. “When I said I’d go away with you, Fergus, it was because my mother was sending me off to be married to some old man. I was scared , but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Now I am, and this is so much more than some fanciful dream. Besides, you know as well as I that you can’t leave your family. Especially not right now.”

Fergus wanted to argue, wanted to assure Marsali that he was man enough to step up and be a husband to her and father-figure to Joan, but the truth was that he wasn’t all that positive of it himself. He was positive that he wanted to be with Marsali...that was of no doubt. But she was right. This wasn’t a game, no fantasy. And at the root of it, they were both still children, no matter how much he wanted to be a man for her.

“You’re right,” he said resignedly. “Just...try not to worry about it for right now, okay? If I’m sure of nothing else, I do know that my family will look after you and Joan for now.”

She nodded. “Yes. And the most important thing anyway is your mother’s recovery, and since no doctor is around, that means I need to get back, so we’d better hurry and get Joan.”

When they reached the house, Joan came running out, pigtails flying behind her.

“Marsali! Marsali!”

Marsali hurried to meet her, sweeping her up in a hug.

“I was so scared,” Joan said into Marsali’s blouse. “Ma and I woke up and you were gone, and then Ma took Grandpa’s old pistol and made me promise to stay inside!”

“It’s all right,” Marsali crooned, cradling her head. “Everything’s gonna be fine. But I’m going to need you to pack some of your things, though, alright? We’re going to go stay at Dr. B.’s clinic.”

Joan blinked up at her, her eyes flickering nervously to Fergus and back again. “But Ma forbade us from going anywhere near Dr. B.”

Marsali sighed. “Things have changed. Look, Joanie, I’m not gonna lie to you. Our mother has done something...something very bad. And because of her, Dr. B. is very badly hurt, and I must help take care of her.”

Joan frowned, tears welling in her eyes. “Where’s Ma?”

Marsali looked over at Fergus, who could only shrug.

“Just go pack your things, Joanie. We need to hurry.”

“W...what about Cricket?”

Fergus followed the little girl’s point to a calico cat sitting on their front porch.

“You can bring her,” he said. “I’m sure Lotte would like to play with her.”

Joanie brightened slightly, either at the prospect of playing with Lotte, or being allowed to bring her pet.

“Thanks,” Marsali murmured once Joan had run back inside. “She’s mad about that dumb cat.”

Fergus chuckled. “Come on, you know how Lotte is about animals, and her pups are used to cats. My parents won’t mind having it around.”

She looked up at him. “You’re being very brave, you know that?”

Fergus smiled at her, when it truth it was all he could do to not break down, and cry like a child. He had an inkling of what it must be for his Da, needing to be strong all the time for his family. Fergus wanted to be brave for Marsali, Joan, and Lotte. But it was hard, so hard. 

He was still learning how to be that strong man, and his Mama was an important part of making that happen. If they lost her now, he truly didn’t know how any of them would go on.

 

William found Jamie sitting as close to Claire’s bedside as the chair would allow, and it was likely only her delicate condition that kept him from being in bed beside her.

Once again, William cursed fucking Laoghaire McKimmie for doing this to this to their family, after all they’d already been through in the past year. And, if he was being perfectly honest, he cursed God for it as well.

“Da?” William called softly, trying not to startle him.

Jamie looked up sharply, then right back down at Claire. He hadn’t been asleep, but apparently had been so absorbed in watching Claire he hadn’t heard William come in.

“How’s she doing?” William asked.

“Marsali was just in a bit ago,” Jamie said quietly, as if unwilling to disturb Claire’s rest. “She said that she seems tae be resting comfortably.”

“Murtagh wired for a doctor in Denver, hopefully he’ll be here tomorrow, or the next day. It’s not Dr. Brown...I know Ma can’t stand that man.”

Jamie nodded in satisfaction. “Aye, good. I’d like Marsali tae be present while he examines her. Th’ lass kens well how your ma would want things done.”

William smiled slightly. “Ma’s taught her well. She and Joanie are set up in the room next door, and Lotte decided she wanted to stay with them. I just checked, and they’re all asleep.”

Jamie nodded. “Good. Lotte seems alright?”

“As well as can be expected. Scared, of course, like all of us. But she feels like she helped you out there, and I think that’s given her some comfort.”

Jamie didn’t quite smile, but William could see the warmth in his eyes. “She was verra brave. Claire will be proud once we tell her.”

William looked at the bed, having been avoiding it since entering the room. 

He just couldn’t stand to see her there; ghostly pale, and so, so very small. Claire wasn’t a small woman. She was taller than most every other woman in town, but more than that she had a personality that made her seem ten feet tall. But at that moment, the bed and the quilt swallowed her, and she just looked so fragile.

It brought back every memory of his mother, lying in a room just like this one, only across the hall. She’d been the same. Larger than life when she’d been well, but in one fell swoop she’d been struck down, and as he watched her take her final breaths, she’d seemed as small and helpless as a child. 

And now William felt every bit the child he’d been on that day, watching his other mother fight for her life. He could only hope that Claire wouldn’t leave them, too. 

He looked again at Jamie, thinking that he didn’t look as larger-than-life as he usually did, either.

“Can I get you anything?” William asked, knowing the answer, but giving it a try anyway. “Something to eat?”

Jamie shook his head. “No, thank ye lad. But ye should go get some rest.”

William came further into the room, crossing to the other side of Claire’s bed, reaching out to touch her hand, but chickening out at the last moment.

“You know what Ma would say if she were awake, right? You gotta take care of yourself, too, if you’re to have the strength to take care of her .”

Jamie huffed something that might have been an attempt at a laugh, still not taking his eyes off her face. “Aye, that’s just what she would say. No’ that she’d take her own advice, were the situations reversed.”

William chuckled. “No. Ma is definitely a “do as I say, not as I do,” type of woman.”

Jamie swallowed thickly, and William’s heart ached to see him blink away tears.

“Da...she’s gonna get better ,” William said firmly. “You’ve just gotta believe that.”

“She shouldn’a even be laying here ,” Jamie hissed, surprising William with his anger.

“No,” William agreed. “She shouldn’t. And you have every right to be angry at Laoghaire…”

Jamie snorted, finally tearing his eyes from his wife’s face, and William was struck by the agony he could see written there. “No, no’ her . Me . It’s my job tae protect her, and what did I do? I let her be shot , barely more’n an arms-length away from me. I wasn’t...I wasn’t fast enough .”

“Da…” William whispered, feeling out of his depth. How did one comfort one of the strongest people he knew? “Come on...you were more than an arms-length away...I didn’t make it either! We both know you would have gladly taken that bullet for her, so would I and half the other men at that cafe, but it just happened too fast. You are not to blame for this.”

Jamie shook his head, and it was clear that nothing William could say would change his mind. 

“I’ve already failed her so much. I failed her in Mexico...I wasn’a there for her. I drove her tae find support from another. And now this...I can never forgive myself for this. It should be me lying here...no’ her.”

William sighed, not able to say that he didn’t feel similarly about himself. “Well...I suppose it’ll just be up to Ma to do the forgiving. When she wakes up .”

Jamie closed his eyes, nodding almost imperceptibly, then changed his grip on her hand, threading their fingers together. Then he blinked his eyes open, looking down.

“She doesn’t feel so cold anymore,” he said.

Hope blooming in his chest, William touched the back of her other hand, but then both men froze themselves, looking at one another with sinking hearts. 

Confirming what they both feared, Jamie touched her brow, then leaned down to kiss it. When he pulled back, her skin was wet with his tears.

“Get Marsali, lad,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Th’ fever’s started.”



Chapter Text

I didn’t know how long I floated at the very edges of consciousness. Sometimes it felt endless, a never ending stretch of void. Other times, it felt like time was moving at an accelerated pace, running through my mind like a runaway train.

There was coldness, and then heat - all encompassing heat. Not the heat that came from my husband’s touch…

My husband .

He was there, somewhere. Every now and then I heard his voice, felt his lips on my brow, and I wanted to reach for him, but something was holding me down. My entire body felt like a thousand pounds was resting on it, weighing me. 

There were others, too. Voices swimming in and out, touches against my hands. 

Among all of that was pain. Searing pain that lanced through my chest and spread through my body like wildfire. There was no escape.

Voices floated in and out.

“The train isn’t coming.”

“I don’t KNOW what to do!”

“I’ve brought more willowbark.”

“We need more snow!”

“...not going to make it.”

Only a few times did I remember opening my eyes. A window bathed in pure white light. A lantern burning low beside a basin. A clock striking the hour. Everything was fuzzy, as if I had marbled glass in front of my eyes, but my husband was very clear in my sight. 

If possible, my chest hurt more at the raw agony written on his face, the broken way he uttered my name. No, not my name. Well, my name...but the one only he used. Sassenach . A name that on any other tongue would be an insult, but on his it was a whisper of love, devotion, respect. 

Every now and then I also heard the name Sorcha. Another of his love names for me. He had so many.

“Please...I beg of ye…”

I frowned, or at least I thought I did. What was he begging me to do?

“Dinna take her. Take me if ye must, but no’ her.”

Take who?

“I need her. Her children need her. Lotte needs her. Please .”

I wanted so badly to reach up and wipe away his tears, but my body would not obey.

It’s so hot .

“Jamie?”

His eyes flew open, and he smiled at me, but there was still so much pain there. It was scaring me.

Mo nighean donn ,” he whispered, stroking my hair. “There ye are.”

“Jamie?”

“Please, please Sassenach, dinna go. Stay here. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.”

Ready for what? I’m not going anywhere…I’m just so tired . I want to rest.

“I know it hurts, mo cridhe . I know ye’re tired. Just hold on a wee bit longer. I haven’a grown old w’ ye yet.”

So tired. But at least it doesn’t hurt anymore.

“No...keep your eyes open, lass. Look at me...please! Damn you, Sassenach! I dinna want tae be here wi’out ye! I ken I must, for th’ bairns, but I need you!”

I need you, too .

“I love you, Claire. I’ll only ever love you.”

I love you, too.

“Please…stay.”

 

I wanted to sleep. I was so exhausted . I just wanted to sink into that inky void and rest. Away from the pain, the heat, the sadness.

But I kept hearing his voice. His broken pleas for me to stay .

I didn’t want to leave him. No matter how much easier it felt to just let go. 

Besides, what use was it to rest if I couldn’t have him beside me?

 

When I opened my eyes again, I could see a bit more clearly. The burning was gone, but the pain remained, and I whimpered involuntarily. 

A cool hand covered my brow, and I heard a gasp.

“Oh my God...your fever is broken!”

I felt a tightening around my hand, alerting me that it was being held in Jamie’s while he slept, his head resting on the bed by my elbow. But suddenly he was shooting upright, swollen, bloodshot eyes finding mine at once. His face was pale, his beard grown out and unkempt. He looked like he’d been the ill one.

“Claire?” he whispered, stroking my face. “Sassenach? How...how d’ye feel?”

I frowned. “Lousy.”

There was a musical laugh, and I looked over in surprise to see that the person who initially had spoken was Brianna.

“Bree...what are you doing here?”

She smiled down at me, tears shining in her eyes. “I came to see you, Mama. You’re gonna be okay.”

“Of course I am. Whoever said I wasn’t?”

Brianna grinned first at me, then at Jamie, then darted out of the room.

“Sassenach,” Jamie said again. “Ye’ve given us quite a scare, lass. D’ye remember what happened?”

I had to think on it a moment. “Yes...it was that crazy woman...Laoghaire. She...shot me.”

“Aye.”

I looked up at him, slowly raising a hand that felt weak as a newborn colt to touch his face. “I’m sorry I scared you,” I whispered. “I love you.”

Jamie let out something between a laugh and a sob. “Oh, mo cridhe , how I love you.”

The door to my room opened again and a whole crowd entered, each one of them a most beloved sight.

“Hi, Mama,” William said, kissing my forehead. He stepped aside so Brianna could come closer, holding a barely-awake Lotte in her arms. 

“Look Lotte Loo,” William said, tickling her cheek. “Look who woke up!”

“Mama!” Lotte exclaimed, reaching for me. Brianna held her back at first, but I was reaching back, so she set Lotte carefully on the side of the bed, warning her gently to be careful. 

As careful as if hugging a butterfly, Lotte curled against my side, falling back asleep almost immediately.

“Baby,” I murmured, kissing her head.

“Welcome back,” Roger said, patting my hand. 

“Same to you,” I said, meaning to laugh but it came out as more of a cough that had me cringing in pain. “Where is…”

Fergus was hanging back a little, but quickly made his way to my side, kissing me and clutching my hand. “We were so scared, Mama. You would have been so proud of Marsali though. She saved you.”

“Marsali?”

“Aye,” Jamie said, motioning toward the door where Marsali and her little sister, Joan both stood. “Come on, lass. Marsali took out the bullet, Sassenach, and nursed ye, along wi’ Two Moons and Jenny, though ye should have seen th’ way she bossed them about. Ye wouldn’a be here wi’out her.”

I smiled, holding out my hand for the girl. “Thank you, Marsali. I am proud.”

Marsali smiled back, taking my hand, but it looked strained. “I’m so sorry for what my mother did.”

I shook my head. “Stop. You’re not responsible for her actions.”

“Come on, everyone,” Brianna said. “We should let Mama rest.”

I was loath to let Lotte go, but recognized that it was better, lest she accidentally drape one of her starfish limbs across my wound in her sleep. Brianna gently picked her back up, and they all made their way out of the room, save Jamie of course.

I smiled at him as he reclaimed his seat beside me, but I felt like it looked more like a grimace. 

But no matter that I must have looked like literal death, Jamie still looked at me like I was the most beautiful creature to walk the earth. 

I wanted to talk to him, to ask him what exactly had happened, but I could feel sleep dragging me back down again. I could feel though, that it was just a healing sleep. Not the black pit of unconsciousness.

He gave me a small drink of water, kissed my temple, and then I knew no more, except to vaguely hear the words,

Taing do, Dhia .”

 

When I awoke again, the cool blue of the very early morning was only beginning to lighten the room, and Jamie was sitting just where he was before, his chin resting heavily on his chest.

I squeezed his hand to waken him, and he jolted awake with a snort.

“Sassenach,” he breathed. “How are ye feeling?”

“Right now I’m a little more concerned with you,” I said. Even in the dark, I could see the dark rings around his eyes, the lines on his face made deeper with lack of rest. Between all of that and his beard, he looked ten years older than before. “Have you gotten any sleep?”

“Some,” he said, and I knew that to be a lie. I doubted very seriously he’d left my side in all the days I’d been there.

Reading my thoughts as always, he smiled. “I had a wee lie down on th’ floor every now and then,” he said. “But I just couldn’a leave ye.”

I didn’t tell him that was foolish, even though it was...since I knew I’d have been the same, had it been he in this bed.

“What happened to Laoghaire?” I asked, needing to know.

“She’s locked up in the livery, still, wi’ guards posted at all times,” Jamie said. “A sudden snow storm cropped up while ye’ve been asleep, preventing th’ train from coming through for well over a week. It kept th’ doctor we wired for from being able tae come, as well as th’ sheriff. Bree and Roger, damn their reckless hides, made it here from Denver on horseback after taking th’ train from Boston. Th’ sheriff just arrived this morning, and tomorrow he’ll be taking Laoghaire back for a trial. He says she isn’a likely tae be released. It’ll either be that she’ll be sent tae prison...or hanged.”

I swallowed thickly, and Jamie hurriedly held a glass of water to my cracked lips, allowing me only a few small sips before taking it away. “Have you seen her?”

“No. I haven’a left your side, Sassenach.”

I smiled. Silly question. “What will become of Marsali and Joan?”

“Marsali wired Joan’s father in Kansas. He’s agreed tae take on Marsali as well as Joan. I dinna think McKimmie is an unkind man, certainly no’ like Marsali’s father, but I also dinna think he’s all that happy tae take them on, what wi’ the wife and five other bairns he has now. For th’ time being, they’ve been living here, as have we all.”

I couldn’t help but feel saddened, but recognized that the sisters needed to stay together. I certainly wondered how Fergus was taking it.

“Sleep, Sassenach,” Jamie said, somehow able to tell that I was drifting back off before I realized it myself. “I’ll be right here when ye awaken.”

“Will you lie beside me?” I asked.

Jamie hesitated, eyeing the narrow bed dubiously. But something in my face must have convinced him, because he stood and crossed to my left side, removing his shirt in the process. 

Very slowly he slid into bed beside me, curling himself around me like a shell. He entwined his fingers with mine, and I turned my head so to be closer to the skin of his chest. Together, we slept.

