Actions

Work Header

To Live Again

Chapter Text

“You, sir, appear quite troubled.”

Jamie didn’t raise his eyes from the parchment; he just kept writing. The noisy inn stunk of travel-worn men and an unkept pigsty. Three fights had broken out since he’d arrived, and the drunken soldiers were singing lewd songs louder and louder with every glass.

Jamie ignored it all, attempting to keep his handwriting legible and his words clear. The letter would do Ian no good if he couldn’t read it.

“You were writing that letter when I came in at lunch, and four hours later, you are still writing it at supper. Would it not be better suited printed and bound as a novel with all those pages?”

Jamie, again, paid no mind. The Frenchman peered at Jamie’s letter with a poor attempt at nonchalance. Jamie looked up at the wee man and gave him his most formidable Scottish grunt.

Unbothered, the man asked, “Are you a soldier? Is that a letter to a lover with promises of marriage upon your return home?”

“If ye wouldna mind, I would prefer to finish my correspondence in peace.”

“You came to a crowded inn for peace?”

Jamie grunted once again. He didn’t come to the inn for peace. He came because he’d be meeting up with a group of Scottish mercenaries who were due to arrive in the next few days. The inn, unfortunately, was over full and lacking private rooms, though the innkeeper was kind enough to provide him with several large pieces of parchment—for a nominal fee—that Jamie was in the process of filling in with tiny script, front and back.

“You must have quite a story, writing so many words. Strange that you speak so little, yet have so much to say.”

“Pardon me, sir!” said Jamie, losing his patience. “I have but a few lines left to write, and if ye would haud yer wheesht, I might just finish before nightfall!”

“By all means,” said the Frenchman jovially, clearly more amused than intimidated.

Just as Jamie was setting quill to parchment to finish off his letter, he was interrupted yet again—this time by an entirely different Frenchman.

“Monsieur Fraser?” said the man.

“Aye. That’s me.”

“I’ve a letter for you, sir. I was instructed to bring it to you with all due haste.”

Jamie took the parchment, careful to keep it from the wandering eyes of the nosy man next to him. He read through it quickly, the ink on parchment carrying a message he’d never expected to see in his lifetime. His heart leapt into his throat with the first bit of unadulterated joy he’d felt in nearly two years. 

But then it dropped as he remembered all the reasons why the words didn’t matter. Nothing had really changed. All was still exactly as it was two years ago.

“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,” he said absently, pushing back from the table. He rose up and headed for the door, bumping into men too drunk to notice that the impact came from a giant redheaded Scot rushing outside.

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—as though the letter in his hand had pulled him out of the world as he knew it and placed him back two years before.

He fell to his knees as he gazed 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, 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, and his heart was freshly 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.

Would he go back? Could he go back?

He looked down at the letter to Ian, pages and 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’d told no one before, but two years after it happened, he knew he owed his friend and his sister the truth of why he’d turned into a ghost.

But the letter in his other hand was a gift. A means to tell his story to his family in person...face-to-face...like he feared he never would.

The sky was flooded with color as the clouds clung to the disappearing light—oranges, pinks, purples, and blues. It would be completely dark soon. He’d lie asleep in a crowded room and count the minutes until the sun rose again, because night was when she refused to remain a memory. Night was when she invaded his dreams with her brilliant smiles and soft kisses. Night was when her tears became his own, soaking the pillow where he lay his head. Night was when he woke with stabbing pains in his chest, realizing once again that she was truly gone.

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?

Could he accept she was really gone?

Was it worth hoping there was some bit of life worth learning to live again?

Chapter Text

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

Two years previous

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

 

It was the only cottage visible for miles around. It sat on the edge of a small farm just on the verge of neglect. There was a barn and stables with an adjoining paddock a stone's throw away from the little house. Grapevines, fruit trees, and a kailyard overflowing with vegetables surrounded the place, and flower blossoms lined the pathway to the front door.

It was the perfect home for a couple to grow old together in the French countryside. Unfortunately for the widow Beauchamp, her husband didn’t keep up his end of the “growing old” part of their bargain.

That was where Jamie came in. He'd met Claire a few months past while she was healing his wounds after the flogging he received from Randall. She needed help with her farm now that her husband was dead, and Jamie agreed to do so in repayment for services rendered.

With a farmer’s eye, he assessed all the immediate repairs and ever present maintenance work that awaited him as he led his horse up the path to the front door. He ignored the ache in his back, warning him that his body wasn’t ready for the level of exertion it would take to bring a farm like this back to working order. 

His body may not have been ready to deal with the strain, but his mind craved the distraction. He was tired of being alone in his own head. He’d been so bloody idle for months, ruminating on nothing but anger, regret, and shame...and his losses too, of course.

Randall is a long distance away, he tried to convince himself as his pulse quickened. But he knew better. Black Jack Randall was always there in his mind, as was the death of his father.

Jamie sucked in a breath, not wanting to meet Mistress Beauchamp again with agitation in his heart nor tears in his eyes. She’d seen enough of that from him already.

He did his best to quickly tidy himself up, but he knew there was little to be done after half a day's travel in the hot summer sun. He fixed his collar before knocking on the door to meet the strange healer once again.

“Meow.” A large, gray cat jumped up on the window ledge, inspecting the stranger and his horse.

“Ye dinna ken where yer mistress might be now, do ye?” he said, scratching the wee cheetie between the ears. The cat answered with a noisy purr, leaning his little head into Jamie’s large hand.

A loud whinny came from the paddock, causing Jamie’s horse to stamp her feet and back away. Jamie settled her with a firm hand on her reins and a few quiet words. He led the horse over to the source of the disruption and found the wee Sassenach widow down on all fours inside the gate, cursing her own horse to high heaven. 

“You bloody ungrateful bastard! I was trying to help you, you little shit. I hope that snake comes back and bites you between the eyes!”

Though Jamie had been in no mood to smile when he arrived, he couldn’t help his amusement at the vile diatribe coming from such an elegant tongue, particularly while she was on her hands and knees, and her arse was in the air, pointing right at him.

Christ, it’s as round as the moon, he thought longingly.

He shook his head at himself. Only a moment before he was fighting back tears, and now he was leaning over a fence and lusting after a grieving widow. Have some bloody pride, ye wee fool!

Jamie cleared his throat to announce his presence as she rose to her feet. She froze at the sound, still facing the other direction. Her wild curls were unbound and swarming like a dark cloud around her head. A thick layer of dirt covered her skirts from hip to hem. 

“Jamie?” she asked...her voice suddenly quiet.

“Aye. It’s me.”

She took a moment to dust herself off and regain a bit of dignity before turning around to meet his gaze. She was a small thing, staring up at him with wide eyes as golden as the wheat ready for harvest. She looked just as he remembered when last they met.

Beautiful...the most lovely woman he’d ever seen.

For a while, they just stood staring, taking in each other's appearance with thoughts racing behind curious eyes. Her delicate pink lips parted, and he could hear her shaky breath.

He thought, perhaps, she might be just as affected by him as he was by her.

“It’s a pleasure to see ye again, Mistress Beauchamp.”

“Right,” she breathed, forcing herself to look away, closing her eyes and mumbling quietly. “Right.” When she looked at him again, her shoulders were set back, and her face wore what Jamie assumed was meant to be a mask of composure, though her vulnerability was shining through. “Welcome. How was your journey? Is your back healing alright?”

“I’m well, thanks to you.”

She waved off his gratitude and turned to look anywhere but directly at him. “I’ll take a look at it when you're settled. Stable your horse and get her fed and watered. I’m sure you’re hungry, as well. I’ll make us some lunch in the meantime. And be careful of that bloody beast,” she nodded to her own horse that was nosing around the paddock, pleased to be away from his master. “His name is Donas, and he’s a fucking menace. He just saw a snake and broke through the stable door in a panic.”

“I canna say I blame him. I dinna care much for snakes myself.”

“Yes, well, if you broke something, I’d expect you might try to fix it. He, on the other hand, won’t even let me put on his bridle.”

“Dinna fash, Mistress. I’ll take care of the horse and fix the door before nightfall.” For some reason, he was compelled to do anything that might make her happy.

“Just ensure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. You don’t want to wind up back where you were a couple of months ago on his account.”

Jamie bowed in acknowledgment of the orders from his doctor and employer. He watched her turn to let herself out of the gate. She moved briskly to the cottage, her pretty bottom swaying back and forth with every step. He allowed himself a small smile as she bent over to pick up her cat who met her at the front door.

“Siuthad.” He pulled his horse toward the open gate, surprised by how much lighter he felt with just a glimpse of a pair of eyes like the summer sun and an arse as plump the season’s ripest peach. May God and my father forgive my lechery.

As Jamie brushed his horse’s mane and helped the beast to fill her belly, his eyes lingered on Mistress Beauchamp’s steed. Donas, she’d called him. He was a massive horse—18 hands, at least—and solid black. What in God’s name a wee thing like her was doing with a horse that, he had no idea. His own mare’s temperament was much better suited for the lady than a great wild stallion.

Jamie felt a flutter in his chest when he walked back to the cottage. Mistress Beauchamp had only spent a few days healing him back at the abbey, and they hardly knew each other at all, and since then, he'd spent months in torturous recovery, making him forget how fond of her he'd become in their brief acquaintance. He also hadn’t realized how badly he was looking forward to seeing her again. And she didn’t disappoint, with her tongue as sharp and an adder and wild hair in complete disarray.

The front door was left open, inviting in the summer breeze. He found Claire at a wee counter, slicing up a bit of goat cheese and some cured meat. On the table were two bowls, one with a mix of chopped up fruit and another of garden vegetables.  

“Wash up at the basin over there in the corner,” she said by way of greeting. “You’ll not want to get germs on your food.”

Jamie silently complied, using a small bit of soap next to the basin that carried the scent of rose hips and vanilla. Claire prattled on while she prepared the the food, and he listened as he sat down at the small, round table in the middle of the cottage.

“I’m sorry I don’t have much in the way of fresh meat at the moment. There was no need to slaughter any of the animals until you came. I don’t eat much of it myself, just a bit here and there...though I certainly wouldn’t say no to a cheeseburger if the opportunity should arise. I don’t particularly care to kill things, so perhaps you can do the honor of butchering that large barrow in the barn today, and I’ll prepare you a hearty supper for your trouble…”

He smiled as she talked on and on—half her ramblings nearly unintelligible. At first, he wondered if she had just been alone so long that she’d saved up months of conversation to dump on the first warm body willing to listen. Then, he realized that this was likely how she’d talked to her dead husband since he’d passed. Jamie supposed she no longer expected a person to answer back.

He looked around the wee cottage as she spoke. There was the one table with only two chairs, a bed tucked in the corner near the fireplace, and a cabinet with a wide counter built into the opposite wall with cupboards above and below. The house was sparsely decorated, telling little about the woman before him, save the clutter of wee herbs in the corner, hinting at her skill as a healer.

A large, gray ball of fur suddenly jumped in his lap and started purring. Jamie smiled down at the cheetie as it spun around, making itself comfortable. Jamie stroked his soft fur and massaged his little ears. The wee thing was likely pleased to have another man in the house since his last master died.

“Here,” said Claire, setting their plates on the table. “Oh, go on, cat!” She shooed the now irritated laddie away. She surprised Jamie by grabbing his hand and pulling him over to the basin to wash him once again after touching the animal. He smiled, remembering her obsession with keeping things clean.

“Does the wee cheetie have a name?” he asked as she soaped him up and rinsed him off like a child.

“Besides ‘cat’? No. Haven’t thought of one.” She took a rag off her shoulder and dried his hands.

In the midst of her ablutions, she seemed to realize the strangeness of the act. “Sorry,” she blushed. “I suppose I’m just used to taking care of you.”

“It’s alright.” He smiled and shrugged. He couldn’t say he minded her attention one bit.

She led him back to the table where the cat was stealing a slice of cured meat from her plate. “You little shit!” She swung her towel, chasing him off. “I’m terribly sorry. He really is good at keeping the pests away and is decent company on quiet nights, otherwise I’d be rid of him.”

“He’s braw, Mistress.” Jamie held out her chair so she’d sit down and eat with him.

“Oh.” She sucked in a breath at his gesture, swallowing heavily before sitting down. 

He sat across from her, eager to eat the meal before them, no matter that half of it was made from the weeds in the garden. She served him fruit and greens and ensured he began to eat before doing the same for herself. 

Jamie was too hungry to pay much attention to the niceties of conversation. He ate quicker than intended, the garden greens tasting far better than expected. The fruit was sweet and ripe, and the ham nearly melted on his tongue. 

“There’s plenty more,” she said, watching him shove the last bit of cheese in his mouth. She’d hardly touched her own plate and was only nibbling on a wee strawberry.

“I shouldna—”

“Nonsense.” She served him up a bit more of everything.

He was more cognizant—now that he was no longer starving—of how she watched him. Her eyes rarely strayed from his person unless he met her gaze, then they’d quickly flicker away. He tried smiling at her, hoping to ease some of her shyness, but all she did was give a shuddering breath and push her plate aside.

When Jamie finished his meal, she began to tidy up the mess she made preparing the food, tension clearly riddling her body. He wondered if it was strange for her to have another man in her house, for surely he was the first to be there since her husband died. She was far too uncomfortable for this to be a regular occurrence.

“May I help wi’ cleaning up?” he asked gently.

“No. I’ll take care of it. I’m sure you’re tired after that long journey. Would you like to rest a while before I show you around?”

“No need.” The farm was small enough to figure things out on his own. “If ye’d like, I could get started on butchering that pig. Then perhaps I’ll tend to Donas. I think he may be in need of a strong hand.”

She looked at him with so much gratitude, and he was surprised to see her chin quiver. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m not accustomed to dealing with such a beast.”

“May I ask why ye bought a large stallion like that? Was he meant to be yer husband’s horse?”

Tears immediately filled her eyes at the mention of her husband. A raw wound indeed. Anytime Jamie thought of his father, he had a similar reaction. 

“No," she wiped them away. "I bought him on my way home from the abbey a few months ago. He was going to be sold off to some mercenaries, and he was just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear the thought of him dying in battle.”

“Is that so?” Jamie grinned. “Ye’ve a soft heart for a lass wi’ such a wicked tongue.”

“Yes, well,” she chuckled, scraping the uneaten food off her plate and refusing to meet his eyes, “I must admit I’ve regretted my purchase at least a dozen times since then.”

“I hope I willna give ye cause to regret asking me into yer home, as well.”

She made a strange sound from the back of her throat, and he thought she might be needing a break from his presence. He stood up to take his leave and attend to his afternoon tasks. “I best be off to work. Thank ye for the wonderful meal, Sassena—” he stopped himself. He nearly called her the impertinent nickname he’d used when she was mending his back, even if he meant it affectionately. “Apologies, Mistress Beauchamp.”

“No, please,” she smiled warmly. “I much prefer it to ‘Mistress Beauchamp’.”

“Then I thank ye for the meal, Mistress Sassenach.” He bowed formally, heart inflated at the brief glimpse of pleasure in her eyes.

 


 

Butchering the pig was backbreaking work for a man who only several months before was lying near death. His back quickly began to ache, though it wasn’t an altogether unwelcome sensation, knowing it meant he was finally able to work again.

After he finished cutting the meat, he gave it over to Claire for her to begin the process of preservation while he turned his attention to Donas. 

God, he was a beautiful horse. Jamie had never seen another like him, save perhaps in the stables of the French court. Knowing that a way to any brute’s heart was through his belly, he stopped in the garden and pulled up a few of Claire’s carrots. 

He didn’t know what it was about Donas that made him so special. Mebbe it was his hair, as dark as Jamie’s father’s, that made him look like a selkie. Perhaps it was his strength and refusal to be tamed. Then again, it was likely just because the beast belonged to Claire.

Jamie took his time, coming up to the horse slowly and calmly. He spoke low and allowed his voice to resonate deep in his chest, soothing his nerves. The moment Donas ate from his hand and then began rooting around his body for more, Jamie knew they’d be able to work together just fine, but it was when Donas allowed Jamie to fasten his bridle and lead him around the paddock that Jamie began thinking of them as cautious friends.

The scent of smoked meat had Jamie looking toward a small shed near the cottage. Claire was there, leaning against the wall, her eyes on Jamie and the horse. She looked quickly away, once again embarrassed that he caught her watching.

He had to admit that though he didn’t care for her to feel uncomfortable around him, he was flattered to see how quickly he could make the rosy shade appear in her cheeks. For so long she only saw him as nothing more than a sickly patient, lying helpless and despondent in bed. He didn’t want to be looked at with pity, and the way she was eyeing him before she turned away was anything but pitiful.

Thankfully, there were enough spare parts in the barn so he could fix the stable door. Though wielding a hammer and hauling around large pieces of lumber did nothing to sooth his aching back. Jamie could hardly move by the time he was finished. He stayed outside long past sunset, waiting for the spasms in his muscles to calm, not wanting to worry Claire about working him too hard.

When he was certain he could walk without grimacing, he returned to the cottage. The summer days were long, and it had been at least seven or eight hours since his last meal. He’d been smelling smoked meat all day and was nothing short of ravenous. He was pleased to see Claire had cooked plenty of stew, and it was simmering quietly in a pot hanging over the fire. She sat next to it, occasionally stirring while attempting to knit what appeared to be a small blanket or large scarf.

“How did it go?” she asked at his appearance. “Did you get it fixed before running out of light?”

“Aye. The horses are secured, and all is well.”

Claire filled him a plate and poured him a large glass of wine. Though his belly was empty, he went for the wine first and quickly drained half the glass, seeking relief for the pain in his back. He was surprised to find a delicious taste lingering in his mouth when he set the glass down.

Claire smiled when she saw his eyebrows raise. “It’s madeira I thought you might like. Better than the unconsecrated wine at the abbey, hmm?”

“Aye. Much better.”

“I have a few more bottles of it in the cupboard, so have as much as you’d like.”

Jamie nodded gratefully and ate his meal with more than a little contentment. The food was wonderful, but he didn’t know if that was attributable to Claire’s cooking or to his state of near starvation.

After his third glass of wine and halfway through his meal, he once again noticed Claire watching him in his periphery. He didn’t meet her gaze, fearful of embarrassing her like he did earlier in the day. Though her mouth was curved into a courteous smile, there seemed to be something off in her expression. He stifled his curiosity and kept his attention on his meal, attempting to keep his dinner companion at ease.

“This is delicious,“ he said. “A man could get used to eating like this regularly.“

She made a quiet choking sound in the back of her throat and looked quickly away. He was surprised to see her wipe a teardrop from her the corner of her eye.

Of course she was thinking about her husband again. No other man had likely been in her house after dark since he died, and feeding someone was sure to bring about some feelings of affection—for God’s sake, it happened to him earlier that day when he fed her horse.

“May I ask ye a question, Claire?” he said, quite serious. 

“Of course.” Her tone was falsely indifferent.

“Why did'ye ask me to come?”

“Well,” she took a drink of her wine before responding, “as I told you before, I have all this land and little capacity to tend it on my own. I needed help, and you were looking for a way to pay for my services.”

“Aye. But why me? I’m sure ye could find plenty of patients that would be more than happy to come live out here alone wi’ ye for a summer and assist in any way ye’d like.”

“I didn’t want just anybody.”

“So why me?”

“A lot of reasons. You’re young and capable. You may have had a severe injury, but I knew your tenacity would have you back on your feet in no time. You said you couldn’t go back home to your family, and you had no particular plans for your future, so I flattered myself to think that coming to work here would be better than joining a band of mercenaries.”

“So ye saved me from a soldier’s fate much the way ye did for Donas?”

She smiled sweetly, a much pleasanter expression than the sad eyes that beheld him moments before. “I needed someone I could trust, Jamie. I’m a young widow out here all alone. It’s not like the Highlands here in France. There’s no Laird to come and check on me and make sure I’m well fed and treated properly by the locals. You said yourself that you owe me your life, and a man who makes vows like that would be unlikely to do anything to risk mine.”

“Then why only three months? Why not ask me to stay for six months or a year?”

“It can only be three months. No more. No less. I’ll be leaving the country at the end of summer, and I’ve already arranged for new tenants to be arriving in the fall. And that’s another reason I asked you to come help me. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. With no strings attached, you can come out here for a summer to assist me, and then you can move on and find a way to be happy elsewhere. You’re not dependent on me for your livelihood. It truly is a fortuitous match.”

Jamie thought over her reasoning and nodded. “Aye. I suppose it is. Though part of me was hoping ye’d offered me the job for my bonnie blue eyes.”

She snorted in the middle of taking a sip of wine and had to retrieve a napkin to dab at a spot on her bodice. “You’re a regular Bob Hope. How do you know I didn’t hire you as my own personal jester?”

“Weel, I suppose I might be able to juggle just fine, though I canna carry a tune to save my life.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have to stick to mending stable doors and taming the mount of the Devil out there.”

“That’s probably a much better idea.”

He laughed heartily for the first time since he was dragged away from his home in Scotland. And the strangest part was that it wasn’t an ironic laugh, by any means. He was thoroughly amused for the first time in months.  At one point in his recovery, he was certain he’d never laugh again, but there he sat—with a sassenach of all people—feeling nothing short of cheerful.

The wine must’ve been stronger than he thought.

“I’m glad you came, Jamie,” she said quite seriously. “I need your help far more than you’ve ever needed mine.”

“Ye saved my life, Sassenach,” he laughed. “Ye dinna need me as bad as all that.”

The humor was no longer present in her eyes, even as her smile remained. It appeared as though she disagreed with his sentiment more than she’d care to admit.

Then a thought occurred to him. “Did’ye ask me here for protection, Claire? Are ye in some sort of danger?”

She stood up and waved him off, moving to the counter to pick up a plate of bannocks. “Of course not. Here,” she changed the subject, handing him the plate, “I made these for you. Thought you might enjoy a bit of home.”

“Thank ye,” he said, taking a bite of the fresh unleavened bread. Though the truth was that he didn’t miss Scotland one bit. He may have missed what Scotland once meant to him, but now it was only pain and suffering and shame.

No. He was content to be far away from all that.

