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CHAPTER ONE

Day One - July 10th, 2016; Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.
Uncle Lamb and I had relocated to Oxford from Cairo about five years ago. He had taken a teaching position there, while I attempted to graduate early from upper school and begin taking university courses of my own in London. This set me at a complete disadvantage in the friends department, yet managed to earn me a certain measure of unwanted attention in the biochemical engineering department.
I took this summer off from internships, classes, and labs and instead followed my uncle to the Scottish Highlands. It was a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, to be back in the field with him.
This location wasn't really within Uncle Lamb's usual scope of historical exploration, he was an expert on the intermediate Egyptian dynasties with several books published on the more specific topic of New Kingdom hieroglyphics, but he had lost a bet with a favorite professor friend of his and, so, here we were.
Tipping my head back, I peered up the steep slope of the hill. Hiking was never far out of the realm of possibility with my uncle and I thanked my lucky stars I had worn my boots today. "It's at the top?" I asked, rather unnecessarily.
Of course, it was at the top. It was always at the top. Except when it was at the very bottom, but, even then, you had to climb back to the top.
"Yep!" Dr Joe Abernathy, an American who specialized Scottish folklore, replied eagerly.
I trailed behind Uncle Lamb and Dr Joe as we hiked the path up to the top of Craigh na Dunn, listening absently to the two of them discuss the myths surrounding the site. They were two peas in a pod, although Dr Joe was significantly younger than my uncle, and were both in a titter about recently found artifacts or some such.
"And you say they just appear at the base?" My uncle asked skeptically.
Dr Joe nodded, "Dead as door nails."
The thought of poor, dead birds randomly materializing on the ground in the middle of a henge made me shudder.
What on earth had I agreed to?

Day Three - July 13th, 2016.
I sat on the ground between two of the outer stones and chewed on the end of my pencil as I tried to get the cleft in the center stone right. It was quickly frustrating me, being almost geometrically proportional but off just enough to make it irritatingly irregular.
Tearing the page out of my sketchbook, I crumpled it up into a tight ball and threw it at the offending rock. It arched perfectly, looking like it was going to pass right thru the divide. I silently congratulated myself as I waited to see if it would land my uncle, who was working on the other side.
A startled shriek escaped my lips as the paper vanished into thin air.
"Are you alright, Claire?" Uncle Lamb stuck his head around the side of the stone.
Pointing above his head, I gaped, "Where the hell did it go?"
"Where did what go?" Dr Joe asked, coming towards me.
"My paper," I stood as I answered. "I threw it at the stone and it disappeared."
Dr Joe laughed and patted me on the head patronizingly, "Sure you did, kid."
"I'm eighteen and I know what I saw!" I informed him.

Day Four - July 14th, 2016.
One of my favorite things to do when I was in the field with Uncle Lamb was to go for morning hikes. We were both early risers, but, as he need an entire pot of coffee before he was ready to do anything productive, I used it as my own private, quiet time.
I got to the top of the hill just as the sun was beginning to hit the standing stones. The sunrise painted the already eerie monoliths in an almost otherworldly light and I took out my phone to quickly capture the moment. Something white caught my eye in the corner of the image, prompting me to move closer to the center stone to investigate.
It was my paper.
Mouth open in astonishment, I scooped it up. It was slightly damp from the dew, but very obviously the paper I had thrown the afternoon before. It certainly hadn't been there before we left, I had scoured the site looking for it to no avail.
I uncrumpled it and dropped the sheet of paper like it was a hot coal.
Someone had finished my sketch, signing their work with five neat letters in the bottom left hand corner.
JAMMF

Chapter Text

I spun slowly in a circle, looking intently in every direction, to see if there was a crew filming me for some prank show, or to catch Uncle Lamb and Dr. Joe hiding, busting a gut at me finding their "response" on my sketch that they had chided me about disappearing.

Either way, I waited for someone to claim responsibility for the ruse.

After half an hour no one showed.

I traipsed off, looking behind bushes and up into trees.

No one.

The chill of the morning was quickly being replaced with the intense heat of the noon sun, already blazing in a clear sky. It was going to be a scorcher.

Uncle Lamb and Dr. Joe should be arriving for more treks, though part of me still hoped they were behind some blind, about to show up and put this nonsense to rest.

I sat in the shade, far enough away from the creepy cleft stone, near the bottom of the hill, and took out the Orangina and panini I'd brought; when they arrive there'd be no stopping until evening.

I took the sketch out of my back pocket and focused on the signature.

JAMMF

 

It couldn't be a name, but I wasn't familiar with local monikers.

Acronym? Initials?

I looked more closely at how the sketch had been enhanced; balance was improved…blending was spot on…perspective vastly righted.

"Pretty vain to put your stamp all over someone else's work and sign YOUR name to it. 'Lemme just do this and that and this and that….JAMMF'" I said into the hot, heavy air.

"JAMMF my Aunt Fanny!" I yelled, louder.

 

Though the sketch, I was angry to admit, did show finesse, the signature stood in contrast; it was in the same dark graphite as had been used to finish the sketch - maybe a 7B or more likely an 8B - but it resembled rough script. The first thing that came to mind upon seeing it was John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence, written nearly 240 years ago to the day.

Chapter Text

--Nearly 240 years ago, to the day.

 

While a few dozen men in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were risking their lives, fortune, and sacred honor in a Declaration of Independence, near Crag na dunn, Scotland James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser was contemplating a different document; one which would fortuitously find him.

At 23, "Jamie" would be here for a few weeks. Although the purpose was to pick up supplies for his family, in truth he was sent on the errand along with his Godfather Murtagh who was there - by his parent's design - to "encourage" Jamie to wed Laoghaire Mackenzie.

Having arrived slightly past sunrise, Jamie and Murtagh had stopped to rest, water their horses, and have some breakfast.

Jamie, seeing the standing stones nearby, thought they would be a good hiding place from Murtagh. Though he loved his Godfather dearly, and considered him to be a best friend, Murtagh was incredibly stubborn and took his role seriously. Jamie had managed to avoid any lengthy discussion of the marriage with him until now, and wanted to make sure that continued for a while longer.

Stories of the standing stones were a large part of Jamie's childhood. Tales of fae playing tricks, and townfolk being gobbled up and spit out who knows where, they were as much Scotland as heather and whiskey.

"Maybe I'll be gobbled up and spit out somewhere I can wed a woman who isn't demon possessed" Jamie muttered, his plea coming out as dragon's breath in the cold morning air.

Hoping to slip away without notice, Jamie went to the stones while Murtagh unpacked the horses and drew them to a stream.

Hiding in front of the stone that was the furthest from Murtagh's eye, Jamie sat down and tried to make sense of the past few months of bickering and ultimatums.

A gust of wind rolled a wadded up piece of what looked like parchment past his leg.

Jamie opened the wad to find a beautiful sketch of the same stone he was sitting beside. The paper was unusual; thin, unbelievably flat, and white.

He ran his fingers over the drawing. The lead was the nicest he'd seen. It was smooth and had rendered fine lines.

"Someone must have been sitting here thinking, like me."

Taking his Mother's roll-up case of graphite sticks out of his sporran, something he often took with him when traveling, he added some shading here and a bit of balance there. As he'd seen his Mother do on many of her paintings, he signed the bottom with his initials, JAMMF, and placed it into his boot.

Chapter Text

Murtagh had kept Jamie in sight, knowing he was hiding in the stones. The issue needed to be addressed so with the horses watered and tethered he grabbed the remaing food – some bread, cheese, and relish – and went to his Godson.

“Hiding again, aye? Just like you did when you were a bairn.”

“I’m no a bairn. I’m a grown man who wants to choose his own wife and not be wed to a lass with a temper as fierce as a fiend from hell.”

“I ken she’s a rough lass. Your Mam and Da….they just want to see ye settled is all. Ye’ve taken no interest in anyone, lad. They’re trying to help.”

“I’d rather gouge my own eyes out.”

“You’d do better with your ears. Then ye’d no have to hear her.”

Glancing up at his Godfather, Jamie laughed for the first time in months.

“’tis good to hear ye laugh, son.”

Patting Jamie on the arm, Murtagh began to arrange the kindling for a fire. It was another cold, misty Scottish morning.

As he arranged the sticks and lit them from his flint, he watched Jamie. The lad had been withdrawn the whole journey, and now Murtagh could see he was becoming more so.

They’d been quiet for nearly an hour when Murtagh spoke up.

“I’m no here to force ye, Jamie. Just to get you to realize an angel isn’t going to drop out of that rock and land in your lap. Laogharie may have a head full of cats but she’s willing to wed ye and the dowry will help your Mam and Da.”

“And what of my will?” Jamie spat out.

“Dinna get your dander up” Murtagh countered. “Then tell me. What is yer will? Because for all anyone knows it’s to be alone the rest of yer life.”

“I could be just like you, then. No one seems to have a problem with that.”

Before the last word had left his mouth, Jamie realized it was cold and uncalled for.

“Aye. I’ve no wife. I loved once, and it wasn’t to be” Murtagh painfully replied. “So I’ve lived alone rather than be with someone for convenience.”

“Forgive me, Godfather. It was wrong of me to react so.”

Murtagh knew Jamie had a point, but to divulge to him that the woman he loved so dearly was his mother would have, naturally, removed some of the burden from himself, but it would have been placed on his already heavy-spirited Godson.

“I understand lad. Like I said, I’m no here to force ye or make it more difficult. Just to help.”

“The lasses have been bonny, but…” Jamie offered, stopping to find a way to explain why he’s been reluctant to wed “…they dinna make me laugh. And the things that are a part of me, like art, animals, and reading…they call ‘fools errands.’ Is there no lass anywhere who can talk wi’ me of such things?”

Murtagh had been looking into the fire as Jamie spoke, stroking his beard, recalling that the very things Jamie longed for he had himself found in Ellen, and no one else since. But she’d eventually chosen Brian, relegating Murtagh to Godfather of her son. Not that he ever minded, for Jamie was like his own.

“Have ye prayed on this?” Murtagh offered, trying to steer away from any more talk of himself.

“Aye. Every morn and every eve. And depending on how engaging the Priests’s sermon is, during mass as well.”

It was Murtagh’s time to laugh now. Smiling, he nodded to Jamie.

“Let’s eat, aye? We’ll need to start gathering from the list of things from yer Mam and Da.”

Chapter Text

“Can we get them later?” Jamie said, laying down and pulling his tartan around his shoulders.

“Aaaarrgh. Alright. But we didna come all this way to lollygag” Murtagh replied, watching Jamie drift off. Seeing peacefulness finally take him, Murtagh realized a quick snooze might not be a bad idea and he soon drifted off as well.

Giving Jamie’s boot a kick a few hours later in order to wake him, Murtagh laid out their immediate plans: “Food won’t bring itself to us, aye? Get your bow. We’ll hunt rabbit like we did when ye were a wee’un. Then we’ll go into town.”

Seeing Murtagh walking away toward the nearby woods, Jamie scrambled to fetch his bow and quiver.

Within a few minutes they’d landed 3 rabbits: 2 to Murtagh and 1 to Jamie. Not wanting the balance to be in his Godfather’s favor, which he’d not live down any time soon, Jamie offered a re-match.

“See the cleft in that stone? I’ll wager my flask of whiskey that ye canna place your arrow into it.”

“Are ye daft lad? I can do it with only one eye.”

“The way you caught those hares made me wonder if ye already were.”

Raising an eyebrow, Murtagh’s sure sign of annoyance, he pulled a bow from the quiver on his back and aimed at the stone. It missed, veering to the right.

Jamie suppressed a laugh for a full minute, causing Murtagh to snap: “Get on with it ye dobber.”

Jamie eyed the target, and aimed. It hit the rock, but was a foot below the cleft.

Recalling the sketch in his boot, he pulled it out and ran to cram it in the cleft. “There. I’ve given ye something to focus on. Double or nothing to hit the parchment.”

Rolling his eyes, Murtagh took aim. His arrow skimmed the side of the stone, and landed a few feet behind it.

“Glad it was no a rabbit. We’d be starving.”

“SHOOT THE STONE AND QUIT YER YAPPIN’”

Suppressing another riotous laugh, Jamie steadied himself. He’d always been a steady, sure shot and he tried to remember practicing when he was a teenager as he shot targets while riding his horse.

He retracted the arrow and released it. What it did do was hit the parchment. What it didn’t do was remain there.

In a flash of light the arrow and parchment disappeared.

For the next few minutes neither Jamie nor Murtagh said anything. Eventually, Murtagh crossed himself and motioned for Jamie to do the same.

Chapter Text

Laying down on the cool grass, Claire held up the sketch to cover the encroaching sun, which actually highlighted a hole she hadn’t seen before.

Draping it over her face, she immediately pulled it away.

“WHY DOES THIS SMELL LIKE A BOOT?”

The far-off sounds of tour buses and megaphones announced the first batch of tourists. Uncle Lamb and Dr. Joe should be showing up at any minute.

“I’ll text them where I am. I’m not moving out of the shade.”

Turning the sketch over, Claire began another drawing. Like most national parks, Cairngorms was combination historic landmarks, gardens, woods and waters; with this much natural beauty Claire’s hand was guided by the flora and fauna this time, and not the rocky structures.

A half-hour’s intense concentration had produced the beautiful treeline she was sat near, the mountains behind it, and at the base of the woods some forget-me-nots. To add whimsy, she drew a squirrel hanging upside down from a tree branch holding a sign that read “CEB” in the same script Jamie used for his signature.

She folded it up and slipped it into her back pocket.

Her phone buzzed and she glanced quickly at the display, accurately predicting that the text was from Uncle Lamb.

“Up top. Find a good spot?”

Uncle never required that I stay by his side at a dig unless there was a safety issue, which there sometimes was, but he did like to know where I wandered off to.

The greatest risk to life and limb out here was a stray, determined Highland cow. The fuzzy, curious beasts were adorable from afar and rather a nuisance up close. They were personable to a fault and the one I’d met on our trip thought my hair and shirtsleeve were a wonderful snack.

“Aye,” I fired off, mimicking the locals. “Just below. Did you eat?”

Uncle Lamb was notorious for getting caught up in the workings of the dig and forgetting to eat entirely. His wiry frame gave witness to many years of this habit, no matter how often I tried to remind him.

“Indeed” was his only response.

My phone buzzed again, but this time the face of the man I’d come out here to forget appeared on the screen.

Frank.

He was phoning me again and I instinctively hit decline. I had nothing to say to him, nor did I care to hear what he had to say to me. He’d said it all before I left — both him and England — and it was a load of malarkey, the whole of it.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s you I love, not her.”

“It won’t happen again.”

But it did happen again. Again and again, he chose to go behind my back and see other women, to lie to my face about what he was doing and who he was with. He was discreet about it, but I’d caught him, just the same.

Moments after I blocked the call, he texted me.

"Please talk to me, Claire."

I frowned, vowing to myself - Not for all the tartan in Scotland, Frankie.

Making my way to Uncle Lamb and Dr. Joe, I fought against my gut and decided to chuck this sketch through again.

I took a step back and tossed it through the cleft, watching in astonishment as it disappeared. I hurried around the stone and, sure enough, I found no trace of my paper. Grinning like an idiot, I quickly made note of the event in my phone, documenting the results as any good scholar should.

13/7/16, 4pm — paper disappears
14/7/16 7am — returned with completed sketch and signature.
14/7/16 2pm — second paper sent.

I hadn’t told my uncle or Dr. Joe about the sketch, remembering the American’s reaction when I mentioned it had disappeared in the first place, but chose to send this missive on my own. Uncle Lamb would have believed me, knowing I wouldn’t lie, except I hadn’t had a moment alone with him to talk it over since it happened. If I got a response this time, I would definitely be sharing my findings.

Chapter Text

“Still in parking lot?” Claire texted Uncle Lamb.

“ No. Found a second-hand store with incredible air-conditioning. And ice-cold drinks. Will gladly wait for you here. Joe says take your time.”

“Ha Ha. On my way.”

Leaving the stones, Claire stepped on something. She continued on, preoccupied with how a piece of paper was vanishing through rock, so didn’t look down. Turning around, though, she looked through the grass for what it might have been; she remembered, from working with her Uncle, that a lot of surprising finds had come after re-examination. Considering everything that had been going on, she vowed to be more mindful of her surroundings. While kicking the grass around she thought she saw the tip of an arrow.

“Didn’t expect to dig up artifacts today…” she said to herself as she bent down.

Retrieving a complete arrow, which she immediately knew was not modern, prompted her to look on the ground for anything else that might be with it.

Finding nothing else, she took a moment to examine it.

“Approximately 70 cm in length….shaft is wood…Ash, I think… flax binding, and pigeon - no - hawk fletching. Animal bone arrowhead. 18th century, used with a short bow. Probably for rabbits and other small game. Don’t think there were buffalo around here.”

As she looked closer, she saw that something was stuck to the arrowhead.

“Cotton, maybe? Most likely animal fur.”

She pulled it off and rolled it around in her fingertips.

“That’s….paper.”

“What are people doing messing about with an 18th century arrow? Do they have no respect? Just shooting it around like it’s a toy….”

She felt her stomach turn, and the blood leave her head.

“Oh no. No no no no no.”

Without having the sketch to confirm her suspicion, it would remain a theory until it showed up again.

Which it then did.

Chapter Text

Deciding now was a good time to make their way into town, Murtagh and Jamie made a wide circle around the stone which had, in their best estimation, just consumed both arrow and parchment. Wanting to avoid the same fate, they walked well clear of it on their way to the horses.

“I’ll gather them and meet ye down the road” Jamie yelled to Murtagh.

Murtagh, ahead of him, waved.

And yet…. Jamie’s curiosity got the best of him. With Murtagh a few dozen paces in front of him, hurrying away no doubt, Jamie backtracked near the stone just to make sure there was nothing there.

But there was.

It was on the ground.

He was more eager to open it than he was when the first one rolled past his leg. Knowing, in this instance, the delivery was intentional made it somewhat exciting.

It was a landscape. Rendered well, again. It was a treeline he wasn’t familiar with but the mountains were definitely the ones near the stones.

Jamie sat down, looking into the distance.

“Were they lonely, the person who drew this – sitting here with a heavy heart? Were they traveling along, seized by the beauty of nature, and needed to render it for memory?”

His thoughts then wandered from who they might be to where they might be.

“Tales of the stones say people are taken in, but nothing's ever been found here that came from somewhere else. And yet, I’m receiving these beautiful sketches. The parchment is the finest I’ve seen, and the graphite is smooth. Could they be from another time – maybe a ways into the future?”

He laid the sketch on his lap, the morning sun warming his back.

“Would surely be a blessing to know the hands and heart behind this.”

What perplexed him was that a squirrel was hanging upside down from a branch. He’d seen squirrels in all manner of animation – scurrying up and down trees, jumping from branch to branch, but never this way.

And it was holding something?

“That was truly impossible. They’d only ever carried their young on their backs, or ate at an acorn in their paws. Not a…. piece of slate?”

He looked more closely at the sketch.

“CEB? Oh, aye. They were imitating the signature I’d used.”

Retrieving his mother’s graphite sticks again, he drew a likeness of himself under the same tree as the squirrel, holding a slate in his hands with his full name on it, then addressed it in the little space that was left at the bottom:

CEB,

Your renderings have been received with great happiness. I hope you are not displeased with my additions. They are meant with the utmost respect.

I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Jamie

He folded it, tied the sketch to a rock, stepped several paces back and threw it - hitting the cleft on the stone directly.

The ground rumbled and a gust of wind took it in a flash.

“No time to wait for another. Need to gather Mam and Da’s things.”

He hurried to untie the horses from the trees near the stream so Murtagh wouldn’t worry where he was. He got atop Blueskin, a half Arabian, and pulled Nelson, a chestnut gelding, behind him.

He caught up with Murtagh, still walking quickly, his head down and his hands flapping around in the air.

“…blasted nonsense it all is. A piece of parchment canna just disappear with an arrow shot through a rock. Isna possible to…”

“Who are ye talking to?” Jamie inquired of his Godfather as he pulled up behind him.

“Blah! Ye nearly scared the water outta me!”

Laughing, Jamie handed the reigns from Nelson to Murtagh.

"If yer done yapping, we should be getting to town" he snickered to his Godfather.

Chapter Text

Shrieking, Claire instinctively ran from the newest delivery which came with a whoosh of wind and a slight rumble. Waiting for her heart to still, she approached the stone cautiously.

“DID YOU NOT SEE ME STANDING RIGHT THERE? Good Golly.”

She looked for what appeared. Nothing was close by so she wondered if anything was there at all. With the arrow still in her hand she knelt to run her other hand on the ground. Scooching around on her knees, she stuck the arrow under her arm to keep it safe. Eventually she found a rock several yards away.

“Aha! Found ya.”

She undid the twine to get to the paper, looking specifically for a hole. It was in the upper right.

“Thought so.”

Sitting down, she laid the arrow and the paper beside her. Without knowing why, tears pooled in her eyes. Seeing the handsome man in a kilt, holding a sign that finally explained who was out there, touched her. But it was the handwritten note that caused her to well up.

“I’m not displeased James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Frazer. Archer. Artist. Friend.”

Sighing, she contemplated what this was going to mean.

“How am I going to explain all of this? I better do it scientifically. I’ll be taken more seriously…if one can be taken seriously proposing that you’re communicating, through a stone, with someone who lives centuries in the past.”

She gently put the arrow, twine, rock, and sketch in her backpack.

As Claire began her walk into town she put everything she knew about what was happening into a conclusion-based framework, otherwise known as the scientific method. It was something she’d had to do countless times throughout her classes, and with Uncle Lamb on digs: Observe, Question, Experiment, Organize Data, Draw a Conclusion, Report Results.

“First” she said, tredging along “ would be my observations.”

Observations:

“I have observed materials passing completely through a standing stone. Each time I have thrown a balled-up piece of paper at a certain crack in a particular stone it vanishes. It does not pass through…it does not collect $200…‘haha! Ok. FOCUS’ …to the other side of the stone. Then it’s returned. It is occurring in the month of July 2016. There is no person anywhere near that could be manipulating or affecting this situation, nor is there anyone near enough to be playing a prank. Weather is clear with no wind. The stone is not ‘false’ or a magical trick rock. It is approximately 12 feet high, by 4 feet wide, by 12 inches thick. Dolerite? Granite? Possibly Neolithic time period.”

Claire continued thinking aloud:

Question:

“1. Is the paper that is being thrown possibly falling into a hole?
2. Is it being blown away?
3. Is it, like lore says, being taken to another time period?"

Hypothesis:

"I propose that the paper is being taken to another time, possibly 2 centuries ago."

Experiment:

"A random toss of notebook paper at a cleft-laden stone, afternoon in July, resulted in it vanishing.

Several hours later the same paper was observed on the ground by the stone. It had been written on – rough graphite - by another individual and signed ‘JAMMF.’ Small hole in upper right quadrant. Slight smell of leather. An 18th century arrow was found on the ground near the stone as well. Cannot effectively conclude the two are connected but the paper had a hole and the arrowhead had paper on it.

I turned the paper over, wrote something on the back, and threw it at the same stone in the same place, about 8 hours later. It vanished.

2nd return of the paper, a few hours later, came tied to a rock. A supposed self portrait of the person (gentleman in traditional Scottish attire) and handwritten communication signed with gentleman’s given names and surname - ‘James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser’ were added to the previous sketch."

Data:

"4 exchanges of one piece of paper through a crack in a standing stone resulted in communication with a person with artistic ability, possible archer from clan Fraser. One piece of paper used. Thrown by myself as a crumbled ball twice; sent by other person via arrow (once) and rock (once.) Given the relatively short turn-around time, it is likely the gentleman is within the area of the standing stones."

Conclusion:

"It is highly probable that the cleft stone is a portal between periods in time and capable of receiving and delivering items. Additional research will determine if the thesis is plausible if/when other papers are received. If the given name of the sender can be confirmed in historical documents the hypothesis will likely be confirmed.”

As Claire approached the parking lot at the entrance of the park, merely a few blocks from the store where Uncle Lambert and Dr. Joe were waiting for her, she was prepared to share her findings.

Chapter Text

The store where Joe and Lamb had stopped, down a side street from the main area of tourist traps, projected a museum-esque vibe. It was a small stone building with an arched entryway, iron-hinged wooden doors, large windows, and the name of the store hanging from a sign above the entryway:

THEN AND NOW
ITEMS OF DISTINCTION

It’s vibe clearly resonated with Lamb, and Joe, so they escaped the heat in it’s dark, cool interior.

A man in a red tang jacket with gold brocade and black tailored trousers turned from placing an item on a shelf behind the counter to greet them.

“Welcome” he said, coming around to the front.

“Thank you” Joe said. “My name Dr. Joe Abernathy. This is my friend Dr. Lambert Beauchamp.”

“My name is Yi Tien Cho. I am the owner. How may I assist you?”

As Lamb and Joe’s eyes began adjusting to being in the dark from the scorching July day, they took in how true to a museum the store was. It’s polished cement floor, focused lighting, and precisely showcased items, in both the area they were in and another room to the right, showed how seriously the owner took aesthetics.

“Well…” Joe said, eyeing the vintage Coca-Cola machine along the back wall, “we’ll take 3 of those.”

“Ah. It is very hot outside, yes” Yi Tien Cho said, smiling. “Each is one dollar. This takes coins - American Quarters, Nickels and Dimes.”

The soda machine had a gleaming white exterior that beckoned them with its iconic red “Drink Coca-Cola” insignia. A long, narrow glass door on the left of the machine opened to a row of enticingly cold bottles. To the right of the door was a coin slot, a bottle opener in a recessed well, and a return change bin. The raised image of a Coke bottle dripping with condensation, on what remained of the front, was all it took.

“Awesome” Lamb said, remembering that he needed to text Claire. He and Joe then began fishing about in their pockets for change when Yi Tien Cho asked if they were expecting someone else.

“Yes…” Lamb said as he pulled out what he had in his pocket “my niece. She’ll be here shortly.” Joe added to it from what he had to make sure there was $3.

“Beautiful piece” Joe said. “I remember these very well.”

“Many of my customers feel the same. They tell me stories of their childhood going to movies, or laundromats, or bowling alleys. They always smile.”

Lamb put in 4 quarters, pulled the door open, and slid out the first bottle. He lifted the cap off with the bottle opener in the machine rather than the pocket one he always carried. It was just too fulfilling to pass up.

He handed it to Joe who refused to take it.

“Dude. Seriously? I want to get my own. Haven’t done this in 50 years.”

Laughing, Lamb dramatically moved away. “Have at it, pal.”

Moving in front of the machine, Joe opened his hand for Lamb to put a dollar into. Pulling out a bottle of his own, and flipping the cap off in the opener, he glugged half of it down. “I forgot how good this was. All I ever hear anymore is water,water,water, or now kombucha. Nothing beats a Coke.”

At that, they clinked bottles.

Claire, peering in the front window to see if Joe and her Uncle were there, saw them and waved. Opening the door she was surprised at how cool it was inside the store.

“Ahhhhh” she said closing her eyes and taking in the cold air. After hugging her Uncle and Joe, Yi Tien Cho introduced himself.

“It is my pleasure to meet you. I am the owner, Yi Tien Cho” he said.

“I’m Claire. Your store is beautiful!”

“You are very kind.”

Lamb put his hand out with the remaining dollar to Claire.“Have one” he said, motioning to the Coke machine, “It’ll take the heat off.”

Smiling, Claire picked up the remaining coins, dropping them into the coin slot.

“Ooooh! Fresca! I haven’t had one in so long.”

Smiling at the joy the machine always brought to his customers, Yi Tien Cho told them it’s backstory:

“5 years ago a customer came into my store wanting to purchase a Chinese vase I had recently brought back from a trip to China. He was not able to afford it. I asked if he had anything to trade. He was very surprised. ‘You will barter for the vase?’ he asked. ‘Yes. I see how greatly you want it. Maybe, in return, you have an item I would want.’ The man owned a business that restored older items, such as toys, candy dispensers, vehicles, and soda machines.”

“So you got this for the vase?” Claire asked, nearly half done with her soda.

“Yes. I will never sell it. It is a piece that begins conversations and leads to happy memories.”

“Is most of your other stock acquired through your travels, then?” Lamb asked, noticing an 18th century Roman mosaic ring in a display case.

“Yes. And No.”

At this, all three looked to him.

“Allow me to explain.”

Chapter Text

“I am a businessman first. The income my wife and I generate from the store helps to support us and our 5 children. But I am also a human being. Much that you see here was brought in by local residents, tourists, and….travelers who needed money. They would sell items they owned, or even found such as jewelry, heirlooms," he said motioning to the ring "and artifacts. Other items are, as you rightly surmised, from travels to my native China.”

“The ring is 19th century tesserae?” Lamb noted.

“Yes. You are an historian?” Yi Tien Cho asked.

“Egyptian Dynasties mostly. Joe’s area is Scotland.”

Taking advantage of the break in conversation, Claire removed her backpack and laid it on the counter. “I’ve just come from the standing stones. I spent the morning there drawing and…well, I was just drawing.”

Yi Tien Cho moved behind the counter, a very serious look on his face.

Opening her backpack, Claire tenderly pulled out the arrow and time-worn sketch, laying it for them to see.

“Based on my observations this is an 18th century arrow – ash wood. 70 cm in length. The binding is flax and the fletching is hawk. Animal bone arrowhead. Probably used with a short bow for rabbits and other little critters. Oh…and it came to me through the standing stone with this sketch I sent through myself.”

She looked at her Uncle and Joe: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to blindside you, but that’s what happened.”

Yi Tien Cho looked earnestly at Claire. “You say this came with correspondence?

Unfolding the sketch, Claire explained it’s recent journey.

The ensuing shock caused a rather prolonged silence.

“Claire, it is simply not possible that items can travel through stones. You have to know this” Joe added.

“AND YET- I have spent today doing just that.”

“There is much to discuss, and it is my lunchtime. I would be pleased if you joined me” Yi Tien Cho quietly said. He locked the front door and changed the sign from “Open” to “I will return shortly.”

He waved his hand toward the back of the store where there was a staircase. As all four ascended they were met by a beautiful woman in a fitted black silk dress and red brocade ballet flats. Turning to his guests, Yi Tien Cho warmly introduced her: “This is my wife, Ming Ru.”

She smiled and extended her hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

The area was clearly their home. It was the entire top floor of the store and was comprised of a spacious kitchen, dining room, and lounge, the corner of which was an office. The bedrooms were presumably reached by a prominent spiral staircase off of the kitchen. 3 children were already seated at a table where a large tureen sat.

“These are our children,” Ming Ru began: “Our daughter Qianru, our son Chenglei, and our daughter Hualing.”

They each stood up when they had been introduced.

Yi Tien Cho then introduced his guests: “This is Dr. Abernathy, Dr. Beauchamp, and Dr. Beauchamp’s niece Claire. I have invited them to dine with us.” Ushering them to the table, Ming Ru asked if they were visiting the area.

Claire replied quickly, worried about the impact her story had just created: “Temporarily, you could say. I’m on break from studies in London. Uncle Lambert teaches there. We’re here poking around for the summer with Dr. Abernathy.”

“Well, I’m happy to have such captivating guests” Ming Ru said, smiling.

Claire, who hadn’t eaten in several hours, was quick to remark about the meal: “Whatever you have made smells heavenly! I hope we’re not intruding.”

“Absolutely not. We always enjoy company. I hope you enjoy wonton soup?”

"Without question!"

As the men joined them, Ming Ru motioned towards a chair at the table for Claire.

“So, what’s going on” Lamb asked, taking a seat beside Claire. “Is the arrow worth a fortune, or…”

“We will eat first. Then business.” Yi Tien Cho said somewhat scoldingly.

“I’ve forgotten my manners. Please forgive me.” Lamb said.

Yi Tien Cho served from the tureen into bowls that were passed to everyone, then served himself last. He did the same, but into small cups, from a pot of tea.

Lunch was quiet but genial. The children, Claire noticed, were about 16, 13, and 11. Seeing that Claire had exchanged smiles with them, Yi Tien Cho spoke: “Our other 2 children are studying Chinese medicine at Beijing University.”

“You’re acquainted with this yourself, I assume? I noticed the patient table in your office” Joe said. “I am” Yi Tien Cho said, smiling. "You are as well?" “Got acupuncture a few years ago.” Joe remarked. “It really helped me. Very glad to have found it.”

“How long have you practiced?” Claire asked as she took a refill of tea.

“About 20 years.”

“I want to learn too.” 16 year old Qianru said.

“That’s wonderful,” Claire said. “What are you studying in school?”

“I learn a great many things from my Mother and Father.”

“Homeschool?” Claire asked.

“Yes, we are all homeschooled.”

“We teach our children ourselves to ensure an education of integrity, and love” Yi Tien Cho said.

Claire lovingly looked at her Uncle, his dedication these many years evident in the quick, intelligent mind she had and her zeal for history. “I’ve learned a great many things from my Uncle as well. I’ll forever be indebted to him.”

Lamb leaned over and kissed Claire on her cheek, and remarked how blessed he is to be able to work with her. “She’s the best business partner and field aid I’ve ever had.”

“My brother wants to be a teacher and my sister wants to be an artist” Qianru continued, excited to speak to the guests.

" Hualing," Claire asked, motioning to a wall in the lounge, “Did you do the paintings that are hanging there?”

“I did! All three of them. My mother rendered the 2 on the other wall.”

“And what type of teaching would you like to do Chenglei?”

“ESL for Chinese students.”

“Your parents should be extremely proud of all of you. Wonderful professions!” Claire enthused.

A trio of smiles greeted her.

“Though we ensure our business is managed, teaching our children has been our priority.”

Taking that as the cue that lunch was over, the children began clearing the dishes from the table while Yi Tien Cho and his wife moved the tureen. Afterward, Claire commented to Ming Ru, while the gentlemen were talking, that the lunch was the best she’d had in a long time.

“I am happy to hear that. It’s definitely not traditional Scottish fare!”

“What brought you to Scotland?”

“We wanted the children to experience as much of the world as possible. Yi Tien and I met while at Beijing University, in a class on Medieval European History. We were fascinated, and decided we wanted to move here one day.”

Excusing herself from her conversation with Claire, Ming Ru spoke to the children who then retrieved an antique chess board from a cabinet and began playing.

“We can resume our conversation now” Yi Tien Cho said, moving towards the stairs.

Once they had returned to the store, Yi Tien Cho placed the door sign to “Open” and unlocked the door. At the counter he picked up the arrow and sketch and took it to the adjacent room as the others followed him.

Chapter Text

The room was brighter than the other, due to transom windows along the top of the facing wall, and just as interesting. There were two square glass cases in the middle of the room, about waist high, additional display cases around the perimeter, floating shelves, and in two corners were suits of armor. A second counter, along the back wall, was flanked by posters of historical or dynastic periods and had inside it a few dozen reference books.

Putting on his glasses from a case near the register, Yi Tien Cho then pulled out a thin, black cotton sheet from underneath the counter, much like a jeweler uses when displaying an expensive bracelet or ring to a potential buyer. He placed it over the top of a display case near the front window to utilize the afternoon sun and give everyone the space to see, and then laid the arrow on top of it. He retrieved a magnifying glass as well.

Lamb, getting his own magnifying glass out of his pocket, began an initial exam.

Claire pulled out the rock and twine from her backpack and laid them beside the arrow. “As I mentioned, the first ‘delivery’ probably came by this arrow. Right here is the hole. This little wad was on the arrowhead tip.” Flattening it out, despite how small it was, showed how perfectly it fit into the hole. “And the second time” Claire said, looking up at the group, “the sketch came via this rock, tied with twine.”

Ming Ru went behind the counter, gathered a small set of keys, and opened a display case on the wall. She brought 2 arrows from it to the makeshift operating table.

“The twine with the rock is the same as that on the arrow” Lamb said. “Both are made of flax; you’re right on that, Claire” he noted after having unraveled a small portion from the arrow. “The arrowhead, which is tanged, was clearly carved as were the grooves for the 4 fletchings.”

“This arrow has hardly any wear or age. It is as if it was just recently made” Yi Tien Cho said. “The wood is still somewhat green and pliable, indicating new wood, which grows primarily in spring.” He pulled the arrowhead closer to his magnifying glass. “A few strands of animal hair are stuck to the notches in the arrowhead. Rabbit.”

“Bows ‘bogha’ and arrows ‘saighead’ were carried by Clansman along with broadswords and something smaller in their belt, like a dagger or sgian dubh” Joe added. The Highland Games have reintroduced archery, by the way.” He rubbed his chin. “There are a few stores on the main street that carry period bows and arrows. How can you be sure this is authentic and not one of the store’s wares that was just dropped on the ground?”

Lamb interjected: “I read a book about a part of the mind called the adaptive unconscious.* In the opening, staff of a prominent museum were contacted by a representative of someone who owned a kouros; a marble statue of a young man which typically dates to around the 6th century, BC. The museum staff were excited to have this in their collection so arranged to have it on loan. They had someone perform tests and examinations, with their conclusion being that it was authentic, so the museum bought it. Initially, though, two of those who first examined it weren’t convinced. Their first reaction, gut instinct, was that something was off but they couldn’t immediately identify what. It ‘looked’ like the real thing. Being so excited to have it in their collection caused the staff to override mental warnings, and it was ultimately found to be a fake.

The adaptive unconscious is, basically, your gut instincts; it is a quick, unconscious strategy to help us understand. Mine, on the other hand, immediately screamed authentic when I saw this arrow, though I’m trying to convince myself it isn’t. Through the countless artifacts I’ve found and reviewed, my gut has never been wrong despite whatever else I might think.”

Ming Ru heartily agreed: “Very well put Dr. Beauchamp. I felt the same. It’s the integrity and color of the flax cord, what’s on the arrow and what came with the rock, and the bone arrowhead. In one of my graduate classes on Chinese antiquities, we examined the grip wrapping on Chinese swords – specifically the material used for the knotwork; nylon versus silk. Identifying one from the other was critical to knowing which was modern and which was hundreds of years old.”

Ming Ru laid the arrow against the ones she got from the case.

“This one is almost identical to the ones that I got from our display case that were, surprisingly, found almost in the same spot. Despite yours being somewhat smaller, for smaller game, they’re nearly copies. See the arrowhead? Same chipping. All the shafts are made of Ash. All were bound with flax. And all were determined to be from new wood.”

Lamb turned towards his friend Joe and asked him: “You’ve told us about the men. What about the stones?”

Joe thought for a few minutes, his jaw clenched.

“There is oral history about the stone being a portal. For centuries disappearances were attributed to fairies, or fae. But this COULD be hard enough evidence that the oral history has some validity. As for the arrows… things may be leaving from here AND there – wherever there is.”

Claire sighed. “I have pretty irrefutable evidence that a sketch I created passed through a stone 4 times. The recipient left their name and a likeness of themselves dressed in traditional Scottish attire – not shorts, joggers, or trousers. They didn’t leave a phone number or address, nor ask for mine. Who, in modern time, doesn’t give a cell number or social media? I saw the sketches vanish. With the first receipt I found this arrow on the ground near the stone, the 2nd time it was tied to a rock. There was no one nearby because I checked. It wasn’t typed and no vernacular was used. The note was in formal English, written with what appears to be a rough lead stick; you know, the things they used BEFORE PENCILS. There’s no hole in the stone and the sketch wasn’t blowing away. I am communicating, best guess, with a man in the 18th century. What other explanation could there be?”

“Ok,” Joe said. “So we have things” At this, he looked around at the group “but no eyewitnesses or ‘travelers.’ We have no more than a…” he looked respectfully at Claire “theory.”

Yi Tien Cho and Ming Ru glanced quickly at each other, but said nothing.

Noticing the glance that passed between them, Joe pointedly asked: “Travelers. You’ve used this phrase. Care to elaborate?”

Yi Tien Cho answered carefully: “If I am to believe what several customers have told me, then yes, there are these ‘travelers.’ They often asked about places, buildings, that don’t exist any longer. Moreover, they were ‘traditionally’ attired as Claire put it. They were undoubtedly fearful of divulging what they suspected had happened to them, and I did not want to intrude into their life by asking. So, it’s a guess.”

“The items here came from them?” Lamb asked.

“Some, yes.”

“Claire” Yi Tien Cho softly said. “Do you want an opinion on the authenticity of the arrow, or did you want to sell it?”

Claire’s heart seized up at the thought of losing it, or worse, trading it for money.

“No, I would never sell this. I…” She was caressing the words Jamie wrote on the paper while imagining him sitting in the grass writing them.