 

~~~

 

Despite reassurances from Marsali and Brianna that Claire was out of the woods, it was actually painful to tear himself from her side, but Joan wanted to see her mother before the sheriff took her away, and while Marsali didn’t, Fergus had convinced her to confront her for the sake of closure, if nothing else. And for his own part, Jamie wanted to look the woman in the eye once more before hopefully never seeing her again.

He snuck away while Claire was asleep, trusting Brianna to reassure her that he’d be right back if she awoke before he returned, but not to tell her where he was.

He held Joan’s hand as they walked to the livery, while Fergus kept his arm tightly around Marsali’s shoulders.

Fergus said that Joan had scarcely said a single word in the nearly two weeks since the shooting, and the solemn child walking beside him was nothing like the giggling little girl he’d danced with at Brianna’s wedding, and it made his heart ache to see it. 

Dougal was the one standing guard outside the stall that had been turned into an improvised jail cell, and nodded to Jamie as they approached.

“How’s the doc?” he asked gruffly, but with what seemed to Jamie like genuine concern.

“On th’ mend,” Jamie said. “She’s going tae make it.”

Dougal nodded. “Good. S’pose you lot’ll be wanting to see the prisoner.”

Joan half-hid behind Jamie, and he gave her hand a light squeeze in reassurance.

“Aye,” Jamie said. “We willn’a be long.”

Dougal nodded again and opened the stall door, admitting them.

Laoghaire sat on the hay covered floor. She was dirty and disheveled, but it looked as though efforts were made to clean her up a little, presumably for her daughters’ visit.

She glared at Jamie hatefully, but the look melted when she took note of her children. “Joanie! Marsali!”

Laoghaire stood, holding out her arms, but neither lass moved.

“Ye’ve done a lot of things ye shouldn’a Mother,” Marsali said, her voice shaking. “But this ? How? How could ye?”

Laoghaire’s look turned dark, and she let her arms drop. “So they’ve turned you both against me, is that it? I suppose you’re to marry the boy whore?”

“Whether she does or not is no longer your concern,” Fergus said hotly. 

“Stop it,” Jamie said firmly. “Laoghaire, your daughters have come tae bid ye goodbye. Ye may no’ see them again, so I suggest ye say your farewells now.”

Laoghaire didn’t say anything, just turned to stare blankly at the far wall of the stall.

“Forget it,” Marsali said sadly. “Come, Joan, let’s go.”

Joan released Jamie to go to her sister, but paused a moment before turning and racing to her mother, throwing her arms around her waist.

Laoghaire did bring her arms up around Joan, but offered her no words of love, no assurances that she wasn’t to blame for her mother’s failings. If possible, it made Jamie hate her even more.

Jamie nodded at Fergus to take the lasses and go, but he stayed behind, staring at Laoghaire. 

“Ye almost took th’ most precious thing in th’ world from me,” he said quietly. “I’ve never killed a woman, but believe me when I say I would gladly do so, right this moment, would it no’ send me tae prison alongside ye. I could never do such a thing to my family. But know this...I will be seeing to it personally that ye never see your daughters again.”

He turned on his heel to leave, not missing the tear rolling down the woman’s cheek. Any part of him that might have felt sympathy for whatever she’d been through in life to make her this way had been wiped away by the experience of watching his wife die, no matter how miraculous her return had been.

Some things simply could not be forgiven.

 

Chapter Text

Claire’s recovery was slow, agonizingly slow. 

It was to be expected, of course. No one could be shot, and then survive a devastating fever and be expected to bounce right back, but Jamie was worried.

When Dr. Franklin finally made it from Denver, the dour-faced, but kind elderly man first praised both Marsali’s skill in operating, and Two Moon’s use of willowbark tea for fever. It were those compliments that made Jamie trust the man at once, not that it meant he ever allowed himself to be shooed out of the room while the doctor was examining her. Not a chance in hell.

He proclaimed that Claire was well on her way to recovery, but warned that it was of utmost importance that she take it very slowly, and give herself time to fully heal before even attempting to get out of bed, except for very brief periods to wash or take in fresh air on the balcony. 

Everyone had given a wry chuckle, knowing in a way that Dr. Franklin could not, that convincing Dr. B. to take it slow was easier said than done, but it turned out that she needed no convincing, and in fact had to be persuaded to get out of bed at all.

Of course, it could have simply been that Claire truly understood how close she’d come to death and was being careful. It could have been that she was just that tired. She certainly had every reason to be. But Jamie wasn’t so sure. It felt like something else.

She complied meekly to Dr. Franklin’s examinations, not questioning a single word he said. Perhaps she simply agreed with him, but Jamie found that hard to believe. His Sassenach questioned everything. Always. 

When the children came in to visit, she smiled, especially at Lotte, but Jamie could see that there was little emotion behind it. He could see the drawn look in her eyes.

At night, she wanted him to sleep in bed with her, and even though he wanted to be nowhere else, he slept ill, trying so hard not to disturb her, while worry for her wellbeing ran rampant through his head.

He entered her room one bright, brisk morning after the snow had melted, silently thanking God as he did every time he crossed that threshold to see her eyes looking back at him. There with him. Alive.

“It isn’a too cold today,” he said, finding her sitting up in bed, looking out the window. “Would ye like tae sit outside a spell?”

She looked back at him and smiled slightly. “No, I don’t think so. I’m awfully tired.”

He didn’t argue, never wanting to tell a person how they should be feeling when they’d been ill, certainly not a doctor , but he privately thought that getting up a little bit would help raise her spirits.

“Well, now’s th’ time tae rest,” he said instead, infusing cheer into his voice. “Before th’ children all come thundering through from school.”

“I’m not sure if it was wise to send Marsali and Joan back to school,” she said. “Who knows what the other children will say to them, and besides, they’ll only have to start at a new school anyway once Joan’s father comes for them.”

“McKimmie said in his telegraph that it may no’ be until March, when th’ weather’s clear enough for travel, and then it’ll be straight back tae begin th’ spring planting, so likely no school for them until next Autumn. It willn’a do tae have th’ girls fall behind in their schooling, and besides, Marsali agreed it best tae keep Joan’s routine th’ same. Fergus and Lotte will be there tae look after them, should any of th’ other children be unkind.

“How is Fergus faring?” she asked.

Jamie sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed. “He hasn’a said much, but he’s been verra attentive tae them both. I’ll no’ lie tae ye, Sassenach. It’s possible he means tae follow them to Kentucky. 

To Jamie’s absolute astonishment, Claire didn’t have much reaction to that other than to frown and shake her head. “And what would he do there? Be a farmer? He’s never wanted to be a farmer.”

Jamie reached over, covering her hand with his. “Have ye...have ye thought that perhaps we could simply keep th’ girls? I ken how fond o’ Marsali ye are, and Joanie and Lotte are becoming verra close. It would solve th’ problem of Fergus and Marsali, and ye ken we’d take better care of them than McKimmie will.”

Claire looked out the window again, then back at him. “We do well to take care of our own family, Jamie. To add two more? Never mind how improper it would be to keep Fergus and Marsali in the same household. No, I don’t think it’s best.”

“But Marsali and Fergus will be marrit before long,” Jamie argued. “And once they’re older and have a home of their own, they may well take Joan on themselves.”

Claire shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, Jamie. I do care about them, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Jamie nodded, though he had to admit, he was very surprised by her answer. “Aye, as ye say, Sassenach. I’ll leave ye now to your rest. Dr. Franklin says ye’ll be fit tae go home in a few days. I’m sure ye’ll feel much better tae be in your own bed.”

Claire grimaced, seeming to almost fold in on herself. “Dr. Franklin is a good doctor, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to be moved yet.”

“...of course, Sassenach. Whenever ye think ye’re ready.”

 

Downstairs in the clinic, Brianna was helping Dr. Franklin clean the instruments. The older man had agreed to stay on for a few weeks to mind the clinic while Claire recovered, and Brianna had been assisting while Marsali was in school.

“How’s Mama?” Brianna asked.

Jamie hummed. “She’s well, I suppose. Dr. Franklin, is it normal, d’ye think, for a patient tae be so... unlike themselves?”

Dr. Franklin blinked up from one of Claire’s journals, his eyes enormous from behind his thick spectacles. “Oh...my word, I would certainly say it’s to be expected, to an extent. Dr. Beauchamp’s body went through considerable trauma, and it takes a mind time to heal just as it does a body.”

“She doesn’a even want tae go home,” Jamie said. “Willn’a get out of bed even when ye say it’s allowed.”

“Lotte brought Joan’s cat into her room to visit her yesterday,” Brianna said. “She thought it would make Mama feel better, but Mama snapped at her to “get that dirty thing out of here,” as she put it. She apologized right away when Lotte got upset, but still...it was strange for her.”

“Just give her time,” Dr. Franklin said. “I’m sure she’ll be back to her old self in no time. Meanwhile, her writing is quite remarkable. How is it that I’ve never seen her published in any medical journals?”

Jamie smiled, proud as always when someone outside of their family recognized his wife’s brilliance. “She’s sent them, many times. But she’s always rejected, because she’s a woman.”

Dr. Franklin snorted, returning to his reading. “People these days.”

 

~~~

 

I heard someone enter the room, likely Dr. Franklin or Jamie, but I pretended to be asleep, not having the energy for conversation. I knew they just wanted to nag me into going home. After a moment, they left, and I opened my eyes.

Nearly a month had passed since the shooting, and while the pain was steadily fading, the memory was not.

Laoghaire had been taken to Denver where she awaited trial, and it had been said that I might be asked to speak against her. The mere thought of traveling to Denver absolutely exhausted me, and I had little desire to ever see that madwoman again, so I sincerely hoped they could just make their ruling without me. Imprisonment or hanging, it didn’t really matter to me, so long as she was punished.

Dr. Franklin decided it was time for me to return home to complete my recovery, and begin the slow process of returning to normal life. All of that sounded perfectly fine...so why did it make me so nervous?

My doctor’s mind knew that my body was mending. That soon, I might even be back to normal. But the scar on my chest would remain, a constant reminder.

I had many scars though. Not so many as Jamie, but more than enough for one person. Scars from my first weeks in Colorado, when my soft, lady’s skin had first learned to be tough. Scars from my abduction by the Dog Soldiers. A burn scar from when my old horse was struck by lightning. A scar from when I sliced my hand on my own scalpel by foolish mistake. Scars from the birth of my daughter. A fresh scar, from my fall from the train in Mexico.

So I was no stranger to scars, what difference did one more make?

Glancing at the closed door, I pushed myself up into a sitting position, frustrated by the exhaustion and weakness in my atrophied muscles.

Holding onto the bedpost for support, I stood up slowly, feeling my knees shake. After standing still a long moment, ascertaining my stability, I took a step, only to find myself crumbling to the floor and knocking over the end table in the process.

It was seconds before boots thundered up the stairs and Jamie was there, eyes widened at the sight of me.

“Christ! Sassenach!” he cried, hurrying to my side. “What are ye doing? Ye shouldn’a be up wi’out help!”

“Stop it, I’m fine!” I snapped, with much more venom than I intended. “Sorry,” I amended at once, seeing the surprised hurt on his face. “Really, I’m alright. I just tried too much too soon, is all.”

“Dr. Franklin said ye should be trying to walk around th’ room a wee bit,” Jamie said, picking me up and depositing me back on the bed. “But no’ when you’re by yourself. What if ye’d hurt yourself?”

“I didn’t. I’m fine.”

“Well, since ye’re up and about, I suppose ye’re ready tae go home now? I dinna ken about you, but I’ll be glad tae be in our own bed.”

I smiled at him, feeling badly for the way he’d been scrunched in the too-short clinic bed for the past month. I nodded and tried to ignore the twisting in my stomach.

“Lotte’s pups are so big now,” he continued, getting up and beginning to gather my things and place them in my train case. “But dinna fash, she’s under strict orders tae make sure they dinna try tae jump on ye, and to keep them out of our room,” he looked over at me. “Are ye...are ye alright wi’ Marsali and Joan coming tae stay wi’ us? Marsali said they’d be fine staying here, but I hate for them tae be alone, and besides, I’d be comforted tae have Marsali nearby in case ye had need of her. I’ve had a stern talk wi’ Fergus, and he understands fully that propriety must be upheld. He’ll no’ go near here.”

“You don’t have to try and convince me,” I said. “Of course it’s fine.”

He blinked at me. “Sorry, it’s only that ye had such a strong reaction tae them living wi’ us. True it’s only temporary, but it’ll be a couple of months, still.

I frowned at him. “Do you seriously think I would turn two defenseless children out? Christ.”

“N...no,” Jamie stammered, seeming confused for some reason. “Of course not, Sassenach. I only…never mind. Would ye like Brianna tae come up and help ye get ready?”

“I can do it on my own,” I said.

“Sassenach…”

“I can do it on my own!” I repeated more loudly, not having meant to yell. “Sorry. 

Jamie stared at me a long moment, making me fidget uncomfortably. “All right, Sassenach,” he said at last, slowly going to the wardrobe and pulling out my most comfortable dress and laying it on the foot of the bed. “Just call out if ye need me.”

He let himself out then, but I knew damned well that he hovered right by the door, as I never heard his boots walk away.

I felt wretched for being so snippy with him. The poor dear had to be about as exhausted as I was. But one minute, he’s trying to get me up and going, and the next he won’t let me dress myself! Maddening. 

Sure enough, he was hovering right outside the door when I came out, pretending to be fixing a loose doorknob across the hall.

“Ready, then?” he asked brightly.

I nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”

He gave me a strange look, though I didn’t know why, then gallantly offered me his arm.

I resisted pointing out that I knew he wasn’t just “escorting” me downstairs, resolving not to be so short with him.

Dr. Franklin and Brianna were all smiles when we came downstairs, while William and Roger were waiting outside with the wagon to take us home.

“Thank you again for all your help, Dr. Franklin,” I said sincerely. “I’m sorry to be keeping you from your practice for so long.”

He waved me off. “I’m not the only doctor in Denver, not like here. You just focus on healing, Dr. Beauchamp.”

When we got outside, several townsfolk had gathered outside their homes and businesses to wave and shout good wishes. I tried to smile back, but I could feel how weak it was. 

Down the street, I could only just make out the sign for Gale’s Cafe, and something twisted inside me.

“Would ye like tae stop in before we go?” Jamie asked, catching me looking. “Gale’s promised ye a free meal wi’ dessert once ye’re up to it.”

I shook my head. “No...no, I’m tired. Let’s just go home.”

“Besides, I planned to cook tonight!” Brianna declared.

“When are you going back to Boston?” I asked her after Jamie lifted me into the wagon.

“Jeez, Mama, you’d think you didn’t want us here!”

 I shook my head at her. “Come now, that isn’t true and you know it. I just don’t want you to fall behind in your studies again.”

“I’m caught up, don’t you worry,” she assured me. 

“And what about you?” I asked Roger. “Don’t you have a new church to get back to?”

Roger chuckled. “That I do, but they of course understand why we had to come. Besides, the Reverend Johnson is using my being here as a chance to visit his aging parents in Soda Springs. I’ve been enjoying preaching here again.”

“So you have nothing to worry about,” Brianna added.

I was wilting by the time we made it home, but it was a sight for sore eyes.

“Let’s get ye tae bed,” Jamie said, hopping down and opening his arms for me as William helped me down. “Ye should rest before th’ kids come home.”

“They’re gonna be so excited,” William said.

A chorus of barking heralded the appearance of Elina and Mao, followed much more sedately by Rollo.

“Get down!” Jamie snapped harshly when the over-exuberant Mao made to jump up on me in his excitement. In response, Rollo snarled and nipped the pup in punishment.

“My goodness , they’re big,” I stated, offering Elina a brief pat on the head in reward for waiting. I barely even had to bend to pet her.

“And a pain in th’ arse, th’ both of them,” Jamie complained. “Especially Mao. Willie, let Rollo in but no’ th’ other two.”

My legs were shaking by the time we made it to the porch steps, and with a smile, Jamie bent and swept me up into his arms.

“Remember when I carried ye over th’ threshold after our wedding?” he asked as Brianna giggled and opened the door for us.

I shook my head fondly, giving in and looping my arms around his neck. “I remember very well. One day, you might not be able to carry me anymore, you know.”

He chuckled. “Nonsense. We can be old and gray, Sassenach, and I’ll still find a way tae carry ye.”

I leaned my head on his shoulder as he headed for the stairs. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Chapter Text

“Mama? Mama?”

I jumped slightly, shaking myself. “I’m sorry, darling, I was lost in thought there.”

Lotte smiled. “That’s okay. I brought you some tea,” she gestured to the bedside table where she’d set the teacup. “It’s not willow bark tea, but Uncle Ian says its a res...rest…”

“Restorative?” I offered.

“Yeah! That. It can’t taste worse than willow bark tea, huh?”

I smiled, reaching for the cup and taking a sip. “It tastes good. Thank you, Lotte Love.”