Thanks to the long, summer days, it was late into the evening when they finished supper. Jamie insisted on helping to clear the table and clean up after himself. When there was naught left to do but go to bed—something Jamie’s tired body was acutely craving—he turned and made for the door.

“Where are you going?” she asked, clearly surprised that he intended to leave.

“I meant to go sleep in the stables.” He turned back to look at her, hand still on the latch.

“You will do no such thing. You’re my invited guest, and I’ll not have you out sleeping with the animals.”

“I assure ye, ’tis no trouble.”

“I’ll not allow it,” she insisted.

“Claire,” he scoffed, feeling the heat rise up to his ears, “it would be improper to share a room wi’ ye all night.”

“Improper?” she laughed, looking around theatrically. “And who would know?” 

“Weel, God would ken, for one, and so would I.”

“Jamie,” she smiled, “I know you’ll behave yourself with God’s watchful eye on us at all times. Please stay.”

He was still grasping the latch, holding on to some minimal form of resistance. “There’s only one bed. I’d truly be more comfortable in the hay.”

Claire smiled before bending down to reach under her bed, pulling a trundle long enough for him to lay comfortably. “Please stay,” she pleaded one last time. “I’d rather not be alone...if you don’t mind.”

It wasn’t her words that convinced him but her tragic eyes. They were fearful he’d decline. Finally, he could see...she really did want him to stay, because she was afraid of the dark and whatever ghosts came to haunt her when she was meant to be asleep.

He knew those ghosts too...ever since his father died...ever since Randall took the flogger to his back.

“As ye wish, Mistress Sassenach.” He bowed his head in mock formality to ease the tension from her spike in emotion. “I just hope ye dinna mind a wee bit of snoring.”

Her smile was one of relief. “I was married a good number of years. I sleep better when a man’s snores drown out the endless chirping of the bloody crickets.”

“Shall I smoor the fire, then?”

“Thank you," she bowed her head and moved out of his way.

"My pleasure."

And that quickly, they were back to formalities yet again. Perhaps it was a way to distance themselves from the intimacy of sleeping so close together.

As he bent down to tend to the fire, he could hear her moving noisily behind him. He turned to find her struggling to untie the the sweaty leather laces of her skirts and bodice. As he watched, he wondered if a woman living out in the countryside on her own would don fewer clothes in the summer if she wasn't expecting company. He could imagine she might wear little more than a shift in her day-to-day life with no one else around.

The thought gave him a beast of cockstand, exacerbated by watching her shed her skirts and stays down to said shift. He could see all too clearly through the thin material, and her small waist and large arse were on full display. To his surprise, when she caught him staring, she didn't shy away as she'd done throughout the day. She only smiled and moved to the wash basin to ready herself for bed. 

He turned his head back down to his task, taking a ridiculous amount of time to do such a simple thing. Finally, he finished, standing up and looking cautiously around for his host. She was in the middle of cleaning her teeth with a small thread. To his surprise, she gave him one to do the same before she crawled into bed. Jamie supposed he should follow her lead and mimic her evening ritual while he was a guest in her house. He took the time to carefully clean his teeth and thoroughly wash himself down. 

Nervously, he removed his boots and kilt before moving to the trundle next to Claire’s bed. It was far too warm a night for blankets, and Claire was laying coverless on top of her quilts. With nothing but his own shirt over his body, he tried not to think about her proximity.

He sat on his bed for a time, contemplating icy dips in cold lochs and vomiting up sour gooseberry pie—anything to get his cock to settle down. It took a few moments, but he was finally able to lay back without risk of tenting his shirt. He kept his kilt close by, knowing how quickly the state of his arousal could change around Claire Beauchamp.

He lay there a moment, adjusting to the pain in his back as he did every night before he fell asleep. The positioning of his bed gave him a clear view out the window and to the starry night sky. 

As was his ritual while settling into bed, he lay still, closing his eyes and casting his other senses out as far as they could go, being mindful of every sound, every scent, every sensation in the night. He could still smell the smoked meat and delicate soap on his hands. He could hear the crickets chirping and the wind whistling through the trees. But all that was muted to the sounds of the woman in the bed next to him.

He listened to every move Claire made, every creak of her bed, every rustle of her sheets. Even the hum of her breath was captivating. With every exhale, he could hear a whisper of the intoxicating sound of her voice. 

Or perhaps it was just the wine once again.

His body was exhausted from a long day of travel and a good bit of work. He feel asleep before his mind had any awareness he doing so. 

Yet still in his sleep, all he could think of was Claire. Her golden eyes and unmanageable hair. Her soft laugh and beautiful smile. Her broken heart and tragic tears.

Even in his dreams, her tears were lovely, glittering like stars, illuminating the dark. He reached up to wipe them away, flinging them aside like falling stars on a cloudless night.

He woke when he heard a quiet sob and realized she was truly crying. 

“Are ye alright, Claire?” he whispered, discomfort gripping him at the sound of her pain.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” She sniffled. “I just...I just…”

“Ye’re thinking of yer husband?”

Her answering whimper told him it was so. He sat up, reaching out to grasp her hand. She took it in both of hers and held it tightly to her chest, all the more tears falling and all the more sobs shaking.

He couldn’t stand her anguish, not the person who’d bestowed so much kindness upon him. He understood the pain of loss as well as anyone, but he didn’t know what it meant to lose a spouse. The idea alone was horrifying to him. 

Without thinking of consequences, he reached into Claire’s bed and pulled her bodily into his lap. The shock of his movement startled her tears away for a moment, but when she wrapped her arms around his neck, they returned as strong as ever, and she wept uncontrollably into his shirt.

He talked to her in quiet Gaelic, much the way he’d done to Donas that afternoon. Except the things he told her were far more intimate, far more dear. He told her she was too kind to suffer so much pain. She was too lovely to be alone in the world without someone to wrap his arms around her and kiss her tears away. He told her she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, even with her eyes puffy, her face red, and snot dripping down her nose.

He hoped to God she didn’t speak any Gàidhlig.

He stroked her hair as he spoke, running his fingers through her tangled mane the same way he did for the mare outside. His wide hand rubbed up and down her back, calming her hiccupping sobs.

It was a long time before she settled, but when she did, he realized how indecent their position was. They were nearly strangers, each only wearing some small bit of clothing, and the way he touched her was far too familiar for the state of their acquaintance. He’d held a few lasses in his time, even fondled them over their stays, but never had a woman been quite this close. Her body was there in the open for him, the shift providing no protection against the knowledge of her curves. Her breasts rubbed against his chest, and her soft bum was tucked snugly into his lap. 

God help him, he couldn’t stop his hands from touching her everywhere between her shoulders and bum. The more he fought against sliding his hands down lower, the more his cock stirred painfully awake. 

The bawdy moan she gave when he tried to adjust his hips beneath her so his cock wasn’t pressing against her arse was nothing short of indecent.

“Claire,” he whispered, pulling back to put some distance between them.

But her arms gripped his neck tighter, refusing to let him go. If he thought it was purely passion that had her holding on so tight, he might have had the strength to push her away and deposit her right back on her bed, but there was a desperation in her grip that he wasn’t expecting. I’d rather not be alone, she’d said. And she'd meant it.

He didn’t fight it for a moment longer. He didn’t want to. He loved having her in his arms, and if he could ease her pain with his touch, he was more than happy to do it. 

And she must’ve known, must’ve felt how he roused to her. She didn’t seem to mind...in fact, he was certain she liked it.

He lay back on his bed with her tucked snugly in his arms, ignoring the pain in his back as he acclimated to the new position. She didn’t release her hold on his neck, even long after falling asleep. More than once he woke to her lips resting whisper-soft on his skin, but whether she was breathing him in while lost in her dreams or laying down gentle kisses, he didn’t know.

All he knew was that he’d yet to spend an entire day alone with her, and he was already long gone, lost under the spell of her pretty face and kind words, of her gentle touch and sensuous voice. He couldn’t imagine what an entire summer might bring. He couldn’t imagine ever letting her go or saying goodbye.

Chapter Text

Jamie slept poorly, even though he was exhausted. He was generally a light sleeper and wasn’t accustomed to sharing a bed, but Claire refused to let him go—not that he minded. He would trade a thousand sleepless nights for the chance to hold her while she slept.

Claire was restless and noisy in her oblivion, humming at every comfort and groaning all her displeasures. At one point, she even crawled over him to sleep in the crook of his other arm, all while remaining entirely asleep. She just slid a hand under his shirt to touch his skin and fell back into her deep, steady breathing.

For some reason the position felt more natural...like they’d done it a thousand times before.

He dozed off again, waking periodically throughout the night, mind staying half submerged in a series of erotic dreams. As his consciousness attempted to break through the surface, he realized a soft, thick thigh was draped over his body, lying heavy on his hard cock. There was a sleepy hum of pleasure in his ear and a moist heat against his hip, but as enticing as the stimulation was, he couldn’t seem to rouse himself awake enough to explore it beyond the brief awareness.

When he finally woke in the morning, Claire was gone.

He hoped she wasn’t ashamed of her tears the night before, and that she only left without waking him so he could get some rest. He rose up and dressed quickly, then pushed the trundle under Claire’s bed where it belonged.

She had breakfast waiting for him on the table, hidden under a small rag so the cat and the bugs wouldn’t eat it all before him. He ate quickly, feeling guilty for sleeping so late. He was typically an early riser, but the combination of restless sleep, hard work, and long travel forced his body to have a bit of a lie in. 

The first thing he did when he went outside was search for Claire. He found her immediately, though not at all in a manner in which he’d ever expected. 

First of all, she wasn’t alone. There was a man talking to her over by the paddock who had rode in on horseback. He was handing her a large basket of sunflowers with a besotted look on his face.

As if a strange man intruding into their lives after the night they shared wasn’t enough reason to make Jamie’s hackles rise, Claire gave him yet another. She was standing there talking to the man dressed in a pair of breeks! They were tight around her bum, the seam down the center of her arse leaving little to the imagination. The wee fool in front of her kept looking down as she talked, greedy eyes taking in what wasn’t his.

Jamie headed over, chin up, chest out, and hand on his dirk, attempting to not entertain the thought that Claire was the kind of woman who would spend the night in his arms, then flirt intentionally with another man only a short time later. 

“Jamie,” she said, smiling when he came closer. Her eyes held such fondness at the sight of him that he immediately regretted his ungracious thought only a moment before. “Did you sleep well?”

No. “Aye.”

“Come meet our closest neighbor, darling,” she said, pulling Jamie in and hooking an arm around his waist. “This is Charles Fèvre. He lives a few miles east of here. I mended a wound for him while you were away in Paris. Charles, this is my husband, James Fraser.”

Jamie looked down at Claire with a raised brow, and she gave him a significant look, begging him to play along. 

“A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Fraser,” said Charles, but by the look on the man’s face, it didn’t seem all that pleasurable. “I hope you don’t mind me bringing your wife payment for her services. She informed me of the many uses she has for the plants and their seeds, so I promised to bring her a bundle when they were fully grown.”

“That’s verra kind of ye,” said Jamie, wrapping an arm around Claire and pinning her to his side. His hand on her waist discovered she wasn’t wearing a shift or stays beneath her shirt, rather some sort of cloth wrapped around her chest to restrain her bosom. That realization alone made it difficult for him to offer any level of courtesy to their guest. “Could we invite ye in for some refreshment?”

“Oh, no thank you. I have a great deal of work awaiting me on the farm. It is fortunate that you’ve returned home from your travels so soon, Monsieur Fraser. A woman like your wife should not have to tend to a farm like this all on her own.” 

Jamie narrowed his eyes at the man’s tone. “Aye. Fortunate indeed.“

The man tipped his hat before Jamie could respond further, then turned to mount his horse. He offered Claire one last look of regret before riding away.

Jamie gazed down at his “wife” and raised a brow.

“Thank you,” she said, releasing him to rub her temples. “He’s been a bit too friendly lately, so I recently informed him I was married...again.”

“To me?”

She cringed and nodded sheepishly. “I knew you’d be coming, so it seemed convenient. Sorry.”

“Weel, it’s a good thing I’m no’ promised to anyone.”

“Did I spoil any plans to romance the filles locales?”

Jamie flushed from his neck to his ears, thinking that if he was to romance anyone, it would be the woman parading around as his wife. “No. Ye did not.”

“Well, darling,” she teased, running her hand up and down his arm, “I think you scared him away with your great height and broad shoulders.”

“Good.” He grabbed her hand and spoke seriously. “If he or anyone else gives ye any trouble, ye’ll let me know, aye? I’ll no’ be having any man bother ye, lass.”

She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze of gratitude.

“Can I ask ye a question?” he said, reluctantly letting her go. “Seeing as how ye're my wife and all.”

“Of course.”

He couldn’t think of a polite way of saying it. “What in God’s name are ye wearing, woman?”

She laughed and looked down. “Trousers, of course.”

“But why? I can see...everything! Including the split of yer ar—” He cut himself off.

“You’re going to be harvesting the wheat today, aren’t you? Did you think I would just stand by and let you do all the work yourself?”

“Ye dinna mean to be wielding a scythe now?”

“I wasn’t planning on it, but I will be gathering and transporting what you cut down, and I don’t mean to be doing it in eight layers of skirts and stays in this heat. Besides,” she sniffed with a self-righteous air, “the dried wheat makes my legs itchy.”

She patted his cheek before turning away toward the barn, giving him a clear view of that delectable bum in full swing. With all his blood rushing southward, he stepped back and leaned against the paddock fence for support.

Holy God, he wanted to get his hands on her arse, maybe bend her over a bale of hay and step between her thighs. 

A quiet nicker behind him was followed by a loud neigh. Jamie turned to find he wasn’t the only brute on the farm with amorous intentions. He watched Donas rise up aggressively behind the mare, teeth clamping on her neck and having his wicked way with her.

“Oh, dear me!” said Claire, coming out of the barn with a scythe. “I’m so sorry, Jamie. I didn’t even think of what might happen if I let them both out at once.”

Jamie laughed and shrugged. “Och, let them have their fun. Having a wee colt around is never a bad thing.”

Claire cringed at a particularly aggressive move by Donas. 

“Dinna fash, the auld lass is sturdy. She can manage.”

Claire raised her eyebrows and cocked her head as though challenged. “Oh, I’m sure the auld lass could teach that young stallion a thing or two.”

Jamie snorted. “I’d wager she could.”

“I’m going to give the couple their privacy.” She smirked in a way he could only describe as flirtatious. “Will you join me in the wheat when you’ve gotten your fill?”

“Mmphm. I’ve got to keep an eye out to ensure he doesna harm her. A male can turn aggressive when pushed too hard.”

“So can a female.”

Jamie opened his mouth but made no sound. He swallowed thickly before trying again. “I’ll be there shortly. I canna imagine this will take long.”

“Well, it is his first time. Allowances must be made.” She grinned mischievously, twirling the scythe in her hand. Jamie watched with fascination as she walked away, his thoughts racing wildly.

 



After the horses finished with their amorous encounter, Jamie placed them back in separate stalls so Donas wouldn’t get any further ideas while they were out working in the wheat. As Jamie and Claire moved on with their day, he acknowledged that he should also be isolated in his own stall after watching the lass work the land in her breeks—bending, squatting, and lifting repeatedly. She might as well have been wearing nothing at all.

The only thing keeping his arousal at bay was the constant bloody pain in his back. It started in the morning as he began swinging the scythe. A sharp twinge here and there as his muscles stretched out after months of being idle. As the day progressed, so did his pain, developing into a low ache that lingered even after he stopped moving. 

In the heat of the afternoon, even his shirt bothered him. It was nearly soaked through with sweat and was rubbing on his tender scars. His muscles were beyond sore after spending hours hunched over with the grueling work.

When he stood up to stretch his back, an involuntary groan escaped his lips.

“Jamie, are you alright?” Claire asked. She had been in the middle of scooping up a stack of wheat to bring over to the wagon. She stood there with her arms full, staring apprehensively.

“Aye,” he grunted, wiping the sweat from his brow. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine. Is it your back?”

“Mmphm.” He kept on hacking away as she stayed staring. 

“Jamie. We’ve been at it most of the day. Perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel?”

“Throw it where?”

“No. I mean, why don’t we stop for now? It’s bloody hot out here, and our bodies could use the rest. It hasn’t been that long since your back was...”

“I’m fine,” he insisted, bending down to swing the scythe again. There would be at least four more hours left of light, and he intended to use every one of them.

He wanted her to go inside, so he could take off his shirt and work at a slower pace. If he slowed down in front of her, she would know his back pained him and would force him to stop. If he stopped, the damn wheat would never be harvested.

He noticed Claire still hadn’t moved even as he made progress. She was worrying her lip between her teeth as though trying to find a way to stop him without irritating him more. 

The best way to stop her from fashing was to keep working to prove nothing was wrong. So on he went, slashing through the crop with his long reach and strong arm. Though his back pained him, it did feel good to move again, to let loose his strength uninhibited. 

Eventually, Claire followed behind, though she kept a wary eye.

After another hour or so, he truly believed he’d get through to the evening just fine and build his stamina one day at a time, but that all fell apart after an unlucky swing of the scythe.

“Oh God!” he yelled, voice cracking. Pain as violent as a whip tore through his back, dropping him to his knees.

“Jamie!” Claire rushed to his side, gripping his arm with her small, gentle hands.

He rocked back and forth, not knowing what felt worse, curling in on himself or arching away. 

“Bloody hell, James Fraser. I told you it was time to stop! Now you’ve gone and injured yourself.”

He groaned, bitterly aware of the truth of her words and not liking to hear it one bit. 

“You hot-headed, stubborn young man! You’ve gone and given yourself an enormous knot here,” she grumbled, feeling the point of most acute pain. “I am the bloody healer, and from now on you listen when I tell you to do something, do you hear me?”

Jamie didn’t answer. He was busy coming to the conclusion that holding as still as possible was the best way to avoid more pain; every time he moved, it seemed to cause some sort of spasm in his lower back.

“We need to get you to the cottage. Do you think you can stand?”

Just the thought of moving caused another spasm. “Aahh! Mebbe ye could just bring me a bit of water, Sassenach, and something on which to lay my heid. I think I’ll lie down right here for a bit.”

“If we can get you back to the cottage, I’d be able to treat the pain. I can make you a tea, and I have a cream that’ll loosen things up.” She ran a hand down his back, an unbearable shiver following her touch. “We’ll have you back on your feet within the week.”

“The week?”

“A few days, perhaps. That’s if you’re a good patient and do exactly as I say.”

“And what is it ye intend to say?”

“Rest.”

“Mmphm.” That was exactly what he thought. 

It was the threat of her disapproval that had him agreeing to her treatment. With Claire’s assistance, he was able to rise to his feet, her small frame much sturdier than he gave her credit for. He leaned on her heavily to help him with the slow, excruciating trek back to the house.

When she got him through the door, Claire led him to her bed. She helped him pull off his shirt, boots, and stockings, folding them up and setting them aside.

“What d’ye think ye’re doing?” he demanded when she reached for his kilt. 

“I’m going to administer a cream to your back. Your kilt is in the way.”

“Claire—”

“Jamie. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“Who said ye were meant to see it then? Claire!” he said, jerking away as she reached again. “Oh, Christ!” The pain gripped him from shoulder to arse, rendering him helplessly immobilized. Claire seized her opportunity, removing his belt with surprisingly deft hands, and pulled his plaid free. He grabbed hold of his privates as she shook out the plaid and draped it over his lower half. 

“Though I respect your modesty in terms of social intercourse, I’m afraid a health professional has little room to accommodate inconvenient virtues.”

“My modesty is more for your sake than my own.”

She snorted, finding his presumptuousness amusing. “Lie down on your belly,” she commanded, digging through her wee jars and small boxes of medicines.

He grumbled in agony as he turned to position himself flat on his stomach. “I’m far too young to feel this bloody auld.”

Jamie lay there, watching his wee physician in her element, much as he did the first time they met. She shoved dried bits of plants in a pot and put them over the fire to boil. He did his best not to move, listening to her ramble on about every little thing she was doing. He truthfully didn’t care what medicines she used on him or why they worked—he trusted her implicitly—he just liked the distraction her voice provided from his pain.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, coming to sit next to him with a cup of tea.

“I’m fine so long as I dinna move.”

“Good. Maybe that will keep you in place for a few days. Drink this.”

Jamie groaned as he maneuvered himself into a position to drink the tea without spilling all over himself and the bed. It was hot but sweetened with honey—he had a great fondness for honey—so it was palatable enough to drink down all in one breath.

“Wonderful,” she said, absentmindedly stroking his hair. “Perhaps you’ll make a good patient yet.”

She took the cup away and went to retrieve her cream. “This has comfrey in it and a few other things to make it absorb into your skin. And I’ve added some ingredients for a nice soothing scent,” she said with no little pride.

The cream was shockingly cold on his hot skin, causing him to tense—which then caused more spasming. 

“It’ll feel better soon. I promise.”

He was in no position to doubt her, seeing as how he was already feeling much better while lying face down on her bed with her hands rubbing all over him. The scent of her pillow was far more potent than the comfrey in the air.

She was very thorough, sitting on the edge of the bed, massaging him from his shoulders to the top of his buttocks. He twitched when her hand moved over the lowest of his scars. She laughed and said, “Do you mind if I rub this into the muscles of your bum? They’re connected to your back and need the same treatment.”

He nodded silently. She was quite professional about it all, uncovering only one side at a time, clearly using a particular technique on the muscle with her fists and thumbs. He was more than relaxed by the time she was done.

“Thank ye, Sassenach,” he reached back and put a hand on her knee. “It feels much better.”

“You’re welcome, though I’d advise you not to move for some time. Your muscles are in so much pain, because they’re trying to prevent you from overusing them.”

“Weel, they’re doing a fine job of it at present.”

She laughed, standing up to put the cream away. “Are you alright to be here a while on your own? I want to go bring in the scythe and tend to the animals before we lose daylight.”

A pang of regret gripped him. “I’ll be fine. I’m sorry ye’re left to do so on yer own.”

“It’s alright, darling. I’m sure I can manage. Call out if you require the necessary.”

