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To Live Again

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She’d left a note for him on the table. 


My Love,

I meant it. 

The next time you see me, never let me go.


Yours,
Claire

He dressed quickly and rushed out to the stables. Donas stood alone in his stall, and Jamie’s mare was gone. 

Claire knew how much he loved Donas. She’d left him the better horse.

He saddled the beast quickly and took off toward the closest town. Her tracks were fairly fresh, maybe a few hours old. He followed them until they reached the main road and disappeared with a dozen others. 

He went south first, then north. There was no sign of her. No one said they’d seen her—even when threatened within an inch of their lives.

He was too panicked to despair just yet, searching as far and wide as his horse would allow. He ensured he made it back home by nightfall, fearful Claire might come back to an empty house and think he’d given up on her. 

She wasn’t there when he arrived.

He was greeted by a hungry Adso and the sounds of angry goats eager to be milked. He took care of the animals just for something to do.

He sat for hours, Adso watching him from the bed, ready to go to sleep. Jamie was frozen in shock. How could a man, healthy and able, be reduced to utter helplessness by the disappearance of one woman?

He tried to think of where she might go. Her parents were dead, and he had no idea about her uncle. She’d said he was a traveler; he could be anywhere.

How could she abandon her house? Her cat? Everything she owned was still there!

He looked around again and realized it wasn’t true. Her scarf was gone. Her sonnets. The pearl necklace was no longer in the box—he imagined her putting it on before riding away.

Was it all a dream, as she’d said? Did she ever really love him?

I meant it, she’d written.

Then why did she go?!

The next time you see me, never let me go.

Did that mean she was coming back? He thought perhaps it best to stay put.

His hands were shaking terribly. He couldn’t get them to hold still. He tried to pet Adso, but the cat got annoyed with his trembling and jumped down to find peace.

That was when he started on the whisky.

Then the madeira. 

He was drunk within the hour.

It didn’t help.

“What the bloody hell is going on?!” he called out. “Sassenach!”

The tears started to fall. 

“Claire!”

He sank down to his knees, wondering why she would leave if she loved him as she said. Why wouldn’t she trust him with her secrets?

He felt like he was being punched repeatedly in the chest.

Everything hurt.

Terribly.

Even the air in his lungs felt wrong. 

Nothing was right without Claire.

 


 

Adso finally took pity on the sobbing man lying on the floor. The cat came close and nuzzled the hand that wasn’t holding the bottle.

“She left ye too.” Jamie scratched his head. 

He picked up Adso and held him close to his chest, the soft purring wasn’t exactly a comfort, but it was something to feel near his heart that wasn’t pain.

“No wonder she didna give ye a name.” She was planning to leave all along. She didn’t want to get too close. 

Jamie realized he’d done the same with his mare, not wanting attachment to anything after the loss of his father.

He brought the bottle to his mouth again. He couldn’t handle thinking of his father, as well.

 


 

After days of drinking himself into oblivion, he ran out of alcohol. Sobriety forced him to get up and go outside. The animals were crying for his attention, and the land was completely neglected. 

His body seemed to move somehow separate from his mind. His arms and legs completed the chores, distancing themselves from his head with some primitive drive to keep moving forward...just like it did after Randall.

He spent the next few weeks tending to the animals, finishing the harvest, starting the fall planting, and weeding Claire’s garden—he couldn’t bear seeing it overgrown. 

A part of him still held out hope she’d return.

She never did. 

One day near the end of summer, an auld man and his wife rode up to the cottage in a large wagon in the late afternoon. 

“Can I help ye?” he asked.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Fraser,” the man said, helping his wife down from the wagon. He looked over the property appraisingly, then bowed to Jamie. “The house looks to be in excellent condition.”

Jamie bowed back at a loss for words. 

“Is Madame Fraser home? My wife very much enjoyed her company last spring when she arranged the lease for the farm.”

“Pardon?”

“When Madame Fraser arranged the lease for the summer,” he reiterated, “she and my wife talked of all the improvements she intended for the garden. I see they were fruitful!”