“Mama?”

I hummed to let her know I was listening, taking another sip of tea.

“Are you sick?”

I set the cup down, looking at her. “I was sick, very sick, and now I’m recovering. Why do you ask, baby?”

Lotte made a face, as if she was considering whether she should say. “I heard Da say your body is healed, but the rest of ya isn’t. And you never get out of bed, or boss anyone around, or anything.”

I frowned. “Well Da should be careful of what he says around you. My body is still healing, but I’m perfectly fine. I can’t for the life of me figure out why everyone is so worried about me.”

“Lotte?” Marsali called, peeking her head in and spotting her. “There you are. Come on, your ma needs her rest.”

I threw back the covers, forcing my tired legs to stand. “Would you all make up your goddamned minds?! First I’m healing, and I should get back to normal, then my own daughter can’t even talk to me?!”

Marsali gaped at me. “I...I’m sorry, Dr. B. I…”

“You think you can come into my home and start running it like...like you’re the lady of the house?! You aren’t a doctor, Marsali, and you’re not even an adult!”

“I...I don’t think that!”

“Stop yelling at my sister!” Joan shouted, appearing in the doorway.

“Don’t tell my Mama what to do!” Lotte snapped. “She’s sick!”

I whirled on my daughter. “I’m not sick!”

 

~~~

 

Jamie had been in his office, looking over the household budget, when he heard raised voices from upstairs.

The past several days since Claire had been home had been stressful for him to say the least. Jamie was in a constant state of worry about her wellbeing, both physically and mentally, as it was clear that while she was healing nicely physically, something inside of her was not. It killed him to see her quietly suffering, jumping at shadows, angry for no reason, and having no idea what exactly was wrong or how to help her. She just kept insisting she was “fine” and then would grow frustrated if he continued to prod.

And then along with worry for his wife, was the upheaval that accompanied a jam-packed house with the additions of Bree and Roger, plus Marsali and Joan. Where normally he would lean on Claire during times such as these, he was now forced to take on all the responsibility alone. Well, not alone exactly, Brianna helped of course, with the household chores especially, and Roger had jumped in to help run the still and keep up with farm work, but all that meant was that Jamie was left with the task of taking care of all the children. All the children meaning his rambunctious daughter who loathed bath and bedtimes, an eight-year-old girl who he only barely knew, and who was understandably having issues adjusting, and a pair of teenaged lovebirds who despite having the absolute best intentions, were still teenaged lovebirds and struggled with living under the same roof and keeping their hands away from each other at the same time.

Following the sounds of shouting, Jamie took the stairs two at a time.

“Sassenach?” He ran into his bedroom, taking in the scene. Claire was in some kind of standoff with Joan, while Marsali looked close to tears and Lotte looked confused though she remained firmly at her mother’s side. “What is going on?”

“I’m sorry,” Marsali murmured with a shake of her head, taking Joan’s arm and dragging her out behind her.

As the two girls fled, Jamie watched as Claire deflated, sighing as she sank down to sit on the edge of her bed. Lotte eyed her worriedly.

“Lotte,” he said. “Go and feed your pups.”

She looked up at him. “But…”

“Go, lass,” he said gently, but in a tone that brooked no argument.

After she was gone, he shut the door and turned back to Claire, crossing his arms. He felt like perhaps it was time to get firm with her , wanting to get her to talk to him, but his wame twisted in anxiety over it.

“What is going on , Sassenach?” he asked. “It isn’a like ye tae yell at children that way, especially no’ Lotte.”

He was afraid she would dismiss him again, insisting nothing was wrong, but instead her big, expressive eyes flashed in anger, and Jamie wasn’t sure if that was better, or worse.

“What is going on?” she echoed, her voice shaking slightly as she stood back up. “What is going on is everyone acting like there’s something wrong with me!”

So it was still the denial. Jamie had been as patient as he could, for as long as he could, but enough was enough. “There is something wrong wi’ ye!” he exclaimed. “Ye’re no yourself! Ye’ve been acting strange since you recovered, and it’s understandable, but ye willn’a admit it, or let us help ye!”

“I was shot, Jamie!” she fired back. “I’m sorry if I didn’t bounce back as quickly as when I was younger!”

“But your wound is healed. Dr. Franklin says ye can resume normal activity, so long as ye start slow. And Marsali said…”

“Marsali is a child!” she broke in with a completely uncharacteristic sneer. “She doesn’t get to say what I should or shouldn’t do!”

Jamie took a deep breath through his nose, keeping a tight rein on his temper. “I was only going tae say what Marsali said Dr. Franklin told her. I ken she’s a child, Claire, but she’s a smart one, who you have taught verra well.”

“Too well perhaps,” Claire snorted. “I think it’s time those girls leave.”

Jamie shook his head. He was trying so hard to understand her, but for the first time since the very beginnings of their friendship all those years ago, he didn’t understand her at all . “D’ye hear yourself?” he asked her. “This isn’a you, Sassenach! You love Marsali, and ye’d love Joan too if ye gave th’ poor lass a chance. I ken she’s aching for it, knowing as she does how Lotte and her own sister adore ye. Is it because of Laoghaire?”

Claire crossed her own arms and turned away from him to look out the window. Even with her face scrunched up in frustration, her hair unkempt and unwashed, and complexion pasty from too many days indoors, Jamie found himself thinking, even in the middle of an argument, how terribly beautiful she was.

“Why should I have to reminded constantly of what that horrid woman did to me?” she asked, sounding almost like she was talking to herself.

“Ye shouldn’t,” he agreed, lightly touching her arm. “But ye said yourself...it’s no’ th’ girls’ fault what their mother did.”

“No…” Claire said flatly, still staring out the window. Her next words made his blood freeze in his veins. “It’s yours.”

Jamie’s breath stuck in the back of his throat, hot and sticky and sickening. He took his hand off her arm. “What?”

When she turned back to him, she didn’t look angry so much as exhausted , but that realization did nothing to erase the pain in his heart. 

“She was one woman, Jamie. Five-foot-four and a hundred pounds if that...why didn’t you stop her?”

“I…” he began, unsure what he was even about to say. That he was sorry? That she was wrong? To beg her to stop talking?

“You just stood there!” Claire continued, her small hands curled into tight fists. “She pulled a gun on your wife and your daughter and you just...stood there! By God, Jamie, what if she’d hit Lotte instead?!”

“I didn’a!” he cried, feeling the tears stinging his eyes. “I didn’a just stand there! I tried tae stop her! But I…”

“You weren’t fast enough!”

And there it was. That same four words he’d chanted in his mind over and over and over while his Sassenach lay dying. Somehow, he never would have believed that she would blame him too, but she was right to. 

“Ye’re right,” he choked out, unable to meet her eyes. “I’m so...so sorry, Claire.”

He turned on his heel to leave, not stopping when he heard her weakly say his name. He wanted nothing more than to bury his head in her bosom and beg her forgiveness, but right then he didn’t even feel worthy of being in their shared bedroom. 

It was by the grace of God that his wife was alive, but she wasn’t whole, and it was his fault. 

He wasn’t fast enough.

 

~~~

 

The very moment the words left my mouth, I wanted to grab them out of the air and throw them into the fire. 

Never, in all our lives together, had I seen such an expression of hurt on Jamie’s face. I knew right away that I’d said something that he’d been saying to himself all along, because of course he would blame himself. Because to Jamie, the safety of his loved ones rested solely on his own shoulders.

I felt sick about it...but so much worse because I did blame him. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t as if I’d wanted him to take the bullet for me, though I was sure that’s what he thought should have happened, but for some twisted reason, I blamed him, and I didn’t really understand why.

I sat back down on the bed and just...sat there. I didn’t cry, even though my heart was breaking. I felt wrung out and numb. It was gone late afternoon by the time I realized he wasn’t coming back, at least not that night, and no matter what ugly feelings were squirming inside me, I would not sleep without him. After our time in Mexico, we’d sworn it of each other that we would not sleep apart again, no matter what.

Brianna looked up from the stove in surprise when I came downstairs, fully dressed.

The girls, Fergus, Roger, and William were all seated around the table, and I realized with a pang that I’d turned down family dinner so many nights in a row that they hadn’t even invited me this time.

“Mama!” Brianna exclaimed, smiling. “You’re looking better! You came down for supper?”

I looked around. “Your father isn’t here?”

“He left a while ago,” William said, cutting his eyes over to the girls, all with pinched faces. “Said not to wait for him. He didn’t look happy...are you guys alright?”

“I need to talk to him,” I said instead of answering. “Go on ahead with supper, I’ll be back soon.”

“Mama…” Brianna began, setting down the spoon she was using to plate the stew and came around the table toward me. “You can’t just ride out after him alone.”

“Why not?” I asked defensively. “It’s certainly nothing I haven’t done before!”

Roger stood up, coming to stand beside his wife. “Because you’ve been convalescing for over a month, Claire. You’re not back to your old strength yet. I’ll go find him and bring him back.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I understand what you’re saying, and you’re right, but I need to go myself. I promise I’ll take it easy. I won’t be using much energy simply riding Flash, and I’m sure he hasn’t gone far.”

“It’s because of us...isn’t it?” Marsali asked. Fergus reached over and took her hand.

For the past several weeks, every time I’d looked at Marsali and Joan, all I could see was the twisted hate in their mother’s eyes in the seconds before the gun fired. It was wrong, and so terribly unfair. I didn’t know how to fix it within myself, but I sure as hell knew that I needed to fix it for them at least.

I knelt between Marsali and Joan’s chairs. “No,” I said firmly, taking Marsali’s free hand. “It’s nothing to do with you, do you understand? I said something hurtful to Jamie, and that’s it. I’ve been unkind to you, and after you saved my life. And you ,” the apprehension on Joan’s face when I turned my attention to her was devastating, but I gently brushed the soft red hair out of her face. “After how well-behaved and helpful you’ve been, even though you’ve had every reason to be angry. I’m very sorry, Joan.”

Joan didn’t answer, but the corner of one side of her mouth tilted upward in a shy smile, so I took it as a good sign. 

“Mama,” Lotte interrupted from Joan’s other side. “Da took Rollo when he left.”

I stood, nodding. “I’m sure he did. But don’t worry, darling, Da will have him back soon. If Rollo isn’t home before bedtime, you may have your pups inside tonight.”

Lotte shook her head. “No, that’s not what I meant! Mao and Elina aren’t good at tracking yet like Rollo is, but they do know how to find their da!”

My eyebrows went up. “Really? Well, I suppose it’s worth a try, but I would hate to risk losing them in the woods…”

Lotte shook her head again, appearing excited at the prospect of her pups getting the chance to prove themselves. “You won’t! Take Elina, she listens to you best.”

Couldn’t argue with that. Elina at least managed to come when I called, unlike her rambunctious brother who seemingly only obeyed Lotte, and only marginally at that.

The children all followed me outside, Fergus saddling Flash while Brianna packed some of the dinner rolls and extra stew meat and vegetables to share with Jamie once I found him. 

Lotte tied ropes around each of her pups’ necks, handing the one leading Elina to me while she kept hold of Mao’s to keep him from following.

I mounted Flash, tying Elina’s lead around the saddle horn. “I’ll be back soon,” I promised. “Try not to wait up.”

“Fat chance,” Brianna deadpanned. “Just be careful, Mama.”

“I will,” I said. “Come on, Flash, let’s go.”





Chapter Text

I released Elina once we were on the road, and the half-grown wolfdog bounded ahead, eagerly snuffling the ground, though I couldn’t be sure at all that she wasn’t just on the trail of a raccoon and not Rollo.

I checked the still first, it being the obvious first choice, and not finding him there, I steered Flash toward William’s house, and the small meadow where Jamie had used to sleep in a lean-to before we were married. When I came up empty again, I sighed in frustration. 

I could feel the edges of exhaustion already crowding in on me, and was thinking that Brianna had probably been right in that I should have just stayed home and waited for him. It wasn’t like he wasn’t going to come home at all . This wasn’t like the early days when he might take it in his mind to vanish for days on end. But I was just so tired of sitting around and doing nothing.

Plus, a dark part of my mind thought that if I just waited for him, something might happen to him...and the last thing I would have said to him was that he wasn’t enough. I’d never be able to live with that.

“Well, Elina?” I called the dog. “Anything?”

Hearing her name, Elina cocked her head at me, tongue lolling happily, and I rolled my eyes.

Snapping my fingers in inspiration, I turned Flash and headed at a canter to Jenny and Ian’s house. My first instincts were that Jamie would go to the woods, but he very well could have just gone to his sister’s house.

Jenny was in the yard, bringing in the laundry from the line, and Ian was sitting on the front porch holding Maggie. They both waved in greeting when I rode up.

“Well look at you!” Jenny exclaimed. “Good to see ya out and about!”

Ian didn’t look as excited, coming out to join his wife, his daughter propped on his hip. “You look pale, Claire,” he said, concern evident in his voice. “Perhaps you should come inside and rest.”

“I’m fine,” I said, trying not to snip at him. “Has Jamie been here?”

Jenny and Ian exchanged a perplexed look. “No, not today,” Jenny said. “Why? Is he missing?”

“No…” I hedged, now regretting a little coming here and bringing my problems with me. “I just...well, to be honest he left the house after we had an argument, and I feel terrible about something I said, so I want to find him.”

“Ah,” Jenny nodded. “Can’t say Ian and I haven’t been there. Did you check the still?”

“That was the first place I looked.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll come home by morning.”

“I know he will but…”

Ian nodded once, and then handed Maggie to Jenny. “I believe this one is getting hungry, hemé’oono .”

Jenny gave Ian a long look, then smiled knowingly and took Maggie, bidding me goodnight before bringing the baby inside.

Ian took Flash’s rein and started leading him back toward the road. “Do you remember when Nayawenne gave you this horse?”

“Of course I do. He’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, not least of all because he was a horse that Nayawenne loved.”

“She loved you . When you love someone, you give your all to them. You do not need to try, it comes as easily as breathing.”

“Do you know where Jamie is?”

Ian stopped walking and shook his head. “No. But, I know my brother, and if he wanted time and space, he’d have gone to the red rocks. The Garden of the Gods. It is a place my people often went to clear the mind, cleanse the spirit.”

I nodded. “Yes...he does like to go there sometimes. Maybe if I hurry I can catch up. Unless...you think I should leave him alone until he comes back?”

Ian smiled. “I know only where he might have gone, not what you should do as his wife. He has spoken to me, voiced his concerns...about you.”

“I know he was worried when I was ill, and I’m afraid I haven’t made things easier on him since.”

“Not your injury, or illness...though yes, he was mad with grief and fear. No, Jamie is worried for your spirit, Claire. You have not been yourself in the weeks since your recovery. Black Kettle would say it is because your outer wounds may be healed, but your spirit is not. And you must heal both in order to be whole.”

I wanted to argue with him, tell him I was fine , but I was starting to wonder if maybe he was right. “How would I even do that?”

“That is not for me to say. That healing must come from you. You and Jamie. If you’ll let him.”

I sighed. “Well, first I have to find him. Elina! Come!”

“Good luck, Ma’heona’e .”

I smiled at him. “Thank you, Two Moons.”

 

Despite the fact that I was sitting on a horse, I was panting like I’d been doing the walking myself by the time we made it up toward the red rocks. My palms were clammy, and my heart was beating too fast.

I knew part of it was simply overexertion after a long convalescence, and it would take time to rebuild my endurance. But the uncomfortable, anxious feeling inside me had nothing to do with my physical weakness. I’d never been afraid of being in the wilderness alone before, but suddenly...I was.

Even Elina was starting to slow down, though, until suddenly her ears perked up and her nose twitched in the wind. 

“Pup?” I called. 

Elina barked and took off at a run, leaving me with nothing to do but urge Flash into a trot to catch up.

We ran a long time before turning a corner to a large cluster of sandstone, all standing up on end, looking like any of them could fall over at any moment.

I’d never been this far into what was known as the Garden of the Gods, and regretted that I hadn’t. It was beautiful. 

The wave of dizziness hit me so suddenly, I had no time to prepare. I made to slide off of Flash before I could fall, but I wasn’t watching where I was going, and after my right leg hit the ground, my left hit dead air, and I fell backward, tumbling down a steep hill.

I may have gone unconscious, or perhaps just dazed, but I groaned as I came back to myself, taking stock of myself for injury.

Thankfully, nothing felt worse than a few bruises and scratches, and likely renewed soreness by morning. But I seriously doubted that I’d be able to climb the hill again, where I could see Flash and Elina’s faces hanging over the edge, peering down at me.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I hissed, mentally kicking myself.

Now, the family would be forced to send out a damned search party, all because I was reckless.

My eyes began to burn, and the tears came against my wishes. Elina was whining for a time, trying to find a way down to me, but before long she must have gotten bored or wandered off, and Flash began nibbling at some weeds.