He sighed in discomfort, wondering how the hell he was going to do that in his current condition.

Jamie was surprised by Claire’s stamina. Not only had she been working all day with him, but she kept doing so long after he lay useless in bed. She tended to him religiously, minded the animals in the barn, and still somehow found the time to cook them a decent supper before dark. 

“You need your strength,” she insisted, bringing him a plate. 

He refused to let her feed him by hand, doing so himself—very awkwardly. She ate her own food sitting on the chair next to the bed. She took slow bites, keeping pace with him so he didn’t feel foolish—well, any more foolish than he was already.

“Where did ye learn to be a healer?” he asked. “Ye seem more skilled than the average Beaton or physician.”

“Oh, here and there. I learned an awful lot from books and other medical professionals. I was a healer for the army for a time, and there’s plenty of illness and injury to treat during a war.”

“Is that where ye met yer husband?”

She went very still at the mention of him. “No,” she said quietly. “No, I didn’t.”

She stood up and brought her plate to the counter, clearly finished with the pretense of eating for his sake.

“Is it hard to speak of him?” he asked, not liking the distance the question put between them. “Your grief is still that raw?”

“More than you know.” She turned around to face him. “But it's particularly difficult to talk about him with you.”

“Why?”

She smiled sadly, then turned to busy herself with cleaning up a counter that had nothing on it.

“Ye ken you can speak of him to me...if ye like. I understand there are things ye’d rather no’ say, but if e’er ye cared to share, I’d listen.”

She came to him then, bending to grab his plate. She didn’t meet his eyes, but whispered a quiet, “Thank you.”

As she finished tidying up, he had a sudden physical urge that made him flush a deep shade of red.

“Sassenach?”

“Hmm?”

“D’ye...d’ye think ye could bring me a chamber pot?”

“Oh, of course.” Her shoulders seemed to relax now that there was more work to do. 

She helped him laboriously into a sitting position with his feet on the floor, both patient and healer breathless by the time he was upright. She handed him the pot and stepped away, allowing him to place it under his plaid to relieve himself.

She was very matter of fact about her work, which thankfully, minimized his shame. He lay back down on the bed as she emptied and rinsed the pot.

“How about you?” she asked, placing it in one of the cupboards. “Does it still pain you to talk about your father?”

“Aye.” He very intentionally kept the thought of his father at bay, knowing how vulnerable the loss made him.

She came to sit at the edge of his bed once again. “He was a good man.”

“How d’ye ken that?”

Her hand moved to his cheek, thumb tracing softly over his skin. “Because he raised a wonderful son.”

“Ye dinna ken me verra well. Perhaps, I’m a villain. Did’ye e’er wonder why I was at the abbey to begin with, flayed open within an inch of my life?”

“I know you better than you think, James Fraser.”

“Is that so?”

“I overheard all your fretful fever dreams, young man. You can’t keep secrets for long in the care of a diligent healer.”

He snorted at her teasing.

“I do know why you were at the abbey to begin with,” she said seriously, “and I stand by my assertion.”

“I suppose it would do me no good to try to convince ye otherwise. Go on thinking I’m wonderful if it pleases ye.”

“It does please me.” She stroked his cheek again. “Now, how’s your pain?”

“Fine when I lie still.”

“Do you think you’re up for a bath? I’ll wash you down, then it’ll be time to reapply the cream.”

His first impulse was to decline, but he realized the only reason he was doing so was for the sake of propriety. He was filthy and lying in Claire’s bed, a woman who was obsessed with cleanliness. For the sake of her nose and sensibilities, he agreed. 

She put fresh, warm water in the wash basin and brought it to his bedside. She was gentle and efficient, focused on her task of wiping away his filth. The feeling of being cleansed was welcoming, especially when accompanied by her touch.

The sun had already begun to set, and the walls were taking on the warm hues of the fire. He felt the strange buzz that often happens after experiencing a good deal of pain, as though one’s mind was attempting to compensate by manufacturing the effects of a few glasses of wine. Then again, mebbe it was just Claire’s scent. Or perhaps it was her hands on his neck and back, on his arms and legs...deep in the tissue of his bottom.

With a good deal of pain, he turned over onto his back so she could wash the front of him. Staring down at his chest, she rubbed the wet, soapy cloth over his skin. 

“My husband was a good man,” she said softly, “like you. Selfless in the same way.”

A tear appeared at the corner of her eye, seemingly without her notice. Jamie placed a gentle hand on her knee for comfort and encouragement. 

“He died protecting me. Foolish man.”

“It doesna seem so foolish. If a man had to choose a way to die, I’d expect protecting his wife wouldna be so terrible.”

“It’s pretty damn terrible for one left behind!” she snapped. “So, get those ridiculous notions from your bloody hard head, James Fraser, lest you want your wife to spend the rest of her days a grieving widow.”

“If her tears are half as beautiful as yours,” he wiped away the one falling down her cheek, “ye’ll have to find me a better inducement to keep them at bay.”

She smacked him on the chest but couldn’t help her smile. “Cheeky bastard.” She moved down to his legs to start washing there.

“My Da was a good man,” he offered her in return. “A better man than I’ll ever be. Smarter. Steadier. Wiser.”

“He was older than you. I expect you’ll have a chance to catch up... if you stop being so reckless with your life.”

“Mmphm. Ye ken, I always knew I’d grow to be a father. I wanted a dozen bairns, at least. But Ran—” His voice caught in his throat. “But thanks to Randall, I’m none so sure I’ll e’er have the chance. What kind of life could an outlaw—a broken one at that—” he motioned to his prostrate form, “give his wife and children?”

“You’re not an outlaw in France nor any other place out of the crown’s reach. And you never know what might happen in the future. Sometimes, a pardon is a simple thing.”

Claire took a towel and dried him off from head to toe. She gave him the wet rag and towel to use on his bits beneath the kilt.  While he was doing so, she retrieved the jar of comfrey cream from her medicine box and returned to the bed. He rolled over on his belly so she could apply it to his back. 

She warmed it between her own hands this time before applying it to his skin. He sighed as her fingers began working their magic.

“You’ll make a wonderful father, Jamie. If you take care to live long enough to get there, any child would be lucky to call you Da.”

“And you?” He reached back to touch her leg. “Have ye ever cared to be a mother?”

She was quiet a good long time, long enough that he thought she had no intention of answering. When she finally did speak, he could hear the delay in her response was really just a poor attempt at holding back the emotion in her words. “More than anything.”

“One day, then.”

“That’s the hope.”

Her hands were no longer touching him with any medicinal technique. One was tracing his scars delicately, line by line. The other was resting on his hip in the most familiar way, fingers absently grazing his skin as if she thought he was hers to touch as she pleased. 

He held still, nearly breathless in fear that she’d pull them away.

“Are you tired?” she asked, hands still on him.

“I’m well,” he whispered. 

She gave his hip a small squeeze before pulling away. She stood up, putting the cream back in its box, then moving to smoor the fire. 

Clearly intending to use the trundle herself, she slid it out and readied it for use. Jamie had no intention of allowing anything of the sort to happen. He simply, but painfully, scooted over, working his body down to the smaller bed.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“I’ll no’ be taking yer bed from ye, Claire.” He squirmed around, lying on his back, trying to relax his muscles into a comfortable position.

“Nonsense. You’re injured. It will be much easier for me to tend to you on the elevated bed.”

“Then I’ll move back up in the morning. Come. Get some rest, lass. The summer days are long, and ye work yerself too hard.”

She rolled her eyes in annoyance. 

Jamie sucked in a breath when she turned and began pulling off her shirt. He had forgotten she was wearing nothing but a strap across her bosom underneath. He looked away quickly as she peeled it off and donned her shift. He didn’t allow his eyes to return to her until he heard her at the wash basin, preparing herself for bed. 

She surprised him by coming to clean his teeth after she finished with her own. Her face was less than a foot away, and her fingers were shoved in his mouth. For the second time that day, he felt like a bloody stallion as his master tended to his needs. He wouldn’t have been surprised if she pulled out brush and began grooming his mane.

When she was satisfied there were no more germs in his mouth, she rose to dispose of her thread, forgoing any attempts at taming his wild hair. She carefully stepped over him and crawled up onto her bed. She lay on her belly right at the edge, looking down on him.

“Why are you sleeping on your back?” she asked. “That can’t be comfortable.”

“It’s alright, so long as I dinna move.” He tried to smile reassuringly. 

“Why though?”

“Because there was a time I thought I’d die lying on my belly. I swore that the moment my back was healed enough to hold my weight, I’d never sleep face down again.”

“Oh, Jamie.” She reached down to touch his shoulder, eyes full of sympathy.

He rested his own hand on hers and gave her a wee smile to help her feel better. “And I can see the stars much better this way.” He gave a cursory glance out the window at the twinkling lights in the dark sky.

She didn’t pull her hand away, nor did he let go. They stayed motionless, save for the small caresses of each other’s fingers in the dark. Her delicate hands easily dwarfed by his own.

When she stopped moving some time later, he thought she had fallen asleep, but a glance up at her bed revealed her eyes to still be open. She was biting her lip as though working herself up to do something.

In a slow, graceful movement, she slipped off her bed and down to his, snuggling into the crook of his arm. It took a moment for his shock to wear off, but once it did, he wrapped his arm around her and sighed heavily, letting a strangely familiar peace spread over him. He squeezed her close and kissed her temple, inhaling the pleasant scent of her hair. She buried her face in his shoulder, lips pressed firmly against his skin. 

They didn’t fall asleep right away, it would be impossible with their hearts racing so quickly. Yet they rested together under the French starlight, eyes closed, immersed in whatever it was between them that was powerful enough to distract from the pain of their losses. 

Jamie didn’t know what it might be for Claire that was strong enough to ease the anguish, but for him...he thought it might be hope. And he knew from that day forward, every night they spent together, Claire would be sleeping in his arms.

Chapter Text

“It’s late, lass. Ye should get some sleep.”

Contrary to his recommendation, she rose up on her elbow to better look at him. Her other hand traced the lines of his chest, meandering through his hair and grazing over his collar bones. “I used to love the dark…before.” Jamie knew she was speaking of before her husband died. That’s how it worked with grief; there was the before and the after. “I would count down the hours of the day, waiting for the stars who held our most precious secrets to emerge, eager to give them a dozen more.”

His whole body quivered as she bent over him and placed her lips on his heart. She turned her head to the side and rested her ear on his chest to listen to its rhythm. Her chin quivered, but her mouth curved into a smile, eyes closed in utter bliss.

“Will ye share yer secrets wi’ me?” He ran a hand through her hair—soft, wild, and unmanageable. 

Her eyes opened, a dozen emotions passing through just one look. “Are you ready for the secrets of the night, Jamie?”

And for the first time in a long time, he felt young again, like a bairn who knew all too little of the world. “So long as they’re yours.”

She rose over him, hand tracing up his neck to caress his cheek, gooseflesh spreading across his body from the point of her touch. Their eyes remained locked as she bent down and pressed their lips together.

He was glad she was no longer listening at his chest where his heart was racing furiously, though the way his body was buzzing was sure to give his eagerness away. It didn’t matter that her lips were hardly moving against his own. The only thing of significance was her quiet moan of relief, as though it had pained her to stay away for so long. 

He watched her eyes close to block out all but the feel of his lips. She moaned again, mouth parting, ready to spill the secrets it kept. He opened for her, impatiently waiting to receive each and every one of them. 

It seemed a simple thing, one tongue touching another, two sets of lips sealed together, but it felt like the most significant moment of his life. He licked the length of her tongue, tasting her for the first time. Her hair cascaded around them, a curtain of privacy to all else in the world, so not even the stars were privy to their secrets. 

She pulled away only to tilt her head and kiss him again, as if wanting to know every bit of his mouth. He inhaled deeply, trying to bring something of her inside himself.

Unwilling to be neglected, their bodies moved in their own romantic dance, legs entwining, hips pressing close, breasts rubbing together with only a thin shift to separate them. His hands were paralyzed in their greed, wanting to touch all of her at once, but fearful of leaving any piece behind. When he could finally move them, his arms found their way around her body, pulling her impossibly close.

He felt a gut-level impulse to roll over the woman, to cage her in with his body and pin her to the bed, but his aching back wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he gripped her hair, intent on never letting go, making passionate love to her mouth.

“Oh, Jamie. I want you so badly.” She rolled her hips against him, pelvis dragging against his leg.

“Jesus,” he breathed. His whole body was on fire, burning for the woman in his arms. 

She rolled her hips again, fanning his flames. His cock had never been so hard. He grabbed her arse with both hands, the way he’d been wanting to do since they met. It was everything he thought it would be, so soft and malleable in his grasp. The shift that separated them was growing more cumbersome by the moment. 

Claire gripped his face with both her hands and sucked his tongue into her mouth. She grinded her pelvis on him over and over. He had no control of his own body, not his mouth, not his hands, and certainly not his hips. When she rocked her body again, he met her with an uninhibited force that made them both cry out.

Claire was moaning in his ear at the height of her pleasure, but Jamie arched in agony, his back spasming in pain. 

“Oh, God. Oh, Jamie! I’m so sorry.” She was breathing heavily, her body shuddering uncontrollably as she rolled off him.

“It’s alright,” he insisted, teeth clenched in pain. “I’m alright.”

He wanted to beg her to get back on and finish what they started, but he couldn’t open his mouth for more than a word without groaning in discomfort.

She bit her lip, clearly trying not to smile as she watched him breathe through his discomfort. 

“This is amusing, is it?” he grunted.

“No! No.” Her snort of laughter seemed to surprise even her, and she covered her mouth with her hand. 

The pain in his back was already receding, making it easier for him to acknowledge the humor. “It’s a bit funny,” he conceded.

“I just...I…” she snickered, “I’ve just never broken a man’s back before.”

Jamie flushed to the tips of his ears, but couldn’t help laughing. “Ye canna take all the credit. My foolishness played some part.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?” She stroked his cheek.

“Better already. Come,” he spread his arms, “lie wi’ me.”

She snuggled back into his side, wrapping herself around him. He pulled the plaid up over them both, more for the comfort it provided than the unneeded warmth. Her curls were tickling his cheek, so he smoothed them down, stroking her hair.

“Claire?”

“Hmm?”

“I hope I’m no’ being presumptuous, but…” he blushed, but forced himself to go on, “ye seemed to have liked it...mebbe as much as I did.”

She giggled and kissed his chest. “Of course, I did.”

“It’s a fine thought, ye ken. One I never considered.”

She squeezed him a little harder, her breath a bit more ragged. When she spoke, it was nearly a whisper. “It is a fine thing, Jamie. A very fine thing indeed.”

 


 

Jamie woke in the morning, sore from shoulders to thighs, with a cloud of fuzzy hair tickling his cheek. For a moment, he thought it was Claire, but when the hair started purring, he knew it to be someone else.

“Hallo, cat,” he said, forcing his eyes open and peering at the furball lying next to him on his pillow. At the slightest bit of attention, the laddie purred even louder and began his morning bath. “Would ye mind finding somewhere private to do that?”

The cat was uninterested in Jamie’s suggestion and ignored him entirely. Jamie, however, was quickly becoming too preoccupied with his own bodily needs to care much for what the cat was doing.

With a great deal of effort, he got himself to his feet and wrapped his plaid around his waist. He shuffled out the front door, relieved to realize that his pain was no longer the acute, stabbing misery of the day before, but a dull ache of muscles far too overtaxed.  Perhaps he would be better in a day or two if he allowed himself to heal.

After he relieved himself, he scanned the property for some sign of Claire. He didn’t see her, so she was likely in the barn or the stables tending to the animals. Knowing better than to attempt to walk all the way over in his condition, he returned to the house for breakfast. 

It took him all of ten minutes to eat and clean up after himself before he was left with nothing else to do until lunch.

“Christ.”

He looked around the small cottage, feeling surprisingly lonely without Claire to keep him company. The cat turned his green eyes on him and yawned, smacking his tongue for good measure. 

“I’ve taken on the role of a bloody housecat.” Except Jamie didn’t think he’d be able to catch a mouse when he couldn’t even stand fully upright.

His eyes landed on a small basket of yarn near the fire and the lumpy blanket-scarf Claire had been knitting. He supposed if he was forced to lay about all day, he might as well find a way to be useful.

 


 

“What on earth are you doing?” she asked, taking off her shoes as she came in a few hours later.

Jamie sat on Claire’s bed with a book in his lap as he mended a pair of her stockings. He only grunted, quickly finishing the last few stitches.

She came to the bed and picked up the oversized scarf he’d finished knitting for her an hour before. 

“Careful of Adso,” he warned, reaching over to stroke the cat’s head who had been bundled in said scarf.

“Adso?”

“Aye. Looks like a cat my mother had when I was young. Ye canna leave an animal nameless if he lives in yer house and sleeps in yer bed. He may grow to resent ye.”

Claire held up the scarf and examined his craftsmanship. “This looks far better than it did this morning when I left.”

“I may have pulled out a few stitches and done them over. I’m guessing yer talent for stitching up a wound doesna translate to fabric and yarn?”

“Clearly not. In fact, I never learned to knit a day in my life until my husband taught me. I made him the most terrible pair of socks, and he wore them all winter just to please me.”

“I bet they were lovely.”

“They were better suited for use as a fishing net.”

“And how d’ye ken he wasna leaving to fish wi’ them during the day? Perhaps that’s why he liked wearing them so much.”

Her laughter brightened her eyes and warmed her smile.

“Come here,” he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her onto his lap. 

“Careful! Your back!”

“It’s fine.” He dipped his head to kiss her thoroughly. She hummed against his lips, her arms linking around his neck.

“Wow,” she spoke against his mouth. “You must be feeling better.”

“Aye,” he breathed, kissing her again.

“There is much to be said for youth.” She maneuvered her legs so she straddled him, frustratingly covered in those infernal breeks. 

He pulled her against him as they kissed, careful not to tweak his back and ruin the moment. She smelled of sun and horse and dust, and patches of sweat dappled her shirt beneath her arms and down her back.

“We should stop,” she protested weakly, though made no move to pull away, “or your recovery will take even longer.”

It was hard to imagine feeling anything close to pain when his body felt so light, but fearful of ruining it, he held his back still, kissing her, touching her, frustrated with the limitations of his body. 

“I need to make you lunch,” she said against his lips. “And I need to teach you a few stretches and exercises to speed your recovery.”

“Ye’re going to stretch for me, lass? That’s something I’d like to see.”

She chuckled into his mouth before pulling away. She stood up, knocking his book to the floor. 

“What are you reading?” she asked, picking it up off the ground.

“I hope ye dinna mind. I found it in yer basket of yarn.”

“No.” She smiled sadly at the book. “I don’t mind at all.”

She held out the book of Shakespeare's sonnets, giving it back to him. “Do you have a favorite?”

“A few, aye. You?”

She moved to the counter, eyes a bit glazed over as though she was looking at a memory rather than the bowl of berries in front of her. “I’m partial to the seventy-fifth.” 

“So are you to my thoughts as food to life, Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;” he recited, “And for the peace of you I hold such strife, As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found...”

She said nothing, though her silence was telling. He wondered if her husband used to recite the verse for her in their more intimate moments. 

He stood up—slowly, carefully—and walked up behind her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and whispered quietly into her hair.

“Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
   Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
   Or gluttoning on all, or all away.”

She turned and threw her arms around his neck, pulling his mouth to her lips. His aching body made no protests, somehow feeling as light as a butterfly in the wind when she kissed him like that.

“Wow.” He hadn’t taken a breath until their lips parted. “Ye really do love a good verse, aye?”

She nodded softly. “Especially with a Highland brogue.”

“I’ll read the whole bloody book to ye tonight if it makes ye kiss me like that.”

“Careful, Soldier, or we’ll be doing much more than kissing.”

“Soldier?” he asked. “I’ve ne’er been a soldier.” Though if Claire hadn’t invited him to her farm, he’d likely be soldiering with Ian and his band of mercenaries in France.

She flushed red and released him, turning back to the food. “It’s just an expression.”

He knew there was more to it than that, but thought it best to leave it alone until she was ready. Perhaps it was something she once called her husband. For some reason, the thought didn’t bother Jamie or stir any jealousy. Maybe it was because her husband was gone and Claire was undoubtedly Jamie’s now. Or perhaps it was that Jamie’s own grief was so near that compassion outweighed all else.

He stepped up behind her once more and kissed the top of her head, letting her know everything was alright. She leaned back against him, relaxing into his body.

And for the first time since he heard his sister’s screams at Lallybroch, he truly felt that things would be alright, so long as he and Claire were together.

 


 

Jamie spent the next two days doing exactly as his physician advised—stretching, exercising, and God help him, resting. He read and knit by day and recited poetry to Claire at night. She was quite busy, tending to the basic maintenance of the farm all on her own. She wouldn’t hear of Jamie leaving the bed to help her, and he truly didn’t want to reinjure himself and be useless to her for another week.

And it was getting easier to rest in the daytime when he spent most of the night awake. There was something special about the cover of dark in the arms of a lover, something about the whole world being shut away for hours on end. There was a vulnerability at night, where all defenses were laid to rest. Jamie thought it must be crucial to choose a lover who would protect that vulnerability with all their heart.

But it was on the third day—the day Jamie’s back stopped aching unbearably—that he realized the thrill of bringing their nighttime passions out into the light.

After days of working on her own and nights filled with poetry and kisses, Claire’s body finally gave way to exhaustion. Jamie awoke at dawn and got himself dressed, regretting that he didn’t have an extra kilt to wrap around her and comfort her in his absence. Instead, he dropped Adso in his vacated space and covered Claire with the oversized scarf. 

When he bundled her up, he thought she might’ve been losing weight. She worked so bloody hard and never seemed to have an appetite. Today he would make certain she rested and ate well, keeping her arse nice and plump, as it should be.

He went outside and started his day with the stretches and exercises his doctor recommended. Then, he took a walk around the farm to see what needed to be done. It was a relief to be able to move about without a shuffling limp. He would still have to pace himself, but at least he might be useful.

When he moved around the house to assess how much more work needed to go into harvesting the wheat field, he nearly stumbled in shock. More than double the work had been completed since that day his back went out. Claire must’ve been working like mad to get it done while he laid around in bed.