“We’ll keep it” Lamb said, noticing the change in Claire’s demeanor, “since we’re relatively sure it’s authentic.”

Claire lightly caressed the arrow and sketch, then wandered off to a display case in the other room.

The concern in both men’s faces at Claire’s reaction brought Lamb to confess: “She’s still reeling a little from a break-up. Guy was a heathen. I hoped this trip would help to…”

“I CAN HEAR YOU” came a voice from the adjacent room. Walking back in Claire quickly replied: “Yea, Frank was a skirt-chaser and a liar. So that makes me some emotional wreck that’s now in love with a…” she picked the sketch up and waved it at the men “ghost?”

“Claire, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.” Lamb said, to soothe her.

The tears fell heavy now, and Claire hung her head.

Ming Ru came to her side, rubbed her back and lead her to the stairs. “There’s still some tea left, my dear. Let’s go have another cup.”

Walking up the stairs, Claire apologized for her implosion: “Oh my gosh. I am SO sorry. I have NO idea where that came from. Goodness. I just….wow.”

“You do not need to apologize at all.”

As they entered the lounge, Chenglei ran to his mother. “I have won, Mother! I bested Hualing…”

At seeing Claire’s distress, he stopped what he was saying to comfort her, his eyes wide with concern.

“Are you unwell, Miss Claire? Please, come sit down. Mother, may we pour her a cup of tea ?” he whispered.

“Yes, that is kind of you.”

Qianru brought a cup for her Mother and one for Claire, while Chenglei brought a small plate of shortbread. Qianru sat beside Claire on the sofa, and hugged her. “ I hope you are feeling better very soon, Miss Claire.”

“Thank you” Claire said, trying to smile, “you and your siblings are very sweet.”

“We will leave you to be alone. Please let us know if we may help” Chenglei said. The children went to the dining room to begin another game of chess.

Claire then looked at Ming Ru: “Your children are amazing. Beautiful hearts. I hope one day I’ll have some too.”

“Thank you. They are precious to us, and we have ensured they have our complete devotion.”

With a shaking hand, Claire quickly drank the tea and sat the cup back in the saucer. “My ex was a waste of time. Thought money and buying me things made up for the affairs and emotional abuse. I just dumped him.”

“I am so sorry” Ming Ru said, taking Claire’s hand. “Happiness will come to you. Have faith.”

“I don’t know why that little note..his name is Jamie…touched me. It was so kind, respectful…things I’ve missed” Claire said, welling up again. “Oh my GOSH. It’s like the Niagra falls. I am so sorry!”

Ming Ru couldn’t help but laugh. She handed Claire a few tissues.

“Frank, my ex, didn’t care for my art. Thought it was a useless endeavor that would never get me anywhere. I’m a bio-chemical engineer, transforming simple things into other, more usable things. But no amount of alchemy, in our relationship, ever produced anything other than dross.”

“Will you write again, to Jamie?” Ming Ru asked, hoping to remind Claire of something that made her happy.

“May I borrow a hand mirror?” Claire asked, a smile spreading across her face.

Chapter Text

A marriage to Laoghaire was hardly a consideration at the moment, thankfully; in its place was the disappearance of an arrow, a piece of parchment and, unknown to Murtagh, a rock. Riding quietly along the road, the light had moved from the grays and blacks of evening a few hours ago to morning’s hues of blues and reds.

Murtagh’s countenance had become noticeably downcast, a change from the disbelief and surprise at the start of their ride. Although Jamie was comfortable with contemplation, his own or another’s, he needed to break the silence.

“Do ye think the fae took it? Mam often said the stones…”

Murtagh shrugged. “I canna tell. Best to not be blabbing about it when we get to town, aye?”

Jamie knew that Murtagh’s clipped response meant he hadn’t figured it out yet and didn’t want to discuss it any further, nor want Jamie to either.

Arriving in town the men found a livery stable for the horses. Remembering the bustling tavern they’d seen as they arrived - a sure sign of good food and drink – Murtagh and Jamie decided the day would go smoother on full stomachs. And besides, the time since they’d roasted the rabbits they’d caught for breakfast had long since passed.

Though only mid-morning, the temperature was inching up. In true Scottish form it would be sure to rain, making it doubly miserable.

As they tore into their stew, Murtagh thought about how to gather everything they came for. He had committed Ellen’s list to memory rather than carry, and eventually lose, something written down so he divided the items into categories to make as few stops as possible.

“I hadn’t asked ye yet. What is it we’re here for?”

“Well, yer Mam wants 2 pairs of gloves, herbs, ribbon and lace, French soap, oil, thread, cloth, and buttons.”

“Mam wants a lot” Jamie said absentmindedly, picking at his stew.

“Aye” Mutagh said, smiling.

“What does Da want?”

“Tobacco and a new pipe.”

“Hmmm.”

“If this doesna show the difference between men and women, I don’t know what does” Murtagh sighed.

“We’ll make our way to the apothecary first,” he said scooping the last of the stew from his bowl, “because your Mam needs the most from there.”

“What time can we be on our way back to the stones…I mean getting on our way?” Jamie asked.

“I’ve secured a room here for the night. We dinna need to get everything at once. It’ll give the horses a rest as well.”

“Oh.”

The long strips of retailers and merchants made a busy thorofare; horses, wagons, and townspeople, along with street vendors, made for unwieldy congestion. Jamie enjoyed the hustle and bustle but Murtagh, a simple and quiet man, was annoyed.

Thankfully the apothecary was directly across from the tavern, sat 5th in a row of businesses on that side and situated between the haberdasher and milliner. This afforded the men a quick retreat from the noise and smell; 18th century streets were not only littered with people but with manure as well. 21st-century cities traded the foul-smelling street waste with air pollution from gas-powered vehicles but, either way, horses remained a principal contributor to pollution whether by droppings or power.

Inside the apothecary, the store’s smell reminded Murtagh of the fields surrounding Lallybroch; grass, water, roses and dirt. He thought that would be a grand perfume for a woman, but before he could explore the idea any further the owner asked what they wanted.

“Oh. Aye. The Mistress would like Carrageen Irish moss, Dulse Seaweed, St. John’s Wart, Meadow Sweet, Bitter Vetch, Carduus Benedictus, Archangel, Milk Thistle, and Clove Oil.”

Turning around to the canisters behind him, he pulled several down and scooped the contents into pouches. Coming from behind the counter, he pulled canisters down from one wall and filled the last 2 pouches and then poured the vial of clove oil.

“Anything else?” the proprietor asked.

“She asked for French-milled soap.”

“Any particular fragrance?”

“Err…”

The one thing he should have written down, he didn’t.

“Mam likes eucalyptus and peony.”

Relieved that Jamie knew, Murtagh ordered some of each.

Jamie picked up different soaps that were displayed in buckets, smelling each one. The pink-tinged one, with the beautiful petals in it, was clearly rose - a smell that reminded him of his gran. The yellow one, strongly citrus, intrigued him. They didn’t often have oranges or lemons but he remembered that the smell was clean and fresh. The brownish one, though, with notes of myrrh and nutmeg changed everything.

He picked up 5 bars and smacked them on the counter.

“What’re ye doin’? I just got her some.”

“These are for me. I’m tired of smelling like lavender. ‘tis the only soap we ever seem to have. It makes my wame sick. I have my own money, mind.”

Murtagh shrugged and added Ellen’s things to his sporran.

Standing outside the apothecary, a dreary cast – which threatened rain - had overtaken the sky.

“Rain, manure, and crowds. Quite near a nightmare combination.”

“Dinna be too down. It’ll be nice to sleep on something other than the ground tonight, aye?”

Murtagh’s grumbled agreement tickled Jamie. For as sour as his temperament often was, his Godfather’s heart was generally sweet.

“Why don’t ye go check on the horses. I have a few other things to do.” With that, Murtagh wandered off.

The livery was near enough that Jamie didn’t have far to walk. Blueskin and Nelson were both content in their stalls, eating hay and alfalfa, and barely acknowledged Jamie was there. He found a stool and sat down near them.

The sketch, and traveling, kept Jamie distracted from what waited him at home. But now, in the stable and sat alone on a stool, it had the stage to itself.

Jamie wanted to be married and he very much wanted children. Just not with Laoghaire. That she said having bairns was “ a nuisance, and a ravage to my figure” is what settled his mind against a life with her; he believed children were a blessing and he wanted several. She derided his interests and joys in life too - reading, writing, and art: “That folly wilna pay bills. Ye need to tend land and keep a store of cattle and sheep for food and wool for clothing. I’ll no be laughed at as the wife of a lazy fool.” In fact, he was educated and kind and determined to be an ample provider.

That neither she nor he had any other prospects is probably why the marriage was being discussed. He didn’t want to let his parents down, nor live at home the rest of his life, but there wasn’t any other alternative but to go through with it. Overwhelmed with the misery that awaited him with the proposed union, Jamie got up and went back into town.

Looking up at the evening sky, he saw the steeple of a chapel a few streets away. He walked in the misty dusk until he was standing at the chapel doors. Opening them quietly, unsure if there was service, he let himself in and sat in a pew in the back. A priest wasn’t present so the chapel must have been open for people to come in to pray or contemplate. A few walked past Jamie on their way out, allowing him to see his Godfather sitting in the front, his shoulders hunched over in burden, his head clearly bowed in prayer.

Jamie’s heart began to break.

He prayed quietly. “Father, he has been my best friend, protector, mentor, …I couldna live without him and I thank ye for his devotion. I dinna know what weighs on him but I pray you grant him his requests and give him peace. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

Murtagh got up and went to the front to light 2 candles, one for Ellen and one for Jamie, then left through a side door.

Wanting to catch up to Murtagh, but not let him know he had been seen, Jamie waited a few minutes then paused to light a few candles of his own - one for Murtagh, that he have peace, and one for whoever was out there bringing hope into his life. He then left by the same side door. He maneuvered over a street so as to catch Murtagh on the main street rather than coming up behind him.

“Aye. The horses are well.”

“Canna get much else done today. Let’s get yer Da’s pipe and tobacco then be to our room.”

At the Tobacconist, the sweet and tangy smell of tobacco revived them both. A back room full of smoke was buzzing with conversation as men were enjoying an evening to themselves. A small, burning hearth at the front, with two leather chairs in front of it, had the names Jamie and Murtagh written all over them. Murtagh approached the glass counter, which was full of wood and silver snuff boxes, and the owner asked how he could help.

“Tobacco, please. ”

“Would ye be wantin’ rolling or pipe tobacco?”

“Pipe. And 2 pipes.”

“How many plugs?”

“7”

Intrigued by the laughter in the back room, Murtagh made another request.

“Might ye have scotch?”

“Are ye no in Scotland, man?”

“Aye. And two of those.”

Murtagh sat down beside Jamie, pulled the footrest close to him, and propped his feet by the fire. The shopkeep brought 2 mugs, but also a bottle of scotch, 10 plugs and 2 spills*, and placed them on the table between the chairs. “Compliments of the house.” He handed a pipe to Murtagh and one to Jamie.

“Let me know if ye be needin’ anything else.”

Murtagh put the new one in his sporran for Brian along with the plug tobacco, keeping out one to use, and took out his own pipe which he carried everywhere.

Jamie looked curiously at his Godfather.

“About time ye had yer own pipe, aye?”

“Aye! Thank ye.”

The men sat by the fire in quiet for the next few hours; the rain – now coming in sheets – of no immediate consequence as they sat by the warmth of the hearth with a mug of scotch.

Jamie’s thoughts wandered to the stones, and whether there would be anything there on his return. Whoever was out there, taking time to talk with him, had brought him comfort. “We’re of the same mind, I feel.” Taking long, slow draws from his pipe, he thought what the next message would be. He’d not be able to convince Murtagh to stay at the stones longer than necessary, so would it mean saying goodbye to them?

Murtagh’s thoughts were on Jamie. “The lad’s resigned himself to the marriage. I can see it. I canna disrespect Brian and Ellen’s wishes that I help him come to accept it. That’s what they sent me to do, and he’s their son, but I wilna support this any longer. I need to convince them to call this off.”

Jamie’s rumbling stomach an hour later broke the quiet, signaling it was time to return to the tavern for dinner.

Chapter Text

A short break in the storm was enough to give Jamie and Murtagh time to dash to the tavern without getting soaked. There were as many people for dinner as there was for lunch but they got the last table. Dinner was roast lamb and vegetables, which they both shoveled in, so they could get to bed.

Their room was small: a dresser, a table, and 2 beds. The dresser held a pitcher of water and a basin, soap, and towels. The beds, situated under eaves, were going to cause problems for the two men who both stood over 6 feet tall.

Lighting the candles that were beside the towels on the dresser, they took off their boots and jackets and washed up in the basin.

“Mind getting up and down in bed that you don’t bang your heid” Murtagh felt compelled to tell Jamie. Parenting instincts never left no matter how old the child had become.

The beds, like Jamie said, were more comfortable than ground. “The kid was right. I canna sleep outdoors like I used to” Murtagh thought to himself as he drifted off.

“We just have to get Mam’s material and things in the morning? That’s it?” came Jamie’s voice in the dark.

“Aye.”

“I saw the haberdasher as we left the apothecary. Should be able to get everything there I gather.”

“Aye.”

“What kind of buttons should we get?”

“What’s on yer mind, son?”

“Why do ye ask?”

“Ye babble like a brook when yer hiding something. Always did.”

“I dinna do that yer just being cantankerous I have a lot of questions is all and laying down just stirs it all up and it’s nary a bother talking rather than having it rattle about my heid all night long.”

“Out with it.”

“I’ve been writing on the parchment we shot at and sent it through a second time tied to a rock when ye walked toward the road.”

Murtagh sat right up and clipped his head on the eave. “Blasted ceiling!”

“Are ye not the one who told me to mind moving up and down so as not to bang my heid?” Jamie said.

The sigh that came out of Murtagh was the longest Jamie had ever heard from him.

“Son” Murtagh slowly said “you sent something through the stone a 2nd time? Tied to a rock?”

“Aye.”

“Oh, now you’re at a loss for words?”

“Well, I got it out so I kind of feel better.”

“Would ye tell me what’s going on?”

“When we first got there and I went to sit at the stones, a piece of parchment rolled past my leg. I picked it up and saw a drawing of the stones. I got my drawing sticks out and added to it, signing my initials like Mam does on her paintings, and put it in my boot. Then when we were shooting arrows I shoved it in the cleft which…”

“I remember.”

“…oh. aye. then when we parted, and you were walking to the road, I saw it on the ground on the other side. Whoever had drawn the original sketch added some more to what I did. ‘tis funny what they added. A squirrel hanging upside down from a branch holding a piece of slate that had ‘CEB’ written on it.”

“ A squirrel…”

“Aye”

“Upside down holding slate”

“Are ye confused? Should I start again?”

“GO ON.”

“I drew a likeness of myself on it, wrote a short note, and signed my full name. Tied it to a rock. Then threw it at the stone and it vanished.”

“This is why yer so anxious to get back.”

“I dinna ken what’s happening but maybe the person on the other side is lonely, like me, and sits at the stone drawing.”

“Fae are tricky. Canna say what they’re up to.”

“Maybe they’re helping me.”

The hope in Jamie’s voice was unmistakable, and Murtagh didn’t want to discourage him. He also didn’t know if he could actually disagree with him. He sat there for a few minutes on the edge of his bed, the moon’s light filtering in through the sheer curtains on the window.

“I dinna know that you should be putting yer hope in this.”

Jamie’s silence, which just a few minutes ago was something Murtagh wanted, now was painful to hear.

“I’m sorry, son. I didna mean to upset ye.”

Murtagh went to the dresser and got the bottle of whiskey they brought back from the tobacconist. He handed it to Jamie, who took a drink, then he took one himself and sat it back on the dresser.

“Ye didna hurt my feelings. I know this isna something to stake my future on. I have no clue who it is, or where they are, but I feel a connection to them. I dinna want to be unhappy, but I dinna want to disrespect Mam and Da either. I’ve never had a reason to distrust their decisions for me.”

“Maybe now that we’ve all had time away from this, we can talk some more when we get back before anything formal is decided.”

“Aye. I’d like that.”

“Goodnight, Son.”

As Jamie began to fall asleep, out of exhaustion but also due to the relief from confession, he thought about what might be there to greet him at the stones and what he’d say in reply. Did they mind his note? Will they draw any more? What did CEB stand for? Would they tell him?

Chapter Text

Lallybroch

Ellen was sat at a chair in the kitchen, watching the pot of soup, loaves of bread, and pie warm by the fire when Brian came in from the field.

“About time for the first cut of hay, right when Murtagh and Jamie get back” he said, going over to the hearth to see what was to eat. “Will need to get the calves weaned soon too.”

He kissed Ellen on the cheek, and went to wash up in the sink.

Her face was still, and she didn’t look at him.

“Yer day go alright?” he asked while scrubbing his hands.

“Aye.”

As they ate dinner, Ellen was still quiet.

“Mam, I’ve finished. Is there pie tonight?” Jenny asked.

“Aye, hon. Make plates for everyone.”

“Is it strawberry Mam? I dinna like it so much.” Willie said.

“It’s blackberry. Still care for a piece?”

“Oh, aye. Please.”

After an unusually somber dinner, Brian asked Jenny and Willie to go to their rooms. Ellen was evidently upset about something and he wanted to talk to her before bed. Instead, she followed the children upstairs.

In their room, Ellen began to undo her plait and looked in her vanity mirror. Brian came to sit beside her on the small chaise.

“Care to talk Mrs. Fraser?” he said, putting his cheek on her shoulder and meeting her eyes in the mirror.

She smiled.

“I dinna like how we left things with Jamie. All the arguing and fussing did nothing but create strife.”

“I agree. Has weighed on my heart too.”

“We canna go through with this.” Ellen blurted.

Brian took over undoing her braid.

“I’ve no said anything these few years while lass after lass has come and gone. Always one excuse after another for why he didn’t want to wed them.”

Ellen kept her head down.

“He’ll never take any woman was my worry, which is why I stepped in and made the decision for him. Otherwise it would have just been another excuse.”

He admired her beautiful hair, and gently pulled at the remaining braid.

“I did what I felt was the right thing to do as a Father. Ye ken as well as I do that children don’t always know what’s best for them, even though they think they do. Thought Murtagh could talk some sense into him was my thinking.”

Ellen turned around and faced Brian. He stroked her cheek.

“But maybe I didna make the best decision afterall. This week has helped to settle my mind a bit from the arguing, and to remember how sure you and I were in our love for each other. Jamie should be that sure as well, so I’m willing to put aside my will for his.”

Ellen’s smile returned.

“We’ll still have Gordon to contend with” Brian went on. “ I’ve no said any more to him since before Jamie and Murtagh left.”

“But we’ll face it, aye?”

“Aye, milady.”

The next afternoon, about the time Brian was about to go back to the field after having lunch, Gordon Mackenzie visited.

Emily, their maid, had him wait in the sitting room while she fetched Brian. “Well, the time’s come” he whispered to Ellen before he left the kitchen.

“Good day to ye Gordon” Brian said as he strode into the sitting room. “May I offer ye a…”

“Good day. And no, but thank ye.”

“I apologize we haven’t moved forward. We..”

“’tis no matter. We’ve no made any formal arrangement, aye?”

“That’s true, Gordon…and”

“And nothing.” Gordon said, irritated. We’ve no heard from ye in weeks. We’re no waiting any longer and have accepted a proposal from Henry MacAlister’s son. I’m here to inform ye of such and to bid ye farewell.”

Gordon, gripping his cap in his hands, seemed to be waiting for Brian to let him go.

“Well, then, we wish Laogharie well.”

Brian moved to the front door and opened it.

Gordon nodded to Brian, then to Ellen who had come from the kitchen, and left.

Ellen, wiping her hands on her apron, sighed in relief. “We didn’t have to worry after all.”

Brian hugged her. “Now we’ll work to have peace in the house again.”

Chapter Text

“ A bit like Normal Rockwell’s self-portrait don’t you think?” Claire asked Ming.

“You’re right!”

Claire had spent the past hour capturing herself. Ming had retrieved watercolors and brushes, drawing pencils, and a sketch pad. Claire set the paper up on an easel near a window to carefully, colorfully, render her self-portrait: she was looking directly into a jade and porcelain hand mirror, smiling, her hazel eyes playful and happy. She left room at the bottom for a note.

Right when she was helping Ming put the supplies back, she heard Yi Tien Cho, her Uncle, and Joe coming up the stairs. Lamb was not one to leave personal or business issues unfinished, so walked over to Claire.

“I’d like to apologize again.”

Claire nodded, so he pulled two chairs together.

“I’m sorry, dear, for sharing your situation and for hurting your feelings. It’s just been hanging there; neither of us have talked about it. I used an inopportune time to do that, and it was wrong of me.”

“You’re right. We haven’t talked about it. It was too embarrassing to discuss how miserable I was. But I ended it, and I learned, and it won’t happen again.”

Lamb took her hand. “I love you. As much and as often as you want to talk, I will always, always listen.”

Joe, Yi Tien Cho, and Ming Ru were watching over the children’s chess game, purposefully giving Lamb and Claire the privacy to talk. Hualing was closing in on Chenglei, and everyone could already see a sure win.

When she did, a chorus of applause greeted her. She smiled, stood up, and curtsied which caused everyone to laugh. Chenglei shook her hand and congratulated her.

“Well,” Lamb said, “we’ve taken up enough of your day. We should be leaving.”

Claire picked up her portrait as everyone went downstairs, and Ming Ru gave her a paper envelope to keep it in.

In the store below, Claire put the arrow and everything else in her backpack. The men shook hands, while Ming Ru hugged Claire.

“I am happy to have met you. Please come back to see us.”

“I absolutely will. You’ve been so kind.”

Yi Tien Cho came over to Claire and Ming Ru. “As my wife said, it has been an honor to meet you, your Uncle, and Dr. Abernathy.” He shook her hand, then gave her a small package. “It is a gift of herbs and teas. I apologize for the upset you experienced.”

Claire was so touched by their kindness it was hard not to tear up again. As she thanked him, Qianru came to her side. “Miss Claire, I will miss you. Please visit us again.” Qianru then put out her hand. Claire shook it, and replied “I will come to see you and your family often.” Chenglie and Hualing, coming to stand beside their sister, also shook her hand.

Once outside, they pondered what to do for the evening. “Well, I’m exhausted. Back home for me” Joe said, starting to walk off. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.” “Me too, honestly. Shall we go home too?” Lamb asked Claire. Arm-in-arm with her Uncle, they walked to the house they were renting for their stay.

That evening Claire laid in bed and thought what to write at the bottom of her portrait. She felt compelled to work on what to say right then, so found some paper in her portable desk and jotted some ideas, finally settling on:

"Jamie - I do like what you’ve done, and I enjoy hearing from you. My name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp."

When she took her portrait out of the envelope she saw that Ming Ru had included a paper wrapped charcoal pencil. Claire held it tenderly. “Thank you Ming Ru.” She wrote the note at the bottom then placed it back in the envelope. She rolled it up, secured it with string, then sat it on her table.

A night of fitful sleep caused Claire to wake up earlier than she normally did the next morning. “Maybe I should have looked at those teas” she muttered, grabbing her phone. It was 5:00 am. She got dressed then went over a couple blocks for a coffee, taking the portrait with her in her backpack. Sat in a booth by the front window with a breakfast sandwich and a large Italian roast, she noticed there was a bike rental station across the street. “I can not remember the last time I rode a bike. I’m intrigued.” She quickly finished breakfast and left.

It was a simple procedure: drop in a deposit, ride, bring it back, the deposit is returned.

The teal one matched Claire’s mood so she chose it. It also had a water bottle holder on the frame which was a perfect size for the rolled up portrait.

Claire loved the early morning because birdsong was at its most beautiful and the atmosphere was full of energy: stores would soon be opening, vendors were preparing food they would be feeding incoming tourists, and trucks were arriving with deliveries to be unloaded. Mornings seemed much like the joyful expectation one felt at, say, the ballet when, sat in the theater, you heard murmurings behind the curtain and the orchestra tuning up.

She arrived on main street, passing joggers, other bike riders, and people walking their dogs and maneuvered through them to where she could enter the park. What was a sharp, laborious incline yesterday as she left the standing stones now held the prospect for a spectacular descent. She purposely got herself going at a pretty fast clip then let off the pedals when she hit the top, lifting her legs in the air.

“Weeeeeeeeee!” she yelled into the cool, dewy morning, bumping along down to the bottom.

The feeling of freedom that came from a brakeless bike ride brought back memories from her childhood but also the resentment that such feelings of euphoria and lightheartedness seemed confined to youth. Why does life get so serious when we’re adults? Why does the magic of fairy tales go away?

Unbeknownst to Claire, fairies were flying along beside her, barrel-rolling through the chilly Scottish air, eager to take her portrait through the stone. Magic still existed, but most people stopped believing. Not Claire. Magic was still in her heart and this is why the fairies were helping her. And Jamie.

She pushed her bike to the cleft stone and contemplated what all of this meant. “Passing notes is fun and I’m just going to enjoy it while I can.”

Fueled by coffee and hope, she stepped back from the stone and pretended it was a batter and she was the pitcher. She wound up, threw it as close the cleft as possible, and watched it effortlessly disappear in what appeared to be a cloud of…pixie dust?

“STRIKE!”

Chapter Text

Jamie woke first. The bustle of the street below roused him awake and filled him with excitement to begin the day.  He trod quietly to put his jacket and boots on then sat on his bed for a while looking down at the city that was coming alive.  Carts were bringing goods to shop owners conversing with each other on the street. When he would occasionally look over at his sleeping Godfather, memories of hunting and fishing, riding horses, and speaking Gàidhlig played like a movie flashback.

As Murtagh’s eyes opened, his first image was Jamie on his bed staring back at him.

 “I think the haberdasher is open.”

 Smiling at Jamie’s eagerness, he replied: “Aye, Son.  But do you no want to eat first?”

 “Sorry, Godfather. I was being selfish.  Of course we’ll eat first.”

After Murtagh washed and dressed, the men went downstairs to the tavern for breakfast:  Parritch, bacon and eggs, and coffee.  Jamie paid for the meal, as well as some supplies to eat on the road, and lead the way out of the tavern to the haberdasher.  They passed the milliner in whose window were gorgeous hats perched on hat domes; women’s hats with bows, feathers, and silk ribbons and men’s hats for riding and hunting.

When they entered the haberdashery, Jamie was captivated.  Bolts of beautiful fabric and ribbon were snugly tucked into tall cases, sometimes a dozen or more per row.  There were packages of men’s and ladies gloves on display tables, boxes of buttons on others, and hundreds of spools of thread in more colors than he imagined existed. A pang to set up his own home where his wife would have all of this overtook him.  He would make sure she had everything she wanted, in a room of her own, and that she enjoyed things made from materials as beautiful as what was sold here.  He ran his fingers over a bolt of cream-colored fabric that had criss-crossing vines of purple, red, green, and gold.  The owner, noticing that Jamie was favoring one of the most expensive materials in the store, immediately came to secure a sale.

 But Murtagh, behind the owner and in Jamie’s line of sight, was going to make sure that didn’t happen; he intended to express his concern just enough not to be a nuisance.

 The owner warmly greeted Jamie: “G’day to ye, Milord”

 “Aye. G’day to ye.”

 “Ye’ve got a keen eye!”

 “AND AN EMPTY PURSE” Murtagh showed Jamie his purse that was decidedly low in coins.

 “Thank ye.  What is this material?” 

 Murtagh rubbed his fingers together: “’TIS MADE OF MONEY.  THAT’S THE MATERIAL.”

“Italian silk. The pattern is Florentine Scroll.  Make a fine bed set, or even a robe for milady.”

 “ITALIAN?!” Murtagh mouthed, throwing his hands in the air.

 Jamie had to steer the owner to a different position for if the three-way conversation were to continue he’d burst his buttons from laughing.

 “I’d like to take a yard with me. Add some tassled gold cord and a yard of purple velvet as well.”

Murtagh, his words not producing the desired result, now grumbled his displeasure.

 “Of COURSE, milord. I commend you on your taste.”

 While the owner was taking down the bolts and removing them to another room to cut, Murtagh grabbed Jamie’s arm: “HAVE YE LOST YER MIND?”

 “No.” Jamie said, more confidently than Murtagh expected. “I feel hope for the first time.  I dinna know why. When the time comes to wed I want to have something nice to give the woman who will help me Laird. And this will make a fine silk purse.”

 “Aye, son.  It will.  Ye’ve thought well.” 

 While Jamie was settling the bill with the owner for what he bought, Murtagh went to gather what was left of Ellen’s list.  He set the gloves, spools of thread, lace and ribbon, a handful of buttons, and the white and yellow cloth she asked for on the counter. He gave instructions on yardage and the owner left to the back to cut again.  When he returned, he wrapped the items up and handed them to Murtagh without indicating cost. 

 “The purchase Milord made was a week’s wages to me.  It’d be unnecessarily greedy of me to take any more of your money.  I deeply appreciate your business and look forward to your future patronage.”

 Grateful, and stunned, Murtagh shook the owner’s hand.  “Thank ye kindly.  Good day to ye.”

 “And a good day to ye both as well.”

 Leaving the store, Murtagh began to walk towards the livery stable but Jamie stopped him.  “Father, can we stop at the papermaker?  ‘tis around the corner.  I’d like to get a few sheets.”

 Looking at his Godson seriously, Murtagh nodded then walked with Jamie.

 Though the store was small, it was well appointed. A woman behind the counter smiled as Jamie and Murtagh entered.

 “Pleased to meet ye.  What might ye be needin’?” 

 “10 sheets of writing paper.”

 “For business correspondence, or personal?”

 “Personal”

 “Ahhh.  We have some lovely sheets here” she walked to a nook in a case near the back of the store “with flower petals in them, and here” she said, pulling from another nook  “are deckled sheets in several colors.”

 Jamie pulled a few from different nooks, choosing first the ones with flower petals.

 “Do ye need wax or ink?”

 “No thank ye.  Just the paper.”

 The last errand ran, they left to retrieve the horses, transferring their parcels to the saddlebags, and made their way towards home. 

 The day was clear and unusually cool.  The previous night’s storm had swept away the heat and humidity and made today perfect for traveling.

 There was something cathartic about riding a horse, and both men were glad to be atop them again.  The rhythmic sway created by the horse’s gait, combined with fresh air, was a tonic for most affairs of the soul likely due to the amount of time one had for contemplation. Murtagh was considering how much Jamie had changed just from yesterday.  He seemed to have matured overnight. He even sat taller in his saddle.   He had an air of confidence, like he knew he wasn’t going to wed Laogharie for he certainly wouldn’t buy silk and velvet for her. 

 He next thought of Brian and Ellen. It was difficult to gauge how they would take his recalcitrance; he was asked to sway Jamie to a marriage to Laogharie, but he ended up defying their directive. 

 Without realizing how far they’d gone they were now within sight of the stones.  Jamie took off, prodding Blueskin into an outright gallop. Murtagh stayed back, wanting to give Jamie time alone, whether in sadness for the absence of a letter, or in joy at the presence of one.

When Murtagh finally arrived, seeing Jamie on his knees at the cleft stone, he slid off Nelson and ran down the slope.

 “Son – are ye well? What is it?”

 Clutching the portrait to his chest, Jamie didn’t immediately respond.  Murtagh kneeled down beside him, running his hand on Jamie’s back as he’d done so many times when the lad had been seized with fear or disappointment as a child.

 “It’s a lass” he smiled up at Murtagh,  “and her name is Claire.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie slowly pulled the portrait away from his chest.

The lass was a gifted artist, to be sure, Murtagh thought.  She’d captured herself in color quite remarkably. There was a playfulness in her eyes; their color reminded Murtagh of the còinnich that grew on rocks in a brook near Lallybroch; not quite green, nor wholly brown, but a combination of the two with a touch of sunlight.  It was a pleasure to see her smiling as well; it was unusual, if not outright unacceptable, to smile while sitting for a portrait in the current time.

“She’s a fine lass.” Murtagh patted Jamie’s arm then left to tend the horses, assured that his Godson was well.

Leading the horses to the stream, Murtagh could not but reason that it would be better to merely rest here rather than camp.  Yes, it was a good distance to the estate but dawdling here the next few days would put them gone for longer than he intended.

But the lad could have another riotous showdown when they got home, especially given his newly-found resolve, so a few days of respite might be the only ones he has for a while.

Murtagh was looking down at the ground, his hands behind his back, standing on the creek bank between the horses. Jamie approached and gathered a piece of paper from Blueskin’s saddlebag.  

“We’ll stay here a while then?” Murtagh said, turning towards Jamie. “Aye.  Please.  I’ll gather kindling for the fire.” 

Jamie found a beautiful spot in the woods, downstream from the horses, where the sun was filtering through the canopy.  He sat against a tree and put Claire’s portrait beside him. He opened his sporran, chose some graphite, then laid the rose petal paper on his lap.

 

Dearest Claire,

I have just returned to the stones, after a few days in town, to find your portrait.  I’m grateful for having it, truly, for now I have a kind and beautiful face to pair with the wit and charm I’ve come to know.

Presently I am sat in a wooded area, your portrait propped against a tender plant to my right. Tell me – do you like to read?  When did you begin to draw? Do you live in Scotland?

Looking forward to your reply, I remain,

Affectionately yours,

Jamie

 

He folded the letter once, and again, then pulled a section of honeysuckle vine that was growing in a patch nearby.  He wrapped it around the letter to secure it then walked to the cleft stone. 

 Murtagh returned to see the fire ring and kindling set up, and Jamie sat whittling. He raised his eyebrows, a motion which asked a simple question, prompting Jamie to nod a few times in answer.

 Rather than sit and simply stare at each other for the rest of the afternoon, they got out their pipes, tobacco, and some of the food from the tavern.

 Over the next couple hours they reminisced about their childhoods.  Murtagh told of his life growing up; some of the stories Jamie already knew, but a few he didn’t.  He didn’t mind hearing them again. Murtagh was such a gifted storyteller that even old stories were still interesting.

 “My Da and I went fishing one day.  I was about 9. There was one fish lingering by a log that had fallen into the stream.  The trout remained there in order to have the water flow directly over itself.  I didna cast towards it, though.  Da had been watching me and eventually asked why I wasna aiming for it.

“That’s a lazy fish, aye?  It’s sat there to get all the food flowing over the log. I’d rather go for the fish in the pool here on the other side.  It would seem a better test of my ability.”

 Jamie had a sense of what was coming and began to smile.

“My Da turned to me and said “That’s an easy catch. And it’s lunch time. I’m concerned that ye dinna have a brain in that heid of yorn.’”

“’Well, that may be the case but since I canna peer inwards to confirm I can’t say you’re right but neither can I say you’re wrong.’”

This livened the men’s mood. They weren’t in poor spirits but the issue of Laogharie was looming now that they were preparing to go back.

Murtagh broached the subject first:   “Son, we canna stay here indefinitely. It must be dealt with, though a small repose isn’t unreasonable.”

“Aye. I appreciate it. It doesna sit well with me to avoid the matter any further either. I just ask for time to make my peace with Claire and we can be on our way.”

Just then, nearby, the ground rumbled.

Chapter Text

Claire contemplated whether to stay or walk around the shops for a while.  She decided almost instantly when she eyed a wide swath of shade under a tree because caffeine crashes are real. Using her backpack as a pillow she was out within minutes, lulled by the cool breeze that was coming in gentle waves across her. 

 When the sun began to shine in her face she pushed herself up then checked her phone.  Noon. 

 She scooted to the other side of the tree, where the shade had moved, and began to text her Uncle when she eyed a folded piece of paper laying nearby. Knowing it was from Jamie she crawled to get it, gently pulling away the honeysuckle vines – which had miraculously survived - and unfolded the beautiful petal-laden paper. 

 Her heart beat madly as she read the letter just envisioning where, here, he might have sat.

 Gathering her sketchpad and a pencil, she wrote a reply.

 

 Jamie,

Your letter was so touching, so beautiful, I can hardly express how happy I was to receive it.

I do enjoy reading.  The classics – Shakespeare, Plato, Moliere – but also history, and current works on business and engineering. (I’m a chemical engineer. It’s using chemistry, biology, and machines to make useful products, if that helps.)  I began to draw while at university.  I’ve kept at it ever since.

I’m visiting Scotland with my Uncle, a scientist, to do research.  We’re from England.

Apart from art, archery, and traveling – what interests you?

With warmest regards,

Claire

 

 Near the stone she threw the letter, which she'd folded in thirds, underhand the way some people do with a basketball towards a net. She then tucked Jamie’s in her pocket and got her bike.   She rode onto the main strip, got a sandwich and cold water from one of the vendors, then parked her bike outside a history center.

 It wasn’t a tourist stop with “I heart Scotland” shot glasses and back scratchers, but rather a legitimate historical society. There were books on everything to do with Scotland as well as a children’s center in the back corner which had bean bags, desks, and videos.

 Along the entire top of the store, from one corner to the other, was a timeline that began with Roman occupation through to the present.  The center of the store, where a young woman was looking through a book with customers, was an octagon-shaped glass display case filled with relics, clothing, and documents.

 Claire texted Lamb:

 “Goofing about. Home soon. Early dinner?”

 “Goofing about here too. With Joe. Scottish fairy tales, lore and such. When you come home  we’ll get pizza.”

 “Great.”

 Claire approached the young woman who had just finished with customers.

 “Hello.  How would I find information about the Fraser clan?”

“Welcome in!  Are you a descendent?”

“No.  Just doing some research.”

 She opened one of the reference books near her to the section on Fraser.  It had a good deal of backstory, but no mention of Jamie.  The woman pointed Claire to a computer and got her started on accessing their databases.

 An hour into it and she’d found that Lallybroch was their home but not much else.  She printed a few things and went back to the counter.

 “Did you find what you were looking for?” the young woman asked.

 “Well, not too much.  But it’s still something.”

 Noticing what Claire had printed out, the woman opened one of a set of long drawers in a cabinet nearby and pulled out a large map that was the full version of what Claire was holding.

 “If you’d like, this will give you more detailed information than that little printout.”

“How much is it?”

 “It’s 20 pounds, but with the purchase we’re giving a backpack with camping supplies.”

 Claire wrinkled her eyebrows. “Camping supplies?”

 “I know. It seems odd.  The store that had been in here before us was a camping supply store.  They’d been behind on their rent and were evicted.  A good part of their inventory was in the back, so we’re just trying to get rid of it as a free gift with purchases.  You don’t have to take it” the woman laughed.  She put one on the counter for Claire to see.

 “It’s a rugged one, to be sure.”

 “Never hurts to have two!  I'll take both.”

 Starving, and excited for pizza, Claire returned her bike to the coffee shop and walked to the house.

Before she opened the door she heard Lamb and Joe’s “discussion.”

 Claire, having stood in the entryway listening to the back-and-forth for a few minutes without notice, held her keys up and jingled them loudly to get their attention.

 “YOU’RE BOTH PRETTY.  CAN WE EAT NOW?”

 The men looked up then laughed.

 “It’s been a productive day, friends, and I appreciate the offer to stay for dinner but I need to watch my figure so I’ll leave the Pizza to you two.  I’m going home to watch Shark Week” Joe said, waving as he went out the door. “Have a good evening.”

 Looking over the top of his glasses, Lamb saw that Claire was carrying two backpacks. 

 “Did you buy another backpack?”

 “Free with purchase” Claire said, shrugging.

 After dinner, Lamb was helping Claire clean up in the kitchen and noticed she was preoccupied. They sat down at the dining room table for a game of cards.

 “Claire, did you get another letter?” he asked.

 She hesitated, reached to her back pocket, changed her mind, looked away, crossed her legs, looked at the ceiling, then out the window.

 “So that’s a yes?”

 This time she pulled it out of her pocket and showed him, but didn’t give it to him to read.

 Lamb sat his chin in his hand. A few times he let out a sigh.

 “If you don’t mind my asking, what does he say?”

 “He asked if I enjoyed reading, when I began drawing, and if I was from Scotland.  What you’d say when you first meet someone, pretty much.”

 Lamb pulled the cards from the box and shuffled them.  He passed out seven cards to both of them then sat the deck in the middle.

 “Nothing in my life has prepared me for something like this" he said, looking down at his cards. 

 “Me either, honestly.”

 “Tell me - what are you feeling about this, if you care to share.”

 She picked up her hand, moved the cards around, then spoke:

 “I don’t want to believe that my break up with Frank is in any way influencing the growing connection I feel with Jamie.”

 Lamb stopped what he was doing and looked straight at her.

