Actions

Work Header

On Our Lips, Begin & Tell

Chapter Text

~Inverness: February 1968~

“Take me with you,” I begged.

“And where is it ye think I’m going, lass?”  Gillian laughed condescendingly.  

“Through the stones.  I need to go back in time.”

“Ye sound stoned.  Ye been smokin’ the reefer a wee bit before ye arrived?” 

We were sitting in her living room, nursing a dram, and my patience was wearing thin.  I came to meet Gillian Edgars for a purpose, and time was running out.  Imbolc was only twelve hours away.  

“I went to the Institute for the Study of Highland Folklore and Antiquities, Gillian.  Your name is on every library book card that has anything to do with the stones.”

“My name is on every book card that the Institute has in its library.  I enjoy studying all of Scottish culture.”

“You have a reputation.  Everyone I’ve talked to at the Institute referred me to you.”

“It doesna mean I believe I can travel through a stone circle.”

I looked around her house and found evidence of Scottish Nationalism all over the place, reinforcing the stories I’d already heard: flags, pamphlets, books, and artwork.  “You want to change history, don’t you?  You want to fix the outcome of the Jacobite Rebellion from within the Rebellion itself.”

She narrowed her eyes and smirked at me.  “Fix?  No’ many sassenachs would use the word 'fix’ to describe changing the outcome of the Rebellion.  D’ye have sympathies for my people?”

“More than you know.”

A wicked smile spread across Gillian’s face as she reassessed me.  “The gold in yer eyes is glowing with passion.  Is that why ye want to go through the stones?  Ye want to help the Bonnie Prince take the throne for his father?”

“If I’m being honest, I have no interest in politics.  My motivations are far more...personal.”

“Personal?”  Her smile melted into a frown.  “There is little more personal to my people than British oppression.”  

She sipped her whisky with steam coming out of her ears.  

“I meant personal to me.  I don’t expect anyone else to have sympathy for my cause.”

By the time she looked at me again, she’d fixed her syrupy smile back on her face.  “Why is it ye want to go then?  To search for treasure?  To find love?  To escape yer miserable life?”

I put my hand over my chest to feel the pearl necklace I kept close to my heart.  “I...I need to stop the murder of someone very important to me.”

“Oh?”  

I’d caught her off guard. Good.  

“Please, Gillian.  I need to make sure I arrive in the right place at the right time.  I don’t know how to do that.  I have to go back there and make sure he survives.”

“Back there?”  Her eyes widened.  “Are ye saying ye’ve been there before?”

She wanted to believe me; I saw it in the gleam of her eyes.  I reached into my purse and pulled out an old and tattered journal, setting it on the coffee table between us.

“I’ll share my story with you if you tell me everything you know about time travel.”

She took the journal off the table, greedy for information.  Before cracking it open, she raised a skeptical brow and asked, “And what if there’s nothing useful to me in this tale of yours?”

“I’m willing to take the chance you'll find it quite enlightening.  I’ll let you read it in good faith, and if you find something useful—or at the very least entertaining—then perhaps you’ll reciprocate my candidness.” 

Gillian smirked and nodded in agreement.  Getting her to listen to me was half the battle.

She opened the journal to the first page and read the familiar words out loud.  “People disappear all the time…”

Chapter Text

~Craigh Na Dun: May 1743~

“Home, a ghoistidh.  I’m finally going home,” said Jamie, grinning from ear to ear.  

“Thank the Lord for that.”  Murtagh grabbed his godson and embraced him tightly.  The old man smelled of sweat and horse and the very essence of the Highlands.  When they pulled apart, the old coot was even smiling a wee bit.

“It was good of ye to come meet me, but no’ necessary,” said Jamie.  “Did’ye think I forgot my way home?”

“Ye’ve been in France for so long, I thought mebbe ye’d gone soft,” he teased.  “I thought it best I come escort the delicate Laird home.”

Jamie snorted, pleased his godfather made the journey.  It had been too long since he’d seen any of his people.  “How long have ye been waiting for me?”

“Only a few days.  Humor aside, lad, ’tis a good thing I came.  Yer uncle is nearby lifting cattle and causing a ruckus.”

“Dougal?”

“Aye.”

“Ye shouldna fash for my sake.  I can handle myself just fine.”

“Hmphm.   Either way, we best be off lest we run into the bastard.  The horses will need a bit of watering before we go, but we shouldna tarry for long.  And I dinna want to make camp too close to the faerie hill come dark.”  

“Hmphm,” Jamie agreed.  

They led their horses to a nearby creek.  It was only a few days' ride to Lallybroch once they passed the faerie hill.

“Did’ye ever find out how Colum and Jared were able to get the crown to drop the price on yer head?” asked Murtagh.

“Oh aye.  They appealed to a Duke who has sympathies wi’ the Scots.  Jared supplied him wi’ good amount of spirits, and Colum made some agreements for trade.”

“Why would the MacKenzie go out of his way to help ye lad?  What’s in it for him?”

“He asked me to act as Laird of the MacKenzies when he dies...at least until Hamish comes of age.  He helped clear my name because I canna have the running of his clan if I’m exiled to France or rotting in an English prison.”

“Ye didna agree to what he asked, did’ye?  Laird of the MacKenzies,” he nearly spat.

“God no.  I havena seen my home or family in years, Murtagh.  I’m no’ about to abandon them for Leoch.”

“Jenny will be pleased.  She misses ye, and she’s about ready to burst wi’ her second bairn.”

“Aye.”  Jamie turned away and pretended to busy himself with Donas.  He didn’t want to tell Murtagh that the price on his head wasn’t the only reason he stayed away from home for so long, nor was it to recover from his injuries; it was shame for failing to protect his sister from Randall.  In the end, she was the one who had to protect herself.

Jamie stroked Donas down his neck as the horse drank deep from the creek.  He felt a restlessness building inside him to make it home and set things right with his sister and his people.  

Donas lifted his head and whinnied nervously.  Murtagh’s horse stamped his feet and backed away from the water.

“What is it, a bhalaich? Gabh air do shocair,” Jamie told Donas.

Suddenly, a shot rang out near the faerie hill.  

Thoir sùil a-null an sin,” said Murtagh.  “Dougal and his men.  They must’ve been caught.”

“Christ!” Jamie cursed under his breath.  “Redcoats.”

Neither Jamie nor Murtagh were disposed to intervene on behalf of Dougal MacKenzie for stealing a few cattle.  They watched, concealing themselves in the trees and brush as the MacKenzies skirmished with a group of soldiers.  There were at least four or five redcoats and a similar number of MacKenzies.

Jamie squinted, trying to make out the faces of his uncle’s men.  It had been many years since he’d seen any of them.  He thought he spotted Rupert, Willie, and Angus darting through the trees.

Jamie kept a wary eye on the soldiers, ready to bolt if they started coming closer.  The last thing he needed was to end up back behind bars for something he didn’t do.

A flash of white caught his eye from up on the faerie hill.  It was a woman coming down, stumbling on the uneven ground.  Her head was turning left and right, wild, brown hair floating around her head, looking as though she was lost.  She wore naught but a clean, white shift that hardly made it past her knees.

“Oh, Christ,” he whispered.  She was walking right into the stramash.

A hand came down on his shoulder, gripping him tight and holding him in place.  “Stay put, lad.”

“But the lass…”

“Ye’ve just been pardoned, ye great, muckle fool!  Yer people need ye.  Dinna be interfering wi’ the redcoats when ye’ve only just gotten them off yer back!”

Jamie watched as she was spotted by a redcoat with long, dark hair.  The officer took slow, steady steps toward the woman.  He had one hand on the hilt of his sword, and the other was removing his tricorn hat, tossing it aside.  

Jamie’s gut clenched immediately, turning to stone.  He knew exactly who that man was. “Randall. No!

“Jamie!” whispered Murtagh.  “Stay put, lad!  He willna let ye live if they take ye again.”

“But the woman…”

“I’ll no’ risk yer freedom for a stray lassie wandering around the Highlands in her shift.”

Jamie watched as the lass tried to run, but was cut off by Randall.  She darted in the other direction, and he blocked her again.  She was cornered, forced against a rock wall with the Devil himself bearing down on her.  

Then, the lass spit right in his face.

“Oh no!” Jamie tried to run forward, certain Randall would torture her for such an insult, but Murtagh tackled him from behind.

“She’s no’ yer concern, Jamie!  She’ll get ye killed.”

“I willna leave her to likes of that man!”  He swung around, his fist connecting with Murtagh’s face.  Murtagh fell to the floor, and Jamie clambered to his feet.  He ran forward ready to intervene.

From out of the trees next to Randall, Rupert MacKenzie came running with a large stone in his hands.  He bashed it against Randall’s head, and the captain fell unconscious to the floor. 

Jamie stopped in his tracks, sighing in relief.  That gave Murtagh enough time to catch up and start dragging him back to their horses. 

Three more redcoats were running toward Rupert and the woman, and Jamie nearly dropped his godfather once again to save her, but Angus and Dougal ran out from the brush, swords slashing and pistols firing.  

The woman was thrown over Rupert’s shoulder and carried off into the forest.

“See, lad.  She’s alright—better off in the hands of the MacKenzies than Captain Randall.” 

Jamie shrugged him off.  “Are ye sure about that?”

Murtagh looked him dead in the eyes.  “Aye.  As are you.”

Jamie nodded, knowing anyone was better than Randall.

“Come,” said Murtagh.  “They’ll follow the MacKenzies North.  We’ll slip by and head East.  None will be any the wiser we were ever here.”

Jamie’s eyes lingered on where the MacKenzies disappeared with the woman.  It had felt fundamentally wrong to stand by and let them save her...to let them run off with her.  If it had been anyone other than Murtagh who had stood in his way, they would be dead.

“Come, lad!  Randall will awaken at any moment.  Greas ort!

“Aye.”  Jamie mounted Donas and turned his eyes to the East, setting off in a mad gallop.  They didn’t stop until they were far away from the faerie hill and certain no redcoats were on their tail.  

As they found a place to make camp, Jamie’s thoughts turned to the poor woman he’d left to the MacKenzies.  He knew Murtagh was right.  There was naught to be done for her now.  He had enough to worry about coming home...back to Lallybroch...back to his family...back to Jenny.

It was just as daunting as facing Randall all over again.

 

Chapter Text

~Castle Leoch: June 1743~

The Highlands were a bloody beautiful place. I stared out the window of the MacKenzie’s study and looked over the grounds in awe and wonder.  The castle was surrounded by rocky mountains, wild forests, and rolling hills of heather.  It was truly majestic.

If I wasn’t being held against my will and fighting for my life every other day, I could’ve really enjoyed this eighteen century sojourn.   But as things were, I was attacked the moment I came through the stones, followed shortly by a kidnapping, various assaults, and an extended imprisonment.  

Colum MacKenzie may have called me his “guest,” but I was nothing more than his prisoner.  His brother Dougal was my jailer, and his men, my shackles.

All I wanted was to go home.  I wanted to take a hot fucking bath and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.  I wanted access to penicillin and basic fucking bandaids.  Most of all, I wanted to come and go whenever I damn well pleased!

“Have a drink, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Colum, filling a glass of Rhenish.  I happily obliged.  

The Laird was sitting behind a large desk filled with papers, correspondence, and a chess board.  From the way the pieces were distributed across the board, it looked as though the match had been put on hold and was yet to be finished.

“What was it you wanted to see me about?” I asked, sitting across from him and sipping from my glass.

Colum eyed me with that shrewd and calculating look of his.  I wondered if he possessed any other expressions; if so, I’d yet to see them.  

“Dougal has requested he be granted permission to leave Leoch and visit our nephew.  The Laird Broch Tuarach owns a sizable bit of property adjoining Clan MacKenzie.”

“And what does that have to do with me?”

“Since you were Dougal’s inspiration for his sudden interest in improving family relations, I thought we could discuss ye accompanying him on his journey.”

I am the reason he’s visiting your nephew?”

“Aye, ye are.  Ye see, Dougal made his request to me shortly after the wee disagreement ye had last night at supper.”

I took a generous sip of Rhenish, recalling the heated argument we had in front of a hall full of people the night before.  I’d overheard some of Dougal’s men were raising funds and rallying support for the Jacobite cause.  Under the influence of Colum’s Rhenish, I’d advised Dougal that his cause was doomed.  I told him they didn’t have the funds, the manpower, nor the cooperation of the other clans needed for victory.  I told him their troops would starve from lack of resources and die from poor leadership.

At first, Dougal seemed to write me off as a foolish woman with a loud mouth, but as I drove my point home, he became more and more incensed.  Colum quickly put a stop to our discussion, but I could see the wheels turning in Dougal’s mind all throughout supper.

“Why would our conversation about the doomed Jacobite cause inspire Dougal to visit your nephew?”

Colum sighed as he carefully chose his words.  “Because he seemed to take your criticisms to heart and is working to remedy them.  Our nephew, the Laird Broch Tuarach, would be a considerable asset to the Jacobite Rebellion, should Dougal be able to convince him to join it.”

“What makes him so valuable?”

“I can discern at least three reasons an alliance with him would be advantageous.  The first is that my nephew’s property is situated at a location that would give strategic advantage to an army fighting in the Highlands.  

“The second is that he is the product of my sister’s marriage to one of the bastard sons of Lord Lovat of Clan Fraser.  The Laird Broch Tuarach would be an essential ally in bringing Clan MacKenzie and Clan Fraser together in a fight against the English.”

“And the third reason?”

Colum seemed to almost smile for a moment.  If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought pride gleamed in his eyes.

“My nephew came to foster wi’ the MacKenzies in his youth.  Dougal trained the lad  to wield a sword, and I trained him to wield even greater weapons.”  Colum tapped the side of head.  I shivered at the thought of a man possessing both Dougal’s skill in battle and Colum’s capacity for strategy.  “The lad was also bestowed some gifts from his father.  That of charm...charisma.  In later years, he spent some time in Paris at University, then went on to fight in the army as a mercenary. 

“Ye see, the young Laird is a bright, educated, and ruthless man.  And he has the ability to draw men close to him, to move them, inspire them.  If Dougal is heading into battle, he’ll want our sister’s son at his side.”

I refilled my glass of Rhenish and drank deeply.  It was absolute madness for me to be mixed up in clan politics and the Jacobite Rebellion.  I was nurse from the twentieth century, for fuck’s sake!  But here I was in the thick of it.

“Why are you telling me all of this?”

“As you may already ken, Mistress Beauchamp, I’m no’ interested in a war wi’ the English.  Just like you, I believe the Jacobites’ efforts to be doomed.  My only concern is for my clan.”

“Then why don’t you just forbid your brother to go?”

“I can only control Dougal so much.”  Colum sipped his wine, his eyes never leaving mine.  “I’m no’ long for this world, Mistress Beauchamp.  I’ll be lucky to have another two or three years left in me, and with the pain I suffer, they may be miserable years at that.”

My breath caught in my throat.  I knew Colum’s condition, Pycnodysostosis, was incurable, and his body was growing weaker by the day, but I didn’t expect him to know just how close to the end he was.  

“As I near my final days, I must turn my attention toward the future of my clan.  Hamish is still too young to lead, and Dougal...well, the bloody-minded man would lead my people to ruin for the glory of Scotland.”  

We both took a drink, the silence in the room thick and oppressive.  Finally, he went on.  “I requested my nephew come to Leoch some time back.  It was, in fact, the reason I worked so hard to secure him a pardon—he was wanted for murder, ye ken, and exiled to France.  I had planned on him leading the MacKenzies until Hamish comes of age, but he declined my request, preferring to see to the needs of his own land and tenants.”

“Again I ask, what does this have to do with me?”

“Dougal will be seeking out our nephew as an ally in his Rebellion.  I ask that you accompany my brother to Broch Tuarach and deliver my request to the Laird with the same passion and fervency in which you spoke last night at supper.”

“You want me to convince your nephew to lead the MacKenzie Clan at the same time Dougal is trying to convince him to join a rebellion?”

Colum curved his lips into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.  He knew exactly how dangerous this could be for me.

“Why me?  I know you think I’m some sort of spy and have the capacity for deception, but I really don’t.  I’m just plain Claire Beauchamp, and all I want to do is go home.”

“Dinna underestimate yerself, Mistress.  Ye have a voice that can deliver my message with logic and sincerity.  And I ken ye dinna have any allegiance to Dougal, so I will trust that ye’ll do yer best to sway my nephew to lead his mother’s people as he was born to do.”

“What’s in it for me if I succeed?”

“I’ll have ye taken home.  Wherever that may be.  Inverness, Oxfordshire, France.  No questions asked.”

My heart fluttered at the thought.  “And if I fail?”

“I dinna think ye have it in ye to fail, Claire.  And if ye did, I would have to assume that it was intentional, and that yer allegiance is no’ to me...and no’ to England for that matter, but to the French...and to Dougal.”

I shook my head.  The bloody bastard still thought me a spy.  And if he thought I was helping the French to rally the Jacobites into a war he didn’t want...well, I knew what Colum would do to such a threat against his clan.

“What if I refuse to go to Broch Tuarach altogether?”

“Then ye can spend the next several years of yer life here at the castle, tending to the diminishing health of yer Laird.”

I looked out the window over the great expanse of land once more, but I could no longer feel the awe it once inspired.  

If I failed in convincing the Laird of Broch Tuarach to lead Clan MacKenzie and turn away from the Jacobite Rebellion, Colum was sure to have me killed or imprisoned for the rest of my life for being an enemy of the MacKenzies.  If I succeeded, Dougal might be the one to kill me for interfering with his cause.  If I refused to go altogether, I was as good as a prisoner for at least the next few years, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near Scotland during the Rising.

Then again, if I went with Dougal and found an opportunity to slip away, I might be able to find my way back to the stones and travel back to the twentieth century.  I’d be walking a very thin line between two fires in order to gain my freedom, but it was clearly my only chance of making it out of Scotland alive. 

I felt like a pawn on his chessboard, dodging the strikes of bishops, rooks, and queens.

With a great sigh, I turned back to the MacKenzie, my decision made.  I’d be no man’s pawn in any century.  “How soon do we leave?”

 



“We’ll be leaving at dawn,” I told Mrs. Fitz.

“So soon?  Alright then.  I’ll be sure to pack all ye need.  Give me a list of the medicines and such ye’d like to take along with ye, and I’ll have them ready.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Think nothing of it, dearie.”

I turned to leave the kitchen; there was much I had to get done for my patients before we left.  But a thought had me stopping in my tracks.  “Mrs. Fitz?”

“Yes dear?”  She looked up from the dough she was rolling out for the evening’s bannocks.

“Have you met the MacKenzie’s nephew?  The Laird Broch Tuarach?”

Her mouth quirked into a grin.  “Oh aye.  I kent him well when he was fostering here wi’ his uncles.”

“What’s he like?”

“Weel, it has been some time since he was here, and only a lad of sixteen, but if ye’d like to see him, there’s a portrait of his mother, Ellen, hanging in the castle.  He’s her spittin’ image, to be sure, save his father’s eyes and wide mouth.  Come.  I’ll show it to ye.”

She led me up the stairs and down a long corridor.  We stopped in front of a large painting of an elegant young woman.  She had long waves of vibrant red hair and a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.  

“She’s beautiful,” I said.

“Oh aye.  And so is her son, and he kens it well enough,” she chuckled.

I looked at the woman who gave birth to the Laird and murderer whose great strength and leadership was so coveted by his uncles, and I wondered what horrors he had to endure in his youth to not only survive his uncles, but to earn their respect.  

It was then that it occurred to me: I wasn’t just walking between the two fires of Colum and Dougal...I was headed for a blazing inferno in the form of the Laird of Broch Tuarach.

Chapter Text

~Lallybroch: July 1743~

“Why have ye brought me here, a ghoistidh?” asked Jamie.  He and Murtagh stood on a forest hill overlooking the road to Lallybroch. They were mostly concealed by rocks and trees; only someone with knowledge of their whereabouts would be able to find them.  “And why did ye have me dress in my finest shirt and Fraser colors?”

Less than an hour before, Jamie was working in the barn with Ian, when Murtagh came riding in like mad and demanded he go home to clean up, saving all explanations for the sake of haste.  

“Yer uncle is on his way to Lallybroch.”

“Dougal?”

“Aye.  And he’s no’ alone.”

Jamie raised a wary brow.  Dougal rarely showed his face on Fraser land.  He thought it an insult to be forced to make the effort to visit his nephew and always demanded Jamie come to him.

“How did’ye find out?” asked Jamie.  

“Old MacGregor was staying the night at the tavern down by Cnoc Fraoich.  He spent the evening drinking wi’ Dougal’s men.  He thought it best to leave early in morning—before the MacKenzies set off—to warn ye of their impending arrival.  Only he ran into me first.”

“What did he have to say?

“He said they’re traveling wi’ a lass.  She’s a sassenach, or so she says, and a wise woman wi’ a reputation as a fine healer.  Dougal thinks she may be a spy, perhaps for the English or the French.”

“Why does he think her a spy?”

“She’s a strange one, even for a sassenach.  She speaks verra fine English and French.  Yet she has no people that anyone’s heard of.  No money.  No property.  And her husband is long dead.  She’s shrouded in secrets and gives no reasonable explanation for her oddities.

“Apparently,” Murtagh smirked as he did when he was about to speak bawdy, “MacGregor was under the impression she and Dougal were quite familiar wi’ each other, if ye ken what I mean.”

“She’s his mistress?”

“Seems so.  And ken this, laddie,” he narrowed his eyes significantly, “MacGregor says Dougal found her by the faerie hill not two months past, wandering around by herself and wearing naught but her shift.”

Jamie felt his jaw go slack.  He shook his head to compose himself. “Are ye saying she’s the lass Randall attacked on the faerie hill?”

“I’d wager my best coo on it.”

“Why would he bring her to Lallybroch wi’ him?  Certainly, a lass would slow him down on his travels and stop him from raiding cattle and causing a ruckus.”

“Aye.  ’Tis strange.  Dougal wouldna be hauling her around unless he was getting something out of it for himself.  He’s a MacKenzie.  Ye ken they’re chocked full of nefarious intentions.  Ye’ll need to watch yerself, aye?  Be wary of Dougal and the sassenach.”

Jamie sat down on a nearby rock and rubbed his face in his hands.  He was hoping to come home and find himself a bit of peace.  He wanted to work his land and care for his people.  He was tired of politics and outlanders and that filthy lout Randall.

If he never had to see a person named Randall again, it would be too soon.

But he had to admit, a part of him was curious about the sassenach woman.  He’d thought of her frequently since that day on the hill.  His thoughts were usually colored with the regret of failure. But it seemed there was more to her than he’d ever imagined.

“So why did ye bring me here to tell me?” asked Jamie.  “And why am I wearing this?” He pointed to his Fraser tartan.

Murtagh knelt down next to him, keeping an eye out on the road.  “I ken Dougal is yer uncle, and he fostered ye as lad, but ye’re Laird now.  Ye must make an impression.  A statement of yer strength and stability as leader.  I willna have ye waiting around to receive him in yer own home as though the Bonnie Prince has come to visit from Rome.  Dougal will be waiting on your whim.  And if this sassenach he’s bringing wi’ him is truly a spy, then I’d have her see ye at yer best, no’ covered in muck and manure like the animals the English think we are.”

Jamie snorted, looking at the dirt his godfather was presently kneeling in.

“And when are they meant to arrive?”

“Anytime now.  MacGregor wasna certain when they left the tavern, but they were still sleeping when he set off.”

Jamie put a hand on Murtagh’s shoulder.  “Thank ye, a ghoistidh. You and MacGregor.  Now, if only we kent Dougal’s intentions...he and his sassenach spy.”

They waited in the shade of the forest for several hours before there was any sign of the Leoch party’s arrival.  They took turns staring down the dusty road, lest they be caught off guard.

It was the middle of summer, and the hottest part of the day.  It hadn’t rained in over a week, and the roads were hard and dry.  Jamie noticed a cloud of dust from a group of galloping horses before he saw any of their riders.  He ensured his Fraser red was well-concealed in the brush as Dougal and his men came closer.  

Jamie’s fingers combed his hair back out of his eyes to get a clear view of the visitors.  His hair was still growing out from the last time he was forced to cut it short, and the wind often blew it in his way while he was hunting or fighting.  He’d be pleased when it grew long enough to bind back.

With a clear view of the road, he saw Dougal was riding with a smaller group of men than was usual for him. Perhaps there were others in the party riding separate in order to keep their numbers unknown.  Jamie spotted Rupert, Angus, and Willie in a line, and in the very center of the men was a woman.

His eyes lingered on the brown-haired lass as she neared his perch.  He almost snorted at the sight of her wild, uncapped hair.  She wore only half of it up, and most of it that was trying to escape its pins.  He couldn’t see much in the way her features at such a distance, but he found her posture graceful and her curves alluring.  He remembered the elegant lines of her body in that wee shift on the hill.  It was no wonder his uncle was so fond of her.

They rode past Jamie and Murtagh without a glance in their direction.  

“Should we no’ have warned Jenny of their arrival?” said Jamie.

“Yer sister will handle herself just fine, and Ian can entertain Dougal for the time being.”

“How long should we wait then?”

Murtagh smirked.  “A good while yet.  Make ’em restless to see ye, lad.  Give yerself the upper hand.”

Jamie stared after the trail of dust on its way to his family’s home.  Images of wild, brown hair billowing in the breeze filled his thoughts as he prepared to sit and wait before going home to greet his guests.

“If that woman really is a spy and a harlot to boot,” said Murtagh, “it was damn good thing I was there to stop ye from coming to her aid and bringing her to Lallybroch.  She’d probably have yer kilt above her ears and virtue stolen before ye made it halfway home.”

Jamie snorted at the old man, grateful for his support and guidance in the absence of his father.

He watched the cloud of dust disappear as the group neared his home.  He thought this could possibly be his first true test as Laird since coming home from Paris.  He reached in his sporran and pulled out his father’s ruby ring, donning it for the strength it gave him.   

He lifted his chin, looking over his land and his family’s home, and whispered quietly to himself, “Je suis prest.”

 



“Stad an seo!”
called Dougal from atop his horse.  He held up a hand, and we all rode to a stop.  He dismounted from his horse and gave the reins to Rupert.  “A moment of yer time, Mistress Beauchamp.”

He didn’t wait for me to dismount.  He walked some distance away so we wouldn’t be overheard.  I reluctantly followed him through the long grass and up to the top of a small hill.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Look over there.”  Dougal nodded to the South.  “The North Facing Tower.  Broch Tuarach.  My nephew’s home is just o’er yonder.”

A tall, round tower stood above the trees in the distance.  The Laird’s home was not far away; it seemed more a large stone house than a castle, at least in comparison to Leoch.  The grounds had none of Leoch’s hustle and bustle of people, nor did it have its guard towers or soldiers.  The estate was quiet.  Peaceful.  It was almost as though it had grown from out the land rather than been built upon it.

At least...it appeared so from such a distance.

“I just wanted to review our agreement before setting foot in that house,” said Dougal.

I shook my head in annoyance.  Dougal had immediately figured out why Colum sent me with him, and as soon as we were on the road out of Leoch, he made me a counter offer...one I had no means of refusing.

“I’m very clear on what it is you want from me,” I said.  “If I can help you convince the Laird to join the Rebellion and allow the use of his lands in the service of the Bonnie Prince, you’ll give me my freedom.”

“That’s right.”  He stepped close, leaving me no room to breathe.  His eyes darkened hungrily, and he ran a gentle finger across my cheek.  “Ye’re a verra alluring woman, Claire.  Aside from yer sharp tongue and biting wit, ye’ve a way about ye.  I’ve no doubt my nephew will be susceptible to yer charms...if ye dinna snap at the lad the way ye do everyone else.”

I rolled my eyes at the idea of being irresistible bait to a Highlander.  It was utter madness.  

“Ye’ve seen and heard too much in yer time at Leoch,” he went on.  “If I’m to risk letting ye go free, ye’ll have to prove yer sympathy for our cause...by any means necessary.”

What Dougal really meant was I’d have to incriminate myself by conspiring with the Scots before he’d risk me going back to the English.  Unless I helped him, I wouldn’t make it out alive.

Yet, if I did help him, Colum would have something to say about that, as well.

Fucking Scots!

“And if ye attempt to sabotage me wi’ my nephew, then I’ll have to decide what would be worse for ye,” his fingers traced over the swell of my bottom lip, and I could still smell the fish on his hands he’d eaten for lunch, “killing ye outright, or handing ye over to Captain Randall at Wentworth Prison.”

My body quivered as ice ran down my spine.  Black Jack Randall.  An ancestor of my late husband.  The man who tried to assault me atop Craigh Na Dun.

I reminded myself that I would soon sneak away and escape the MacKenzies and the eighteenth century altogether.  I’d be long gone through the stones before anyone even knew I left.

The question was, how was I meant to handle the Laird Broch Tuarach in the meantime?  I knew I needed to placate Dougal before I made my escape, but the dilemma I was having was an ethical one.  I knew the outcome of the Rebellion.  Every Scot that took arms against the English would be slaughtered.  Convincing Dougal’s nephew to join the rebellion was the same as convincing him and his people to line up at the gallows.

How could I be convincing enough to satisfy Dougal, but careful enough to not be sending who knows how many men to their untimely deaths?

“We’re in agreement, are we no’?”  He stared down his nose at me, his fingers holding tight to my chin.

“Of course we are,” I said.  As if I had a choice otherwise.

“Aye.  Then mount up, and we’ll be on our way.”  He looked me up and down one last time.  “The Laird has a weakness for a lass wi’ a great round arse.  He’ll no’ ken what hit him.”

Dougal swatted my bottom with an uncomfortable overfamiliarity before setting off down the hill to mount his horse.  

“Fucking bastard,” I grumbled loud enough for him to hear and followed suit.  

Acid rose in my throat as I thought of his nephew and hoped the young Laird’s manners were nothing like his uncle’s.

 



“Welcome to Lallybroch,” said Janet Murray as she served drinks around the parlor.  “It will take but a minute to have rooms made up for ye, being that ye didna send word ahead that ye were coming to visit, Uncle Dougal.”

“We’ve come on urgent business wi’ the Laird, lass.  There wasna time to accommodate such niceties.  But seeing as how we’re family, I should think our visit more than welcome, whether expected or not.”

“Of course,” said Janet, though the look on her face didn’t reflect her words.  Clearly, this wasn’t a close family.

Janet scowled as she brought me a glass of whisky.  I was in such desperate need of the spirits, it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

I did find it amusing the difference in appearance between Dougal and his niece.  She was about a foot shorter than her uncle and couldn’t look more unlike him with her jet-black hair and cat-like, blue eyes.  The only features that seemed to have any sort of family resemblance between the two of them were the mutual sneers they wore for each other.

“How was the journey from Leoch?” asked Ian, Janet’s husband.  Unlike his wife, Ian wore a jovial expression, as though he was finding as much amusement in this bizarre encounter as I was.

“Warm and dry,” was all Dougal would  say.  His men seemed to have gone entirely mute.

Silence overtook the room once more, and I watched as everyone’s glasses emptied swiftly down their throats while we sat in awkward discomfort.

I took the opportunity to observe the beauty of the parlor.  There was a grand fireplace in the large room, made of carefully selected stones that were arranged in a most pleasing manner.  The house was well kept and obviously quite modern for the times, but it most certainly was not a castle.  It was a home.  Not at all what I expected of the murderous, young Laird.

“D’ye no’ ken where the Laird rode off to?” asked Dougal, his restless impatience showing ever more as time passed on.  “Perhaps I might ride out and meet him?”

“No,” said Ian with a broad grin.  “He rode off some hours ago on business, but I’m sure he’ll be home before supper.”

“Any news from Leoch or Beannachd?” asked Janet.  “How is my Aunt?  Is she well?”

Oh dear, I thought.  Dougal coughed and drank back his glass of whisky before standing abruptly and walking out the door.

Janet looked shocked and scandalized at her uncle’s seemingly rude behavior.

“His wife died some weeks ago,” I informed her.  “It was quite unexpected.”

“Oh heavens,” she said, crossing herself and whispering a quiet prayer.  

“We had never any occasion to meet her,” said Ian, “but we offer our condolences all the same.”

“Of course,” I said, not knowing why I felt compelled to accept the condolences for the  loss of a woman I’d never met before either.

Janet came around, temporarily humbled by her faux pas, and refilled our glasses as we waited in more awkward silence for the Laird to arrive.

“How long is it ye plan on staying?” asked Janet.

Her husband coughed, though I couldn’t tell if it was in amusement or chiding.

“I’m not sure, actually.  We’re all at Dougal’s whim,” I said.

She narrowed her eyes at me and crossed her arms in front of her.  “And how is it a sassenach came to be in the company of a band of traveling men?”

“Well...hmm.  I…” I traveled two hundred years through a fucking circle of buzzing stones! “It all happened quite by accident.”  I laughed awkwardly.

“We rescued Mistress Beauchamp from the redcoats,” said Rupert.  “She’s a fine healer and has agreed to stay on wi’ us for some time, seeing as how a group of fighting men are prone to injury.”

“Hmphm,” Janet made a noise deep in her throat that seemed to convey either disbelief or disapproval.

I was rescued from having to answer further questions by the arrival of the servants, who informed the lady of the house that the guest rooms were ready.  I was escorted up the stairs and to a small, private room with a lovely view facing the tower to the North.

I took the opportunity to freshen myself up from the long journey.  I changed my clothes—ready to smell of something other than horse—and tamed my hair into some semblance of submission.  I found myself quite presentable by the time I made my way downstairs to enjoy more social hostilities between the MacKenzie relatives.

It seemed Dougal had calmed himself down and reentered the parlor.  He was waiting near the fireplace with his arms crossed in front of him, looking ever as much the war chieftain as I’d ever seen him.  

As I descended the final steps into the room, the sounds of a crazed pack of dogs drifted in the house through the open window.

“Well, there we are,” said Ian, pleasantly.  “It seems the Laird has just returned home.”

I looked around the room to find all of Dougal’s men shifting in their seats to face the entrance of the parlor.  After the noise of the dogs died down, I listened for the sound of footsteps in the halls that would announce the Laird’s presence, but I was surprised to find that none came.

As though walking silently on a bed of grass, one of the largest men I’d ever seen in my entire life walked through the door.  He was taller than Dougal and broader in the chest.  His palms were the size of canned hams, and his boots were the length of a medium-sized dog. 

Mrs. Fitz had been right about him, he did look like his mother...like the MacKenzies in general, save for those eyes that matched his sister’s, and the wide set of his mouth.  His gorgeous hair nearly blended with the crimson of his tartan, and he was armed with a great heavy sword and a fine dirk.  

I’d never seen a more impressive sight in my entire life.

His eyes scanned the room with an indifferent expression, stopping for a moment on his uncle, then once again on me.  I felt trapped in his gaze, hypnotized, unable to pull away.  

I could barely hear his sister’s voice over the buzzing in my ears.  “May I present to you our Laird Lallybroch: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”

Chapter Text

Jamie’s eyes were held prisoner by her beauty, captivated by the iridescent glimmer of fine pearl where the afternoon light reflected off the curve of her cheek.  Almost against his will, they were drawn down the line of her jaw to a pair of cherry blossom lips, parted slightly, taking in shaky gasps of air.  

He thought she might be nervous as she stood on unsteady legs.  Her pulsing heart thrummed wildly in her neck, like ripples on a loch during the first rain of Spring.  A flush fell over the expanse of her bosom, and a thin layer of sweat glistened off the swell of her breasts—breasts that were spilling over the top of her stays with every quivering breath.  

But as he lifted his eyes to meet her own, he realized it was not fear that rendered her body so flustered...but passion. She was watching him with dark, hooded eyes, somehow full of both surprise and longing.

It took only the space of a breath as he met her golden gaze to think in the words of the Bard, I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.  

“This is Claire Beauchamp.”  The sound of Dougal’s voice reminded Jamie of the nature of her amorous relationship with his uncle. “She’s a healer we met along our travels. We happened upon her being attacked by Captain Randall near Craigh Na Dun.”

Jamie masked his face with inscrutability, feeling foolish for wanting to throw himself at the feet of the woman who pleasured his uncle only the night before.  The heat of resentment immediately replaced that of desire.  

He forced courtesy into his tone as he greeted his guest.  “Welcome to Lallybroch, Mistress Beauchamp. I’m sorry for your unfortunate encounter with the redcoat captain.  I can assure ye, he is no friend to anyone here at Broch Tuarach.”

She opened her mouth several times before a sound escaped her lips, and when it did, it was spoken with a sensual tone, not that of a maid, but of a woman.  “I thank you, my Laird.”  He couldn’t stop himself from closing his eyes so that his ears may take in the sound of the sassenach uncolored by the distractions of light.  “It’s comforting to know I’m in the company of people who don’t condone such behavior.”

Hmphm,” was the only response he could bring himself to give. Speaking of Randall always made his wame curl, but the thought of that bastard’s hands on such fair skin made him sick with rage. 

Jamie turned around and gestured to the man behind him.  “This is my godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.”

“A pleasure to meet you both,” said Claire.

“Our uncle says he’s come on business that requires your urgent attention, brother,” Jenny interjected.  “Perhaps ye shall take him to yer study to discuss this business so we dinna hold him up on his travels any longer than need requires.”

Mistress Beauchamp snorted quietly and failed in her attempts to hide her amusement at Jenny’s obvious desire to rid Lallybroch of her uncle.

Jamie didn't conceal his own amusement as he turned to Dougal and said, “Would that please ye, Uncle?  Or have ye come purely for the pleasure of our company?”

Never one to beat around the bush, Dougal assured him, “Though it does please me to ken my sister’s children are situated well, young Janet is right in that I have pressing matters to address.  I think it best we speak a moment in private.”

“Aye.”  Jamie nodded and beckoned Dougal to follow him deeper into the house, leaving Murtagh with Jenny and Ian so they wouldn’t be so outnumbered by their guests.  He couldn’t help stealing one more glance at the sassenach, whose eyes seemed fixed on him as they walked away...or perhaps they were fixed on Dougal.

He led his uncle into his father’s study—his own study, he reminded himself—where he took his seat behind the heavy oak desk.  Dougal appeared reluctant to sit down, but after a moment’s consideration, did so in the seat to the left.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Uncle?”

Dougal spoke deep and strong to project the importance of his message. “The tides of the seas are changing, Jamie.  A great wave is rising.  One that will cleanse Scotland of the wicked filth of the English.”

Jamie huffed in frustration, all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place.  “Ye’re speaking of rebellion?”

“I’m speaking of rising up and taking back what’s ours.  Of restoring a Stuart king to the throne.”

“What is the urgency ye speak of?  Is King James on his way to Scotland?”

Dougal leaned forward and spoke softly, as though the information he shared was a great secret, a gift bestowed on a favored nephew.  “I’ve had word that Bonnie Prince Charlie will be making his way to Paris soon.  He’ll be raising funds and seeking support from his cousin, King Louis.”

“So he has not yet raised the funds needed for this war he intends on bringing to our land?”

“Dinna twist my words the way yer father often tried,” Dougal snapped.  “We’ve raised thousands of pounds for the Stuart King in the Highlands alone.  He has the support of the Italians and many English noblemen in Geordie’s court.  One such nobleman of which you owe your freedom to, laddie.”

“Owe my freedom?  I didna commit the murder I was accused of.  I owe no man my freedom.”

“Aye, but ye would still be exiled wi’out his intervention.”

“I was under the impression that the price on my heid was dropped, no’ because of the Jacobites, but because Colum set up trade agreements wi’ the man, and Jared offered incentive in the way of spirits to secure my freedom.”

“Weel, I’m sure it didna hurt that ye have known ties to leaders of the Jacobite cause, Jared being one of them.”

Jamie reached into his desk and found a bottle of whisky and two glasses.  He poured generously and passed one to his uncle.  “What is it ye want from me then?  Is it money?  We dinna have any.  Our crops and tenants have suffered in their Laird’s absence.  All we have will be spent to secure the wellness of my people and improve production of crops.  We have naught to spare to fund a war when we can scarcely feed the people who would be fighting it.”

Dougal shook his head.  “I ken money is in short supply wi’ ye being gone for so long, and I’m sure now that ye’ve returned, the state of things will improve for yer family and tenants.  I’ll no’ be asking ye for a financial contribution today.”

Jamie noted Dougal’s assertion did not preclude asking at a future date.

“Is it soldiers ye want then?  If so, I must tell ye right now that I’ll no’ make demands of my men to fight this war.  If they choose to take up arms for a cause they believe in, I willna stand in their way, but I shall not ask it of them.”

“Yer people will follow their Laird.  If you commit to the cause, they will follow ye as they should.  They’re devoted to ye, lad.”

“And I to them.  Committing to a war that will do little but ravish our home is a puir way of caring for them.”

“So is leaving them to the rule of the English and the likes of Captain Randall!”

Jamie locked his jaw and fisted his hands.  He wanted nothing more than to strike his uncle for using that bastard Randall to make a point.  Dougal was there when Jamie was beaten, when his father died watching Randall flay his back open for a second time.  He knew the strength of his words.

Jamie spoke low and dangerous to convey his ire, “Careful, Uncle.  Yer words arena having the effect ye want them to.  Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“If ye’re angry at Randall, then why would ye no’ rise up against the crown who commissions him?”  

“Because my people need stability.  They need farmable land to live off of and a Laird to see them well.  They dinna need war and death and uncertainty.”

“Yer people need freedom!” he yelled, standing up and banging his hand on the desk between them.

Jamie stood and faced him head on.  “War shallna be forced upon my men for a dream held by their Laird’s uncle.  All they want is to raise their families and live their lives in peace.”

“Ye think these farmers ken what’s best for themselves?  They ken of naught but their crops and animals.  ’Tis the job of their Laird to decide what action must be taken.”

“And their Laird has decided that no action shall be taken at this time.”

They stared each other down, neither wanting to concede to the other.  Jamie knew he must hold his ground against his uncle, or the MacKenzies would find a way to have the run of his land and lead his people to ruin.

Finally, Dougal grabbed his glass and drank its contents.  “And what if yer people should hold the same dream as I?  What if they desire a Stuart King once again?”

“I willna stand in the way of any of my men wishing to fight for their own dream.”

“Would ye fight wi’ them?  Care for them on the battlefield as ye would on the farm?”

Jamie drained his own glass before he answered.  “That is a hypothetical question I am no’ prepared to answer at this time.”

Dougal’s eyes seemed to flare with the light of victory.  

All Jamie could do was shake his head and refill their glasses.

 


 

“I havena tried the water pepper,” said Ian, running a hand over what was left of his leg.

“I can make it for you, if you’d like.  I brought some with me from Leoch.  It should help with the pain and inflammation.”

“Why thank ye, Claire.  ’Tis kind of ye.”

“It’s no trouble at all.”

Angus, Rupert, and Willie all sat quiet and disconnected from our hosts, drinking their whisky and engaging with no one.  Janet and Murtagh were so frigid, they brought a chill to the stifling hot parlor on this hot summer day.

I did my best to break the tension with some degree of civility and was kindly aided by Ian Murray.

“’Tis rare we have a healer come through these parts,” said Ian.  “If Dougal plans on staying for any length of time, some of our tenants might have need of yer service if ye…”

“Our tenants,” Janet interrupted, “can travel to Broch Mordha when the Beaton arrives as they’ve always done.”  She sniffed audibly and smoothed out her dress in false nonchalance.  “There is no reason to burden a guest wi’ the ails of our people.”

“It really is no trouble,” I said.  “I’ve been doing the same for Clan MacKenzie.  I find my work rather enjoyable.”

“Weel, we shall see what Dougal’s plans are for ye when they finish their meeting.  It may be that ye leave tomorrow,” she said, not disguising her hope for such an outcome.

I sighed heavily and sipped more whisky.  When I set my glass down, I noticed my head was not unaffected by the drink.  A light-headedness stole over me as I sat back up.  The heat of the room made me all the more uncomfortable.  It occurred to me that after taking too much drink the night before—as I had been doing regularly since arriving at Leoch—I’d hardly eaten throughout the day.  

“I’m sure Dougal is in no hurry to leave the company of his niece and nephew so soon, lass,” Rupert told Janet, smiling.  We all knew that Dougal had no intention of leaving Broch Tuarach without getting what he wanted from its Laird, and I couldn’t imagine him obtaining a commitment to join a rebellion after a single conversation in the middle of the afternoon.

A gentle cooing came from the doorway, and I turned to find a housekeeper holding a small infant.  By the size of the bundle of blankets, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of months old.

“Is wee Maggie ready for her dinner then?” asked Janet.

“Aye, Mistress,” said the woman.  “She’s rooting around, looking for something more than I’ve got to offer.”

“Oh, come here ye wee thing.”  She took her little one from the housekeeper and addressed the rest of the room.  “Pardon me, but I should like to feed her in the nursery.”

I was shocked to see the small-framed woman had so recently had a child.  No wonder at her irritability with unexpected guests—particularly war-mongering guests—when her body was still recovering from having a baby.

“Of course,” I said.  “And congratulations on the little one.”

She only gave a forced smile before heading up the stairs.

“Thank ye, Claire,” said Ian.  “Wee Maggie was born no’ two months past.  It was a hard delivery on my wife; the midwife had fallen ill at the time and couldna come to help.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear.”

“Aye.  But Jenny is as fierce as her heart is warm.  She delivered the bairn mostly on her own, while Jamie, Mrs. Crook, and I all ran around like fools, making everything worse.”

“Oh, I highly doubt that.  She probably counts herself very lucky to have such an attentive husband.  Do you have any other children?”

“Aye.  Wee Jamie is our eldest—only two years old.  He was named for his uncle, of course.  The Laird returned home just in time to meet the wee laddie before he was made an uncle again for the second time.”

“It must’ve been difficult, having the Laird away for so many years.  I’m guessing much of his duty fell to you while he was gone?”

“To Jenny and I both, but it was nae bother.  Jamie is a fine man and a dear friend.  Jenny and I would happily do anything we could for him.”

Ian Murray surely had a penchant for cold and brusque souls, given his fondness for his wife and his Laird.  Janet Murray was a formidable woman in her own right, but James Fraser’s appearance had been downright alarming, with his enormous size, flaming hair, and being armed to the bloody teeth.  

The way he looked at me during our introduction was not something I’d soon forget.  His gaze was icy and severe, giving nothing away of what was going on behind those dark, sapphire eyes.  I could see why Dougal would be eager to gain such an ally in the war to come.  

Speaking of Dougal, raised voices could be heard down the hall, where I assumed Dougal and Fraser were getting to the meat of their conversation.  They were fierce and loud, and they’d only been gone for twenty minutes.  

Bloody Christ, what was I to do?   If I did either Colum or Dougal’s bidding, and the Laird found out I was manipulating him, God only knew what consequences he would rain down on me.  

For a moment, I considered being honest with the Laird and informing him of both his uncles’ demands of me, but if Dougal found out that I told Fraser about all the MacKenzies’ scheming, then I’d have him to deal with.  

I just wanted to go home!

I needed to start planning my escape sooner rather than later.

“Are ye alright, Claire?” said Ian.

“Of course,” I said.  But I was anything but alright.  In fact, I was feeling quite overheated.  My heart was racing madly, and my stays wouldn’t allow me to breathe enough air.

“Ye look a bit flushed, lass.  Would ye like me to take ye outside for some fresh air?  It might d’ye some good.”

Air.  That was exactly what I needed.  Fresh air to clear my head and cool my skin.  “That sounds lovely, thank you.  I think I’ll take you up on that.”

Ian stood and held out an arm.  I locked my own around his and allowed him to escort me outdoors.  I didn’t miss the venom in Murtagh’s eyes as we walked by.  

Ian led me back the way we came in, though it was slow going given my dizzy state and his wooden leg.  With little in the way of a breeze coming in through the gate, he led me past the great archway that served as the entrance to the house and into the shade of a tree beyond.  

We were no longer in hearing distance of the large, aggressive men, nor in the same room with constant vitriolic stares, and my blood pressure immediately dropped.  The serenity of the grounds helped calm me further; it was difficult to be caught up in a panic when breathing in the scent heather and ferns in the shade of a sweet chestnut tree.  

“There,” said Ian, “that’s much better.  It looked as though ye might pass out for a moment, but yer color is returning back just fine.”

“Indeed.  It’s been a long few days of travel,” few hundred years more like, “and I probably just need a bit of rest and something to eat besides alcohol.”

“I’ll be sure to have Mrs. Crook prepare an early supper for ye.”

“I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“’Tis nae trouble, Claire.”  His eyes were soft and compassionate.  “I ken what it’s like to be in a strange land and surrounded by dangerous people.”

Dangerous people, he said, acknowledging the precariousness of my situation.  I wondered if he was referring to Black Jack Randall, the MacKenzies, or his very own Laird.

My eyes looked over the vast expanse of grassy meadows and wild forests that surrounded Broch Tuarach.  I looked to the North and found the road we’d come in on from Leoch.  I wondered how far away we were from Craigh Na Dun and my only chance at making it out of this century with my life intact.

Ian was watching me with sympathy.  I took a leap of faith in trusting that he wouldn’t tell Dougal if I asked, “Do you know where the hill is...the one where I was attacked by Jack Randall?”

“Craigh Na Dun?”  His eyebrows raised.  “Aye.  ’Tis about three days ride to the East.”

Three days?”  My heart clenched tight in my chest.  Would I ever be able to lose the MacKenzies and keep ahead of them for so long?  If I did, could I survive the wilderness on my own?  Did my time in the war and with Uncle Lamb prepare me well enough for such a treacherous journey?

“Possibly two days, if ye were a fine rider, had a strong horse, and kent just where ye were going,” he whispered.

I took a deep breath and stared off into the forest, wondering if I’d ever make it to freedom.  

“Ye’ll be safe here at Lallybroch,” said Ian, softly.  “Jamie willna stand for violence on his lands.”

The murdering Laird didn’t like violence?  I would’ve laughed if I didn’t feel so hopeless.

“Oh, I’m alright,” I said, wishing I could mean it.  I added another lie on top of the last, knowing they’d soon start to pile up so high, I’d never be able to keep them straight.  “I’m just trying to get my bearings in a place where there’s so much green that everywhere looks the same. I scarcely ever know where I am.”

I took one last breath of fresh Highland air before steeling my spine to return back to my captors.  “We should go back inside, or they might think we’ve run off…”

I turned around and walked right into a solid wall of red plaid.  The stifling heat of the parlor returned full force when I looked up into a pair of sapphire eyes.  I don’t know how long I stared captivated by their brilliant depths before I ran out of breath and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

“Claire!” Ian cried.

Jamie caught the woman as her legs gave way beneath her.  She fell lifeless in his arms, save for the heat radiating from her body.  

“What’s happened?” he asked, laying her flat on the grass to check for injury.   She was breathing, thank the Lord, and her heart was beating strong.

“She said she had too much whisky and no’ enough to eat.  By the look of her, though, I’d say nerves were getting the best of her.”

Jamie bent down to inhale the scent of her breath.  He could smell the whisky, but it was certainly not enough to fell a grown woman.  No...he caught the scent of herbs, flowers, and freshly dug earth on her skin more so than spirits.  

But she was wheezing, straining to take in air.  Her chest was bright red with exertion and heaving over the top of her stays.  

The heat of embarrassment crept up his ears as he pulled at her laces, giving her lungs room to breathe.  With the stays loosened, her breasts and belly rose up while she pulled in air.  A soft sigh of relief escaped her lips, and he almost laughed, his worry assuaged. 

“I’ll find Mrs. Crook and see to getting her some food and drink,” said Ian.

“Thank ye, a charaid.”

As Jamie heard Ian’s uneven footsteps fade away, he went back to tending to the unconscious lass.  Unfortunately, there was little to be done to help her until she woke up, save watch with bated breath.  He couldn’t yet bring her inside when the cool grass and fresh breeze would do more to steal the heat from skin than the stifling indoors.

So he knelt there over her body, with naught to do but watch her breathe.  He took more than a little comfort every time her breasts lifted to their peak, then dropped back down once again.  His hand traced over her cheek, ensuring that her temperature was falling as it should. Her skin was clammy down her throat and over her chest, but it seemed to be helping to cool her off.

The movement of a small wood ant near the wild curls of her hair was almost a relief, in that it gave him something useful to do.  He flicked the ant away, protecting the lass from the wee creature's painful bite.  He looked around for more and was relieved to find the ant was on his own.  Just to be sure, he lifted the sassenach’s head and placed it gently in his lap.  If any other little beasts were to come crawling out of the ground, they’d find him first.

Much of her hair had escaped its pins in all the fuss.  It was probably for the best; she didn’t need anything pulling on her hair or making her head strain when she was feeling so ill.  He set himself to the task of removing them one by one.  

He gently ran his hands through her hair to find each pin.  It was surprisingly soft, for all its unruly appearance.  Upon closer inspection, the color ranged from nearly black to a caramel shade of whisky—a deeper color whisky than her eyes...golden as though his glass was lit by the sun.

“Christ, ye’re lovely,” he whispered softly.

He tucked pin after pin into his sporran, until at last, he could comb his fingers through her hair and find no resistance.  

He struggled to let her be as he ran out of things to do to assist her.  He took to grazing his fingertips up and down her temples and over her forehead to ensure she continued to cool down.

Finally, like a butterfly spreading its wings for the first time, her eyelids fluttered open to reveal her golden gaze.

Tapadh le Dia,” he breathed in relief.  “Ye’re alright, Mistress.  Ye just fell a bit faint.”

She brought a weak hand clumsily to her face, checking her own temperature.  “Dehydrated,” she groaned.  “And overheated.  A bit buzzed.  Overtired.  And…” She cut herself off, finishing her assessment of her condition in her head.  The flush rose up once again in her cheeks as she met his eyes, and she sat up quickly.

“My hospitality is that bad, is it?” he teased.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said, hands gripping her loosened stays.  “I can’t believe I collapsed on you.”

“’Tis alright, lass.  Dinna fash.  I was glad I was there to catch ye.  Ye had me worrit for a bit.”

Clearly surprised at his words, she looked up and met his eyes.  She blushed a deep shade of crimson as she looked him over.  Jamie worried she might fall faint again as heat returned to her face.

“Ye alright, lass?”  He reached out a hand to her cheek, hoping she wasn’t getting too warm.

“Much better, thank you.  Though I could use some cold water and a bite of bread.”

“Aye.  Of course.  Let me help ye to yer feet.”  

He rose up and bent to place his hands on her narrow waist.  He lifted, bearing most of her weight until he was certain she could stand on her own.  He towered over her small frame, and his fingers nearly wrapped entirely around her.

“What the hell were you thinking, sneaking up on me like that?” she asked, her tone lacking venom in her state of exhaustion.

“My apologies, lass,” he chuckled.  “I’ll be sure to grunt and stomp around like an ogre if it should prevent another collapse.”  

Her quiet laugh fell sweet and lazy on his ears.

“Come, Sassenach.”  He wrapped an arm tightly around her waist, and he held her hand up delicately with the other.  “Let’s get ye to yer room, and I’ll have food and water brought up to ye.”

They walked slowly, Jamie carrying most of her weight.  Whenever he looked down to see if she was alright, his nose was tickled by her absurdly beautiful hair in wild disarray.  

Bòidheach,” he whispered.

“Pardon?”

Mmphm,” he hummed dismissively and quickly changed the subject.  “Was it a difficult journey from Leoch?”

“Define difficult.”  She smirked up at him.  “Was it physically taxing?  I suppose more so than I’m accustomed to.  Was the company difficult?  Again, more so than I’m accustomed to.”

Jamie chuckled quietly.  “Aye, my mother’s family has always been...challenging.”

“And your father’s family?”

He barked a laugh.  “Possibly even more so.”

“Remind me not to get rescued by any of them anytime soon.”

“Try to keep yerself out of danger entirely, Sassenach.  Although, I suppose some people just canna help it.”

Her leopard’s eyes narrowed at him curiously.  “Are you one of those people?”

Mmphm.  I suppose I am, aye.  I’ve been rescued by Dougal and his men once or twice myself and faced similar difficulties as you for my trouble.  Careful wi’ the steps here.”

She tried stepping up herself, but her legs nearly gave way.  Jamie lifted her from around the waist and escorted her inside.  She leaned on him once again as they walked through the parlor and to the stairs.

“Claire?” said Dougal, standing up and blocking their way.  “What’s happened?”

“I think I was a little dehydrated, and I fainted.  Thankfully, the Laird was there to catch me as I fell.”

Dougal’s eyes narrowed, and there was a slight curve to his mouth that disappeared so quickly, Jamie wasn’t sure it was ever really there.  

“Excuse us,” said Jamie, his tone disapproving.  “I’ll be taking her up to her room for rest and nourishment, which seem to have been neglected on her journey.”

Dougal rolled his eyes and let Jamie and Claire pass by.  When they arrived at the bottom of the stairs, she tensed and sucked in a breath, clearly concerned about her ability to make it all the way up.

“May I?” asked Jamie, holding out his hands to lift her.

She flushed a deep shade of crimson, but nodded her acquiescence.  He lifted her quickly—before she could change her mind—and moved swiftly up the stairs.

“Which room is yers?” he asked, not setting her down as they reached the landing.

She pointed to a North facing room on the second floor.  He wondered uncharitably if it was next to Dougal’s room.  

He took her inside and was immediately hit with the floral scent he’d detected on her skin outside.  He breathed it in as he brought her to the bed and set her down.  

“Thank you,” she said, struggling to meet his eyes.  “That was quite...gallant.”

“Not at all,” he dismissed, though couldn’t help the swelling of his chest.  “I’ll just go check wi’ Ian and Mrs. Crook about yer refreshment.”

As though summoned by their names, Ian’s steps could be heard coming down the hall with Mrs. Crook’s quieter shuffle right behind.  They came into the room with concern in their eyes.

“How are ye feeling, Claire?” asked Ian.  

“Much better.”  She took the glass of water and drank slowly.

“Mrs. Crook, would ye mind tending to Mistress Beauchamp while we return to our other guests?” said Jamie.

“Of course, my Laird.”

He turned back to the whisky-eyed Sassenach and spoke softly, “Please call if ye need anything, Mistress.”

“Thank you, my Laird.”

He wanted to correct her, to have her call him by his Christian name, but the sound of “my Laird” on her lips was a pretty thing indeed.  And if there was any truth to MacGregor’s intelligence, then he’d best keep distance from the lass he was so drawn to.

He bowed formally and walked out the door.

To his surprise, he found Dougal loitering out in the hall.  “Can I help ye, Uncle?”

“I came to check on Mistress Beauchamp.”

Jamie’s spine went stiff and his voice cold.  “I assure ye, she’s well.  Mrs. Crook will tend to whatever needs arise.”

Dougal nodded and made to step around Jamie to enter the room.  Jamie moved in his way.  

Dougal spoke low and dangerous.  “Get out of my way, lad.  ’Tis my responsibility to see the woman well and ensure she is being cared for.”

“That responsibility fell to me the moment she stepped foot on my land.  I will care for her until she sees fit to ask me otherwise.  Now, if ye dinna mind, Uncle, I wouldna want any impropriety to color the lass’s reputation by yer unnecessary visit to her bedchamber.”

Dougal stared him down with a cold fury and breathed heavily through his nose.  Finally, he nodded and stepped back.  

As they turned and stepped toward the stairs, Dougal asked with as devilish tone, “And when is it ye’ll be having yer Quarter Day, nephew?  It should be soon, should it not?”

“Aye,” said Jamie warily.  “In three days time.”

“Three days?”  A grin snaked across his lips.  “Our timing was fortunate then.  I’ll be pleased for an opportunity to meet wi’ all yer tenants.”

Christ, thought Jamie.  The last thing he needed was his uncle sowing seeds of rebellion in the minds of his men.

“In fact,” Dougal went on, “I think I should take the opportunity to ride into Broch Mordha and meet some of the tenants before Quarter Day.  It would be nice to find familiar faces on the day of the celebration.”

Mmphm.  Do what ye must, Uncle.”

“Aye.  I’ll just have Willie stay behind to see to Claire if need should arise.”

“That willna be necessary, Uncle, I can assure ye.”

“Be that as it may, please let her ken she’s no’ alone in a strange place.”

Jamie nodded his acquiescence.  He didn’t see the harm in that.

He walked his uncle back down to the parlor where he and his men took their leave.  Willie, it appeared, was ordered to stand guard outside of Lallybroch and keep an eye on things.  

When his house was empty of MacKenzies, and the only stranger left inside was the sassenach upstairs, Jamie called Jenny, Ian, and Murtagh into his study.

“What the hell does he want, lad?” asked Murtagh.

“Revolution,” Jamie spat, pouring whisky all around.  “He’s gone to the village to plant seeds in the ears of my tenants.  He intends on staying for Quarter Day.”