He couldn't believe the stubborn tenacity of that woman.

Jamie turned to tend to the animals first, but he had every intention of returning to the wheat field and contributing something to the puir lass who’d cared for him so diligently.

He worked slowly and methodically, stopping for breaks and periodic stretching. There was no sign of Claire until around nine o’clock, when he happened to be lying on the ground, twisting his back the way she had taught him. His eyes caught her movement near the cottage, and she stood there in her shift, hands on her hips, looking concerned, as though worried he may have thrown out his back yet again.

He stood quickly and waved to show he was fine. He got back to work, hoping she wouldn’t come out and drag him back to the cottage by his ear.

Surprisingly, she seemed to accept his insistence on working. She turned back to the house without a word, and he didn’t see her again until she went out to her garden an hour later.

He was pleased to see she wasn’t wearing her breeks, which likely meant she had no intention of coming out to help him in the fields.

Good, he thought. She’d done too much already.

Without her right next to him, he was able to work at his own pace without feeling the need to prove anything. He swung the scythe for five or ten minutes at a time, then went back to stack and tie the bundles, mixing up the repetitive movements whenever a muscle began to ache.

And when his shirt was soaked with sweat and began irritating his tender scars, he took it off and threw it aside, letting it dry in the sun while he continued to make progress.

At midday, his empty stomach demanded attention, so he threw his scythe down, picked up his shirt, and walked back to the cottage. He was pleasantly surprised to find Claire standing at the edge of the field with a hand over her mouth as though she’d been staring. 

In truth, he was accustomed to people watching him. His height and red hair alone often drew glances, and he learned fairly early on that many lasses found him rather pleasant to look at. Yet the sight of Claire staring had no little effect on him.

He couldn’t help his smirk as he ambled closer, enjoying the blush that rose from her breasts up to her cheeks. As he drew near, he realized the flush was not one of embarrassment, but something all the more exhilarating. She was bloody aroused, and it was driving him mad.

“Good afternoon to ye, Mistress Sassenach.” He stopped a foot away, far closer than etiquette allowed.

“You’re looking particularly virile today, Mister Fraser.” She ran her eyes down his body, then looked up at him from beneath her dark lashes.

“I feel much better, thanks to you.”

“Good to hear.” She lifted her hands and traced her fingertips over his sweaty chest, inhaling his scent like she was starved for it. “You’ve gotten some sun.”

“A wee bit.”

“Why don’t you come in for lunch and give your back a rest? Perhaps, I’ll rub some cream on that muscle.”

“Aye. If ye like.”

She moistened her lips and flicked her thumb over his nipple just before she turned away to lead him back to the house. Jamie grunted, feeling somehow both weak in the knees and unreasonably aggressive.

He grabbed her arm, pulling her back into his chest. She steadied herself by gripping him around the waist, nails digging into his skin. He dipped his head to kiss her, his mouth hard and his hands rougher than intended.

She melted against him like butter. A sensual hum in the back of her throat tickled his tongue as he pushed deep into her mouth.

There were no shadows in the midday sun to conceal the pleasure on her face. As romantic as the starlight was, it couldn’t capture the gold of her eyes nor the red in her cheeks. He wondered how lovely she’d look at dawn, shining in the light of a nascent day.

She was breathing heavily when they parted, and Jamie was certain his arms were the only things holding her upright. For a moment he thought he might have to carry her inside, but as he’d learned several times before, Claire was far sturdier than she appeared. 

She gathered herself with a deep sigh and took his hand, leading him back to the cottage. Lunch was a remarkably quiet affair, more being communicated between them with their eyes than their words. 

He left the cottage an hour later with his stomach full, his back relaxed, and a certainty that something fundamental had changed between them.

 


 

He hardly saw Claire at all that afternoon. She’d made several trips to her garden and one to the meat shed, but aside from that, she remained uncharacteristically indoors.  He kept busy in her absence, moving cautiously around the farm to finish his chores, trying to avoid another bodily catastrophe. 

When the sun began to set, pulling its light away to illuminate lovers on the other side of the world, he made his way back to the cottage. The door was open, as it usually was, and Adso was lying on the window ledge, waiting for a bug or rodent bold enough to impose on his territory. 

A fire had long since been burning, and a candle was lit on the dinner table. Claire stood at the counter, plating their evening meal and singing soft words under her breath.

“Let us stray till break of day
In love's valley of dreams.
Just you and I, a summer sky,
A heavenly breeze kissing the trees.

So don't let me wait,
come to me tenderly in the June night.
I stand at your gate
and I sing you a song in the moonlight,
A love song, my darling,
a moonlight serenade.”

“That’s beautiful. I havena heard such a song before.”

Claire turned at the sound of Jamie’s voice, peeling her apron off and setting it aside. Jamie noticed her dress immediately—a soft cream with pale flowers embroidered along the hem. It looked as though it had hardly been worn before, though he didn’t think it a recent purchase. It was nothing like the French styles he’d seen at court or in the salons, rather it resembled more of what he might see back home if a woman could afford the finery.

The dress held her bosom high and squeezed her waist impossibly tight. Her ample bottom was puirly hidden beneath her skirts. His hand twitched with the desire to take its time pulling out each and every one of her laces, watching the beautiful fabric fall to the floor.

“Claire...ye’re lovely.”

She smiled, face all the more radiant with her joy. Jamie stepped close, reaching for a stray lock of hair that seemed determined to avoid its pins. He wrapped it around his finger and watched it bounce back as he pulled away. She lifted up on her toes to kiss him, soft and chaste, but with a promise for so much more.

“God, ye smell good,” he breathed, restraining himself from burying his face in her hair. He stepped back only out of fear that he’d dirty her dress with his filth.

He moved to the wash basin, thoroughly cleaning himself as Claire set the table for dinner. 

“I’m sure you’re hungry. Have a seat and rest your back.”

She’d gone out of her way to make the evening special. Even the candle on the table was scented with rose oil.  And if nothing else had shined a light on her intentions, then the truth of them would have been revealed in the low, sensual tone of her voice and the hungry look in her eyes that had little to do with the food.

She set their plates down on the table, a hearty stew and a stack of freshly baked bannocks smothered in butter. She poured them each a glass of a whisky so fine, he could taste the peat in the air. 

Never had he been cared for like this by a woman, cooking his meals, tending to his body, dressing herself for the sake of the pleasure of his eyes. She seemed to know better than he did, everything he wanted in life.

“This is incredible, Claire.” He reached out his right hand and grabbed her left, threading their fingers together.

She said nothing, only lifted his hand to kiss his knuckles. 

The food was delicious, and Jamie’s hardworking body demanded to be fed. He ate more enthusiastically than was proper, but he couldn’t help himself, at least not until he noticed Claire only taking little bites here and there.

“Are ye no’ hungry, Sassenach?”

She smiled softly, eyes as dark as whisky in the firelight. Her fingers danced light as butterflies on his palm, sending a quiver down his spine. “Ravenous.”

He suddenly found himself quite thirsty. He drank what was left of his whisky, eyes never leaving the knowing smile on her face.

It was a shame to leave what was left of his meal behind, but the look in Claire’s eyes ignited a different kind of hunger that made the food superfluous. He understood now why she’d hardly taken a bite.

He was nervous, though his hand was steady as it held hers when he asked, “Will ye come to bed wi’ me?”

She moistened her lips and nodded with a shaky inhale. For a moment, he wondered if she was the one who was nervous—perhaps it was a scary thing to take a new man to one’s bed—but he soon realized it was just that her body was rousing to his. The thought alone was intoxicating.

They stood slowly, hands linked together, and moved the few steps it took to get to the bed. Jamie stood at an angle so the fire wouldn’t cast a single shadow on Claire, lest he miss a moment for lack of light.

He didn’t know where to start or what he was meant to do, so he was grateful when Claire turned around, inviting him to untie her laces. Though he’d seen her in a shift before, he had never been the one to take off her clothes. He pulled them off one by one, just as he’d imagined from the moment he saw her in the dress. Every layer that fell to the floor sent his heart racing wilder than the last.

Finally, he pulled her shift down off her shoulders, revealing the curvy length of her body. He admired her courage—or perhaps it was confidence—to present herself so exposed to a near stranger. 

In truth, they didn’t feel like strangers. They never had. Not from the moment they met. “I’m here to heal you. To make you better,” she’d said. Though he’d fought against it, his heart had immediately believed her.

Her breasts were as plump as her bum, yet so much softer. They filled his hands, nipples grazing his palms, as eager for the touch as he was, and he’d never wanted anything more in his life.

“It’s my turn,” she breathed, pulling up his shirt. He helped her peel it off, loving how her body grazed his own when she came in close.

“This is how I think of you,” she whispered, face softly nuzzling his chest, breathing him in deeply as her hands moved up and down his sides. “Standing there in only your kilt...with that hungry look in your eyes.”

She removed his belt, letting his kilt drop heavily to the floor. And then they were kissing, his cock pressing against her belly, his body igniting in her arms once again. He cradled her head, devouring her mouth, wanting fiercely to have his cock buried inside her.

All too soon, she pulled away, though thankfully it was not to change her mind. She moved to the bed, eyes locked on him, and laid down on her back. She reached for his hand, drawing him near, pulling him between her legs. She had them spread wide, exposing her quim to the air...to him.

She reached down to grab his cock, giving it a few strokes and massaging his balls. His grunt of pleasure was far louder than he intended, but quieter than the one that followed when she guided it to her quim.

He hesitated a moment, staring down at the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, who was looking at him with a lustful reverence. They were moments away from joining together in the most sacred of ways. A deliberate choice between two people unwed, though the last thing it felt was unholy. He’d never felt closer to God than in the moment he moved forward and pushed his cock inside her.

She moaned, eyes closed in ecstasy as his mind tried to comprehend his pleasure. He bent his head to rest on hers, drawing strength as he attempted to keep his wits about him. Her hand was on his arse, encouraging him to push in again. His hips complied by instinct alone, because he hadn’t a clear thought in his mind.

Her arms moved around his neck, pulling his body down, demanding he lay heavily on her as his cock sped out of control.

And all too soon, he was spilling his seed, arms wrapping around her, squeezing her breathless to his chest. His body shook, climax never so strong, never lasting so long as when he was buried in her quim.

Her hips didn’t stop squirming beneath him, driving his overly sensitive cock mad. She rubbed against his pelvic bone as she clung tightly to his body. He watched as she found her own climax, tears falling from her eyes and a shriek sounding in his ear.  Her face dissolved into a look of pure transcendence, mouth open, eyes glazed over as if seeing a revelation far beyond the confines of this world.

“Jamie!” she cried, her limbs tight around him, breath catching in his ear. “My Jamie. My Jamie.”

Her hands grabbed fistfuls of his hair and brought his mouth down to her lips. She kissed him, tears streaming down her cheeks as though she’d seen God Himself.

He began feeling her lungs strain beneath him, so he propped himself up on his elbows to give her room to breathe. Still, he gazed down into her eyes, deep honey rimmed with red. The love she held for him was so evident in that look that it nearly broke his heart.

“A few months ago, I was as good as dead,” he spoke between ragged breaths, “but now...now I feel more alive than ever. Ye brought me back to life, Claire. Not only have ye kept my heart beating, but ye’ve given me a reason to keep going.”

“Promise me, Jamie,” her voice cracked. “Promise you’ll always keep going.”

“For you? I couldn’t stop if I tried.”

Chapter Text

“Ye’ve had a child?” Jamie whispered, fingers grazing over the faded marks on Claire’s belly. They were lying naked together in the dark, their bodies long settled from their first time making love.

He watched tears pool in the corner of her eyes. 

“Yes,” she breathed.

He wiped them away and waited silently for her to tell him more.

“Her name was Faith, and she was born too soon. She was so tiny. A little thing that fit perfectly in my hands.” The tears fell down her cheeks and landed on the pillow, Jamie no longer able to keep up with them. “She looked just like her father.”

“He must ha’ been devastated.”

“He would have been...if he was alive when it happened.”

Jamie cupped her face, holding her delicately, his heart breaking at the sight of her anguish.

“There was a man who was angry with me,” she went on. “A comte. He tried to kill me, and my husband wouldn’t stand for it.”

Jamie nodded, glad the man who married Claire before him had some degree of honor. “Did he challenge him?”

“Yes...but the comte was a treacherous man and lured him into a trap. I followed him, terrified of losing the man I loved. He was dead before I even arrived...and then I went into premature labor.”

Jamie knew what it felt like to lose everything—his parents, his brother, his land, Scotland—but to lose his love and their child on the same day would destroy him. 

She sniffled twice before the crying started in earnest. Jamie pulled her into his chest and held her protectively, each one of her sobs gripping him by the throat. 

He spoke quiet Gaelic, trying to sooth her in the only way he knew how, “I’m so verra sorry, mo nighean donn. I promise ye, I’ll do everything in my power to stop ye from feeling pain like this again. I’ll give ye a dozen bairns. I’ll bring ye the comte’s head and lay it at yer feet.”

He knew none of his promises could take away her pain, and it made him feel bloody helpless. He wondered how she was able to keep herself together most of the time. If he was in her position, he would’ve crawled into a cave and stayed hidden away from the world until the day God gave him enough mercy to join them.

“I wish there was something I could do,” he said in Gaelic.

“There is one thing,” she whispered, surprising him. Few people went through the trouble of learning Gaelic outside of Scotland, but it seemed she understood a fair bit.

“Of course. What is it?”

“Don’t ever put me in this position again. Don’t issue any challenges. Don’t accept one yourself. Promise me you’ll never duel a man for as long as you fucking live, James Fraser.”

“Claire—”

“I mean it!” she snapped. “Promise me.”

The woman lay naked in his arms with tears in her eyes only an hour after they made love. He would’ve agreed to anything she asked. “Aye. I promise. If faced with the choice, I will neither issue nor accept a challenge if it brings you peace.”

She sighed heavily, relieved as though she’d just prevented his death.

“We’ll have a long, happy life together,” he reassured her. “We’ll stay out here and tend this farm. We’ll raise our family wi’ no one else around and nothing to give us any bother.”

She looked up at him, disbelieving. “And Scotland?”

He shrugged. “Scotland holds naught for me any longer, save pain and danger. I may seem foolish to say such things so soon, but this is my home now. Wi’ you.” He kissed her softly, lips lingering.

“And what if things change? What if you’re given a pardon? What of your land? Your people? Your sister?”

“It wouldna bring my father back. Nor would it change what happened to Jenny. How could I face my sister after failing her so miserably?”

She caressed his cheek to soften her words, “You’ll face her eventually. You’ll go back to Scotland soon enough and make things right.”

“Ye sound so certain.”

“I am, and it would behoove you to trust me with things like this. I’m rarely wrong.”

“And how about you, Claire? If it’s as ye say, and I return to Lallybroch soon, will ye be there wi’ me?”

A warm smile lit her face, nearly erasing the tears that had been there a moment before. “When you walk into your house once again as Laird, I promise you, Jamie, I will be on your arm as your Lady.”

“I suppose it may be none so terrible if ye’re there by my side. Ye’ll make a fine Lady to our people, patching up their wounds and tending to them when they’re ill.”

“Patching up their Laird, more like. The bloody man is always getting injured.”

He grinned, kissing her softly, thinking wistfully about presenting Claire as his wife to Jenny and all their tenants.

His thoughts naturally turned to taking her upstairs to the Laird’s room, their room, and laying her down on the large, soft mattress. Adso would be there, purring noisily on the window ledge just as he was now, irritated at them kicking him out of the bed.

Jamie kissed her again, the domesticity of the fantasy was somehow as intoxicating as several glasses of madeira. He had to force himself to pull away, remembering Claire’s fragile state, worried he might push her too far in his virginal eagerness.

Except she didn’t let him go. She pulled him back to her lips with a hand gripping his hair. He needed her again, wanted her badly, and God bless her, she was spreading her legs to let him in.

Is this what it's like to be married? he wondered. He longed for a lifetime of holding her in his arms and finding their pleasure, chasing away their demons and healing each other’s hearts.

“Ye feel...sae...good,” he groaned, rocking his body over her, sliding inside.

His greedy cock attempted to run away with itself again, searching for that pinnacle of euphoria paradoxically found in the deepest parts of this woman, but their exchange about Donas when he’d first arrived was all too present in his mind. “I canna imagine this will take long,” he had said of the horses’ mating. And she’d responded, “Well, it is his first time. Allowances must be made.”

If longer was what she desired, then longer was what she would get. After all, it wasn’t his first time anymore.

 


 

Jamie fell asleep shortly after he learned of the marvel of a woman’s capacity for nearly endless pleasure—well, endless in comparison to his own limited capabilities. He slept hard, like he hadn’t done since he was a bairn. Perhaps it was because of how thoroughly depleted he was by the bedding. Perhaps it was that he’d already grown accustomed to sleeping with Claire in their short time together. Or maybe it was just that he’d felt peace for the first time in months.

He dreamt of Scotland...of sleeping naked in the heather on a bed of plaid...of fresh dips in purling streams...of forget-me-nots raining down from a cloudless sky...of chaffinch song floating on the summer wind and poetry whispered in his ears, “Then let amorous kisses dwell, On our lips, begin and tell, A Thousand, and a Hundred, score, An Hundred, and a Thousand more.” The flower petals landed delicately on his skin, somehow both warm and moist with morning dew. “Thus at last when we have numbered, Many a Thousand, many a Hundred; Wee’l confound the reckoning quite, And lose ourselves in wild delight.”

“Claire?” His eyes fluttered open to reveal it was her voice whispering in his ears, her lips raining kisses down on him, not the wee flowers. 

She kissed down his body, counting every time she set her mouth down. He’d had a great many things touch his skin before, from a butterfly’s wings to a cat o’ nine tails, but none evoking so powerful a response as her mouth. Her lips were softer than a flower’s petals, making forget-me-not blossoms seem as rough as glasspaper. The gentle licking of her tongue rose gooseflesh in its wake, but it was her teeth that made his whole body quiver.

“Claire…” he gripped the bedsheets as her mouth moved down the length of his cock. Her hand grasped him, exposing his sensitive head, tongue licking out to taste the essence of him. “Jesus, Lord! Holy God!”

The thought had never occurred to him that a woman might kiss him there, but to lick him, nip him with her teeth—he wouldn’t have believed it if he wasn’t watching with his own eyes, feeling it with his own cock.

He moaned hoarsely when she pulled him to the back of her throat. It was the sucking that made him mad, or maybe the scraping of her teeth down his shaft. No, it was the licking under the bottom of his cock that he could hardly handle. 

If he struggled with making his cock keep hold for any length of time the night before, it was nothing to what she was doing to him now. He never wanted it to end, but within mere minutes, he was calling out her name, warning her of the impending onslaught in her mouth. She didn’t seem to care. She swallowed it down, stroking his length as though she enjoyed it.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her even after she was done. She rested her head on his thigh and gazed lovingly at him. “Good morning.” She glanced at the dark window briefly. “Well, I suppose it will be morning soon, anyway.”

It took Jamie a moment to realize there was light in the room even though the sun had yet to rise. Claire had restarted the fire at some point before he woke. He wondered how long she’d been up. “It most certainly is a good morning when ye wake me like that. Come here, lass, and let me hold ye.”

She trailed her lips up his body, counting every kiss once again. When she reached his nipple, she licked a circle around it before sucking it up into her mouth and flicking it with her tongue.

“Oh, God! Do that again!”

His cock was already half hard again by the time he felt her breath on his skin, this time on the other side. She looked up at him from under her dark lashes, a mischievous smile in her eyes, and pulled gently with her teeth.

Jamie quickly rolled over, pinning her to the bed. He felt a small ache in his back but was pleased at the freedom of his movement. 

Claire’s eyes were dark and hooded, and her legs were spread wide. He fit well between them, the position as natural as breathing.

“How is it ye ken the secrets of me, Sassenach? Every touch of your lips drives my body mad. Is it this way with all men? Or is there something special between us that makes it so?”

“There is something, Jamie. Something special. I know you. I know you better than I know myself.”

“Would that I kent your secrets, Claire. I would serve ye gladly, from dusk to dawn and back again.”

“You’re a learned man, are you not?” she smiled.

“Aye. A bit.”

“And how did you gain that knowledge?”

He grinned wickedly. “Wi’ extensive study.”

“Well then…”

Jamie rose up to look down at her naked body, more beautiful than he had imagined when he was lying on that miserable cot in the abbey. He ran his hands down her curves, wondering where to start first. “A student must have a good teacher, should he no’? One to point him in the right direction?”

Biting her lip, she reached down to spread her quim, pointing to the little bit of flesh near the top. Jamie touched it with his finger, feeling the shape of it. It was covered in moisture, as slick as she was inside.

“Jamie…”

“Aye?” he breathed, eager for more instruction.

She lifted a hand to his face, thumb tracing over his lips, a bawdy smirk curving the corner of her mouth. Heart hammering with comprehension, he licked his lips and dropped his head down.

“You always were a quick study.”

 


 

“I need to feed the horses,” Jamie groaned in bed, watching Adso lap up the bowl of cream Claire had just given him. Donas was already hungry for the mare in the stall next to him, and Jamie didn’t want to add to the poor beast’s agitation by depriving him of food, as well.

“It’s already done. All the animals have been fed.”

“When did’ye do that?”

“This morning, while you were sleeping. I took care of all the morning chores.”

“The goats have been milked? Ye got the eggs from the chickens?”

Claire looked pointedly at the counter where a basket of eggs was sitting.

“What in God’s name were ye doing up so early, woman? And working in the dark, no less!”

“The moon was out, and the sky was clear. I could see perfectly fine,” she said, as though doing all those chores before sunrise was of little consequence. She crawled back into bed, wrapping her body around him.

“Ye should ha’ roused me,” he grumbled. “I’ve done little to earn my keep since I arrived. Ye’ll start to wonder what ye even need me for.”

She traced his mouth with a suggestive finger and waggled her eyebrows. “Oh, I’d say you’re earning your keep just fine.”

“Claire,” he chided, “ye work too hard. Leave some of it to me, aye?”