I forced myself onto my hands and knees, not trusting myself to stand, but my limbs felt as weak as a newborn kitten’s. Flopping onto my back again, I resigned myself to simply laying there until I could work up the energy.

I didn’t know how long I lay there, but it had to have been twenty minutes or more, when I heard a voice calling my name.

Gasping, I sat bolt upright, craning my neck to see up the hill. “Jamie?!”

Jamie’s face appeared in the same place the horse and dog’s had been. “Christ, Sassenach! Are ye hurt?!”

“No, I’m not hurt,” I said. “I got dizzy and fell, is all.”

“Is all,” he snorted, starting to slowly pick his way down the hill. “For God’s sake, Claire, ye’re recovering from massive blood loss and an infection that nearly took yer life. Ye fucking know better than tae force yourself out like this!”

“Leave me alone!” I shrieked as he reached my side, my defense mechanism roaring to life, and he paused as he reached for me. “I’m out here because you ran off!”

“I didn’a run off,” he said more calmly. “I went tae clear my head and give ye a wee bit of space. I was on my way back home when Elina found me and led me back to you.”

I didn’t know where the anger came from, or why. I’d come there to find Jamie, yet for some reason I didn’t want him anywhere near me. I knew I wasn’t angry at Jamie, not really, but the fury was all-consuming, and at least it felt better than fear.

“Just get out of here! I don’t need you!”

Jamie swallowed thickly, but didn’t back away. “That isn’a true, and ye ken it. Ye need me, as I need you.”

“I’m sick of it!” I screamed. “I’m sick of feeling this way! I’m sick and tired of…”

I’d climbed to my feet, but now I wavered unsteadily, just barely catching the terror in Jamie’s eyes before I started to fall. 

But Jamie’s arms came around me at once, and somehow I felt more disappointed than relieved. “Let me go!”

“Stop it!” he cried. “Claire, stop it! Please!”

I’d never heard Jamie’s voice sound quite like that before, and it made me stop, all the fight leaving me as quickly as it came, and I collapsed against him, sobbing.

“I’ve got ye, mo ghraidh ,” he whispered, holding me so tightly it hurt a little. “I’m here. Please, Sassenach, hold on tae me and we’ll climb up, alright?”

I nodded, letting him maneuver me onto his back without once letting go of me, and I held onto him tightly as he quickly climbed the rocky hill where Rollo, Elina, and the horses were waiting.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I moaned against his neck.

He didn’t set me down when we reached the top of the hill, but continued on, leaving the horses to graze on what little vegetation could be found. 

Nestled amid a circle of the standing stones, he’d spread out his tartan, saddle blanket, and a deer pelt, and had started a small fire. He let me down and I sat heavily on the saddle blanket, staring blankly into the fire.

“I’m so sorry, Jamie,” I said miserably. “I don’t know why I keep lashing out at you. You don’t deserve it. Something must be really wrong with me.”

“Black Kettle would say that your spirit is in need of healing,” Jamie said quietly.

I nodded. “That’s more or less what Ian told me. But I don’t know how to do that.”

“D’ye remember all those years ago, when I was beaten by those soldiers, and couldn’a move my legs for a time?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “I was so frightened for you,” I offered him a weak smile. “I’m not sure if I ever told you, but I think that was the first time I could admit to myself that what I felt for you was more than just friendship.”

Jamie smiled back, and it was warm and full of hope that I wished I could feel too. “Aye? I didn’a ken that. I was in a verra dark place then. I was angry, and scairt. I turned inward, wouldn’a let ye help. I’m no’ trying to say that what you’re feeling is th’ same...only that, I can understand th’ not understanding what’s going on in your own heid. It’s a scary feeling.”

“And I remember how frustrating it was for me,” I said. “When you wouldn’t let me in. I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m sorry for how I’ve acted, and I’m so sorry for what I said back at home. I wanted to take it back the moment I said it.”

Jamie’s jaw clenched. “Doesn’a mean ye didn’a mean it. And you’re right. It was my fault.”

“But it’s not!” I exclaimed. “My head knows that but…” I shook my head, unable to find the words.

Neither of us spoke for a few moments, and it was like I could actually feel the divide between us growing. Jamie was giving up...slowly, and unwillingly, but I knew that there was only so much a man could take.

“If Black Kettle were here, he’d tell me tae build a sweat lodge for ye.”

I shook my head. “I don’t believe in that sort of thing, Jamie.”

“It’s only tae help ye refocus your mind, tae clear it. Meditate. I ken, even as a doctor, ye understand th’ importance of healing your mind as well as your body. Will ye try , Sassenach? For me, if nothing else?”

I took a deep breath, the first deep breath I’d taken all day, it felt like. I looked up at him. “Alright. I’ll try. For you.”

His smile told me without words that it was the right choice. “Thank ye, mo ghraidh. Have ye a pencil and paper, so that I can send a note home wi’ Rollo that we may be gone a day or two?”

“In my bag,” I said. “And Brianna sent some food, too.”

“Good,” he said, standing. “We’ll both eat some, and then I’ll start work on th’ lodge. Rollo, come.”

I watched as he scribbled out a note, then tucked it into Rollo’s collar. 

“Take your daughter, and go home to your wee mistress,” Jamie said, fondly scratching Rollo behind the ear.

Rollo started to trot away, then paused and looked back, giving a barking growl for Elina to follow.

But the pup sat on her haunches beside me, looking for all the world like a stubborn adolescent who refused to budge.

Jamie grinned. “It’s decided.”

“What is?” I asked.

“Th’ pup. She’s decided tae remain at your side. Th’ Cheyenne would say she is your guardian now, th’ way Rollo is mine, and became Lotte’s when she was born.”

I scoffed and arched a brow at the young dog. “Honestly, Jamie. She just doesn’t understand that she’s supposed to go.”

“As ye say, Sassenach,” Jamie chuckled. “Rollo, falbh dhachaigh .”

Rollo took off again without another backward glance, and Jamie started getting out the food. 

I wasn’t hungry, but I knew he’d make me eat, so I resigned myself to it.

Sitting in a sweat lodge and chanting in another language felt like the very last thing I wanted to do, but after my behavior, I felt like I owed it to Jamie to let him try to help. 

I watched him as he heated the food. I smiled and shook my head when he asked if I was cold, and really all I felt was profoundly numb.

“After the way I’ve been treating you, I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t come back tonight,” I blurted suddenly.

Jamie looked at me sharply. “We promised one another that we wouldn’a sleep apart again, if it could be helped,” he smirked. “It’s going tae take a lot more’n a few angry words tae make me turn my back on you, Sassenach...and I ken that’s what you’ve been thinking. In fact, nothing could make me do that.”

I mustered a more genuine smile this time. “What if...I killed someone?”

“Then they probably deserved it.”

“Robbed a bank?”

He snorted. “S’pose if ye thought we needed money that bad, I’d be there with ye.”

The bit of levity went a long way to making me feel a little more human, but as Jamie started work constructing the lodge, the anxiety bubbled up in my throat again. 

I glanced down at Elina as I stroked her soft, black fur. “You might wish you’d gone home with your father, dog,” I said wryly. 

Elina only licked my hand in response. 

Chapter Text

It was past dark when Jamie finished constructing his “sweat lodge,” and he decided that it would be better to sleep first, and start fresh in the morning.

I thought we might sleep in the lodge, but he was of a mind to make our bed under the stars, and I hadn’t the energy to debate.

After my outburst on the hill, I was completely and profoundly drained. I couldn’t really think or feel much of anything, and I was so tired. 

I fell asleep almost instantly after Jamie wrapped me in his arms and pulled me down to rest my head on his chest. It was comfortable physically, but I didn’t even quite get the emotional comfort from it that I normally did.

The morning broke brisk and clear, and I would have been freezing cold had I not been firmly sandwiched between the living furnace that is my husband, and thick-coated mountain dog/wolf hybrid. 

“How are ye feeling, Sassenach?” Jamie asked sleepily, sitting up.

I felt my heart lighten, if only slightly, at the sight of his sleep-mussed hair. “A little better,” I said, wincing as I sat up myself. “A little sore, too, but that’s not surprising.”

Jamie nodded toward the shelter he’d built out of branches and stones, needing only his plaid and the saddle blanket added atop it to keep the steam inside. “Are ye ready tae begin?” 

“Jamie, I don’t think this is necessary,” I said. “I was overwrought last night, and I pushed myself too far. But I’m better now.”

He gave me a thoroughly unconvinced look. “Aye, ye’ve been up and down for weeks now. Ye promised me last night that ye’d give it a try.”

I sighed. “I know I did, but I just don’t think it’ll do any good!’

“It won’t if ye dinna really give it a try,” Jamie said firmly, with a slightly panicked tinge to his voice that rather concerned me. “Claire, I’m begging ye...and by God I’m no’ ashamed tae try and guilt ye into it...but don’t make me go through again what I went through yesterday.”

I pulled my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. “I apologized for what I said,” I pointed out glumly.

“Not that ,” he said. “I meant on that damned hill! Ye tried tae throw yourself off!”

“I did not!” I exclaimed. “I lost my balance!”

He shook his head, his eyes reddening. “Ye dinna even remember, do ye? Ye pulled away from me, told me tae let ye go, I saw ye Claire, I saw th’ resolve in your eyes. It was...Christ, it was worse than when ye lay dying of fever.”

I truly didn’t think it was as drastic as it seemed to Jamie. I would never abandon my family like that. I’d just been angry and not thinking clearly. But if he could even think that I would try to hurt myself, and if it scared him that much, I would do what he wanted me to do. And I would try my damnedest to make it work.

“Alright,” I said softly. “I’m ready, Jamie.”

Elina whined and laid her head in my lap as Jamie got up to get the sweat lodge ready.

“Don’t whine at me,” I said, scratching her ear. “It’s your fault for not going home when you had the chance.”

“She’s worrit about ye, Sassenach,” Jamie said. “They can sense unrest in a person. I’m going tae get water, and see about a fish for our breakfast. Ye’ll stay put?”

I nodded, and continued to pet Elina and try to think of what I was supposed to even do in a sweat lodge.

I’d known about them for years, of course. Jamie had utilized them before, and I was told that I was taken into one when I was sick with influenza many years ago, but I didn’t remember it. All I knew was you sit in a makeshift hut and pour water onto hot stones to make steam. I could see the steam having a cleansing quality, and might be a good remedy for a cold, and the solitude could certainly be meditative, but I still didn’t see how any of that would help my situation. Eventually, we’d need to go home, and the outside world would still be there.

“It’s ready, Sassenach,” Jamie called, after we’d silently broken our fast on the fish.

I stood up and went over to him, holding out my arms to gesture that I was ready for whatever, but I was surprised when the next thing he did was start unbuttoning my blouse. I wasn’t really in a very amorous mood at the moment.

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“Ye go into th’ sweat lodge wi’out clothes,” Jamie explained. “Tae be as close tae th’ Mother Earth as ye can be.”

I heaved a sigh and complied, gooseflesh breaking out on my skin the moment it was exposed to the cold morning air. “How long do I have to stay in there?”

Jamie gave me a firm look. “I ken what I said earlier...but ye dinna have tae go in there at all, mo cridhe . I want ye tae try, but ye can stop whenever ye want.”

I nodded in thanks. “Alone?”

He paused in his undressing of me to hook his finger underneath my chin. “D’ye want tae be alone? It’s alright, if ye do. I can wait right outside for ye...or I can go wi’ ye. It’s up to you.”

I remembered what Ian had said about letting Jamie help me...and besides, I didn’t want to be alone. “No, I want you with me.”

His smile told me that he’d been hoping I’d say that. Leaving me to finish undressing myself, he pulled off his own clothes and laid everything neatly on the rocks outside the lodge.

Jamie and I hadn’t been intimate since before the shooting, and only then did I realize that I hadn’t even seen him undressed in that amount of time either, as he always seemed to change when I was asleep, or at the river where he usually bathed.

I hadn’t thought to miss it, but suddenly I found that I did. Not just sex...but the closeness that came with it.

Intimacy with Jamie had naturally changed over time, between the years and a child, but it had changed drastically since Lotte was kidnapped. We still enjoyed one another, of course, physically speaking, it was still a bonding and show of love that we were eager for, but there was something intangible that we just hadn’t quite gotten back. 

I missed it terribly.

There was no seduction in his touch now, but he did let his fingers linger over my collarbone when he released my hair from the confines of my bun, and I knew he missed it too.

 

The hut was just big enough to fit Jamie and I both, with our knees touching as we sat facing one another on his deer pelt. Small beams of light peeked through the gaps between the branches and fabric covering, but it was quite dark inside. Despite the chill outside, it was almost unbearably hot inside, reminding me uncomfortably of that inescapable heat of fever. I was drenched in sweat within seconds.

“Now what?” I asked softly, feeling an almost church-like impulse to remain quiet. Only the sounds of birds and the gentle crackling of the campfire could be heard outside, along with the occasional whinny of a horse, or Elina’s footsteps as she moved around the campsite. 

“Now, ye try tae just let yourself breathe ,” Jamie said. “Ye can talk tae me if ye want, or if ye’d rather, we needn’t say a word. Think on what happened tae ye, th’ fear and anger it’s left within ye. Think of it, embrace it, and maybe ye can let it go.”

“Embracing fear and anger sounds like the opposite of letting it go,” I pointed out.

“Aye, that it does. But it’s just going tae hover around ye forever if ye dinna let it in. And once ye let it in, ye can push it back out again. Ye may never be completely rid of it, but that’s okay. It’s th’ good and bad that builds us as people, ye just canna let th’ bad be the part that takes over, ken? Start wi’ the anger. Might be easier. Ye’re mad at me, because I didn’a stop Laoghaire in time.”

I shook my head, digging the fingernails of one hand into the flesh of my other wrist. “I’m not really mad at you, Jamie. It all happened so fast. I suppose...I suppose I felt let down, because I just take for granted that you’ll save me, but that isn’t your fault. You’ve always been right there when I needed you, and you were there. William told me about how you were willing to cut the bullet out of me yourself before Marsali got there.”

Jamie smiled tremulously. “I was scairt shitless, I was. It made me sick just thinking of putting a knife tae your skin...even if it was tae save ye. I could have kissed wee Marsali when she said she could do it. All because of your teachings.”

“She’s a very capable girl.”

“And ye can barely look at her,” Jamie said, and it wasn’t a question, but neither was it reproachful, or judging. “Because when ye look at her, ye see her mother.”

“Marsali’s nothing like her mother,” I said hotly.

“No, she isn’a. But our feelings dinna always listen to logic.”

I wiped my arm across my brow, aggravated by the sweat dripping into my eyes. “What is the point of this, Jamie? I’m hot, and thirsty, and it’s hard to breathe in here.”

“Why are ye really angry, Claire?”

“I’m angry because I’m weak!” I yelled. “I’ve let one moment...one action by one madwoman render me half mad myself! I can’t sleep, can’t eat, can barely think for seeing her goddamned face and the barrel of that gun! It replays in my head over and over, and I could kill myself for standing there like an idiot and letting it happen! I just can’t stop thinking...what if she’d aimed lower? What if she’d hit Lotte? Or what if she’d turned, and hit you, or William? I can’t stand to go back to Gale’s. I have no desire to even go back to my clinic. I don’t want to help anyone! What the hell sort of doctor does that make me?!”

“A human one,” Jamie murmured, then bit his cheek, seeming to be trying to keep himself from interrupting. 

I wanted to get up and pace like I normally did when I was upset, but there was nowhere to even stand in this tiny lodge. There was nothing but me, and Jamie. I felt like I was gasping for air, but Jamie looked perfectly fine, though covered in a film of sweat the same as me.

“And for what?” I croaked out. “How was this worse than anything else? My baby was kidnapped, taken from me for almost a year. I...I was taken by Dog Soldiers and was beaten, and nearly raped. I witnessed the slaughter of an entire tribe of men, women, and children whom I called my friends. I held the hands of my uncle, the only father I ever had, and Charlotte, the closest thing to a mother I had and my first real friend as they died, helpless to stop it. I’ve watched you face danger, injury, and persecution time and again and cried as I nursed you back to health. I have seen so much death and illness. After everything... this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? This ?”

“Oh, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, reaching for me, but I leaned away and he stopped immediately. 

“I’ve handled it all,” I said, my tears mixing with the sweat on my cheeks. “I’ve put on a brave face. Why is this different? Am I just broken?”

“Ye’re not broken!” Jamie exclaimed, making me jump. “I’m sorry, Sassenach, I should just be letting ye talk, but I canna stay silent. You are not broken, d’ye hear me?”

“You always say I’m the strongest woman you know,” I cried. “I don’t feel strong, anymore.”