“He’s a fool if he thinks he could sway our people to his cause,” said Jenny.  “They’re loyal to the family, and that is that.”

“Aye.  But dinna underestimate Dougal.  Our uncle is accustomed to getting what he wants and making those who stand in his way suffer the consequences.” 

“And what of the sassenach?” asked Murtagh.  “D’ye think her a spy?”

Jamie shrugged.  “I dinna ken.  She passed out cold in my arms, and we spoke little when she woke.”

“Caution, brother,” said Jenny, “a bee’s honey is awfully sweet, but it may no’ be worth the sting.”

Och,” he dismissed her with the wave of his hand.

“Listen to the lass, Jamie,” said Murtagh.  “A lady is made a spy to cloud a man’s judgment wi’ her charm and good looks.”

“I dinna think she’s a spy,” said Ian.

Jenny rolled her eyes.  “Of course ye don’t, mo chridhe.”

“I mean it.  I talked to her longer than the rest of ye.  All she thinks in her heid shows plain on her face.  If she’s a spy, she’s a terrible one at that.”

“If she’s no’ a spy, then why would Dougal bring her?”

“I dinna ken why the man does anything, but she seems a knowledgeable healer and doesna appear to have much affection for Dougal.  In fact, it seemed to me that Dougal was keeping her against her will.”

“Why would he do that if she’s no’ a spy?”

“Aside from the obvious,” grunted Murtagh.

“Hush now,” said Jamie.  “We dinna ken if what MacGregor said is true.”

“What did he tell ye?” asked Jenny.

“That’s none of yer concern.”

“He told us she’s Dougal’s mistress,” said Murtagh.

“Weel,” said Ian, “if he’s keeping her against her will, that wouldna make her a mistress, but a victim.”

Jamie shook his head.  “He may be a bastard, but I’ve never kent my uncle to do such a thing.”

“MacGregor was likely mistaken, Jamie,” said Ian.  “Claire doesna seem the type to appreciate Dougal’s abrupt and aggressive nature.”

“Oh?” said Jenny, crossing her arms and staring down her husband.  “Since ye ken her sae well, what type does she seem?”

“If I’m being honest…” Ian took a drink of his whisky before going on, “I’m no’ entirely convinced she’s no’ one of the Fair Folk.”

Jenny snorted, and Jamie chuckled.  Murtagh was mumbling under his breath and rolling his eyes.  

“Hear me out,” said Ian.  “She asked me how she could get back to the fairy hill where Dougal saved her from Randall.”

“That doesna mean she’s a fairy,” said Jenny.

“’Tis no’ just that, mo ghraidh.   Look, I’ve traveled a bit around England and France, and I’ve no’ met anyone who looks or talks quite like her.  The essence of her is foreign.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed.  “Her English is a bit strange.”

“D’ye think she may be French?” asked Murtagh.

“I dinna ken.  If I hear her speak French, I’ll be sure to ken if the language was her first.”

“I’ve ne’er met a Frenchwoman like her,” protested Ian.  “There’s a strangeness about her that doesna feel of this land.”

Jamie would be lying if he said he didn’t notice, too.  

“Well, I never heard of a fairy being a sassenach,” said Jenny.

Mmphm.”  Neither had Jamie.  “I’ll speak wi’ her at supper and see what I can gather.  Until we have any reason to believe the woman means us any ill will, we will treat her as an honored and respected guest.  Is that understood?”

“Aye,” said Ian.  Jenny and Murtagh rolled their eyes in a surprisingly similar fashion, but grumbled their consent.

“Promise me one thing, brother,” said Jenny.

Mmphm?”

“Guard yer bollocks from the woman.  Ian was right about one thing.  She canna hide a thought from her face, and we all saw how she looked at ye when ye walked in the room.  If she is a spy, I’m sure she’d find it no hardship to bed ye to get into yer good graces.  Keep yer virtue away from her clutches, aye?”

Jamie huffed into his whisky and took a long drink.  He shamed himself for the thought that if he was going to be made a fool, he’d at least prefer it to be by a woman like Claire Beauchamp over any other.

 


 

Lallybroch’s dinner table looked as it did any other night.  There were no visiting relatives or strange sassenachs seated next to the family.  Dougal and his men were still away at Broch Mordha, and Claire didn’t come down from her room.  Jamie was more than a little disappointed by her absence, and if he was being honest, it was not only because of the missed opportunity to take her measure.

Mrs. Crook made Claire a plate when supper was finished.  She was about to take it upstairs when Jamie intervened.  “I’ll take it to her.  I’d like to ensure she’s well.”

He didn’t miss his housekeeper’s glance at him out of the side of her eye as he made his way to the stairs.  She could think what she liked; he didn’t really care.

When he got to Claire’s door, he knocked softly, wanting to alert her to his presence if she was awake, but not disturb her if asleep.  When no sound came, he softly opened the door and peered in the room.  

His heart skipped a beat when her bed was empty.  He rushed in, worried she’d collapsed somewhere on the floor.  He scanned the room and found her sitting on the ledge of the window.  

It was a deep ledge, several feet wide, made from the thick stone his father used to build the house.  The window was open, and she was curled up in her shift, fast asleep.  The poor lass must’ve still been overly warm in the house and sought the coolness of the breeze.  But his heart raced at the thought of her falling out the window two floors down.

He set the tray of food on the side table and moved to the window.  Softly, so as not to wake her, he lifted her up in his arms.  She moaned contentedly and leaned her head against his chest.  The thundering of his heart was sure to sound like war drums in her dreams.

Her face was chilled from the breeze blowing on her clammy skin, and her body shivered as it absorbed his warmth.  He brought her to bed and laid her down on the cool sheets.  He didn’t cover her, fearful of overheating her once more.

She moaned softly and stretched out her body.  She was long and graceful, and as she wore naught but her shift, Jamie could see the curves of her body that her bumroll and petticoats concealed earlier in the day.  She had a great, round arse and a slender waist that inspired such lewd thoughts, he began feeling ashamed of himself for staring.

“Slàinte mhath,” he whispered, moving a dark curl behind her ear, “agus aislingean tlachdmhor.”

 


 

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept so long.  In truth, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt safe enough to sleep so many hours.  Ever since coming to the eighteenth century, I’d been either on the run or fearing for my immediate safety almost constantly.  But when the Laird brought me to my room the previous afternoon, I felt so weak and exhausted, I could hardly stay awake long enough to eat a bit of cheese and a bannock. 

It wasn’t an entirely restful sleep.  I’d woken up sweating and uncomfortable several times throughout the night, thanks to the hot July air.  Though quite groggy, I was certain I’d gotten up to sit by the window at some point throughout the night, but I somehow woke up back in bed.  I thought perhaps I was sleepwalking until I saw the tray of food next to me.  Something told me the frail, old Mrs. Crook wasn’t the one who managed to carry me back to bed.

Despite my restlessness, I didn’t wake in a panic for my life even one time.  Strange, considering the threat of the MacKenzies still lingered over me.

It was with this thought that I stepped out into the hall and crossed paths with Dougal MacKenzie.  He seemed to be just going into his room from a long evening out.  The stench coming off him told me exactly why he was just getting home. 

“Smells like you had quite a night.”  I tried not to breathe in the scent of sweat, sex, and metabolizing alcohol as I walked by.  

Unfortunately, Dougal wasn’t interested in letting me escape with my olfactory bulb intact.  He grabbed my arm and stopped me in my tracks.  He whispered low in my ear, his hot breath hitting me like a brick wall.  “My nephew appeared quite taken wi’ ye yesterday.”

“He was a courteous host.”

“He was adamant about protecting yer honor while under his care.  As chivalrous as he may be, I detected something baser in his motivation.”  Dougal’s smile made me shiver in discomfort, not at the thought of the Laird having particular interest in me, but of Dougal’s eagerness to exploit it.

“Just remember, lass, young Jamie may have inherited his father’s charm, but he can be a cold, calculating, and violent man.  Guard yerself, aye?  And remember our arrangement.”

“As if I could forget.”  I pulled my arm out of his grasp and left to find breathable air.  I walked away with his eyes boring into the back of my head.

The house was nearly empty, and it took a little wandering around the grounds to find Mrs. Crook.  I finally found her coming into the house with a pail of goat’s milk.  

“And how are ye feeling this morning, mistress?” she asked, heaving the pail onto the counter.

“Much better, thank you.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so well rested in my life.”

“The Laird ensured I saved some food for ye, if ye’re feeling up to eating.”

“Yes, thank you.  And do you happen to know where I can find the Laird?  I wanted to thank him for helping me yesterday.”

“Oh, aye.  He’s out in the hay fields I’d expect.  We’ve much to do before Quarter Day.”

“Quarter Day?”

“It’ll be the first since the Laird’s return.  ’Tis a celebration and time to collect the rents from the tenants.  Mistress Murray has ensured it’ll be a grand gathering indeed.”

“When will this happen?”

“In three days time.”

My thoughts turned to Dougal staying out so late the night before.  If he and his men engaged in the festivities on Quarter Day, that could grant me enough time to make a run for Craigh Na Dun.  Until then, it might be a good idea for me to get to know the grounds and find the best path for my exit.

I looked outside and tried to gauge the time of day by the height of the sun.  It must’ve been around ten-thirty in the morning.  “Mrs. Crook, does the Laird usually come home for lunch?”

“No’ when he’s out in the fields, mistress.  I’ll send the stable boy out wi’ some lunch in an hour or so.”

“If it’s not too disruptive, I’d like to take it out to him a little early.  Could I help with packing the basket for him?”

“Dinna fash.  I’ll get it packed wi’ enough for the twa of ye and Mister Murray.”

Within fifteen minutes, I was being escorted out to the hay fields by a little stable boy named Rabbie.  He showed me the way to the stables, the barn, and the broch.  We passed the apple orchards and the shed where they made their ale.  Finally, when I was able to spot the large haystacks in the distance, I sent little Rabbie back to the house while I set off to find the Laird.  

He was easy to spot, with his enormous size and glittering hair.  I watched him wield a pitchfork, tossing a scoop of hay into a large wagon.  He was dressed differently for his work in the field.  He wore a hunter’s kilt in colors of green and brown to readily blend into the forest.  He didn’t carry his sword, but his dirk was strapped to his belt.  

He was no less impressive in his work attire than his finest clothes.  Perhaps even a bit more wild and intimidating.

As he turned around and his eyes met mine, I realized I’d been staring for some time.  I dropped my gaze to hide my blush and made my way over to him.

“Good morning, my Laird,” I bowed my head.

His mouth curved into a pleasant smile, and his eyes danced with humor.  “Good morning, Mistress Beauchamp.”

“Yes, well…” I laughed.  “I did sleep in longer than planned.”

“Good.  I’m glad ye were able to get some rest.  And how are ye today, lass?”

“Much better, thanks to you.  And to Mister Murray and Mrs. Crook.”

“’Twas nothing.”

I lifted the basket and displayed its contents.  “I asked Mrs. Crook if I could bring you an early lunch as a thank you.  Whenever you take a break, maybe we could sit and eat?”

The sweetest smile graced his face as the breeze blew his curly red locks over his eyes.  He combed his hair back with a hand and nodded warmly.  “Aye.  Let’s sit under yon tree,” he nodded to the North, “and keep ourselves out of the sun.”

I knew he was worried about me overheating again.  As thoughtful as his concern was, I typically wasn’t a fragile being, and hoped to remedy his misguided notions.  I shook off the thought, reminding myself of two things: first, he was a murdering Laird who was a means to an end with the MacKenzie brothers, and second, I would be leaving in three days, so it didn’t matter one bit what he thought of me.

When we made it to the tree, I laid down a blanket for us to sit on.  I folded my legs under my skirts and watched him stretch out his long limbs next to me.  In an attempt not to stare at his inner thigh peeking out from his kilt, I busied myself with taking out all the food.  I thought perhaps Mrs. Crook overprepared the quantity of food needed for three people, but it was apparent very quickly that it took a significant amount of fuel to sustain the Laird’s formidable body.

“Your land and home are beautiful,” I said, looking out at the fields.  “It’s quiet here.  So peaceful.”

“A bit of a change from Leoch, aye?”

“A favorable change, I assure you.”  Particularly since it put me that much closer to Craigh Na Dun.

“You like peace and quiet then?”

“I do.  I would spend the rest of my life foraging around in a quiet little garden if I could.”

“Is that why the saddlebags in yer room were overflowing wi’ weeds and wee herbs?”

The poor man must’ve thought me rather odd.  “They’re mostly medicinal.  I’m a healer.”

“Aye.  A good one too, I’ve heard.”

I nodded, no need to be modest.  “If any of the family or tenants needs to be seen while I’m here, I’d be happy to oblige.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity to take ye up on that offer, Sassenach.”

We both reached for a bannock at the same time, and our hands grazed against each other.

“Go on,” I said.

He waited with a sweet smile in his eyes for me to go first.  I took it, and he grabbed the one beneath.  After I finished a bite, I asked, “So, are you very close to your uncles?”

“I dinna ken about close, but I fostered wi’ Dougal for some years in my youth.  He taught me much about wielding a blade and leading men into battle.”

“And Colum?”

“Aye.  He taught me to play chess.”

“Chess?” I laughed.

“Chess,” he confirmed, “and no’ just on a chessboard.”  He blinked at me in the oddest manner, almost like a wide-eyed owl staring at its prey.  It took me a moment to realize he was trying to wink, though couldn’t close just the one eye.

“I see,” I chuckled.

“Do ye?”  His eyes bore into mine.

“It would seem as though they were trying to prepare you for something with all that training.”

“Or use me.”  His smile no longer met his eyes.  

There was only one reason he would tell me, a stranger, such a thing.  “You know what they want from you, don’t you?”  

He nodded humorlessly.  “And they asked ye to help them get what they wanted, did they no’?”

I didn’t say a word, but he could see the truth of it in my eyes.

“And which of my uncles d’ye intend on trying to help?”  

“Oh, I have no heart for politics and would probably warn you away from both of them if I didn’t have concern about their reaction if they found out.  I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and eventually find my way home.”

“Where is home?”

“Oxfordshire.”

“And is there someone ye’re going home to?  A family?  A husband?  Children?”

“No.  All my family are gone...dead.  My parents passed when I was a child, my uncle died five years ago, and my husband shortly after that.”

“I’m sorry to hear.  I didna mean to bring up auld wounds.”

“I’m fine.  Really.”  I smoothed my skirts to give my hands something to do.  “How about you?  Are there any Parisian ladies or local girls who’ve captured their Laird’s attention?”

He flushed to the tips of his ears and chuckled.  “Och, no.  I’ve only been a free man for a short time and home for an even shorter time than that.  I’ve no’ been a good prospect for a wife...until recently.”

My eyes seemed to move up and down his body of their own accord.  “I’m not so sure about that.”

“’Tis true.  I was a wanted man for years.  Wanted for murder.  I couldna set foot in Scotland wi’out risking my own life, much less that of a wife.”

“But Colum’s cleared that up, has he not?  He told me he got the price taken off your head.”

“He has.  As I said, I’m a free man now.”

“And a fine prospect for a wife.”

“Perhaps.”  He grinned mischievously.  “But did’ye ever wonder if I actually killed the man, Sassenach?  D’ye no’ want to ken if ye’re alone out here wi’ a murderer?”

His amusement kept most of my fear at bay.  He truly didn’t seem the kind of man to take pleasure in the loss of life, whatever Colum and Dougal’s allusions to the contrary.  “Are you saying you didn’t commit the murder you were wanted for?”

“No.  I did not.  Though I have killed many other men in battle besides, I didna kill that particular man.  I had witnesses to prove it, as well.”

“Well, that’s good to know.  Now I can go about my lunch without worry of being disemboweled by my dining companion.”

He chuckled pleasantly.

“And I’m sure all the ladies of Broch Tuarach will be lining up for a chance to dance with their non-murdering Laird come Quarter Day.  I bet they won’t sleep for days in anticipation.”

He chuckled heartily.

“What?  What’s so funny?” I demanded.

“’Tis nothing, Sassenach.  Only…” he laughed a bit more, “...only that ye’ve just slept near twenty hours straight.  Ye dinna seem to be suffering from the same anticipatory affliction as yon lassies.”

I couldn’t help my own giggle bubbling out of my lips.  I took a bite of some smoked meat and watched him do the same. 

“Can I ask you a serious question?” I said.

“Aye.”

“What are your plans for the Jacobite Rebellion?  Are you interested in joining the cause?”

“Nae, Sassenach.  As far as I’m concerned, it doesna signify unless the violence of war touches my land or my people.  Besides, from what I ken, the Prince has only just arrived in Paris, and he’s currently wi’out the funds or support to fight a war.”

“Funds and support or not, he’s coming to Scotland...and soon.  Probably within the next couple of years.  What will you do then?”

He narrowed his gaze at me.  “And who wants to ken?  You?  Or is it Colum or Dougal?  Or perhaps someone else entirely?”

“I’m not a spy, despite what you may have heard.  I asked only for the sake of curiosity and concern.  War is coming.  I hope you’ll be prepared, whatever direction you choose to lead your people.”

He considered my words for a moment before he let out a quiet chuckle.  “And ye said ye didna care much for politics.”

“I’ve no interest in politics, and that’s the God’s honest truth.  But I do know all about the dangers of war.  This won’t be the first one I’ve seen.”

“Aye...and hopefully no’ the last either.  So long as men live, they’ll be fighting, so as long as ye keep seeing war, then ye’ll ken ye’re still alive.”

“That was painfully accurate and entirely demoralizing.  I actually intend to be long gone from Scotland before war ravishes this land and its people.  It won’t be a pretty thing.”

“That sounds like a warning, Sassenach.  Though I canna tell if it is one from Colum, Dougal, or the English.”

“As I said before, I’m no one’s spy.  I’m just trying to be honest...for whatever that’s worth.”

He reached out a hand and grabbed mine.  “I’d say friendship has room for secrets, but no’ lies.”

I smiled tenderly, enjoying the feel of my hand enveloped in his.  They were large and rough and warm.  “Are you asking me to be your friend?”

“Would it no’ be better than being my enemy?”

“Just so, my Laird.  And that I can say with all honesty.”

“Aye.  Then we’ll be friends.  And as such...ye can call me Jamie.”

 


 

After my new friend and I finished our lunch, I gave him the basket to give what was left to Ian.  He walked me to the edge of the field.  As I was preparing to take my leave and let him return to work, he spoke to me in the most elegant French tongue I’d ever heard.  He said, “Whether there are dozens of ladies lining up to dance with me on Quarter Day, or none, will you, my friend, save a dance for me?”

My heart fluttered madly as I responded in French in turn.  “Knowing how light you are on your feet, how could I possibly say no?”

He laughed heartily.  “And how do you ken I’m so light on my feet?”

“Because you snuck up on me so stealthily yesterday, that you knocked me completely unconscious.  I can only imagine how easily you’ll move across the dance floor.”

He blushed to the tips of his ears and didn’t hide the breathtaking smile that graced his face.

“Goodbye, Jamie.”

“I’ll see ye at supper, Sassenach.”

Chapter Text

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, watching the servants scurrying around to and fro to prepare for Quarter Day.

“No’ at all,” said Jenny, hardly looking in my direction.  “Ye’re a guest in this house, and I willna have my guests saddled wi’ chores and housework and the like.  Go on and busy yerself wi’ whatever amusements suit yer fancy.”

“It would be no hardship, I assure you.”

“’Tis no’ yer place, Mistress Beauchamp.”  Her tone brooked no further opposition.

I held my head up and sighed, “As you wish.”

If I couldn’t be of use in the house, then the best thing I could do for everyone was to not be a nuisance in it.  I tracked down a large basket from the kitchen and set off outside to forage for some medicinal plants.  

“Pay no mind to Jenny,” said a quiet voice behind me as I walked out the door.

I nearly jumped out of my skin.  “Jamie!  Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you said you wouldn’t sneak up on me anymore.”

He chuckled as we made our way into the morning sunlight.  “I didna realize I was sneaking around my own home.”

“How a bloody giant walks around as quiet as a mouse, I’ll never know.”

Pointing to my basket, he asked, “Where are ye off to, Sassenach?  Looking for more of yer wee herbs?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.  If you can point me in the direction of a nearby creek, I’d much appreciate it.  There are a number of plants that grow along the water’s edge I’d like to see if I could find.”

“Aye, follow me.  I’ll show ye to a pretty, little glade wi’ a creek running through.  All sorts of plants grow along where the sun shines down.  May I?”  He took the basket from my hand to carry it for me.

“Thank you.”  I looked up at him so he’d know I was sincere.  “I know an Englishwoman in the Highlands isn’t always welcome.  I appreciate your kindness.”

He put a hand on my arm in both acknowledgment and consolation. “Dinna fash about Jenny.  She’s rarely left our land and doesn’t take kindly to most strangers, no’ just the English.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

We walked quietly through the long grass, away from any roads or paths.  I was unaccustomed to hiking over such uneven ground, but it was second nature to Jamie.  After the second time I caught my shoe on a rock, he took my arm and hooked it around his for the sake of stability.

He was, without question, the most sturdy man I’d ever met in my life.

“I have a wee confession, Sassenach,” he spoke out of the blue.

“Oh?”

“I was there the day ye were found by the MacKenzies in yer shift at Craigh Na Dun.”

I tried my best to think back to that day, but couldn’t remember seeing anyone that could possibly resemble Jamie on the hill.  “Where were you?”

“Some distance away, but I ken it was you.  I tried to help ye wi’ that bastard Randall, but...but my godfather interfered.  Ye see, I’d only just been pardoned, and my sister was about to have her wee bairn, and my people had been suffering wi’out me.  Murtagh’s words made me pause...I hesitated when I should ha’ just...By the time I fought past him, it was too late.  The MacKenzies had taken off wi’ ye.”

As I gripped his firm and reassuring arm, I wondered how different things would have been if it were Jamie that had come to my aid, rather than Dougal and his men.

“I think I have to confess something, as well,” I said.

“Oh?”

“I’m pretty certain I am the reason Dougal is here at Lallybroch in the first place.”

“Sent him here, did’ye,” he laughed, “in yer wee spy games?”

“No.  Nothing like that.”  He lifted me bodily over a particularly rough patch of earth before I continued on.  “Dougal and I had an argument at Leoch.  A very public, very loud discussion of the Rising.”

“The Rising?”

“Not the Rising of 1715.  We were discussing the upcoming rebellion Dougal wants to start.  I...I thought I was being helpful in telling him Scotland doesn’t have a chance of winning.  I told him the clans are too disconnected to come together, that they lack decisive leadership and resources.  Instead of getting even more angry with me for doubting him, or giving up altogether as I had hoped he would, he took my words to heart and decided to go on some campaign to bring the clan leaders together...starting with you.  I’m afraid my big mouth is responsible for bringing you this trouble.”

Jamie’s whole body bounced with humor.  “Weel, then it serves me right for letting him take ye away to Leoch.  I kent there was a reason I should ha’ gone after ye and kept ye for myself.”

Jamie,” I chided.

“Claire, ye’re no’ responsible for my uncle’s decisions.  Ye were only trying to help.  And even if he didna come now, he’d come later.  I’m certain of it.”  He patted my hand gently and we walked arm in arm.  “Dinna fash yerself, lass.  ’Twas inevitable.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Tell me something though.  Why would Dougal bring ye to help him convince me to join his cause if ye’re so opposed to it?”

“It was Colum who sent me.  He wants you to lead the MacKenzies when he dies.  He said if I convinced you, he’d send me home.  Anywhere I wanted to go.  Dougal, of course, deduced his intentions and gave me a counter offer: convince you to join his cause, and he’d send me home...fail, and he’d consider me an enemy to the rebellion.”

“I see,” he nodded gravely.

“Do you?”

“Aye.  I ken my uncles well.  I’m often caught between them just as you are now, though their threats to me are none so direct, seeing as how they fear my opposition as much as they desire my allegiance.”

“Apparently, they’re not too concerned about my opposition.”

“Because they’re fools,” he chuckled.  

We were in the cover of the forest now.  The ground was blanketed in bracken and moss, and the sun struggled to make its way through the leaves and pine.  I held on a little tighter to his arm, worried I might slip on the slick surface beneath my feet.

“Ye’re safe here at Lallybroch.  Ye ken that, right?”

I acknowledged him with a squeeze of his arm.  I did feel safe with him.  It was a strange realization, seeing as how devious, violent, and conniving everyone painted him out to be.  I’d only known him a short time, but he made me feel calm and reassured.

“Why do you call your home Lallybroch?” I asked, wanting to change the subject to more pleasant things.

“It means ‘Lazy Tower.’  Ye’ve seen the ancient broch has a bit of lean to it?”  An amused pride had him curling his mouth at the thought of his land.

On and on we walked through the forest, stopping only to pick some wild berries.  He gave me a handkerchief from his sporran, and I filled it up and tucked them away into the basket—though I kept a handful to eat along the way.  I gave a few to Jamie; they seemed so tiny in his massive hands.  I could only imagine how many he’d have to eat to assuage potential hunger.

He popped them in his mouth and chewed slowly, seemingly to let the flavor linger on his tongue.  He had a look of deep consideration as his jaw worked lazily up and down.  It wasn’t until he spoke that I realized he wasn’t thinking about the berries.  “Ye’re no’ planning on running away, are ye, Sassenach?”

“Running?” I said, flustered.  How could he possibly know that?

“It wouldna be safe for ye to do so.  Ye ken Dougal is having ye followed?”

I looked behind us and saw nothing.

“Dinna fash.  Willie is far enough away no’ to hear us talk so quietly, but he is there, lass.  He was there yesterday, as well, when ye came to see me in the hay field.”

“Goddamn fucking bastard Dougal,” I grumbled, defeat almost immediately replacing rage.

“Aye,” Jamie confirmed.  “Dougal and his men ken the Highlands as well as anyone, and they’ll catch ye before ye get back to Craigh Na Dun.”

“How did you know where I was going?”

He smiled a little sheepishly.  “Ian told me ye asked him where to find it.”

“Of course he did,” I sighed.

“’Tis no’ just Dougal’s men that should have ye worrit.  The redcoats patrol these parts more so than Leoch.  We’re closer to Fort William, ye see, and they’re often in need of supplies and such.  I should hate for Captain Randall to happen upon ye while ye’re alone in the Highlands.  And that’s to say nothing of the Watch or any other folk none too keen on a strange sassenach wandering around their land.”

I sighed heavily, feeling my old life slip further away.  

“I’ll take ye there myself,” he said, “after Quarter Day.  Ye’ve done naught to deserve being anyone’s prisoner.  I ken the feeling well enough.  The anger...the unfairness...the helplessness.  I’ll take ye to Oxfordshire or France or Craigh Na Dun.  I’ll take ye wherever ye like.”

I stopped in my tracks, and he paused with me, as though anticipating my movement.  I searched his eyes for any sign of deception and found nothing, save genuine warmth.  “You’d do that for me?”

“Of course.”

“But...your uncle...”

Hmphm.  Let me worry about my uncle...both of my uncles.  I'd very much like to see you safe.”

And he meant it too.  For a man who could so easily mask his thoughts, he was purposefully letting his guard down so I could see the truth of it.

“Thank you, Jamie.  But if you think I’d throw away a friend to the wolves like that, then you don’t know me at all.  I understand exactly what it would mean to Dougal if he thought you were undermining his cause.  I’ll not be responsible for the consequences of that, for the position it would put you in.”

“D’ye no’ think it my decision to make?”

“Not yours alone.  I refuse your assistance, just as I’m sure you’d refuse to put me in a situation that might cause me harm.”

He tensed his jaw and sighed in frustration.  “Then it appears we are at an impasse.”

“So it does.”

Our eyes locked for what felt like an endless moment.  I could see the concern in his gaze...and if I was being honest, something more.  And I very much liked it.

His mouth quirked, and he turned away, holding out a hand to lead me forward.  I took it, enjoying his touch far more than I should.  In fact, I was so consumed by it, I hardly noticed when he brought me through the last of the trees and into the sunshine.  

It was the flames of his hair in the morning light that alerted me to our change in scenery.  I turned to find the most picturesque glade, illuminated by dapples of sunlight filtering through the surrounding trees.  A small creek ran noisily around the edge of the glade, where water gently splashed against boulders, trees, and solid earth.  Nearly the entire glade was covered with wildflowers, ferns, and long grass.  

Jamie…” I whispered breathlessly, head clouded with the scent of summer blossoms.

“Here’s flowers for you,” he recited from A Winter’s Tale. “Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram; The marigold that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping."

Only such a man could draw my eyes away from the beauty of the glade.  His thumb caressed the back of my hand, as though playing the strings of my fluttering heart.  

“Come.”  He led me down to the creek.  “D’ye see any of the herbs and such ye were hoping for?”

I laughed aloud.  “More than could’ve imagined.”

“Alright then.  I’ll help ye dig up what ye need.”

“Don’t you have work to do back at the house or out in the fields?”

“Aye,” he grinned.  “But for now, I’m pulling up weeds and plants for my new sassenach friend.”

“Your sister is going to hate me.”

“Mebbe for a bit, just until she lets herself get to know ye.”

With medicinal flora in abundance, it took no time at all to fill the basket overflowing.  I was actually quite pleased that Jamie came with me for more than just his pleasant company.  Carrying the large basket all the way back the house through such rugged terrain seemed daunting.  

“Ah, look!” said Jamie enthusiastically, pulling up a humble, spiny weed with a purple flower adorning its top.  “Thistle.”

“You know, the roots of the thistle can be decocted for respiratory conditions, and the flowers can be made into tea for a heart tonic.”

“Is that so?  I didna ken that.”  He fingered the spiny bits with amusement.  “Did’ye ken that this bitty weed saved the lives a great many Scotsmen in the 13th century?”

I shook my head, rapt with interest.

Jamie leaned forward as I’d seen a few clansmen do at Leoch as they were preparing to tell a story.  “There was a Norse king by the name of Haakon who quietly invaded Largs on the western coast of Scotland.  Haakon and his Vikings meant to creep up on the clansmen in the dead of night, long after they’d fallen asleep.  So cautious they were to maintain the element of surprise, that their leaders ordered they all go barefoot into battle so their footfall wouldna rouse any of the Scots.  Fortunately for the clansmen, the Vikings’ bare feet came down upon Scottish thistle, and their cries of shock and agony woke the sleeping Highlanders who were able to defend their lives and their land with the comfort of boots on their feet.” 

I laughed as much at Jamie’s enjoyment of his own story as the content of the story itself.  

“And that is why we prize the thistle as we do,” he continued.  “It has become a symbol of strength and tenacity...much like the Scots themselves.”

“And beauty...albeit a bit rugged sometimes.”

Jamie feigned offense.  “Are ye calling the likes of Murtagh a bit rugged, Sassenach?  He’s a canty wee bird if I’ve ever seen one.”

“Canty?”  I tried to imagine the sour-faced Scot as canty, but came up entirely empty aside from a fit of laughter.

“’Tis a good thing he’s no’ here.  Ye might’ve injured his feelings wi’ yer disbelief.”

“I’m sure he’d find a way to recover.”  I wiped tears from the corners of my eyes.  “Will I be able to witness some of his cantiness during Quarter Day?”

“Oh, to be sure.  His taciturn nature and severe countenance aside, the man has the voice of a songbird.”

I bent over in a fit of giggles once again.

“I’m telling ye the truth!” he insisted, gently nudging under my chin in chastisement.  “I told ye I wouldna lie to ye.”

“Oh, I believe you mean it.  It’s just that I’m seriously questioning your judgment and wondering if you’re tone deaf.”

“Weel, ye’re none sae wrong there, lass.  I dinna have much an ear for music, but Murtagh’s voice is known around these parts as something verra fine to hear.”

“Wait...you’re tone deaf, and you still plan on dancing with me?”  I snorted at the foolish image in my mind of Jamie and I dancing wildly off the beat of the music to a roomful of scandalized spectators.

“I can hear the rhythms just fine, but it all just sounds like noise.  Yelling and screeching and the like.”

“Oh, this evening you have planned sounds like a marvelous time.”

“Oh aye,” he said, and recited a rhythmic poem:

“We'll confound the reckoning quite,
And lose ourselves in wild delight:
While our joys so multiply,
As shall mock the envious eye.”

“That’s beautiful.  What poem is it?”

“Oh, ’tis nothing,” he waved me off.  “Just an auld Latin poem from Catullus.” 

“Gaelic, English, French, Latin...how many languages do you speak?”

“A fair few quite well.  A few others poorly.”

I shook my head in wonder.  “You’re nothing like everyone painted you out to be.  You’re just one surprise after another.”

“And what wretched rumors did’ye hear before ye came?”

“That you’re a violent, manipulative, self-serving Laird, who would gut a man as soon as he invited him to dinner.”

The smile remained on his lips, but disappeared from his eyes.  “They didna speak untrue, Sassenach.  I am all those things as much as whatever else ye’ve seen.”

“I can’t imagine you’d take pleasure in such things.”

“Ye’ve only kent me a few days, Claire.  I’m sure wi’ further acquaintance, ye’ll no’ have need to imagine such things.  Ye’ll have opportunity to see for yerself.”  He wasn’t smiling at all any longer.

A shiver went down my spine despite the heat of the day.  I forced myself to look around and picked the first flower in reach.  It was a small plant with little purple-blue blossoms fanning out here and there.  “A forget-me-not,” I said, remembering it being the last thing I’d seen before traveling through the stones.

“Does it have medicinal use?”

“Some say it might help with nose bleeds and lung problems, but it’ll harm your liver faster than it fixes anything else.”

“Then why are ye picking it, lass?”

I shrugged.  “It’s pretty.”  

“Ye like pretty things then?”

“I suppose I do.”

“Aye.  So do I.”  A heated blush rose up to the tips of his ears, and I knew he was no longer talking about the flower. 

 


 

As Jamie walked back to the house with Claire on one arm and a basket of greenery on the other, he knew it was how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.  He was certain he was not alone in his affections.  Her eyes told him she was quite taken with him as well...he only wished he knew how much.

She was stunning.  As beautiful as she was sweet.  And if her hands felt so bonny on his arm, he could only imagine how they’d feel lower down.  

He remembered watching her sleep the night before.  Christ, how her shift curved ’round her arse as she slumbered.  He could almost feel her in his hands, fitting her bottom in the curve of his pelvis.

“Thank you, Jamie.  You really didn't have to take so much time out of your day to help me.”

“’Twas my pleasure, Sassenach.”  He led her into the house and to the drawing room.  “I’ll just bring these plants up to yer room wi’ ye.”

“Jamie!” barked Dougal, coming inside armed from head to toe.  “If ye’re no’ out working, come cross blades wi’ me.  I’ve no’ had decent practice since we left Leoch.”

Jamie turned slowly to address his uncle, frustrated with the interruption.  Though, he was pleased for the opportunity to practice with such a fine fighter.  He’d likely not get the chance again for some time.  “Aye.  I’ll just deliver these to Claire’s bedchamber and be down shortly.”

Jamie followed Claire up to her room and welcomed the herbaceous scent as he stepped inside.  Claire had to clear away old plants and herbs off a table to make room for the basket.

“I’ll have another table brought up here for ye, and some wee pots and bowls and jars, if ye like.”

A soft gratitude melted the expression on her face.  “I don’t know how to thank you, Jamie.”

“Really, Claire, ’tis my…”

They were interrupted by a shout coming from somewhere upstairs.

“Jenny!” he said, darting past Claire and out of the room.  

He could hear Claire’s footsteps trailing behind as he flew up the stairs to find his sister.  When he made it to the third floor, he followed the sound of a baby crying in the nursery.  Claire caught up to him just as he opened the door.

Wee Maggie was wailing and cringing in pain.  Again.  The poor lass had been crying more often of late.  Jenny was holding her, rocking her pressed tight against her chest.  

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Jenny shook her head and went back to rocking the baby, indiscernible Gaelic being whispered to the wean.

Movement drew Jamie’s attention to the other side of the room.  Ian was holding wee Jamie, and Mrs. Crook stood there looking worried at Jenny and the babe.

“Maggie is hungry,” said Ian, “but she still doesna want to eat.  She tried this morning, but boaked all o’er her Ma just after.”

“Boaked?” asked Claire.

“Vomited,” said Jamie.  “The wee lass hasna been eating well, and when she does, she falls ill, retching and crying and writhing in pain.”

“She’s fine,” Jenny asserted.  “She’s just no’ feeling well.  I’m sure it’ll pass.”

“Why were ye yelling, a nighean?” asked Jamie.

Jenny only huffed and went back to rocking the baby.

“Mrs. Crook…” Ian hesitated, then proceeded to speak with care.  “Mrs. Crook suggested that mebbe ’tis no’ Maggie at all.  She said...perhaps a fairy replaced the wean wi’ a changeling.”

“And a damned fool suggestion if I ever heard one,” said Jenny, emphatically.  Though the distress in her tone made Jamie inclined to believe his sister held some little doubt of her own.  “I ken my own daughter, Jamie!  She may be ill, but she isna a damn fairy!”

“Aye, mistress,” said Mrs. Crook, “but ye ken the fairies are a tricky sort.  They could but use a glamour…”

“This child is my daughter!  D’ye hear me?  I’ll no’ be having anyone suggesting otherwise!”

“A changeling?” said Claire behind him.  Jamie could hear the disbelief in her voice.  She whispered low so only he could hear.  “Jamie, you know that’s ridiculous.”

“Aye.” Then he spoke loud enough for Jenny to hear, “Would ye look at the wean, Claire?  She may no’ be a fairy, but she is most certainly ill.  Perhaps ye can find a tincture or tea of some sort to help her feel better.”

“My daughter is braw!” Jenny insisted.  “We’ll wait for the Beaton to come…”

“Claire is no’ going to hurt the lass, mo phiuthar.

“Let her look, mo chridhe,” said Ian, patting wee Jamie gently on the back.  “Just hear what she has to say.”

Jenny looked down at Maggie with pain and fear in her eyes.  She reminded Jamie of a wild animal whose child was threatened, ready to lash out at anything that came too close.

“You can hold her, Jenny,” said Claire.  “Perhaps I can just take a look and ask you a few questions?”

With a glance down at her daughter, and a final reassuring nod from Jamie, Jenny finally acquiesced.  She turned little Maggie around and invited Claire to come closer.  

Maggie continued to scream as Claire opened up the bundle of blankets.  Jamie watched as Claire checked the rhythm of the baby’s heart.  She cooed to the little one as she worked, telling Jenny every move she was going to make before making it.  Claire listened to the child’s lungs, checked all her limbs, then pressed gentle fingers into her belly.

“When did this start?” Claire asked.

Jenny shrugged.  “She’s always been a bit fussy, especially after she eats, but it’s only gotten worse over time.  The last few weeks have been awful for the puir lass.”

“She’s not had any convulsions?  An uncontrollable tensing and shaking of her body?”

Jenny shook her head.  “’Tis always just like this.”

“Is she alright, Claire?” asked Ian, coming closer now that Jenny was less feral.

“Well, I can’t be certain, but I think little Maggie is having a bad case of reflux.”

“What?” asked Jenny, narrowing her eyes at Claire.

“You see, babies have an immature digestive system.  It usually takes some time for it to fully develop, but some babies have more problems with it than others.  There are acids, fluids, in our stomach that break down food.  I think Maggie’s body is just having a hard time keeping her milk and those acids in her stomach where they belong.  It makes her sick and causes her to have pain, so she cringes and cries.  Then she cries some more because she’s so hungry.”

“So ye dinna think she’s a changeling?” asked Jenny.

“Of course not.”

“Can ye help her, Sassenach?” asked Jamie.

“There’s not much to be done, unfortunately.  We can employ gravity to help her out.  May I?” Claire asked, holding her hands out for the bairn.

Jenny hesitantly handed Maggie over.  Claire took the wean and demonstrated to Jenny, “If you feed her by holding her upright, the milk will drop down her esophagus much easier and be digested where it should.  Keep her sitting upright or rock her to sleep on your shoulder, like this, for at least a half hour after she’s done eating.  Try propping her up when she sleeps so all the fluid stays down at the bottom of her belly.”

Jamie snorted with the simplicity of it all.  He’d spent more than one evening overeating the rich food in France and suffered for it with pains in his chest and bile coming up his throat.  Sitting up certainly helped him to feel better.  “See, a nighean, all will be well.”

“I can’t be one hundred percent certain, of course,” said Claire.  “But try it out over the next few days and see if it helps.  If it does, just keep doing it for as long as she needs.  It usually goes away after a few weeks or months.”

Jenny didn’t look entirely convinced, but Jamie was certain he saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

“Ye’ll do as she says?” Jamie asked, wanting confirmation.

Jenny nodded.  “I suppose it wouldna do the lass any harm to be more upright.”

“Aye.”  

Maggie had finally cried herself to sleep on Claire’s shoulder.  Jamie didn’t know how the bairn wasn’t awoken by the wisps of Claire’s curly hair tickling her face, but he thought it probably a fine thing for the wean to be resting so comfortably on the lass’s bosom and Claire’s gentle hands stroking the soft expanse of her back.

Jenny must have been thinking the same, because she asked, “Ye were marrit before, Claire?  Did’ye no’ have any children of yer own?”

Though Claire kept smiling, she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes.  “No.  We tried, but...I couldn’t get pregnant.  I suppose it’s just not in the cards for some people.”

“I’m sorry to hear.”

“It’s alright.  There are other ways to have children.  Whenever I’m ready one day, perhaps I’ll find a child who needs a mother as much as I need a little one.”

Jamie hadn’t realized he wasn’t breathing until he started feeling dizzy.  Though hearing the woman could not bear his children was a blow, what was worse was her clear suffering over it.  And there was nothing he could do to fix it for her.

“Jamie!” Dougal’s impatient voice came through the window.  “Get yer scairt wee bollocks out here a’fore I find ’em and drag ’em outside!”  

Hmphm,” Jamie grumbled.  He caressed his sister’s cheek and asked, “Ye alright, a leannan?”

She nodded with a small smile.  “There is at least some small thing I can do now, which is no little comfort.”

He kissed the top of her head, then moved to Claire and Maggie.  He bent over the bairn and whispered, “Cadal gu math, a nighean.”  He placed a soft kiss on her warm temple before standing up to his full height.

Claire’s eyes were on him, smiling sweetly.  

“Thank ye, Sassenach.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she repeated his words from earlier.

Jamie forced himself to pull away and went to his nephew.  “Come, a bhalaich.  Help me don my sword and shield.  Ye want to see yer uncle practice wi’ a blade?”

Wee Jamie reached for him from his father’s arms, and Jamie carried him out of nursery.  Thoughts of Claire holding little Maggie burrowed their way into his mind as he searched for his sword and shield.  

He was distracted still as he showed wee Jamie how to strap them on.  And when he made his way outside, he thought of what it might be like to bring his own child with him to teach him how to fight.

“There ye are, ye coward!” said Dougal, as Jamie stepped into the courtyard.  “Ye’ve gone soft in France, lad?”

“Haud yer wheesht, auld man.  I ken ye’re no’ long for this earth, but ye canna be rushing everyone around ye.”

Jamie put his nephew a safe distance away from where the fighting would take place.  “Careful now as ye watch yer uncles, aye?  I dinna want ye getting trampled on nor skewered wi’ a blade.”

Wee Jamie nodded enthusiastically, his wide, brown eyes staring at Jamie's long sword.  Jamie’s heart was full and warm at the sight of the child’s awe and wonder.  

He moved to the center of the courtyard, where the servants and family had started to gather around to watch the show.  Jamie’s eyes rose up to the nursery on the third floor and saw Claire sitting on the ledge, still holding wee Maggie.  He smiled softly, looking between her and wee Jamie, and thought, This alone is more than a man has any right to ask for.

“Ye ready to be gelded, laddie?” asked Dougal with a grin.

Jamie took his stance and said, “Je suis prest, Uncle.”

Dougal mirrored his stance and yelled, “Tulach Ard!” before running forward and swinging down his blade.

Chapter Text

They were at it again, the great brutes.  Every day, multiple times a day.  This time it was with their great claymore blades.  I could see why Dougal was so eager to practice with Jamie.  No one else could possibly keep up.  

Jamie’s enormous two-handed blade was at least as tall as me from hilt to tip.  He could only wield it if he used both hands, making it impossible to hold a shield at the same time, but it was so large, it was both weapon and shield on its own.

The great Scots hammered away at each other with astonishing power.  The sound of blade crashing against blade must’ve resonated through the air for miles around.  Every clash was jarring, reverberating down my spine.

But as terrifying and awe-inspiring as it was, it was also breathtakingly beautiful.  The men were soaked in sweat, making their white shirts a tedious formality.  I could see every sharp curve and smooth plain of muscle through the transparent fabric clinging to their bodies.  The speed at which they moved whirled their kilts around in the air, showing off their long, athletic legs.

I couldn’t take my eyes off Jamie.  It was impossible to watch his muscles flex and stretch without thinking about what a body like that might feel like on top of me.  And even if I could pull my eyes away, it wouldn’t matter.  It was impossible to hear the sounds of his grunting and straining without wondering what he might sound like climaxing inside me.

And every interaction we had outside his practice sessions were now tainted by what I had witnessed in them.  Like when we sat down to supper the night before and he conversed politely about the state of the mill, all I could hear in every word he said were echoes of the growls and groans I’d heard watching him fight.

As I began readying myself for the Quarter Day celebration, I was no less affected.  I stood at the window in my shift, peering down over Jamie and Dougal in combat.  Again I watched as muscle and sinew flexed and rippled under their shirts.  I tried, failing miserably, not to imagine Jamie’s powerful thighs between my legs or what it would feel like to press myself against his sweaty body and hear his heavy panting in my ear.

As though he could feel the force of my thoughts, his eyes lifted up to my window.  I couldn’t help the blush on my cheeks nor the shiver down my spine, but still, I held his gaze.  

It wasn’t until Dougal threw a small rock at his head that Jamie looked away briefly to curse at his uncle.  It was at that moment I realized I was still in my shift.  Jamie’s eyes lifted back up as I moved away so my half-naked body wasn’t on display for the whole courtyard to see.

Mrs. Crook had already brought in a basin with steaming hot water so I could wash for the festivities.  The water was almost painful to the touch, but after too many days in the eighteenth century without such a luxury, I gladly endured the discomfort.  

With images of Jamie’s form fresh in my mind, I was very aware of my soft shift sliding down my hypersensitive skin.  I worked up a lather in my hands with Jenny’s fine-milled French soap and brought the warm, wet suds over my chest.  Clearly, they were my own fingertips running up the side of my neck and down my throat, but my imagination rejected the idea that it wasn’t Jamie who was touching me.  That it wasn’t his sizable hands moving down my arms and to my belly.

Foolish, I thought to myself.  I planned on being gone very soon, and fantasizing about so intimate a touch—one likely to never become a reality—would only lead to frustrated disappointment and regret. 

But as I gently washed over the soft skin of my breasts and tight, achy nipples, I wondered if it would be such a terrible thing to let him touch me before I left.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d harbor all the more regret if I didn’t share such intimacy with him before leaving this century forever.

He’d have to want to, of course, but by the look in his eyes as he had gazed up at me from the courtyard, I was certain his lack of wanting wouldn’t be a problem.  

Opening my mind to amorous possibilities had me moving my lathered hand over the smooth curves of my waist and hips...and then further down.  As they reached the apex of my thighs, my small fingers slipped delicately between my lips.

And somehow I knew that no amount of imagination would ever do the reality of his own hands justice.

 


 

“Failing means ye're playin, laddie!” said Jamie, as he pleasantly slapped the shoulder of a young man of about sixteen.  “Keep up yer practice wi’ the longbow, and I’ll ha’ ye come wi’ me to find a buck next week.”

If I’d thought James Fraser couldn’t surprise me anymore with the different manifestations of his personality, I was proven very wrong at the Quarter Day celebration multiple times over.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been taken so off guard—Colum and Dougal had informed me of his charisma—but watching him with his tenants was a revelation.  They flocked to him, drawn by his magnetism.  All this time, I thought him more introverted like myself, but I watched that assumption prove false as connection to all the people around him fueled his energy, rather than depleted it.

He talked to every one of his tenants, from the infants to the elderly.  He laughed, he drank, he told stories, and he listened.  I stood at the edge of the room with a whisky in my hand and watched him narrow the full force of his attention on one person at a time.  I saw the power it had on the recipient to be cared for by their Laird.  I watched grown men’s shoulders straighten with pride, children dissolve into fits of laughter, and smitten young ladies bow their heads and look up at him through fluttering lashes.

I snickered to myself after one such young lady with blonde ringlets pinned high upon her head walked away licking her lips and fanning her flushed skin.  I wasn’t laughing at the poor girl, but rather at myself and my own susceptibility to his charming smile and quick wit.  

Even fully aware that I was only one of hundreds of people vying for Jamie’s attention, I still fell under his spell the moment he turned his gaze in my direction.  It was the way he looked at me, like he was watching a sunrise.  Though by the weakness in my knees, I was far more likely to be a sunset; there was no way I could stay upright for long if I continued to stare into those deep blue eyes that glittered prettily in the candlelight.

Was this the effect he had on everyone?  I supposed I wasn’t the only one deluded into thinking I was the center of his world when he turned his focus on me. 

He was impressive once again with his Fraser colors and hair plaited back.  I wore a dress Mrs. Fitz made for me for a MacKenzie gathering during my stay at Leoch, and I was pleased to see Jamie’s eyes appreciating it at length.  He stepped toward me, slow strides with long legs. 

Someone attempted to approach him, but it was as if he switched the polarity of his magnetism, the intensity of his gaze on me, pushing everyone else away.

“Good evening, Sassenach. Ye look...enchanting, as always.”

“Thank you.  Your people are pleased to have you home.”

“Aye.  They’re like family.”

“I can see that.  Although,” I looked at the young blonde woman staring at me with venom in her eyes, “I think there are a few ladies here who would jump at the opportunity to become a little closer to the family if you asked them.”

He let out an amused breath, but didn’t look away.  “Ye mind, ye promised me a dance.  If I ask ye for it now, does that mean I forfeit another wi’ ye later?”

“I suppose that depends on how the first one goes.”

He bowed formally before me and offered his hand.  “Then I must find a way to rise to the occasion.”

His hand dwarfed my own, but he held it with that same tenderness he showed out in the glade.  His thumb traced softly over the back of my knuckles, as though holding something immensely precious to him.

Foolish, I told myself once again.  Did I not just watch him make dozens of other people feel the same?   

Despite my logical protestations, I was more than overcome by his touch.  Flashes of my earlier imaginings of what that very hand was capable of sent a fiery heat down my spine, tickling all my senses as it made its way between my thighs.  I shivered, and a quiet whimper escaped my lips.  

My reaction didn’t go unnoticed.  He squeezed my hand in supportive reassurance as he led me to the drawing room for our dance.

Eighteenth century dancing was nothing like the swings and hops I was accustomed to in the twentieth century, but thankfully, Mrs. Fitz attended to my social education during my stay at Leoch.  I had to admit, I would’ve very much preferred to just press our bodies close together and sway in each other’s arms to the music—or even cradle each other alone outside to the sounds of hooting owls and chirping crickets—but the benefit of dancing meant that Jamie was mine and mine alone for the length of the dance.  There would be no eager tenants cutting in for his attention and no pretty girls trying to catch his eye.  It was just the two of us uninterrupted...likely the only time it would be so for the rest of the night.

His grace and elegance of movement was no surprise, so in control of his body as he always seemed to be, even if the dancing was more refined and contained than the ferocious striking and leaping about he’d been doing with Dougal over the last few days.

When the dance ended, he escorted me off to the side of the room.  Though he seemed unaffected by our exertions, I was breathing a bit heavier than normal and retrieved my handkerchief to dab away the light perspiration over my neck and chest.

“Ye enjoyed the dance then, lass?”

“What was not to like?  Good company and fine music are always a pleasure.  Where I come from, music plays everywhere all the time.  It’s something I miss a great deal.”

“Perhaps, if ye stay here for any length of time, I may have to obtain a set of bagpipes and learn how to play for ye.  I canna have my guests feeling melancholy during their stay.”

I chuckled and cringed at the thought of this tone deaf man attempting to play the bagpipes.  “You won’t have many guests staying here for long if you do that.  Perhaps that’s how the Scots can keep the English out of the Highlands.  Give bagpipes to every man, woman, and child without teaching them to play.”

“Ye wound me, Sassenach,” his eyes shining as though he’d never known the meaning of the word.

“Jamie!”  We were abruptly interrupted by his godfather who gave me a sour look before turning his head up to Jamie.  “I’ve been looking all over for ye.  Ye’re needed in the study, lad.”

“It canna wait?” Jamie asked.

Murtagh made a grunting noise that brooked no opposition and eyed me with irritation.

“Aye,” said Jamie. 

“Duty calls,” I said.

“I’ll find ye later, Sassenach, and see if I earned that second dance.”

As Murtagh pulled him toward the study, I wondered if Jamie was genuinely needed elsewhere, or if his godfather was trying to keep him away from the wicked sassenach invader. 

Peering around the room, I saw more than a few hostile eyes on me.  I wondered if it was a result of the Laird’s particular attentions, or if it was because I was English.  

“I suppose those things aren’t mutually exclusive,” I mumbled to myself.

There was one set of eyes that weren’t exactly hostile.  Dougal MacKenzie—who was drinking directly from a bottle of whisky as though it was water—was eyeing me with an uncomfortable amount of desire.  He’d made it quite clear in our months together at Leoch that he was interested in getting to know me on a more physical level.  I had made it quite clear that I had no desire to bed the man responsible for my extended captivity.  Thankfully, he seemed to respect that boundary for the most part—aside from a few lewd comments and uninvited pats on the arse.

I turned away, not wanting to spend any more time under that hungry gaze than decorum required.  I made my way to the dining room to find a little food and drink to fill my time while the Laird was kept busy with his duties. 

I salivated at the scent of traditional Scottish fare, and contemplated on what I wanted to sample first.  Just as I was reaching for a clootie dumpling, a little boy no more than four years old started crawling up on the table, trying to grab a small treat.

“Here you go,” I said, picking up a sweet and holding it out to him.  

The child’s eyes grew wide with fear as he stood frozen to the spot.  Finally, he reached up; his hand hesitated several times, fearful of my offering. 

“It’s alright,” I said as friendly as I could muster.  “Go on.”

“Alistair!” yelled a woman from across the room.  

The boy immediately shrank back as his mother came to whisk him away with a look of horror in my direction.  Apparently, the English possessed an uncommonly high quantity of cooties.

I sighed noisily and decided to forgo the food and head straight for the drinks.  And since no one wanted anything I touched, I decided it safest to just take a whole bottle of whisky with me.  

Scots of all ages, shapes, and sizes parted like the Red Sea as I made my way outdoors.  It was a cool evening, and a breeze hit me as I walked out the large entryway and out to the grounds.  The swig of whisky I drank down warmed my belly immediately and rushed a pleasant heat to my limbs.

I made my way out to the fence by the kailyard.  I climbed on top of it—no easy feat in my petticoats and stays—and sat to enjoy a most excellent bottle of whisky. 

The moon was barely peeking through a large mass of clouds, and the stars were invisible in the overcast skies.  Rain would surely be falling shortly.

Music and chatter mingled in the air from the direction of the house, but I felt removed from it all without the presence of Jamie.  It was strange how comfortable the man made me feel in the most foreign of places.

I drank deep, wondering how I’d gotten so quickly swept up in such a silly infatuation with a man who would be two hundred years dead when I returned home to the twentieth century.  It was senseless to foster further attachment when I’d only have to grieve the man the moment I made it back to my normal life.

Quiet Gaelic conversation from a shed not far away interrupted my melancholy musings.  There was a familiarity in one of the voices, but it spoke with a tone I’d never heard before.

Two men were in the midst of an intense conversation.  One was wobbly and unsteady on his legs—probably quite drunk.  The other seemed very in control of himself and spoke with stern authority; I recognized him immediately as Jamie. 

I had no idea what they were talking about, but I could see both tempers rising as the conversation went on.  My own heart rate increased along with the severity of Jamie’s tone.  He was clearly making demands of the man, and the foolish drunk was putting up some pathetic form of resistance.  

As I wondered what on earth Jamie could possibly want from that pitiful drunk, he put his hand on the man’s shoulder, mumbled quietly in his ear, and punched him hard in the gut.  

I felt a sympathetic impact in my own stomach as the man cried out in pain.  Knowing the size and strength of Jamie’s fists, I wondered if the poor sot was suffering from internal bleeding or other damage to his organs.  

I was already slipping off the fence to make my way toward the one-sided fight as Jamie pulled back his fist and gave the man an uppercut to his jaw.  I was certain I heard something crack.  The blows rained down over and over, and my feet moved faster to intervene.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I yelled.

Jamie stopped mid-strike and turned to look at me.  I thought I’d find feral bloodlust in his eyes, but all I saw was a cold resolve.  He ground teeth together when he recognized me as the intruder.  

“He’s not even fighting back!” I said.

“Go on, Sassenach,” he said, holding the man up by the scruff of the collar.  “I’ll find ye in a minute.”

“Jamie…”

A pair of hands came down on my arms and started pulling me back.  “Come, lass,” said a gruff voice.  “’Tis naught to do wi’ ye.”

Murtagh!   I’d apparently stumbled on the Laird’s duty Murtagh spoke of earlier.  

I yanked my arms free to come to the injured man’s aid.  

“Christ,” Murtagh cursed, and his arms came fully around me, picking me up and dragging me back to the house.  

“Let me help that man!” I demanded.

“That’s exactly what Jamie is doing.”

“By beating him to death?”

Och, he’ll be fine come morning.”  He set me down when we arrived back at the house.  “Jamie willna kill him, but he needs to ensure the bastard will feel it come morning.”

“Why?  Why is he hurting him?”

“The Laird must seek justice and bestow punishments as he sees fit.  ’Tis no’ for a sassenach to question how things are done here.”

“I thought Quarter Day was supposed to be a day to collect rents and celebrate the Laird’s return?  What was his crime?  Coming up short on rent while the Laird was off in Paris away from his people?”

“Christ, woman, ye’ve got a mouth on ye.”  Murtagh opened the doors and waved me in.  “Come on inside now.  Jamie said he’d find ye when he was done.”

I hesitated, looking back in the direction from where we came.

“Mistress Beauchamp,” Murtagh spoke softly, “he kens how to hit a man.  Trust that he wouldna disable a tenant he’s kent his whole life beyond what’s required for justice.”

I looked back once more, clenching my teeth.  I shook my head and took a deep breath.  I couldn’t understand why I was getting so worked up when I planned to be long gone from this estate in the next few days.  That man would be subject to his Laird’s justice whether or not I was here or in the twentieth century.

I realized I still had the whisky bottle in my hand.  I tipped it back and took several large swallows.  I’d had enough to drink already so that it burned little on the way down.

“Fine,” I said, walking past Murtagh and into the house.  I began making my way through the crowded drawing room in order to get to the stairs.  I wanted to be done with the evening and go up to my room.  In truth, I wanted peace and quiet so I could start planning my return back through the stones.

It took me a moment to realize why the beating bothered me so much.  The cold violence in Jamie was shocking.  Only half an hour before, he was touching me with the sweetest tenderness.  He was laughing and smiling and dancing.  Now, he was pummeling a man outside who was in no state to defend himself.

This was exactly what Dougal warned me about.

I made it halfway up the stairs when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Claire,” said Jenny.  “I was calling for ye, lass.  Did’ye no’ hear me?”

“I’m sorry.  I was distracted.”

“We have a tenant in need of a healer.  Will ye come down to the kitchen wi’ me?”  

Claire could see the worry in Jenny’s eyes was greater than it would be for a minor ailment.  Certain I knew exactly who it was that needed tending, I felt some bit of relief that someone in the Fraser household would see to the wellness of all their tenants, no matter what their Laird demanded.

She took me by the hand, her grasp somehow both softer and rougher than her brother’s, and led me to the kitchen.  I looked for the drunken man as I walked through the door, but it wasn’t him who was lying on the table, whimpering in pain.

“Rabbie!” I scurried to his side, setting my bottle of whisky down.  The poor child was battered and bruised with a cut under his eye spilling blood down his cheek.  “What on earth happened to him?”

“His father,” said Jenny.  “That bastard MacNab.  Murtagh and I watched him wallop him something fierce for doing naught but asking Mrs. Crook for a bannock.  Dinna fash, Claire.  Jamie’s out seeing to MacNab, and we’ll be having Rabbie stay wi’ us until Jamie sees his father fit to raise a child.”

“Oh, Rabbie, darling, I’m so sorry you’re hurt.”  I stroked a small part of his chin that wasn’t swelling or bruised.  “You’ve got a cut on your face that I’ll need to clean and stitch up, and I’ll need to check the rest of your body for injury, but I promise we’ll have you right as rain in no time.”