 “He’s rare and I can tell that from his writing.  There’s a dignity, and kindness that touches me.  I’ve lost both parents, traveled all over the world with the only remarkable man I’ve had in my life, been trained in archaeology and educated in science.  To say that a man to both compliment and challenge, love and encourage me can only be found in this time? Based on my life so far that doesn't seem to be the case.”

 Lamb reached over the table and took her hand.  “If you’re in pain, if you’re struggling with what happened, we’ll get through it.  But please. Please.  Don’t do anything rash.  Promise me.”

 “I promise.  I’m not a hormone-driven teenager.  Any nines?

 “Go fish.”

Chapter Text

 Murtagh looked toward the sound then moved to get his sgian-dubh.  Jamie got up but Murtagh tried to put him back down, raising a finger to his lips and motioning with his other hand towards the perimeter; though no longer present, the memory, and fear, of British patrols was still strong.  “Nay, Father. There’s no trouble. It’s another letter from Claire.”

 Still not convinced, Murtagh got up with him as he left. Jamie walked assuredly towards the stone though Murtagh continually looked around for danger. 

 Jamie picked the letter up, showed it to Murtagh, and they both turned to go back to where they were. Jamie laid down on his side, put the letter out on the ground, and propped his head on his hand.  Murtagh, wanting to give Jamie privacy again, kept going to check on the horses, but Jamie called him back.  “I appreciate the respect, but ye dinna need to leave. Stay.”

 After reading it, Jamie laid on his back, the letter held with one hand upon his heart.

 Murtagh, anxious to know what was transpiring between the two, merely waited for Jamie to share what – if anything - he was comfortable with; if he wasn’t, Murtagh would respectfully comply and ask nothing further. But Jamie knew Murtagh had every right know what was behind the desire to linger here. It was, after all, a desire Murtagh was graciously indulging so Jamie divulged their conversation thus far: 

 “I thanked her for the portrait and asked of her hobbies, and whether she was from Scotland” Jamie offered. “She’s British, visiting here with her Uncle who is a scientist.  She’s a…”  Jamie grabbed the letter again “chemical engineer.  ‘tis a profession that involves a ‘combination of chemistry, biology and machines’.  She asked what hobbies I had.”

 Jamie closed his eyes, imagining what her voice might be like.  Several minutes later he smiled, and laughed to himself.

 “Aye?”  Murtagh asked, doing a bit of whittling himself.

 “She asked what my hobbies were apart from archery, art and traveling. I was confounded how she knew about archery, but just now realized the arrow must have come through with one of the last letters.”

 “’twas a good arrow, too.”

 Jamie looked over at Murtagh whose grin indicated he wasn’t upset about losing it.

 Jamie lay still for nearly a quarter of an hour then went to the horses, got another sheet of paper – this time pink with deckled edges -  and sat near the brook.

 My dearest lady,

  Thank you for your letters.  They touch my heart as well.

  Apart from archery (mostly to procure game) I also enjoy classic literature, like you.  A favorite is Robinson Crusoe. Another simple pleasure is conversation. I’m a Scot, so this comes naturally. Just this evening my Godfather Murtagh and I reminisced about our childhoods. He’s the most gifted storyteller in my family, so the afternoon has passed with great humor.  I have been thinking how much I would enjoy such a time with you, talking of everything and nothing, seated beside a campfire.  There is so much I want to know about you.

  Regarding art, I’ve been scribbling since a child. Started out doing birds and such, though don’t have the hand for portraits that my Mother does.

  How very grateful I am that you ‘kept at’ art, for it became the bridge by which we became known to each other, and a salve for the pain of loneliness and emptiness I have carried for so long.

  Yours most ardently,

  Jamie

 

To wrap it, as he did before, he pulled some daisies and made a garland.  On his way to send it through the stone he saw that Murtagh had left the campsite.  When Jamie returned he began the fire and resumed his whittling.  Shortly afterwards, Murtagh returned with two hares.

 “I’ll no sleep well with only bread and cheese in my stomach” he said, winking.  Let’s try our hand at fish on the morrow, aye?  Could smoke them.  To have some eggs though! Would make a good kedgeree.”

 With the rabbits skinned, roasted and eaten, Murtagh went to get what remained of the bottle of scotch. They shared it until it was gone. They were quiet for a time. Murtagh worried what leaving Claire, and facing down his parents, was going to do to Jamie. Jamie, on the other hand, was preparing his argument against the marriage while pondering how to say goodbye to a lass he’d grown to love.

Chapter Text

As Claire got into bed she couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that was gripping her.  It had started slowly, but was growing. 

 “He’s traveling.  T r a v e l i n g.  He’ll be leaving.  Was this his last letter? Had he gone already?”

 The fear of loss was something Claire always struggled with.  She lost both parents, simultaneously, making the emotional impact substantial. Because of this, everything good she experienced– friendships, love, happiness – would cause her to worry it would be gone in an instant.

 Frank, she’d initially believed, was going to be a reliable, positive presence so she took a chance with him.  Unsure of herself in making the first move, he stepped up. There were flowers. So many flowers.  He was there when he said he’d be there, called if he’d be late, would hold her if she felt unsteady.  Unfortunately, he was also doing this for other women.  She eventually deduced that this game of being dependable and comforting was to find the ones who would offer their bed. The ones that took too long, or refused, were discarded; ignored until they went away. 

 When running errands one afternoon, in preparation for dinner with Frank, Claire spotted him walking with a woman out of a clothing store.  He was putting the receipt into his coat pocket so she was almost certain he paid for whatever was in the bags the woman carried.  When she asked him about it that evening he said he’d hired a new secretary and it was her first job so he helped her out by buying her some clothes. Claire asked if it was a gift, or if his secretary would pay him back.  He bristled and said she didn’t need to worry.

 She’d given him the benefit of the doubt until she got up to leave after a cozy evening of dinner and television about a week later.  He asked if she would stay, holding and caressing her at the door.  She backed away, saying she needed more time.  His mood changed, the look in his eye turned cold, and he flatly said “of course.”  After that he wasn’t quick to return calls or texts and eventually stopped interacting at all.

That was a few years ago. It was only recently that he’d tried to woo her back.  She reasoned that he’d run out of women, or that enough of them had caught on to his game and, essentially, closed him out.

Uncle Lamb’s lost bet was great fortune as it brought them – her - out of London and into Scotland.

 Claire was contemplating all of this while falling asleep.  Despite the pervasive fear, she knew in her heart what her ideal man would be like. When she eventually found him it would resonate within her; a complementary vibration that would make her feel complete.

 She’d immediately felt something good, something genuine, about this man from another time.  Maybe it was the old-fashioned communication; maybe it was him coming to love her for her art, which Frank had said wouldn’t get her anywhere; or maybe it was his rugged, traditional nature. 

 She woke early again, dressed and walked to the coffee shop (decaf this time), ate a small breakfast, then got another bike and rode to the stones.

 Though the sun was barely up she was able to make out the letter laying on the ground by the flower garland wrapped around it. She didn’t even park the bike this time; she laid it down carelessly and ran.

After reading the letter she kissed it repeatedly and held it to her cheek.

 A sense of urgency overtook her, feeling he would be leaving soon, so she pulled whatever paper she had in her backpack and wrote him a letter right then.

 

My darling Jamie,

I loved hearing of your recent afternoon. These written glimpses into your life, so beautifully crafted on such exquisite paper, are a painting themselves; Voltaire, a French writer who you may already know, said that “writing is the painting of the voice.”  It is hard to disagree with such truth.

Conversation is delightful – I agree. I am incredibly lucky to have with my Uncle what you have with your Godfather.  What you and I have, though?  It is healing me of a heartache that I feared would never leave. True love really is a miracle. 

Cos'altro può esserci per la vita che amare ed essere amato in cambio?

Your devoted,

Claire

 

She folded it haphazardly out of nervousness. Worry gripped her again, and she didn’t know what to do. An unexpected breeze came from behind her, gently tugging the letter out of her grip. It sailed, almost with tiny hands, directly at the stone and disappeared.

 I love you Jamieshe whispered after it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie had slept fitfully. When the first signs of morning came – birds singing, sunrise, hunger – he rose, stretched, and walked to the horses. They were contentedly moored.  He patted them, then drew them to the stream to drink.  He washed himself then re-tied the horses.

He felt a great heaviness in his heart. His Mam had always said there was a silver lining to every cloud so Jamie trusted that he would find happiness amidst the storm that seemed to be gaining strength.

He went to the saddlebag and got the oat cakes he’d bought at the tavern, as well as a few sheets of paper.

Oddly, Murtagh was still sleeping. He was usually the first one up. After starting a fire Jamie kicked his boot. “Fish wilna bring themselves to us, aye?” he said, laughing. He walked off, the quiver on his back and arrow in his hand.

Murtagh, startled, sat up. He rubbed his eyes, stood, then walked after Jamie. 

The fairies were anxious for Jamie to get Claire’s letter. As they hovered over it, worried he would leave without seeing it, they decided to create a current to lift the letter from where it was at the stone so that it would lay delicately into his path - like a dandelion seed in the wind. 

Walking briskly back towards the stream he saw something float in front of him and land near his feet. He gasped when he realized it was Claire’s response.  “How did ye come all this way?” he whispered as he bent down to retrieve it before it blew away.  He read it quickly, then kissed it.

“I was awake, mind.  Just resting my eyes.” Murtagh said, coming up behind Jamie who was kneeling down.  He saw that Jamie was crouched the same way as when they’d arrived, so he peered down at him and laid a hand on his back.

“Son?”

Jamie tucked the letter into his vest,  quickly wiped the tear away, and stood up.

“I’m alright.”

They successfully caught several trout – more than enough for the morning’s meal. While the fish were cooking over the fire they ate the oat cakes.

“We need to be leaving soon.” Murtagh said, shifting away from the fire that was directly between them so he could see Jamie better.

“Aye.  I’ll be sending one last letter.”

Murtagh lowered his head, then looked up.  Jamie was clearly troubled, for the dark circles under his eyes and clenched jaw showed his strain. “I’m going to wash off in the stream. Might even bathe.  Can’t say exactly when I’ll be back.  Keep an eye on the fish?”

Knowing his Godfather was doing this to give him a last bit of time here alone, Jamie looked up, smiled, and nodded his head.

 

Claire,

This morning as I walked to the stream to catch our breakfast your letter floated gently to my feet.  I’ve no idea how it made it the distance, but I was genuinely happy it did.  Le tue lettere sono la mia più grande felicità.*

My stay here has come to an end.  We – my Godfather Murtagh and I –  must be returning to obligations at home.  I wish it were something other than time that separated us, for sometimes a single foe is more formidable than an army.  If it were only distance, I would travel it;  If it were money, I’d sell all I owned;  but time – that I cannot vanquish.

Providence has been generous in allowing these few letters to travel unfettered, making me forever grateful.  I could not in all faith ask for more. I pray though that this, my last letter, will make it to you.

May God bless you, my darling, and keep you in His loving hand. You have touched my heart, and mind, in a way I’ve only ever dreamed of.  For that, I am forever in your debt.

Always,

Jamie

 

He looked down at his kilt pin and ran his fingers over it.  He used the second sheet of paper as an envelope to enclose the letter then added the pin.  Wanting to ensure it’s safe journey he bound the small package in twine, blessed it, then threw it to the stone.

It vanished.

“I love you Claire” he whispered.

Jamie knew he may never hear from her again, nor breathe with the ease that comes from a deep happiness.  He was keenly aware that the gift of meeting Claire was a blessing itself.  If Jamie had known the famous line from Tennyson’s poem -  “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” - it might have been some comfort. But he didn’t; instead he drew up what strength he had left to confront a future, and the parents who’d arranged it, with the hope and healing he’d found in a beautiful, intelligent lass from the future.

 

 * Your letters are my greatest happiness.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

To keep her mind off any more worrying thoughts Claire decided to clean as a way to distract herself.

Lamb and Joe were at the University for the day.  Joe was going to introduce Lamb to his class and have a Q&A after.  She agreed to meet them in town for dinner.

Starting with her room she picked up piles of clothes first.  She considered making a cup of tea, remembering the pouches Yi Tien Cho had given her.  Each one was so beautifully put together, tied with red ribbon, that she didn’t want to open them.  She started to take them to keep in the kitchen when her phone rang.

It was Emily, a friend from school.  They’d been roommates but lost touch when Claire left for Scotland.    A simple “how have you been?” turned into an exhaustive detailing of Emily’s life since Claire left.

She laid on the bed to talk then got up and absent-mindedly stuck the tea pouches in the new backpack and zipped it. Some people doodle while on the phone, some walk around or pace, some tidy up.  Usually, when the latter happens, they sit things where they’re not supposed to be. Trying to stay engaged in talking, while remembering she wanted to clean, would cause Claire a few of these.  Finally having a chance to tell Emily what SHE had been up to, Claire mentioned that Lamb had said they’d be doing some hiking this weekend.  Thinking of this caused her to lug her new backpack all the way downstairs, rather than her old one which she took everywhere. 

After hanging up with Emily an hour or so later Claire ate some leftovers then grabbed her keys and wristlet. She saw her backpack by the front door and forgot she’d put it there.

“Oh. I must have been thinking about leaving this weekend.  Well, I’ll see if this one will be worth carrying by taking it on a walk to the park.” It was pretty comfortable after a few adjustments.  She filled up a thermos with water and stuck it in the side pouch.

The walk was long, especially without a bike, and carrying a loaded backpack made it even longer. By the time she got there she chucked the backpack and laid in a cool spot, downing one of the cold water bottles she’d bought from a vendor rather than the tap water in the thermos.

After a rest she got up and looked around for a letter.  She was worried she wouldn’t hear from Jamie again when she spotted it stuck in a bush.

Opening it quickly, and seeing the pin, caused the tears to fall fast.  She sat there for quite a while, arguing with herself about whether it would be worth it to send him a quick goodbye note of her own.  She took out a slip of paper and pencil, putting his letter and pin in their place, and jotted something short. She tied it with the twine.

“Who am I kidding. He’s gone.”

Lamb had been texting and calling. Consumed with sadness, Claire wasn’t paying attention to time and hadn’t checked her phone.  He and Joe were sitting at the restaurant waiting for her. They got worried after half an hour of not hearing back.

“She’s at the stone. I know it.” Lamb said, tapping his knife on his plate. 

“What’s on your mind?”

“Ever just get a feeling?”

“If you feel like going to check on her, we can get some takeout on the way back.”

“Yea. I don’t like this.”

They immediately left and began walking, but an urgency overtook them and they ran the rest of the way. Lamb was the first to see her, sitting near the stone crying.

“CLAIRE” Lamb yelled as he ran down the hill. 

She looked up at him, the realization that she’d forgotten dinner dawning on her.

“I’m sorry. I…he’s gone.”

Lamb turned to look at Joe whose face was a mixture of worry and sadness.  He motioned to gather Claire and get her away from the stones.

“Please.  Come with me. I can’t have you staying here any longer.”

Claire nodded and stood up, running a hand through her hair.  She grabbed her backpack. Lamb offered her his hand as he followed Joe who was attempting to lead the way out of the park.

Walking past the stone, she pressed the letter into it as she walked by, a last attempt to reach him.

In that instant she, along with Lamb who was holding onto her hand, disappeared. Joe, in a knee-jerk reaction, lunged to save his friends causing him to disappear right behind them.

 

Chapter Text

Jamie and Murtagh left the park about noon, expecting to be home just before dinner.  They rode in silence, much like their ride in.

 Murtagh was glad for the quiet, actually, because it gave him time to consider what to do now that his position on the marriage had changed.  He felt that Ellen, in her heart, wasn’t fully behind the arrangement and that it was more at Brian’s insistence. This could mean that, should Murtagh take Jamie’s side, Brian would be the only one to directly contend with.

If Jamie were given an ultimatum, Murtagh would stand his ground, no matter, and take the lad in.  The Lairdship could then pass to Willie.   A wild, mostly impossible scenario but nothing was off the table, so to speak, so Murtagh prepared for the worst but expected the best.  Maybe they’d had a change of heart with he and Murtagh being gone these several days, and Jamie would be given the freedom to choose.

 It occurred to Murtagh, well into their trip while riding along a peaceful, tree-laden stretch of path, that if things HAD changed and they weren’t going to force Jamie into the marriage that that would be another situation entirely.  Before Jamie had become attached to this lass on the other side of time, a reprieve from the arrangement with Laogharie would have meant relief and freedom; now, though, this freedom could bring as much pain as a forced marriage if Jamie could not now actually wed the woman he did love.

 Murtagh noticed how Jamie had ridden ahead of him a few times, and that when he caught up he saw how his eyes were swollen and red.  He’d clearly been weeping.  Rarely is it easy to confess the cause of your pain and tears, so even though Murtagh was anxious to soothe the lad’s distress, he remained quiet and gave Jamie the time and space he obviously wanted.

 At the halfway point they stopped to rest the horses and get some food at one of the small taverns along the route; they’d nibbled away the last of what they had.

 Surprisingly, Jamie ate everything on his plate and some more on top of that.  Whatever he’d reasoned within himself had given him enough peace to be able to eat.  For that, Murtagh was grateful.  He couldn’t bear to see the lad’s continued anguish.  And yet, Murtagh needed to know Jamie’s thoughts and any decisions he’d made in order to support him.

 “Few more hours and we’ll be arrived.  Have ye decided how to address the situation?” Murtagh said, laying his fork and knife on his empty plate.

 “Aye.  I’ll refuse, and take the consequences.  I canna be joined to Laogharie.  It’s a lifetime commitment, I believe, and no to be taken thoughtlessly, aye? Mam and Da have been happily married these many years.  Why should I no have a right to the same?”

 Murtagh took a long drink from his ale, wiping his beard on his sleeve.  He nodded in agreement, saying nothing more.  He could ask what had happened to Jamie’s kilt pin, a gift handed down from his grandsire, how he’d ended things with Claire, and whether either of these things played out in this decision, but doing so came with a risk of causing Jamie pain in the telling so Murtagh accepted the little that Jamie offered.

 The remainder of the journey was more light-hearted than the beginning.  They told stories and  laughed until their sides hurt. There had always been a strong, loving bond between them filled with laughter and trust that seemed to grow with each year and with each trip together – especially this one.

 Eyeing the last stretch of road before coming into the courtyard, Murtagh goaded Nelson into a full gallop, looking back at Jamie as a challenge to race.  Jamie smiled, remembering the times they’d done the same thing in the field behind Lallybroch when he was younger.  He gave Blueskin a few taps – all that was needed to get him started – then held on for dear life.   

 Murtagh maintained his lead despite his horse being older. Pulling up right at the front steps, a winded Murtagh turned to Jamie a few minutes later when he pulled up alongside him and clapped him on the arm.  “Yer still slow son.  Maybe one day.” 

 “My arse! Ye had a 20 yard lead!” he laughed.

 Hearing the noise of the horse’s hooves on the cobblestone and the excitement of the dogs, Brian opened the door. “Guess your stomachs lead ye right – Shepherd’s pie is just sat on the table!” 

 Jamie dismounted first, then took each stair with confidence and embraced Brian. “Has never lead me wrong yet!”

 Murtagh followed Jamie and shook Brian’s hand, nodding as he started to walk into the house. Brian detected a dark edge to Murtagh’s look that hadn’t been there when the left, a sign of possible trouble.

 

Chapter Text

Claire rolled over to shut her window, the breeze too strong and too chilly for this early in the morning, but there wasn’t a window. Nor was there a wall.  Instead, there was the open field in Cairngorms Park. She pulled herself up, then held her head with her hands.  Looking around she saw Lamb and Joe lying nearby, and crawled first to her Uncle who was beside her.

“LAMB! LAMB! WAKE UP.”  She felt his pulse. It was weak but consistent.  She crawled next to Joe, checking his pulse which was the same as her Uncle’s. “JOE! JOE! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” Neither responded.  Frantically trying to piece together what had happened, she sat back down to gather her senses.

“I was at the stone…”  she turned to see it nearby “to…what was I trying to do? I was upset about something.”  She felt an urge to run for help then realized she didn’t hear anything. No music, no cars, no planes. It was eerily quiet. She looked towards the hill. There was no parking lot and no traffic. 

“Oh no. NO no no no no.”

She moved towards her Uncle, taking his hand. “Lamb. It’s Claire.  Can you hear me?” He moved his lips slightly, trying to speak. “Lamb.  Wake up.  I need you to wake up.”  She began rubbing his hand.

“What’s happened?”  he strained out.

“I’m pretty sure we passed through the stone.”

Joe moved his head, catching Claire’s eye, so she crawled back to him. “Joe!  Can you wake up?  It’s Claire.”

“Where are we?”  he managed to get out.

“We’re in 18thcentury Scotland.”

His eyes opened partly, closed again, then opened more fully. “What?” 

“You’ll understand soon enough.”

He sat up, rubbing his forehead, feeling dizzy and nauseous.  He took several deep breaths then turned to see Claire helping Lamb sit up. “WHAT HAPPENED?” Joe crawled over to help Claire.

Lamb had sat up and put his head between his knees.  After a few minutes he looked at Claire. “Claire. Good gracious. Are you alright?” 

“Improving.”  She said with a smile.

“What in the world…”  He turned fully around.  “Oh no. No no no no no.”

 “Yep.”

 “This can’t have happened.” Joe said resolutely.  “It’s not possible.”

 “Gentlemen, welcome to 1776 Scotland.”

 “We were…”  Lamb said, confusion overtaking him.  “We were at the restaurant…”

 “Claire hadn’t texted back.” Joe said, piecing together his last memories.

 "You both had come to the stones where I was sitting.  Then we got up to leave.  That’s all I remember.” Claire added.

 “Well, we can piece things together a bit later.  FWSF: Fire, Water, Shelter, Food.” Joe said, worried for their safety.

 Realization came to Claire and she looked around for her backpack.  It was a few yards away. She scurried over to it and dragged it back with her. “I can’t believe my absent-mindedness is a stroke of luck.”  She considered what she just said. “Maybe I wasn’t so absent-minded.”

 Joe and Lamb, arriving at a different realization, looked inside their coat pockets and nodded to each other.

 She handed the 2nd bottle of water she’d bought from the vendor to Joe and Lamb to share, holding it out with her hand while she rummaged through the backpack. Neither of them took it. 

“Nope. We need to save that.” Joe said, shaking his head.

 Claire looked at Lamb.

 “What he said.”

 She tucked it back into the side pouch, sighing.

 “What DO you have in there? Anything useful?” Lamb said peering towards the bag.

 “Welllll….” Claire said, taking random things out and laying them on the ground -  “compass…collapsible pot and mug…SWISS ARMY KNIFE!  YES!... little shovel…”

 “Where did you get this again?” Lamb asked, confused.

 “Long story.”

 “Oh. Go on then.”

 “A small plastic pipe?  What the…”

“I’LL take that” Joe said.  “Can be used to access a spring.”

 “Ok.  Uh…fold up thermal blanket, flares…flashlight with a solar panel… Criminy.  There’s a lot.”

 “I’ll be on water duty” Joe said, rather triumphantly “because we can’t drink from any stream.  Are there any iodine tablets in there, Claire?  We can use them to purify water.”

“Probably.”  Claire began to shake, hugging her knees.

 “Honey”  Lamb said worriedly, wrapping his arms around her. 

 “I’m so sorry for causing all of this.  It’s all my fault we’re stuck here in the middle of nowhere 18thcentury Scotland.” 

 “How could you have known?”

 Joe kneeled down beside Claire. He lowered his head in thought, then raised it and looked at her. 

“Sometimes things happen for a reason. We often get so caught up in ourselves and the belief that we’re at fault, or being punished, that we completely miss the role of serendipity in what happens to us.  Let’s ride with it.”  He took her hand.  “We’ll make it.  Something good will come from it.”

He stood up, taking the shovel and pipe. “I’m going to look for water. Stay here. This will be our base camp.”

Lamb kept his arms around her. “We’ve been in nearly every type of inhospitable environment there is.  This is almost like that time we were at Thebes. Remember the language mess up when the team we worked with thought we were bringing food and supplies and we thought they were?  We ended up with nothing in the middle of nowhere.  Even our GPS wouldn’t work.  We made it then and we’ll make it now.  Let’s set up a place to sleep and get wood for a fire.”

Lamb and Claire did a cursory check of their immediate surroundings.  They came upon a spot with a circle of ashes.

“Was this a campfire?” Claire asked outloud.  She poked around the ashes which were still somewhat warm and found fish in them, causing her to gasp.

Lamb walked quickly over to her, having gathered a handful of berries.  “What is it?”

“This…. oh my goodness…this was where Jamie and his Godfather were. It’s still warm.”

“What?”

“He wrote to me, probably just before we came. He said he’d caught fish for breakfast and they were leaving to go back to their home.”

Lamb’s chest tightened. Many things had run through his mind these past weeks as to what was happening. Now, in what clearly seemed to be another time, he would be forced to accept that she had, in fact, been telling the truth. 

Chapter Text

“Murtagh” Brian said cautiously as Murtagh walked into the house.

Ellen, gathering plates out of the cupboard, looked up to see her son bounding towards her. “Jamie!  Oh lad, ‘tis so good to see ye” she said, embracing him as much as a woman of 5’4" could to a man 6’4". “Come – sit down and eat!  Where’s Murtagh?”

Stepping to Jamie's side, he smiled at Ellen as he removed his cap. 

“Aye – there ye are! Sit!”

Jenny and Willie had just come from playing outside to see what the commotion was about.  “Oh – yer finally home!”  Jenny said, walking up behind Jamie and hugging him.  “Oy – ye reek!”  She pulled away quickly, waving her hand in front of her nose.  “Were ye nowhere near water?” 

“Aye, I was, but I didna want to disturb the stench!  It’d taken a week to make!”  he said, his voice booming now that they were indoors. 

Willie, coming around Jenny, wasn’t bothered by any smell. “Welcome home brother. ‘twas lonely without ye” he said shyly.  They’d shared a room since Willie was out of the bassinet and their nighttime talks had helped him fall asleep.

“I missed ye as well, lad.”

“I fare better in smell!” Murtagh said as Jenny, then Willie, sidled up to him.  He hugged them both then placed a kiss on top of their heads.

Once seated at the table and after blessing the food, Ellen asked how the trip had gone.

“Got everything ye wanted” Murtagh said after a bite.  “And yours as well” he said, glancing at Brian.

“I’m appreciative.  We can have a smoke after dinner with a dram of whiskey.”  

Jenny and Willie hadn’t been too far from the estate, so looked forward to stories whenever the men returned from trips. Jamie’s storytelling, rivaled only by his Godfather’s, kept the family entertained throughout dinner. Embellishing their simple tasks – fetching wood, catching fish – was his signature. 

“So, I’d set my sight on a brown trout about the size of my forearm, lurking in the shallow by a tree root.  I drew my arrow and took a slight step forward.  A shadow in the creek appeared to my left.  I turned my head to see another trout longer than Blueskin’s leg so I fixed my arrow on it instead. It pulled itself out of the water and spoke to me just as I was ready shoot."

“If you let me pass I’ll grant you a wish.” 

“Will ye now?  And how is it yer in any position to grant me a wish, aye?”

“I was once a prince, turned into a trout by the village witch.   She posed as a poor widow asking for money as I rode by one day.  I pulled my horse to a stop and berated the woman for begging and interrupting my ride.  She wagged a crooked finger at me and said ‘Cruel and evil you are!  You’ve learned nothing from the noble King, your Father or your beautiful kind Mother the Queen!  A fish you will be, prey too all who seek food, until 10 good deeds you do!”

Jenny and Willie’s eye were wide with excitement.

“So I told the fish ‘A coin then, and I’ll let ye pass’.  He blinked his agreement and spit out a gold coin on a rock.”

“DID YE LET HIM PASS THEN?” Willie asked.

“Of course I did!  Then Murtagh and I had a fine breakfast!”

Brian, smothering a laugh with his hand, could only shake his head.  “Alright, children.  Ye’ve been up late so off to bed with ye.  Say yer prayers.”

“Aye, Da.” Jenny and Willie helped with clean up then left to their bedrooms.

Brian got a bottle of whiskey and glasses while Murtagh and Jamie went outside to empty the saddlebags. While Murtagh took Ellen and Brian’s things, Jamie gathered his soaps, the material, and papers so he could take them directly to his room.

In the living room, Ellen sat beside Brian on the only sofa while Jamie and Murtagh took the chairs across from them. Brian handed out the glasses of whiskey while Murtagh detailed piece by piece what he’d gotten for Ellen.  “Dear me!  ‘tis everything I wanted!”  She held the soaps to her nose.  I do so love peony.  Thank ye, Murtagh.”

He nodded to her, then handed Brian the pipe and tobacco.  “Thank ye as well” Brian said, placing in a plug then lighting a spill in the fire.  He passed it to Murtagh, who passed it to Jamie as they all drew from their pipes.

Jamie wasn’t sure if the marriage would be brought up tonight, or tomorrow after he’d rested. Murtagh seemed on edge, his eyes narrowed and his foot shaking back and forth.

Eventually, Brian spoke.

 

Chapter Text

“Son, I want to apologize for the quarrels these past months. Ye ken, as your Father, I’ve only done what I thought was best for ye.”

 Jamie, leaning forward on his knees, looked up and nodded.

 “My decision for ye to wed Laogharie was born out of worry ye’d never choose.  Lass after lass came and went, and with each one ye had another excuse for why they werena good enough.  I did what I felt was my duty as your Da – to make the decision for ye.”

 Without even looking up this time, Jamie nodded again.  Murtagh looked over at his Godson hunched over, the pain he was carrying obvious.   He took his pipe from his mouth to speak but Brian quickly resumed.

 “Yer Mam and I talked. We both didna want to see ye unhappy, but most of all we wanted peace between us again.  That’s why we decided not to force ye into a marriage ye didna want.”

 Jamie raised his head, stunned.  He cast a glance of relief to Murtagh who smiled and nodded to him.

 Brian and Ellen both noticed the exchange between Murtagh and Jamie, confirming this with a press of their hands together.

 “I canna thank ye enough. But what of Laogharie?”

 Brian smiled.  “Well, Gordon stopped by a few days past and said we’d doddled enough and he’d accepted a proposal from Henry MacAlister’s son.  Made our decision that much easier.”

 Stunned that his parents had made amends without another argument, and that he had been granted freedom, Jamie sat his pipe down on the table.  He’d had a completely different speech prepared, so was struggling for a reply.

 “I’m so glad of it all I dinna ken what to say.” 

 Murtagh felt himself relax. He remembered the prayer he’d said at the chapel, and thanked God for looking out for his Godson.

 After a long silence, Ellen remarked: “Ye sleep on it and if ye feel a need to speak more, we can do so tomorrow.”  She rose and walked to Jamie.  He raised his head, his eyes full of hope again. She ran her hand down his cheek. “I’m glad of it as well, son.”

 She looked to Brian who followed her upstairs.

 When the door closed, Murtagh smiled and raised his glass. “Taing do Dhia!” Jamie returned the toast and they both downed their whiskey. 

 In the hallway upstairs Murtagh began to walk into his room when Jamie pulled on his arm slightly.  As he turned around, Jamie thanked him for all he’d done.  Murtagh clapped him on the shoulder then went into the room and closed the door.

 When Jamie opened the door to his and Willie’s room, he saw the candle still lit and Willie awake.  He was sat bolt upright, his face awash in worry.

 Jamie washed and prepared for bed, smiling at Willie as he blew out the candle.

 “I think yer very brave brother” came Willie’s small voice in the dark.

 “Thank ye lad.”

 “I would ha’ been sore afraid of a talking fish.”

 “Mind, I was bigger than he was and had an arrow in my hand.” 

 Not sure what brought about this particular conversation, Jamie prodded a bit.

 “Are ye alright, lad? Something on yer mind?”

 Jamie could hear muffled crying.

 “Ye can talk to me. Let it out.”

 “I dinna want ye to marry Laogharie!  I think she’s a witch and I dinna want to be turned into a fish!”

 Jamie quickly got out of bed and went to sit beside Willie who had now broken into sobs.  “’tis alright! We’re not to be wed.  Dinna worry.”

 Willie took a deep, jagged breath.  “Are ye tellin’ the truth?”

 “Aye!  I wouldna lie about something like that.”

“I’ve heard Mam and Da discussin’ the arrangement and my wame has been turning from fear.  She’s no been nice when she’s visited.”

 “She’s to wed another.”

 Willie fell into Jamie’s arms.  “Praise the Good Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe returned about an hour later, his fists raised in triumph as he came out of the woods.  “WE HAVE WATER!” he yelled, his voice echoing through the “park.”

 Lamb and Claire each raised a fist in acknowledgement.  Water was crucial.

 As Joe approached what was serving as base camp, he saw that kindling had been arranged over the fire Jamie and Murtagh had started, there was a pot full of berries, and serious stock had been taken of everything that ended up in the backpack.

 “Dang.  There’s a lot of stuff.  I’m not complaining, of course!”

 “Yea” Claire said, putting her hands on the small of her back and kneeding it a bit.

 “So…where did this come from again?”

 “Well, I was at the history center in town just, you know, looking up some information, and when I bought that map” Claire pointed to the map laying on the ground with everything else “the woman who worked there said they were giving away backpacks with each purchase.” 

 “GIVING away?”

 “Yes.  The camping store that was there before them got behind on the rent, got evicted, and left all the inventory.  My guess is the historical society tried to sell it piece by piece with no luck, then just shoved it all into backpacks and gave it away.”

 “All the better for us.”

 Lamb expressed his surprise at how quickly Joe got done. “That was pretty fast work in getting water. Done this before?”

 “I’ve piped a spring or two in my day” he said, winking.

 “Apart from all of that” Claire said, eyeing everything on the ground “our phone will be somewhat useful, though nothing that requires GPS or the internet.”

 “I have a compass app” Lamb said, thumbing through his phone.

 “And I have an app that can translate English to Gaelic, though it would have to be what’s in the database.”

 “We’ve got a survival manual, thankfully!” Claire said, kicking it with the toe of her boot.

 “Let’s make a shelter. Fairly simply design – we just need some logs.”  Joe hung his coat on a tree, and motioned for Lamb to do the same.  They’d been dressed simply for dinner the night before but brought along jackets; as they were so used to some type of field work, and therefore dressing casually and purposefully, dinner with a lady always required a jacket in their minds.

 Whistling the song “Whistle While You Work,” Joe began to collect as many loose tree limbs as he could find, using the folding saw to get others. Lamb and Claire gathered as much vegetation and branches with foliage to cover the outside when Lamb stopped to stretch his back, casting a raised eyebrow at Joe. 

 “You seem pretty chipper.”

 Joe wiped his face on his sleeve, then nodded to Lamb who was more than a little curious to why Joe had seemed so eager and peaceful since they’d arrived. Lamb, obviously waiting for an explanation, leaned against a nearby pine then waved his hand in the air as much to say “go ahead.”

 Claire, coming back from the pile of brush she’d made, looked at the men who seemed to be at a standoff.  “I’m guessing we’re in for a story?”

 “Alright.  But let’s get this hut going.”

 Joe seemed, as the saying goes, to be in his element.  From the second he went to find spring water, to knowing how to build a makeshift hut, Lamb was seeing the man behind the academian as Joe began shedding the well-educated and often-consulted historian persona for wilderness man.

 “We’ve only known each other these few years, mostly through institutions of learning” Joe began. “I grew up in a very rural part of Pennsylvania.  Every summer me and my brother stayed with our Grandparents on their farm.  My Gramps didn’t have beyond an 8thgrade education but dang if that man couldn’t do everything. Built his own house, in his 60’s, with me and Greg’s help. Made shoes for his kids. Accomplished hunter, fisherman, mechanic.  He lived and survived on his own merits.”

 The more Joe told, the happier he seemed to get.

 “He taught us everything and kept us busy learning. Absolutely no lounging around!  Thing is…” Joe continued, stacking logs “I’ve been itching to get off the grid for a few years.”  He looked at Lamb.  “Aren’t you sick of using the internet for everything?  Texting instead of talking? Buying everything pre-made?” 

 “In a way.  Yea.”

 “All this knowledge he and Gran gave me and what have I done with it?  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished at University.  But life is revolving around the computer, and everyone’s nose stuck to a phone… I’ve just been wanting to get away for a while and quit lounging.  Kind of be a kid again.”

 Lamb scratched at what would soon become a 5 o’clock shadow.  “So that’s what it is.  I have to say buddy, it suits you.”

 With a small hexagonal shelter made, enough for the 3 of them to sleep in, Claire started a fire.

 “There’s still some daylight.  Who wants to come with me to get the fish?” Joe said, starting to walk off.

 “’get the fish?’” Claire asked.

 “I made a primitive fish trap on the bank of the creek.  Should be a few in there already.  We’ll get them and some water from the spring.”

 “I’m in” Claire said, catching up with him.

 Sure enough, a few small fish had schooled in the trap.  Between those and the berries, dinner was complete.

 Sitting around the fire, Lamb asked what their plan was. “Now that we’ve gotten shelter and water, the question is: Do we have any destination in mind?”

 Both men’s eyes came to settle on Claire, the hissing and cracking of the fire the only sound.

 “That’s why I went to the history center in the first place. I wanted to see if he actually existed and where he lived.  I got a map of what I believe was – is - his home.”  She reached behind her and grabbed the map.  “The problem will be transportation, and continued food. There’s instant stuff and protein bars but that will only last so long.”

 Joe asked to see the map, looking immediately at the legend. “This could be only hours away.  IF that’s where we’re going.”  He turned it for Lamb to see.

 Claire sighed, and felt like crying again. “I never thought about coming back. I hope you believe me.”

 Both men nodded.

 “But we’re all here now and I feel obligated to find us help and that’s the only place where I think we’ll find it.”

 “Sounds like a plan” Lamb said “so if that’s the case, then we should get going in the morning.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After a morning of weaning calves the men had come back to the house for lunch and a short rest before the afternoon’s work of gathering hay.  

 Murtagh took up a chair in the sitting room.  He placed the curtains in the holdback and opened one of the windows onto the side yard.  Directly underneath were one section of Ellen’s roses and her cherished peonies. Around them were dozens of heather.  It was the scotch broom, though, whose scent was wafting through the window.  So much better than the manure of the barn.

 He placed his hands on his chest, gazing at the portraits that hung on the walls.  He’d been present at most of the sittings for his direct but kind voice was the only thing that kept the children seated for the length of time it took to capture them.  The breeze was cool, considering how hot it had been out in the field, and soon Murtagh had dozed off.

He heard a slight rustling and turned his head towards the door where it came from.  Emily, nervous at having woken him, began to scurry away. “Lass!  ‘tis alright.  What would ye be needin’?” 

 She slowly walked back into the room.  “I was just wondering if ye’d like a slice of apple pie. I made it myself.”  She was shaking so badly the fork was rattling on the plate.

 “Aye. I would. Thank ye.” Murtagh put his hand out.  He sat it on the table beside the chair and began to take a bite when he noticed she was still standing in the same spot, wringing her hands on her apron.

 “Would ye be wanting’ a cup of tea maybe?”

 “I appreciate the thought, but the pie will do.  Thank ye Emily.” She curtsied, then left.

 His thoughts then settled on Jamie. He had watched him throughout the day, the strain still showing in his slumped shoulders and the emptiness in his eyes.  To bear the loneliness he worked twice as hard.  Murtagh noticed Brian’s eyes would occasionally rest on Jamie, seeing the emotional strain manifest in fervent work, but Brian bit his lips to hold in his thoughts then went back to work.

 As they walked back to the house Brian had caught up with Jamie and placed an arm around his back, asking a question.  Jamie nodded then walked further ahead, into the house, and to his room.

 Hearing another rustling, Murtagh broke from his reverie to look at the door expecting Emily to be bringing more dessert when he saw Brian walk tentatively in.

 Murtagh rose from his chair. “Ready to get the hay done? I was just…”

 “Shortly.  Would ye mind my asking after Jamie?” Brian said, sitting in the chair next to Murtagh.

 “I dinna know that I’ll have the answers yer lookin’ for, but ye can ask” he replied, sitting back down.

 Brian controlled the desire to flinch, seeing a sliver of the darkness that had shown itself in Murtagh’s attitude as they came home last evening. 

 “The lad seemed relieved that we were no going to push him into the marriage, but there’s pain in his eyes that I canna place. I was wondering if ye could – would – share anything.” 

 Murtagh turned to look out the window. As much as he wanted to relieve Brian’s worry, it was not his place to divulge what had happened.  He turned back to Brian:  “Canna say for sure what’s on his mind, but time should bring about healing, aye?”