“You’re still healing.”

“I’m fine, and we’re no’ talking about me.” He ran his hands up and down her body, certain she was getting thinner. “Ye hardly sleep, and ye never eat enough. I willna have ye wasting away on account of me being a lazy interloper.”

She snorted, naked body bouncing against him most pleasantly.

“It wasna a joke,” he smacked her bottom.

“Jamie, there was nothing lazy about how we spent our evening. I expect to take full and thorough advantage of your youth, strength, and stamina, so get your rest while you can.” She reached down and grabbed a handful of his balls. “I’ll be demanding another round shortly.”

He carefully extricated them from her grip and slid out of bed. “Ye’ll be having a hearty breakfast before doing anything of the sort.”

“I already ate a bit of fruit and cheese.”

“Aye, and ye’ll have some meat and eggs to go wi’ it.”

“You’re going to cook for me?” She was highly amused.

“I am.” Jamie grabbed her apron and tied it around his waist, not wanting to burn his cock near the fire.

He began nosing around the cabinets in search of a pot or a pan he might use to make the woman a decent breakfast. He bent low to search the cabinet beneath the counter, moving a small box aside to see in the back.

“Breakfast and a show?” Claire laughed. “I’m a lucky lady, indeed.”

Jamie looked over his shoulder to find the woman staring at his arse in the air and his balls hanging heavily behind him. He snorted and turned back around, knocking the small box over and spilling its contents.

“What’s this?” he asked, picking up a necklace that looked all too familiar.

“What’s what?”

Jamie examined the necklace of baroque pearls, irregularly shaped productions of freshwater mussels. “Claire?” He turned and held them up to her in surprise. “Did’ye find these in my sporran? I had hoped to gift them to ye myself, though didna think it prudent to do so this soon.”

Claire’s face had gone ghostly white, and she was no longer smiling. She sat up quickly and stared at the necklace as though her heart was standing on the precipice of breaking once again.

“That—” her voice broke. She swallowed audibly and tried again. “That was a gift from my husband when we wed.”

For a moment, he nearly thought Claire mad. She was clearly telling the truth, her earnest distress evident in her eyes, but he knew the pearls to be his mother’s. He stood slowly and moved to his sporran that was resting on a small table near the bed. He reached inside, and to his astonishment, pulled out an identical necklace to the one in his other hand.

“What the Devil?”

“Like I said, my husband gave them to me. They’re very precious to me.”

“Aye...I’m sorry. I’ll just…”

“I’ll take them.” She grabbed them delicately from his hand and brought them back to the little box in the lower cabinet. 

She found her shift and slipped it on, before rummaging through the cabinets to find all she needed to make breakfast. She was cracking eggs before Jamie even knew what was happening.

“I’m sorry, lass.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.”

He could see she was anything but fine. She was moving abruptly, more tense than he’d seen her before. “Claire?”

“Hmm?”

He came up behind her tentatively, worried he’d push her away if he wasn’t careful. They were still new to each other—women in general were new to Jamie—and he didn’t yet know when it was best to give her space or press her to talk.

He thought of the first night he arrived, of how he held her crying in his arms. She had responded well to his touch at the time.

He gently placed his hands on her shoulders, testing the waters. She froze but didn’t shrug him off; he took that as a good sign. He moved his hands down her arms, soothing her with a light, cautious touch.

When she released a tense breath, he turned her around to face him, taking her small hands in his so they’d stay connected. “I’m sorry, mo nighean donn. I didna mean to disrupt our lovely morning. I just thought it strange that yer husband would give ye Scotch pearls just like the ones I carried here wi’ me.”

“I know. It’s more than a little strange. You did nothing wrong. I just…” she swallowed painfully, “Those pearls were a family heirloom. I was meant to give them to one of my children.”

He hated to see her cry. He lifted both her hands to his mouth and placed tender kisses on each one.

A very pale line on her ring finger indicated that she had once worn a ring there some time ago. If he wasn’t standing so close, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it. In another week or so of working in the sun, the evidence of the ring might be completely gone.

He thought he remembered a glint of silver during his time at the abbey—for some reason, thistles sprung to mind. His thumb traced over the faint mark, wondering if one day she’d allow him to place a ring there in its stead.

She pulled her hand away, smiling awkwardly. “I gave the ring away a couple of months ago to someone who has greater need of it than I.”

“Ye gave it away?” He could see the loss of it had pained her greatly, and he wondered why she’d do such a thing. She’d kept the necklace, so why not the ring?

She turned back to focus on making breakfast, leaving him standing there, dressed like a fool, offering his heart to a woman he worried might be unable to fully accept it.

He shook his head, clearing his doubts. He turned to remove the apron and find his clothes, putting them on quickly and reassuring himself that she was just struggling as any devoted wife would when losing a husband. He’d be patient and let her grieve the man she’d loved so dearly. 

It was the first time he felt resentment toward the dead bastard. He knew he shouldn’t. The man was gone, and Jamie had no desire to trade places with him. It just made him uneasy that Claire’s heart could love someone else when she was everything to him.

They ate breakfast quietly, and Jamie left to harvest the wheat shortly after. Claire didn’t follow him, giving him plenty of space to work at his own pace...or plenty of space without her new lover to encroach on her grief.

His thoughts raced uncontrollably all morning, and they didn’t stop when it was time to go back inside for lunch. He walked slowly, feeling a bit cowardly in his reluctance to face her after what felt like rejection only hours before.

He needn’t have worried. When he stepped into the house, Claire was lying in bed asleep, wrapped in the overlarge scarf he’d knitted her days before. Adso was purring near her face, and the book of sonnets was gripped loosely in her hand as though she had fallen asleep reading. 

Jamie moved about quietly, scrounging up his own lunch so as not to wake her. He watched her sleep as he ate, happy to see the worry lines in her young face eased with unconsciousness. 

He ruminated on the fact that Claire had become his whole world in a matter of days. He was certain it was more than just their isolation from the rest of the world and more than just his distance from anything else of significance. As he watched her breast rise and fall, he knew that he would’ve fallen for her no matter if they were in Paris or Scotland, at Lallybroch or in the French countryside, hidden away from the world or surrounded by people. He felt an inevitability about them.

She’d said so herself, they had something special.

“Jamie…” she moaned sleepily

He stepped forward, sitting at the edge of the bed and stroking her hair. “I’m here, mo nighean donn. I’m here.”

She was still asleep, eyes closed and a smile spread across her cheeks. He thought, perhaps, she was dreaming of him, and that grin erased all the uncertainty in his heart.

“My Jamie,” she mumbled almost inaudibly.

He bent down to kiss her forehead and caress her tear-stained cheek, but still she made no indication of waking up. He supposed that was for the best; the puir lass needed the rest.

He left her alone and finished his meal, leaving her a covered plate so she might be compelled to eat when she woke up. Then, he went back out to make more headway on the harvest, his heart lightened with hope.

 


 

Rather than relying on the sunset to advise him of when it was time to throw in the towel for the day, he listened to his back, stopping himself at the first signs of pain. With a few hours of sunlight still left, he took the opportunity to walk about the property and tend to small fixes here and there and make plans for larger issues, like mending the roof of the stables.

He made his way back to the house long before the sun sank down and was delighted to hear Claire’s voice carrying the words to a lovely song through the window.

“Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories”

He took it as a good sign that she was feeling cheerful enough to sing and hoped the dreams of him were partially responsible for the lift in her spirits. He stopped at the doorway and watched her standing there in her shift in the process of pickling cucumbers. She swayed her bum back and forth to the slow rhythm of the song.

“I never thought my heart could be so yearny
Now why did I decide to roam?
I'm gonna take that sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home”

Claire turned and squeaked when she saw him, embarrassment coloring her pretty cheeks.

“Yer voice is lovely, Sassenach.”

“I can’t carry a tune to save my life.”

“I canna tell such things myself. It was beautiful to me.”

She held out a hand, inviting him forward. “How’s your back?”

“Braw.” He stepped close, pulling her into his arms. They kissed softly, tenderly feeling each other out after the awkwardness of the morning. Claire was settled now, so he was settled. Never had someone else’s state of being had so strong a hold on him.

“And your front?”

“Brrraw,” he rumbled deeply, eliciting a giggle.

She kissed him again, fingers sliding up to tangle in his hair. “Hungry?”

“God, yes.” He kissed down her neck, making her whole body shiver.  Seeing how much she liked it, he licked over the pale skin that was barely covering the pulse in her neck. 

“Oh, Jamie…that feels...wonderful.”

He nibbled hungrily, making her moan and squirm against him. Her hypnotic sounds eased any stubborn doubts still lingering in the shadows of his mind.

He sank to his knees, pulling up her shift to get his mouth on her again, wanting more of her noises, endless reassurances. She gripped his head with one hand and the counter with the other, trying to keep her balance as he pulled her leg over his shoulder. There was no room for any other man in her head when his tongue was licking inside her.

His possessive jealousy surprised him. He was bedding a woman who was once another man’s wife, and he was bloody angry that she wasn’t his in the same way. He licked and sucked, grabbing her arse and grinding her against his face until she was pulling his hair, squeezing his tongue, and yelling his name.

She nearly fell over when he stood, but he gripped her around the waist and pulled her to the bed. He needed her beneath him, needed her pinned under his body, at the mercy of his will. She was his, damn it, and he meant to show her it was so.

But the moment he was inside her, he was lost to her yet again. He had no will but her own. He was driven by the pleasure she gave him, by even the slightest glimpse of love in her eyes that told him something of how she cared for him. 

He held her gaze, not letting her look away, their joining forcing an intimacy that her pain didn’t allow earlier in the day. She couldn’t hide from him when they made love. Her eyes gave everything away. He knew how she felt about him, and her bloody loyalty to a dead man couldn’t get in the way when they were joined as one.

“Ye’re...mine!” he roared, thrusting harder with every word. “Now...and...forever!”

Her eyes went wide, and he came, burying his face in her neck, sinking into her as deep as her body would allow. Her arms and legs wrapped around him and held him in place as though she was the one afraid that he might one day leave. He realized she was likely fearful of giving her heart to another after it had broken so terribly before.

They skipped supper that night. It wasn’t worth letting each other go.

 


 

The weeks that followed revealed an eerily similar pattern as that same day he found the necklace. Every moment of passion and intimacy seemed to be followed shortly by a bout of a deep sorrow and painful longing that had Claire pulling away, distancing herself from Jamie’s affection. Those periods of anguish could only be alleviated by more ardent love-making.

They’d go days on end hardly leaving their bed, rutting each other into madness. Then shortly after, Claire would stop sleeping, stop eating, tears residing permanently in her eyes as she averted her gaze anytime he’d come too close. He’d be stuck, waiting for something to shift, until she’d ravish him once again.

His own sanity seemed tied to the whim of her irrational grief. Her emotional state pulled at his heartstrings like a marionette. When things were bad, he was as fretful as a child, but when they were good, no one had ever seen a happier, more fulfilled man to ever fall in love.

On one such day, Jamie was on the roof of the stables, finishing the last of the repairs. He worked through a light sprinkle of rain, trying to get it done before the darker clouds over the distant hills came too close. The horses would be spooked enough with the change of weather; they didn’t need the rain to soak up in their hay and disturb their living quarters.

He was finishing the last row of shingles when it really began to pour. A flash of bright white over by the cottage distracted him from his task. He looked up to find Claire, naked from head to toe, stepping gingerly over the muddy path.

“What in God’s name are ye thinking, woman?” he asked, though there was no way she could’ve heard him from so far away. He quickly nailed in the last few shingles so he could peacefully observe her naked body bounce toward the stables with every step.

He watched as the water falling from the sky did the one thing that no other force on earth possibly could; it started taming her hair into submission. Jamie knew the power of water from his various trips over the Channel, how it could tie his intestines in knots without laying a finger on him, how it could upend some of the largest ships he’d ever seen with just an irk of Poseidon’s will. Still, he thought that deflating Claire's unruly hair was its greatest feat yet.

At any rate, Jamie was sure he’d enjoy watching her hair spring back to life as it dried by the fire when he took her inside. For now, he just enjoyed her body moving through the rain like a figurehead of a ship, enticing the spirits of the water to give safe passage. 

“Would you get down and come inside? I don’t like the look of those clouds!“ His ethereal beauty yammered up at him. 

“Where the bloody hell is yer shift, woman?”

“I took it off. There’s no sense in getting it wet for the sake of scolding you.”

“Ye’ll catch a chill.”

“It’s July, for God’s sake, and that’s not how germs work. Even if it was, do you really think that shirt you’re wearing—soaked with rain and sweat—would do anything to protect you from a virus?”

“I am a Scot. A bit of summer rain in France is naught to anything I’ve seen at home.”

Lightning flashed in the distance, effectively nullifying Jamie‘s point. The lass was right; he didn’t want to be caught on the roof when a thunderstorm was overhead.

He jumped down with ease, startling Claire with a splash of mud. She smacked him indignantly, then attempted to wipe it away, ineffectually smearing the mud all over her fair skin.

He chuckled, removing his kilt and shaking it out, so he could wrap it around her and wipe her clean. He guided her into the stables to get a break from the rain. 

“We really should get inside,” she said, peeling off his tartan and handing it back. “This rain is only going to get worse, and it will take some time to dry your shirt by the fire.“

The look on her face was quite contrary to her words. She seemed to like the state of his sodden shirt just fine. 

He smirked and bent down to take her mouth, and all thoughts of a warm fire were gone from both their minds. Claire’s hands rubbed over the drenched linen, as though his body was as appealing to her as hers was to him. She pulled at his shirt, trying to touch what she coveted beneath. He juggled his plaid in one hand and her cold, wet arse in the other, shifting back and forth to help her pull it over his head. 

He stepped away long enough to lay his plaid over a pile of hay, then he was back on her, madly kneading her bum. She slipped out of his hands and dropped to her knees, her mouth finding his cock in a breath.

He growled loudly, feeling no little shame in receiving such filthy pleasure with an audience of an angry God, clamoring about in the skies, and the damn curious horses, nickering and snorting in the next stall. God‘s disapproval thundered loudly overhead, but all Jamie could do was shrug, thinking if he must shame his Maker, then this was one of the few worthwhile ways of doing so. He took Claire’s face in his hands and rogered her mouth like it was a hot, wet quim.

He retreated before it was too late, and bent down to take his woman as the Blessed intended. But Claire wasn’t having it. She lowered her chest to the plaid, sticking that round arse in the air to be defiled.

“Like beasts, is it?“ he said, cock so bloody hard it was painful.

She gave an eager moan and a wobbly wiggle. He grabbed her hips and took her roughly. Every smack against her bum sent waves across her flesh. She was reaching below, touching herself as he took her, rubbing like mad to peak along with him. He held off long enough for her to reach climax, shooting off his seed the moment he felt the familiar tensing of her body from deep within.

They collapsed on their sides, Jamie pulling the plaid around them as he wrapped her in his arms. He thought of carrying her through the storm and into bed, but he didn’t have the strength to lift himself at the moment, much less a whole other person. 

“The roof is holding up well.” A smile could be heard in her tone.

“Give me a moment to remember which way is up, and I’ll take ye in to bed.”

“Oh, I’m fine. My uncle raised me after my parents died; we slept rough for his work all the time. I’m used to it.”

“I dinna mean to have ye sleeping out here when a perfectly good house is only a stone’s throw away.”

“Oh hush,” she yawned, wriggling her bum to fit comfortably in the curve of his pelvis. “You know I used to love sleeping outdoors with you, making love under the stars, huddled together for warmth.”

He tried not to react, but he couldn’t help the way his body stiffened. She was clearly confusing him for her husband. 

Jamie felt stuck. He was sick to his stomach at the idea of her thinking of another man while in his arms, but he was terrified of setting her off again, losing her for hours or days to her grief. His thoughts raced wildly as he held her in his arms while she relived memories of a man he was growing to despise. 

“Sorry,” she whispered, tensing as she realized her faux pas. “I just...I…”

She didn’t have the words and began resorting to tears. Christ, he hated it when she cried. He would try to make it better for her, no matter how badly it hurt him. “Dinna fash, lass. I ne’er expected yer memory of him to cease after we made love. I was the one who told ye to speak of him if ye like. I’d be a liar if I shamed ye for it now.”

She rolled around in his arms to bury her face in his chest, breathing him in like she lived for his scent. “Thank you.”

His heart melted at her relief, pressing him to encourage her a bit more. “Tell me about him, then. How did’ye meet?”

She looked up to be certain he genuinely wanted to know. He masked his feelings to the contrary and gave a reassuring smile. It was apparently convincing, because she dropped her head back down to his chest and spoke softly. 

“I was traveling in the countryside, and I stumbled upon him quite by accident. We fell in love almost immediately, and we were married by the end of the week. He died about a year later.”

“So soon?”

She nodded into his chest, and he could tell by the small hiccoughing that she was once again in tears. “One moment, I was riding with him through the wilderness, falling in love in the wildflowers, nervous to meet his family for the first time, and then the next year, I was screaming at a nun who wouldn’t let me take my daughter home to be buried next to her father, because they’d already done so behind the church while I was fighting for my life, inches from death myself.”

Jamie didn’t know what to say. He was certain there was nothing he could say, so he held her close and listened.

“I thought I had nothing to live for. I wished with all my heart that God would take me away with them, to let me spend eternity with the family I never got to have.” Her tears were flowing heavily against his chest. “It took me a long time to realize I had another reason for being here in this life, another reason to force myself up in the morning, to force myself to breathe again, to bathe, to eat. There was something left that still had meaning.”

She looked up at him then, reaching a hand around his body and caressing the scars on his back.

“To be a healer, ye mean?”

“To heal you, my love. To save you.”

His heart stopped, and he was certain it would never beat again. “Ye’re saying I gave you a reason for living?”

She nodded, eyes red and swollen, full of tears.

“D’ye think ye give me any less?I wanted to die at that abbey…until you.”

A sob racked through her body, and she reached up to kiss him. He could feel his own tears falling down his face to mingle with hers. 

They held each other there in the stables long into the stormy day, rain coming and going and coming back again. The steady fall of water drowned out all other sounds of the world around them.

They lay undisturbed, save from each other's kisses, until Claire reluctantly fell asleep. Jamie stayed awake, stroking her hair and fair skin, angry with God and her husband for causing her so much pain, and grateful to them that they freed her up to be with him.

Claire slept fitfully, caught up in dreams that made her twitch and moan and cringe in pain. He tried to soothe her, rubbing her arms and whispering quiet Gaelic. Just as he had made the decision to wake her up and bring her back to the cottage, she cried out his name in her sleep, “Jamie! Noooo! Jamie! Don’t go! You can’t leave me here! Jamie!”

“Claire!” He shook her firmly, waking her up. She opened her eyes in a panic, confused, disoriented. Jamie held her face tightly and locked onto her gaze. “I’m here, mo nighean donn. I’ll no’ leave you. Ye’re here in my arms, safe wi’ me. It was only a dream.”

“A dream?” 

“Aye.”

For a moment, she almost seemed relieved, but a despairing fear overtook her once again. “No! It wasn’t! It was real. It was all real. You, Jamie—You’re the dream! This life isn’t mine, no matter how badly I wish it were so!”

“Wha—“

“You’re not my Jamie!” She yanked herself out of his grip, and ran off out into the storm. He was on his feet immediately, rushing after her with his plaid in hand. She was clumsy in the mud, slipping and sliding through the puddles. 

She stopped in an empty wheat field to catch her breath, staring up at the thundering sky. An anguished cry let loose from her chest, as though God had sent his lightning to tear out her heart.

“Claire!” he called, carrying his voice through the wind and rain. 

She stood there, naked, vulnerable, and broken. He hardly heard her words when she spoke. “This was a mistake. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have stayed.”

“No!” He dropped his plaid and grabbed her by the arms, shaking her. “Ye’re mine! D’ye hear me? Ye’re meant to be wi’ me.”

She seemed to be looking through him, looking past him, out into the darkness beyond. Her head shook back and forth, as if she was about to contradict him.

“Ye said I’d be a free man soon! Ye said ye’d return to Scotland wi’ me on my arm as my Lady. D’ye no’ want to marry me, lass? D’ye no’ want to carry my children?”

“I want that more than anything.”

“Then marry me. Be my wife, damn you! Bind yerself to me until the day we die!”

“The day we die?” She blinked furiously, some sort of realization seemed to be dawning in her eyes.

A strange calm took over her, and her body relaxed. She looked up at him and said softly, “I will marry you, James Fraser. I will bind myself to you for this life and the next. I will marry you a thousand times, and a thousand more, and a hundred, and a thousand more after that. I will bear your children, and I will ensure we grow old together. I will let nothing take you away from me ever again.”

She sounded even more mad in her calm then when she was when delirious with grief, but she was saying all the things his fragile heart demanded to hear.

He kissed her with the rain pouring down over them. He kissed her with the desperation of a man terrified of losing everything he held dear all over again. 

With all his strength in his arms, gripping her tight to his chest, his knees fell weak, and they dropped to the ground. He lay back, not wanting the rocks or sticks to damage her perfect skin. She rose over him, slipping over his cock and grounding him in a way he hadn’t realized he needed.

He looked up at her. The rain was falling in his eyes, obscuring his sight. Her skin was pure white under the storm clouds, a shining light lit from within. A Sorcha—a heavenly body cloaked in nature’s darkness. She rode him, oblivious to the flashing lightning and the rolling thunder. It wasn’t just his heartstrings she held in her hand, but those of God Himself, and the Almighty was tormented by her lability, taking out His affliction on the earth He created for the sake of her pain.

Claire screamed out in excruciating pleasure and collapsed on top of him, utterly shattered. He didn’t have it in him to find his own release. He hardly had it in him to breathe. 

They were drenched to the bone and their bodies rubbed raw. When he had the strength, he helped her to her feet and retrieved his sodden plaid. He wrapped her in it and carried her home. 

 


 

The days that followed were filled with a strange uncertainty for Jamie, yet Claire seemed finally at peace. She made love to him without crashing into that mournful despondency. She seemed somehow settled, resolute in whatever conclusions she had formed in her mind under the influence of that summer storm. 