Rabbie nodded through tears and shuddering breaths.

I turned to Mrs. Crook.  “Please bring down my medicine chest from my room.”  I hoped I had a bit of laudanum left for the poor child.  I looked down at him, and my heart broke into a million little pieces.

Jamie’s behavior finally made sense.  As Laird, it was his duty to protect all the people of his land, including the children of his tenants.  

I examined Rabbie’s body while waiting for Mrs. Crook to return.  Every bruise and abrasion on the child reinforced the thought that though as violent as Jamie may be, perhaps like a surgeon using a blade to effect healing, he wielded his force to promote the welfare of his people.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely sober, but there was no one else capable of helping the boy, so I did my best to tend to him without inflicting any more damage than his father had already done.  I used what was left in the bottle of whisky to disinfect my instruments and Rabbie’s wound.  Thankfully, Jenny was prepared with a second bottle as I finished up the last of the stitching, so we could attempt to drink away the strain of the evening.  

After her second shot, Jenny set her glass aside and said, “I thank ye, Claire.  ’Tis a comfort to ken we’ve such a fine healer at Lallybroch, for however long ye choose to stay.”  

“Of course.  Anytime.”

Jenny stood up and stretched her stiff and aching back.  “Now I must go tend to our guests before ’tis time to put wee Maggie to bed.”

She left the kitchen with Rabbie in the care of Mrs. Crook.  I stroked a gentle hand over the sleeping boy’s head and sighed heavily with exhaustion.  Ready to retire for the evening myself, I grabbed the bottle of whisky and my medical supplies before following her out.  I made my way to the stairs, feeling quite differently than I did only an hour before.

As I reached the landing on the second floor, I was so tired and distracted, I walked straight into the chest of a large, solid man.  At first, I thought it was Jamie, but the hands that steadied me were not nearly as tender as the Laird’s.

“Dougal,” I groaned.  “If you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to go to bed.”

“A moment of yer time, Mistress Beauchamp.”  He spoke low, though I couldn’t say his words were soft.

In my own state of mild inebriation, it took a few moments to recognize the War Chief was affected similarly by excessive drink, perhaps even more so than I was.

“Young Jamie seems to be quite taken wi’ ye.  Ye’ve weaved yer magic on him as I kent ye would.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“Anyone wi’ eyes can see it so.  Ask all the disappointed fathers down there, angry wi’ their daughters for no’ catching Jamie’s eye, angry wi’ me for bringing ye here to steal him away to yer wee dun.”

“My dun?”

“Aye.”  He lifted his hand to my cheek, tracing the line of my jaw.  

“Maybe their anger with you has nothing to do with me.  It sounds like the Lallybroch tenants haven’t shown as much excitement for your cause as you’d hoped, and that their loyalties lie with their Laird and not with his opportunistic uncle.”

“They are a smaller-minded people than I expected.”   He was inches away now, and the fumes of alcohol were radiating off him.  “We’ll just have to find a way to convince young Jamie to broaden their minds.”

“You can’t possibly think a man like Jamie is going to let a stranger, an Englishwoman no less, convince him to risk the lives of his people for a cause he cares nothing for.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt ye’ll find a way to steer the lad’s passions wherever yer heart desires.”  He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of me.  “Ye ken, Claire...I find ye to be the most singular woman.  Just because ye’re assisting me wi’ young Jamie doesna mean ye should be forced into yer own celibacy otherwise.”

“You’re drunk, and you forget yourself.  Please let me pass.”

“Come now, lass.  Jamie willna ken if ye slip into my room rather than your own.”  He leaned forward and tried to kiss me.  My hands were full of my medical supplies and whisky—neither of which I was willing to drop for the sake of a MacKenzie—so in my irritation, I did the only thing in my power and kicked him in the balls.

Ifrinn!” he cried out, backing away and gripping himself with both hands.  Using his momentum to my advantage, I pushed past him with my shoulder, and knocked him on his arse.

“Claire!” said another voice from the stairs.  

I turned to find Jamie watching in open-mouthed horror.  He shook his head and leapt up the last few stairs, stepping over Dougal’s groaning body to get to me.  He took my box of medicines and looked me over.  His hand was soft on my cheek as he asked, “Are ye alright, lass?  He didna hurt ye?” 

I looked down at Dougal who happened to be gripping his manhood and grunting in Gaelic.  “No, he didn’t.  The alcohol not only took away his good judgment, but his balance and coordination.  Though I can’t imagine he’ll be too pleased with me come morning.”

“Dinna fash, Sassenach.”  Jamie looked down at his uncle in disgust.  “He’s so pished, he’ll no’ likely recall why his balls ache when he wakes.  Come, let’s get ye to yer room, and I’ll deal wi’ this tosspot so he doesna cause anymore ruckus.”

Jamie grabbed me by the arm and escorted me the rest of the way to my bedchamber.  He came in and dropped off my medicines on one of the tables he had brought up for me a few days before, and I took to lighting a few candles.  One of the servants had already started a fire in the small brazier, fighting off the bite of the cool night air.

“Are ye sure ye’re alright?” he asked, stepping close and inspecting me once more.

“I’m fine.  Really.  Drunken soldiers are nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”

“Aye,” he nodded, “but I didna just mean about Dougal.  I meant about what ye saw with me and MacNab earlier.”  He looked down at the floor as though worried I thought less of him.

“I saw Rabbie.  I know why you had to do it.  I’m just sorry the responsibility falls to you.  I can’t imagine you took any pleasure from your duty.”

He looked up at me with relief.  “I canna say there was no pleasure in giving him a taste of what he did to his bairn.  Nor can I regret it being my responsibility, for it would fall to Ian or Murtagh or someone else otherwise.  Better it’s left to me.  ’Tis what I was built for.”

“How very noble of you,” I said with all sincerity.  His ears turned a bright shade of red as his eyes lifted to mine.

“Weel...I’d better get Dougal to his room.  I’d hate for Mrs. Crook to trip over him if he passes out on the landing.  Or worse, mistake her for you.”

“Of course.”

“And Claire?”

I sucked in a breath.  He so rarely used my name.  “Hmm?”

“Ye need no’ be scairt of Dougal or anyone else.  No’ while I’m here.”

Words seemed to escape me; none of them seemed sufficient enough to express my gratitude.  All I could do was nod, but I hoped he saw what I felt in my eyes.

He took his leave with a soft smile and an informal bow.  I was left standing alone in my room, holding a half-empty bottle of whisky.

I was no longer tired.  The quiet of my empty room seemed to magnify my awareness of the state of my body.  Adrenaline pumped madly through my arteries as though ready for another fight.  Despite my faith in Jamie’s reassurances, my body seemed to forget that I was no longer on the landing with Dougal.

Then again, I supposed there could be another reason for my heart to be fluttering so wildly in my chest.

I shook my head at my own foolishness.  I was prone to amorous impulses when my adrenaline was pumping.  It had made the war a very confusing time for a young nurse.

Instead of ruminating, I forced myself to shed my skirts and stays and get ready for bed.  I took my time with washing my hair and cleaning my teeth, hoping the bedtime ritual would help me settle down.

It didn’t work.

When I pulled back the blankets and blew out the candle, I was just as wired as when Jamie left.  I lay still in bed, listening to the muffled chatter of people still reveling from the floor below.  It wasn’t long before rain started falling against the window panes, finally drowning out the loud tenants’ voices.

Still, I couldn’t sleep.  All I could think of were strands of mahogany hair...and locks of gold and ginger...tresses of copper and auburn...and wisps of deep cherry.  I wondered just how many unique shades of red I could find by brushing his hair.

A thump on my door told me someone was just outside.  If Jamie had deposited Dougal in his bed only for the man to get up to try and finish the kiss he’d previously started, I shuddered to think how I might fight him off without causing much of a scene.  Perhaps Jamie wasn’t too far away to hear me call for him if needed.

I grabbed an empty candlestick off my nightstand and raised it up, ready to strike as I made my way to the door.  Strangely, there was neither a knock nor a wiggling of the latch expected from someone trying to break in.  As slow and quiet as I could muster, I reached for the handle.

As soon as I opened the latch, the door swung inward, and a heavy body fell in at my feet.  I raised the candlestick, ready to strike, until a glimmer of light from the hall reflected off a shock of red hair.

“Jamie?  What in heaven’s name are you doing?”

He peered up at me, cringing—in pain or embarrassment, I didn’t know.  “I wasna going to leave ye unprotected wi’ Dougal’s room only feet away.  My own room is too far should he arise wi’ wicked intent.”

It was then I noticed an old Fraser plaid he had wrapped around his shoulders as though he meant to stand guard all night.  I bent down to help him to his feet.  He rose up, towering over me with that ridiculous height.  Without my shoes on, my face barely reached the hollow of his chest.  

“You were protecting me?”

He shrugged and blushed sweetly.

“But all your guests downstairs…”

“They’ve gone years wi’out me; they can handle one more night.”

“And what if someone sees you sleeping outside my room?  Will they not jump to conclusions?”

“’Tis better than the alternative.”  He looked at Dougal’s door.

“You can’t sleep out there.  It’s cold and uncomfortable and unbefitting of a Laird.”

“I’ll no’ leave ye unprotected, lass.”

“Then sleep in here.  At the very least, you’ll stay warm.”

“Are ye mad, woman?  Yer reputation will be ruined!”  His scandalized face was adorably amusing.

“No more so than if they think you're sleeping out there because you’re waiting your turn.”

“Waiting my turn?  Christ!”  He rubbed a hand over his face.  

I noticed blood, scrapes, and swelling over his knuckles.  “Jamie!  You’re hurt.  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Hurt?”  He seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.  I grabbed his hand to inspect it, but I needed more light.   I pulled him in and shut the door behind him.  I escorted him to my bedside and lit a candle to examine his wounds.

“Claire,” he protested weakly, “I’m none so sure this is any better than what Dougal just tried to do to ye.”

“Don’t be silly.  I didn’t want Dougal to touch me, but I very much enjoy your company.  And I need to clean these cuts before they get infected.”

“Infected?”

“Miniscule little beasts in dirt and filth will cause fever and inflammation.  Wait here.”  I forced him to sit before I hunted down the whisky, a bandage, and a clean rag to tend to the wounds.

Jamie squirmed uncomfortably when I sat beside him.  I was still in my shift, and I noticed he was doing all he could to avert his gaze and respect my modesty.  

In truth, modesty was the last of my concerns at the moment, and I was growing all the more fond of the flush of his ears when he was embarrassed.

I took his hand in mine and looked it over near the candlelight.  He didn’t require stitches, but…“Jamie, some of these are still bleeding.  They can’t be from when you hit MacNab earlier.  Those should’ve stopped by now.”

Hmphm.  Aye.”  He flexed his hand in front of his face.  “They were likely reopened by Dougal’s chin.  I think I might have inherited his hard heid.”

I thought my heart would genuinely melt.  “You gave him a little of the Laird’s justice, did you?”

He shrugged a shoulder.  “I couldna let him get away wi’ treating ye so, Sassenach.  And I wanted to ensure he was knocked out solid so as no’ to disturb ye this evening.”

I took his hand once again and rubbed my fingers tenderly over the uninjured skin.  “Thank you, Jamie.  You didn’t have to do that.”

“Aye.  I did.”

I looked up at him, wordless yet again, wishing I knew a way to express my appreciation.  We held each other’s gaze, affection plain on both our faces.  He gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.

“How d’ye kill the wee beasties trying to give me fever?” he asked.

I held up the bottle of whisky and gave it a playful wiggle.  

“Of course,” he laughed.  “I wonder if the beasts are English then?  If they were Scots, whisky would only make them stronger.”

I giggled, imagining microscopic redcoats melting away like the Wicked Witch of the West.  I suspected the Scots might actually believe whisky to be spiritual.

“This will burn a little,” I warned before applying the whisky.  He didn’t move a muscle nor make a peep.  Tough as nails, the Scots.  “There,” I said as I wrapped his hand in a bandage, “it should be fine come morning.”

“Thank ye, Sassenach.”  He flexed his fingers and checked his mobility.  Satisfied, he looked around the room as if deciding what he should do next.  “Perhaps I’ll go sleep over there next to the door.”

I stopped him with a hand on his arm.  “You don’t have to, you know.  You can sleep here.”

“Claire…”  He shook his head.  I could see I pushed him a step too far.  He stood abruptly and walked to the wall next to my door.  He leaned against it, sliding down until he sat on the floor, his ears a fierce shade of red—more so than his hair.  His eyes refused to look in my direction.

His sweet chivalry was annoyingly endearing.

I grabbed the whisky and followed him to his spot on the floor.  His face was scandalized as I sank down next to him.  I handed over the bottle; the poor lad looked like he needed a drink.

Sláinte,” he toasted and drank from the bottle.

“I’m sorry you’re up here dealing with me rather than downstairs romancing a potential wife.”

“Dinna fash yerself about that.  ’Tis no hardship.”

“Not for you maybe, but the ladies downstairs are surely put out.”

His grin wrinkled the corners of his eyes.

“Will you get to choose your wife?  Or will it be arranged like Colum’s and Dougal’s?”

His smile remained, but his eyes softened.  “My mother was meant to have an arranged marriage.  She and my father wouldna have it, and Colum wouldna consent to her marrying a bastard.  She snuck away wi’ my father in the dead of night, and they ran off determined to marry for love.  Wi’ bad blood between my father and the MacKenzies, they turned to each other more so than most couples.  They were the dearest of friends and most passionately in love.”  He finally looked at me, his gaze tender yet resolute.  “I shall settle for nothing less.  I’d rather emptiness than disappointment.”

My mouth fell open to take in a quivering breath of air.  I knew by the softness in his eyes and the passion radiating off him, he hoped it might be me.

I looked away, confused and uncertain.  I needed to get home to the twentieth century, but for fuck’s sake, all I could think about was how badly I wanted him.

Needing a moment to gather myself, I stood up and went to find the small bowl of berries I’d picked with him near the glade.  I took my time fiddling with the bowl before allowing myself to be drawn back by his magnetic pull.

“Hungry?” I asked.

He smiled softly.  I imagined a man his size was always hungry.  I sat back down next to him and offered him the bowl.  He took a single blackberry and held it up for inspection.

“It’s not poisoned,” I teased.  

“Let’s see then,” he said, bringing it to my lips.  My quivering jaw parted at his silent command, and he set the berry gently on my tongue.  

It took me longer than it should have to chew and swallow.

“And you?” I asked, lifting one to his lips.  

He surprised me by grabbing my wrist and holding it inches away, not allowing me to feed him.  

“Ye ken...in the Highlands, we’re taught as wee lads no’ to take food or drink from the fairies.  ’Tis believed ye’ll be their slave for all eternity.  Bite no bit and drink no drop.”

“You don’t really think me a fairy?”

He didn’t say a word.  He just pulled my hand closer to his mouth, opening his lips to allow me to place the berry on his waiting tongue.  

He released me and chewed slowly.

My heart thundered as I said, “If I were a fairy, I suppose that would make you mine now.”

“Aye,” he breathed.

Weak and shaky, I set the bowl down, certain to drop it otherwise.  I put my hands in my lap, gripping them together, hoping he wouldn’t notice just how flustered I was.

We sat for a while, listening to the rain tapping on the windows, neither of us with the courage to look at the other.  

I attempted to will my body into relaxation, hoping prolonged time in his presence would make me less sensitive to it.  It was a fool’s errand; every moment we spent so close, I only wanted more and more to kiss him.  I wanted to take his face in my hands and press our lips together, forgoing oxygen for the sake of passion.

He took one of my shaky hands in his and said, “I ken, Sassenach.  I ken.”

He dropped his head to my hand, but instead of using his lips, he pressed it to his forehead.  

Jamie…” I whispered, wanting so much more.

“I shallna allow my lips to touch yer skin.  No’ tonight.  For when I do, I shall never be able to stop.”

“Perhaps I don’t want you to stop.”

He turned his head and smiled sweetly, my hand now pressed against his cheek.  “I ken, lass.  And that’s what scares me.”

 


 

Claire fell asleep wrapped around Jamie’s arm.  He sat there for hours, not wanting to move, not wanting to deprive himself of her touch.  But finally, his concern for her comfort overwhelmed his selfish need for closeness.  He gathered her up in his arms and brought her to bed.  

He sat on the edge looking over her pale lips in the darkness, and whispered:

“Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum…”

Then he sighed deeply, and with the strength of Hercules, forced himself to pull away.

Claire’s hand stopped him, grabbing hold of his arm.  She mumbled sleepily.  “Stay, Jamie.  You’re mine now.”

And that he was.  “Aye.”

He kicked off his boots and sat up in her bed against the headboard.  He would not lay with her, not like this, but he would stay because she asked.

Her arm wrapped around his leg, and she rested her head upon his lap.  He stroked her hair away from her face as she drifted off back to sleep.

 


 

He hardly slept at all, but he still forced himself to rise before dawn to leave her reputation intact.  After going up to his room to change his clothes and ready himself for the day, he set out to find Mrs. Crook.

She had a bowl of parritch awaiting him in the kitchen.  “Thank ye kindly,” he said.

“Aye, my Laird.”

“Mrs. Crook.  I have a task for ye if ye dinna mind.”

“Oh?”

“Please have Mistress Beauchamp’s things moved to the third floor.  The guest room on the North side.”

“My Laird?”  She raised a brow.  She knew very well it was the room next to his.  

He narrowed his gaze in a silent command.

“Aye, my Laird.  I’ll do so today.”

“Thank ye, Mrs. Crook.”

Dougal would never get a chance to harm her ever again.

Chapter Text

The absence of Jamie woke me just before dawn.  His body’s heat lingered on my sheets, so he couldn’t have been gone for long.  I laid my cheek on the last remnants of his warmth and breathed in his scent.

I couldn’t say I’d slept well that night.  How could I when I knew he was in my bed?  Comforted in an extreme, but mad with want, I’d held him close, drifting in and out of blissful dreams. 

He must’ve also slept poorly.  His large hand caressed my head throughout the night, fingers tangling in my hair.  His lap was my pillow, and I held onto his leg, large and firm, so warm to the touch.  I thanked the Highlands for his soft kilt where I lay my head. 

He’d said he was mine, and as mad as it was, I embraced it.  It was with that thought fresh in my mind that I forced myself out of bed, eager to see him in the light of day after that grand pronouncement.  Instead of planning my escape—as I should’ve been doing for days now—I searched for reasons it would be a terrible idea, and the reasons I came up with were quite convincing. 

Running away would put my life in grave danger; Dougal and his men would track me down and kill me before risking me talking to the English.  Then there was the potential danger of traveling through the stones, already painfully uncomfortable the first time, potentially life-threatening the next.

But if I was being honest with myself, fear wasn’t why I procrastinated my escape.  It was Jamie.  I was drawn to him in all his manifestations.  Whether quoting poetry or bestowing violent justice, whether holding me tenderly or sparring with his uncle, I wanted more of him.  

There was something there between us—something beyond mere attraction—and I was not yet ready to give it up.

Perhaps it was a mistake to delay my return for a man I hardly knew, but he didn’t feel like a stranger.  My soul seemed to recognize him as some sort of kindred spirit, cut from the same cloth.  

And then there was a thought that had plagued me since my arrival.  Time travel was a strange and unique gift.  Who in their right mind would be given such a power and refuse to use it?   To squander it away by returning home and pretending like it never existed?  I’d be a fool not to stay in a place where I knew I was safe—in Jamie’s presence—and explore one of the most vital feelings I’d ever experienced in my life.

I supposed I could look at it as one might look at dating a man in the 1940s, except I’d not only be dating Jamie, but also his century...and his family.

It was suddenly dawning on me how lucky I was in my marriage to Frank that my in-laws—with exception of a certain sadistic ancestor—were not kidnappers, inciters of rebellion, and traitors to the crown.  I cringed at the potential of tying myself to a family like the MacKenzies.  I didn’t even want to know what the Frasers of Lovat were like.

At least Jamie's more immediate family members weren't so awful, and his sister seemed to be warming to me of late.

It was rare for me to rise early enough to have breakfast with any of the family, but I was able to force myself to get dressed and go down just as Jenny and wee Jamie were sitting at the table to eat their morning porridge.  

“Good morning,” I said, dodging around servants busily cleaning up after Quarter Day.  

Jenny juggled little Maggie in her arms while trying to assist her two year old wield his spoon, her own food growing cold in the meantime.  “Can I hold her while you eat?”

Jenny hesitated a moment before giving in.  “Thank ye, Claire.  Ye dinna ken how rare ’tis to eat a warm meal when ye have one wean, much less two.”  

She passed Maggie over to me, and I cradled the sleeping baby upright in my arms to mind her reflux.  “Hello, little one,” I whispered soothingly, trying not to wake her.  “Has she been feeling better?”

“Oh aye.  She still has her struggles, but it only took but a day to see some improvement.”

I breathed in the scent of the baby, stimulating an old longing in my heart.  “If ever you’d like me to watch her, please don’t hesitate to ask.  It would be my absolute pleasure.”

“Perhaps I’ll take ye up on it some evening.  I can have Jamie tend to his nephew while Ian and I have a moment to ourselves.  I’ve forgotten the meaning of the word privacy these last two years.”

“Where are Ian and Jamie?”

“They’re out building something or other in the woodshed.  I havena seen Dougal or his men yet this morning.  They must still be sleeping off the drink.”

Memories of the night before intruded on my pleasant morning, and I was struck with an urge to avoid the hungover War Chief.  “Would you mind if I helped out in the kailyard this morning?  I’m not much for cooking or needle work or many things indoors, but I’ve been known to have a green thumb.”

“Oh aye.  The kailyard has been sorely neglected the last year while I was wi’ child.  Jamie’s made mention of just digging the whole thing up and starting from scratch.”

“I’ll go out today and see what can be salvaged.”

“Just dinna stray too far from the house.  The tenants were saying last night that a few were harassed by some redcoats near Broch Mordha.  Trust me when I say ye dinna want to be wandering alone and fall into the hands of a certain Captain of His Majesty’s 8th Dragoons, especially an Englishwoman spending so much time wi’ band of troublesome Scots.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”  I supposed one benefit of Dougal having me followed was that I was never really alone.

“I’ve no doubt Dougal’s presence here is attracting their attention,” said Jenny.  Her coldness toward her uncle kept making more and more sense.  Thankfully, she was of the same mind as me about getting on with her day before her uncle joined us for breakfast, and she didn’t take long with her meal.  I ate quickly when she was done so I could be sure to be gone before he woke up.

It was no longer raining when I went outside, but the grounds were still soft and muddy from the overnight downpour.  When I got to the kailyard, I was quite pleased with how the excessive moisture made the earth easier to dig up.

Jenny wasn’t wrong about it being neglected.  I cringed at how little nutrient the family was likely getting in their diet.  Perhaps they would listen to my suggestions regarding the state of their long-term health now that they didn’t think I was a spy attempting to drive them all to war.

It felt good to get my hands dirty.  The scent of fresh rain on Highland grass filled the air, almost drowning out the odors coming from Jenny’s goat pen not far away.  I was there for hours, hot and sweaty, but in my element.  I cleared away most of the weeds and overgrown plants, and I tilled the moist, rich soil into something workable.  

Just as I was making a mental list of seeds I’d planned on asking Jamie to buy, his welcome voice interrupted my thoughts.  “Jenny finally put ye to work, Sassenach?  I’m surprised it took so long.” 

I turned around and found him leaning forward, elbows resting on the fence.  I was unable to hide my silly grin.  “Hello, Jamie.”  

I wiped my hands on my apron, making an even bigger mess of myself as I walked over to him.  His expression mirrored mine, grin stretching ear to ear.  I was close enough to catch the scent of him—sawdust, sweat, and the same pleasant masculine aroma that was left on my sheets.  

“Ye should ha’ told me ye were demolishing the kailyard.  I would’ve helped.”

“You were gone so early this morning, I didn’t get a chance.”

He licked his lips, no doubt remembering our bed-sharing last night.  It took all I had not to close the small distance between us and recapture that physical intimacy from the midnight hours.

“I found something today and thought of ye.”  He reached into his sporran and pulled out a handkerchief.  He unfolded the small piece of linen, and there sat two strawberries hanging from the same stem.

Union in partition,” I said, quoting A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Aye.”  He finished the quote for me, “Two lovely berries moulded on one stem; So with two seeming bodies, but one heart.”  

He plucked one off and presented it to me in his large palm.  I took it without hesitation and bit into the sweet, summer strawberry as he did the same with the other.

I watched his lips as he chewed, wishing we were in private so I could get to know them more intimately...if his chivalry would let me.

It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t know how to “date” an eighteenth century man.  Was I supposed to cook for him?  Embroider him a handkerchief?  If I kissed him, would he think I had loose morals?

Was I supposed to live without indoor plumbing for stolen glances across the dinner table?

“What do ye need for the wee garden, Sassenach?  Shall I hunt ye down a few bushes of berries?”

“I can gather a few things myself around here, but I'll make you a list of seeds to pick up in town.  Although, some you may have to send for.”

He cocked a brow.  “Medicinal herbs?”

“No.  Potatoes.  They’re a good crop, and they hold up well in this climate.  If ever there should be a shortage of food, potatoes could most certainly get you through a famine.”  I looked around.  “Though, I’d recommend using much more land than just this garden.”

“Potatoes?” he laughed.

“Trust me, Jamie,” I said very seriously.  “Plant as many as you can.”

He read my face like a book.  “Ye think the coming rebellion is going to wipe the land of food, don’t ye?”

I didn’t say anything.  There was no explanation for my knowledge.

“Is there anything else ye’d recommend, lass?”  He tried to lighten the mood with a soft smile.  “Aside from potatoes?”

I hesitated, knowing there was more than a little advice I could give him on how to keep his people alive over the next few years.  I decided to start with small things first.  “You could dig the house a priesthole.  Just in case.”

“A priesthole?” 

I nodded.  “You don’t want to start making one when you need it.  You’ll want it ready, and hopefully it will never have to fulfill its purpose.”

He narrowed his eyes and nodded in consideration.  I wondered if he thought me mad.  Or maybe he was rethinking his belief that I wasn’t a spy.  

He reached up and pulled a piece of vegetation from my hair with affection in his eyes, soothing my worry about his assessment of me.  “’Tis a braw suggestion, lass.  I’ll start on it as soon as I finish in the woodshed.”

“What are you building in there?”

“Just a piece of furniture is all.  It’ll be done in a few hours.  I thought I’d stop for a wee bite of lunch before carrying on.  Would ye care to join me?”

“I’d like that very much.”  I looked down at my muddy apron and skirts.  “Though it might take me a moment to wash up.”

“Dinna fash.  I’ll wait for ye.  Come.”

He met me at the gate and opened it with a subtle bow.  I stepped through, feeling rather like I was floating on a cloud.

“Claire...” he stopped me, taking my hand and turning me back to face him.  He reached in his sporran once again and pulled out a small, green stem with a bundle of forget-me-nots on top.  He picked a single flower and weaved gently it in my hair just above my ear.  “I found these this morning and thought of ye.”

He presented the rest of them to me, not masking his feelings in the slightest.  I couldn’t stop my hand from shaking as I accepted his gift.  “Jamie...neither strawberries nor forget-me-nots grow anywhere near the woodshed.”

His answering smile lacked anything close to shame.  “I said I found them for ye; I didna say it was wi’ lack of intention.” 

“Where were they?”

“The glade.  I thought...I thought ye might like them more from there, so I set out early this morning.”

Breathing was suddenly a chore.  “Oh, Jamie…”

“Come,” he said, grabbing my filthy hand and tucking it in the crook of his arm.  “Let’s go inside and get ye fed.”

I no longer felt like I was floating on clouds.  How could I when my knees were so weak?  I held onto his arm firmly, for practicality’s sake as much as affection, and let him lead me to the house.  When we made it inside to the drawing room, he stopped me from going upstairs and called for Mrs. Crook.

“Is Claire’s room ready?” he asked.

“Aye, my Laird.  And hot water is waiting for her, since I kent she’d be coming in from the kailyard.”

“Tapadh leat gu mòr.  Could you show her up for me then?”

“Of course, my Laird.”

“Jamie?” I asked.

He took my hand, dwarfed it in his own, and gave it a squeeze—no matter that it was caked with mud.  “You’ll be up on the third floor wi’ the family now, lass.  I’ll no’ be having ye fall prey to Dougal again.  I’ll be able to hear ye much better should he attempt anything untoward.” 

I wanted to reach up and touch his face, do something to acknowledge his care for me, but all I could seem to muster was a breathless, “Thank you.”

“Come along, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Mrs. Crook.

I reluctantly stepped away from Jamie, holding on to the tips of his fingers until his hand was completely out of reach.  I had to force myself not to turn around and stare at him as I followed the housekeeper up two flights of stairs.

“Here ye are, Mistress.  Let me know if there’s anything else ye need.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Crook.”

I didn’t take it lightly that Jamie trusted me enough to house me closer to his family, nor that he thought me worth the trouble of protecting.  He was smitten, unabashedly so, and so was I.

I cleaned up quickly, eager to get back to my lunch date, wondering what the decorum for such a thing would be.  I placed the little bundle of forget-me-nots in a small cup of water before doing my level best not to bound downstairs like a besotted teenager.  As I neared the first floor, I overheard angry voices whispering back and forth in quiet rage.  I stopped halfway down the last flight of stairs to watch and listen in.

“I just came from her room, and all her things are missing,” snapped Dougal.

“Aye.  After ye tried to put yer grubby paws on her last night, I moved her upstairs.  Ye’re lucky I havena requested ye correct this offense wi’ a duel, Uncle.  If she was promised to me, it would most certainly be so.”

“Well, she isna promised to ye, and she’s my responsibility…”

“Not while she is on my land, and she will remain on my land as long as she sees fit to be so.”

Dougal grinned maliciously at his nephew.  “Ye’re quite taken wi’ her, are ye no’?”

“That is none of yer concern.”

“That’s where ye’re wrong, laddie.  But dinna fash.  I’ll allow ye to court her, so long as it doesna interfere wi’ my plans.”

“I dinna see what my courting her has anything to do wi’ you.”

“Mistress Beauchamp is more than she appears, and so long as I ken she means my cause no harm, then the twa of ye are free to rut around to yer hearts’ content.  But if I find she’s attempting to sabotage the rebellion, there would be naught ye could do to stop my vengeance.”

“And if I find ye trying to force yerself on her or anyone else at Lallybroch, there will be naught ye can do to stop my vengeance.”

They stared each other down and seemed to come to an agreement.  Slowly, Dougal turned away, talking to Jamie over his shoulder.  “Let the lass ken I’ll be in town for the next few days.  She doesna have to fear me creeping in on her in the nighttime.”

“Good,” said Jamie.  “And take Willie wi’ ye.  I’ll see to the protection of Mistress Beauchamp.  I dinna want him following her around any longer.”

“Protection?” Dougal snorted.  “He’s no’ following her for her protection.”

“As Laird of this land, I shall see to the well-being of all my tenants and guests, and I willna have her followed and stalked by yer men.  Have him patrol the grounds all ye like, but if I see him following her again, I will make him suffer for it.”

“Are ye afraid of what the lad might see while ye’re wooing her in the forest?”

Dougal!

“Aye.  He’ll no’ be following her anymore.  But...make it clear to yer sassenach lassie, if she tries to leave this land, I will ken it, and she will regret it.”

Dougal patted Jamie on the shoulder before he turned and walked out of the room.

I took slow and quiet steps down the last few stairs, not wanting to rush up on him after the heat of that exchange.  He sighed heavily and released the tension permeating his body before he turned unsurprised to see me there.

“Sorry about that,” he said, reaching out a hand.  I accept it with gratitude, allowing him to tuck it through his arm once more.  

“Thank you, Jamie.  You didn’t have to do that for me.”

“Aye.  I did.”

He led me to the dining room, pulling out the chair just next to the head of the table.  I took his hand again when he sat down, marveling at how even the smallest touch in this high-stakes courting dance we shared sent a thrill through my heart.

“How is your room?  Is it to your liking?” he asked.

“It’s perfect.  Thank you.”

“I’m just next door to ye, if you should need anything.  And dinna fash, I'll be a more courteous neighbor than your last.”

“Why is it always the ones you don’t want who try to force their way in, while the ones you do want restrain themselves?”

Claire,” he laughed, turning a bright shade of red.

“Sorry,” I said, not realizing I’d gone too far.

He didn’t really mind.  I could feel it in how he held my hand.  He didn’t let go when the kitchen staff brought our food.  Nor did he let go to eat, having conveniently placed us so our strong hands could still wield utensils while my left and his right could remain linked together.

“If it’s not too much trouble, I was hoping I could borrow a book,” I said.  “Perhaps one nobody is likely to use in the next few days.”

“On any subject in particular?”

“It’s more the size and weight I’m interested in than the content.  I’d like to use it to press some flowers...to preserve them.”

“Aye.  I have the perfect one.  I’ll get it for ye after we eat.”

“Thank you.”  The thought of his forget-me-nots withering away pained my heart; I was determined to keep them for as long as this infatuation lasted.

He was quiet for a moment, seemingly focused on his meal, but I could feel the rapid beating of his heart through the delicate skin of his wrist.  Finally, he worked up the courage to ask, “I have a question for ye, if ye dinna mind.”

“Of course.”

“Yer husband, before he died, he was a good man?  He treated ye well?”

I sucked in a breath, not expecting questions about Frank.  “He was.  He was very kind.  He died in battle some years ago.”

“D’ye think he’d have any great objection to…”  He looked down at our hands connected beneath the table.

“He’d want me to be happy, and he’d respect my choice.”

“I hoped as much,” Jamie nodded.  “I just didna want ye to think ye couldna speak of him.  If it were me, I’d hope whoever came after would honor and respect what came before.”

“That’s very sweet of you.”  I tried not to laugh.

“’Ye dinna think me foolish?”

“Not at all.”

“And yer parents?  What would they think of ye wandering about the countryside wi’ a Scot?”

“I don’t know for certain, seeing as how I was a child when they died, but I’d assume they’d have faith in my judgment.  My Uncle raised me.  He was a scholar of antiquities, and we traveled all over the world for his work.  He, too, would’ve trusted my judgment.  At the very least, he would’ve trusted my ability to handle whatever consequences my choices may bring.”

I watched his lips as he chewed his food and the lines of throat as he swallowed it down.  He was beautifully made and impossible to resist.

“What about your parents?  Would they have approved of this?” I squeezed his hand.

“I told ye how my parents wed?”

I nodded, remembering the story of their elopement.

“They wouldna get a say in who I chose to court.  Their refusal to allow such interference in their own lives wouldna hold up well in an argument if their wishes were contrary to my own.  But,” he breathed deeply, a fond nostalgia glazing over his eyes, “I ken they would’ve been pleased to know ye.” 

He picked up a piece of cheese and offered it to me.  I accepted it, the morsel tasting all the sweeter coming from his hands.

“Besides, if ye can warm the likes of Jenny’s frigid heart, I dinna think anyone could escape yer charm.”

“Oh,” I laughed, “I’m sure Murtagh would have something to say about that.”

Jamie smiled.  “Gi’ him time.  He only worries for me.”

“The canty wee bird.”

“Aye.”

We ate the rest of our lunch in peaceful conversation, both acutely aware that we’d made our intentions toward each other clear.  And though we couldn’t seal our pronouncement with a kiss in a house full of curious eyes, our hands stayed locked in an erotic dance of linking and releasing, squeezing and caressing.

After we ended the meal, he took me to his study to find me a book for my flowers.

“Here,” he said, bringing me to his desk and picking up a book that was open in front of his chair.

“You could give me one accumulating dust on the shelves, not one you were clearly in the middle of reading.”

“No, I think this would do the job justice better than the rest...that is, if ye think it’ll suit yer needs.”

“It’s perfect.  Thank you.”  I took it from him, curious what the Laird thought would be a suitable book for pressing flowers.

He held my gaze, blue eyes soft in the muted light of his study.  I licked my lips, wanting desperately to rise up and kiss him, but so fearful of what he’d think of me if I did.  I could see the want in his eyes, but I could feel the restraint in his hand on mine.

“Jamie!” voices called from somewhere in the house. “Where ye hiding, man?  The damn thing is all put together!”

The tension broken between us, and he stepped away.  “I better get on,” he said.  “I have work I must tend to.”

“Of course.”  I turned away, not wanting to be a burden on his time.  I passed Ian and Murtagh in the hall and told them where they could find Jamie.  Then, I made my way up to my room to get the little flowers pressed into the book as soon as possible, not wanting them to lose their vibrancy or their petals before they dried.

I took a handkerchief and grabbed the flowers, inhaling them one last time before sentencing them to their eternal fate.  I opened the book Jamie gave me to the page marked with a ribbon.  My eyes read over the poem in the middle of the page:

Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow,
But if we darke sons of sorrow
Set; o then, how long a Night
Shuts the Eyes of our short light!

I gasped as I read the next lines, knowing quite well that had I kissed Jamie downstairs only moments before, he would’ve never turned me away:

Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand, and a Hundred, score
An Hundred, and a Thousand more,
Till another Thousand smother
That, and that wipe of another.
Thus at last when we have numbered
Many a Thousand, many a Hundred;
Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose ourselves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,
As shall mocke the envious eye.

He was absolutely right.  It was the perfect book for my flowers.

 


 

“A fool, that’s what he is,” scoffed Murtagh.

“Aye,” said Ian.  “He’s a lovestruck puppy.  Though, I canna blame him.  She’s a sweet lass.”

Hmphm.

“I’ll thank ye no’ to talk about me as though I’m no’ in the room,” said Jamie.  “I'll be back out to the woodshed in a minute and all the quicker about it if you two bugger off.”

“Ye need a moment to compose yerself, Jamie?” said Ian, grinning stupidly at his discomfort.  “Claire was looking a wee bit flush as she scurried out of yer study.”

“Haud yer wheesht,” Jamie warned.  They could speculate all they wanted about him, but he didn’t like them doing so to Claire.

Ian plopped himself down on one of the chairs in front of Jamie’s desk and took a load off his leg.  “Moving her up to the third floor wi’ the family, building her a cabinet for her plants and medicines, predawn strolls in the glade...cupid’s struck ye right in the arse, mo charaid.”

“In the cock, more like,” said Murtagh.  “Certainly not in the heid.  Have ye forgotten about MacGregor’s warnings, Jamie?”

“I have not,” said Jamie.  “Nor do I believe he kent a thing about Claire before he was running his mouth.”

“Oh, I’m sure he meant well,” said Ian.  “Good intentions aside, I think he missed the mark.  One look at her and Dougal and ye can see there’s no love between them.  Claire and Jamie, however...”

Jamie shot him a look to cut him off.

“Aye.  She does seem convincing,” Murtagh acquiesced.  “I thought she’d skelp me when I pulled her away from ye last night wi’ MacNab.  Her passion canna be hidden.”

Jamie chuckled at the memory of her ferocity.  “She’s got fire in her.”

“Good,” said Ian.  “She’ll keep ye in yer place.”

“Hush now,” said Murtagh.  “He’s only just met her.  Ye’ll have him marrit next week!”

“Ye think anything I say is going to sway a Fraser’s mind?” scoffed Ian.  “Heids of solid bone!  The lot of them.”

“I’ll tell Jenny ye said so,” grumbled Jamie.

“I’ve told her so myself.  When yer minds are made up to do something, there’s no stopping ye.  And I see yer mind is made up when ye’re looking at Claire.”

“Just dinna rush it, laddie,” said Murtagh.  “I ken ye’re eager to stick yer cock in a lass, but ye dinna want to be saddled wi’ the wrong one.”

“Enough,” said Jamie. 

“Can ye blame him, Murtagh?” said Ian.  “Three and twenty years is a long time to wait.”

“I dinna see how a few more months would make much difference,” Murtagh grumbled.

The thought of waiting months or longer to lie with Claire made Jamie sick to his wame.  If he thought she’d say yes, he’d have asked for her hand already.  But he did have some bit of pride and would wait until he was certain of her answer.

“I do have a question for ye,” Jamie spoke tentatively, hoping they wouldn’t chafe him too hard for asking.

“What’s that?” said Ian.

Jamie cringed at asking his sister’s husband such a question, but Ian was also his auldest friend since long before they were married, and he was someone Jamie trusted not to lead him astray.  He swallowed his pride and pressed on.  “No’ that I’m of any mind to have a wedding night anytime soon…”

Christ,” Murtagh muttered.

“...but whenever it might happen, and whoever it might be with, I should want to ensure the lass finds it just as pleasing as I might.”

“Why?” Murtagh seemed dumbfounded.

Ian snorted, shoulders bouncing in amusement.

“It doesna matter why,” Jamie grumbled.  “How can I make it so?”

“Women dinna care much for it, Jamie.  Best ye be about yer business quickly so she can get some rest and no’ resent ye for taking too long.”

Jamie deflated at the thought of Claire not wanting to lie with him.

“Dinna listen to the auld coot,” Ian laughed.  “Women like it fine when ye tend to them and take yer time.  Ye’ll see how she’ll rouse to yer touch if ye’re careful wi’ her.”

“So what is it then?  Fast or slow?” said Jamie.

They answered at the same time.  “Fast!” said Murtagh.  “Slow!” said Ian.

“Christ.  Forget I asked.”

“Whatever yer speed,” said Murtagh, “ye must be gentle wi’ em so they’ll let ye back in their bed the next night.”

That made sense to Jamie, and he filed it away as good advice.

“Weel, no’ always,” said Ian, grinning.  “Some lassies like a good, strong hand...or belt.”

Jamie clenched his fists, knowing Ian was talking about Jenny.  If he ever heard her scream in pain, Ian would have his fists to answer to.

“If the lass doesna care for it in the nethermouth,” said Murtagh, “have her try it in her beak.  Ye’ll spill much quicker that way.”

Jamie’s eyes widened at the revelation. Dear God, there’s no way a woman like Claire would ever put it in there.

“If ye’re going to ask her to do that,” said Ian, “ye’d better reciprocate in kind, or she’ll grow tired of choking down yer seed for naught in return.”

“Stop, man!”  Jamie paced back and forth behind his desk, trying not to imagine such things.

“I’ve never put my mouth on it, lad,” said Murtagh, shaking his head in disgust.

“Aye, and the lassies dinna seem to enjoy it much wi’ ye,” Ian laughed.

“Quiet down, the both of ye.  Forget I ever asked.”  He turned away and looked out the window, both horrified and uncomfortably aroused.

“Look, Jamie,” said Ian, “Claire doesna seem to have any trouble speaking her mind.  Just talk to her.  Listen to her.  Take yer time to learn what it is she likes, and do it over and over and over until she…”

“What?  Until she what?” Jamie looked to Murtagh, who seemed just as ignorant he was.

Ian, thankfully, didn’t laugh—though he did still have that foolish smile on his face.  “Until she reaches...la petit mort.” 

“No,” said Jamie, dumbstruck.  “Women canna…?”

“I’ve ne’er heard of such a thing!” said Murtagh.

“I gathered as much,” snorted Ian.

“Do they…” Jamie searched for a fitting word, “...shoot seed?”

“It isna seed, but ye’ll no’ be dry if ’tis done right.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Jamie, feeling suddenly overheated.  He pulled at his stock and took deep, heavy breaths.  

He had more questions now than when he started.  He wondered if it felt for women anything like it did for a man.  His cock was rock solid, imagining how it might be if they reached their peak at the same time.

Jamie adjusted himself, frustrated that his kilt was doing a poor job of hiding his cockstand.  He needed air, and he needed to put an end to their ridiculous conversation.

Jamie moved quickly, walking out of the room, barking an order over his shoulder, “I’m going out to the woodshed.  You two find something else to do.”

He turned the corner quickly and strode down the hall, narrowly missing his sister, but bumping straight into Claire.  His arms came around her reflexively as she lost balance.

When the shock of the collision dissipated, he was left with the woman in his arms who, only moments before, inspired a fierce, aching want in his balls...and the ache was anything but gone in her proximity.

She gave the most adorable throaty giggle at their clumsiness...until she caught the look in his eyes.  He watched the flush spread down her neck and to her breasts, and her mouth parted to suck in air.  She looked just as he remembered her in their first encounter.  Only this time, she was in his arms, and her body was plastered tight against his.

Like a small boat on a quiet loch, her hips rocked gently against him through layers of skirts and kilt.  Images of her mouth on his cock were too fresh in mind.  Fantasies of holding her from behind and pushing inside as they found their pleasure in each other had him thinking he might die if he didn’t have her right there in the hall, to hell with anyone watching.  

As she rocked slowly against his cock, he heard the softest whimper escape her lips, and he realized she was rousing to his touch.  He needed no advice from his friend nor godfather when the woman was Aphrodite herself.  All he needed to learn, he could gather from watching her move, from feeling her body, and listening to her sweet sounds.

“Let the poor lass go, Jamie,” scolded Jenny.  “Unless ’tis she who’s holding you upright?”

Jenny’s voice was like a cold bucket of water dumped on his head.  He gathered his wits and planted Claire’s feet firmly on the floor.  “Ye alright, Sassenach?”

She licked her lips and whined a little before she spoke.  “I’m well, thank you.”

He leaned forward and whispered quietly in her ear, “’Twas my pleasure.”  And if she could feel the strength of his desire through her skirts, she’d know just how much pleasure he took from it.

 


 

He could still smell the flowers in her hair and the rose hips on her skin.  He could feel her breath on his cheek and the rocking of her hips.  He still saw the hunger in her eyes and the flush on her skin.  Her whimpers played like a harp in his ears.

His tongue raged against his other senses in a fit of jealousy that he’d yet to taste any part of her as they greedily had their fill.  How badly he wanted to taste the flavor of her mouth, her skin, and Lord help him, her quim.  

He was obsessed with her, his every waking thought consumed by her.  He was desperate to know the peak of her pleasure as badly he wanted to find his own.  

Abusing himself may have been a sin, but as his father once told him, better he do so to himself than impose such sin on a lass.  And God Almighty, he wanted to impose his sin on her.  So he hid in the woodshed alone, stroking his cock to the memories of the woman he loved, so he wouldn’t cast his shame upon her by using her body to fill his unholy need.

As he neared the end, he sped his hand and imagined his hips slapping against her fat, round arse while he buried his face in her ridiculous hair.  

“Oh, God!  Oh, Claire!” he grunted, spilling his seed on the sawdust-strewn floor.

Pulsating pleasure lingered in his body until his wits started coming about him.  As his mind was released from the frenzy of his cock, he realized what he’d just done.  Shame filled him for his indiscretion, though if he was being honest with himself, it was not altogether unpleasant.  Like a child covering up an unsavory misdeed, he kicked the sawdust over his spunk so none would be any the wiser.

Though not exactly fulfilled, his body was no longer raving mad, and he could get back to the task at hand.  He spent the next few hours finishing the final touches on the gift of Claire’s medicine cabinet.  They’d built it with a long, wide countertop, adorned with cupboards above and below.  He’d carved small bundles of flowers into the little doors—forget-me-nots and Jacobian thistle.  When he finished the final polish on the dark wood, he enlisted a farmhand to help him bring it up to her room.

Thankfully she was nowhere in sight, too embarrassed by his earlier behavior to meet her eyes.  He retrieved ink, a quill, and a piece parchment from his room and wrote a note to tuck into one of the cabinet doors.

For you, my Sassenach, and all your wee herbs.

He thought for a moment, then added a line from King Lear:

“Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.”

Your obedient servant,
JAMMF

Chapter Text

I was struck with the scent of freshly carved wood the moment I opened the door.  The cabinet was impossible to miss, taking up as much space as it did.  But it was only when I lit a few candles that I could see the carvings and read Jamie’s note.

My Sassenach, he called me.  There it was on paper.  He’d claimed me as his own.  

And he made me a piece of furniture.  It wasn’t a flower that might wither away if I didn’t press it and protect it.  It was large and solid and something I couldn’t take with me elsewhere.  It was meant to stay in this home forever.

I don’t know what held a stronger grip on my heart, his gift or his proclamation.

I ran my hands over the carvings in the cabinet doors as my eyes welled up with tears.  Thistles and forget-me-nots.  An extravagant way to give a woman flowers!

My heart was certain to flutter right out of my chest.  

I didn’t get a chance to thank him that night.  He was nowhere to be found when I searched the house.  I got the feeling he was avoiding me after our little collision in the hall.  I wanted to tell him there was nothing to be embarrassed about.  Remembering the substantial feel of him through my skirts, I’d say he should be quite pleased with himself.

I slept poorly again that night, caught up in endless fantasies blending with strange erotic dreams.  I rose out of bed early for the second day in a row, but this time, I was aroused, emotional, and overheated.  I moved to the window in an attempt to liberate the stifling heat suddenly concentrated in my room.

The overcast skies were dark and heavy; it was likely to rain again soon.  With the sun hidden from the skies, little natural light came in when I opened the latch.  I leaned out the window to let the morning breeze cool my flustered skin.

“Sassenach,” said a quiet voice to my left.

I turned my head to find Jamie sitting on his own window ledge, as though the Laird was spending the morning staring out over his great expanse of land.  His unkempt hair and open collar did nothing to stop the effects of the lewd dreams I had been attempting to chase away.

“Good morning, Jamie.”

“Aye.  It is.”  His gaze was soft, and his eyes glazed over dreamily.

“Well, are you going to come over here and let me thank you properly for my gift?”

Sassenach,” he chided, losing none of the affection in his eyes.

“Then I shall come to you.”

He laughed and shook his head.  “Gi’ me a moment to dress, lass.  I’ll be there shortly.”

He winked foolishly with both eyes before slipping back into his room.  Knowing I didn’t have time to dress fully, I decided on donning my stays without the skirts.  Jamie might have a stroke if I let him in my room in broad daylight wearing nothing but my shift.

Intending on giving him a proper thank you, I hurriedly cleaned my teeth and dug out a few mint leaves to chew on while I finished tying up the laces of my stays. 

When his quiet knock sounded on the door, I rinsed out my mouth and took a deep breath to compose myself before welcoming him inside.

“Good morning, Mistress,” he said, trying to stifle a grin.

“Good morning, my Laird,” I teased.  I held the door open for him, waiting for him to enter.

“Claire, I dinna think…”

I grabbed his hand and pulled him in, shutting the door behind him.  He stepped quietly to the cabinet to look over his handiwork.  “Ye like it then?  Ye’ll find use for it?”

“Like it?” I laughed.  “It’s perfect, Jamie.”  I stepped in close, once again surprised by his towering height and broad shoulders.  “It’s the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me.”

He twirled one of my wild, morning locks around his finger, whispering quietly, “I’d give ye the whole world if I could.”

“I don’t want the whole world.”  I placed my hand on his chest just over his heart.

His own hand covered mine, and his whole body shuddered.  “Sassenach..."

I smiled up at him through my lashes and said, “Come and let us live my Deare, Let us love and never feare…”

His fingers traced lightly over my lips as he finished, “Then let amorous kisses dwell, On our lips, begin and tell…”

I kissed his finger softly, and with a groan, he broke free of his restraint and brought his mouth down on mine.  My knees buckled, and I clutched at his shirt to keep me upright.  

His full, warm lips moved over mine with the awe and eagerness of a lost soul who’d found the gateway to Paradise.  He cradled my head, kissing me again and again, moving from top lip to bottom and back again.

Like a lock clicking shut, I felt as though my fate was sealed.  With a kiss like that, I would be forever tied to this man.  I’d never go another day in my life without craving more.  A Thousand, and a Hundred score...A Hundred, and a Thousand more.

“I kent kissing ye would be a foolish thing to do,” he said, nuzzling my forehead with his own.  “I’ll never, ever be able to stop.”

“Then don’t.” 

He kissed me again and again, confounding the reckoning quite...losing ourselves in wild delight.  

I slipped my tongue between his lips, and he groaned, licking back.  Our mouths sealed over each other, not letting a breath of air come between.  I didn’t think I’d ever need oxygen again until he spoke against my lips.  “How I’ve yearned to ken yer taste...wondering if ye’d be as sweet as summer berries...So daft was I to believe ye were made of this earth.”

My tongue sought its mate that professed such pretty words, knowing it could go another two hundred years and never hear the likes of something so sweet.  His arms enveloped me, holding me so close, my toes lifted off the floor.  With every stroke of his tongue, he ruined me more and more for any other man.

He no longer suffered embarrassment over the state of his body.  With nothing but my shift and his kilt between us, there was no hiding his substantial arousal.

“How am I supposed to tend to my land or care for my people when yer lips are so soft?” he muttered.  “How am I to pull myself away from the warmth of yer tongue?”

“You have no idea what I’d give up for you, Jamie.  For this.”  And I kissed him again.

With his lips still on mine, he bent down and lifted me up, cradling me in his arms.  For a moment, I thought he would take me to bed, and I was all too willing to oblige, but he settled himself into a chair with me on his lap and no recognizable intention to ever allow our lips to part again.

His kisses filled a need I never realized I had before their existence.   A vital need.  A panic tore through me at the mere thought of them ever being taken away.  

Sensing my urgency, his hand gripped my hair, holding me steady against him.  I held him tight, hands cradling his face, feeling his jaw open and close with every passionate caress of his tongue.

“It’s too soon to feel like this,” I whimpered.  “This is all happening so fast.” 

He nuzzled my cheek, breath faltering and voice wavering, “My father said when I found the woman for me, I’d just ken it...nothing else would feel so right.”

“But we don’t even know each other yet.  How can it be something more than infatuation?”

“Oh, Claire.  I’m enamored with all I ken of ye thus far, and I’m predisposed to think fondly of whatever else I’ll learn.  ’Tis as good a place to start as any.”

Would it be enough? I wondered.  I’d have to confess the truth of my time travel at some point.  Would his predisposition to think fondly of me stop him from tossing me aside or having me burned at the stake?

“Jamie,” I said seriously, “there are things you need to know about me.”

He smiled and brushed his thumb over my cheek.  “And I look forward to learning every one of them.”

I stilled his hand.  “Dougal was right; I’m not who you think I am.”

“Weel, I ken ye’re no’ a spy, Sassenach.  Ye’ve no love for the redcoats.  Yer French is fine, but ye're no’ from France; I can hear it in yer voice.  And ye canna speak false wi’out it showing plain on yer face.  Ye’d make a terrible spy.”

“I already told you that, and I promised you honesty.”

“Then what is it, lass?”  He nuzzled my nose with his.  “Ye canna think after kissing ye like that, I’d let anything else stand in our way.”

I sighed deeply, not ready to give up what it was between us.

“Come now, Murtagh thought ye a harlot, and Ian, a fairy.  None of the like have scared me off yet, mo nighean donn…my brown-haired lass,” he added at the question in my eyes.  “Do ye really think there's anything about ye so terrible it would push me away?”

I allowed myself a small laugh.  “What if I was a fairy who came to Lallybroch, stealing babies and replacing them with changelings?  Would you still want me then?”

“Aye.” He kissed the line of my jaw, humming in amusement.  “But if ’tis weans ye want, I’m sure we could find a way of giving ye some of yer own so ye dinna have to nick anyone else's.” 

“Do you think I’m a fairy?”

“I dinna ken.  And is doesna matter.”

“Doesn’t it though?”

“No.  I like the strangeness of ye, from wherever it may come.  And I ken yer heart well enough, standing up to me and Murtagh the way ye did when ye thought I was bullying MacNab, and how ye helped wee Rabbie wi’ his injuries.  Ye're a kind woman.  An honest one.  And ye’ve a backbone of steel, the way ye handled Dougal MacKenzie.”

“And what if that’s all a show, and I’m really a horrible person?”

“Ye ken, Sassenach.  I dinna think I care.”  He kissed me gently.  

I laughed, unable to stifle the hope bubbling up inside me.  “You’re quite mad, you know.”

“Perhaps.”

“And you might think I’m mad when I tell you the truth.”

“Good.  We can be deranged together.”

“Oh, Jamie.”  I brought his lips to mine again.  He really felt too good to be true.  No one person should be allowed this much happiness when so many others suffered so severely.

Quiet, Beauchamp! I chided myself.  I’d already lost everyone I ever loved in my life; one lesson those losses taught me was to enjoy whatever time I had with someone while they were right in front of me and not taint it with futile worry.

So I wrapped my arms around his neck and opened my mouth to suck languidly on his tongue.

 


 

We had to pull ourselves apart eventually, though it did take a good long time.  Long enough that Ian came knocking on Jamie’s door next to my room, yelling something about the ledgers needing attention before Jock took off to Edinburgh.  Jamie froze against my lips, and we giggled quietly until Ian’s footsteps could be heard going back downstairs.  

We stumbled over each other, kissing as he walked me backward toward the door.  Then he kissed me against the wall until he pulled his mouth off mine reluctantly, grumbling about the “bloody ledgers.”

He kissed me again until he slipped out the door, leaving me dizzy and lightheaded.  Then he came back just before the door closed and kissed me one last time.

I sank to the floor when he was gone, trying not to feel like a giddy teenager falling for a boy for the first time.

After losing Frank, I never expected to love anyone as much as I loved him.  I certainly never expected anything like this.

I took my time getting dressed, lost in the lingering bliss of lovers’ first kiss.  I hardly remembered how I’d gotten into my skirts and stomacher; however, I did clearly recall looking in the mirror and finding my lips bright pink and swollen as I pinned up my hair.

With a large, new apothecary cabinet that needed filling, I grabbed my foraging basket and headed downstairs.  My heart sped wildly as I reached the bottom floor, knowing I might get a brief glance at him before I went outside.

I took my time dawdling around, chatting with Jenny and Mrs. Crook, eating a bannock, and packing a little food for lunch.  When I could find no further reason to waste time, rather than leaving through the kitchen door, I walked through the house for one last chance at a glimpse at Jamie.

My efforts were rewarded when I walked down the hall, and a strong hand grabbed my arm, pulling me into the study.  His lips were on me before I could see his face, but my body was ready, dropping my basket to the floor and wrapping my arms around his neck.

“Oh Claire,” he moaned against my mouth.  “Christ, ye’re bonnie.”

His tongue was deep in my mouth, and his hands were on my waist, thumbs grazing the underside of my breasts.  I moaned in want, yearning for his touch on the most sensitive parts of me.

Just as I was about to beg him to touch me, the door opened next to us, and we were met with Murtagh’s astonished face.  It was the first time I saw him with an expression other than a scowl.  He flushed a deep shade of red as Jamie peeled himself off me.  

“Good morning, Mistress,” Murtagh mumbled.

“Good morning.”  I sniffed deeply and held my chin high despite wanting to sink into the wall behind me.

“Jock is awaiting yer coin,” Murtagh told Jamie.

“Aye,” Jamie huffed.

I bent down to retrieve my basket.  “I better be on my way.  You two gentlemen have a lovely day.”

Jamie took my hand before I could go and brought it to his lips, kissing it more ardently than I’d ever seen a gentleman do before.  Moisture lingered where he vacated both my hand and my mouth.  “I’ll find ye later, Sassenach.”

I nodded my goodbyes to both men and left them to their business.  

A lazy drizzle fell from the dark clouds overhead as I stepped outside.  No matter the lack of sunshine, I felt more buoyant than I had since long before the war.  I floated across the long grass, letting my feet carry me in the direction of the glade.  

I’d made it about halfway there when I got distracted by vibrant, yellow mushrooms growing on the forest floor.  

“Chanterelles!”  I rushed over enthusiastically.  They were an excellent source of Vitamin D and other minerals, so I gathered as many as I could find.  I followed a trail of them deep into the forest, careful to remember from which direction I came.  

Time passed quickly, as it always did when I was outdoors.  I’d become accustomed to the near constant rain of Scotland, so the light, morning sprinkle was of little consequence, particularly when I was in such a jovial mood.

I was lost in daydreams of spending a lifetime foraging in these woods and returning home to Lallybroch...to Jamie...making love by a roaring fire to warm my cold, wet body, when I heard the slosh of footsteps coming up behind me.

I smiled, pleased Jamie was able to get away from work so quickly and track me down to continue our amorous engagements from the morning.

Until I remembered...I’d never known Jamie’s feet to make a sound when he was walking.

I turned around and stared into the eyes of my dead husband wearing a soldier’s tricorn and a blood-red coat.

“A pleasure to see you again, madam,” he said as a predatory smile overtook his all too familiar face.

 


 

They saw the redcoats riding in from a quarter mile away.  Jamie’s whole body seized as the sound of a faraway whip echoed in his mind.

“Go, Jamie!” yelled Ian.  “Go now!  If ‘tis Randall, this will be nothing but trouble for ye.”

“I am Laird of this land, and I willna run like a coward.”

“Randall doesna ken ye’re home.  If he finds out ye’ve come back, his visits may come more frequently.”