 Brian let his head fall. All he could gather from what Murtagh implied was that Jamie needed time to get over whatever had happened, and there would be no more said about it from him. He rose, resolved to give Jamie time to heal but also to be an active source of love and support. Maybe that would bring him to unburden himself. “Aye. I’ll meet ye outside.”

 With the hay gathered, animals fed and penned, stables cleaned, and fence repaired, Brian reminded the men – which was now including Willie – that a second sheering of the longwool sheep needed to be done as they walked back to the house for dinner. “We’ll begin that tomorrow.”

 “I like the stockings Mam makes from it” Willie said, taking Brian’s hand “they make my feet happy.”  Brian was always touched by Willie’s gentleness and kindness. “Aye. She has a gift with her needles.”

 Dinner was quiet. While sitting at the fire afterwards, Ellen caught Brian’s eye then looked to Jamie.  His return look was accompanied by a shake of his head, meaning he’d not been able to find out what had kept Jamie so sullen.  Ellen shook her head and resumed her embroidery.

 Jamie excused himself, said goodnight to everyone, then went to his room.  He retrieved the letters from his bureau and sat on his bed re-reading each one.  The portrait he saved until last. Exhaustion engulfing him, he went to the basin to wash. He opened the drawer then ran his fingers over the material he bought.  “Ye need to get yerself together.  She isna here and will never be.”  He kissed the portrait then laid it inside with the letters.

 Washing with his new soap was a small joy; the smell was so much better than what he’d always had to use. He cleaned his teeth from a canister of bicarbonate of soda with a small boar’s hair brush. It was easier than the old way of using a willow twig.  At the weekend he’d have a bath.

 Leaving a candle lit for Willie, Jamie laid in bed grateful to be exhausted as it made sleep deeper and more sound.  Working the body so hard was helping to control the heartache of missing Claire.

 When Willie came in the room later he washed then blew out the candle and got into his bed. 

 “Brother?” he asked.

 “Aye” Jamie said, sleepily. 

 “Ye dinna seem sound.”

 Jamie smiled to himself. Willie had a way of expressing himself that could, in another time, be termed a “Willie-ism.”

 “Are ye saying I don’t seem myself?”

“Aye. I am.”

 Jamie was fighting not only the overwhelming need to sleep, but to laugh.

 “Thank ye for the concern. I’ll be more myself with time.”

 “’Ye can talk to me. Let it out.’”

 “Yer a good lad, but what I need more than conversation is rest.”

“ My heid’s done in as well.   Good night Jamie.”

 “Good night Willie.”

 Smiling, and with a lightened heart, Jamie fell right to sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire and Joe rose first, groaning and moaning.

 “I haven’t slept on the ground in a while. Oh my GOSH” Claire said, rubbing her neck.

 Lamb grumbled from his spot at the other end: “I need coffee.”

 As Joe and Claire climbed over each other to get out of the hut, they comically fought for who could get to the food first.  Claire reached for the backpack, sitting just outside, but Joe grabbed it and hurled himself on top of it yelling “DIBS.” 

 “Cheater!” 

 “To the winner go the spoils!”

 Joe rolled off of it and rummaged around for anything inside that they could eat.  He found the protein bars and instant coffee packets.

 “Awesome! There’s sugar and cream packets too.”

 Claire gathered the leftover kindling from last night, set aside for this morning’s breakfast, and got another fire started.

 “Ugh.”

 “What?”

 “Latrine.  I always hated this part of expeditions.  Be back in a sec.”

 When she returned Lamb was sat near the fire with a pot of boiling water and Joe was wiping the crumbs from the protein bar off his chin.  He passed the other ones out. The two cups they had would have to be shared, though.

 “You two share a cup of coffee.  I’m going to make the tea Yi Tien Cho gave me when we left his store.  Thankfully I brought it.”

 “Great guy.”  Lamb said.  “That’s got to be stellar tea.”

 They huddled around the fire; despite it being July, the cool morning – when mingled with dew – made for a downright chill.

 Claire took out one of the pouches and looked to see if it was muslin.  “Yea, I can boil it in this bag.” She smelled it first “Mmmmm. Smells like black tea and goji berries.”  As she plopped it in the mug it made a loud thunk.

 Lamb looked up from reading the instructions on the packages of instant coffee.  “Must be a big goji berry.”

 Claire opened the pouch and poured the contents into the cup.  A gold coin stood out among the leaves and berries.  She pulled it out and looked at both sides.

 Joe reached his hand towards her and asked to see it. “This is an 18thcentury half guinea.  Thankfully, at this point Scotland is still using British currency.”

 All three looked at it, confused, then Lamb ran his hand over his face. “He knew.”

 Claire put her hand to her mouth. 

 Joe was concerned: “Can I see the other pouches, Claire?”

 He lined up two half guineas, a guinea, and three five guinea coins. 

 “If I’m right the half guineas are worth about 10 shillings each, the guinea is worth 20 shillings, making the 5 guinea coins – what they called the five pound piece – about 100 shillings each. This will most likely save us.”

 “He was looking out for me.” Claire said.

 “Yes. I think he suspected you might go back, and if you did he wanted you to be prepared. If you didn’t, you could have seen these as just a gift. What an unbelievably kind thing to do. He could have sold these for thousands” Lamb said, still stunned.

 “He most likely got these from the travelers he said came in occasionally” Joe said, still eyeing them closely.

 “One day I’m going to thank him”  Claire said, retying the pouches to keep the tea.

 After they’d eaten and washed they filled up any container they had with spring water then discussed their route. 

“The roads on the map are fairly clear and should be easy enough to follow. We should be there by sunset” Lamb said looking up at the sky.

 “Hey – I need to bring something up.” Joe said.  Lamb and Claire turned to him.

 “You both have british accents.  In any situation with locals, let me talk.  An American accent won’t bring as much worry as a british one will.  We’re travelers from the colonies on our way south to visit friends.  Under NO circumstances do we split apart. And Claire – don’t lose that backpack. For now it’s our life.”

 “Got it.”

 Every few miles they stopped to rest and drink water.  Following the map closely, they knew they were coming up on a fork and needed to veer left.  On a few occasions Lamb noticed horse droppings that in his estimation were about 24-48 hours old.  He noted to himself that these could have been from Jamie and Murtagh’s horses, indicating they were on the right track.

 After several miles the exhausted trio saw lanterns on the front of a small building.  It was a tavern.  “YESSS!” Claire yelled.

  “Our clothes will definitely stand out.  In fact”  Lamb continued “Claire, put this on.  You should be more covered.” He put his jacket on her.  “Any questions that may arise from the wearing of this we’ll address when we leave and only then. Ok?”

 She raised an eyebrow, wrinkled her mouth, then nodded her head.  She began to button the front when she realized what he meant.

“We eat and leave immediately” Joe reminded them.

 Sure enough, as they walked in all eyes turned to them.  A woman, just sitting plates down at a table of several men, eyed them suspiciously.

 “And how may I be helpin’ ye?” the woman spoke, suspicion replaced with a business-like demeanor as she came up to them.

 “We’re traveling south. Would love a meal, then we’ll be on our way” Joe cautiously said.

 She brought them to a table away from the front.

 “Yer not from here” she said to Joe as pints of ale were brought to the table.

“No. I’m from the colonies.” Joe said.

“And what about yer mates?” she said, her arms now folded across her chest as she looked at both Lamb and Claire.

 Unprepared for conversation, Claire went first.

 “We ahrr frahmm the KAH-luh-nee of PINNsillVAYneeuhh.”

 Joe looked up from his tankard.

 “Indeed, as the laydeee said” Lamb continued “we are from PennsilllVAYneuh, which is bellO New Yerk.”

 The woman nodded her head slowly, then her face brightened. 

 “Aye, my dears.  Yer among friends here.  ‘tis alright to say ye left to get yerselves safe. We ken that a war’s brewing.  I hope you yanks blow the British to bits!” she yelled.

 At that the entire tavern hooped, hollered, and banged their tankards on the tables.

 “Did ye walk the whole way, then? I didna see any horses.” 

 “We did walk, yes.  We’re on our way to visit friends.”

 “I’m Mrs. Fitzgibbons, by the way. Mrs. Fitz if ye will.  We’ll be right out with yer food.”  She gave them a kind smile, then went to the door to greet the next group coming in.

 “What just happened…” Joe stared at them both.

 “You said not to talk! You didn’t say what to do if we’d be asked questions.  Criminy! I did the best I could.”  Claire said, glaring back at him.

 Joe shook his head, laughing.  “I almost lost it at KAH-LUH-NEEE.” 

 “It’s harder than you think, OK?”

 Lamb, who’d been staying quiet, finally put in his two cents: “I think I did a pretty good job.”

 “New yerk?”

 “Whatever.”

 Their laughter reached throughout the tavern, causing several customers to raise their mugs to them.

 After a surprisingly satisfying meal, with loads of homemade bread with butter, the trio - heavily soaked in ale - got up to tackle the last leg of their journey.

 “Will ye be wanting dessert then?” Mrs. Fitz said, checking in on them  “I’ve got pies just out of the oven!”

 “We are definitely full. Excellent meals.  How much do we owe? Joe asked.

“Due to yer situation, and having come all this way, 2 shillings will cover it all.  But if yer interested, I have 2 horses out back.”

“For sale?”

“Aye.   Ye see, we havena had many customers of late and, well, we’re”  she looked down “struggling a bit.  Unfortunately, I just sold the saddles but the horses, they’re – I promise ye – strong and healthy.”

 Lamb and Claire both nodded inconspicuously. 

 “So how much for dinner and the horses.”

 “10 shillings?”  She asked with so much hope it nearly broke Joe’s heart.

The money was Claire’s, so Joe deferred to her.  She nodded again.

“If I can see them first, and they’re as good as you say, we have a deal.”

 They all left out the back door of the tavern to where the horses were stabled. Joe deferred to Lamb’s experience because he’d ridden most of his life and used them to do field work at sites.   Lamb checked their teeth first and feet next.  Conformation was sound and they seemed calm.  Overall they were solid, well cared for, and strong.  He gave a nod to Joe.  Claire then pulled a half guinea from her pocket and gave it to Mrs. Fitz.

 “Oh, bless ye!” She drew a hanky from the pocket on her apron and wiped her eyes, then gave them each a crushing hug.  “I’ll bring the horses around. Go to the front and I’ll get ye set.”

 Lamb, Claire and Joe were waiting by the front door as Mrs. Fitz brought them a small satchel.  She also drug a chair with her.

 “Here’s a bit of bread and mutton to eat along the way.  It isna my best, but it’ll keep ye alive.  Where might ye be headed?”

 With neither Joe nor Lamb knowing the name of the estate, they looked worriedly at Claire. “Lally..Brock.”  She was going to say more, but didn’t want to push it.

 “Aye!  Ye’ll be there in but a few hours.  Mind, move to the road on the other side of those trees a short ways down and that will take ye right to it.”

 She waved her hanky at them and walked back into the tavern.  “Just leave the chair outside!”

 Before they got atop the horses Claire grabbed Lamb by his arm.  She looked around before she spoke.

 “WHEN DID YOU GET A GUN?”

 Lamb looked at Joe.

 “YOU BOTH HAVE ONE?”

 They pursed their lips before Lamb answered her first.

 “When all this began with secret notes coming through a stone I suspected Frank might be stalking you and planting those letters. I wasn’t going to let you become a statistic.”

 He hung his head – anything to cover the tears.

 “Then when you came home with the 2nd backpack…I worried he may have been trying to convince you to meet him somewhere.”

 Claire could do nothing but stare back at him, her eyes softening at Lamb’s forethought and instinctive protection.  “Thank you.”  She walked to Lamb and wrapped her arms around him.  “I appreciate all you’ve done, are doing, and will do for me.  I’m sorry if I’ve ever taken you for granted, or ever caused you worry.”

 Lamb hugged her back.  “I’d give my life for you.”  He kissed her on the forehead.

 “So - Isn’t there a waiting period? How did you get it so fast?”

 “I have one, so pulled some strings.” Joe said.

 “Gee willikers.  Ok, well… here ya go.”  She handed Lamb’s jacket back to him.

 They used the chair to get atop the horses, with Claire riding with Lamb.

 Riding side-by-side down the road, Claire panicked:  “WHAT’S OUR STORY WHEN WE GET THERE?”

 “Oooh! Good catch.”

 “We inherited land in Pennsylvania from your parents when they passed; they’d been given it as a land grant a few generations ago.  We’d been living there ever since, and met Joe who was on a neighboring farm. When we heard the British had landed in Boston we left for Europe, coming into Scotland.  We had no family left in England and wanted to stay away from there in case the war shifted sides. Claire – can you fill in?”

 “Ummm. Ok. Jamie and Murtagh were in town for something or other. We were in temporary lodging and met them. The lodging fell through.  We’ve come here to inquire into work and boarding.”

 “Ok. Sounds believable.”

 They rode in silence - half out of weariness, and half out of wonder.

 At one point Joe couldn’t help himself:  “ I THINK we AHR go-inggg to be THUR vair-EEE soon!”

 Claire turned her head towards Joe.

 “Shuttt UHHP.”

 

Chapter Text

The horses were gentle and dependable, though riding bareback was definitely going to make for prolonged soreness.  Thankfully there were at least bridles and reins.

 “I can’t feel my legs” Claire mumbled into Lamb’s back.  He turned his head to her.  “I’m numb from the neck down.”

 “HOW’S EVERYONE HOLDING UP?” Joe yelled from behind.  Claire raised her fist, then helped Lamb raise his, propping one hand in his armpit and the other to jiggle his arm about.

 They heard Joe laugh. “See! This is what I mean!  We’ve gone soft!”

 They were on a long stretch of road.  The heat was oppressive but they would, as far as they were able to see, be in the shade. What was left of the spring water was being shared, between themselves and the horses, and the bread and mutton was definitely welcome.

 Maneuvering down a hill, they looked to their left and saw a beautiful valley.   Joe noted the fort-like building: “Showtime, ladies and gentlemen.”

 “FYI - His name is Jamie Fraser.  He was with his Godfather Murtagh.”

 Now, this close to meeting him, she became worried.  “What if he’s not there?” “What if he doesn’t exist” The train of thought, chugging along, came to a crashing stop: “What if he’s married?”

 Her stomach turned and she felt like throwing up.

 They trotted into the courtyard and Claire realized she’d have to have some way to introduce herself should Jamie not be the one to answer the door.  She pulled a piece of paper out of the backpack, wrote a quick note, then grabbed a small stone from the ground and tied the note to it.

 “I’m not even going to try the American accent again. Takes too much work.  We’ll just have to wing it and hope they don’t hate us.”  Lamb said, exhausted just thinking of how hard it would be to maintain day after day.

 Joe agreed with him. “Then let’s start with me talking first.  Hopefully that will get us in the door.” As he went to clank the knocker the door opened.  Emily, her eyebrows raised, didn’t say anything right away.  She merely took in the sight of these 3 oddly-dressed, odder -looking travelers.

 “Hello.  My name is Dr. Aber…Mr. Abernathy.  These are my friends.  We’re looking for Jamie Fraser.”

 “And what would ye be needin’ with ‘im?”

 Claire reached into the pocket of her pants and handed her the note she’d tied to the stone. “Would you give him this, please?  He’ll know who it’s from” Claire said, trying to soften her accent so she didn’t frighten Emily any further.

 Emily reluctantly took it and moved aside to let them in.  She shut the door then directed them into the sitting room just off the front door.

 “I’ll be back presently. Please stay here”  she said, pulling the pocket doors shut.

 Claire sat the backpack so it wouldn’t be immediately noticeable. They all looked around the room but Claire noticed the portraits first.  “He said his mother did portraits.  These must be all the children.” She could see a timeline as she walked from one wall to another.  The red-haired boy with the freckles could only be Jamie. 

 There was a bookcase filled with “classics,” a stand in the corner with what was probably a family bible, a Fraser family crest above the fireplace.  Two chairs and a table were sat by the window on which hung heavy floral curtains. The dark wood floors had character from the flaws and unevenness that modern, engineered wood floors did not.   There was a needlepoint sampler framed and hanging among the portraits and a beautiful tartan blanket over the back of one chair. The room was comfortably fitted, and Claire felt both the strength of the inhabitants as well as their warmth. 

 Joe, looking out the window, mused to himself: “I have taught so many classes about 18thcentury Scottish homes, the lore that was passed down, the family’s role as keepers of it… And I’m now stood in an actual one.  This is surreal.”

 Lamb, noticing Claire’s tense state, came up to her:  “Everything will be fine.  And if it ends up not being fine, I’ll make it fine.” Joe came up to them and put his arm around her back: “I’ve got your back.”  She laughed, then kissed them both on the cheek.

 Emily had found Jamie sat in a chair by the hearth as Ellen was boiling vegetables.  He’d come to sit here every evening, near the fire, to remind him of the times by the stones when he and Murtagh sat by the fire in the evenings and he waited to write or receive a letter. She cleared her throat when neither Ellen nor Jamie noticed her.

 “Oh! Yes, Emily. What is it.” Ellen, startled, replied.

 “Ma’am there are 3 people at the door.  They’re…um… travelers, I think.  One said…”

Ellen sighed.  “They stop by occasionally to ask for money.  Go to the pot by the…”

“No, ma’am.  They werena asking for money.  The woman, she asked me to give ye this sir.”

 Jamie turned in his chair as Emily approached him with the stone.  “She said you’d know who it was from.”

 He looked to her, then to the stone that had a note tied to it.  His heart began pounding with hope and anticipation despite the counter-argument in his head.

 Ellen nodded to Emily. “Thank you.”

 “Aye, Ma’am.  They’re in the sitting room” Emily said before leaving.

 Ellen put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Do you know this woman?”

 He untied the twine, nodding his head to his mother without looking up, then opened the paper:

“I thought I’d bring this one myself.”

 He stood, tucking the note in his vest, and walked to the front of the house. 

 Brian and Murtagh came in the back door from checking on the calves and started to go to the other room to sit down while dinner cooked when Ellen grabbed them both. 

 “Wait.  There are people here to see Jamie.  One’s a woman who sent him a note.”

 Brian looked at Murtagh whose face froze.

 Claire, jumping at the sound of footsteps outside the room,  wrapped her arms around herself to brace for what may come.

 Jamie hesitated outside. He said a quiet prayer of hope, then gently pulled the doors open.

 The first face he saw was hers.

 The emptiness and pain that had almost come to engulf him began to slowly leave.  He felt a wash of happiness and love. As he walked to her, Claire slowly released her arms; a feeling of completeness and joy overtook her.

 Gently, reverently, he touched her cheek.

 “Claire?”

  “Yes.”

 He put his arms around her, kissing her temple through the dusty clump of curls that was gathered there.

 “Ye look just like yer portrait” he whispered.

 “You don’t!” she whispered back.

 Claire could feel him laugh.

 He looked from her to the men standing beside them, then Claire pulled away from Jamie’s embrace and wiped her eyes.

 “This is my Uncle, Dr. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp.”

 Jamie offered his hand. “tis a pleasure, Sir. An honor.  Yer a scientist?”

 “I am.”

 “And this is a dear family friend, Dr. Joe Abernathy”

 Jamie offered his hand again. “An honor, sir.  Yer a scientist as well?”

 “Yes.”

 Realizing what she had just endured, his face paled and he took both of her hands in his.

 “A Dia!  Are ye alright?  Have ye need of anything?” He looked to each one of them.

 “We’re fine.” Claire quickly replied.  “It was an …indescribable experience.”

 Brian and Ellen had gathered in the doorway with Willie, Murtagh, Jenny and Emily moving their heads behind them to see inside.

 “Son, would ye care to introduce us?” Brian said above all the posturing.

 “Mam, Da – this is Claire. She…”

 “They met in town. When we were in town. That’s where they met….in town…….When we were there” Murtagh stammered from the back to keep Jamie from possibly revealing too much.

 “Oh. Aye. And the gentlemen are her Uncle, Doctor Quentin Beauchamp, and their dear friend Doctor Joe Abernathy.”  

 Brian and Ellen’s gaze went from the unusual strangers as a whole to the startling sight of Jamie holding Claire’s hand. 

 “They’ve traveled…”  Jamie looked to Claire, Lamb and Joe – “a verra great distance.  May they have dinner with us?”

 Brian and Ellen glanced to each other with a look of confusion and surprise. “Of course!”

 As Jamie lead them out of the room he introduced them to the rest of his family.

 “Claire, Doctor Lambert and Doctor Abernathy, this is my Godfather Murtagh, my sister Jenny, my brother Willie, and Emily, our housemaid.’  Almost in unison the family greeted them with  “welcome.”

 “Thank you for having us” Joe said, looking to Lamb who followed with “Yes, we’re very grateful.”

 “I’m sorry if we’re interrupting.” Claire said.

 “Nay, dear.   ‘tis a pleasure to have ye” Jamie quickly assured her.

 An awkward silence then landed heavily among the group. Brian, to break it, guided everyone into the kitchen. 

 Jamie kept his hand on Claire’s back as they walked to the table. Assembling everyone required some maneuvering and some extra chairs but it was managed well.  Ellen brought the roasts and boiled vegetables to the table, along with rolls and butter.    Willie lead the family in blessing the meal then Ellen started to plate the food.

 Brian began to ask after his guests but Jamie interrupted: “I met Claire while we were in town. We talked over the few days we were there.  Unfortunately, we had to part but I’m happy she came to visit with her family.”

 Brian still had questions: “Dr. Abernathy, yer accent says you’re from the colonies?”

 Joe looked to Claire and Lamb, realizing the story they’d devised was unnecessary.

 “Yes, from the colony of Pennsylvania.  I’m visiting Scotland to do research, while Lambert and Claire are here from England doing research of their own.  We’ve known each other for a while.”

 “We heard of the fighting in the colonies.  Are ye both divided in your loyalties then?”  Ellen asked, determined to know if they were British sympathizers.

 “We’re decidedly for the patriots in their fight for freedom”  Lamb said. Joe nodded his agreement for everyone to see. Appeased, Ellen resumed eating her meal. 

 “Ye needn’t worry.  Ye’ll be cared for here” Jamie said in soft reassurance over the light din of eating and drinking.   When Claire met his eyes he continued:  “I promise.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After dinner, while everyone was filing into the living room, Jamie pulled his mother aside: “Mam, I expect they’ll be needing accommodations for a while. Could…”

“I’ve already thought it through. We can set some cots in the storage room for Lambert and Joe. There’s a spare bed in the cellar that can be brought up for Claire to sleep on in Jenny’s room. I’ll have Emily bring basins and soap.”

“Uh, Aye. Thank ye.”

Ellen motioned with a tilt of her head that they needed to get back to their guests.

Brian was passing out drams of whiskey to the adults, while Willie and Jenny played a game on the floor.

“Was yer ride here an easy one I hope?” Brian asked Joe as he handed him a glass. “I see ye have horses without saddles.”

“We were obliged to accept what was available, but the ride was uneventful.”

“What is the type of research yer here to conduct?”

“Mainly sociological” Joe replied. Seeing the confusion the term brought, he clarified himself: “Studies on the practices and customs of Scottish people.”

“And yer here doing the same type?” Brian asked both Claire and Lamb as he handed them their glasses.

Claire replied: “My Uncle and I have conducted a great deal of archaeological research around the world, most recently in Egypt.” She forced herself to immediately recall the dates of certain discoveries, particularly King Tutankhamun’s tomb, so she didn’t divulge anything that was not yet common knowledge. “The standing stones are what we started to focus on when we got here, along with the Druid. So, we had planned to do a great deal of research in this.”

“Is there noteworthy finds here abouts?” Brian inquired further.

“There are.” Lamb jumped in.

Brian, now sitting beside Ellen, nodded his head and scratched at his beard. “Well, we’re happy to have ye in our home.” He turned his head slightly aside to Ellen who took the cue.

“Claire, we’ll have ye in Jenny’s room, and yer Uncle and Joe will be set up in our storage room. I’ll have Emily get your beds together and bring ye basins and soap.”

“Thank you. You’re very kind.” Lamb said, then “The horses – might they board in your stable?”

“I’ll get them stabled before bed” Murtagh said, eyeing Jamie before he went out the door.

Jamie, anxious for more time with Claire, shot up from his chair to show them where they would be staying.

“I’ll lead ye to our storage room. I apologize it’s not a proper room. We’ll work on something more appropriate” Jamie said, looking behind to Joe and Lamb who were following him.

“Considering our unannounced arrival, we appreciate what you have to offer.” Joe said, looking at everything in the house on his way.

Claire poked her head in behind Jamie to see the room where they would be sleeping. “Be sure to put your things away properly” she said, a veiled reference to their guns. “And sleep well. I love you both.”

“Love you too, and we will” they both said, acknowledging her reference.

Jamie lead the way upstairs with Claire. “Be mindful, though. Jenny snores something awful. I can hear her across the hall every night.”

Claire snickered, and Jamie winked at her.

In the hall, Brian and Ellen were about to go in their room. Claire excused herself by walking into Jenny’s room.

“G’night Mam, Da.” Jamie said.

Brian patted his son on the arm then went into his and Ellen’s bedroom. Ellen hung back. She looked at her son closely, noting the absence of pain and worry in his eyes and the smile that hadn’t left his face since the trio arrived. “Good night, son. We’ll tend to them. Dinna worry. And be more careful, aye?”

“Of what?”

“I noticed yer kilt pin’s gone missing.”

Jamie only nodded.

Ellen kissed him on his cheek. “Good night son.”

After she’d closed the door to the bedroom she met eyes with Brian who was sitting on the end of the bed removing his stockings and boots.

“I think we have the reason behind his moping and unhappiness” she said as she began undressing.

“Aye, milady. And her name is Claire.”

“There is something odd about them. A woman wearing long breeches? And what of her shoes? I’ve never seen anything of the like. I had thought colonial citizens’ attire was still somewhat similar to ours.”

“Well, she did say she’s traveled with her Uncle. Quite possible a long dress with stays wouldna work so well at the Egyptian pyramids.”

“Jamie’s smitten, to be sure. The light is back in his eyes.”

“Murtagh seemed pretty tight-lipped, aye? Something’s amiss, but I’ll no dwell on it. Claire’s quite the lass – educated and traveled. Says a lot that her family are with her too.”

“Aye.” Ellen, now in her shift, arched her back and stretched her arms.

“Will ye mind havin’ a few more people in the house with ye during the day?”

“To be quite honest, I will. I enjoy conversation and I’d like to know more about them.”

“And Jamie’s sure to be as agreeable as a fawn, so this has been a somewhat fortuitous turn of events.” Brian said as he blew out the candle and cradled his beloved wife to his side.

“Claire?” Jamie yelled through the open door.

“Yes?”

“I’m going to bring up yer bed. I’ll be right back.

“Alright. Thank you.”

Several minutes later Jamie brought in the frame and slats and quickly put the bed together, placing a feather and down mattress inside. He maneuvered the bed to sit next to Jenny’s then waited outside with Claire for Emily to fit it with bedding. He took advantage of their time alone:

“Claire, I dinna think it best to discuss your travels at present. Do ye agree?”

“Of course! We tried to answer as best as we could without divulging too much.”

Jamie held Claire’s hand. He traced each finger, then looked lovingly into her eyes.

“I meant what I said at the table. Ye’ll be cared for here. I’ll make sure of it. Whatever ye need, anything at all, I’ll do what I can to get it for ye though….”

He paused, pursing his lips.

“..I gather we won’t have all yer used to from yer time. But what we don’t have that ye may need, I’ll fashion it for ye. Just tell me, aye?”

“Thank you” Claire said, running her hand over Jamie’s face. “I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Aye. I look forward to it.”

Just then Jenny came up behind them both and held the door open for Claire.

“Goodnight Jamie” Claire said with an air of seriousness.

“And goodnight to ye as well Claire” Jamie said in mock seriousness too.

He floated across the hall to his room, floated inside, then shut the door.

He glanced over to see Willie sitting up in bed, his hands in his lap.

Jamie washed and dressed for bed. He slowly sat on the edge and folded his hands in his lap to mimic Willie.

For a few minutes they stayed this way, then Willie unclasped his hands to speak:

“Ye look at Claire the way Dad looks at Mam.”

Jamie smiled, shook his head, then blew out the candle that was sat on the table between their beds.

“Goodnight Willie.”

“Goodnight Jamie.”

Chapter Text

Jamie woke very early. Actually, he was up most of the night so he felt like he never went to sleep at all. “She’s here.  Actually here in my home. With me” he mulled to himself while looking out his window.

 One of the things his Da had told him about women, through the example of marriage, was that how you treat your spouse shows your bairns how to treat theirs.  But just as importantly, you show your spouse how to treat you by how you treat them.  “Want to be treated like a King? Treat her like a Queen.”

 It really was as simple as that.  So, for his Queen’s first morning she would receive flowers.

 He wasn’t sure how late she’d sleep, but more than likely she would not be up before he, his Da, Willie, and Murtagh left to work.  This would give him time to fetch some wildflowers from outside. She had risked her life coming through time and traveled miles to reach him.  This, for as long as Jamie was alive, would endear him to her and ensure his love, loyalty, and respect. 

 He quietly crept through the house, avoiding the areas on the floor he knew always squeaked the loudest. Getting to the back door, then, was maneuvering through a maze to avoid land mines.  He’d done it as a child, and more so when he became a teenager, when his appetite grew as fast as his frame and he’d need to sneak to the kitchen in the middle of the night for leftovers. 

 Thankfully there was sufficient moonlight when he stepped outside. Despite some of the flowers being closed, they would surely open before she woke. There were violets, forget-me-nots, morning glory, and daisies. Getting all he could, and adding some of his mother’s roses, he tied them with twine and left them softly outside her door with a wee note: “Good Morning my dearest Claire.”

 Crawling back in bed so as not to stir Willie, Jamie knew he wouldn’t find any rest. His mind continued to race: “If she was one to enjoy talking, I’ll be an attentive listener; if she was more of a quiet type, I’ll be gentle and kind, maybe tell her stories.  If she enjoyed activity, I’ll take her on walks to see the property, or ride the horses. Does she like to stay at home? That would be wonderful – we could draw and paint and read and talk.”

 Suddenly it was 5:00 am and Brian was at his side.  Jamie must have fallen asleep for he hadn’t even heard Willie get up. 

 “Son” Brian whispered “ye dinna have to help today.  Be with Claire and her family. Attend to them, aye?  Ye can join us tomorrow if ye feel it appropriate.”

 “Thank ye, Da.  I appreciate it.”

 After Brian left, Jamie peeked out his door to see if she’d gotten her letter.  It was still laying on the floor.  “I’ll get their breakfast ready then.”

 He dressed and went to the kitchen where Ellen, Emily, and Jenny were whirling about, having just fed Brian, Murtagh and Willie before they left.

 “Mam – may I make plates for Claire and her family? I see yer busy.  I’ll take their care upon myself.”

 “Aye, love, that would be grand.  I’ve sausage and eggs left with butter and jam for biscuits.”

 Joe and Lamb, at that moment, appeared in the kitchen. 

 “The smell is wonderful!  It roused us from sleep!”

 “Aye, it is!  Happy Morning to ye.” Jamie said.

 “And a Happy Morning to you as well.”  Lamb said. “Is Claire awake yet?”

 “She is now.” came Claire’s voice as she appeared in the kitchen.  “What is that amazing smell?”

 Everyone laughed. “I’ve not had such a chorus of compliments in quite a while!”  Ellen said, handing plates to Jamie.

 Claire caught Jamie’s eye and mouthed “Thank you.”  He smiled, his heart nearly bursting with joy at seeing her. “Yer Welcome” he mouthed back.

 He helped her into her seat, then took the one next to her. Breakfast conversation was minimal, though enjoyable. Claire looked over to Jenny and Emily: “Thank you both for helping us last night.  I appreciate the night clothes and bed.”

 Jenny, more excited for Claire's visit than she felt was appropriate to express, nodded in acknowledgement: “I have a few others if the one I gave ye isna to your liking.”

 “It will be fine.  I’d not brought extra clothes with me, unfortunately.”

 Ellen considered that none of the guests seemed to have brought anything, and spoke to assure them:  “We’ll find what we can fer ye. Dinna be troubled.”

 Afterwards Claire got up to clear away the table but Ellen stopped her. “Ye dinna need to help, Claire, though I appreciate the offer.  Yer our guests.”

 Claire, Lamb, and Joe – unsure what to do next – looked at each other. 

 “Would ye like to see the house now that it’s light?  We can even go about the property as well.  Check on the horses” Jamie said, rising from the table.

 “That would be most welcome” Lamb said.  “Let us wash up first?”

 “Oh, aye. Of course.”

 Lamb pulled Claire aside once they were alone in the sitting room.  “Is there any toothpaste and toothbrushes in your backpack?”  

 “Or razors” Joe said, running his hands over the beginning of a beard.

 “We’ll have to be discreet about it, but yes there are.  I’m most in need of deodorant.  But…” Claire said, thinking to herself. “Should you try to blend in? Start a beard maybe?  You’ll definitely stand out being freshly shaven each day.”

 Lamb and Joe looked longingly at the disposable razors, knowing that the growing-in period for a beard was the worst time: itchy, uncomfortable, and not something they were excited to endure.

 “I suppose you’re right…” Lamb said, eyeing Joe to gauge his reaction.

“FINE.” 

 The three of them hovered over her backpack, gathering what else they’d need for their morning wash.

 “I’ll take this upstairs and keep it under my bed.  Sneak in whenever you need something, but don’t let on what we have.”

 “I’ll be bringin’ ye some fresh water” Emily said from the doorway to the sitting room, causing the three to yelp in surprise.

 “OH! Uh -  Thank you Emily”  Claire said, turning her back to what they were scrounging for and from. Emily wrinkled her eyebrows then proceeded up the stairs with the pitcher. 

 “Here – shove these in your pockets.”  Claire handed Lamb and Joe toothbrushes, and small tubes of toothpaste and deodorant.

 “Claire” Lamb said “How do you feel about offering one of the five-pound pieces to them.  Our care has to become a burden at some point, and we’re going to need clothes.”

 “Yea. I was thinking the same thing.  Would you offer it to Brian today?”  Claire said, pulling one out of her pocket.  After she handed it to Lamb, she burst into giggles.

“What?”  Joe said, looking at her seriously despite how hard she was laughing.

 “You two in kilts.” She barely got it out before she erupted again.

 “Well I’ll have you know, Missy, that I’ve got quite handsome knees” Joe said, crossing his arms.

 “And I’m going to fancy some stockings and boots” Lamb said crossing his own.

 Her laughter quickly stopped.

 “Oh my word.  I’m going to be in about 8 layers of uncomfortable. I’ve no choice though unless I wash everything. My khaki’s and shirt are filthy, not to mention my socks.” 

 She sighed.

 “Small price for love.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After a heartfelt tour through the house - remarking on family heirlooms, Ellen’s portraits, their coat of arms and the meaning behind je suis prêt, and the home’s history - Jamie took his guests outside.

“Da, Willie, Murtagh and I are in the fields, barns, and stables at work during the day. A farm such as ours requires careful and constant tending. We’ve just begun to shear our longwool sheep.”

“You make clothing and such for yourselves, then?” Joe asked.

“Aye. Mam, Jenny, and Emily craft quite a bit.”

Joe made a mental note of the estate’s workings and history that Jamie mentioned as they walked away from the house. He realized that having a journal was going to be very useful; both for observations and conclusions, but also to amend or confirm what he’d come to know. “I’m going to have some mighty fine lessons….” Joe thought out of habit. As a professor, you are constantly looking for new material for lessons, presentations, and possible book ideas. But then his heart felt tight: “…if we ever go back.”

“Hey Joe” Lamb said, somewhat obviously, “Lookit that…uh.. thing over there. Let’s have a looksee, huh?”

“Oh. Yes. I had noticed that thing too. Seems interesting.”

With that, both men wandered off.

Claire laughed to herself and shook her head. “I love those goofballs.”

“Aye?”

“Oh. It’s a term of endearment. It’s for someone who is being funny.”

Jamie looked blankly back at her.

“There isn’t an interesting thing. It’s an excuse to give us time alone.”

“Ahhhh.”

Jamie put his hand out and Claire took it. They strolled over the grounds, the magnificent Scottish highlands enveloping them. One of the things she was most looking forward to re-experiencing was the absence of light pollution; she’d not seen the heavens and stars in such clarity and magnificence since she was in Egypt.

Joe and Lamb walked slowly to the nonexistent thing through the knee-high grass, startling some resting grasshoppers into flight.

Joe stopped. “What’s up?”

Lamb, several steps ahead of him, turned around. “A whole lot.”

“Want to get anything off your chest?”

“Well, foremost, he’s real after all. And he has a family, and an estate in the 18th century.”

“Yup.”

“And he’s noticeably in love with her.”

“Yup again.”

“And she’s as noticeably in love with him.”

Joe nodded his head this time.

“Just a few weeks ago none of this existed.”

Joe caught up to him, his hands behind his back – traditional Abernathy thinking posture – and looked at the skyline. “Anything else?”

“I’m kind of tired of wearing these clothes.”

Jamie and Claire, hand-in-hand, walked in the other direction.

“I canna believe yer here. I thought I’d never see ye – that ye’d be the stuff of dreams for the rest of my life.”

“I was sitting on the ground by the stone, holding your last letter, thinking the same thing. All I remember is walking off with my Uncle and Joe and then we woke up here on the ground.”

Jamie pulled her hand, clasped tightly in his, to his mouth for a kiss. “And my life is all the more happy for it.” He looked into her eyes – the same ones he’d memorized from repeatedly looking at her portrait – and considered what he had just said. “I dinna mean that I’d have wished ye to endure any pain for it. I…”

“Jamie.” Claire lifted his head. “I know what you meant.”

He smiled. “Thank ye.”

They continued walking until they came to a stone building. One side had 3 arched windows, likely mimicked on the other side, and the front had arched wooden doors with iron hinges.

“This is beautiful!” Claire remarked, pulling away from Jamie and walking towards it. The cornerstone read “Iosa Crìosd a 'phrìomh chlach-oisinn”* She ran her hands over the chiseling.

“It’s our chapel. Da gives service on Sundays. We’ve all been baptized here. Would ye like to go in?”

“Absolutely!”

He walked up to the entrance, unlocked the “antique” iron slide bolt, then held it open for her to go in. They were first in a small anteroom with a stoup on each side.

Breathtaking in its simplicity, and yet designed with great care and attention, she was immediately drawn to the beamed ceiling as she stepped into what could be the nave. There was an alcove at the front with a stained glass window above it that was a scene of Christ holding a lamb. Underneath, hanging predominantly in the middle, was a large wooden cross. A built-in shelf held the remnants of burnt candles.

Sat in front of all of this was a large wooden lectern, and to its side was a gorgeous carved marble bowl on a pedestal, about 3 feet high, with some type of celtic cross on the front. She knew it must be for baptisms.

6 benches, 3 on each side, were the only seating.

“We’ve a bell tower” Jamie said softly, waiting for Claire to take in everything “but have no reason to ring it as we’re the only ones who attend.”

“It’s very peaceful. Serene.” Claire said, reaching to hold Jamie’s hand again.

“The rocks were hauled from the river.”

She lead him to one of the windows, out of which she saw headstones. “Your family are buried here.” She said it more as an observation than a question.

“Aye.”

Claire took Jamie’s hand and put it behind her back, putting hers around his. She leaned into his shoulder.

Joe and Lamb, being done with the nothing investigation, returned to reunite with Jamie and Claire. They quietly approached the doorway.

“I have a feeling this will be a scene we’ll be witnessing again at some point.” Lamb said, a catch in his voice.

“Yup.”

 

* “Jesus Christ the Chief Cornerstone” (A scripture from the book of Ephesians.)

Chapter Text

Before dinner that evening, Lamb caught Brian as they went into the kitchen.

 “I want to thank you, first, for allowing Jamie to be with us today.  We were very glad to spend time with him.  You have a remarkable estate….and a remarkable son.”

 “Thank ye.  He’s a good lad.  We’re very proud of him” Brian said, looking at Lamb inquisitively,  but with concern.

 “Secondly, I’d like to give you this.”

 Lamb handed him the five-pound piece. “I expect our stay may be lengthier than we’d anticipated. Until we’re able to secure alternate boarding, this is for any expense you may incur on our behalf.”

 Brian was momentarily stunned.

 “We’ll contribute to the work involved in keeping the farm running, of course, or help wherever else you deem necessary.”

 “This is very generous. I hope I didna imply…”

 “No. No, of course not. But we showed up unexpectedly, and you’ve been very accommodating. And there’s the issue of…”   Lamb took notice of his trousers  “Well, we left rather abruptly, and have no change of clothes.”