He wasn’t sure whether or not she was entirely sane, but God help him, it didn’t matter. 

He woke up late one night to find her writing a letter by candlelight, wearing nothing but his plaid around her shoulders. 

“What are ye doing, woman?” he grumbled. “Why are ye no’ in bed?”

She smiled sweetly and put her parchment away, blowing out the candle and coming to bed. 

“What were ye writing?” 

“Correspondence to a lover,” she teased, snuggling into the crook of his arm. 

He pinched her arse in admonishment, but only hard enough to elicit a giggle. She kissed him sweetly, lovingly, perfectly.

“I love ye, Claire. Whatever is left of my battered heart is all yours.”

“Oh, Jamie.” Her eyes watered, and she caressed his cheek. “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love."

 


 

When he woke in the morning, she was gone.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

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

May 1743

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

 

The earth rolled beneath me like waves at sea, yet it wasn’t cold water where I rested, but warm, solid ground that rose and fell to a slow, steady rhythm. My lungs synchronized to each change of direction—as my body rose up in the waves’ ascent, my mouth pulled in crisp, forest-scented air, and with each drop down it cleared away hot breath now transformed into something useful for the surrounding trees.

The movement was soothing in the extreme, a comfort to the deepest parts of being. Sanctuary. An idyll of existence I never wanted to end.

But a faint pulsing rhythm played like a drum, a reminder this paradise couldn’t last.

Somehow, I knew if I moved, pain would come. If I opened my eyes, this dreamlike sensation would be gone forever; it would be turned into a memory, tainted by all the experiences that came after. So, my eyes remained closed, and my lungs kept pace with the earth’s breath. My arms wrapped around the warm world that served as a bed beneath me.

The ground gave a shuddering breath at my touch, and I knew this sojourn in paradise was over. I forced my eyelids apart to let in the dull light of a cloud-covered sun.

Immediately, I realized it was not the earth I lay on, but a man. A very large, very firm man. For some reason, this thought didn’t scare me. I was comforted, even in the presence of a generally disconcerting scent—one I knew all too well—at once metallic and organic...blood.

He lay flat on the ground on his back, my body lengthwise over him. I lifted my head and was struck with a throbbing pain in my temple. I flinched and laid back down on my comforting pillow.

“Careful now, Sassenach. Ye took no small hit to the heid,” said a deep voice with a thick Scottish accent. Long, rough fingers stroked the source of the pain, tangling in my hair with each caress. “’Tis all right now. Ye’ll ne’er be harmed again.”

Prepared for the pain this time, I tried again slower. I lifted my head off the man's chest and looked up. We were surrounded by a forest of dense trees and brush. The only sounds I could hear beyond our breath was the trickle of a small creek somewhere in the distance and the song of a dozen birds overhead.

“Ye all right then, mo ghràidh?

I searched for memories of what happened before I lost consciousness to make sense of the world I was currently in. I remembered visiting Craigh Na Dun...the buzzing at the standing stones...the pain of touching that giant rock...my car missing…seeing Frank alive...but it wasn’t Frank...a man looking just like him in a red coat...attacking me…A red-haired man in a kilt coming to my aid with a great long sword...everything going black…

“I...I’m not sure,” I said. I sat up, my hand on his chest for balance. “I think I’m fine, thanks to you.”

The sword attached to the man’s side seemed something from ages past. The rifles and pistols the men were using on that hill looked hundreds of years old. The Englishmen wore red coats, for Christ’s sake.

It was as if I’d fallen through time.

The man made no effort to get up beside me. He lay unmoving, flat on his back.

“How about you?” I asked. “Are you all right?” I looked him over. My breath caught at the sight before me. His hair was the first thing I noticed—a thousand shades of red, mahogany, auburn, and ginger, shining even in absence of sun. Blue, cat-like eyes, with far too much depth for a man so young, watched me reverently.

He was nothing short of beautiful. I felt a strange intimacy with this man I hardly knew. One who came to my aid and carted me off to relative safety. 

I was so mesmerized by him that it hardly seemed strange when he lifted himself up and whispered, “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes,” before pulling me close for a kiss.

He smelled pleasantly of earth and sweat, and there was a faint taste of whisky on his lips. It was my own hum of pleasure that had me realizing that I was allowing a strange man to kiss me. First that redcoat that looked like Frank forced himself on me, and now a ferocious, albeit striking Highlander was caressing my mouth with his tongue like he’d done it a thousand times before.

“What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?!” I snapped, pushing him back. He fell heavily to the ground with a groan of agony. 

I looked around, contemplating making a run for it, just in case he tried something again. He seemed safe and kind enough, but I’d watched him fight those redcoats, and I knew bloody well his capabilities.

“Claire!” he reached out and grasped my arm, as though terrified I’d leave. If he didn’t seem so concerned for my welfare, I might’ve bolted out of fear from the strength of his grip alone. 

Then his words finally dawned on me. “How do you know my name?”

“What d’ye mean, Sassenach?” He seemed genuinely confused. “Did the knock to yer heid rid ye of yer memory?”

“What? Of course not.”

“Is there something I can do? Is there a medicine I can find for ye? A plant ye can take?”

“I have all my memories, thank you very much. In fact, you are the one looking a bit worse for the wear.” For the first time, I realized just how battered the poor man was on my account. “You’re bleeding.”

“Aye. ’Tis only a scratch. It’s my shoulder that’s the real bother. Could ye put it back in for me, lass?”

“Put it back? You—you know I’m a nurse?”

“A healer, ye mean? Of course. Ye’ve doctored me a number of times before.”

I had to forcibly stop my hands from shaking; panic was about to set in. I was in a strange place, in a strange time, with a man who knew more about me than he had any right to—a man who thought he could just kiss me as though I belonged to him.

I tried not to blush at the memory of his warm lips against mine.

“Ye dinna recall any of it?” he said, voice growing weak.

“You, sir, don’t seem like the kind of man many would forget. I’m certain we’ve never met before.” I would have remembered lips like that anywhere.

His head dropped back in shocked defeat, bouncing on the ground beneath him. A look of anguish settling over him.

“Careful!” I rushed forward to inspect his head. “The last thing you need is a concussion.”

He lay there unmoving, just staring at me with a painful longing that pulled at my heart in a way I couldn’t comprehend. Perhaps I had met him before? What else could explain this bizarre connection I felt toward a complete stranger?

“I think your head is all right,” I said, “but I do need to bandage that wound and set your shoulder. Do you think you can sit up?”

“Aye. Help me to yon tree, will ye?”

I was hardly any help with moving that massive body of his. He scooted back, grunting with the effort until he was able to lean against a large trunk to remain upright. 

Setting the arm was difficult—he was so large and his useless arm so heavy—but he was a stoic patient and hardly made more than a grunt when the shoulder popped into place. And more stoic yet when I cleaned his wound with a small flask of whisky he carried on his belt. He watched me intently as I did my best to bandage him up with strips of fabric torn from my slip.

“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” I said, forcing him to drink from his waterskin. “You need rest and nourishment. Try not to move around too much.”

“Tell me, Claire, what the bloody hell is going on?”

There it was again. That strange intimacy in his voice. “Do you think I know?“

“I think ye ken more than ye’re saying. Why are ye in Scotland? And why now? Did’ye come to find me?”

I panicked at the thought of him learning about the stones. He’d probably think me mad...or a witch. I knew exactly what happened to witches in Scotland’s history. 

I was a terrible liar, so I told the truth as safely as I could. “I came to Scotland on holiday. Why would you think I came for you? You’re a stranger. I’m grateful for your assistance, but—”

“A stra—stranger?” his voice cracked. 

“Yes. A stranger. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

His head lulled back and forth. “No. No, my Sassenach. Ye promised to share your life wi’ me. Ye helped me grieve my father.” The shock and grogginess from his blood loss had him rambling on, no apparent self-control over his cascade of senseless words. “Ye cried in my arms when ye told me of losing yer child. Ye made love to me and vowed we’d have a future. Ye said we’d be wed, that if ye could, ye’d marry me a thousand times, and a thousand more. And now, ye call me a stranger?“

“You are a stranger. I don’t even know your name.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the tree. “Ye said it so often...how can ye no’ ken?” He opened them again to look at me sadly. “It’s James. James Fraser. Ye called me Jamie.”

“Well, Jamie, I am afraid you’ve gone quite delirious with your injury,” I said matter-of-factly, trying like hell to cling to logic in a place where none seemed to exist anymore. “But don’t worry; I’ll get you patched up. You saved my life, and I’ll ensure we get you back to your right state in no time.”

His disobedient eyelids looked as though they had a mind of their own, refusing to listen to his command for them to stay open. He was fighting for consciousness, his hand on my leg losing its grip with every lull of his head. 

As he drifted off to sleep, he mumbled quietly, “Ye came back to me, as ye said ye would. Dinna leave me, mo nighean donn. I couldna bear to lose ye again.”

“I’ll be here,” I assured him, hating to hear the pain in his voice. I did intend to stay for the time being. I couldn’t leave an injured man alone in the forest to fend for himself. 

I covered him up with his coat even though it wasn’t very cold—probably an old habit from the hospital. I took the opportunity to look at him more thoroughly. His relaxed, sleeping features looked more their age at rest. But even at ease, his jaw was strong and his shoulders broad.

A shiver ran through my body that had nothing to do with the temperature. My heart fluttered, and my stomach dropped like there was a sudden shift in gravity. 

He was quite beautiful for a wild, blood-stained man. I ran a finger over my lips, remembering the gentle warmth of his tongue. It had been a long time since I was last kissed, and never had I been kissed quite like that.

A restless energy suddenly overtook me, urging me to my feet. I wished there was something practical I could do. I paced around, frustrated at my own uselessness. I needed to keep my hands busy and my mind from racing. 

Wandering around within eyesight of my kilted rescuer, I decided to forage for something edible. I had no idea how long we’d be out here, so it was better to be prepared.

After some time searching, I found dandelions and wood sorrel that could serve as a meager lunch. It felt good to get my hands in the dirt. It somehow helped me confirm that this wasn’t a dream. It was as real as the soil on my fingertips. Whatever plants I found, I brought back to my sleeping soldier and left them in organized piles. 

I felt myself settling with time. I whiled away the hours he slept, grazing on the fruits of my labor, then venturing out to find some more. It was a strangely pleasant way to spend an afternoon, given the circumstances, and something I would have chosen to do on holiday anyway.

I nearly squealed when I found wild berries growing by the creek. They were delicious and sweet. I tore off a piece of my slip to use as a satchel and filled it with the little bites of heaven.

A distinct animal noise sounded behind me, and I froze in fear. Whatever the beast was, it was certainly large. It was sniffing and rooting around...a boar perhaps? I knew they could be terribly dangerous. It didn’t sound angry or agitated, so I was reluctant to move and trigger hostility.

But what if it saw my sleeping rescuer and attacked him?

I turned quickly, purposefully drawing attention to myself, and came face to face with a large, black beast. I jumped back with shock, and the ground gave way beneath my feet, causing me to fall into the freezing creek below.

My shriek made the animal neigh loudly and rear back on his hind legs.

I looked up from the water and saw a magnificent horse, black from nose to tail—the largest I’d ever seen.

“You must belong to Jamie,” I said, getting to my feet. Only a giant like my new overly friendly Highlander could manage a beast like that. 

“Ifrinn!” My soldier sprung to his feet and rushed over, calming his horse in soothing Gaelic.

I shuffled out of the creek and stood frozen and shivering. An overcast spring day in Scotland was a little on the cool side for the light dress I was wearing, but when plunged into a creek of freezing water, it was unbearable.

My new friend tied his horse to a tree and turned his attention over to me.

“God, ye’ll freeze!”

He grabbed his coat and wrapped it around me. It was thick and enormous and oh so warm. Along with his soothing words and the way his massive hands rubbed friction into my body, I was taken back to that blissful idyll I’d inhabited when I woke up a few hours previous, lying comfortably on his chest. 

My face rested in the deep hollow between his firm muscles. I knew he was large when I had lain with him, but seeing him stretched out to his full height proved just how much I’d underestimated his size. 

He wrapped himself around me, soothing me with his immense strength and heat. His hands were strangely familiar with the shape of my body, touching me in perfectly benign places, yet in a way that felt as though he’d had them on me many times before. The effect of which had my heart racing and my knees buckling. He felt me waver and held me against him, keeping me upright.

“Ye all right, lass?”

“I-I’m...fi-fine,” I stuttered, jaw trembling with the cold.

He tucked me under his uninjured arm and led me back to the tree.

“Y-you should be resting,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“Och, never mind that. This isna the first time Donas has knocked a lass over on her hands and knees.” He sat me down in the place he’d been occupying before.

“You shouldn’t be moving your arm. I’ll have to fix those bandages,” I scolded, not liking to take his place as patient.

“It’ll bide. Ye willna be able to mend my shoulder if ye freeze to death.” He looked around as though ensuring we were still alone. “I didna care to build a fire so close to the fairy hill and all the dead redcoats, but I’m none so sure that matters anymore—no’ whilst yer lips have turned blue.”

“The dead redcoats? You killed them all? To save me?”

“Aye.”

It was a little bit frightening, if I was being honest, yet the most incredible thing anyone had ever done for me. “Won’t they come after you?”

“I certainly hope not. I’ve only recently been pardoned for a murder I didna commit. I’d hate to be hanged before making it back home to see my sister.”

“Wh-what?” I said, teeth clattering together with a shiver.

“Oh. That’s right. Ye dinna recall.” He knelt down beside me and rubbed his immense hands over my arms. His proximity alone was already bringing me warmth. “Some years ago, Captain Randall, the man who attacked ye, did the same to my sister. I intervened and was arrested and beaten half to death for my trouble. Upon my escape, a man was killed, and it was blamed on me. I was only recently pardoned. I’ve been away from Scotland e’er since.”

“Jamie!” I looked up in shock. “You stopped him for me? After what he did to you for helping your sister, you still rushed over to save me?”

His eyes nearly melted as they met mine. He lifted a hand to caress my cheek. It was startling how those hands that delivered such violent, deadly blows to Captain Randall could be so tender with me.

I put my hand over his and whispered, “No fire. I’ll dry soon enough.” I couldn’t allow him to do anything for me that might risk his capture.

“Will ye let me warm ye, then? I canna have ye catching a chill on account of my daft horse.”

“That’s not how illness works,” I chided.

“I ken. It’s the gerrrms,” he snickered.

Germs? “You know about germs?”

“Ye told me of them before...when last we met.”

“Did I?” Fear shot through my heart, terrified he might be right, and there could be a whole chunk of my life missing from my memory. He didn’t seem delirious with blood loss anymore, and I didn’t know how those stones worked or what they’d done to my brain. 

Bloody hell! What on earth is going on?

“D’ye mind if I hold ye, Claire?” he asked softly. I saw the hope in his eyes, the fear I’d reject him. “Can I warm ye, if ye’ll no’ let me light ye a fire?”

How could I possibly turn him down? I nodded, honestly looking forward to his having his arms around me again. I couldn’t deny I was already developing a bit of a crush.

He bent down and scooped me up with his good arm, taking my place against the tree. He fitted me on his lap and pulled me against his chest. I was glad he couldn’t see my face. I was blushing with the heat of a thousand suns.

“Grab my plaid. I canna reach it wi’ one arm.”

I pulled the long, hanging part of his plaid up over his shoulders and around my body, cocooning us in another layer of warmth. His hand stroked my wet hair away from my face.

“How’s your arm?” I asked. “You lost a lot of blood.”

“Tender,” he admitted, “but it’s all right.”

I found myself wanting another glimpse of his deep, blue eyes. He was watching me, face unmoving save for a twinkle in his eye and a quirk of his mouth. Eye contact could be a powerful thing, even in the most ordinary of circumstances, but this wasn’t anything close to ordinary. Eye contact with this man at this proximity, all alone in the wilderness, was nothing short of overwhelming. Yet I couldn’t seem to look away.

He seemed to very much enjoy holding me, perhaps it helped ease his worry about me running off.

“Are ye warmer now?” he asked.

“Much. You’re not bothered that I’m getting you wet?”

He chuckled. “No. ’Tis no bother.”

My eyes were drawn to his open collar that showed hints of large muscles and auburn hair beneath. There was a small, triangular scar at the base of his throat. I had an urge to trace its edges with my fingertip, as though I could go back in time to when it happened and heal it properly. Touching him was an urge I quickly stifled by gripping tight to the lapels of the coat I was still wearing.

He made a low grunt that rumbled in his throat. I looked up again and noticed he was staring at my chest. I followed his gaze and realized my wet dress and undergarments were hiding very little of what was underneath. His coat and plaid were covering most of me, but the slope of my breast was on display from the angle he was looking.

I knew I should cover myself, but that was the opposite of what my body wanted to do. So I did nothing.

“We’ll camp here for the night,” he said, his voice strained, forcing himself to look away. “We’re hidden well enough away from the road.” 

“How did you get me here with your arm injured so badly?”

“Weel, the wee scratch didna cause much bother right away, so I pulled ye up on Donas and rode this far before I fell off. I grew a bit faint, bleeding like a pig.”

I laughed. That scratch was a 2 inch wide hole in solid muscle. “Is that how your shoulder was dislocated? Falling off the horse with my dead weight on top of you?”

“I wouldna use a wee lassie to break my own fall.”

The sight of his large, heavy body made me grateful for that.

I looked around at the dense forest, a wild and beautiful place that seemed to go on forever. “Do you know where we are?”

“Aye. Some ways east of the hill where I found ye.”

I looked up to find the sun, wondering which direction was east. It was concealed by a thick cover of clouds.

“Ye canna go back, mo ghràidh,” he snapped, reading my thoughts with uncanny skill. His arm gripped me tight, giving me a hint of the level of his aversion to my leaving. “If a stray sassenach like yerself is caught wi’ Randall’s blood still fresh on the ground and mine on yer shift, a redcoat patrol would certainly take ye in for questioning...if not imprison ye entirely.”

My stomach turned in knots. What the bloody hell was I meant to do? I rubbed my face with both hands, trying to clear my head and form a useful and coherent thought. I was stopped by Jamie grabbing my hand and examining it closely.

“Ye got yer ring back, did’ye?” His brow narrowed. “Or...or did’ye…” His eyes widened, worried. “Or did’ye marry someone else? Someone different?”

“I’ve only been married once,” I said. “Frank died some years ago in combat.”

“Aye,” he sounded relieved. “A duel. Ye told me.”

“A duel? No. An explosion. Duels aren’t common where I’m from.”

“But…” Jamie looked confused, “ye told me...ye told me yer husband died in a duel, protecting ye from that wicked comte. It made ye lose yer child. The wee lass was born too soon wi’ the strain of ye trying to save him.”

“What? No. I’ve never been pregnant,” no matter how hard we tried, I didn’t add. “Are you sure it was me you met before? Perhaps it was someone who just looked like me.”

He snorted in irritation, smacking my bottom with a disturbing familiarity. “I’d ken that arse anywhere, Sassenach. I spent enough time wi’ it. And if yer eyes and yer hair didna give ye away, then yer touch most certainly would. I ken who ye are, lass, better than you seem to ken yerself.”

“Tell me, then,” I snapped, getting frustrated—and a little flustered, if I was being honest. “Tell me what you know of me. Tell me all the things you think I don’t remember.”

He inflated with a great inhale at whatever memories were running through his mind. “I dinna ken where to start.”

“At the beginning, of course.”

He nodded, brushing my hair mindlessly behind my ear. For some reason the tender gesture seemed to cool my temper. “When I escaped from Randall at Fort William, I was taken to an abbey in France. Ye were there; ye healed me. He’d beaten me badly, ye see. A hundred lashes on a hundred lashes, only a week apart. Ye saved me from dying from a fever. Ye saved me from the gerrrms wi’ yer wee needles.”

“Penicillin?” my eyes went wide. “Where the bloody hell did I get that?”

He shrugged. “I dinna ken. But it worked. As payment, I agreed to help ye at yer farm. Yer husband had died the year before, and ye couldna keep up wi’ the work on yer own...or so ye said.”

I didn’t miss the bitterness in his tone and intended to ask him about it, but before I could, he suddenly turned a bright shade of red and had difficulty looking me in the eyes. 

“What?”

“I canna—”

“What? What is it?”

“Come now, Sassenach. I have some bit of pride, and telling ye these things when ye dinna recall them makes me feel foolish.”

“Please,” I insisted. When he didn’t respond, I reached up and laid a gentle hand on his cheek, taking a page out of his book and using touch to help him settle. “How can I remember if I don’t know what it is I’m meant to recall?”

He shivered at my hand on his skin, and I realized the gesture meant more to him than I had anticipated. “God, Clai-re,” his voice broke in a shaky exhale.

“Tell me,” I repeated softly.

His eyes held mine as his hand moved up to tangle in my wet hair. The intensity of his gaze grew as the moments lingered on. When he finally spoke, his words were low, but they were strong. “Ye made me fall in love wi’ ye...then ye broke me.” His jaw twitched with tension as his eyes continued to bore into mine. 

“How—”

He cut me off with a kiss. Not a sweet, soft kiss like the last time, but a firm and possessive one. I could feel his restraint in the tension of his hands, in the slow, intentional stokes of his tongue. I could feel it pressing against my bottom where I sat on his lap.

As though my body was giving me no choice in the matter, I didn’t push him away this time. I sat there and let him kiss me, let him show me some glimpse of what he felt inside when saw me. I was kissing him back, not because it made any sense to do so, but because he felt so fucking good against my mouth. 

“Ye dinna ken what it feels like…” he whispered, dropping his lips down to my neck, “to have ye back in my arms.” He latched on to the sensitive skin of my throat, right where one might check my pulse. I moaned uncontrollably, at the mercy of his skilled tongue. 

“God, Claire, I thought ye were gone forever.” He kissed back up my neck and found my mouth, sealing over it and plunging his tongue inside. I was utterly mesmerized by the force of his passion, my own thoughts no longer coherent.

“Ye taste the same, mo nighean donn.” He moaned in bliss, lips falling away to stare at me with an ardent reverence I wasn’t sure I’d done anything to deserve.