“Then I will find a way to deal wi’ him.  I willna run from an Englishman on my own land!”

“Jamie,” said Murtagh, “where’s Claire?  If he finds her here after the stramash on the hill…”

Jamie’s heart stopped at the thought.  “No.  God no.”

“Go!” said Ian  “I’ll take care of the redcoats.  Find her, and keep her away until they’ve gone.”

“Jenny?” said Jamie, not wanting his sister exposed to that man again.

“I’ll take care of her and the weans, lad,” said Murtagh.  “Be gone!”

Jamie nodded and turned to run in the direction of the glade where he saw Claire headed only an hour before.  He was in the cover of the forest in no time at all, sprinting through the rugged Highland terrain.  

Memories intruded in his mind of Randall pulling Jenny inside their house.  And with every stride he made, he could feel the pain of Randall’s whip ripping through the skin on his back. He couldn’t let such a thing happen to Claire.  He’d promised her she’d be safe on his land, safe with him.

He dashed through the forest, heedless of the noise he made or the tracks he left behind.  

Finally, the glade was in sight.  He bounded into the clearing, eyes peeled for her wild hair and green dress.  

She wasn’t there.  She wasn’t near the creek where she liked to forage, nor near the wildflowers or heather.  

Where could she have gone?

“Claire!” he called.

His mind was an endless stream of terror.  Where is she?  How far did she wander?  Did the bastard already find her?

“Claire!”

The berries!  Perhaps she was foraging for berries.  He bolted in the direction of the blackberry bushes she was so fond of.

“Claire!”  She wasn’t there either. 

He searched and searched, running as fast as his legs would allow, trying to think of where a woman who was unfamiliar with the forest might go.

He didn’t know if he searched for one hour or two or ten—time was always distorted in panic or misery—but he began to fear that after so long being gone, she’d make her way back to the house with her basket of herbs, right into the hands of the redcoats. 

Exhausted and breathing heavily from prolonged exertion, he forced himself to press on.  He doubled back to the line of the forest near Lallybroch to see if he could pick up on her tracks.

The rain had made the earth soft, ensuring any being who stepped foot in the forest would leave their prints behind.  And thankfully, it wasn't falling heavily enough to wash them away.  Jamie finally found the impressions of a woman's shoe some distance to the west of the glade.  He could see she was diverted by the promise of plentiful foraging, evidenced by footprints through a decimated troop of mushrooms.

He should’ve been relieved to find her tracks, except there was another set of prints that overlaid hers—the boots of a man.

He tracked them through the wilderness as quickly as his eyes would allow.  He could no longer call out to her, fearful his voice might take away the element of surprise should Randall have her in a compromised position.

“Jamie!” he heard Claire’s voice on the wind.  He clung to the sound and followed the tracks, knowing the Highland winds could take her voice and lead him in the wrong direction.

She called for him again and again, desperation coloring her tone.  Her movement told him she was being pursued, and rage overtook fear as he became a predator stalking his prey.  

Randall’s bright red coat made him easy to find.  He had Claire pinned against a tree, his long blade held up to her throat.

Jamie didn’t hesitate for a moment, running straight at Randall, barreling him into the ground.  A terrible pain ripped through his shoulder as they landed on the rocks below.  

Ignoring his pain in the face of his enemy, he rolled up on his knees, unsheathing his dirk and turning to Randall.  The bastard was bleeding from the side of his head, but his sword was raised from where he knelt on the ground.

Jamie watched Claire come from behind with a large stone and bash it down on Randall’s head.  Jamie lunged forward as Randall stood stunned by the blow.  He stabbed the dirk into Randall’s belly, shoving it up into his heart.

He savored the sounds of Randall’s life being drained from his body—the gurgling of blood in his lungs, the groaning realization of the end coming to pass, and finally, the collapse of his body on the ground.

“Jamie…” Claire whispered, the distress in her eyes still there as her hands shook by her sides.

“Oh, Claire.”  He stood up, rushing to comfort her.  He tried to take her in his arms, but he could only move the left one without pain.  He dropped his bloody dirk to embrace her.

She threw her arms around him, burying her face in his chest.  At his grunt of pain, she stepped back to examine him.

“You’re hurt,” she said, hand grazing over his arm.

“Aye.  My shoulder will need to be set back in place.”

She nodded.  “I can do it for you.”

He led her some distance away from Randall’s body to a large rock he could sit on to brace himself.  Claire’s cold hands grew steadier as she helped him remove his shirt to get a better look at his arm.  She stepped around him to help pull the shirt over his head.

He heard her suck in a breath at the sight of his scars.  Her frozen fingers moved over his damaged skin.

“It was Randall,” Jamie said, looking toward the redcoat’s body to confirm his demise.  “Some years back, he came to Lallybroch for supplies and harassed my sister.  I stepped in and paid the price.  One hundred lashes on top of one hundred lashes, only a week apart.  My father died watching it happen.”  

He glimpsed over his shoulder at Claire.  “When I told ye he was no friend to anyone at Lallybroch, I meant it.”

Her arms wrapped around him from behind, and she rested her forehead on his back.  Gentle kisses pressed over the worst of his scars.  He shivered from head to toe at the sweetness of her touch.  

“He was a wretched bloody man,” she whispered.

“Aye.”

“How on earth did you survive?”

“I almost didn’t.”  He sighed heavily, remembering the misery of the weeks after his beatings.  He pulled her around in front of him so he could see her face and know she was well.  He held her hand with his good arm and told her what he could recall. “Murtagh and Dougal helped break me out of the prison.  They brought me to an abbey in France where my Uncle Alexander was abbot.  I was all but dead.  I dinna recall what happened, but Murtagh said a small Frenchman who looked a wee bit like a frog came by to pray over me.  I awoke the next morning, and the fever was gone...though the despair remained.”

“You must’ve suffered terribly.”  Tears filled her eyes.

He brought her hand to his lips to push away the memories of excruciating anguish, not just from what happened to his back, but the loss of his father, the attack on his sister, and the banishment from his land.

“You came to help me,” she said in awe.  “You knew the worst of what could happen to you...but you still came for me.”

“I vowed ye’d be safe wi’ me, Claire.  I dinna make promises lightly.”

“How did you know I was in trouble?”

“I saw the redcoats coming, and I worrit what might happen if Randall found ye after what transpired between ye at the fairy hill.”

She nodded, kneeling on the ground before him.  “When he found me, Randall said he came to Lallybroch because he heard Dougal brought me there.  He said they searched the house and couldn’t find me.  They split up to scour your land and hunt me down.  He found my tracks and followed me here.”

“When he doesna return, they’ll come looking for him.”

“What will we do?”

He smiled without joy.  “Weel, you can fix my arm so I can take care of the other redcoats.  The Highlands are a dangerous place, and wi’out witnesses or bodies, the English will never ken how their soldiers disappeared.” 

“Oh, Jamie.”  She buried her face in his chest that was covered in rain and Randall’s blood.  “I’m so sorry.”

“’Tis alright, lass.  I should be thanking ye for the opportunity to kill the bastard.”

She lifted her head to meet his gaze.  “But you’ll have to kill the other men, too.”

“Aye.  I’ll take no pleasure in it, but I’ll do what must be done.”  

Her eyes dropped sadly to the floor.

“Ye dinna think me a monster?” he asked weakly.

She looked back up at him and shook her head with the utmost sincerity.  “I’m beyond grateful for who you are.”

With a deep breath, she stood up and steeled her spine.  “Now, let’s set that arm.”

With a task to occupy her mind, she didn’t allow herself to be overtaken by overwhelming worry.  Jamie was obliged to endure a few moments of excruciating pain before his shoulder was forced back in place, her small hands somehow much stronger than they appeared.  

He rolled his shoulder, savoring the aching relief.  “I thank ye, Sassenach.  It doesna hurt anymore.”

“It will.  I’ll need to strap it to your body so you don’t use it for a few days.”  Her tone brooked no argument, even as he knew he’d have to do so when he hunted down the remaining redcoats later that day.

“Here,” she said, walking over to Randall’s body.  “He won’t be needing his belt any longer.”

She froze still as she stood over him.  Not even her lungs seemed to move.

“Claire?”  He stepped up behind her, placing his hands on her arms.  He looked down at Randall’s lifeless body, the vibrancy of his blood a contrast to his greying skin.  “I’m sorry ye had to see him killed.”

She shook her head.  “I’ve seen many men killed in battle.  It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?”

Her voice was hollow when she spoke, “It’s seeing his face once more...only, it’s not his face.”

Jamie turned her around so she wouldn’t have to see the body.  “I dinna ken what ye mean.”

“I...I think my husband was a relation of Captain Randall.  Frank looked just like him.  Frank Randall.”

The blood froze in Jamie’s veins at the thought of Randall’s kin touching Claire...marrying her...lying with her.

“Frank died in the war...there was a bomb...and explosion.  I never got to say goodbye.  And there was no body left to bury.”  Her eyes met Jamie’s, tears mingling with the rain.  “He looked just like him, but they were so different.”

Jamie pulled her to his chest, letting her cry in his arms, grieving her husband moments after she helped kill his kin.  He held her small body for as long as he could allow, knowing he must get her home so he could find the other redcoats before they realized something was amiss.

Claire was the one who pulled herself away to retrieve Randall’s belt and bind Jamie’s arm.  When that was done, he gathered his shirt and dirk, and she retrieved her basket, before setting off back to the house, Claire tucked firmly in his side.

 


 

He returned her home to the care of Ian and Jenny, and then set off with Murtagh to find the other redcoats.  There were five total, including Randall, and one of them was standing guard over their horses and wagons just outside the entrance to the house.  After they killed that one, they only had three left to find.

Two of them were raiding Lallybroch’s ale, already gone with drink when Jamie and Murtagh found them, making them easy enough to dispatch. The final man was a more cautious soldier, wary of his surroundings. They tracked him into the forest, where he put up an impressive fight. Jamie regretted having to kill him, but it was the least of what he would do to protect Claire. 

He and Murtagh retrieved all the bodies and disposed of them, so none would ever be the wiser they ever arrived at Lallybroch that morning.

It was dark when Jamie and Murtagh finally made it home.  The house was quiet, and all were in bed, save Ian who stayed up to ensure there was no trouble.  Jamie ate a quick meal before heading upstairs to his room.  

He stopped at Claire’s door, tempted to check in on her, wanting to tell her that all was well.  He listened at the door for any sign of movement that might indicate she was still awake.  

Nothing.

He moved on to his room, feeling somewhat empty walking away from the woman he loved without a word.  Once inside, he stripped down naked to wash away the blood of five dead soldiers off his body before getting into bed.

Sleep never came easily after he took a life, no matter how necessary or deserving the victim.  He lay in bed, mumbling prayers of peace for their souls.  He dared not ask God for forgiveness, because Jamie knew he would do it again should the situation require.  Instead, he asked for compassion and understanding.

In the quiet hours just after midnight, he heard someone opening the latch on his door.  His hand moved under his pillow, gripping his dirk, ready to bloody his hands once more.

He relaxed when the door opened to reveal Claire standing there in the wisp of her shift with worry in her eyes.  She had a bundle of rags in her hands, gripping them tight to stop from shaking.

He sat up in bed, but waited for her to shut the door before he spoke.  “Are ye alright, lass?”

She didn’t say a word.  She closed the distance between them and crawled onto his bed.

“Sassenach…” he said nervously.  He was completely bare beneath his sheets.

She didn’t seem to care about the state of his undress.  Her eyes told him her thoughts were turned toward more pressing concerns.  In them, he saw anguish and grief.  Relief and gratitude.  Affection and worry.

She caressed his face softly before checking on his injured arm.  Wordlessly, she bandaged him up, strapping his right arm tight against his body.

“Thank ye, lass,” he said when she was done.

“Did everything go as planned?”

“Aye.  Ye’ve nothing to fear.”

She leaned forward and kissed him, soft and gentle, more a ministration to his wellness rather than satisfying a desire.

“Lay your head,” she whispered, stroking the hair out of his face.

His tired body listened without objection, allowing her gentle caresses until his eyelids fell heavy.  As he was dozing off, he felt her slide in under the sheets and settle into the curve of his left arm.  She fitted well there, as though she was made to lie with his body.  

He pulled her close, kissing her forehead, and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s shoulder made him restless throughout the night, adjusting and readjusting anytime he was in one position too long.  When he stirred enough to rouse me awake, he’d mutter quiet, indecipherable words in my hair until I fell back asleep.

His body was as warm and comfortable as a heated blanket.  It wrapped around me with its long limbs and caressing hands.  Despite the novelty of sleeping in his embrace, it was almost like I’d been there a thousand times before.  Like my body was recognizing its home...like I was always meant to wind up curled into his side.

His nudity over the course of the night seemed such an inconsequential thing.  The only cares in the world I had were to be near him, to tend to him, and to feel the safety of his presence envelop me.  But in the light of dawn—far from the deaths of Captain Randall and the other redcoats—the significance of his lack of bedclothes grew more profound.  

I ran my hand over his sculpted torso, relishing a moment of private appreciation of his fierce beauty.  As my hand moved over his abdomen, a shiver ran down his whole body, telling me he was already awake and likely only still in bed to indulge me.  

I peered up at his face to find him watching with a tender smile.  

“Did you sleep well?” I asked.

“No,” he laughed.  

“Sore?”

“A bit.”

Knowing about his high pain tolerance, I concluded his arm must’ve been bothering him something awful.  I rose up to inspect it for swelling or any other potential problems, but aside from a bit of inflammation and bruising, it seemed to be healing nicely.  

He groaned in aching relief when I rid him of his bandages and allowed him to stretch out his arm.  I instructed him to demonstrate his range of motion, and he dutifully obliged.  He was unhappy, however, when I advised him his arm would require a sling, and he wouldn’t be allowed to use it for at least a day.

“You’ll only cause more damage if you don’t listen to me,” I insisted.  He ceased his grousing and grumbling when I pressed firmly against the large contusion left by the rock he landed on when tackling Randall.

He let out a quivering breath, and for a moment, I thought I might have seriously hurt him with all my poking and prodding, but one look at his face told me he came out of my examination unscathed.  His breathing difficulties were a product of his eyes staring down the loose neckline of my shift.  He was so mesmerized at the glimpse of my breasts, I thought if I began swaying them back and forth like a pendulum, I might have him completely hypnotized.  

“Jamie?”

Mmphm?”  His eyes lifted to mine, and he caught himself, the heat of his blush warming my skin in our close proximity.  “Sorry.”

I did my best to stifle my laughter at his expense, choosing rather to lean forward and press my smiling lips to his.

To save him further embarrassment, I crawled out of bed and hunted him down a shirt and a pair of trousers.  I helped him dress—both of us mindful of his modesty—and strapped on his boots.  Despite his reluctance, he allowed me to fashion a sling and tie his arm to his side.

“There,” I said, helping him to his feet.

The natural intimacy of our night together was suddenly replaced with a youthful uncertainty.  Last night we craved closeness and expected only the comfort of each other’s touch.  But now we were back to navigating this strange physical relationship of ours that didn’t seem to fit within any parameters of his century or mine.  

He took my hand and walked me to the door.  I wasn’t sure how to leave things between us after all that had occurred in the last day.  Though I craved the delirious kisses of the morning before, it felt strange to allow myself to be swept up in such giddiness when the man had just murdered a small company of soldiers for the sake of my safety.

“Thank you,” was all I could come up with, resenting my lack of eloquence. 

He opened his lips to respond, but the words never left his tongue.  Instead, he bent down and kissed me sweetly, chastely, stealing my breath.  

When he pulled back, he still looked as though he had something to say.

“What is it?” I asked.

He shook his head, embarrassed.

“Tell me, Jamie.”

“’Tis nothing...only...I verra much enjoy having ye sleep in my bed wi’ me.  I was going to say ye’re welcome to do so again anytime ye like, but...I thought maybe it wouldna be right to offer after yesterday.  I dinna want ye to feel obliged for the sake of…”

I reached up and pulled him down for another kiss.  It was neither sweet nor chaste, my desire for him breaking its feeble restraints.  He groaned into my mouth, wrapping his good arm around me to hold me firmly against him.

It was with the lingering feeling of his tongue on mine that I made my way back to my room, eager for the day to be over so I could taste it again.

 


 

Summer days were unreasonably long when your body craved diversions of the night.  After breakfast, I puttered around the garden and went foraging for some wild fruit I could transplant without Jamie’s assistance.  Then, I fussed about with my new medicine cabinet, organizing all my supplies for the next illness or injury to present itself.  

Late in the afternoon, Jenny noticed my restlessness and took pity on me, thinking it resulted from my encounter with the redcoats the previous day.  Disinclined as I was to inform her that it was due to an amorous encounter with her brother, she set herself to the task of distracting me.  Her generous spirit resulted in a determination to teach me how to wield a pair of knitting needles.  As the hours stretched on, I became proficient enough to no longer feel like stabbing neither her nor myself in the eye due to frustrated incompetence.  

I was about halfway through knitting an overly large and rather lumpy sock at the end of the day, when Ian’s uneven footsteps made their way into the parlor.  Jamie and Murtagh walked in just behind him, all three of them filthy from head to toe.

My eyes met Jamie’s, and we both sighed in deep relief, our parched souls drinking in the sight of each other.

Ian went to harass his wife with filthy kisses, while Jamie knelt in front of me to inspect my progress.  “Look at you, Sassenach!  Impressive.”

“Oh stop,” I blushed.

“It’s a fine start to a fishing net,” he teased.

“Fishing net?  It’s a sock!  For you, you little shit.”

“For me?  Ye’re making me a sock, lass?”

She shrugged.  “I was making them for Maggie, but the size seems to have gotten away from me.  I’m afraid you’re the only person whose foot might fit in here now.”

Jamie’s shoulders bounced in amusement.  “Weel, I thank ye for thinking of me in consolation.  Here, ye dropped a stitch…”  He reached for my needles and performed some sort of maneuver to fix a gap in my stitching.  “There.  We wouldna want my ankles getting cold now, would we?”

“Don’t worry,” I whispered. “I’m sure we could find a way to keep them warm.”

His eyes darkened, and his tongue shot out to lick his lips.  “Aye,” he said, breathless.

“Get on upstairs and wash for supper!” Jenny ordered, pushing her husband off her.  “All of ye!”  She whacked Jamie in the head as she passed by, heading to the kitchen.

Jamie stood with a smile, eyes never leaving mine.

“Come on, Jamie,” said Ian.  “Ye can make doe eyes at the lass o’er the dinner table.  I’m starving.”

Not the least bit ashamed, Jamie blinked playfully at me before turning to the stairs.

“Oh, Murtagh,” I said, standing up to stop Jamie’s godfather from leaving.  “Can I have a moment?” 

Jamie eyed the two of us curiously before giving a shrug and turning toward the stairs.  Murtagh stood awkwardly in front of me, a hand on his dirk—not in any menacing way, rather to keep his fidgeting to a minimum.

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said softly, “for helping Jamie yesterday.  I know I’m not exactly your favorite person, being an outlander and all…” he blushed profusely and dropped his head, “...but it means a great deal to me that you helped him with...well...”  Helped him with murdering the redcoats and disposing of their bodies.

Murtagh glanced up briefly, only to bow his head once again.  “Aye, mistress. ’Tis no hardship to rid this land of such filth.”

“Even for the sake of a harlot?” I teased.

His cheeks were a furious shade of red.  “The lad told ye?”

“He did.”  I laughed to let him know I wasn’t bothered.

“My apologies, mistress.”

“None needed.  You were only worried for Jamie.”

“Aye.” 

“In all sincerity, I do want you to know how grateful I am for yesterday.”

The corner of his mouth twitched, making me think he might have nearly smiled.  “Think nothing of it,” he murmured quietly.  Then he bowed his head and turned away to follow Jamie upstairs.

When they were gone, I set my pathetic attempt at domesticity aside in Jenny’s knitting basket and followed her to the kitchen to help however I could with dinner.  Being that no one yet trusted me with food preparation—which was quite astute of them and no loss for me—I was quickly redirected to tend to Maggie whilst waiting in the dining room.

Jamie arrived back downstairs before the other two men.  He wore a clean shirt and smiling eyes of pure sunshine.

“And how was your day?” I asked, warming at his joy in seeing me.

“Long.  Far too long.  And yers?”

“Same.”

“Come sit here, Sassenach, next to me.”  He held out a hand for us to join him at his right hand side.  

“Jamie!” I chided.  “What happened to your sling?”  In my excitement to see him, I’d completely forgotten about his injury

Och,” he rubbed his shoulder as if he’d forgotten about the injury. “I took it off when it got in the way of shoveling.  Dinna fash.  ’Tis much better.  It’s no’ as though I was stabbed or shot.”

I juggled Maggie in my arms so I could pull the collar of his shirt aside to inspect for any additional damage or swelling.  Things seemed to be healing fine.  Still, I couldn’t help but scold him a little.  “Next time, don’t remove any bandages or slings until I say so.  I don’t put them on you for the pleasure of your inconvenience.”

“Next time?” 

“Oh, you don’t fool me, James Fraser.  I know there will be plenty more times I have to bandage you up.”

He smiled broadly and took my hand in his, fingers tracing around the bare skin of my ring finger.  “Does that mean I get to keep ye around for a good long time, lass?”

It was my turn to blush and smile. 

Ian and Murtagh entered the dining room with noisy footsteps and loud groans of hunger.  I pulled my hand from Jamie’s just as they walked in to try to keep up some illusion of decorum.  

Jamie chuckled quietly and dropped his hand to my leg under the table.  He didn’t remove it when the food and wine were brought out, nor when his sister sat down to join us.  It remained there when Mrs. Crook came to take Maggie while we ate dinner.  He removed it only for the brief moments of leading grace, but promptly returned it back after an emphatic “Amen.”

The way Jenny’s knowing eyes kept flashing between her brother and me suggested Jamie’s feeble attempts at discretion were failing—though knowing Jamie’s capacity for hiding his thoughts, it must’ve been an intentional failure.  Fortunately, Jenny didn’t seem too displeased.

“Oh, Jenny,” said Ian, “Jamie tells me he’s going into the village come morning if ye want him to send yer letter to Aunt Jocasta.”

“The village?” Jenny narrowed her eyes at Jamie.  “What business have ye got there?  Ye just went but two weeks ago.”

“I need to see the smith about a few things, and I told Claire I’d pick up some seeds for the kailyard.”

“The smith?  Ye ken Macauley is off visiting the Grants.  He willna be back ’til August.”

I caught the flush creeping up Jamie’s neck as he met his sister’s gaze.  “I intend to meet up wi’ the other smith...MacLaren.”

“MacLaren?!” Jenny shook her head.  “What business have ye got wi’ a sil…”

“Did ye try the wine yer cousin sent from Paris, Jenny?” Ian interrupted, handing her a glass.  “’Tis the best we’ve had in some time.”

Jenny’s eyes didn’t leave her brother’s, though whatever words she intended to speak were sealed behind tight lips.  Jamie’s grip on my leg was growing uncomfortably tight.  I placed my hand on his and stroked it lightly, and his response was an immediate softening.

Jenny took the glass of wine and drank it down with resignation and a roll of her eyes.  

“The wine is really quite good, Sassenach.  Have a taste.”  Jamie pushed my glass toward me.  “For ‘good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used’.

I obliged, stifling my curiosity at the unspoken conversation between siblings.   

He was right, the wine was wonderful.  Its scent alone was full-bodied and intoxicating.  It washed over my tongue like liquid velvet.

“Mmphm,” a quiet hum vibrated in Jamie’s throat as he watched me drink.  He licked his lips, as though he was the one tasting the wine instead of me.

“It’s wonderful.  A generous gift from your cousin,” I said.

“Aye.  I worked wi’ him for some time.  Helped him make a fair profit too.  He’s trying to convince me to expand his business up North.”

“Oh my.  You really do get it from your family on all sides, don’t you?  Everyone wants something from you.”

“I canna say I blame them.  I’ve used them all for my own needs at some point or another.  And I can be quite demanding myself.”  His eyes flickered to Murtagh and Ian.

“They’d gladly help with anything you asked...and so would I.”  I squeezed his hand under the table, wishing I knew how to tell him just what I’d do for him.  

By the way he was gazing at me, I thought maybe he could see something of what he meant to me.  His thumb caressed the back of my hand with the utmost tenderness.

“Jamie!” called Jenny.

Mmphm?”  Both our heads turned in her direction.

“I was asking when ye’ll be done digging that damned hole in my kitchen?”

“Just a couple more days, a nighean.  Dinna fash.”

Jenny eyed him with irritation, though I didn’t know if it was for the inconvenience of a priest hole being dug in the back of the kitchen, or for the strange exchange they shared moments before.

Jamie just shrugged and went back to eating his food, our hands still linked together.

Dinner was delicious, and the wine seemed to loosen whatever tensions were between Fraser siblings.  By the end of the meal, everyone was rosy-cheeked and full-bellied, and Jamie was ready to move us all into the parlor to exchange the dinner wine for port.

Jenny immediately started clearing the table with one of the servants.  

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, knowing she’d likely say no, but hoping my persistence would one day pay off.

Jenny looked as though she was about to decline, but her eyes flashed to her brother briefly, and her shoulders sank in resignation.  “Aye, Claire, I suppose so.  If ye dinna mind helping me clear off our mess of a Laird’s plate, I’d be grateful.”

“Oh.  Of course.”  Knowing it was no easy concession for her to make, I dutifully fulfilled my task with more eagerness than I’d ever felt in cleaning a man’s filthy plate.

When we finished, Jenny and I made our way to the parlor to join the men.  Never one for idleness, Jenny immediately took up her knitting needles as she engaged in conversation with her husband.  I grabbed my half done sock and found an empty seat next to Jamie, where he was awaiting me with a full glass of dark, rich port.

I took a large drink, letting the wine sit in my mouth.  Jamie was watching me with a sparkle in his eyes, ignoring the conversation in the rest of the room.

Hyperaware of his eyes on me, I set my glass aside and picked up my needles, attempting to remember everything Jenny taught me only a couple hours before.

My obvious struggle was more than a little amusing to Jamie.  “I’ll never ken how yer hands are so sure and careful when ye’re healing a patient, yet so clumsy wi’ the click-it.”  

He covered my hands with his, showing me how to make the loops and turn my wrists.  “That’s it, lass.  Lovely.”

I snorted.  “Lovely?”

He shrugged in defeat; not even his hormone-addled brain could defend the disaster in my hands.  

My body was comfortably warm next to him.  He smelled of lye soap, wine, and hardworking man, and it was as dizzying as the port absorbing into my brain.  

I wanted him badly...and he knew it.  His sapphire eyes watched me intently as I mindlessly disfigured his lumpy sock.  

The evening stretched on for an eternity.  I didn’t know how Jamie could sit there so calmly, so patiently, knowing the night would bring our bodies together.  

I had to turn away from him to cool myself off, lest I commit ravishment right there in the parlor.  I distracted myself by watching Murtagh carve a small wooden dirk for wee Jamie to play with.

“Does your godfather live here too?” I asked Jamie.

“He has his own place a few miles away, but I have such regular need of him, he keeps a room here.” 

“His devotion to you is admirable.”

“Aye.”

I looked up at him.  “Colum told me you had the ability to draw people in...charisma, he called it.  It’s so much more than that, isn’t it?”

“My clan are my people...and I am their Laird.  I am theirs as much as they are mine.”

“Their devotion matches your own?”

He nodded significantly, as if renewing a pledge to serve them.

“Dougal is on a fool’s mission, isn’t he?”

“I certainly hope so.”  He reached up to finger a stray lock of my hair.

“He is,” I said firmly.

“Ye sound certain.”

“I’ve only known you a short time, and I feel it too…”

“Feel what?”

“The devotion.”

His eyes flared with the blue flame of a driftwood fire.  I stared, completely transfixed, lost in a glimpse of the passion burning inside him.  

I was desperate to pull him upstairs into the privacy of his bed.  Desperate to lose my body in that fire, have it warm me, surround me, burn me for all I cared.

Jamie forced his eyes away, fixing them on a blank spot on the wall.  He reached blindly for his port and drank it all the way down.  He was no less affected than me.

“I think I’m feeling quite ready for bed,” I announced to the room, incapable of composing myself for company any longer.  “Thank you all for a wonderful evening.”

I mindlessly put away my knitting and excused myself to bed, too embarrassed to meet anyone’s gaze.  I somehow remained on my feet all the way up the stairs and to my bedchamber.  

I whispered quiet gratitudes that Mrs. Crook had a basin of hot water awaiting me.  I stripped down and set to the task of washing myself thoroughly.  I meant to be touched tonight...if Jamie would have me.

I hung up my clothes to air out and donned a fresh shift before sneaking out of my room and down the hall to Jamie’s door.  His scent hit me full force as I closed myself in the Laird’s room.  A fire was lit in the large hearth, and the window was thrown open to let in the fresh, evening air.  Cool air and blazing fire...just like the man himself.

His feather bed was large and comfortable, enveloping me in its softness as I waited for the master of the house to come find me.

I didn’t have to wait long...I knew I wouldn’t.  The door opened again about twenty minutes after I’d closed it.

Jamie was peeling off his clothes before the door shut behind him.  I watched him remove his waistcoat, belt, and kilt before he even noticed my presence.  

My breath caught at the sight of his long, muscular legs and the curve of his bottom under his white shirt.  Hearing the sound that escaped my lips, he stopped in his tracks to find me in his bed.

I smiled, biting my bottom lip and pulling the blankets back in invitation.  He kicked off his boots and stockings, eyes never leaving mine.  He wore only his shirt when he joined me.

His large body dwarfed mine as I so badly craved.  Our mouths sealed over each other, and our tongues lashed out, paying the other back for the torturous time they spent apart.

He cradled my head in his too large hands, bending me to the will of his eager lips.  His weight was crushing, and I didn’t remotely care.  I rolled my body in a wave beneath him, moaning with the building pleasure inside.

“Christ, I could devour ye whole, woman.”  

“For God’s sake, do it.”  I pulled at his shirt until my hands found his gloriously beautiful arse.  He grunted as my fingers clenched, urging him to come inside me.

“Claire…” he moaned, his cock pressing hard against my pelvis, his shirt and my shift insubstantial barriers between our bodies.  I kissed down his sharp jawline, my tongue licking over his three-day scruff.  

“Oh God…I need...I canna...” He forced himself away, rolling off me and groaning in frustrated want.  My own body revolted against his absence, fighting my conscience to climb up and mount him.

We lay side-by-side, staring up at the ceiling, trying to catch our breath.  I didn’t dare look at his body, knowing what I’d find tenting his shirt.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he groaned.

“For what?”

“For misusing ye so...rubbing all over ye.  Groping and touching like a fiend.”

I chuckled.  “I think you're describing what I just did to you.”

“Bah,” he dismissed any wrongdoing on my part.  

I found his hand next to mine and gave it a squeeze.  “You know I want you...don’t you?  I like when you touch me like a fiend.”

“Aye, I gathered as much.  ’Tis only,” he spoke to the ceiling, unable to meet my eyes, “my father instilled in me that I shouldna lie wi’ a woman unless I’ve made promises.  If I should get ye wi’ child...”

He finally turned to look at me.  “I do intend to make promises to ye, lass.  I swear I’ll no’ play ye false, but…”

“It’s alright, Jamie.  You don’t have to explain.”  I leaned over and kissed him chastely.

“At times,” he breathed, “ye’ve got me feeling a lascivious wretch, and others like a sheltered wee bairn.  I ken ye’ve been marrit before, and this must seem so foolish.”

“Not foolish at all.”  I stroked his cheek.  “You want to be careful...you want to be sure.”

“I am sure of ye, Claire.  Truly.  ’Tis only,” he blushed, “I always had it in my mind as my father said...I shouldna be using a lass to abuse my body until we’re marrit...then sin becomes sacrament, ken?”

I tried my best not to laugh.  “Abuse your body?”

“Aye.  Makes it sound as though I’m no’ enjoying it so much.”

I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer.  He laughed with me, recognizing the absurdity.  

“Have you never made love to a woman before?” I asked.

“No.  I have not.  I mean to be wi’ one woman my whole life, Claire.  Only one.”

I gripped his hand even tighter.  “Does it bother you that I’m not a virgin?”

“No.  I reckon one of us should ken what we’re doing.”

We laughed pleasantly, and I realized our bodies had turned toward each other.

Wondering just how chaste he’d been for most of his life, I asked, “Have you ever...abused yourself...you know, without a woman present?”

“Aye,” he flushed, grinning.  “Da said if my need was so great that I must make a choice between abusing myself or imposing my sin on a lassie, then I should make the noble sacrifice.”

I had to wipe the tears of mirth from my eyes to see him clearly.  “How very gallant of you.”

“Aye.  And in the short time I’ve kent ye, Sassenach, I’ve had to be gallant a half dozen times at least.”

“Jamie,” heat rushed down to my core, “are you saying you’ve touched yourself thinking of me?”

“I may have done so...to stop from imposing sin on ye.”

I had to gather my lost breath to say, “I may have done the gallant thing for you a time or two myself.”

The humor drained from his eyes as shock stole over.  “Ye’re saying women...please themselves too?”

I gave an amused nod.

“And ye’ve done it?  Thinking of me?”

I nodded again.

“But...how?”

I didn’t laugh anymore, not wanting to shame his ignorance nor discourage curiosity.  “Well...you like to be touched and rubbed and fondled, don’t you?  Do you think I’m any different?”

“I suppose not.”  He licked his dry lips, eyes trailing down my body.  I wondered how easily he could see through my shift.  A mischievous smile overtook his lips.  “So what ye’re saying is that if I dinna touch ye...ye may be driven to abuse yerself?”

“I might just be...yes.”  I lifted my hand, tracing the curve of my breast, touching the sensitive nipple over the thin layer of fabric.

“So, I’d be tending to yer soul if I committed the sin for ye…” he deduced.

“How very chivalrous of you.”

“Aye.”  His breath was heavy, eyes never leaving my hand still teasing my nipple.  “And I wouldna be risking a bairn if my seed doesna spill inside ye.”

“That’s very logical.”

“And I dinna think I could abandon ye to commit such sin alone.”

“You seem to be convincing yourself quite nicely.”

He ran his hand down the curve of my waist and over my hip.  “I was schooled by masters of rhetoric in Paris, Sassenach.”

I couldn’t help my laughter any longer, wondering what other immoral acts he found a way to justify with his robust education.

His hand traced up the curve of my waist, settling just under my breast, thumb stroking lightly.  “D’ye ken how badly I burn for ye, Claire?  How my body aches wi’ need to fill ye?”

“I feel it too, Jamie.”

His lips pressed to my forehead, strong and firm.  “Ye’re mine, ye ken...as I am yours.  I willna forsake ye.  I swear it on my life.”

I lifted up to kiss him, knowing he meant every word, trying to convince him I felt the same.

Claire…” he pleaded, moving his hand over my breast.    

I pulled at the laces on my shift, loosening the fabric around my shoulders.  He hooked his finger over the top and brought it down, revealing my breasts.  

He stopped breathing, eyes dark and focused.  His fingertips grazed like feathers over my sternum, leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake.  He circled the swell of my breast, his breath finally escaping in an uncertain shudder.  It felt like the first time I’d ever been touched.

My chest swelled with a deep inhale when his fingers reached my nipple.  The little bud tightened firmly under his touch as he circled around.  He took it lightly between his thumb and forefinger, not pinching or pulling, only touching softly.

“Jamie,” I whimpered, burying my face in his chest, pulling my body closer to his.

With a deep breath, he spread his large hand wide and groped the whole mound of my breast, strong fingers sinking into soft flesh.  “Christ, ye’re beautiful,” he groaned, releasing his grip and grasping again, each squeeze firmer than the last. “Ye feel sae bonnie.”

Our lips met hungrily, his virginal eagerness intensely erotic.  His mouth moved over mine with twenty-three years of building desire driving him on, and as he pinched my nipple in his hands, I craved for that mouth to minster over my skin.

I threaded my fingers in his hair, pulling him down to my chest.  He groaned as his lips connected with skin, tongue darting out to lick the sensitive nipple.  My whole body squirmed, eager moans encouraging him when words failed me.

He hollowed his cheeks and sucked deep, pulling a string of pleasure tied from one erogenous zone to another.  I squeezed my legs together, trying to quell the urgent hunger below.

He moved to the other breast, starving mouth and greedy hands.  He sucked and nibbled and kissed.  He squeezed and pulled and caressed. My hands gripped his hair, keeping us locked together.

He looked up at me through his long auburn lashes and lapped his tongue over my nipple.  His eyes glazed over, lost in the needs of his body’s senses.

My hips rolled, trying to find friction against the air itself.  I couldn’t help myself any longer.  I reached down and moved my shift, fingers splitting my lower lips.  

Jamie, grunting like a boar, noticed my hand and sat up to watch.  I dipped my fingers inside, gathering moisture and spreading it around. 

He grabbed my shift, pulling it off and tossing it aside.  My hand found its place once again and picked up where it left off.  Jamie grabbed my thighs, pulling them apart and pinning them down to better watch my hand.  I rubbed myself—circling, stroking, teasing, and tapping.  Then, I sunk my fingers in deep, massaging inside and out.  

Jamie watched, entranced, with a focus I’d never seen before, as intense as when he was fighting, but infused with a barely controlled delirium.  His hands moved up my spread thighs, still holding them down, framing my sex like a work of art.

I rubbed myself between two fingers, and he spread my lips wide to watch.  

Jamie…” I groaned, needing him to touch me.  

He was eager to oblige.  He started with a finger, tracing up and down my lips, rough calluses over smooth, wet silk.  He lifted his hand, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together slick with my arousal.  I nearly squealed when his tongue licked slowly over the pad of his thumb.

Jamie!” 

He dropped his hand back down, touching again, this time dipping his fingers inside.  He didn’t start thrusting or massaging in hormonal madness.  He touched and caressed, fingers exploring a brave new world.  His wrist turned to feel the different shapes and textures all the way around.  

When he found the soft space that made me squirm and whimper, his mouth dropped open, and he watched my body respond.  He huffed a laugh, eyes dancing with delight.  He set to work like a child with a new toy, pressing buttons and pulling levers to observe the results of winding me up.

I stopped touching myself to grip the sheets on either side.  I was stuck between a mad desire for release and an irrational need to keep it going forever.  

I shrieked as Jamie dropped down, kissing the line of my inner thigh, his fingers still massaging inside me.  Every touch of his lips was like a jolt to my core, until his face was buried between my legs—then it turned to constant flowing electricity.  

He licked for the sake of tasting me; I could feel it in how he stroked his tongue.  His resulting groan told me how it pleased his palate.  He licked the same way he did my nipples, eyes open, watching my body’s response.  I had no choice but to give it to him completely uninhibited.  

His tongue fluttered madly, and my hips rose off the bed.  I yelled his name and clamped down on his fingers, pulling his hair as climax raged through me, his mouth and hands relentless in their pursuit.  

“Please,” I begged.  It was all too much.  

Finally, he stopped, staring up at me through a curtain of red curls hanging over dark eyes.  My body was still quaking beneath him, and his cool breath on my hot, wet skin was too much to bear.  I closed my eyes, floating on the waves of buzzing pleasure that rolled through me. 

I felt Jamie’s weight shift as he rose up on one knee.  The sound of his breath quickened, catching at irregular intervals.  

I opened my eyes to find him rapidly stroking his impressive length. His eyes drank me in as quiet grunts left his mouth.  

I sat up quickly, pulling his shirt over his head, wanting to see the muscles of his body work and strain to find release.  His skin pulled taut over chest and abdomen, and I thought his bicep might try to completely break free. 

I ran my hands over his shoulders and down his chest, teasing his nipples along the way.  He groaned like a wounded animal at the touch, so I leaned forward and took one in my mouth.  

As hard as he was beating himself off, I understood why he might think it abusing himself.  “Jesus Christ!  Claire!”  He tensed, and hot, viscous fluid shot on my belly and chest.  “Oh God, stop!” he begged, pulling my mouth away.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, bringing him down on top of me and burying my face in his hair.  His heavy weight covered me, and his heart pounded like mad against my chest.  His cock was still solid on my hip, and I squirmed, enjoying the feel of his slick semen between our chests.

Jamie was unresponsive, prostrate on top of me, no doubt exhausted and overwhelmed from his first time touching a woman.  I wrapped my legs around him, holding him in place, never wanting to let him go.  

It was some time before he stirred, long after his heart slowed to a normal pace.  He adjusted his weight off me, and my lungs pulled in a grateful breath.  Holding himself up on his elbows, he cradled my head in his hands, eyes glittering like stars in the night sky.

“You are mine, mo nighean donn," he whispered, "now and forever.”

“Yours,” I breathed.  “Forever.”

 


 

Jamie kissed Claire until his lips were raw and swollen.  His greedy hands were tangling in her hair, caressing her skin, and gripping the fleshiest parts of her body.

When she finally started drifting off to sleep, he curled himself around her, pulling her bum into the curve of his pelvis and gripping her breasts as though they were made for his hands.

He should have waited to touch her—at least until he asked for her hand—but he already felt as though they were sacredly bound.  He brushed away the guilt of sin, believing whatever time he spent in purgatory for having his wife a short time before they wed would be worth it.

He’d learned from his father’s death...and his mother’s...and Willie’s...that life was too short to waste time when it came to the ones he loved.

He fell asleep with the taste of her on his lips and his lazy cock nestled between the cheeks of her arse.

 


 

Jamie woke up before dawn in the same position in which he fell asleep.  His cock, however, was on the move.  It was hard and eager and desperately trying to find a way between Claire’s legs.  

He grumbled, reaching down and grabbing hold of it by the head, the way he’d snatch up a snake ready to bite.

Claire, unhelpful as she was, giggled sleepily and pressed her buttocks back against him.  He rolled her over to face her head on, trying to put space between his cock and the way to her quim.  She was smiling with closed eyes, perfectly content to let him maneuver her like a ragdoll.  

He gasped as he felt her hand close around his cock and start rubbing.  No one had ever touched him in such a way before, and he nearly lost it at a dozen strokes.  He did lose it when her golden eyes opened like the sunrise and her mouth swallowed his moans with a kiss.

He spilled his seed on her belly again, no less shocked than the night before at the intensity of possessiveness it made him feel.  Surprising him even more, was Claire rolling him on his back and straddling his belly, one hand propped on his chest and the other dipping down to spread his seed over her body.  She rubbed it on her quim, using the slick texture to give herself pleasure like the night before.  

Jamie’s hands gripped her fat, round arse as her hand worked furiously.  He watched her face knot up in seeming agony, while her whole body tensed, and a shriek erupted from her mouth.  

“God, the sounds ye make, my Sassenach...I’ve ne’er heard a prettier wee noise in all my life.”

She was still making all sorts of sounds as her body settled into the crook of his arm.  

They stayed there until the dawn light intruded into their privacy.  Jamie's body revolted against having to get up and start the day.  He wanted to lie there forever, lazy and in love. 

“Will you be gone a long time?” she asked.

“I should be back by nightfall.  I dinna think I’m capable of sleeping wi’out ye in my arms any longer.”

“Good.”

He caressed the delicate line of her jaw, as smooth as any porcelain surface he’d ever felt in France.  “Promise me ye willna go foraging wi’out me here, Claire.  I dinna think the redcoats will have any notion that Randall has gone missing yet, otherwise I wouldna be leaving ye, but stay close to Ian and Murtagh while I’m gone, just in case.”

Thankfully, she didn’t fight him on it.  She just nodded her head and snuggled into his side for their last few moments together before he must start his day.

“'Tis almost morning,” said Claire softly, in the words of Juliet.  “I would have thee gone. And yet no further than a wanton’s bird.”

“I would I were thy bird,” he said.

“Sweet, so would I... Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

 


 

Jamie gathered his coin purse and shoved it in his sporran.  He had a long ride and a busy day ahead of him, knowing how excited his tenants became when he rode into the village.

He breathed deep, steeling himself to part from Claire, knowing he’d see her again soon.  He walked out of his study, closing the door quietly behind him and making his way outside.  

“Brother,” called Jenny from behind him.  

He turned to see her standing in the hall, eyes boring severely into him.  “What d’ye need, a nighean?”

“’Tis no’ what I need, but what you need.”  She carried with her one of their mother’s old candlesticks.  “If ye’ll be going to the village to see the silversmith, ye’ll likely be needing some silver.”

Jenny,” his heart melted, knowing she was giving him much more than a few ounces of her beloved heirloom.

“Here.”   She held it out to him, feigning irritability, though he could see the moisture in her eyes and the twitch of a smile pulling at her lips.

Jamie tried to stifle his foolish grin, but his heart held too much joy.  He stepped close and pulled his sister into his arms.  “Thank ye, mo phiuthar. Tapadh leat bho mo chridhe.”

“Go on.”  She pressed the candlestick into his hand, wiping a tear from her cheek.  “Ye’ll need the ring to marry the puir lass before I have a niece or nephew raising a ruckus in these halls.”

He blushed, unsurprised that Jenny was aware of every occurrence that happened under their roof.  “Aye.”

She sighed deeply and gathered herself before turning to walk away.  He watched her go with tears filling his eyes.

He set off to buy Claire’s ring with his mother’s silver in his hand and his sister’s blessing in heart.

Chapter Text

“What size should I make it?” asked MacLaren.

Jamie fingered through a small box of rings in the silversmith’s shop until he found the right size.  He’d been holding Claire’s hand so often, he was certain it would fit.

“Here.”  He handed it over.  “About that big around.”

“And ye want thistles on it?”

“Aye.”  I’m turning her into a Scot after all.   “And could ye inscribe this on the inside for me?”  He handed over a scrap of parchment.

MacLaren held it low so he could read it with his spectacles.  “Da mi basia mille.  What does it mean?”

“Just an auld poem,” he murmured.  

“So, ’tis true then, my Laird?  Ye’ve fallen for the MacKenzies’ sassenach?  I didna get to meet her at Quarter Day.  Is she as bonnie as they say?”

“I dinna see how the MacKenzies have any claim on the lass,” Jamie spoke sharply, putting an end to further questions.

“Oh, aye, my Laird.  Of course.  And when d’ye need the ring?  I can send young Kenny to Lallybroch next Tuesday.”

“Can ye no’ finish it today?  I’ll stick around as long as I need.”

Jamie didn’t miss the curve of the smith’s mouth before he said, “Of course, my Laird.  I’ll work on it first thing.  ’Tis an honor that ye’d trust me wi’ the task.”

“I thank ye, man.  I ken ’tis in good hands.”  Jamie clapped him on the shoulder before turning to leave.  When he got to the door, he paused and said, “MacLaren?”

“Aye, my Laird?”

“Whatever ye’ve heard of Claire...she’s bonnier.”

 


 

“Good day to ye, my Laird,” said Mistress Kerr some hours later, coming up behind Jamie’s horse.  He was packing Claire’s seeds into his saddlebags, as well as a small gift he found her at the silversmith’s shop.

Madainn mhath, Mistress Kerr.  I hope yer family is well?”

“Oh aye.  We’ve just welcomed our sixth grandchild into the world.  Wee Thomas.”

“Aye, I heard all about it from Jenny.  My congratulations.  I’ll come by and visit the wean soon, when his Ma and Da are ready for me.”

“It would be an honor, sir.”

“And the tavern?  Business is good?”

“Indeed.  Even better since yer return.”

“Good.  Is there anything I can do for ye?”

She reached into her apron and pulled out a letter.  “This was delivered to the tavern for yer Uncle Dougal wi’ no little haste.  Only, he took off wi’ his men to visit some of the tenants at their farms before I had a chance to gi’ it to him.”

Jamie ground his teeth together at the news of his uncle harassing all his tenants in their homes.  

“I wasna sure if he’d be coming back to the tavern or heading o’er to Lallybroch,” she said.

“I’ll make sure he gets it.”  He accepted the letter, tucking it into his sporran.  He pulled out Jenny’s in turn.  “Ye ken of anyone heading out to visit the Camerons?  Jenny’s got a letter for my aunt.”

“Oh leave it here.”  She took it from him.  “I’m sure someone will be headed that way in no time.”  

“I thank ye, mistress.”

“Glad to be of service, my Laird.”  She curtsied and made to turn away.  

“Mistress Kerr?” he stopped her.  “Ye were at the tavern when Dougal was talking wi’ the the men, aye?”

“Aye.”

“Did they listen to him?  Did’ye get the sense he roused their patriotic sensibilities?”

“Weel,” she nodded her head, “I must say yer Uncle has a way about him.  When he’d talk of what the redcoats did to you, my Laird, I’ll no’ say the men werena ready to fly out the door and charge into Fort William on the spot.”

“Aye,” Jamie grumbled.  The memory of Randall’s whip sometimes stirred something in him, as well.

“But rumor has it,” she smirked conspiratorially, “that Randall and a company of redcoats left here but twa days ago heading to Lallybroch, but they ne’er made it back.”

“Is that so?” Jamie smirked wi’out humor.  “I suppose they got lost in the heather.  I dinna recall them coming for a visit.”

“Aye...so the men concluded.  Wi’ Randall...lost in the heather...the tenants are none so eager to cause more problems wi’ the English—so long as their Laird doesna call on them to do so.”

“I assure ye, mistress, their Laird only cares for peace.”

“Ever sensible, sir.”

“D’ye think ye can inform the men of such?  Discreetly, of course.”

“It shouldna be a problem at all.”

“I thank ye, lass.”

Mistress Kerr moved in close and whispered, “When Randall was here, he was asking around about the MacKenzies and their sassenach…”

“Mistress Beauchamp is not their sassenach,” he interjected.  She’s mine, he left the words unsaid, but Mistress Kerr heard them loud and clear.

“Oh aye.  I meant Randall was inquiring about the MacKenzies and...Mistress Beauchamp.  He seemed to be under the impression that she and yer uncle were stirring up trouble for the English.”

“I see.”  He tapped restlessly against his leg, worried Randall may have discussed his suspicions about Claire to the other redcoats.  He didn't need more of them raiding his land to find and question his woman.  Jamie hoped Randall’s general dismissiveness of the king’s justice over his own—and his penchant for excessive brutality—inhibited him from sharing his concerns about Claire to the other officers so that he may see fit to handle her interrogation privately.  The thought made him sick to his stomach, but it allowed for some hope that more redcoats wouldn’t come looking for her.  He’d start a rebellion against the crown all on his own should they try to take her from him.

He was getting ahead of himself.  There was hope that the other redcoats didn’t know anything at all about Claire.  All they knew for certain was that Randall and his men left Fort William and never returned.

“Ye ken,” said Jamie carefully, “wi’ a redcoat company gone missing, they’ll likely send another company out to search for them.  D’ye think ye can pass along my desire for everyone to forget Randall and his men ever came to Broch Mordha?”

“Indeed, my Laird.  Come to think of it,” she nodded gravely, playing along, “I think I heard tell of some redcoats skirmishing wi’ the Watch just over the Grants’ border...and I’m sure that’s how the rest of yer tenants will recall things, as well.”

Jamie smiled warmly, wrapping an arm around Mistress Kerr’s shoulder and kissing her cheek.  “I thank ye.  Truly.”

He watched the flush move up her neck and color her cheeks.  “Come on o’er to the tavern now, sir.  We have fresh stew and a fine ale ready for ye.”

“Oh, that sounds grand.  Could ye tell I was starving?”

“Aye, I could hear yer stomach growling from all the way over at the silversmith’s this morning.”  She smirked and peered up at him out of the corner of her eye.  “Is it true Lallybroch will be having a new Lady soon?”

Jamie smiled softly.  Although he’d rather not speak of it until Claire accepted his offer, he knew Mistress Kerr was doing him a service disseminating information to his tenants.  Some people were paid in coin for their work...and others in information.  He conceded, “If Mistress Beauchamp will have me, then my people will soon have their Lady.”

“Oohhh, congratulations, my Laird!  Yer Da would be sae proud.  I canna wait to see the next wee Laird running ’round the streets of Broch Mordha.”

“She must agree to have me before she gives me children.”

“Of course.  Of course.  Though ye must let us make ye some pies for the wedding.  Ye’ll be inviting all yer tenants, will ye no’?”

Jamie chuckled as he led her back to the tavern, wondering what Claire would think of the coming madness.

 


 

As he rode home, daydreams held the reins of mind, driving through a thousand possibilities of how he’d place the ring on Claire’s finger and proclaim his possession of her to God and anyone else who would listen...of how he’d wake up to her every morning for the rest of his life and fall asleep with her wrapped in his arms.

The ring in his sporran seemed to be pulling him eagerly to Lallybroch, as though it knew whom it belonged.  He didn’t blame it; he was wrapped around her finger as well.  He reached in and felt the little piece of silver with longing in his heart.  

Donas, picking up on Jamie’s eagerness to be home, galloped swiftly down the road.  

The sun was setting, lighting up the cloudy sky with fiery colors of passion.  The evening breeze bit at the tip of his nose as he rode quickly through the hills.  All he could think of was crawling into his warm bed with Claire...naked and alone.

He bent down over Donas and urged him on faster.

The dogs announced his arrival with their incessant barking.  Donas was, thankfully, mostly accustomed to them by now, and refrained from spooking and throwing Jamie off his back.  

There was a strange lack of activity around the house.  Not a stable boy, tenant, nor servant in sight.  

Jamie rode directly into the stables to tend to his steed.  He fed and watered the beast, brushing Donas and giving him all the praise he deserved.  When the horse was taken care of, he turned his sights toward the house and to the woman who awaited him inside.

He regretted having to wait through an entire evening with his family to be properly welcomed by Claire, but it was only a small regret, for he loved his family dearly.

“Good evening, my Laird,” said a soft, husky voice from the kailyard to his left.

The sun had given way to twilight, and it took a moment for Jamie’s eyes to adjust to find the source of the voice.  She nearly glowed, sitting there on the fence, skin fairer than the moon itself.

Sassenach,” he breathed, the tension of the day melting away at the sight of her.  As he walked to his Lady, he whispered a quiet thank you to his servants for their thoughtful disappearance.  

“Welcome home, Jamie.”

He sighed warmly, taking her hand and bending to give it a kiss.  His lips were drawn to a certain finger, the one that would soon be decorated with silver thistles.

Her other hand caressed his cheek, and he could feel the want in her touch.  He stood up and looked around, ensuring no one was watching.  Even if they were...to hell with them.

Jamie stepped between her legs, slipping his arms around her waist.  Her breasts pressed against him when she wrapped her arms around his neck.  They kissed softly, slowly, sweetly, until there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.

Mo ghraidh,” he whispered.  “I think I might die if I couldna kiss ye like this again.”

They kissed to the edge of the night, just as raindrops started to fall from the scattered clouds.  Not yet ready to share his time with anyone else, he reached under her bum and picked her up, her legs locking around his waist.  

He kissed her as he walked—slowly so he wouldn’t stumble—back to the cover of the stables.  He brought her to a stall that was empty save a pile of freshly cut hay.   The scent of it was pleasant on his nose, though not nearly so pleasant as the peppermint on Claire’s tongue.

He lay her softly down, still cradling her in his arms as he adjusted his weight to keep from crushing her.  

“D’ye mind the hay?” he asked.

She shook her head and pulled him down for more kisses still.  Their bodies rubbed together through layers of skirts and plaid, and their tongues danced languidly to the thrumming music of raindrops on the wooden roof.  

Desire quickly overwhelmed affection, all thought forcing itself downward to his cock.  His thoughts turned once again to spilling his seed on her belly, milky droplets decorating skin of pearl.  

He tried with all his might not to think of flipping her over and pushing inside, shooting his seed deep in her womb.  Having a piece of him stay in her long after his cock was gone.  Having it take hold in her belly, truly making their bodies one.

His cock was in agony.  If it wasn’t so unconscionable to propose marriage to Claire in a pile of hay in the stables, he would’ve done it then and there, so that with promises made, he could have her on the spot.

But, ifrinn, his Lady deserved so much more.  He tried to roll back on the hay, forcing separation to stifle his furious need.

“No!” she demanded, holding tight, grinding her pelvis against him.  

Mmphm…”  His hands moved down to cup her arse through her skirts, squeezing her buttocks as she rocked against him.  Claire released her grip only to pull up her skirts, revealing the soft, warm skin of her legs and the fiery heat between her thighs.

Jamie realized she’d lifted his kilt, too, when his cock pressed naked on her hip.  She started rubbing her slick quim against his thigh, whimpering the same sounds she’d made in their bed last night.

“Oh, God,” he groaned into her hair, overcome with the knowledge that he could rouse the same pleasure in her that she gave him.  His hips joined in the motion of her body, grinding her deeper into the hay.

Yes,” she moaned, eyes glossed over, as dark as marmalade in the disappearing light.

“Ohhh!” she stiffened, her body as hard as a board beneath him, and her face reflecting his own wild delirium.  

Conscientious of her body in the throes of pleasure, he stopped grinding against her so not to disrupt her climax with his own ravenous need.  He rose up on a knee, stroking his cock, spurned on by the scent of her pleasure and the loud moans echoing in his ears.  He jerked his cock madly, desperate to meet his woman in her state of frenzy.  

He felt the familiar tightening of his balls and the clenching of his stomach, and then the surge rose up in him.  Her stays covered her belly, but his cock didn’t seem to mind.  He aimed at her quim, ears ringing with his own muddled cries.

He watched his seed spill on her dark curls and soft, pink flesh.  It dripped between the folds of her lips, down toward her bum.  It was the most sinful, depraved act he’d ever committed in his life. 

We are the devils incarnate,” he mumbled breathlessly.

His cock still in hand, he brought it down to rub the tip over her seed-spattered quim.  It was too much to bear.  His body shook with the tremors of rapture.  

Her quim was slick and warm on his cock as he mingled their juices together.  She shuddered as it touched a more sensitive place, and he thought he might come yet again.

“You’ll be the death of me, James Fraser.”  She smirked with lazy satisfaction, pieces of hay adorning her curly hair.

“God, I hope not.  I told ye, I canna live wi’out yer kisses, lass.”

Da mi basia mille…”

...dein mille altera, dein secunda centum, deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum…”  He bent down to kiss her again and again, their bodies pressed together, making an absolute mess of each other.

Claire laid her head back in the hay, sucking in a deep, contented breath.  Jamie’s lips couldn’t extract themselves from her salty skin, so he continued confounding the reckoning quite by kissing lazily down her neck.

“Mmmm,” she shivered, a smile spreading over her lips.  “You’re so good with your tongue.”

He chuckled, licking over the expanse of her chest.

“How was the village?  Did you finish your errands?”

Mmphm,” he affirmed, never ceasing the course of his lips.

“Your tenants were happy to see you?”

Mmphm.”  He pulled down on her stays, lifting her breast over the top to capture her nipple in his mouth.

She was quiet for a time, fingers stroking through his hair as he fondled her with his mouth and tongue.   

“God, yer breasts are sae soft and bonnie.  I could live on them like an unweaned bairn.”

The aforementioned breasts bounced in his mouth with her amusement.  He nibbled on them playfully before returning back to his languorous exploration.

“Jamie?” 

He lifted his eyes at her serious tone.  “Did you see your uncle?”

“No, I did not.”  Determined not to let Dougal ruin the moment, he palmed her breast and massaged deep into the flesh the way he’d learned she liked the night before.

Her hand rested on his, stilling him, but not pushing him away.  “I’m concerned about him,” she said.  “You know...he wanted me to seduce you to change your mind about the rebellion.  He did not want me to fall head over heels for you and tell you all his secrets.”

“Dinna fash about Dougal, Sassenach.  I willna allow any harm to come to ye.  I could cause far more trouble for him than ye’re worth as a spy.”

“And Colum?  He won’t be happy with me either.  I wasn’t worried how they felt about me when I’d planned on going back home, but if I’m to stay...they’ve both threatened to…”  Her words fell off.

Jamie moved up, adjusting himself to meet her gaze, realizing what she was saying.  “They threatened to kill ye.  Ye’d risk yer life to stay here wi’ me, lass?”

“It’s not an incredible sacrifice when you think about it...it wouldn’t be much of a life without you in it.”

His heart swelled painfully in his chest.  “Dinna fash, mo nighean donn.  Ye’ve the protection of my family, my clan, and if need be...my body, as well.”

“Would that I could offer you something in return.”

“I only want you, my Sassenach.  There is naught ye could give me that’s greater than yer heart, for you hold mine in the palm of yer hands.”

She propped herself up on her elbows to whisper against his lips.  “It’s yours.”

 


 

They didn’t make it into the house until everyone else was in bed.  He walked Claire through dark, empty halls to his room with an arm snugly around her waist, not caring if anyone came out a saw.

Mrs. Crook, thankfully, had left him food on a table in his room.  He skipped it for the moment, wanting to help Claire undress for bed.  She removed her pins as he untied her laces.  One by one, he relieved her of her skirts, bodice, stomacher, and stays, and then folded them all neatly on a chair.  

