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What’s Rare is Wonderful

Chapter Text

1745

Jamie Fraser slowly reached a hand out, pressing it against the stone that had just taken his heart from him. Nothing happened, but on impulse he slapped his hand against the stone again. Filled with rage and sorrow he dropped to his knees, the wind whipping the sound of absolute desolation around him.

He wasn’t sure how long he knelt there, unable to remove his hand from the last place theirs had rested, fearful of losing a link that his sensible mind already knew was gone. Eyes closed, and wrapped in their plaid, he didn’t notice the light fade or the first drops of rain fall.

He didn’t feel a pair of strong hands guide him to his horse or take notice of where they might be going. Just let the steady rocking lull him into a mind numbing oblivion. As nothing else much mattered to Jamie Fraser anymore. All was lost.

——

1965

Claire Beauchamp looked down upon the face of a man she once loved, feeling absolutely nothing at all. She thought she was the only one here not grieving his death. For her, Frank represented the very worst of what life had to offer and she allowed her mind to wander back to that dark place one last time.

“I…“

“You what!?” She half yelled it.

“You fucking what Frank?” She did yell that - hurling each word at him with the force of 20 years of pent up anger.

“You want my forgiveness? Forgiven. You want me? You had me! What else Frank? What else do you want from me? How much more must you take? Tell me because I have nothing left to give you.”

“I gave you everything I could. I have nothing left. Do you hear me!”

He took a step towards her hand reached out as if he couldn’t decide if he was going to slap her or offer comfort. She mirrored his movements, taking a step back, hands raised to block him.

“No.” Her voice cracked with the sudden release of strong emotion. “No.”

He didn’t say anything, but took one last look at her before walking across the room to the door. He turned the handle, but stopped, taking a deep breath and backtracked to stand in front of her. She would not meet his eye. Sighing, he reached down grasping her hand and placed something cool in her palm before folding her fingers around it.

“Box 37 at Regional Savings Inverness. Ask for a Mr. Walker, Mr. Hugo Walker. And Claire, I- I’m- I’m sorry.”

She sat for a long time unable to do anything but breathe. A knock at the door broke the spell and she looked up catching a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She was absolutely unrecognizable and watched as a fat mascara stained tear ran down her cheek. She wondered how much of Frank’s darkness had tainted her soul? And just for a moment, couldn’t help but think that all this darkness had left her tarnished inside and out.

The door cracked open, Faith’s voice rang out, “Uncle Joe is on the phone Mama, he said it’s urgent.”

Claire shot up, in her Doctors mind every worst case scenario played on repeat, in vivid detail no less.

“Shit!”

Sprinting past Faith like a bat out of hell. She reached the phone in record time.

“Joe? What is it? What’s happened?”

“Claire.”

She jerked. Joe never called her by her first name.

“It’s Frank. There’s been an accident.”

-

Claire looked down at him for the last time and found she didn’t care. Not about him or the past they shared. She would bury all of those memories along with him today. She laid a hand on his head.

“Goodbye Frank” and turned to leave, taking solace in the strange sort of peace they had lived their life by. And for the first time since she had said goodbye to her heart on the hill of Craigh na Dun, she allowed herself to hope, feeling that maybe what was once lost, could be found again. Just maybe…

Chapter Text

Claire sat in the office of one, Dr. Joe Abernathy and didn’t know where to start. She had spent the better part of these past two years since Frank’s death thinking about this moment. The moment this life that she’d lived, that she’d created would cease to exist. What she had not thought about, was how to tie up the loose ends of said life.

Joe, who knew her very well indeed, opened the drawer of his desk and pulled out two glasses, and a bottle of Lagavulin.

He didn’t speak, just filled each glass and sat back in his chair - waiting.

“You know, I’ve known you a long time, Lady J, it’s as easy to read you as it is my own son. You’re both terrible liars.”

She smiled at him, appreciating his decision to speak first.

“When you started working here, anyone could see it, the way you threw yourself into work. At first, I thought you were just one of those rare people, passionate about everything you did in life. But the more time that went by, the easier it became for me to see you.

Sure there was passion, maybe there still is, that’s a common thread that runs between all of us who decide to go into medicine. But there was always something, something I just couldn’t figure out.

But when Frank died…

There’s a light in your eyes that I’ve never seen before and it’s never shone as brightly as it does tonight.

I think,”

He paused not quite knowing how to say what surely must show on his face. “I think Frank was your purgatory.”

A tear rolled down her cheek but all Claire could do was stare at him. She never thought that anyone could see or understand that part of her. Thought she’d forever carry that burden alone. But it appeared that Joe did see her, really see her. And she felt a weight, albeit it small, start to lift from her shoulders.

“Faith,” they both smiled at the name. Faith had always considered Joe to be a father figure and Joe moved to turn one of the framed pics he kept on his desk around. It was one Claire had taken, Faith and the Abernathy‘s on the day Faith had graduated from college.

“When I first met Faith, well for one, I was taller than her. Lord knows that didn’t last long.” He waited a moment allowing the joke to pass. “No, but when I first met her, she would tell these fantastical stories about a place called Lallybroch.”

Joe looked up to see all of the color drain from Claire’s face. Undeterred, he went on.

“Lenny used to have an imaginary friend, called him Mohamed Ishmael Shabazz.” Joe chuckled, shaking his head and rolling his eyes towards the heavens, “I never asked, but he did eventually grow out of that phase. But Faith, Faith never grew out of her stories.”

“No, she didn’t.” By this time Claire’s mouth was more than dry, she was all too familiar with the ‘stories’ Faith told.

Joe looked her dead in the eyes and held her gaze for just a second too long before continuing, “they weren’t just stories, were they LJ?”

It wasn’t a question, nor yet a statement. Claire, knowing all too well that there is no time like the present, answered accordingly.

“No.” It was said in a whisper. “But you already knew that didn’t you?”

And in a perfect imitation of Faith’s soft Scots burr, he replied with an “och, aye.”

That broke the tension and they both laughed.

She explained as much as she thought she could to Joe. Speaking of the Fraser’s and Scotland, judging by the look on his face, he already knew most of what she’d just said. And wondered, not for the first time, just how much Faith had told him?

It didn’t matter. Joe believed them and that was enough. More than enough. Claire sent up a mental prayer of thanks to Faith and the powers that be. She had always shared a strange connection with her eldest daughter. She didn’t know what it was called or why it was there, just had always been thankful that they had it.

Opening her briefcase, she pulled out a large legal size folder and held it tight to her chest before passing it over to Joe. Inside, everything one would need to live a life in this time.

“I don’t - I don’t know if I’ll be back, but might you look after everything just in case?”

“As if you had to ask.” Joe stood up walking around the desk to embrace her.

He pushed one of the forgotten glasses of whisky towards her, lifting the other for a toast,

“To goodbyes that come before hellos.”

Claire moved her glass to clink with his, “slàinte mhath.”

Walking out of the hospital for the last time, Claire didn’t feel the deep pain of loss that she’d expected.

Still, she paused, looking up reverently at the place that had been sanctuary for her these past years before starting the familiar walk home, to the house on Furey Street, taking care to absorb as much of this life as she could.

Rounding the corner, she pulled out her keys smiling as she passed the big oak, remembering the mornings spent there with Faith waiting for the bus and unlocked the door.

For a moment she just stood listening to the sounds of the house, as familiar to her, as the beating of her own heart, before moving to hang up her jacket and making her way to the kitchen.

She turned on the kettle, setting out her favorite mug and out of a long forgotten habit, began what she called a mother’s ritual.

Except tonight, there were no lunches to pack, laundry to do or homework to help with. There were no bills to be paid or mail to be opened. Tonight the phone would not ring for Dr. Claire Randall, and tomorrow there would be no 4am wake up or any patients to check up on.

She couldn’t have said why, but she found herself opening the door to Frank’s study. Untouched these past two years, until tonight.

It was for the most part empty. His life’s work, long since donated to various museums and institutions with the bulk of it entrusted into the care of the Reverend Wakefield.

Well, not quite all of it… Claire had very discreetly gone through all of Frank’s papers before sending them off. She’d opened every book and read every note searching for any mention of James Fraser. Other than a few maps she thought might be helpful, there was nothing.

Sitting down at Frank’s desk, she was transported.

She’d never forget the day an eight year old Faith casually walked into Frank’s study, peeking over his shoulder at an old Jacobite document he’d spent the better part of a week trying to translate.

“Pa, what are you doing?”

Frank stiffened, hating any interruption to his work.

“I’m preparing this” he put the tattered sheet down to dig through his desk “to be sent off for translation.”

Brushing a tiny finger against the fragile page, Faith sounded out each letter, in the Gàidhlig then repeated herself in English after reaching the end of each sentence.

Frank stared at her, his face a mixture of absolute fury and complete shock. Claire had stood frozen to the spot, not daring to move. Frank stood abruptly shoving past her, nearly running out of the house and slamming the front door hard enough to knock a painting off the wall.

It came as no great shock to anyone, when years later, Faith, aged 14 marched in from school, beaming and proudly announced her intention to become a linguist.

“Mama, I want to teach people how to speak Gaelic when I grow up.”

“That’s wonderful darling!” Out of the corner of her eye, Claire saw Frank jerk and shot him an “I dare you to say anything look” he didn’t.

Frank would of course, never admit it, but she knew one of his proudest moments was to have a child excel in academia and excel Faith did.

The words of Joe Abernathy rang in her ears, “you’ve both accomplished so much.”

And they had.

The whistling of the kettle brought her back and she poured out a piping hot cup of her favorite oolong. Taking one last look in Frank’s study, before sliding the door closed. That chapter of her life was over.

Retiring into the library, she smiled as she always did when she saw the glossy blue cover of her most prized possession, “An In-depth Look at the Hidden Consequences of the Desolation of the Gaelic Language After the ‘45 and its Impact on Modern Society” By Dr. Faith Julia Fraser, PhD.

Faith had quite literally ‘written the book’ becoming an academic authority in her own right. Considered to be, by many of her colleagues, a preeminent figure in her field.

She thought of Jamie then. Would he be proud? Would he have agreed with how she raised their children? Though, a modern man in his own time, what would he think of this life that she and the children had lived? She didn’t know.

Thinking of him was always a double edge sword. She struggled with the ‘what if’s’ and did her best to steer her thoughts in a different direction before she traveled too far down that path. But generally, she relished in their shared memories, sometimes getting so lost in her thoughts of him hours would pass.

The steaming cup of tea had long since gone cold and the soft glow of early morning light lit the room. She watched as the dancing shadows of the big oak moved across the room.

Things were different now, she was going, back. That was an unarguable fact. What she would or would not find when she got there, that was what worried her more than anything. Still she was unwilling to allow herself to to think too far ahead, unwilling to hope that what once was, might be hers again. Theirs.

Soon. “Please dear God, let it be soon.”

How long had she sat here in this time lost in her memories of Jamie? How long had her swirling doubts done battle with her feelings of absolute bliss? Long enough she thought, and took the first step on a journey of unimaginable distance.

Chapter Text

Claire looked up at the big manor house, brushing her fingers against the weathered gray stones. It was and had been in a state of disrepair for quite some time, but it was hers. The memories having more value to her than the actual brick and mortar. Here in this time and this place, Lallybroch was the true home of her heart.

She wandered past the old broch, just a pile of stones now, and made her way towards the fields. She remembered the last time she’d walked this path, and felt a stab of pain at the thought.

The day has been cool, the first hints of brisk autumn air swirled about her skirts as she walked the fields.

She had been fighting the inevitable for weeks unwilling to accept the reality of the situation they found themselves in. But the barren landscape in front of her had sealed their fate.

The wheat had failed, lost to a storm just before harvest. The potatoes she’d instructed Jenny to plant had thrived, but there weren’t enough to support the Fraser’s or their tenants, and the kale yard lay empty, decimated by an early frost.

Jamie’s words echoed in her head, “You told me what’s to happen, Claire. War is near, all of us here will suffer, but I can save you, you, and the lass. Claire, you must go back, back to your time where it’s safe.” She had refused, unable to even process the thought.

Something deep inside of her shattered at the realization that he was right and she stumbled landing in a heap.

Fear gripped her like a vice. It was a living thing, spreading through her veins, tainting her blood and clawing its way upward, readying itself to escape through the hole in her chest where her heart once resided. She could not breathe, curling in on herself, shielding herself from the next wave of hurt.

A frantic voice rang out from behind, “Sassenach! Claire!” One look at her was all it took, the decision had been made. And the current of fear that ran through her, ran through him as well.

This life was lost.

She took a deep breath, then another opening her eyes and slowly came back to herself slightly surprised to feel wetness on her cheeks. Jamie had left her with one last gift, two she corrected.

The crippling darkness of those days had eventually started to lift their children a balm for her battered soul, all three of them slowly helping to reveal bits and pieces of the heart she once feared lost. Still, she swallowed back a sob at the knowledge they might never know him or him or them.

The warm light of the afternoon had begun to fade as she made her way towards Inverness. The pastoral landscape of the Highlands slowly becoming more urban as she approached the manse.

In the twenty years, she had spent here, in this time, there was one thing she had never allowed herself to do - look for Jamie. If history had been cruel enough to record his death, she knew herself unable to bear the pain of losing him again. But she would look for him now, had to look for him. That’s why she was here after all.

Turning off the high street, she pulled into the manse, Roger Wakefield’s Orange Morris looking quite out of place in the drive. And before she had time to change her mind, she gathered herself and started up the walk.

Roger’s shoulders slumped slightly as he looked at the ever-growing sea of boxes and papers that flowed out of the Reverend’s study and to the chagrin of Mrs.Graham, had now started taking up residence throughout much of the manse.

Theoretically, somewhere in these papers, was the key to finding Jamie Fraser. But as the weeks had gone by with no sign of the man Roger, for the first time began to doubt. He had never at any point In his professional life devoted so much time to a single project and seemingly failed so miserably.

He sighed, taking a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking aloud. Over the past few months, he’d become well acquainted with Bree’s temper and with time running out, she’d become particularly agitated as the realization of not finding Jamie started to become more likely.

“Brianna?”

She looked up, “What made you believe them? What made you decide to spend so much of your time looking for a man who might have long since been lost to the pages of history?”

He saw a flash of rage cross her face and quickly amended his question.

“I don’t doubt you now, I’m just curious.”

She stared at him but nodded,

“Have you ever heard someone talk about history? It’s always very matter of fact, ‘this happened here on this day, and here’s the documentation to prove it.’ That’s all it is, facts, no real detail.”

He wasn’t sure he agreed with that but listened as she continued.

“When Faith and Mama speak it’s just the opposite. They don’t have any documentation to prove that what they’re saying is true, but as far as I’m concerned they don’t need it.

Listen to the way they speak, only people with firsthand knowledge could know the things that they do.”

And as if the speaking of her name had summoned her, Claire appeared in the doorway to the study.

“Mrs. Randall” Roger crossed the room embracing her warmly.

“Fraser. It's Fraser now, but you’re family, do call me Claire.”

Roger smiled, excusing himself, allowing the two women a moment to catch up.

Looking over at Bree, Claire raised her eyebrows.

“Mother!” A hot red flush crept up Bree’s face.

Claire smiled, “ah, I see it’s going well then.”

Bree rolled her eyes, but knowing her daughter as she did, Claire didn’t miss the joy radiating off of her middle child and was relieved of yet another burden. She made a mental note to speak with Roger, but that could wait.

“Good news or bad news?” Bree asked turning around to pull a folder from the mantle.

“Bad news.”

She’d waited twenty years to find out what happened to James Fraser. For all intents and purposes, he was dead. Had been dead for nearly 200 years. Still, she sat down, hands curled into fists bracing herself for what came next.

“We haven’t found him.” With a grimace Bree looked at her mother, distress clear on both their faces, and promptly added a yet. “We haven’t found him yet.”

“Good news?”

“Roger thinks he’s here,” She gestured to the stacks of boxes. “And,” opening the folder, Bree pulled out two sheets, handing them to her mother.

“A letter from Louie pledging the McKenzie and Fraser clans as allies to the Jacobite cause and a deed of sasine for Lallybroch dated 1745.

Both signed by a James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser.”

Claire had seen both documents before and didn’t bother to point out that one of those signatures was forged, just set them aside.

“Mama, they're proof. Indisputable proof that he was real.

I know Daddy never believed you. One night I heard you two fighting. He shouted there is no history if there is no proof. Where is your proof, Claire!’

After that night, well…

I just never needed proof, I know you don’t either I just thought you’d like to finally have it.”

Claire hugged her daughter fiercely, both of them too choked with tears to speak.

The next few weeks were spent searching, the monotony of it oddly didn’t seem to bother any of them. The Reverend had enlisted Mrs. Graham and her granddaughter Fiona to help, both women having some knowledge about the situation and the stones.

The arrival of Faith lifted Claire’s spirits, reviving her feelings of hope, but hope, of course, was fleeting.

The days had seen the mountains of boxes spewed across the manse transform into a hill, then a stack, and finally one single box remained. They all stared at it, none of them daring to open it.

With decision, Claire spoke, “if you don’t mind, I’d like to go through this one myself.”

With all the authority of a Drill Sergeant, Mrs. Graham ushered everyone to the kitchen for tea.

Hearing the door close, Claire looked up, finding she wasn’t alone after all. Her eldest daughter strode across the room, lifted the box, and set it on the table in front of her mother.

“Mama.” Faith sat down in the chair next to Claire.

“Maybe he’s not…” she couldn’t finish that sentence and tried again.

“We’ve looked. The Reverend, Bree, Roger, you. We’ve all looked. If he were here, we would have found him.”

“I know.” It was said so softly and with such desolation, that Faith’s heart squeezed.

She stood then, wanting to honor Claire’s wish for privacy. A hand on her arm stopped her.

“Stay. I’m not the only one who needs to find him.”

Together they opened up the final box, inside, a stack of papers, all of them blank.

Neither one of them wanting to speak the truth of the situation, they sat in silence for a while.

“Pa,” the word tasted bitter in her mouth. “Frank. Frank tried to take it from me, ‘we do not speak that barbarous tongue in this house!’ He used to yell it so often, that eventually, I stopped.

But my soul, it speaks to me in Gaelic, it always has. No one can ever take that from me.

Don’t you see Mama? My entire life, everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve done has been for them.

I’ve poured over as many records I could get my hands on looking for any mention of them. Aunt Jenny, Da, Uncle Ian, Murtagh. I found nothing. We’ve found nothing.”

She put out a hand grasping Claire’s in hers.

“But my true heart never left Lollybroch, it’s my place, it’s where I belong. I have to go back.”

And Claire did see. She thought of all that Faith had accomplished, all of those years spent pouring her heart and soul into her work. Not because she loved what she did, but because she never stopped needing what she had lost.

And with the knowledge of that came the realization, that when Faith went back, Claire would have to go as well. She could not allow Faith to make such a journey alone.

Both women emerge from the study some hours looking resolved but the air around Roger felt heavy and unsettled.

He rapped lightly on Claire’s door not wanting to wake her if she were asleep. But she wasn’t and he went in.

“I was wondering if you had a moment?”

“Funny you should ask Young Roger, I’ve been meaning to have a word with you.”

“Oh, aye? Nothing bad I hope.”

“No.” Claire smiled.

“You know you have two very dedicated daughters. I can’t pretend to know what all of this must be like for either of them, because quite frankly I have no idea.

But I lost my parents when I was young, Bree told me you did as well, so I think there might be some common ground on that point. But I think what she’s dealing with might be worse.

The knowing of such an impending loss I think that surely must be,” He didn’t have the words just shook his head.

And that’s why I wanted to speak with you.

Claire, if you go through the stones, I’ll take care of her. He pulled a box out of his pocket.

“It was my mothers.”

Claire cocked an eyebrow.

One day I hope it’ll belong to Bree. No matter what happens though, I promise she won’t be alone, she’ll have a place here with me - if she wants it.

I told her that you know, not about the ring,” he blushed slightly, “but she knows I’ll be here if she needs me, and,” he paused unsure but went on, “I told William the same thing.”

Claire’s head snapped up. William was her youngest, two minutes younger than Brianna to be exact.

After Frank passed, Faith started speaking more freely about James Fraser and William thought it a betrayal to Frank's memory, they were very close.

William had had all of his credits transferred to Oxford, opting to study there and live with his grandparents, Jonathan and Nora.

“But of course, I’m forgetting you’re an Oxford man too.”

“Aye, William works in the office just down the hall from me. He’s incredibly passionate about continuing Frank’s work.

Bree decided that for now, it’s best he not know about us. She worries about him, I think she sees our friendship as a way for her to keep an eye on him without him knowing. She’s quite the mother hen.”

Claire dabbed at her eyes, hating that she’d caused such a riff but understood Williams’s need for distance.

She reached into her purse, “I meant to mail this to him but, might you - might you give it to him when you feel the time is right?”

He nodded.

“Thank you, Roger. Thank you for everything.”

Claire closed the door before crawling into bed, another burden being lifted.

From under her pillow, she pulled out a journal, she had by default written a daily entry for nearly twenty years. Most of the pages were filled with letters and notes to Jamie. She found solace in speaking to the pages about the things she couldn’t say out loud.

She thought how nice it would be to find closure, to be able to place a stone on his cairn, and then thought no more surrendering to sleep.

Across the hall, Faith opened the cover of her book, of all the things she wished she could take with her back into the past this was it.

She kissed two fingers and placed them over the inscription, which very simply said: “For Da.” On a whim she tore the page out, folding it neatly and packing it away with the meager belongings she would take with her through the stones.

Over the next few days, plans were laid out, letters written, phone calls made, and most importantly a date had been set for their journey.

Bree tried not to let distress of any kind show on her face. She didn’t think there was really any good way for one to prepare to become an orphan.

Slowly, she made her way upstairs, doing her best to organize her thoughts.

The door was open, Claire sat at the desk, hands resting on a small trunk. Without looking up she began speaking.

“Just before Frank died he gave me a key to a lockbox and offered up his version of an apology.

He never said what was in the box, he didn’t need to, I’ve always known,” she flipped open the latch, the smell of peat and heather wafted out taking her aback.

Bree walked closer, watching in fascination as her mother pulled a pair of battered shoes, a corset, and a green homespun dress, all clearly very old.

A yellowed piece of paper fluttered to the ground, dislodged from its hiding place. Bree moved swiftly thinking it was a final message from Frank and handed it to Claire who absentmindedly set it aside.

Taking a deep breath Claire looked at her daughter, trying to memorize every detail of her face. Hair like fire streamed down her back, slanted cat eyes as blue as the Highland sky on a clear day, there was no doubting who her father had been.

“When I came back through the stones, I realized quite early on that Frank was not the same person, nor was I to be honest. We did our best to make it work, for the sake of you and Faith and William.

But at some point, I realized that if it all fell apart I wanted us to have a place to go, somewhere we would be safe.”

She handed Bree a folder, “the deed to Lallybroch. It’s not much to look at now, but it’s yours. Even though I may no longer be here with you, Lallybroch has always been a home for my heart and I want it to be one for yours too.”

Bree didn’t know what to say, just wrapped her arms around her mother and allowed the tears to fall.

Digging in her pocket, she pulled out two identical lockets, a small diamond adorned the front of each, inside she had painted the smiling faces of herself and William. “You didn’t think I’d let you go without us did you, Mama?”

Now it was Claire’s turn to cry.

There was a stillness to the house, everyone coming to terms with the enormity of the situation on their own.

Bree had hidden herself away with her easel in the study. She looked at the clock, 4:30 pm, and wondered if there was anything else that needed to be said. There was time, not much, but no, she thought not. What else could she possibly say?

A scream from upstairs followed by a loud thunk brought the entire house to its feet. She heard Faith’s voice filled with distress call out,

“Mama?! What happened, are you ok?!”

Bree rounded the corner just in time to see Roger guiding Claire to a chair, Mrs. Graham rushing in with a glass of water.

So caught up in the commotion, no one had noticed the yellowed paper laying on the floor by the desk.

No one had seen the face starting up from it, but Bree did.

‘The Dun Bonnet, Wanted by his Majesty the King - 1758’

A man, with a long straight nose, slanted eyes, and a wide mouth like hers, stared back at her. She’d never seen him before, but she knew him.

She looked up and locked eyes with her Mother,

“You found him.”

Faith, being the only one close enough to hear, looked from her mother’s dazed expression to the ghostly white face of her sister.

“She found him.” Bree said holding up the paper, and a sob filled with such tangible longing left Faith’s mouth, “Da!”

Roger sat, arm around the sleeping form of Brianna.

Any hesitations Claire had about going back had been forgotten.

While the broadsheet wasn’t absolute proof that Jamie was alive, it was proof that he’d at least survived the war. But more importantly, it was enough to give them hope.

Mrs. Graham and Fiona had insisted on driving Claire and Faith to the stones.

It had been some hours now and the dim of the Highland night began to shed its darkness to the light of early dawn.

He heard a car pull into the drive and looked down at Bree’s tear-stained cheeks carefully disentangling his hand from hers before covering her with a McKenzie plaid.

He walked through the old house, quietly opening the back door. Mrs. Graham and Fiona stood quietly speaking amongst themselves.

And he knew, both Faith and Claire had gone safely.

Chapter Text

A crack of lightning ripped across the dark October sky, illuminating the silhouette of the standing stones.

Faith lay flat on her back, unaware of everything, except for the fact that she was alive. The chaos of the passage still echoing painfully in her bones.

A boom of thunder rocked the earth, somewhat rousing her but she could not find the strength to move, just closed her eyes, surrendering to whatever fate awaited her.

Claire’s head was ringing with the voices lost to time. If she hadn't made this journey twice before, she would have sworn she was dying. With strength unique to her, she managed to rouse herself just enough to take in her surroundings.

A figure lay on the ground next to her. She thought she knew the woman, but her mind couldn’t summon a name and her body couldn’t yet muster the energy to reach out.

Another flash of lightning showed the figure’s bright red hair conjuring a name, Faith.

Then she remembered.

She remembered the pained face of Brianna, Roger, by her side as they drove away from the manse. She remembered the tearful goodbye to Mrs. Graham and the walk up the fairies hill. She remembered the screaming rocks and the warm hand in hers grasping harder as they reached out together, touching the stone that might take them back to places once lost. Then she remembered no more.

A rumble of thunder in the distance brought her back long enough to unclasp her cloak and cover both of them just as the first icy drops of rain began to fall.

She didn’t dare sleep but sat vigil by her daughter throughout the night. Her eyes not yet adjusted to a dark this dark, she listened but heard nothing except the soothing sound of rain hitting the oiled fabric of their sheltering cloak.

The first light of early dawn began to tint the landscape, revealing nothing more than a thick blanket of heavy fog. Still ever vigilant, she listened.

She knew they had traveled somewhere. A night as dark as the one they were thrown into and a silence as loud as this didn’t exist in 1968. She knew that much for sure but still, her skin rippled with fear of the unknown.

A dreadful thought crossed her mind, had they come to the right time? What if she’d steered them too far or not far enough? They didn’t have gems should they need to travel again, but even worse, Claire knew she wouldn’t survive a fourth trip through the stones.

“Oh, do pull yourself together Beauchamp!” She chided.

Taking a deep breath, she laid a steadying hand on the damp ground, the faded scar of the letter J pressing into the earth, and spoke, “Is this your place? Are you here James Fraser?”

There was no answer, except that of a Corbie’s cry.

As the early morning sun gave way to an overcast sky, she stroked the bright red hair of her sleeping daughter and watched as a soft smile bloomed across her face.

Before, the idea of going back through the stones was just that, an idea. But now the gravity of what she’d left behind, of what they’d left behind weighed heavily on her.

Bree and William, both grown now, neither one of them reliant on her anymore - but still, she felt guilty for leaving them. How could she not?

The knowledge that she had left without having one last chance to speak to William would haunt her forever. She knew he had nothing to say to her, he’d made that quite clear enough. But she should have gone to him even if they didn’t speak, she should have gone to hug him one last time.

She had thought to ask them, to give each of them the choice to come through the stones. For them to go back as a family, to live a life that by all rights might have been theirs too.

She had decided against that. Unwilling to tear them away from all they knew.

This wasn’t their place. They both had lives there in their time and she knew the grudge William held wasn’t towards Bree. No, the two of them had a bond that couldn’t be broken. They would always have each other and the relative safety of their time.

And apparently, they’d both also have Roger Wakefield to whom, if all went according to his plan, would be her future son-in-law. But Bree was indeed her father’s daughter. Good luck to Young Roger if he tried to convince Bree to do anything she wasn’t ready for. A lesson she was sure he’d learn the hard way - if he hadn’t already...

And then there was Faith. Faith who had for all these years lived a life she hadn’t wanted or considered to be hers. Faith who had given up everything she’d worked for. She’d reached the top of her career, and as if that were a sign, walked away from it all. She had a life in their time, but a life without happiness and that was no life at all. Claire knew that well. She remembered what Faith had said to her at the manse,

“I have to go back. It’s my place. It’s where I belong.”

So long as Faith was happy. That would be enough for Claire. Well, that’s what she would continue telling herself. She could not allow herself to have hope beyond that. Not yet.

She had tried to prepare herself for the worst. She thought about what she’d do if Jamie were dead, or if he had remarried and had a family. God, if he had a family.

She didn’t know if Faith had had the forethought to do the same. She hoped she had, as she didn’t think she could bear her daughter's heartbreak.

Would they be happy here even if the outcome wasn’t one either one of them had expected? Would coming back to the unknown be worth it when compared to all that was left behind?

Claire didn’t know and for the first time since embarking on this journey felt utterly helpless. But she did have the one thing and that was time - and time would tell.

The retreating fog had given way to an incessant mizzle that coincided with the awakening of Faith.

She looked up at her mother, a question, no, the question written on her face plain as day.

“I don’t know.” Claire shrugged, “we’ve traveled someplace, but I don’t know Lovie…”

Digging into her small burlap pack, she pulled out two cloth-wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and two small flasks of water lovingly packed by Brianna.

They ate in companionable silence, both still rattled by their leap through time. Both taking in this new world and both very much aware of the monolith looming behind them.

Watching covertly as Faith finished off her last bite, Claire noted the glassy blue eyes, pupils blown wide with exhaustion.

“If we’re in the right place, I know there’s a small cave about a half a mile north of here. We can stay there tonight, make a plan, and set off tomorrow.”

Faith looked around indecision etched onto her furrowed brow. Claire knew she wanted to go, she had been waiting nearly her whole life for this moment, but she also knew neither of them would make it very far exhausted as they were.

Faith hesitated but nodded in agreement. She had not missed the dark circles under Claire’s eyes or the drawn look of her face.

The small glimpses of lochs and heather as they walked over terrain that became more familiar with each step, were a balm of sorts. Any doubt Claire had about where they might be were all but erased, there was only one place that she knew of that was this heartbreaking beautiful. Still, she held her breath as she reached to pull back the screen of ivy that covered the cave’s entrance.

They’d stayed here, the three of them on that dreadful night before Jamie had sent them back. Her insides churned at the memory and she swallowed hard before the tendrils of grief could take hold.

She had been silent as they made their way over the barren landscape, towards the stones that would seal their fate, severing them from this life forever.

Her cheeks burned, the frigid wind freezing icy tracks of tears across her face. She didn’t care. Only closed her eyes, hopeful the monotonous ambling rhythm of the horse would lull her into oblivion.

Occasionally, she would look up to watch the rider next to her. Jamie, face pale and grim as hell but the determined set of his shoulders told her he was resigned. Faith, bundled tightly to his chest in a Fraser plaid, was too young to understand the gravity of the loss about to be laid at her feet but old enough to feel the current of fear that ran through her parents.

Claire had hoped fate would somehow find a way to intervene, might give her reason to stay, but as they sat together in the cave for the last time as a family, the tears of loss began to fall again.

Faith clung to Jamie as much as him to her, both unwilling to let go. Eventually, lulled by the familiar smells of whisky and fire smoke Faith fell into a deep sleep. Claire watched as he set the child down and moved around the fire to sit by her side.

They had said their goodbyes the night before, but still, she felt his gaze upon her and then his touch as his lips kissed the wetness from her face. Strong arms pulled her to him and gentle hands caressed her skin, as he tried to memorize her secret places. Both of them needing nothing more than the reassurance of simple touch. As the firelight danced across them, he spoke his heart in words she knew she need not understand.

Looking down into the face of her sleeping daughter, Claire knew she was the most precious cargo she would ever carry. And under the cover of darkness, they made their way up the hill, praying for safe passage with each step.

She had slept restlessly, waking several times during the night feeling the ghost of Jamie’s touch on her skin. Soft lips brushing against hers. A gentle caress of fingertips across her thigh, a strong hand pulling her down, in its touch a question. But she had no answers.

Now she watched as Faith sat by the cave's entrance, red hair blowing gently in the autumn breeze, and wondered if she remembered that unspeakable day. She hoped not.

They didn’t linger long in the cave. By mutual agreement, they had decided to limit their travel to dusk and dawn, thinking it safer until they made it to Inverness. Two women traveling alone were bound to attract attention and not the kind of attention either one of them wanted.

By their estimation, it should have taken no more than three days to reach the town, but without fire or torchlight, their progress was minimal at best. Stopping at a stream to refresh themselves, Claire pulled out the last of their provisions. A small chunk of hard cheese and a few stale crackers.

“I think we might have overestimated our ability to travel by foot across highland terrain,” Claire said ruefully.

“In the dark no less!” Faith added.

“Unless we come upon a sign of civilization soon,” she paused not wanting to speak her fears out loud, but thought it a necessity now, “I’m not sure we’ll make it much further.”

She watched her usually bright and bubbly daughter deflate, anguish radiating off of her hunched form in waves.

When Claire had come through the stones the first time, she had been immediately set upon by Jonathan Wolverines Randall, the sadistic pervert Frank had thought to be his direct ancestor. So alike in appearance, the man could have been Frank’s twin but the similarities ended there.

She knew Captain Randall to be dead. His filthy black soul leaving this earth on the day of the Battle of Culloden. Still, she worried about what other unsavory characters might be lurking around the next bend.

But time, something she’d always felt she had too much of, was suddenly scarce. Looking to the sky to judge the hour and back over to Faith who had curled in on herself, she stood with decision.

“It won’t be dark for some hours yet, if we leave now I think we can make good ground.”

Every rustling leaf and snapping twig made Claire jump but Faith, ever determined soldiered on unfazed, mind set on her goal.

They had been fortunate to stumble across a deer trail and followed it further north until they began to lose light.

Setting up camp Claire regaled Faith with stories of Castle Leoch and the first time she’d gone to Lallybroch. They spoke of Jenny, Ian, and Faith’s horse Dalhousie, a gift from Jamie on her third Birthday.

“Do you think they’ll still be there Mama?”

Claire didn’t know, her mind had been running on a similar path. She reached over to wrap an arm around her daughter. Together they sat allowing their thoughts to be lost to the sounds of the night.

The next day, they came upon a road. Claire had noticed the changing landscape, thickly forested areas beginning to give way to farmland, crofts, and cattle dotting the hillsides.

Their spirits lifted as they began to feel that this part of their journey was coming to an end. They walked along the narrow road, keeping to the tree line just in case, but if the weather stayed clear, they knew they’d be in Inverness by nightfall, if not sooner.

Claire had been hearing a sound in the distance, for quite some time, but thought it nothing more than a roaring stream. She had thought they were walking towards the water as the noise grew ever closer, but feeling the ground rumble beneath her feet and the familiar jingling of tack she froze.

The road was very long and very straight, and they had been seen. She cursed viciously, stepping out in front of Faith to shield her from view as a carriage came to a stop just a few yards in front of them.

And as the coachman opened the door, her blood ran cold as an officer stepped down from the carriage, bright red coat unmistakable even to a person of her own time.

The man bowed to them very formally, “My name is Lieutenant Colonel Grey.”

He was an average-sized man, with a thin build and somewhat feminine features. He wore no wig, but his light blond hair was tied back neatly in a plait. His large eyes, blue as sapphires held a question and Claire realized he was waiting for an introduction.

She couldn’t introduce herself as Fraser, nor Randall, or even Beauchamp, any one of those names might be familiar to the man.

Faith sensing her trouble interjected, “I am Julia Williams and this is my Mother, Mrs. Alexander of Oxfordshire.”

Claire didn’t miss the fact that Faith had used both her and William’s middle names in her introduction. Good she thought, she wasn’t the only one wary of this strange man.

Lieutenant Grey looked from the women to the road and then to the mud-caked hem of their clothes.

“I do beg your pardon, but have you no escort? Surely, you must know It’s not safe for women such as yourselves to be walking on the roads alone?”

They smiled kindly, explaining about getting caught in a storm, true Claire thought. How their horses were spooked and took to the heather, and how their manservant set off to find them, not true but reasonably plausible. And how they set off for Inverness when the man didn’t return as their provisions were beginning to run low, partly true.

“Oh my deers, a harrowing tale to be sure. If I might be so bold, please do allow me to offer you a ride, the town is only but a short ways away.”