 Brian laughed.  “We’ll get ye all righted in that regard.  But please dinna feel any need to look elsewhere to live.  Yer welcome here. Come, let’s eat.”

 Dinner and the rest of the evening proceeded much as it had before. While everyone conversed in the living room after dinner, Jamie sat on the floor at Claire’s feet playing a version of “pick up sticks” with Jenny and Willie, keeping hold of her hand as she leaned over from the sofa to watch.

 When bedtime came, Claire said goodnight to everyone – checking in on Lamb and Joe - and went upstairs with Jamie.  In the hall, outside both of their rooms, he quietly remarked that he’d be at work the next day and unable to spend any time with her until lunch.  “It isna that I don’t want to, ye must know.  It’s just that it takes every hand to keep things running.”

 “I completely understand. I appreciate your time today.”

 “Mam will care for ye, and your family.  Whatever ye need, just ask.” 

 “Thank you.”

 He let go of her hands, then opened the door to Jenny’s room for her.  “Sleep well.”  Claire smiled up and him, then closed the door behind her.

 While Ellen unbraided her hair at her vanity, Brian sat the coin in front of her as he went to prepare for bed.  Startled, she looked at him in her mirror.

 “Lambert gave this to me today.” Brian said, sitting on the end of the bed removing his boots.  “Said their stay may be long.  Offered to help with work.”

 “My word.”

 “I know the worry of having 3 other mouths to feed has passed unsaid between us. This is a relief, no?”

 “Aye. Indeed.”

 “They’ve need of clothes, o’course.  Have we means?”

 “I can put together something for Claire from Jenny’s old dresses and shoes.  And there should be enough for Lamb and Joe, but we’ll need to get them boots.”

 “I’ll see the shoemaker, then.”

 Brian pulled Ellen’s side of the bedding down, then got into bed himself.  He noticed her absent-mindedly brushing her hair.

 “Ye’ll have no hair left if ye dinna stop brushing it.  Are ye worrit, Mrs. Fraser?”

 She smiled, then looked towards the bed. “No, Mr. Fraser.” She sat her brush down then went to lie in bed, pulling the covers over herself.  Brian reached over to his nightstand and blew out the candle.

 As she curled into his arms, she remarked: “All along he knew what he was looking for.  I’m proud of him for fighting for it.”

 “I agree.  He’s already become devoted to Claire and they arena even betrothed.”

 “Every time Claire moved he was up like a shot to get her whatever she wanted.”

 “As we taught him, aye?”

 “He learned well” Ellen said, kissing Brian’s shoulder.

 Early the next morning Jamie left flowers and a note outside of Claire’s door again: “I will be thinking of you, my darling Claire.  Jamie.”

 He, Brian, Murtagh and Willie ate heartily and left to work. Brian decided to include Lamb and Joe later on. Shearing the sheep was the first chore. When finished, the wool would need to be boiled to clean it and to extract lanolin which was a critical component in soaps and such for its moisturizing capability.  A few cauldrons were set to boil, the wool was laid into it and left overnight. In the morning they would skim lanolin off the top and place it into containers to harden, taking the wool out to be washed and dried separately. Sheep were an integral part of a farm; in addition to the wool and lanolin, they provided meat and fertilizer.

 It was during the process of dunking the wool into vats of water,  in a small shed near the sheep pen, that Murtagh – alone with Jamie – was finally able to speak to him for the first time since Claire arrived.

Rinsing the shears in a bucket of soapy water to clean them, Murtagh looked over at his Godson who was putting lids on the cauldrons after putting out the fires. “Good to be at home, aye?”

 Jamie smiled: “’tis now that Claire is with me.”

 “Quite the shock, her appearing.”

 “Aye.  I told her I thought she’d only be in my dreams the rest of my life.”

 Murtagh wiped each pair of scissors with a rag, then laid them to dry on a table. He leaned against it, lifting his head as if the motion alone would remove the pungent smell of boiled wool permeating the shed. Jamie was transforming every day; his vigor, happiness and focus were re-emerging.  Quite honestly, he was outworking all of the men and didn’t seem to be letting up.

 “Strangest set of affairs I’ve ever come across”  Murtagh said, staring at the ceiling of the shed with his arms crossed over his chest.

 “Ye’ve no argument from me on that count.” 

 “She’s a wise lass, to be sure.  And her Uncle and…Doctor?  Is that the title used for Joe?”

 “Aye.  I gather it’s due to their extensive education. They’re scientists of some sort in their time.”

 Murtagh nodded, stroking his beard.  “Well, best be onto the next job.  I’ll meet ye at the stable.  The horses' hooves need tending.”

 Back in the house, Claire helped with breakfast clean up and asked Ellen what else she could do.

 “There’s no end to the darning.  If ye’d be of a mind that would be verra helpful.”

 Ellen, kneading dough for loaves of bread they were to have for lunch and dinner, tilted her head towards the other room.  “The sewing basket is sat by the fireplace.”

 Claire nodded, slowly, worried at her ability to complete this simple task. She found the basket then sat in a chair. Opening it revealed all manner of items: buttons, thread, ribbon, shears, thimbles, a hand-made pincushion…nearly everything that she had rarely ever used.  Laying underneath were several stockings with holes in them. She took a deep breath: “Beauchamp, you are a strong, capable, intelligent woman.  You can do this.”

 After three-quarters of an hour she’d not made much progress. 

 Ellen, appearing at her side, gently took the somewhat butchered stocking out of her hand:

“Did yer Mam no teach ye darning or needlepoint then?”  

 The stab to Claire’s heart was palpable in the wave of shaking and tears.  Being there, in the home of such a close, loving family had only magnified the irregular upbringing she’d had with Lamb.  No, she didn’t learn to knit, or darn, or embroider, or cook anything other than what was easily prepared at a dig.  She’d not had any female mentors in the teams of men they’d worked with. Though gifted with an artistic eye, her extensive geographic exposure and a proficiency in science and technology were her strongest suits. Consequently, she lacked in the managing of a home in favor of the managing of a campsite.

Ellen bent down in front of her. “Claire, I’m sorry lass. I didna mean to upset ye.”

“My parents died in an accident when I was very young.  Lamb took over as my guardian.  I didn’t really have a woman to teach me these things” she blurted, nervously placing her hair behind her ear.

Ellen wrapped her arms around Claire.  “I’m so sorry, love.  I truly am. Please forgive me” she whispered. Claire allowed herself to weep in Ellen’s arms and to feel the warmth of a mother’s love.

“Dinna ye fash.  If ye care to learn, we’ll teach ye.”  Ellen pulled a hanky from her apron and handed it to Claire. “Maybe, with yer knowledge of the world, ye can help with teaching Geography and Latin to Jenny and Willie?”

“I’d love to!  I’m bound to do a better job than darning.” Looking at the stocking that Ellen had sat on the floor, they both laughed.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After service in the chapel, on a late September afternoon, the family were enjoying time away from working.

 Claire, Lamb and Joe were settling into their new environment with ease. The work, even, had become cathartic.  Though Joe may not have suspected it, Lamb had grown weary of academic halls and evenings of television too.  He had always felt alive, with a purpose, when he was waist-deep in mud and rock at an archaeological site.  But this kept him always traveling from one site to another, from country to country. What he had secretly, almost imperceptibly yearned for was doing what he was doing with the Frasers.  The strong family dynamic and home-based existence was comforting, as it was to Claire. One area, though, was causing a bit of strife: clothing. It would be where the most adaptation was required. Their period attire was time-consuming and uncomfortable.  Going from trousers to “skirts” wasn’t that much of an adjustment for Claire; definitely more so for the men.

 The three were sharing a moment alone in the sitting room. They could talk more freely, more naturally, and found these short breaks kept them grounded.  

 “I’m just now getting an idea of what a lady in a skirt has to deal with when sitting down – the adjusting to make sure you’re covered.” Lamb said, getting used to wearing a kilt.

 “Well, it sure does alleviate all the zippering, buttoning and…pinching.”  Joe whispered.    But to what you said” Joe remarked, looking at Lamb, “it must be a spectacle riding a horse. For a number of reasons.”

 Claire jumped in while Lamb was nodding and smirking his agreement to Joe’s observation:  “My petticoats, overcoats and drawstrings are definitely going to take some getting used to– as will other things! But like you said at the beginning, Joe, I’m going to ride with it. Wait for the good.”

 Joe put his hand up for a high-five.

 Just outside in the living room, Emily was sitting with Juniper and Berry – the family’s Shetland sheepdogs – when they excitedly ran to the door. Pulling the curtains aside, she saw a woman and man arriving in the courtyard. Noticing Emily in the window, Glenna waved.  This brought an equally enthusiastic wave of greeting from Emily as she ran to open the door.

 “Oh, dearie!  How are ye?” Glenna said, hugging Emily.

 “I’m well, thank ye!”

 Glenna took the basket the young man was holding and handed it to Emily. “I’ve brought some pies. Blackberry and Apple.”

 Hearing the dogs’ yips, the rest of the family came from various parts of the house.  Guests were rare; neighbors could be miles away which lent a bit of festiveness when one actually arrived.

 Ellen and Jamie strode to embrace Glenna.  “Glenna!  It’s been too long.   And is this…”

 “Aye. My youngest, Henry.”

 “Pleased to see ye again.”

 “And we’re pleased to see ye too!”

 “Jamie!  Come here, lad.”  Glenna extended another hug.

 Emily lifted the basket for Ellen to see. “She’s brought us two pies!”

 “Ye didna have to. Yer company is delight enough.” Ellen said, her arm around Glenna.

 “Yer too kind.  I couldna show up without a treat.”

 “What do we owe yer visit to?”

 “I came to check on the lady and gentlemen who stopped by the tavern a time back.  They said they were on their way here.  Wanted to be sure they arrived safely.”

 “Yes, they’re here.  Please come in.  We’ll have some tea.”

 Jamie excused himself and quietly stepped into the sitting room. He accepted that they would want to be alone from time to time in order to make sense of their new life, so refrained – whenever possible - from interrupting them when this occurred.

 “We’ve a guest that says she knows ye.  Would ye be agreeable to have tea with them?”

 The three turned almost in synch.  “Us?” Claire said. 

 “Aye.  ‘tis Miss Glenna.”

 6 wrinkled eyebrows looked back at him.

 “Ye must have stopped at the tavern on yer way here, no?”

 “We did” Joe said.

 “Then yer sure to have met Mrs. Fitz, the owner.”

 “Ohhhhh” they said, in varying degrees.  “Lead the way!”

 Recognizing them immediately, Glenna ran to them, grasping each in another engulfing hug. “Come, then. Have some pie. Ye didna have any before.”

 “We didn’t introduce ourselves before. I apologize for that.  I’m Claire, this is my Uncle Lambert, and our friend Joe.”

 “Well, whether I knew yer names or not I’ll not soon forget ye.”

 Jamie, standing at the sink and plating pieces, looked over at Claire and smiled.  Claire signaled with her hands that she wanted a large piece. Jamie held up the blackberry with a questioning look.  Claire gave him a thumbs up.  He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but she seemed happy so he went with it.

 After the guests got re-acquainted, Glenna became serious.

 “There’s been word come ‘round that there are casualties in the colonies.  General Washington, I ken, had a defeat in…New York.  Did ye say ye had lived near there?” She asked Joe.

 “In Pennsylvania. The colony south of New York.”

 “Aye. I see.”

 “There was a young Continental Lieutenant, Nathan Hale, as was caught by the British and…”

 Glenna looked down at her hands in her lap.

 After a few moments of silence, Brian raised his glass of whiskey.  “In remembrance of  Lieutenant Hale, and to the rest of the Continental Army. May they fully route the British.”

 “They’ll prevail.  I feel it in my heart.” Joe said.  “They’ve an indomitable spirit.”

 “Aye” came a chorus with raised glasses and cups.

 “We’ll need to be getting back before the sun goes down, so I’ll be takin’ my leave now.”  Glenna said, rising.   “I’m pleased to know ye made it safely here” she said across the table to Claire, Lamb and Joe. “Thank ye for the company. Dinna be strangers, aye?” she said, waving at everyone as she went out the door.

 After she’d left, Jamie reached for Claire’s hand to take her outside while everyone settled into the living room.  “We’re going for a walk.”

 Brian smiled his approval and nodded his head.

 But once outside, Jamie sat on the stoop and motioned for Claire to sit beside him.

 “Ye ken the war, then?”

 “I do.  Nathan Hale is a national hero.  He was attempting to get intelligence from the British when he was found out and hanged.”

  Jamie looked out onto the land.  Culloden had long since passed, but it’s mark on the hearts of all Scots was indelible.  He’d been born several years after the humiliating loss, but still grew up with stories of what it was like to be the underdog to an oppressive, brutal and overpowering foe.  He seethed with anger at what was most assuredly a noble soldier dying at the hands of the British, and prayed that the colonists would prevail, and prevail mightily.

 Claire, seeing pain and anger in equal measures move across Jamie’s face, grasped his hand tightly.

 “I know of Culloden, if that’s what’s troubling you.”

 “Aye.”

 “Well, if it’s not too unacceptable, I’ll let you in on a little something.”

 Jamie, shaking off the darkness that had come so quickly to his soul, turned towards Claire.  “I wilna ever ask ye to share anything ye care not to divulge, but if yer willing, I’ll listen.”

 A smile slowly broadened across her face.  She took both of his hands in hers and looked into his curious eyes: “The colonists fight with no uniforms and with barely any provisions.  Many died of disease and starvation. But one day, in a few years, the British get most assuredly routed and it’s amazing.”

 Jamie’s face filled with relief.   “’tis fine news indeed.”

 He hung his head, then lifted it and moved an errant curl from her face.

 “Claire, I…”

 Claire ran the back of her hand over his face, allowing her fingers to find and caress the auburn curls at the back of his neck.

 “Me too.”

 He leaned in and kissed her. She felt him smile before he pulled away.

 “This is everything I’ve dreamt of.  Ye…Ye came to me…”  His eyes ran over with tears.

 “No more loneliness.” She sweetly kissed him again. “For either of us.”

 Just then the door opened and a deep-throated ‘ahem’ came from the doorway.  Murtagh looked at the two over the smoke from his pipe: “Doesna look like much walking is being done” he said with the slightest hint of a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Fall had decidedly come upon the farm.  Crisper temperatures were turning vast highland landscapes from green to stages of yellow and orange. The birds, so active and vocal in the spring, were now only a random warble; in their place was the single chorus of crickets.

Despite what mother nature was portending, work on the farm wouldn’t stop. Piling cured hay into the hay barn one morning, Lamb remembered that Claire’s birthday was in less than a month.  He stopped and leaned on his pitchfork.  His first instinct was to phone in a flower delivery or make dinner reservations. Without these, he would have to find something else.

 The barn was quiet and comforting.  Lamb had come to welcome these beautiful silences. The absence of so much noise - washing machines, dishwashers and dryers churning,  reminder and text beeps from the phone, car horns and the occasional ambulance - only reinforced how noisy modern life was.  But he did often miss the conveniences and ease, like internet ordering.   This morning as they’d arrived to cut hay, Lamb envisioned a tractor, rather than a sickle, plowing through the fields and an adjacent bailer spitting out perfectly formed stacks. 

 The need he once felt to check his phone so often had all but disappeared, though when he and Joe went to sleep each night they did play a few games – having charged the phone during the day with the solar phone charger – read, or listen to music. Shaking himself from his remembering, he wondered what he could do without all the capabilities they once had to make her day special.  He began thinking about things she had said she wanted or liked.

 While in London one January day when Claire was younger, she saw a vase in the window of an antique store. Lamb remembered holding her hand as they walked down the street, and the tug from when she stopped.

 “Uncle Lamb” she said, her face against the glass now that she was under the awning to avoid the falling snow.

 “Yes dear?  Do you see something you like?”

 Lamb had thought she’d seen a doll, or even a pair of earrings.  Their somewhat nomadic existence had never lent to keeping many personal belongings so she was often drawn to such things.

 “That vase.  In the middle there.  The green one. I really wish I could have something…” She paused, then sighed. “Will we ever have a home with a room for me? Where I can keep pretty things?”

 Lamb squeezed her hand. “Yes. We’ll get a home one day.

 She looked up at him, hope in her eyes.  “Can we come back here and get this when we do?”

 “Of course.”

 She looked at it for another minute, then pulled Lamb’s hand.  “We can go now.”

 A wave of sadness overtook him when he realized how long it had been since then; not only had they not gotten a home, but they’d never gone back for the vase.  He’d been considering making a home while they were in Scotland, but life took yet another detour.

 The sound of an approaching horse brought Lamb to the barn door to see who it was.

Dismounting, Jamie took a minute to allow his eyes to adjust as he walked from the direct sun into the dark of the barn. “Is it well with ye? Da sent me to help.  He said they’ve everything under control in the field.”

 “Yes. All’s well.”

 Lamb seemed distracted, so Jamie probed further to ensure everything was, indeed, well.

 “I can finish for ye, if ye’d like to rest.”

 Impressed with Jamie’s perception, Lamb divulged the reason behind his apparent preoccupation: “It’s Claire’s birthday in a few weeks.  I just remembered.”

  “I dinna ken it’s importance in yer time.  Do ye need anything?”

 “We do celebrate it.  Cake, decorations, and such.”

 Jamie’s stomach turned. He felt completely unprepared and didn’t want to let anyone down, especially Claire.

 Seeing Jamie’s distress, Lamb laid his hand on Jamie’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry.  We’ll put something together.”

 “I dinna want her to be disappointed.”

 “I know you don’t. And I appreciate that.”  Lamb scratched at his nearly full beard.  “How are glass items gotten.  Is there a glassmaker anywhere nearby?”

 “Aye.  A fine one.”

 “I’d like to have a vase made for her.  She’s always wanted one.”

 “We can take a ride. It’s no far.  I’ll tell Mam, if that’s alright. I’m sure she’ll make a cake.”

 “That would be wonderful. Thank you.”

 “I’ll help to get this finished.  Should be about time for lunch after.”

 The saying “many hands make light work” indeed rang true as they quickly finished spreading the hay and walked toward the house, following the smell of freshly baked peach pie.

 “Would ye want to take a ride this Saturday, then? To the glass maker?” Jamie said, washing off in the tub just outside the back door.

 “Yes, if that’s possible?”

 “Aye. I’ll arrange it.”

 Once inside, Jamie was greeted by Claire’s embrace.  A 21stcentury woman who didn’t consider such displays of affection as inappropriate or reserved for the affianced, the glances of surprise and reproach had not been registering.

 A low hum of happiness emanated from Jamie.  “I wilna hug ye long.  I smell of hay and sweat.”

 Claire took in a long whiff. “And dirt.  I like it.”  She kissed his cheek and lead him to the table.  “Stew is my own recipe.  Come sit down.”

 The other men, smelling the lusciousness of the pot as the lid had been lifted, looked jealously as Jamie was served first.  He smiled smugly at them as Claire plopped a large ladle full into his bowl, then offered him a roll from a basket.  He took two, thanked her, but waited to eat until everyone at the table had been served. The men ate quickly in anticipation of the pie that had made its obvious existence into the nearby field.  Jamie looked curiously at Claire to see if she’d made this as well, but she shook her head and nodded to Emily. 

 Rather than nap, as the other men would do after eating, Jamie laid outside with Claire in a patch of shade under a tree. She nestled into his side. 

 “Do ye have need of anything?  I promised I’d care for ye and fashion what I could to make life comfortable.”

 “You know,” Claire said drowsily, “of all the things that I’d grown used to, and counted on every day, I’ve just realized something.”

 Jamie, just as drowsy, asked: “What’s that?” as he kissed her head.

“Love is so much better.”

Chapter Text

Since Lamb had told him Claire’s birthday was coming up, all Jamie could do was think about what would make it special.

“Oy! Mind yer hands!” Murtagh snapped one afternoon while they were shearing the last of the sheep. “Yer not focused.”

“The other day Lambert told me Claire’s birthday is this month. I’ve been considering what I can do for her.”

“Well, ye need to do the considering when ye don’t have clippers in yer hand, aye?” Murtagh said, having pulled the sheep away to keep it from getting its ear nipped.

“I’m sorry.” Jamie stood, stretched his back out, then shook his head in a small but useless attempt to rid his mind of worry. “I’ll be more focused. But…” Jamie had bent to continue shearing, then stopped and looked directly at Murtagh.

“Son, ye know this ram is hard to shear” Murtagh said, grunting, nearly laying himself on top of the ram “and wilna be kept down easily.”

Jamie pointed the shears towards Murtagh, emphasizing his next thought: “Do ye think it’s too early to propose marriage?”

Murtagh, having expounded all his energy on containing a very rambunctious and willful ram, couldn’t keep him subdued any longer and with one massive jump the ram got out from under his captor and bolted.

Standing, wiping his brow, Murtagh put his hand out, indicating that Jamie should hand over the shears. “Go get Zeus.”

Ashamed, Jamie merely nodded. “Aye.”

An hour later, after enormous cajoling and trickery, Jamie lead Zeus back into the barn by his horns.

“I’m sure I can…” Jamie began, an attempt at conciliation.

“I’ll finish. You keep him down.”

Within minutes the sheep was removed of his wool and allowed to run off again.

Murtagh stood, took the scissors to the bucket to clean, then laid them on the table. He rubbed at his neck then turned around. Jamie’s face, heavy with disappointment, was cast towards the floor.

“I know ye love her son.”

Expecting a stern talking to rather than Murtagh’s kind and sympathetic voice, Jamie looked up surprised.

Murtagh sighed, then looked out into the yard. “I never understood what King Solomon was going on about for eight chapters.” He looked over at Jamie. “But now I have an idea.”

Jamie was leaning against a stall door, his arms crossed over his chest.

Taking the wool to be cleaned in the adjacent area, Murtagh spoke up while laying it in water: “Maybe it’s too soon to be making a decision this serious. Have ye talked to yer Da?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Then ye havena talked to her Uncle either, I assume.”

“No. He said he wanted to get her a vase and asked after a glassmaker. I said I’d take him at the week’s end.”

“Then that might be the time to declare yerself.” Murtagh wiped his hands on his kilt and came to stand back at the table again.

Jamie hadn’t considered taking advantage of their trip in such a manner, but raised his eyebrows at the soundness of Murtagh’s advice.“ ‘tis what I’ll do.”

Murtagh clapped him on the arm. “Do something. Canna have ye mangling the livestock, aye?”

Jamie smiled. “I’ll get it sorted.”

They both saw a shadow, through the slats, coming along the length of the barn. Claire had a basket of scones she’d just made and came to bring Jamie a mid-morning snack.

“I brought…Oh! Hello Murtagh. I’ve been all over the fields looking for you” she said, glancing at Jamie. “But since you’re both here, and I still have plenty to share…Please…”
She opened the basket to reveal several warm currant scones, jam, and butter.

Murtagh took one and bowed to Claire. “Verra grateful.” He walked outside, asking their pardon for leaving. “I must see to other work.”

Claire, smiling, looked at the floor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to run him off. Did I interrupt your work?”

“No, my dear. We had just finished and were going on to meet Da.”

They awkwardly hemmed and hawed, the sunlight filtering through the cracks between the barn’s planks. Dust sparkles filled the rays that passed over them.

“Here – let’s sit.” Jamie pulled a tarp that was used under the sheep to gather the wool and laid it on the ground.

Claire opened the basket, made a scone with butter and jam, then handed it to Jamie. Even though he’d just eaten breakfast a few hours ago, he ate as if he hadn’t. Smiling both approval and appreciation, he began to ask how her morning had gone when Claire leaned in:

“You’ve got some…” she said, wiping a bit of jam off his cheek, then kissed him.

“There. It’s all gone.”

He laughed such that his head fell back. “Oh, Claire. I do love ye so.”

Jamie took her chin in his hand, rubbed her cheek with his thumb, then muttered “Ye’ve got a crumb right …here” then kissed her back.

“And I love you” she replied, holding his face in her hands.

“I’d love to spend the whole day with ye, but I need to…” Jamie said, loving the feel of Claire’s gentle hands rubbing his face “…get back to work.”

She gave him one more kiss. “Me too. Takes all hands to feed the army we’ve become. I’ll see you later, alligator.”

“I…uhhh”

Claire's was already past the barn but he could hear her laughing.

Chapter Text

Friday evening, when Joe and Lamb had gone to bed, Lamb spoke into the air of the chilly storage room they shared: 

 “I’m off with Jamie in the morning. Want to come with?”

 “Nah. Going to rest.”

 “Rest? Have you ‘gone soft’ already?”

 “Ya know, when I was young I used to hate having to wait for my Gramps to get up from his nap in the afternoon after we worked all day.  Couldn’t sit still waiting for him to take us fishing in the evening. Man. I get it now.” He yawned. “Where are you two going?”

 “Claire’s birthday’s coming up.  Jamie’s taking me to a glassmaker.”

 “Nice.”

 There was a long silence.  Lamb had actually drifted off, but Joe spoke up again.

 “Might be a good time to find out what’s on his mind.”

 “That’s the plan.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Upstairs, Jenny turned over in bed.  She had a nightcap on for additional warmth, and had the sheets and blankets pulled up to her nose.  All Claire could see over the candle on the table between them was Jenny’s big, brown eyes.

 “I’m happy yer here.” 

 Claire smiled as she shifted further under her own covers.

 “Thank you. I’m happy to be here too.”

"It's nice having a sister." Jenny looked away, then back to meet Claire's eyes. "I get lonely sometimes, especially when I hear all the gàire coming out of Jamie and Willie's room."

“Talking?”

“Laughter.” Claire could tell Jenny was smiling by how her eyes twinkled. “Good night, Claire.” Jenny looked at her sincerely, then turned over and fell asleep.

 “Sleep well, Jenny.”

Claire laid in bed thinking for so long the candle had nearly burned out.  With the remaining light she quietly pulled out her backpack and found her notebook. Slowly tearing out a piece of paper, she then chose a pencil.  She drew a small caricature of herself, her hands clasped to her cheek and hearts coming out of the top of her head.  In each of the four hearts she wrote the words I love you Jamie.

She folded it into an origami heart and laid it outside Jamie’s door.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In Brian and Ellen’s room, Ellen had just removed the bed warmer from under the sheets and sat it back near the fireplace. She and Brian scurried to quickly cover themselves before the heat left.  Curled together, Ellen spoke into Brian’s chest.

 “Jamie was sure and confident, confessing his love for Claire to us. I pray God will guide him while confessing the same to Lambert tomorrow.”

 “Aye.  Quite the change from the past few years of struggle.”

 “Jamie asked if I’d make a cake for her.  It’s her birthday soon.”

 “We should have a proper dinner then.”

 Ellen wrapped her arm over Brian then tucked her feet between his legs. “She’s been such a help, and such a quick study. Made scones the other morning, then sat with both Willie and Jenny for the rest of the time on their latin and maths.”

“Lambert and Joe are as capable.  Seem to have an insight on how to get things done quickly and efficiently.  Brilliant minds.”

Ellen’s fingers began tapping on Brian’s back; a sure sign she was thinking. She smiled to herself. 

 “Do ye have something else on yer mind?”

 “It’ll be the first wedding here since our own.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Murtagh rose from saying his prayers and went to the fireplace. Fall and Winter were definitely not his favorite seasons.  He adjusted the few logs that were already burning, allowing them to settle so he could add a few more. The cold crept cruelly into his bones at this time; more so with each passing year.  The warmth the fire provided helped sleep to come – and stay – more easily. 

“To be where it was summer year-round. That’s the life.”

Putting a second pair of stockings on, Murtagh nestled into bed.  He recalled a memory from his childhood as he looked into the fire.  He’d been outside with his Da and brothers adding additional hay to the horse barn one cold November afternoon as a snowstorm lay threatening on the horizon.  They did the same for the sheep, hens, and cows before running back to the house. His mother was leaning over the fire in the kitchen stirring a kettle of mulled apple cider.  He remembers sitting at the table, a plate of fresh bread, butter and jam being passed around, sipping the hot, delicious drink as wind and snow flakes began to batter the window.

“Maybe it’s no so bad…” Murtagh thought as he fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie, on his side, was blissfully submitting to slumber when he heard Willie rustling about.  He gave little mind to it; Willie often fussed before he fell asleep. After several minutes, though, Jamie asked after his brother:

“Are ye well, then?

There was a moment’s silence. “Do spiders sleep at night?” came the concerned reply.

Smiling and shaking his head, Jamie turned over.

“I gather they’d have to sleep sometime.  Night is as good as any.”

 “I’m just no sure, so dinna feel secure closing my eyes.”

 Propping his tired body upon his arm, Jamie looked across the room.

 “What happened to cause ye to be worried about spiders and when they sleep?”

 “Today in the field I saw a few in webs they’d weaved.  I thought that it must’ve taken a fair amount of work to complete the webs.  They were intricate, aye?   So then I wondered if they’d made them at night, or spent the day arranging them. Debating the issue has caused me to wonder if they are here, and prowling about, or asleep.”

 “Would ye like to check?”

 “That would be kind of ye. I know the Good Lord made all living things, but they make me fearful nonetheless.”

 Jamie tried not to laugh as he took hold of the candle holder and lit it from the fireplace.  He caught sight of Willie, his arms around his knees, and motioned with his head to come with him as he searched the room.

 Looking under beds, wardrobes, and dressers, on top of doorframes and in corners, the men found no evidence of any arachnid in residence.

 Willie hugged Jamie. “Thank ye brother.  I didna mean to wake ye.”

 “’tis no bother. Good night.”

 When Willie didn’t let go, Jamie looked at him more closely.  Willie lifted his head up: “Would ye have the same certainty with snakes?”

 “Aye, lad. More so.”

 “Thank ye kindly.” Willie looked appreciatively at Jamie, then got back into bed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emily brushed her hair and applied lanolin to her hands and nails.  Washing both clothes and dishes each day took a great deal of life out of her hands. She placed cotton gloves on them then arranged her hair under the night cap.  She blew out the candle and crept into bed. 

Her room connected to the sitting room so the warmth from its fireplace – stoked before everyone went to bed to ensure a relatively chill-free morning – seeped through the walls and under the door.

Having Claire and her family, though more work in some respects, had benefits as well.  She could be free from teaching Jenny and Willy in order to perfect her baking skills. She could also take longer breaks as half of her workload was taken up by Claire.

“They’re intriguing, no doubt” she thought as she adjusted her head on her pillow “but I dinna understand what they’re saying sometimes.”

 She rolled over onto her side.  “Jamie’s taken with Claire.  I expect…” she thought, drifting off "the Laird and Lady will be preparing for their wedding soon.  ‘twill be lovely if they were to have it in the spring, at the chapel.”  She envisioned Claire in a lovely white dress with a flower garland in her hair.  “Maybe I could be the maid of honor” she thought, smiling at the prospect of having a lovely dress too.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Rising, Jamie added logs to the dying fire in the room.  He looked at Willie, his gentle face made serious in sleep, and smiled. He went to his bureau to get the basin of water to warm by the flames while he dressed. 

 He realized he’d not looked at Claire’s letters or portrait since she’d arrived; having her with him had made the need to read them, to touch them, unnecessary. But the one thing he did occasionally caress was the Italian silk and velvet that lay perfectly folded in the drawer.  It had been bought on hope; hope that the happiness and peace that had come so sweetly, so arrested his heart and stilled his mind, had a reason.

 And it did.  She lay asleep across the hall. 

 Jamie washed with the warmed water, then dressed, making himself a bit more presentable for the man whose niece he wished to marry. He opened the door to go prepare breakfast for he and Lamb.  It would be a respectful way to begin the morning.

 Running his hand through his hair he stepped into the hallway. He went to the window at the end and pulled the curtains and sheers back, putting them in the holdbacks, to see what weather would be encountered on their ride.  The window panes, frosted from the frigid temperatures overnight, were patterned with ferns or snowflakes.  When feeding the animals in winter Jamie would look down to the snowflakes that would land on his gloves.  For only a few seconds he saw the beautiful, complex design, rarely seeing two the same, and was astounded how the same patterns were evident on the glass. The day would be clear but cold.  Better than rain or sleet.

 Walking to the stairs he noticed the small folded heart at his door.  Were it not for opening the window at the end, allowing the gentle light of the rising sun past the doorways, he’d not have seen it.

 Pulling it slowly apart he smiled at her ingenuity. He crept back into his room, pulled a pencil from his sporran that lay hanging on a wall hook, and drew onto her sketch.  He fought the urge to ‘enhance’ it as he once did; he knew she’d laugh, but rather he drew himself standing beside her blowing hearts from his hands that said “I love you too.”

 He kissed it and laid it outside her door.

 In the kitchen Emily was just coming in the back door from getting eggs at the henhouse. “BRRRRR.  ‘tis cold this morn!”

 “Aye.  It is.”  Jamie reached to help her put the eggs from her apron into the sink to wash.

 “There’s no so many now that the daylight is diminished” she said, grabbing a cast iron pan.  She cut slices of bread then put them into a toast frame that she sat in the roaring hearth, sat the coffee pot near it, then filled the pan with butter. Lamb came out of his room and into the kitchen shortly after.

 “It’s difficult to stay asleep with the smell of coffee and toast filling your room.”  He smiled to Emily then nodded to Jamie.

 Jamie nodded in return, then pulled out a chair at the table for Lamb, placing a plate of fried eggs and toast in front of him and offering a cup of coffee. He made food for himself and sat opposite Lamb.

 “It isna far, so we could wait until the sun is more risen and the frost is gone”  Jamie said, piling the plateful of food into his mouth. He knew he was nervous, which caused him to be abnormally hungry.

 “That’s a good plan.”  

 One by one other family members made their way into the kitchen for breakfast.  When Claire came, her face aglow with happiness, she wrapped her arms around Jamie’s neck, whispered in his ear, then kissed him on the cheek.  His broad smile and flushed face kept back none of his undeniable love for her.  She slid in beside Lamb, rubbed his back in greeting, and dug in to the plate of food Jamie had immediately made and brought to her.

 Jamie then caught Lamb’s attention and nodded to the back door.

 “Claire, we’ll be back later.  Have a few errands to run.” Lamb took Claire’s hand, then kissed it. 

 “Have fun, ya’ll.” She kissed his cheek then winked at Jamie.

 With the kitchen bustling with food and conversation, the men left to the stables.  The grass, thawed in spaces where the sun had hit it, nevertheless crunched under foot where it had not.  Their breath, coming faster the longer they walked, froze the second it left their body.

 Jamie saddled both horses – he on Donas, and Lamb on the one he rode to Lallybroch and had been using while working in the fields.  Knowing what would be forthcoming, Lamb had put his boxers back on that morning.  “No more riding bare-bottomed” he said to himself when he woke up. “Been There. Done That.”

 Leading them down field in order to access a road south, the scenery would not be as lush as spring and summer; the absence of greenery and foliage, though, would put into beautiful relief the imposing Scottish mountains.

 Several minutes into the ride, which had been mostly quiet, Jamie broke the silence.

 “We’ve about three-quarter’s of an hour.  Glass maker has his shop back in the woods….to fuel the furnace, o’course.”

 “Understandable.”

 “We’ve had him make quite a bit.  Wine glasses, champagne glasses, and such.”

 Jamie looked to his side, gauging both Lamb’s interest and mood. 

 “Sir, I’d like to declare my intentions.”

 “I’d appreciate it. Claire loved you before she met you, and I can see how much more since we’ve arrived.”

 Jamie pulled Donas to a stop, causing Lamb to do the same.

 “I love her just as much.”

 Lamb smiled.  “That is clear.”

 Jamie smiled back, a bit embarrassed. “What I mean is…I wish to marry her.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lamb had been considering how he would react to just this situation since they’d all arrived. What would it mean for Claire? Could she accept that she may be spending the rest of her life here?  Would giving birth in this time, without advanced medical care, cause her or the baby any harm?  Countless questions ran through his mind.

 This week Lamb had been thinking of her life before they left: It had been adventurous, interesting, and extraordinary. At least that’s what she led him to believe. While he knew many people her age had envied the way they lived, there were drawbacks that weren’t always apparent:  bouncing from country to country never allowed for making strong friendships or establishing roots, they were never able to make a home, and her education had been piecemeal.  Frank who had manipulated and abused her. Now, she was with a strong, closely-knit family. Ellen had become a mother to her. Jenny looked to her as a sister. Jamie?  He was respectable, dedicated, and deeply in love.

 All in all, despite the lack of modern conveniences and amenities, Claire was in a much better place here and it showed.  She was thriving. So, the moment Joe had recommended that today’s trip be “the talk,” Lamb had decided he would consider a proposal for Claire’s hand barring anything disastrous or unforeseen.

 “Before I give you an answer I need to say something first.” Lamb replied to an anxious Jamie.

 Jamie twisted in his saddle to better face Lamb. “Aye.  Of course.”

 “I must have your promise that you will respect, honor, and care for her.  And you will not IN ANY WAY compromise her chastity. Am I clear?”

 Jamie was prepared with his promise before Lamb had finished: “I swear to ye before God that I will do all ye ask.”

 “Alright, then.  You have my blessing.”

 “Thank you, Sir…thank you.”

 “Lead on, then.” Lamb said, looking down the road.

 The sun was just overhead when they steered onto a path; it would have gone unnoticed - disguised as it was in the forest - had Jamie not already known its whereabouts.  A quarter of a mile down the heavily-treed lane a small homestead could be seen. There was a charming stone house at the forefront, smoke rising from its chimney.  Around it was outbuildings that, by stone paths, were connected one to another and to the main house.

 Jamie dismounted, let out a long breath, and looked around as he stood in the circular stone courtyard.

 “This place brings back fond memories.  Murtagh and I – sometimes Da and I – would stop here.  It wasna always to buy things, mind, though he’s known throughout Scotland for his wares; many times we stopped on our way to or back from a journey.  Kindest man, verra generous…”

 “Buongiorno a te, Jamie!” 

  Turning, Jamie yelled his greeting: “Buona giornata anche a te, Antonio!”

 A tall, stout man with black wavy hair, a handlebar moustache and intense but friendly brown eyes, Antonio came from a building near the house. He embraced Jamie, slapping him on the back. “Stai bene? Come sta la tua famiglia?”

 “Molto bene grazie! E tu?”

 “Fantastico!”

 Antonio turned his attention to Lamb, wiping his hands on his leather apron, charred and marked from constant work.  “Antonio, this is my friend, Lambert Beauchamp.  He and his family are staying with us.  Lambert, this is Antonio Bicchieri.”

 Antonio greeted Lamb just as strongly, clasping his hand. “You are French?  Please forgive that I am not as good at French as I am at Italian, but I probably fare better with that than Gaelic!”

 “Please don’t be troubled” Lamb said, smiling “I’m British.”

 Antonio looked anxiously at Jamie.

 “They’ve come here from their home in the colonies to escape the war” Jamie said in reassurance.

 Antonio eyed Lamb for a moment, nodding his head in thought. “Ahhhh. Then we are brothers!  I left a few years ago when relations with Britain were beginning to strain. The Massacre and Tea Party.   It was obvious where things were headed, no?”

 “Indeed.” Lamb replied, feeling a kinship with this man. 

 “You are traveling?” Antonio said, turning to Jamie.  “Or maybe in need of window panes?

 “We’ve come for a vase today.  For his niece’s birthday.”

 “I am honored. First you will come to eat, Sì?”

 “Sì. Grazie.”  Lamb added, winking.

 Antonio’s booming laugh ushered them into the house.

 The home, outfitted with dark wood furniture, brocade drapes, and framed paintings had as much presence and flair as its owner.  A young man of roughly Jamie’s age came from the back part of the house. He was holding a small child who was eating a chunk of bread. 

 “You remember my son Nino, yes?” Antonio said to Jamie,

 “Aye, I do.  It’s been some time!  And is this…your daughter then?”

 Nino – nearly a copy of his Father but with hazel eyes - laughed and tossled the hair of the little girl he was holding.

 “The little lamb would be mine. Gianna. Born just last year” Antonio said, taking off his apron and placing it on the bannister.

 Ashamed, Jamie apologized.  “I’m truly sorry.  Please forgive me.”

 “’tis no bother, lad!” Antonio said, trying to perfect his brogue. “She was quite the surprise! Nino, this is Lambert Beauchamp, a friend of Jamie’s”

 Nino made room for them to go through to the kitchen: “We’re honored to have you both.  Please – join us. My mother is preparing lunch.”

 “We’d be happy to. Thank you.” Lamb said, walking ahead of Jamie.