He licked his lips as he pulled on the strings of her shift, the final covering of her radiant skin.  She rolled her shoulders to help the fabric over her arms, then watched it fall silently to the floor. 

Firelight glowed warm on her skin, framing her curves in the shadows they cast. It was somehow different seeing her body outside the heat of passion.  When they made love, he was so intently focused on one piece at time...her mouth, her breasts, her pretty pink nipples.  But standing there naked before him, he could appreciate her body as a whole, like the sculptures adorning the palace of Versailles.  

He’d seen naked women in brothels before, and he surveyed hundreds of paintings on canvas and lewd sketches soldiers brought with them to battle...but never had he seen one so close...not one made of flesh and blood…and never one that was his.  

Never one so perfectly made to fit his hands.

She reached for his belt and pulled it free, grabbing hold of his kilt so it wouldn’t fall to the floor.  She took it in both hands and shook out the pleats, before twirling it around her body, smiling at him like a wicked wee thief cocooned in his plaid.

“Lovely...but…” Jamie stepped to his bureau and opened the bottom drawer.  He found what he wanted and brought it back to Claire.

“Fraser colors,” he said, pulling the drab hunting plaid off of her body and wrapping her back up in the crimson fabric of his people.  He enveloped her in layers of the vibrantly patterned wool, so that she looked like a rosebud in the first of spring.  

“Yer hair,” he said, touching a stray ringlet.  “In the dark, ’tis like obsidian on ivory.”  Then his thumb caressed her delicate skin.  “Such war of white and red within her cheeks.”

Her breath shuddered against his hand.  “Take off your shirt,” she said, opening up the plaid in invitation, “and join me.”

He did as he was bid, letting his shirt fall to the floor, and stepped into her embrace.  He lifted her up, hands on her glorious bottom.  He kissed her softly, walking slowly to bed.  He lay her down still wrapped in his red plaid, skin like chantilly cream on a bed of strawberries.

“Your dinner’s getting cold,” she said.

He’d forgotten that he hadn’t eaten.  He kissed his way down her belly and smiled. “It feels warm enough for me.”

 


 

Mrs. Crook was no longer apt to pretend I was sleeping in my own room.  Knowing I liked to wash in the mornings—and evenings and frequently in between—she entered Jamie’s room just before dawn with my hot basin of water, linens, and a bar of soap.

It had scared the bloody hell out of me.  I was fast asleep, curled into Jamie’s side, and covered only by his plaid, when the sound of her quiet knock nearly had me leaping out bed, save for Jamie’s tight grip keeping me pinned to his side.  

I buried my face in the crook of his arm with his plaid thrown over my head.  His body bounced with amusement, but mercifully, he waited for Mrs. Crook to leave before letting out his audible laughter.

“You better make an honest woman of me, James Fraser.”  I smacked him on his belly.

His eyes glittered with a quiet enthusiasm, as he placed a gentle kiss on my nose. 

Adrenaline already surging, we rose out of bed to greet the day.  The musky scent of love-making was heavy on his skin, so I brought him to the wash basin to scrub him down with me.  

“Lye soap?” I asked lathering up my hands with the foul smelling stuff to wash him down.

“Aye,” said Jamie, smirking.  “Jenny saves the fine French soap for our guests.”

"Oh."  I couldn’t help the warmth in my heart at being treated like a member of the family—even if it meant losing a few dermal layers every time I washed.  I would, however, need to find ulterior methods of cleansing if my skin was to survive Scotland.

As I started washing him down, I tried to remember the best oils for making soap that we might have access to in the Highlands.  Olive oil?  Sunflower oil?   If I couldn’t find a feasible recipe for a softer soap, I would need to make a decent moisturizer to ensure my hands survived the torments of lye.  Lanolin perhaps?

I groaned at the thought of smelling like sheep secretions.

“Ye want me to hunt down the fine soap for ye, Sassenach?” he chuckled. 

“Absolutely not.”  As if I’d spit in the face of Jenny’s acceptance of me into the family.  “But if you can hunt down some seeds to grow sunflowers, I’d very much appreciate it.”

“Sunflower seeds?”

“A lot of them.  As many as you can find.”  I was sure we could make a pretty penny selling soap in Edinburgh.

Much to his credit, Jamie didn’t even ask why.  He just nodded and said, “Turn around and I’ll wash my spunk off yer arse, aye?”

 


 

We made our way downstairs with clean, dry, and scratchy hands—not to mention arses.  The family was at the breakfast table already eating their morning parritch when we arrived.  We sat together and enjoyed the food and company while it lasted, before each one of us would splinter off to deal with the duties of the day.

It all felt so routine...in the best way.  Like this was what I was meant to be doing.  It was beginning to feel like home.  

It was just an expectation now that I would help clear the table after meals, and it was a novel enough task that I performed it with more eagerness than it called for.

To my surprise, Jamie was waiting for me when I was done.  I was more than certain he had plenty of work to catch up on having been gone the entire day before, but he seemed to be in no rush.  His hand was in his sporran, fiddling mindlessly with something while staring out the window deep in thought.

“I was hoping for a break in the clouds today,” he grumbled.  “D’ye think it would be too troublesome for ye to take a walk wi’ me to the glade, Sassenach?  I ken ’tis a bit dreary out.”

“Oh, I don’t mind the rain.”

“Aye.  Go on and get yer wee basket, then.  I’ll carry yer plants for ye.”

Just as I was about to retrieve my foraging basket, Mrs. Crook stepped in front of us, stopping my progress.  “I beg yer pardon, but some of the tenants have arrived asking to see ye.”

Jamie sighed deeply and rolled his shoulders.  “Alright then.  Just give me a few minutes, Sassenach.”

“Pardon me, my Laird, but they’re here to see Mistress Beauchamp.  They heard tell of how she patched up wee Rabbie and tended to Mistress Margaret.  I believe they require her services as a healer.”

Mmphm,” Jamie narrowed his eyes.  “Is that so?”  

“Aye, my Laird.”

He shrugged and smiled. “What say you, Sassenach?  D’ye mind?”

“Not at all.”  I looked around.  “Where should I examine them?”

“Weel, for now, ye can use my study.  Though, I suppose I should get started on building ye a surgery.  Ye dinna want to have me grumbling o’er ledgers while ye’re examining someone’s bowels.”

Jamie…” I nearly melted, placing a hand on his chest in gratitude.  “You don’t have to do that for me.”

He covered my hand with his own.  “And you dinna have to care for the people of this land, but ye do, so I will.”  

“We’ll go for our walk tomorrow, then?”

He peered crossly at the clouds outside.  “Aye.  It isna such a fine day for walk to the glade anyway.  Tomorrow it is.”

“It’s a date.”

He looked at me with amused curiosity, as he typically did when I spoke with phrases from the future.  Then, he shrugged and lifted my hand to his lips before taking his leave.

As it turned out, “some” of the tenants turned out to be a large crowd of people lined up outside in the courtyard, waiting their turn to see the healer.  Most only needed a tooth extracted or a wound bandaged, nothing too serious, but it was nice to utilize my rusty skills after the last couple of weeks with only three patients to tend to.  

By midday, however, I was getting the feeling that the tenants came more to talk with their Laird’s new girlfriend than they did to be healed.  I had met many of them at the Quarter Day celebration, but at the time, I was seen only as an outlander, and was avoided like the plague.  Now that it was clear I would be sticking around, they seemed to want to know more about the strange sassenach who captured their Laird’s heart.

My suspicions were confirmed when a gray-haired woman by the name of Mistress Kerr—who came for what appeared to be arthritis of the knee—was eyeing my lower regions with an intrusive amount of curiosity.  I did my best to ignore it until she said, “Ye’ve good set o’ breeding hips, my Lady.  Ye’ll need em for a Fraser bairn.  ’Twas Brian’s family who ye can thank for the great solid heids the lot of yer weans will be likely to have.”

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!   I was surprised she didn’t come with a speculum to examine me.

One of the benefits of seeing patients again was that they always brought something as a form or gratitude for my care.  Though I never asked for payment, the Scots would find it ungracious to reject a gift.  Sometimes, they would give something as small as a vase with fresh flowers.  Other times, they would bring large pelts, vibrant plaids, or soft, knitted blankets. 

The next several days played out in much the same way.  Tenants waited for me after breakfast, and I was busy tending to their various illnesses and injuries throughout the day.  Jamie and I saw each other mostly at breakfast and dinner, but had no real private time together until everyone else was in bed.  And unfortunately, with summer days in Scotland being so long, and with Jamie and I both working so hard, there was little time left for romance at night if we intended to get enough sleep to get us through the following day.

About midway through the week, I was taking a brief break to grab a bite of lunch to sustain me for the next several hours, when the dogs announced the arrival of even more guests.  It was beginning to feel like I was working at a hospital again, triaging and treating an endless supply of patients.

I shoved the last of a bannock and a slice of cheese into my mouth and made my way out to get a glimpse of the new arrivals just in case they needed emergency intervention. 

“Fuck,” I cursed, staring out the window.  It wasn’t more tenants coming to meet me; it was the MacKenzies back from their Rebellion tour.

I was surprised to find Jamie already out in the courtyard to greet them as they dismounted.  He must’ve received word they were coming back to the house, because I knew him to be working in the field that morning.  

There was a tension buzzing in the courtyard at Dougal’s appearance, highlighting peace Lallybroch sustained in his absence.  No wonder Jenny had been so hostile toward him upon our arrival.

I realized when I looked at Jamie, that he was the embodiment of the tension everyone felt.  He was standing to his full height, shoulders back, jaw stiff, and staring down his nose at his uncle.  Only the Laird of Broch Tuarach could make Dougal MacKenzie seem a small man.

My nerves jumped further when I saw Jamie’s sword belted to his side.  He never wore his sword when he was working in the field.

Dougal approached him cautiously.  They exchanged quiet, severe words back and forth, all the while, their bodies squaring up to each other like baboons getting ready to fight.  I knew Jamie was unhappy with Dougal for harassing his tenants at their houses, rallying them to a cause Jamie wanted no part of, but this confrontation was fueled by something more...the conversation we’d had several days ago about Dougal’s threats to my person.

Unable to contain my curiosity, my feet carried me outside.

The courtyard was already a busier place than normal before Dougal’s arrival, what with all the tenants coming to see me.  The addition of Dougal’s men made the place seem crowded.  Some of the field and stable hands were watching the confrontation from the perimeter, and Murtagh and Ian were flanking Jamie’s right and left side.  

Even Jenny followed me out with Maggie curled tightly in her arm.  Her face was as severe as Jamie’s, and her other hand was suspiciously in the large pocket of her skirt.

Dougal leaned in to whisper his final words in Jamie’s ear, and Jamie’s hands clenched in response, clearly itching to pull out his dirk.  

The exchange, mercifully, ended without bloodshed.  They stayed staring at each other even as their conversation ended, and Dougal backed away, following his horse to the stables. 

“Dougal!”  Jamie called after him.  He reached into his sporran and pulled out a letter.  “I almost forgot.  Ye’ve an urgent message from Ned Gowan.”

Dougal narrowed his eyes and strode forward to take the letter.  He broke the seal and read it quickly.  

If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought a look of sheer panic stole over his face, but in a blink, his features were once again composed.  

“Bring me back my horse!” he yelled to the stable hand.

“Dougal?” asked Rupert.  “What’s happened?”

“We’re leaving,” he said.  “To Cranesmuir.  We’ll need provisions,” he demanded of Jamie.

“Cranesmuir?” Jenny mumbled next to me.  Despite her confusion, she wasn’t going to let this opportunity to get rid of her uncle pass her by.  “Mrs. Crook!  The MacKenzies will need provisions for their travels!”

“Aye, mistress!” came Mrs. Crook’s voice from inside.  

I noticed Jenny didn’t move to help her speed the process like I thought she would.  She kept her eyes on her uncle and her hand in her pocket.

“Mistress Beauchamp!” called Dougal.  “Pack yer things.  We’ll be leaving shortly.”

“I beg your pardon?” I snapped.  

“Ye heard what I said.  Be quick about it.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”  I took purposeful steps down into the courtyard.  “The Laird has invited me to stay as long as I like.”

“Oh, I just bet he has.”

“Careful, Dougal,” cautioned Jamie.

“Listen, lass,” said Dougal, ignoring his nephew, “I’ve no’ the time for arguing just now.  Ye’re my responsibility, and ye’ll come wi’ me when I bid ye.”  He grabbed hold of my arm and made to pull me inside.

The very distinct sound of a sword being pulled out of its scabbard echoed through the courtyard.  Dougal turned to face Jamie who was pointing the blade at his uncle’s heart.  “I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my...guest.”

“Ye sure ye want to do that, laddie?”  Dougal squeezed my arm even tighter.

There was no question or hesitancy in Jamie’s eyes.  He stood, blade drawn, ready for a fight.  

Dougal looked at his men, all of whom were circling around, drawing their own weapons.  

Ian and Murtagh reciprocated in kind.  I looked around to find all the tenants and servants moving around the Mackenzies.  Some had blades, others only spades or pitchforks.  And the secret of what was in Jenny Murray’s pocket became abundantly clear when she pulled out a pistol and cocked back the hammer.

Dougal was aware of every person in the courtyard and every weapon they carried.  I could feel his tension vibrating in his grip on my arm.  

He pulled me in close and whispered in my ear.  “Ye did yer job better than I’d anticipated.  I should ha’ kent no’ to trust a sassenach.”

“Trust?  You kidnapped me and threatened my life...repeatedly.

“I dinna have time to stay here and squabble, so I’ll allow ye to remain for the time being.  Ye’d slow us down anyway.  But if I hear that ye betray what ye ken of the Jacobites to the redcoats, or if ye sabotage me to my nephew anymore than ye already have, I will slit yer throat and his as well.  Do I make myself clear?”

I yanked my arm free of his grasp and lifted my chin up to his face.  I whispered with all the venom I could muster, “If you touch one hair on his head, I will cut out your heart and eat it for breakfast.  Do I make myself clear?”

Dougal’s eyes flared and his mouth twitched.  I couldn’t tell if he was more annoyed or amused.  Either way, he could shove it up his arse, because I’d meant every word.

Mmphm,” he scoffed, but finally released my arm.  

Jamie took my hand and gently pulled me behind him.  I noticed Jenny was still aiming her pistol at Dougal, Maggie sound asleep in her other arm.  In fact, no one put away their weapons until the MacKenzies had mounted their horses, taken their provisions, and disappeared through the archway.  

Jamie sheathed his sword and turned to me, worry in his eyes.  He traced a thumb lightly over my cheek, and I could feel the restraint in his shaky hand.  He wanted to hold me, to take me in his arms and ensure I was alright.  

“Did he hurt ye, lass?”

“No, not at all.  I think I’ve angered him though.”

“He’s always angry.  Ye did nothing wrong.”

I looked at him incredulously.  “He was in a right state, Jamie.  Don’t you think he could be a problem for us?”

“Dougal’s been a problem for me most of my life.”

“I wonder why he tore out of here so quickly.  What do you think was in that letter?”

“Weel,” he put an arm around my waist and led me back to the house, “that is something I do ken.”

All around us, servants and family were dispersing back to their work, and my patients’ weapons were once again concealed in their clothes as they fell back in line as if nothing happened.

I did have to admit that it was more than a little comforting to see how quickly they all jumped to the aid of their Laird...and his particular lady guest.  The protection of his clan, his family, and his body indeed. 

I gave them a grateful smile as we passed them on our way inside.

In the privacy of Jamie’s study, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed the crown of my head.  He didn’t move his lips as we held each other quietly for a time, his warm breath in my hair, intimate and comforting.  I buried my face in the hollow of his chest—my new favorite part of his body—and hugged him close.  

We stayed locked together as the door opened behind me without a warning knock.  I turned to find Jenny coming inside with Maggie in her arms.  Ian and Murtagh followed just behind.

“Are ye going to tell us what in God’s name that was about?” demanded Jenny.

Jamie kept an arm around my waist, clearly uncomfortable with any degree of separation.  God, I loved him for it.

“Dougal has been threatening Claire and harassing my tenants.  When he arrived, I warned him that if he meant to do it again, he wasna welcome to step foot in this house.”

“Ye should ha’ warned us,” said Jenny, reaching in her pocket to pull out the pistol and setting it on the large, oak desk.  “I’d prefer to put the baby down for a nap before I prepare to blow a man’s head off.”

“Aye, weel, I suppose I underestimated the impact that letter would have on him.”

“What was in the letter?” I asked.  “Were you able to sneak a look before you gave it to him?”

“Aye.  ’Twas only a few lines from his lawyer.”

“Lawyer?” said Jenny.

“Aye.  A woman by the name of Geillis Duncan was to be tried and burned for being a witch.  Ned was doing what he could to hold off the trial until Dougal could return.”

“Duncan, ye say?” Murtagh sneered.  “I’ve met her.  She’s the fiscal’s widow in Cranesmuir.  I’ve heard tell she’s been Dougal’s mistress for some time.  Funneling money from the fiscal to the Jacobites.”

“Ye sure about that?” said Jamie.  “It wouldna be the first time yer information about a mistress of Dougal’s was inaccurate.”

Murtagh’s eyes flashed briefly to mine before they dropped to the floor.  “Mmphm.  Aye, weel, this I heard from Angus when I was at Leoch o’er the winter.  He was a bit taken wi’ drink, and said Dougal was at the fiscal’s house dipping his hand in the man’s purse and his cock in the man’s wife.”

“Dougal must’ve cared for her greatly to risk leaving me behind without a fight,” I said.  “He still thinks me a spy for the English.”

“Perhaps,” said Jamie.  “In the letter, Ned said the lass claimed was wi’ child, and she made verra specific assertions about who sired the bairn.”

“No wonder he tore out of here as though the Devil was on his tail,” said Ian.  “Surely they willna burn the lass before she has the bairn?”

From what I knew of the mania of witch trials, I feared it wouldn’t be much of a deterrent, especially if the pregnancy wasn’t advanced enough to be visible.

“At least it drove Dougal away from Lallybroch,” said Murtagh.  His eyes softened as he flickered in my direction, and then back to Jamie.  “Give ye enough time to do what ye must to ensure he has no claim on Claire when he returns.”

“You think he will return?” I asked.

“Aye,” said Jamie.  “His business isna finished here.”

I sank against Jamie’s body, feeling suddenly exhausted as the adrenaline left my system.  Jamie turned me to face him, holding my face in his hands.  “Dinna fash, Claire.  I willna allow him to lay a finger on ye.”

“And neither will we,” said Ian.

“Aye,” said Murtagh.

“I don’t know how to thank you all,” I said. 

“There’s no need,” said Ian, reaching out a hand to his wife.  “We take care of our own.”

Jenny nodded in what appeared to be resignation.  

“Now,” said Ian, “we’ll give ye a moment to decide what ye want to do wi’ that line of people waiting out there for ye.”

He escorted Jenny and Maggie out of the study, with Murtagh following close behind.

“D’ye want me to send them home?” asked Jamie  “D’ye need some rest, Sassenach?”

“Oh, no.  I could use the distraction.”

“Ye sure?” he smiled softly.  “I could find other ways of distracting ye, if ye like?”

“I just bet you could.  But really, I’m fine.”

“Alright.”  He pulled me close.  “But tomorrow, I intend on stealing ye away for a time, ailing tenants be damned.”

“I look forward to it.  Besides, I need to replenish my stock of medicinal plants.  Hopefully the skies will be clear tomorrow.”

“I dinna care if it snows in July; come morning, I will have a moment wi’ ye wi’out the prying eyes of every damn tenant on my land.”

“I await that moment with bated breath.”

I tried to keep such happy thoughts present in my mind after Jamie kissed me goodbye and left me to my work.  Dougal was gone, for however long or short a time, and that was something to be grateful for.  

But for some reason, I couldn’t get the thought of that poor woman about to be burned at the stake out of my mind.  I said a quiet prayer for her soul and that of her child, hoping Dougal would make it there in time.

Chapter Text

~Inverness: February 1968~

Gillian dropped the journal on the floor, her mouth parted in horror.  “Geillis Duncan was burned as a witch?”

“Apparently so.  Have you heard of her before?”

She bent down to retrieve the journal without looking me in the eyes.  “The name rings a bell.  This says she was pregnant when she was killed?”

I nodded.  “Tragic how women were treated at the time.”

“This Dougal MacKenzie was fond of her?”

“From what I understand, they were both Jacobites.  They shared a passion.  An ideal.  I could see how that would bring two people together.”

Gillian grabbed the bottle of whisky and refilled our drinks.  She took a long, deep pull as though it might drown out the news of the woman’s death.  Apparently, it worked, because when she set her glass down, she was once again calm.

“Can I ask ye a question?” she said.  “Do the stones sing to ye?”

“The buzzing,  you mean?”  I nodded.  “They do.  Like a swarm of angry bees.”

“Not angry.  Excited.  Anticipating.  Ravenous.”  She closed her eyes, grinning a little madly, seeming to savor the memory of the horrific sound.  “I’ve decided to help ye, lass.  I’m leaving tomorrow, and if ye want to come with me, ye’re welcome to do so.”

“But you haven’t finished reading yet.”

“You can summarize the rest for me on the way there if ye like...or not.”

My heart nearly leapt out of my chest.  “So, how do we do it?  How do we travel to a precise moment in time?”

Gillian stood and walked to a desk in the corner of the room.  She opened a drawer and fished out a small notebook of her own.  “I’ve researched the stones for many years.  All the information I could find that seems remotely viable is in here.”

She tossed me the notebook.  I opened it to find page after page of writing in English and Gaelic, with sketches and symbols interspersed in between.  

“Ye’ll need to find something to wear,” she said.  “And gemstones.  As many as ye can get.”

“I have some stones already.  I knew I’d need them.  And...I have a dress...from Lallybroch.  And a few other things besides.”

“Ye came prepared.”

“I did.”

“Good.  We dinna have much time.”

I knew that better than anyone.  

I looked down at Gillian’s notebook and skimmed over all the pages.  In the very back there was blank page, save only four words written in blue ink: For Scotland - Geillis Duncan.

I looked up at her with a question in my eyes.  She nodded, confirming that it must have been her—or will be her—that would bear Dougal’s child only to be burned at the stake.  Apparently, she would successfully travel back through time...I only hoped I could do the same.

“Come, lass.  Let’s go save yer Jamie and my own hide as well.”

“Gillian.  You realize that if you never go through the stones, you won’t be burned at the stake.”

She raised an eyebrow at me.  “And if ye stay here, lass, ye could find a nice charming lad, settle down, have some children of yer own.”

“I can’t stay here when there’s something I can do to save him...to save all of them.”

“Aye.  And I canna stay here when there’s something I can do for Scotland...for the Rising and the Bonnie Prince.”  She smiled and shrugged.  “And I wouldna miss a chance to meet this Dougal MacKenzie.”

Her quiet giggle felt nothing short of maniacal.  She was most certainly a little bit mad...then again, I knew I must be too.

Chapter Text

~Lallybroch: July 1743~

“Wake up, my Sassenach.”  Featherlight kisses grazed over my brow.  

“The sun isn’t even out yet, you madman,” I grumbled, rolling away from him and covering my head with the blanket.  

“Let’s be gone before the family awakens and the tenants come looking for us.”  He rolled me back over as if I weighed nothing more than a small child.  “Open yer eyes, lass.  Let me see their pretty gold.  Will they be yellow as the whin flower today?  Or as deep and rich as heather honey?”

I peeked out to find a pair of sparkling blue eyes hovering over me.  He was far too happy for a man asking his woman to put her clothes on.  

“There they are.  Amber in the dark.  Come, my curly-wig.  I brewed some tea for ye.”

That made me open my eyes a little more.  “Where is it?”

“Sit up, and I’ll give it to ye.”

“Bribes are unbecoming of a Laird,” I grumbled, sitting up in spite of myself.

He raised a teacup, steam billowing from the hot liquid within.  I took it with both hands, inhaling contentedly.  “Mmmm.”  I drank deep, the pleasant, earthy flavor comforting my taste buds and warming me all the way down to my belly.  

I noticed Jamie appreciating how the blanket had dropped to my lap.  He smirked with a lazy wickedness, the smile of a man who’d found his pleasure in a woman the night before and planned on doing so again soon.

I set my cup aside and leaned back on my hands, putting my body on display.  “Are you sure you want to leave the bed so soon?  Can’t we do whatever it was you were planning here where it’s comfortable and warm?”

“I plan on spending the whole morning wi’ ye, lass.  They’ll find us easily enough here.”  He reached out to grope my breast.  “So as tempting as it may be to linger...we best be on our way.”  He gave my nipple a playful pinch and rolled out of bed, extending a hand for me to follow.

If I wasn’t running low on a number of herbs and plants, I might have ignored his offer and laid back down.  But as it was, I was growing eager to get out into the forest and away from the gawking eyes and intrusive questions of Lallybroch’s dear, sweet tenants.

I accepted his hand and forced myself out of bed, dressing quickly in my growing excitement.  We stole away just before the dawn light filled the sky.

He carried two baskets on one arm—my empty foraging basket and another full of food and drink for lunch.  His free hand grasped mine, entwining our fingers while we walked into the forest.  

The sun rose fully after we were under the cover of the trees.  As we weaved in and out of patches of bracken and wild shrubs, he pointed out animal tracks here and there and had me listen to the distant birdsong of the sweet chaffinch that would disappear when our footsteps came too near.

I told him what I could of my family, and he shared all about his lost loved ones that I’d never get to meet.  He’d had a happy childhood at Lallybroch, especially when his brother and parents were alive.  I could hear the hope in his voice to recreate such a life for his own children...for our children.

“And it would be okay with you if our children were adopted?  If I can’t bear them myself?” I asked.

“I’d be a lucky man indeed should ye agree to raise a family wi’ me, no matter how we get our bairns.”  He lifted our connected hands to kiss the back of mine.  “Ye were raised by yer uncle, were ye no’?  And he did right by ye.  It would be poetic, I should think, that an orphaned child take in orphans herself.  I’d hate to imagine a wean growing up wi’out their parents only to be left to people who’d treat them poorly because they werena born of them.”

I swallowed thickly, and moisture filled my eyes.  It took me a moment to compose myself before I lifted our connected hands to kiss the back of his the way he’d just done mine. 

The kiss was more passionate than I intended, my lips lingering on his tea-scented skin.  The wave of emotion surging through me came with an overwhelming desire for closeness.  I needed to hold him...to touch him...to love him.

So long we stood, paralyzed in each other’s gaze, that the chaffinch birds forgot our intrusion and resumed their lilting song.  It was a cheerful, dreamlike whistle that danced along my ears to music of the whispering wind and the trickle of a far off creek.

“Is this...usual?” he whispered, his voice breaking softly.  “What it is between us?  To burn for ye as though my whole body is aflame?  To look at ye in one moment and feel as though I have the strength of St. Christopher coursing through my veins, yet in the same breath, feel like a brittle piece of glass, waiting to be shattered?  To want to possess ye and commit the most lewd and lecherous acts, yet hold ye in my hands and protect ye like the first blossom of Spring?”

I was trembling, his words giving voice to what I felt inside.  “No...this isn’t usual.  It’s different.  I’ve never...” I stopped myself short.  A part of me felt guilty, as if I was dishonoring Frank to speak the truth of the power Jamie’s affection held over me.  I loved Frank...but what I felt for Jamie was beyond compare.

I couldn’t say the words...but I could show him.

I took the baskets from his arm and set them on the ground.  Then, I guided him back until he was pressed against a silver birch tree.  

I kissed him, soft and gentle, my passion restrained only by the overwhelming awe of its magnitude.  But as my lips moved down his neck...and his chest...biting over his sark-covered nipple...my body took over for my dazed and muddled mind, and all restraint was lost.  

He was hard by the time I made it to my knees.  The heat of his thighs seared my cold fingers as I reached under his kilt to take hold of him.  I dipped my head, capturing him in my mouth, and his whole body shuddered at the touch of my lips.

The songbirds scattered with Jamie’s cry.  Both his hands dropped to my hair, holding me in place.  

“Oh God!” he moaned, not allowing me to pull away nor to keep going.  He was deep in my mouth, twitching against the back of my throat, and I realized he was trying desperately to hold himself together.

I smiled around him—as much as possible under the circumstance—before licking the sensitive underside of his cock.  His grip on my hair tightened...a warning.

He closed his eyes and knotted his brow, steadying his heavy breath.  

When he finally opened them again, his grip slackened, and his thumb caressed my cheek.  I moved slowly this time, not that my pace affected him any less.  I could only imagine what it felt like to have something as warm and soft as my mouth pleasuring him for the first time.  I licked and kissed his smooth tip, then sucked him up to the back of my throat.  He kept one hand in my hair and the other gripped the tree behind him.  

My hands grazed his solid thighs as my head moved back and forth.  He was hard and rigid from head to toe, his muscles vibrating with forced inhibition.  I knew the strength of his legs from watching him spar with Dougal, and I wondered once again what it would be like when he unleashed their power between my own.

I raised my hand to fondle him properly while speeding my pace.  His ragged breath and agonized grunts told me he was edging toward climax even as we only just started.  It was an intoxicating kind of power to hold over such a fierce, formidable man...to know I could tip him over the edge so easily.

After a deep, humming pull from me, he yelled, “Claire!” and his body quaked violently.  I drank him down, swallowing the thick, salty fluid in several aggressive gulps.

And suddenly, he was on his knees, catching his breath, crushing me in his arms.  The strength of him was shocking despite being so freshly disarmed.  

He muttered quietly in my ear, “Shaoil mi gun spreadh mo chridhe.”

That’s just the start, Jamie my lad, I thought to myself.  His boundless enthusiasm, as infectious as it was, had me looking forward to sharing all the delights of love-making with him.

He pulled back just enough to look me in the eyes, holding my gaze, wordlessly entranced.  In the natural light, I could see each one of the myriad shades of blue swirling in his irises—the navy depths of the ocean, the cerulean of a cloudless sky, and the near violet of the forget-me-nots from our first walk in the glade.  They were shining with emotion, filled with a once in a lifetime awe. 

And that look, I realized, was the difference between Frank and Jamie.  Frank looked at me like I was the most special person in his life, while Jamie looked at me like I was life.   Like the ocean and the skies and the summer blossoms were admiring my beauty and found themselves gaping in wonder.  

What was it that connected us this way?  What was it about each other that brought on the force of this attachment?  I’d known hundreds, thousands of men throughout my life, and for most of them, I was no more significant than a common sparrow.   Even with Frank, he loved me, but it still wasn’t like this.   

I was the same person standing in front of Jamie that I was in front of Frank all those years ago, but you’d never know it by the way they looked at me.  Shakespeare once said that, “Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,” and I felt the truth of it as I floundered, lost in Jamie’s gaze.  

The chaffinch song brought us back to the present.  He blinked, looking around as if gathering his bearings. He placed a firm, purposeful kiss on my temple, before getting up and taking a deep breath.

Somewhat recovered, he pulled me to my feet and gathered the baskets.  Though he said nothing, I could feel his possessive adoration in how he tucked me snugly into his side to walk the rest of the way to the glade.  

I felt safe, and I felt loved.  

And if I wanted to secure this love forever...I knew it was time I told Jamie the truth.  

Needing a moment to figure out how I would tell him, I sent him off to pick some berries while I sat creekside digging up plants.  I racked my brain, thinking of every possible combination of words that amounted to, “I’m from the future,” but they all sounded utterly ridiculous.

But I had to find a way.  If whatever this was between us was as special as I believed, he needed to know before he made any more promises to me.  I had to give him an opportunity to make an informed choice.

He came back with a ridiculous amount of berries and a peaceful resolve in his eyes.  As I finished gathering what I needed, I watched him from the corner of my eye.  

He collected a fair bit of bracken and laid it down in a large pile on the grass, just under the shade of a tree.  He arranged it so as he laid down on his earthly bed, his head was propped up well enough to watch me anywhere I went in the glade.

I took my time, enjoying his eyes on me as I dug in the moist, rich soil.  The purling stream was pleasant on my ears, and the warm sun a comfort on my skin.

When my basket was full, I could find no other reason to put off telling Jamie the truth.  I ambled toward him, dropping my basket a few feet away before joining him on his bed of ferns.

I straddled him, sitting comfortably across his hips.  A smugly satisfied look crossed his eyes, and his hands immediately went up my skirts and found purchase at the curve of my bum.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said, looking down on him, my voice strangely high-pitched.

He nodded with a lazy curiosity.

“Do you ever think about the future?  About what life might be like for people two hundred years from now?”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “’Tis no’ something I’ve e’er given much thought.  Why d’ye ask?”

“I’m curious what you’d picture in your mind.”

He nodded and lay his head back on his green pillow.  With his eyes closed, he said, “I suppose if I looked backward two hundred years, life wasna so different than it is now, so ’tis none so foolish to think it may be much the same in the twentieth century.”

“Can you not imagine great innovations that might make life easier in some respects?  And harder in others?”

“I canna predict the future anymore than I can change the past. But I can share my hopes for what may come…I hope that I lie comfortably in the graveyard at Lallybroch, buried next to my father, and in the same hole in the ground as my wife.”  He reached up and stroked my cheek.  “I hope that Lallybroch still stands, and generations of Frasers spend their lives laughing in its halls and caring for its land and people.  And I hope that our souls are resting peacefully together in paradise.  No man could ask for anything more.”

I bent down and kissed him, enamored with the picture he painted, unable to prevent the sole tear falling from my eye and landing on his cheek.  

“Oh, my sweet lass.”  He wiped away another tear as it threatened to fall.  “Tell me...what is it you see, Sassenach?”

I closed my eyes and turned my face up to the sky.  I took three deep breaths before opening them again.  A large, black bird flew overhead, and it took little effort to imagine it an airplane in my mind.

I dropped my gaze to Jamie’s curious face once again, and finally, I told him the truth.  “I don’t have to imagine what life will be like in two hundred years.  I don’t have to create stories or dream up possibilities.  I don’t have to do any of that because...I can pull it from my own memory anytime I wish.”

Jamie went still beneath me.  I didn’t think he was even breathing.  His eyes were trained on mine, but there was a distant, glazed-over quality about them I’d never seen before.  

I pressed on.  “The world will change drastically in two hundred years.  Men will build machines to ride around in instead of horses with carriages.  Some of those machines will ride on roads and others will take to the skies.  People will find ways of talking to each other across towns and countries and continents.  They’ll be able to capture sound and play a song over and over, long after the music ends.  They’ll light up entire rooms without sun or fire.  There will be great wars fought with frightful machines that span the entire distance of the world.”

He still hadn’t moved.  The only sign I had that he was actually listening was his tight grip.  I forced myself to keep going.

“I was visiting Scotland in 1946 when I went to the stone circle at Craigh Na Dun. One of the stones was making a strange, loud, mesmerizing sound...so I touched it, and it...it pulled me through.  It was an awful sensation—unearthly, painful, and terrifying.  I didn’t think I’d make it out alive.  

“Then suddenly, I woke up right back on the hill where I was only moments before.  Except when I went back down to find my car—my motorized carriage—I ran into Black Jack Randall instead.  And you know the rest from there.”

Jamie was quiet for a long time.  Still unmoving.  Hardly breathing.  I tried to pull myself off him to give him space, but his hands clamped down tighter, keeping me in place.

I watched his face, eyes twitching back and forth as his thoughts raced wildly...until finally, he came to some quiet conclusion.  

And in a flash, he rolled us over, pinning me to the ground beneath him.  His body was heavy, but his hands were gentle as they cradled my face.  

His voice was rough and breathless, “Ye’re telling me ye traveled back in time two hundred years through a stone circle on a fairy hill?”

I nodded nervously, chewing my bottom lip.

“And ye dinna think ye’re a Auld One, woman?”  His mouth twitched, and his eyes sparkled, easing my nerves slightly.

“I’m nothing special, Jamie.  I’ve spent the last few months wondering why it was me who was pulled through the stones and not someone else.  And then I met you, and it didn’t matter anymore.  I was just...grateful.”

He stared down at me, searching my face.  

“You must think I’m mad,” I said.  

He caressed my cheek lightly with his thumb.  “No more so than I am for thinking mebbe God brought ye here from two hundred years hence to find me.  That when ye came through those stones on that specific day, ye were meant to land in my arms...no’ the MacKenzies’.”

“Do you really think that’s why I was brought to this time?  Because you were there at the stones, too?”

“I dinna ken, but it felt wrong to watch them ride off wi’ ye.  Everything in me was screaming to get to you...to take ye home wi’ me to Lallybroch.”  

I couldn’t help the relief spreading through me.  “So, you believe I’m not a witch?  Or a fairy come to steal your babies?”

He chuckled quietly.  “I dinna think there’s anything sinister or ill-intentioned about ye at all, Sassenach.”

“You didn’t answer my question.” 

He only smirked, still offering no answer.

“How do I know you won’t have me burned at the stake?” I teased.

“I dinna think it would serve me verra well to dispose of the woman I love only because she may have a sinister power lurking inside her,” he chuckled.

But I only heard one thing in that sentence.  “The woman you love?”  

“Ye didna doubt it, did’ye?”  

“Well, it’s nice to hear the words.”

“Oh, Claire,” he whispered, kissing me softly on one cheek, then the other.  “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.

“Oh, Jamie, I do love you.”  I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him madly. 

He lay us back down on our bed of bracken where our tongues wordlessly repeated the sentiment with soft strokes and adoring caresses.  

“I did worry you might not want me anymore if I told you the truth,” I said, resting my forehead against his.  “That you might think me either wicked or mad.”

“After what we’ve shared?  After ye disarmed me body and soul not an hour past?  Ye were still worrit?  Maybe you are mad.”

“Where I come from, most people would never have believed me.  They would’ve thought me delusional.“

“Weel, ye’ve too much sense about most things to be off yer heid.”  He kissed me on the nose and lay back on the bracken.  “And ye couldna lie to me if ye tried, no’ wi’ that glass face of yers.”  He closed his eyes, smiling smugly.  “’Tis how I kent ye were in love wi’ me the first time we met.”

“In love?” I smacked him.  “I was terrified of meeting yet another MacKenzie!  Wretched beasts, the lot of you.”

He snorted loudly. “I saw much in yer eyes that day, Sassenach, but it wasna terror.”

“There was an attraction,” I conceded, “but I certainly was not in love with a man I worried might kill me as easily as invite me to dinner.”

He grunted as though the thought of harming a hair on my head was absolutely preposterous. “When was it, then?  When did’ye fall in love?”

“I don’t think it was a sudden shocking realization.  More of a creeping, insidious knowing.”

Insidious?

I nodded with a smile, running my hand over the broad expanse of his chest and the sharp line of his red-stubbled jaw.

“But I think I might’ve known I was in over my head the first time you brought me here...I dearly love flowers, after all.”

“I ken that.  Especially ones ye can brew into some witch’s tonic or elixir,” he chuckled. 

“Especially ones from you.”

A deep, contented sigh left his body with warm breath.  “I wanted ye from the first moment I saw ye on that hill, but I knew I loved you when ye fainted in my arms yer first day at Lallybroch.”  He twirled a lock of my hair languidly around his finger. “But it might’ve been here in the glade that I kent wi’ certainty ye would be my Lady...should ye agree to have me.”

Yes, I thought to myself, I would most certainly have him.

“Will ye take a ride wi’ me, Claire?” he asked a little weakly.  “I should verra much like to ask ye to be my wife...though...I think it must be done properly.”

I thought my heart might flutter out of my chest.  I don’t think I’d ever felt so much joy in my life. “Properly?  Jamie, I don’t need anything special. But if there’s some ritual you’d like to perform, or a special place you’d like to go, you know I’ll follow you anywhere.”

He smiled sweetly and kissed my nose.  “Good.  Tomorrow, then.  We’ll set off at dawn.”

 


 

We finished our lunch and made our way back home.  I was pleased to see no one was waiting for us in the courtyard.  They’d all likely dispersed when they found out we weren’t around in the morning.  

We ran into Mrs. Crook as soon as we stepped inside.  Jamie handed her the lunch basket, and asked, “Would ye mind gathering us some provisions for a week of riding come morning?  We’ll likely no’ be gone so long, but we must be prepared.”

“Aye, my Laird.  But…”

“And tell the stable boy I’ll need Donas ready by dawn.”  He turned to me.  “Try to pack light, Sassenach.  He’s a braw horse, but I dinna care to be weighing him down unnecessarily.”

“We’re not taking two horses?” I asked.

“No.  Dougal took back the mare ye rode in on when he left for Cranesmuir.  Jock took two horses wi’ the wagon when he went to Edinburgh, and we’ve got two mares in foal.  ’Tis best we leave what horses are left to Ian and Murtagh, should they have need of...”

“My Laird!” interrupted Mrs. Crook.  “Did ye no’ see the redcoats, sir?”

“Redcoats?”

“Aye.  Mr. Murray is speaking wi’ the lieutenant and his men in yer study this very moment.”

Christ.”  He turned to me.  “They’ll be looking for Randall.”

I grabbed his hand, squeezing hard, worry coursing through me.

“Dinna fash, lass.  We kent they’d come.  I’ll answer their questions and send them on their way.  All will be well.”

I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Somehow, I didn’t think things would be so easy.  “Jamie…

“’Tis alright.”  He kissed my forehead and forced a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.  “Go on upstairs and stay hidden, Sassenach.  I’ll deal wi’ them and join ye shortly.”

I could tell when he kissed me again, he meant it to be brief and reassuring, but when he pulled away, he hesitated a moment and came back for more.  His lips softened against mine, and his hand cradled the back of my head.  It was almost as though he was taking a moment to remember the feeling of his lips on mine...just in case.

He turned and walked away.  I stared after him, trying to decide what I should do.  Jamie clearly wanted me safely out of the way, but could I really leave him to deal with the redcoats all on his own?  What if they took him away for questioning?  After everything that happened the last time he was imprisoned, I couldn’t imagine the English being too pleased with him now.

“Claire?” said Jenny, coming up beside me.  “Did Jamie go in wi’ them?”

I nodded, eyes still lingering in the last place I saw him.  She put an arm around my waist and stared with me.  “I’m sure it’ll be fine.  I ken the lieutenant leading the company.  He’s a fair man...at least, more fair than the likes of Randall.”

“That’s not exactly encouraging.”

“Aye.”  She was as tense as I was, I realized belatedly, and she was holding on to me for support as much as she was supporting.

“Come,” I said, pulling her into the parlor where we’d be able to hear when they left the study.  “Let’s find a way to keep ourselves busy while we wait.  Perhaps you can help me knit Jamie’s second sock.”

Thankfully, the redcoats weren’t in Jamie’s office for very long, though it felt like an eternity.  I did get a surprising amount of shitty knitting done in the space of the half hour we waited.  When the door opened, we both rose to our feet and peered into the hall.

I was relieved to find they weren’t taking Jamie away in shackles.  He was escorting them down the hall and to the front door.  

“Mistress Murray,” said the lieutenant, stopping at the door to the parlor, “I thank you for allowing us to impose on your hospitality.”

Jenny plastered on her fake smile.  “I’m pleased to be of service, Lieutenant Foster.”

He looked at me with a raised brow and awaited an introduction.

“This is Claire Beauchamp,” said Jenny.  “She’s a fine healer whose staying wi’ us for a time to take care of our tenants.”

“A pleasure, Mistress Beauchamp.”

“The pleasure is mine.” I curtsied, eager for them to leave as quickly as possible.

“An Englishwoman?  What on earth are you doing here in Scotland?”

Jamie’s face was impassive next to the lieutenant, but I could see his hand tapping the side of his leg.

I did my best to stick as close to the truth as possible.  “I was visiting friends near Inverness a few months ago.  While I was there, I met some MacKenzie clansmen who invited me to join them at Leoch to help tend to the medical needs of their people.  A couple of weeks ago, they invited me to come with them to visit Broch Tuarach where I’ve been doing the same for Clan Fraser.”

“That’s quite generous of you.  I hope you’re being appropriately compensated?”

“Indeed, I am.  They’ve been very generous.”

“And have you been treated well by the Scottish during your stay?”

“Of course.  The Laird and his family have been particularly accommodating.”

“Where are the MacKenzie clansmen now?  I haven’t seen any sign of them since I arrived.”

“It was my Uncle Dougal who brought Mistress Beauchamp to us,” said Jenny.  “He and his men left only yesterday on urgent business.”

“Did they really?”  Lieutenant Foster raised a curious brow.  “Where were they headed in such a hurry?”

“I dinna ken.  They tore out of here like the Devil was nipping on their tails.”

“I think they were headed home,” said Jamie, “back to Leoch.  We invited Mistress Beauchamp to stay as long as she likes.  She’s been a great help to our family and our people, and we’ve grown quite fond of her.  I assure ye, lieutenant, she’s in good hands.” 

Lieutenant Foster looked to me again.  “May I ask, Mistress Beauchamp, since you were traveling with the MacKenzies, did you see or hear anything concerning?  Signs from the men that they might be inciting rebellion?  You see, we recently lost a small company of soldiers and a highly decorated Captain who were in the area investigating a suspicious group of potential Jacobites.  I’m wondering if the MacKenzies might be those men?” 

I looked briefly at Jamie who gave the slightest shake of his head.  “I’m sorry, lieutenant, but I didn’t witness anything of note.  I don’t speak Gaelic, and most of the men only communicated directly to me when I was tending to their ails.  My journey here was quite uneventful and has remained such for the length of my stay.”

“How interesting,” said the lieutenant, “that the MacKenzies left in such a hurry only a short time after Captain Randall and his men went missing.”

“Oh!” I said, “I didn’t mean to imply they had anything to do with the Captain’s disappearance.”

“Indeed, madam, though we must leave no stone unturned in our investigation.”  Lieutenant Foster turned to Jamie.  “When exactly did your uncle leave?”

“Yesterday.  Around midday,” said Jamie.

“Again, Mistress Murray, I thank you for your hospitality.  Mr. Fraser, Mistress Beauchamp,” he bowed to each one of us in turn.  “Thank you for your time and cooperation.”

“Are ye leaving so soon?” asked Jenny, unable to conceal the hope in her voice.

“I’m afraid so.  If you hear anything about Captain Randall and his men, please send word to Fort William.”

“I’ll ask the tenants to keep an eye out,” said Jamie.  “Come, I’ll have provisions brought out to you and your men for your travels.”

Jamie led them outside, and a wave of relief washed over me knowing they’d be gone shortly and none the wiser of our role in the redcoats’ deaths.

“Dougal willna be pleased should he find out we sent the redcoats after him,” said Jenny.

“We didn’t send them.  We just said he left abruptly.”

Mmphm.  D’ye really think Dougal will care what we said?”

“I suppose not.  Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I murmured under my breath.  “At least they don’t seem to suspect Jamie.”

“At least that.”

We went to the window and watched as Jamie and Ian saw the redcoats off.  We didn’t relax until they were well on their way.  

 


 

I thought, perhaps, the run-in with the redcoats might delay the ride Jamie asked me to take with him.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The dust had yet to settle from the redcoats’ hasty exit when Jamie started making preparations for our own journey.  In fact, he seemed more eager than ever to get us on our way.

“D’ye mind if we leave today, Sassenach?  I should like to return to Lallybroch as soon as we can.”

“Of course.  I’ll go pack straight away.”  

I packed light, bringing only an extra shift, scarf, and an impromptu first aid kit that included medicines, soap, sutures, and bandages.

When I came downstairs, I heard Jamie and Jenny arguing in hushed voices in the parlor.

“A week?  Ye’re taking off wi’ the lass for a week?” said Jenny.  “Ye better no’ be eloping when ye’ve got all yer family and tenants rushing around preparing for a wedding.  I’ve already started on her dress, and those damned flowers willna have been embroidered for naught!”

“Dinna fash, a nighean.  We’ll be back soon.  We’ll have a proper wedding, wi’ a priest and a contract and witnesses…”

“And family!”

“...and family sitting in a place of honor in the front pew.”

“What in God’s name is so important for ye to disappear like this wi’ redcoats only a stone’s throw from the door?”

“That’s between me and the woman who will be my wife.”

Mmphm.”

“We must go now, and quickly.  I’d like to return before Dougal comes back angry at us for sending the redcoats after him.”

“There wasna much choice in the matter.”

“Aye.  But he’ll still be displeased, no matter our protestations.”

I stepped down into the parlor, catching the tail end of Jenny kissing her brother on the cheek.

“Ye ready, lass?” Jamie smiled.  “Donas is saddled up and awaiting us outside.”  I noticed he had his sword strapped to his belt.

“I’m ready.”

Jenny stopped in front of me and placed a kiss on my cheek as well.  “Dinna let him be gone for too long, aye?  I dinna care for it to be another four years before I see him again.”

“I’ll bring him home.  I promise.”

She took my hand and gave it a squeeze before leaving the room, wiping the corner of her eye.  

“Are you sure we need to go?” I asked Jamie.

“Aye, lass.  It must be done.”  He took me in his arms and held me firmly against his chest.  Tension seemed to be radiating out of his pores despite his more outward appearance of calm. 

“Jamie?  Are you really worried about Dougal?” 

“No.  Everything will be alright.  I have ye in my arms, mo nighean donn.  That’s all that matters.”  

I reached up on my toes to kiss him softly, and we held each other there until his restlessness got the better of him.

“Come, my Sassenach.  I must take ye on a bit of a journey.  ’Tis a long ride, but hopefully, my company willna be too tiresome.”

“The two of us alone for days on end, riding through the countryside with no witnesses, save the horse.  It sounds wonderful.”

He kissed me sweetly.  “We’ll see if I can keep my hands off ye long enough to make it to our destination.”

“Please don’t.  You know what they say...life is about the journey, not the destination.”

Basia mille in via.”  He smiled.

“A journey of a thousand kisses?”

“Aye.  And if I’m lucky on the way back...perhaps a thousand more.”

Chapter Text

“You’re preoccupied,” said Claire.  

Mmphm?

“Are you worried about Dougal?”

He realized he was holding tension throughout his body.  He stopped himself from tapping restlessly on Claire’s breast where his hand had been resting.  He was sitting down, leaning back against a rock, with Claire’s head in his lap.  It was long past sunset, and they had already set up camp for the night.  

With full bellies and exhausted bodies from two days of travel, they warmed themselves by the fire as Jamie’s mind raced on about the morning ahead.

“No.  I wasna thinking of Dougal.”

“Then what is it?”  

The standing stones were only two hills over to the East, but Claire was none the wiser.  That was good...he wanted her to have one more untroubled night.

When he thought of the choice she’d face in the morning, doubts crept into his mind like unearthly shadows, feeding his uncertainty.  

Stad, he told himself. Ye’ll miss out on what time ye have left if ye’re too caught up in the time ye have not.

He gazed down on her lovely face alit with flickering firelight.  The gold in her eyes seemed molten as it reflected the dancing flames.

Holy heaven, she’s beautiful.

“’Tis nothing,” he said.  “Only...I was thinking what a tragedy it would ha’ been if ye never came to me through the stones.  If I was never gifted the sight of your golden eyes.”

Blush rose up in her cheeks, but she didn’t turn away.  His fingers grazed over the elegant line of her brow, determined to remember her every detail...just in case.  He found himself reciting softly:

“Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp. Her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.”

To his surprise, her mouth curved into a smile, and her shoulders bounced with amusement.

“D’ye laugh at me?” he asked, rather enjoying the way it made her eyes shine.  “I share the affections of my heart, and instead of swoon, ye mock me?”  He tickled her mercilessly to elicit more of her glorious sounds.

“Stop!” she pleaded with a snorting giggle.  “I wasn’t mocking you, I swear.”

“Then why did’ye laugh?”

“I laughed,” she sucked in a breath, “because we are two absolute idiots in love.  I was, only moments ago, lost in similar thoughts of how your general splendor outshines the starlight above you.”

He looked up at the sky, finding that it did hold less brilliance after staring so long at Claire.

“And,” she went on, “as you were spewing the poetry of Romeo, I was trying to remember similar words from Juliet...Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night, Give me my Romeo; and…”  She closed her eyes, trying to in vain to recall what followed, “...and…” 

Jamie finished for her, “...when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.

“That’s it” she said, her shoulders still bouncing.  “See.  We’re fools.”

“Aye.”  He laughed with her.  “Wi’ my head so full of thoughts of you, I suppose I’ve little space for anything else but poetry.  Ye’ve made me a halfwit, Sassenach.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you started with more wit than your average man, otherwise we’d be in real trouble.”

“Ye dinna think we’re in real trouble as it is?” he spoke seriously, his hand moving through her hair and tangling itself in her curls.  “At only a thought of ye, I canna breathe wi’out strain, yet I canna bear to let ye escape my mind for even a moment.  ’Tis hard on a man’s constitution.”

“Chronic amorous pulmonary obstruction.”  She sucked in her own shaky breath.  “I hear it’s catching.”

“God, I love it when you talk daft.”  He lifted her head to kiss her.  “It makes me want to do indecent things to ye.”

She licked into his mouth.  “What…” she licked again, “...is…” and again, “...stopping you?”

He indulged in the stroke of her tongue.  “As I recall...we’ve determined I’m a halfwit, aye?”

“Indeed.  Come here, and let me help you.”  She pulled his body down on top of her, spreading her legs around him, settling him into the place he fit so well.  She rolled her hips, rubbing against his cock as her mouth sealed over his lips.

Yes, he was certainly a fool to be wasting whatever time they had left worrying away when he could’ve been doing this.  He rocked against her, back and forth to a pretty rhythm.

He wanted so badly to make their bodies one.  He knew he should wait until they were married.  He knew God and his father would be ashamed of him, but the risk of losing her come dawn was far too great to allow piety to determine his fate.  

If he would have her, it must be now, for he might never have a chance again. 

Stars hide your fires;” he groaned, “let not light see my black and deep desires.” 

Her body was small and soft under his, yet he couldn’t help grinding her harder into the ground.  

“I want ye, Claire.  I think I might die if I dinna have ye.”

Graze on my lips,” she whispered, “and if those hills be dry, Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.”

He pulled himself away to suck in a breath, lest he actually die before his cock found its heaven.  He pulled off his coat and sark, wanting to feel her body squirm against him.  She wiggled out of her shift as he undressed, breasts and arse wobbling with her efforts.  He hadn’t the patience to remove his kilt.

He kissed her once more, forcing himself to savor his last moments of ignorance.  His dreams, his fantasies, all his assumptions would be shattered in moments.  He would bite the fruit of the tree of knowledge and finally know his sin.

He rolled on his side, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her back flush against his chest, her cold arse like ice in the curve of his pelvis.  She whimpered sweetly, and her hand reached back to tangle in his hair.  His cock pressed between her buttocks, seeking the warmth of her quim.

He thought he should regret not taking his time to slowly push inside and savor the moment, but his cock was having none of that remorse.  God!  She was hot and slick.  Smooth, yet rough.  Her fat arse pressed so hard against him, and—Christ!—she was clamping down on him from the inside!

His arms wrapped around her, one gripping a breast and the other snaking around her waist to anchor them together.  Then, his hips moved with the collective memory of all mankind.

She cried out, yanking his hair as though inflicting pain might soothe their maddening need, but it only made him want her more.

The rough, cold earth was scraping his skin where he moved his hips over and over.  The cool night air kissed his wet cock every time he pulled back, and her body set the bloody thing on fire when he pushed it back in.

Claire let go of his hair and reached down, rubbing the top of her quim.  Her hand worked fast, stroking madly over the tender flesh.  He bit down on her neck, sucking up her skin, licking to the sounds of her moans.

When her legs went stiff and straight, he knew she was finding her release.  She screamed, squeezing him so hard, his cock was shoved out.

“Don’t stop, damn you,” she said.  

He tried to push back in, but her legs were as solid as boards, and her quim was so damn tight, it was like shoving a swollen cork into a tiny bottle.

Grunting in frustration, he rose up on his knees and lifted her arse in the air.  Holy Hell!   It was beautiful—white and red with the pounding it had already taken—and her glistening quim peeking out at the bottom.  

He moved between her legs and shoved back inside, finding purchase on her hips to bring their bodies together.  She let off an unending string of mewling whimpers, wriggling her fleshy arse wickedly against him.

His mind went blank for the quick few moments it took of ramming himself inside her, hammering away against her sweet, plump bottom, to lose hold altogether.  

Tha mi air a dhol gu neamh!” he breathed into her hair as he collapsed on top of her.  

He lay there for some time, inhaling her flowery scent and enjoying the feel of his softening cock soaking lazily in their pleasure.

She was the first to move, pushing against him until he rolled over on the cold, moist ground.  She settled herself on top of him with an adorable, possessive familiarity.  He was too spent to reach for a blanket or track down her shift, so he just wrapped her in his arms and hoped his body and the fire were enough to keep her warm.

Her lips trailed softly over his jaw.  “You survived your first time.  That’s promising.”

“Survived?  Christ, woman, I think I was only born today.  I never lived a day of my life before you.”  

He didn’t say that he’d have no more life left if she chose to leave him in the morning.

“And it’s only the beginning, Jamie.  We can have this forever.”

God, he hoped she was right.

 


 

“I have something for ye,” said Jamie, reaching for his sporran.  “A wee gift.  Come here.”

Claire curled up in the crook of his arm as he rested back against the large rock near the fire.  He bundled them up in his plaid, and her sleepy eyes fluttered heavily to look up at him.  “What have you done?”

“I saw it at the smith’s when I was at the village.”  

He pulled out a small knife and placed it in Claire’s hand.  She sucked in a surprised breath.  “Jamie…

“It was the ruby in the hilt that caught my eye.  It reminded me of the ring my father left me.”  He showed her the ring he kept on his smallest finger, a shining ruby embedded in a gold band.

“It’s beautiful.  They’re both beautiful.”

He felt his cheeks warm at her admiration of the gift.  She pulled it from its sheath and examined the blade.  

“’Tis a good size for yer wee hands.  I reckon ye could use it in yer garden, or...if ever ye have need again to protect yerself.  I’ll show ye how to wield it, of course.  Perhaps in the morning before we set off.”

“It’s lovely, Jamie.  Thank you.”  She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him in gratitude.  

“Here.”  He took the blade back and muttered a quick prayer over it, crossing himself with the small bit of steel when he was done.

“Ye dinna happen to have any money on ye by chance?” he asked.  “Or anything else of value?”

“Money?” she laughed.  “No.  Why?”

“Ye must pay for a blade so it kens its master.”

“Hmm.  I have my old wristwatch back at Lallybroch.  The gemstones in it got lost when I came through the stones, and the clock doesn’t work, but the gold is worth something, I’m sure.”

“It’ll do.  There’s just one more thing…”  He took the blade and was about to cut into his palm when she stopped him.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“A blade needs to ken what it’s meant for, Sassenach.  It must draw blood.”

“Oh.  I see.  Don’t do it there.  You’ll bother the wound with Donas’s reins.”  She took the knife from him and looked around.  “Where is your flask?”

“I dinna need any whisky to handle a wee cut.”

“It’s not for your mouth.  Hand it over.”

He retrieved his flask and gave it to her.  She poured it over the blade, then rubbed some into his hand.  “There.  That’ll help prevent infection.”

With the skill of a physician, she sliced into the thick meat near the base of his thumb.  The knife was so sharp, he didn’t really feel it until she was done.  He noticed she made a small half circle.

“Perhaps a little presumptuous,” she smirked, “but it’ll heal nice and clean.  It really is a lovely blade.”

Jamie stared at his hand, realizing the woman had just carved a “C” into his flesh.  He laughed with a surprised warmth at the possessiveness of the gesture.  He really was hers, and she knew it.

“Here.”  She rinsed her palm and the knife with whisky before handing it over to him.  “Go on.”

She clenched her jaw tight, and he realized what she wanted.  It went against every instinct in his body to spill her blood, but the thought of having his mark on her—whether in this century or another—was wildly appealing.  

He dug the knife in quick, but ensured it was deep enough to scar.  Her blood was black in the dark of night, and it dripped down, absorbing into the earth.  Jamie pressed their palms together, entwining their fingers—his right hand and her left, his “C” over her “J”—and whispered, “Is sibhse fuil m'fhuil, agus cnámh mo chnámh.”

She didn’t ask him what he’d said, but its meaning was unmistakable.  She kissed him as their warm blood mingled, dripping down his arm.

 


 

They lay together by the fire in the quietest hours of the night, hands bandaged and only slightly throbbing.  They looked at each other, and then at the stars, and then back at the other again.

He couldn’t sleep.  He didn’t want to.  Not if it might be his last night with his beloved.

He wanted to bed her again...badly.  To be near her was to want her.  If he could spend the rest of his life buried inside her, he would happily give up everything else he had.