Claire looked to Faith who gave an imperceptible nod and they were off, speeding down the dirt road, one step closer to their destination.

The three of them fell into amicable conversation, exchanging pleasantries and the like. Faith chimed in occasionally, but for the most part, she sat staring out of the coach window, Claire knew she was looking for any sign of something or even someone familiar.

At some point Faith pulled down the hood of her cloak, revealing bright red hair, a wide mouth, a long straight nose, and slanted blue cat eyes. Claire thought all her children to be beautiful, but Faith was exquisite.

She’d always wondered if all mothers felt that way about their firstborn or if it was only her marked look to Jamie Fraser. She didn’t have time to ponder that thought further though.

Hearing the Lieutenant gasp she looked up, curious.

Claire did not at all like the way the man was staring at her daughter. A most extraordinary look of longing was plastered on his face.

“Well God damn my eyes!”

She cleared her throat and was pleased to see that the man at least had the to wherewithal to look abashed.

He smiled sheepishly, breaking the awkward silence with a question,

“I do beg your pardon, madam. Your daughter,” the word held a question but he went on, “your daughter bears a most remarkable resemblance to my particular friend.”

Claire’s heart was racing, “oh is that so? Might I ask the name of your friend Lieutenant?”

“Malcolm. Mr. Malcolm. He worked for me for several years in the colony of Virginia. You wouldn’t by chance happen to know the man?”

It was Faith who spoke, “No, I’m afraid we aren’t acquainted with anyone from the colonies, except for yourself sir.”

He tried again, “Come to think of it, that was quite some years ago. Perhaps the man has since relocated back to Europe?”

Both women shook their heads. Neither one of them knowing of a man named Malcolm.

Impossible Grey thought to himself. He couldn't ask outright if they knew James Fraser, the implications of the question alone… And Jamie was a wanted criminal here in Scotland. No that wouldn’t do. Still…

All three of them were slightly jolted out of their seats as the carriage made the transition to the cobbled streets of Inverness coming to a stop on the high street.

Ever the gentleman Lieutenant Grey helped them out and paused, unsure how to proceed.

Claire saw the question form on his lips and spoke “We’ll be staying here with my daughter’s in-laws. I expect our manservant will be along with the horses any day now. Thank you again, Lieutenant.”

He bowed again, eyes still glued to Faith. “The pleasure has been mine.” They watched as the carriage made its way down the street. Both women feeling more than slightly unsettled by the encounter.

They had enough money to rent a small room at an inn for the night. Claire had decided to allow Faith to do the talking, unsure of how her British accent would be received.

Faith had gone to secure two horses and whatever food she could manage with the little money they had left. Claire watched as the street lamps were lit and the sun began to set, beginning to worry that Faith wasn’t back yet.

A knock at the door, a small squat man who she assumed was the publican walked in with two steaming bowls of stew. They smelled delicious and her stomach rumbled.

“Your daughter will be up directly. She is a kindly lass, just doon the stair noo plaiting my wee Morag’s hair, hers being of a similar color you ken.”

Claire smiled and gave a nod of thanks. She moved to add another log to the fire, taking a moment to absorb her surroundings. They had crossed time and space and they had made it.

She flipped open the locket tucked safely in her pack. The smiling faces of Bree and William looked up at her, she wished she had a way to speak to them.

“I miss them too.” Faith came into the room, closing the door behind her. “Do you think we’ll ever see them again?”

Claire moved to the window passing one of the bowls of stew to Faith and sat down at the small table. “No Lovie, their life is there. Just as yours is here. They’re where they belong. And so are you.”

They had left at first light, following the sun as they rode west further into the Highlands. They stopped by a brook at noon allowing the ponies to rest.

Claire knew what her daughter did not. They would reach Lallybroch today, it was only a few hours' ride from where they sat now. They would be there before sundown.

She thought about the life she’d left behind. It had been for the most part a good life. She had made a home for herself in Boston. Frank had done the best he could given the situation, so had she. Both of them deserved better, she knew, but there was nothing to be done about that now and she hoped wherever Frank was, he had found happiness.

“Mama?”

Claire looked up, and the look on Faith’s face told her she’d called her name more than once.

Faith passed her a bannock “I’m thinking that there’s something you wanted to say to me?”

There it was again, that strange bond the two of them had. Claire had never questioned it and wasn’t about to start now. She had just always been thankful.

“As a matter of fact, I do. When we get closer to Lallybroch, I think it would be wise for us to stay well back of the house.”

She looked at Faith who was nodding in agreement “because you’re not sure what or who we’ll find when we get there?”

“Yes.”

“When I was little I used to tell Uncle Joe stories about what it would be like when we came back. I don’t think he believed a word of what I said.”

Claire knew otherwise but listened as Faith continued.

“I always thought Da would be there with Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ian. A huge feast laid out on the table, Wee Jamie and Murtagh would be there too deviling Maggie, troublemakers the both of them.

But now, I don’t know. Aunt Jenny will be there, I know that for sure. There is no Lallybroch without her. But...”

Claire knew what she was thinking. The men would have sacrificed everything they had including themselves to see Jenny and the children safe.

She strode over to the horses and handed Faith the reigns of her mount,

“Well, I suppose we won’t know until we get there.”

It was a poor attempt but what else was there to say? What comfort could she offer when her own nerves were just as frayed as Faiths?

Claire kept an eye on the sky as they rode. The weather had changed and the cool breeze of autumn was beginning to give way to the frigid gusts of winter. The foreboding gray sky had the promise of impending snow but she hoped it would hold off for just a bit longer.

She had for the most part not taken too much notice of her surroundings, but as they came down the last hill and rode into the valley, something shifted within her.

She recognized the charred wood of the MacNab cabin and crossed herself before steering her horse off the path towards a large group of pines and dismounted. Assuming they’d stopped to rest the horses, Faith asked no questions.

Claire needed a moment to gather herself before she spoke. Over the next pass, the big manor house would come into view. She didn’t think Faith realized where they were, but they were about to approach a dangerous territory of the heart.

“Faith?” She tapped the ground next to her, “come sit.” Needing support she grabbed Faith's hand and inclined her head towards the pass.”

Faith took in the look on her mother’s face and tensed. “We’re here aren’t we?”

Claire nodded, “it’s just over the next pass. But I think,” she pointed to a small forested area.

“I know Mama.”

And together they walked towards journey’s end.

Claire had thought a quick observation of the house was all that would be needed. She had seldom been more wrong.

They’d been camped here on the hillside for two days now and there was no sign of life in the house.

Faith had drawn into herself again and Claire wasn’t far behind.

She supposed they could make their way to France and inquire with Jamie’s cousin Jarred if the man were still alive…

Waking on the morning of the third day, Claire's mother's senses were on high alert. Beyond the obvious, something wasn’t right.

She saw Faith had banked the fire and moved the horses further away. They looked at each other with a perfect understanding.

This was the first time either of them felt they were in true danger since their passage through the stones.

Claire pulled the hood of Faith’s cloak up, hiding her bright red hair. The muted colors of the fabric acting as camouflage, a sanctuary of sorts.

The familiar jingle of tack echoed in the distance, this time they were prepared, hidden well off the road.

They watched the pass leading down to the big house, it was a large group, the melodic Scots voices a balm to Faith’s soul. As the group approached the house she knew her mother was straining to pick out a tall redheaded man, so was she to be honest.

It wasn’t red hair that caught her eye, but the unmistakable gait of Ian Muarry as he dismounted and walked towards the stables.

Faith was on her feet, pulling at Claire desperate to get to the house.

But Claire didn’t move. She was frozen to the spot staring at something behind them. Faith turned to look, the bright yellow eyes of a wolf stared back at her, a steady growling coming from the foaming mouth.

“Stad a cù,” said a voice heard but not seen. The wolf held its ground but the growling stopped. Both women looked around searching for the man who spoke but saw no one.

Then Claire saw him. He looked like he’d grown out of nature and could have been part of the landscape itself. As he stepped out from the shade of the trees and into the light she gasped all of the blood draining from her face. Had her previous journey through the stones somehow changed time?

Faith whipped her head around, taking a step back. The man was adorned in wampum beads, a line of tattoos ran across his face and his shaved head gleamed brightly in the sunlight. There was an utter stillness about him and without thinking Faith turned, sprinting down the hill towards safety.

Jenny Murray let a reluctant smile cross her face as she began the long process of hanging the wash to dry. She wondered if a mother’s work was ever truly done, no she thought, and neither was a grandmothers’. She chuckled, never did she think she’d be a Nan to so many bairns, but she supposed stranger things had happened.

She hadn’t really been paying attention to the noise coming from the house, used to it as she was but the cadence of the noise had changed. The melodic voices of children playing and everyday farm life had turned into a chaotic hum much like a hive of agitated bees.

A bark followed by a shriek of pure terror had her running to the front of the house with an urgency that startled her.

Flying into the courtyard she saw she wasn’t alone. The entirety of the Murray clan stood, all of them staring at Young Ian. She sighed and started in. “Ian Murray! How many times do I have to tell you…“

But before she could hit her stride, Young Ian stepped aside revealing a face familiar to Jenny, yet not familiar at all.

She cocked her head, recognition not quite there. The woman had the high cheekbones of the McKenzies and the slanted blue eyes of the Frasers. But she didn’t think she had ever seen this face before.

Drawn, she moved closer so absorbed in this strange girl she was startled to hear a British voice speak from behind her, “Jenny?”

Claire didn’t so much see but felt as the penny dropped and the axis of Jenny Muarry’s world shifted.

“Guid sister?”

Chapter Text

Ian closed the door to the laird’s study pausing for a moment to take in the sight before him and made his way to the sideboard pouring a glass of whisky.

He took a hasty sip, coughed and moved to take a seat next to his wife.

The room was laced with a mixture of weary excitement and absolute disbelief, no one being quite sure of where to start or what to say.

“We never thought to be seeing you again, Claire. After,” he paused, wondering how to politely say what must be said, “well after you left-”

Jenny interrupted him, having no such qualms.

“Jamie told us what you are.” She cast a glance form her sister-in-law to her neice, “is it true then?”

Claire sent a prayer of thanks to Jamie for having had the forethought. But still aired on the side of caution.

“Is what true?”

“He said that you were not of this time.” She narrowed her eyes, “that you went back to your proper place - your time.”

Claire shrugged. “And you believed him?”

Being familiar with the look of a fellow Fraser about to go off with a bang, Faith stood fixed her with a look, and took the reins.

“It’s true Aunt.”

She watched as Jenny’s eyes went wide. She felt a small bit of pride at rendering her aunt speechless.

“I kent you were a wise woman, Auntie Claire! Have you come back from the fairies then?”

“Ian!” It was said in unison in a tone universally recognizable as one belonging to long suffering parents regarding their errant offspring.

Jenny rose to open the door and gave her son a look “out.”

“But Mam!”

“Now.” And effectively dismissed the lad.

She let out a huff of laughter “lord knows he wasnae supposed to be my son, but I love the lad dearly. I suppose it’s a good thing he ended up where he did, it fits the lad ye ken?”

“Ended up where he did?”

Jenny looked from her niece to Claire before glancing over to the elder Ian. The two of them exchanged a look, an entire conversation held in a glance.

He nodded with decision, “he is not here Claire. Everything you said would happen did. The war, the famine, the clearing of the Highlands.”

He sighed, “I suppose it would be best if I start at the beginning. He meant to die on Culloden field, but he didn’t. He was gravely wounded, nearly lost his leg, and would have but a debt of honor brought him back to Lallybroch in one piece.

Jenny doctored him the best she could and eventually by pure stubbornness managed to get him back on his feet. But there was more ailing Jamie besides the wound on his leg.

He had no life here without the two of you. He had us, but we were not enough.”

He looked up at the two women then, the echo of pain etched onto their faces told Ian they had not escaped unscathed.

Jenny saw it too, “once you’ve lived through that kind of loss, which I see the both of you have, there is no remedy except the hope that one day what you have lost will be restored to you again.”

Jamie sat on the ledge outside of the cave gazing down at Lallybroch.

He hadn’t paid much attention to the old house these past seven years, it being a constant reminder of how much he’d lost.

And while he did cherish the memories and the people now housed in its walls, the feeling of home was no more.

But he supposed home for him had never been a place but a person. Claire. And that home was lost.

His heart squeezed as it always did at thought of her. Some days the enormity of the loss hit him harder than others. Fortunately, today was not one of those days.

He’d hoped they would pay him one more visit before the dawn. He used to see them often, the two of them together. They never spoke and he never felt their touch but to have them there with him - it was enough…

Their visit had over the years become less frequent; he wondered if it was because their memory was fading and that terrified him more than anything, even the hangman’s noose.

A movement on the path below caught his eye, Fergus hadn’t brought word of any red coat patrols in the area, but still, he shrank back into the shadows like the wild thing he knew he was.

“Christ! What in hell!” He sprung from the shadows rushing down the path cursing under his breath.

“And you in your eighth month, have you no sense? What would Ian say of such foolishness?”

He went on grabbing the small basket out of Jenny’s arms.

“I suspect Ian wouldn’t have married me if he were over concerned about foolishness!”

She snatched her arm away, “how dare you call me fool Jamie Fraser! What did you think I was just going to let you leave without saying a proper goodbye? Damn you!”

While Jenny was prone to outbursts especially in her condition, they were seldom accompanied by such visible emotion.

He softened his tone. “Jenny, mo chridhe, I'm sorry,” and led her to a rock where they both sat “why did you no send Fergus? I would have come down to the house.”

“I sent him to Broch Mordha, Hugh McPherson said he heard word of the English, and I didn’t want…”

“Aye, I see.” And he did. He knew that was the closest his sister would ever come to admitting the fact that she was scared.

She’d held this family together since the death of their mother. Nursed their father in his final days, nearly lost Ian, sorrowed over the countless times she thought Jamie to be dead, took on the responsibility of running the household, and here she was once again.

For all of these years, Jenny had taken care of them all and asked for nothing in return. Lady of Lallybroch she was indeed.

He wondered if he could have done it? Held himself and his family together throughout years of hardship, war, starvation, and death all the while putting his needs behind all others. Could he have helped those in need and watched in silence as his own family suffered?

He was surprised to realize that no, he would not have been able to. Of all the things he might have been, being Laird of Lallybroch was not one of them. He wasn’t a selfless man and he knew that well.

Now here he was again asking the impossible of her and here she was stepping up again, never once complaining or passing judgment.

With Ian in the Tolbooth, Young Jamie off to France with his new bride, and him gone to face his fate in the morning…

She would once again be left with the heavy weight of responsibility. He knew she could do it, she would do it, but damnit she should not have to do it alone.

To know that there was nothing he could do about it. A wave of self-loathing washed over him causing his fists to clench in absolute revulsion.

“Jamie?”

He stared at her hoping none of the sorrow plaguing his soul would show on his face, knowing the last thing she’d ever want was pity.

“I had Mrs. Crook pack you a wee basket. A fresh venison pie, ale from the brewhouse, and a clean set of clothes,” she gave him a look “I will not be having you going to the English wearing clothes as filthy as those.

I wasnae sure if you wanted me to stay or if-“

He didn’t trust himself to speak but poured out two glasses of ale gesturing to her to sit while he dished the pie.

“Do you remember the time we broke mam’s good serving plate? The one Auntie Jocasta sent from the colonies?”

“Oh God, how could I forget?”

“She was so angry she tawsed us herself.”

The vision of Ellen Fraser eyes blazing and red-faced with fury was one he’d never forget.

“I don’t think she ever told Father what really happened to that plate, he would have tawsed us again directly if she had.”

They both laughed, enjoying the memory.

The forest around them was particularly beautiful this time of year and they sat enjoying a moment of peace, neither of them willing to admit that it might be their last.

“Claire.” It was the first time he’d spoken her name aloud in some years.

“Claire told me the English stopped hanging Jacobite prisoners.”

Jenny nodded unwilling to point out the fact that he was still a wanted man and wanted for treason no less.

“I think they’ll no hang me, Jenny.”

She took the gift of knowledge that he would not hang, knowing he needed that peace as well. What other choice did they have? Claire had not led them astray in anything that she’d ever predicted, and there was no reason to think otherwise now.

“Aye…”

Jenny rose, “do come down to the house in the morning for a proper goodbye Jamie. Your nieces and nephews will want to see you before you go.”

She turned then, making her way down the path, not looking back, now wanting him to see the tears that ran down her face.

Jamie watched his sister go and crossed himself, “may the Holy Mother protect her, her, and the children.”

He walked back to his cave, placing a hand on the cool stone. He thought how very fitting it was for someone as dead on the inside as himself to call a crypt home. To take refuge in its walls yet still wake each day just as alive as he had been the day before.

Not much different than purgatory, he thought.

He wondered if Claire was right. Living in a cave would be no different than spending the rest of his days locked in a cell. And just for a moment, he thought being hanged immediately might be the better of the two options.

You are a coward, Jamie Fraser!

He whirled, smashing his fist into the Rowan sapling just next to the cave. It snapped clean in two, self-disgust pouring out of every fiber of his being.

“Christ!” He roared the word, hurling his fury at this wasted life into the abyss.

It wasn’t often that he asked “why me?” But he did now and a fresh wave of anger seized him, bringing him to his knees.

He wept bitterly then. Fat vicious tears ran down his cheeks, he didn’t try to stop them. He let them fall, thinking of the parents he would never see again, his brother taken from this earth too soon, Claire, Faith, his sister, and the countless lives ruined by the futility of war.

He dug his fingers into the earth, taking whatever solace he could in the fact that it was still there.

Pressing his hands ever harder into the fresh dirt, it being the only tether to this world he had left, he laid his head down, overcome by a bone-deep exhaustion that reached his soul.

They were there, Claire in her garden collecting herbs, the wee lass propped against her hip, her chubby hand clenched around a small posy.

He called out and watched as Faith bolted up the hill at sight of him “Da!” He reached out one more step and she’d be in his arms.

The sound of crumbling stone and a crash that shook the earth woke him. He ripped his hands free of the earth and sprinted down the path towards the house.

-

“I didnae want him spending that last night alone, lord knows he would have tried something reckless, sacrificing himself clot-heid that he is.

But I wish.” She took a deep breath gathering her thoughts, “I wish I could have given him more, but it wasnae me he needed…”

Jenny looked up then, Claire’s face was stricken, unchecked tears rolled down her cheeks.

She saw Faith had inherited her father’s ability to mask her feelings. No sign of what she might be thinking showed on her face.

Ian got up, pouring a generous amount of whisky into each glass, he thought they’d be needing it.

Claire tried to smile in thanks but felt a grimace form on her face. Given the state she was in, no one said anything.

“What happened next, Aunt?”

“Well there was a big to-do just outside the house, everyone rushing about and such.

By the time I made it down the stair and out the door, the dust had settled, and the broch lay crumbled with nothing more than a few stones left standing.”

Taking a fortifying sip, Claire braced herself for what she knew must come next.

Jamie made it down to the house just in time to see his sister standing in the wreckage.

He looked her up and down, checking for injury, then counted the children around her. They were all there and they were all safe.

“Thank God.”

Coming back to himself, he felt more than one pair of eyes on him and taking in his surroundings realized his mistake too late.

He didn’t think these people, their tenants, would rat him out, but still, he pulled the faded brown hat down further over his unmistakable bright red hair.

Freshly shaven as he was and with his striking features and height it was unlikely he’d go unrecognized.

Walking slowly, he made his way towards the back of the house, careful not to acknowledge Jenny or the children, and climbed down into the darkness of the priest's hold locking the door behind him.

He listened to the hum of voices above. Jenny per usual had taken charge, directing the men to clear what they could, ushering the ladies into the house, and shooing the children back to their chores.

A soft knocking at the door overhead startled him and he pulled out his dirk.

“Milord?”

He clicked his tongue, and begrudgingly unlocked the door, “Fergus you wretch.”

“Milord, the redcoats are coming.”

His blood ran cold. This most certainly was not part of the plan.

He looked to Fergus, “protect my sister and her bairns.” And rose to leave.

A firm hand on his arm stopped him.

“No, Milord! You have not the time. They are-“

“Halt in the name of the King.” They looked at each other horror-stricken.

“Stay. I will take care of Mistress Jenny.”

And with that, he was gone like a thief in the night.

Jamie listened as the tone of the voices above changed from curious, to accusatory.

“We heard cannon fire.” He recognized the voice of Captain Randall-Iaacs. Just as black-hearted as his uncle, Jonathan.

“Sir, there are no cannons here. For if there were, I assure you we’d be firing them towards you, not our own home. As I’m sure you can see, the broch has fallen, it’s been leaning for years now I’m surprised it didn’t fall sooner.”

It was the truth but he immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say and cradled his head in his hands.

“Can you no keep your mouth shut just the once, Janet Murray?!” He mumbled.

A scream from his sister had him on his feet, no thought for anything except her as he fumbled with the latch on the door.

Fergus’s voice rang out “run!” And the sound of bodies hitting the ground tangled in fight reached his ears.”

Randall’s voice, incredulous and laced with fury, “That’s assault on the King’s Officer! Seize him!”

And through the small crack in the door, Jamie watched as Fergus was overcome by redcoats, his small wrist laid out upon a stump Randall’s eyes glowing with triumph, sword poised to strike.

“No!” He didn’t think, but sprung through the door, his voice ringing out above the chaos.

Time seemed to stand still as the thunk of a sword hitting its target reached his ears.

He saw Jenny blanch then run to Fergus wrapping his hand in her kerchief, his three missing fingertips lay on the ground. She felt her wame rise but swallowed hard. Passing the boy off to Mrs crook for tending.

“Fire the thatch.” Randall’s voice called out from behind her and Jenny watched in horror as the stables went up in flames and her brother was taken away in fetters.

“That was the last time I saw him,” Jenny said.

Faith excused herself, walking to stand by the open window unable to accept it all as fact.

“Niece come sit, there is more to the story that I think you must be hearing.”

Faith, never a drinker, threw back the remainder of Claire’s whisky and sat.

Jenny, sensing her anguish, reached out and grasped her hand.

“Just because he is no here, doesnae mean he’s dead which I assure you he is not.”

Her face cracked then, and she clung to her aunt, muffling her sobs in her shoulder.

Jenny rubbed her back but went on, not wanting to drag things out any longer.

It had been weeks since Jamie had been taken by the English, and I still had had no word.

I did my best to keep my mind occupied, tending to Fergus, who was lucky to still have his hand given the circumstance.

Resigned to this new life without Ian or your Da, I did the best I could not wanting the bairns to catch on to my sorrow.

It was a few months after they took Jamie, that I saw a group of riders coming down the pass, all dressed in red coats.

I did not dare call for Fergus, knowing they would not harm me, a woman with a newborn babe.

Jenny hugged her son gently to her chest watching a lone rider dismount and walk towards them.

Removing his hat he bowed very formally, “my name is Lord John, I am the Governor of Ardsmuir Prison.”

“Janet Murray.” She paused looking down at the tiny face bundled tightly to her, “and my son Ian Murray.”

“I’ve come to understand that my men caused some trouble here not long ago.”

Jenny’s brows flipped up and she gestured to the charred stables. “They also caused grievous injury to my foster son who is no but a child.”

“I see. I do apologize Mistress Murray.” Reaching into his front pocket he pulled out an envelope, handing it to her.

“I have brought you word of your brother.”

She stared at him, not comprehending.

Gesturing to his men, he continued. “He has asked me to give you this,” he placed a small purse of coins in her hand, “the price on his head” and nodded to a man that had gone unnoticed until now, “he also asked that your husband be returned to you. Good day, Madam.”

“I never thought I’d see Ian again.”

Claire watched the love burn bright between the two.

“I dinna ken why, but the man seemed to take a liking to Jamie.

For the next three years, Lord John appeared every month like clockwork to bring us letters.

I’ll never forget the last time he came to Lallybroch. There was such a sense of sadness about him.

It wasnae until sometime later that I realized the sadness etched on his face wasnae for himself, but for Jamie and all he’d lost.

Anyway, he explained to us that the prison was closing. All of the men were being transported to the colonies to serve out their indenture.

Well, all of the men except for Jamie.”

“I’ve been appointed as the new Governor of Jamaica. Your brother, being of such value to the crown, will become my secretary. You are free to write to him as you wish. I assure you your letters will reach him uninterrupted.”

Ian and Jenny both stared at him incredulously. Surely the man had to know of Jamie’s troubles with the pen.

Ian opened his mouth to say just that but Jenny cut in,

“I thank you my Lord for the kindness you have shown our family.”

“The pleasure has been all mine Mistress Murray.”

“It’s almost as if the man considered Jami- she stopped shaking her head. It’s just the way he spoke Jamie’s name made my whame curl. It was as if he-“

Ian cleared his throat and shot his wife a look.

“Aye well.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

Jenny whooped with laughter, at the phase, it being so uniquely Claire.

A light knock on the door drew all of their attention.

Young Ian sheepishly poked his head around the frame,

“Mrs. Crook sent me with tea and oatcakes as it is getting late.”

Jenny eyed her son but nodded for him to come in.

“I was just telling your cousin about where her Da is.”

“Oh aye?!”

“And you’ll be quiet through the telling of it, Ian Òg.”

It was Faith who brought the conversation to order once more, “Da is in Jamaica?”

“No a leannan, he’s no in Jamaica.”

The elder Ian got up, walking over to his desk, and rifled through his papers. Coming back with a stack of what looked like letters.

Jenny went on, not missing a beat, “after some years in the Indies, Lord John lost his wife, Isobel was her name, and he moved to her estate in the colony of Virginia.

When Jamie was released from his indenture, Lord John gifted him some 10,000 acres of land. She let the implications of that hang in the air for a moment.

But the stubborn man that my brother is, he wrote saying he would not come back to Scotland unless Murtagh came with him.

He made his way through the colonies on horseback riding up and down the coast searching for his Ardsmuir men, collecting each of them before finding Murtagh in the colony of North Carolina. They settled there, Fraser’s Ridge it’s called. But that was nearly ten years ago now.

Young Ian was squirming in his seat.

Jenny shot Claire a look of apology before allowing the lad to speak.

“Aye, he’s braw auntie! A laird in his own right, Mam calls him duine uasal.

“Man of worth” Faith translated.

“And just how did you find your way to North Carolina wee Ian?”

“I stowed away on one of cousin Jared’s ships, The Porpoise.” The pride in his voice was unmistakable.

“We were supposed to sail from Glasgow to South Carolina but a gale blew us off course and we ended up in the colony of Massachusetts in a seaport called Boston.”

Both Claire and Faith gasped.

“And I’m sure your mother was quite pleased with all of this.”

He at least had the wherewithal to look abashed and gave a lopsided smile before moving over to Rollo, who was asleep on the hearthrug and went on.

“Well, there wasnae another ship going to the Carolinas, it being so late in the season, so I just started walking.”

“Oh God, Ian. Have you no sense man?” Said the exasperated voice of his mother, and it occurred to Claire that this was the first time she was hearing the story as well.

He went on telling of how he made his way from Scottish settlement to settlement slowly making his way from Massachusetts to Connecticut and finally into New York where he’d hoped to travel by coach down the coast eventually making his way to Fraser’s Ridge.

“I suspect things did not work out as you had planned?”

“Well, I suspect I did not know where the treaty line was. It not being marked.”

It was said with such righteous indignation, that Jenny shook with laughter as the two men stared each other down.

Giving his father a sardonic look, he went on,

“I was taken by the Mohawk, a most fearsome tribe, and they kept me as prisoner for some time.

I wrote Uncle Jamie a letter, hoping a passing Jesuit would see it delivered, but,” he paused, the memory still fresh in his mind “the man came to a most unfortunate end.

When they took me to the longhouse, I thought surely I would be next, but Emily or as they called her, Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa, it means Works With Her Hands, asked me to eat by her hearth.

You see, Mohawk women are free to choose who they invite to their be-“

Remembering who he was speaking to he looked sheepishly at his parents. Both of them red-faced, Jenny with amusement and Ian’s embarrassment.

“Well she took a liking to me is all and I was adopted into the tribe. They treated me as one of their own, called me Wolf’s Brother, for Rollo you ken?

I learned their ways and their language, but still, I could not figure out a way to seek out Uncle Jamie without offending them.

I don’t know how long I was there, two years perhaps.”

Claire shuttered, unable to imagine the horror of not knowing where one's child was.

“One night Sun Elk, back from a hunt, sat by the chief‘s fire, him being the noblest of warriors.

He told the story of a most unusual man, a tall skirted demon, with hair like fire and a voice like growling dogs.”

Faith cackled at the description.

“They spoke of how he killed a bear with no but his hands. They called him Bear Killer and told of how he blessed the creature and shared the best parts of the kill with them wrapping the meat in a strange cloth.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Sun Elk pulled a Fraser plaid from his satchel passing it around for all to see.

I, having been granted permission to speak at the fire by Tewaktenyonh, told them that I knew this Bear Killer and asked to be taken to him.

And that’s how I found Uncle Jamie.”

The nonchalance of the last statement had them all staring at him, more than one mouth agape.

Claire, recognizing the kindred spirit when she saw one smiled,

“And they just let you go?”

“Oh aye, Auntie! They regard Uncle Jamie as something special.”

King of men forsooth, she thought.

He stood then, the wolf-dog by his side, yellow eyes glaring.

“He, he speaks of you, you ken? Not often, I think it pains his heart but I know you from his stories Auntie. You and the lass. He’ll be very glad to see you again.”

And with that he was gone, leaving the four of them alone in the study.

Faith, unable to keep her eyes open any longer, was nodding off in her chair.

“Do you come niece, I think you’ll find your room much the same as when you left it.”

“I suspect she is wanting you to have a bit of privacy as you read these.”

He handed over the stack of letters retrieved from his desk earlier and moved towards the door, turning back to make sure this had not all been a dream.

“Goodnight Claire. It is very good to be seeing you once more.”

Running her fingers over the familiar scrawl, Claire read about life on Fraser’s Ridge and wondered where she might fit in.

Everyone here was certainly happy at their reappearance, but what of Jamie?

She fervently wished for a bit of modern technology. To be able to pick up the phone and call him or hop on a plane, she could be with him in just a matter of hours.

She supposed she could write, but the odds of any correspondence reaching him before she appeared herself were slim this time of year.

The sun had long since set, and she knew the hour was late, but filled with such excitement she knew sleep wouldn’t come easy tonight.

The soft swish of the door opening brought her back and she smiled as her sister-in-law entered the room, laden with a tea tray.

“I knew you would not be sleeping.”

Nodding to the letters, “it’s a wild place, but I think it’s where he belongs. I miss him something terrible, but I’m glad of his happiness.

It’s not something that's come easy to him all these years without you.”

Claire knew that feeling well and remembered the brief moments of pure happiness she’d had in her former life, always being followed by grief so acute, it would leave her reeling for days and occasionally weeks afterward.

“I don’t think I have need to ask you if you still want to be with Jamie,” she set her shoulders “but I will.”

Jenny Fraser had always been just that bit overprotective of her brother and Claire was glad to see she still was. Distance notwithstanding.

“I’ve never known you to ask questions you didn’t already know the answer to.”

“Ah, that’s good then. Never have I seen two people who need each other more than the two of you. I see now you are just as incomplete without him as he is without you.”

They sat awhile, neither one of them feeling the need to speak, both just enjoying the company of an old friend.

“Did you know you’re a Grandmother now?”

Claire spluttered.

“Our Fergus has the three weans. Germain their oldest, he’s a sweet lad.

Then there are the twins, Joan and Félicité, Jamie calls them the Hell-Kittens.

Their mother, Marsali, was a kitchen maid here for quite some time. I took her in after her father died on Culloden Field and her mother dead of the starvation not but a few years later.

She’s a feisty lass, but I could not have hoped for a better match for Fergus. They belong together the two of them do.”

In the scope of life, twenty years was inconsequential, but in moments like this, twenty years was immeasurable.

Jenny stood then, “come Claire your great-nieces and nephews will be wanting to see you in the morning. I suspect you’ll remember what it’s like to be the center of attention in a house full of Fraser’s and Murray’s?”

She did and laughed out loud.

Chapter Text

The next months spent at Lallybroch were a balm to Faith’s soul.

She fell into the rhythm of the place with ease. Memories of things once long-forgotten sprang to life, each one a small thrill, as she reacquainted herself with this life.

She sat now by the millpond, dipping her fingers into the icy water, the memory of the afternoon she and her cousins had learned to swim here fresh in her mind.

“Just throw them in!” Her father shouted to her Uncle Ian, “I’ll go after the ones who sink.”

The shrieks and giggles elicited by his remark rang out clear as day.

“Oh Da.”

If she were being completely honest with herself, expected to find he’d died on Culloden field. It was something she’d thought long and hard about before their journey through the stones.

She’d wondered if she would be able to find happiness here without him, the answer had always been a very tentative yes.

Because for her, being here, in this time, in this place and with these people, would have been enough. She knew she could have quite happily lived in this space forever.

But all of that had changed with the revelation that Jamie Fraser was alive.

Her mother would leave, go to him at the first opportunity, there was no question there. But she wasn’t sure if she would be ready to leave Lallybroch when the time came.

And there was the dilemma.

She was thankful, so thankful for the six months they’d spent here. But as March was quickly turning into April and the date of their departure grew nearer, so did Faith’s level of distress.

She tried in vain to convince herself that perhaps it would be best if Claire went ahead and made the journey without her. She was sure her parents would need to spend some precious time alone.

But no, Faith knew her mother well, the guilt she’d feel at leaving another of her children behind would be too much. And after all, they’d been through, Faith could not, would not allow that.

Maybe she should just make the voyage with Claire. Spend a bit of time together as a family and then come back to Scotland. But once there in North Carolina would she be able to find the will to leave? Would she even want to?

She wished she had more time to think and ran her hand through her hair in frustration, dried her chilled fingers on her skirts, and began the short walk down to the house.

The weather was particularly nice today, a false spring her uncle had said, and the estate was alive with movement after the long gray months of winter.

She saw the first of the early spring Snowdrops had bloomed, and bent down to pick one, the crisp green scent bringing a smile to her face.

She veered off the path, stopping in the old kirkyard placing the flower atop Brian Fraser’s headstone. She’d never met him or Ellen but her heart knew both of them well.

“May there be everlasting peace upon you in your eternal rest Granda.”

She walked on, and for what felt like the millionth time felt for the small cloth-wrapped parcel she’d stowed away in her pocket.

She had woken early this morning meaning to speak with her Aunt but had lost her nerve - again.

She hadn’t understood why this conversation felt impossible. Sharing bits and pieces of her old life with Jenny was something she’d greatly enjoyed doing.

The look on her face when Faith explained modern appliances was something that she would cherish forever.

But this conversation would be different.

She knew her mother had spoken to her aunt and uncle about Bree and William, but Faith hadn’t been able to do the same.

The wound of leaving them behind was deep and it was still fresh. She was sheltering that pain protecting anyone from poking at it fearing the crushing heartache of a forever loss.

She thought she’d get used to it, not having them here by her side. But she hadn’t. They were etched into everything she did and she’d often turn to talk to Bree or crack a joke with William only to remember they weren’t here.

Each time the pain of remembrance took her breath away and she wondered how her mother had lived all those years in Boston with a pain like this.

Jenny and Claire watched from the kitchen window as Faith walked towards the house, shoulders set with determination and mask firmly in place.

“There isnae any doubt who that one’s father is. She is the spit of him, and no just in appearance.”

They shared a chuckle but Jenny continued watching. Faith was very much her own person, but her resemblance to Jamie was uncanny. From her looks and her speech to her mannerisms and personality. It was all his.

Claire quietly sat resuming her chopping. She too had spent many days watching Faith, hoping to catch small glimpses of a man she thought never to see again.

“She’s struggling.”

The relief that she felt with that small admission was immense.

Jenny turned cocking a dark brow. She usually had quite the gift for reading people but hadn’t noticed any signs of distress from her niece.

“Faith has always wanted to come back. Not just to this time, but here to Lallybroch.

Her only true want in life, or I suppose I should say need, was to be able to go home.

She never would have dared to say it, probably wouldn’t admit it if you asked her now. But it was clear to see for anyone who cared enough to look.

I saw it, how could I not. Brianna eventually did as well, but aside from the two of us and my friend Dr. Abernathy...”

Claire shrugged helplessly, her heart squeezing at the memory of their first few years in Boston. She wondered how Faith had coped with being away from all of this.

“When we went back she never complained. At first, the novelty of the place was enchanting enough to serve as a distraction.

Then Bree and William entered the picture and the thrill of being a big sister along with the discovery that Bree had red hair was - oh how I wish you could have seen her, she was so proud.”

Jenny, feeling the sting of strong emotion prick her eyes, reached for the whisky decanter and two glasses.

“But as she got older, the light started to fade from her eyes. Frank, God damn him, had always treated her differently than he did the twins.

He forbid her from speaking Gaelic, it was the worst thing he could have done and he knew it. He severed the last connection she had to this life.