 Benedetta stood nearly as tall as her husband. Dark-haired, with an angular face, she was captivating. Putting a basket of bread on the table, she recognized Jamie immediately.  “Jamie!” She seemed to cover the breadth between them in only a few steps. She hugged him as strongly as her husband had, taking him in.  “You look happy!”  She cocked her head to the side.  “Sembri un uomo innamorato”  she said with a smirk.

 “Sì” he said trying to hide the smile that threatened to overtake his face.

 “Oh!  You are to be married!” she said, clasping her hands together.

 “Well, I…”

 Nino reached to shake Jamie’s hand.  “Many congratulations, friend.  When is the wedding to be?”

 “We’ve not settled that yet, I still have to…”

 “Ahh,” Antonio said, “It is clear now!  Benedetta, this is Lambert Beauchamp, a friend of the Frasers.”

 “I am happy to meet you. It is your daughter then?” Benedetta beamed.

 “No, my niece.”

 Nino sat Gianna in a specially made high chair, then arranged the seating to accommodate Lamb and Jamie while Benedetta brought the remaining food to the table.

 “I have yet to ask her” Jamie said, settling into a chair. “I’ve only just received Lambert’s blessing.”

 “You will let me help?” Benedetta pleaded.

 Antonio looked at Jamie, indicating that trying to stop her would be futile.

 “Of course!”

 “So, you are new parents” Lamb said, taking a napkin and laying it on his lap.  “How many children do you have altogether?”

 “We’ve just the four” Benedetta stated as if they’d somehow let everyone down.  "Our other two are temporarily away." 

 Jamie did his best with the meal - garlic-tomato sauce over gnocchi - though heavy seasoning never agreed with him.  Lamb, on the other hand, couldn’t get it down fast enough. He had readily accepted seconds and had torn into the homemade bread and appetizer – mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and basil- with abandon.  Placing a section on his plate with the tongs, he instinctively reached for the small pitcher of balsamic vinegar on the table with other condiments, dousing it over the top.

 Antonio, happy at Lamb’s hearty appetite, clapped him on the shoulder. “Now there’s an Italian for you!”

 “It’s always been my favorite food” Lamb said somewhat embarrassed.

 “You’ll take some with you.”  Benedetta said, the finality in her voice not worth challenging.

 “Oh, to have plastic containers…” Lamb thought to himself.

Chapter Text

Lunch conversation covered everything from wedding particulars, updates on the war that had made their way over the Atlantic, to children, and food. When little Gianna’s head began to droop and she fought to keep her eyes open, Antonio pulled the sleepy girl from her chair, cradling her to his shoulder.  He whispered “Un momento” to everyone and pointed upstairs. 

 “I’m sure he’ll want to show you what he’s worked on lately, so Nino will take you to the glasshouse” Benedetta whispered, a habit ingrained from all the times her children were napping. “Antonio will meet you after he’s put her to bed.”  She gave a look of insistence but appreciation to Nino, seeing that he wished to save her the trouble of clearing the table.

 Nino got his coat and hat from the hooks in the hall to escort Lamb and Jamie. Once behind the house they crossed a small bridge that went over a stream, then picked back up on the stone path that lead to the large workshop and a smaller building beside it.

 The workshop had seemingly been repurposed from what was once a cowshed. Swinging the large doors open, an impressive and well-outfitted shop was revealed.  An additional set of doors – which were on the opposite side– allowed for much natural light and airflow.  A furnace, two tables with marvers, and an oven were centrally located while the accessories, such as blowpipes, buckets, paddles, and tongs were dispersed throughout.

 “I apprentice with Father here” Nino said, allowing the men time to look around. Through yet another door, Nino lead them through a breezeway into the other building.

 It was here that Lamb and Jamie were captivated.  Open cabinets were filled with pitchers and stemware, while tables held bottles, cups, tumblers and candlesticks. Some items, tied together with a tag, were most likely commissioned pieces. 

 “What an artist…” Jamie said to himself.

 Nino, overhearing him, concurred: “You speak truthfully. My father is an artist.  I can only hope to equal him.”

 “I have no doubt you will” Jamie replied softly, seeing a bit of uncertainty in Nino’s eyes.

 Antonio walked in and began talking to Jamie and Nino while Lamb, browsing, came across several vases laying in a pile on the ground against a wall. Wondering what caused them to be here rather than displayed, he bent down to look more closely. When he picked up a green, teardrop-shaped one from where it was nestled against the others his heart thudded in his chest.

 Antonio had come to his side, noticing Lamb’s choice: “This is one I made some time ago. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d planned, unfortunately. It would not sell so I’ve laid it here. I have others if you care to…”

Jamie saw Lamb’s frozen expression and rigid posture so came quickly to his side: “Are ye alright?  Is something amiss?”

 “Can I speak to you privately?”

 “Of course.”

 Antonio excused himself while Lamb and Jamie walked outside.

 “Are ye unwell?  I find that oregano and garlic often…”

 “Yes.  I mean no. I’m…..I…”

 Jamie looked at Lamb, worried that something had occurred without his notice.

 Lamb ran his hand through his hair, then pulled at his beard, taking a long breath.  Slowly, the color returned to his face.

 “When Claire was young we were visiting London during a cold, snowy November. Everything was decorated for a common holiday - Christmas. In a small shop window Claire saw a vase.  She asked if we could come back to get it if we ever made a home.  I said we would, but I never got back to that shop. And we never really made a home anywhere.”

 For the first time since he began talking Lamb looked up at Jamie.

 “It was this vase.”

 Jamie tapped his fingers against his thigh, his brows furrowed in contemplation.

 “I studied it intently” Lamb went on “to be sure I got the exact one when the time came, especially if it had been moved around the store, or…” Lamb looked around, overwhelmed “showed up somewhere else.”

 Lamb paused, his mind replaying the moment with Claire.

 “I noticed a cluster of bubbles, the graceful teardrop shape, the shade of green.  Jamie – I’m certain it’s this vase.”

 Antonio repeatedly glanced outside, worried that the men might want the vase but be unable to pay for it. “I will not let them feel shame.  I erred in the blowing, causing the bubbles, so…yes!  I will give it to them without charge.” he thought to himself.

 “We must buy it.  Do ye agree?” Jamie said.

 “Absolutely.  How often do you get a chance to make up for past mistakes?”

 After walking back in, Lamb felt a need to explain his abrupt departure.  “I apologize for needing a moment alone.  Men are…sometimes not the best at picking out gifts.  I wanted to confer with Jamie whether my niece would like the vase before I made an offer. Would it be for sale?”

 “You honor me.  I cannot in good conscience charge you for it considering it's defect.  Please – accept it as my gift.”

 “You’re very kind.  I am prepared to pay, of course. I could not inconvenience you.”

 “It is no inconvenience.  Though not all pieces are worthy for sale, I still may not wish to return them to the furnace.  I insist – my gift.” 

 Walking off, Antonio motioned for Nino to get a velvet-lined box. Lamb looked at Jamie, raising his eyebrows. 

 Back at the house Benedetta had wrapped a ceramic crock full of sauce in a towel, knotting it at the top.  In another towel was wrapped a loaf of bread.  She placed them both, and another wrapped item, into a satchel.

 “This should fit in the saddlebag.”  She held it out in front of her, waiting for Lamb to take it.

 Grateful, even gleeful, he took it from her hand.  “Thank you very much.”

 She waved it off.  “Non è un problema. Sono felice che ti piaccia.”

 Lamb turned to meet Jamie in the hallway while Benedetta followed them out.  Antonio and Nino were just bringing their horses from the stable.

 Lamb put the satchel in one saddlebag, then when Antonio handed him the box with the vase he put it into the saddle bag on the other side of the horse. Lamb reached to shake Antonio’s hand. 

 “I appreciate everything.  You’ve been very generous.”

 “It was our pleasure. God’s Blessings to you all.”  He waved to both men as he walked back to the house, one arm around Nino, and the other around Benedetta.

 Down the road Jamie saw a marked change in Lamb’s demeanor and remarked that the day had been very serendipitous.

 “Quite” Lamb replied. 

 It had been more serendipitous than Jamie realized for when Lamb had picked up the vase he saw something surprising lying behind it.

 

Chapter Text

They rode in quiet; Lamb was consumed with the unbelievable turn of events that had just transpired while Jamie thought how to make his proposal worthy enough for a woman so perfect. Eventually, Jamie broke the silence.

“Ye said there was a holiday in yer time that took place about now?”

 Snapping from his thoughts, Lamb looked at Jamie and smiled. 

 “Yes. Christmas.  There is decorating, eating, visiting family and…”  Lamb pursed his lips before saying: “gift giving.”

 Jamie panicked.  “MORE GIFTS?”

 “Well, yes.”  Pretending to smooth his moustache and beard, Lamb felt more like he was holding the laughter back.  “But it’s also a time to remember the poor.”

“Oh.”

 Jamie rubbed his temple and sighed.

 “Son, none of us are expecting your family to observe what we observe. If anything, we’d celebrate it between ourselves.  I gather you’ll have the engagement to celebrate with her?”

 “Aye.  That I will.”

 Dismounting in the front courtyard, Lamb recommended leaving the vase in the saddlebag until he could get it later to keep in his room. But the food he would definitely be taking in. 

 A lively conversation was taking place around the fire in the family room, and laughter greeted the men as they walked in. Whiskey and warmed cider seemed to be free-flowing. Murtagh rose, slapped each man on the back in greeting, then went outside to stable the horses for the evening.

 Upon seeing Jamie, Claire rose quickly.  She wrapped her arms around him then lifted her head for a kiss.  “I missed you.”

 Kissing her, Jamie whispered: “I missed ye too.”

 “Ahem.” Lamb, pretending to be hurt, wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. 

 “I’m sorry.”  She hugged him, then pulled away in shock.

 “WHERE WERE YOU? I SMELL GARLIC.”

 She looked over at Joe who had already honed in on the smell. He mouthed “I smell marinara.”

 Lamb tilted his head towards the kitchen. He sat the satchel on the table and carefully removed the contents. He untied the towel from the crock. The next towel he unwrapped was stained in several places but it didn’t take long to know why:  it was a loaf of Italian bread filled with mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, and pesto.  Lamb looked at Claire and Joe, their faces a mixture of shock, anger and hunger. Claire, her hand on her hip, felt betrayed: “SERIOUSLY? ” 

“Don’t be angry.” Lamb said, soothingly.

 The last towel revealed a pile of almond biscotti.

“Before we tear into this like lions on a wildebeest, we should offer to share.”  Lamb held up his finger, pointing it at them: “WAIT.”

 He walked back into the family room.  “Excuse me, we’ve brought back some food from our visit to The Bicchieri’s if you’d like some.”

“We’re full.” Brian said over a puff of his pipe, the nods of those in the room confirming his statement.  “Enjoy.”

 By the time he got back, Joe and Claire had made themselves plates. He threw up his hands.  “I said to wait!”

 Claire tore off a chunk of the sandwich, exclaiming “YOU AREN’T THE BOSS OF ME.”

Joe poured the sauce he’d put into a bowl straight into his mouth and followed it with a huge bite of sandwich.

 “You ARE animals.” He laughed to himself, plating his food.

Chapter Text

A few days later Jamie was still trying to find something to give Claire.  Coming back to the house for lunch after laying up hay, he saw Claire sitting on a blanket with food spread out. Seeing him coming up from the barns, she waved.

“Lunch is served, Monsieur”  Claire said as Jamie neared.

  “Merci mademoiselle.”

 She prepared a bowl for him of roast vegetables in broth along with some shortbread she’d made that morning.

 He noticed she wasn’t eating with him but didn’t ask why.  She seemed distracted.  When he broke the shortbread cookie in half, and offered her a part, she waved him off.  “I’m alright. Thank you though.”

 Jamie considered what could be weighing on her and went on a hunch.

 “Tell me about the food in yer time.  What was it like?”

 At this Claire seemed to brighten.

 “You were able to experience authentic cuisine from nearly every country right in your own neighborhood.  Cuban, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian.”  She seemed to tremble a bit at the mention of Italian.

 “The food Lambert brought home the other evening.  Ye enjoyed it?”

 “I did. Very much.”  She looked down at her lap.

 “Would ye excuse me a moment, Claire?” Jamie said, standing up. “I’ll be right back.”

 She looked up at him somewhat sad.  “Yes. Of course.”

 He walked to one of the barns to get a spade, then grabbed 4 sticks from the ground.  Returning to Claire, Jamie measured several paces from the house, eyed where the sun was, then moved a few steps over.  He stuck the 4 sticks to form corners of a large square, about 6x6, then began removing the sod. Once he’d rolled it up and moved it out of the way, he took Claire’s hand and brought her to the plot.

 “My love, I promised ye I’d fashion whatever ye may need.”

 She looked at him curiously, then began to cry once she realized what he’d done.

 “I will amend the soil over the winter with manure. Meanwhile we can create seedlings indoors early next year to plant in the spring. 5 tomato plants, several garlic, thyme, oregano, and basil.” 

 She wiped her eyes then hugged him.  He kissed the top of her head. “My gift to you.”

 

Chapter Text

The evening before Claire’s birthday, Lamb and Joe were talking in their room before they went to sleep. 

 Lamb appreciated what the Frasers were doing: “Ellen, Jenny and Emily have been busying themselves with preparations for dinner tomorrow. I’m so grateful for all they’ve done.”

 “They love her.  I’m sure it wasn’t any effort, ya know?”

 “I do.”

 Even in the dark, Joe knew Lamb had something else on his mind: “What.”

 “What?”

 “WHAT.”

 Lamb sighed.  “I didn’t tell you everything from the day Jamie and I went out.”

 “I’m definitely awake now.”

 “Well, first Jamie asked to marry Claire, of course.  I conveyed my expectations and he promised – such a noble lad – before God, even – to do what I asked.   Ok, then  I told you the family was Italian and that he was a glass blower. Beautiful workshop and store.”

 “You did.  The meal was awesome.”

 “And I said I got her a vase.”

 “Yep.”

 “I was browsing through his little “shop” when I noticed a pile of vases on the ground in a corner. Wondered why they were there. Stooped down to look at them and almost keeled over.  When Claire was young we were in London on layover; heavy snow was predicted so we got hotel rooms. It was close to Christmas.  We were out window shopping, enjoying the decorations, getting hot cocoa and such.  We were going down a street when she stopped suddenly, jerking my hand. Her nose was pressed to the window of an antique store.  A vase caught her eye.  She asked if we could come back to get it whenever we finally made a home.  I felt my heart crush to pieces.  I told her we would.  So, obviously, we never settled down and I never took her back to get it.”

 “Please tell me this isn’t going where I think it’s going.”

 “Oh, you’ve no idea. Laying there on the ground in that shop was the vase. Not a replica or something similar. It was the same vase.”

 Lamb waited for Joe to reply for the next few minutes, then asked after him.

 “Just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

 Laughing to himself, Lamb continued: “So I picked the vase up and noticed what I thought were glass shards behind the other vases.  Turns out they were actually marbles.”

 Although Lamb couldn’t see it, Joe ran his hand very slowly down his face. He immediately remembered playing with them at his Grandparent’s house - chinese checkers. He also remembered his Grandmother, a history teacher, tell him about them:

 “Marble scissors. German Invention. Mid 19thcentury. First mass- produced glass marbles, early 20thcentury.”

“There was a shooter, a swirly, a milky, and 2 corkscrews.”

 “Any idea… I mean, do you think…”

 “No idea. None.”

 “’Curiouser and curiouser.’”

Chapter Text

In the morning Lamb made sure he was up early to make everyone breakfast.  For Claire, though, he would take hers to her in bed.

Setting the tray on the floor in the hall, he tapped lightly on the door.  Jenny, up and on her way out, opened it:  “Good Mornin’ to ye.”

 “Good Morning Jenny.  There is more in the kitchen” Lamb said as he hoisted the tray up. 

 “Thank ye” she said, skipping down the stairs.

 Entering the room, Claire propped herself up when she saw Lamb. “Awww! You’re so kind.”

 He sat the tray down on her lap.  “Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.”

 Her smile, more radiant than any he could recall, touched him. As her guardian, he worried constantly over whether she was eating and sleeping enough, her health, her heart. It was such a relief to see that all these parts of her were, if this smile were any indication, sound.  He sat beside her and glanced out the window while she enthusiastically ate. 

“Ellen said I’m not to do anything today.  Think I’ll read or” her voice became quiet “play around on my phone.”

 Lamb smirked.  “Joe and I read at night, and sometimes we play music.  Joe’s taken to writing in a journal before bed too.”

 Claire took Lamb’s hand.  “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”  She pulled herself up to kiss him on the cheek.  “What I’ve become and what I’ve achieved is because of you.”

 After breakfast Claire fell asleep again; a full stomach and a warm bed were too hard to ignore. By early afternoon she woke to the smell of cake and stew.  She stretched, got up from bed, and washed leisurely.  Afterward she hazarded a trip downstairs.

 Ellen was just putting the last of supper on the table, then placed the frosted cake in the center. Emily excused herself to gather everyone.  Jamie pulled out a chair so that Claire could sit beside him. When all were assembled Ellen spoke:

 “Claire, we’re happy to celebrate this day.  Yer a blessing – ye and her family – and we canna imagine life without ye.”

 Ellen hugged Claire and kissed her cheek.

 “Thank you all so much.  I’m proud, and happy, to have been accepted into this beautiful family.

  Jenny then pulled a present up from her lap. “This is from Mam, Emily and I.”

 Nearly tearing up, Claire mouthed “Thank you” to them. Inside was a pair of hand-made gloves. She put them on, remarking at both the fit and the craftsmanship. 

 Lamb reached under the table as well and pulled up the box. He reached down the table to give it to her.

 “Claire, this is given with my utmost love.”

 She undid the beautiful latch and opened the lid. Turning the box vertically, she tilted it towards her.  Gently pulling the vase gently from its velvet bed, Claire ran her fingers over its simple lines then held it to her chest.

 She walked the three chairs over to hug Lamb who had already gotten up and was moving towards her.

 It was more than just a vase. To Claire it meant there was a home; a place of comfort and permanence. To Lamb it was the fulfillment of a promise he’d long agonized for not keeping, but which also came with an exceptional family and a man of integrity, honor, and kindness to love his niece.

 Through her sobs she thanked Lamb.  He pulled her away from him, and through his own tears replied:

 “I’m sorry I took so long.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

No amount of fall remained; in its place had come – and come rather dramatically – the stinging, bitter cold of December.  Work on the farm became focused on maintaining the livestock, repairing and storing the equipment, assessing the year’s crops and yield, and planning for spring planting.  Despite this, there would be ample time to finally rest.

 So, with more free time, Jamie kissed Claire one morning after they’d eaten and said he’d be away most of the day. 

 “Alright my love.  I shall be sat near the fire with a blanket doing some embroidery.  I’m rather enjoying it.”  She ensured he was warm enough, checking every body part for proper coverage, then adjusted his cap. He hugged her. “I shall see ye for supper.” 

 As Claire sat, dozing off at the fireplace, she remembered that Christmas was a few weeks away.  She thought of the shops, the decorations, the carolers, and watching re-runs ofA Christmas Story and White Christmas while putting up the tree.

 Later she made some scones and ate a few with a strong cup of tea. She and Jenny played games.  Jenny and Willie read to each other from a book.  The men sharpened axes and chopped wood. About supper time, Claire and Ellen seasoned a roast and peeled potatoes. Emily mixed up bread pudding.

 When the dogs scampered off from their warm beds near the fire, Jamie’s return had been announced.

 He bent down to pat them, then said “hello!” into the house. A chorus of hellos returned, with Claire delivering hers personally.  After warming himself a few minutes from her embrace, his stomach grumbled.

 “Right this way” Claire laughed.

 As Christmas approached, Jamie’s nervousness grew. He couldn’t sleep one evening and got up to get something to eat.  He saw his parents were awake so rapped his knuckle on the door and waited for their reply.

 “Aye?”

 “’tis Jamie.  May I see ye both?”

 “Come in, dear” Ellen’s soft voice replied.

 Jamie recalled the many times he’d done this as a child; sometimes frightened, sometimes worried, sometimes even excited.  This evening was a combination of all.

 Brian was at his desk, candlelight casting a shadow on the ledger he was making notations in. Ellen was reading the bible, also by candlelight.  They both looked toward the door as he entered.

 “Da, Mam, I havena let ye know that Lamb gave me his blessing to marry Claire. I vowed to God before him I’d honor, respect and love her.”

 Brian closed his ledger.  He got up, held out his hand to the chair he was sitting in, then went to sit on the bed beside Ellen, taking her hand.

 Ellen beamed. “Oh, Jamie.  That’s wonderful. We’re happy to hear that.” 

 Brian thought for a moment.  “Will ye be proposing soon?”

 “Aye.  I’d like to do so before Hogmany on a holiday they celebrate - Christmas.”

 “We’ll have ye married in the chapel?”

 “It’s my hope.”

 “This has to be tended to properly. We’ll need to have a discussion.”

 “I understand.”

 “Have ye a wedding ring?”

 “Oh.  Just a moment.

 Jamie walked to his room, pulled open a drawer in his bureau, then picked up the ring and the cloth. Back in his parent’s room he pulled the chair from Brian’s desk to be beside them. He sat the material on Ellen’s lap then opened his hand for them to see the ring.

 “I went to the blacksmith and asked him to create this.”

 A hammered iron band, the center around the ring was hammered copper with small, thin “spinner” bands of silver made to resemble twine and a garland of flowers.  On the underside of the ring had been stamped “CEB/JAMMF.”

 “Mam, would ye be able to sew a bag for Claire?  It’s my present to her.  I bought this while I was away with Murtagh” he said, pulling the materials apart.

 “Aye, m’love” Ellen said, admiring the patterns and colors “I’ll make her a fine one.”

 Brian rose and embraced Jamie.  “Son, we’re happy for ye both. And verra proud.”

 “Thank ye.”  Jamie bent to kiss Ellen, who’s hug was a bit longer than usual.  “I love you, son.”

 Jamie smiled at them both then got up to leave.  Pulling the door closed as he walked out he added “..and..uh..there’s going to be fir tree in the family room good night.”

 In the hallway, Jamie heard rustling in Murtagh’s room.  He tapped on his door.

 “Come in.”

 From habit Jamie knew where the chair was and found it easily despite the minimal light available. 

 “Hello son. Bad dream?”  Murtagh playfully asked.  Nearly every time Jamie had come into Murtagh’s room at night while he was growing up was due to a nightmare.

 “Thankfully, no.  I havena told ye that Lambert gave me his blessing to marry Claire.  I made an oath, though, to love and respect her.”

 “Good.  What do ye have planned next?”

 Jamie reached out for Murtagh’s hand, putting the wedding ring in it.

 “Ah. Ye’ve thought ahead.  Will ye be sending for yer cousin Willie then?”

 “I hadn’t thought of that.  I expected we’d have a small wedding here at home. Just family.”

 “We’ll talk with yer Da, aye?

 “Yes.”

 “ I’m happy for ye, son.”  Murtagh reached out and, giving the ring back, shook Jamie’s hand.

 Christmas eve went about as any other evening in the Fraser home except this evening Jamie would ensure he and Claire would be alone.  When all had gone to bed, Jamie added a few logs to the fire in the living room and pulled Claire to him on the sofa.  After gazing into the flames for a while, Jamie got up.

 “I'll be back in a moment.  Please….stay here?” 

 “Alright.” Claire pulled her shawl around herself and laid her head on the arm of the sofa.

 Several minutes later she heard rustling coming from the kitchen. Chairs were scooted across the floor. 

 “Close yer eyes” Jamie said, peering around the corner.

 “Closed.”

 Claire felt something brush past her.

 He drug a small douglas fir into the corner of the room and hoisted it into a bucket of water.

 “Ye can open yer eyes now.”

 Jamie stood with his hands behind his back, hopefulness and worry in his eyes.

 Claire rose slowly, walking to the tree.  It had a beautiful shimmering glass star topper, and garland made of twine and glass beads.

 “Do ye…like it?  Is it as you would have it in yer time?”

 “Oh Jamie.  It’s more beautiful than any I ever had.”

 Relieved, he let out a sigh. 

 Claire gently touched the garland, causing the tree’s beautiful scent to waft near her nose.  “What a beautiful smell.”

 Jamie took both of her hands.  “Come talk with me?”

 On the floor near the fire he poured out his heart:  “I love ye dearly. Completely.  I could never have envisioned being this happy.  All I have, all I own is yours – my life, my family, my name.  Will ye…I would be honored if you would be my wife.”

 Claire began to speak but feelings of excitement, happiness and surprise fought to queue themselves to get out of her mouth.  Until she determined which to say first she took a deep breath and kissed Jamie, caressing his face.

 “That would make me most happy.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Yi Tien Cho locked up his store, turned the open sign to closed, then pulled down the blinds.  It had been another busy day; a dozen or so in a row.  Holidays had brought in many customers. Some came out of curiosity while others were looking for more unique presents than the mass-manufactured products retail stores provided.  Others knew what they were looking for, having browsed at the store previously. Then there were those who needed money and wanted to sell hand-me-downs or items they’d acquired.  A few brought in things they’d actually found; they weren’t in need of money but saw an opportunity for quick cash. Even with all the buying that had been done, sales were surprisingly strong.

 The talking, explaining, researching, bartering, assessing, and greeting had been draining.  He walked the several stairs to the living area above.

 His beloved children, already in their pajamas, were sat in front of the television together under a large blanket watching a movie.

 Mail had been arranged in piles on the black lacquered demilune table by the door.  He looked to his wife, just setting a tureen of soup on the table, to see if any of it needed immediate attention.  Catching his eye, Ming Ru shook her head.

 Yi Tien walked to the sectional sofa where his children were huddled together.  Seeing their father was home, Qianru turned the television off.

 “Father!”

 Each jumped up to hug him.

 “Will you join us after you’ve eaten?”  Chenglei asked.

 “I look forward to it.”

 They re-assembled under the blanket and turned the television back on.

 He walked to Ming Ru.  His embrace, he hoped in some small way, conveyed the appreciation he felt for all she had been doing to help with the store and with their children’s daily lives, both those that were here and to those who were in China still studying.

 After a few minutes he could feel her laughing; he’d moved from a simple hug to nearly slumping over in her arms. 

She pulled him away, kissed him, and took him by the hand to the table.  She pulled out a chair, had him sit, then helped as he pulled the chair towards the table.

 One of the aspects of marriage that he most admired was how, after decades together, they could speak so effectively without saying a word; entire conversations could consist of glances, shrugs and gestures.  Nothing, in his estimation, could ever equal this level of connectedness and intimacy.

 Ming ladled the fragrant, hearty beef noodle soup into a bowl and passed it to her exhausted husband, then did the same for herself. They sat together in amiable silence.

 It had been months since Claire, Lambert and Joe’s disappearance.  Rather than their children finding out on their own, or worse, through the media as he had, Yi Tien Cho and Ming Ru broke the news to them gently.  They were grief-stricken for their lovely friends but prayed for their safety and eventual return.

 Just today it was reported that Joe’s brother had been contacted by investigators and had kindly cared not only for Joe’s estate, but Lamb and Claire’s as well.  The small television near the table, the volume turned down while they ate, flashed the news again in the ticker at the bottom of the screen. “Police: no foul play suspected in disappearance of missing tourists. Brother settles estates.”

 Yi Tien hung his head in respect.

 Ming Ru took his hand: “If…they went back, then you have helped them. You did an honorable thing.  They’re safe for it.  I feel it.”

 “I just hope…well, it would be lovely to see them again.”  He rose and took their bowls to the kitchen, taking Ming Ru’s hand afterward as they went to watch television with their children.

 

Chapter Text

Early christmas morning Claire woke before everyone.  She wrapped herself in a blanket then went downstairs to Lamb and Joe’s room.  The dogs, hearing someone awaken, went to the bottom of the stairs from their mats near the fireplace. Claire patted them each on the head, then walked into the sitting room. With the iron poker she prodded the dying embers, laid some kindling atop them until a small fire took root, then added logs.  Once the fire was going strong she went to Lamb and Joe’s door and tapped quietly. She heard an equally soft “come in.”

 Shuffling into the storage room, she saw Joe propped up in bed writing in his journal. Two small candles burned on the chest between his and Lamb’s beds.  Relieved that it was Claire, he pulled out his glasses from under the sheets.

 “Hey goober.”  Claire said, sitting at the bottom of Lamb’s bed.  Lamb, on his side, was sound asleep.

 “Hey you.”  Joe said, smiling and putting the journal and glasses under his pillow. He took the pen and flung it at Lamb. “Hey. Your niece is here.”

 Claire giggled.  “Mornin’ Sam.”

 Lamb, just barely awake, grumbled: “Mornin’ Ralph.”

 Claire scooted fully onto the bed, putting her back against the wall, and wrapped the blanket completely around herself.

 “What’s up?”  Joe said, fluffing up his pillows.

 “Well, Jamie proposed last night.”

 “Get OUT!  Congrats lady!”

 “And he brought in a decorated tree.”

“Awww.  Wondered why he was asking us about Christmas.”

 Lamb turned over.  “Congratulations, sweetheart.” He propped himself up on his elbow.  “What did you say about a tree?”

 “He brought in what I think is a douglas fir.  Had stringed glass beads as garland and a beautiful glass star topper.  It shone and sparkled by the firelight.”

 Overcome with emotion, Claire began to cry.

 “I’ve never been this happy.  I didn’t know love could feel like this.”

 “The saying 'you’ll know when it’s right' is the best advice for a reason” Lamb said, reaching for Claire’s hand. “I’m very happy for you. We’ll be witness to a genuine 18thcentury wedding!”

 Claire wiped her eyes.  “Oh my gosh. I know. It’ll be beautiful.”

 “It will. Right now, though, I need some tea or something.”

 He rose, assembled his kilt over his shirt, pulled on his boots, then went to the door.  “Would you care to join me, milady?” he said, opening it.

 Claire hobbled off the bed and curtsied. “I would, milord.”

 Throwing the pen he’d kept in his hand at Joe, nailing him square in the chest, Lamb asked: “Would YOU like anything, doofus?”

 “Yea, a plate of eggs and toast, anything hot to drink with cream and sugar, a couple scones, and..”

 “Hardee Har Har.  You’ll get tea.” Lamb said, halfway out the door.

 He and Claire veered into the kitchen but craned their necks to see what most of the family were standing in the living room looking at.

 “Why did ye no chop it into logs?” Jenny said, looking at her father.

 “Jamie brought it in for Christmas.  Claire and her family...” he said, scratching his head, “celebrate it in the colonies I gather.”

 “I think it’s pretty.  The glass baubles reflect the light from the fire.”  Willie said, standing entranced in front of the tree.

 As Claire was about to speak, Jamie jumped down the last few stairs, anxious that he hadn’t arrived first to explain its presence.

 Seeing Claire rubbernecking from the kitchen, he waved his hand for her, and Lamb, to gather with them.  

 “Jamie, maybe we can announce this after I dress.” Claire whispered, sidling up to him.   “I’m in my shift, cocooned in this blanket.”

 “Of course, mo ghràidh. I wasn’t thinking. I’m just sae happy.”

 “Merry Christmas” Claire said, seeing that everyone was looking for someone to give an explanation. Lamb, beside her, concurred: “And a happy new year.”

 “It’s a tradition in my ti…in the colonies” Claire went on, nervously. “We bring in a tree, decorate it with ribbons and ornaments.  It’s a beautiful holiday, full of hope and wonder.”

 “Oh.”  Ellen looked worriedly at Brian.  Any Christmastime celebration had been outlawed by Scottish parliament just a few generations ago. 

 He took her hand as an acknowledgement of her concern, but also to allay her worry.  “’tis quite beautiful.  I recall the trees my Da and I would fell.  The fragrance brings back happy memories.”

 “We’ll be celebrating Hogmanay soon.” Jenny said, trying to lighten the mood.  “It’s nice to have two holidays.  We’re going to bake black bun and shortbread.  Ma – can we visit Mrs. Fitz again?”

 “Aye” Ellen said, the tenseness in her face melting at Brian’s assurance.

 “And what have we here?” Murtagh said, standing at the bottom of the stairs, his eyebrows characteristically raised in astonishment.

 “It’s a Christmas tree” Joe said, coming in from the kitchen. “I believe this celebration may be called Yule here in Scotland. In the states…I MEAN COLONIES… it’s called Christmas.”  Joe moved behind Claire to clap Jamie on the arm.  “Very kind of you to remember, Jamie.  It’s beautiful.”

 A heavy silence ensued.  Jamie and Claire met eyes, their shared look an agreement that making their announcement might actually be a good idea at this point.

 "Everyone” Jamie said, shifting himself to have Claire more fully in his arms, “we’d like yer attention for a moment.”

 His family turned almost in unison to face him.

  “First, I’d like to wish the merriest” – he looked down at Claire to ensure his terminology was correct. When she nodded he continued “of Christmases to Lambert, Joe and Claire.  And…I proposed to Claire last evening and she accepted.”

 Smiles slowly grew on each of their faces.  Emily, just arriving, saw the hugging and handshaking: “What did I miss?”

Ellen walked to her and brought her into the room. “Jamie and Claire are engaged.”

Her eyes widened. “A wedding! I can’t wait!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A late night trip to Mrs. Fitz’s home on New Year’s Eve was, for the time-traveling trio, a highlight of their time in 18thcentury Scotland.

 The hour-long journey late in the evening proved to be a testament not only to their host’s navigational abilities, but their physical endurance as well; no one complained about the cold nor did they lose direction. With a large blanket wrapped twice around them, Claire hugged Jamie atop Blueskin to not only stay upright but to stay warm as well.

 “How are you a blazing furnace in the dead of night in December?  You’re not real.”

 “Aye, I am my love” Jamie said taking Claire’s gloved hand to his lips.  “Dinna need covers much when I sleep either.”

 “Mmmmmmm” Claire said, snuggling as close to him as she could. He smelled of winter air, myrrh, and wool.  “I love you” she whispered into his back.

 Arriving at Mrs. Fitz’s house, behind the tavern, torches burned at the entrance making light for guests while candles filled the front rooms.  Tradition dictated that a handsome, dark-haired man should be the first one of the new year to cross a home’s threshold or, as the Scottish termed it, “first footing.”  This gesture was to bless the home with luck and prosperity for the coming year. Consequently, Brian was always in request.  As the family dismounted, Ellen piled the gifts that they’d brought – whiskey, black bun, and shortbread – into Brian’s arms.

 Mrs. Fitz had been expecting them; this yearly custom of having the Frasers was looked forward to.  She quickly opened her doors allowing Brian to step in and kissed his cheek before taking the gifts.  The others, quite cold, followed quickly behind. Her son, having dutifully greeted each guest, then took the horses to the barn for warmth and food.

 A large fire was roaring and a table in the dining room, where another fireplace was ablaze, was covered with food and drink.  Shortly after, a small group of men who frequent the tavern  -  one who played bagpipe and two who played fiddle – came in and began practicing. Once they began, the eating, dancing, and laughter went on for hours. The news of Jamie and Claire’s engagement brought even greater joy, bringing Glenna to burst into tears and hug them both. 

 Joe was intrigued by the occasion so, sitting out the third round of dancing, he caught his breath and watched in awe.

 Most of his students, as evidenced from in-class discussions, viewed any time more than a century in the past with head-shaking ignorance; the views generally were that people were illiterate, nearly toothless, dressed in rags and sick. Or at war. He wasn’t sure what to attribute this to, for surely there were enough cable shows, documentaries, or movies that countered these notions. But, then again, if it wasn’t in a video game or in an app, the students were most likely not to know. Still, the beliefs had held firm and rarely changed with each year he had been teaching.

 Experiencing life here first-hand, a singular trait that had made it to the forefront of his observations was loyalty.  Nearly equal to it were custom and pride.  He saw a strong, healthy family dynamic in the Frasers and to a lesser extent in the other people he’d met, noting that all relied on common sense, hard work, and faith.  He had repeatedly taught about the importance of these aspects within Scottish society and its folklore, but seeing them so fully displayed had truly reinforced the tales and literature.

 Towards morning the Frasers said their goodbyes and made their way home.  Exhausted, most went immediately to bed.  Jamie and Claire sat by the fire and fell asleep, wrapped in the same blanket that had enveloped them on their ride. 

 The jovial attitude carried into the afternoon when everyone arose from their naps.  A second set of black bun and shortbread had been made, a lamb roast was seasoned and herbed for roasting, bread was in pans baking, and mulled cider could be smelled throughout the house.

 Brian, at his desk in the bedroom, was bent over his accounting ledger doing some work before dinner.

 “Are ye going to work on New Year’s day, then, Mr. Fraser?” Ellen said, coming to rub Brian’s shoulders.

 “Just for a wee bit, my love.  I’m still doing a final accounting for the previous year.”

 “And?” Ellen said, leaning against the desk.

 “With three additional members to the family, rather than it being a burden, we increased our productivity and thus our profits. But…” Brian said, touching Ellen’s hand, “that is mostly inconsequential when compared to the increase in love and happiness.  They’re definitely a blessing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Brian had eaten breakfast hurriedly; a feeling of unease had been gripping him. January weather passed by uneventfully but the onset of February would stand to be different. His storm glass, sitting purposefully in the kitchen window, was portending snow. When combined with how the sheep had grouped together on his last check (“when sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow we’ll have a puddle”), and the overcast, gray skies, Brain deduced something was coming. He took Lambert, Joe, and Jamie  to gather animals indoors.

 While the rest of the family were relaxing, Claire slipped upstairs to her room.  She had little time to herself over summer and fall, but winter allowed more. Sometimes she wanted to remember what she came from and who she had been. She rarely took out her backpack, though she did take some acetaminophen for a headache, got lip balm once, and repeatedly snuck to charge her phone; otherwise she kept it well-hidden under her bed.

It all seemed so peculiar now - the gadgets, machinery, and tools. 

 First she looked through her pictures. Then she got her earbuds out, plugged them into her phone, and listened to Mozart and an audiobook of Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne which she thought of while re-reading Jamie’s letters to her. (Keats would not be born until 1795 but Mozart was already 20.) 

 While deeply engrossed, with her eyes closed, she sensed someone standing near her and opened her eyes.  She shrieked, pulled her earbuds out of her ears, and kicked her backpack under the bed.

 “I didna mean to startle ye” Jamie said, his eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, his hands gripped to his chest in alarm. “I knocked but ye didna answer.”

 “Oh…I…ummm” Claire stammered, unsure what to say.

 Seeing Claire’s distress, Jamie backed towards the door. “I’ll leave ye in peace.  I apologize for the disruption.”

 “No, Jamie.  It’s alright.  I was….” she felt for the earbuds under her leg. 

 “Claire, I’m sorry.  Ye were…using things of yer time?”

 She smiled.  His demeanor was so curious, but he clearly felt awful for startling her. She patted the bed. “Come here.” 

Realizing she was going to share what she tried to hide, Jamie pushed the door nearly closed; to close it fully may upset his parents. Being alone in a woman’s room, despite their being engaged, would be unseemly.

She plugged the earbuds back into her phone, chose a song, then put one in her ear and offered the other to Jamie.  He looked at it, then mimicked what she did though she had him put it in the other ear.

 Hearing the music caused a comical range of emotions to play out on his face.

 “Are there…minstrels in the… box there?” he asked, surprised and a bit fearful.

 “No,” Claire said, sweetly touching his face.  “The music was performed by a large group of minstrels, what you probably know as an orchestra, but captured and stored in this so you can listen to it whenever you want.”

 He nodded his head, engrossed in one of Mozart’s sonatas. “’tis quite beautiful.”

 “The composer will be one of the most famous ever.”

 He handed the earbud back.  She wrapped them up and pulled the backpack out from under her bed. She unzipped a compartment and put them and her phone away.  Jamie noticed his kilt pin. 

 “If you need it…I mean, I hope my having it didn’t cause any problem.” Claire said.

 “No, dear.  It’s yours. ‘twas a token of my love.”

 “Thank you, by the way."

 Sticking out of the top was the arrow tip.  She unzipped the main compartment and pulled it out, balancing it on both of her palms.

 "I didn't expect I'd see it again! Murtagh was upset we’d lost it.  It was one of his better ones.”

 “Then you may have it back. Were you shooting letters at the stone?  Is that how it came through?”

 “Not really. Actually…”  Jamie began laughing so hard he bent over. When he had managed to stop, he took the arrow from her hands and sat it beside him. “We were having a shooting contest early on.  It just went through accidentally with the sketch.”

A soft plink plink plink on the window brought both Jamie and Claire to look outside.

 “Da said it will be a strong one” he said, putting his arm around her.