Claire...” he cut himself off, feeling like a fool.

She smiled knowingly, as though she could feel the desire emanating from his skin.  “Do you want me again, Jamie?”

God, yes.”

“Come here,” she directed, pulling him on top of her.  He kissed her hungrily, wondering if ever he’d be sated.  

She squirmed beneath him, and he lost his breath when her hand found his cock and guided him to her quim.

He groaned like a dying boar with the realization that he could make love to her face-to-face, mouth-to-mouth, with her soft breasts pressed against his chest...that he could look in her eyes when he was inside her...that he could watch as she fell apart from what he did to her.

Her hands dropped to his arse, urging his hips, and her mouth latched onto his nipple.  Oh God!   He wouldn’t last a minute with all she was doing to him, so he took her wrists and pinned them above her head.  

She let out an astonishing shriek when he held her still.  He stopped his hips to make sure she was alright, but her face showed no distress save that of deprivation.  In fact, holding her down seemed to be stoking her lust.  The bawdy heathen wrapped her legs around his waist and urged him on, her mouth capturing his bottom lip and biting down.

His cock jumped frantically inside her, eager to teach her a lesson for her sheer audacity.  He was a damned fool to ever worry a woman like Claire might not take enjoyment from love-making.  For Christ’s sake, she demanded it!  She was made for it...made for him.  

He got up on his knees, pinning her wrists with one hand and holding himself up with the other.  He pulled his hips back and let them fly.  The harder he slammed into her, the more enthusiastic her cries.  

She moaned his name, screamed it.  He, on the other hand, couldn’t remember any other words apart from, “Oh God.”

He tried slowing down, thinking he should make it last, but he could no more control his speed than the rising of the sun.

She just felt so damn good!  And she wanted it so bloody bad!

He felt her pleasure coming long before it hit; he was beginning to know her body as well as his own.  He moved quickly, working his hips, wanting to spill his seed with her when she reached her peak.

It was the desperate noises coming from her lips that made his heart stop beating, and it was her quim squeezing his cock that made him erupt deep in her womb.  He inhaled her shaky breath, trying to swallow her sounds.

Her moans were the music of heaven, and her body, a cloud of bliss.  He tried madly to fuse them together, fearful of losing the ecstasy of joining...the delirium of their full bodies’ kiss.

He couldn’t live without her.  He was a fool for bringing her to this godforsaken place, and damn it all to hell, he wouldn’t let her go!

“Marry me, Claire,” he said without thinking.  “God damn you, woman, please...God, please, be my wife.  Have me tonight...and tomorrow...and all our lives.  Take me...have me until my body rots in the earth, and have me for all the eternity that follows.  Please, have me, Claire.”

Her eyes were clearing through her pleasured haze, but her breath was still lost.  Her mouth moved as she tried to speak, but no sound came.

Finally, she breathed, “Yes.”  Tears formed, glittering in her eyes.  “Yes, I’ll have you.”

He couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that escaped his throat, and he didn’t care to try.  He kissed her joyfully, feeling silly and foolish and happier than he’d ever been in his life.  

 


 

Somewhere in the night, Jamie remembered why he brought Claire to the fairy hill, and he knew if he ever wanted peace in his heart, it could not be avoided.

They slept in long after the sun came up.  It wasn’t even his reluctance to take her to the stone circle that had him ignoring the sunlight and covering their heads with his plaid.  It was sheer physical exhaustion.  He remembered times where he’d awakened the day after a battle with more energy than after his first night of making love.  

It was Claire who finally convinced him to rise with a strategically placed hand on his bollocks.

“Careful, Sassenach. Hot blood begets hot thoughts, and hot thoughts beget hot deeds.”

Hot blood, hot thoughts, hot deeds. Yes, please.”

With Claire rising over him, mounting him like a bloody horse, he realized this was truly the only way to start the day.

After lazily making love for the better part of the morning, he took his time eating breakfast, listening to Claire ramble on about daffodils and poppies and snowdrops and honeybees.  Then, as he promised her the night before, gave her lessons on the best way to wield her new blade.  Finally, with no other reason to stay—aside from putting off the inevitable—he took her hand and walked her the final distance to the fairy hill.

 


 

“You goddamn bloody fucking bastard!”  She swung an open hand at his head.  

He belatedly thought he should have let it connect, but instinct had him grabbing hold of it, stopping it inches from his face.  She was ready with the other hand, and that one did connect, only it was muted by the bandage of his mark.

“Sassenach!”  He pulled her away from the center stone, fearful her ferocity would send her tumbling against it.  He couldn’t hear the buzzing, and when he touched it himself, it did naught but play dead, but he could see the fear in her eyes when he brought her up the hill, and he could feel the cringing of her body when the sound reached her ears.

“I gave you all my secrets,” she cried, “and you told me you loved me.  You proposed marriage to me, promised me forever, and then fucked my brains out for half the goddamn night, knowing you were bringing me here to send me away?”

“I’m no’ sending ye away!”

She pulled herself out of his grasp, and for a moment, he worried she might reach for her new ruby-hilted blade.  “Then why the bloody hell are we here?”

“To give ye a choice!  The same choice ye gave me.”

“I made my choice long before you brought me here!”

“’Tis no’ a real choice when ye’re at Lallybroch, three days' ride away, wi’ no horse, no safe means of travel, and wi’ Dougal and redcoats breathing down yer throat."  He shrugged helplessly.  "Mo nighean donn,” he tried reaching out a hand, but she pulled further away.  “Ye told me the truth of who ye were before I asked ye to be my wife, aye?”

She looked away, but he could see her brow furrowing as she listened to his words.  

“My love,” he went on, “I didna mean to propose marriage to ye last night—I dinna regret it!” he added hastily when her eyes flared.  “I mean...I meant to bring ye here first.  I meant to place ye on the hill, say my goodbyes, and let ye make a real choice.  But last night...Oh God, last night, it felt so bonnie inside ye, lass, and I couldna think of a life wi’out ye.  I’m a weak man, my Sassenach.  Forgive me.”

Jamie…”  She rolled her eyes.

“I made my promises to ye, Claire, and I meant every one of them.”  He reached in his sporran, moving things about until found the piece of jewelry he was searching for.  He pulled it out, squeezing it tight in his left hand.  “Ye ken what I have to offer ye.  My family...my clan...myself.  That’s all.  From what I gather, ye ken there will be war and suffering.  This time is dangerous for a woman like you.  So, I offer you the choice to take me as I am...or to go home to the life ye’ve always known.

“But I promise ye this,” he opened his hand, his mother’s pearls glistening in the sunlight in his palm, “no matter where ye are, ye’ll always have my love.”

He stepped tentatively closer, waiting for her to lash out again.  She stood still, allowing him to come near.  He placed the pearls gently around her neck, lifting her ridiculous, wild hair so the necklace could settle into place.

They matched her skin perfectly.

“They were my mother’s...very precious to me...as are you, Claire.”

Her hands moved to her chest, fingering the pearls.  Tears filled her eyes when she looked up at him again.  “You could love me so much and let me go?”

“No,” he breathed.  “I could love ye enough to let ye choose.  I would battle any man on earth to keep ye wi’ me...but I couldna fight you.”

He knew if he dragged this out too long, he’d go back on his word, tie her to the saddle, and steal her away.  So he steeled his spine, grabbed her tight and pulled her close.  He kissed the crown of her head and said, “I’ll say my goodbyes to ye, lass.  For if ye should choose to leave, I’ll no’ have them go unsaid.  But if ye stay...I’ll be just down the hill wi’ Donas...waiting for ye ’til morning.”

He kissed her once more and forced himself away, knowing if she spoke any more words, he’d lose his strength.  “Goodbye, Claire.”

He turned and walked away.

“Jamie!” she yelled, after only a few steps.

He stopped.

“I’ve made my choice.  I made it the moment I stopped trying to find a way back here.”

“But,” he turned to the stones, “there’s nothing for ye here.  That’s yer home...yer place.”

You are my home now.”  She stepped close to him, hands cupping his face, thumbs wiping away tears he didn’t know he had.

His arms wrapped around her, pulling her in.  His knees went weak, and his weight dropped them to the ground.  She peppered him with kisses, once, twice, and a dozen more times.  “Take me home, you bloody foolish Scot.  Take me home to Lallybroch.”

He held her face tight in his hands and saw no doubt in her eyes.  She stared at him with naught but love and passion and certainty...and no little exasperation.

“Aye,” he said, forcing himself to his feet to pull her away from those damn stones.  He could follow her to the ends of the earth...but he couldn’t follow her there.  

The blessing was that he wouldn't have to...For she had eyes and chose me.

Chapter Text

“Oh God!” Jamie groaned.  He had me lying naked on my back, legs spread wide on a bed of plaid.  The hot summer sun was shining through the leaves of a willow tree, speckling our bodies with light as we explored the pleasures of premarital sin.  

“Why does it...feel so...bloody good?” Jamie said between panting breaths and rocking hips.  “Every time I put it in, it’s better than the last!”

He was moving slowly, but only because both our bodies were spent from overuse.  His unflagging joy was all that kept us going.  “Watch it go in, Sassenach.  Is it no’ the most beautiful thing ye’ve e’er seen?”

I chuckled weakly, then looked down to watch his cock push in and pull out.  He was right; it was beautiful.  Mesmerizing.  “Very impressive,” I conceded.

He grinned at the word “impressive” and kept on, more determined than ever to bring us to a spectacular finish.

“O Dhia!” he cried out when he got us there merely moments later.  “Oh mon Dieu...o Deus...oh Gott!”  He mumbled almost incoherently in my neck.  “Dios...Dio... Θεός...אלוהים...oh God in Heaven...” 

“That,” I said, sucking in air with the weight of a giant Highlander on my chest, “was the most magnificent bit of blasphemy I’ve ever heard.”

Mmphm.  ’Twas a prayer of gratitude, no’ a curse.”  He rolled off me grudgingly, pulling me into his side as he lay on his back.  “Though, I suppose we’ll have much to confess before we wed.”

“And much more by the time we get home, I’m sure.  How much farther?”

“At this pace?  A week or longer,” he chuckled.  “No, we’ll be back tomorrow around midday...unless my cock finds its strength before then.”

His skin was hot and wet with perspiration, but it was far from unpleasant.  I cuddled into him, enjoying the scents of sex, Jamie, and the Highland grass where we had stopped for lunch.  

There was no other place in the world I’d rather be...except maybe one.  “I’m looking forward to it...going home.”

“Are ye?”  His eyes stayed closed, but the lift in his brow communicated his disagreement.

“I am.  It’s been a long time since I could call a place home.”

He looked at me softly.  “It is yer home, ye ken.  Yours and mine.  Together.”

I nodded, letting the thought sink in.  A home together.  Life at Lallybroch meant sleeping with Jamie every night and tending to our tenants by day.  It meant foraging in the wilderness, sneaking away to steal moments with the Laird, and having dinner with family.  

Life at Lallybroch meant having family.

And it meant having people... and all the responsibilities that came with it.

“Jamie?”

“Hmm?”  

“What are we going to do about the rebellion?  The Highlands will be obliterated.  The land, the people, the culture.  And for those that survive, the English will take everything.  Their valuables, their tartans, their weapons, their  livelihoods.   A terrible famine will follow, claiming God knows how many lives.”

I expected him to tense up, to worry about it as much as I did, but he just lay there, lazily stroking my arm in quiet contemplation.

“Do you believe me?”

“Of course.”  He gave me a squeeze.  “Though I dinna think there’s much to be done at the moment, aside from staying out of it.  And we’ll find a way to keep our people fed as best we can.”

“It won’t be that easy, Jamie.”

“Things never are.”

“Do you really think it’s safe to stay in Scotland?”

He shrugged.  “I dinna ken, Sassenach, but I have a duty to my people, and they willna pick up and leave unless I demand it of them.  And for what reason should I give?  That my wife has visions of the future?  You’d be burned at the stake...just think of Dougal’s lass.”

“You could say I was an English spy, and I know all their plans.”

“D’ye really think it’s safer for people to think that of ye?  Ye’d be better off as a witch.”  He kissed my head.  “Dinna fash, lass.  I’ll keep ye safe, I swear it.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about.”  It was the man I loved who suffered from the most noble case of a Hero Complex I’d ever seen.

“I’m a hard man to kill,” he assured me.  “And if I should be slain defending those I love, then an honorable death it would be.”

Hero Complex indeed.

“Rest wi’ me awhile, mo nighean donn.   There are no redcoats beneath this willow, nor devious uncles lurking about the bracken.”

“Not at the moment anyway.”  I glanced around just to be sure.  Satisfied that we were truly alone, if only because of the undisrupted song of the birds around us, I settled back into the crook of his arm.  

“I don’t ever want to know what life would be like without you, Jamie,” I whispered, voicing my greatest fear.

“I’m here, Claire.  I ken ye’re from the future, but try no’ to get lost in yer worries over it, aye?  I just found ye, woman.  I dinna mean to be getting myself killed and losing ye anytime soon.”  

“You better not.”  

He snickered at my petulance, and I couldn’t help but kiss his adorable little smile that went with it.

We lay quietly for some time, both lost in our thoughts.  I tried not to allow my worries to ruin this most perfect moment.  Instead, I took to tracing the lines of Jamie’s abdomen, memorizing the terrain of every muscle, appreciating the beauty of every freckle. 

He let out an adorable little squeak when I circled his navel.  He grabbed my hand and held it to his chest so I didn’t get any more ticklish ideas while he was so relaxed.  

Just as I was drifting off to the ornithic rhapsody in the willows, Jamie whispered, “D’ye ever think of how things would ha’ been different, Sassenach, had I been the one to help ye at the stones?  If Murtagh didna stop me from coming to yer aid?”

I had thought about that...regularly.  If Jamie would’ve saved me from Randall at Craigh Na Dun, I never would’ve been taken to Leoch, never would’ve inspired Dougal to come harass Jamie, nor Colum to use me to convince him to lead the MacKenzies.  Jamie wouldn’t have had to kill Randall on his own land, leading the redcoats to his front door to investigate.  And there would never have been any rumors of me being a spy for neither the French nor the English.  

“Things would’ve been much simpler,” I said.  “You and me, alone together for days on end.  I can’t imagine it would’ve taken any time at all for us to fall in love.”

“It hardly took more than a look as it was, and I was warned against ye from the start.”

“Do you think you would’ve wanted me so badly if you weren’t warned away?  Sometimes, something being off-limits is its own attraction.”

“I think not.  I could see in yer eyes the moment I met ye that ye wanted me, as well.  You were never off-limits to me, just as I was yers long before ye ever walked through my front door.”

There did seem to be an inevitability about us.  No matter where or when or how, it was as though we were meant to be together.

“Lay yer heid, Sassenach,” he said dreamily.  “This will be the last bit of peace we have for some time.  Once Jenny sees those pearls around yer neck, the whole house will go a bit mad in the hurly-burly of wedding business until the vows are spoken, the toasts are made, and we’ve bolted the bedroom door behind us.”

I found the thought a little overwhelming. 

I sunk back into his body and did as he suggested, forcing myself to enjoy the peace of the moment...thoughts drifting off once again to what it might’ve been like for us to get to know each other all alone, riding through the Highlands without a single care in the world….and a whole future in front of us. 

There was something magical about new beginnings...the hopes that came along with them...the unending possibilities...

 


 

He was right.  When we arrived back home, no one asked where we went or what we’d done.  They just took one look at the necklace and exclaimed their congratulations and well wishes.  

Moments later, wedding plans were being set in motion.  By the efficiency in which they were carried out, I was certain Jenny had started wedding planning long before Jamie asked for my hand.  

Over the course of the next month and a half, wedding fever consumed the residents of Lallybroch.  Daily chores were rushed through so invitations could be sent, garments could be made, and the house could be readied for guests. 

For his part, Jamie was eager to be wed, to call me his wife and stop living in sin.  He kept grumbling that if he had it his way, we would’ve been handfasted our first night back from the stones.  If it were up to me, I would’ve preferred a small ceremony and skipped all the pomp and circumstance of a major event.  

But we knew this was as much for our family and tenants as for ourselves.  They were thrilled with the opportunity to celebrate their Laird finding them a Lady.  Though my Englishness was far from forgotten, it became an inconsequentiality, seeing as how it would soon be married out of me.

And there was another reason Jamie wanted this grand event to take place.  He was making a statement—as loud as he possibly could—that I was now his bride and was to be protected by his name and his people.  He ensured invitations were sent to the MacKenzies, Frasers, and a handful of other clan leaders.  He didn’t think many would come, given the short notice, but a formal implicit announcement was made: unless they wanted trouble from Jamie, I was not to be touched.

Jamie, however, was mistaken about one thing—those who were invited had every intention of coming.

In the days leading up to the wedding, a colorful mix of Frasers and MacKenzies started arriving at Lallybroch.  Jamie’s uncles from his father’s side—Alexander and Simon—were quite charming and not at all what I had pictured given Jamie’s description of his devious grandfather.  His cousin Jared was exactly the refined sort of gentleman I expected of an aristocratic wine merchant from Paris.  

Jocasta Cameron—whom I recognized from her portrait at Leoch—was greeted by Jamie with a surprisingly soft reception.  It was then I realized how much she must have resembled her sister and what a gift the sight of her was to my betrothed.

Amongst the late arrivals was Colum MacKenzie.  No one had thought his attendance would be worth the effort of the journey in his condition, but he’d made it a point to come.  I was immediately suspicious as to why that was.

The greatest surprise, however, was that Dougal MacKenzie did not accompany his brother.  “Dougal took an unexpected sojourn to Paris just before the arrival of yer invitation,” said Colum.  “Otherwise, I’m sure he’d be eager to bestow his well wishes on our dear sister’s son and his bride to be.”  Though Colum’s face was as impassive as ever, the sourness of his tone was unmistakable.  He didn’t care for the reasons behind his brother’s impulsive excursion.  

“What’s Dougal doing in Paris?” I whispered to Jamie as Colum was taken to his room to rest up from his travels.

Being that there were so many people milling about in the parlor, Jamie escorted me down the hall to his study, answering my question along the way.  “He’ll be meeting with the Jacobites, no doubt.  He’s been informed the Bonnie Prince will be traveling there soon to garner support for his cause.”  

He closed the door behind us, bolting it shut, and brought me to his chair.  He pulled me onto his lap and surrounded me in his arms.  We’d gotten so little time alone together over the past month—aside from the hours we stole in the Laird’s room at night—that we took every opportunity to enjoy an unchaperoned moment in daylight.  

He buried his face in my neck and sighed deeply.  “I canna say I’m deeply distraught by Dougal’s absence.”

“Neither am I.  I’d hate to have to watch my back at my own wedding.  You don’t suppose Colum is angry with me for not fulfilling his request?”

“No.  He kens I’m no’ a man easily swayed, even by lips so pretty as yers.  He sent ye on a fool's errand from the start.”

“He probably thinks I’m marrying you for some sort of political strategy.”

Jamie snorted.  “Anyone who lays eyes on ye can see ye’re in love, Sassenach.  There’s nothing political in the flush of yer cheeks when ye gaze into my bonnie blue eyes.”

I smacked him playfully on his broad, firm chest—though we both knew perfectly well he was absolutely right.

“Dinna fash about Colum.  I’m sure he has his reasons for coming, and he’ll let them be known when he’s ready.  And Lord willing, he’ll leave shortly after we’re wed.  No Highland guest would dare overstay their welcome when they ken the business of newlyweds on their honeymoon.  I intend to keep ye in bed for a month straight.”

“A month?

“Aye.  ’Tis a honeymoon, is it no’?  A full cycle of the moon to indulge on yer honey wi’out interruption.”

“Is that where the term honeymoon comes from?”

“In part, though I think it also meant to imply a newlywed’s affection would wane like the moon once the honey was no longer sae sweet...or at least until the lass got wi’ child.”

“You’ve had me for almost two cycles of the moon now.”  My fingers stroked his broad cheekbones.  “I’m surprised it hasn’t waned yet.”

He looked at me in that way of his, with a fierce, aching desire, letting me know without words how badly he wanted me.  

“Only two more days,” I whispered, running my fingers over his stubbled cheek and down to his lips.  “Then, I’ll be your wife...and you’ll have forever to find a way to tire of me.”

“D’ye think it’ll be different when we wed?” he asked hoarsely.  “Will it ever stop?  The wanting?”

“I don’t know, Jamie.  I really don’t.”

“I’ve only just had ye this morning, and I ken I will again tonight, but damn if I dinna feel starved for ye now...as though my appetite only grows by what it feeds on.”

I kissed him then, my own appetite growing along with his.  His body was pure heat beneath my hands, scalding like a revved up engine.  He squeezed us together as though he couldn’t bear that we weren’t already one.  

All it took was a few pretty words and a stroke of his tongue, and I had gone from wary and uncomfortable to eager and needy in his arms, despite there being a houseful of guests on the other side of the door.  And I realized, “No, Jamie...I don’t think it’ll ever stop.  It’s too damn powerful.”

He exhaled a ragged breath, relieved I felt the same.  “And when we’re auld and feeble, and ye must feed me broth and change my clout?  Will ye still want me then?”

“Even then.”

“Aye.”  He dropped his forehead to mine.  “I think for me, as well.”  Then he lifted me up onto his desk and stepped between my legs.  “Our honeymoon shall last until my dying breath.”

 


 

No sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage.  My dear brother and good-sister...may you have an abundance of wealth, health, and joy in the long years ahead of ye.  Slàinte mhath!”  

The long table cheered as Jenny raised her glass to us before drinking all the contents down in one exuberant swallow. 

It was the night before the ceremony, and Colum had opened up several bottles of his private stock of Rhenish, while Jared gifted us a crate of his finest champagnes.  Every set of cheeks at the table were flushed red, and every pair of eyes were bouncing with humor.

Jamie’s in particular glittered with gleeful contentment, though I don’t think it had much to do with the drink.  He was rigidly avoiding sin, including gluttony—we’d gone to confession earlier that day, and he’d spent hours with the priest in an attempt to wed me with a pure heart.  Even in near sobriety, he was just so bloody happy to be surrounded by his family and friends.  I wondered how long it had been since he truly celebrated anything.

“I can feel them here,” he whispered in my ear later on in the parlor.  “My Ma and Da...and Willie.  They’re wi’ us, giving us their blessing.”

I gripped his hand tight and brought it to my lips.  As happy for him as I was, I couldn’t help the twinge in my heart at the absence of Uncle Lamb and my parents.  Although they hadn’t even been born yet, I was sure they’d be delighted for me and proud of this life Jamie and I were crafting together.  I tried to imagine Uncle Lamb examining all the “historical artifacts” in the room and chatting with Colum about a visit to see Leoch in all its glory.

“Ye alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, catching my moment of wistful detachment.

“Yes.”  I forced a smile on my face.  It didn’t take much, because I was truly happy.  “I’m just delighted to be surrounded by so much family.”

He could see through me, of course.  He smiled consolingly, kissing my temple and pulling me close.  “They’re here, Sassenach.  Spirits dinna ken about time.  They’re drawn by the love in yer heart.”

I was surprised by the force of warmth and comfort his words gave me.  Moisture filled my eyes and my heart twisted in my chest.  

“I want nothing more in life than to make a family of our own, Jamie.  What an incredible father you’ll be.”

He pulled me in for a hug, squeezing me tight against his chest.

“Sorry for interrupting,” said a pleasantly intoxicated voice, “but I have yer contract here if ye’d like to review it before yer nuptials.”

“I thank ye, Ned,” said Jamie, reaching for the parchment.  “Shall we go into the study and look it over?”

I nodded and hooked my arm around his.  He led the lawyer and me down the hall and to his study.  The idea of a contract was so formal and official, making the impending ceremony seem more a reality than the festivities around us.

We walked in the study and were met with a surprise.

“Uncle,” said Jamie.  

Colum was sitting in Jamie’s seat behind the large, oak desk.  I turned to find Ned slipping out the door...the little bastard. 

“Come,” said Colum.  “Have a seat, lad.  Yer bride is welcome to join us.”

I felt Jamie’s spine stiffen at being treated like a guest in his own home.  With a Herculean effort, he took my hand and led me to the chairs in front of the desk.

“What can I do for ye, Uncle?” asked Jamie, settling in beside me.

“Ye ken why I’m here, laddie.”

“And I’ve already given ye my answer.”

“And I have no’ accepted it.”

“I willna abandon my own home and people to care for yours.”

“They are yer people as well, Jamie.  They’re Ellen’s people.”

“Ye dinna ken what’s coming, Uncle.  I need to be here wi’ my clan.  I need to ensure we have enough food...enough protection…”

“If ye lead the MacKenzies, ye could send as many men to aid Lallybroch as yer heart desired.  Ye need soldiers?  Ye’d have them.  Ye need farmers?  Ye’d have them!”

“The soldiers are loyal to Dougal.”

“No, only Dougal’s men are loyal to him.  My soldiers are loyal to their clan!   They will do as their Laird bids them.”

“There is a war coming,” said Jamie.  “Can ye no’ see it?  How could I abandon Jenny and Ian and…”

“How could ye abandon yer mother’s family?  I am no’ asking ye to forsake yer father, lad!  I’m asking ye to care for both.  We’ve trained ye since ye were a wee lad to be the man our people need...all our people.”

Jamie shook his head and squeezed my hand.  “Dougal willna have it.”

“Dougal would send our clansmen to their deaths for a doomed cause.  You are the only one who can save the MacKenzies from his destruction when I’m gone.  Ye must do it, Jamie.  Ye must secure yer mother’s legacy.”

Jamie dropped his head, jaw clenched tight, breath escaping fast and shallow.  I could see the wheels turning in his mind, and a lead weight settled in the pit of my stomach.

Hero Complex indeed. I could see our future changing with every breath he took.

He looked up at me, eyes searching.  He must’ve seen my fear, because he cringed ever so slightly.  

Leaning in close, he whispered so Colum couldn’t hear.  “D’ye ken anything about Leoch?  What happens to the MacKenzies?”

I wish I didn’t know the truth of it...but I did.  The castle was in ruins, made so after the Jacobites lost at Culloden.  Jamie saw the truth of it in my eyes.  

He flinched and closed his eyes.  I could see the resignation settling in, and I knew the path to our future was set.

Colum stared at me curiously, no doubt wondering what just transpired between us.  His mouth twitched in self-satisfied triumph even before Jamie said, “I suppose it is my duty...my mother’s people are as much mine as my father’s.”

I watched a wave of relief wash over Colum’s entire body, as if twenty years of strain just melted away.  I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer under my breath that whatever it was that kept Colum holding on to life for so long wouldn’t suddenly leave him with Jamie’s acceptance as his successor.  

They sat for some time, talking generalities of timelines and strategies—when they’d make formal announcements of their intentions, how to handle Dougal, and so on.  I hardly listened to any of it.  I was lost in my mind, watching our quiet, peaceful life at Lallybroch slip further away with every word spoken.

Afterward, neither Jamie nor I felt up to rejoining the festivities.  We skirted around the crowd and snuck upstairs to bed.

In his state of tension, Jamie made no effort to maintain a pure soul for the sake of our vows any longer.  He stripped me down, needing the comfort of my body beneath him, and I badly craved the reassuring weight of his on mine.  It was the first time we lay together to deal with the strain of the world...to deal with the pressures set upon our shoulders.  

There was no little comfort in turning to each other as partners, sharing the weight of the burden.  There wasn’t just me or just Jamie any longer.  There was us.  And the world could be with us or against us, it didn’t matter, because there was the two of us now.  Tomorrow, we would vow it to be so forever.

As we lay drifting off to sleep with his body wrapped around me from behind, he whispered softly in my ear, reminding me of our promises to each other from the day before that what it was between us would never stop.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Chapter Text

I was awoken early on our wedding day with soft, loving kisses.  Jamie trailed them from my lips, across my cheek, and to my ear, whispering, “I must away, my Sassenach.”

“Why?” I groaned, forcing my eyes open in the dark room.  “It’s so early.”

His ears flushed a deep shade of red.  “Confession.  Contrition.”

I snorted.  “You just confessed yesterday.”

“Aye.  And we’ve sinned plenty since then.  But dinna fash, I shall bear the burden of penance for both of us.  Rest yer eyes, mo nighean donn.

I didn’t think it worked that way, but I needn’t be asked twice to go back to sleep.

I was awoken again several hours later by another Fraser...not one I was expecting.  “Wake up, good sister,” said Jenny.  “I’m sure ye’ll want to wash up and put on a shift before we help wi’ yer dress and hair.  And ye dinna want Auntie Jocasta to find ye’ve been sleeping in the Laird’s room for months now, or ye’ll be off to confession again along wi’ Jamie.” 

She, thankfully, gave me a few moments of privacy to bathe and wash my hair.  I put on my shift and wrapped myself in a shawl before heading down the hall to “my” room.  

The sounds in the house were deafening—men laughing, children screaming, plates clattering.  It was a wonder I was able to sleep for as long as I did.  I hurried into my room to avoid the traffic of the house.

Jenny was already inside, laying all the pieces of my dress out on the unused bed.  It was the first glimpse I caught of the gown.  I knew she’d been working on it herself, but she didn’t want me to see until it was time to put it on.  Perhaps it was a bit presumptuous of her, but I was grateful to have one less thing to worry over.

Having seen her knit and sew a few things in the parlor—and knowing the exceptional level of artistry that ran in the family—I should have been somewhat prepared for what she was capable of creating.  Yet I was left utterly floored by the beauty of the garments before me.

Jenny!” I muttered, eyes wide with awe.  “What have you done?”

“D’ye like it?”

Like it?  My God...it’s the most beautiful...the most elegant gown I’ve ever seen.”  

My chin quivered as I fought back tears.

“I ken how much ye like those silly wee flowers Jamie is always bringing ’round for ye.”  The nonchalance she intended to convey was betrayed by a shakiness in her voice.  

I looked over the stunning gown of rich, creamy silk embroidered with hundreds of pale blue forget-me-nots.  She had also made the stomacher and petticoats to match.  The sheer number of hours of needlework that must’ve gone into making the dress was unfathomable to someone who had yet to finish knitting a pair of socks.

“Jenny, it’s magnificent.  I can’t believe you’d do such a thing for me.”

“I ken ye’d do the same for me...though more likely to sew up an injury than a wedding dress.”

I enveloped her in my arms and let my tears fall onto her soft, dark hair.  She embraced me back, and I was certain I felt a quiet sob send a tremor down her spine.  “Ye’ll make him happy.  I ken it.  And ye’ll be a good, strong wife for him.”

“I’ll take good care of him,” I said, realizing how much of a mother Jenny had been to her brother all these years.  “I swear.”

We took a moment to pull ourselves together before Jenny went down to retrieve several other members of the family.  Jocasta and Morna Cameron, Letitia MacKenzie, and several Fraser cousins came to admire the dress and help me find a way to put it all on.

“Oh Janet, a leannan, ye’ve the talent wi’ a needle that yer mother had wi’ the paints,” said Jocasta, closely inspecting the embroidery on my sleeves.  

I found myself lost in Jocasta's features, so similar they were to Jamie’s, only softer.  If ever I was able to have a daughter, perhaps she might look something like her aunt. 

Jenny pinned up my hair and decorated it with silk ribbons.  Her cousins fawned over my curls and the deep, rich color of my hair.  Morna placed an elegant, glittering comb in my tresses—a prized MacKenzie family heirloom—to borrow for the ceremony.  Jocasta delicately took a little powder to my cheeks and rouged my lips with the careful hand of an accomplished artist.  

The last adornment placed upon me were Ellen’s pearls...my pearls now.  In a short time, I would take over as Lady of this land.  

Jenny turned me around to gaze into the looking glass, and I sucked in a surprised breath.  I looked every bit like a bride befitting the role of Lady to her people.

I only hoped my actions could live up to the ideal of the woman who wore the pearls before me.

 


 

A large crowd was gathered around the church when Jocasta’s carriage pulled to a stop just outside the front gate.  There wasn’t nearly enough space in the church to hold everyone at once, but no one seemed to mind waiting out in the sunshine, chatting merrily and taking full advantage of a day spent away from their farms.  

There were children chasing each other about, throwing rocks and kicking up dirt.  When they saw the carriage pull up, they ran up close to jump up and down and crane their necks to see inside.  

“D’ye see her?  Is it the fairy lassie?”

“She’s no’ a fairy!  She’s a sassenach.”

“Grannie says she is too a fairy!  She’s fond o’ the Laird ’cos his Da was a selkie!”

“Go on!” said Jenny, opening the door and shooing them away.  “Ye’ll get dirt on the bride’s gown.”  

Ian seemed to appear magically out of the crowd to lend her a hand as she stepped out of the carriage.  He beamed up at me, winking merrily as he pulled his wife into his side.

“Remember, lass,” said Jocasta, taking a small bit of white heather from her pocket and tucking it behind my ear, “step in the church wi’ yer right foot first...for luck.”  

She kissed my cheek before following Morna out of the carriage.  Murtagh awaited them with a gentleman’s arm.  

The crowd parted to let the Murrays and MacKenzies through.  I took one last moment to breathe deeply and say goodbye to my single, independent life.  And without any regret, I rose and stepped up to the carriage door.  

A shock of red hair and plaid awaited me with an outstretched hand.  

For the first time since I met him, James Fraser looked his rightful age.  His eyes glittered with youthful wonder as I took his hand and stepped down to the ground.  He towered over me, hand shaking around mine.  His bottom lip quivered, as though paralyzed with the indecision of whether it should set loose kisses or words first.

Finally, he remembered himself.  He stepped back and made a courtly bow.  “Your servant, madam.”

When he rose again, the quiet smile that always seemed to live in his eyes was beaming as bright as the sun.  I reached up to touch his face, wanting to remember him just as he was in this moment forever.  

A single tear fell from the corner of my eye.  He reverently watched it fall down my cheek until it landed in his awaiting palm.  

What bright soft thing is this?  Sweet lady, the fair eyes’ expense?  A moist spark it is, a wat’ry diamond.”  He folded his hand around the tear, squeezing his fist as though to keep it safe.  His eyes closed tight, and he used the same hand to make the sign of the cross.  He kissed his fingers in quiet conclusion, then opened his eyes to meet mine.

He wiped the remaining moisture from my cheek and said, “Come wi’ me, Claire.  Let me make you my wife.”

I nodded readily, then he locked my arm around his and led us through the buzzing crowd.  The tenants were whispering and murmuring excitedly together, but no one came too close.  We only stopped when we made it to the front door.  

We turned to each other one last time before going inside.  Jamie noticed something in my hair and said, “White heather...good.  Now step wi’ me, mo ghraidh.  Right foot first.”

Our eyes held steady as we walked through the doors together and stepped down into the church.  

It was blissfully cool inside, and there was plenty of natural light from the large open windows set high on the walls.  Tenants packed the pews and stood lining the room.  Jamie and I each dipped a finger in the holy water and crossed ourselves before moving down the center aisle.  

I clung to his bicep, suddenly feeling strangely ungrounded, like I might fly away at any moment on too strong a breeze.  His other hand came down on mine, and by the strength in which he held me, I knew he, too, was seeking an anchor.

I’d never seen so many smiles in a room before; we were surrounded by them.  There was only one face whose severe countenance didn’t break; Colum MacKenzie sat quietly watching the proceedings with his typical scrutinous glare.  

The front rows on both sides of the church were surprisingly bare.  To our left sat Jenny, Ian, wee Jamie, and baby Maggie, and to our right sat Murtagh, Aunt Jocasta, and Morna.  

They were not, however, seated on the aisle as expected.  They were on the far ends of their respective pews.  

In the empty seats closest to the altar, I saw four white baskets overflowing with freshly picked forget-me-nots on one side and another three full baskets on the other.

“What are they for?” I asked Jamie, curious if it was to do with some Scottish tradition I wasn’t aware of.

He smiled as he answered, though a pained longing filled his eyes.  “I went to the glade before confession.  I thought...I thought ye might want them to ken we remember...to let their spirits know we’ve saved them a place in our hearts.”

I stopped in my tracks and looked back and forth between the baskets that filled the empty seats of the ones we lost.  Our parents...his siblings...Uncle Lamb.

A flood of emotion rose up as I turned to Jamie.  Moisture glistened in his beautiful blue eyes, reflecting the state of my own.  

I realized I had a hand on his chest, gripping his coat.  I was moments away from pulling him down to kiss him madly.  

Reading my intention, his mouth twitched into a smile.  His eyes danced with humor before they peered over his shoulder at the church full of witnesses.

You better marry me quickly, Fraser, I didn’t have to say.

He quickly guided me the last few steps up to the priest, and the ceremony began.

 


 

As we stood there in front of our family, friends, political allies, and God himself, I gripped Jamie’s hands, begging him to keep me upright.  I was shockingly awestruck listening to the priest speak the familiar words that would transcend the passage of time and be spoken at millions of ceremonies over the centuries.    

With every word, I felt my life and Jamie’s being stitched together with more and more permanence.  It felt like a fence or a barrier was being erected around us, creating a space for only him and me—an impenetrable wall.  

When the priest asked for the rings, I searched in the pocket Jenny had sewn into my gown and pulled out the ring made from the gold scraps of my old watch—Ian had taken it to the silversmith to have it made before the wedding.  

Jamie’s eyes widened in surprise.  I hadn’t told him I was giving him a ring.  He sniffed audibly and wiped the corner of his eye before reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a small circle of silver.  

It was my turn to gasp.  I stared with my mouth agape at the beauty of the intricately interlaced thistles as the priest blessed the rings.  

When he put it on my finger, he kept hold of my hand and stared with possessive pride and fervent gratitude.

And when I placed the gold ring on his finger, an emotional chuckle escaped his lips, sheer delight spilling from his heart at the sign of my possession.  

“You’re mine now, Jamie,” I whispered.  

He leaned down and spoke quietly into my ear, “One half of me is yours, the other half yours—Mine own, I would say. But if mine, then yours, and so all yours.

Murtagh then rose up to perform the pagan knotting ritual, cutting our wrists with my ruby-hilted blade and binding us together—blood of my blood and bone of my bone.  It was only then that I realized the significance of what Jamie and I had done when we carved the letters into each other's palms the night before he took me to Craig Na Dun.

When we finished the Gaelic words—ones I more so understood with my soul than my mind—the priest pronounced us man and wife and let loose my husband to kiss his bride.

Our first kiss as man and wife went on and on through a chorus of cheers and thundering applause.  

 


 

Jocasta offered the bride and groom her carriage for a moment of privacy, while she and Morna rode back to Lallybroch with Colum.  Jamie and Claire squeezed onto a seat together—no easy feat in her gown—and picked their kiss up where they left off at the altar.

“My wife,” he mumbled against her lips. “My wife.  I’ll ne’er tire of saying it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard prettier words, dear husband.”

“Mmmm.  I like the sound of that as well.”  His lips kissed down her throat—her skin somehow sweeter with their vows.

“How does it feel,” she asked as he kissed down her chest and over her bosom, “to know you never have to confess our bedroom activities—or carriage activities—to a priest ever again?”

“If bedding my wife is a sacrament,” he licked between her cleavage, “then I’ll be the holiest man in all of Scotland.”

She laughed, running her fingers through his hair.  Her eyes must have caught sight of her ring, because she pulled it off to examine it closely as he kept up his spiritual ministrations.

“‘Da mi basia mille’,” she read.  “You sweet, romantic man.”

“Aye.”  He kissed up her neck and to her lips. “Only about nine hundred more kisses to go.  D’ye think I can get that many in before we make it home?”

“Perhaps...but then it shall be my turn to give you a thousand more.”

 


 

Christ, laddie,” said Murtagh, with a foolish grin on his face as he handed Jamie a whisky, “I thought that carriage would fall over wi’ all that rockin’ about the twa of ye were doing in there—and on the smoothest road in Scotland, no less.”

Jamie felt his ears grow warm.  He could still taste his wife’s skin on his tongue, still feel the softness of her breasts in his palms.  If there weren’t so many people waiting on them, he’d have taken her straight upstairs to the Laird’s room to consummate their union.  

As it was, he sipped his drink, watching his wife get pulled away by their tenants to raise a glass in honor of their new Lady.  

She was the most stunning bride he’d ever seen...and she was his.   

Not many years ago, he was despairing the loss of his father, his freedom, and his land.  He remembered what it felt like lying there in the abbey, embracing death with open arms.  Never did he think, with his back flayed open and a price on his head, that he’d find true love and make a family of his own.  That he would have it in him to see his people safe...and his mother’s people too.

And now he had Claire, sent from God some two-hundred years hence to stand by his side.  He raised his glass along with his tenants to toast his wife.  He watched with humor as she drank the whisky down like water. 

Jamie maneuvered through the crowd to hook an arm around her waist.  “Come, let’s get ye something to eat, Sassenach.  If ye drink like that to every toast they make, ye’ll no’ survive the night.  I should like to get a few bannocks in yer belly before the next round.”

But, of course, there were more cheers and calls for toasts when they entered the dining room.  They each finished another drink before they could sit down to their food.  

The spread was extravagant, though with the appetites in the room, he knew none would be wasted.  He diligently watched his wife to make sure she had plenty.  More than once, he had to divert his tenants away from her so she could finish her meal.  The only ones he didn’t have the heart to chase away were the weans who came to admire her dress and ask her what it was like in the dun where the fairies live.

Claire charmed them all with fanciful stories and sweets treats, and it didn’t escape Jamie’s notice that no fearful mothers came interfering, worried the fairy may steal their bairns.  The children took the food, laughing and giggling as they scurried away.  If she was a fairy, the tenants were as pleased as he was to be under her spell.

After their meal, they were shepherded by Jenny to the drawing room for a dance. They led the tenants through a merry number, the whisky in their bellies making them light on their feet and their proximity to each other keeping bright smiles on their faces.  

After two dances, Claire’s cheeks were as flush as they were whenever he gave her a good, hard bedding.  Their eyes met knowingly, and a wordless conversation passed between them.  He took her hand, ready to pull her upstairs and...

“Here, my Laird!” yelled Jock, bringing them glasses of brandy and interrupting their plans.  “I bought this for ye when last I was in Edinburgh this summer.  I figured the twa of ye would be wed by Samhain.”  He raised his glass and called out to the room, “To our Laird and our new Lady!”

Slàinte mhath!” the room yelled back.

Claire’s eyes danced with delight.  She raised her glass to Jamie and said, “Slàinte mhath, darling husband.”

He lifted his own in besotted defeat at the sweetness of her smile.  “Slàinte mhath, mo nighean donn.

 


 

Jamie was attempting to listen to MacLaren talk about increasing prices of silver, but his wife was a walking distraction—a vision, elegantly moving around the house, humoring the tenants as they plied her with whisky, admiration, and an unending supply of questions. 

The mason’s daughter, Tara, was chatting animatedly with Claire over by the hearth.  Her blonde ringlets were pinned fashionably high on her head and tied up with colorful ribbons.  The lass was about nineteen years old now and had been showing particular attention to Jamie since she was about fifteen.  She would always bat her eyelashes at him and touch his arm uninvited.  He knew she had been hoping that one day she might become his Lady Lallybroch.  

Part of him had worried when he asked Claire for her hand about how the disappointed lassies would receive Claire as their Lady.  In Paris, he knew unrequited love often provoked pettiness and jealousy—but that was the last thing he saw in the young woman.  In fact, as Tara’s eyes glittered up at Claire, Jamie was certain the young lass was far more enamored with his wife than she’d ever been with him.  He couldn’t blame the lass.  He knew better than anyone how that sassenach could make his knees weak when she focused her attention on him.

Slàinte mhath!” the tenants called out.  Jamie wasn’t even listening to the toasts anymore.  He just tipped back his drink whenever the crowd decided it was time.

 


 

The candles and fireplace lit the drawing room magically as the sun descended for the day.  The whisky swimming in his veins made the firelight glimmer all the prettier—especially when it illuminated Claire’s pearly skin.  

She was talking and laughing with his cousin Morna, taking the glittering MacKenzie comb from her own hair and placing it neatly atop Morna’s head.  Morna was at least as tall as Jocasta, so Claire had to reach up high, displaying the long, curvy lines of her body in that beautiful gown.  

He could think of little but taking her upstairs...pulling at her laces and removing those pins one by one...watching the petals embroidered on her dress fall to the floor as though Autumn had come early.

Slàinte mhath!” yelled Ian in his ear.

Slàinte mhath!” he called back, tipping his drink into his mouth.  

 


 

Slàinte mhath, laddie,” said Colum, toasting with his Rhenish.

Slàinte, Uncle.”

He watched Claire dancing with Jared; she was clapping her hands and laughing with delight.  A bead of sweat dripped down her cheek like it often did when they lay together.  He gripped the arms of his chair to stop himself from going over there and licking it off her face.

He’d been growing more impatient as the night went on, and he thought his cock might burst where he sat if he didn’t have her soon.

Colum chuckled next to Jamie, refilling their glasses.  “Ye’ll have yer whole life to bed her, lad.  I ken ’tis a hardship to keep yer cock in yer kilt, but if ye carry on grinding yer teeth like that every time ye must show restraint, ye’ll be eating naught but porridge by the time ye’re five and twenty.”

Mmphm.”  He hadn’t realized he was being so obvious.  

By the time Claire and Jared were finished with their dance, Jamie’s glass was once again empty.  Before someone else could steal either him or her away, he rose to his feet to get his hands on his wife.  

A lightheadedness stole over him, and he stepped three paces to right before he caught himself.  Murtagh and Ian erupted with laughter as they watched from a few paces away.  

“Careful, ye fool,” said Jenny.  “Ye’ll no’ be having a wedding night if ye crack yer skull open and yer wife has to stitch it back up.”

Mmphm.”  He was steady on his feet now, and he turned to find Claire.  

To his delight, her bright eyes were locked on his, and she was already heading in his direction.  Nearly half her curls had fallen out of their pins, and they were spiraling beautifully around her face.

When he had her in his arms, he couldn’t keep his lips off her.  She tasted of sweat and Jared’s fine champagne.  The tenants cheered loudly, clapping their hands and banging their cups on the tables.

Jamie ignored them, pulling his wife down the hall and to his study.  

“You’re not thinking of consummating our marriage here?”  She laughed as he closed the door behind them.

He was beyond words.  He just needed her.  He pressed her against the wall and sealed their mouths together.  By her sensual moan, he knew she was just as eager as him. 

He was being sloppy and indelicate, but the damn woman seemed to like it that way.  Christ, she was just as rough and greedy as he was, pulling his hair and rubbing her body against him.

Just as he was trying to decide whether he should take her there against the wall or drop to the floor, the study door opened abruptly. 

Christ!” Jenny rolled her eyes.  “Pull yerselves together.  Ye’ve a houseful of guests.”

“And it’s our wedding night,” Jamie spat back.

Claire giggled foolishly into his chest.  He smacked her playfully on the arse, hardly getting through her panniers enough to reach her bottom.  

“Then ye should ha’ bolted the door, ye numpty.  Now, smarten yerselves up and get out there.  Auntie Letitia has some gifts for ye from the MacKenzies, Claire.  She’d like to give them to ye before she retires wi’ Colum for the night.”

“I’ll go wi’ ye,” Jamie said to his wife, examining her disheveled hair and wondering how he might help it find some order, “then we’ll be retiring to bed ourselves.”

“Ye’ll be doing no such thing,” said Jenny, pulling Claire away from him and tidying up her wild tresses.  “Ian and Murtagh want to speak wi’ ye.” 

Claire’s shoulders were still bouncing with laughter, and she waved a teasing goodbye at Jamie as Jenny marched her off down the hall.

Jamie groaned, stretching out his aching cock and restraining himself from throttling his sister.  He did his best to straighten his clothes and smooth his hair before heading out to find Murtagh and Ian.

 


 

“Jamie, laddie,” Uncle Alexander stopped him in the parlor.  He was holding two glasses and filling them with a blood red wine.  “Slàinte mhath.”

Slàinte mhath.”  Jamie accepted the wine with relief, wanting to ease his tension.  He inhaled the fruity bouquet and took a sizable drink.  “That’s a fine wine, Uncle.  Where did’ye come by that?”

“From the abbey.”  His uncle hiccupped and topped them both off.  “’Tis unconsecrated, dinna fash.”

Jamie patted his uncle’s back and moved on in search of his godfather.  He found Murtagh sitting quietly with Auntie Jocasta in the dining room.  Jocasta was talking animatedly, no doubt taken a bit by the Rhenish in front of her.  Murtagh was watching her with such a dreamy, far off look in his eyes, it made Jamie’s heart squeeze tightly in his chest.  ’Twas a good thing Hector Cameron wasn’t around to witness another man dote so openly on his wife.

“There ye are!” said Ian.  “We thought ye snuck off to start yer honeymoon early.”

Mmphm.”  Jamie’s balls were in so much pain, he thought he might be losing the ability to talk.

“Come on, man,” said Ian, dragging him toward the door.  “Murtagh!  Bring the whisky!”

 


 

Jamie knew where they were headed the moment they stepped outside.  He chided himself for not going sooner.  He should’ve done so before the ceremony, but his heart didn't want to face them alone.

The three men slogged through the tall grass on unsteady feet.  Even though the night was cool, the prospect of bedding his wife, along with the sheer amount of whisky he had drunk—and brandy and Rhenish and church wine and champagne—had his blood burning hot, impervious to the breeze.  

Thankfully, the full moon lit their path to the broch, and Ian only fell one time.  He blamed it on his wooden leg, but his foolish laughter and clumsiness told Jamie the damn fool was just that drunk.

They made it to the small graveyard without injury and headed straight for his parent’s graves.  He took the whisky bottle from Murtagh and poured a little on the earth above his parents so they may join in his celebration.  

“They would’ve loved her, Jamie,” said Ian, looking back and forth between Ellen and Brian.  “She's a fine lass who will keep ye in line.”

“Aye,” said Murtagh, kneeling in front of Ellen’s grave.  “And her smile…’tis as sweet as yer Ma’s.” 

“Aye,” said Jamie. “Claire would’ve been fond of them too, no doubt.”

“Aye.”

Ian hobbled over to Jamie and stretched out a hand for the whisky.  Jamie reluctantly gave it over, worried Ian might not make it back to the house lest Jamie carried him.  

Ian held the bottle high in the air and spoke loudly—drunkenly slurring his words in a poor excuse for a rhyme:

“Here’s to yer clan who ye must keep fed.
Here’s to yer farm that will give ye bread.
Here’s to yer friends who’ll keep ye...not dead.”

Murtagh snorted, “Absolute shite.” 

Ian shushed him and proudly went on:

“Here’s to yer weans, sure to have hard heads.
Here’s to their hair, be it black, brown, or red.
Here’s to our army who by our Laird will be led.
Here’s to yer enemies, may they all be misled.
Here’s to yer family, loved beyond their deathbed.
And to the rest of us here, dinna let love go unsaid.
Here’s to the lassie who warms yer bed.
And here’s to my Laird on the day he is wed!”

Jamie chortled, giving his friend a round of applause, while Murtagh shook his head in secondhand embarrassment.  

Jamie thought about what he might say, but could only come up with a little verse.  Moisture filled his eyes as he looked between his friends and his parents.  He took the bottle of whisky from Ian and raised it up to the sky.

“For my parents to whom I was born,
For my friends, their fealty long sworn. 
To Claire…” he choked up, tears falling freely, “my bonnie, sweet bride.
And to all those I love who’ve died.”

Jamie drank to those he honored, each one of their faces clear and fresh in his mind on this most special day of his life.  

 


 

“I think you’re quite drunk,” said Claire, her own cheeks rosy with intoxication after another round of toasts—this time from Jared and his supply of Madeira.  

“I am not,” Jamie asserted.  “My Da always said ye’re no’ drunk if ye can find yer arse wi’ yer own two hands, and I ken right well where it is.”

He pulled her close, grabbing a handful of her bum, whispering quietly, “All I want to do right now…” he kissed her cheek, “...is take ye upstairs...peel off this dress…” he nibbled on her ear, “...get ye wearing naught but my ring on yer finger and those pearls around yer neck...and…”

Slàinte mhath, my Laird!” said Mistress Kerr, the tavern owner, bringing glasses of whisky to the bride and groom.  “Drink up!  We’ve just opened another cask!”  

 


 

Jamie couldn’t remember why he was going upstairs.  He stopped in his tracks to try to recall.  Ian bumped into him from behind, sending them both tumbling back down down.

In their tangle of limbs and arses, he couldn’t discern whose bum belonged to whom.  

 


 

Strong arms helped him upstairs to bed…

Jamie’s giggling wife collapsed down next to him, still in her wedding dress.

“Wife?” he mumbled.

“Huzzband?” her voice was just as slurred as his own.

“Can ye do me a favor?”

“Hmm?”

“Put yer bum in my hand, aye?  I'm sure I canna sleep wi’out it.”

“Izz in your hand, daahling.  I’m laying on it.”

“Ok.  That’s good then.”

He drifted off to sleep, but woke a moment later with a start.  “Claire?”

“Hmm?”

“I love ye, my Sassenach.”

Her loud snores filled his ears.

He gave a squeeze to her large, fleshy rump, before falling asleep alongside her.

Chapter Text

“I would kill a man with my bare hands for an aspirin right now,” his wife grumbled, sipping the willow bark tea Jenny had sent up while they slept.

“What is an arse-pirin, Sassenach?  If it looks anything like yer bum, I’d help ye slaughter a whole company of men for one.”  It occurred to him belatedly that was something he'd already done for her.

“It’s medicine for pain.”

“Aye,” he eyed her bottom as she moved to close the drapes, blocking out the offensive sunlight bullying its way into their room.  He thought of how soothing it would be to lay his head on her buttocks while he felt so poorly.  “I bet it is.”

“I need to get out of these stays,” she moaned, coming back to where he sat by the hearth.  “Can you help me with the laces?”

He stood, holding her delicately in his arms.  “D’ye think it would be much hardship to stay in them a while longer?”

She shot him a glance that told him he should tread carefully.

“’Tis only, I had it in my mind all day how badly I’d wanted to peel the gown off ye, piece by piece.  How it would be like unwrapping a gift before we made love.”

“Well,” she gestured to her body, “there’s no time like the present.”

“I was thinking, mebbe, we could go to the glade.”  He flushed at his own silliness.  “It’s special there.”

Her mouth curved, and her eyes softened.  “Fine.  But you’ll have to go track us down some whisky if you expect me to step out in that sunshine today.  Hair of the dog and all that.”

Mmphm.  We’ll likely need the whole hound.”

“Make sure it’s Bran and not one of the little yappy ones.  I don’t think I’ve had a hangover this bad since before the war.”

He chuckled and kissed her temple.  “I’ll go down and prepare a basket of food and drink.”  

He grabbed his hunting plaid off the back of a chair where it was airing out and threw it over Claire’s shoulders, shielding her white dress from view.  “Meet me in the kitchen in ten minutes, and we’ll sneak out the back way.”

His excitement for the start of their honeymoon took the edge off his headache.  Thankfully, most of their guests were either still in their rooms or off finding their own amusements.  He was able to make it into the kitchen without any disruption.

Mrs. Crook helped him put a basket together as he tracked down whisky and a bottle of Jared’s champagne.  He didn’t have to wait long for his wife to join him.  He poured them both a medicinal dram to take down before they made their way outside.

The servants were making themselves scarce and pretending not to see the newlyweds sneak off into the forest.  Once they were under the cover of the trees, they were certain to be blissfully alone for the rest of the day.

“Finally,” she sighed when the glade was in view, pulling off his hunting plaid and speeding her feet to get there quickly.  He felt a little ashamed for his role in her discomfort.  

The glade had changed with the end of the season.  There were no more fresh strawberries left on their vines, but the blackberry bushes still had ripe fruit.  There were fewer blossoms as well, though that didn’t seem to dampen Claire’s spirits.  

They found a pretty bed of grass to settle in for the afternoon.  Claire spread the hunter’s plaid down on the ground under the shade of tree, but he thought that wouldn’t do.  He pulled loose his belt and lay his Fraser plaid on top of it, wanting their marital bed to be made of his own colors.  

Whether it be thanks to the willow bark, the whisky, or the peace of their special place, his head was no longer throbbing, and he needn’t squint his eyes in the sunlight to ward off pain.  Claire seemed to be feeling better as well, because she smiled up at him, and her wee chin no longer scrunched up in discomfort.

He held out his hand, and with gleeful pleasure, he said, “Come here, wife.”

She placed her hand—the one decorated in silver—gently in his, and he pulled her in for a kiss of pure joy.  Elation bubbled up so forcefully in his heart, that giddy laughter escaped his lips and was muffled against her mouth.  

“Oh, Jamie,” she said delightedly, “I do love kissing you when you smile.  It’s like kissing happiness itself.”

“Oh, I am happy, mo ghraidh.”  He held her face in his hands, taking in the source of his joy.  “I’ve ne’er been happier in all my life.”

He kissed her again, forcing himself to move slowly; there was no rush, after all.  They had the whole day to themselves.  And they had their whole lives in front of them...as long as they both shall live.

The taste of fine whisky lingered on her tongue.  If only he could live on her kisses.  “Lips, where all day, A lover’s kiss may play…” he whispered, hardly realizing he spoke the words aloud.

“Mmm,” she moaned, eyes sparkling up at him.  “I can’t believe I married a man with a mouth that can both kiss like that and recite beautiful poetry in a dozen different languages.”

“Let me serve ye wi’ my mouth, Sassenach, be it wi’ pretty words or a thousand kisses.”

As their lips pressed together again, he was struck by just how different it was to kiss his wife now that they were wed.  He hadn’t thought beforehand that marriage would change anything between them, save removing the guilt of sin from their bed, but it did—it changed everything.

“Oh Claire…How is it ye’re more precious to me today than yesterday?  How are ye more beautiful when no’ a hair on yer head has changed?  Tell me, woman, how is it that loving ye so badly makes me feel like I’m certain to die where I stand, like my throat will swell shut and my heart will burst from my chest?  But at the same time, ’tis the only thing that makes me feel alive?”  

He clutched her hair in his hands, keeping their heads together as he spoke against her lips.  “I feel like a weeping fool at the sight of ye, yet when I plunge my cock in yer quim, I’d swear I was the king of all men.”

“King of men?  You are the only man.”

Something rumbled down deep in his chest, and he devoured her lips.  Her knees gave way, and he wrapped his arm around her to keep her from falling.  Her body bent to his will, arching back as he towered over her, kissing her with a grasp so tight that her feet lifted off the ground and dangled against his legs.

“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life than you, mo nighean donn.”  He kissed down her throat.  “Oh God, I love ye...I worship ye…”  He kissed over her chest.  “I swear I’ll go mad if I canna have ye.”

“I’m yours, Jamie.  Your wife.”

“Aye. Lady, as you are mine, I am yours.  I give away myself for you and dote upon the exchange.”  For whatever it was he took from her—her heart, her soul, her love—she took the same from him tenfold.

His hands traced down the front of her gown, deftly removing the pins one by one.   The gown opened, allowing a glimpse of what lay beneath.  

He’d removed her clothes dozens of times before they wed, and he knew her body as well as his own.  Yet the ritual of disrobing suddenly felt like an act of veneration.  The quiet, rustling sounds of silk as it slipped off her shoulders were as much a part of his prayer of gratitude as the Latin words escaping his lips.  “Deo gratias.”

He repeated the prayer beneath his breath with every layer removed: skirts, pannier, stomacher, and stays.  When she was, at last, free off all but her shift, she inhaled a deep breath and let out an aching sigh.  He rubbed his hands over her belly, an act of contrition for asking her to wear the beautiful, burdensome gown for so long.  She purred as she wrapped her arms around his neck while he soothed her tender skin.  

Finally, he untied her shift, and he watched with bated breath as it slid down her body.  

Tu es la plus belle femme que j'aie jamais vue,” he said, taking in her skin as fair and soft as the blossom of the fairy flax, save the red lines on her belly where the boning of her stays had pressed into her skin. 

Je veux te voir” she said, grabbing at the hem of his shirt.  He helped her pull it over his head.

They stood naked before each other without the shame or awkwardness of new lovers.  Only appreciation for the one before them.

He stepped closer, pressing their bodies together.  

“You’re so warm,” she said, nuzzling into his chest.  

“And I smell like spiritus frumenti.”   

“We both do.”  And though she laughed, he knew she’d be wanting a bath, as she did every morning.  He bent down and lifted her up, cradling her in his arms.  With careful steps, he brought her to the small creek at the edge of the glade.  

The water was cold on their feet, and he warmed her with his body as she shivered from head to toe.  They stood in each other’s arms, adjusting to the pleasant yet refreshing shock of the chilly stream.

It was a warm and sunny day, so it didn’t take long for his body to acclimate.  He bent down and cupped the fresh water in his hands, splashing it on his face. 