I think that’s why she chose the career that she did. It was the closest thing to home she could find. It was her sanctuary.”

“The lass hasnae found what she was looking for then. She thought by coming back, all would be well, happiness might be restored to her once more but that isnae what’s happened at all.”

“Exactly.”

Claire looked up then to find Jenny weeping openly. She reached out a hand and the two women sat, mourning together for the first time all that had been lost.

“I think when you’ve spent the past twenty years imagining what a place will be like, the lines between fantasy and reality blur together.

You have time to think about every detail. What it’s going to be like, who is going to be there, what your reception will be like.

She’s struggling to find a balance between her childhood memories and the actuality of the situation.

Everything is a bit more, in a child’s eye. They possess an ability that we don't. They can see the good things in life with no strings attached. For them happiness is never conditional, it just is.

I think she thought that we would stay here, live on the estate forever. Pick up exactly where we left off. She never imagined that once here we might leave again.”

For the first time since sitting down, Jenny heard Claire’s voice quaver and understanding washed over her.

“You dinna ken if the lass will go with you? Is that it then?”

The tear that slid down Claire’s cheek told Jenny that it was.

“You cannae ever really lose a child Claire. When Young Ian left I was beside myself fearing that I had lost the lad.

Fearful that he might no return because of something that I had done.

I cannae tell you how I made it through those two years, never knowing where he was or if he were okay. But I had a responsibility to myself to continue on no matter what. But I tell you that every day I woke feeling him just here.”

She placed a hand on her heart.

“I think that is the thing about being a mother. We always consider our bairns to be children no matter how old they are.

There is no book to teach us of what we must do. Instead, it is a knowledge of sorts that we all possess.

Letting go and allowing them to take control of their own lives is no easy, but it is a necessity of motherhood.

Watching them fail and fall and stumble is even harder. But it is all worth it in the end when they find their way to the success and the happiness we’ve always wanted for them.

And the child you once knew is still there but as they grow your role as a mother changes and you celebrate the times they come back to you for help.

It is a gift, a chance to help mold them further to shower them with love even though they act as if they do no need it.

Faith will seek you out before she makes any decisions I ken she will, they all do.

You are a good mother Claire. Jamie will be so proud to know of the lass you have raised.”

Before she could reply the door to the kitchen flew open and a procession of young children piled in.

“Granny we’re hungry!”

“I cannae wait for the day that you’ll come in here to tell me something that I do not already ken.”

She shot Claire a smile before setting down a box of oatcakes and jam, silencing the children at once.

Claire quietly left the room allowing Jenny to get on with the business of making dinner. Grateful for having her faith in Faith restored.

Faith sat in the stables tracing the dots across Dalhousie’s snout. They reminded her of the line of tattoos that ran across her cousin’s face. The thought of Ian reminded her of her mother and the thought of Claire led her back to thoughts of her Aunt Jenny.

She sighed, turning her attention instead to the late spring snow that was gently clicking against the windowpane.

There was something soothing about watching the icy flakes fall. It was familiar and she found a comfort in it that transcended time.

They had harsh winters in Boston, quite like Scotland but what she remembered most was sitting at the table with Bree and William in the minutes just before the school bus arrived, waiting eagerly for the phone to ring and the joy when it did, bringing news of an official snow day.

There was something purely magical about days like that. She thought it was the closest thing to treasure a child might ever have and held those memories close to her heart.

She rose with decision, knowing that it was now or never, and made her way to the warmth of the house, the wiry old Deerhound, Thistle at her heels.

She was relieved to find her aunt alone in the kitchen rolling out dough for tonight’s dinner.

“Is there anything I can help you with?”

Jenny looked up, surprised but not shocked to see Faith. She had known for some weeks now that the lass was seeking her out trying to muster up the courage to speak.

“Och, no. But do sit, I’ll be with you directly.”

Faith watched as Jenny carefully transferred the rounded dough to rest on top of a large dish of rabbit stew. Her stomach rumbled as her aunt slid the tray into the oven, her mouth watering at the thought of the rich meaty pie.

Jenny knew that Faith wasn’t a drinker, but brought a well-aged whisky to the table just in case and sat.

“I can see there is something on your mind. Will you no be telling me of it niece?”

She didn’t know where to start, instead reached into her pocket and slid the small wrapped parcel across the table before blurting out,

“Bree said I would know when it was the right time to give you this.”

Jenny didn’t unwrap it, but instead said, “tell me of them.”

Faith had no need to ask, she knew exactly who her aunt was speaking of.

“Brianna Julia Ellen, named after your parents and our Grandmother Julia.

William Robert Alexander, after your brothers, all three of them.

Mama said it was important that he always remembered the great men in his life who came before him.”

She went on, feeling emboldened by the speaking of their names.

You’ll never meet twins more un-alike than Bree and William.

There’s no mistaking who our father is, me and Bree that is. But William,” she shrugged.

“You wouldn’t know who his father was just by looking, but spend five minutes speaking with him and you'll be left with no doubt!

“A stubborn clot-heid is he?”

Faith nodded, rolling her eyes and they exchanged a knowing look.

“He has brown curly hair like Mama and her golden eyes, Bree has them too. I think it’s the only thing they have in common.

Bree, well everyone says that we look alike. She’s tall like me and has red hair but she doesn’t have my blue eyes and her accent…”

Faith pinched the tip of her nose and did her best to mimic Brianna’s nasal Bostonian tones.

“She’s very stubborn like Da but has nothing on William.

And she’s smart, very smart. She went to school to become an art and fashion historian. And she’s a great one for the painting.”

“Like Ellen.” Faith nodded.

“She graduated from university last year and was working at a local gallery in Boston. I'm not sure what she's doing now.”

The pain of that statement hit hard.

“She was, is she corrected my best friend. I couldn't have survived all that time there without her.

Just before we came back, she began spending a lot of time in Scotland with Roger.”

Jenny frowned at the unfamiliar name.

“He’s a McKenzie.”

“Oh aye? So the clan of my mother still exists in your time?”

Faith smiled not wanting to burden her Aunt with the knowledge of any of that and went on.

“Roger’s been a close family friend since before Bree was born. His adoptive father, Reverend Wakefield, was Frank's work colleague.

He and Bree have just always had a connection. I used to get upset when we went to visit them. I was too young to understand why Roger never wanted to play with me.”

She paused, unsure of the proper protocols to be taken when describing modern-day dating to a woman of the 18th-century. Deciding to play it safe she continued.

“But as I got older I saw the two of them had a special bond. It’s always been there and they’ve always had it. It’s just evolved over time.

Mama said the night before we came back through the stones, Roger told her he was planning to propose.”

That caught Jenny’s attention.

“And do you think she’ll accept him? Is he a good man then? Is he worthy of her affections?”

Faith didn’t hesitate, “I know she’ll accept him but she’ll do it on her own time. Lord help the person who tries to force Bree into anything before she’s ready!”

“I see you are no the only one with a marked resemblance to your father. If I can count on my brother for the one thing it is to pass on his stubbornness to my nieces and nephew.

Christ! Was it no enough for him to just pass on his red hair and bonnie blue eyes?”

Faith recognized a rhetorical question when she heard one.

“She is Lady of Lallybroch now.”

Jenny gawked at her.

“The house, this house, we researched and found it stayed in the Murray family until the early 1900s. We think it was abandoned during the war and over the years it’s fallen into quite a state of disrepair.

When we went back to Scotland, Mama bought the estate and gave it to Bree; she wanted her to always have a place to call home.”

“Aye well, it is good to know it’s still in the family.”

She poured herself a finger of whisky before asking the next question,

“What of William? Can you tell me more of him?”

“He’s very, very British like Mama. Their accent might be the only thing they have in common besides their looks.

He’s the one who looked most like Frank and the two of them were always very close.

He studied to be a historian as well, but a Jacobite historian. He’s a professor at Oxford University now. He works with Roger.

“And let me guess, Brianna’s lad is a historian as well?”

“However did you know?”

“It seems to run in the family then.”

“That it does.”

Faith didn’t know if she should continue but figured if she had made it this far, there was no harm.

“William never believed anything mama told him about where we came from. Well, at least that’s how he always acted. I think in part because of his need to appease Frank. He so wanted to be like him.

It was hard for him, especially after Frank died. Mama never forced it, but it broke her heart. More than anything she just wanted us to be happy even if she wasn’t. She sacrificed so much for us.

I,” her voice cracked but she went on. “I never got a chance to say goodbye to him. He moved to England after Frank’s death to live with our grandparents and made it clear that he wanted to be left alone.

I know he was mourning, but I would have liked,” she sniffed doing her best to hold back more tears.

“Their life is there. That’s where they belong. I know I’ll never see them again but I wish-“

“You wish you could have spent just a bit more time with them? To have maybe had the opportunity to see your brother once more for a proper goodbye?”

“So did you aunt. I mean with Da.”

“Aye, that’s so niece.

What if you though? Where do you fit into all of this?”

The question caught her off guard & she felt her chin quiver. But started with the basics.

“I’m a historian of linguistics.”

Jenny guffawed with laughter, at having yet another historian in the family.

“I wrote a book.”

“Did you then?”

“Yes. I wanted to know what happened after we went back but history didn’t offer up any mention of the Fraser’s of Lallybroch. So I wrote about the people here instead, and what the English did. How they stripped you of house, home, lands, family, clan, and even language.

Aunt, even in our time, Gaelic isn’t used. It’s been lost over generations but I wanted people to know. I wanted them to keep you in their thoughts and to understand all that was lost after the ‘45.”

She didn’t go into further detail about the information in her book not wanting to plague her aunt with such worries.

Jenny nodded but looked troubled.

“Faith, why now? Why did ye come back now? Was there not more for you and your mother to accomplish in your time?”

“Because of Bree and William.” She said simply.

“They’re grown now. Mama knows they’ll be fine without her. They both have lives, careers, people who love them, and the knowledge of where we've gone.

I think we didn’t come back sooner because she was afraid of what we’d find.

We both feared that Da might have found someone else to care for. And Mama, having been stripped of love before, didn't want to face the same fate again or put Da in an uncomfortable position.”

Jenny’s heart clenched. If they only knew…

She looked down at the long-forgotten parcel on the table and unwrapped it as if it contained the most precious thing in the world.

It did and her face cracked. Faith taken aback, stood abruptly nearly upending the table in her rush to reach her aunt. Looking down at the small canvas clenched in Jenny’s hand she staggered.

Staring back at her was a painting of the four of them. Claire, Faith, Bree, and William. Done in her sister's hand.

She saw Bree had very cleverly dressed them in clothes of this time and had adorned each of them with a bit of Fraser plaid.

Jenny looked at her niece and caught a glimpse of the girl she once was. Her heart ached for all of them but for the first time since their appearance on her doorstep, she felt at peace. A small part of herself having been restored to her.

As the months turned into weeks and weeks info days until their departure Claire had become more and more restless. She had been restless though ever since finding out Jamie was in North Carolina but did her best to make herself useful. Helping with small tasks around the house and doctoring those who would let her, anything to keep her mind occupied, was time well spent in her book.

She stood now knee-deep in the stream that passed alongside old Granny McNabb’s croft collecting wee bits of greenery for the box of simples she meant to be taking with them on their sea voyage.

Despite her best efforts, it didn’t seem to matter what she did, her thoughts always ended up landing on Faith.

The idea that she wouldn’t make the journey with her was a constant fear and as soothing as Jenny’s words had been, she was beginning to have doubts.

“Mama?”

Claire nearly jumped out of her skin. Faith had clearly inherited her father’s knack for stealth.

She didn’t wait to speak, fearful she’d lose her nerve.

“I’ve been worried about you.”

Faith was incredulous, “me? Why?”

“I have been thinking a lot is all. I just thought that you might want to stay here for a bit longer. This is your place, you were born to it and I don’t want you to feel that you have to come with me when I go.”

It was a lie and they both knew it.

“Oh Mama,” she looked into her mother’s face and said very gently, “my place is with you. You’re not the only one who needs Da. I need him too.

I never thought I’d get a chance to see this place again but I’m so thankful that I did. To see Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ian, I never expected…”

She took a deep breath, “I owe it to Da. To find him and thank him for the gift that he gave us. To have lived the life I did and to accomplish,” she waved her hands trying to encompass it all.

What kind of daughter would I be to allow you to go without me?

A proper bad one” she said in her best British accent and they both snorted.

“I remember what it was like before we went through the stones and I want nothing more than for us to have that once more.”

There wasn’t a need to say anything else. What had already been said was enough.

And just like that Claire could breathe again.

Chapter Text

The idea of closure was a false illusion. If the past few years had taught her anything, that was it. The loss of her father, mother, sister, and a life she once knew, was sometimes all just too much and there never seemed to be a way to escape that weighty feeling.

Some days she wept, the enormity of all she’d lost an unbearable burden. Other days she acted as if she were fine, doing her best to get on with it all, knowing damn well she wasn’t fooling anyone, not even herself. And then there were days like today. Today she was angry. Angry at herself and angry at them for leaving her.

She let her rage pour out through the pen. Scratching out each letter, pressing harder with every stroke, willing her hand to write faster, needing to purge herself of each troubled thought racing through her mind.

She hissed as her wrist slipped, and the pen tore the page leaving a splotch of ink to seep through the delicate paper like the despair that saturated her life.

Breathing heavily, she slammed the notebook shut, trapping her thoughts within its pages feeling that just maybe enough of her pain had been alleviated.

She sat a moment, resting her head in her hands, willing her heart to slow down, and absorbing as much of the silence as time might allow.

Oftentimes she wondered what her life would be like if Frank hadn't died. Might Claire and Faith still be here? She knew her sister would have gone no matter what. The death of Frank had only released her from whatever mental shackles he’d placed on her. But her mother?

Claire was always meant to be a doctor. That much was clear but she wondered if her mother found comfort in healing the wounds of others simply because she had lived with the pain of not being able to heal her own.

And there was the answer to that. Yes, her mother would have gone back even if it were only to give the wounds she’d always carried a chance to heal.

The phrase time heals all wounds suddenly took on a new meaning.

“Oh, Mama. Did you find Jamie Fraser? Have you found your peace?”

God, she hoped so.

Exhaling, she rose and firmly closed the door to her old bedroom behind her needing to leave those thoughts and that energy alone to fizzle out in the room without her.

The ancient grandfather clock in Frank’s study showed the time as 3 PM, she sighed realizing it too still needed to be packed and added it to her seemingly never-ending list of things to be done.

Selling the house on Furey Street had never been part of the plan. She laughed bitterly, nothing that had happened had been part of the plan, but the realization that they could not afford to keep both Lallybroch and the house she grew up in, the house that housed years of memories, was like a knife to her heart.

She had in fact forgotten about the gift her mother had given her before her trip through the stones. With all that had happened, no one would have blamed her for the oversight but still, she felt guilty as Claire’s words echoed in her mind.

“Even though I may no longer be here with you, Lallybroch has always been a home for my heart and I want it to be one for yours too.”

She had never laid eyes on the house and wasn't even sure it still stood. But they had gone, the two of them. She’d felt it important for Roger to be there with her.

And as they rounded the final curve in the road and the estate came into view, her heart mangled, battered, and bruised as it was, sputtered to life at the sight.

They’d walked the grounds together, all of the tiny details from Faith’s stories sprang to life. The stables, third stall on the left, had been home to her pony Dalhousie. The millpond where she’d learned to swim and the dilapidated broch where, according to Faith, you could see all the way to Broch Mordha if you climbed to the top.

It was all here. And she found quite suddenly that her connection with Faith, the one she feared had been lost forever, was there. Right in the spot it had always been.

“Roger?”

He had spent much of the day trying to absorb the overwhelming history of the old place. Staying relatively quiet leaving Bree to process it on her own. He knew a decision might be made here and he also knew it would be a decision Bree would have to make on her own.

For all he wanted her to stay here in Scotland with him, he needed even more so for her to do what was right for her.

And he didn’t want to pressure her to do so. He’d never forgive himself if he were the one to add any more stress to her life.

He didn’t think about his parents much, it had after all been a time, but as he’d watched Bree go through the grieving process, and to a lesser degree grieved for the loss of Claire and Faith himself. He wondered which was worse.

Losing one’s parents at a young age and living your whole life longing for a life you would never have? Or to have grown up with a family only to lose father, mother, and sister in rapid succession leaving a gaping hole in one’s heart that might never be filled.

Neither. There was no lesser of two evils in either situation.

“Roger!?”

He hunched his shoulders, the aggravated look on her face told him she’d called his name more than once.

“Aye?”

“Were you not listening to anything I said?”

He looked at her sheepishly and she sighed, a smile hidden in the corners of her lips.

“Men. At least Mama had the right of that.

I said I think I’ve made a decision.”

His heart skipped a beat and he quickly glanced at the shiny three-stone ring on her left hand, a relic of the mother he would never know. And tried to remind himself that no matter what, she was his and he was hers. Always.

“I think.” She paused as if to make sure she was sure of what she was about to say.

“I think this is where I belong.”

His heart sang.

“But, I’m not sure. If, and that’s a big if, I were to call this place home…”

He knew. They’d briefly talked about it, “then you would have to sell the house in Boston to fund the restoration of Lallybroch.”

She nodded, tears pooling in her eyes.

“I could never afford it otherwise…”

She stood biting her lip, plagued by indecision.

And he wished for nothing more than to take her in his arms and give her whatever reassurance she needed. But he couldn’t, not just yet.

So they left, decision still unmade. He’d come to realize in the time that he’d known Brianna that she could not and would not make any type of big decision without speaking to William first.

She’d said, “it’s a twin thing, you wouldn’t understand.” And maybe she was right.

William who’s life was firmly in London now had encouraged her to sell the house. She’d been hesitant but listed the property, and had received an offer within days.

Though it was slightly less than what she’d wanted. The proposal from the university to turn the old Randall home into housing for Ph.D. students in the history program was more than she could have ever imagined.

Her views of her father had evolved over the years, but to know his legacy would live on was worth more to her than anything money could buy.

She stood now in the hallway outside of Frank’s old office running her fingers over the shiny brass plate that would be affixed to the front of the house.

It read, “In honor of the esteemed Franklin Wolverton Randall” and in smaller print below the Harvard crest “Furey Street Dormitory, a gift to the university from the Randall children, Faith, Brianna, and William.”

The school had been very generous, allowing her to keep possession of the house until summer, but she hadn’t waited, having nearly all of their belongings shipped to Scotland at once.

She hadn’t been able to turn over the keys as easily, feeling it necessary to say a proper goodbye to the place they once called home.

It wasn’t that there was anything in particular that she felt attached to. Well, just the memories and she would take those with her.

It was more that this was the last place they had all been together. She, Faith, William, her parents, and their beloved family dog, Geordie, the English Foxhound.

It hadn’t always been easy, but they had made the walls of this house a home. And on the rare nights when the house was filled with love and laughter, that’s what she’d remember. That’s what she’d always miss.

The doorbell rang, Aunt Gail was right on time as always. She walked down the hall, sneakers squeaking on the freshly polished floors, and pulled open the door.

She had expected to be greeted in a warm embrace by the woman she’d always thought of as a second mother, but Gail blew right past Bree into the nearly empty house.

“And where’s my best man?”

“Should I assume you’re not talking about Uncle Joe?”

“Oh honey no, of course not!”

Bree smiled. “Well in that case he’s with Roger and they went to finish closing up the accounts.”

“And my William? Where’s he? Why isn’t he here helping you? Did he forget this was his house too?”

She didn’t answer, just shrugged.

Gail stared at her, eyes squinted in suspicion.

“Brianna McKenzie, what aren’t you telling me?”

A sly smile crossed Bree’s face.

“Oh, it’s not me who’s keeping secrets…”

“Joseph Abernathy! Where are they? I know they’re together, thick as thieves, the two of them.”

“At the game. The Yankees are in town.”

She looked down at her shoes, “and they’re probably thinking of new ways to interrogate Roger at dinner tonight.”

It was meant to be said in jest, but Gail heard the concern in her voice and put an arm around Bree’s shoulder, having to stand on her toes to reach, “don’t worry about their foolishness, you've got you a good one, Bree.”

And with that, she was off boxes and packing tape in hand.

Bree watched her go, feeling so very thankful that her Mother had had the good sense to befriend Dr. Abernathy all those years ago.

They were very simply put, family.

But it had been in the months after Frank’s death that the bond between her and Gail became unbreakable.

Grieving of the death of a man she knew had been at times terrible not just towards Claire but Faith as well. But he had raised her and the loss of a person she called Daddy was unbearable.

To know he was gone. Never coming back. Would never have a chance to say goodbye or share one more hug. That was a type of loss she’d never experienced before and she didn’t know what to do with her pain.

Talking to Claire didn’t feel right. So she had waited until her mother had gone to work and walked the two blocks north to the Abernathy house. Gail had taken one look at her and ushered her into the dining room where they sat.

She’d offered Bree small snippets of comfort and advice but for the most part, just listened. She has struggled to find words adequate enough to fully express her loss, but slowly found her way unburdening herself with each sentence.

Gail had excused herself just the once, presumably to call Faith, and had come back with a tray laden with two cups of hot cocoa and a plate of cookies.

“You are brilliant and amazing and brave. You’re going to do great things in this life.”

She had looked Bree in the eye then, “you are the daughter of my heart. And don’t you ever forget that, Brianna Randall.”

And though Brianna knew a lifelong friendship had been born that night, she still felt guilty. Up until her departure through the stones, that had been the only time Bree had withheld her feelings from Claire.

Thought of Claire sent her reeling back into the raging headspace she had clearly and unfortunately not been able to purge completely.

Brianna knew it had been the most deceitful thing she had ever done. She had never lied to Claire well no, she had a few times about small and insignificant things like staying out well after curfew. But this was neither small nor insignificant, it was life-changing.

She had wished and hoped and prayed to whichever God might be listening for more time. Not long, just a few months would have been enough. She knew if she had asked, had asked Clair to wait, to not go quite yet she would have, Faith too. She had almost done it, but couldn’t justify her need thinking it selfish and knowing neither one of them should ever have to sacrifice more than they already had.

And then there was Jeremiah.

She had sobbed, great racking sobs that shook her soul as she realized the two most important women in her life would be gone before the child was born. She’d been passed from Mrs. Graham to Fiona and finally Roger. All offering whatever comfort they might, and all realizing the futility of their efforts. But he’d held her brushing the tear-matted hair from her face after she’d finally fallen asleep in his lap.

He didn’t know how long he’d sat there berating himself for such unforgivable stupidity.

He thought of asking her to marry him, but he knew her well. She’d undoubtedly reject him seeing his proposal as nothing more than pity.

He berated himself, thinking what piss poor timing for something like this to happen. But when was there ever a good time for any of this?

A horrible thought crossed his mind, would she forgive him or would she leave? Go back to Boston and start a life without him? Might she push him out of her life forever? It’s what he deserved but,

“God no! Please no!”

He spoke louder than he meant to, the passion of it overwhelming him, and was startled to feel a hand on his chest.

A pair of bright blue eyes stared back at him.

“I won’t leave you so long as you won’t leave me.”

He thought he did cry then. Not out of relief or guilt or fear but because despite being thrown such an unfair curveball, whatever bond they had, had remained in tack.

She should have been furious with him, but she wasn’t. He saw very clearly now that she was just as afraid as he was.

“There’s a tradition here in Scotland, handfasting it’s called.”

She sat up and eyed him.

“You know Roger, sometimes I think you forget I’m half Scots.”

She was right, he did. Her Bostonian accent forever marked her as an American in his mind but he didn’t dare say so.

“Handfasting, it’s like a marriage of sorts, good for a year and a day.”

“Aye, that’s it.”

They both stared at each other, neither able to ask. But she nodded a small smile brightening her face.

They had been handfasted the next week in the Reverend’s study, the room overflowing with boxes as they continued their hunt for Jamie.

And that was it. Brianna had insisted that’s all she’d wanted but he knew that wasn’t quite it. She had become noticeably more frantic in her need to find James Fraser as the date of Claire’s arrival at the manse grew closer.

He had avoided the obvious conversation of what they might tell Claire, again leaving the decision up to Bree. And she had left it long enough, waiting until the morning of Claire’s arrival before seeking him out.

And they had talked then, just the two of them. Going over every scenario they could think of. She was nearly six months gone, had she been showing, the choice would not have been hers to make, but her tall broad frame hid the small swelling of her stomach well.

Ultimately, it had come down to one thing and one thing only and that was Faith. Claire wouldn’t go no matter what if she knew Bree was pregnant, and that would leave Faith to go on her own.

She simply couldn’t ask Claire to stay. To make her choose between Faith’s happiness and Bree’s need. It would have been an impossible choice and she would not lay such a burden on either woman.

Claire, usually in tune with her children’s every mood, was far too distracted by the hope of finding Jamie to notice the tension running through the house. She’d seen the dark circles under Bree’s eyes and accounted them to long nights spent digging through papers.

It had been a herculean effort on Bree’s part to hide her emotions behind a mask. It was something her sister did well but usually for Bree, every emotion showed on her glass face and she knew it was a performance she would never be able to perfect again.

And on that night they’d found the broadsheet with the damning likeness to James Fraser, she found that a final decision had been made quite without her knowledge.

She had never seen such joy from either her mother or her sister in all their years together. She would not take that from them. And they had gone, the two of them back to find him.

A small selfish part of her hoped they wouldn’t find the man, that they’d come back and could be a family again. But it had been nearly a year now and she knew they were truly gone.

The betrayal of guilt at allowing them to leave without the knowledge of Jem was incessant. Her constant companion.

She hadn’t thought of Jemmy during all of it. Hadn’t realized her decision would rob him of Grandmother and Aunt. He hadn’t been real then, but now…

She conjured a picture of him in her mind. Red hair as fiery as her own, rounded face, stubby nose, short fat fingers, and eyes as unique as him. Blue rimmed with green and speckled with flecks of gold.

And her heart filled with joy. She loved him more than herself, than the life she once had and the air she breathed. She loved him fiercely and deeply. Nothing would ever change that and no one would ever take him from her.

But on occasion, she wondered how much they’d tell him about Faith and Claire. Surely one day he’d ask, that was inevitable. But there was time, no need to stress over that just yet.

A steam whistle shriek fit to wake the dead echoed through the rooms of the nearly empty house.

“There he is!” Gail's voice rang out from down the hall.

“Come to Auntie Gail, sweetie!” She kissed his sticky cheek, “you’re the closest thing I’ll ever get to a grandson, your cousin Lenny doesn’t seem to have any intention of settling down.”

She made a face as the stink coming from Jenny’s diaper reached her nose.

Bree stepped forward reaching for her offspring but was shooed away.

“Oh no you don’t! You’re not going to deprive me of any time spent with my best guy!” And she was up the stairs presumably to give Jem a bath and get him ready for bed.

Gail’s joy shouldn’t have made her sad but it did because that joy should have been Claire’s as well.

“Do you know when Joe and William will be back?” Roger asked.

She’d been listening to the game on the radio, and suddenly the old thing came to life. The crackling voice of the broadcaster yelling,

“And the Yankees win! Can you believe it folks?! 3-7 Yankees in 9! What a game!”

Bree shot Roger a look and shrugged, “I suspect they’ll be here soon.

And they were. Bree answered the door, a fresh and clean Jemmy in her arms to find both William and Joe wearing matching hats, “worlds best uncle” they read.

It was so wildly out of character for both of them that she just stood there gawking a smile nearly splitting her face.

Joe handed William a bag, hopefully containing their dinner, she thought as her stomach rumbled and Joe scooped Jemmy out of his mother’s arms.

“There’s my big man” he crooned “look what your favorite Uncle got for you.”

He pulled out a tiny shirt that said “Beantown” in big red letters across the front.

“So you never forget where you came from. Once a Bostonian, always a Bostonian.”

And in the most God awful accent, any of them had ever heard said, “and that’s a wicked good thing to be bub.”

Dinner had been delicious. Takeout from Il Classico, the Italian restaurant that had been a staple of her childhood.

When she thought of this final night here in this house that had always been home with the people she loved, she’d thought their final goodbye would be sad. But as they sat around the table sharing stories and memories, the mood was anything but.

Jemmy had fallen asleep in his playpen covered in red sauce and cheese. His wee highland coo clutched tightly in his tiny hand.

Roger shared pictures with the Abernathy‘s of their tiny wedding held at a small single-roomed stone kirk tucked away in the highlands.

Bree told them all about Lallybroch and the progress that had been made on the house. And they chatted over room temperature coffee and stale biscotti late into the night. None of them wanted this night to end.

But William had been unusually quiet and there was a strangeness about him that she didn’t recognize and didn’t like at all.

She’d shot him more than one questioning look across the table but he’d ignored her.

So when he excused himself she followed him, cornering him in the kitchen.

“What is going on? Why are you being like this?”

“I should ask you the same.” He retorted.

Roger came into the room, took one look at the twins, and immediately walked back out. He’d gotten in between the two of them once before and had no intention of ever doing so again.

“What do you mean you should ask me the same?”

“You’re keeping something from me. I know it!”

She stared at him, rage bubbling within, “you’re right! I am!”

And marched out of the room, the force of her exit left the door swinging.

It had been the first time she’d ever willingly admitted he had been right. But before he had time to relish in his victory he heard her voice say his name with just a little too much gusto and pushed open the kitchen door.

She was standing at the head of the table looking down at something with such a look of despair on her face that he almost apologized.

“I’ll have to return it to the university tomorrow but..”

As she turned the small square around, everyone in the room gasped. William shot forward, taking the canvas from her hand.

The face of his sister Faith stared back at him. Her long red hair falling from underneath a white bonnet.

Roger, Joe, and Gail had all gotten up and stared down at the familiar face and she thought she saw Gail wipe away a tear but couldn’t be sure.

“I found it in a book in the Widener. It’s from a private collection but I was able to borrow it for the day. There’s no information about the artist, sitter, date, or location, but it’s her I know it.”

“Couldn’t be anyone else,'' said Joe and reached to hold the portrait in his hand.”

Roger wasn’t looking at the painting anymore but at William who was frantically ushering Bree not just out of the room but out of the house and down the street to sit under the old Oak.

Curiosity told him to follow them but logic said otherwise.

William was frantically flipping through a book he’d pulled from his jacket pocket, that the dim glow of the streetlight told her was titled, “The Journey of the Scottish Settler in Colonial America”

He stopped suddenly and turned the book around displaying a large black and white landscape photo.

“It’s the same, isn’t it? The background I mean. Look just here” he pointed to a waterfall in the photo.”

“What?”

He didn’t wait for her to catch up, but nodded and started to read, “Fraser’s Ridge, located in the backcountry of North Carolina was home to one of the first settlements of Scots in America. The hearthstone of what is believed to be the first cabin erected on the site can still be viewed today on the uppermost peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Bree thought back to her frantic search for Jamie Fraser all those months ago. Felt the absolute heartbreak of not knowing where he was or if they’d ever find him. Had spent all this time coming to terms with a loss that left a gaping hole in her heart thinking that would be as much closure as she’d ever get.

But very unintentionally they had found them. Well, they had found Faith and a place called Fraser’s Ridge.

“Fraser is a common enough name, but I think honor dictates that I must pay the place a visit?”

She nodded, too shocked for much else.

“William? Do you want me to go with you?”

He appreciated the offer but, “no. Jemmy needs you and I’m not exactly sure where Fraser’s Ridge is, it’s not marked on any of the maps I’ve looked at.

Besides, I’ve arranged to do some traveling while stateside. There's a man in California at UCLA, his name Edgars, Professor Edgars he used to work with Papa. He has some old papers that he thinks I’d like to see.”

He rose then and Bree saw the shadows of strong emotion on his face.

“You know Grandmother and Grandfather are itching to meet Jeremiah. Perhaps when I come back we can arrange something?”

Bree nodded. He was right, it had been too long since she’d seen them and she’d love nothing more than for Jem to be around family.

“Well,” he said, “I’ll see you across the pond.”

She moved to hug him and he whispered in her ear, “make sure my nephew knows who loves him the most.” And was gone.

She watched him until he was out of sight before she got up and walked towards the house.

She saw that the Abernathy's car was gone and wondered when they’d left.

Seeing that the light was still on in her old bedroom, thought maybe she’d have just enough time to kiss Jemmy goodnight but the sound of Roger’s voice drifted through the open window and the thought was dashed.

He had always sung Jem to sleep, it was their special time together and she wouldn’t ruin that for anything in the world.

The tune of “Jeremiah was a bullfrog“ slowly drifted down to her ears and she smiled.

She locked the door behind her, turned out the lights and quietly stood for the last time in a place that had once been home.

“Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and…”

There was a pause before a rugged yet high pitched “meeee” and a shriek of laughter from Jemmy.

With each and every moment like this, she realized that in time, she could absolutely learn to love this life, loss notwithstanding.

Chapter Text

The transformation of Lallybroch from house to home was slowly beginning to drive Brianna a bit mad. The constant noise of hammers and drills had reached a fever pitch two weeks ago and in her frustration, she had packed up Jemmy to take refuge at the manse.

She stood now in the freshly painted and fully renovated kitchen of the old manor house and smiled with relief. Although she greatly appreciated the hospitality Mrs. Graham had shown them, she was very much looking forward to spending a few days alone at home now that the renovation of the main living quarters was complete.

Fiona, bless her, had offered to keep an eye on Jem for the weekend and Roger wouldn’t be back from Oxford until Monday. She wondered if he’d been able to find any more information about Fraser’s Ridge.

Sighing with pleasure she set up her easel in what was once the old speak a word room but was now her studio, and continued to work on the portrait of her mother and Faith.

It was still painful to think about them and she wondered if the gaping hole in her heart would remain forever, but she also meant for them to continue to be a part of this family. To have a place in this house but more importantly for her son to have the knowledge of them.

It was rare for her to have this kind of time free of the responsibilities of daily life and she planned to take full advantage of it.

She buttoned her smock, angled the canvas to catch the best light, and began working. She lost herself to the movements of the brush; each stroke held a memory and any thoughts of longing left her mind altogether.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there lost in her own little world, but she was suddenly pulled back to reality, by a feeling of, not quite loss but more so loneliness.

Being a twin, it wasn’t an emotion she encountered often, but when she did, she always took note. The bond she shared with William was unlike anything she’d experienced in life. He had simply always been there. A life without him was something she’d never known. Just the thought of such a thing made her stomach flip. No, William was her other half. Anyone who didn’t know that didn’t know them.

As they’d grown older, the security she’d felt from physically always having him by her side manifested into more of a knowledge. The knowledge that she wasn’t alone and that no matter what happened, they would have each other. It was a great comfort to her, especially now.

But she hadn’t heard from William since their last night in Boston. It definitely wasn’t odd for him to fall off the radar for extended periods of time, actually, it was very much in his character to do so. Still, she worried about him, she couldn’t help it. From a young age, Claire had always told her that it was her responsibility to take care of him, and she took that responsibility to heart.

When William had told her he was going to explore the backwoods of North Carolina to search for the hearthstone that marked the spot in which Fraser’s Ridge once stood, she had, well she’d been shocked. She hoped that hadn’t shown too much on her face.

He had rejected Claire’s story about Scotland and James Fraser their entire life. Well, she’d thought he did and wondered changed. Perhaps it was the loss of both of their parents that would certainly be enough of a shock to send one looking for answers to questions ignored for years. But she thought not.

If anything this was a quest he’d undertaken for her. More than anyone, he knew how disappointed she’d been in her inability to find Fraser. She’d thought that if she could have found the man, she would have the knowledge of knowing where Claire was. And to have that, that one small bit of knowing would have meant the world. It wouldn’t be closure, no, never that, but it would have been damn close.

The last place William Randall ever expected to be was hiking up the side of Grandfather Mountain in the backwoods of who knew where North Carolina.

While he most definitely was an outdoorsman, the small hills and grassy fields native to England were child’s play compared to this.

“You’ve had many poorly planned ideas in your life, but this takes the cake.” He scoffed.

He couldn’t wait to get back to Oxford and the comfort of his office. He was fairly certain that his paper, The Lost Voices of the ‘45, would be published by year's end, and that was something he was very much looking forward to.

It’d been a collaborative effort that he’d started writing nearly three years ago with Frank just before the tragic accident that took his life.

He made a mental note to run it by Roger Mac before sending it off for review by the board. Roger was as modest as they came, but an absolute authority on the Jacobites. He’d spent many years working alongside Frank, and William thought how fortunate it was to have another accomplished academic in the family.

Between himself, MacKenzie, Brianna, and Faith they were a powerhouse. He swelled with pride, but then he remembered. Faith. Faith was gone and that’s why he was here.

He muttered something unintelligible under his breath even to his own ears and pulled the flimsy map he’d picked up at the field office from his pack. Fraser’s Ridge wasn’t marked on it but the ranger had circled it for him.