The kiss seemed to have calmed him, temporarily scratching an itch he’d held for too long. His eyes took me in, looking over every bit of my face, then smiling sadly. “Ye look younger, lass.” He let go of my hair to trace my brow. “The wee lines on yer face are all gone with yer troubles. Perhaps it’s best ye dinna recall yer pain.”

“My pain?” My body was buzzing with too much pleasure to remember the meaning of the word.

“Aye. The wean that died...and the man ye lost in the duel. Although, from what ye’re saying, I’m beginning to think it’s no’ the same man who gave ye that.” He pointed to the gold ring on my finger.

“Jamie,” I shook my head, “I’ve never had a child. I think I would know if I had given birth. My body would be affected in some way, at the very least.”

“Aye,” he breathed, dropping his hand to my belly. “Ye’ve the wee scars just here.” Then he smirked, “And a bit on yer breast.”

I shook my head and looked up at him sadly, hating that my words might bring him pain. “There’s nothing there. I don’t think I’m the same person you once knew.”

“I ken who ye are, Claire. I would know ye in the dark wi’ my hands bound behind me in chains. If I had no sight, no touch, no sound, I would still know.” He grabbed my hand and moved it over his chest. “Tis my soul that sees ye and kens ye for its mate.”

I wasn’t breathing. How could I after a proclamation like that?

I thought of the bloody stones and wondered if they didn’t just take me through time, but to some alternate plane of reality, to a place where I already existed before. 

“Here,” he whispered, reaching into his sporran. He pulled out a folded bit of parchment and placed it in my hand. “Go on. Open it. Ye left it for me to find when ye disappeared.”

My hands were shaking when I unfolded the letter. The handwriting was unmistakably mine:

My Love,
I meant it.
The next time you see me, never let me go.
Yours,
Claire

I read the words at least a dozen times—each time, my insides seemed to lose more stability until they were quivering like Jell-O. 

I jumped up out of Jamie’s arms, and began pacing back and forth, trying to put all the pieces in place, grasping for some little bit of understanding. 

He’d said I healed him with penicillin...that I had needles. 

He said I looked younger now than before. 

That I’d lost a husband and a child.

If there was one thing I was certain of—as mad as it seemed to be—was that the stones had taken me back through time. If I accepted the reality of time travel, then that subsequently opened up the possibility that I might do so again in the future. “Ye look younger, lass,” he had just told me. “The wee lines in yer face are all gone...”

Could it be that it actually was me he’d fallen in love with? Only, I couldn’t remember because it was me from the future? Or my future, at least. His past.

The ground was suddenly feeling liquid again, though not quite so pleasant as when I was floating in that blissful idyll with Jamie hours before. This was unstable and alarming.

I turned to look at him. His brow was knotted with worry, my distress bothering him greatly. His love for me showed plainly on his face. 

I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that he was in love with me even though I’d never met him before. And more maddening still, I seemed to have loved him back. I meant it, the letter had said. The next time you see me, never let me go.

Why would I tell this man to never let me go unless I knew he would find me again? 

“Claire? Are ye well, lass?”

“No, I’m not.” I was confused. So bloody confused! I paced back and forth trying to understand, but my brain just kept spiraling.

The next time you see me, never let me go. It had to have been me from the future that he fell in love with on that farm. I must have gone back in time to heal the wounds Captain Randall had given him. 

Apparently, my future self was determined that Jamie and I should be together. Which likely meant that he was the husband who had died in the duel, the husband I was grieving so painfully...the father of my child.

“It’s you?” I asked. “I was talking about you?”

“Claire?” he groaned, struggling to his feet, gripping his injured arm.

“It’s you! You’re…you’re him?” For some reason I couldn’t speak the words of his death aloud, not while he was standing there in the flesh in front of me.

“What d’ye mean?” His eyes went wide with a reluctant hope. “D’ye remember me, Sassenach? D’ye recall our time together?”

I shook my head. How could I tell him that the reason I couldn’t remember was because it hadn’t happened yet? At least not to me!

“It can’t be,” I muttered. “No. It can’t. No. No. I don’t belong here. This isn’t my time. This isn’t my home. I have to go back.”

“Claire!” 

“I have to go back!” I took off in a direction I hoped was west, impossible to tell without the sun. I floundered around in shocked foolishness, willing myself to intuit the way home, but the ground still didn’t feel solid yet, and I struggled to find my footing, much less the hill of standing stones.

I stumbled into an open glade and was abruptly struck by the sight of a thousand wildflowers before me. The air was fragrant and the vibrant color shocking. Some innate desire for me to preserve the beauty of the forest and not trample all over it gave Jamie enough time to catch up to me. He was unstable on his feet, walking with a clumsiness I hadn’t seen in him before.

“Oh God,” I said, feeling guilty for abandoning my patient, but still so bloody unsure of what the hell I was meant to be doing. 

“The redcoats, lass,” he reminded me, attempting to stabilize himself by leaning against a tree. “Ye canna go back to where I found ye. They’ll be swarming that hill soon enough, and they’d take ye away from me. I canna stand by and let that happen.”

By the look of how weak he was growing, I wasn’t sure there was much he could do if faced with armed soldiers. Yet the determined look in his eyes told me that didn’t matter in the slightest. He’d come after me so long as he could stand upright. He’d risk his life for me—just like he did for his sister.

Just like he would do in that duel in the future.

I wondered if I could outrun him to keep him away from danger. The grey pallor of his face suggested I could...but that would leave him alone and unwell in the forest with patrolling soldiers nearby out for blood.

He reached out a shaky hand to me, an offer to return to his protection. I nearly laughed, seeing as how he needed my help at the moment far more than I needed his.

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

Apparently, my future self—if that really was who wrote the letter—thought the two of us a good match. How much faith could I place in an assumption like that?

I stepped forward to take his hand. At the very least, perhaps he could answer a few of my questions.

“Ye’re safe with me, Claire. Dinna fash.”

I smiled at his misperception that safety was my worry. “I know.”

His grip was strong despite his body being weak. 

“You need food. And water,” I softly insisted.

“Aye. I ken.”

“I’m sorry I ran off on you. I panicked.”

He only squeezed my hand a little tighter.

“Shall we go back to our camp?”

“Aye. In a minute. Let me rest a bit first.” He slid down against the tree, pulling me with him, clearly intent on not letting me go.

I sat next to him and watched him take deep breaths to manage his pain, feeling all the more ashamed of myself for putting him in this position.

“Can I go find you something to eat? Or bring you water?”

“No.” He reached into his sporran and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He opened it up to reveal some dried meat, a stale bannock, and a bundle of fresh dandelion greens. He split everything in half and gave me the bigger portions. “I kent a lass once,” he smiled softly, “who knew a thing or two about plants—those of which were good for food and those of which were good for healing.”

We sat and ate quietly for a time. He was hungry, devouring his portions quickly. It wasn’t until he reached for his flask hanging on his belt that I spoke. “I’m quite fond of plants.”

“I ken,” he smiled.

“It’s unsettling.”

“What?”

“You knowing things about me I’ve never told you before.”

He snorted, his ears turning red.

“What?” I asked.

He shook his head and didn’t answer.

“Jamie.”

“It’s just...there are a good number of things I’ve learned about ye that are...weel…” his voice faded, but the blush in his cheeks told the rest of the story.

“Oh my.” The rest of his thoughts were easy enough to discern. I was suddenly feeling more than a little warm. I took off his coat and laid it out to dry in the sun, allowing the warm rays to do their work on my wet shift.

It wasn’t until I was sitting there in nothing but my dress that I remembered it was still moist and still white, and my companion would be able to see as much of me as his roaming eyes desired.

I supposed it didn’t matter; he’d just admitted to having carnal knowledge of me. What was a little transparent attire in comparison?

“May I ask a question?” I said, changing the subject.

“Of course.” He passed me the whisky to help wash down my dry bannock.

The fiery liquid felt warm flowing into my stomach, and I sighed with pleasure, even as my nurse’s brain told me the alcohol was neither good for hypothermia nor dehydration, conditions that both he and I had been recently close to facing. It was, however, good for courage.

“What did I mean in that letter when I wrote, ‘I meant it?’”

He took the flask back and had his own drink before answering. “That ye loved me. That ye intended to come home wi’ me to meet my family. That ye meant to be my Lady.”

“Your Lady? Does that mean you’re a Laird?”

“Aye. I have a wee bit of land bordering the Frasers of Lovat and the MacKenzies—the families of my father and mother, respectively.”

“You have a large family, I take it?”

“Aye.” He raised a brow. “That doesna scare ye, does it? I ken ye come from a small family.”

I shrugged, unable to wrap my mind around the idea. “I said I would marry you?”

He nodded, mouth curling into a bashful smile.

For a moment I thought that proclamation was a bit presumptuous of my future self to make on my behalf, but looking over the impressive Highlander next to me, perhaps it wasn’t such a stretch to believe after all. 

A Lady. The title sounded daunting. 

Restlessness began growing again in my belly. I started clearing weeds away from a small forget-me-not plant, as though I’d be able to help tidy up the forest like it was my garden.

Jamie grasped my hand to stop my busywork. “What is it, lass?” he said, not letting go. “Tell me.”

For some reason, I felt like I could talk to him when he touched me like that. As though speaking my heart and mind to the man would be, not exactly easy, but necessary...and safe. “If I stay,” I started, swallowing thickly to remove the lump in my throat. “If I stay, it would feel as though I’m giving up my whole life for you. Everything I know, everything I’ve been, everything I thought I would be. I’m not so sure that’s what I want—I’ve only known you a few bloody hours. But it also feels like I hardly have a choice in the matter.”

“There’s always a choice, Claire. And as far as choices go, you’ll always be mine. And God help me, mebbe...mebbe one day I’ll be yours, as well.”

“The letter told you to never let me go. What would you do if I demanded you take me back this instant? Would you listen to the me you knew in France? Or the me right here in front of you?”

“If ye canna stomach the thought of me, I wouldna force ye to stay, if that’s what ye’re asking.” 

“It just doesn’t feel like a choice when the instructions to remain here are coming from myself.”

“Aye. Weel, ye could choose to leave me for the sake of being contrary, though that doesna sound much like something ye’d do either.”

“No. It doesn’t.”

We sat quietly and ate a bit more. In truth, I wasn’t very hungry. I gave the rest of my food to Jamie, his body needing it more than mine.

We didn’t return to camp right away. I wasn’t ready to leave the sunshine or the flora. It was comforting to know that the wildflowers I knew in the 1940s were the same ones surrounding me in whatever time period I was currently residing. Many things were different here...but Scotland felt the same.

Jamie noticed my eyes wandering. He let go of my hand and began gathering a handful of forget-me-nots. He bundled them together before bringing them to his nose. He caught me watching and blushed to his ears.

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

“They’re beautiful.”

“Aye.” He touched my cheek.

I brought the flowers to my nose and inhaled their subtle scent. “What if—what if you don’t like me anymore? I feel like a completely different person than the Claire you once knew in France.”

“Sassenach...” he breathed, staring at me as though I just didn’t understand, “it doesna matter if we’re beneath the French stars or the Scottish sun, if ye remember me or no’.” He placed a hand over his heart, and spoke seriously, “I will want ye until the day I die.” He took a shuddering breath. “When I saw ye on that hill, I thought…” A small tear began forming in the corner of his eye. “I thought ye had to come back to be with me. I thought ye came to find me, to love me again as ye said ye would.“

Perhaps I did, I thought to myself, wondering why I fell through time right into his arms. Was it coincidence or fate? Divine intervention? Or just things happening as they were meant to be?

That line of thinking once again made me shaky.

“If I ask you a question,” I said, “do you promise not to think me mad?”

He wiped away his tear and smiled, eyes crinkling sweetly. “No.” But he grasped my hand warmly, and I knew it wouldn’t matter to him if I was.

“What year is it, Jamie?”

“What year?”

“Tell me the year. Please.”

“1743. Why?”

Two hundred years. I sucked in a breath. Two hundred fucking years.

I had deduced this, of course, but to have it confirmed was still unsettling. I turned to look at my eighteenth century Highlander and almost laughed. He certainly looked the part.

Yet there was something timeless in the way his eyes met mine, the way he held my hand and whispered Shakespeare, picking me a posy. Much like the wildflowers surrounding us, it grounded me, helping me to understand why an older version of myself would want me to stay.

I scooted closer and leaned into Jamie’s side, wanting to feel the sanctuary of proximity that had been there from the beginning. He obliged, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me in tight. 

“Will you tell me about your family?” I asked, wanting to know something more about him.

“How many generations back?” he laughed.

“Your parents will do.”

And so he began, talking quietly, filling me in on little details of the people who raised him. I listened, finding comfort in learning more about the man that Fate or Time or my own choices seemed to insist on tying me to. 

His voice was deep and mesmerizing, blending perfectly with the scene of the forest. The food and drink seemed to do him good, his fatigue abating as time went on.

He surprised me by asking questions about Uncle Lamb, solidifying for both of us that it was indeed me—or some version of me—that he had known in France.

After a good length of time, the clouds once again concealed the sun, and a chill had my whole body quivering. “Come, lass,” Jamie rose to his feet, aiding me up with a gentleman’s hand. He retrieved his coat and wrapped me in it once again. “We should gather some bracken to make a bed before dark. Scottish nights carry a piercing wind.”

He led me back to our camp hidden away in the thick of the trees. I aided in collecting ferns and watched him arrange them into a small bed and shelter. It didn’t escape my notice that there was hardly room for two. Apparently, we’d be huddling for warmth.

I tended to his wound, and he forced me to eat a bit more. With the thick cover of clouds, night came early, and I was relieved when he laid down and invited me into his arms. I removed his coat to cover our legs, and he cocooned us once again in his plaid. The little shelter he’d fashioned blocked the wind very effectively, and his warm body drew me in like a magnet.

I lay facing him, intrigued by the ease in which physical affection came to us. His injured arm was draped heavily over my body, keeping me tucked snugly against him, my face buried in his chest. 

The clouds covered the moon and stars, leaving us in complete darkness. As it tended to happen when one lost one of their senses, I began relying on the others to take in the world around me; it just so happened that Jamie was my entire world at the moment.

His body was a pleasure to touch, and my curious hands wandered around, exploring this vast, new terrain. Our legs tangled together under the pretext of seeking warmth, as I rested my head over the beating of his heart.

“I wonder what it would’ve been like for us to meet without the weight of the past,” or the future, I didn’t say, “bearing down on us.”

“Is my affection for ye an imposition?” he asked softly. “Is it a great burden to carry?”

I shook my head, though he could hardly see me. “No. I was thinking of that letter I left for you. My life has changed more in the last day than you can possibly imagine, and it’ll never be the same again. There is some grief in that, I think. The loss of all I once knew.”

“I wouldna ask ye to give up yer life for me, Claire, only to let me share it wi’ ye.”

“I wish it was that simple.” 

What he didn’t understand was that a million things could go wrong if I stayed, chief among them was regret. I’d been married before; I knew exactly how difficult a relationship could be. It wasn’t always two lovers against the world, like it had been so far between us in the wilderness and with the redcoats. In a marriage, the most difficult times were when it was one spouse against the other. I didn’t really know this man. I’d gotten a glimpse of his light, but had yet to see the darkness. Was it worth the risk to stay?

My future self seemed to think so.

Seeing as how touching his skin seemed to calm me, I moved my hand up to his cheek to find that peace. Though the rasp of his emerging beard felt more than pleasant, it didn’t soothe my worries. 

“Then help me understand,” he said.

“Look, Jamie” I tried to gaze up into his eyes, but could see so little in the darkness. “I’m not the same person you once knew.”

“Claire—”

“No, I understand it was me you met before, but that was another time, another life, one I have no recollection of. To have lost another husband and a child would change a person. I just don’t want you to have the expectation that the things you loved about me then will be a part of who I am now.”

“D’ye think I’m the same man as when I last left Scotland? I lost my land, my family...I lost you. Since then, I went away to war; ye ken what that can do to a man? Now, I’m returning home to people who think they know me, but...they don’t. They ken who I once was, and somehow, I must find a way to show them how I’ve changed and hope they dinna think any less of me for it.”

“But they’re your family. It’ll take some time, but they’ll see you’re the same man...perhaps changed a little, but the same person in here.” I placed a hand over his heart.

“I ken that, mo chridhe.” I could almost hear the smile in his words. “Do you?”

I laughed, comprehension dawning on me late. I buried my face back into his chest and wrapped my arm around his waist to anchor me there. I could feel him nuzzling my hair softly and his warm breath from a contented sigh. 

“I do like you, Jamie,” I whispered, “more than I would have thought possible for a near stanger.”

“Well, I’m pleased to hear,” he chuckled. “It’ll make the night all the more bearable for ye.”

I lifted my head to catch an amused glimmer in his eyes. 

“It wouldna do to have ye running away from me in the dark and getting led astray by a fairy or a wee kelpie.”

“A kelpie? I thought they were water spirits?”

“Aye, but they’ve been known to change form into a human and lead unwary travelers to their death in the shallows.” He tucked a lock of hair behind my ear and traced the curve of my cheek. “Stay wi’ me, lass, and I’ll keep yer head above water.”

“And what if I am the kelpie, and in the middle of the night I drag you into the creek over there?”

He snorted. “Weel, that’s a wee creek to attempt to drown a large man, but if ye wish to take me back to yer lair, all ye have to do is ask.”

Something about the curve of his mouth made my heart race with delight. I had a compulsion to keep that smile there for a very long time.

I reached up without giving him anything in the way of warning and kissed him.

His whole body stiffened as I pressed our lips together. I lingered there, enjoying the effect it had on him. What I wasn’t expecting was the effect it had on me. I didn’t want to let go of his bottom lip, save to replace it with the top one. The scruff of his beard was even more pleasant on my face than it was on my hands. 

He surprised me by keeping still and not kissing back. I pulled away to see his face, ensuring I hadn’t crossed a line. “Is this all right?” I asked.

“Aye,” he said quickly, breathlessly.

“Are you sure?” I looked him over, wishing I could see his expression more clearly.

He turned his hips, and I felt the solidity of his cock on my thigh.

“Oh!”

“I canna be near ye and no’ want ye. So please God, kiss me all ye like, while I keep myself properly restrained, aye?”

It was my turn to laugh. I kissed him again, this time licking into his mouth, wanting to feel that same passion he gave me before. It didn’t take long for his lips to soften and start kissing me back. I wasn’t sure what “properly restrained” meant, but what his tongue was doing to mine had to be crossing that line.

I pressed my thigh between his legs, craving the feel of his desire for me. It had been a long time since I’d made love to a man, and my deprivation was getting the better of me.

He groaned and finally gave up any pretense of restraint, giving himself over to the physical demands of whatever it was between us. His injured arm reached down to grab a handful of my arse and held me firm, as though his wound was only a mere nuisance. 

It was one thing to be the distant object of desire of an oversized warrior of a man, but it was another thing entirely when he was acting on it, filling his considerable need with a body half his size. I was at the mercy of his whim, and at the moment, his whim consisted of devouring me whole. 

I reached down to slip off my panties, uncertain if he’d know what to do with them. He didn’t question what I wore, only dropped his lips to my neck to suck on that spot he knew I liked. I wrapped a leg around his waist, as if he needed more encouragement, and rubbed against him. 

His rumbling groans didn’t wane until he lifted his kilt and brought his cock between my legs, then a stream of what had to be Gaelic curses mixed with pretty words took over when he sank inside. Through his unfamiliar language, I heard bits of English here and there. “…been too bloody long…ached for ye…never stop…will have ye a thousand times more…” 

His cock stretched me out almost painfully after years of celibacy, and his powerful hips were shockingly uninhibited for our first time together. Then I realized, it wasn’t his first time with me. He actually had been starving for me for years. I thought of the passion with which our tongues collided and the aching pleasure of making love to this man, and I began to realize something of the magnitude of his loss, understanding for the first time why he was so terrified of losing me again. If this was only a glimpse of what could be, then abandoning all I knew in the twentieth century hardly seemed a consequence for experiencing this forever. 

My climax had me screaming out in the darkness, my body so unused to his powerful drive in and around me. I squeezed him in my arms, wanting him to come with me. His hips sped, and his words stopped, devolving into grunts and groans with the faint familiar echoes of my name infused in the animalistic sounds. 

He came with several more thrusts, crushing my body in his arms. He held me there, face buried in my neck.

It took a moment for me to recognize the sharp breeze on my hot, moist skin. At first it was  welcome, cooling my overtaxed body, but it soon became too frigid to endure. My shiver caught Jamie’s attention, and he quickly bundled us up once again, never letting go of his hold. 

As we lay there together, too buzzed with infatuation to sleep, I whispered quietly, “Yes, Jamie, I think I like you very much indeed.”

 


 

We spent the next few days making slow progress toward his family home. Thoughts of returning to Craigh Na Dun were out of my mind for the time being, and if I was being honest with myself, it was not only because of the potential danger lingering there. 

I rode nestled between his legs, enfolded in his arms, and resting against his chest.

It was heaven, and I was happy.

We talked about everything as we rode together, family, war, his land, poetry, and even Frank...everything except our strange history and my lack of memory of it. 

Jamie insisted we stop for lunch on a rare sunny afternoon near a large willow tree. We were meant to arrive at Lallybroch the next day, but I could feel his reluctance to end our private time together. 

I smiled at his choice of a resting place. There was a thick layer of bracken beneath the large hanging branches, his bed of choice in the wilderness. I was certain he had known this place was here, as familiar as he was with the terrain, and had been planning this stop for days.

He helped me down from Donas, dismounting next to a wild patch of forget-me-nots. I bent to pick a tiny blossom and mulled over how distressing it must be for Jamie to think I had forgotten him. Whatever this was between us, it was anything but forgettable. And worse yet, for him to think I had left him for any other reason than sheer necessity.

Jamie walked toward the tree, pulling off his plaid to cover the ferns. He took off his shirt, revealing the mass of scars on his back that he’d said I helped heal. As I watched his graceful and athletic body move about, I realized how terrified I was to tell him what I knew, not because of fear of being burned at the stake—if I felt anything in the arms of James Fraser, it was safe—but out of fear I might lose him. 