Jamie’s heart clenched painfully in his chest. It was never Claire’s farm? “May I ask how ye came to the arrangement wi’ my wife that we might lease the place from ye?”

“Did she not inform you? An acquaintance she’d met at a nearby abbey told her of our plans to travel for the summer. She said the two of you would take care of the harvest and plant the fall wheat for us in exchange for a place to stay.” The man raised a brow in question. “You did fulfill your end of the contract, did you not?”

“Oh, aye. Of course. ’Tis all stored there in the barn.”

“I see you mended the stables for us,” the auld man said, cheerfully. “Perhaps we’ll leave again to visit my wife’s family next summer if it would mean having tenants like you taking care of the place.”

“Perhaps. Aye,” Jamie placated, knowing he never had any intention of setting foot on this property again.

He turned to find the man’s wife picking up Adso and nuzzling his cheek, calling him Francois.  

Christ. Now he was losing his bloody cat.

“I’ll just go get my things from the house and be on my way,” said Jamie. “I’m sure ye’d like to rest yer heids after all that travel.”

“Nonsense. Please, stay for dinner, if you will,” said the man’s wife. “I’m sure your wife is in no shape to travel without any warning.”

“My wife has gone ahead of me. I was only waiting for ye to arrive before setting off to meet her. I’ll just collect my clothes and a few provisions and be on my way.”

“Please—”

“I insist.”

“I’m sure he misses that beautiful, young wife of his, Marie,” said the man. “Let the man return to her with haste if he so chooses.”

Jamie nodded politely, fighting back the tears threatening to form in his eyes.

He went in to gather his sporran and what few possessions he had left before retreating back outside. Adso bounded out of his mistress’s arms to rub himself against Jamie’s leg. Jamie bent to give him a final scratch behind the ears and then left him to resume his identity as Francois.

Jamie wasted no time in saddling Donas and leaving the cottage of deceit behind.

When he reached the edge of the property, he turned around to look back over the fields. The wheat was gone, and the land was naught but tilled soil and buried seed—unrecognizable from when he first arrived.

He stretched out an arm to pat Donas—his only evidence that his time with Claire was ever even a reality. The horse nickered impatiently, so Jamie squeezed his thighs to set him off. 

He didn’t look back at the farm again.



 

 

********************************

France - April 1743

Nearly two years later
at the inn just outside Paris

********************************

 

“What is it?” asked the intrusive Frenchman. “Good news or bad?”

Jamie rubbed his face in his hands, too shocked and overwhelmed to answer. 

“Pardon me,” said Jamie absently, grabbing his letters and pushing back from the table. He rose up and headed for the door, bumping into a crowd of men too drunk to notice the tall red headed Scot barreling through their midst.

He went behind the inn in search of some bit of peace to clear his head, though in truth, he didn’t need it. Everything around him was growing distant—the sights, the sounds, the pungent scents of man and beast. It was as though the letter in his hand had pulled him out of the world as he knew it and placed him back nearly two years before.

He fell to his knees as he stared out over the unending wheat fields disappearing into the horizon. The sun was half set, sinking lower with every breath, illuminating the crops in a blaze of golden light. The summer wind rolled over the plants’ spikes in waves, giving the illusion of a vast, glimmering sea.

And then he felt her, as he always did that time of year, the warm breeze only a whisper of her touch. The gusts of wind carried the music of her sounds through the rustling leaves.

It was as though no time had passed at all. His heart felt as though it was cut out of his chest and flogged relentlessly—a hundred lashes on top of a hundred lashes.

In each fist, he gripped a letter; one was his past, and the other, his future...at least, it would be if he willed it so.

He looked down at the letter in his left hand—the one he had just spent hours writing to Ian. It was filled with pages of rambling. It was his truth, his loss, his pain. It was the reason he couldn’t let go of France. It was the reason he joined the mercenaries, risking his life foolishly again and again. He had yet to tell anyone about Claire before, but after receiving word that Ian and Jenny had married and were expecting their second child, Jamie knew that it was time to share with his friend and his sister the truth of why he’d turned into a ghost and abandoned his family.