“You are th’ strongest person I know,” Jamie said, correcting my use of the word “woman”. “But no’ because ye put on a brave face. Because ye’ve been through all of that and more and come out th’ other side wi’ your loving and hopeful soul still intact. I ken your weaknesses, as ye ken mine, and it’s never made ye less in my eyes. Just like you are not less now because ye need tae just stop and let yourself feel for a minute. You can be weak, Claire. Ye dinna need tae feel strong.”

“I can’t stop dreaming,” I continued, hearing his words, but now that the floodgates had opened, I just found myself talking without end. “I see Nayawenne’s dying eyes in my sleep. The Cheyenne children all shot in the back, face-down in the mud. The other day, Roger laughed, and suddenly it felt like One-Eye was there in the room, laughing as he grabbed me. It’s like...this happened and now it’s all just coming back. Even things I thought I’d forgotten. I wanted to tell you before...”

“...Why didn’t ye?”

I met Jamie’s eyes, my own having finally adjusted to the darkness of the lodge, and I could see the tears gathering in his. I didn’t want to hurt him anymore...but he said I needed to let it in to let it go.

“Because...I was afraid you couldn’t stand to hear it.”

“Claire…” he leaned over, taking my hand. “I dinna understand. Why would ye think I wouldn’a be able to listen tae ye?”

“Because you left!” I blurted.

“Left? Lass, I told you, I was coming home…”

“No! Not last night...before...when we were looking for Lotte. I needed you, Jamie! I needed you more than I’d ever needed you before or since and you shut me out and you left ! I begged you to stay…”

The words got caught in my throat as I cried, realizing for the first time the truth of it all. I’d never really forgiven Jamie, not completely, for his emotional distance during that year in Mexico. 

Jamie took a deep breath. “I dinna ken how else tae apologize for that, Claire! Am I no allowed tae make mistakes? And it’s no’ like ye didn’a turn tae someone else moments later!”

“Nothing happened with Miguel!”

“I ken that! But it hurt thinking ye could so quickly find another th’ moment I didn’a measure up!”

I shook my head slowly. “Measure up? There’s never been anything to measure. But every time you feel like you’ve failed us, you withdraw. I’ve never wanted anything more or less than you, just as you are. I could never find another, Jamie. That’s why it scares me so much...because if I can’t depend on that you’ll be there...if I don’t have you...I have nothing!”

I didn’t even see him move, but suddenly he was grabbing my arms and dragging me forward until I was sitting sideways between his legs, both of mine draped over one of his thighs. He held me tightly, fingers digging into my arm and side.

“Ye can depend on me,” he cried. “ Mo cridhe, ye have been through hell and back...more than once. I canna promise nothing bad will ever happen again, but I can promise ye that ye will never have cause tae doubt me again. I realize what I’ve done, lass. It feels easier, sometimes, tae deal wi’ things on my own. Even after all these years, it’s sometimes hard for me tae remember that I’m no’ alone. Will ye help me, Sassenach? Will ye remind me?”

I nodded against his chest. “And I promise, too. I lash out when I’m angry, and that’s wrong. You don’t deserve it. I’m sorry, Jamie. For Miguel, for what I’ve said. Do you forgive me?”

“Christ, lass. I forgave ye long ago. Can you forgive me?”

I nodded again. “Forgiven.”

And just like that, a knot was released within me that I hadn’t realized had been twisted there for two years. 

I was still a very long way from better, but I didn’t feel so trapped anymore. As I cried into Jamie’s chest, my tears mingling with sweat, he rocked me like a child, and I could feel the heat of his own tears hitting the top of my head. 

 

When the storm passed, Jamie and I were still sat the same way, and he was quietly humming a Cheyenne chant that eventually turned into something spoken in soft Gaelic. I didn’t understand everything he was saying, but it sounded like a prayer. 

From the gaps in the lodge, I could see that the sun had set. I could hear the sounds of frogs and bugs, and Jamie’s heartbeat. From outside I heard a wolf howl, long and hauntingly, and even though I’d never heard her howl before, I somehow knew it to be Elina.

“I love you,” I whispered.

I felt him flinch, as if I’d startled him. 

“I thought ye were asleep,” he said with a breathy little chuckle. “I love ye, too, my Sorcha . So verra much.”

“I know you do. I’ve never once doubted that .”

He squeezed me, and our skin slid against each other, which might have been uncomfortable, but I was too relaxed and wrung out to mind. 

I sat back to look up at him, stroking his cheek, rough with two days of beard growth. Licking my lips, I put my hand behind his neck to pull his head down to mine, kissing him slowly, languidly. 

He kissed me back just as lazily, until I deepened the kiss, and he pulled me closer, his tongue sliding past my lips to meet mine.

Jamie’s hands slid up and down my side, from my knee to my shoulder and back again. 

It had been ages since we’d kissed this way, and I was all at once starving for more. I leaned back and then pushed his shoulders until he was laying on his back, and I was straddling his hips.

There wasn’t room in the lodge for him to extend his legs, so he brought his knees up behind me, and I leaned back against them as I ran my sweat-soaked palms across his chest, noting that he’d lost a little weight since last we were together.

Bending down over him, I kissed his jaw before moving lower, lapping at the salt on his skin, gently biting his nipples and delighting in the high-pitched noise he made as a result.

I maneuvered until I was kneeling between his legs, sliding my hands over his thighs.

“Sassenach…” he whispered. 

“We so rarely are alone, Jamie,” I said. “No need to be quiet.”

He chuckled. “It’s ye I like tae listen tae.”

“Well? Maybe I’m the same.”

During his last trip outside to bring in water, Jamie had brought more hot stones but hadn’t bothered with them since, so the air inside had become less humid. But with the first flick of my tongue on the tip of his cock, his arm jolted and he caught the pitcher of water with his elbow, knocking it over on the rocks and sending a cloud of billowing steam into the air. 

The atmosphere inside was already thick with heat and sweat, now it was charged with something more. I opened my mouth to take the head of him inside, my hand encircling him to make up for the length I couldn’t fit past my lips. 

Jamie moaned, fingers digging into my hair and pulling, the slight sting spurring me on. “As good as this feels,” he sighed. “I want ye up here where I can see ye.”

Doing as he asked, I returned to my perch straddling his thighs, still stroking him. 

“Ye sure ye feel alright?” he asked.

I smiled down at him. “I feel like I want my husband.”

Jamie smiled back. “He’s yours, Sassenach. Always has been, always will be.”

“I know you will.”

I raised up on my knees, lining us up and then sank down hard, letting him fill me. That piece of me that had been missing, finding its rightful place.

I had let in the fear, distrust, and anger, and now I was letting Jamie chase it away from me as I rocked against him, taking him in as deeply as I could.

“I love you,” I said again.

Jamie sat up, taking a breast in his hand and squeezing before gently flipping us both over, our skin slipping and sliding against each other wetly. 

The heat that had been oppressive for so long now just had me feeling almost drunk in a way. As if nothing existed except Jamie and me, alone in our own little world. The world outside didn’t matter. All that mattered was Jamie. The love I felt for him. The pleasure he was giving my body. Only him.

He thrust hard into me, pushing my knees up until they were almost flat against my shoulders. The strain was almost too much on my sore body, but I was too lost in pleasure to care. 

“Too much, Sassenach?” he gasped, knowing my mind, as always.

“Not enough,” I answered, though I relaxed the tension by wrapping my legs around his back instead and bucking my hips up to meet him, deliberately clenching my lower muscles and making him moan loudly in my ear.

The smell of sweat and sex was thick, and it felt like we were moving through water. Jamie started talking in a mixture of Gaelic, Cheyenne, and English, and since he wasn’t normally so vocal, I soaked it up.

“Nothin’ feels like ye,” he babbled. “Sae hot, sae perfect, dia air neamh …”

I could feel that he was close, closer than I, and I continued to roll my hips in just the way I knew would bring him to the peak.

Jamie fastened his mouth onto the side of my neck as he came, his seed pulsing hot within me. I held him close, expecting him to go limp atop me, but he barely skipped a beat before rolling us both over, until I was once again atop him. He pulled his legs back up and raised his hips, so that I slipped up toward his head.

“Jamie…” I began, trying to push myself back. He of course had used his mouth on me countless times before, but I didn’t think he ever had so soon after coming inside of me. He ignored my protests though, of course knowing why I was making them, and pulled on my thighs until they were on either side of his face.

I gave up resisting the moment his tongue touched my clitoris, and I bucked helplessly against him, my thighs clenching around his head until he was forced to pry them loose and come up for air.

“I canna breathe!” he laughed, looking perfectly happy about it.

“Sorry,” I chuckled breathlessly.

“What a way tae go, though.”

He returned to his work with fervor, sucking and using his teeth on me in a way that had my head spinning. 

When I came, I could swear that I could see a wave of color crash around me, and it really felt like everything I’d been holding in for so long breaking out of me.

But really, it was most likely the heat and mild dehydration. 

I was so dazed I didn’t even feel Jamie arrange us into a more comfortable position until I came back to myself wrapped securely in his arms, our legs entwined.

“Are ye alright?” he asked.

“No,” I answered honestly. “But I will be.”

He kissed my nose. “I ken ye will. And I’ll be wi’ you every step of th’ way. I will never leave ye alone again, Sassenach. No’ unless I’m dragged away.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” I said. “I’m sorry...no,” I put a finger to his lips, to stop him from telling me I didn’t need to. “Let me, once more. I’m sorry I lashed out at you.”

He nodded. “I forgive ye, Sassenach. I willn’a pretend it didn’a hurt me, but it hurt more because I could see how lost and afraid ye were. I think ye needed an outburst, and who better tae let it all out to than me?”

I nodded. “You’re the only one I could ever trust with my weaknesses.”

“And I’ll keep them safe.”

“I know you will. As you keep me safe, and our family safe. You are all we could ever need, Jamie. You are more than enough.”




Chapter Text

When we left the sweat lodge, Jamie led me, naked as Adam and Eve, to a nearby stream to wash and drink. Elina followed closely, then sat at attention as we floated in the stream.

I knew I wasn’t completely well. But at least now I understood a little better what was wrong, and Jamie assured me that healing would come more easily now, and that he would be right at my side, every step of the way, and I fully trusted that he would.

I slept more comfortably that night than I had in weeks, and when I awoke, I felt more like myself than I had in months.

On the ride home, Jamie and I chatted about inconsequential things. How many casks of whisky we might expect this year. How our nanny goat should be giving birth any day. How Lotte was quite good at reading but a little behind on her mathematics. It was normal, mundane, but something we hadn’t done in I didn’t know how long and it felt nice to just...catch up. Like old friends coming together after a long absence. 

Lotte and Joan were sitting on the front steps when we returned. Lotte had Mao and Rollo flanking her sides, and Joan had her cat, Cricket in her lap.

“It’s Ma and Da!” Lotte exclaimed, leaping to her feet to rush to stick her head inside. “They’re back!”

Everyone came hurrying out to greet us, immediately fawning over me and asking if I was okay.

“She’s just fine,” Jamie assured them for me. “No need tae fuss.”

It was a little annoying that they listened to him and not me, but I decided not to dwell on it.

“Did Elina help you?” Lotte asked me excitedly, giving her dog a hug.

“That she did,” I told her. “And she remained faithfully at my side the whole time. She’s a good dog, Lotte.”

Lotte grinned. “I knew it. Hear that, Mao? Time for you to buckle down and learn your manners.”

“I’ll get supper started,” Brianna said, turning to go inside with Marsali right behind her, saying she’d help.

“Come help me wi’ th’ horses, a nighean ,” Jamie said, scooping Lotte up and carrying her along.

That left me with Joan, still clutching her cat in her arms. “Joan,” I ventured carefully, seeing the shy caution in her eyes when she looked at me. “I didn’t bring a comb with me and now my hair is a knotted mess after I washed this morning and my arm is still very sore...do you think you could help me?”

I wouldn’t have been surprised or offended if Joan had said no, but I watched as her eyes lit up. “Of course, Dr. B! I’m good with hair.”

“I figured,” I said, taking her hand. “Yours is always so pretty. You can bring Cricket if you like.”

Joan stopped before releasing her cat, then followed me inside with a skip in her step, while Marsali looked on with a smile.

 

“The older I get, the more I appreciate the comfort of my own bed,” I joked as Jamie and I changed into our nightclothes and got under the covers.

“Aye,” he agreed. “And in our own home, wi’ all our children safe under its roof.”

“I feel awful for how I’ve been treating Marsali and Joan,” I said at the mention of children, remembering how sweet and happy Joan had been, given the simple task of brushing and braiding my hair. “They’re both such good girls, it isn’t their fault who happened to birth them, no more than it’s Fergus’s fault the way he came into the world.”

“Ye canna be blamed for it,” Jamie said. “Perhaps it was insensitive of me tae insist they stay wi’ us. They could just have easily have stayed wi’ Jenny and Ian, or Louise and her husband.”

I shook my head. “Perhaps, but I’m glad they’ve been here now, because I know it’s been a help to Fergus and Lotte.”

“What will we do about them?” Jamie asked. “Fergus and Marsali, I mean.”

I sighed. “I hate the idea of them being forced to separate, and I hate even more the idea of Fergus following her to Kentucky. But they’re too young to marry. I know many their age do, but I just think about the person I was at their age, and the one I was when you and I married, and they’re completely different people. How can Fergus marry someone now, and be content the rest of his life with her?”

“Aye, I see what ye mean,” Jamie said. “I feel th’ same, about th’ boy I was when I married Geneva, and th’ man I was when I married you. But ye and I have grown even since then, haven’t we? I like tae think that if I’d found ye back then, a bonny young woman and me a green laddie, that we would have grown together . Changed together .”

I smiled at him. “I haven’t thought of it that way. I do so wish we could have found one another sooner, if only so that we could have had that many more years together.”

He chuckled. “Who knows? We might have had a whole gaggle of wee’uns by now if we had.”

“Have you looked around the house?!” I exclaimed, laughing. “I’d say we most certainly have a gaggle right now.”

It felt so wonderful to laugh with Jamie, all warm and close together in bed. I resolved then and there to never let this companionship go again.

There was a light scratching at the door, which we normally left cracked open so that we could listen for the children (unless we were otherwise preoccupied, of course,) and we both looked over at it just in time to see Elina paw her way through.

“What? Is it getting crowded in your mistress’s room?” I asked the dog, who sat down by the foot of the bed and stared at us pleadingly.

“Maybe she’s still worrit about ye,” Jamie said warmly, and though I rolled my eyes at him, it didn’t come without a kiss to his chin.

“Just this once,” I sighed, patting the mattress.

In years past, Rollo had always slept on the floor by Jamie’s side, or perhaps at the foot of our bed on cold nights. Ever since Lotte was born, he’d taken to staying by her side instead, and if that had ever made Jamie a little sad, he didn’t show it. Now, he seemed quite pleased to have a large, furry presence warming our feet once more. 

 

I had my hands fisted into my skirt as we rode into town, until Jamie reached over and took one of them into his own, kissing my knuckles. 

It was time for me to return to my clinic, and allow Dr. Franklin to return to his own. 

It was also time for Brianna and Roger to return home to Boston. Brianna was only a few credits shy of graduating, and no matter how much she protested that I needed her at home, I was not about to allow her to throw all of her hard work away, not after she’d come so far. 

“Next time I see you, I intend to see a mechanical engineer,” I’d told her that morning when we argued yet again about her leaving. 

I won, and she and Roger were to leave on the evening train, giving us one more day to spend together. 

It also meant an early lunch at Gale’s cafe.

“Are you sure?” William asked as we got out of the wagon by my clinic. “We don’t have to go today.”

“Yes, we do,” I said firmly. “It’s a silly paranoia, and I’m determined to get past it.”

Lotte took my hand, and following her lead, Joan took my other, and we all walked together to the cafe. As we drew closer, my steps became slower, and as the tables with their cheerful linens and vases of flowers came into sight, I stopped, my heart racing. It was like the feeling of flight or fight, even though my rational mind knew there was absolutely no danger.

“Willie’s right,” Brianna said. “It’s too much at once. She should wait for another day.”

“No,” Jamie said, gently taking Lotte’s place beside me. “It needs tae be now, doesn’t it, Sassenach?”

I nodded. “I think the longer I wait, the harder it will be.”

“Then let’s go.”

Relying on Jamie’s strength, I let him lead me into the cafe, where Gale looked up from her stove with a big smile.

“Hey, Dr. B! So glad to see you! Sit wherever you want, your meals are on the house!”

I smiled back at her, and Jamie led me to a table far to the other side, away from the one we were sat at before. I looked over, but that particular table was gone, or moved. Naturally there was no sign of blood on the grass, but I could almost imagine that I could see it there, staining the earth.