“That’s a mighty big hike over some real rough terrain…” She eyed him equipped with only a small pack and compass. “It’s a good four-hour walk in and back - uphill no less. Eight hours total and there’s a storm fixin’ to roll in this evening.”

He’d nodded and smiled kindly, again asking her to point out his destination on the map, which she had, a coy smile creeping across her face as she heard his accent. And he’d left then before she had a chance to say anything else.

Very American, he thought with a slight roll of his eyes. But he was American too, not that you’d know it by his speech which much to his chagrin always attracted unwanted attention when he was on this side of the pond.

He’d checked his pack once more, left everything he deemed too heavy or unnecessary in the small locker he’d rented, and purchased a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, and two bottles of water from the vending machine.

Now he paused on the trail taking in the view and checked his bearings on the compass. Judging the time by the sun, he thought it to be about noon. According to the map, there was a small spring about a mile further up and just past that, Fraser’s Ridge.

“If you’re going the right way…”

He had once gotten lost as a child. They had been visiting Chicago, and he’d been swept away in a sea of people, panicked at the realization that the woman standing next to him was not his mother, and began to run. Desperate to find Claire, he had worked himself into an absolute frenzy before the familiar hand of his father had grabbed his wrist.

Just the memory of that day and the primal fear that had seized him in the moment along with the certain knowledge that he would never see his family again, still made him feel slightly panicked.

But he wasn’t lost. The spring was there and it was beautiful. He'd never seen anything like it before. Drawn, he dipped a hand into the crystal blue water and a connection was made. It didn’t happen often but sometimes he’d touch an object and be flooded with recognition. Not quite déjà vu.

But he knew he’d never been here, at least not in this life, and sat for a bit until the feeling of familiarity had passed.

He did not doubt that there was something very old about this place. Actually, now that he had a proper chance to take in the scenery he found that this land was different. It had remained untouched by modernity and had a feeling of ancient knowledge about it. Had he not known the year, this could have been anytime.

“Aren’t you an old one?” He whispered to the wind.

And in response he felt the wind begin to rise and he stood, making his way up the final steep incline.

He couldn’t help but wonder what he’d find on Fraser’s Ridge. He knew he wouldn’t find his mother, but he hoped he’d find some sort of proof of her once being here.

As a historian, claiming something as fact without having some sort of documentation was sacrilege; it went against everything he had been taught and believed in.

But Bree was a historian as well. She had never shackled herself to such an idea. For her Claire and Faith’s word had been enough. He always thought it strange how she never doubted or questioned either of them. Well, he hadn’t either, at least not openly. But if he’d truly doubted them and their word, he wouldn’t be here now.

There was something to ponder. Doubt without proof or proof without doubt.

“And what if you do find proof? Then what?” Said the voice in his head.

Then what indeed.

He paused suddenly, overcome with the need to not take these final steps alone, and pulled the small replica of the painting of Faith from his pack.

He’d spent many hours studying it, analyzing every inch for clues or hidden symbolic meaning. He knew every inch of the portrait. Could name every flower and tell you how many snow-capped peaks were in the background.

Tucking the canvas under his arm, they rounded the final bend in the trail together.

The sight in front of him quite literally took his breath away. And he walked as if in a trance past the hearthstone to stand at the edge of the clearing.

He knew those peaks and the names of the wildflowers that surrounded him. He’d heard the rushing of the waterfall and tasted the wild strawberries at his feet whenever he gazed at the portrait of his sister.

He held up the image of Faith comparing the soft strokes of the painted landscape to the one in front of him and suddenly everything came to life. He could see it. See her here in this place.

And he sat quite suddenly lost to whatever world he’d come from.

He had no words, but he had his proof. Not in an academic way but that didn’t matter, he had what he had come to find.

The air had the distant smell of impending rain but he couldn’t quite bring himself to leave, wasn’t sure he ever wanted to. He thought that perhaps it was the closest he had felt to either Faith or Claire in years. And for the first time, since they’d gone, he pushed away the anger and allowed himself to miss them.

He felt a gentle breeze caress his cheek and slapped a hand to his face trying to capture the touch that he recognized as one belonging to his mother.

“My God.” He whispered. Too shocked to say anything else.

He quietly rose and turned to leave not wanting to disturb whatever spirits resided here.

Regretful to be leaving, he reached out a hand to the battered hearthstone feeling the need to offer a small prayer of thanks. Just as his fingers touched the cool stone a streak of lightning ripped across the cloudy gray sky shocking him out of the moment.

Roger sat in the silence of the Bodleian, desk stacked precariously high with books.

He’d thought that finding Fraser’s Ridge would be easy. It was a historian’s dream. He had an exact location, a date, and the names of a few of the individuals who had lived there. But there seemingly wasn’t any record of the place, at least not one that he’d been able to find.

He had started in what he thought was the logical place and had reached out to the author of the book William had found but had sadly been informed that the woman had passed away nearly thirty years ago.

He contacted the woman’s estate and the university she’d worked for but neither could provide any further information. And he was frustrated at having encountered yet another impasse.

His whole life had been spent hunting history. From his days as a child helping the Reverend to his career here at Oxford, he’d never hit as many dead ends as he had with the Fraser case.

From the start, it’d been a documentation nightmare and he hoped that William was having better luck in his search. Anything at this point would be better than what he had which was, well nothing.

He wanted nothing more than to give Brianna the knowledge of knowing where her family was. He knew she was struggling with everything and it broke his heart to see the ever-present sadness in her eyes.

He thought that if Claire, Faith, and Jamie were to be found, they’d be found here, in this library somewhere in one of these books. But he wasn’t sure of that anymore.

He got up and began returning his books to the stacks. He needed a break but would come back later, he still had a few hours to kill before heading back to Lallybroch.

Walking through the manicured gardens adjacent to the River Thames he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the universe didn’t want them to find Jamie Fraser. He’d have to ask the Reverend what he thought God's will might be in a situation like this.

It had occurred to him many months ago that if they were to find the man, Brianna might just want to go to him and he shuddered at the thought.

He had gone to Craigh na Dun not long after Claire had gone back, just to see. But to see what, he wasn’t sure. It hadn’t mattered though, the noise coming from the hill, like nails on a blackboard, had prevented him from having a good look at the place.

The thought of that place was enough to make him forgo any further research today and he veered towards the archival room, home to thousands of newspapers belonging to times once forgotten.

He had taken refuge in this room more than once. Seldom used and nearly always neglected by students and faculty alike, he treated it as his own personal sanctuary.

He pulled down a random box from the section labeled, US 1765-1785. He loved reading about the years leading up to the Revolution. He imagined the sentiment of the Colonists must have been similar to those of the Jacobites Just before the Rising.

Sometimes he got lucky and found old marching songs, he would always transcribe those, occasionally singing the milder ones about freedom and glory to wee Jem.

He lifted the lid off the first box and flipped through the various publications. By now he was familiar with each publisher. There were the usual suspects - The Boston Harbor News, The Philadelphia Post, and The Maryland Morning Times.

Interesting but not what he was after today. He pulled down another box further down the row and flipped through more of the same thing.

And so it went until finally, he’d exhausted himself. Sighing he cleared up and readied himself to go.

On a whim, he decided to open one last box. It was one of the unlabeled ones containing papers that still needed to be sorted and filed.

On the top, a paper he’d not come across before - L’Oignon Intelligencer. A French paper, definitely of no interest to him right now. He set it aside and looked at the title of the next one - The Wilmington Gazette.

That caught his attention, but not more than the title of the article about halfway down the front page.

Death at River Run.

“Sounds like an Agatha Christie novel.” He chuckled but kept reading.

“The proprietor of this publication is saddened to announce the death of Mr. Hector Cameron of River Run Plantation. An émigré from Scotland, Mr. Cameron was a pillar and invaluable asset to the Cape Fear community and beyond. He is survived by his wife Mrs. Jocasta Cameron and his…”

Roger froze, Jocasta Cameron, he knew that name. He’d heard it before but couldn’t recall where. He raked his mind and slapped his palm against his thigh. Claire, she’d mention Jocasta. She was of some relation to Jamie.

He read a bit more and his excitement quickly turned to horror. He re-read the passage. Then read it a second, a third time, and a fourth time.

“No!” He yelled as all of the blood drained from his head. “No! It isn’t freaking possible!”

“Oh but it is,” said the small voice in his head.

William was cursing openly now. Violently kicking at small saplings and viciously snapping any and all branches that impeded his descent.

The sun was beginning to set and the first drops of rain had started to fall. He should have made it off the mountain hours ago. He should have followed the map but had gotten cocky, confident in his ability to find his way back to the field office.

He stopped in front of an enormous lake that he definitely hadn’t passed earlier and watched in dismay as clouds as black as night rolled across the still glassy water.

“You idiot! You ass!” He was yelling half-crazed with fear as the realization that he was lost set in.

He was absolutely not prepared to spend a night in the wilderness let alone ride out a storm on his own.

A boom of thunder echoed through the valley and he hunched his shoulders around his ears.

“Right.”

Scanning the rock face behind him, he spotted a small crevice that he thought would be just wide enough to shelter in.

Resigned, he marched towards it gathering fallen pine fronds to shield him from the now pelting rain.

Of all of the terrible things that might have happened to him on this trip, getting lost was the worst. Perhaps not as terrible as being bitten by a snake but still quite bad.

Unwilling to dwell on either prospect further, he sat in silence mesmerized by the incredible display of nature taking place before him.

The sky was glowing in shades of the most unearthly purples and grays and the wind whipped lashing against the trees bending them to near ninety-degree angles. As the storm passed over him it seemed to settle over the lake sending blooming spouts of water into the sky.

And as the sky blackened further, it took all light with it except for the occasional flash of blinding lightning that illuminated the valley creating vivid images that played nefarious tricks on his mind.

William knew he would die here. If the storm didn’t kill him, thirst or starvation would and he closed his eyes, listening to the ebb and flow of the storm before it finally made a retreat.

He prayed for sleep, but sleep didn’t come. And he vaguely wondered if this was his karma. His punishment for the way he’d acted towards his family.

How very fitting he thought. He’d always been aware that he had been the storm in their lives. His inability to control his temper, the sharpness of his words, and the way his mother and sisters would wince whenever he went off with a bang over things that now seemed so very inconsequential.

His love exclusively for Frank had driven the wedge even further between his parents. And some days purely out of spite, he relished in that.

He knew himself to be a terrible person. Selfish at best and malicious at worst.

It had gone full dark now and he wore the darkness like a cloak. Hiding himself, his shame, and self-loathing from the world.

He thought about the letter his mother had left him. Each word had pierced his heart and he had been overcome by a longing for her so acute in its need that he thought to go through the stones. Just to be able to see her once more. To hug her and beg for forgiveness for the terrible creature he had been.

“Shit.” It was the only word in any of the languages he knew that even came close to encompassing it all.

Being here lost and alone with nothing but his thoughts. It was an exquisite torture and he knew it was what he deserved.

Leaning his head against his knees, he sat still as stone and waited for the light of dawn.

In the event, he didn’t have to wait long. The silence of the night gradually gave way to chirping birds and a soft glow in the east.

Walking to the lake, he splashed a bit of water on his face and sat with map and compass in hand.

He knew Fraser’s Ridge had been on the north side of the mountain and figured if he walked south he would eventually start to recognize his surroundings.

But he had seldom been more wrong. The further he walked the more panicked he became but he couldn’t stop always believing that help would be just over the next hill.

He walked until the light started to change and then he began to run. Frantic and growing more desperate by the second. He ran until his legs gave out.

“I will not allow you to die here!” He said to himself.

And then he heard it. The soft whoosh of cars in the distance.

He tried to stand but couldn’t so he crawled, every inch of him aching and head pounding.

Adrenaline shot through his body as he spotted headlights and he was on his feet sprinting towards the road. He tried to call out but couldn’t muster the energy for anything more than a whisper.

So intent on rescue, that he didn’t see the tangle of roots in the path. Didn’t feel his ankle roll or see the ledge he tumbled over. But he felt the jagged branch slice into the side of his calf as he cascaded down the steep slope and felt the skin ripped from his palms as he grabbed out trying to slow his pace.

Bracing himself for impact against the large boulders at the bottom of the drop-off he reached out in a final attempt hoping to brace his fall and felt his palm slam hard into the rock. It was the last thing he knew before being engulfed in the screaming darkness and chaos of the stones.

Roger was flying down the A9 pushing the tiny orange Morris well past its limits.

He looked down at the incriminating newspaper laying unsuspectingly on the passenger seat and swore.

He hadn’t meant to take the thing with him, but in his haste, the idea of stopping to have it xeroxed was definitely not one that crossed his mind.

He’d undoubtedly lose his tenure if anyone had seen him leaving with such forbidden cargo and in his hysteria something about that seemed extraordinarily funny and he snorted with laughter

The only thought on his mind now was Bree. She would be devastated and he did not doubt that she’d also have the intent to follow them.

So distracted he nearly missed his exit and turned the wheel sharply cutting across three lanes of traffic and Devil take anyone who crossed his path.

He slammed his fist down so hard on the horn in frustration that the entire car rocked as he was caught at a red light.

“Mac na galla!” And he wasn’t referring to himself.

If he knew one thing and one thing only about William Randall, damn him, Fraser, it was that he would never ever make such a reckless decision without consulting Bree first.

“He wouldn’t!” But even Roger couldn’t deny that the possibility was there.

Slamming his palm against the dashboard muttering under his breath, Christ this was the longest light he’d ever sat at.

Just when he thought running a red might not be the end of the world the light changed and he punched the gas causing the tires to squeak in protest.

The obscure thought that he should stop and check the mail crossed his mind and he took the final turn into the drive too quickly feeling the car tip slightly before landing with a thud, suspension scraping across the steep drive as he flew past the mailbox.

He threw the car in park, not bothering to shut the engine off, and sprinted towards the house bellowing for Bree. Maybe they still had time? Maybe they weren’t too late?

“Brianna! Bree!? Hello?” If she were here she’d surely kill him for waking Jemmy up.

He nearly ripped the kitchen door off its hinges as he crashed through it. He flew headlong as he slipped on the wooden vroom he’d carved for Jem and landed on the solid oak floor with a bang.

A shriek of joy came from behind him, “Daddy!”

And he grunted as a very solid weight landed on his back.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Jem sang.

“Hello to you too.” Came the amused voice of his wife followed by a giggle that he recognized as belonging to Fiona.

He managed to get to his feet with as much dignity as possible and lifted Jem in his arms, planting a kiss firmly on his head before handing him off to Fiona.

“Can you give us a moment please Fiona?”

She cocked an eyebrow and gave him a knowing smile. “Och aye. Come along now wee Jemmy I suspect the ducks are wanting to be fed.” And closed the door behind her.

Roger waited until Jemmy’s chant of “feed ducks” had gotten far enough down the hallway and pounced, seizing Bree by the arm, and dragging her to sit at the table.

She whirled on him, her own nerves in a state of agitation.

“What in the world!?” Her mood changed immediately to one of alarm as she took in the look on his face, the pulse hammering in his neck and his pupils blown wide with what she didn’t know.

“What? What’s happened?!”

She scanned him looking for injury and almost didn’t hear him when he spoke.

“When was the last time you spoke to William?”

She stared at him uncomprehendingly. “What? I- I’m not sure. Well no, it was in Boston at the house. Why?”

He heard the fear in that “why” anything having to do with her brother that she didn’t already have knowledge of always set her on edge.

He counted the weeks out on his fingers and once more to be sure. Nearly eight weeks ago, that’s when they had all been in Boston.

“And you’re sure you haven’t spoken to him since? A phone call maybe?”

She shook her head and he saw her chin quiver.

He took a deep breath and began to read,

“The proprietor of this publication is saddened to announce the death of Mr. Hector Cameron of River Run Plantation. An émigré from Scotland, Mr. Cameron was a pillar and invaluable asset to the Cape Fear community and beyond. He is survived by his wife Mrs. Jocasta Cameron and his kin Mr. James and Claire Fraser of Fraser’s Ridge. Per his request, Mr. Cameron has entrusted his estate to his great-niece and nephew, Faith and William Fraser who are newly arrived to the colony.”

And there she had it. Exactly what she’d wished for, knowledge of her mother, but she didn’t want this, never wanted this and fear gripped her then, dragged her out into uncharted waters where she knew she would surely drown.

William lay flat on his back, head ringing, soaking wet and half-conscious on the frigid ground.

His clothes were stiff with frost and he wondered just how long he’d been out, at least overnight he thought.

He didn’t have time to think longer as a pair of large hands lifted him from the ground as if he weighed nothing.

A second pair of hands lifted his head, holding it up to the light.

“Ahh!” His head was fit to split and the slightest movement had him seeing stars.

His ears were ringing and he thought he might be sick but his attention was caught by bits and pieces of whispered conversation.

“No, I dinna ken the man, Mac Dubh.”

“Aye well, take the poor bugger to Mrs. Bug, he insnae in any state to be telling us who he is or how he came to be here just noo.”

He choked and gagged as the dower man poured a splash of whisky down his throat.

“You can thank me later lad.”

The last thing he remembered before the pain took him again, was that this was better than having no help at all.

He woke in a room bright with the morning sun. His head was still on his shoulders, his clothes were dry and a large elderly woman was sitting by the fire.

He retched over the side of the bed as waves of nausea swept through him and the woman was on her feet in an instant.

“Oh, come now. Come now, sir. Dinna fash yourself.”

She yelled in a voice loud enough to make him wince, “Miss. Lizzie!”

A thin wisp of a girl appeared at the door.

“Go fetch Mr. Fraser, I suspect he’ll be wanting to speak with the lad.”

If William had had his wits about him, he would have noticed their strange clothes, the decor around him and most definitely would have instantly recognized the name, Fraser. But he didn’t and it all went over his head.

He made to move to help the woman clean up his mess, but she shooed away his efforts. Good thing too because he wasn’t sure he could have managed.

He’d come back to himself just enough to ask for a phone but didn’t manage to get the words out before a large man with red hair, nearly the exact shade of his sisters stood before him.

His size made him menacing but his voice was soft.

“What’s your name laddie?”

He sat up before answering, “William.”

“William what?”

“Randall. William Randall.”

He thought he saw the man stiffen but couldn’t be sure.

The man came closer and William gasped, eyes going wide.

He was tall with fiery red hair, blue eyes that were as familiar to him as anything. A wide mouth and a nose that was just that bit too long.

“What? Where?” He was struggling to get words out but the big man took his meaning.

“My name is James Fraser and you’re in the colony of North Carolina at a place called Fraser’s Ridge.”

William swayed as the room began to spin around him and Jamie lunged, caught a glimpse of a familiar pair of golden eyes, and caught the lad just before William’s head hit the floor.

Chapter Text

Claire looked over at Faith, her long red hair flying in the sea wind as they steadily made their way closer to North Carolina.

The last few weeks they’d spent at Lallybroch had been magical. Once the burden of leaving had been accepted by all, the mood of the household had changed dramatically.

The nervous tension had dissipated, replaced by immeasurable joy, as a family torn apart by time and space was once again reunited.

Jenny had gathered up all of her daughters and grandchildren and the women had sat in the warmth of the spring sun sewing, knitting, and generally doing their best to make up for twenty years of loss.

Faith had taken charge of her younger cousins, the ones who were too wee to possess the dexterity or patience to click it, and had entertained them with fantastic stories about airplanes and submarines.

Claire had excused herself from the sewing circle and watched from the kitchen as Faith stood, spread her arms wide, and began running across the yard, followed by a sea of children laughing and stumbling over each other as they all pretended to be flying planes.

It was the first time she had seen Faith so unabashedly happy in a long time and she knew the images and memories of that day would stay with them forever.

She had not allowed herself to think too much of her two other children, but she kept them close and always in her heart.

Brianna would have been fascinated with the wool waulking and lace-making, not to mention the speed in which the ladies had produced an entirely new wardrobe for their voyage to Fraser’s Ridge. She would have been rapt.

And William, ever the equestrian, would have been agog at the stables. The entire breeding stock of the MacKenzie’s of Leoch had been transferred here to Lallybroch before The Rising and here they had stayed. She thought William, who had a precocity for the more difficult mounts, would have especially liked Donas. Tamer than his grandsire, but no less stubborn.

She longed for them with a fierceness as she always did, but pushed thought of them aside just for now. Tonight was their last night with the Murray clan, tomorrow they would embark on the next leg of their journey, home to Jamie.

Once again, Jenny truly had outdone herself. The whisky had flowed like water as they feasted like royals. Minced pies, roasted potatoes, mutton, rabbit stew, fresh bread, and the most decadent sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

One by one each small family had departed making their way to their own crofts and cottages sleeping children in tow.

They’d sat at the table until it was just the five of them, herself, Faith, Jenny, and the two Ian’s finalizing plans and beginning the long business of saying goodbye, for what she realized with a start, might be the last time.

Faith had gone upstairs to finish packing. She’d been putting it off Claire knew, and thought it because there was something very final about the process. She had felt the same way as she closed the latch on her suitcase all those months ago in Boston.

Feeling a pair of eyes on her, she looked up,

“You’ll be telling that clot-heided gomeral who I call brother to write to us more often, will you no Claire?”

She nodded, still in disbelief that she was going to see Jamie. It didn’t feel real, but it was. It finally was.

“And you do promise to write once you make it safely to the colony of North Carolina?”

Claire’s heart squeezed as she recognized Jenny’s questions for what they truly were. She did it too, neatly scooting around the issue at hand so as not to reveal her true feelings, yet still needing assurance, in this case, about the safety and well-being of young Ian. She thought it was something all mothers did.

“Of course. I’ll take good care of him, Jenny, Jamie too. That I can promise you.”

Jenny’s shoulders sagged in relief.

“I thank you guid-sister.”

And quite out of nowhere, both women began to weep.

They wept for loss, for love, and for their children. They wept for reunions, each other, friendship, and family. For Jamie and all of the things they didn’t have time to put into words.

They had left at first light the next morning to a sea of happy tears. The entirety of the Muarry family had gathered to see them off. And Claire, an orphaned only child had suddenly realized why family was such a very, very precious thing.

Wee Wally, who had taken a particular liking to Faith during their stay, was inconsolable. His howls of distress getting louder as they rode further away.

Faith, ever tender-hearted, had stopped her horse, bringing the whole procession, led by Rollo, to a standstill. She’d dismounted just in time to see Wally break free from his mother’s grasp and sprint up the road as fast as his little legs could carry him, his furious mother not far behind.

She’d scooped the boy up and held him tight whispering words of reassurance as he clung to her. They had made a pact the two of them and Faith meant to keep it.

“The sooner I leave, the sooner I'll be back with your porpentine quills. I promise.”

He had nodded and she’d handed the boy, tear-streaked and hiccuping, back to his mother, who pulled a honey ball from her pocket offering it to the lad who promptly put it in his mouth and quieted his sniveling.

They had made it to France in good time and had set sail on one of Jared’s ships, The Amaranthus, fully expecting to arrive in North Carolina by July.

That had been nearly five months ago and it was now early September.

It had been a hellish voyage from the start. After departing from Le Havre, they’d run into a late spring storm that had seen them docked for the better part of a week in Brest.

Out of an abundance of caution and superstition, captain O’Shaughnessy-Murphy had hugged the coast until they’d reached Cape Finisterre in the westernmost part of Spain before venturing out into The North Atlantic.

By this time though, it had become clear to Claire that Faith had inherited her father’s seasickness, to a much lesser extent, thank God, but still. The constant rough waters of the open sea were no match for ginger mint tea, but Faith had sipped the brew faithfully hoping for a reprieve.

Claire looked at her daughter now, tall and proud standing at the bow of the ship, and smiled. She’d seen Faith as many things in life, scholar, daughter, niece, cousin, sister, and teacher but Claire saw something in her now that she’d never seen before. Warrior. Faith was a warrior.

She’d been taken from the place where she so clearly belonged and dropped into a strange world never once complaining. Every action she’d taken throughout her life had been done with precision. And armed only with knowledge, faith, and sheer determination, she had found her way back home.

She had done it for James Fraser and the everlasting love she held for him. And what would he say to the woman who had given up so much to fulfill the wish of the small girl he’d last seen all those years ago?

She didn’t know.

“Are you ok Auntie?”

Claire looked up to see the very concerned face of her nephew, wolf-dog in tow.

“Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask? Do I look quite cross?”

Bree had told her on more than one occasion that she looked just that bit angry when lost in thought.

“Oh no Auntie, it’s never that!”

He shuffled for an awkward moment before gesturing to the small cut on her arm.

She waved him off, “I’m fine, Young Ian. But that’s very gallant of you to ask.”

“Oh, that’s good then. I dinna want to deliver you to uncle Jamie damaged. I think he’d not be too pleased with me.”

The lad paled a bit and Claire couldn’t help but laugh.

They had in fact, been boarded by pirates just off of the coast of Bermuda where they’d been forced to stop to refill the water casks.

The profiteers had taken one look at Ian, the dotted line of tattoos across his face, Rollo hackles raised, and Guinea Dick, a huge hulking man who was easily close to seven feet tall.

Mr. Dick had smiled jovially at the miscreants, displaying two rows of chiseled tobacco-stained teeth, each one coming to a sharp point. Quite unsettling to have someone with the smile of a sharp looming over you.

The bandits had stood frozen for an instant before making a hasty exit leaving the passengers and crew of The Amaranthus unmolested.

In the commotion of scrambling bodies, Claire had been knocked over knicking her forearm on the tiny dagger the Elder Ian had given her as a departing gift.

“You see, the thing I was thinking is that,” he sat abruptly next to her wringing his hands and had another go at it.

“Captain Murphy thinks we might make it to Wilmington by nightfall, which is good for what it’s worth. But the thing is,” and he faltered again.

Claire fixed him with a look, “Ian Murray. Spit whatever it is you have to say out right this instant!”

“Well I just did no think we’d be getting to North Carolina so late in the season is all.”

Claire stared at him not quite understanding why something so trivial concerned the lad.

“While the weather will hold in the piedmont for a few months still, the high passes up in the mountains will be blocked with the snow in a few weeks time, if they are not already.”

He looked over to where Faith was standing by the rail before going on.

“You cannae reach Fraser’s Ridge if the passes are blocked, Auntie. We would have to bide at River Run with Auntie Jocasta until the spring thaw.”

“Ah, I see.”

She felt a chill run down her spine. She’d waited over twenty years to be reunited with her heart. She thought a few months more, while surely an inconvenience, wouldn’t be the end of the world. Besides, said the rational voice in her head, there’s not anything any of us can do about that just now is there?

Ian was shaking his head looking quite remorseful as he saw each emotion play out on his Aunt’s glass face.

“I’m sorry Auntie Claire. Truly.”

Before she could reply a shout of “land-ho!” Came from the crow’s nest.

Claire inhaled deeply and she put on a brave face before moving to stand next to Faith and Rollo.

It’s true what sailors say about being able to smell land, she thought as the ripe smells of civilization hit her. She couldn’t quite see the mountains of the backwoods of the Carolinas yet, but they were close and so was Jamie. That’s all that really mattered now.

William sat in the narrow bed that had been his home for the past few weeks fretting over the festering gash in his calf. The wound not only stank but was excruciatingly painful as well.

He had tried to brush it off, not wanting to be fussed over, but Mrs. Bug had proven herself to be formidable, banning him from leaving the confines of his bed for any reason. She’d handed him a chamber pot, fixed him with a look that pinned him to the spot, and that had been all there was about it.

It didn’t matter much now because he was fairly certain that he wouldn’t have even been able to get out of bed if he’d tried, but at this point, the thought was incredibly tempting.

In his own time, a quick wash with soap, water, and a swipe of antiseptic would have done the trick and he would have been on his feet without a second thought. But not here.

The stink of infection hung thick in the air and he could smell it even over the heavy scent of wood smoke. He groaned in absolute misery and thought he had been right, he was going to die.

He’d come to the unfortunate realization a few nights ago that if Claire had been here, she’d be with him tending his wounds and fussing. She was a doctor and a mother, that’s just what she did.

The thought that something had happened, that she hadn’t made it through the stones was constant. It weighed on him night and day and added unnecessary fuel to the fire of his fever dreams. He thought to ask for her but hadn’t lost enough sense quite yet to travel down that road. Perhaps if he found himself on his death bed he’d inquire then.

He looked down at his leg again, slowly peeling back the warm onion poultice wrap and gagged at the sight beneath, then winced as the movement sent daggers of pain shooting through him. He swallowed hard, fighting back nausea, and swore - loudly.

The vivid red and yellow hues that, until today, had stayed well below his knee were quickly creeping up his thigh and he felt real fear then as his limited knowledge of eighteenth-century medical treatments came suddenly to life.

A movement from the window caught his eye and he turned his head, grateful for any distraction.

It was Fraser, and William took the opportunity to watch him openly. There was no denying the resemblance between the man and his sisters. That was obvious to a point that he was sure a blind man could have seen it.

And William was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that he was fascinated. He couldn’t bring himself to look away.

He watched as the man made his way across the yard towards the stables. Watched the cocky set of his shoulders and the confidence evident in each stride. He watched as the man paused saying something to Mrs. Bug and then ran a hand through his hair. Reflexively yet absentmindedly, William ran a hand through his own thick locks.

He leaned closer to the window as Fraser walked past the stables to a small garden he’d not noticed until now.

 

Jamie crossed himself as he always did before setting foot in what he considered to be hallowed ground. After settling on the Ridge, one of the first things he’d done was to plant this wee garden. Not for himself, but for Claire.

The need to keep her close and to honor her memory was evident in everything he did. She was a cornerstone of his being and a pillar of his life, holding him up always.

He pushed open the sturdy garden gate and greeted her in his usual fashion,

“Ciamar a tha thu mo nighean donn?”

The speaking of her name relieved some of the burden caused by their separation and he felt the vice around his heart loosen a bit.

He took a deep breath filling his lungs with her familiar green scent and set to work.

 

William watched in fascination as Jamie puttered about the garden picking every leaf, flower, root, seed, and stem with great thought and decision. He was smelling and tasting each item as if trying to recall a receipt once known, but now long forgotten, before carefully adding them to his sporran.

While he had very clearly seen his sisters and to a lesser extent, himself in this strange yet familiar man, he now saw his mother. Saw her as he did when he was a child from his bedroom window in the house on Furey Street.

Some of his most cherished memories came from that time in his life. Watching his mother lovingly tend her garden and the unabashed joy he’d feel when she’d look up, waving at him with her wild mass of curly hair poking out from underneath her sun hat.

What he wouldn’t give to be able to live in that moment forever. To once again see the world through the innocent eyes of a child.

So lost in his memories he didn’t hear the door open and his head snapped around only to lock eyes with James Fraser. Feeling unsettled, he looked away hoping to be left in peace.

“My wife,” the word wife seemed to cause the man physical pain and William raised his head.

“My wife” he tried again with more confidence this time, “she was a talented healer, a wise woman, bean sidhe. Some even called her a witch.”

Jamie gently removed the onion poultice from William’s leg, clicking his tongue in pity at the sight of the oozing wound.

He turned but kept speaking, “when I lost her,” that statement alone seemed to be too much for him and he shuddered, unable to continue with that particular line of thought, but came back to himself before walking over to the bed.

William looked at him, unable to restrain his curiosity. He knew he shouldn’t have asked but couldn’t help himself, “your wife Sir, how did you lose her? Might she not come back?”

Jamie didn’t answer, but went about his business, liberally slathering the lad’s leg with the thick green salve he had made. He wrapped the wound in honey then wound a clean strip of bandage around the entire leg before reapplying the onion poultice.

He stood then, watching the lad out of the corner of his eye while pouring out a fragrant herbal brew from his flask.

“She is gone.” And he handed William the steaming brew before turning to leave himself.

She is gone. Gone where? William wanted to shout after him. Two hundred years into the future, said the cynical voice in his head.

Jamie saddled Gideon with an urgency that surprised himself and apparently, it surprised the horse too as the wicked beast didn’t have the time to snap his large yellowed teeth in Jamie’s direction before they were off, riding hell for leather across the mountain.

He wasn’t going anywhere in particular, just needed to escape for a time. Ever since William’s arrival, Jamie had felt off. He was agitated and unsettled and couldn’t figure out why.

He hadn’t spoken so freely of Claire in some years and never to a stranger. Her memory was the most sacred thing he had, sharing it with anyone who hadn’t known her was just something he didn’t do.

Why had he felt the need to speak of her to the lad? He huffed out a laugh recognizing a rhetorical question and dug his knees hard into Gideon’s side. The stallion picked up his pace, and they cleared a wide stream without issue.

It was the eyes. The man had Claire’s eyes. Soft golden brown and smooth like amber honey. And they had, quite without his permission, opened up a forgotten wellspring within him. They were familiar, they were safety, home, and sanctuary. But they weren’t hers.

“A Dhia.”

He had forgotten. The pain of those first few years without her had almost torn him limb from limb. His spirit had ached with need for her just as it did now. He slowed Gideon then, knowing himself unable to outrun this particular type of heartache.

They were both slicked with sweat, windblown, and huffing, but their minds were slightly less burdened from the exertion. He led the horse to the nearby pond and tethered him to a large ash tree before taking off on foot.

He couldn’t sit down, not just yet. He felt such unease within himself and walking always seemed to help ground him.

He took the opportunity to forage for tender early fall seedlings. Claire had taught him how to spot the basics and Nayawenne had helped hone his skills, familiarizing him with the plants native to this land.

He picked up a handful of watercress, nibbling on the tender stalks, and heard Claire’s voice,

“Watercress - high in vitamin C, helps to prevent scurvy. I suppose that’s why some ingenious lad decided to call it Scurvy Grass. Cochlearia officinails, not to be confused with Nasturtium officinails which is similar but not the same. Both are edible though.”

That was one of the things he missed most about his Sassenach. The wee facts she’d rattle off as if it were nothing. She was a rare woman.

“Christ lass, do ye ken how much I miss you?”

And in a softer voice, “do ye ken how much I need you?”

He was somewhat ashamed of that. Of how much he still needed her after all these years.

Jenny had written to him more than once encouraging him to return to Scotland to find a wife. He knew she had meant well but didn’t know how to explain to her that it wasn't a wife he needed. What he needed and what he’d longed for more than anything in this life was his wife.

He often struggled with the decisions made that had sent her and the lass through the stones. He wondered if he could go back in time, would he make the same choice?

What kind of life might they have had here? Starving, cold, hunted, and with no man to protect them. No, he didn’t regret sending them back to the safety of their time. But to have had her here by his side…

He kicked at a fallen branch in frustration, snapping it with ease as he continued up the steep slope.

Allowing his thoughts to meander down this path was always dangerous. It was as he’d learned the hard way, a trap. One that he tried to be mindful not to spring on himself.

While their loss would always haunt him, it had been the unimaginable sacrifices that blindsided him. The things that in theory he’d thought he was prepared for, but he’d been foolish. Having thought that he would be able to live freely after losing his heart and soul was so very, very foolish.

He ran a finger over the faded “C” at the base of his left thumb as he always did when he thought of them and he realized that the trap had been sprung. He felt the first brick in the once impenetrable fortress he’d built around the part of his heart where he kept them give way, and he knew the flood of emotion wasn’t far behind.

He circled back, making his way towards the tree where he’d tethered the ill-tempered stallion but paused to look across the valley at the Ridge. This life that he’d made here for himself wasn’t a bad one, not at all.

He had land, a place to rest his head, tenants aplenty, purpose, the knowledge that his family was safe and one day he’d have wealth as well.

But without Claire and the lass, he was adrift. Never quite home, never quite safe, and never quite whole.

He removed an apple and his flask from the saddlebags and gave Gideon his head along with a firm slap on the rump and watched as the horse galloped off across the valley.

He would walk, needing the space and relative safety of the night to find his way back.

“A Dhia, cuidich mi.”

William walked through the dooryard feeling much improved but still limping quite badly. His leg hadn’t quite healed completely, but it wouldn’t be amputated as he had very vividly imagined. A good day all around he thought.

He had been looking for Fraser for some time now as he’d wanted to pay his respects to the man before hopefully finding his way back to the stones. He wasn’t sure where he’d come through, being half-conscious at the time, but had decided that if he had to take ship to Scotland and walk up the hill to Craigh na Dun that’s what he would do.

In fact, that’s exactly what he’d do. Go to Scotland, seek out the Frasers of Lallybroch and inquire after Claire and Faith. If they weren’t there, well he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet and wasn’t eager to do so just at this moment.

He wished most fervently that he hadn’t been such a pompous know-it-all and had listened to his sisters when they spoke of how the stones worked.

He knew time ran parallel and wondered if Bree had noticed his absence yet. They had a strange connection, “a twin thing” Faith had always called it. Most of the time he’d forgotten it was even there, but now that that link was gone…

He hobbled out of the dooryard onto the steep winding path that led down to the green spring. He’d wanted to revisit the place, it being the only link he had to his former life.

How many weeks had it been since he’d fallen through time? Five? Maybe six? He wasn’t sure.