Rinsing in the creek of their glade felt more like a baptism of sorts than a bath.  A cleansing of all the heartache that came before.  A sacred ritual of a new beginning.  

He helped Claire lower herself into the water.  She shivered, giving rise to more gooseflesh than the birds that were honking out from above, starting their trek south for Winter.  He held her close as he washed away the sweat from her vigorous dancing and the day-old arousal of their unfinished interlude in their study.

It was hot and slippery inside her, and his fingers gently took their time washing away the slickness of her unmet expectations from the night before.  He smiled, watching her lay back in his embrace, hair soaking in the water, and close her eyes to fully enjoy the gentle attentions of his hand.  

He brought her to climax there in the water, the rush of her fluid lost in the steadily flowing stream.  Her sounds, no doubt, heard by animals a mile in every direction.

Utter bliss settled over the woman as she nestled in his arms.  He cradled her protectively, like a delicate flower whose petals were on the verge of bloom. 

He carried her back to their bed of plaid and laid her down in the center.  She opened for him, blossoming as though it was the peak of Spring.  Layer after layer of petals spreading apart for him to admire—the white lily of her skin, the pink rosebuds of her nipples, and the deeper amaranth below. 

Foolishly, he was almost afraid to touch her, as though his clumsy hands might damage her fine skin.  So he grazed his lips—soft as a butterfly’s wings, fluttering lightly through the flowers—over every surface he could find.  He watched the flush that followed, pinkening her skin with every kiss.

He brought his cock to her slick heat, and he groaned when he ran his soft head through her moist lips.  She liked it, too, he could tell, the way she squirmed and moaned beneath him.  He imagined it felt much like his tongue on her sensitive flesh, though it held the promise of something more in its strength and size. 

He held her gaze as he readied himself to push inside.  The moment felt monumental...like the glade was the entire world, and everything in it stopped to pay homage to their union.  When they were finally joined, he felt it more in his heart than anywhere else.  

“I didn’t know,” she whispered in his ear while they made love.  “I didn’t know it could be like this.”  

“Neither did I.”  He grabbed her hands, lacing them together as he moved over her, in her, all around her.  “Yet now, I canna see it being any other way.”

 


 

Jamie lay on top of Claire peacefully, dreamily, catching his breath.  His head was on her breast, rising and falling with her every move.  The pearls he’d placed around her neck blended prettily with her skin, while the silver of her ring glittered as she stroked his hair back from his face.

“They look beautiful together, do they no’?”  He grabbed her hand to hold the ring next to the pearls.  “The old and the new?” 

“Mmhm.  And the borrowed and the blue.”

“Did I roger ye daft, Sassenach?” he chucked, rolling to the side to give her air.

“It’s a tradition where I come from.  The bride is married with something old and new, borrowed and blue.  Your mother’s old pearls, my new ring, the blue flowers on my dress, and the borrowed MacKenzie comb.” 

He was pleased she was able to have one of her traditions at the wedding.  So much of what the poor lass had to endure was foreign to her.  

She surprised him by sitting up and rising to her feet.  She looked down at him and smiled.  “I’m going to go find some blackberries.   Would you pour the champagne?”

“Of course.”  He sat up, but didn’t reach for the basket right away.  His eyes were transfixed on her pale buttocks, bouncing two or three times with every step she took.  His cock was hard again just watching.

She was back in the glade by the time he had the drinks poured.  Her hands were full of berries, and she held them close to her body so she wouldn’t drop them.  When she came close, he got up on his knees to lick the juice dripping down her belly from one of her smashed casualties.

She giggled as she dropped them into the basket.  “Here.”  She took a couple berries and put them in their drinks.  “In my time, we’d sometimes put orange juice and frozen berries in champagne for breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” he laughed.  It was already past noon.  

“A late brunch,” she shrugged.  

He didn’t know what brunch was, but it didn’t matter.  They each had a glass in hand, and she raised hers to make a toast.  

“To us, Jamie, and to a long, happy marriage.”

“To us. Slàinte mhath, my bride.”

They drank deeply and sealed the toast with a kiss.  

Perhaps Claire was already intoxicated by their love-making, or perhaps she was still a bit drunk from the night before, but he could see a playfulness glowing in her eyes that made him a little nervous.  

“What’s on yer mind, a nighean?”

“I was just thinking of what a lucky woman I am.”

“Oh?”

“I’m sure you’ve noticed, but you’re quite an impressive catch, James Fraser.”

“Am I now?”

“Mmhm.  I’ve seen you wield a sword, remember?  And that brain of yours is nothing to scoff at.”

“Ye flatter me.”

“Not to mention,” she leaned back and gazed at his body appraisingly, “you’re quite easy on the eyes. ”

“I’m glad looking at yer husband isna much hardship, Sassenach.”

“And do you want to know the best part?”  She smirked with devious intention.  She set her glass aside carefully, and he could see her entire body coiling, readying itself to strike.

“Aye…”  Anticipating an attack, he set his own glass down to free his hands.

Before he was fully ready for her, she launched herself at him and took him down.  He was impressed with her strength, particularly the force of her arse as she sat on his chest and pinned his hands above his head.

In truth, he could flip her over any moment he wanted.  Her small hands could likely not even wrap around his wrists, much less hold him down, but he was thoroughly enjoying the triumph in her eyes as her naked body lorded over him.

“Go on, then,” he said, watching her breasts jiggle about as she tried to maintain control.  “Ye were telling me the best part?”

“The best part is that you’re mine, Laird Broch Tuarach.  That everyone else may fear and respect and admire you...but you...are...mine.  And I get to do to you what I damn well please.”

To emphasize her point, she began rolling her hips ever so slightly, rubbing her hot quim on his chest.  She was like a cat in heat, spreading her scent, pushing her mate around, and demanding to be served.

“And what is it ye want to do to me, Sassenach?” he asked quietly.

Her wicked smile had his cock standing solid as steel.  He sucked in a breath when she slid higher up his chest, leaving a trail of her arousal on his skin.  She moved up and up until she straddled his face, hovering an inch away from his lips.

“Open your mouth,” she demanded, golden eyes on fire.

He did as instructed, licking his lips as he awaited further direction.  

“You’re at my mercy, aren’t you, man?”

“Aye,” he breathed.  

She shuddered as the word tickled her sensitive flesh.

Lowering herself down, her quim grazed over his lips.  He thought of biting down, putting her in her place...but not just yet.

She rolled her hips and pressed herself to his open mouth.  He flattened his tongue, letting her grind down against him, tasting her from front to back.  She made a mewling sound that once again reminded him of a cat mid oestrus.  

They moved together, his mouth and her hips, and he licked up anything she brought within his tongue’s reach.  

He restrained himself from pulling his hands from her grasp, allowing her to hold them tight and believe she was in control.  

She began losing composure when he sucked hard and applied his teeth.  He waited for her eyes to glaze over...for her to forget herself and forget the point she was trying to make with all this nonsense.

And just as quickly as she had sprung on him, he twisted his wrists and grabbed hold of her hands.  Then, he pushed off the ground, rolling them over to switch places.  

He was on his knees looking down at her.  Her head and shoulders lying flat on the ground, and her pelvis still up in the air near his mouth.  Her heavy arse rested snugly against his chest.  

Wanting to take even more control from her, he pinned her hands under his knees and grabbed her by the hips.

“Ye say I’m at yer mercy, lass?”  He chuckled darkly, her eyes wide with shock.  He reached over and grabbed the bottle of champagne, careful not to allow her hands to escape.  “Indeed, I may be.  And so you are at mine, mo bhana-bhuidseach.”

He tipped the bottle into his mouth and drank down heavy gulps of the fine wine.  Then he grinned down at Claire and brought the bottle to her lips.  

“Open yer mouth,” he repeated her words from moments before.  He caught the twitch of her lips before she complied.  He poured slow but steady, having her drink just a bit more than she wanted.

“You bastard,” she said, but her voice lacked venom.  Her dark eyes betrayed her need...she liked being at his mercy.

“Aye, but ye kent I was a bastard long before ye came to Lallybroch.”  He tipped the bottle, sending a light stream of champagne over her breasts.

She sucked in a breath and tried to pull her hands away, but his knees pinned them steady.

He tipped the bottle again and poured from her breast to her belly, the fine vintage dripping down the sides of her body.  Her hips squirmed in his grasp, but he held her firmly in place.

“Now it's my turn again,” he said, pouring the champagne over her quim, watching it run through her folds.  He bent his head and sucked it all up, licking and kissing her soft flesh until it was gone.  

Then he did it all over again.  

“God, ye taste sae sweet, my Sassenach.”  He licked her again.  “I think ye might be my favorite chalice.”

She snorted with mirth, but it quickly turned into a moan when he licked her up again.

“In fact,” he said, reaching inside the basket and grabbing some berries. 

“No!” she said, dissolving into a fit of laughter.  “Don’t you dare!”

He strapped her bucking pelvis down hard to his chest so he could place the berries between her lovely pink lips.  Then he picked up the bottle and poured again.  “This truly is the most exquisite brrrunch I’ve ever had.”

She was kicking him now, her heels coming down on his back.  They lacked the strength he knew she had, because she couldn’t catch her breath in her hysterics.

He licked her up and ate the berries one by one.

“I swear to God, James Fraser, if you’ve thrown off my pH balance to prove a goddamn point I will throttle you in your sleep.”

“If yer hands feel as nice around my throat as they do around my cock, I should verra much look forward to it.  Now quiet down and let me finish my lunch.”

He set the bottle aside and returned his mouth to its place between her thighs.  She stopped fighting altogether when his tongue circled around and flicked madly back and forth.  As she lay there submissively, he freed her from all restraint and gripped her arse with both hands, holding her up to his mouth.  She fell apart screaming his name and demanding he come inside her.

Their coupling was quick and fierce, so aroused he was from their foolish play.  There was something about controlling her...owning her.  Perhaps it was because she had him by the throat, and she damn well knew it, despite his theatrics from moments before.  

He rogered her madly, until he cried out and shot his seed, filling the deepest parts of her with pieces of himself.  And when he collapsed on top of her, he was utterly resigned to be completely at her mercy once again.

 


 

They lay cuddled together, dozing in the late afternoon.  A cool breeze blew over their skin, making Claire shiver in his arms.  He covered them both with his Fraser tartan and rubbed up and down her arms to keep her warm.

“It was good forethought on my part to marry a human furnace,” she said, nestled into the crook of his arm.

“Furnace?”

“A machine that makes heat.”

“Aye.  Ye do make me burn something fierce.”  He kissed her head and lay back with his eyes closed.  

He was just starting to drift off when she said, “It was a beautiful wedding, wasn’t it?  I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy such a lavish affair.”

“Aye.  ’Twas lovely.” 

“It’s strange how I went through life, hoping and praying it would turn out a certain way.  None of the things I wished for came true, yet it all turned out better than I could’ve imagined.  I don’t know if it was God who brought me here, or the fairies, or just dumb luck...whatever it was, I’m so grateful for the day I fell through those stones.”

Jamie nodded, thanking God yet again for his wife.

“Do you feel it, Jamie?  Something different between us since we wed?  Something more?”

Mmphm.”  He did feel it.  It was impossible to miss.  

“I keep trying to put a finger on what exactly changed...on whatever it is about being married that makes this all the more special.”

“Did’ye come up wi’ an answer?”

She languidly traced circles through the hair on his chest.  “I don’t know.  It feels like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.  Like we’re a part of something bigger.  It’s like staring up at the stars and feeling small and humbled by the sheer amount of them.  It’s like being utterly helpless and vulnerable, yet completely safe and protected at the same time.  I don’t understand how that could be, but it is.”  She wrapped her arm around him and hugged herself impossibly closer.  

“It sounds like faith, Claire.”

“I suppose so.”

“I dinna ken if it’s God or something else, but we’ve bound ourselves together beyond this life.  Beyond space and time.  Beyond the confines of our earthly bodies.  You are my past, my present, and my future.  We will never again be alone…not for all eternity.”

“Not even two hundred years from now before I go through the stones?”

“Not even then.  I will be there wi’ ye, loving ye, protecting ye in yer war, guiding ye to the stones when it’s time to find me again.”

They fell silent, listening to the purling of the creek and the rustling of leaves on the breeze.  He could feel when Claire’s body went slack and drifted off to sleep.  

With his eyes closed, he stroked a hand up and down her back until he, too, fell victim to unconsciousness.  He dreamt of a pair of golden eyes staring at him with pure love and reverence.  At some point, the eyes seemed to float up into a vibrant blue sky.  There they turned into late Summer suns, embracing him in their warmth and undying affection.  

Chapter Text

As I carried the basket of apples in from the orchard, I tried to think of what proportions of sugar, fruit, and spices went into making a modern apple pie.  Memories of a trip with Uncle Lamb to New York during a cold November in the 1930s suddenly popped up in my mind, making me salivate for the sweet filling and flaky crust.  

I could hear Lamb talking in my ear as I took a bite, “Apple pie was first associated with Thanksgiving in the year 1860.  That was when Sarah Josepha Hale persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to make the New England celebration a national holiday…”

“Ye alright, Claire?” Jenny asked as I placed the basket on the kitchen counter.  She was slicing up some cheese to go with dinner.

I smiled even as my heart tightened in my chest at the memory of Lamb.  “I was just thinking about making an apple pie.  One like I had in my youth.”  I picked up an apple and wiped away the dust before taking a bite.

Jenny’s mouth twitched at the corner.  “Made a good bit of apple pies in yer youth, did’ye?”

“Well, no.  I suppose not.”  I hadn’t ever made one before.  It hit me how ridiculous it was to try baking one in the eighteenth century when I couldn’t even manage with a twentieth century oven. 

“Raw apples it is,” I grumbled, stealing a piece of cheese off her plate.  “And an apple without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze.”

Jenny snorted and threw a piece of cheese at me as I walked out of the room.  

“Yer husband is upstairs washing for supper!” she called as I turned the corner.

My heart fluttered madly.  We’d been married over a month, yet I was still foolishly eager to see him at the end of every day.  I hastened my step to steal a moment with him before rejoining the family.  

I found him naked and scratching his balls by the window, staring out over his land...our land.

“Do you need help with that?” I  gestured to his hand.

“Aye,” he grinned, “if ye like.”

I sauntered over, taking his balls in hand, massaging more than scratching.  “How was your day, darling?”

He was too busy humming in my ear to respond.  Instead, he pulled me in for a kiss.  

He smelled of sweat and dirt, and I loved every salty bit of him.      

When he started pulling at my bodice, I stopped his wandering hands.  “We don’t have time for undressing.  Jenny is finishing up supper.”

“Aye, we’ll be quick about it then.”

He spun me around and bent me over the window ledge.  He kneed my legs apart as he lifted my skirts over my hips, groaning in relief when he shoved in.  He wasted no time taking me quick and rough with a view of the broch in the distance.  

When we finished, he grabbed the base of his cock while it was still in me and gave it a little shake, as though making sure he emptied every drop before pulling out.  His efforts were all for naught, for his seed began dripping down my leg the moment I stood up.

“Will you get me something to clean it up?” I asked, holding up my skirts to keep the spunk off my shift; it was a menace to get out, and I bloody hated laundry.

“Oh my,” he rumbled, cupping my arse in his hands and watching his seed drip down.

“Jamie!”

“I ken.  I ken.”  He reluctantly cleaned me up and left me with a playful smack on the arse for his trouble.

I sat back on the chair by the fireplace and gratuitously ogled his perfect body as he washed up for dinner.  I particularly enjoyed his smug grin as he rinsed his cock that happened to be coated in my pleasure.

He put on a clean shirt and lay on the floor to don his plaid.  There was great comfort in watching this routine.  I hoped I’d never tire of seeing him fold his pleats and roll effortlessly around to belt on his plaid.

He surprised me when he fished out a fresh pair of socks.  They were a lumpy, uneven pair of pretty blue that looked all too familiar.

I snorted my amusement as he put them on with a self-satisfied smirk and no little pride.

“You don’t have to wear them just because I made them,” I laughed.

“My wife took the time to learn how to knit me stockings.  I should be proud to display them wherever I go.”

“Oh, I do love you.”  I kissed him thoroughly.  “Perhaps I’ll work on a pair with stripes next?  Or polka dots?”

“Polka...dots?”

“Spots.”

He scrunched up his face.  “Like a rash?”

“Don’t worry, I hardly managed to knit a solid color in three months time.  Any sort of design will take me a year, at least.”

He kissed my nose and pulled me into his side.  “Come, Sassenach.  I’m starved.  D’ye ken what’s for supper?”

“I don’t know, I…”

Bran’s loud, alarming bark interrupted my words, and it was echoed by a cacophony of yapping from the smaller dogs.

“Visitors?”  Jamie cocked a questioning brow before going to the window and peering into the courtyard below.

Ifrinn,” he grumbled.  “The MacKenzies.”

“I’m guessing you don’t mean Colum?”

He shook his head and held out a hand.  “Come, Sassenach.  We’d best go down and greet our guests.”

“Can’t we just turn out all the lights and pretend we’re not home?”

He chuckled as he hooked my arm around his and escorted me into the hall.  “Have ye done such a thing before?  Hidden away from a guest?”

“Oh God, yes.  Though it was usually a traveling salesman or some such thing.  I didn’t have any stray, menacing uncles lurking about.  Lamb was quite harmless.”

“I envy ye that.”

The MacKenzies were standing in the parlor with Jenny and Ian when we made it down the stairs.

“Oh dear,” I said by way of greeting, bypassing Dougal and Angus and heading straight for Willie.  His hand was wrapped in a blood-soaked stock, and his eyes bore dark circles beneath them.  He looked like he was struggling to stay on his feet.  “What happened?”

“We ran into the Watch along this road this morning,” said Dougal, hardly batting a sympathetic eye in Willie’s direction.

“On my land?” asked Jamie.

Dougal gave a small shake of his head.  A small relief.

“Well, come into the study and let me take a look at it,” I said, grabbing Willie by the arm and guiding him down the hall. 

I was surprised to hear Jamie and the MacKenzies follow behind rather than going to clean up for dinner. 

I brought Willie to my little corner of the office that I’d been using for seeing patients and set to work on my examination.  By the scent of his breath, I could tell he’d imbibed a good amount of whisky before his arrival—it would certainly make stitching him up a lot easier.  

My focus was primarily on my patient and the deep cut on his hand, but I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation that had begun taking place on the other side of the room.  

“Go on and start supper,” Jamie told Ian.  “I dinna ken how long we’ll be.”

Willie’s hand was shaking as I unwrapped the bandage.  The bleeding had stopped, but there was a deep cut  in the palm of his hand.

“I hear congratulations are in order,” said Dougal, his tone void of enthusiasm.  

“Thank ye, Uncle. ’Twas a fine day.  I’m sorry ye missed it.  How are things in Paris?”

“Progressing smoothly.  Our prince is doing well to garner support at court...if only things were going as well here in Scotland wi’ his own people.”  The edge in his voice was unmistakable.

“I wish him all the best,” said Jamie.

“Do ye now?”  His voice was low and dangerous.

“Ye’ve got something to say to me, Uncle?”

I was getting together my supplies to clean and suture the wound, but couldn’t help a glance in their direction.  They may have been sitting across from each other, but it didn’t stop the clear posturing going on between them.  They were seated upright, shoulders back and chests out, hands at the ready in case they needed to reach for a blade.

Typical MacKenzie family reunion.

“When I returned to Leoch last week, I wasna surprised to hear ye’d gotten yerself marrit.  But imagine my astonishment when I heard the deal ye made wi’ Colum.”

“Deal?” said Jamie.  “Ye mean the request he made of me to lead the clan until Hamish comes of age?”

“To which ye agreed.”

“Aye.  I did.”

“I thought ye said all ye wanted to do was care for yer land and yer people?  That ye didna harbor any greater ambition?”

“The MacKenzies are my mother’s people, are they no’?  Do I no’ bear some responsibility in ensuring their well-being until Hamish can do so himself?”

“Hamish has me to help when Colum dies.  He has little need of a cousin he hardly kens.”

“His father feels differently.”

“I ken exactly what his father feels!”  Dougal stood up abruptly, hand on his hilt.  I reached in my pocket and grabbed hold of my ruby-hilted blade.  Jamie stayed seated, though I could see his body was tense and ready to strike.  

Angus stepped up flanking Dougal’s right side, and I contemplated whether any intervention by me would be more of a help or a hindrance to Jamie should things escalate to violence.  There were only three MacKenzies in the room, and one of them was already injured, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to wound another and give Jamie some sort of an advantage.

I wondered momentarily where Rupert was.  I’d never seen Dougal travel so far without him.

The hilt in my palm was growing uncomfortably warm.  I loosened my grip, assuming I was holding it too hard in anticipation.  

I nearly jumped out of my skin when my patient gently touched my arm.

“Stow yer blade, Mistress,” whispered Willie, so no one else could hear.  “Dougal’s men are sworn to defend him ’til their dying breath.  Angus willna hold back because ye’re a woman.”

I believed him, but I didn’t put my blade away until Dougal took a visible breath and stepped back.  Noticing that he didn’t resume his seat, I kept my hand on the hilt in my pocket, just to be safe.  The bloody thing nearly felt like it was on fire.

“Tell me, Nephew,” said Dougal.  “Are ye still committed to submitting to the authority of the false king?” 

“I’m committed to protecting those I am sworn to serve.  If that includes avoiding a war wi’ the English that Scotland is no’ prepared to win, then so be it.”

“We’re only unprepared to win because the clans are scattered and willna come together for the greater good.  Ye’re in a position to make alliances, lad.  Yer grandsire will listen to ye.  We’ve already got the Camerons on our side.  The other clans will follow.”

“We canna win this war, Uncle.  They have greater numbers, better training, and superior weapons.  We have farmers wi’ pitchforks...auld men and young sons.  Ye’d leave the women to farm and hunt for themselves while war ravishes the land?  And when Scotland is defeated, d’ye truly believe the English will stand by and let life return peacefully to what it was?  Our people will be punished for the rest of their lives, and we’ll be dead in the ground, unable to defend them.”

“Yer mind is already defeated!  Did I no’ teach ye, ye must enter a battle wi’ the belief ye can win?”

“Ye also taught me to choose my battles wisely, and to care for the people under my command.”

Mmphm.  Ye ken what I find intriguing, laddie?” he said, looking conspicuously over his shoulder at me.  “I recall yer wife attempting to persuade the MacKenzies to submit to English rule, and as soon as ye wed the woman, she gets her wish.”

“Are ye insinuating Claire has persuaded my current course of action?”

“Ye see how ’tis an easy conclusion to come to under the circumstances?”

Jamie stood up to his full, impressive height with a menacing glimmer in his eye.  “Are ye questioning my wife’s integrity?  Her honor and loyalty?  Remember, Uncle, the last time ye treated her puirly, she wasna mine to defend.  She is now the Lady of the land on which ye stand...and when Colum dies, she’ll be Lady of Leoch as well.  Unless ye wish to duel yer nephew at dawn, I suggest ye choose yer next words wi’ caution.”

“So that’s it then?  Ye’ll heed the words of a strange woman, an outlander, before yer uncle?”

“Ye’re no’ the only uncle I have, Dougal.  Perhaps I’m heeding the word of yer brother?  Or perhaps I’ve my own mind on the matter...my own eyes to see the disaster coming for Scotland wi’ yer rebellion.”

“I see.”  Dougal leveled a cold glare at Jamie, his silence in the moment sending a chill down my spine.  Finally, he sighed deeply and nodded, “Then ye must take full responsibility for the consequences of that decision.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Ye ken me better than that, laddie.  I dinna make threats.”

Dougal looked back and forth between his men.  “We’ll no’ be staying the night.  Get the horses ready.”

Angus glanced quickly around the room before turning to leave.  

“This man is injured,” I protested on behalf of my patient.  “There’s no way he can hold a set of reins, nor wield a sword.”

Dougal glared at me, his eyes cold as ice.  “The lad has another hand.”

“At least give me a moment to stitch him up.”

He looked down at Willie.  “Can ye make it to the tavern, lad?”

“Aye,” said Willie, though I could see the exhaustion in his bloodshot eyes.  

The human hand is undoubtedly the most sensitive part of the human body; the poor young man had to be in so much pain.

“Then I’ll wait for ye outside.”  Dougal looked back at me.  “Be quick about it, lass.  And if ye damage him anymore than he is already…”

“I would never!” I protested.

“Just so we’re clear.”  Dougal turned to Jamie and seemed to be on the verge of spitting down at his feet.  Their eyes locked, and hostility vibrated in the air around them.

Violent images of their sparring in the courtyard over the summer played in my mind.  They weren’t even attempting to hurt or maim each other at the time; I could only imagine what it would look like if they actually tried.

Finally, Dougal turned on his heel and left the room.  Jamie gave him a moment, but followed shortly behind, not wanting to take his eyes off at threat for too long.

With all distractions gone, I set to the task of cleaning and stitching Willie’s hand.  The young man had always been kind to me, a gentleman, despite having been assigned to follow me around before Jamie intervened.  I took care to make the sutures as painless as possible.  

“Ye ken Dougal willna let him get away wi’ it,” Willie whispered.

I looked up from my work and met his gaze.

“He sees it as a betrayal,” said Willie.  “Highlanders dinna take kindly to betrayal.”

“What does he plan to do?  Challenge him?”

“Nay.  He kens if he and Jamie duel, one of them will no’ be walking away, and there’s a verra good chance it could be him who winds up bleeding on the ground.  The rebellion canna afford to lose a leader.”

“If not dueling, then what?”

“There are other ways of removing Jamie from his seat of power...and it would be best suited for Dougal to do so before Jamie takes up residence at Leoch.”

“Such as?”

“He could have the English do it for him,” Willie’s words were clear despite evidence of intoxication.

I tried my best not to slip and stab Willie in the hand with my needle.  “How?”

“Before Randall went missing, he spoke wi’ us in Broch Mordha.  If Dougal informs the new Captain at Fort William that Jamie had a feud wi’ Randall, and then Randall disappeared during his visit to Lallybroch...weel…oh Christ!”

“Sorry.”  I focused on the stitch.  “Do go on.”

“Dougal might also share his suspicions wi’ the English of you being a spy for the French...and with rumors of the Bonnie Prince being in France at the moment...”

“Dougal knows I don’t want this war to happen.  He knows I’m not a spy for the French.”

“Aye...but the English dinna ken that.  And if they arrest the Laird, the land would be yers, would it no’?  Dougal couldna let ye keep it.  He might have better luck with the rest of the family if he gets rid of the twa of ye together.”

“Do you really think Dougal would betray his nephew to the people he hates?”

“Aye.  If it gets him closer to having a Jacobite king on the throne, he’d most certainly let ye both rot in an English prison…or worse”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because ye’ve always been good to me, mistress.  And so has Jamie.  He looked out for me as a lad.  Though I dinna see he’s got any way of stopping what’s coming, I think he should be given a chance to protect his family...and himself.  Perhaps ’tis safest he joins Dougal’s cause...either that or leave Scotland altogether.”

I raised a brow at Willie’s words.  Maybe he wasn’t being so altruistic in giving me this warning after all.  Maybe it was a set-up from Dougal all along.

Either way, it was starting to feel more and more like Jamie and I were being backed into a corner.

 


 

Dinner was cold by the time we finally got around to eating it.  After Jamie and I filled Jenny, Ian, and Murtagh in on everything that transpired, we sat in tense silence digesting the events of the day as well as the pitiful meal before us.

I put a comforting hand on Jamie’s leg to try to ease his tension.  His muscles were like solid granite.  I massaged into the tissue in an attempt to get him to relax.  His hand came down on mine and gave it a squeeze, surprising tenderness in a man coiled up like a spring, ready to strike.

“Why would Willie tell us Dougal’s plans?” I asked.  “Dougal’s men are loyal to him and him alone.”

“No’ necessarily,” said Murtagh.  “They’re MacKenzies as much as they’re Dougal’s warriors.  Aligning with Dougal is going against Colum.  Willie may perhaps no’ feel right about betraying his Laird.”

“I dinna ken Willie’s motives,” said Jamie.  “Perhaps he advised me to change sides or run because he was worrit for us, or perhaps Dougal put him up to it.  Either way, I’ve no doubt the truth of what he said.”

“Ye’ve only just obtained yer freedom, Jamie,” said Ian.  “Perhaps it would be a good time to take a trip to France until things cool down.  Ye dinna want to be caught for murdering a redcoat captain.”

“Or ye could ride like hell to Leoch,” said Murtagh, cringing at the idea of France.  “No redcoat would dare come for the MacKenzie’s nephew and niece in his own castle.  Ye were planning on moving there anyway.”

I looked at my husband.  He was listening to everyone’s suggestions, but I could see his mind was already made up.  “What?”  I asked.  “What are you thinking?”

He took my hand in both of his and squeezed tightly.  I wasn’t sure if he was offering comfort or drawing strength.  “I mean to stay right here.”

Jamie!” said Jenny.  “Dinna be a fool.  Ye’ll either be hangit by the English or sent to rot in prison.  Think of yer wife!” 

“I am thinking of my wife...and my family, and my land, and my people.  I have no intention of letting Dougal get to Fort William,” Jamie said calmly.  “I’ve already sent Jock to trail after him.  Dougal told Willie they were headed to the tavern.  Jock will keep an eye on him for the night and will come get me if Dougal leaves to see the English before sunrise.”

“And what will you do?” I asked.

“In the morning, I’ll be having Ian issue a challenge on my behalf.”

Ian?

“Aye.”  He turned to his friend.  “If ye’ll agree to be my second?”

I was trying as hard as I could to keep my mouth shut, but the thought of Ian—a man with one leg—acting as Jamie’s second made me very anxious.  Why on earth wouldn’t he use Murtagh?

“Of course I will,” said Ian.  He turned to me with a sheepish smile, “Jamie will be wanting Murtagh to stay wi’ you, Claire.  Ye understand.”

I bit my tongue, deciding to wait for the privacy of our bedroom to let him have my two cents about leaving himself vulnerable to protect me.  My fingernails dug into his skin, letting him know just how displeased I was at the thought.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” Jamie smirked at his friend.  “Ye can always count on a Murray in a fight.”

We could go to the English first, Jamie,” I said.  “We could tell them exactly what Dougal has been doing on our land, that he’s been inciting rebellion against both our wishes and Colum’s.”

“I willna be allying myself wi’ the English against my uncle, Claire.”

“Your uncle is intending to do it to you.”

“Ye ken what the English did me.  I willna sentence my uncle to such a fate.  If anything should happen to him, it will be an honorable death by my own hand.”

“Just consider…”

Claire.  That’s my final word on the matter.”

“Would you please just sleep on it?  Just keep our options open for now.  You don’t have to make a decision right away.”

He glared at me stubbornly, and I gave the same look right back.

Finally, he sighed.  “Alright.  I’ll think about it.  But no promises, aye?”

“Thank you.”

He lifted my hand to his lips, then rested it gently against his cheek.  I felt an overwhelming surge of affection for him flood through me.  Whatever he decided to do in the long run, I’d follow him anywhere.

I was loath to part from his touch when it was time to clean up the meal, but the sooner we cleared away the mess, the sooner I could take him upstairs and have him to myself.

Conversation between the men moved to the parlor and turned to Gaelic while Jenny and I tidied up.  She was tense and quiet as she stored the leftover food, and I tried to give her space while I washed the dishes. 

She stopped me before we returned back to the men, grabbing my arm and pulling me to face her.  Her façade finally slipped, and the worry in her eyes showed clear.

“Jamie’s as stubborn as they come, Claire.  He’s made up his mind, and he’ll no’ change his path.”

“But he said he’d consider…”

Jenny shook her head.  “He’s decided.  I hear them talking in the other room about the best location for a duel.  A place where no one will be likely to interfere.”

My stomach dropped.  “Do you think Jamie will kill him?”

“To protect you?  Us?  Aye.  Of course he will.”

“And Dougal?”

“Ye ken my uncle better than I do.”

It didn’t take much consideration.  Of course he would kill anyone who stood in his path to putting a Jacobite king on the throne.  She saw the truth of it on my glass face.

“Jamie is a bonnie fighter.  I’m sure everything will turn out fine,” Jenny tried to convince herself.

I tried not to think about what I’d seen of Dougal MacKenzie and his exceptional skills in a fight, and did my best to take heart in her confidence.  

I stopped at the door as Jenny walked into the parlor.  I stood there and stared at my husband who was in deep conversation with his godfather.  I took in the beautiful long lines of his body and the earthy sounds of his Scottish tongue, and contented myself with the thought that I was brought two-hundred years through time to be with that man, and there would be no rhyme or reason to my existence if he was taken from me after only a month of marriage.

This wouldn’t be the end of us.  I was certain.

 


 

He was quiet when we went upstairs that night.  We took comfort in our routine of undressing each other and readying ourselves for sleep.  Most of all, we took comfort in the quiet privacy of our bed and the warm embrace of each other's arms.

“Whatever happens,” he whispered into my hair, “it’s alright.  If we should stay or flee.  If we should reside at Leoch or Lallybroch.  Scotland or France.  It doesna signify.  So long as there’s the two us...together.”

I wrapped my arms more tightly around him.  “I didn’t stay in this century for the sake of Scotland.  I didn’t even stay here for Lallybroch.  I’m here for you, James Fraser.  To be your wife.  I’ll happily be your wife wherever you decide to take me.”  I pulled back to look in his eyes and felt fear in my heart.  “Just ensure you make it out of this alive to be my husband.  I can’t bear the thought of losing you.”

He kissed my nose, pulling me into his chest, and said:

“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
...
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
     For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
     That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

“Sleep now, my Sassenach.  I promise I’ll see ye well.”

Chapter Text

Jenny was right.  Jamie’s mind had long been made.  He was determined not to allow the English a chance at finding out Randall had ever made it to Lallybroch.

Before the sun came up the next morning, Jamie instructed Ian to ride out to Broch Mordha and issue a challenge to Dougal.  They would meet at dawn the next day and fight for the fate of Lallybroch, Leoch, and our entire family.  

I was sick to my stomach, anxious, and cramping with the thought of what could go wrong.  I went out foraging early to ensure I had enough herbs and medicinal plants to care for whatever injuries might present themselves after the duel.  I may have been helpless to prevent it from happening, but I could do my best to prepare for the outcome.

For his part, Jamie stayed close to the house rather than going out to help with the harvest.  I knew he was waiting for Ian’s return.  He spent the morning working on building my surgery, eyes periodically peering down the road in search of Ian’s horse.

As I listened to him hammer away for hours on end, I had a sick feeling in my gut that he might be overly optimistic about our chances at remaining at Lallybroch long enough for me to actually use it. 

I brought him out some food and water for lunch.  It was really just an excuse to be close to him.  

Bran, the ever faithful hound, was lying in the middle of the surgery, ignoring the racket his master was making around him.  He’d spread his long body out across the floor and was sleeping soundly, like Cerberus drugged with a loaf laced with honey and herbs.  I bent down to give him a scratch behind the ears, and he snorted pleasantly in his sleep.  

“You’re making good progress,” I said, looking around the unfinished little building.

“Aye.  I’ll get a roof over yer head before winter comes.”

That was a relief.  It was only October and it was already getting uncomfortably cold.  He’d built a beautiful fireplace at one end of the building, ensuring I’d be kept warm and would have a place to sanitize my instruments and brew medicinal concoctions.  He’d promised to make me a sturdy examination table that would withstand the weight of even the most robust of Scottish men.

I could see it perfectly.  I only hoped it would come to pass.

I turned to stare down the empty road and saw nothing but the shadows of clouds rolling in overhead.  Rain was coming to Lallybroch...and there was still no sign of Ian.

“Dinna fash,” said Jamie.  “’Tis a good distance to the village.  He’ll be back soon enough.”

He was talking to himself as much as me, which didn’t calm my nerves.  

Observing my doubt, he pulled me into his arms and wrapped me in his strength.  I did my best to take comfort in his solidity.  He was a large man, and hopefully, very hard to kill.  

Nì mi cinnteach gu bheil thu sàbhailte,” he whispered.  I didn’t know what he said, but the sound was comforting nonetheless.  

A raindrop kissed my cheek as I stood there in his arms.  We swayed together, back and forth, ignoring the cold wind that swirled around us. 

“I love you,” I said, voice cracking a little.  “I’m sure I don’t say it enough, but I do.  I love you.  I love you, Jamie.”

I looked up at him, unbothered by the raindrops falling with ever more enthusiasm.  He was smiling at me, blue eyes putting the gray skies to shame.  

“Ye tell me ye love me all the time, Claire.  Whether wi’ words or no’, I hear it clear.  When ye skelped me at the stones for thinking I was trying to send ye back…” We both chuckled at the memory.  “When ye placed a ring of gold on my hand. All the times ye invite me into yer bed after blowing out the candlelight.  When ye look at me as ye are now, like ye just might melt in my arms…I ken ye love me.”

He kissed me softly, as though enjoying the melting he just described.

The rain was really starting to come down, disturbing Bran from his nap.  He grunted and stood up, shaking his large head and throwing spittle everywhere.  If I wouldn’t have been in Jamie’s arms when the beast leaned against me, I might’ve fallen over.

Faigh air ais, cù,” Jamie laughed, pushing him off me.

Bran’s head snapped around quickly as he looked toward the road.  He let out a quiet growl, followed by a loud bark.  A chorus of yapping followed suit, and all the dogs headed for the road.  

Jamie and I turned to look, thinking we’d see Ian.  

Ifrinn,” he cursed.  “What the Devil are they doing here?”  

Dread gripped my stomach, and bile rose up in my mouth.  I had to run away from the surgery to vomit.  

A small company of redcoats were coming down the road with all due haste.  Before I finished retching, Jamie had me by the arms and was pulling me toward the house.

“I dinna have time to get ye out to the forest,” he said.  “We canna let them find ye.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“The priest hole.  We dinna ken for certain why they’re here.  Perhaps they’ve other business, but I willna risk it if they think ye a spy.”

“How could they possibly think me a spy?  Jock would’ve come and warned you if Dougal went out to Fort William.  Anyway, there wasn’t enough time for Dougal to make it there and back by now.”

“Ye may be right, Sassenach, but I’ll no’ risk yer bloody freedom on it.  If something went amiss wi’ Jock or Ian...”

“Do you think something happened to them?”

“I hope not,” he said, pulling me inside, “but I intend to find out.”

“Wait.”  I stopped us in the hall.  “You’re coming in the priest hole with me!”

He ignored me and called out for his sister, “Jenny!  Redcoats are coming up the road!” 

“Jamie!” I demanded.

“I willna be hiding.  I’ll see what they want and…”

“If Dougal told them about Randall, then they’ll take you away and hang you with little in the way of a trial.”

“I must find out why they’re here and if Ian and Jock are alright.”

“What in God’s name is going on?” said Jenny, rushing in from the kitchen.

“We need to get Claire in the priest hole.  Redcoats are coming, and Ian never made it back.”

Jenny’s eyes went wide. “D’ye think…?”

“I dinna ken.”

“Jenny can handle the redcoats, Jamie,” I insisted.  “You’re going down there with me, or I’m not going at all.”

“Ye’ll do as I order ye, Claire.”

“I don’t take your orders!”

His grip on my arm tightened as he sized me up, assessing how serious I was.  He must’ve seen I meant every word, because he bent down and lifted me over his shoulder, carrying me to the kitchen.  I swung my arms madly, hitting him in the back and kicking out, demanding to be put down.

I was peripherally aware of Jenny opening the hidden door that led down to the small priest hole Jamie had built at my urging.  

“You are not throwing me down there, James Fraser!  You’re coming with me, or I’m marching out to meet the redcoats right along with you.”

“She’s right, Jamie,” said Jenny.  “Ye’ll do no one any good if ye’re taken away by the redcoats again.  They’ll kill ye for certain this time.”

“I willna hide in my own house.”

“Ye’ll be protecting yer wife,” said Jenny.  “And I’ll need ye to go find Ian once they leave, and ye canna do that in shackles.”

The dogs were barking and growling noisily in the courtyard, reminding us all of the imminent danger.

“I’ll scream if you leave me down there without you,” I said, forcing myself to mean it.  “Come with me.  Please.”

With the utmost reluctance, he acquiesced.  I made him go down first, just in case he got any bright ideas to change his mind and lock me away.

Jenny closed us in the dark room, sealing the door shut.  In the absence of light, a whole different kind of panic sank in.  We were in a small, dark hole in the ground, secured only by the quality of Jamie’s craftsmanship.  If the door wasn’t hidden well enough, or if it wasn't sturdy enough, we’d be easily found and appear guilty as sin.

We were surrounded by cold, musty earth, and it was realistic to fear we might end up buried alive.  Part of me thought we might have been safer risking the company of the English.  The other part of me wanted to keep Jamie locked up in this little hole forever.

Hearing my shaky breath, he pulled me close and crushed me against him.  His heart hammered wildly, and his body was tense as stone.  Our clothes were wet from the rain and sure to be uncomfortable if they didn’t dry soon.

But at least he was here with me.  I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed to temper the panic I’d felt of possibly losing him.  By the force of his embrace, I realized he was attempting to settle similar fears.

Standing in his arms, my face was pressed into the center of his chest, making it a simple thing to kiss over his beating heart.  

Jamie spoke so softly in my ear, I could barely hear over the whisper of his breath, “Come and let us live my Deare, Let us love and never feare.”  A strained, rattling breath shook his body before finishing the rest, “What the sowrest Fathers say: Brightest Sol that dies today, Lives againe as blithe tomorrow, But if we darke sons of sorrow Set; o then, how long a Night Shuts the Eyes of our short light…

His hands moved up my back, cradling my head and tilting it back until our eyes met.  He swallowed audibly and pressed his forehead to mine.  

I realized that forcing him to remain with me—forcing him to do nothing—was making him to sit and ruminate in his own helplessness.  A painful experience for a man of action, especially with his best friend missing, his wife in potential danger, and his sister alone and exposed.

I could only fathom the depth of his love for me in agreeing to stay here, because mine for him was just as endless.

I reached up on my toes and kissed him firmly, then whispered against his lips,  “Then let amorous kisses dwell On our lips, begin and tell, A Thousand, and a Hundred, score, An Hundred, and a Thousand more…

He kissed me again, though I didn’t know whether it was meant to distract from the agony of waiting or to ease the fears of scarcity of our time left together.

I wouldn’t let this be our end.  I wouldn’t allow us to be separated by Dougal or the English or time itself.  

Our lips were pulled apart by the sound of footsteps overhead.  Jenny’s muffled voice was prattling incomprehensibly on while others seemed to be banging around anything that would make noise.

I hardly noticed as Jamie slowly and soundlessly maneuvered our bodies so that he was between me and the ladder leading up to the door.  His eyes were pointing up and hand was on his dirk.  

I didn’t comment on how a dirk would be useless in our predicament; killing us would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

The air seemed to be growing hotter and thicker as time went on.  Objectively, the intruders hadn’t been long in the kitchen, but it felt like forever.  Every move they made, I was certain they’d find the hidden door.

I found myself muttering silent prayers that they’d move on and look somewhere else.  I’d rarely known government employees to be so damn thorough.

Finally, their footsteps faded away, but that hardly made Jamie relax.  He didn’t even take his hand off his blade.

It wasn’t until a half hour later when my feet grew tired of standing so long, and I began shifting back and forth to ease my discomfort, that he entertained the idea of sitting down.  He sat first, tucked into a corner, then pulled me onto his lap.  He was large and comfortable, so easy to curl into.  I laid my head against his chest and listened to the sounds of his body as time went on.

We’d been in the hole for over an hour before footsteps returned.  We rose to our feet quickly, and Jamie stepped in front of me, pulling out his dirk and waiting as the uneven steps stopped directly overhead.  

The door opened and a pale light streamed in our little hole.  

“Jamie?”

“Ian?  Oh, thank Christ.”  

Ian’s sandy-colored head appeared at the top of the ladder, and relief took half the tension from my shoulders.  

“Ye’re alright, man?” asked Jamie.

“Aye.  I’m fine.  I met up wi’ Dougal to issue yer challenge.  The bloody bastard accepted wi’ a smug grin on his face.  He must’ve kent the redcoats were on their way to Lallybroch.”

“Are they still here?”

“Aye, but they’re out searching the land.”

“Here,” said Jenny’s voice.  “We dinna ken how long you’ll need to stay hidden.”

Ian handed down a chamber pot and a basket of food and drink.

“Why have they come?” asked Jamie.  “And where’s Jock?”

“Weel, Jock did as ye asked.  He followed Dougal and kept an eye on him.  But...” he paused to give an exasperated grunt, “it wasna Dougal that went to the redcoats.”

“Who then?”

“I think it was Rupert.  He must’ve gone yesterday.  That’s why he wasna with Dougal when he stopped by.  Jock said he saw the sloppy bastard arrive at the tavern early this morning, but he didna think anything of it.”

“Fucking bastard,” I  grumbled.

“What did’ye tell the redcoats about us?” asked Jamie.

Jenny looked down in the hole.  “I said ye were on yer honeymoon in Paris, and we havena seen one bit of Randall since the last time he harassed us years ago.”

“Did they believe ye?”

“Of course not.”

“Stay down there for now,” said Ian.  “We sent Murtagh ’round to the tenants to tell ’em what’s going on.  We’ll get ye out when they’re gone.”

“Aye.  Thank ye both.”

Ian waved off Jamie’s gratitude and closed the door once again.  Nerves settled mildly, we sank back into the corner and collapsed in each other’s arms.  We weren’t out of danger yet, but at least Ian and Jock were safe, and the redcoats had moved on from the house.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered.

“We’ll stay quiet and hide away until they leave Lallybroch.  Once they’re gone, we’ll figure out our next move. ’Tis likely we’ll have to leave home.”

I caressed his cheek and kissed him softly.  “We can be happy wherever we go, you know that right?”

I couldn’t see his reaction, but I felt him squeeze me closer and kiss my temple.  

“And now, at least you won’t have to duel with Dougal to stop him from talking to the English, seeing as how that’s already been done.”

Mmphm,” he grunted.

I relaxed in his arms, feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time.  Perhaps we’d go to Paris for a time before making permanent plans.  

I tried recalling all I could about world history to determine where might be a good place to put down some roots and start a family.  All we had to do now was wait for the redcoats to leave, then we could get on with our lives.

 


 

“I canna believe the bastard betrayed ye to the English!” said Jenny.  She was in Jamie and Claire’s room as they packed up what few things they could take with them on the road.  “I knew he was trouble the first time he showed up here out of the blue wi’ all his filthy men.”  She glanced sideways at Jamie’s wife, “No offence to you, Claire.”

Claire rubbed Jenny’s arm affectionately as she passed to find her spare shift.  

They couldn’t take much with them, only what the horses could carry.  Jamie had decided they should go to Paris.  Heading to Leoch would only bring trouble to the people he was wanting to defend, and Jared had made it abundantly clear at the wedding that he valued Jamie’s skill in business and would be happy for Jamie to work with him again.

Claire was clearly relieved to be leaving the MacKenzies and the redcoats far behind.  Jamie, on the other hand, was not.  

“I swear on my mother’s grave,” said Jenny, “if that filthy coward darkens this doorstep again wi’ his rebellion nonsense, I’ll slice him open from cock to sternum and string him up by his bowels!”

“Enough, Jenny!” Jamie lashed out.  He was having a hard enough time not thinking of revenge; he didn’t need his sister planting vivid images of it in his mind.  He threw his Fraser plaid aside and stormed out of the room.  

He needed to clear his head.  He needed a moment alone to decide what to do. 

He went downstairs and straight outside.  He didn’t know where his feet were taking him, but he walked through the pouring rain, mindlessly escaping the oppressive walls of the house.

If it was just about him, he could do whatever he wanted, and it wouldn’t matter.  He could meet Dougal at dawn and get his revenge, or he could take off to Paris and sell wine and whisky for the rest of his life. 

But it wasn’t just him anymore.  There was Claire.  And as comforting as it was to know that he was no longer facing exile alone, he couldn’t do anything that would risk her safety.  

Then again, was he not responsible for seeing her respected and protected?  Could he really allow Dougal and his men to put her life and freedom at risk without consequences?  Did he have it in him to ignore the damage Dougal had done?

His pride truly couldn’t stand the thought of Dougal running him off from his land, putting his wife in danger, and undermining all that he had done since gaining his freedom.  

And then there was the worry that as soon as Jamie was gone, Dougal would start bullying Jenny and Ian to serve his will for his rebellion.  The last thing Jamie needed was for Dougal to sabotage his sister when he wasn't in the country to protect her.

His feet had brought him to the graveyard.  He stood in front of his father’s headstone, wishing the man were there to help him find his way.

“What would ye have done, Da?  Would ye let him get away wi’ it for the sake of peace?  Or would ye set things right and protect the family from further harm?”

Thunder cracked and rumbled in the distance, and the cold rain soaked his hair.  He looked between his parents headstones and tried to think of what he’d expect of his father should his mother be threatened.

He would’ve expected his father to make it right.  And he would’ve expected his father to ensure a man like Dougal didn’t harm anyone else he loved ever again.

Jamie couldn’t just leave for Paris with the threat of Dougal roaming freely in his wake.

 


 

Later that night, after dinner was cleaned up, their saddlebags were packed, and the family was heading up to bed, Jamie pulled Murtagh aside and escorted him into his study, careful to close the door behind them so they wouldn’t be overheard.  He had already spoken with Ian about following through with the duel.  He just needed to plan for the care and protection of Claire and his people before he set out to make things right.

They sat down across the desk from each other, and Murtagh waited for him to speak.

“I have three things to ask of ye, a ghoistidh.”  Jamie took a breath as he decided which he should address first.  He’d start with the land.  He pulled out the deed of sasine and unrolled it on his desk.  “Would ye sign as a witness?  Murder is one thing, but treason is another.  If the English think we’re rallying a rebellion, I must bequeath the land to wee Jamie as of last year, else the English might try to take it.”

Murtagh’s shoulders slumped at the thought of Jamie no longer owning Lallybroch, even temporarily, but he reached for the quill and made his mark without reading over the parchment.

“Second, I mean to ask ye to come to Paris wi’ me.  Claire...ye ken how she is...a magnet for trouble.”

“Aye.”

“I need ye to come wi’ us to keep an eye on things.  To help keep her safe when I must be working or when I’m otherwise occupied.  Paris will be a verra different place for me wi’ a wife than before.”

“Aye.  Ye’ll no’ be joining wi’ any mercenaries or finding any wars to fight in, I presume.”

Jamie cringed internally.  “There is one more battle I must fight.”  Which brought him to his third point.

“Ye’ll be dueling yer uncle, then?”

“Aye.”

“What d’ye need, laddie?  For me to stay wi’ Claire?”

“Aye, and something else besides.”  Jamie leveled a serious gaze at his godfather.  “Ian was right about Claire, a ghoistidh.  She is...an Auld One.”

Murtagh’s eyes widened only slightly in shock, but the surprise faded quickly and acceptance settled in.

“She came through the fairy hill from the future, and she stayed here to be wi’ me.  This is a dangerous place for someone like her.  Promise me, a ghoistidh, promise that if something should happen to me, ye’ll get her back to the fairy hill and see her safely to her time...no matter the cost.”

Murtagh narrowed his gaze, considering his request.  “And if she fights me on it?”

“Then force her.  She will be killed here wi’out me to protect her, and I willna have this duel be all for naught.”

“If ye dinna want this duel to be all for naught, laddie, then ye’d better win.  It willna be like the other duels ye fought in.  ’Tis no’ just a matter of pride wi’ a weaker opponent.  Dougal will be aiming to spill yer blood.”

Jamie nodded.  “I’m prepared to spill his, as well.  In truth, it doesna surprise me that it’s come down to either my life or his...it feels inevitable.”

“Aye.  But take care.  Dinna make me regret allowing ye to go wi’out me.”

“I shall do my best.”

Jamie stood up then and moved around the desk.  Murtagh rose with him, and they embraced each other as might father and son.

Rach còmhla ri Dia, laddie,” said Murtagh, “and ken I’ll see Claire safe until my own dying breath.”  Murtagh patted him strongly on the back as they broke apart.  “Go on, now.  See to her yerself in bed.  A man fights best when he takes the feel of his lass wi’ him into battle.”

That was exactly what Jamie intended to do.  In the morning, he would fight his uncle and then leave his home and family for Paris, but the Laird and Lady of Lallybroch still had one more night together in their bed, and Jamie intended to make the most of it.

He found Claire sitting on the window ledge in nothing but her shift, staring out over the dark grounds.  All moon and starlight were hidden away by the storm, and not even the broch was visible from such a distance.

She was relieved to be leaving for Paris, he could see.  She didn’t know he still planned on dueling his uncle.  She’d thought that he had only issued the challenge in the first place to prevent Dougal from going to the redcoats.  Seeing as how Rupert had already told them everything, she assumed it was just a matter of leaving for Paris.  

She wouldn’t understand him risking his life for the sake of duty to her and Jenny...and she would worry unnecessarily.  She might even try to stop him like she did with the priest hole.

No.  It was better he didn’t tell her until it was done.  She would likely sleep through the whole thing as much as she liked to lie in late in the morning.  He could wake her with a kiss of freedom and victory upon his return.

She turned to him as he walked toward her.  With every step along the way, he shed a piece of his clothes.  He craved feeling her skin against his.  

He meant to come out victorious tomorrow, but should he fail, he wouldna be foolish enough to go meet God wi’out spending his last night on earth making love to his wife.  He would spend the night wrapped around her, buried inside her, merged together, that they two may be one.

He stripped off her shift and tossed it aside, no desire to waste time with the undressing.  Her arms wrapped around his neck as he lifted her up and carried her to bed.  

When he set her down, her dark hair spiraled out madly on the white sheets.  She was smiling sweetly, so hopeful for their future.

“Give me a thousand kisses,” she said, eyes gazing dreamily up at him.  She pulled him down to meet her lips, tasting of sweet apples and fine wine.

He meant to be soft and gentle with her, he meant to worship her and savor what it was between them, but when he thought about the battle looming over him, his heart raced and blood pounded through his veins.  Instead of softness, he held her face tightly in his hands and crushed his mouth against her.  

He would kiss her forcefully a thousand times, then he would kiss her harder a thousand more.

She moaned loudly, responding to his strength by spreading herself wide.  He impaled her hard, crashing into her womb.  

And, for God’s sake, if he died in battle tomorrow, he would make sure he did so with the memory of her hot quim squeezing his cock, and her nails scratching the skin off his back.

He bashed their bodies together with a brutal coupling, desperate to sear this moment in his mind forever...however short or long forever was meant to last.

He knew the violence raging in his blood was only a mask—one easier to face than fears of tomorrow’s unknowns.  He could control what happened in his bed, if not what happened in the morning.

He climaxed abruptly, forcefully, sooner than he intended.  Claire didn’t even get to finish.  He collapsed on her, gathering her in his arms and surprising himself by sobbing into her neck.

“Oh Jamie,” she wrapped her arms and legs around him, clutching him close.  “It’s alright.  It’ll be alright.  As long as we’re together, everything will be fine.  We’re both safe, and we have each other.  It’s alright, my love.”

This is what he would miss most if he died, holding her in his arms and possessing her as no one else could.  A ghost couldn’t hold the woman he loved.  

 


 

He made love to her two more times that night.  The first was to give her the pleasure his distress denied her the first time.  The second was early in the morning hours, when he sat up watching her sleep, praying God would keep her safe, no matter if she was with him or not, no matter if she was in this time or her own.  She woke up to his quiet Gaelic muttering and turned to find his body’s warmth.  He made love to her then just to feel close...to feel alive should this time be his last.

Chapter Text

I knew something was wrong the moment I woke up before dawn.  It was more than just the absence of Jamie in our bed.  There was a sickness in my stomach and a panic in my chest.  

I barely made it to the chamber pot to vomit.  

“Oh God.  No.  No.  No.  No.” 

I looked around the room and saw Jamie’s weapons were gone.  His longsword, his pistols, and his claymore.

Perhaps he brought them downstairs to pack for Paris, I told myself, trying to hold on to hope.

Yet our saddlebags were still in the room.

“James Fraser, you goddamn bloody bastard!”

I rushed to get dressed, no mean feat in the eighteenth century.  I didn’t even bother with my hair, and I was flying out the door.  

“Jamie!” I called, rushing down the stairs.  “Jenny!  Ian!”

I ran headlong into Murtagh in the parlor.  He steadied me with his hands on my arms.

“Where is he?” I demanded.  “Where did they go?”

Murtagh shook his head.  “I promised to keep ye from danger, by force if necessary.”

I pushed him back, breaking free of him.  “Jenny!”  I rushed to the kitchen to see if she was there.  

There was no sign of her.

The goats!  She always went there when she was troubled.

I rushed into the storm outside and ran to the goat pen.  She was there in the rain, feeding her precious goats excessive amounts of kitchen scraps.  

“Where are they?” I called out over the rain.

“You ken where they are.”  Her jaw was stiff and her shoulders tense.  

“Tell me how to find them.”

Jenny shook her head.

“Aren’t you worried for them?  We’re talking about your husband and your brother!”

“I ken exactly who they are, Claire!”  She looked up at me with fire in her eyes.  “They must fight Dougal.  They must end this before ye run off to Paris.  Wi’ wee Jamie in possession of Lallybroch, d’ye think Dougal will scamper away back to Leoch?  Ye dinna think he’ll move his target to the rest of the family?  To me, my husband, my children?”

Tears began filling my eyes, disappearing with the rain.  I hadn’t even thought beyond keeping Jamie safe.  “No.  No, of course not.”  I took a shuddering breath.  “I just...I just can’t lose him, Jenny.”

I collapsed on the fence post sobbing, seeing my future disappear from my grasp.

“Jamie’s a bonnie fighter, Claire.”  She came close, stroking my wet hair as I cried.  “Have faith in yer man.”

I stood up and shot her a glare that could rival one of her own.  “I have faith in Jamie.  It’s Dougal I don’t trust.  The moment I met him, he kidnapped and threatened me.  Since then, he undermined his Laird, manipulated Jamie’s people, incited rebellion, and betrayed his nephew.  I don’t have faith in Dougal!   Jamie’s a man of honor, and so is Ian.  Do you really think Dougal will fight fair when his life is on the line?  When his cause is on the line?  Do you think Rupert and Angus will bat an eye if Dougal fights underhanded?  They would gladly stab my husband in the back if it got them what they want!  Do you think they give a shit about doing the same to Ian?”

Jenny’s chest was heaving with panicked breaths.  It apparently never occurred to her that someone might not fight fair in a duel.  “It’s too late,” said Jenny, shaking her head in distress.  “They planned to meet at dawn.”

“Tell me where they are.”  I reached over the fence and grabbed her arm.  “If one of them is injured, I can help.  You know I can.” 

Jenny nodded.  “Alright.  I’ll write it down for ye.  ’Tis no’ hard to find.  I must stay wi’ the bairns.”

Relief washed over me.  “Of course.  I’ll ready my horse.”

We split up, Jenny rushing inside, and me heading for the stables.  Just as I got the saddle on one of the mares, a voice sounded behind me.

“Just where do ye think ye’re going?” asked Murtagh.

“Jamie could be injured.  I’m going to make sure he’s ok.”

“I canna allow it, Claire.”

“Am I not your Lady?!  Do you not have to do as I command?”

“I am sworn to the Laird.  I will keep ye safe, even if I have to lock ye up in the priest hole.”

“Your Laird may very well be dead!  You cannot stop me from going to my husband.  You’re welcome to come with me, but I will find a way to him even if I have to claw my way out of the ground.  Now, take me to him, lest I run into Dougal and his men along the way and provide them with an easy target.”

Murtagh huffed several angry breaths before turning away and kicking the dirt.

“If he’s injured, I can save him!  I can heal him,” I pleaded.

Quiet curses were mumbled under his breath.  At last, he stopped pacing and turned to face me.  “If I take ye to find him, ye must do as I say.  Every word.  I swore I’d see ye safe, and I willna allow ye to break my promise to the lad.”

“I swear.”  I would’ve promised anything in the moment to get to Jamie.

“Alright.  I’ll saddle my horse as well.”

 


 

Dougal was late.  For a moment, Jamie thought he might not come, but accepting a challenge was a matter of honor.  He’d be branded a coward if he didn’t show.  Dougal was many things, but a coward he was not.

The pouring rain made it difficult to see, but Jamie spotted three horses riding over the hill into the small open valley where Jamie and Ian were waiting. 

Es-tu prêt, mo charaid?” said Ian at his right hand, reverting to French on the cusp of battle.

Oui.  Je suis prêst.

They waited quietly together as the riders drew near.  Dougal, Rupert, and Angus dismounted and came to face Ian and Jamie.