But the letter in his right hand that had just been delivered was a gift—a pardon obtained by the influence of Jared Fraser and Colum MacKenzie. It was a means to travel back to Scotland and take up his role of Laird Broch Tuarach. A means to tell the truth of his heartache and resulting devastation to his family in person.

He looked down at the letters and asked himself if he could do it. Could he face returning home? Could he confront his failure and all his shame? He was an uncle now...nearly two times over. Did he have it in him to stay away from his family forever? Or would whatever scraps of honor that still resided in him compel him to face his disgrace?

Then again, could he accept Claire was really gone? Because leaving France meant leaving her behind...just as she’d done to him. A part of him was still holding onto the hope that the words she’d once promised him would come true—that she loved him, that she’d marry him, that she’d return to Scotland on his arm as his Lady...that she’d meant it.

Whether she meant it at the time or not, she was still gone. 

He stood up and gazed over the wheat field that was turning grey in the lack of light. His love for Claire was still gripping his heart just as painfully as it did the day she left. 

“Will it ever stop?” he whispered. “The wanting you?”

The whispers in the wind just swirled around him, giving him no new answers to the same old question. 

He thought of Jenny. Of Ian. Of their children—his father’s legacy, running wildly around Lallybroch. He thought of Scotland.

And he made up his mind.

 


 

“Are you alright, young man?” asked the intrusive Frenchmen as Jamie stepped back inside the inn.

Jamie shrugged, folding up his letter to Ian, uncertain of what to do with it now that he’d chosen to return home. He had no need for it any longer. 

Jamie moved to the fireplace at the other end of the inn. The flame had nearly burned out, but there were enough embers left to light a bit of parchment. He tossed the letter inside. As he turned away, the edge of one of the pieces had already caught fire.

“What are you doing, man?” The Frenchman reached in to pull out the letter, smothering the flame with his hat. “Stories like this are meant to be shared, not destroyed!”

Jamie rounded on him, ready to give the wee man a piece of his mind, but the audacity of the intrusive wee bastard stayed his tirade. The man was looking through the pages as if they were written in gold, eyes glittering with maniacal interest. 

“What d’ye care about a sad man’s unintelligible ramblings to his family, anyway?”

“Oh,” said the wee man, “I saw enough of what you’d written to know this letter contains something far more valuable than unintelligible ramblings.”

“It’s just a tale of a pathetic young lad and the woman who broke his heart.”

The Frenchman raised a brow. “There is far more to it than that.”

Jamie snorted. He had half a mind to rip the letter from the man’s hands and throw it right back in the fire, but the more he thought of burning the words that spoke of his love for Claire, the more his wame began to curdle. 

He sighed heavily and shook his head. “Fine. If it means that much to ye, ye can keep it. I’ll be leaving France in the morning anyway.”

The Frenchman nodded, still inspecting the parchment. “May I ask...if you had it to do all over, would you give her your heart once more?”

Jamie’s eyes widened, never having considered falling in love with Claire as being a choice. He still wasn’t certain that’s what it was. 

Yet the thought of never feeling her lips on his skin, of never holding her in his arms or wiping away her tears, of never hearing the words of Shakespeare whispered in his ears during the quietest hours of the night, was unbearable. “I’m none so sure I had a whole heart left to give when I met her. She repaired it bit by bit, leaving her impression everywhere she touched. I canna take back something that no longer belongs to me...nor would I care to do so if given the chance.”

The Frenchman smiled, his assumption confirmed. “I have a modest apothecary in Paris. If you ever return to France, perhaps you’ll take care to pass by and tell me how this all turns out for you, hmm?”

“How it turns out?”

“Oui. I’ve a curious mind, you see.”

“I’d say the story ends wi’ that letter.”

“Perhaps this story ends here, but,” the Frenchman nodded to the pardon in Jamie’s hand, “I expect the other letter is only beginning of another.”