He looked down at the spring, having second thoughts in his ability to make it there and back without passing out. He was already feeling light-headed and sat on a fallen log. It cracked under his weight but he didn’t have the energy to move.

Bree was no fool, neither was Roger Mac. If they had put two and two together, they’d most likely be searching for him now. What were the odds that they’d come through the stones after him? Taking wee Jem into consideration, he thought the odds were quite slim indeed.

The idea of biding his time here on the Ridge for just a bit longer was becoming considerably more appealing by the minute.

Having his entire family lost in time wasn’t a particularly attractive prospect after all.

William didn’t often listen to his heart, but the pull to this strange place and the need he had to see his mother were undeniable but so was his worry for Bree.

He grimaced as he stood, feeling both mentally and physically exhausted.

The dower man, Mr. Fitzgibbons, who had poured whisky down his throat on the day of his unceremonious arrival, spoke from behind him.

“If you were thinking any louder laddie, I’d hear your thoughts myself.”

William sighed, his sense of privacy gone. The man had obviously been tasked with keeping a constant eye on him.

He felt a wet nose touch his elbow and he whirled, heart racing, but relaxed slightly upon seeing the wolf-dog, Bran. A formidable-looking creature to be sure, but amicable nevertheless.

Mrs. Bug had told him the Fraser’s were in possession of two of the beasts, the other apparently being far afoot with his master. In his fever dreams, he could have sworn she’d said something about the Mohawk.

He gave the dog a tentative pat on the head and stood with every intention of ignoring the man completely. He really wasn’t in the mood for conversation just now and he hoped the glare he shot the fellow made that clear.

Apparently not. He felt a strong hand pull him around and forcibly push him back onto the split log.

“Sit.”

William felt his dander begin to rise and dug his fingernails hard into his palms.

“I am not a dog sir and you will not speak to me as such!”

He was ignored outright.

“You’ll be telling me where you’ve come from and how you came to be here. Are ye a Sassenach spy? And what business do you have in this place?”

He said the word “Sassenach” with such evident anger and disgust, that William flinched and the dog scampered back up towards the big house.”

Murtagh looked down at the lad. His face was a deep crimson and contorted with barely contained rage.

William stood, stared down his nose at Murtagh for a moment longer than necessary, and said in the most condescending and educated British accent he could muster, “you sir, are a lout!”

It was the last thing Murtagh had ever expected and he stood wheezing with strangled laughter as he watched William limp up the trail.

In another time and in another place, he would have allowed himself to wonder over the strange boy. His mass of disheveled brown curly hair and golden eyes that stared back at him now through slits.

But Claire was gone and James Fraser had no sons.

Jamie, hearing the commotion, walked out of the stables just in time to see William storm past. He was huffing like a winded man and the sound reminded him of the freight trains Claire had once told him about.

William afforded Jamie a look that was thoroughly Fraser and a swift nod of the head. Before trudging doggedly up the backstairs of the big house.

He could hear Mrs. Bugs’s scolding voice coming from the kitchen window and felt just that bit sorry for the lad.

Murtagh had sidled up to his godson, the light of humor still shining in his dark brown eyes.

“Are you sure you dinna have a son Seamus MacBrian?”

Jamie looked from the house to the usually dower man, “Ah. So it’s not just me then?”

“No laddie. It isnae just you.”

Chapter Text

Faith never thought of smell as something that could be nostalgic, but this one most certainly was. The stench of fish, decay, and saltwater that wafted up her nostrils was as familiar to her as her own name and she closed her eyes inhaling deeply. As it turned out, Wilmington smelled a lot like Boston, the place she had called home for so many years, and that was a great comfort.

She wondered if one could be nostalgic for a place and people who didn’t exist yet? She considered, and under the circumstances, settled on the fact that she was nostalgic for a past that was once her future and maybe it might be again one day. But the harbor with its shrieking gulls was the only familiar thing about this place.

She watched and listened as the sellers called out their wares. They weren’t Americans, at least not yet, but these people would be faced with a choice in just a few years' time and she studied each face in turn.

She hadn’t been born here, she was French by birth and Scottish by rights, but this country had been home and the land hers just as much as any of these people around her.

Which of them would choose to fight for revolutionary independence and help form the soul of a nation that one day their grandchildren would call home? How many would risk their lives to pledge allegiance to a flag that would label them as rebels? Enough - she at least knew that much for sure.

She bent down to scratch the big pointed ears of the wolf-dog and took a quick look around for her cousin Ian. He’d gone to find a boat to ferry them the rest of the way to River Run and she shuddered at the thought of having to spend any more time on open waters.

She was pleased to find that the weather here was still mild and the warmth of early fall lingered in the air. It was that strange transitional time of year just before the leaves began to fall when the days were still temperate but the nights crisp.

Her mother’s voice rang out from behind her, “isn’t this wonderful darling!”

Faith turned to look at the same time Claire sat down on the bench next to her, a large oak medicine box held proudly on her lap.

It was quite a pretty thing, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. Highly polished, with a dark stain, pewter hinges, and a leather strap across the top.

Claire opened it, revealing the tools of her trade. A shelf filled with knives and small saws, a stethoscope of sorts, various jars filled with herbs and tinctures, and,

“Is that a microscope?”

It was, and Claire beamed as she picked up one of the brass tubes.

Her mother was one of those rare people who had always known what she was meant to be. Her purpose on this earth was to be a doctor, that’s simply why she was here. She could have lived without being a mother or a wife, but she would have floundered without her profession. Faith had always known that and didn’t begrudge her mother a bit.

She didn’t have that and wondered what she’d be here in this time. The thought of teaching a settlement of Scottish highlanders how to speak Gaelic was absurd. Perhaps the Ridge would need a school teacher though.

She loved children, people had always told her what a great mother she’d be one day and that had always burned. She had never wanted to be a mother and she hoped Jamie wouldn’t be disappointed in her for that.

Rollo stood suddenly and let out a deep wolfish howl that had everyone within a ten-foot radius stepping back.

“There ye are Auntie! I’ve found us a boat.”

The relief that swept through the two women was palpable. None of them had been willing to say it, but the simple fact of the matter was that they were running out of time. Their window to reach Fraser’s Ridge before the mountains were adorned with white caps was closing with each day.

Rollo started after his master, stalking ahead of their small group, clearing a path through the sea of people as they made the short walk to the river landing.

“Captain Freeman says he can get us to River Run within three days.”

He paused and looked over his shoulder a huge grin plastered across his face.

“It usually takes five!”

Claire was beginning to have her suspicions, which were promptly confirmed as Ian pointed out their ‘boat’.

“Ian…. That is not a boat.”

“Och aye, Auntie, it is! My Da says if it floats and doesnae sink when you stand on it, then it’s a boat! Besides, I've already paid the man.”

Claire sighed as she looked from her nephew to the dilapidated raft lashed together with bits of rope and whipcord. She commended her soul to God and stepped onto the vessel moving to sit on their trunks which she saw were already loaded.

Her shoes along with the bottom of her skirts were saturated immediately, as the burden of more weight on the tiny raft caused water to pour through the planks.

Faith had gone green around the gills, and was reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Gaelic under her breath, but sat stoically next to her mother, eyes focused on the horizon.

There was a nice breeze as they made their way west up the Cape Fear River and she found that the smooth steady motion of the boat didn’t trigger her seasickness. Occasionally the raft would sway as Rollo dove into the water hunting for fish, but her stomach didn’t mind that either.

They had sailed steadily along throughout the afternoon and Faith ever the historian was rapt at history literally come to life. Claire watched taking a moment to just be, enjoying the feeling of for once, having nothing to do. She dipped her toes into the cool water inhaling the sweet fall air.

Jamie was here. For the first time in twenty years, she’d didn’t only feel close to him, she was close to him. A smile crept across her face as it always did when she thought of him, but this time her joy wasn’t washed away with the title wave of grief and sadness that usually followed. Because he was here.

She could see the reflection of his eyes in the deep blue swirls of the eddy pools that dotted the riverbanks. She felt his touch and heard his voice in the gentle gusts of the whistling wind that tickled the fine hairs across her skin. And saw the shadow of his strength in the powerful strokes of the pole man.

“Soon.” She whispered and hoped the breeze would carry her voice to him.

“Soon.”

Faith stirred next to her and she turned, “how do you feel darling?”

She gave Claire a half-hearted smile,

“I don’t believe it’s real. I don’t think I will until we get there and I can see Da with my own eyes. But I’m nervous too. What if he’s angry we came back? What if he’s not there or what if he is, but has a family?”

Faith was the oldest of the three Fraser children, but Claire had always and would always consider her to be her baby. She tucked a bright red lock of hair behind Faith’s ear and wrapped an arm around her.

She knew there was nothing she could say to ease Faith's worries, she had felt those same icy tendrils of doubt as well, but offered up as much reassurance as she could. All the while knowing that nothing she said would make much of a difference.

They sat just the two of them, mother and daughter, and watched as the setting sun began to cast vivid pink shadows across the gently rolling water. Their journey of unimaginable distance was approaching journey’s end and they were both doing their best to navigate through their sea of conflicting emotions.

Captain Freeman walked along the tiny deck, lighting the four hanging torches and Faith lay her head on her mother’s lap just as she had done as a child, and let the gentle swaying of the boat rock her to sleep. Claire watched as the firelight threw shadows across her daughter’s face and was overcome with a feeling of absolute thankfulness.

She must have fallen asleep too because she woke to an incessant nudging at her hip. Rollo was pawing at her pocket where she knew a stale piece of hardtack resided. She fished it out and the dog ate it with alacrity, tail wagging in ecstasy as he made his way back to his spot.

She got up, meaning to stretch her stiff legs but gasped at the sight in front of her. She’d seen something similar only once before, on a camping trip in New Hampshire with William’s senior class.

Rolling hills painted in fall’s pallet of reds, oranges, browns, and gold. Just behind them were the mountains. Their jagged peaks soaring high into the sky and from this angle, they seemed to go on forever.

“Jamie.”

She hadn’t meant to speak out loud, but must have because Young Ian turned to look at her,

“Aye Auntie.” And he gave her a knowing smile.

“Ian?” Faith, who had gone unnoticed, was sitting at the front of the boat, feet dangling in the water.

“Can you tell if the passes are blocked from here?” She squinted which made him laugh, “I don’t see any snow.”

“Um, no cousin. You cannae be telling from here. These small mountains are called The Grandchildren, Grandfather Mountain, where Fraser’s Ridge is, stands at the center of them. The Indians say Grandfather is the tallest and has the highest point because he needs to keep an eye on all his wee ones.

But it will no be much longer until we dock at River Run, we did catch a swift current last night. Captain Freeman thinks we should be arriving by dawn and once you are settled, I will go to check the high passes.”

Ian was right, and Faith had never been happier to set foot on dry land. They arrived at River Run the next morning in the early pre-dawn hours. A man who’d introduced himself as Ulysses had greeted them at the river landing and showed them to their rooms where a woman he called Phaedre had offered to help them dress for bed.

Both women had declined, too exhausted within themselves to think about anything other than sleep, and had gone to bed in their traveling clothes.

Claire had woken first, the bright morning light shining through the gap in the curtains illuminated the face next to her.

“Bree?”

That was her first thought, for it was Bree’s face. She and Faith had been mistaken for twins more than once, but the bright blue eyes that opened and stared back at her brought her back.

“I miss her too, Mama, and William.”

She nodded, unable to speak, and Faith ducked behind the screen to use the chamber pot as Claire opened the drapes with a flourish. She was feeling particularly good today knowing the hardest part of their journey lay behind them. But as she took in the view from their window, her stomach was quite suddenly in knots.

Slavery wasn’t something she’d encountered in Scotland and definitely not in her own time. Racism, yes. Slavery, never.

She hadn’t prepared herself to see it, but how did one prepare themselves for something like this. It would have been impossible.

Her first instinct was to close the curtains directly, to shield Faith from such incredible inhumanity.

Faith had once been required to write an essay in college about slavery. She had flat out refused, saying the practice was an affront to her morals and principles.

“How can you just claim to own a person? A person!! Who gave any of those people the right to declare themselves God?! To buy and sell humans simply because of the color of their skin?”

Claire and Frank had both been so proud. Parenting together was never easy, but this was something they could and wholeheartedly did, support together.

But it was too late to shield Faith now. She stood beside her mother looking as if she’d seen a ghost and Claire spoke,

“When I came through the stones the first time, I saw many things that I wish I hadn’t. Murder, rape, rampant child abuse, sickness that I wasn’t able to cure, war, deceit, and death that in our time would have been preventable. I tried to change the trajectory of history, your father did too, but we couldn’t. None of us can.”

Quite suddenly she thought of Captain Freeman and wondered if he was called Freeman because he was a free man? She hoped so.

Faith continued to look out the window and Claire very gently turned her head, waiting until their eyes met,

“It’s wrong and I hate it just as much as you do. But Lovie, there’s nothing we can do about it. Not here and certainly not now. For if there were, we would. We’ve no other option but to leave it to time and history…”

It wasn’t what Faith wanted to hear, nor was it what Claire wanted to say. But they both heard the truth in her words.

There was a knock at the door and they both turned only to see Young Ian. He had shaved his head and was adorned in the traditional clothes of the Mohawk. They both gawked at him and he blushed slightly.

“I’ll be back as soon as might be, Auntie. Josh, the groom, does be saying that he has heard no talk of snow in the high passes yet, but I think Uncle Jamie would be wanting me to check for myself.

I think I shall be leaving Rollo with you cousin, he seems to have taken a liking to you.”

He had. The massive wolfish form was curled up by Faith’s feet in eyes closed in absolute bliss as she scratched his hairy chin.

“I am thinking that if the weather is mild, the journey to Grandfather Mountain and back will take no but a fortnight.”

Claire counted fourteen days out on her fingers. October, in two weeks it’d be October and her heart fell. If she were a gambling woman, she’d be betting against her odds right now.

“Ian, you’ll make sure to stay safe won’t you?”

He recognized his mothers worry in his aunt’s voice,

“Aye Auntie, I will. I willnae be alone though so dinnae fash yourself. Mr. Myers will see me there and back.”

Claire wasn’t acquainted with Mr. Myers yet but nodded, having trust in her nephew and whatever he thought was best.

“Ian?” He turned, “I promised to write to your mother once we arrived. Is there anything you want me to tell her?”

“Aye. Tell Mam I love her and I will be writing to her and Da as soon as I can.”

And with that, he was gone.

The girl Phaedre, who they’d briefly met the night before came into the room, steaming basin of water in tow.

“Ms. Jo thought of how you might be liking a wash before you come down.”

She set the basin on the small table along with two balls of lavender soap before laying out their clothes for the day and excusing herself.

Claire turned to Faith,

“Do you remember meeting your Uncle Dougal?”

“No. But I’ve heard enough stories about him to guess what the man’s character must have been like.”

“Quite. Just before I married your father he told me the MacKenzies of Leoch were sly as foxes, he was right.

Be careful with your words around Jocasta, and if you suspect she’s plotting something, she most definitely is! Oh, and try not to upset the woman, the MacKenzies are a vengeful lot.”

“I know Mama, I’m a MacKenzie too…”

Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron Cameron Cameron, sat in the breakfast room straining her ears for the sound of feet on the staircase.

“Ulysses?”

“Yes, madam.”

“Tell me of them? What do they look like?”

“The woman Claire, she is tall like you but with pale skin, curly brown hair, golden eyes like a cat, and the voice of an English Lady.”

“And the girl? What of her?”

Phaedre walked in then and answered before Ulysses could,

“She’s tall too Ms. Jo, taller than you and a face like her Daddy’s. Red hair, blue eyes, and those MacKenzie cheekbones just like yours.”

Jocasta touched her own face and heard voices coming down the stairs and stood, Ulysses, ever by her side.

“Good morning Aunt said an uncertain voice.”

“Faith?” And she held out a hand.

Ian had told both Claire and Faith that Jocasta had lost her sight.

“To look at her you would no ken. But if you watch the man Ulysses, you will see clear as day. He serves as her eyes, Auntie.”

He did, and Clair watched as he guided Jocasta’s hand to Faiths.

“Niece, bring me to the painting that has the woman with red hair in the front.”

Faith scanned the room, eyes landing on a small portrait.

“This one aunt?”

Jocasta reached out, fingertip’s brushing against the patterned frame.

“My brothers Colum and Dougal in the back row. You were familiar with the were you no Claire?”

“I was. I was particularly fond of Colum.”

The old woman laughed, “so were we all.”

She moved her fingers down an inch or so,

“Myself and my sisters, Ellen, Janet and Flora all in the front row with our Wolfhound Tèarlach. He was a bonnie lad and I do miss him so.”

Claire moved to stand behind Jocasta. She had never seen a picture of Ellen Fraser before and the face staring back at her could have been Faith’s. The only difference was the nose.

“Sometimes I’m glad that I’ve lost my sight. I don’t think my heart could bear the sight of them now, all of them being gone.”

She reached out and Faith guided her back to her chair and took a seat herself.

“I hear you are a rare healer Claire. Do you think there is anything to be done of my eyes?”

“I would have to examine you, but I think not. I’m fairly certain you have late-stage Glaucoma.”

“Och, I thought so, as that’s what Dr. Rawlings said, but more the pity. And what of my husband Hector? Might you be able to take a look at him?”

“Yes of course. I’ll just need to pop upstairs to collect my medical box.”

Claire stood over the bed of Hector Cameron, diagnosis clear as day. In her time it was called TB, tuberculosis.

“Consumption. He has consumption and I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to treat it. I am sorry.”

“Aye...”

And Claire would have sworn she saw a smile in the corner of Jocasta’s lips.

“Might you make him comfortable then? I offer you the use of my medicinal garden. It’s just next to the paddocks.”

Claire had been itching to get her fingers back in the dirt and jumped at the opportunity.

And that’s how it went. Claire spent her days in the garden but was strung tight as a fiddle waiting for Ian’s return.

Faith after being cornered by the dynamic duo, Ulysses and Jocasta one too many times had taken refuge in the attic library not wishing to repeat that occurrence again.

More importantly, she had also found a friend in Phaedre.

“There’s a print shop in town on Market Street. It’s not but an hour's walk if you’d like to go? They have books aplenty and I know you're fond of them.

Faith was on her feet and the two women were out the door in a flash.

Claire knocked on the door of the library, knowing that’s where Faith chose to spend the majority of her time, and pushed the door open when there was no answer.

The room was empty but there was a book on the table and she picked it up.

‘Don Quixote” she laughed, it was one of Jamie’s favorites.

“Like father, like daughter.” And she sat in the empty chair.

When she had decided to come back through the stones, everything she had was easy to give up. She had no attachments to that world except for Bree, William and Joe.

The thought of them was a punch to the gut and a tear escaped but she quickly wiped it away.

She had never thought of Frank’s death as fortunate but wondered what she would have done if he were still alive.

She couldn’t imagine the choice she would have had to make if that were the case. It would have destroyed her.

Having to pick between her children was a choice no mother should ever have to make.

She sighed. She’d promised to write to Jenny as soon as they’d arrived and just as she’d put pen to paper the door swung open and a beaming Faith accompanied by Phaedre walked into the room.

“Hello, darling.”

“Mama you’re not going to believe it!”

She set her stack of new books down and turned her full attention to Claire.

“There’s a bookseller in town and she has a poorly lad. I told her you were a healer and she’s asked if you’d come to tend her boy, Henri-Christian is his name.

“Of course I will. Is there anything you want me to say to your aunt Jenny? I said I'd write to her when we arrived.

Faith smiled coyly, can you ask her about Dalhousie? I miss him dearly.”

Jenny Fraser Muarry stood at the foot of her stairwell admiring the wee painting of a family she thought to never see again. While her heart ached with the knowing that she’d never have the chance to meet William and Brianna, to have knowledge of their likeness was a gift.

She heard the stampede of tiny feet running down the second-floor hallway and managed to just get out of the way before a herd of grandchildren barreled down the stairs.

Wee Wally, as usual, brought up the rear and Jenny reached out just in time preventing the lad from taking a tumble.

“A rider! A rider!”

The boy was wriggling like a fish on a line, desperate to escape her grasp, “Granny, will you no let me go? It’s Faith!”

Jenny thought that was unlikely but let the boy go and follow him into the courtyard. Alarm bells went off immediately as she saw a tall dark-haired man dismount his horse and made his way towards the house.

She quickly stepped out in front of the children and ushered them away. Occasionally, a passing tinker would bring the post to the house, but this man was clearly no a tinker.

“Can I be helping you, Sir?”

He was staring at her openly and Jenny dug into her pocket reaching for the small knife she kept there.

“Is e m ’ainm MacCoinnich.”

It was her turn to stare. MacKenzie, he’d said, but his accent was queer and she couldn’t quite place it or him.

A second rider came galloping down the hill coming to a stop just in front of her. Jenny took another step back and turned, calling for Ian only to find him already there.

“You are a MacKenzie you said?”

“Aye, of Kyle of Lochalsh.”

The second rider had dismounted, placing a small redheaded child on the ground and Jenny felt some of the tension leave her, for surely these people wouldn’t bring a child if they meant to do some kind of harm.

She watched as the wee one toddled over to Thistle, the ancient Deerhound chanting,

“Dog! Good doggie! Dog, dog, dog!”

The child had a slight Scots burr and his hair reminded her of Jamie’s when he was a lad.

“Jeremiah!” The second rider, a woman, scolded and the boy’s face crumpled, eyes welling with tears of startled fright.

The woman scooped the boy up and her hood slid back as she stood revealing her face.

“I told you, granny! I told you it was Faith!”

Wally was clinging to the woman’s legs, “did you bring my porpentine quills?”

The woman crouched down and the boy stood wide-eyed, shocked and confused.

“My name is Brianna. Faith is my sister, can you tell me where she is?”

“Oh my.” Said the voice of a stunned Janet Muarry in a tone of adoration that Ian had never heard from her before.

Ian didn’t close the door to the Laird’s Study this time, instead, he opted for the family to relish in the joy of another homecoming together.

Curious little heads peered into the room and whispers of “Faith” echoed down the hall.

“Well, you do have the look of her to be sure.”

She did, and none of them could stop staring.

“Growing up, a lot of people thought we were twins. If my eyes had been blue, I think we might have been able to fool quite a few people.”

The children were bursting with fits of contagious giggles at Bree’s strange accent and she couldn’t help but smile herself.

“Speaking of twins, can you tell us how long ago my mother, sister, and brother left Lallybroch? We think they’re in North Carolina now, Roger found an old newspaper article that mentioned them.”

The silence that followed spoke volumes. And Bree’s skin rippled with goosebumps.

Feeling that a serious conversation might be in order, Jenny stood shooing all of the younger children out of the room.

Jemmy, never shy, detached himself from Roger’s lap and followed his cousins upstairs.

“Mrs. Crook,” Ian called, “take them to the nursery to play, but do you watch out for the lad, and bring him down directly if he starts to fuss.”

She nodded and Ian closed the door behind her.

“Your mother and Faith left this April past, but William has no been here lass,” Jenny said.

“He?” She wasn’t comprehending, “wha- I, I don’t… I don’t understand.”

She looked to Roger absolutely horrified.

“He’s not? Are, are you sure?”

But of course, they were sure, and Bree felt her world begin to come crashing down around her.

Ian interrupted, “you did say you found an article?”

Roger nodded and told them about the events that led up to their trip through the stones.

“You dinnae happen to have it here with you?”

“No, we didn’t think it safe to bring through the stones. But I have it memorized.”

Roger recited the small passage word for word. Then once more.

“Bride be thanked!” Said Jenny, and quickly added, “we have had no word from Claire since she and Faith left. To know they have made it safely to North Carolina and to Jamie is a gift.

But that is too bad about Hector, though not surprising. He has been sick with the consumption for some years now. May God grant him peace in his final hour.”

And she crossed herself.

“Was there a date on the article by chance?”

“No, but we think it was probably about 17…”

Jenny sighed as a shriek and a crash fit to wake the dead came from upstairs.

“Granny! Angus hit me!”

“Oh God, they are sure to put me in an early grave.” And she was on her feet halfway up the stairs like a shot.

A torrent of rapid Gaelic came from above bringing the commotion to an abrupt stop.

Bree, having a firm grasp on the language now couldn't help but laugh.

“Ah, so you’ll have the Gàidhlig too then?”

“Yes, I got it from Faith.”

Another wail came from upstairs and Bree recognized it immediately. She knew all of Jem’s cries and this particular one meant he was hungry and she excused herself.

She met a frazzled Mrs. Crook on the landing,

“Take the first room on the left, it's Jamie’s old room, no one will be bothering you in there lass.”

She hadn’t even thought of the man until Jenny had mentioned him earlier, but hurried up the remaining stairs, a red-faced Jem in tow.”

“A woman’s work is never done. I dinnae ken how they do it.” Ian said, getting up and pouring out two drams of whisky.

“Did Claire tell you that in our time, Lallybroch is our home? Me and Brianna I mean.”

“Aye, she said something of the like. It is good to know the house has stayed in the family. I suppose I should be calling you laird then?”

He handed Roger a glass and sat down.

“Not unless you’re trying to start a war between myself and my wife.”

Ian laughed, “ah, so that’s the way of it then?”

“The house is hers, it was a gift from Claire before she left…”

The two men sat for a while enjoying the warmth of the whisky before Ian spoke,

“Are you thinking the lass will be wanting to go after her mother?”

“Yes, but I think even more so she wants to find her brother. Did Claire tell you they were twins?”

“Aye, she did.”

“I’m an only child myself,” Roger said. “So it’s hard for me to even imagine, but Bree and William-“

Ian cut him off.

“Neither one of them is whole without the other?”

Roger nodded and topped off his glass.

“We have the one set of twins, Janet and Michael. And it is a queer thing to see them sitting there the two of them in full conversation but with no words coming from their mouths.”

“I thought it was just Bree and William, but I see it’s a twin thing as Faith would say.”

The light was starting to fade and Ian got up to light the candles.

“Well Roger, I am thinking that in a few weeks it will be near on October, and while it has been mild this year to be sure, I think you will not have much time to make a decision before sea travel halts for the season.

Jared, Jenny’s cousin, has taken Michael, our youngest, under his wing and I know he is to sail to the Indies soon to collect a shipment of rum. As he has no just left us but the two weeks past, perhaps it is no too late for you to sail with him.

I think it will be no hard to make it to the colonies from there, especially if you land in the southern ones and make your way by riverboat to North Carolina.

We have family, as you know in Cross Creek, Jenny’s auntie Jocasta. I think perhaps if you are to leave by week’s end,” and he counted the months out on his fingers.

“You should make it there to her by Yule. I will write a letter to her directly now.”

And he left, wooden leg echoing down the hall.

Roger sat trying to absorb everything that had just happened. A week ago he’d been sitting in this exact spot annoyed at the hum coming from the refrigerator as he tried to work.

He was fairly sure he knew what Bree wanted to do, but had been married to a Fraser long enough to know never to presume.

He walked up the stairs and heard Bree’s voice behind the door on his left. She was there with Jemmy asleep in her arms and he smiled at the sight.

“You’ve just missed him.” She nodded to Jem.

“I think he's down for the night. He tried to put on a brave face, but could barely keep his eyes open.”

Roger picked his son up and kissed his brow before tucking him into bed.

“I was speaking to your Uncle Ian just now and I think we’ve not but the three choices,

We can go back through the stones, we can stay here and hope William shows up, or we can try to get to Faith and your mother.”

Every rational part of her mind wanted to say they should go back because what if William was there? But the pull towards North Carolina was strong. Claire always knew what to do and Bree thought she had a right to know what was going on.

“He either didn’t come to Lallybroch or he found another passage,” Roger said.

“Another passage?”

That thought had never crossed her mind.

“Did Faith ever say anything about there being more than one point to travel from?”

She hadn’t. The only portal they knew of stood at the top of Craigh na Dun.

“Leave it to William to go against the grain.”

She’d meant it as a joke but he heard the quaver in her voice.

“Brianna, tell me what it is you need to do and we'll do it.”

It hadn’t been a hard decision, not really, and as they stood with Michael on the deck of Jared’s ship watching the shores of Scotland fade into the distance Bree felt a renewed sense of hope tangled with uncertainty.

“Mommy?” Jemmy’s head popped out of his wrappings.

“Where is us going?”

“We’re going to see Granny Claire.”

“Oh.”

And he burrowed back into his wrappings, unphased and seeming as if all was right in the world.

Chapter Text

Jamie watched slightly shocked but deeply impressed as William worked Gideon around the paddock. He himself had struggled mightily with the wicked creature for years, nearly losing a finger or two along the way, but the young man had a way with horses.

He saw William reach for a saddle and wondered if he should intervene before the stallion knocked the lad flat, but was compelled to stay put as the pair bolted across the empty backfields, neatly clearing fences and stonewalls before disappearing over a hill.

Murtagh’s words came back to him suddenly, “are you sure you dinnane have a son?” Jamie was, but if he had, he thought the child would be a lot like William, a son any man would be proud of to be sure.

He saw the two begin to circle back and made his way down to the stables. He had at first been suspicious of having this unknown stranger stay on the Ridge for longer than strictly necessary.

But as the days had turned into weeks and weeks into months, he was glad, very glad that the lad had decided to stay. He’d proven himself to be a valuable asset all around and was more than capable of pulling his weight.

They perhaps weren’t quite comfortable with each other yet and there were things he knew William was holding back, but that was okay. He had earned enough of Jamie’s respect and Jamie enough of his to allow for things to unfold in time as they would.

“You’ve a way with the beasts.”

William wasn’t startled to see Fraser waiting outside of the barn. He’d known the man was watching, it’d been why he had put on a bit of a show.

“My father taught me. Us,” he corrected quickly, “I have two older sisters. Papa thought it was important that we all learned how to ride. When I was five he got us a horse, her name was Miranda. She was only ten hands but we thought she was a giant.”

“Aye, and she would be, to a wee lad of only five.”

“She was a solid girl, we had a lot of good adventures together. She’s retired now, living a well-earned life of leisure at my grandparent’s estate in England.”

Jamie was nodding as they made their way towards the big house. Fraser was someone William had despised his entire life. He had been a wedge forcing his family further apart with each passing day and preventing them all from living their happily ever after.

But now that he’d met the man, had had a chance to reflect and spend time with him, he wasn’t the villain William had always seen him as. No, he definitely wasn’t that at all.

“I have a son.”

William’s heart skipped a beat and he nearly tripped over himself. Did Fraser know? They were of a similar height and he did have his mother’s eyes, but he didn’t think his resemblance to her was striking enough as to be obvious.

“Fergus is his name, he’s living down in Cross Creek now with his wife and four bairns.”

He’d stopped walking and William turned around to see he’d taken a seat on an old stump.

“I have a daughter too but it’s been a time since I’ve seen the lass. I miss her dearly though.”

It wasn’t a fair question to ask but he did anyway hoping that Jamie wouldn’t shut down like he had when asked about his wife.

“Your daughter, what’s her name?”

He knew Fergus had to be the French orphan boy his mother would often speak of. He’d yet to meet a Frenchman with a Scottish name like Fergus and if Fraser were to say his daughter’s name was-

“Faith. Her name is Faith. Faith Julia Fraser.”

And there it was. He’d been prepared for it, had known since first laying eyes on James Fraser, but to hear the man speak the truth himself somehow made it all real.

William went to sit beside him, feeling as if the gap between them had shrunk further.

“I never knew my real father growing up. I knew of him but we’d never met. My eldest sister was born before The Rising, she knew him. Myself and my twin sister, we never had a chance to have a life with him, he doesn’t even know we exist.”

“War takes much but gives little in return no matter what side you fight on. You’ll no find a man here who hasn't felt the cruelty of war. More the pity…”

He spoke no lies.

“My stepfather, who I always considered to be my father, raised us. I’ve never thought of him as anything other than a good man but, now that I’m old enough to look back, I’m not quite sure he was.

I loved him, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t and I still do. But while he was usually a good father to me, he wasn’t a good husband to my mother and I know he resented my eldest sister deeply.

It’s hard when you grow up in a dysfunctional family. You start taking things you never would have otherwise. You become greedy for whatever sense of normalcy you can find and you collect any bits of joy and praise and happiness thrown your way.

I learned that at a young age and quickly became my father’s favorite. I felt special because I got the most attention and love from him. I wouldn’t have traded that feeling for anything in the world.

I was a brute, a bully, and a fool. I was such a selfish fool. I wanted to be just like him. Needed to be like him. I said things to my mother and sisters that I didn’t care about then, but now that I no longer have blinders on - I hate myself for it. For all of it.

But I hate even more that I wasn’t always kind to my mother. I regret that more than anything. She worked hard and gave us the world, we never wanted for anything. She never missed an opportunity to tell me how much she loved me or how proud she was. And now I’m not even sure I’ll ever get to see her again.

I wish I could go back and apologize to them for everything he influenced me to do and say, and for all of the damage I did on my own.

And when he died I left them like the coward that I am. I didn’t know what else to do, I was ashamed. I still am.” He whispered.

He was overwhelmed with guilt speaking of them, especially Bree, but he noticed that the gaping hole in his chest where the two of them had once been connected didn’t feel as deep as it once had. It was strange, but he felt a bit closer to her being here in this place, that in a different life, might have been their home.

He threw the small pebble he’d been clinging to for strength hard against the ground and watched as it ricocheted into a dark muddy puddle. How very appropriate he thought.

“It’s not a good way to live, I’m not sure how any of us survived. But I know none of us came away from that time unscathed.”

He hadn’t meant to say so much, but the release of emotion was much needed and had been a long time coming. At least he hadn’t waxed poetic about Frank, like the child inside of him had always done. That, he thought, was a big step.

He turned his head not wanting Fraser to see the tears that had gathered in the corners of his eyes before going on.

“It’s a very sobering thing to lose all that you love in the world. Any kind of foolishness that seemed important before no longer is. And when you strip away all the fluff, all the frivolity and find yourself standing alone…”

He shrugged, “it’s just not a place anyone should ever be.”

Jamie knew that kind of suffering well. He’d been living with it all these years past but this was the first time he’d heard anyone put it into such precise words.

He saw the lad valiantly trying to fight back tears and wanted to offer him a hug or some kind of comfort.

“I lost my mother when I was a bairn, she died in the childbed along with my wee brother Robert. It was at the time, the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I kept thinking that the one day I was going to wake up to find the whole thing had been no but a dream. They would both be there waiting for me when I came home from the schoolhouse.

I did go on thinking like that until the next worst thing happened to me. I lost my father, he had the apoplexy while I was far afoot and he passed away before I could get home.”

Jamie thought it best not to share the particular details of just where he was and why he couldn’t get home.

“You would have thought that after waiting all those years for my mother to magically reappear, I would have learned better than to think such foolish thoughts in regards to my father.

I have not. Sometimes I think I’ll see him coming out of the stables just here. The mind can be a cruel thing.

Aye well, when I finally was in a position to get back to Lallybroch, I did no go. I could not go, for the shame I brought upon myself.

I left my sister there to tend the estate all on her own. I heard she bore her first child yet still I sent no word of where I was or if I were okay. I just did leave her there with no a care in the world for anyone but myself.

When I got married, my wife gave me the courage to go home and the first thing my sister did say to me was,”

“You are a fool, James Fraser!”

“She was right. Still is right. I wish I could go back and redeem myself for the wickedness I have done in life, but that is not the way of things, it is too late for that.”

They were both quiet for a time, sitting with the weight of all that had just been said.

Fraser wasn’t a monster as William had thought, but merely a man who had, like himself, been dealt an unfortunate hand.

The time to reveal his identity was probably now, but he wasn’t quite ready yet. It has to be soon, he thought.

“Thank you.”

Jamie looked over to see William had stood and was offering him a hand up.

He took it and let the lad help him to his feet and the two of them made the short walk back to the house - together.

Claire stood over the bed of Hector Cameron frowning. He didn’t have much time left, she thought his time would come before weeks end. There wasn’t much she could do for him, but took the steaming pot of willow bark from the fire and poured out a mug to cool.

She turned to the woman Betty who had been sitting vigil by his side,

“When he wakes, offer him this, it’ll help with the pain. If he won’t drink, soak a cloth in the tincture and lay it across his forehead.”

I’ll be back as soon as I can, and please send word to the print shop on Market Street if he takes a turn.

The woman had nodded, and Claire set off, medical box in hand.

Faith hadn’t told her much about the poorly boy, just that he had a toothache and she so hoped she wouldn’t have to pull any teeth.

It was her least favorite thing, but in a world without dentists, oral care fell to healers like her. Just the idea of putting a child through such a procedure without proper anesthetic made her stomach flip.

This was her first trip into Cross Creek since their arrival and she watched fascinated from the back of the open-air carriage.

It looked like a film set. That was her first thought. She didn’t spend much time thinking about her gift of time travel, there was much to be said of it. She had at first thought it a curse, the way her heart broke when she realized that Frank had been lost to her forever on her first trip through.

And a good thing too she thought now. She didn’t have much warmth left for him, not after finding her heart in Jamie.