 She leaned into him, and he embraced her as they watched the snow whip about outside. The adjacent forest reminded her of sitting in the park.

 “I have an idea” Claire said, turning her head up to his face.

“And what would that be my love?”

Claire leaned down and pulled out her notebook. She tore out a sheet of paper and rummaged for a pencil.

 “Let’s sketch together.”

 The smile that spread on Jamie’s face nearly lit up the room.

 “We’ll take turns like we did before.  I’ll start.”

 Claire captured the forest that lay directly across from the front of the house.  Most trees were bare, but a few evergreens were dotted within.  Snow was beginning to accumulate on the branches, and even a few birds were flying about.

 She handed what she’d done to Jamie.  He added more branches, put twigs in the birds mouths, and added a layer of snow onto the wall that enclosed the front courtyard.

 He mischievously looked at Claire, signed JAMMF at the bottom, then handed it back.

 Claire smiled, took the pencil back, and signed CEBF below his, then propped it up on the candlestick on her table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As a means to keep his word, Jamie converted a small dilapidated shed into a greenhouse for Claire. He reinforced the walls and roof then framed out a small addition to be made of glass panels.  Within the shed he added a table and shelves and found pots for the seeds which were separated into small cloth bags that he tied off with twine and a small tag indicating the contents.

 Claire spent many afternoons there tending to her herbs. The thought of making her own marinara, or even herbed bread, gave her joy. She found she had a knack for gardening; more so than with darning though she was getting better. 

With spring approaching, renewed work on the fields began; plowing, spreading manure, and tending to pregnant livestock.  Brushing down the horses one afternoon, Murtagh looked over at his Godson mucking the manure out of Donas’ stable into a wheelbarrow. “Son, let’s take poles down to the river and get some fish?  Water is moving again. I’m a wee bit tired of roast for dinner.” 

 Jamie wiped his face on his sleeve then looked over at his Godfather.  Even after all these years, through his childhood when he pushed limits,  being a stroppy teenager, and now with a new family and fiancée, Murtagh’s presence was still a comfort.

 “A good kedgeree would be tasty.” 

 Murtagh smiled, relieved that Jamie had not yet outgrown a trip with his ol’ Godfather.

 In the evening Jamie found Murtagh in his room tying flies.  As far back as he could remember Murtagh had tied them. He had yards of line – not modern-day nylon but waxed linen with horse hair – and bird pelts. His trusted cane poles were stacked in the corner along with a net.

 Murtagh didn’t turn from the intricate handiwork, knowing by sound who had come in.

 “Son?”

 Jamie sat the arrow on the desk in front of Murtagh. “Claire gave this to me the other day. I thought you’d appreciate having it back.” 

“Ha!  She kept it, aye?”  Murtagh took it, looking it over for potential reuse. “Thank ye.”

 “See you in the morning?”

 “I’ll make breakfast.”

 Claire came through the kitchen early, hoping to get a bite of whatever she smelled wafting up the stairs.  Seeing the fishing poles lined up against the table, she quickly surmised the day’s activities.  “Well, ya’ll have a good day!” She kissed Jamie on the cheek then whispered: “I really would like some fish for a change.  Bring back a basketful?”

 “Will do, lass.”  Murtagh said, snickering.

 At the creek, the men were surprised at how many trout were there. “Spring creeks are always the best source.  They eat year round” Murtagh said, casting his line towards a pool on the other side.  Standing on the creek bank, it’s gentle gurgling and lapping were sounds that made him feel alive.  He wasn’t one to sit indoors.

 Jamie watched in awe.  Murtagh’s cast was beautiful and fluid.  The way he landed the fly was nothing short of perfect. Remembering their contest for rabbits, Jamie – no amateur himself with a rod – wanted to catch the most. He couldn’t go home to Claire being outdone, but he just couldn’t get a rhythm.

Having fished with Jamie all his life, Murtagh knew he was taken with thought. He was all over the place.

 “What’s on yer mind, son?”

 “I’ve been thinking of my wedding night” Jamie said, frustrated at catching his line in a tree “and whether I’ll…please her.  I can give her a home, and food fine enough, but that isna all there is to marriage.”

 Murtagh nodded, considering the meaning behind Jamie’s statement.

 “Things could no have changed that much in a few hundred years, could they?”  Murtagh hazarded a smile as he yanked out the first trout.

 “I’d gather the act is still the same, o’course, but maybe…practices have changed,” Jamie said, throwing his newly-free line near where Murtagh was casting. “Can ye imagine how much more advanced everything is? Women go to university and become engineers.  Men have advanced learning to become scientists and travel around the world learning and teaching about ancient civilizations.  I dinna know what they even travel in! What if…what if I’m too backward?  Too primitive? I canna have this conversation with Da, him not knowing about Claire. And it’s been eating at me.”

 Murtagh unhooked the fish, placed it in his creel box, then stepped towards Jamie. His voice was low and comforting.

 “Son, I havena been married so dinna have direct experience with women.  But what I do have, by virtue of being single, is first-hand observation.  I hear words, but I also see actions, if ye ken. This has taught me to consider what people do over what they tell me. Now, with  yer Mam and Da.  What they say matches up with how they act.  I dinna doubt for a moment that they love each other.  And I know ye learned from their example.”

 Jamie lifted his head; a sign that his heart was lifted too.

“I see everything Claire does, and everything you do. She’s alight when you’re near her. Glowing.  Ye’ve obviously kindled something in her.  And yer…caring about pleasing her shows yer heart.”

 Murtagh stood his pole to his side.

 “Tell me how this could make any problems.  Have ye thought why she loves ye so, considering she must have had her pick from all those educated, traveled men – her being an educated woman?”

 Jamie’s eyebrows wrinkled, and he thought for an answer.  Murtagh offered it. 

 “Because they werena pleasing to her.  A fancy degree and…flying machines obviously didna make them attractive. What you have, as primitive as ye think it may be, won her over and brought the lass through time!   Son, I’d say ye please her just fine.”

 Jamie’s smile slowly grew; the relief had bubbled up from his spirit to his face.

 “I appreciate that, Father. Truly.”

 And with that, Jamie pulled out the first of several fish.

 Tracking through the field to home, Jamie spoke up: “Ye still bested me, but only by one.” 

 “But I still won, mind.  Age and experience will always outdo youth and vigor!”

 Claire was already in the kitchen as Jamie came in the back door.  He patted the creel box he held, indicating a healthy catch, and sat his pole against the wall.  She wound her arms tightly around his waist and lifted her head.  He dropped the box and drew his hand slowly into her hair, tilting her head to the side, and kissed her.  When she finally opened her eyes he swore he saw flames.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire took a walk late one evening.  Rain had been regular; perfect for thawing the ground for planting, but not the best for a stroll around the grounds. Despite this, it was wonderful being alone. Claire needed only her shawl, the gloves she got for her birthday, and Jamie’s arm to stay warm.  Looking at the sky she thought to herself that 2ndshift was about to clock out: the sun was setting into an orange-red horizon, and 3rdshift would shortly be on: the stars that were beginning to dot the clear blue/black sky.

 “Entre chien et loup,” Jamie said, noticing where her attention was.

 Claire contemplated the phrase.

 “The time is called wolf light,” he clarified.  “Ye canna see the difference between a dog and a wolf. It’s when everything that’s familiar becomes wild and sinister.”

 Jamie purposely skipped his step so he was in synch with Claire’s.  “Have ye a date ye’d care to be married on? We should probably get that decided, but I dinna mean to pressure ye. I’m happy waiting if that’s what ye wish.”

 Claire swung their clasped hands back and forth.

 “I’d prefer to set a date, yes, but I also don’t want to rush.  It will be my first, and only, marriage so I’d like it to be special and well thought out.”

 Jamie stopped and pulled Claire towards him. Hearing her say what he’d thought, the moment he thought it, stilled his heart.

 He gently pushed aside a curl, then held her face in both of his hands.  Despite the fading light he could perfectly see her exquisite features thanks to her luminous, ivory skin.

 “You’re hands are so warm, I..”

 Jamie stopped her mid-sentence to kiss her.

 “Where did that come from?”  she said, a tremble in her voice.

 “My heart.”

 She nuzzled his nose, then took his hand so they could continue walking.

 “Why don’t we marry on the date we met? July 13th was when my sketch came through and you…added to it.”  She cast him a definite sideye.

 “Ye mean perfected, I believe.”  He moved quickly enough to escape the punch to his arm.  As she playfully went for another, Jamie turned and ran back to the house. “YE’LL GET BETTER IN TIME, MISTRESS!  I’D BE HAPPY TO TEACH YE!”  he yelled, already several yards ahead of her.

 “I’M GOING TO TEACH YOU A FEW THINGS JAMES FRASER!” Claire shouted, gaining ground.  She had the advantage in speed, being several stone lighter, but with Jamie’s weight came stamina and soon Claire was winded.  She took off her heavy, uncushioned, wood-soled shoes in order to gain ground.  “Oh, to have my trainers,” Claire panted.

 She recalled the thrill of riding her bike that day, feet off the pedals, whizzing down the hill.  Now, she wished her shawl would fill up like a hot air balloon and carry her the rest of the way.  

 Jamie got to the house only moments before Claire.  He burst in the front door, startling Jenny and Willie who were on the floor playing a game. He ran past them, screaming “I’M A DEAD MAN!” and towards the back door.  He pleaded to Brian and Ellen standing in the kitchen: “DON’T TELL HER I’M OUT HERE!” and ran outside.

 Claire came in breathless, her hair a jumble of curls, her eyes fierce, and dropped her shoes.

 “WHERE DID HE GO.”

 Both Jenny and Willie, fearful of a wild-maned Claire, gave him up immediately. They pointed to the kitchen.

 Once Claire got there, Brian and Ellen, suppressing a laugh, nodded their heads towards the back door.  “He’s most likely done it to himself,” they both thought.

 She nodded her appreciation, then slowly opened the back door.    She took one step out.

 “JAMES FRASER. I WILL MAKE YOU EAT THOSE WORDS,” she half whispered, half spat out.

 Jamie, hiding at the corner of the house, waited for the right moment to pounce.

When she was about 5 paces out, looking around, he jumped at her.

 “I wilna do any such thing!” he said, grabbing her arms and holding them behind his back so she couldn’t take another swing.

 She yelped, then laughed, pulling her arms back:  “Sleep with one eye open, Fraser.”

 He covered her face with kisses, then placed one in each hand.

 “Oh, Claire. I didna ever think I could laugh with a woman so.”

 They came back in the house and stood rather awkwardly before everyone who, hearing the ruckus, had gathered.

 They took in the messy couple: Claire’s feet were covered in mud, as was the entire bottom of her dress.  Jamie’s boots, knees and kilt were nearly indistinguishable.  Claire’s hair had blossomed in the humid air, creating a massive bouffant that included a stray twig and leaf. Marie Antoinette, currently at Versailles, would probably commend her attempt.

 Lamb came out of his room.  “What’s the hubbub, bub?” Joe followed behind.

 “After a…lively discussion…we’ve settled on a wedding date,” the disheveled, muck-covered couple said.

 “Oooh! When will it be?” Emily said, popping around the corner, then gasping at the sight.

 “July 13” they happily announced, oblivious to their state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After the excitement died down from the announcement of the wedding date, everyone went to bed. Murtagh, in the hall upstairs, pulled Jamie aside: “She already agreed to wed ye. She wouldna need to chase ye down.”

Jamie winked. “Unless I wanted her to, aye?”

Murtagh laughed and clapped Jamie on the shoulder. “Good night, son.”

Jamie closed the door to his room, leaning his forehead on the back of it. Claire was not like any woman he’d ever met; she was funny, beautiful, intelligent, and so refreshingly open. He was so grateful to have her. The sudden realization that his life could have ended up with a woman so trite, so predictable…the thought seized him with pain. “But it didn’t” he said to console himself of this errant, frightening thought.

He dropped the mud-caked clothes and boots in a heap on the floor, keeping on his shirt which was the only piece clean. Putting on another pair of stockings, he got into bed. Willie came in shortly after, gave Jamie a look of confusion, then went to sleep. Jamie shook his head, laughing to himself; “I can only imagine what the lad thinks about relationships.”

Jamie recalled a time when he was about 12 that his Da discussed relationships with him. Brian told him about Saint Valentine. “He was a Roman Priest who lived over a thousand years ago. In that time, he was martyred for performing marriages against the Emperor’s decree. Ye see, the Emperor wanted the young men single so they would be more focused fighters. But the church, of course, supported marriage so Valentine performed them in secret.” Jamie looked at his Da with sadness. “Son, marriage is sacred, beautiful, and worthy of being defended. Not just in the beginning, when things are new and exciting, but for the entire life of it.”

Jamie laid there contemplating his Da’s advice. He loved Claire, but he hadn’t considered how he’d protect her and their marriage should something threaten it. “What will I do if it does?” He then thought of Broch Tuarach. Brochs were tall, cylindrical structures all over Scotland. They were rarely used now, and certainly not for what they were intended: a place of refuge from the Viking and Roman invasions of Britain. He’d always fantasized about the people, possibly his ancestors, who had built it. Remembering what his Da had told him, and how the Broch was a place built for safety, Jamie conceived of a plan.

He took a few days for preparation. First, he cleared a way to the Broch then got inside; the old, heavy door – which took enormous coaxing - must have been a somewhat newer addition. The immense stone structure was roughly 40 feet tall and 14 feet thick. He patted it as he entered. “A fortress indeed.”

At varying points there were long divided recesses, used as cupboards, built into the walls on each floor. With only one door, the interior remained dark apart from the light sneaking in through the thatch-less beamed roof. He cleaned up the inside then set up a place in the middle for kindling as it would have been done back then. He didn’t want to hazard using the staircases to the upper floors, so decided to stay on the ground.

Then, a few days later, he got up early in the morning to catch fish. He carried them to the Broch and hung them over a fire. He got back to the house before Claire woke and left a note outside her door:

“My darling Claire,
My angel from heaven,
Meet me out front
At half past seven”

When Claire shuffled out of her room she bent down to see what was on the floor. The beautiful paper was a giveaway. After reading it, and realizing she might be late, she dressed quickly then darted out the front door.

Jamie, standing beside Blueskin, held his hand out for Claire. She couldn’t figure out what he was doing, but went to him with absolute confidence.

He helped her into the saddle, putting her in front, then hoisted himself behind her and goaded the horse. Riding up the path to the Broch, she saw smoke coming out the top. It reminded her somewhat of a lighthouse.

“Is that a Broch?” Claire asked with so much surprise Jamie laughed.

“Aye. Broch Tuarach. Means north-facing tower.”

“Erm, hate to be a stickler but a cylinder doesn’t have a face to…face any direction.”

“Yer a smart one” he said, kissing the back of her head. “The door faces north.”

Claire gave him a thumbs up.

Jamie dismounted first so he could help Claire down. He tied Blueskin to a tree. Grateful to have the budding grass to nibble, he didn’t give another glance to either of them.

Claire, her shawl around her, took in the impressive, intact, tower.

“These are dotted all over Scotland. Many, if not all, didn’t survive to the future in such perfect condition. This is rare, Jamie,” she said looking up to the top, “and beautiful.”

“Thank ye” he said quickly, wanting to get to the surprise.

Claire went in first, gob-smacked at being inside. Jamie kept the door open for additional light.

The fish were cooked, and on a stone near the fire was a loaf of bread, some butter, and preserves. There was a large blanket for them both to sit on.

“They were built for protection,” he began, untying a fish and making a plate for Claire, “over thousands of years by the people who fled here during England’s invasions.” He realized what he’d said. “…as ye must already know.”

Her eyes darted from one area to another. She hadn’t been away from the house since they arrived, so only experienced family dynamics in 18th century. Now, though, she was sat in what was a remarkable, important architectural legacy of Scotland.

He took her hands; more for the contact, but also to gain her attention.

“Claire I want ye to know that I’m no so naïve to believe that life will always be easy and free of trouble. I pray it will be for us, though.”

Claire looked warmly but seriously at him, concerned that something had frightened him.

He looked around them. “I want this Broch to represent my willingness to find - to build - protection for us and our marriage, and for ye to know I will always keep ye safe.”

At this tender moment Jamie’s stomach growled.

Claire shook with laughter, and Jamie cursed his unwieldy appetite.

“I’m sorry, Claire.”

She buttered a chunk of warmed bread, spread preserves on it, then held it near his mouth. “Eat.”

He gratefully took a bite, then moved her hand towards her own mouth. “Now you.”

In silence they finished eating; the fish was a fresh and delectable change to breakfast. Claire caught Jamie’s eye: “I can’t find words to say how much all of this means to me.” She wiped away a tear. “Please know you have my undying love, and promise, to fiercely protect this blessed union of ours too.”

Beside the fire they laid down together. A warm, gentle breeze, hinting at spring’s imminent arrival, caressed them both as it wafted through the door.

Chapter Text

Joe and Lamb, uncomfortable with Emily or even Claire cleaning their clothes, were leaving the river laden with the stockings, shirts, underclothes, and trousers they’d just washed; they’d rather this way than waiting for a tub of water to boil.  Now that spring was here, and they weren’t watching their breath freeze as it left their body, they were gratefully taking in the warmer, humid air.  It reminded Joe of a line from Dickens’ Great Expectations: “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

 “It was back-breaking, but I swear scrubbing them with soap on a rock did a better job than machines” Joe said, realizing how preposterous the statement was. They traveled a well-worn path, used for both fishing and washing, back to the house.

 “That’s just because you’d prefer living like a pioneer,” Lamb said, somewhat happy for the exertion after so much time inside.  “I, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to have shoved all of this in the washer, then the dryer, waiting for the little chime to tell me when it’s done.”

 “Yer soft, bràthair caran.”

 “Soft, maybe, but more handsome.” 

 Joe’s laugh filled the air.

 Lamb looked down at his kilt. Here he was, an adopted Scot, a full beard, traipsing back to the 18thcentury estate he’d now been at for several months.  His best buddy, also in full beard and kilt, was ruminating with him about 21stcentury conveniences.  An entirely unusual situation.

 “Where’s Claire?  She wasn’t at breakfast.”

 “Jamie asked if it would be alright to take her away for the morning,” Lamb said, realizing how out of shape he’d become over winter.  The house was coming into view.

 “Well, it’s after noon.”

 “Jamie probably made them something to eat and she fell asleep.”

 ~~~~~

 Claire sat up, pulling her left arm to her side.  “My arm’s asleep.  CRIMINY this hurts.”  Her hair, flattened from sleeping on the blanket, sat in contrast to the pouf of curls on the other side of her head. “How long have I been out?”

 Jamie, who’d been awake and winding the curls around his finger, answered. “About 2 hours.”

 She started wiggling her left arm with her right.

 “Ye said yer arm was..asleep?  A term the advanced healers of yer time use, aye?" he said, trying to be light.

 "NO, it's called paresthesia but who wants to say that all the time" she moaned.

 After a couple minutes of wiggling, her arm finally stopped tingling.  She turned slightly to see a bemused Jamie. 

 “What were you doing all this time?”

“Wondering how a lass so fair could snore so loud.”

 Claire tried not to smile.

 “And I played with yer hair.”

 “Yea?”

 “It weren’t just the top of ye that made noise, ken, but your bottom as well.  I needed a distraction.”

 “Yer still on thin ice Fraser.”  She poked him in the chest.

 Jamie smiled at his disheveled, contrary maiden. 

 “We should be getting back.” He yawned, rubbing her back. “ I’ll be at work most days during the week again.  It’s harder work, I think, getting the farm running in the spring so we won’t have time alone like this for a while.  Da gave me the day, so I should be returning.”

 Claire leaned back into Jamie who put his arm around her waist.  The fire had died down considerably, and birds were coming in to reclaim the many safe, isolated areas in the broch for nests. Blueskin rustled outside.

 “And I’m missed in the house too, I’m sure.”  She put her arm behind him and leaned in near his face.  She gently brushed her cheek against his, then along his chin, then over his other cheek, finally landing on his lips.

 “I wish we could have this day, every day, forever,” she whispered, tenderly kissing him.

 “Aye, lass. t’would be heaven.”

 ~~~~~

 Work did, indeed, pick up; both in regard to farming, and in planning the wedding. But another event was also forthcoming.

 “Jamie’s birthday is the first of May” Jenny said, after she and Claire got to their room one night. “I thought ye may want to know.”

 “Does he usually like to celebrate?” Claire asked, thinking to herself that she had roughly 2 months to prepare.

 “He says no - ye know how men are - but I think he likes havin’ a fuss made.”

 “I do appreciate knowing.  I want to make it special for him.”

 “I know ye do.  That’s why I mentioned it.” They used their candle to light a second one.  

 “I really should clean up.” Claire washed, brushed and tied up her hair, then laid her stockings, petticoats and such over a chair.  Once in her shift, she brushed her teeth then got into bed.

 “Would ye be needin’ help then with wedding details?” Jenny said, her big brown eyes peering out from her gentle, sweet face.

 “I can’t see doing this all on my own!  I’ll be obliged to you, your Mother, and Emily.”

 Jenny’s eyes dropped.

 “But as my sister, I’ll guess you’ll be the one I rely on most.”

 Jenny’s eyes returned to meet Claire’s, but with a broad smile.  “Thank ye.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ellen looked out the window while she cleaned up the breakfast dishes.  She saw Brian maneuvering the horse-drawn hoe throughout the fields in preparation for sowing seeds.  As she wiped the plates dry, she recalled how they’d gotten that, and a seed drill, from a widow several miles away.  When the woman’s husband died, she had an estate sale. She and her husband had acquired one of the new seed drills, recently invented in England, for their farm.  But the husband had run up substantial gambling debts, to her shock, leveraging their farm as collateral. This forced his wife to find ways to pay them off without relinquishing her inheritance and home.

 Brian recommended attending the sale, grateful for the opportunity to both have access to items they would not normally be able to afford, and to help a neighbor in need. When he offered more than the woman had asked for the hoe, out of kindness, she gave them the drill in addition.

 Ellen, remembering Adelaide, said a quiet prayer to God for her health and happiness, and one of thanks for providing what they had been in need of.

 Claire had spent the morning with Jenny and Willie, working on Geometry and Geography, careful not to divulge any information not already known. She had always to control herself from correcting anyone, especially as it applied to both the onset and outcomes of wars, to ensure she didn’t raise suspicion. 

 Afterwards she strolled to the greenhouse. It’s earthy smell was a true comfort.  Not only did it bring many digs to memory -  a huge-brimmed hat on her head, digging tools in her hand and in the pockets of her utility pants - but it reminded her of Jamie’s thoughtfulness and love.

 The chorus of birdsong seemed to grow each day.  It was the perfect accompaniment to her quiet rustling inside the shed; she felt like she was seated in a box next to the orchestra pit.  Apart from the warbles,  pip-pip-pips, and scree-screes was one lone ‘instrument’ she hadn’t heard in years. It’s peculiar cadence always set it apart from other birds:  The white-throated sparrow.

 “Ahh.  There you are my friend. I’ve missed you!” 

 She stood in the doorway, wiping the dirt from her hands on her apron.  Not far off she heard the men’s calls and whistles coaxing and directing the horse. “How grateful we are for the sun’s warmth in spring but how much we loathe it in summer,” she laughed to herself, enjoying the intermittent rays on her face through the scattered clouds.

 “So, Beauchamp, what WILL you do for Jamie’s birthday?” she wondered aloud, blowing a curl back from her face.  “I can’t top a greenhouse, breakfast in a Broch, a Christmas tree, a marriage proposal, and taking in me and my time-traveling family.  I’ll think of something.  In the meantime, these seedlings need watering.”

 She strode down to the well. She knew by its natural rise that it was artesian, but also by its lack of a pump; as well, neither she, Lamb, nor Joe had gotten sick from drinking it after they arrived. She dropped a bucket into the stone enclosure, watching as the rope disappeared. The ground several feet down was probably still frozen, which would make the water ice-cold.  Sure enough, when she pulled the pitcher up it splashed freezing cold water. She sat it down and scooped a handful to her mouth.

“This is the sweetest, coldest water…”  She scooped another handful, then poured it into the other bucket and carried it to the shed.  She sat the seedling pots in a long metal tray of water so they could draw from the bottom, then sat them on a table inside the glass enclosure.

 When Claire returned to the house, Ellen was engrossed at her spinning wheel.  Claire had only seen these in local history centers, or in how-to videos on 18thcentury living.  Claire found Ellen in her room, the sound of the wheel’s movements making her curious enough to find its source.

 “Aye, love.  I’ve been meaning to teach ye this since yer doing better on yer needlepoint. Time to learn knitting now.”

 The more Claire learned, the more she appreciated the care and effort put into hand-made wool clothing; it certainly reinforced why bespoke clothing in the 21stcentury cost so much.  She took naturally and easily to this, relishing the time spent balling up the wool.  “I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner…” she mused, enjoying the feel of the wool in her hands and the movement of the foot pedal. The unmistakable but inoffensive fragrance of sheep permeated the room. Their gentle bleating and soulful eyes had brought Claire more than once to take scraps of food to their pen.  The dogs, of course, had been sweet little treasures, but the sheep had tugged at her heart.  She’d never been able to have a pet, and had, on different occasions growing up, asked Lamb for a giraffe, a puma, and a camel.  Jamie seemed perplexed at her affection for what he considered mere farm animals but was eventually touched by the love and kindness she showed them. It cemented, in his heart, that her love of animals would make her a warm, empathetic mother.

 Jamie hadn’t seen Claire’s new skill, and she made sure he didn’t, always working on the wheel while he was away for eventually the perfect present for his birthday came to mind.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Easter sermon Brian gave was on marriage. The family sat reverently and contentedly; myrtle, heather and bluebells were blanketing the land, along with honeysuckle, whose gentle fragrance filled the nave of the chapel through every cranny. It was hard to imagine anyone liking a season other than spring, though Claire remembered from a group project in her statistics class that the majority of the people that were questioned tended to have, as a favorite season, the one they had been born in. She realized she was the outlier in their data, favoring spring over fall, though there would always be something in fall she connected with. She looked down at Jamie’s hand, entwined in hers, and appreciated the joy and hopefulness that his spring-like nature brought.

After lunch, Brian asked everyone at the table if they would gather in the sitting room for a discussion of the wedding. There were the beautiful details to plan – the clothes, ceremony, and party – which the women would understandably become preoccupied with, but Brian needed to get down to brass tacks about other matters.

Brian took his role as Laird with great seriousness. He had certain noble powers which included performing weddings and giving blessings. From this position he spoke to his family.

“There are important considerations with regard to your wedding” Brian said, motioning to Jamie and Claire who were sat together “now that ye’ve decided on a date.” He was standing at the front of the room, lighting his pipe from the fireplace.

Jamie had his arm reassuringly around Claire.

“Have ye decided how ye’d like to be married and where?” Brian began.

Claire, uncertain what options there seemed to be, looked to Jamie. “I don’t understand.”

“We didna discuss this as yet, Da. I apologize,” Jamie quietly responded to Brian. His head had been so in the clouds, or full of mince as the Scots say, enraptured and in love, that he’d not focused on the practicalities of their upcoming wedding.

He turned to Claire.

“As Laird, Da can perform the marriage here at home, in the chapel, with yer signed consent. It’s what’s called an ‘irregular’ marriage; a regular one would be performed where ye’d like, without consent, but overseen by a priest and with an announcement running for weeks beforehand for everyone to hear and...” he nervously paused “present any objection.”

Claire, worried for what this could mean, looked to Lamb who was across the room.

“What kind of objections would normally be raised” Lamb asked Brian, attempting to understand the implications.

“Well, if there was a previous marriage, a vow of celibacy, or a couple where one is a catholic and the other isn’t.”

Lamb and Claire exchanged a glance of concern; neither were religious so weren’t catholic or church-goers. Their nomadic life hadn’t lent to securing a church family.

“Going the irregular route, then, without the religious attachment, would make it a civil ceremony?” Lamb questioned Brian.

“Aye.”

“All the same promises, so to speak, of marriage – fidelity, respect, honor, and so forth – but without the hand of the church?”

“Aye.”

“Could they write their own vows?” Lamb realized the oddness of the question but given the time period they now lived in he wanted to make sure Claire wouldn’t have to make vows of servitude.

A smile began to creep at the corners of Brian’s mouth at his impending, now repeated, reply: “Aye.”

Lamb looked to Claire. “Is this clearer, love?”

“Yes. So, if we choose an irregular marriage it proceeds without announcement, church involvement, and objections? I’d prefer that,” Claire said, panicked that her lack of any religious commitment would cause an objection and derail the marriage. She clutched Jamie’s hands, fear in her eyes.

“I want the chapel, and your Father, but if you’d prefer having something different, or with a priest…”

“Aye, lass” he said comfortingly, holding her cold, shaking hands “we’ll stay here at the chapel.”

Relieved, Claire fell into Jamie’s arms.

“What remains are the guest list, accoutrement, food, and time it will take place,” Brian finished, grateful to have the wedding at Lallybroch.

“I’ll handle the lad’s suit” Murtagh said, his eyes bright with happiness.

“Jenny, Emily, and I will take over everything else, with Joe and Lamb’s assistance?” Ellen asked, craning her head down the sofa at the two men.

“Absolutely.” “Without question.” the men spoke over each other.

Willie, scrunched beside Jamie and Claire, wiggled out and stood up. “I havena been assigned anything,” he said, a quiver in his voice.

The room fell quiet.

“Son, ye’ll be the Laird’s assistant.” Brian addressed him. “There will be forms to write, a sermon to prepare….at least a dozen responsibilities.”

Willie nodded, relieved. “I appreciate that, Da. Ye can count on me.”

Brian walked over and pulled Willie to him, kissing him on the top of his head. “I apologize, son. Ye werena forgotten.”

“I just wanted to make sure,” he said, hugging his Da.

Brian, his posture now indicating that he was finished speaking, took a long puff on his pipe. He was about to conclude the meeting but remembered something else.

“Jamie, ye’ll be more diligent in informing Claire of ceremony and other details?”

His admonishment was not missed by Jamie, who had neglected to help Claire understand critical details. “Aye, Dad. I wilna be remiss again.”

~~~~~

In bed that evening, Ellen pulled out her sewing kit from under the bed. She was nearly finished with Claire’s bag; the last task was completing the drawstring with the gold cord. The cream-colored silk, with its interwoven colored vines, was a stunning contrast to the rich purple velvet of the interior.

Brian, who had been snuggled beside her watching her work, reached over and touched the fabric. “’tis fine material.”

“Verra fine.”

“This is a strong match, to be sure” Brian said.

Ellen looked over the top of her spectacles. “The material?”

Brian smiled. “That too, but I was speaking of Jamie and Claire.”

“Ah” she said, pulling the threader and cord through the channels in the fabric she’d created. Placing the bag on her lap, she opened and closed it to ensure easy use, then sighed almost imperceptibly.

“Something on yer mind, Mrs. Fraser?” Brain said, placing a kiss on her arm.

“I feel I should put something in the bag, ken? Not give it empty.”

“Do ye have any ideas?”

“I think I may pass down my pearls to Claire. Jamie can give her both as a wedding present. It’s time.”

Brian leaned up on his elbow and placed his head on his hand.

“My mam would be proud; they were a gift to her from Da, and I know they both would have loved Claire.

From her side, Brian saw a warm smile grow on Ellen’s face.

“And?”

“I was just considering that Claire can one day pass them down to her daughter.”

Chapter Text

The previous year had been one of the most successful years the farm had had. As was his custom, Brian portioned out a share of the profits to each person; the rest was divided between savings, the wedding, and charity.

Though the family was self-sustaining, the time had come for another trip to town for supplies. Ellen and Claire would need material for the wedding dress, shoes and whatever women needed to feel special, Jamie’s suit, and invitations. Tobacco had run out as well - a serious situation! Hauling out the wagon, Brian and Murtagh hitched the horses. Claire and Joe exchanged repeated “Ooooh! We’re in a wagon!” looks, at times holding on for dear life when it hit random “potholes” in the road. Eventually they reached town, disembarking at the tavern where Jamie and Murtagh had stayed nearly a year ago.

The gentlemen stepped down first, helping the ladies off. Lamb began to go in with Brian, to secure the rooms, but Brian waved him off: “Enjoy some time with yer niece and Joe. I’ll handle the bills.” He clapped Lamb on the shoulder. “Please – let me buy dinner then?” Lamb asked. Brian had found a warm kinship with Lambert and Joe. They were much like him; dedicated to hard work and family. It had not skipped his notice how stronger his family had become with them being here. “Aye, yer verra kind.”

Stood on the street, Joe and Lamb gawked at the activity: horse-drawn carts, hitch-posts, shops…it had been their first public interaction since Hogmany.

“This is surreal,” Joe said, his eyes darting from one place to another. “I feel like I’m supposed to tip my hat to women or something.”

Lamb was equally distracted: “Feels like we’re on a movie set.”

Lodging secured, the family split apart to gather what they’d need.

Emily, Jenny, Ellen and Claire went first for fabric and notions at the haberdashery. Jamie stood at the door with Claire, but she stopped him with a hand to his chest. “I want the material to be a surprise. So…shoo.”

Jamie grabbed his heart dramatically, pretending to be shot.

“Ye’ve hurt me deeply lass,” he groaned, kneeling to the ground in mock pain.

“Go on. Get your stuff,” she giggled.

“I’ll see ye soon, then” he said, pulling her to him and nuzzling her hair.

“You shall” she purred.

Jamie joined Murtagh, who was grateful he didn’t have to remember soap fragrances or buy lace again, as they crossed the road with the other men to the gentlemen’s store and tobacconist.

~~~~~~~~~

Claire ran her fingers over bolts of fabrics. Emily and Jenny, hand-in-hand, went straight for the ribbons.

“It’ll be blazing hot in July, so no silk, unfortunately. It would be wiser to pick cotton, or linen. And yet…” Claire thought, going down the rows, “this satin is beautiful.” Its sheen and ivory color reminded her of a pearl.

She’d once seen a wedding photo online of a young couple at a chapel; the woman’s gown was a stunning 1930’s style. She desperately wanted to replicate it and considered this as she pulled out bolts. “Satin, lace for the hem of the train, bodice, and the, umm, I think it was a circular cap sleeve.”Lamb had given her some money to ensure she got what she wanted: “Please – make sure to steer away from ‘practical’ and veers towards ‘beautiful.’ I want you to be happy.” Brian had also given Ellen a purse above what was used for the running of the household: “I love ye, darling. Be generous to yerself – Jenny and Emily too.”

The owner, Graham, had noticed Jamie. He remembered his purchase and would ensure his lass and family would be taken care of.

“Good afternoon. How may I assist you?” he greeted them; his experience – both professional and personal – led him to deduce wedding preparations.

“I’m here to buy material for my wedding gown,” Claire said, holding back tears.

“I offer you my heartfelt congratulations. I see you’ve made choices already?”

Thankful that Claire had an experienced eye and didn’t need advice, Ellen went to Emily and Jenny who both were mesmerized by skeins of ribbon. Glancing at what Claire had chosen, in terms of color and texture, Ellen guided the ladies to different materials for all of their dresses that would complement but not upstage Claire’s.

The pile on the counter – material, ribbons, lace, thread, buttons, and needles – nearly tumbled off. Ellen advised on the yardage, which Graham noted as he went to make cuts. While he was wrapping the items, he placed the hand-written invoices towards them. Ellen, tallying the bills in her head, saw that everything had been discounted.

“I understood the material to be one third more, and the thread, buttons, and ribbon were…”

“I hope you will accept this as my present to the bride and her new family.”

Ellen’s confusion turned immediately to warmth. “Thank ye.”

Glancing at her own invoice, Claire measured out the money. “You are indeed very kind, and I deeply appreciate your generosity.”

“My pleasure, Madame, Mesdemoiselles. And again, my sincerest Congratulations.”

 

~~~~~~~~~

The men went to three different stores. Murtagh took pride ensuring Jamie’s wedding ‘suit’ was perfect and complete, advising him on every piece. He took it as a Godfather’s responsibility.

It was hard not to be impressed when Jamie had, finally, been outfitted. He came from behind the screen where he had been assembling himself and stood nervously, having never been this formally attired.

Brian saw his father in the set of Jamie’s jaw and his clear green-blue eyes, but he also saw worry. “Are ye unsure of something, lad?”

“Will she..” Jamie began, but paused “be happy do ye think?”

It was both Lamb and Joe, but also Murtagh, who picked up on the implication.

“Son, she will surely be happy. No need for worry on that,” Lamb said, a look of complete assurance in his eyes.

Jamie’s jaw became unclenched and his shoulders loosened.

“I appreciate that.”

 

~~~~~~~~~

Daylight wasn’t as diminishing in the evening with summer creeping in, thankfully, as more had to be done. With everything dropped off in their rooms, Brian and Ellen, Claire and Jamie went to the papermaker for invitations. The same woman that had sold Jamie his sheets, Beatrice, was here again, a knowing smile on her face as she saw him come in with Claire.

She slyly winked at him. “What can I do fer ye today?”

“Wedding Invitations” Jamie said, a catch in his throat.

“Aye, lad. It’d be my pleasure.”

She brought out design card examples for Jamie and Claire while Brian and Ellen filled out details separately.

“Aww! Little cherubs and ribbons. I like this one,” Claire said, waving the sample card at Jamie. Distracted from the dozen or so to pick from, he glanced over at what Claire had chosen.

“Aye. ‘tis fine.”

“Just fine?”

“This is nice,” he pointed to another card. “I like the trees and mountains. There are wee fawn on it too. Reminds me of…” Touched by Jamie’s reference to the park where they met, Claire caught Beatrice’s eye and handed the card to her. “We’ll use this one.”

"Aye, Lass. I'll 'ave these to the printer and sent to yer home straightaway."

 

~~~~~~~~~

Brian and Ellen asked Jamie and Claire to go on without them as they left the paper shop. “We’ve something else to do and will meet ye for dinner.”

Claire was glad of it as she wanted to do some shopping on her own. “Would you mind a few more stops?”

“Nay, lass. Lead the way.” Jamie gave her his elbow.

“In my time, there’s a saying for a woman’s wedding day, “she said, hurrying down the flagstone sidewalk. ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

“And a sixpence in your shoe,” Jamie winked, keeping step with his anxious fiancée.

“I hadn’t heard that! Now I need something else! So, a sixpence, presents for my Maid of Honor and my Bridesmaid, something for your Mum…”

“I hope ye dinna mean to starve me. We’re to be back for…”

Claire stopped and yanked Jamie to her. She looked into his beautiful eyes for several seconds, then soundly kissed him.

“There. Live on that for half an hour.”

~~~~~~~~~

Emily had been a ward of the town’s Parish. Her mother had been a strumpet who didn’t have the time or money to care for the child, placing her there at birth. At 13 the wards have to leave at which point Ellen took the girl in. It had been eight years she’d been with them and had become family quickly, given her grateful heart and loving demeanor. Consequently, each year Brian and Ellen gave a gift for the Parish’s operation but also for the care of orphans as well.

They came in, crossed themselves, then sat in a pew. Father Daniel, the stalwart Priest who had served the community for 30 years, greeted them shortly after speaking with an elderly couple who had stopped to light candles. He was a man of deep compassion and love. His gentle brown eyes and warm voice never failed to soften your heart.

“Brian, Ellen” he said, coming down the aisle to their pew. “It’s wonderful to see you again. God Bless you.”

“And may He bless ye as well.”

They presented their small bag, which he gratefully took: “Thank you for your generosity. There are many in need at this time. This will go to feed and comfort the Lord’s children.”

“It’s our pleasure.”

“May I pray for you?” he asked.

“Our son is to be married shortly. If ye would be inclined, a prayer for their happiness and health.”

“You have that, and my congratulations.”

More parishioners began filing in.

“We’ll be on our way, then,” Brian said “please send us word should you ever need anything.”