Laoghaire McKimmie had been swiftly sentenced to death by hanging, per the telegram that Denny had brought us the day before. After I’d given it more thought with a clearer head, I had actually hoped that they would send her to the workhouse, for the girls’ sake if nothing else. But the judge had taken no time at all to decide that her crime was too violent to risk placing her in an institution. Jamie and I hadn’t told the children just yet, not yet wanting to upset the relative contentment they’d found, but I knew we couldn’t keep it secret for long. 

“Afternoon, Dr. B!” Rupert called cheerfully from his own table, raising his glass to me.

“You look good!” Angus added.

Jamie pulled out a chair for me, and I sat, only just then noticing what a nice day it was.

“Dr. B.,” Murtagh greeted, taking an offered seat across the table. “Good to see you back.”

“Good to see you, too, Murtagh,” I said warmly.

“Heard my favorite doc was here!” Joe exclaimed, helping his wife bring us out plates. “Permission from Mr. Fraser to give her a great big kiss?”

Jamie chuckled. “So long as ye’ve permission from Mrs. Abernathy.”

In answer, Joe placed a wet, smacking kiss on my cheek, and I giggled as I playfully shoved him away, some of the tension finally leaving me.

“Joe and I have a standing agreement,” Gale said with a grin. “And it’s mostly since I know damned well Claire’d never leave Jamie for Joe’s old mug!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure!” I teased back. “I’ve seen him with his hammer...quite the figure he cuts!”

Gale looped her arms around my neck from behind. “And I’ve seen Jamie with a tomahawk. We’re even,” she kissed my cheek and went to serve her other customers as Jenny and Ian appeared with Maggie to join us.

“May I hold the baby?!” Joan asked excitedly.

“Of course,” Jenny said, handing Maggie over in relief. “Knock yourself out.”

“Keeping you up at night?” Jamie asked.

Jenny huffed. “I’ll say. I think she has her nights and days reversed.”

“Why do you like babies so much?” Lotte asked Joan, wrinkling her nose.

Joan frowned at her. “Well, don’t you want to be a mother when you’re old enough?”

“No,” Lotte said at once. “I wanna be a medicine woman.”

“Don’t you mean a doctor?”

She shook her head. “No...Cheyenne women doctors are called Medicine Women. That’s what I wanna be.”

Joan arched a brow. “But you can’t be Cheyenne.”

“Why not? Uncle Ian?”

Ian chuckled. “Your mother is Ma’heona’e , perhaps you could be too, one day.”

Lotte stuck out her chin at Joan...and I very much saw myself in the action. “Told you.”

I laughed and shook my head, catching a look from Jamie next to me, and I knew we were thinking the same thing.

I eventually forgot my nervousness, at least some, and before long, it felt almost like a normal day at the cafe, thanks largely to the presence of my family and friends. 

I still wasn’t completely whole, but piece by piece, I was getting there.

 

~~~

 

Marsali was hanging the wash on the line when Fergus snuck up behind her, kissing the side of her neck.

“Stop that!” she exclaimed, pushing him away.

“What?” he asked a bit petulantly. “No one’s around.”

Marsali glared at him. “Someone’s always around, and that’s not the point. We promised your Da we’d keep apart while Joan and I are staying here.”

Fergus rolled his eyes. “It ain’t like we’re going to do anything! A kiss ain’t bad! Good lord, Ma and Da were a lot worse before they were married.”

“Circumstances were different,” Marsali argued. “Besides, I don’t want to do anything that’ll upset Dr. B. Joan is finally opening up a little, and she’s happier. I don’t wanna mess that up any sooner than need be.”

“You mean when her pa comes?”

Marsali sighed, her shoulders slumping. “Joan’s terrified. He isn’t bad or anything, but most of her memories of him are him and our mother screaming at each other. She feels safe here with your family.”

“That’s why I think we oughtta just go ahead and get married,” Fergus said. “I can start us a house here, in Colorado Springs, and Joan can live with us.”

“No one’s gonna let Joan live with us,” Marsali said flatly. “And I won’t let her go to Kentucky alone. I’m sorry. I love you, Fergus, but she’s only a little girl. She has to come first.”

“And I won’t let you go to Kentucky alone,” Fergus said hotly. 

Marsali smiled at him, touching the side of his face and leaning up on tiptoe to kiss him softly. “Your family needs you here. Don’t worry; Joan won’t be little forever. I’ll come back to you, Fergus.”

Fergus clenched his jaw, something that made Marsali smile, since it was something his adoptive father did so often, but he nodded miserably. 

“I’ll hold you to it,” he muttered.

Marsali kissed him again, but they flew apart when their names were called from the front porch.

Claire stood there, arching a brow at them. 

“We weren’t doing anything!” Fergus exclaimed with so much guilt that it made Marsali sigh and put a hand to her head.

“Never mind,” Claire said with a stern voice, but a soft look in her eyes. “Could you two please come inside? There’s something Jamie and I want to talk to you about.”

Marsali gulped nervously, and took Fergus’s hand as they made their way into the house.

Lotte and Joan were already seated at the dining table, looking about as nervous as Marsali felt. 

“Dr. B...I’m sorry,” she began.

“Never mind,” Claire said, waving her off. “Jamie and I have something we want to discuss with all of you.”

Marsali sat next to Joan, taking her hand. “Go on,” Marsali found the voice to say.

Jamie stood beside Claire, putting an arm around her shoulder. “What we have tae say affects all of us, so we want everyone’s input. I sent a telegram tae Hugh McKimmie, and he’s agreed tae my terms, but the decision is up to all of you.”

Marsali and Joan exchanged a perplexed look. “What decision?” Marsali asked.

“We would like you and Joan to stay here, with us,” Claire said. 

“Live here?” Joan asked. “For good?”

“Aye,” Jamie said. 

“You’re sure?” Marsali asked, bordering on tears. “After...after what happened?”

Claire said across from her at the table and took her hand. “Marsali, you have nothing to do with the actions of others. I’d like to continue teaching you medicine...if you want.”

Marsali beamed. “More than anything!”

“Joan?” Jamie prompted. “What d’ye say? And Lotte?”

Lotte looked at Joan. “We could be like sisters !”

Joan grinned from ear to ear and nodded before launching herself at Jamie.

“Then it’s decided,” Claire said, clapping her hands. “Although some changes will need to be made, for propriety’s sake. Fergus, you’ll be moving into the barn loft until you and Marsali are old enough to marry.”

“How long will that be?” Fergus asked.

“When Marsali is eighteen,” Jamie said.

“Eighteen?!” Marsali and Fergus exclaimed together.

“That’s two years!” Fergus cried.

“If this is to work, there will have to be restrictions,” Claire said. “And I’m sorry, but that’s one of them.”

Marsali stood up, crossing her arms. “But I’m not some little girl, and I know my own mind and that I want to marry Fergus. One year.”

Claire and Jamie exchanged a look, and Jamie sighed. “Fine. One year. But if anything untoward happens before then, we’ll be sending Fergus tae Boston tae live wi’ Bree and Roger. Understood?”

“Understood,” Marsali said, nodding curtly. “Fergus?”

Fergus looked a lot less agreeable, but he nodded in assent.

Jamie gave a mischievous smirk and turned to the girls. “Lotte and Joan, you two can help us keep an eye on them, make sure they dinna do anything improper. Ken?”

“You have our word, Da,” Lotte declared with a wide grin.

Fergus groaned. “Great.”

The little family meeting dispersed as the children ran to play with the animals and Fergus followed Jamie out to tend the horses. Marsali stayed behind, fiddling with her pinafore until Claire finished straightening the tablecloth to look at her. 

“You won’t regret this,” Marsali said. 

Claire smiled at her. “I know I won’t,” she came forward, putting one hand behind Marsali’s head and bringing their foreheads together until they touched. “You and Joan belong here.”

Marsali nodded, brushing away her tears. “You mentioned that Hugh agreed to terms...what were those?”

Claire hesitated a moment. “Only that...he wouldn’t be required to provide a dowry for either of you.”

It saddened Marsali to think that Joan’s father could be that dismissive of her, worried more about money than anything else, but she rather hoped that he also knew that the Frasers would provide for them better than he could. 

Marsali knew her mother’s fate, heard it whispered about in town, and knew Claire and Jamie were putting off telling them, though she understood why, and felt the same way about Joan finding out. 

Laoghaire had never been a warm mother, but she hadn’t been a bad one, either. She’d provided for her and Joan as best she could on her own, but Marsali had never really forgiven her for the way she allowed her own father, Grant, to beat her and more...so she’d learned from a young age not to fully trust her own mother. 

But still...Laoghaire was her mother, and Marsali didn’t know how she was supposed to grieve. 

The answer came that night, when Claire came into their room to say goodnight. 

After Fergus was moved to the barn, Marsali remained in Brianna’s old room while Joan was given Fergus’s, but Joan was still struggling to sleep alone at night, and was in bed with Marsali when Claire came and sat on the edge of the mattress.

“When Fergus and Brianna were little, I used to sit with them like this at night, and help them say their prayers. The first thing we would always pray for was their mother. We would say; morning sun, evening star, she is here, wherever we are. God bless the sun, God bless the star, and God bless Ma, though she is very far.”

“Their ma is in heaven,” Joan said. “Will our ma go there?”

Claire looked away before answering. “I can’t answer that, Joanie. But then, I can’t really answer that about anyone, can I? All I’m saying is...it might help, to pray for her,” she looked at Marsali. “I know it won’t help to just stay angry forever.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to not be angry yet, Dr. B.,” Marsali said honestly.

Claire smiled, patting Marsali’s leg. “And that’s okay, too. Goodnight, girls.”

“Goodnight, Dr. B.,” Marsali and Joan said together. 

After Claire was gone, Marsali blew out the light and rolled over. Before she could fall asleep, she could hear Joan whispering quietly to herself;

“...God bless the sun, God bless the star, and God forgive Ma, though she’s very far.”

 

Chapter Text

It was mid morning, and somehow Claire had managed to wake before Jamie and leave their bed without disturbing him. A rare feat, indeed. But then, Jamie had been late to sleep the night before, when a coyote broke into the henhouse just before midnight, scattering the hapless birds across the property and making off with one of them. He and Fergus had spent the next three hours repairing the henhouse and gathering up the nervous flock while all the ladies of the house slept. 

But even then, after he’d washed and dragged himself to bed, Claire had reached for him, warm where he was chilled, a sleepy, but sultry smile on her face and a needy, questioning little murmur in her throat. And, well, he would have had to be dead before he could deny his wife’s sweet attentions, no matter the hour.

Jamie walked out onto the porch, donning a pair of work gloves, setting himself to making some more repairs to that damned henhouse. 

What greeted him when he met the morning air was the sounds of girls squealing, and the familiar and heartwarming sound of his wife’s laughter. 

His Sassenach had come a long way in the months following her injury, illness, and subsequent but lengthy recovery. She still woke him some nights, writhing in the effects of a nightmare. She still jumped at sudden, loud sounds. And Jamie could still see the way her eyes flicked to that one spot at Gale’s cafe every time they went there.

But Jamie was finding that she was becoming more like herself than she’d even been before the shooting. The herself she was before Lotte was kidnapped. Jamie hadn’t even realized how different she’d been, until he’d begun to catch glimpses of the old Claire.

She’d never be the proud, posturing, starry-eyed lass he’d met all those years ago, and just as well, since he was not the same distrustful, solitary, reckless man he’d been. He was quite proud of the people they’d grown to become, and wouldn’t change that for the world.

But in moments like this, he got to see the girl inside of the woman, as she squealed and giggled alongside Lotte, Joan, and Marsali while they splashed laundry water at each other, and smacked one another with wet shirts.

“Oy,” he called out. “Is this why my shirts keep getting holes in them?!”

The girls all paused in their game to look at him, each soaking wet. 

“Do you hear that?” Claire asked, propping her hands on her hips. “The one who never does the laundry is complaining about how we do the laundry! What shall we do about that, ladies?”

Lotte grinned ear-to-ear, shrieking “Get him!” before charging after him with his own wet shirt, followed immediately by Joan and Marsali.

“Hey now!” Jamie exclaimed, leaping from the porch to try and get away. “I’ve had my bath!”

They batted him with shirts and towels as he fled, and it was his own fault really, because he was shuffling backwards, laughing as he tried to fend them off with his hands, when he tumbled head over heels into the pig pen, landing in the muck with a wet plop .

“Da, look out! The White Sow!”

Jamie scrambled to his feet, or he tried to as he went slipping in the mud, as their belligerent potbellied pig came charging out of her den, squealing like a bat out of hell.

He just barely managed to fling himself back over the fence before the White Sow could take a bite out of his arse, her yellow teeth gnashing in irritation. 

That was close!” Joan exclaimed.

“Da,” Lotte said, giggling. “You’re covered in mud!”

Jamie sat there on the ground, glaring up at the three gleeful children. “Aye...I ken that.”

“Alright, alright, that’s enough!” Claire said, shooing the girls off. “Lotte, go inside at once and get your father a clean change of clothes and change into dry ones yourself. All of you, go on.”

The girls all ran inside, and Claire reached down to help him up. “I’m sorry, Jamie,” she said. “We got carried away.”

He chuckled. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. No harm was done. It was a bonny thing, seeing ye play wi’ th’ lassies.”

She smiled, catching a blob of muck on his brow before it could fall into his eye. “You look about how I did, my first day in town.”

“Funny, I was just thinking about that day, before I was attacked, that is”

“Oh? And what was it you were thinking?”

Jamie smirked. “Hard tae remember, just now, what wi’ the way your wet blouse is clinging tae your breasts that way and distracting me.”

“Behave yourself,” she said, half-heartedly swatting his arm.

“Never,” he shot back, grabbing her around the waist, ignoring her cries of protest when he got mud all over her, then kissed her soundly.

“What’re ya up to?”

Jamie pulled back, but didn’t release his hold on Claire as William rode up, smirking at them. 

“Right on cue, as usual,” he muttered, earning another swat from his wife.

William shook his head fondly, not even bothering to comment on the state of them both. “Denny just caught me on the road with a letter from Bree.”

“Let me see!” Claire exclaimed, bouncing on her heels with her hand outstretched in a “give me” gesture, forgetting Jamie at once at the mention of their eldest daughter. It was a fact that made Jamie smile every time, even if he grumbled in insincere annoyance.

William chuckled, dismounting and handing the letter over. “It was addressed to all of us, so I read it already. Bree’s finished all her credits and will be graduating end of May.”

“That’s wonderful,” Jamie said, reading over Claire’s shoulder. “Says we’re all invited tae th’ ceremony?”

“That’s right,” Claire said, grinning broadly as she read. “Isn’t it wonderful? Jamie, do you think we can afford to take the whole family?”

Jamie hummed in thought. “May be tight, what wi’ th’ new ones, but I’m sure we can manage.”

“I can pay my own way,” William said. “And Fergus has been working quite a bit with Joe, so I’m sure he’ll be happy to pitch in for him and Marsali, at least.”

Claire turned to Jamie, her eyes sparkling in joy. “Oh, Jamie, isn’t it exciting?! Bree will be the only woman in her class graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. And oh...I haven’t been to Boston since…”

Jamie whipped his head around to her, playfully narrowing his eyes. “Since ye almost married another man?”

Claire narrowed her eyes back. “I did not almost marry him...at that time. But it doesn’t matter either way, because this time I’m going on your arm and there will be no question in anyone’s mind of who I belong to! Lord...there’s only a few weeks to prepare, I’ll need to find someone to cover my clinic again .”

“Wire Dr. Franklin,” Jamie suggested. “He seemed tae like it here before, perhaps he wouldn’a mind overseeing things again.”

“I’ll wire him,” Claire said. “And while I’m at it, I’ll see about seven tickets to Boston.”

“I’m headed that way myself,” William said. “Wanna get dried off and come along?”

“We brought you clothes, Da!” Lotte cried, leading Joan, Marsali, and Fergus back out of the house. “Hey Willie!”

“Hey, Lotte Loo,” William greeted her. 

“Children, guess what?” Claire said. “Brianna is graduating next month, and we’re all going to Boston to see her accept her diploma!”

Lotte’s eyes went round as dinner plates. “ Really?! I ain’t never been to Boston!”

“You have never been to Boston,” Claire corrected. “And no, you haven’t. But it’s a big, exciting city, and we’ll get to see Aunty Geillie.”

“Yay!”

“Boston is great, Lotte,” Fergus said. “There’s a store there...as big as two Mercantiles, but all they sell is candy !”

Lotte gasped dramatically, exchanging an astonished look with Joan.

But Marsali was looking all around uncertainly, twining her hands into her apron. “All of us, Dr. B.? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Claire said. “Brianna said in her letter the whole family, and that includes you and Joan now.”

Marsali’s smile was soft, and Jamie didn’t think Claire even noticed the look of absolute adoration on the girl’s face.

“But what about Rollo, and the pups and cats?” Lotte asked.

“They’ll have tae stay here,” Jamie said. “Dinna fash, Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian will take good care of them.”

“I’ll go change, and be right out!” Claire said, all but skipping into the house.

William chuckled after her. “She looks well,” he commented.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed. “And this news I think was just what she needed.”

William cut his eyes over to him. “And just think, you get to go to your favorite place on earth .”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Hardly,” he muttered. “But it’ll be worth it, tae see Bree graduate. Besides, a change of scenery will be good for Claire. I ken she loves her life here in Colorado, but I still think a part of her is just a bit more at ease in “proper society.”

“That makes one of us,” William said wryly.

 