Thought of him, made her think of Young Ian. He’d said he’d be back in two weeks, it had been twelve days, not that she was counting and she laughed.

She didn’t know how much longer she or Faith would last at River Run. The atmosphere was stifling and there was not a moment of privacy to be had. The thought of biding in that house until spring,

“No.”

Besides, the pull to Jamie was more than physical and if she had to walk through snow and across mountains on her own she would.

As they turned the corner onto the main street, Claire spotted a small apothecary shop and shouted for the horsemen to stop.

“I’ll just be a second!” She shouted over her shoulder. She was. She emerged from the shop with armfuls of Sarcona and willow bark, arrowroot, gallberries, laudanum, ginger, raspberry leaf and a second bundle which the proprietor had offered to have delivered to River Run.

She loaded her goods into the carriage and taking her medical box opted to walk the rest of the way. It wasn’t far, she could see the print shop from here, just at the end of the street by the docks.

The warmth of early fall that had greeted them in Wilmington had given way to much chillier days and she pulled her sweater tighter around her shoulders as she neatly sidestepped a questionable puddle.

She pushed the door open and a small bell rang out from above her head. The room smelled of paper and ink and Faith.

Two identical faces popped up from behind the tall wooden counter and said in unison,

"Bonjour mademoiselle.”

They looked her over and tried gallantly to hold back their giggles, but Claire knew what her wild curls must look like.

“Are you the healer then? Are you here to see our brother?”

“I am. My name is Mrs. Fraser.” Saying it still gave her a thrill, it apparently gave the girls one too because they burst out into further giggles.

They were looking at her quizzically now, speaking in a patois of French, Gaelic, and English. With their dark hair, rich brown eyes, and perfectly white square teeth, they reminded her of Fergus.

“Maman! The healer is here to see Henri-Christian!”

A very pregnant blond woman carefully made her way down the stairs that Claire thought must lead to the living quarters, a small boy clinging to her skirts.

“Bubbles the healer is here to fix your tooth!”

“Aye, she’s nice, we talked to her. Don’t be scared.”

And they both knelt down in tandem, kissing the nervous boy on each cheek.

Claire crouched down too, greeting the boy with a friendly handshake. She could see now that he was a dwarf and her doctor’s mind was fairly certain about what was ailing the child.

Henri-Christian reached out a tiny hand to touch her hair and Claire smiled,

“Like snakes!” And she exaggerated that last “s” and got her desired result.

The boy’s face broke into a wide smile and Claire was able to get a good look at his teeth before he ducked behind his mother’s skirts.

She stood and turned to the boy’s mother,

“Can we set up by the window? I'll need the light to get a proper look at the teeth in the back.”

They did and Claire saw the problem immediately,

“You see here?”

She pointed to a bicuspid which was growing in between two baby teeth.

“Until he loses all the smaller teeth and his jaw grows a bit more, he’s going to have pain.

It’s normal especially in children and he shouldn’t need to have any teeth extracted. But I’ll give you some clove oil and willow bark to help with the discomfort.”

She was thankful that she had had the forethought to prepare the mixture earlier and had just turned to grab the small glass bottle from her box when the bell above the door rang.

“And where have you been? Did I not tell you to be home by noon? Tell me, Germain, what time is it now?”

“It’s 2:30 Maman, but I was with Papa”

“Oh were you then?”

“Tell her Papa!” He pleaded.

With that tone of voice, Claire felt sorry for the woman’s husband and the boy. She turned, meaning to hand one of the twins the bottle but it slipped from her hand.

“Milady?”

She knew the voice before she saw the face.

“Fergus?”

It was. The small French orphan that Jamie had rescued from a brothel was gone, transformed into a tall handsome man but with the same square teeth, dark curly hair, and warm brown eyes.

“You have been restored to us. But how?”

Fergus knew about the stones but she wasn’t sure if anyone else in the room did, so settled for,

“I came back, Faith too.”

He was already beaming but lit like a candle at Faith's name.

“We have a cousin named Faith. She lives far away in Scotland with our Grand-mère Claire.” Said Henri-Christian.

“I told you we would never forget you Milady.”

And she was in his arms. Reunited with a son she had never thought to see again and she felt another piece of her heart fall back into place.

She heard a whispered “Claire” followed by gleeful shouts of “Grand-mère!”

Then a sea of tiny hands pulling and grabbing at her skirts. Each eager to greet the grandmother they only knew from stories.

Faith was on her feet, tears streaming down her face.

“Where?” She managed to get out.

She and Fergus had had an unbreakable bond. When they had gone back through the stones, the only person she’d asked for was him.

Claire would never forget that first night that they’d spent in the manse. It was the first time she’d ever slept without him by her side, and she had wept as if her heart might break and it had.

The moment Faith realized Fergus hadn’t made the trip through the stones with them Claire saw, she actually saw her daughter’s heart split in two.

Hers had too at the realization that she’d left behind the beautiful boy who had first made her a mother.

“At the print shop on Market Street.”

Faith was frantically trying to pin her hair up. Claire watched for a moment then stepped in, taking her daughter’s hands very gently,

“Lovie, they're coming here. Jocasta has invited them for dinner.”

 

As Claire walked down the stairs towards the dining room, she could hear the high-pitched voices of children. Not just any children she reminded herself, her grandchildren. Hers.

She thought of Bree and Roger then. She knew Brianna had always wanted to be a mother and tried to imagine what that child would look like.

Her mind presented her with a vivid picture of a small figure with red hair, moss green eyes, and rich olive skin.

“Oh, Bree.”

She would never get used to life without her twins. How she had found the strength to leave them would remain a mystery to her.

She put on a brave face and opened the dining-room door, fully expecting to be greeted by a sea of children, but she wasn’t.

They were all surrounding Jocasta, a look of joy on her face Claire hadn’t seen before. Phaedra had said she’d lost all three of her daughters just before The Rising. It was nice that she was able to find joy again.

The loss of Fergus and then Bree and William had shattered her heart. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to lose three children nearly all at once.

She looked for Faith next and found her glued to Fergus. A look of such love plastered across their glowing faces, she knew them both to be completely lost to this world.

She walked a little further into the candlelit room and nodded to Ulysses, then spotted the flaxen-haired girl from the print shop and moved to sit by her.

“I don’t believe we’ve met properly, but I do believe you’re my daughter-in-law.”

The girl blushed slightly.

“Marsali MacKimmie-Fraser. I think you did know my mother.”

“Oh?“

“At Castle Leoch. Her name was Laoghaire MacKenzie.”

All of the blood drained from Claire’s face. She would never forget that spiteful, sneaky little bitch who tried to have her burned at the stake in a failed attempt to steal Jamie for herself.

That must have shown on her face because Marsali was staring looking as if she might bolt.

“I did,” she said warmly, “and you’re the spit of her!”

“Can you tell me anything about my mother? I mean, what was she like when you kent her?”

She had a look of such hope on her face and Claire recognized it well. It was the look of a child who’d lost their parents at a young age along with nearly every memory of them too.

She had asked her Uncle Lamb the same question hundreds of times but had always wanted more knowledge than he was able to provide.

She didn’t want to disparage Laoghaire in front of her daughter, so she tried to answer cautiously yet thoroughly.

“She was proud, cunning, and fearless. I was quite a bit older than her so we didn’t spend much time together, but I remember her well and I think she would have been happy with the success and happiness you have found.”

Ulysses rang the dinner bell then, and Claire let out a sigh of relief as they all gathered at the table.

She found a seat between Faith and the twin hell kittens, Joan and Félicité. It had taken her all of five minutes to see why Jamie had given them that nickname. They were a force and she’d also be willing to bet they were a test of their parents' patience as well.

The dinner was brought out in a procession of silver trays. A roasted game hen set down in front of each guest with sides of mashed potatoes, dark leafy greens, fresh bread, and gravy taking their places across the center of the long table.

Claire looked around the room and reflected. When they went back through the stones the first time, she thought she knew how much they were losing and she thought she was prepared for that loss.

But seeing each smiling face and feeling the collective joy radiating from the table, she was hit hard by the realization of just how much they’d all lost, this small family ripped apart by time.

And not for the first time wondered if it had been fair to take Faith away from all of this. How life would have been different if she’d had a chance to raise all three of her children here with Jamie in this time.

This, she thought, is what life was meant to be like.

An excited “woof” from Rollo who had been prowling under the table for crumbs and shouts from the children of “Uncle Ian!”

He was grinning like a Cheshire Cat and a place was quickly set for him across the table from Claire.

“A good eenin to ye Auntie.”

Faith had set down her utensils and was staring a hole through her cousin.

He very casually ripped a drumstick off his hen and chewed with intentional slowness, pausing to take a sip of wine before swallowing.

“I am thinking that we should leave the morrow next for Fraser’s Ridge.”

Faith reached out under the table lacing her fingers through Claire’s before speaking,

“You mean, it’s not too late? We can go to Da?”

“Aye cousin.”

“Go where?” Said the ever-curious voices of Joan and Félicité.

“What have I told you about interrupting conversations in which you are not involved mes petits?” Said Fergus before flashing a smile of extraordinary sweetness. He knew.

The rest of the evening passed like a dream. Jocasta excused herself and the children fell asleep one by one in front of the fireplace giving the adults a much-needed chance to catch up.

Claire spoke of their trip to Lallybroch and showed Fergus the tiny miniatures of Bree and William, the siblings he would never have a chance to meet, but she was happy he knew of their existence.

Faith and Marsali were chattering away in low-voiced Gaelic but stood each bending down to gently carry a sleeping child off to bed.

Fergus and Young Ian followed suit leaving Claire with just enough time to check up on old Hector before retiring for the night.

His chest was rattling but his color was okay and he wasn’t clammy to the touch. Yet… she thought and sat with him a while, while the ephedra to help his breathing brewed.

She thought about how very short life was and then froze. Hector most certainly would not be dead in two days time when they were to set off for the Ridge. Her duty as a doctor bound her to this man no matter what. She could not and would not leave him. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ she hissed.

The woman Betty was standing in the doorway wide-eyed at such casual use of blasphemy.

Claire had just enough energy to apologize and set a mug of steaming tea on Hector’s bedside table before leaving the room.

She walked through the moonlit gardens agitated and thinking about what absolute terrible timing sickness and death had.

“Well no, there’s never a good time for something like that, is there Beauchamp?”

“Like what Mama?”

Claire nearly jumped out of her skin. She had heard the talk of the ghosts in their short stay at River Run. They were said to especially haunt the eerie white mausoleum that would soon be home to Hector Cameron.

“I want you to go to Fraser’s Ridge without me.”

Faith laughed then frowned as she took in her mother’s appearance.

“Why?”

“I can’t leave your uncle to die here alone.”

“But Mama he’s not alone! He has Auntie Jocasta, Fergus, and Marsali, Betty-”

She trailed off. Knowing this was a battle she wasn’t going to win. She frantically raked her mind for the right words, finding only one to be adequate.

“No.”

Claire gawked at her. “But you have to...”

“No, I don’t. But you do. Mama, you have to go. You have to! I’ll stay here. I’ll tend to him and I promise I won’t let him die alone. But you Mama, your place is with Da. I can wait, but I won’t let you do the same.”

They both sat with that for a while. When embarking on this journey, Claire had always thought that it would be one they’d end together. The thought of crossing the finish line per se without her daughter was unfathomable.

Seeing the indecision on her mother’s face Faith interjected, “should I smother old Uncle Hector with a pillow then? No one would ever know it was me and we could leave together.”

Claire laughed despite herself. Faith had always
possessed the ability to lighten any situation with her quick wit. They always used to joke that she could lighten the mood at a funeral. And she probably could, but Claire had decided that she wouldn’t be here to find out.

“I’ll go, but I have one condition. Promise me you’ll do your best to make it to Fraser’s Ridge before spring. I couldn’t possibly live for so long without you.”

“I promise I’ll try.”

“And Faith?”

“Yes, Mama?”

“Thank you.”

Claire had slept restlessly. The idea of leaving Faith simply didn’t sit well with her. She knew Faith would be fine here, and she knew for a fact that she was eager to spend more time with Fergus. Still, the thought of leaving her after they’d made it so far…

But her legs quivered at the thought of having some alone time with Jamie. His strong arms and soft mouth and the feel of his -

“Good morning Mrs. Claire.”

In front of her was one of the largest men she’d ever seen. He wasn’t just tall but wide as a barn door and looking as if he grew in the forest itself.

He stood and bowed to her very correctly, “John Quincy Myers at your service mam.”

He waited for Claire to sit before neatly snatching a rasher of bacon and only then did she notice Faith and Ian were at the table as well.

“Mr. Myers has volunteered to stay behind with Faith here at River Run Auntie.”

She eyed the man dubiously.

“Oh not to worry Mrs. Claire, I’ve been knowing old Mr. Cameron since he and Jocasta first arrived in the colony all them years ago. I would be here anyways in Hector’s final days. He’s been nothing but a good friend to me.”

“Aye, I vouch for him, Auntie. Mr. Myers is a good man, you can ask Uncle Jamie, he’ll say the same.”

Leaving Faith in anyone's care was something she’d never done, not even when she was a child. But Faith wasn’t a child anymore.

Her guardianship over any of her children didn’t end simply because they were adults, but she had to remind herself that it was okay to let go.

“I’ll be okay Mama.”

“I know Lovie.”

She finished off her muffin and left the room feeling the need to spend some time alone if only to get her emotions fully under control.

She made her way towards the parlor, thankful to find it empty. Jamie had always given her a hard time about not being able to knit and during her time in Boston she’d become quite an accomplished knitter. Her skills had even impressed Jenny.

She picked up the ball of wooly dark green yarn along with her needles and finished off the last few rows of the socks and scarf she was making for Faith.

She was always complaining about being cold in the winter and in the event they weren’t able to spend the holidays together, Claire wanted her daughter to have a gift made with love to open on Christmas morning.

The soft “ding” of the parlor clock told her it was noon. And she set her knitting aside. Hector was usually most alert at this time of day so she ventured upstairs to check on him.

Much to her surprise, she found the room filled with people. Phaedre, Betty, Faith, and a man who she hadn’t met before.

“Mama, this is Dr. Fentiman.”

“Dr. Fraser! Dr. Fraser! My dear lady.” And he shook her hand vigorously.

“Your daughter has just been telling me what a capital job you’ve been doing in tending to Mr. Cameron here.”

She couldn’t keep up with the man’s ramblings but shot her daughter a look when the man addressed her as Dr. Fraser as well. She was technically a doctor, just not in a medical way.

She glanced at Hector to make sure he hadn’t decided to stop breathing during all the commotion and was pleased to see his chest rise.

She snuck out of the room feeling herself not ready to socialize on that level yet. In her time Dr. Fentiman would be called a quack. A kindly one, but still a quack. She took comfort in knowing that Hector would be tended to with dignity and respect for his remaining time on this earth though.

She had just closed the door to the parlor when,

“Claire? Is that you?”

Claire groaned inwardly. She was a sociable person and still relatively young, but she knew she wasn’t cut out to keep up with Jocasta’s lifestyle. The woman was blind and must be pushing eighty, but her social life was comparable to that of a modern teenager.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Is the lass here with you then?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Oh, that’s good then.”

That “good” had every single one of Claire’s maternal alarm bells going off. MacKenzies might be sly as foxes, but Claire was prepared for whatever nonsense Jocasta might throw her way.

“I have a particular friend coming to stay for a bit and I thought he’d make a good match for the lass.”

She had not been prepared for that and sat.

In a different time, Claire would have laughed. Rage, indignation, shock, and outrage poured through her and she was thankful that Faith was in fact, not here.

She opened her mouth to rebuke the woman but words failed her and she sat sputtering.

Ulysses' voice rang out. Announcing another visitor and she bit her tongue in frustration.

“My Lord John Grey,” said the butler.

Claire heard feet approaching but was pleasantly startled by the small Black and Tan Dachshund that came bouncing into her lap.

“Well hello there.” The dog had rolled onto its back and stretched his stumpy little feet into the air.

“Roscoe! Madam, I do beg your pardon. Roscoe, down I say!”

She looked up meaning to tell the man that it was alright, and luckily for her she was already sitting, for if not she might have stumbled.

She quickly tried to arrange her glass face and failed. Standing she curtsied, “Lieutenant Grey, what a surprise.”

The door closed and she looked over to see Jocasta had left the room. Damn the woman!

They both stood dumbly, Claire just registering what the butler had said,

“You? You’re Lord John? The Lord John.”

He bowed to her very formally,

“I am. And you must be Mrs. Fraser? Mrs. Claire Fraser?”

She nodded, and damned Jocasta again.

She’d met Lieutenant Gray in Scotland, just after their trip through the stones under the guise of Mrs. Alexander of Oxfordshire.

“You must know you’re the last person I ever expected to see here. When I met you that day near Inverness, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Your daughter bears a most remarkable resemblance to her father.”

“So do her siblings.”

The man choked on whatever he had been about to say and Claire hid a smile in her teacup.

“He. Jamie. He never told me he had more than one child.”

A strong look of betrayal crossed his face and Claire took pity on him.

“He doesn’t know. He sent us away before The Rising insistent on the fact that he was going to die and we’d be safer elsewhere. When I had no word I assumed he was dead and being the wife of a traitor took our daughter to live in Boston.

We didn’t know I was pregnant when I left and William and Brianna have never had a chance to meet their father. That was twenty years ago. I only recently found out he was still alive.”

“I suspect Mistress Murray has told you about the unique situation that brought our two families together?”

Jenny had. But what Claire wanted to know was,

“Why? It seems like an odd arrangement for an Officer of the King to help a man wanted for treason.”

“You are a most direct woman.” He laced his fingers together and rested his chin on his hands.

John knew a lot about James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Foremost was how much the man loved his wife and how her loss devastated him. She was in everything that he did, every decision that he made. She was laced into his being and he had to swallow back his jealousy at that fact.

He’d never thought to actually meet the woman, but now that he had, felt a certain kinship for her. Surely if Jamie loved her, which he undoubtedly did, he must also trust her. And John found the decision made for him.

“Because I love him.”

He watched Claire closely but her face was absolutely blank with shock.

“Love or loved?” She asked.

He just quirked an eyebrow allowing her time to process.

“Does Jamie know?”

“He does and a most uncomfortable conversation that was. But he accepts me for who I am.”

Claire hadn’t paid much attention to the man’s manicured hands, his delicate mannerisms, or the fine cut of his clothes. What she had noticed was the look of incredible longing when he spoke Jamie’s name.

“Oh, I see.” It was said simply and she made sure to keep any horror or alarm from her voice.

“Quite.”

They were on dangerous ground now and they both knew it.

“But still, why? Why go to such great lengths to accommodate a man who’s rejected you?”

She watched as an extraordinary array of emotions flipped across his face.

He looked like a man who had done battle with himself on multiple occasions and had lost every time. She knew the feeling well and drawn by a bizarre need to touch the man, she laid a hand on his shoulder.

“You can’t help who you love in the same way that you can’t change the color of your eyes or your hair. It just is.

There are people who will never know love and I pity them at the same time that I envy them. For without knowing love, you cannot know heartbreak.

Some of us are a bit luckier and have love once. And then there are those who may find love more than once in this life. The love is never the same but the ferocity in what you feel and how you love occasionally can be.

Some of us fear it, some of us need it, and others will never know life without it. Yet there are others,” and he looked directly at her, “who had love, but have lost it and walk around like soldiers injured on the battlefield.

Bruised and battered in places that we didn’t even know existed. But I think still, there are very few people who go through life not wanting it in some shape or form.

I had love… once. I do not need it again but I wouldn’t reject it if I found it.

Jamie offered me something I needed more than love. He gifted me friendship and family.”

She looked at him and realized that John was one of those truly rare people who, unlike her, could hide their true feelings from the world.

He had in the last few minutes allowed Claire to see his true self and she was under no disillusion that love and life had dragged this man through the gutters, and at some point probably had left him there for dead.

And being what he was, in a time like this, wasn’t just hard. It was dangerous, not to mention criminal.

But instead of the bitterness so many feel after loss and heartache he, like her, had picked up bits and pieces of happiness through out his life and was able to tell himself that was enough.

She had done the same heartbreaking chore in Boston and she ached for the man. And quite without her knowing, John had removed himself as a threat to her family by offering her the gift of friendship. The same gift Jamie had given him.

Her hand was still on his shoulder and she left it there, feeling for now that’s where it belonged.

“I’m leaving for Fraser’s Ridge in the morning with my nephew Ian. Faith will be staying here a bit longer. She’s offered to tend to her uncle, to help keep him comfortable in his final days.

She’s grown now and I trust her completely, still, I am her mother and I worry.”

John didn’t have any children but knew the value each one held in the eyes of their parents.

“Can I entrust her to your care until she’s able to join us on The Ridge?”

John recognized the question for what it was. Friendship. And laid his hand over hers squeezing lightly.

“Of course my dear.”

Faith had taken to sitting in the parlor at night with Lord John and Jocasta. She was a natural-born storyteller like her father and thrilled them with tales of her siblings, feeling better that knowledge of them existed in this time. Of course, she didn’t say when they were, just that they were in Scotland.

On some nights Fergus would come, her nieces and nephews clamoring for the spot at the table closest to their Uncle John.

They were a family and she loved them no less fiercely than the one she’d grown up within Boston. But she longed for her mother, her parting words still ringing loudly in Faith’s head.

“There was a part of me that died when your father sent us back through the stones. And there’s another part of me that I lost somewhere between Scotland and Boston.”

She’d looked at Faith then, “I hope the bits and broken pieces of me that are left will be enough.”

She hadn’t realized at the time, but what her mother had meant was that she hoped Jamie could still love her despite it all.

“He will, Mama.” And she willed the sincerity of her statement into the universe with her entire being.

Chapter Text

William finished lacing up his boots and took in his new cabin. It was sparse, well no, that was being generous. It was empty except for a small bed and sad looking lopsided wooden table. It was nearly an exact replica of the single-room log cabins he’d seen in his school textbooks. À la George Washington.

But it was his and he appreciated his newfound freedom and the trust that Fraser had in him to do what he pleased. Plus the feeling of not having a pair of eyes on him at all times was a relief in itself.

He opened the door, checking the light for the time. He was supposed to meet Jamie at the big house by noon and started the walk across the ridge.

It was the same trail he'd traveled on during his initial trip to North Carolina. The trip that had sent him through the stones, landing him here and nearly killing him in the process.

The massive wolf-dog Bran was basking in the middle of the path, about a half dozen partially eaten fish carcasses at his feet. At seeing William, he got up tail wagging and unleashed a sneeze of gargantuan proportion. Thick strings of fishy drool went flying, just missing William’s freshly washed trousers.

“Well hello to you too.”

He gave the dog a scratch on the head before continuing on.

The thing that had been bothering him the most, was the fact that he couldn’t figure out why he was here but Claire and Faith were not.

There was no logical reason for it and that scared him. It was a constant worry always at the forefront of his mind, a weight on his chest that he knew would crush him if he let it. Sometimes he’d wake drenched in sweat swearing that he could hear their voices screaming above all others in the darkness of the stones.

“Where are you?”

He knew his mother had handed in her resignation to the hospital in June, Uncle Joe had told him that. And Bree had said that she’d gotten to Scotland in August and gone with Faith through the stones near Samhain in October.

It was November now, “Jesus,” thirteen months. That was more than enough time to have had to make the sea crossing to Fraser’s Ridge. You could have gone to Scotland and back twice in that amount of time.

He knew he was in the right place and the right year, so that only left the one possibility, something had happened. Something had gone horribly wrong and every single worst-case scenario played out in his mind in vivid detail.

He heard the white sow squeal and looked up sharply. He thought he could outrun her but didn’t have any particular interest in finding out for sure.

He scanned the trail and caught a flash of her pale backside as she slipped back into her den under the house.

Picking up his pace just that wee bit, he cleared the three steps leading up to the back porch and was engulfed in the sweet smells of baking pies and roasting meat.

“You’ll no be coming in my kitchen wi’ your shoes covered in the muck. No Sir! Oot! Oot!”

And she quite literally shooed him out of the room like an animal.

William eyed Mrs. Bug but backed out of the kitchen wiping his boots off thoroughly and well within her line of sight.

She gave a small satisfactory “humph” and continued where she’d left off,

“Aye that’s better then,” she said in her singsong voice.

“Himself did be saying as how he expected you up at the hoose just the noo. Do you go back.”

William had never been in Fraser’s study. From his time spent in the big house, he knew it was on the ground floor towards the back and slowly made his way down the hall.

He was trying to listen out for voices to direct him to the right room, but the house was silent with the exception of Mrs. Bug and her chatter.

He knocked on both doors at the end of the hallway but got no answer. Being left-handed he naturally decided to open the door on the left side of the hall first.

She was here, his mother was here. He saw her everywhere. To someone who didn’t know her, you’d never notice. But he did.

He saw her in the solid oak shelves home to hundreds of tiny glass bottles filled with herbs. He could see her there by the cauldron set over the hearth sterilizing the various tools neatly stacked on the long table.

He ran his fingers across the leather-bound medical books with gilt edge pages. And the engraved medical box “Dr. C.E.B. Fraser” it read. And he knew it must have cost a small fortune. He walked towards the windows, the only ones in the house with glass panes. And knew they were put here to take advantage of the best light from not just the east, but the south and west too.

Just outside was a healer's garden lined with bee gums and alive with lithe green things despite the coolness of the late fall air and he knew Fraser must tend it every day.

And then he heard a sound that he hadn’t heard since his accidental trip through the stones. The ticking of a clock. He turned and spotted it immediately. It was a huge ornate grandfather clock trimmed with silver and gold fittings and it gave a loud ding as the hands struck noon.

The entire room was spotless, clearly, nothing in here had ever been used but the fresh bundles of greenery drying from the ceiling told him someone was tending to this space. How long had it taken James Fraser to create this? A year? No, the craftsmanship of this room must have taken years. He’d be willing to bet the man had planned the entire house around this single room.

And to source all of the books and tools and medicinals. How had he done it?

He thought about the nearly twenty-three years he’d spent on this earth and tried to recall if he’d ever seen love visualized like this before. No, he wasn’t even sure if he’d seen this level of devotion.

Claire wasn’t physically here. Hadn’t ever been to The Ridge, but here she lived, Jamie, feeding the tinder that kept her alive inside of his heart these past twenty years.

William stood there feeling for the first time since his journey through the stones, very at peace with himself. He closed his eyes, absorbing the absolute comfort of being surrounded by the love of his parents.

Jamie had woken in the early pre-dawn hours, dressed, and loaded his rifle. He’d been lucky to find one of the large feathered creatures pecking away in the remnants of the cornfield and had taken it right through the eye, not wanting to spoil the meat.

He’d delivered it to Mrs. Bug who had dressed it, saving the best feathers to be used as writing quills. And he could smell the mouthwatering scent of roasting game as he made his way towards the house.

He didn’t know why he continued to carry out this silly tradition, Claire had called Thanksgiving. He didn’t even know the proper day it was celebrated, sometime in mid-November he thought, but he supposed an exact date didn’t really matter.

He would do anything to keep the love he had for his lassies alive and wondered if they were celebrating this feast there in their time. It was an American tradition Claire had said, and this was America or at least it would be someday.

He tried to imagine the wee child he’d rocked to sleep in his arms as grown but couldn’t. The image of her red wavy hair, big blue eyes, and face full of freckles would be how he always knew her.

“May they be safe, her and the child.”

He walked past the vegetable garden and frowned at its dormant state. In the summer, sometimes he would swear that he saw Claire in there puttering about and speaking to the bees, wee twigs and leaves tangled in the collieshangie of her hair.

He looked to the sky, he was supposed to meet William at noon. He hated to send the lad on such an errand but with Young Ian not back yet, he felt he didn’t have much of a choice.

He walked into the kitchen inhaling deeply. He could see the turkey he’d shot earlier roasting on the spit, and Mrs. Bug diligently chopping a massive pumpkin that he hoped would be turned into a pie in time for supper.

Walking down the hall towards his office, he frowned seeing the door to Claire’s surgery open. Everyone knew that that room was strictly off-limits.

Sometimes Lizzie would leave the door ajar for the wee cheetie Adso. He had made a home for himself atop one of the high cabinets that housed jars of dried herbs and Jamie didn’t mind. He thought Claire would have enjoyed the company of such a handsome beastie.

He slowly pushed the door open and froze, rage pulsing through him at the sight of William’s tall frame standing in the center of the room.

But Jamie noted the soft smile plastered across the boy's face. It was the first time he’d seen William smile in all of his months here on Fraser’s Ridge. He cleared his throat and the wide golden eyes sprung open.

The lad was spluttering, tripping over his tongue, frantic to find the right words.

“I, I didn’t. I mean, I thought. Well, I just… I’m sorry.”

Jamie’s anger faded as he watched and clapped the boy on the back.

“Aye, it’s fine. I’m just no accustomed to seeing anyone in here is all.”

He looked around the room, and back to William and smiled. Son of my heart he thought and was thankful he hadn’t spoken the words out loud. Turning he walked out of the room and opened the door to his study which was just across the hall.

When he’d designed the house he knew that he wanted to be as close to Claire as he possibly could and from his desk he had a clear view into the surgery where he could imagine her working away.

He gestured for William to sit down and he did.

“I am thinking that I must be sending you and Murtagh to Anna Ooka, the Tuscarora village that lies to the north, just beyond the boundary of Fraser’s Ridge and across the treaty line.

My nephew Ian is the one who acts as trade liaison with the Indians, but he is no back from Scotland yet.

Snow will be coming soon and Nacognaweto will be expecting his share of the hides before the passes are blocked.

It’s no but a short journey and Murtagh will see you safe there and back. He’ll meet you at the top of the trailhead at first light.”

William nodded, this would be his first trip off of The Ridge since his arrival and the chance to see a bit of living history made his historians' hearts sing.

He got up, walked across the hall, and gently closed the door to Claire’s surgery. Jamie watched and made a mental note to ask the lad about his mother when he returned.

William saddled Gideon with ease and they set off galloping, taking their usual path up the mountain to a spot that overlooked the entire ridge. It was overcast today and he could just catch glimpses of the big house through the fog.

He was ecstatic that Jamie trusted him enough to entrust him with such a responsibility. But the thing he couldn’t stop thinking about was the surgery. It was, in a word, incredible.

The thought that Fraser had lived with such a longing for his wife for twenty years moved him. He’d never been in love himself, but he’d seen Frank and Claire together, there was no love there. And although he’d never seen his parents together, his real parents, he amended, he knew what love was just by Fraser’s actions.

Even though Claire wasn’t here, the man loved her. Had gone on loving her despite having no hope of ever seeing her again. And Claire had done the same.

Mrs. Bug’s voice broke through the fog and he unwrapped the slice of cinnamon toast she’d slipped into his pocket. It was still warm, dripping with butter and sugar and it tasted like home and comfort.

He had made a decision earlier that it was time to reveal his true identity. As soon as he was back from the Tuscarora village they would have to talk.

He wished he could find a way to speak his truth sooner, but couldn’t do that and then just disappear into the wilderness for a few weeks' time. No, he’d wait until he was back and could find the time to speak privately to his father.

It was the first time he’d allowed himself to use that word - father. The more time he spent here, the angrier he became with Frank. Frank had masqueraded as a false prophet his entire life.

He wondered why he’d kept his mother as a prisoner for all that time and why he’d pitted William against his siblings. Was he angry that Claire had found love and family while he had not?

Only Frank could answer those questions and Frank was dead. He’d died, leaving all of those he should have loved with deep and lasting scars.

It’s why he hadn’t already told Jamie who he was. He was afraid he wouldn’t be good enough, that the man would reject him or promise him love but only in exchange for some kind of self-sacrifice.

But it was more than that. He thought the truth might be a fatal blow, a crushing loss of whatever hope Jamie might still harbor deep inside of him at being reunited with his family. To tell him Claire and Faith had been lost to the stones…

He didn’t want to be the one who crippled the man like that. He didn’t think he could do it. But perhaps just this once, William might be enough.

He could speak of Claire and the amazing life she’d given her children. He could tell of the success Faith had worked her way to and the happiness Bree had found in Roger and wee Jem.

At least he had the knowledge to give Fraser a bit of closure, to tell him about the family he was robbed of knowing. Perhaps that would be okay. It wouldn’t be close to enough, but it was something.

He had the next few weeks to organize his thoughts, choose his words and find a courage he wasn’t sure he possessed.

And if James Fraser didn’t want to hear it and sent him away, told him to go, William would. He’d walk the forests placing a hand against each stone until he found the one that would take him back to Bree.

He wasn’t a religious person, didn’t believe in such things, but still, he said a prayer as he mounted Gideon and headed home back down the mountain.

 

He could hear shouts of greeting before he’d finished brushing down the horse. Nobody had said anything about a gathering tonight, but he supposed it wasn’t his business anyway.

He dusted off his trousers and locked the door to the stables before heading for the kitchen. He was starving and hoped Mrs. Bug still had a bit of leftover stew. He made sure to wipe the mud from his boots thoroughly this time and frowned at finding the door bolted.

He walked around to the front and gave a shout,

“Hello, the house?”

No reply. He hoped something hadn’t happened, and raised a fist to knock on the door, but it flew open.

“Och there ye are Sir! We were beginning to get that bit fashed.”

The woman had his jacket off, hung on a peg and they were in the dining room before he knew what happened. A sea of faces all turned to him at once and Mrs. Bug sat him in the chair next to Jamie.

He knew most of the faces at the table. Jamie sat at the head with Murtagh just on his left. Mrs. Bug, her husband Arch, Lizzie, and her father. The twin faces of the Beardsley twins although he didn’t know which one was which without hearing them speak. Tom Christie, Amy, and Bobby Higgens, and the three Lindsay brothers were down at the opposite end of the long table.

“Son of your house, eh Mac Dubh?”

“Aye, that he is Arch.”

Jamie rose and the room fell silent, all ears listening as he gave a prayer of Thanksgiving. Looking around the table, William thought it looked nothing more than a perfectly domestic Norman Rockwell painting.

As the drinks were poured and the feast was eaten, the mood was jovial. Stories were told about life before The Rising, news of relatives still in Scotland, and hopes and dreams for the future were shared.

Even Lizzie, the quiet, thin wisp of a girl was glowing, the light of love and laughter shining bright in her gray eyes.

As the night went on the women began clearing the table and the men, drunk on good Scottish whisky, began the ritual of telling crude jokes in the Gàidhlig. Some things never changed, he thought.

He hadn’t forgotten all of the Gaelic Faith had taught him and tried not to let any sign of comprehension show on his face. But although he couldn’t understand every word, the happiness of the people around him was infectious.

This was the vision of family he’d always had as a child. No fighting, no accusing looks, work calls, or late arrivals. Just joy at the simple fact that they were together. That they had food to eat, company to share, and a safe place to call home after all of the trials and tribulations that brought them here to this strange land. And for the first time in a long time, William had something to be truly thankful for.

Ian dismounted his painted pony Digger, and helped his aunt down from her mount, Jerusha, an amicable creature, if not just that bit stubborn.

He knew they were no more than a few hour's ride from The Ridge, but it was getting dark and the last few miles would be over steep rough terrain.

Just the thought of what Uncle Jamie would do if he found out Ian had put his beloved wife in any kind of danger sent a chill down his spine.

He was Kanien’keha, the tattoos across his face marked him as such. But even the fiercest of Mohawk warriors wouldn’t stand a chance against an irate James Fraser defending his wife’s safety and honor.

No, they would camp here tonight and stay here until the early morning frost was melted by the afternoon sun. Then, and only then would he safely deliver his aunt.

He looked over to her now and frowned slightly. He’d noticed a few days ago that she had drawn into herself. Becoming nearly silent and her eyes glazed, gazing beyond him to something only she could see.

It was the same look he knew he’d worn as he journeyed back to Lallybroch for the first time. It had been a most uncomfortable feeling, of joy and excitement warring with the fear of disappointment and rejection.

He knew there was nothing he could do to ease her nerves but gently placed a hand on her back.

“Auntie?”

She looked at him as if she’d never seen him before, but recognition hit and she smiled.

He meant to ask if she’d take Rollo and collect a few bits of dried wood for the fire, but she spoke first.

“Is he much changed Ian? Is there anything I should know?”

He nodded to himself, hearing the real question there, and understood why it was she had to ask but wasn’t sure if he knew how to answer.

He unburdened the pack mule Hiram, before tethering the beasts by the stream and bringing the bag that contained the last bits of cheese and salt pork over to where his aunt had sat down.

“Well if you are meaning is he still tall, Scottish, and does he still have the red hair? Then aye, he’s not much changed. But I am thinking you are asking something else.

I wasnae born until after The Rising. I dinnae ken what Uncle Jamie was like before he lost you I mean, so I cannae quite really say if he’s changed.

I’ve only kent him as the man he is now. But now that I’ve met you, I can see that the same sadness that lives within you, lives within him as well.”