I’d grown more than a little fond of the man in our brief time together, fond enough for me to believe my future self knew exactly what she was talking about when she insisted we be together. His love for me seemed unshakable, but part of me was reluctant to test that so soon. 

I peeled off my dress and underthings to join him in his bare skin, leaving a trail of my clothes in the flowers. Jamie watched with a smile, no doubt admiring me in the sunlight.

If I told him the truth, would it be the last time he looked at me that way?

He pulled me in, holding me, naked body to naked body, the warm rays of the sun no match for the heat of his skin. He kissed me deeply, rubbing his hands over my fleshiest parts. I was beginning to suspect he had a particular fondness for my ample backside—riding between his legs for days on end made that obvious.

He began nibbling on my neck in a way that made my toes squirm. I gripped his hair, trying to keep myself upright. “It’s not fair, you know.”

“What’s that?”

“You seem to know all the secrets of me,” I squeaked as he latched onto the lobe of my ear, “yet I’ve only just begun learning about you.”

“I recall telling you something similar when we first made love.”

“Oh? And how did I respond?”

“Ye told me to engage in extensive study and…” He looked up at me, grinning.

“And what?”

“And had me put my mouth on yer quim until I made you scream.”

“Oh...” I blushed. “So that’s where you learned to do that so well?”

“Aye.” He grabbed me by the arms and gently spun me around so I was facing away from him. His chest pressed flat against my back, and his cock sought shelter between my buttocks. I nearly snorted with amusement, but his groping hands had begun caressing my breasts, and I lost all my breath. 

“Ye’re much the same, ye ken,” he whispered, rolling my nipples between his fingers, “but different too.”

“How so?”

“Ye smile so much now. I like that.” He hummed contentedly. “And the pain is gone from yer eyes. Even as a part of me wishes ye could remember our time together, I dinna think I can regret yer memory loss when that pain is gone.”

His hands dropped down to gently caress my stomach. “And ye no longer carry yer scars, neither on yer heart...nor yer belly.”

My heart jumped wildly, and my body stiffened. I was sure he felt it, because he kissed the crook of my neck and his arms wrapped tight around me.

“Makes me think ye may be a wee fairy,” he whispered, “seeing as how I found ye on that hill.”

“I’m not a fairy.”

“Oh? Then tell me yer magic, lass. For ye’ve bewitched me until my days’ end, and I should like to ken all of yer secrets...no’ just the ones of the flesh.”

I turned around to face him again, tracing my hands up his long arms. I nearly insisted there was nothing magical about me, but after the bloody week I had, I wondered if that would be wilful denial. “I want you to know me, Jamie.”

“Ye do?”

I nodded. “Though I worry you’d be disappointed in what you find. You’ve got me on a pedestal, and I’m not sure there’s any way to live up to it.”

“My expectations are low, Sassenach. Ye’re here, and there’s no disappointment in that.” He kissed my nose with a quirk of his lips. “My only regret is that I shallna have the answers I craved for why ye left me, so I can prevent it from happening again. Sometimes, I wonder if I didna love ye well enough.”

“Oh, I somehow doubt that greatly.”

“Ye do?” he grinned. “And ye think ye ken me well?”

“I’ve figured a few things out. Yes.”

“Like what?”

“You’re a bloody hero.” I intentionally ran my hands up and down the scars of his back to prove my point. 

“No. I’m not. I’m a fool, as I’m sure my sister will tell ye when ye meet her.”

I thought of his fate in the duel. “Maybe you are. Can a hero not be a fool?”

“Aye,” he laughed. “I suppose he can.”

I reached up on my toes and kissed him. Fool or not, I was more than a little infatuated.

He lifted me around the waist with one arm, kissing me senseless as he carried me to our bed of plaid beneath the willow tree. My legs wrapped around him, already familiar with his body after days of relentless love-making. He laid me down and slid in, my body in a constant state of readiness for him.

He rose up on his knees, muscled body moving in waves with every thrust inside. Bits of sunlight found its way through the leaves overhead and dappled over his beautiful skin. The corner of his mouth curved contentedly as he looked down on me, finding joy in whatever it was he saw from that vantage.

There was something so pure, so majestic in the sight. My heart was somehow soaring and aching, terrified to break his heart once more and never see him so happy again.

He bent over me and kissed me, never stopping his hips. The angle rubbed me just right, and I moaned against his mouth. He knew what he was doing, the clever bastard, getting me out of my head.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, meeting his thrusts with my own. We only had a short time together—be it days, months, or years—and worrying about the end would only take away from now.

“I meant to take ye slow and leisurely, lass,” he grunted, as my hands gripped his arse demanding more urgency. “Mebbe next time, then.” He grabbed my thigh and pinned it to the ground, then hammered his cock down roughly. 

 


 

Moments later, we lay together beneath the willow tree, bodies slick with sweat—and other things—lazily touching and catching our breath. Jamie batted away a few irritating midges, and I watched how the bits of sunlight seemed to light his hair on fire as he moved.

I wondered if the baby we lost had his hair or mine. I ran my hands through it, certain I’d never seen locks so lovely. I tried to imagine them on a little girl, curling ringlets of red surrounding a chubby, blue-eyed face.

“What it is?” he asked, spotting the look on my face. “Are ye all right?”

I nodded, but sat up, knowing I was running out of time to tell him the truth before he presented me to his family. “I was thinking about the child you said I lost, wondering what she looked like.”

He sat up with me, leaning back on his good arm. “Ye told me it was a wee lass. Ye said she looked like her father, though ye told me little of him, so I dinna ken if he was dark or fair. Faith was her name. Ye said she was small enough to fit perfect in yer hands.”

Faith. I wasn’t one to generally believe in signs, but perhaps the magic of the Highlands was having an influence on me. Her name gave me strength. “If she looked like her father, then I could guess a few things...like the color of her hair.”

Jamie straightened and raised a brow. “I thought ye didna remember him?”

“I don’t...but I can deduce a thing or two.” I wasn’t sure why tears were pressing against the back of my eyes, but Jamie noticed immediately and pulled me close.

“Tell me,” he whispered against my temple.

I’d been thinking for days of the best way to tell him, but I was still coming up empty. I leaned into the crook of his arm, unable to look at him as I spoke. “The reason I can’t remember my time with you before—in France—is because…” I took a breath and tensed my body from head to toe. “It’s because it hasn’t happened yet...not to me anyway.”

And then I couldn’t not look at him. I raised my eyes to see his brow raised in confusion. Despite his ignorance of my meaning, his expression was still patiently open, so I allowed myself to continue. 

“What I’m trying to say is that I’m not from here, not from this Time. I was born in the year 1918. I didn’t lie when I told you I was on holiday in Scotland, but I failed to mention that it was nearly two hundred years from now. When I touched the stones at Craigh Na Dun, I was brought here to 1743...to you...for the first time.”

His face seemed frozen as I spoke, save his eyes that grew a fraction wider with every word.

“The me you met before in France...the one with the penicillin...the one who knew your secrets...who appeared older than me...I think that was me from the future. I think I traveled back in time to save you after the beating you received from Randall.”

He was no longer looking at me. He was looking through me, off in the distance of his memory. I could almost see the cogs turning in this mind, trying to make sense of my words. Still, I pressed on.

“And that letter you showed me—the one that told you to never let me go when you found me again—I think I wrote that for you knowing you’d come here and find me. I think...I think I knew this because...because I had done it once before. I fell in love with you after you saved me at the stones, then we on to Lallybroch and made a life. I think we were married. And…” Tears started falling as I said my final words, “And I think you were the husband I was grieving...and it was your child I lost.”

Jamie was solid stone next to me, his expression completely vacant. I worried that perhaps I had miscalculated his reaction. He’d never been so distant with me before, not even in his sleep.

I moved back to give him space, suddenly very aware that we weren’t wearing any clothes. My nudity had never felt so vulnerable in front of him, and I regretted leaving my dress so far away. Just as I was about to rise to get it, a soundless sob quaked through his body, and his head dropped in his hands. 

“Jamie!” I moved forward, fearful of touching him, but unable to help myself. I placed my hands on his forearms, hoping he would let them drop away so I could see him clearly. He was trembling, and his breath was uneven. “Jamie?”

Perhaps he thought I was mad. Perhaps he was grieving his hope for finding love again. After all my doubt about whether or not I wanted to stay in this century, I was feeling tremendous anticipatory fear of leaving it behind...of leaving Jaime.

“I did it to ye, Claire?” He looked up with tears in his eyes. “To our child?”

“What? No. Jamie—”

“I held ye crying night after night, and all that time it was me you were weeping for? I did that to ye? I couldna understand why it was that the deeper we loved, the more agony ye suffered. I couldna see how ye could look at me wi’ love bursting in yer heart one moment, then push me away another.”

“I’m sure it was difficult to lose you, and then get you back, knowing I couldn’t keep you...knowing you were intended for me in another place, another time.”

“She said I wasna her Jamie.”

I touched his cheek. “Yes. Because you're mine,” I said with no little possessiveness.

Listening to the words that just came out of my mouth had me involuntarily snorting. “God, I’m sorry,” I said, suppressing a laugh. “It’s ridiculous that I’d feel any degree of jealousy over your relationship with...myself.” I snorted again.

Through his tears, Jamie’s brows narrowed. After a moment, the corner of his mouth twitched, and I caught a hint of humor in his eyes. “If ye’re foolish, mo nighean donn, then so am I.” He snorted a bit himself. “I canna count the number of times I agonized o’er yer affection for that dead bastard who wouldna let ye love me in peace.”

Though the thought seemed to lighten his mood, it had the opposite effect on mine. “Jaime…” I spoke very seriously, “I’ve already lost a husband before; I cannot lose another. And certainly not our child, as well.”

“Claire,” he gripped my arms, “she made me swear—you made me swear that I wouldna duel.” He laughed again, though his eyes were wide. “I think ye kent I would never break a vow. I didna realize ye were truly saving my life. I’m bloody good wi’ a sword and pistol; I thought ye were being overly cautious.”

I wrapped my arms around him, feeling the relief of an avoided catastrophe. “I was so worried you wouldn’t believe me, that you’d think me mad.”

“Ye couldna lie to me if ye tried. I canna say I understand it, not one bit, but I must say, ye do make more sense to me now.”

He reached over to his sporran lying not far away and pulled something out with careful hands. A long string of lovely pearls.

“They were my mother’s. They’re one of a kind.” He looked at them fondly. “I intended to give them to my wife.”

He looked up at me, a smile spreading across his cheeks. “In France, ye had one just like it. I couldna make sense of it to save my life. Every pearl was crafted the same.”

He draped the pearls around my neck with no little satisfaction. “I was so bloody livid that yer bastard husband gave ye the same gesture wi’ the same necklace, if he wasna dead already, I would ha’ wrung his neck.”

I cut him off with a smack to his shoulder. He turned a pale shade of grey and clenched his teeth. “Christ, woman!”

“Oh, God! I’m sorry!” It was his injured shoulder. He’d been doing so well over the last few days, I’d forgotten he was even hurt.

“It’s all right,” he groaned. It took a few moments for the crease in his brow to ease and the tension in his jaw to relax. “I’m fine.” He smiled at me sweetly. “I’m more than fine.”

My heart was filled so full, I thought I might float away. I crawled onto his lap and kissed him, finally allowing myself to think of forever with this man.

He whispered softly against my lips:

“Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow...”

 


 

We took an extra day together in the Highland wilds, craving a bit more time alone without the burden of secrets hanging over our heads, without the pressure or expectations of Jamie’s home. 

We arrived at Lallybroch the day after his sister had given birth to her second child. It was a difficult birth, apparently, and mother and child were still exhausted and recovering. Jamie went up to see her and meet his new niece, but we held off on my introduction for another day. Her husband and their little boy were welcoming and genial, so I hoped she’d also be disposed to kindness toward me. 

Jamie spent a good long time alone with them, no doubt telling them some version of the story of how he met me—both times—and why he hadn’t spoken to them in years.

Jamie’s taciturn godfather even stopped by to wish Jenny and Ian well, and he was given a delightful shock to see Jamie had returned home. He was more than a little surprised to see me, as well. Apparently, he remembered me from the abbey. Though Jamie told him I had a bit of memory loss wherein I couldn’t recall that encounter, I could see a quiet skepticism in his manner.

I was given my own bedroom for the sake of decorum, but seeing as how Jamie insisted it be located right next to the Laird’s quarters, I doubted anyone believed I’d actually intended to sleep in it. The housekeeper helped alter an old gown that belonged to Jamie’s mother to tide me over until he could send for new fabric from town.

When I was dressed, he took me on a tour of the grounds, showing me what would be ours if I agreed to marry him. The kailyard was overgrown and little could be salvaged, so Jamie promised to fence me off a new one next to the stables so he could watch me in the garden while he worked. He talked of building me a place to keep my medicines and herbs, and see a patient or two if I so desired. 

“Does that sound all right, Claire? D’ye think ye could be happy here?”

We were in the courtyard, looking up at the house. Though the grounds and all his plans were lovely, it was the sweet, hopeful look in his eyes that had me believing the words with all my heart as I responded. “I do, Jamie. I am.”

At lunchtime, he walked me back to the house where we intended to eat our meal with Ian and wee Jamie. Before we made it to the dining room, Mrs. Crook informed us Jamie’s godfather had returned to Lallybroch and was asking to speak with Jamie and me in the study.

“He doesna want to eat?” asked Jamie.

“Nay. He insisted on speaking wi’ the two of ye alone.”

We excused ourselves and went directly to the study. Murtagh was pacing back and forth when we arrived. Jamie closed the door behind us and walked over to his godfather.

“Are ye alright, a ghoistidh?”

“Aye, laddie. I’ve something for yer lady, if ye dinna mind.” Murtagh looked at me cautiously.

“Of course. Claire…” Jamie held out a hand for me to come near.

I noticed a couple of items on Jamie’s desk that weren’t there the day before. One was a small, opened box with silk lining on the inside. There were twelve silver spoons inside with some sort of design on the end of each one that I didn’t get a chance to see, because Jamie closed the box quickly and put it away in one of the cupboards behind him.

There was a second larger box on the desk; this was what Murtagh must have brought for me. He stood over it for a while as he thought of what he wanted to say.

“Ye gave me this box several years ago in France.” His eyes flashed to mine and a shiver ran down his spine. “Ye said ye were a seer...and ye kent Jamie would marry soon. His wife would have need of the contents inside when I met her.”

Murtagh looked to Jamie and then back at me.

“Go on,” Jamie encouraged.

“Weel, ye healed Jamie as if by magic...” Murtagh hesitated, lost in thoughts. “I dinna care much for magic and such things, but ye saved him, and I could see ye meant well by him. Ye said ye kent I was the only one who could be entrusted with keeping this box until the next time I saw Jamie when he'd arrive home wi’ his lady at his side.”

Murtagh pushed the box over to me and gestured for me to open it.

It was a small, wooden traveling box. It had a leather strap tied to it so it could be carried long distances with ease. I opened the box and found a number of different things packed inside, some of which immediately took my breath away.

“What the Devil?” said Jamie, picking up a syringe. “Is this what ye stuck me in the arse wi’ at the abbey, Sassenach?”

“It’s a syringe,” I said. “It looks like there are several of them in here. And a microscope, a journal…”

“Here’s a letter.” Jamie pulled out a piece of parchment rolled up and sealed with wax. “It’s been marked wi’ the Fraser crest.”

My heart raced wildly as I opened the letter and began reading aloud.

Dear Claire (you have no idea how strange it is to address oneself as such),” I looked at Murtagh, who was listening with narrowed eyes.

“’Tis alright, Sassenach. Murtagh can be trusted.”

I nodded and returned to the letter. 

“By now, you and Jamie may have deduced what happened, how Jamie has memories of you, memories that you do not possess. Yes, Beauchamp, I can confirm it will be you that travels back in time to care for Jamie at the abbey. 

Murtagh nearly choked, but Jamie just patted him on the back and nodded for me to go on.

“I received this box and a letter just like this when I first arrived at Lallybroch, and someday soon (dear God, I hope you’ll be much older than I am), you will be writing the same letter for your younger self.

“I’m assuming you’ve fallen as madly in love with Jamie as I did, though I worry the time I intend to spend with him here in France might alter history somehow. I shall be asking him to stay with me on a nearby farm for a few months. I just want a little more time with the man I love...even if he doesn’t know what he means to me. I need to do what I can to prevent his untimely death so that you don’t have to experience the heartache of his loss the way I did. 

“I think it’s best if I don't tell him who I am. If he grows a fondness for me, he might try to stop me from going back—the bloody hero. The truth is, I don’t know what will happen to me when I intervene in the past. I don’t know if when I return through the stones whether I’ll find him standing there with our daughter, waiting for me to come home, or if I’ll cease to exist entirely. I don’t know anything of the magic we’re playing with, save that it brought me to Jamie’s side twice. I can only hope it does it again a third time...though it seems unlikely.

“So you see, I can’t tell him the truth. If he’s anything like my Jamie, he’ll never let me risk myself for his happiness. Ask his forgiveness for me for my deception, and promise him he’ll be happy with you.

“There is another thing I must tell you. A warning. As I hope Jamie will have told you, my husband was killed in a duel by a treacherous and murderous comte. Jamie must not, under any circumstances, fight that bloody man again, or if he does, he must find a way to win. 

“I also lost our daughter trying to get to my husband. She was born far too prematurely. The worst of it is that I know it was my fault. You see, this letter you're reading now, I received one much like it when I arrived at Lallybroch. Except it wasn’t written by my own hand. It was written by my child...Faith. Apparently, the last time we attempted this life together, Jamie and I both died caught up in the politics of the rebellion. Faith survived on her own, came back through time, and saved her father at the abbey before I ever met him. 

“So you see, she CAN survive. You must find a way to keep them both alive. We have the gift of Time, one that most others don’t have, and I bloody well mean for us to use it!

“In less tragic news, I have a few things here that will make your life at Lallybroch a little easier. In the journal you’ll find my notes on a variety of instructions on how to make various medicines, hand soaps, perfumes, and the like. You will also find a small sapphire in the little blue pouch. That is your ticket through the stones to save Jamie at the abbey.”

Jamie pulled out the little pouch and emptied it into his hand. A small, blue gemstone the color of his eyes glittered in his palm. He put it back in the pouch and stored it safely back in the box.

“Look in the box for another little pouch, this one made of green silk, and give it to Jamie.”

Jamie found the pouch and opened it. He pulled out a small, rolled piece of parchment. “For your wife, my darling. It was not easy to part with, but I love the thought of the same ring circling through time, binding us together endlessly. Da mi basia mille, my love. Diende centum, dein mille altera, dein secunda centum…”

“Do you know what it means?” I asked.

“Give me a thousand kisses…”

Murtagh coughed, eliciting a blush from Jamie, but still, he went on:

“Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand and a Hundred score
A Hundred, and a Thousand more.”

He emptied the last of the contents of the pouch into his hand, and a silver ring fell into his palm. It was a wide band, decorated in the Highland interlace style. Jacobean thistle blooms were carved in the center of each link. He peered inside the ring and read the inscription, "Da mi basia mille.”

The beauty of it paralyzed me for some time. Jamie was turning the ring over in his hand, examining it like a fine jeweler. Finally, he nodded to himself as he came to an approving conclusion.

“Is there anything else in the letter?” he asked.

“You don’t need me to tell you that you made the right decision by staying; you’ll know it in your heart every time you look at Jamie. Yours, CEBRF.”

I looked up at Jamie, heart racing wildly, and I knew those words to be absolute truth.

“’Tis true, then. Ye’re a witch?” asked Murtagh warily.

“No. I just somehow fell through time.” I turned to Murtagh. He didn’t seem frightened of me, nor did he look like he was about to rally the tenants to build a pyre. “Thank you for bringing this to us. You never opened it?”

“No. As I said, I thought ye were a witch. I wasna fool enough to open a witch’s box.”

I looked at the box on the desk. It seemed to carry the weight of our entire future inside. “So, what now?” I asked Jamie.

He grabbed my hand and brought it to his lips. “As I see it, we’ve our life laid out before us, and there’s naught to do but live it as we choose.”

He held up the ring between his fingers. “Be my wife, Claire? Handfast wi’ me on this day, in what will be our home, before our family? I’ll give ye a large wedding with a priest, to be sure, but let's exchange our vows and make sacred our union.”

It seemed like madness to think of marrying a man after only a week of knowing him, but even more mad still to turn him down after seeing the contents of that box. I briefly considered what it might be like to return back to the twentieth century and leave this man behind, but all I could see was darkness and regret.

Jamie’s eyes were hopeful, looking at me like I was his whole world. In that moment, I understood that something greater had brought me here to love this man, and I’d be damned if I let anything take him away from me. 

Joy filled my heart, and I couldn’t help the bubble of laughter when I came to my decision. I touched the string of pearls around my neck and said, “Yes, James Fraser, I will happily be your wife.”

 


 

It was a small, quiet ceremony in the parlor. We stood in front of the hearth with Murtagh, Jenny, and Ian witnessing. We made vows in both English and Gaelic as Murtagh sliced our arms and tied our wounds together in some sort of pagan binding ritual. We drank and laughed and danced until the need to be alone was too great, and we stole away to our room.

I watched the Laird scrub himself down by the fire as he cleansed himself for our own ritual of consummation. I would’ve helped him wash, but I was quite enjoying the view. The smirk on his face told me he didn’t mind putting on the performance.

When at last he was clean, he went to his cabinet and pulled something out from inside. He eyed me with a hungry smile as he came to me in bed. I lay naked, watching and waiting.

He lifted his hand and presented me with a book. “A wee wedding gift.”

“Sonnets? Shakespeare?” I opened the book and saw that it had been well read. The ribbon was on Sonnet number 116.

He recited it to me, eyes never leaving mine:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error and upon me prov'd,
     I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.”

I had no words. All I could do was kiss him to show just how precious he was to me in return. We consummated our marriage on a bed of feathery clouds, madly in love, and full of absolute certainty, with the knowledge of a thousand lifetimes of this before us.