~~~

 

A letter sent back to Brianna, a telegram to Dr. Franklin, and seven train tickets later, our family was all set to travel to Massachusetts.

The last time I’d gone to Boston was before I was married, so I felt a little nervous, in a way. For one thing, I was surely far behind on the current styles, and I wasn’t ever really familiar with what society considered proper for older, married women.

I also couldn’t help but wonder if I would run into Frank. It would seem unlikely, considering the size of the city, but we ran in many of the same circles, and I knew he had connections to Harvard. I wanted to think that our meeting again would be amicable. Perhaps he’d be married with a family himself, and we could exchange well wishes before parting as friends. 

That was the hope, at least.

But over all the nervousness was excitement. Even though my home was Colorado Springs, I still loved the life and bustle of Boston. Plus, I hadn’t seen my old friend Geillis since Lotte was three. She was on her fourth husband, and deliriously happy, last I heard. 

“But Da,” Lotte whined for the hundredth time, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with her arms around Mao’s neck. “Why can’t Rollo and the pups come with us? They’re gonna be worried.”

“Aye, they may at that,” Jamie responded with an amount of patience that frequently amazed me. “But they’d be awfully unhappy in Boston, a nighean . A strange place wi’ loud noises, unfamiliar smells, hundreds of people. Nowhere tae run, no animals tae chase. The folks there would take one look at Rollo or Mao and want them locked up. Is that what ye want?”

“No,” Lotte admitted glumly. 

“Auntie Jenny always takes verra good care of th’ animals while we’re away. Ye needn’t fash.”

“How come Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian aren’t going to see Bree graduate?”

Jamie cut his eyes over to me, and I took over answering. “That’s a very long trip to make with a little baby, Lotte Love.”

“Besides,” Joan put in, getting some extra cuddles in with her cat. “Your uncle Ian is an Indian. They don’t like Indians in big cities.”

Lotte scowled. “That’s dumb. Why?”

Joan shrugged. “My ma said they’re savages.”

Lotte turned to look at me. “Mama, what’s a savage?”

Jamie and I exchanged another look, this time one of irritation. Not at Joan, but at how easily ignorance was spread. “A savage is something violent, and animalistic. Not human. Now tell me, does that sound like Uncle Ian?”

Both girls shook their heads. 

“Some people have called your father a savage, because he once lived with the Cheyenne, and dresses like them. Is he a savage? No. Some people are just afraid of other people who live and look differently than they do. And unfortunately, a lot of people in Boston would be afraid of Uncle Ian because he is a Cheyenne. But that’s their fault, not his.”

“Well, if wolves or Cheyenne aren’t allowed in Boston, then I don’t wanna go either!” Lotte exclaimed, crossing her arms and standing up, just so that she could stamp her foot.

“There now,” Jamie said, kneeling beside her. “Brianna would be hurt if her own sister didn’a attend her graduation. Boston isn’a a bad place just because it’s different than what you’re used to. What did your ma just say about being afraid of something that’s different?”

Lotte’s shoulders slumped. “ Fine . I guess I’ll go for Bree.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said wryly. “Now Lotte, I suppose now’s as good a time as ever to remind you that being in Boston means using your absolute best manners. We’re talking church manners, all the time.”

“All the time ?!” Lotte gasped. “I have’ta act like I’m in church all the time ?!”

Fergus was just walking through on his way outside, and stopped, overhearing the last part of the conversation. “Yeah, and dress like it, too.”

Lotte groaned, throwing back her head dramatically. “This is a nightmare!”

I chuckled. “I hardly think it’s as bad as all that. It would do you some good to practice being a little lady instead of a little hellion. Try following Joanie’s example.”

Joan stuck out her chest in pride. “Come on, Lotte, let’s go upstairs and finish packing and you can practice walking like a lady.”

Lotte looked disgusted, although she followed Joan willingly. “A lady has to walk a certain way? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

“And she doesn’t curse,” Joan said primly as they mounted the stairs. 

“My mama does.”

“Your mama’s not a lady. She’s a doctor.”





Chapter Text

If anything, the train station in Boston was even busier than I remembered. Then again, it could have just been absence.

“Hold on tightly to Lotte, Fergus,” I warned, my heart picking up pace when people began inadvertently getting in between us and the children.

“I got her, Ma,” Fergus called back.

Jamie took my arm and used his considerable height to push through the crowd and swept Lotte up in his arms. I relaxed instantly.

Lotte was already wide-eyed, but when we finally made it outside the station, her jaw dropped too.

This is Boston?” she gasped.

“This is Boston,” I confirmed with a chuckle. “Marsali? You’ve got Joanie?”

Marsali and Joan were looking a bit inawed themselves. The biggest city Lotte had ever been to was Mexico City, and that certainly wasn’t a fond memory for anyone, but Marsali and Joan had been all over from Colorado to Kentucky...although apparently nothing quite compared to Boston, Massachusetts. 

“I see Roger!” William said, pointing across the square to where Roger was waving. 

“Roger!” Lotte shrieked, kicking to get down from Jamie’s arms, and earning a few disapproving scowls from a handful of older ladies.

Jamie managed to hold onto Lotte until we were closer, but once her feet hit the ground she was catapulting herself into Roger’s arms.

“Oof,” Roger made a show of struggling to pick Lotte up. “It’s only been a few months, but I swear you’ve grown a foot!” he switched her to one hip so that he could shake Jamie’s hand, then lean over to kiss my cheek. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m just fine,” I assured him. “Where’s Bree?”

He smiled apologetically. “She was so sorry she couldn’t meet you. She had a meeting with the dean, but she should be home by the time we get there, unless you’d rather get settled into your hotel first?”

I started to say ‘of course not,’ but a glance back at my crew reminded me that they were a tired, grumpy bunch. 

“William, why don’t ye take th’ children tae th’ hotel tae unpack and rest a bit, while your ma and I see Brianna?” Jamie suggested, reading my mind as always. “Then we’ll come and pick ye all up for supper,” he looked at Roger. “If ye dinna have plans already, we thought tae take th’ family tae that restaurant in th’ hotel your ma is so fond of.”

“Parker’s? Oh, Bree will be thrilled.”

“Charlotte,” I began firmly, bending to face her after Roger had put her down. “You will stay with either your brothers or Marsali at all times , is that understood? You will hold their hands on the sidewalk, and if you’re asked to settle down in the hotel room, you will obey at once.”

“Yes’m,” Lotte said, nodding and making a display of taking William’s hand.”

“What about me?” Joan asked.

I paused, wondering what on earth she meant. “Well, I can trust you to obey your sister, can’t I?”

“Of course,” Joan said, as if the very thought of her doing otherwise was absurd. 

“Well then...very good.”

After William and the children were safely bundled into a cab, Jamie and I joined Roger in another.

“I sure am glad you’re here,” Roger said as we went. “I mean...I’m glad you’re all here, of course, but having you here, Dr. B., is gonna be such a help.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Is Bree alright?”

Roger shrugged one shoulder. “She’s just been so stressed, between finals, and anticipation of this ceremony. There are some of the men who don’t even want her there. They thought her diploma should be handed to her privately . So naturally, Bree feels like all eyes are going to be on her.”

“And they will,” Jamie said. “Which I’m sure is th’ real reason those men dinna want her tae walk wi’ them. They think th’ attention is theirs alone.”

“I just know that having her ma here will make all the difference,” Roger continued. “Even better that you’re looking so well. She’s been worried about you.”

“I know,” I sighed. “As happy as I am for her and you for making your own way here, it’s so hard having you live so far away.”

“We miss it,” Roger admitted. “The family, the town, the slower pace. Do you think you could talk to her? She acts like moving back home isn’t even a possibility because it would disappoint you.”

“Disappoint me?!” I exclaimed. “How could she think that? I’ve only ever just wanted what she wanted.”

“Well I know that, but I think she feels like since she’s gone through all this to get her degree, that she has to be in the city, and not out west.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake, I left all of this to move west and find my way. If you and Bree want to move back, we’d be nothing short of thrilled. Wouldn’t we, Jamie?”

“Aye,” he agreed. “Besides, Colorado Springs is growin’ every day. It needs someone like Brianna tae help grow it.”

Roger smiled at him. “But I thought you were against growth in Colorado Springs?”

Jamie smiled back. “It’s coming whether I want it or no’. But if people like Bree are th’ ones building it, it’s all I could hope for.”

 

Brianna and Roger lived in an apartment right near Harvard, provided by the campus church where Roger preached. It was safe, and clean, but small, which was why they couldn’t even hope to host all of us during our visit.

Brianna must have been near a window, because she was outside the building by the time Jamie and I exited the carriage. 

“Mama!” she cried. “Da!”

I swept her into my arms, feeling like I hadn’t seen her in ages, even though it had only been a few months. But I’d been so sick, and then not myself, that I didn’t feel like the previous visit counted. 

“I’m so proud of you, Brianna,” I murmured into her ear, wanting to make sure she understood that first and foremost. “And so would your mother be.”

“She’d be proud of you, too,” Brianna said, pulling back. “For helping me get here.”

I squeezed her tightly again, then realized something. 

I waited until she’d embraced Jamie, and we’d all gone into the apartment before appraising her more carefully. 

She was positively glowing, which was to be expected what with all the excitement. But there was something else in her eyes, something knowing. And when she’d hugged me, she’d kept our middles carefully apart.

When Bree met my eyes after offering me tea, hers widened. 

“How do you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?” I shot back innocently.

“Read my mind.”

Jamie looked back and forth between us. “What is she talking about, Sassenach?”

I grinned broadly. “I’m not sure...but do tell us, darling. When are you due?”

Roger barked out a sudden laugh. “I told you she’d know right off!”

Brianna growled and rolled her eyes at her husband, but looked nothing short of pleased, even as she inexplicably went to her purse on the end table and took out a nickel which she slapped into her husband’s hand. “I didn’t think she’d catch on that fast! God, Mama, are you psychic?”

I chuckled. “Hardly, but I’ve treated enough pregnant women to know the signs.”

“Pregnant?!” Jamie exclaimed, as if he’d been absent for the whole rest of the conversation. “Lass...you’re wi’ child?!”

Brianna blushed, but nodded, taking her husband’s hand. “Yes, Da. Roger and I are expecting. I’m about six months along.”

“Six months ?!” I cried, surprised at last. “And you didn’t tell us?!”

“I didn’t realize! It was only after we got back home from Colorado that I noticed the signs. I wanted to write you, but then I thought you’d probably hop right on a train to come here, and I knew you were still recovering.”

“Well, you’re right, I would have,” I said, crossing my arms. “And I’m quite put out that you didn’t inform me right away, but for now I’m too excited to be angry. You’re going to be a mother!”

“I know!” she squealed girlishly. “I can hardly believe it. It’s sooner than we anticipated, but we couldn’t be happier.” She leaned into Roger’s side, and he kissed her temple, cheeks reddened with joy.

“Have you seen a doctor?”

At that, Roger shot his wife a glare. “ No ,” he said. “She keeps claiming she’s too busy. But I think she was just making excuses so she could wait until you got here.”

“Well, I’m here,” I said. “Jamie, did we bring my medical bag, or did it go with the children?”

“I have it, Sassenach,” Jamie said, already going to fetch it.

“What...now?” Brianna asked.

I smiled at her. “No time like the present, darling.”

 

A quick examination proved that Brianna was healthy, and her child’s heartbeat was strong. I did think she was a little underweight for being that far along, and made her promise to eat more, and she assured me that now that school was done, she’d be able to stop stressing about it and focus on herself more.

“I did say that I wanted to wait until after graduation to start a family,” she chuckled in the carriage back to the hotel. 

“That you did,” I agreed with a laugh. “You’re both going to be wonderful parents, I just know it.”

Brianna grinned. “Thanks, Mama. I can’t wait to tell Willie and the kids!”

“How’s that going, anyway?” Roger asked. “With Marsali and Joan, I mean.”

“Well, I think,” I said. “It’s an adjustment, to be sure, for everyone, and I do worry about Fergus and Marsali. I still think they’re too young to be in a serious relationship, but…”

“But there’s no use trying to change their minds,” Brianna finished. “Besides, I know you’d be pleased to punch to have Marsali as a daughter-in-law. Is she still working with you in the clinic?”

I nodded. “Yes, and she’s quite skilled, especially for her age. I’ve spoken to her about medical school, but she insists that she prefers learning from me, and practicing country medicine.”

“She can’t apprentice to anyone better,” Roger said. “I’ve known plenty of college educated doctors without half the experience and insight you have.”

“Well thank you, Roger,” I said, smiling. “I won’t force her to go to school if she doesn’t wish it, but it’s hard enough being taken seriously as a female doctor with a degree to prove it. I just don’t want her to ever feel like she isn’t qualified, or can’t work outside of Colorado Springs, should she wish it.”

“Well, give her time,” Brianna said. “Like you said, she’s young.”

 

Roger and Brianna went straight to the restaurant to see about a table big enough for all of us, while Jamie and I went to our rooms to change and check on the children. 

We peeked into the girls’ room first, and I scowled to find Lotte and Joan jumping on the bed.

“Girls!” I snapped. 

“I’m sorry, Dr. B!” Marsali cried, coming out of the water closet. “I told them to stop!”

Lotte and Joan both climbed down from the bed, facing Jamie and I with guilty expressions.

“Look at you!” I sighed. “Lotte, your hair is a mess, and your stockings are dirty! I specifically told you to obey Marsali and let her dress you for dinner!”

“Sorry, Mama,” she mumbled. 

“Change your stockings and let Joan put your hair to rights,” I ordered.

Lotte nodded, scampering off to find her spare stockings, and Joan was just looking up at me expectantly.

“I need you to behave, Joan,” I said more gently. “The hotel room isn’t a playground. Will you fix Lotte’s hair for her while I get dressed?”

“Yes’m,” Joan sighed.

I looked up at Jamie, but he only shrugged. 

The cost had been rather dear, but we’d managed to reserve three rooms for our stay. At first we’d thought to get only two, one for boys and one for girls, but it would have meant sleeping apart, and Jamie and I agreed that it was worth it to spend the extra money for a little alone time. 

Our room was lovely; reminding me fondly of our honeymoon suite in Denver. I didn’t take time to explore though, hurrying to change and freshen up.

“Sassenach, there’s an enormous tub in here!” Jamie yelled from the water closet. “And it has running water!”

My eyebrows shot up and I hurried to join him, shocked by what I saw. The tub, indeed, was quite large. Large even enough for my massive husband...maybe even for both of us, and had a spigot right beside it to fill it up, needing only a few pots of boiled water from the fireplace to heat it. 

“Interesting…” was all I said, cutting him a look before continuing to get ready.

Jamie chuckled and returned to the bedroom, quickly divesting himself of his travel-dusted clothes. “Canna believe Bree is havin’ a child,” he said. “Seems like just yesterday she was in wee braids and ribbons like Joanie.”

“Me either. I’m so happy for them both.”

Jamie grinned at me through the mirror as he tied his tie. “Are ye ready to be a grandmother, Sassenach?”

I froze midway through putting on clean stockings. 

A grandmother ?

For some reason, the full weight of that had yet to hit me until just that moment. Of course, Brianna was my daughter in every way that mattered, but I had only been a mother for ten years! I certainly didn’t feel like anyone’s grand mother!

“Oh lord…” I muttered. 

Jamie laughed at my expression. “Dinna fash,” he said. “Ye’ll be th’ bonniest granny in Colorado.”




Chapter Text

The girls were thankfully too intimidated by the restaurant to be unruly, and we managed to have a lovely supper, even though Lotte wrinkled her little nose at almost everything that crossed her plate.

“It’s amazing to think you lived like this all your life,” Marsali said, looking all around at the lavish establishment in awe-struck delight.

I chuckled. “Hardly. My uncle’s travels meant I spent as much time in Ethiopian villages and Indian dhabas as I did in places like this. It was only after I was just a little older than you that he decided that we needed to settle in Boston for the sake of my education and deportment.”

“Indian?” Lotte echoed. “I thought the first time you met Indians was when you came to Colorado?”