No need for pleasantries, Dougal eyed his nephew up and down, and said, “Alright then.  Let’s get on wi’ it.  We’ll be using the claymores, aye?”

Jamie nodded, accepting Dougal’s terms.  He expected the claymores.  Pistols wouldn’t hold up well in the rain, and Dougal’s best chance at winning was with his strength.  Jamie could easily best him with a smaller blade.  He’d surpassed his uncle in speed and skill long ago. 

Strength too, but it was the only option Dougal had.

He handed his pistol, longsword, and dirk over to Ian.  His friend gave him one last nod of encouragement...of faith.

Jamie said a quiet prayer to God and to his father before turning around to face his uncle.

 


 

“Come on, you lazy beast,” I pleaded with my horse.  “Keep up.  Faster!”

The mare was in no shape for riding such a distance at full speed, but there weren’t any better options.  I could see Murtagh’s frustration with my speed.  His horse was in much better condition than my own.

“Go on ahead without me,” I called.  “I’ll catch up.  I can see your tracks.”

He shook his head and grumbled.  Leaving me behind wasn’t an option.  That was probably smart.  The rain would likely wash his tracks away in no time.  

“Come on!”  I urged my horse again.  “For Jamie…”

 


 

Dougal’s sword came down hard toward Jamie’s head, but Jamie parried the blow easily enough.  

Fool, thought Jamie, ye’re wearing yerself out wi’ those blows.

Jamie fought defensively, letting Dougal exhaust himself, his own stamina much greater than his uncle’s.

Dougal pivoted, this time aiming for Jamie’s leg, but Jamie shielded himself from the blow, then kicked his uncle away with a foot to the wame.  Dougal staggered back, wheezing, trying to suck in air.

He could barely hold up his sword.

It was time to end it.  

Jamie began muttering the Act of Contrition under his breath as stepped forward.

“Deus meus, ex toto corde paenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor, quia peccando, non solum poenas a Te iuste statutas promeritus sum…”

He charged at his uncle with all his strength and speed, bringing his blade down, slicing through the rain.

“...sed praesertim quia offendi Te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super omnia diligaris.”

Dougal weakly parried the blow and fought to stay on his feet.  Jamie spun around and let loose a violent combination of strikes.  Dougal fell to his knees, bleeding from his arm.  His eyes were half-closed with exhaustion, and he dropped his blade to the ground.

Jamie had a choice to make.  He could extract vows from his uncle—ones he couldn’t trust the man to honor—or he could end his life and keep his family safe.

He didn’t hesitate for a moment.  He raised his blade and finished his prayer.

“Ideo firmiter propono, adiuvante gratia Tua, de cetero me non peccaturum peccandique occasiones proximas fugiturum. Amen.”

A shot rang out from behind, and something hit him in the spine.  As if time slowed down, he watched a raindrop hover before his eyes.  It took him a moment to realize he was falling to the ground alongside it.  

His body splashed down into a puddle.

He turned his head to find Ian, but saw only Rupert standing with a pistol in his hands and Angus wiping a bloody blade.  

Jamie’s eyes dropped to the floor where Ian’s body lay.

“Help me up,” Dougal grunted.  

Rupert came running to his side and pulled him up to stand.  

“Did'ye have to use the pistol?” Dougal chided.  “Ye spooked his horse.”

Jamie looked around and couldn’t see Donas anywhere.  Jamie realized Rupert must’ve been hiding a pistol out of sight, keeping it out of the rain until it looked as if his chief might fall.

Dougal took a dirk from Rupert’s hand and bent down over Jamie.  He wiped the rain from Jamie’s face and pushed back his hair to see clearly.  Jamie couldn't move anything below his neck.

“Sister’s son or no—I kent I must kill ye today.  For I knew from the beginning that it would be you or me.  Dinna fash for yer steed.  I shall ride him into battle for the Bonnie Prince in yer honor.”  Dougal opened Jamie’s sark, baring his chest to the heavens.  “And dinna fash about yer bonnie wee wife.  I’ll be sure to send her to the realm of spirits to meet ye soon.”

Then he stabbed his nephew directly in the heart and watched him bleed out.

Chapter Text

“Look!”  I yelled.  “There’s Donas!”

Terror gripped my heart.  Why was Donas running wild?

We didn’t stop for the horse.  There wasn’t time.

We rode hard over the last hill and into the valley.

It was hard to see through the rain, but Murtagh seemed to know where he was going.  I didn’t start crying until Murtagh forgot that he wasn’t meant to leave me behind.   When he sped his horse, effortlessly outpacing me, I knew something must be terribly wrong.

I gripped the pearl necklace bouncing around as I rode, praying that the worst had not come to pass. 

Murtagh stopped abruptly some distance away and jumped off his horse.  He ran, sliding on his knees to the ground.

There was only one reason he would move like that.

No!

I pushed my horse to ride faster, desperate to see what awaited, but dreading what I’d find.

Murtagh’s face was bent over on the ground...no, not on the ground...on a body.

“NO!”

I jumped off my horse and ran the rest of the way, pushing Murtagh aside.

“NO!  No, no, no!  Jamie!  Oh God, Jamie!”  His body was frozen and face drained of color.  There was a stab wound in the center of his chest where the rain had long since washed away the blood.  Even the red of his hair seemed to have faded.

My mind told me he was dead, but my heart couldn’t bear it.  

Do something! my heart screamed.  Do something!

I moved my hands over him, trying to think of what could be done.  I couldn’t stop the bleeding when there was no blood left.

No blood of my blood...

It was all gone.

He was gone.

“Jamie...no.  Jamie, please,” I begged.  

He couldn’t be gone.

We had a life.  We had a plan.

Murtagh was moving around me, but I had no mind for anything but my husband.

“Jamie.  Don’t leave me.  God, please don’t leave me.”  The foolish words spilled out of my mouth, but I knew he was long gone.  

I cupped his frozen face in my hands, rubbing my thumbs across his cheeks.  “Damn you, you stubborn Scot!  You fool!”

Sobs racked though my body as I fell upon him, crying into his marble neck, grasping his soaking wet hair.  

“You can’t leave me.  You promised me forever.”  Even as I said it, I knew he’d meant the forever beyond this life.

I couldn’t accept it.  I just couldn’t accept that he was gone.  I’d come two hundred years through time to find the greatest love of my life, and I would not accept losing him after merely a month wed!  

No.  It wasn’t possible.

“Jamie...my darling.  Oh Jamie.”  His cold, blue eyes were vacant, but I couldn’t bring myself to close them.

Perhaps he might blink on his own to clear away the rain and look at me.

A gust of breath blew in my ear, and a quiet nicker sounded.  I turned my head to find Donas nuzzling my cheek.  I stroked his nose desperate to feel life in my hands...a life connected so closely to Jamie.

His warmth was a shock after touching Jamie’s lifeless body.  I shuddered and sobbed as Donas rubbed himself against me.

I turned back to Jamie and lifted his head in my lap, stroking his face, refusing to let him go.  “I love you...I love you...I will always love you.”

I bent down to kiss his stone lips.  They were hard and unmoving.  No breath touched my skin.

And that was when I knew he was gone.  My Jamie would’ve never kissed me like that.

“Ian’s...gone too,” said Murtagh, dropping to his knees across from me.  I watched him grip Jamie’s shirt in his hands as if trying to grasp on to life.  

But our Laird was gone, no matter how hard we willed it otherwise.

Murtagh muttered in agonized Gaelic, his head bowed down on Jamie’s chest.  Sobs broke through his words, as he rocked back and forth in pain.

Donas whinnied noisily and stamped his feet.  

I took Jamie’s hand in mine.  His massive arm was heavy, and his fingers were stiff.  One of them bore his father’s ring, a band of gold with a ruby gem.  It was still warm.

I pulled the ring off his finger to cling to the last of its master’s heat.  I held it tightly to my breast, wanting to absorb it into my heart.

Donas neighed loudly, pushing me with his nose.  Murtagh’s head snapped up, and he narrowed his gaze in the distance.

I slipped Jamie’s ring onto my thumb, wanting to feel its warmth as long as it lasted.

“Dougal!” said Murtagh.  “He must’ve seen our horses.”

I turned around, but I couldn’t see through my own tears.  I reached for my pocket, wanting to grab the ruby-hilted knife my husband gave me before we wed.  If that bastard came near me, I had every intention of running him through.

Before I could grab it, Murtagh took hold of my wrist and pulled me to my feet.  “Come, lass.  I’ve got to get ye safety.”

“We can’t leave him here!”

“Dougal will kill ye, woman!”

“I’m not leaving his body to wash away with…”

Murtagh interrupted me with a snarl.  

The last thing I remembered was him taking out his dirk and striking me on the head with the hilt.

 


 

I was nauseous again, no thanks to the ground moving beneath me.

It took me a moment to realize I’d been thrown over a horse and was being carried away at a ridiculous pace.

I could see the horse was large and black, and he was galloping like our lives depended on it.

Then I realized, they did.

Jamie…Jamie was dead, and Dougal was after us.

A fresh wave of grief washed over me.  Bile flooded my mouth, and my stomach retched all the contents it had left.

Donas slowed to a stop, and I dropped down to the ground, sobbing in agony.

“Come on, lass.” Murtagh gripped my shoulders, pulling me up.  “Get back on the horse.  We’ve outpaced Dougal, but no’ for long.  Donas is a braw laddie, but he’s carrying the twa of us.”

“Jamie!  You left Jamie behind!”

“Come, Claire!  We dinna have time!”

“I won’t leave him!”

“Ye must!  He made me swear I’d see ye safe.  That I’d get ye back to yer time.  Ye must go!  Come, lass!”

“My time?”  The words confused me a moment.  Then it dawned on me.  “You know?  He told you?”

“Aye.  We must hurry so the rain will wash away our trail.”

I shook my head.  “No.  My family is here.  Jenny.  Ian.  The children.  My people.

“Ye’re nay good to them, Claire.  The English think ye’re a traitor.  Ye’ll only bring danger to Lallybroch.”

“Oh God, Jenny!”  She lost her husband and her brother, and now she’d be losing a sister.

“Claire,” Murtagh pleaded, pulling out his dirk, “dinna make me use it again, aye?  I willna break my vow to my lad.”  His voice broke, and I could see the tears falling down his cheeks with the rain.

“I have nothing left where I’m from.” I cried.  They were all dead.  Everyone.  

“Ye must go.  Ye’re safer there.  ’Tis Jamie’s dying wish.”

My body shook with sobs again.  He was gone.  A vast cavern of emptiness filled me. 

That fucking bastard!  How could he go and get himself killed?!

I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.

And now Murtagh wanted to send me two hundred years away from the only family I had left.  I couldn’t leave them.  To hell with my time.

Time.

“Time,” I said, hope beginning to fill the empty space in my chest.  “Time!”

I turned to Murtagh and grabbed his arms.  “Murtagh, what if I can fix this?  What if I can go back and stop him from riding out to the duel?”

Murtagh’s eyes widened.  “Ye can do that?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know.  But...but what if?”

Murtagh looked around, trying to think of what to say.  “Ye can control it?  Where and when ye go?”

I shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

He pulled me back over to Donas.  “Either way, we’ll be making our way to the fairy hill.”

He helped me up, then mounted Donas behind me.  He set off at a fast pace, wanting to make up for the time I’d wasted moments ago.  

My tears were suddenly gone, for Jamie was no longer dead in my mind.  I would fix this.  I would stop him from going to that duel.

We’d sail away to France and never look back at Scotland again.  We’d take the whole family with us.  We’d take whatever tenants we could convince to come.  

There was a chance we could still be together.

Murtagh was heartened along with me.  We didn’t speak, but I could feel his despair lifting along with mine.  

This wasn’t the end.

At least...that’s what I told myself.

 


 

We only stopped long enough to feed and water Donas.  We didn’t sleep and we hardly ate, save what was in Murtagh’s sporran.  

There were times when I thought I could hear Dougal’s voice calling out, “Tulach Ard!” on the wind, but when I looked back, there was no one there.  

Still...we rode like he was right on our heels.

 


 

I stared up and the circle of standing stones before me.  Murtagh was clearly wary and had to force himself to fight against every instinct he had to run in the opposite direction.  But for me, for Jamie, he stepped forward.  

I could hear the buzzing of the stones the moment I stepped in the circle.  

My body revolted against the proximity, remembering what it felt like the first time I went through...like my soul was being tied in knots, shattered and mended, then ripped back into pieces again.

Like Murtagh, I fought the urge to run away and forced myself closer.

When we stood before the large rock in the center, I stopped and turned to my friend.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I can’t thank you enough for getting me here safely.”

He nodded, looking down.  With great effort, he forced his gaze up to meet my eyes, and said, “If ye can save the lad, I beg ye do...but if ye put yer own life in peril to do so…” he shook his head, “neither Jamie nor I would want that.”

I pulled him close and embraced him, burying my face in his solid form.  He smelled of the Highlands...of home.  I would take that scent with me, wherever it was I ended up when I touched that stone.

He pulled himself away and held me at arm’s length.  “’Tis time, lass.  Time for ye to go.”

“Goodbye, Murtagh...my friend.  You served your Laird well.”

He bowed his head, and I turned around.

Tulach Ard!” 

I wasn’t hearing things this time.  I turned to find Dougal, Rupert, and Angus riding into the circle.  They all dismounted with their swords drawn.

I reached for the blade in my pocket, ready to strike if any come near.

“Go on, Claire!” said Murtagh.  He had a sword in one hand and a dirk in the other.  He stepped in front of me to give me time.

At a yell from Dougal, all three men charged.  Murtagh swung his blade, holding Dougal and Angus back.  Rupert darted around him, coming for me.  

I pulled the blade from my pocket and swung it up into his belly, just as Jamie had taught me.  Rupert staggered back in shock, long enough for me to step away, bumping into the largest standing stone.

 


 

Jamie.  My only thought was Jamie.

I thought of his arms around me and his lips on my skin in the hours before he left for the duel.  

Jamie.

His ring on my finger felt as though it was burning my skin.  The flame burned so hot, it exploded in a blinding light.  It was the only thing I could see.

A terrible, searing pain tore through me, setting my whole body on fire.  I smelled smoke, fire, and brimstone.

It was Hell itself.

I thought...perhaps...maybe I wouldn’t get to see Jamie again if that was where I was headed.

Murtagh would be disappointed.

Murtagh.  

How I longed to be back with my friend.

 


 

I was spit out of the stone on the ground at Craigh Na Dun.  Every inch of my body was in sheer agony.  It felt as though I was still on fire.

I turned my head and saw bodies next to me.

Murtagh lay dead in a heap to my right...and Rupert was there next to him, lying in a pool of his own blood...my blade in his hand, as though he pulled it out of his belly before he died.  Some distance away, two men embraced, sobbing in each other’s arms, an air of grief radiating from them.

One of the men looked in my direction.

“She’s back!” said Angus, face contorted with rage.  

I knew that look.  I’d seen men wear it in war before.  He meant to kill me—to get his revenge.

An instinct older than mankind had me reaching for my blade in Rupert’s lifeless hand.

I forced myself to scramble back, to scramble away from the man coming at me with murder in his eyes.

And then the buzzing stone took me again.

 


 

No! I thought, as I was pulled through.  I couldn’t survive being burned alive a second time.

I already needed a bloody hospital as it was.

I thought of the one where I used to work.  Of IVs and painkillers and ice.  Of comfortable beds and soft pillows and electric lights.

The blade in my hand grew hot, burning in my palm.

Not again, I begged.

Then it burst, just like the ring.

Chapter Text

 

~Inverness: April 1947~

“I have the information you requested,” said Reverend Wakefield.  He didn’t try to hide his expression that told me how strange he found my request.  He likely thought me a bit mad.  I didn’t care what he thought, so long as he shared what he knew.  

“Th-ank you,” I wheezed.  It was almost impossible to get through a sentence without needing a break.  My lungs struggled, and I strained to keep from coughing.  “What...did you...find?”

The reverend looked around my room.  Although I had enough inherited resources to pay for home care, my bedroom looked hardly any different than a hospital.  There were no knick-knacks that could gather dust, no radio in the room to make unwanted noise, and no pictures on the walls to remind me of loved ones lost.  It was blank...empty...much like my life.

“There was little information to go on,” said Reverend Wakefield, “being that the family residence of Broch Tuarach was destroyed and all the paperwork inside set aflame by the English.”

“Destroyed?  When?”

“I found documentation at Fort William that it was ordered to be destroyed several years before the Rising—it was reported to be a rebellion stronghold, housing spies for the French and the Jacobites.  The order was given in November 1743.”

I gasped—all the air squeezed from my lungs.  Tears filled my eyes, and pain stabbed my chest as I was overtaken by a coughing fit.  I grabbed the rail on my bed to hold myself steady while my diaphragm battered itself against my ribs.

“Mrs. Randall, are you alright?” he stood, coming to my bedside.  

“I’m f—fine,” I choked out.  I pulled myself together and pretended to be so.  I’d waited six months to hear what happened to my family, my people, and I wasn’t about to let him leave without the truth.  “Tell me, p—please.”

“Are you certain, dear?  This information seems to be quite upsetting for you.  I agreed to look into the history of the Frasers of Broch Tuarach as a courtesy to your late husband, but I don’t think he would much appreciate me causing you discomfort in your...condition.”

He looked me over once more, cringing at my sickly state and bulging form.  I couldn’t have been at all pleasant to look at...not with the burns everywhere.  I must’ve looked like death.  

I’d come to the conclusion since last October that attempting to travel to a time where I was already inhabiting was my downfall.  I couldn’t occupy the same space as another version of myself.  I’d had one chance at saving Jamie, and I wasted it by not going back far enough

“I’m fine.  Truly.”

In truth, I wasn’t fine.  I was very near death.  There was only one reason I wasn’t dead already...one reason I’d held on for so long…

Please,” I begged.

“Go on,” said Mrs. Graham, who sat next to the reverend.  I’d asked her to accompany him on his visit, much to his chagrin.  But she and I had unfinished business.  “This information is clearly important to her.”

I did my best to smile gratefully, but the pain made it more of a grimace.

“So long as ye’re not too disturbed?” said the reverend.  “It is not a pretty tale.”   

“Of course.”

The revered looked back through his notes, though I was sure he had them already committed to memory.  “Well, it appears the MacKenzies took possession of the land in a power grab with the Frasers of Lovat after the death of the Laird and his wife.”

“What...about...the family?  The Laird’s sister?”

“Ah, yes.  I found no records of Janet Fraser Murray’s death anywhere.  However, I can make some assumptions that she likely died sometime between 1743 and the rebellion.  Perhaps even in the English raid of Broch Tuarach.”

“Wh-at?” No!  No, no, no, no.

“I found records that Hector Cameron and his wife Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron boarded a ship to America during the Rising.  They brought with them two small children, James and Margaret Murray.  Jocasta Cameron would’ve been Janet Murray’s aunt and next of kin.” 

“Yes...I see...” I said, trying to keep from falling apart until he was gone, but I couldn’t stop the tears from slipping down my cheeks.

“Oh, dearie,” said Mrs. Graham.  She leaned over me and gently dabbed my tears with a handkerchief.  My right arm was uninjured, and I was able to take over tidying myself up.

“May I ask why you wanted to know the fate of the Murray family?” asked Reverend Wakefield.  “Had you read about them somewhere and taken a particular interest?”

I inclined my head, unable to nod without pain.  “Frank had...told me about the family.  They had...contact with his...ancestor.”

“I see.”  The reverend nodded softly, seeming to accept my curiosity so long as it was tied to Frank.

“I hope my news wasn’t too disappointing for you, Mrs. Randall.”

“Not at all...I assure you.”   Either my glass face was no longer so apt to betray the truth of my emotional state, or the reverend was eager to leave my presence, and believing I was in good spirits would help facilitate his goal.  “I shall leave you to your rest now.”

“Thank you for...finding that information for me, Reverend.”

“Of course.  Your husband was a dear friend.  Come now, Mrs. Graham.  We should be on our way.”

“One moment...if you please, Mrs. Graham,” I said.

The reverend seemed at a loss for why I would want to speak with his housekeeper.  He stood before me with his mouth open before recognizing that I wanted time alone with his companion.  He bowed awkwardly and left the room, closing the door behind him.

“And how are you, Claire?  Truly?” she asked, pulling her chair up to my bedside and taking my hand.

“I’m…”  

I was going to say “fine,” but the word wouldn’t come.  There was something about being in the presence of the only person in the world who knew the truth of what happened to me that made any sort of farce impossible to maintain.  

Tears immediately fell from my eyes and sobs racked through my body, causing all the more pain and all the more tears.

I felt like I was being burned alive all over again.  

“I miss them...terribly.”

“Aye, lass.  I ken ye do.”

So rarely did I allow myself to fall to pieces, and I certainly didn’t mean to do so today, but her hand was warm and comforting, and the sympathy in her eyes was not for the damage to my body, but that done to my heart.  

“She was my...sister.”  I sobbed freely, drowning in grief and loss.

I’d lost everyone I’d ever loved.  Everyone.

My parents.  Lamb.  

Frank.

Jenny.  Ian.  The children. 

Murtagh.

Jamie.

Oh God, how I missed my love.

Mrs. Graham let me cry as long as I needed.  She sat beside me, holding my hand, cooing softly in Gaelic...just like Jamie used to do.

When my crying slowed to a periodic sniffle, and the handkerchief was too filthy to return, she dried my eyes with her thumbs and asked, “What is it ye need from me, Claire?  Ye ken I’ll help ye in any way I can.”

I laid my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes, breathing slowly and deeply to center myself...to regain some semblance of control.

When I could speak again without crying, I opened my eyes and instructed, “There is a box in my closet, just over there.”  

Mrs. Graham stood and walked to the mirror-covered door.  She found the medium-sized box and brought it over to the bed.

“Inside, you’ll find the clothes I was wearing when I came back through the stones.  There are a few other things of importance.  The pearls my husband gave me.  A few pictures of me and my uncle.  And there’s a journal—a truthful account of my life over the past year.”

Her eyebrows raised up high.  “The whole truth?”

“Yes.  Whether it’s believable or not is beside the point.  The truth is all I have to give.”  I twisted the thistle ring on my finger, debating whether or not I should take it with me to the grave.  

The thought of my ring buried six feet underground made my stomach turn.  I pulled it off and handed it to Mrs. Graham.  “Please put it in the box...keep it safe...until it’s time.”

“Are ye sure, dearie?  Ye may well make it through this just fine.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, pushing the fresh onslaught of tears threatening to fall.  “I can’t.  I won’t go on like this any longer than I must.  My body is tired.  I won’t make it through.”

“But, Claire…”

“He’s waiting for me, you know.  He told me so...in my dreams.  The pain rarely lets me sleep long enough to dream, but when I do drift off, he’s always there.”

Just like he said he’d be.  My past, present, and future.

Tears filled Mrs. Graham’s eyes as she cupped my cheek.  “Of course he’s there.  A faithful lad, yer Jamie.”

I touched her hand resting on my cheek.  It was likely the last warm touch I’d ever feel in this life, save those of a doctor or nurse, poking or prodding or giving me medicine. 

Thank you,” I whispered, my hand resting softly on my belly.  “You’ll never know what this means to me...to us.

“I wish there was more I could do.”

“So do I, but nothing else can be done.  We must accept the inevitable.”

“I could come visit ye again, if ye like.  Ye have some time left.”

I shook my head.  “No.  It won’t be long now.”

She bent down and kissed my temple.  “Ye’ll be wi’ him again soon, Claire.  He’s waiting for ye.”

I closed my eyes and pictured his blue eyes and flaming hair.  “I’m counting on it.”

Chapter Text

~Craigh Na Dun: February 1968~

“Ye’re sure we dinna need a body?” asked Gillian, yelling over the buzzing of the standing stones.  “Everything I’ve read suggests a sacrifice…”

“I told you, Gillian.  It’s the gems the stones want, not a corpse.”  At least, I hoped so...

She didn’t seem convinced, and she looked like she would rather kill a man to be sure, rather than risk being sorry.

Dear God, she was mad.  I was relieved she never finished reading the whole journal.  If she would’ve known how bad things had gotten with Dougal in the end, she might not have agreed to help me.

“Aye,” she conceded.  “Gems and intention.  We need a reason for going to a particular time.  Those who have someone pulling them in their direction seem to travel most precisely.”

“What if we get the time wrong?” 

“Then we’ll find more gems and do it again.  Ye brought gold wi’ ye in that box of yours, did ye no’?  We’re women of means, lass.  Women of purpose.  Dinna focus on what can go wrong; keep yer mind concentrated on how it’ll turn out right.”

She was right, of course.  I needed to focus on James Fraser.  Only on James Fraser.  

Don't think of her.  It’ll ruin everything.

I placed a hand over my box of treasures that I’d tucked snugly into my bag and thought of every detail I knew of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.

I said his name over and over in my head.

“Ye ready, lass?” Gillian yelled over the growing sound.  The largest of the stones was vibrating like it knew it was about to be fed.  

I nodded with fear in my heart, but no doubt in my mind.  

She reached out a hand and grabbed mine, and our fingers linked together.  She pulled me forward and we moved in the pattern she said we must: circle right, between two stones, a circle left, and back through the center—and then to the left of the largest stone.

“Dougal MacKenzie,” I heard her say.  “Dougal MacKenzie.”

“James Fraser...Jamie Fraser,” I whispered.

Then, at the same time, we lifted our hands and pressed them to the stone.

 


 

~Craigh Na Dun: February 1741~

“Fucking hell!” said Gillian.  She was spread out on the ground, grimacing in pain.  

“I thought we were dead,” I said, wiping the vomit from my mouth.  I had always been prone to motion sickness.  “That was the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Gillian sat up, rubbing her temples.  “And ye really plan to go through that again?”

“I don’t want to, but I have to.  I can’t stay here.  If I succeed in changing the past, I can’t be in two places at once.  You know what will happen.”

“If ye succeed in changing the past,” Gillian spoke gravely, “ye could very well cease to exist altogether.  Ye ken that, right?  Ye hardly survived yer birth in a twentieth century hospital.”

“My mother was unwell.  And I know the risks, thank you very much.”

Gillian huffed and shrugged.  “Suit yerself.”

We both struggled to our feet, taking a moment to orient our bodies to the world around us.  

“Everything looks the same,” I said.  “What if it didn’t work?”

“Let’s head down the hill and look for the road.  If it’s gone, we’ll ken we made it.”

“If the road’s gone, we’ll know we made it somewhere , though that doesn’t necessarily mean we arrived to the time we wanted to go.”

“Aye,” she reluctantly conceded.  

We stumbled quietly down the hill, eyes peeled for any sign of the twentieth century.  We looked as far as our eyes could see and found nothing.  No roads.  No cars.  No planes.  No people.

“I think we did it, lass.”  I could hear the hope in her voice.  I felt my own chest swell like a balloon, though I tried not to get prematurely excited.

I turned my head toward the direction of Inverness.  Our first stop, and likely the last place I would ever see Gillian Edgars again.

“Come on then,” she said.  “We canna waste sunlight in this century.  We mustn’t dawdle.”

I followed her lead, heading in the direction of town, bringing me ever closer to finding Jamie.

 


 

We spent the rest of the day walking to Inverness, stopping only for meals and to rest our feet.  When we arrived in town, we found a tavern still open for a late dinner, and thankfully, they had a room upstairs for us to sleep overnight.  

It was there that a quiet, little housemaid confirmed that we did in fact make it to the year 1741. 

In the morning, we set off to find a horse and supplies for Gillian so she could make her trek North to Leoch and Dougal MacKenzie.  She was quite resourceful and well-versed in Gaelic, so it didn’t take long.

Then, she brought me to the pier to help arrange passage for me to France.

“This is where I leave you,” said Gillian when we found a boat with a seemingly trustworthy captain.  They were loading the last of their provisions and were about to set off on their way.

“Thank you, Gillian.”

She shot me a severe look.

“Sorry,” I corrected.  “I meant, thank you, Geillis.”

“’Twas no trouble at all, hen.  And ye saved me the hassle of lugging my husband’s body up the hill, aye?”

I was very much looking forward to the next leg of my journey in which I wouldn’t have to travel with a woman capable of murdering her husband without batting an eye. 

“Ye ken what to do when ye get to France?  Ye ken where ye’re headed?”

I nodded.  “I’ll find a ride to the abbey and ask to stay until he arrives.”

“And ye’re sure ye ken where the abbey is?”

“Yes, Geillis.  I know.  The hardest part in all of this is over.”  

“And ye’ll meet yer Jamie Fraser soon.  I hope he’s everything ye’ve imagined him to be.”

I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with fish-scented air and inflating my heart with hope.

“There it is,” said Geillis.

“What?”

“The gold in the center of yer eyes shines something fierce when ye think of him.  It stands out against the blue like the sun shining in the midday sky.”

I laughed.  “How poetic of you.”

“Come here, lass.”  She pulled me in for a hug.  “I hope ye get everything ye ever wanted.  Even if ye were raised by sassenachs, ye’ve got the Highland fire in yer heart.”

I pulled back and grabbed her hand.  “Be careful, Geillis.  Try not to be burned at the stake.”

She giggled in her quiet maniacal way as she stepped back and let go of my hand.  “Get yerself some new clothes, hen.  Ones without burns all over them.”

I shook my head.  I was perfectly content with the ones I had.  

With one last smile, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the crowd.  And that quickly, I was all alone once again. 

I turned around and stared at the boat I’d be taking to France.  It was bobbing up and down gently in the water.  Regardless of the seemingly calm seas, I was worried about the crossing to France; I’d always been susceptible to seasickness.

Not letting a mere upset stomach stand in my way, I moved forward toward the boat and prepared to step aboard.  I paused a moment, fear momentarily getting the better of me.

“Ye coming, a nighean ruaidh?” yelled the captain.  “We’re about to set sail wi’ the tide.”

I took one last breath and pressed forward, right foot first on the deck...just as my mother and father had done on the day they wed...hoping this time I’d have better luck than they did.

Chapter Text

~France: March 1741~

Pain or oblivion, there was nothing else.

First came the pain—an all encompassing pain, throbbing from the mutilated expanse of his back, radiating out to every square inch of his body.  

Jamie couldn’t move.  He could hardly open his eyes.  When Murtagh and the MacKenzies broke him out of Fort William, it was all he could do to stay on the horse as they rode away.  Now, he was certain he couldn’t even do that.

The bleeding had stopped before they put him on the boat, but the pain seemed to be just getting started.  Seasickness took what was left of his strength on the way to France.  By the time they made it to the abbey, the lash wounds were inflamed, fever had set in, and James Fraser was welcoming death with open arms.

Then came oblivion.  It was brought to him by a strange woman with a halo of curly, red hair that tickled his cheek when she got too close.  She brought his oblivion in the form of laudanum.

In and out he went between states of pain and oblivion, each bringing their own form of confusing disorientation. The only thing he knew was that as soon as both the pain and oblivion faded, the real torture would set in...when he’d have to face what happened to his father.

More laudanum...more blissful nothingness.

 


 

The pain woke him again.  He was clearer now, but there was no relief from the agony.

A sharp prick on the arse made him cry out. “Ifrinn!

“You’re awake now?  Good,” said the young woman, softly.

He lay face down and tried to turn to see her, but his back seized in misery.  He was forced to collapse back on the bed.

“More laudanum,” he groaned.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t give you too much at once.  Hold out a little longer, and I’ll give you a small dose more.”  She had the voice of a sassenach—a kind sassenach, but a sassenach nonetheless.

“Why are ye here? What are ye doing to me?” he asked.

“I’m here to heal you.  As for what I’m doing to you, I just administered a dose of penicillin into the muscle of your bum.”

“Penicillin?”

“Your wounds are infected and…”

“Infected?”

“You have a fever.  The medicine will help you feel better.”

“Ye need no’ bother.  Leave me be.”

“I can’t do that.”

“God will understand.  Ye do me no mercy keeping me alive.”

She sat on the bed next to him. “It’s not God’s will I’m performing.”

“Then whose?”

“My own.”

“Yers?  I dinna want yer help.”

“Not yet...but you will.”

Her fingers stroked the sweat-soaked hair from his face.  It was strange to feel something other than pain for a moment.  It wasn’t that the pain was absent from the rest of his body, it just wasn’t there in the particular place she was touching.  He closed his eyes and focused on the touch of her hand.

“Ye think ye ken so much about me? Ye’re no’ but a sassenach...a stranger.”

She hummed pleasantly as she combed his hair with her fingers. “I know you better than you think...and I know your future.  You’ll thank me for this one day.”

“Ye're a wise woman?  A witch?”

“No.”  The word carried amusement with it.  “No, I’m not...though you may think so by the time I leave.”

“Seeing as how I already think so, would ye hurry and leave?  I’m no’ speaking daft when I say I dinna want ye to save me.  I’ve nothing left…”  He stopped short; the pain of his father’s death was too much to bear.

“Your father wouldn’t want you to give up.”

“What do ye ken of my father?” he snapped, turning his head and trying in vain to pull away, but the pain stole his breath and stalled his efforts.  “He’s dead.  What does it matter what he’d want?”

The truth of it was that his father, mother, Willie, and the wee babe were all in the next life, and meeting them there was a far more welcome thought than the life of an outlaw who failed his sister—the only family he had left.

Without the laudanum, pain was throbbing with increasing agony throughout his body.  He bit down on the pillow, but embraced the discomfort, much more welcome than thoughts of his failure.

“Perhaps a small bit of laudanum would do you some good. Here drink a few spoonfuls of water, and I’ll give you another dose.”

“Bribery, is it?  Now I’m certain ye dinna do the Lord’s work.”

She laughed a sweet sound.  It almost made him want to smile despite everything.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her wild, red hair floating in a nebulous cloud around her head.  She brought the spoon to his mouth and gave him water sweetened with honey.  The fourth spoonful was of laudanum.

She stroked his hair and hummed a strange tune until oblivion found him once again.

 


 

He woke abruptly, yelling and jumping up.  Pain stabbed him in the back from shoulder to arse.

“Jamie, calm down!  You’re safe!  Lie down before you hurt yourself more,” said the sassenach witch.

He wasn’t at Fort William.  He was in the abbey with the laudanum woman...and Randall was nowhere around.  His hammering heart thundered in his ears, and he tried to slow his breath.  He could feel his pulse throbbing in the wounds of his back.

“It’s alright.  I’m here.  You’ll be just fine.”  She stroked his cheek and whispered in his ear.  His heart slowed, and his breath steadied.

“You’ll have a chance to kill him, you know,” she whispered.  “In a couple of years, when you go back to Scotland.”

“I dinna need to be a fortune-teller to ken that.  If I’m forced to survive these wounds, I will ensure he does not.”

She ran her hands through the tangles of his hair over and over again, almost like a parent would do to a wean.  He’d never known a stranger to behave so familiar before.  In truth, he didn’t mind it one bit.

The room in the abbey was damn cold.  A shiver ran down his spine, and it felt like all his lash wounds reopened once again.

“Your fever is as stubborn as you are,” she said as she lay her hand on his forehead.

“Put another log on the fire, will ye?  I’d rather the fever take me than freezing to death.”

“It’s not cold in here, Jamie.”  Despite her words, she did add another log.  She came and sat down beside him once more.  “Let’s check on those wounds while you’re still awake.”

She peeled off the bandaging while humming quietly to herself quietly and reapplied fresh bandages to keep the wounds clean.  He liked the sound of her voice and its soft, melodic tones.

When she was done, she went back to stroking his hair.

“What about you, lass?  D’ye no’ have a husband or a family better suited to keep ye busy?”

Silence stretched for such a length of time that Jamie thought she wouldn’t answer, but finally, she responded, “My father died long before I was born.  My mother had an accident and didn’t survive childbirth.”

He felt the pain of the loss of his own father acutely, and then chided himself for not being softer with the poor lass.  “How did yer Da die?”

“Dueling.  He thought he was protecting my mother.  And then she was injured trying to save him.  If they both would’ve just done all they could to stay out of harm’s way, I wouldn’t have been an orphan...life might’ve been much better...for all of us.”

“I’m sorry ye lost them.  I lost my mother as a bairn, as well.  And...my father only just died.”

“I know,” she sighed.  “It’s strange...both my parents lost their own parents quite young.  Perhaps it’s a curse of my family.”

“Dinna say that,” said Jamie.  “I’m sure ye’ll live a long, happy life wi’ lots of bairns of yer own...should ye choose.”

Her tone was strange, quietly determined, when she said, “I plan on ensuring I do have a long, happy life.  Especially the happy part.  Happy for me...and for you.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he grumbled.  “Ye say ye ken my future.”

“Well...I do know some of it.”

He didn’t believe her, of course, but played along.  “I’m guessing ye willna let me die of the fever, then?”

“An accurate assumption.”

“Then tell me what awaits me.  Is it the gallows?  The bastille?  The New World?”

She laughed, catching his unbelieving tone. “I don’t think it would be right to tell you everything I know about what happens to you, but...I think I can say...in a couple of years, you will marry.  And you’ll have a...a daughter.”

A wife and a child.  He didn’t see how that could be.  He wouldn’t marry as an outlaw, and there was no way he could obtain his freedom anytime soon.  

But still, he liked the idea, and he didn’t have much else to do but listen to what she had to say, save writhing around in pain.  “D’ye ken who my wife will be? What she’ll be like?”

“I know a little.  I’ve seen her likeness and have heard all about her.”  She took a steadying breath.  “Your wife will be different than any woman you’ve ever met before.  She’ll have a stubborn streak to rival your own.”

“Lord help us.  Where will I meet her?”

“I don’t think I should spoil your first meeting, but...” she paused.

“What?”

“When you see a strange woman...one you’re inexplicably drawn to...don’t hesitate.”

“Hesitate doing what?”

“Just...do as your heart commands.  Don’t let anyone stop you.  Not even your closest friends.”

That sounded ominous.  “Will ye, at least, tell me what she looks like?”

“I suppose there’s no harm in that.  She’ll have wild, unmanageable hair and eyes as gold as honey in sunshine.”

He smiled at the thought of such a strange woman out there waiting for him to find her, to fall in love and start a family.

But really, it was all nonsense.  Few people truly had the Sight.  “Why are ye telling me this?  What does a stray wee sassenach lassie care about a dying Scot and his future wife?”

She didn’t answer his question.  She just sat there stroking his hair.  Finally, she said, “Perhaps she won’t be so different from anyone you’ve ever met before.  I suppose she’ll be a bit like me.”

“You?  How so?”

“She’ll be an Englishwoman.

That startled him, “Marry a sassenach? Are ye mad?”

“I am not.  If anyone is mad, it’s you for falling in love with such a strange outlander.”

Mmphm.”

The girl was still touching his hair.  She seemed oddly fascinated by it. “It really is the same color.”

He wondered what she meant by that.  There were lots of red-headed people in Scotland...in France too for that matter.  

Then he caught a glimpse of the lassie’s hair and thought maybe she was speaking of her own.  It was a darker red than most he met, like his, not the lighter ginger more common throughout the Highlands.

“Can I ask ye a question?”

“Of course.”

“This woman I’m to marry...ye said I’ll love her?  Will we be happy of each other?”

“Yes.  You’ll love each other dearly...madly.  And you’ll be happier with her than you’ve ever been in your life.”

He let a smile take over his lips. Whether the woman was spinning him tales for the sake of hope, or if there was actually truth to her ramblings, it didn’t matter.  She painted a bonnie picture...one he desperately needed to hear.

He realized his muscles were relaxed, easing some of his pain. As soon as he was aware of it, the pain returned full force.

The woman sniffed in a way one does when they’re trying not to cry.

“Are ye alright, mistress?”

“I’m fine.  Don’t worry about me.  You have plenty to worry about for yourself.  Do you feel up to eating a little bread and milk?”

He groaned. The thought of food made his stomach turn.

She chuckled.  “Just a little bite.”

She stood up and started shuffling around without waiting for him to answer.  She came back and sat down on the floor next to his bed so she could feed him.

She offered him a bite of bread, and he forced himself to take it down.  It tasted wonderful, and he realized he must’ve been hungrier than he thought.  

Despite the consent of his taste buds, his stomach didn’t care for him to consume too much, and it began protesting the intrusion on his third bite.

“Lovely,” she said, spooning some milk into his mouth like a wean.  There was such a genuine sweetness in her attentiveness that he couldn’t help but smile.  

“And I’d say you’ve earned a little more laudanum.”

Relief washed through him when the spoon entered his mouth, knowing a break from the pain would soon follow.   

He reached out a hand and grabbed hers before she could move away.  “I thank ye.  Truly.”

She bent down to look him in the eyes and smiled softly.  It was the first time he got a clear view of her face.  

He sucked in a breath, squeezing her hand tight.  For a moment, he thought he was looking at his mother.  The red hair and high cheekbones were almost identical.  But her eyes were not like Ellen’s at all.  They were dark blue around the outside and slanted like a great cat—just like his father’s—but in the center was a gold ring that seemed to burst out like the sun in a sapphire sky.

The softness of her untouched face had him thinking she might be younger than him, but those eyes held a timelessness about them that made her age irrelevant. Perhaps it was the way she looked at him...like she saw his soul, even the darkest parts of it, and loved him anyway.

He caught his breath, not knowing it had ever left his lungs. He whispered, voice breaking, “What is your name?”

She bit her lip and dropped her eyes of sunshine to the floor.  He didn’t like that; he wanted them back on him.  He couldn’t explain the hope they gave him.

He reached out and tilted her chin up so look at him again.  He gave her a small smile.  “Will ye no’ tell me?”

She shrugged, uncertain.

“Would ye like me to give ye one?” he teased.

“Oh?”  She seemed amused at the thought.  “You want to name me?”

“Unless ye’d like to give me one for yerself.”

She shook her head, eagerly awaiting whatever it was he’d come up with.

He didn’t even have to think about it.  It was there on his tongue like he’d called her that name a thousand times before and would do it a thousand times more.  “Ghrian.  Mo ghrian.

“And what does that mean?”

“My sunshine.  For yer eyes.”

She smiled brightly, and a tear fell from her cheek, making it look as though a fresh spring rain was sprinkling from the skies.

“It’s beautiful.  I’ve...I’ve never had a nickname before.”

“No?  No’ even a pet name?”

“No.  My name is simple, you see, and no one ever cared enough to come up with something different...until now.”  

“Tell me, mo ghrian.  Tell me yer name.”

Another tear fell, tracing the line of the last.  She shivered from head to toe, but she held his gaze.  “Faith,” she whispered.  “My name is Faith.”

The tear fell from her cheek and into his palm—a glistening, watery diamond.  He held it tightly, somehow knowing it was precious.  “It suits you...I think, for that is what ye inspire.”

They gazed at each other for a very long time, and perhaps it was just the laudanum, but Jamie thought he saw the best pieces of himself in the young girl’s eyes.

“Tell me something, my sunshine.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me about you...or tell me of this golden-eyed sassenach I’m to marry.  Tell me anything ye like.  Just tell me something.  Let me hear yer voice.”

She smiled sweetly and nodded.  She spoke quietly about a healer with a heart of fire and a spine of steel.  He hardly listened to the words she said, the laudanum overtaking his mind.  He just lay there, staring at those eyes, as brilliant and perfect as the sun in the sky.

 


 

“Murtagh?” I asked, though I knew it was him, not only from his description in my mother’s journal, but he’d come to visit Jamie several times while I was caring for him.  

Murtagh was sitting on a bench just outside the abbey, his head hanging exhausted in his hands.

“Aye?  How’s the lad?”  His voice was hoarse and weak, but he scooted over to make room for me on the bench.  I set my box on the seat beside me, still uncertain how to ask him to help me.

“He’ll be fine,” I assured him.  “The fever has finally broken.”

“It isna the fever I worry about, lass.  Nor the lashes on his back.”

I knew what Murtagh meant.  He’d seen the despair in Jamie’s eyes just as I had.  “As I said, he’ll be fine.”

“Ye sound certain.”

“I am.  I know he’ll get over this.  He has so much happiness in his future.”

“Ye can’t ken that.”

“As a matter of fact...I can.”

He narrowed his eyes at me, and I did what I could to show my sincerity.  He held my gaze longer than I expected.  

“You look like her,” he finally said.  “Like Ellen.”

“Do I?”

“Aye...and ye look even more like him.  Like the lad.”

I smiled, even though I felt like crying.  “I do, don’t I?”

“Ye could be his sister, save the gold in yer eyes and the softness of yer face.  I’m trying to figure out how that could be, but any explanation falls short.  And the way ye’ve healed him, I’ve ne’er seen anything of the like before.”

A tear fell down my cheek, and after that one made its escape, there was no hope of holding back the rest...so I didn’t even try.  

“I’m...I’m not his sister.”

He sucked in a breath and pulled me into the crook of his arm.  I cried into his shoulder, tremors shaking my body.  I cried for the father I never got to have, for the mother and aunt and uncle and cousins and people that Dougal stole from me.  

I cried for my fears of the future.  Changing the past could very well mean I would never be conceived.  Or perhaps my mother and I might die in childbirth without the proper medical intervention.  Maybe my interference wouldn’t change anything at all, and I’d still end up adopted by people who hated and hurt me...people I begged would neglect me because any attention they gave me was nothing short of torturous.  

I cried for the hope that, despite everything that could possibly go wrong, maybe I could fix it all.

Murtagh didn’t say a word; he just let me cry until I was done.

Finally, I pulled myself together, taking the handkerchief he offered and blowing my nose.  When I felt like I might be able to speak again without dissolving into tears, I picked my box from the seat next to me.  I opened it up and fingered through the contents inside.  There was the letter I wrote to my mum, meant to be given to her after she fell in love with Jamie.  And there was the little sapphire I acquired for her when I arrived in France, the thistle ring given to her by my father, instructions for harvesting penicillin, and the leftover medicines and syringes I’d been using on Jamie.

I kept my grandmother’s pearls around my neck.  Jamie had a necklace in his sporran he’d give my mother when he met her.  I would keep the one my mother gave me.

“My name is Faith.  Faith Fraser.”  I whispered to Murtagh, struggling to find my voice.  “My father died protecting my mother before I was born, and mum died in childbirth.  I was raised by people who were not my own...and they...they didn’t treat me well.”

I sucked in a breath, preparing myself for the tears that would likely fall when Murtagh gave the customary apology that usually comes with hearing something tragic.  I was relieved when he didn’t speak.  It made it that much easier to go on.

“When I came of age, an old friend of my mother’s gave me a box of some of her things.  It included a journal.  She filled every page with a fantastical tale of love, family, war, and...as mad as it sounds...time travel.”

Murtagh was still next to me.  He was hardly breathing...only listening.  “She was special...my mother.  She could do things others couldn’t.  As it turns out, I’m a bit special like her.”

I closed the box and handed it to Murtagh.  He took it nervously...reluctantly.  

“Jamie will meet my mother in a few years.  When he first returns home from his exile in Paris, he’ll meet a strange, inexplicable Englishwoman.  She’ll have eyes of pure gold and unruly brown hair.  Claire...Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.   They’ll be madly in love...madly.”

His hands were trembling on the box before him.  “Why are ye telling me this?  Why no’ him?”

“I’m afraid if I tell him, it would change things.”

“Then why tell me?”

“Because you can’t be there when he comes back from Paris.  You must let him come home on his own.  Let him find her and save her as he would’ve done if you weren’t there to stop him.  Let him fall in love with her.  If you do that, everything will be different.  At least...I hope it will.”

“And this?” he asked, lifting the box.  “What do I do with this?”

“When Jamie brings her home to Lallybroch, please give it to her.  To Claire.  I left her instructions on how to avoid catastrophe...on how to keep our family safe.”

Murtagh looked nothing short of dumbfounded.  

“Promise me you’ll do as I ask?” I pleaded.  “Just stay away from him until he returns, and when he brings Claire home with him, give her that box.”

“But if…”

“Please!  For my sake as well as theirs.”  The tears started falling again.

By the way his eyes glazed over, I could tell his thoughts were racing wildly.  I sat quietly, impatiently, waiting for him to give me his word.  I placed my hand on his and squeezed—a silent plea.

“Ye’re certain ’tis what the lad would want?”

“As certain as I can be of a man I only just met.”

“It sounds like much can go wrong.”

“The instructions I’ve left in that box will tell her how to go back in time as many times as she needs in order to make things right.  And...and I have faith in their connection.  I know they’ll be brought together again.  We just can’t let anyone else interfere.”

He was still shaking when he reached a hand up to my face and traced one of my wide cheekbones.  “I’m no’ saying I understand this...no’ one bit.  But I see ye’re speaking the truth as ye ken it.  Aye, lass.  I’ll do as ye ask.”

My heart swelled painfully with hope, and tears of relief fell freely. 

“And what will ye do now?” he asked.  “Will ye no’ stay a while?”

I shook my head.  “I must go back.”  I knew I couldn’t be in two places at once, and there was no reason to linger for too long.  My presence might change more of the future than I anticipated.  I needed to leave before something went terribly wrong.  

“Will you tell them about me when you give them the box?” I asked childishly.  “Please?”

“Of course.”

“And give my mother a kiss for me...if it’s not too much trouble.”

He snorted.  “If she’s half as lovely as you, sweet Faith, it willna be much hardship.

“Thank you, Murtagh.  For everything.”

He grabbed my hand and kissed my knuckles.  “And thank you, lassie, for helping me wi’ the impossible job of keeping that lad safe.”

 


 

I left the abbey at first light.  I didn’t want to linger for too long, fearful not only of interfering too much in my father’s life, but also because I seemed to be quite terrible at goodbyes.  I never before had an opportunity to say goodbye to someone who held affection for me.  I didn’t much like it at all.

As I made my way to the front gate, I ran into a small, frog-like Frenchman on his way inside.

Excusez-moi,” he said, tipping his hat to me and holding the gate open.

Merci beaucoup,” I said, passing him on the way inside.

“Safe travels, Mademoiselle.  It looks as though there will be rain soon.”

I bowed and turned around, looking down the road before me.  I didn’t know what would come to pass now that I’d likely changed the future.  A perfect life or a tragic one could be laid out in front of me for all I knew.  Yet for the first time in my life, I felt something akin to faith that I’d set the wheels in motion to something much bigger than me...something special and grand...and my heart held hope that somehow everything would turn out alright in the end.

Chapter Text

~Craigh Na Dun: May 1743~

“Uncle!” called Jamie from afar, not wanting to take him unaware.  By the way the MacKenzies were hiding in the trees, it looked as though they were up to no good.  

Dougal saw him and waved him forward.  They were hiding in the thicket not far from the fairy hill.  Jamie dismounted and walked Donas up to meet his Uncle.

“Jamie, laddie.  What in God’s name are ye doing out here?” asked Dougal, embracing his nephew.

“I’m going home,” he said, grinning ear to ear.  “The price on my head is gone.”

“Is that so?  How did’ye manage that?”

“Some friends put a good word in the right ears.”

“Congratulations, Jamie!” said Rupert, lifting his flask to give a toast.  “Slàinte mhath!

Slàinte mhath.”  Jamie accepted the drink and took a healthy gulp, passing it around to Angus and Willie.  “What are ye up to out this way?” he asked Dougal with a knowing smirk.  “Lifting cattle?”

“Aye,” Dougal grumbled with a tone that displayed their lack of success thus far.

Jamie looked theatrically at the land around him, empty of any livestock.  “Blessings on your plentiful bounty.”

Dùin do chab.”

“Ye stickin’ around, Jamie?” asked Angus.  “We’ve a few redcoats on our tail and could use an extra hand.”

“Nay, I’d be a fool to run into a fight wi’ the English when only a short time ago, I was a hair’s breadth away from the gallows.”

“Has the wee Lairdie gone soft on us wi’ his time in Paris,” Angus teased.

“Haud yer wheesht.  Jenny should be having her second bairn soon, and I'll no’ be missing it to help ye steal a coo.”

“Let him be, lads,” Dougal whispered, “and quiet down.”  Dougal was glimpsing around a tree and didn’t even look at Jamie when he said, “Here come the English, Jamie, so if ye’ll no’ be of assistance, I suggest ye move along quickly.”

“Aye,” Jamie whispered, nodding a goodbye to the men and grabbing Donas by the reins to move deeper into the thicket.

He found a perch not far away where he could keep an eye on both the MacKenzies and the redcoats.  The MacKenzies had their swords drawn and pistols out, waiting for the redcoats to come closer.

On Dougal’s command, Rupert fired a shot, scattering the English in the bushes.  The MacKenzies then charged forward to attack the splintered group.  

A flash of white caught his eye from up on the faerie hill.  It was a woman coming down, stumbling on the uneven ground.  Her head turned left and right, wild, brown hair floating around her head, looking as though she was lost.  She wore naught but a clean, white shift that hardly made it past her knees.

“Oh, Christ,” he whispered.  She was walking right into the stramash.

He felt himself moving forward before he even decided to help her.  He was halfway there when he noticed she was spotted by a redcoat with long, dark hair.  

The officer took slow, steady steps toward the woman.  He had one hand on the hilt of his sword, and the other was removing his tricorn hat, tossing it aside.  

Jamie’s gut clenched immediately, turning to stone.  He knew exactly who that man was.  “Randall.”  He sped his pace sprinting to help her.

She tried to run, but was cut off by Randall.  She darted in the other direction, and he blocked her again.  She was cornered, forced against a rock wall with the Devil himself bearing down on her.  

Jamie charged at Randall full speed, his sword and dirk both already drawn.  Randall saw him coming and shielded himself from Jamie’s first blow, then stabbed him in the shoulder.  Jamie pulled back, moving quick and strong, ignoring the wound he was sure would hurt later.  He rained down a fierce assault on the demon who made his blood boil.  The sound of a whip rang in his ear every time he swung his blade, each assault more violent than the last.  

Finally, he maneuvered around Randall and brought his blade to the bastard’s throat.  With naught but vengeance for his father and Jenny on his mind, he slit Randall’s throat and ran him through for good measure. 

Jamie sighed blissfully as the blood drained from Randall’s corpse.

A noise had him turning around to face the woman in white.  Three more redcoats were running at them.  Two came for him, and one went after the woman.  The redcoat hammered a blow with his hilt down on her head, knocking her out cold.  

The sight was enraging.  Jamie’s vision narrowed, and all he could see was red.  He fought them off one by one with savage, brutal blows.  He didn’t stop until the ground beneath him was soaked in English blood.

A noise to his right kept him on his guard, but it was just Rupert coming belatedly to help.  “A bheil e air a dhèanamh a-nis?

“They’re dead,” said Jamie, dropping his sword to his sides and moving toward the woman.  “Are there any more redcoats about?”

“No’ that we ken.”  But his eyes still darted around to be sure.  “Nonetheless, we’ll be on our way, lest reinforcements come looking for them.  Are ye hurt?”

Jamie looked down to see blood on his shoulder.  He was starting to feel the wound Randall left him.  “I’m alright.  ’Tis mostly their blood.”

“And the lass?”

Jamie bent down to make sure she was breathing.  “Took a nasty hit to the head.  I’m sure she’ll be fine.”  He touched her cheek softly, as though willing it so.

“We could take her wi’ us.  I’m sure Dougal…”

“No!  She’s mine,” Jamie snapped.  Realizing he was being foolishly possessive over someone he didn’t know, he looked up at Rupert and softened his tone.  “I’ll see to her care.”

A knowing smile curved the corner of Rupert’s mouth.  “I just bet you will.  Rach còmhla ri Dia, Jamie lad.”

Mar sin leat.”  He turned his attention back down to the woman as Rupert took off to catch up with the other MacKenzies.

O Dhia,” Jamie whispered, eyes tracing the lines of the woman’s face.  She was the most beautiful...the most elegant woman he’d ever seen.  Her skin was as bright white as a lily and her lips as pink as cherry blossoms.  The fervor of the fight already had his heart pounding wildly, but his eyes tracing down her body in that elegant, shapely shift made it feel like it might just hammer out of his chest.  

He looked around at the redcoats' bodies that were littering the ground.  He needed to get her away to safety.

What a stranger like her was doing on the fairy hill, he had no idea, but he couldn’t leave her there.  She was clearly no friend of Randall, and that instantly made her a friend of his.

It took him some time to bring Donas over and get them both in the saddle.  The difficulty was in his injured shoulder.  He could feel the blood coming out of the wound as he hefted her up with his other arm.  

She had the roundest arse he’d ever seen, and though it was more than pleasant to look at from the angle he had her thrown over his horse, his arm was aching, and his head was pounding.

He climbed up behind her and pulled her upright, adjusting her so she fit comfortably between his legs.  Her body was pleasantly soft in his arms, and he begged God’s forgiveness for how much he enjoyed it.  He grumbled at his cock’s interest in the woman—he needed all his blood elsewhere at the moment, but the damn thing wasn’t having it.

He held her as best as he could with his good arm, and steered Donas mostly with his legs.  They couldn’t travel fast; there was no way Jamie could keep them upright.

A sweet, floral scent filled his nose, and it took him a moment to realize it was coming from her hair.  He bent his head down and took a deep breath, and he detected another scent on her shift and in the curve of her neck...a perfume more delectable than any he’d ever smelled before.

He gripped her tightly against him, intoxicated by her strangeness.  It didn’t surprise him that he found her on the dun...perhaps she was something of a fairy.

Her hands hung limp at her sides, rubbing up against his legs.  What he would give to have the life come into her now and touch him with intention.

The overcast clouds blocked the sun from the sky, and the breeze was cool on his skin.  His mind was already racing forward to the cold night ahead of them...there’d be no way to build a fire when the English might find them...they’d have to lie together for warmth.

When they were a good distance away from the fairy hill, he began to worry about what the poor lass would think when she woke up covered in blood, riding around in a strange place, being held in the arms of a strange man.

He didn’t feel himself fading until he snapped his eyes awake.  He and the woman were tipping over, and Donas was doing his best to keep them upright, but together they were just too heavy, even for a beast like Donas.  Jamie gave up on trying to pull them both back on the horse.  Instead, he wrapped his arm tight around her and turned his body to take the brunt of the fall.

Christ!” he cursed.  A searing pain shot up his already injured arm.  His vision went black, and stars shot across his eyes.  He was dizzy and faint and certain he was going to vomit.

He breathed slowly, terrified of getting sick on the woman who smelled of perfume and flowers.  She was laying on his chest, sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of the dangers around her.

He used the rhythm of her lungs to steady his own, synchronizing their breaths to a slow and languid pace.

Finally, he could hear the song of the chaffinch birds over the thrumming of his racing heart and the purling of a nearby stream.  Sounds reached his ears of Donas somewhere in the distance, rooting around a patch of grass to graze.  

His arm ached something awful.  He had to force himself to open his eyes and get a look at it.  By the odd angle in which it was set, he could tell the damn thing was out of place.  He cringed at the thought of riding back to Lallybroch in the pain he was in.  It would take them a week at least...and that was if he could even get himself back on the bloody horse.

He lay there in helpless agony, with no way to protect himself or the woman on his chest.

If he could’ve shrugged in defeat, he most certainly would've done so.  But as it was, he just lay there, taking comfort in the fact that the woman on top of him was still alive and in his possession.

His hand slid up her back and threaded through her hair.  He caressed her head and breathed in her scent for long, pleasant minutes.

Just as he was drifting off to sleep once again, exhausted as he was from the loss of blood, he felt the woman stirring on top of him.  Her breath quickened, and her arms wrapped around him.

Slowly, she lifted her chin and opened her eyes.  The knock on her head had her moaning in pain, and she dropped it quickly down on his chest.  He found he very much liked her using him for comfort.

“Careful now, lass,” said Jamie.  “Ye took no small hit to the heid.”  He stroked the source of the pain, tangling his hand in her hair with each caress. “’Tis alright now. Ye’ll no’ be harmed again.”

She tried again, slower this time.  She squinted through her eyelashes and took in the forest around her.  He could tell she was trying to piece together memories of how she got there.

“Ye alright then, lass?”

“I...I’m not sure.” 

She was a sassenach.  Her voice was low and rich, not at all like a maid...like a woman.

“How about you?” she asked. “Are you alright?” 

She turned to meet his gaze, and he sucked in a surprised breath.  Golden eyes as brilliant as any of the royal jewels in Versailles stared back at him. 

He’d only ever seen one other set of eyes with a color that looked anything like that...except those eyes were surrounded in a sea of blue.  

Words from that young woman echoed clearly in his mind.  You will marry...Your wife will be different than any woman you’ve met before...She’ll have wild, unmanageable hair and eyes as gold as honey in sunshine.

An unbridled joy bubbled up in his heart as he took in this sassenach’s untamed locks and leopard eyes.  He knew it was her...the one he would marry...the one who would bear his child...his daughter.

I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.

And with all his might, he restrained himself from barraging her with a thousand kisses.  She was lost and afraid, and he must do all he could to find a way to show her that no matter where she’d come from, she was finally home.