She looked at him startled. She’d always gone to great lengths to hide that part of herself and thought until now, that she had done a pretty good job in doing so.

“He’s done the best that he could, in the same way, you did back in your time. While he has a life, it isnae a whole one and it is no the one that he wants.

I think the man that I have kent all these years past will no exist for much longer.”

Claire’s eyes went wide with alarm.

“No, Auntie! I did no mean it like that. He is no sick to be sure. I just meant once you are restored to him, I think the sadness will lift from his shoulders.

I will no mourn for that, but perhaps feel a sadness at losing a part of the man I once knew. But like you and my Mam, I will celebrate the man he is free to be once more.”

Claire stared at him. The boy was wise beyond his years but had the grace of a bull elephant in a china shop.

“Ian? How old are you?”

“Oh, I-“

He looked truly confused by the question but answered hesitantly.

“Ten and eight or maybe ten and nine. The Indians dinnae celebrate such things as Birthdays. But once a year near the day of your birth the spirit that guided you through the past year retreats and a new one takes its place.”

He got up then and lit a small fire. Claire filled her tiny traveling pot with water and set it to warm, she didn’t mean to go to bed dirty no matter where she was.

She rinsed her face and watched the sky as the sunset and took a deep breath, her lungs burning with the shock of the crisp mountain air.

On still late fall nights like this in Boston, she would always creep outside after everyone had gone to sleep. There was something about the utter stillness of the world that brought her peace.

She could look up at the stars and take comfort in the fact that Jamie could see the same ones and if she closed her eyes, sometimes she could feel his touch. The quiet of the night sky was a connection to him that she knew she’d carry forever.

She opened her eyes and gazed out into the sea of stars.

“Auntie Claire?”

She whipped her head around at the tone of Ian’s voice. He was standing there looking suspiciously sheepish.

“I was… Well, cousin Faith told me a little bit about what it was like in your time. I dinna ken if everything she said was true, but I was wondering if you could tell me more?”

She did. She started at the beginning with dinosaurs and spoke her way through history until they ended up at astronauts.

She was thankful for the distraction and the look of wonder plastered across his face gave her a glimpse of the boy he once was and her heart lifted.

She wondered what William would have been like if he’d had the opportunity to grow up in this time. She didn’t think he’d have ended up being adopted into a Mohawk tribe, but stranger things had happened.

William.

She had tried to keep him from her mind, still unable to accept all that had happened between them. The piece of her heart that housed his essence was no longer complete, had not been for a while.

Their relationship hadn’t ever been easy, but in the months after Frank’s death, whatever bond that held him to her had broken.

And when he’d left and gone to England, she thought that she might die. Thought that Bree and Faith would find her lifeless body one morning drowned in a sea of her own tears.

She knew that Bree would be alright. Had known since she’d realized Roger was the other half of her daughter’s heart.

And Faith. She knew Faith would be fine the moment the decision to go back through the stones had been made.

But William. She didn’t know if he would be okay or if he might still need her. She would never know and what would she tell Jamie? Would he be angry with her?

“Oh, God.”

But it was clear to her that she was going to have to find a way to come to terms with the loss of their son before she dared to speak his name to Jamie. There was no other option.

She heard a twig snap and saw Rollo stalk out of the darkened woods and turned to Ian, only to find him fast asleep, the wolf-dog faithfully curling up beside him.

She moved closer to the dog grateful for the warmth radiating from its large frame and dug her chilled fingers into his thick fur. Leaning back against a large poplar she closed her eyes, allowing herself to begin the process of processing a reunion. A reunion of heart, mind, body, and soul.

After twenty years of longing, the prospect of having Jamie back by her side was unfathomable. But he was here and so was she. And with that simple admission, allowed her mind, rife with endless possibility to slowly drift towards sleep.

 

Claire woke, body covered in sweat but face nearly frozen and wet with a freshly fallen dusting of snow.

The smell alone told her the furry beast draped across her body wasn’t Rollo, but the unwashed buffalo robe Jocasta had gifted her and she screamed, frantically trying to get the flea and lice-ridden thing off of her.

She was on her feet, looking wildly around for Young Ian, and spotted him standing by the horses, tears of myrrh streaming down his face.

He managed to gather himself just enough to get out a strangled,

“What’s amiss Auntie?”

Before relapsing back into paroxysms of laughter.

She knelt down, rolling the vile thing up, and neatly threw it at his head. She missed, but he caught it and strapped it to Hiriam’s already overburdened load.

“Now Auntie, I did tell you I wouldnae be delivering you to Uncle Jamie sick or damaged did I no?”

He had, multiple times in fact, but she still narrowed her golden hawk eyes at him. She’d meant to rebuke him, but recognized the look of a Fraser and heard Dougal MacKenzie’s voice clear as day,

“Stubborn as rocks, the lot of them.”

And while the boy, with his large brown eyes and thin lanky frame, didn’t have the look of the Fraser’s, the blood of his mother’s clan clearly ran through his veins.

“Are you ready to go then, Auntie Claire?”

His voice was soft and she didn’t think he’d be surprised if she said no.

And she did want to say no. No, she wasn’t ready and the truth was she wasn’t. She would never be ready for this. But she took a deep breath and nodded, allowing Ian to help her onto her mount.

They rode for a few hours through a landscape of unimaginable beauty. Things like this didn’t exist in her time. Land completely untouched by humanity left to be carved out by nature in exquisite detail and she so wished she had a camera.

As they climbed higher up the weather-beaten trail, they all were on edge. Rollo broke the tension, letting out a primal howl that shook the earth before darting off into the brush. Feeling rattled, she brought her horse up beside her nephew and only then smelt the smell of distant woodsmoke.

They were here, she could feel it in her bones.

“Blood of my blood and bone of my bone.” She whispered.

They rode through the last pass side by side and as they maneuvered their horses around the final bend in the steep path, Claire’s nervousness hit a fever pitch and it took every ounce of courage she possessed not to turn around and make a mad dash back to River Run.

An ear-splitting bray of greeting came from the paddock followed by a flash of gray and a wolfish howl she wasn’t familiar with.

She dismounted and looked to Ian, but he was looking past her and she turned, knowing in her heart that the man walking into the clearing was Jamie.

“Jamie.” It was said in a voice too low for anyone but her to hear, and she said it once more just to be sure she wasn’t dreaming.

“Jamie.”

Jamie made his way up to the cabin by the white spring. He didn’t come here often anymore, the knowledge that the small house he’d built for Faith would remain forever empty always sent sharp pains shooting through his entire being.

It was hard for him to imagine her as grown now and he tried to think what she might look like. To him, she’d always be the small girl he’d held tight to his chest as they galloped through shallow lochs and across the Scottish heather.

When she was younger, she used to love spending time in the garden with Claire. Her face and fingers were constantly covered in a thick layer of dirt, it would drive her mother mad. God how he missed them and wee memories like that.

He walked further up the winding path that led to the homestead. He’d lined the way with orange Calendulas and yellow Marigolds that bloomed in all but the coldest months, he thought his girls would have liked that and picked a few to bring back to Claire’s surgery.

He’d built Faith’s cabin so it faced west towards Fraser’s Ridge and at this height in the winter when the trees were free of leaves, you could see the light of the watch-fires burning far across the valley on the furthest peak in Salem.

On the shaded north side of the cottage, he’d built a small stable big enough for two ponies, but if Faith wanted a third he’d left room for an expansion.

If she wanted…

He would never get used to the idea that he was meant to live out the rest of his days without his daughter. But if she were to come back, he’d sworn to himself that he’d make sure that she’d never want for anything.

She had been so young when she’d left, naught but a bairn of four, and he sometimes wondered if she had any memory of him. Had Claire kept his spirit alive for their wee lass or had she chosen to move on to spare the bairn heartache?

It didn’t really matter, so long as they were happy. He hated thinking about Frank and the life he was living with everything Jamie held dear. He hadn’t spared a thought for him with the exception of one and it was constant.

If Frank hadn’t given Claire and Faith the life they deserved, Jamie would wait for the villain in hell and beat him senseless. He would happily serve his time in Purgatory before being restored to his wife and child.

He unclenched his fists and pushed open the door smiling at the wooden horse that stood guard on the mantle. He’d carved it for the lass before she’d gone and the two of them had been on countless adventures together.

After he’d been indentured in Jamaica, he never thought he’d see such treasures again. But Jenny had sent over three large trunks, inside the remnants of a life that was once his. He’d stacked them here in Fait’s home, knowing himself unable to handle the memories inside.

He removed the waxed hides from the windows and sat at the small table he’d carved all those years ago. At the time, he hadn’t been sure of how many chairs she might need but settled on three, one for each member of their small family.

It was the quiet times like this that he felt closest to them, but the quiet times were dangerous. Spending too much time lost in thought, always burdened his heart with what-ifs and everything that might have been.

He thought about time then. How a construct of the universe and nothing else bound him here to this place. In the months after Claire had left, he cursed time, thinking how unfair that it was the only thing keeping him from them.

But he couldn’t change it, no one could, not even God. Although he would be interested to hear what Tom Christie had to say about the limits of God.

It was strange to him to live in this world when there were people on the other side who claimed so much of his heart. He wondered how many men lived with the same burden? He hoped not many.

He could feel himself starting to head down that path of darkness and sighed wishing that he had had more time with them. He buttoned up his jacket and closed the windows, taking one last look around the room before bolting the door.

Would this heartache ever leave him? Would he ever be whole again? He thought not, living life without them wasn’t something he’d ever been able to figure out how to do.

Jenny had encouraged him to remarry. He knew she had suggested so with only the best intentions in mind, but the fact that she thought another woman could bring him happiness…

He was thankful that he had found love once and much to the chagrin of the single and widowed women of The Ridge, didn’t need to find it again.

The image of Malva Christie popped into his head then. The poor damaged child who had not only claimed to love him but had sworn he’d gotten her with child. No one had believed her, not even her own father

And she had died along with the babe in childbed and her brother gone not but a month later. Death by misadventure they’d said but Jamie had his suspicions about what had really happened to Allan Christie.

Everyone had their own demons, and it turned out some were more vicious than others. Poor lass and he crossed himself.

He wasn’t quite ready to face reality again and headed across the path towards the spring. He passed the wee garden he’d fenced in, but nothing had ever been planted there, it lay barren and untouched like his soul.

He usually liked to cleanse his spirit in the shallow pool before resuming his duties as “Himself” but the silvery gray sky held the potential for snow. He had no intention of freezing his bollocks off, especially since he had no one to warm them for him.

He cupped his hands together, watching as the clear liquid filled his palms. He said a prayer for Claire and Faith and one for his family in Scotland before pouring the cold water over the crown of his head.

He felt it seep into the rough fabric of his shirt and down the maze of scars across his back. He shook the droplets from his hair and stood, feeling revived, and made his way back to the big house.

He would have to write to Jenny tonight. He’d been putting it off hoping each day that Young Ian would show up. He should have been back months ago and Jamie hoped the lad had decided to stay at Lallybroch a bit longer and no harm had come to the boy.

The wind had shifted slightly and the smell of woodsmoke reached him at the same time the first fat flakes of snow began to fall. He veered slightly to the left meaning to check on the beasts but stopped in his tracks.

A howl broke the silence of the mountain and he saw Bran tear across the ridge towards the trailhead baying like a hound. He listened again, a second howl but this one different in pitch.

“Rollo!”

Thank Christ he thought, picking up his pace eager to lay eyes on his nephew and find out what had gone amiss.

He rounded the side of the paddock and Clarence was giving his usual bray of greeting. He slapped the mule on the rump and made it into the dooryard just in time to see Ian helping a lass down from her horse.

Ah, so the lad had found a wife in Scotland, that explained the delay, and his heart filled with joy. His steps faltered when the lass pulled down her hood though.

She had curly hair like Claire’s. He saw her say something to Ian but he wasn’t paying attention to her, instead, he was staring at Jamie.

She turned and Jamie’s knees nearly gave way. Over the years his mind had presented him with various visions of Claire, but this one was different. He’d never seen this Claire before.

She was older, streaks of gray laced into her curly brown locks. But she was bonnie, so very beautiful and he thanked God for allowing him to see her once more.

“Taing do Dhia.”

He stood frozen to the spot transfixed by the vision of his wife. He took a deep breath and her familiar green scent filled his soul. He braced himself readying his heart for this vision to vanish.

But she didn’t and he flinched as he felt her take his hand, and watched wide-eyed and heart racing as she brought his fingers to her lips and very gently kissed the top of his battered knuckles.

There wasn’t enough air to breathe and the world shrank until it was just them. He didn’t see anything or hear anything or anything except for her.

“Claire?”

She nodded tears streaming down her cheeks
and then she was in his arms. Nothing else mattered, the solid weight of her against his chest was the only thing he knew.

He wondered if he had died and had finally been granted entry into heaven or if this were a dream. If it were he hoped to never wake again.

She was standing in front of him now, face blotched with tears and looking at him as if he’d hung the moon and stars. Out of instinct his hand moved out and tucked a curl behind her ear.

“Mo nighean donn.”

He held her close cradling her against his heart like the precious thing that she was and fell to his knees, not caring who heard him weep as he buried his face into the soft cloud of her hair. And he felt her arms wrap tight about him.

“Mo chridhe.”

When he could breathe again, he looked down into the face of his heart cradling her head in his hands, wiping away the tears that were freely running down her cheeks with his thumbs.

His life was her, had been her, and would be her once more. She had been the only thing that had kept him going these past twenty years. He had continued to live because he knew that’s what she would have wanted him to do.

Every decision he’d made since he’d lost her had been made with her in mind. He made one more, and tilted her face towards his, her whisky-colored eyes burning bright with love. He felt life flow back into him as their lips met and his world shifted, everything falling back into its rightful place.

He was home.

Chapter Text

How many days in twenty years? No, twenty-one she corrected. Twenty-one years since she’d last seen her Da, felt her heart smile, and her soul sing.

She remembered her childhood in Boston and how she would wake each morning wondering if today would be the day they would go back.

It never was, but she never stopped counting the weeks. She had filled countless notebooks and hundreds of pages with tally marks like a prisoner counting their days until release. And when Frank died, she’d burnt her secret stack of records knowing that a return to her proper place was imminent.

And here she was. Although she wasn’t quite home yet, she was close, as close as she’d ever been. Her twenty-one-year journey was coming to a most welcomed end.

“Nope, I ain’t never seen anything like it. ‘Tis like God himself kept the heavy snow off to grant safe passage to you, missis.”

She smiled but didn’t know if she agreed with the mountain man. While it certainly wasn’t a Boston winter, the three inches on the ground was enough to make her horse uneasy in each of its steps. And the ominous silverish purple hue of the clouds to the north wasn’t promising, neither were the steadily increasing flakes that fell from the darkening sky.

“To be honest with you Misses Faith, I’m not liking the way of them clouds over yonder. If it suits you fine, there be a travelers cabin just through that there pass. It’s the opposite way of Fraser’s Ridge, but I think it would be best to rest our heads there for a night. It’s no but a quarter hours ride or so.”

It wasn’t what she wanted to hear but Myers was right, and she nodded in agreement. They’d left River Run only a week after her mother. Hector had only been able to hold on for three more days and she’d stayed until she saw him safely to his rest.

She had hoped to catch up with Claire, but the weather had taken a turn and the icy trails had slowed them to a snail's pace and now they had to contend with an impending storm.

She sighed, closely following the trail Myers’ horse was making through the gathering snow as they wound their way across the mountain. She had been bereft to leave Cross Creek and the family she’d found there.

Lord John in particular had been a godsend, keeping her various suitors at bay and entertaining her with stories of his time spent soldiering in the wilds of Canada during their nightly chess games.

She’d also found a beloved sister in Marsali. They’d bonded over their common loss of family and siblings. She’d promised to write to her sister Joan, a nun in France to ask her to pray twice on Sundays for Bree and William.

She’d left Fergus with promises to visit in the spring and had knitted them all matching stockings and a pair of tiny booties for the new babe in Fraser colors.

Her horse slipped and she dismounted, helping her mare over a patch of fallen trees and thought about the journey she’d undertaken to get here. From the hell that was Boston, to the manse and then she’d fallen two-hundred years into the past reuniting with her kin at Lallybroch.

She'd traveled through France and Spain, across The Atlantic to the Indies, and made her way by boat up the coast from Georgia to the interior of North Carolina, picking up pieces of herself along the way that she hadn’t even realized she’d lost.

She had turned to share these moments with Bree and William many times during this voyage and the weight of not having them here by her side was never going to ease.

When Claire had gone to medical school and Frank had decided to spend his nights with Sandy, Faith had been there. She’d been there to pack their lunches, to bandage their scrapes, to help with homework, and to teach them simple things like how to tie their shoelaces.

Bree and William were hers, that was an indisputable fact. They were hers, they would always be hers, but she’d left them.

She bit the inside of her cheek hard in an effort to ease her guilt and anger.

She knew Bree understood, she'd been her biggest cheerleader when they began the hunt for James Fraser. But William…

She knew he blamed her for the deterioration of their parent's marriage. Probably blamed her for Frank’s death, the loss of Claire, and the family that he no longer had.

But she loved him and wished more than anything to be able to tell him that once more.

Myers pulled his horse to a stop and she was glad she could blame her tears on the wind lashing against her face.

“Is that the cabin there Mr. Myers?”

There wasn’t much light coming through the single window, but the chimney was smoking and there were two horses sheltering under a large spruce. She never thought to ask if he had a home, or a wife, or any children, he just didn’t seem like the type. But clearly, someone was in this house.

“That it be missis Faith.”

She heard him cock his gun and for the first time, felt a true and deep regret at refusing Jocasta’s suggestion that she travel armed through the backcountry.

“Do you still have the knife his Lordship did give you?”

She nodded, knowing damn well the perils women faced in this time, and tried to steady her breathing.

“Keep it close and if things should go amiss follow that there trail back to the river basin. There’s a cave just beyond the pine grove, take shelter there until the storm passes.”

She didn’t have a chance to compose herself in order to ask what to do after that but watched wide-eyed as Mr. Myers dismounted and cautiously circled around the back of the small homestead.

She was nearly gasping for breath and the cold air was burning her lungs. She set her shoulders and waited, cold sweat gathering at her nape.

The big mountain man was surprisingly light on his feet as he came back to the front of the home, lightly knocking on the solid door.

She watched, her heart pounding, with her small knife gripped in her left hand and reins held tight in her right as the door swung open.

Her horse was dancing, nervous energy pulsing through the both of them as they watched the confusion unfold. Then the men were embracing, taking part in the age-old ritual of two males greeting each other.

“Some things never change,” she huffed as John Quincy motioned to her. As she rode forward her stomach rumbled and she hoped there would be something warm to fill her belly inside.

She dismounted, still cautious of the stranger, and slipped her knife into her left pocket, pulling her hood up higher around her bright red hair.

“Dinna fash, that’s what you Scots say isn’t it?”

She knew that he knew it was, but smiled in agreement.

“I’ve been knowing this wily old coot a long while now, he’s a Scot like yourself. A good hardworking gentleman and a friend of your father.”

That piqued her interest. She was keen to hear as much as she could about him from people who'd had the privilege to know him all these years. Curious but so very jealous that they had had him when she had not.

Despite the assurances from Mr. Myers that this strange man was in fact a friend, she moved quickly to sit by the fire pulling the fur-lined traveling cloak, a parting gift from Lord John, tighter around her shoulders. If conversation should turn to her father, she’d inquire then.

Phaedre had gone to great lengths to disguise Faith’s womanly features. Her hair had been clubbed and the masculine cloak hid her tall feminine frame well. She’d refused to wear breeks, imagining all too clearly the hassle they’d present when she needed to use the necessary in the backcountry, but her skirts weren’t visible in this poor light.

She nibbled on the last remaining chunk of hard cheese, savoring each bite while the men spoke behind her. Their voices were comforting, but the unease of being the only woman here was overwhelming and not something she could ignore.

As their conversation turned from trade goods to an injured man she turned her head sharply, only then seeing the sleeping form of a body laid out in the corner on a pallet.

The mountain man had thought he’d seen her tend to her Uncle Hector at River Run but she prayed he wouldn’t call upon her now. She was no healer, not even close.

Once, when she was about seven, she’d decided that she wanted to be a doctor like Claire. Thought that if she were, if she followed in her mother’s footsteps, Jamie would love her enough to come through the stones and take her away from the life that she never wanted to live.

Her heart broke for that small child, but she carried her always. She meant to see that broken and terrified girl safely back home. Needed the bairn with the red-rimmed eyes, to know that every tear she had shed in the sanctuary of her small twin bed hidden beneath her thick pink quilt, had not been shed in vain.

“I will see you safe to Da.” And she placed a hand over her heart in promise.

Pulling her cloak tight around herself she listened to glasses clinking and whisky being poured as the heat of the flames and crackling of the fire lulled her into an uneasy sleep.

An almighty bang that shook the house woke her and she wanted to run, but froze, not daring to bring any unwanted attention to herself.

A whispered, “are you alright man?” And John Quincy’s slurred voice answered in a stream of something she just barely recognized as English.

She clenched her fist in anger and silently cursed Myers who was now sprawled out under the tiny table in an alcohol-induced stupor leaving her alone with two strange men in the middle of the remote wilderness.

She fished the tiny dagger out from her pocket and wondered if she possessed the ability to kill if necessary.

Yes, she thought, she absolutely did. She was her father’s daughter after all and his voice came to her then,

“Right in the kidneys, he’ll drop like a stone.”

She gritted her teeth, knife in hand, and quietly waited for the dawn to come.

Jamie looked down into the face of his heart. She’d fallen asleep with her head in his lap and he couldn’t keep his eyes from her. He sighed in relief at having her here by his side once more and found the thing on his chest that had made every breath he’d taken over the past twenty years nearly impossible was gone.

He thought about his life in the cave and the time he’d spent in prison. The loss of his land, tenants, home, and family. Thought about how each day he would wake to a new and more painful type of heartache.

He thought about the time he’d spent here on The Ridge. How he’d created a home for Claire and the lass here with him, needing, always needing, to keep them close and their spirit alive. It was the only balm he’d ever managed to find to soothe his dark and shattered soul.

He’d told her all of that plus a bit more. Telling her all of the pain and truth of his heart.

And she, over the past week had told him about the life she’d lived after she’d gone through the stones. She told him of the manse and how the Reverend Wakefield had provided her with shelter until she had found the courage to see Frank.

Her face had tightened and body tensed as she spoke of having to move to Boston, of starting a new life, in a new place, with a man she couldn’t love, and a name that made her skin crawl - Randall.

She talked of Faith and had wept, apologizing again and again as she described the hurt and sadness that had devoured their daughter day after day. He cried too then, first with rage as she told him of how Frank had forbidden Faith from speaking Gaelic. Then with righteous satisfaction as Claire explained that she had forbidden Faith from ever doing such a thing.

Had smiled through tears of pure joy as she told him how she’d made sure Faith had mastered all of the skills she’d need to survive life in the eighteenth century. How she’d always kept him and Scotland alive for their daughter. And how she had done her best but knew she in herself as a mother would never be enough to heal Faith.

“I always knew she would come back. Come back for herself, of course, this is her place, but I knew more than that, that she’d come back for you.”

Jamie had felt the fear he had carried, that his daughter had been too young to remember him when she’d gone back, leave him. As she continued to speak, he felt parts of him that he’d feared lost slowly start to come back to him and begin to fall back into place. A resurrection of being.

“Every step that she’s taken in her life has been for you. The life she’s lived, the education she’s gotten, and the career she chose. I didn’t realize until we were on the ship halfway across The Atlantic that she had dedicated everything she is, everything she’d ever dreamt of being to finding her way back home.

I think she's one of the very few people on this earth and the next who’ve found a way to use their darkness to propel them into the light. You are going to be so proud of her.”

He’d looked at her then, confused, “Jamie, she’s here. She came back with me.”

That had cracked him wide open and he’d clung to her overwhelmed and thankful. Thankful to her and their daughter, thankful to God for allowing him to live to see this day, and thankful to never have to live another day alone and in the dark.

But there was more he knew, things she wasn’t ready to share with him yet. It showed on her glass face. But he didn’t ask, he wouldn’t ask, wanting her to tell him when she was ready. And that was okay because they had time now, all of the time in the world.

He looked down at her stroking the curls away from her face, thinking how she was the same but not the same at all. The lovely brown locks he knew were streaked with bits of silver, like a halo. The lines around her mouth were more prominent, and he felt a stab of pain at all the laughs and melodies of his soul that he’d not been there for.

But her lips, those were the same. Soft and luscious, home and safety.

“You are so beautiful my own.”

He didn’t know how long he sat there just staring at the face of his heart. He couldn’t get enough of the sight, he never would. And as he watched her in the changing light of the fire, he saw her as he had on their last night together all those years ago in the cave at the bottom of the fairies hill, he brushed the back of his hand against his own wet cheek.

She shifted then, providing him with a most glorious view of her fine round backside and he groaned, shifting himself, trying to adjust the fierceness of his wanting.

He had wanted to carry her upstairs and bed her directly the moment she had reappeared. Had spent many nights over the past twenty years lusting for her, thinking in vivid detail exactly what he’d do to her if she ever returned to his bed.

He tried to tell himself that the simple relief of being together was enough, and it was, for now… But the tension that ran between them was going to come to an explosive end sooner rather than later.

He couldn’t wait to lose himself in their uncommon magic, be taken by the storm that raged between them when he was buried deep in her warmth. He was trying to wait for her to come to him with the same urgent need and he knew whatever kind of physical joining they would have would be primal and his hips bucked slightly.

“A Dhia.”

He was breathing audibly through his mouth, trying to think of the most vile things his mind could conjure. A gutted carcass, the hangman’s noose, boats, the White Sow…

Then he heard Claire snort and he jerked violently, looking down which made her laugh even harder

“You look like a child who has just been caught stealing from the candy jar.” And she continued to laugh, although she had to admit to herself that waking up to a very familiar firmness pressing hard against her was quite nice.

“Dinna be laughing Sassenach, it is no funny!”

It wasn’t, and she managed to get an apology out before sitting up and reflexively clenching her own wet thighs tight together, just as desperate as he was for any kind of friction.

He saw her look down at just the same moment he tried to discreetly run a hand over his place of urgent need and cursed saying something very bad in Gaelic. Her eyes locked with his for just that moment too long, they were dripping with lust and he saw her squirm then caught a whiff of her need.

“Christ, Claire!”

He was nearly panting but leaned in to kiss her deeply, then got up needing to move, taking refuge behind the sanctuary of his very solid oak table. He had to close his eyes, fearful that he’d embarrass himself right here in front of her.

She watched him and knew she really couldn’t make him wait much longer, but wanted to give him all of her when the time came and didn’t think she could do that until she spoke the entirety of her heart.

She needed to tell him of the twins. Thought at first, that she could just speak of Bree, but she couldn’t speak of Brianna without also speaking of William. There would be a time for that, but that time was not now.

“Tell me more about the lass.”

Claire nodded and moved to pour out two glasses of whisky, setting one on the table by him before returning to her seat.

At first, when speaking of Faith, she’d chosen her words carefully, wanting to spare Jamie and preserve their new and fragile link. But she needed to begin to give him truth now, Faith was his child too.

“She’s perfect and she’s so very beautiful. She looks just like you. Deep blue eyes and long red hair. It’s slightly wavy and she has a cowlick just here,” and she tapped the back of her head.

“She’s not outgrown her freckles.”

He grinned at that. When she was small he used to trace them with his battered fingers, mapping out the constellations on the cheeks of the daughter who was his universe.

“She got them from you, Sassenach.”

She had, and Claire touched the bridge of her nose, still lightly dotted with freckles.

She took a deep breath,

“Every time Frank looked at her, he saw you. Was reminded of the man who had stolen me from him. I could have lived with Frank's anger and disgust if he’d directed it all towards me, but he didn’t. He could never accept Faith, and he punished her for things that weren’t her fault. He never even gave her a chance…”

She didn’t dare look up, didn’t want to see the hurt and rage playing out across his face. Instead, she pivoted, not meaning to justify Frank’s actions, but instead needing to provide perspective.

“If I had come back to you with a child that looked like Frank, could you have taken me back? Could you have lived with me while I doted on a child who wasn’t yours? Would you have loved us despite having the living and breathing proof, the knowledge that I’d shared another man’s bed and had loved that man deeply with my entire being? Would you have been able to love me for who I was, as the child, damning evidence of my infidelity, suckled at my breast?”

He opened his mouth to say yes, yes of course he would, and damn you for even asking, but he froze unable to get the words out. She saw the hesitation and nodded grimly.

When I met John at River Run, he told me, “You can’t help who you love in the same way you can't change the color of your eyes or your hair.”

He was right of course, except, Frank could and he did.

Jamie unclenched his fists and threw back the remainder of his glass. He wanted to yell, to put a fist and then a booted foot through the man’s skull. He would, he decided, see the Englishman in hell.

He wanted to ask why she had stayed. How could she let such evil touch their bairn? Demand to know why she didn’t come back through the stones at once. But he looked at her face and found his answer.

“One year, when Faith was about six, we took her to have her picture taken with Santa Claus for Christmas. The lady in line next to us asked who Faith got her red hair from. She clearly didn’t get it from Frank and,” she gestured to her own brown locks.

“He was so angry that I thought he might strike me when we got into the car, but he didn’t. He dropped us off in front of the house and disappeared for two weeks. That’s when I knew in my heart that I needed to protect Faith from him so I tried to leave. Thought we could come back through the stones.”

Jamie thought about the time in France when he’d done the same. Had left a pregnant Claire alone while he went to kill Black Jack Randall and his chin quivered in remembrance at how they’d all almost died. Himself at the hands of the villain, Claire in childbed like his mother and Faith born too soon and nearly too weak to survive.

“He threatened to take her from me. To divorce me and take her away to England. The courts would have ruled in his favor. I had no family, no money, and no place to call home. I was completely reliant on him and he knew it.

That’s when I decided to go to medical school, to forge a life of my own. While we lived together, Frank and I, we lived different lives. I know it sounds awful, but I was thankful that he spent his nights away from us, and with other women.”

She looked at him then, “I would have sacrificed more than happiness to keep her safe, I would have sacrificed my worth!”

And as she said it, she realized she had done just that.

“If I had had more time I would have sacrificed it all to have seen her live and not just survive.”

Jamie’s head was in his hands, his newly mended heart crumbling and slowly falling out of his chest to the ground. Claire saw his shoulders begin to shake and wanted to go to him, to take him in her arms, but she wanted him to feel the extent of the pain caused by the decisions made on the hill of Craigh na Dun. This was their hurt and the only way they’d ever overcome it, was together.

“Is that why she’s no here? Does she not want to see me? Claire,” and he packed every ounce of their twenty-years of loss into that single syllable, “does she hate me?”

She did go to him then, her own heart split in two, and knelt by his side taking his hands in hers, “she might be the only one who loves you more than I do. She’s the reason why we’re both here. She needs her Da.”

Young Ian had been right, there was a brokenness in him that mirrored the one in her. She just hoped that their broken and jagged pieces would be able to find a way to fit back together.

“Jamie?” He looked at her, not bothering to hide any of his pain, “I love you.” And he knew what she said was true as he gathered her into his arms.

The fire had gone out and Faith was shivering, curled into a ball laying on the filthy floorboards of the tiny house. She had one eye on Mr. Myers, who hadn’t moved from his spot under the table in hours, she did hope he wasn’t dead, and the other on the window where she could see the first light of early dawn begin to stream into the cabin.

She heard the injured man who was laying on the pallet, stand and make his way across the room. As he opened the door he was backlit by the soft light and she could see that he was limping slightly.

She thought she had just enough time to stir the embers and get a roaring fire going before he returned and did, using her pine sap matches to rekindle the flames.

The door flew open, the mountain wind nearly putting the fire back out. But it burned bright, lighting her face as well as the injured man’s and she gasped. She knew him.

“William?”

It was, and she no longer knew her name, her place, or even the color of her hair, she only knew him, and sprung from her spot, voice choked with tears as she threw herself into his arms.

“William!”

She began to comprehend what she was saying and looked wildly around the room for Brianna. She didn’t spot her sister but another familiar face, and her knees buckled.

“A Ghoistidh?”

She was chanting both of their names like a prayer, desperately clinging to William but desperately needing to get to Murtagh, the man who had cherished her as his own, all those years ago in France and at Lallybroch.

She clung to the two of the pillars of her life as they held her up, her legs suddenly forgetting how to work.

William had never seen Faith cry before. He’d heard her cry herself to sleep countless nights in Boston, but he’d never actually seen tears pour down her cheeks.

It unsettled him deeply and he wasn’t sure he knew what to do, but held her. It had been her who had always been there for him, her who had wiped his tears when he was small. She had been a second mother to him and Bree. Thought of Bree sent pain shooting through his heart and he was clinging to Faith needing her support just as much as she needed his.

Murtagh had stepped back and was watching the pair, not quite able to comprehend the reality that had just come crashing down around him. James Fraser had a son. Seeing them together, there was no doubt they were related. Her bright red head pressed against his dark one, both lost in their own world tripping over each other trying to get their stories out.

Murtagh couldn’t stop staring. He watched her, the red of her hair as familiar to him as anything. He was trying to compare this woman to the memories he had of her as a round-faced child and she was there clear as day.

He didn’t dwell much in the past, the life he had lived by Jamie’s side had nearly killed them both on countless occasions. But he had always held Faith and her memory close to his heart. He had given his word to protect her always and had done so, shielding the part of his heart where she resided from evil and darkness.

After all these years of watching Jamie live a half-life, Murtagh would soon deliver him not just a daughter but a son as well.

The tone of the conversation and the energy in the room had changed and he looked up. The two of them were hissing like cats, claws out, hackles raised, and tails in the air as they circled each other. It was Janet and Jamie Fraser to the tee and he knew better than to get between the two.

He was trying to catch bits and pieces of what they were saying. Faith was going on about a lass named Bree and had shoved William in frustration when he hadn’t provided her with what she must have considered to be an adequate answer. They were standing nose to nose now and he noted that Faith was slightly taller than her brother and he smiled, never having seen such a braw lassie.

He had been perfectly content to stand there and watch their foolishness, but when William asked after Claire, Murtagh walked right between the pair, no care for his own safety, sat them down and began the interrogation.

“Claire. Where is she?”

It was said very casually, but they both saw the fire in his eyes.

Faith looked over to John Quincy who had rolled onto his side but was still snoring audibly and began to tell their tale.

“So I hope,” she concluded, “that she’s with Da now.”

The relief that flooded William was immense.

“Aye, that she is.” Said Murtagh, having absolute faith in Youg Ian to deliver his aunt safely to Fraser’s Ridge. He said a quick prayer for the soul of Hector Cameron and continued,

“And Bree. Who is she?”

“Our sister,” they said in unison.

If he had been capable of any emotion besides shock just then he thought it would have been laughter or maybe tears. He was there on Craigh na Dun when Claire had left and he thought Jamie would die then in his arms and he wasn’t convinced that the lad wouldn’t die now at having his wife and bairns restored to him.

“Do you think the lass might come through the stones then?”

Faith said “yes” at the same time William said “no” and she stared at him unbelieving. She couldn’t imagine a world in which the two of them weren’t together. They were born together, had been joined at the hip since day one and she knew neither could live without the other.

William saw panic starting to rise in Faith’s face and took a deep breath before telling his side of the story.

He told them about the last night he’d spent in Boston with the Abernathy‘s and how Bree had found a painting that had sent him to North Carolina searching for Fraser’s Ridge. He spoke about how he’d become lost in the storm and how he had tumbled off a small cliff and nearly died. Murtagh finished the rest of the story and Faith shuddered.

He could have died, been lost to her forever and she would have never known.

“But Brianna,” she said, “why isn’t she here with you?”

William had been hoping to avoid telling her that Bree was married, had a child, and was living happily at Lallybroch but Faith narrowed her eyes.

“Well it’s a long story, but the gist of it is, she married Roger Wakefield or MacKenzie as he calls himself now. They live at Lallybroch,” and he swallowed hard knowing the blow he was about to deliver, “with their son Jemmy. He’s almost two, and I don’t think either one of them would risk taking him through the stones.”

There was absolute silence and it was too loud. Faith walked across the room, opened the door, and stepped out into the storm which was no match for the one brewing inside of her.

If the boy was almost two, that meant Bree was pregnant while they were searching for Jamie at the manse and she had kept it a secret that entire time. Why? Because she didn’t want Claire to have to choose between her two daughters, said the voice in her head.

A tear escaped and she wiped it away viciously before reaching for the small locket she wore around her neck. The door opened behind her and the pungent smell of drunkenness wafted out into the mountain air marking the return of Mr. Myers into the world of the living.

William followed him but paused on the porch to stand by Faith, “tha mi an seo.” It was something she used to say to him all the time when they were younger. I am here, it meant. I am here, and I hope my presence will be comfort enough until this journey ends his eyes said. She reached out and squeezed his hand in acknowledgment. He had always been enough, that much had never changed.