“Your ma means India , a nighean,” Jamie said. “‘Tis a country far from here, and has nothing tae do wi’ th’ Cheyenne and th’ like. But it is th’ place where your ma got her verra first kiss...is it no’, Sassenach?”

Lotte and Joan both giggled madly. “Truly, Dr. B.?” Joan asked.

“As a matter of fact, no ,” I said primly. “Jamie is mistaken. It was a boy in Egypt . Not India.”

That made all of the children laugh, and Jamie shake his head fondly. “My mistake,” he said.

It was after our dessert was served that Roger took Brianna’s hand, the two sharing a loving, excited look. “Well, we’ve something we’d like to share with all of you...”

Brianna grinned and looked around at her siblings. “Roger and I are having a baby!”

The cry of joy that came from everyone was definitely too loud for a nice restaurant, but even I couldn’t be bothered to care.

“That’s amazing!” Fergus exclaimed. “Willie, we’re gonna be uncles!”

“Wait...what does that make me, Mama?” Lotte asked.

“You’ll be an aunt, darling,” I said. “Like Auntie Jenny.”

“Me?! An aunt ?!”

“It’s a big responsibility, Lotte,” Brianna said. “You’re gonna have to help look after them, and teach them things.”

Lotte puffed out her chest importantly. “Will it be a girl or a boy?”

“We won’t know that till he or she gets here,” Roger said with a laugh. 

A gentleman approached our table then, carrying a decorative cane and hat in his hand, a beautiful young woman on his arm. “Forgive me Mrs. Wakefield, but I couldn’t help but overhear your joyous news.”

Brianna looked up at the man with obvious caution, but smiled politely. “Mr. Henderson! Hello. Roger, everyone, this is Leonard Henderson, one of my fellow graduates. Leonard, this is my husband Roger, my parents Jamie and Claire Fraser, and my brothers and sisters, William, Fergus, Charlotte, Marsali, and Joan.”

Leonard nodded at everyone in turn, and Roger, Jamie, and William all stood to shake his hand. “Pleased to meet you all. This is my fiancé, Patrice.”

“Congratulations,” Patrice enthused, smiling. 

“Thank you,” Brianna said. “And congratulations on your engagement.”

Patrice beamed, flashing a massive diamond on her finger. “Isn’t it just wonderful? I cannot wait to become a mother! You’re so very lucky!”

Brianna’s smile turned a little more genuine. “Thank you,” she said again. “I’ll see you both at the graduation party?”

Leonard nodded, giving a little bow. “But of course. My best wishes to you and your family, Mrs. Wakefield .”

I couldn’t help but notice Brianna’s discomfort during the entire exchange, or her pensive look even after the man had left, nor could I ignore the way he emphasized her married name. But it was an evening meant for celebration, so I opted not to enquire about it...for now.

 

“Bree said there is a cocktail party tomorrow night for the graduates and wants you and I to attend,” I said as I sat at the vanity in our hotel room, taking the pins out of my hair. The children were already seen to bed, the little ones falling right to sleep, exhausted from the journey and exciting day.

“Aye? Sounds like something just for th’ students, doesn’a it? No’ a bunch of old folk.”

I shook my head, giving him a glare from the corner of my eye for saying ‘old folk.’ “No, I don’t think this is the type of young adult spree you’re thinking of. There will be professors in attendance as well as some job recruiters. She said John Gray will be there.”

Jamie smiled, won over by the news. He’d have gone either way, of course, but knowing there’d be someone there he could talk to in case I became otherwise engaged was an obvious relief. “Good. Haven’a seen him since Bree and Roger’s wedding.”

“I figure we’ll go see Geillis in the afternoon, and leave the girls with her while we go to the party. William, Fergus, and Marsali might like to do a bit of sight-seeing without the little ones.”

Jamie didn’t look convinced that leaving Lotte and Joan in the care of my ostentatious friend was the wisest idea, but didn’t comment on it. “As ye say, Sassenach.”

I looked over at him as he removed his boots and smiled. “You’re doing wonderfully, darling. I know all of this isn’t exactly your idea of a vacation.”

Jamie smiled back, then stood up in his socked feet to come up behind me and finish the work of taking my hair down. “Anywhere ye are is where I want tae be, mo nighean donn . It isn’a so bad this time around. Ye’ve helped me grow more at ease wi’ being in public places again, and besides, I wouldn’a miss Bree’s graduation for th’ world.”

“I know you wouldn’t,” I said, tilting my head back in expectation of a kiss, one that was readily provided. “I just want you to know that the way you support this family is just one of the many things I love about you.”

He smiled, looking so genuinely pleased by the compliment that it made me think I ought to give them more often, then kissed me again. “Thank ye, Sassenach. And ‘tis a family that just keeps on growing. I canna wait tae meet our wee grandchild.”

“Me either,” I sighed, closing my eyes as Jamie continued to rake his fingers through my hair. “Jamie?”

“Hmm?”

I opened my eyes, finding his in the reflection of the mirror. “Do you ever wish we’d had another? A son, perhaps?”

Jamie looked pensive as he formulated a response. The children had long ago worked out the matter of carrying on Jamie’s name, when Fergus made the decision to change his surname to Fraser as a birthday present to Jamie, while William had quietly chosen to change his to Beauchamp. Far from wanting to slight Jamie in any way, he explained that he merely felt like my name deserved to be remembered, too, and that he no longer wanted any connection to his biological father. So I knew that names were of no concern to Jamie, but I also knew that there was something very special to a man about having a son of their own blood.

“If we’d been blessed wi’ another, son or daughter, it would have been a great joy,” Jamie said. “But it isn’a as though we made any effort tae stop one from happening, so th’ way I see it, God just saw fit that we’d have only th’ one, and what a one she is, aye?”

I chuckled. “She’s a one, alright. If we’re only destined to give birth to one child, I’m awfully glad it was Lotte.”

“Do you wish we could have another? There are ways, after all...I know of some Cheyenne medicines that are supposed tae help a woman come wi’ child, and ye’re none too old yet…”

I shook my head, cutting him off. “There have been times I’ve thought about it, especially as Lotte has grown from being a baby...but no, I don’t wish it. I like our family the way it is.”

Jamie knelt beside me, kissing my temple. “As do I. Besides, between Bree and Roger, and soon enough Fergus and Marsali, we’ll hopefully be blessed wi’ many grandchildren, and that ought tae ease our wanting to hold a wee bairn, aye?”

“Aye,” I agreed warmly.

“And ye ken...just because we’re no’ likely tae have another, doesn’a mean we canna put forth th’ effort anyway, right?”

I laughed, having to roll my eyes at his none-too-subtle suggestion. “No, and without a baby to wake us in the night, we have all the more time for it.”

With a soft chuckle, Jame slid his arms underneath my knees and lifted me off the stool, still with seeming ease. Impressive, for a man approaching forty.

“I believe, madam, that you expressed th’ desire for a bath, did ye no?”

I had heard Jamie moving around the small water closet, but had paid it little mind, having forgotten about the oversized tub. Jamie clearly hadn’t, and it was already nearly full when he set me on the cool bare floor, running out briefly and returning with two pots of boiled water that he added to heat the bath.

I disrobed slowly, pretending not to notice him watching me. That his eyes could still shine with such unrestrained lust at the sight of my naked body that he’d seen countless times gave me a feeling that was at once heady and humbling.

After pouring some fragrant oil into the bath water, Jamie handed me into the tub, eyeing it and me calculatingly, as if to determine if he could fit.

Apparently deciding that he could, he gave me my turn to gaze lustfully as he divested himself of his clothing.

“Scoot forward, Sassenach,” he said, waiting until I did so before situating himself behind me, my back pressed to his front.

It was a tight fit to be sure, and I thought we must look like a pair of sardines, but I certainly had no qualm being wrapped up in my husband, and after a little awkward adjusting, it was quite comfortable.

Almost too hot for comfort at first, the water quickly cooled down to a pleasant warmth, and I thought I could have easily fallen asleep there.

Jamie trickled water over my neck and exposed shoulders, giving me shivers.

“I never thought tae ask,” he began quietly, and I could feel his breath on the shell of my ear. “Does being in Boston make ye homesick for it? Perfectly natural if it does, mind. I’m only curious.”

“No, not really,” I said. “I never really thought of Boston as my home. Home had been so many places to me growing up. But...I suppose being here, seeing the places Uncle Lamb and I used to go together, gives me a bit of nostalgia. But it’s my uncle that I miss, not Boston.”

He hummed. “D’ye think ye’d get that same feeling if ye went back tae England?”

I started a bit at his question. Never, in the decade we’d known one another, had he ever asked me about my country of birth.

“Lord...I haven’t been to England since...well, I suppose the last time was right before Lamb and I settled in Boston. But I haven’t lived there since I was a small child. I barely remember it. Do you know, some of Lamb’s friends used to playfully tease me for talking like an Englishwoman when I was more Bostonian than English, but for so much of my life I had only Lamb for a companion, and it’s how he talked.”

I somehow knew Jamie was smiling even without seeing it, and when I turned my head to see him, I was right. “Why do you ask? Have you been thinking of Scotland?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “It’s only that, I overheard a family in th’ restaurant talking, and they all spoke in Scottish accents, and I realized how long it’s been since I heard one, other than my own,” he chuckled. “I dinna think I sound quite like them anymore.”

I smiled, turning again to rest my head in the crook of his neck and shoulder. “Oh, they could just be from a different part of Scotland as you, is all. Though, I expect your accent would become watered down eventually. I know mine has. You sound plenty Scot to me though.”

“Have I ever told ye of th’ time I ran away from home as a lad?”

“No, I don’t believe you have.”

He chuckled. “I’d had it wi’ being treated like a wee bairn, and me th’ advanced age of ten years old. So I took my horse, packed his saddlebags wi’ bannocks, and set off, thinking to go all th’ way to Edinburgh and find a job. Surely that would prove tae my mam and da that I was a man. My da caught me just as I was leaving Broch Mordha, but instead of stopping me, he handed me a wee bit of money and told me tae write once I was settled in Edinburgh. That shocked me, but I didn’a waver, and went on. By nightfall, I’d become lost, and near tae pissing myself with fear and cold. I tried tae turn back for home, but couldn’a find th’ way. And there, in th’ dark, was my da, holding a lantern above his head. He’d followed me on foot th’ whole day, making sure I was safe, waiting for me tae decide on my own tae go home. He spoke no’ a word of refute, never once tried tae make me feel ashamed. He only took me home, where my ma was waiting wi’ supper and mugs of hot cider and her hand-knitted blanket that she wrapped me up in and held me close. Never again did I try tae act grown, until I was grown and on my own, wishing sorely for someone tae wrap me in a blanket and hold me like a wean.”

Tears prickled in my eyes, picturing a young Jamie, only about Fergus’s age, barely more than a boy, having to face the big, harsh world all alone. It made me all the more determined to make sure all of my children knew that they always had a home, supper, and a blanket to return to, no matter how old they got.

“Have you ever told that story to Lotte?” I asked, knowing how much she liked his tales of Scotland, seldom as they came.

“No,” he said, smoothing his hands up and down my abdomen. “I should, shouldn’t I? She should know of where her da came from...no’ just th’ Cheyenne part of him.”

I nodded in agreement, wishing I could recall more about England and my own parents so that I could share them with the children. 

Jamie was starting to lose interest in conversation, however, his hands growing more and more bold with every passing. Fingertips lightly brushed my nipples before skimming down and finding the juncture of my thighs, only barely teasing the skin and hair there, not really touching where I wanted him to.

The relaxing heat of the water and the slick, wet skin all around me brought to mind the hot springs in Colorado. But there, we had room to swim and move about, and were surrounded by the sounds of nature and light of the moon.

Here, the only light was from the lantern on a small table beside us and the fireplace through the open door, and the only sounds were soft footsteps from the floor above, gently splashing water, and our own heartbeats.

Jamie had been partially aroused since we’d gotten in the tub, but from my first moan and slow roll of my hips I felt his erection grow and press hopefully into my lower back.

“Be careful,” I said, arching my neck to give his mouth better access. “It feels like the bar of soap has fallen in between us.”

Jamie snorted, causing water to slosh out of the tub as he thrust his hips against mine. “Verra funny. Ye’re no’ flattering me o’ermuch by comparing my particular tae a wee bar of soap.”

“Oh, pardon me,” I drawled. “I meant to say, oh my! A javelin seems to have fallen into the tub!” Grinning saucily, I tilted my head back to look at him. “Never mind, it’s only a little garter snake.”

“Wench,” Jamie growled, his fingers leaving their teasing path to tickle my sides. “Ye’ll pay for that.”

I rolled and arched away from him as best as I could...which wasn’t much, trying not to giggle too loudly in case we could be heard by the boys’ room which shared a wall with our water closet.

“Promises, promises!”

In answer to that, Jamie stood suddenly, splashing half of the water onto the floor and nearly causing me to fall backward. He got his arms around me again, lifting me out of the tub and making his way back to the bedroom.

“Not the bed!” I protested. “We’re soaked! And I will not be the one having to explain to housekeeping why we need our bed remade.”

Thankfully he listened to reason, and took a detour around the bed and stopped before the fireplace, slowly lowering me to the rug. Not ideal either, since it meant we’d probably need to wash again, but better than wet sheets.

“Apologize,” he commanded teasingly as he kneeled over me, the object of our “argument” jutting out powerfully toward me, and little garter snake couldn’t have been a more inaccurate descriptor.

“Never!”

Jamie smirked, his eyes twinkling in the firelight. “Then I shall just have tae prove ye wrong, I suppose.”

He thrust into me with no preamble, and even as my mind relished the feeling, I winced slightly at the sudden intrusion, having not been completely ready for him.

But Jamie felt it at once, and eased back out, kissing my shoulder in apology. “Sorry, Sassenach,” he murmured. “Are ye no…”

“Hold on,” I said, gently nudging him off of me and climbing to my feet before going to rummage through my medical kit. Biological response be damned...I wanted him...and I thought that the message oil I sometimes used on his back wouldn’t hurt if it were put to use in other ways.

Jamie was lying on his back when I returned to him, his chest glistening with water from the bath mixed with sweat from the fire. “What are ye gonna do wi’ that?” he asked, though his smirk said that he knew fine well.

I didn’t answer, but instead poured a healthy amount of the oil into my palms and rubbed them together to warm them before wrapping them around his cock, slowly stroking upward and being very thorough in the oil’s application.

“Get on your knees, Sassenach,” Jamie said, sitting up and taking the vial of oil from my hand. 

I did as he asked, and no sooner than that did he force my thighs farther apart and run his oil-soaked palm up my inner thigh until it was coating the tender flesh that was throbbing for more, and probably didn’t even need the extra help of the message oil anymore. 

Curiously, he also ran his fingers up higher, making me yelp and flinch away at the unexpected and unaccustomed touch. 

He chuckled at my response, and I rocked my hips back into him. “Are you going to make me wait?” I asked with teasing annoyance. 

“Never,” he said, sliding home again, this time much more easily and pleasantly. 

The rough wool rug burned my knees and palms as Jamie came into me hard and fast, his hands at my hips pulling me against him again and again with a low sound of flesh meeting flesh.

I could feel every inch of him this way, and a smile found its way across my face at the realization that this was his own charming way of reminding me that he was no garter snake. 

His hand, still slick with oil, found its way just above where we were joined, and he rubbed me furiously, dragging me to where he was so that we might reach the peak together.

Judging by the way Jamie’s rhythm was becoming erratic, he was going to beat me there, so I pushed up until I was sitting with my back pressed against his chest, and shoved his hand out of the way to replace it with my own, all while adjusting the weight so that he was hitting me in the way I liked best.

I felt him grin against my shoulder as he let me take over the pace, and I did, chasing my own release and trusting him to find his own in the process. I snatched at one of his hands when I started to feel the pinpricks of electricity start to spread across my skin and brought it to my breast, guiding him to squeeze hard as I came.

It was a long moment before I returned to myself, letting Jamie support my weight as aftershocks ran through me. 

We had collapsed back onto the rug, my back still to his front. 

After catching my breath, I realized suddenly that he was still hard inside of me, and I craned my neck to look at him. “Oh...I’m sorry, Jamie...I sort of...took over there, didn’t I?”

Far from looking put out, Jamie had the most shit-eating grin I’d ever seen. “Aye, ye did. And I like it when ye do that, Sassenach. But let me know when ye’ve recovered, aye?”

He was still breathing heavily, just barely managing not to move, but he sighed in disappointment when I pulled away, letting him slip out of me.

“On your back,” I ordered, similarly to how he’d done to me earlier. 

The message oil, my own concoction, was made entirely of safe ingredients. And what I discovered that night was that it actually tasted rather good, as well.