Over the next three days as they waited for the snow to thaw they bonded. Faith and Murtagh regaling tales from their shared time at Lallybroch to Myers and William. The entire house rocked with laughter as her accidental fall into the privy pit was brought vividly to life.

And on the fourth day when the passes had cleared, the four of them left the tiny cabin in high spirits. And with William in the lead, turned their horses west towards home, and Fraser’s Ridge.

Chapter Text

It was just a dot on the horizon, but she could see it, Fraser’s Ridge. She watched as the light faded and torches, candles, and watch fires were lit on the furthest peak. Having lived so long in the future, she was worried that she’d find life without modern technologies difficult, but she didn’t. She missed nothing about that life, well, nothing except for her sister.

It was hard to imagine the wee bairn she used to whisper Gaelic lullabies to in the dark of the night, was now a mother herself. She had decided long ago that she never wanted to have children. Her own childhood had been too much, too traumatic, it still was, the deep and lasting scars across her heart were testament to that. Being a mother would stir up all those emotions and she couldn’t relive that, wouldn’t bring a child into this world and risk them having a similar fate.

But she didn’t mind being an aunt and a wide smile bloomed across her face. She listened to the men set up camp behind her and watched the dancing flames of the fire. William came to sit by her then, wrapping a tattered buffalo robe around the both of them. She was glad he was here, she hadn’t wanted to take the last steps of this journey alone.

“What do you think they’ll say?” He asked.

“Da and Mama you mean?” And he nodded.

“Well, I suspect they’ve figured out it’s not just the one Fraser bairn who’s here.” And she put the small locket in his hand and he smiled recognizing Bree’s handiwork.

“I suppose I won’t have to explain myself to anyone now.”

That made her laugh and she elbowed him.

“Do you think either Da or Mama is going to let you off that easily?”

“No, but you’ll be distraction enough to buy me a bit more time to gather my words.”

They sat in silence for a bit, her head on his shoulder both thinking about the steps they had taken to get here.

“What’s my nephew like?”

The question caught him off guard, he’d forgotten she’d never met him.

“Ah, Jeremiah. He’s a spitfire. A fiery redhead like you and Bree but he has green eyes like Roger. The last time I saw him he had just begun to stand on his own, but no doubt he’s running circles around his parents now. He’s a spaghetti and meatballs connoisseur,” and he told her about that last night in Boston, wee Jemmy falling asleep face down on his clean blankets and absolutely covered in tomato sauce.

“That seems like it was in a different life doesn’t it?”

It did. He’d never taken the time to fully appreciate the enormity of Faith’s loss. She had, like him, been brutally ripped away from her family and everything that she loved. Except unlike him, she had taken all of her hurt and all of her anger and had channeled that into momentum. Each day building speed and gaining more confidence, more drive, determined to reach her goal. And here she was, only a few days' ride from the finish line. He’d been weak when she’d been strong and he was flooded with guilt for all the terrible things he’d said to her.

“I owe you an apology.”

The tone of his voice made her look at him sharply.

“I-, what I mean to say is-“ he didn’t know where to start, there was so much he felt he needed to explain. He’d been such a pompous and spiteful being.

“Forgiven.”

He stared at her, incredulous.

“What?! How can you forgive me when you don’t even know what I’m apologizing for?”

“Because I was there. I saw what Frank did to our family, I’ve had to live with that too. Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if I had done more. I was the oldest, I should have done more to protect you from him. I should have done more to protect us all.

Did Mama ever tell you that when she brought you home I claimed you? I told everyone you were mine, Brianna, too. You were, you both still are. There’s nothing you could ever say or do to stop me from loving you.” She sighed. “The years we spent in Boston were the worst of my life.”

He agreed, they had all struggled tremendously.

“I try not to think about it. We all did what we needed to do in order to survive. And while we’re all broken, battered, and bruised, while they’re parts of us that can’t ever be mended, we’re still here aren’t we?”

He was looking at her as if he’d never seen her before. What she meant, he realized, was they had all survived and Frank had not. It was Frank who should be apologizing but he could not. And just like that, it was over. She had forgiven him for his actions but she couldn’t absolve him of his guilt nor would she accept any kind of apology on Frank’s behalf. Frank’s sins were his own.

“Mòran taing.”

Hearing him speak Gaelic in his educated English accent was odd, but she was touched that he’d made the effort.

Murtagh watched the pair from across the fire. He tried to imagine a third child there, a girl with red hair and a small boy attached to her hip but that exceeded the limits of his wildest imagination. He shook his head filled with joy, and continued working to finish skinning the squirrels Myers had taken earlier but kept listening to their conversation.

“What’s he like? Da I mean. I remember him of course, but all of the memories I have are just a patchwork of thoughts from the mind of a child. I guess that’s what happens when you haven’t seen someone in over twenty years. I’ve changed and I know he must have too but the memories I have of him have always stayed the same.”

William had seldom seen Faith show any kind of strong emotion, but she was nervous now and that made him nervous too.

“Well, he’s tall and he has red hair.”

He said weakly. But went on becoming more confident as he spoke.

“Not just any red hair though, it’s your hair. When I first saw him I thought I was hallucinating, for it was your face I was staring at but the voice that came out of his mouth definitely wasn’t yours.”

She reached down and pulled up the end of his pant leg, revealing the long gash that ran up his calf, and clicked her tongue.

“You’re lucky that you didn’t die.”

He knew but waved her off.

“When we were younger, I must have been about twelve, I realized that there was something different about you and Mum. It wasn’t anything you could see, but I could feel it. It was like a sadness that always hung in a cloud around you. I didn’t of course know about Jamie then, but I know him now and the same sadness clings to him. I wasn’t there when he sent you back, I don’t know what your life was like before, and I don’t know what it’s like to have my life shattered by time.”

He grimaced and she saw it.

“But you do know, don't you?

He thought about the months he’d spent here mourning for Faith and his mother thinking they’d both been lost to the stones. Then there was-

“Brianna, you’ve lost her.”

“I haven’t and she isn't lost! I know where she is, she’s just not here.”

She’d hit a nerve but didn’t let up, meaning for him to understand.

“That. That fear and anger and sadness, that feeling of absolute loss and desolation, that’s what it was like. That’s what lived inside the cloud that hung over me. And to know there was nothing I could do about it, that is what made it unbearable.”

“But there was, you could have gone back!”

They’d reached the crux of the issue and she saw realization hit and she waited.

“You didn’t have that option, you couldn’t just go back, could you? You lived like this for all those years…”

And he looked at her horrified. He’d only lived with this misery for a few months, she and his mother had lived with it for twenty years.

“How? Why would you sacrifice yourself like that?”

“Because you needed me. I stayed and went on for you and Mama and Bree. But you, you can go back William, you have that choice.”

They didn’t speak further after that, both trying to digest what had been said. She sat by him until he’d fallen asleep and then moved to stand by the edge of the clearing, counting the constellations. She touched her cheek a long-forgotten memory of her father tracing the constellations across her freckled face coming vividly to life.

And while her thoughts had been with her brother and father, they now turned towards her mother and sister and she began to think of how they were going to explain all of this to Claire.

Brianna MacKenzie would never set foot on another boat for as long as she lived.

While the voyage hadn’t been bad, they had actually made excellent time reaching Wilmington in just under three months, she’d realized somewhere near the Indies that she was pregnant and viciously cursed a beaming Roger much to Jem’s delight.

For weeks, “f-ing” had taken up a prime position in his rapidly developing vocabulary, and they had debarked the ship with Jemmy literally cursing like a sailor.

She could hear his tiny feet sprinting down the hall and turned, catching him just in time before he sent her sketchbook, charcoal, and inkwell flying across the lushly decorated room.

“Guess what!?”

She narrowed her eyes, noting his sticky fingers, a smear of what looked like chocolate across his forehead, and frowned knowing exactly what he was about to say.

“I had cake.” And he paused for emphasis, “for breakfast!” Then turned and ran back out of the room.

They’d been at River Run for about a week and thank God, had already worked out a plan to get to Fraser’s Ridge. While she appreciated the lifestyle her Aunt Jocasta liked to keep, she could never live like this, it was too much and it made her uncomfortable.

She got up and followed the sounds of her shrieking and hyperactive toddler down the hall and into the parlor. He was there, hanging upside down from the sofa watching Jocasta knit while Samson the Basset Hound industriously licked his sticky fingers.

“Is that you niece?”

“It’s me, aunt.”

“I hope you do no mind, I gave the wee laddie a bit of cake. He was hungry and I dinnae think it’ll do the lad harm.”

Jem picked that exact moment to topple from the sofa and fell headfirst into Jocasta’s knitting basket.

“Aye well, boys will be boys…”

They would and Bree laid a hand on her still flat belly, and sent up a prayer to whoever might be listening, that this next child might be a girl. She grabbed her son before he had a chance to injure himself and she excused herself.

“Where we going, Mommy?”

“To the river so I can dunk you in!”

And he giggled with delight.

She opened the door to their bedroom and the giggling stopped at once when he saw the gently steaming bathtub, and he made a valiant attempt to wriggle out of her arms.

She managed to strip off his filthy traveling clothes, thought they should just be burned but set them aside and wrangled Jeremiah into the tub. She started at the top, lathering his thick red hair, and worked her way down. She was trying to remove the dirt from under his toenails when the door opened again.

Roger looked from his dripping wife to the pool of water on the floor and finally to his son who was grinning at him, hair lathered into a soapy mohawk. He wanted to laugh but had been married to Brianna long enough to know better, but he couldn’t help the smile that curved his lips.

“Don’t you dare laugh!”

He wiped the smile from his face and sat down on the chair by the hearth, pulling a map from his jacket pocket. On which they had been plotting out the best route to take into the mountains at this time of year.

“There are still mountain folk coming into Cross Creek, so we know the passes haven’t been blocked yet. Ulysses and Jocasta both agreed that it’s best,” and he braced himself, “if we travel by boat up the Cape Fear River.”

He chanced a look at her and quickly finished what he had to say, “it splits about twenty miles upstream and turns west. It’s not the most direct route but will get us to the foot of the mountain in about six days. From there we’ll have to travel by horseback from settlement to settlement relying on Jocasta’s standing and good name before we eventually make it to Fraser’s Ridge.”

She was toweling Jemmy off, but he saw the moment she’d reached a decision.

“No.” And she pulled a shirt over Jem’s head.

“I’m not getting back on a boat, I told you that!”

Bree usually wore the pants in this family, but as she turned to find Jemmy’s shoes she saw that Roger had already made up his mind, this was not a negotiation.

“Brianna, I am not taking my pregnant wife and my son on a horseback expedition through the backwoods of colonial North Carolina in the middle of winter with nothing but a dagger and a long gun to protect us. Do I make myself clear?”

“Aye, Daddy!”

And they both snorted, but Bree gave him a reluctant nod. Roger scooped up his son and the two of them were off to the stables to meet with Josh the groom who had agreed to travel with them upriver and left Bree free to do what she chose with the gift of some much-needed downtime.

She looked around the now empty room and threw Jem’s filthy clothes onto the tub to soak, mopped up the floor as best she could, and changed her soaking dress. She had just finished pinning a ridiculous cap to her head when she heard Ulysses announce a visitor and rolled her eyes.

Upon their arrival, they’d learned that her Uncle Hector had recently died and apparently the widowed men and bachelors of the county had decided enough time had passed since his death and were circling her aunt like rabid dogs.

She breezed down the stairs and past the next contender in search of Phaedre. She passed through the dining room making her way to the living quarters at the other side of the house and found the girl helping her aunt to bed.

“Are you well aunt?”

The woman laughed, it was a cackling malicious laugh and a chill ran straight down Bree’s spine.

“Aye that I am. When the vultures are circling I do take to bed. None of those wicked heathens are so brave as to harass me in here. Do you go niece, take Phaedre, the lavender for my eyes is waiting at the apothecary.”

They walked back through the big house and Bree smirked seeing a fourth man had joined the parade of fools. As they bumped along in the carriage, Phaedre regaled her with stories of Faith's own suitors and she laughed, imagining all too clearly what her sister’s face must have looked like.

They stopped first at a general store, stocking up on dried goods and salt pork, made their way to the apothecary where she purchased a simples case and a few of the rarer herbs for her mother.

She’d spotted a print shop down the street and had intended to pick up a few books for Faith, but the note pinned to the door said the proprietor had removed himself for the winter.

The sun had just set as they arrived back at River Run, Jemmy, absolutely covered in mud, came flying out of the house to greet her. She scowled at Roger and had just opened her mouth to scold them both when Phaedre stepped in scooping Jemmy up and ushering him inside to get ready for bed.

The adults finalized their plans over dinner and Jocasta produced a fat purse along with two muskets, a broadsword, and three small daggers. Brianna hadn’t allowed herself to think about the dangers of the journey they were about to embark on until that moment and reached under the table grabbing Roger’s hand.

Betty brought in a tray with whisky and a pot of steaming peppermint tea for Bree. They talked about her parents and Faith, Jocasta asked after William which she thought was odd but she answered the best she could. When they had arrived, she had expected to find Faith and William here but hadn’t panicked, confident that she would find them at The Ridge.

Hearing Ulysses announce yet another visitor, Jocasta excused herself with haste and Bree turned to Roger uncertainty in her eyes.

“Are you sure Brianna? We can stay here and send word to Claire, she would come down the mountain if she knew you were here.”

She shook her head, unwilling to put her mother in any kind of danger. They both excused themselves, retiring for the night, still trying to mentally prepare for the last leg of this journey. At first light, they would be gone.

 

Jocasta had never truly been alone but without Hector, Claire, her nieces, and the wee lad, she was struggling, unsure what to do with her newfound freedom. The silence of the house was too loud but the happiness she felt at no longer being tethered to a man was exhilarating. She wouldn’t marry again; she knew that for sure, but the sharks were circling as relentlessly as ever.

“Ulysses?”

“Here Miss Jo.”

“I’ll dictate a wee note for the newspaper in regards to Hector.” She knew all of across Creek surely knew by now but she couldn’t help but flaunt her status a bit.

He moved across the room, picked up a quill, and sat down at the writing desk. A truly wicked and self-satisfactory smile made its way to Jocasta’s wrinkled face and she began to speak.

“Mrs. Jocasta Cameron is saddened to announce the death of her beloved husband, Mr. Hector Cameron of River Run Plantation. An émigré from Scotland, Mr. Cameron was a pillar and invaluable asset to the Cape Fear community and beyond. He is survived by his wife and his kin Mr. James and Claire Fraser of Fraser’s Ridge. Per his request, Mr. Cameron has entrusted his estate to his great-niece and nephew, Faith and William Fraser who are newly arrived to the colony.”

She was ruthless, her father had told her that from a young age, but being kind never got anyone this kind of status in life. She would not give it up, not for any man or any amount of money. She had suffered through three marriages, she would not suffer through a fourth.

She smiled pleased with her plan to keep her suitors away. Jamie would never see her handiwork being so far up in the mountains and the boy William most certainly wouldn’t, being far afoot in England.

As he sat in his study watching Claire float in and out of her surgery, Jamie frowned, something was bothering her; it was written all over her glass face. He had sent Mrs. Bug home early and Lizzie had gone with her father to help settle two of the new tenants on the eastern side of the ridge.

He got up and walked down the hall to the kitchen, filling two pewter mugs with steaming chamomile tea, and wrapped each cup in a towel, before walking back down the hall meaning to find out what was plaguing his wife.

He stood for a moment just watching her. She was beautiful and he still couldn’t believe that she was here. Here with him, back where they both belonged. But her shoulders were hunched up around her ears as if she were expecting something truly awful to happen and he sighed, setting his own shoulders. Whatever demons she might be battling she would not battle alone, he could not allow that.

Claire turned sensing him and tried to plaster a convincing smile onto her face but he knew her very well, even after all these years. Jamie set the two mugs on the sideboard and moved to stand behind his wife wrapping his arms tight around her. He felt her settle against him; the two of them standing in companionable silence gently rocking and generally just basking in the feeling of being together once more.

“What is it, a nighean? What’s bothering you? Is it the lass? Are you worried she is no here yet? John is a good man, he'll watch over her and Myers will see her here safe, I give you my word.”

She was worried about Faith. Hadn’t liked leaving her at River Run, but that wasn’t it.

“Did you know?”

Did he ken what he thought? She usually wasn’t one to beat around the bush and he raked his mind trying to figure out what this was about.

“When you sent me through the stones I mean. Did you know?”

“Did I ken that I was sending you and the wee lass back to that mac na galla? No of course I didnae ken! Do you think I would have sent you back to him if I had? I promise to exact my revenge on the villain in the name of your honor. I will no let him rest easy, Claire.”

“I know you will, but no, that’s not what I meant.”

She leaned back further into him, absorbing as much of his strength as she could, and gently moved one of the hands that was wrapped tight around her to rest on her now flat stomach.

“Did you know I was pregnant?”

He jerked so violently that his elbow knocked over both mugs, sending scalding liquid across the room but neither of them noticed. Both were frozen where they stood, deafened by the ringing silence of truth.

Claire swallowed hard, feeling his heart speed up and he turned her, needing to see her face but placed his hand back on her stomach. He saw the worry in her whisky eyes and the familiar golden eyes of the boy William, flashed vividly in his mind.

“You-? We-?” He was shaking his head in negation, not of what she’d said, but in absolute disbelief.

She knew he hadn’t known, but still, she had to ask. She hadn’t known herself until nearly three months after her return to Frank. She’d written off her weight gain to stress and her reintroduction to proper nutrition. The thought of being pregnant hadn’t even crossed her mind.

“The child? Does he live?”

He couldn’t imagine Claire there, already broken from their separation and then having to mourn the loss of a child. He remembered what it had been like for her in Paris when they nearly lost Faith. To think he had sent her away when she needed him the most.

He felt her shudder and he braced himself for the worst, pulling her closer, needing her strength.

“They do.”

And he started.

“They?”

She nodded, resting her head against his chest and closed her eyes, the steady beating of his heart a metronome, setting the pace for the story she was about to tell.

 

——
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“I thought we would die. It was Faith all over again, the twins were born too soon. William was two pounds seven ounces and Brianna three pounds three ounces, they were so small, and I knew, I knew the odds of them surviving were so very, very slim.”

She heard the question form in his throat and interjected,

“I couldn’t heal them. There was nothing I could do and I hated myself for it. I tried to make a bargain with God, pleaded with him to take me and spare our children, but I could not. Could not leave Faith alone with Frank.

I thought to call the Reverend Wakefield, ask him to send Mrs. Graham to collect Faith. She knew what we were and how the stones worked. Thought that she could care for Faith until she was old enough to travel back to Lallybroch on her own. But I could not.

I rang Frank’s mother, she and I had always been close and Faith adored her. She arrived the next day and came straight to the hospital. She told me I was not allowed to die, and I don’t know why, but I told her about you then. Perhaps I wanted someone to be able to tell the children about their father, to keep you alive for Faith just in case I lost my will to live.

And it would have been so easy to let go. To leave this earth and find my way back to you. Every time I closed my eyes I saw you and the life we once had - it was torture. So I stopped sleeping, unable to relive that loss. They said I was delusional, rambling about what must have sounded like utter nonsense to the doctors. I was begging them always to just let me die, then panicked at being parted from the children, begging them to save me, to save us. I was beyond hysterical and eventually, they had to sedate me.”

He felt the first of her tears soak through the front of his shirt but didn’t dare move, needing to hear the rest of what she had to say just as badly as she needed to say it.

“I don’t know how long I laid sedated in that bed, but when I woke, Frank was there and so was Faith. I didn’t want her to see me like that, didn’t want her to be scared, she had already been through too much. But she wasn’t, she was so brave. Frank lifted her onto the bed and she nestled up right beside me, as if that’s where she always belonged, and she did. It was the only time I’d ever seen him look at her without hatred burning in his eyes.

They brought Brianna in then, it was the first time I got to hold her and the first time Faith was able to meet her sister, and for a while, we all got to feel normal. Faith was beside herself with joy when she saw Bree had red hair like hers. She told every nurse who came into the room that Bree was her baby, and she wasn’t wrong.

They both fell asleep on my chest, Faith's small hand resting on her sister’s, their fingertips just barely touching. Frank’s mother came to take Faith home then, they’d just managed to get her strapped into her stroller when her eyes flew open. She didn’t want to leave, couldn’t understand why she had to go while the rest of us stayed.

I could hear her screaming all the way down the hall like she was leading a highland charge into battle. It was the worst sound I’ve ever heard. She was yelling for me, begging for you, she had no English, but I knew what she was saying, how could I not?”

Her shoulders shook with the memory and Jamie fell like a tree, his knees buckling under the weight of her words. The two of them just sat on the wooden floor, listening to the remnants of the chamomile tea drip through the cracks in the floorboards and down into the frozen earth.

“We decided not to tell her she had a baby brother as well. While Bree was thriving, William was deteriorating further with each passing day.
His heart hadn’t formed properly, they could have fixed that, but he developed pneumonia as well. They could have treated that too, but none of the medications they gave him were working.

The hospital sent in a grief counselor, a palliative care specialist, and a Chaplain to help us prepare for his loss. I very calmly told them all to leave, told them there had been a mistake and my son was not going to die. He was not.

I wanted to see him, to hold my son, to hold both of my babies together, even if it was for the last time. Nothing else truly mattered just then. But they wouldn’t let me. Pneumonia is contagious and they were unwilling to put Brianna at risk.

And then they sent us home.”

She thought about the hell that unfolded after being sent home to care for her two daughters knowing it was William who needed her most and she had left him.

“I didn’t want to leave him but I knew I had to go home. Faith needed me. She was used to being the center of attention, but during the weeks I spent in the hospital… She didn’t adjust well. She became extremely clingy and the fiercely independent child who I had known so well disappeared.

She would follow me around the house like a lost puppy. If I got up to fold the laundry she would too. When I cooked she sat at the kitchen table. She never spoke, just watched me, always watching me. She was terrified that I was going to leave her, that she would lose me too.

I decided she needed to go back to school. We had allowed her to stay home with me and Brianna hoping that she’d begin to heal, and she did find purpose in being a big sister but she couldn’t continue as she was. She needed a routine, to get out of the house and be with her own friends.

So Frank’s mother, Nora, moved in with us, I would not have survived without her. In the mornings I would take Faith to school and Nora would stay with Bree while I was at the hospital with William, then at three o’clock, I’d go back to pick up Faith and do my best to pretend like everything was okay. Looking back I don’t know how I did it, I suppose I felt as if I had no other choice, and I didn’t.

One day I got to the hospital and the entire energy of the ward had changed. It was too quiet, I could feel dozens of pairs of eyes on me and I knew something had happened to William. But I kept walking and sat down in the chair by his crib like I always did.

I’ll never forget how loud the silence of the NICU was that day. I was weeping as quietly as I could, while the sound of common heartbreak that only a mother could know surrounded me.

The nurse came in, I refused to look at her, knew the truth I would see on her face would shatter me. Refused to look at William when she placed him in my arms. I had been trying to prepare myself, telling myself not to get too attached and to just be thankful for the time I did get with him. But it wasn’t enough, how could it ever be enough?

His lips and the tips of his fingers were the most unearthly shade of blue, he looked like a corpse. I sat with him for hours telling him about you and Scotland and the family he would never know. I needed him to know, I told him everything I could think of. I was saying goodbye without actually saying the word. I couldn’t say that, not yet - not ever.

I wanted to be alone with him, but the nurse brought me a telephone, I called Nora and we both cried together. Then I called our neighbor Gail Abernathy, her son was in Faith’s class and I asked her to pick Faith up from school. She knew of course why I was asking, everyone knew about William except for Faith.

I told him how much we loved him, how strong and how brave he had been. Then I told him it was ok if he didn’t want to fight anymore, and told him to rest if he were tired. The next day his heart stopped. I selfishly took it all back, I told him he wasn’t allowed to leave me, he was not allowed to go because I still needed him. He crashed twice more in the operating theater but they managed to stabilize him.”

She looked at Jamie for the first time then,

“I always thought it was you who sent him back to me. You gave me Faith, she is my spirit, harboring the parts of me only she could ever know. And Bree, who is my soul, she is always there to pull me back out of the darkness. And then you gave me William, he is my miracle, he gave me life, a reason to live again.

None of the doctors could explain it, even I can’t explain it now. He should not have lived, but he did and so did I. Three months later, they sent him home, and it was over. I could breathe again.

Nora left and Frank came back, I don’t know why perhaps it was only because he wanted a son, I think every man does. It didn’t matter though, I had no time to spare for Frank.

Faith was beside herself with joy at having two babies. She was still young enough not to quite understand and didn’t ask many questions, but she did ask me if they were your babies too. I would not lie to her about that, not ever. Maybe that was the problem. They were ours, they didn’t belong to Frank. Maybe if I had - but no,” and she shook her head.

“Everything changed then. The first time I heard Faith laugh, I knew she was going to be okay, we were all going to be okay. Frank left, he’d just published his second book and was giving lectures at universities across the country. For the next six months, it was just the four of us.

We spent our days at the park with Gail. We would lay out a giant plaid blanket, Faith and Lenny would feast on ice cream and fish sticks before running each other ragged across the playground. They would fall asleep under the warm summer sun always around the same time Bree and William would wake up from their nap.

Gail had bonded with Bree, the two of them happily babbling away, lost in their own little world. And I, I had William. He was perfect, it was all so perfect. I could have lived like that forever.

In September Faith went back to school. She loved it, was so thrilled to be able to ride on the school bus like a big girl. On Friday’s I would take her to school and pick her up though, I thought that was important. She was growing up so quickly and I wanted her to have one day that was just for the two of us.

After school we would go to the history museum, it was her favorite place, I think it felt like home to her. We would talk about her day and I would always ask her to tell me one good thing and one bad thing that had happened to her that week. Then we would pick the twins up and walk together to the Abernathy‘s for dinner. It was our sacred ritual.

One day I forgot to pick her up. The nanny had called out sick and I just lost track of time completely. Brianna had a horrible diaper rash and was screaming bloody murder, William was exhausted and cranky as all hell, every time I put him down for a nap Bree would begin to wail. I’d finally gotten Bree to settle when the phone rang.

It was the school and all I could hear was Faith sobbing in the background. It took me an hour to dress the twins for the cold, get them downstairs and into the car. I realized then that it was too much. I needed help. There was only one of me and three of them. They all needed my attention and there weren’t enough hours in the day.

When we finally got to the school and I got Faith strapped into the seat next to me, she managed to get out through gasping tears that she thought I had left her, that I had gone back through the stones without her. She was terrified, so was I. I knew all of her cries, but I’d never heard the one she unleashed that day. I thought that I had truly damaged her, she could not stop shaking.

She clung to me for months after that. It didn’t matter what I said, or how much I reassured her, she’d convinced herself that I might leave. It haunted her for years, and eventually, I stopped counting the nights when she would wake hysterical and drenched in sweat. I couldn’t calm her, she wanted you - she needed you.

She begged and pleaded, told me she would go back by herself, and if she had known where the stones were I have no doubt she would have done just that. I hadn’t allowed myself to think about going back, but I thought about it then. I thought of every possible scenario. I could have gone with Faith, but Bree and William…

I didn’t know if they could travel and even if they could, I would not have risked William. She saw that on my face and it killed her along with whatever hope she had left. She crawled into my lap like she used to do when she was small and the only thing I could do was hold her as she cried herself to sleep. Then I cried myself. It was an impossible situation.”

She took in the look on Jamie’s face. Skin stretched tight against his bones, eyes wide and all of the blood drained from his face. Shock she thought.

“When I promised you that I’d go back through the stones I meant it. I would have gone no matter what because I gave you my word. But I made no such promise for Faith. If I could go back with the perspective I have now, I would have left her at Lallybroch. It would have killed me but it wouldn’t have mattered, she would have been happy.”

She would have been with me, Jamie thought. He wasn’t sure if she’d have been happier though. She would have him and then he too would have been lost to her. Sent to prison leaving her without any parents.

 

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“Frank. What do I even say about him? Some men are born evil,” and she knew they were both thinking of Black Jack Randall. “But Frank wasn’t one of those men. I loved him when we were first married, he was my first love. But I hate, I hate, who we both became. I asked the impossible of him and he tried, he did, but it was too much.

I told him to leave, asked him for a divorce. All he had to do was sign the papers. Did I ever tell you that?”

He shook his head.

“There was another woman, Sandy Travers.” And she felt Jamie tense. “I thought he would be happier with her, we surely would have been happier without him. But he wouldn’t leave, refused to go. I think it would have been a fatal blow to whatever pride he had left.

A few years after he died I ran into Sandy in a bookshop. The first time I saw her she had been young and beautiful and full of life, but when I looked at her then, she was haggard, looked as if she’d lived a thousand lifetimes. She said some horrible things to me, I’d expected that, but I didn’t rebuke her. Frank had stolen so much from all of us already, there was nothing else to be said. The only thing she’d ever done wrong was fall in love with a married man.”

“Christ! How do you no hate the man Claire?! How can you speak his name?”

It was a rhetorical question, or at least that’s how she treated it and went on. There was no room for a third person in this space just now.

“As the children grew I made the decision to go back to school and we all sort of came to an unspoken agreement of civility. Faith was old enough to take care of herself, but the twins still needed guidance and someone to watch out for them. Although Frank wasn’t a bad father - well…” And she shrugged halfheartedly, “he wasn’t the father I wanted our children to have nor was he the one they needed, he could have never been that.

When Faith was about fifteen, she started coming to my office after school. She had found a father figure in Joe Abernathy and they talked about everything, she told him things that she didn’t even tell me. It was exactly what she needed, and I’ll be indebted to Joe for the rest of time.

And that’s how we lived. Faith always by my side, William entrenched in history with Frank and Brianna floating somewhere in between. She has a gentle soul, upsetting any of us would have been unbearable for her.

I came home from work one day, and Faith and I found the three of them gathered around the kitchen table looking morbid. Nora, who was well into her sixties at that point, had taken a fall. I didn’t hesitate, and we were all on the next flight to England. It was the first time I’d been back since moving to Boston.

She was thank God, fine. She released herself from the hospital against all of our wishes and insisted on taking Faith to tea in London in honor of her sixteenth birthday.”

And she laughed at the memory.

“Frank disappeared to Oxford and I took the twins to Inverness.”

She heard Jamie’s breath hiss at that and she took his hand, lacing her fingers through his.

“I had to know. Had to know if they could hear the stones.”

At this point, there was truly no doubt in his mind. The boy with the golden eyes, William Randall was his son, their son. But he waited, waited for her to reveal the rest of her truth.

“They could hear them. I didn’t tell Faith, I couldn’t. By that time the twins were settled,” and she shrugged helplessly. “I couldn’t take them away from the life that was theirs. I would not do to them what we had done to Faith, I could not.

When we got back to Boston, Frank confronted me. I don’t know how he found out that I’d gone to Scotland, but he did. And in an attempt at some sort of sick revenge, he fractured us permanently. Told Bree and William the one thing he’d sworn me to never tell. Told them the one thing that for all those years I’d kept secret, he told them about you.

Brianna is more like me, her logical mind will always kick in before she casts judgment upon anyone. William though, he leaves nothing to the imagination, he is without a doubt, a Fraser. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me, with such disgust, and Frank was standing there looking so smug.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to lose a child twice.”

He wanted to wrap his arms around her, take away her hurt. Tell her that he would keep them all safe, but something in her eyes told him not to touch her. Not yet.

“He hated me. To him, it was all my fault. And for a while he hated Faith too simply because she believed me, she knew the truth of it all. Brianna held us together the best she could, was constantly playing peacekeeper, but it was too heavy of a burden for her to carry alone.

Faith was the first one to escape that hell. She went to university in Scotland of all places and she settled. When she left I had the same fear she once harbored, that she would go through the stones without me, I think she could see that on my face. She hugged me hard and she promised not to go back yet. I asked her why, and she said it was because I still needed her.

It was the first time I caught a glimpse of the woman she would one day become. I was so proud and beyond terrified to send her out into the world, but I had to let her go. She found her place easily with like-minded people and worked her way up to incredible success. She needed that. I think she needed to find that before she went back through the stones. Needed to know, for her own peace of mind that she could do it, that she could survive.

Then when Frank died, she moved back home to Boston. That’s when we decided to start looking for you.”

She dug into her pocket and pulled out the tiny locket, her most prized possession, and flipped it open before handing it to him. “Your daughter, Brianna Ellen, and your son, William Robert.”

He opened his palm, clasping the tiny locket gently as if it were a bomb. On the left a picture of a girl with hair like his and eyes like Claire’s, she looked so like his mother.

“Everyone thinks they’re twins. Bree didn’t get Faith’s freckles or blue eyes, but their faces are so similar as to almost be identical. They’re both tall, very tall, like you. Bree’s a historian, she loves to paint, she painted these portraits, she’s very talented.” And he heard the pride in her voice. “Before I left Scotland l bought Lallybroch, I wanted her to have it, for it to be a home for her heart like it was for us. I think she’s going to be okay, she’s very happy with the life she’s created for herself there and she has Roger.”

Jamie looked up sharply and she laughed out loud. Ferocious Scottish father indeed, she thought.

“I think you would like him, he's a MacKenzie and I’ve known him since he was about six. He’s perfect for Bree, he actually asked for my permission to marry her just before I left.”

“Oh aye?” And he nodded, very satisfied that his daughter had the good sense to marry a Scot.

“And she has William. I don’t think I could have left if they hadn’t had each other, they’re inseparable, bonded for life.”

Her heart squeezed hard as she thought of her son, but she’d made it this far and meant for Jamie to know his children, all of them.

“He’s living in London now and works at Oxford University with Roger, they’re both published, Jacobite historians. I think William only became a historian because he wanted to make Frank happy. When he was younger I was fairly certain that he would grow up to work with horses, he has a way with them, like you. I didn’t get to see him before we left, he was still so angry about the whole thing.”

He hadn’t allowed himself to look at the second face in the locket, scared that the boy in the painting might not be the William he knew, but he looked anyway. A face as familiar to him as his own stared back. A boy with brown curly hair, golden eyes, and a slightly lopsided smile. But he looked different here, younger the gentle roundness of childhood still etched on his face.

“I would give anything for you to be able to meet them.”

He looked from Claire back down at the faces of his children and it slowly began to dawn on him that she did not know. He stood abruptly and helped her to her feet.

“A moment, Sassenach.” And he was gone.

She heard the front door swing open then slam shut. A shout of “Ian” and then a bit of mumbled speech before the door to her surgery creaked back open.

She took one look at him and paled.

“What is it? Jamie, what’s wrong? Are you ok?!”

He just stood there, unable to put what he needed to say into words, but her voice was becoming frantic.

“Aye, fine Sassenach.”

That was a lie but he walked across the room and pulled out a chair.

“Come sit and I’ll tell you.”

He told her about the trip he and Murtagh had taken to Beardsley’s Trading Post, and how they had found a half-frozen and badly injured man lying in the path on their way home.

“We brought him here and Mrs. Bug tended him until he was well enough to speak. He was British and while it’s no unusual to find a stray Sassenach here in the backcountry, having one on Fraser’s Ridge caused quite a kebby-lebby.”

He told her about the wicked gash in the man’s leg and how he had done his best to heal him. Then he recited nearly word for word the conversation the two of them had had outside of the stables.

He chanced a look at Claire who had drawn into herself but went on.

“You see, I kent then that the lad was my son, Murgath did too. But we also kent that I did no have a son. I couldnae explain it, Sassenach. Not until now.”

She didn’t know if she believed him. William under no circumstance would ever come to Fraser’s Ridge, he had made his thoughts very clear about that. He wouldn’t come to Fraser’s Ridge unless something had happened to Brianna, and he needed your help, said a voice in the back of her head. She swayed at the thought but Jamie caught her.

“Where? Where is he?” And her voice was choked with terror.

“He’s with Murtagh in Anna Ooka, the Tuscarora village just across the treaty line. I’ve sent Young Ian to fetch them back directly.”

Claire was staring through the wall as if in a trance. He quietly got up and picked up the long-forgotten mugs from the floor and walked to the kitchen. He dipped each one into the pot of clean boiling water then refilled them before returning to his wife. He watched her for a moment then sat the mugs on the sideboard and moved to stand behind her, wrapping his arms tight around her once more.

“Thank you, Sassenach.”

And he placed a soft kiss on her temple.

“Thank you for our three bairns, and for keeping them safe.”

He laced the fingers of his left hand through hers and moved their right hands down to rest on her stomach. The silver ring he’d given her a lifetime ago, still shining bright.

“Thank you for being brave enough to love me, and for keeping me whole.”

He turned her around and cupped her cheek, tucking a curl behind her ear.

“Thank you for coming back after all these years, for giving me a chance to live again.”

He let all of the emotion of his heart show on his face and kissed her very gently.

“I love you, a nighean.”

And she burst into tears.