“God Bless, dear friends.”

~~~~~~~~~

Back at the paper shop, Beatrice was about to close up when she heard the door open. In the back room she’d just gathered her bag and the keys to the store.

“Oy. I dinna know why there’s always one who shows up as I’m closing,” she whispered to herself. She came into the front area, prepared to send them off until morning when she saw him. Her heart, and then her breathing, constricted.

“Can I help ye Lieutenant Randall?” she choked out.

Captain Randall, and yes you MAY.”

The talk had been that he was banished here, and demoted, for licentious behavior, conduct unbecoming an Officer, and insubordination. This egregious behavior preceded him, causing townspeople to cross the street to avoid him or close their establishments should his presence be known.

Unfortunately, word had not reached Beatrice.

The black of his hair and eyes stood in shocking contrast to the red of his uniform which was unnecessary but which he still wore for affect. This didn’t engender respect, as he’d maybe hoped, but contempt.

“What would ye be needin’ then?” she said somewhat loud to attract her husband who was drying sheets in the back.

“To order Lord Gray’s stationary. Why else would I be here?” Relegated to lackey, his mood was continually sour.

Randall’s eyes scanned anywhere and everywhere in order to dissuade meaningless small talk. An invoice with the name “Fraser” sitting at the top of a tray immediately caught his attention, compelling him to grab it: “25 Wedding Invitations, with envelopes, Style 14. To read: Laird Brian Fraser and Lady Ellen Fraser request the honour of your presence at the wedding of their son, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser to Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, July 13th, 1777, at 1:00 p.m., Lallybroch.” Rage seized him and he nearly crushed it in his hand.

Without thinking she snatched the invoice back, about to reprimand him, when his hand rose to strike her. Her husband Johnathan, arriving at her side, none too subtly wiped off the knife he’d been using to shred scrap material and placed it on the counter.

“G’day Captain Randall. Fine weather, aye?” Johnathan said, crossing his arms across his wide, muscular chest.

Recognizing the obvious threat, Randall merely raised an eyebrow, grudgingly gave order details, then plunked down coins and walked out.

Johnathan immediately locked the door then pulled down the shades.

“The Devil’s in that man” Beatrice said, making the sign of the cross over herself.

Chapter Text

(Former) Captain Jack Randall had been “reassigned” to the highlands of Scotland three years ago after one too many personal altercations - drunkenness, accusations of attempted rape, false imprisonment, aggravated assault - had tarnished not only his, but the Crown’s reputation. His personal dalliances had ended up causing enough notoriety and used up so much coin in paying accusers off that he was sent, along with his complicit and equally burdensome CO Lord John Grey, to an outpost in the highlands for one purpose: ensure no further risings. The insurrection currently threatening the crown was the American Colonists. Should the Scots get wind that a group was challenging the King it could embolden another revolt. This, by whatever means, had to be dissuaded.

Grey, by virtue of his privileged family, purchased a commission in the British army, thereby bypassing the grunt work associated with rising in rank. He was not without improprieties as well, though not as barbaric and impudent as Randall’s; he refrained from hard work, lazed his days away drinking confiscated whiskey, and neglected those in his charge. Grey’s dalliance with a fellow officer, kept secret, had caused him to overlook Randall’s similar situations by paying off several townsmen and bar patrons who threatened to charge Randall with indecency or assault. Claiming “miscommunication” or “misunderstanding,” Grey had used a rather large chunk of the coffer to keep such suits from reaching court, and therefore the public eye.

This incessant misbehavior had now reached General John Burgoyne, to his utter disgust. He was a man dedicated to propriety, honor, and code. Sat in front of his very large desk and under a very threatening gaze, Grey and Randall were finally brought to task.

“Am I not contending with enough in the Colonies that I have continually to lose face and fortune on your continuing insubordination and misdeeds?“ Burgoyne stormed, his voice reverberating off the brass planter near the floor of his desk.

At that moment Burgoyne’s secretary was stood in the doorway waiting permission to enter.

“What IS it Lancaster?” Burgoyne meted out.

The unnerved Corporal walked past Grey and Randall – their reputation so soiled as to not even warrant acknowledgement – and asked for the General’s ear. Sighing loudly, he tilted his head to the worried Corporal who leaned in closely:

“Colonel Benedict Arnold and his troops have forced our retreat in Connecticut,” he whispered.

As the information became digested, the General’s face seemed to swell with rage: “WHAT IS GOING ON?” he yelled so loudly the men jumped. “THEY ARE NOT EVEN A LEGITIMATE ARMY!”

Lancaster, expecting such a reaction, merely dropped his head and pursed his lips, clasping his hands behind his back. He respected the General immensely and was as angry he had to become mired in such seemly work as Randall and Grey presented.

“Orders, Sir?” Lancaster asked.

Burgoyne began to immediately dictate communication to be distributed to the field commanders when he remembered the oafs sitting in front of him. Instead, he nodded to Corporal Lancaster who understood he was to leave.

Both Grey and Randall, afraid to move or speak, merely stared.

Burgoyne was now gripping the chair’s armrests; anything to keep himself grounded. “If I hear of one instance of indecorum, no matter how insignificant, or that you are unable to manage…”

He looked to see if either man actually fathomed their newest commission.

“Preventing any dissent or rebellion.” Grey offered, knowing Randall’s standing was more tenuous.

“I. Will. Have. Your. Heads.” Burgoyne hissed. “GET OUT.”

 

~~~~~~

Jamie’s birthday had enough fuss for him to feel special. Claire’s present was a mock-tartan blanket with his initials, which she meant to bring comfort and warmth to the man who had restored life and hope to her.

“Ye’ll be next to my heart every night” he said, grateful for her thoughtfulness.

While cleaning up a week later, Claire had a thought for a wedding present while looking at Ellen’s sewing basket. “I’ll make a wedding sampler. I remember seeing one on an antiques show on the telly. It was over a hundred years old and quite valuable due to it’s size and colors.”

She rummaged for material, yarn, and a needle. She measured off and cut a large rectangle then planned where the various elements would go. “I’ll make two doves at the top holding a large ribbon that will make the border and put our wedding date in the middle.” When the sun’s rays began to overtake the room she was sat in, Claire could smell lunch. She offered to take it to the men, rather than them coming to the house, because it was birthing season.

Basket in tow, she followed the sound of conversation towards the stables where she suspected they were helping with the ewes. She caught sight of Jamie, washing his arms at the well, his shirt on the ground. “Yep, he must have helped with some births” she thought, skipping to him. Engrossed, he didn’t see her.

“Why ‘ello, luv! I’ve brought…”

Jamie scrambled to get his shirt and put it on but he wasn’t fast enough. Claire stood motionless in shock, unable to take her eyes off the twisted scars on his wrists.

“Claire!” Jamie said, startled. “I’m sorry. I....I should have said something.”

Afraid, but worried for what he had endured, Claire slowly sat the basket down.

“Jamie! What happened to you?”

Though he was uncomfortable with her seeing this painful reminder of his past, he nonetheless offered up his wrists to her probing hands.

“Were you…arrested for something” she asked after a hard swallow.

“Aye.”

Claire quickly, but gently, let go of his hands then wrapped her arms around herself.

He put his shirt back on, tucking it into his kilt more as a means to have time to gather his thoughts than to make himself presentable.

“I did no wrong. Please believe me.”

She nodded absent-mindedly.

Just then Murtagh yelled from the barn: “JAMIE! The lambing will no take care of itself!”

“IFRINN!” Jamie stormed “Chan urrainn dhomh cuideachadh!”*

Murtagh, piecing together what must have happened, disappeared.

“But you were arrested” she said, staring at the ground.

“Claire, ye ken these times are rough for Scots. Ye must know this. Especially after the uprising.”

“Of course I do.”

Rather than any lead-up, he just spat it out:

“Murtagh, Da and I were in town – years ago - when a redcoat assaulted a man for stepping in his way. His wife fought back which caused her to be assaulted as well. I stepped in to help but I was arrested…held in the prison for assaulting an officer of the crown.”

The pain and shame in Jamie’s voice brought Claire to lift her eyes. “I know you wouldn’t lie to me. But why did you hide something like this?”

Needing her reassurance, he put his hand out for her take.

“I didna ever expect to see ye” he said into her neck. “I thought ye’d go on with yer life. I was only glad that I had ye for the little bit I did in those letters. I was going to carry that with me for the rest of my life but ye came, and I didna want to frighten ye after all ye’d been through, or disgust ye so that ye’d leave and possibly risk yer life again. Then, I saw how happy ye were - ye and yer family – and…I was afraid.”

“You sweet man.” she said, wiping his cheeks. “How were you able to get out?”

At this, Jamie’s pain grew.

“I was held on 100 pounds bail. Murtagh…sold his house. ‘tis why he lives with us now. We dinna ever bring it up out of respect.”

“I’m so sorry for what you, and your family, went through. And I promise not to say anything.”

She wound her arms tightly around him, feeling the weight of his relief in how he fell onto her.

“And I promise I’ll never leave you.”

 

 

 

* I can't help

Chapter Text

Claire had been standing for over an hour while Ellen pinned material around her.

“And yer sure of the neckline?” Ellen asked, surprised at the somewhat plunging v-neck Claire wanted.

“I am. I’m going to be nervous, which will make me hot, so any means to keep cool.” This reasoning was the best compromise to saying the design was a 1930’s imitation, or that it was a predominant style in the colonies.

Ellen’s pale blue eyes softened, and she attempted a smile of acceptance despite the pins in her mouth. “Aye” Claire felt them say.

With the bodice complete they stopped, thankfully. The rising sun had quickly heated up Ellen and Brian’s room even with the window open. Though small, the room was simply and comfortably outfitted, creating a warm and secure atmosphere. It felt like what a parent’s room should feel like; one you would want to come to when you were afraid or wanted to talk. Claire loved being here the past week, and in the house as a whole. The permanence, solidness grounded her. It was more than a house; it was a family that lovingly accepted Murtagh, Emily, and now she, her Uncle, and Joe. It wasn’t as much a testament to the building as it was to Brian and Ellen’s love and compassion.

“I’ll clear off the table so we can finish the invitations?” Claire asked, having sat the material on the chaise at the bottom of their bed and changing back into her clothes. Emily and Jenny’s dresses, both finished, were proudly hanging on each of their wardrobes.

“I’ll put my things away and meet ye downstairs, love.”

Sat with blotters, ink pots, quills, and Ellen’s vast memory for names and addresses, Claire stuffed and Ellen wrote.

“Do you have any family nearby?” Claire asked, curious, sealing an envelope.

“We do,” Ellen smiled. “Some from both sides.”

“Angus, Rupert, Willie…” Claire iterated, thumbing through the invitations already in a pile.

“Aye. Angus and Rupert are cousins, as is Willie. He’s been in seminary.”

“How lovely! He’s looking forward to being ordained then, I’m sure.”

“Of course. Kind lad, beautiful heart.”

“I really can’t wait to meet them. I’m so happy to be part of this family.”

Ellen looked up from writing, reaching over to take Claire’s hand.

“Lass, the pleasure is ours.”

When they were finished, Claire excused herself. Her garden was thriving but she wanted to water it and make sure the tomato plants weren’t bursting out of the cages she had Jamie make out of twigs and twine.

When she arrived, she saw a bucket nearby, a well-watered garden, and a snoring Jamie on the ground. She smiled at his thoughtfulness, giving a quick glance over the plants, then quietly approached him. She sat beside him, gently pulling his right arm off his chest. She very softly laid a kiss on his wrist, saddened at his abuse, then sat it on her lap. She kissed his forehead, both cheeks, his nose, and finally his lips. “You smell delicious” she whispered, kissing his neck, “like sunshine and breezes.”

One green eye slowly opened, and the hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

She pulled his left hand to her lips. “Earth and…water” she continued, kissing each finger. Taking this same hand she wrapped it around her back. She propped herself across him and slowly lowered herself for another kiss.

Jamie happily complied. After a moment, he whispered:

“Then let amourous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand and a Hundred score
A Hundred and a Thousand more.”

Claire pulled her hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “Catallus” she whispered back, nuzzling his face. Jamie thought he could hear her purring.

“Lass,” he said, kissing her softly “we canna let desire overtake us just yet. We’ve only just several weeks ‘til we’re married.” He paused. “I’m reminding myself as well.”

She saw seriousness in his eyes, though his voice was soft and loving.

Jamie, as usual, had been thinking ahead. She realized that she’d become more emotional, less academic, being with him. Before, she was much more analytical. It wasn’t that her scientific mind had packed up and left; rather, it finally took a rest. So now, because she trusted Jamie and finally experienced a man’s loyalty and respect, she felt her sexual side blossoming and lately it had been blossoming quite often.

“I canna let anything mar our wedding day, mo chridhe. I want us to be free of guilt. I promised yer Uncle I’d respect ye, and Da taught me ne’er to touch a woman before marriage. I couldna look at them, or ye, ever again if I let things get away from us.”

Claire agreed with this, of course, despite the pang of desire gripping her.

Jamie sat up and put his arms around her.

“It makes me feel whole, strong, knowing I please ye. But I – we - canna give in.”

Claire nodded into his shoulder.

He pulled himself back to be face to face with her. “Claire, I dinna mean to upset ye, or make ye regret what ye feel.”

Realizing that a care-free wedding day – something she looked forward to, had dreamed of her whole life – could quickly become one where not only she and Jamie, but their family and, inevitably, the guests, would feel anything less than joyful was a chance she would not take.

He got to his feet and put his hand out for her.

“Come wi’ me? I’ve something to show ye.”

He helped her up and they walked to the potting shed, but just outside Jamie put his finger to his lips.

As they peered in through the door, which Jamie had earlier propped open with a rock, there in the corner was a Momma duck sitting on her brood.

“’tis a good sign, aye?” *

 

 

*In asian culture, a pair of mandarin ducks was gifted to a bride on her wedding day because they’re regarded as symbols of fidelity. Jamie wouldn’t have known this, but I used a duck - rather than a rabbit, or even a pheasant – anyway.

Chapter Text

Ellen was dutifully logging the R.S.V.P’s as they came in; so far, no one had declined.  Glenna had even brought hers herself, offering to bake, clean, greet guests – whatever would be needed.

“I’ll make all the desserts. Dinna worry about that,” Glenna said, patting Ellen on the arm as they sat catching up, “especially the Bride’s Pie.  I’ll make a lovely icing for it too.” She winked at Claire.

Claire didn’t know what this was, or how she was supposed to react, so she just smiled and said -  “Thank you so much.  I’m sure it will be delicious.”

Oh, to have the internet.

Although Ellen and Jenny had put together a rough menu, Claire remembered reading that fish brought good luck, so asked for that to be included.   

It was coming together quickly; each day there was more taken care of, and the list of unfinished items was shrinking.

While sitting with Lamb in his room, on a hot June evening, he asked what was left to be done. “Old, New, Borrowed, Blue?”

“Ahhh…old is..well, wouldn’t everything I have be old, technically?”

“Technically, yes, but maybe not right now.”

“Ok.  Um. His kilt pin.”

“New?”

“Dress.”

“Borrowed?”

“Nothing as yet.”

“Blue.”

“I thought ahead and bought blue crystal buttons for my gown.”

“Check, Check and Check. I heard you and Ellen going over the menu.  So, no three-tiered cake?”

 “Glenna said something about making a Bride’s pie. With icing.  I tried to play that I knew what it was.”

 “Guess we’ll just have to be surprised then.  But if the food she made at Hogmany is any indication, it’ll be stellar.”

 Claire nodded absentmindedly, staring out the window.

 Lamb took the moment to gaze at his beautiful, very soon-to-be-married niece. She had changed so much, and he could see how love and consistency were a tonic.  She wasn’t as gangly, there was a glow to her, and she slept well. He’d even noticed his and Joe’s countenance were healthier as well.  It was hard not to sleep better with so much quiet, hard work, and no technological distractions.  And no processed food was probably good, too.

 “OH!  The lovely family we saw, that sent home the marinara, were excited to help; the wife especially.  There could be you-know-what to pay if we don’t have them cook. Fancy some pasta, charcuterie, antipasti?”  The errant thought, triggered by the memory of food, flew out of Lamb’s mouth.

 “All of it!” Claire squeaked, desperate for a hearty bowl of spaghetti. 

 “Then you and Jamie need to visit.  I mean…you know.  To be polite and introduce yourself.”

 “Yea.  Just to be neighborly, of course.”

 Claire scooted off Lamb’s bed.  He climbed off as well, and she hugged him tightly.

 “I love you.”  She kissed him on his cheek.  “Good night.”

 “Good night. I love you too.”

 

~~~~~

 Jamie and Claire left early one morning a few days later to do just that: visit the Bicchieri’s.

 Claire was nearly lulled to sleep by the constant, rocking motion of Blueskin and holding onto Jamie.  It didn’t help that their trip was mostly through a cool, dark forest as well.

 “Claire, love?”

 “Hmmm?”  She murmured into his back, half asleep.

 “Yer Uncle asked Da if we could write our own vows. Is this something of yer time? I dinna mind.  Just curious.”

 Claire pulled her cheek away from where it had been laying against Jamie’s back and rested her chin in its place:   “Yes. It’s pretty popular.  Gives some individuality to the ceremony.  Let’s you mention what’s deeply in your heart, rather than read a script.”

 “Script.  Like dialogue in a play?”

 “Yes.  In this case something standard or well-worn.”

 “I felt relieved when he said that, because I wanted to ask if we could do that.”

 “Awww!  You’re so sweet.”

 “Well,” Jamie said, pulling onto the road leading to Antonio and Benedetta’s house “that IS how we met, no?”

 

~~~~~

 Back at home, Joe had woken up, thrown his legs over his bed, and stretched.  “Mornin’”

 Lamb, already awake with his hands entwined over his chest, merely nodded.

 Joe eyed him for a moment.  It was a rare time he didn’t respond.

 “Somethin’ up?” 

 Lamb came out of his thoughts and looked over at Joe.

 “The guns have been sitting here for a year.  We should go riding and find a place to shoot them. Not good for them to be unused.”

  “We could do that.”  There was something in Lamb’s voice he hadn’t heard in a while. “Anything in particular that brought the guns to mind?”

 Lamb pursed his lips, then looked over at Joe. “Not really.”

 “You don’t sound convincing. Spit it out.”

 By the time Joe got his kilt on, gave a quick trim to his beard and moustache, and brushed his teeth, Lamb still hadn’t said anything so Joe threw a rolled up stocking at him.

 “OK!  I have a bad feeling.  That’s all.”

 “Worried about losing Claire?”

 “No. Not that.  Jamie’s more than I could ever have wanted for her.  I mean that.  It’s something else.  Can’t figure out what.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire stood in her gown for the first time, twirling in front of the “looking glass” in her room. Ellen’s skilled hand created something of inestimable beauty and captured everything Claire wanted. Her shoes may have tickled her the most:  cone-heeled, ivory-striped satin mules with a contrasting floral inside and large, lace bow; the daintiness and softness of the gown wouldn’t suit the wood-block, French heels popular at the time.

 She tip-toed to the table beside her bed and pulled out the earrings Benedetta so kindly let her borrow, trying them on as the finishing touch.  They were small clip-ons of some type of teal-colored stone, which Claire believed was apatite, surrounded by tiny pearls. One of the most interesting things she’d learned with Lamb was the identification of gemstones, for digs often uncovered not only antiquities and remains, but occasionally a vein of gold or a clump of jewel. 

 “Tell me about your gown. It must be beautiful, yes?” Benedetta had asked during their visit.  Little Gianna sat on the floor at her mother’s feet, cradling her doll in her arms.

 “Oh, it’s extraordinary!” Claire enthused, her face lighting up at the thought. “Ivory satin, v-neck, lace hem and a fluttery sleeve. Blue crystal buttons down the back.”

 “I can not wait to see it. Do you have any jewelry?”

 “No. I don’t, actually.”

 “Un momento.”  Benedetta patted her knee then walked upstairs.  She brought down a small pouch, laying it on Claire’s lap. “These will be lovely on you.”

 “You’re so kind!  You’ve offered to do so much already.”

 “It is my pleasure, Claire. Really.”

 Opening the brown velvet pouch Claire gently pulled out the two earrings -  polished oval stones which were set in gold.

 “I’ll return them – thank you so much.”

 She and Antonio had been so warm and welcoming, offering to bring what could end up being a cartload of food, and bouquets of wildflowers and peonies.

 Claire took in her complete look one more time, then sat down at the small desk, staring at the ink pot and quill.  “As long as I’m in my gown, maybe I’ll be in the mood to write my vows.”

 She crossed her ankles under the small wooden chair and groaned.  “I’ll need to make changes so I should use something else.” 

 Rummaging through her backpack brought back a flood of memories as she pulled out the notebook and pencil. 

 She tapped the blank, lined paper: “How can I reduce to words how much I love Jamie? How I went from anger at his changes to my drawing, to quickly falling in love over the course of just a few notes. The extraordinary circumstances that brought us together.”

 She imagined sitting at Cairngorms Park, the traffic and bustle of the street above, and Jamie’s note beside her.

 “You did it once, Beauchamp.  Don’t try to be Shelley.”

 

~~~~~

 Downstairs, Brian and Willie were on their way out.  “Men stuff” he said, kissing Ellen on the cheek. They walked to the chapel and unlocked the doors, sitting in one of the pews.

 “I thought it would be a good place to discuss the work I have for ye as my assistant.  We’ve much to get prepared.”

 “I’m ready, Da.  I’m grown now, and able to take on more to help ye.”

 Brian saw the gentleness and intelligence in Willie’s green eyes.  They had the same kindness that Ellen’s had, and his smile was as near a match to hers as Jamie’s. 

 “I appreciate that, son. First, ye’ll need to welcome the guests as they come and take the horses from them. We’ll set aside part of field with some hitching posts we’ll need to make.  Mind whose horse is whose.”

 Willie straightened up. “Aye.”

 “Make them comfortable and ask if they need anything. Remind them of the wedding time, and the reception afterwards in the house.  If they have gifts, thank them and take them to Emily. Next, direct them to the chapel. It would…”

 “Da… we could lay a wee stone path to the chapel.  I can make little wooden signs to place in the ground with the words ‘THIS. WAY. TO. THE. CHAPEL.”

 Brian smiled.

 “That’s very creative.  I’ll leave it to you to make?”

“Aye. I’ll get river rocks, wood scraps, and paint.”

 “When yer finished greeting, see if Murtagh needs help ushering here in the chapel.” 

 “I understand. Greet, then seat. Did ye say something about forms as well?”

 Brian held back a laugh.

 “I did.  I need to write up forms for Claire and her Uncle to sign, then the marriage form, and we’ll need to record it finally in the family bible.”

 “Claire said my cursive is perfect.  May I record the marriage in the bible?”

 “With yer Mam’s help, yes. She’s the one that’s been keeping it filled in.”

 “You can depend on me, Da. And if there are other things, I can do those too.”

 Brian pulled Willie to him.  “Yer a good lad.”

 

~~~~~

 Lamb and Joe left right after Brian and Willie, making sure they were far from Lallybroch, and any other residence, so the shots wouldn’t be heard.  They chose a small clearing enclosed by forest about two miles from Lallybroch.

“When I was young, Gramps had me shoot at a coffee can on top of the wood pile off the back porch” Joe said, dismounting from his horse after an unusually quiet ride. “It was only a BB gun, but he got an idea of how good a shot I was.”

 “And?”  Lamb said, dismounting beside Joe.

 “I hit it the first time.  It flew into the air.”

 “Well, we don’t have coffee cans, so should we try to hit branches?”

 “That’s about all we’ve got, my man.”

 Tossing their sporrans on the ground after getting their guns out, they took a few minutes to re-orient themselves to 21st century firepower.

 Lamb became unusually focused then made sure of his stance: “nose over toes.” Choosing a branch of an Ash tree only yards away, his shot veered to the left, only nicking the branch.

 “Finger’s too far on the trigger,” Joe offered.

 Lamb nodded his agreement. The next shot broke the branch off entirely.  He moved to the side, giving Joe a clear, straight shot.

 Joe steadied himself, aimed, and took off another branch cleanly.  He gave Lamb a smug side-eye.

 Lamb rolled his eyes. “Annie Oakely, at her finest.”

 

Chapter Text

 Brian was sat in bed, 2 candles at his side, finishing his wedding sermon. Ellen brushed her hair, sat half way off the bed beside him. It was too hot to lay down.

 “Tell me what ye think of the beginning.  It’s what I always struggle with,” Brian blurted. 

 “’My family and I welcome all of ye this day to celebrate the marriage of Jamie and Claire. We appreciate this opportunity to gather together for so joyous an occasion and I am sure ye will agree that it is indeed a blessing worth giving praise for.  Please bow yer heads with me…’   I’ll go more into the…”

 “I ken how yer sermons work, love.” Ellen said, turning to Brian.  “’tis a fine beginning.”

 “Thank ye…” he replied, mumbling to himself as he finished writing.

 Ellen got up, put on her dressing gown, deciding to give Jamie the bag she’d made so Brian could finish.   She tapped lightly on his door, seeing that there was light in the room.

 He opened the door slowly, revealing himself to be in his wedding suit.

 “Are ye practicing, then?”  Ellen asked, smiling.

 “Uh, I was just…getting a feel for everything being on at the same time.  Come in, Mam.”

 Willie was sitting on his bed, obviously tasked with making sure Jamie looked presentable and handsome.

 “I just wanted to bring ye this,” Ellen said, handing Jamie the bag.  “I’ve put something in it for ye to give to Claire.”

 Surprised, Jamie took the bag and admired how beautiful the materials were together, and how perfectly crafted it was.

 “Mam. It’s truly beautiful.” He hugged her tightly.

 “Go ahead. Open it.”

 As he pulled the material apart he saw her pearls.

 “Yer pearls,” he said quietly, holding them in his hand.

 “Aye, son. They’ll look beautiful on yer bride.”

 “They will indeed.  I appreciate this. Verra much.”

 Seeing Jamie fully dressed, weeks from being married, brought Ellen to tear up.  He was so much Brian, with his thick curly hair, straight nose, and perfect posture. Not wanting him to notice the tears about to spill over, she asked if he’d written his vows.

 “I was just about to do that.  Thought they may come to me better if I were dressed up.”

 “Well, I’ll leave ye to it.”  Ellen paused.  “Sleep well.”

 “And ye as well.”

 She winked at Willie, then returned to her room.

 Willie pulled his covers over him, yawning. “What will ye say, brother?”

 “I’ve a wee bit in mind. The rest will come. 

 He scratched out the wee bit:

 

 “Ye are blood of my blood and bone of my bone

I give ye my body that we two might be one

I give ye my spirit ‘til our life shall be done”

 

 Brian had just finished, an air of triumph as he sat down his quill then blew out the candles. “All finished.  Everything in order with the boys?”

 Ellen smiled, finally laying down beside him.

 “Jamie had his wedding suit on.  A fine figure he was indeed.” 

 She laid her arm over Brian’s chest. “Reminded me of another handsome Scot on his wedding day.”

 Brian took her hand and kissed it. “Happiest day of my life.”

 ~~~~

 Next door, Murtagh laid in bed. The rumblings of a storm from far off brought the threat of rain and lightning.  He pulled himself up to shut the window.  “Better now than later when it’s a tempest.”

 He leaned on the window frame.  “The lad’s marrying, praise God,” he said, looking at the horizon.   “I feel I’ve prayed more for him these past years than I have even for myself.  ‘tis a comfort to know he’s happy.”  An unexpected laugh came quickly out of him.

 “Oh, to have bairns in the house,” he thought to himself.

 ~~~~

 Downstairs, Lamb was fitfully trying to sleep. He dreamed that he was with Claire in a room.  He heard people talking but couldn’t see them.  There was something behind him, something frightening, and Lamb moved to protect Claire.  When he tried to get her out of the room, a red figure, like a ghost, was floating in front of them.   

Now the red ghost was yelling at him and grabbing his arm.

 “LAMB!”

 He woke to see Joe’s face hovering over his, then looked past him to make sure there was no red ghost.

 “Oh my word…”  Lamb covered his face with his hands.

 “Buddy – what happened?  You were wrestling about.”

 “Nightmare.  I was with Claire, there was this fiery red figure near us…I was trying to get her away…”

 “Listen,” Joe said, sitting beside Lamb. “Whatever may come to pass, we’re prepared.  Try not to worry.”

 Lamb, looking at the ceiling, felt a small bit of relief. “Yea.”

 “Hang, on. I’ll be right back.”

 Joe came back with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. He poured two fingers and handed it to Lamb, then half as much for himself. Lamb’s hand, still shaking, gladly reached for it.

 Joe tilted his glass. “One. Two. Three…”

 Joe finished first, but Lamb wasn’t long after.

 “That should ease your mind.  Chase the demons away, so to speak.”

 “Sorry for waking you.”

 “Funny how times change,” Joe remarked, putting the glasses on the floor with the bottle. “At college it was the whiskey that caused you to wake me up in the middle of the night. Now, I’m giving it to you to put you to sleep!  Get it together, huh?”  Joe slapped him on the arm, then got back in bed.

 “I’m kidding.  But, really. Pipe down.”

 Lamb laughed and shook his head.  “Will do.”

Chapter Text

July 12.

 

John was sat in his office, feet up, enjoying a bit of whiskey in his morning tea.  This little indulgence helped to deaden the drudgery that life at this outpost had become. He stared at the budding fire in the fireplace, wondering when he would be back at gentlemen’s lounges and proper restaurants in England, among friends.

 As a condition of Randall’s continued service he was to have daily check-ins; otherwise, he was on a long tether, conducting random – mostly useless – errands.

 He’d been sent this morning, again, to retrieve the stationery that he’d continually promised to pick up.  John was down to a few sheets and constant reports needed to be sent to Burgoyne. But by noon Randall still had not shown.  John gathered his horse, a lingering anger finally taking hold.

 “He’s ruining us both.”

 Hoping to find him somewhere, John went out. With no sight of him on the ride into town, John hitched his horse to a post on the street then walked cautiously, but quickly, down the sidewalk; this was not the place for a redcoat to be caught unaware.

 Opening the door to the printshop he found himself facing an unbemused Beatrice.

 “Aye. G’day” she said flatly. “What would ye be needin’.” Johnathan had made it a habit to be at the front each time he heard the door open, so quickly appeared from the back, the knife in his pocket rather than in view.

 Not wanting to sound alarmed, John calmly introduced himself and asked if his order had been picked up hoping, against his nagging feeling, that Jack had gotten it already.

 “It hasn’t,” Beatrice said, her arms crossed firmly across her chest.  “I was about to toss it in the bin. I dinna have room for orders to sit.”

 Worry now filled John’s mind.  Jack was definitely AWOL.

 “Please accept my apology,” John softly said, attempting to assuage Beatrice’s anger, “I’d like to take care of that.”

 John’s brown hair and hazel eyes were a distinct contrast to Randall’s in that they softened his features, and his voice was gentle and warm. His smile spread slowly in an attempt to endear forgiveness, and Beatrice found it difficult to stay perturbed. 

 She shuffled through piles, eventually finding the package, which she plunked forcefully on the counter. This was intended to express how angry she was that it had been neglected, but also not to appear too forgiving.

 “There was obviously a misunderstanding as to who would be retrieving the order.”

 “Ye should have more dependable staff.”  She looked pointedly at John.

  John secretly agreed with her, causing his anxiousness to get worse. It became evident to Beatrice when his smile quickly disintegrated into a thin, tense line. She thought back to the day Jack had placed the order. She scrunched her mouth; a tell-tale sign that she was holding back her thoughts. He cocked his head to the side, concerned. He had the pack in the crook of his arm, ready to leave. “Was there anything else?”

 Clearly Beatrice was struggling with whether to say anything.

 “It’s just that…he…”

 John glanced from Beatrice to Johnathan.

 “If you’ve something to divulge, please – I must know.  The information may actually prevent harm.  In fact, withholding it may cause you to be held responsible if anything were to occur…which I know neither of us want.”

 Panic overtook her face.

 “Please, madam,” John implored, standing closer to the counter. “Is there something that’s happened? You can trust me.”

 Johnathan wrapped his arm around his wife’s back.

 “It’s just that…” she began again, “he seemed overly interested in a particular order I had when he was in.  He’d grabbed it from the pile in a rage and I had to grab it back from him.”

 “May I see it?”

 She looked to Johnathan, who nodded.

 The original had been filed away, but she found it and laid it on the counter.

 Laying the pack on the counter, he picked up the invitation. John felt the blood drain from his face. 

 “I have to warn them.”

 

 ~~~~~~

 

Claire, restless all night, finally got up when she saw the first light of morning.  Nervousness and excitement would be constant companions the next few days, so rather than trying to capture something that wasn’t there, she slipped downstairs to find Emily in the kitchen, as usual, preparing biscuits, ham, and eggs.

 “Good morning, Emily.”

 “Oh! Good morning, love.  Here ‘ave some eggs…or is yer wame too wobbly?”

 “Yes, definitely wobbly.”

 After breakfast Brian had Lamb and Claire sign the consent.  It was a mostly straightforward document and left nothing to worry over.  With that signed, Jamie and Claire left to spend the morning alone together.  Claire started by explaining that in her time, seeing the bride on the wedding day was considered bad luck.   

 “Do ye ken why?”

 “I think it has something to do with when marriages were arranged, possibly to ensure the groom wouldn’t back out if the bride wasn’t to his liking. That’s the origin of the veil, too.   It’s ridiculous, of course, but a superstition that a lot of women I knew still follow through with.  I’d just feel uncomfortable too, I guess, having seen it used so many times. I hope you understand.”

 “It will lend a bit of surprise, so I’m no upset.”

 They naturally roamed to the chapel. Emily and Jenny had already cleaned it, top to bottom, making everything gleam.  It smelled of oil and soap - befitting that their fresh start was accompanied by such a fresh smell.

 They broke hands as they went in, Claire walking down the left side and Jamie walking down the right, meeting at the pulpit. They looked up at the stained-glass window and wooden cross. Jamie genuflected – a beautiful action that Claire had come to respect immensely. 

 “I came here last night for a moment with the Lord.  I lit a candle for us both.  Our happiness, our health, and our safety.”

 He took her hand and lead them down the nave and back outside.

 When they returned to the house, Antonio and Benedetta – along with Gianna and Antonino – were seated in the kitchen.

 “Ah! There they are!” Antonio’s booming voice welcomed them.

 “Yer a bit early, aye?” Jamie laughed, waving.  “Did ye forget the date?”

 “No, mio amico.  We stopped for a rest after traveling for supplies. How about some cured olives and charcuterie for wedding eve lunch?” Antonio was holding Gianna who was gleefully falling out of his arms to reach the food.  “Lascia che gli altri mangiano prima!”

 When he saw the hands of three particularly appreciative people reach onto the plates, he reassured them: “We’ll be bringing more tomorrow! Not to worry.”

Chapter Text

Jack was trying to stay atop his horse on what seemed like an unending road.  The whiskey from his flask was down by half and the only other item he’d brought was his pistol.  Alcohol on an empty stomach was never a good match, but it was the only sustenance today.

 John had probably deduced by now that he hadn’t picked up the blasted stationery and was having a talk with himself about what to do. 

 “By the time he puts it together I’ll either be dead or have Fraser tied up and trudging behind me.”

 Fraser.  Jack took another very long draw from his flask; the only thing that could deaden the memory.

 Jack had rarely been disciplined, especially by his father and mother, despite being belligerent and defiant. He eventually left home to join the army, his fierceness, eagerness and persistent insomnia a perfect résumé for army life.  Rather than it working to the army’s advantage though, he learned to use it to his own.  The combination of the three brought him to find out a lot of “dirt” on fellow soldiers, and even commanders, which he used to bully and extort his way up the ladder to a promotion. It was much easier than it should have been. 

 “Weak, every one of them.” 

  Fraser wasn’t weak. He was tall, brawny, and obstinate.

 “That stupid…pedestrian was in my way. ME a Captain in the royal army!” he yelled. “I had every right to put him in his place.  Then his wife involved herself and got what was coming to her too.”

  The scotch sloshed in his stomach, giving him indigestion. “These impudent Scots. They should be grateful they weren’t left to govern themselves – a fate the colonists should well consider.  Bloody ungrateful lot they all are,” Jack raged into the empty forest. “Why did Fraser insinuate himself in something that didn’t concern him?” 

 Jamie had confronted Jack, at first trying to be diplomatic.

 “I ken ye feel offended, but he didna mean harm, sir. It was an accident of him not minding his way.”

 “And you presume to tell me how to think?”

“That wasna my intention, but merely to bring peace.” 

 A number of people were noticing the argument but moving hurriedly so as not to be caught up.

 “Your intention” Jack said, meeting Jamie eye-to-eye “is of no concern to me.”

 “Sir,” Jamie said, measuredly, unwilling to let it go, “I meant no disrespect.  The woman was…”

 Jack knocked Jamie to the ground.  Jamie stood, compelled to return the punch, his fist balled and slowly rising from his side.  Instead, he rose to his full height before Jack: “Blackguard.”

 Murtagh stepped up beside Jamie, another face to meet Jack’s, but before he could speak he was met with the end of Jack’s pistol: “Stay out of this Granddad.”

 Jack yelled for his riding partner, Private Smithson, to retrieve the jailer to drag Jamie inside and – at Jack’s rabid insistence – shove him into one of only 3 cells then, at threat of death, to put Jamie in handcuffs. Jack then ordered everyone to leave.  As Jamie was dragged into jail he looked back at his Godfather, feeling it may be the last time he would be alive to see him.

 Enraged, Jack paced.  He eyed a leather baton hanging on the wall outside the cell.  He opened the door, circling,  predator to prey. He went first for Jamie’s abdomen, though Jamie was nimble enough to outmaneuver him.  For hours Jamie fought Jack’s abuse.   The rusted, jagged, iron handcuffs ate away at his wrists with each attempt at defense.

 Finally weakened, Jamie fell to his knees.  A menacing smile curled at John’s lips.  It became clearer to Jamie that Jack’s motives were more sinister, and that the abuse was meant to weaken him physically and emotionally in order to carry out greater evil.

 The cell’s stone walls and floor reeked of urine and feces, having no way to dissipate without ventilation. What would be a modern day “dry cell,” it had contained dozens of men over the years who, without toilet, urinated and defecated within.  The lone door, with an iron bolt, purposely remained shut in order to heighten the acrid atmosphere. 

 “You can’t outlast me.”

 Soaked with sweat, his one eye swollen shut, Jamie prayed for enough strength to overcome. Jack removed his breeches and coat, then came to kneel in front of Jamie.  Jack felt victorious in subduing the tall, handsome Scot. He took Jamie’s chin, forcing him to meet his eyes.  Jamie felt a surge of energy then lunged at Jack, getting him in a headlock, the chain of the handcuffs digging into his throat.

 “Give up.”

 When Jack refused, Jamie pulled the handcuffs tighter.

 “Yes.”  Jack choked out.

 For greater measure Jamie gave one last pull, then fell to his side.  Jack hunched over the floor, gasping for air, then rose to gather his clothes.  He left, slamming the door shut.

 Jamie sat in filth and dark, numb with pain, until late that night when Murtagh burst in and handed his purse to Jack, the lone sentinel.

Helping his bloodied, beaten Godson to leave, Murtagh cursed at Jack who only laughed in response.

 Jack snapped from the memory to find he was clenching the reins so hard his hand was white.  Lallybroch had finally come into view.

 

 ~~~~~~~

 Most everyone had moved to the living room to talk when, in the middle of Benedetta telling of their wedding day in Italy, the front door flew open. 

Jack scanned the room, finding Jamie bringing glasses from the kitchen. 

 “Ah, I’m just in time for an afternoon cordial.”

 Brian jumped up, then Murtagh and Lamb, intentionally shielding the women and children.

 “No need for bravado, gentlemen. Sit back down.”

 “This is MY estate and you will not order me to DO ANYTHING,” Brian yelled, moving towards Jack.

 Staggering, his head soaked with alcohol, Jack pulled his pistol from his side and pointed it at Brian.

 “I AM giving orders.  The balance of power is decidedly in my favor.  Sit, or there will be death.”

 Brian looked to the men with him, then sat. 

 Jack nodded to the bottle of whiskey sitting on the table. “Pour me one, aye old chap?” he said to Jamie.

 In the window of the sitting room, on the other side of the stairs, Lamb saw Joe’s reflection turning around and running, presumably into and out of Emily’s room and into theirs.

 Though he’d rather have thrown it at him, Jamie took the decanter, careful not to turn his back, then filled a glass which he then reached towards, rather than walked to, Jack.

 With the gun still pointed at Brian, Jack frowned.

 “No. Bring it here.”

 Jamie walked to Jack, placing it in his hand.

  “What is it, Jack? Money?” Brian asked.

 Jack laughed loudly enough to startle everyone.

 “Money?  I could have any amount I wanted, and from anyone I chose to take it from.  What I want is worth much more to you than money” he said, eyeing Jamie. “Much more. I’ll not be placated with something as meaningless as coins.”

 “You’ll take money or get out.

  “I JUST SAID…” he bellowed.

 At this moment Gianna began to cry. 

 Irritated, Jack tried to maintain control and instinctively pointed the gun towards the women. “Get the women out. They’re noisy.”

 Antonio moved towards Jack, but Antonino pulled him back.  “No, papa.”

“Don’t you tire of being chivalrous?  If it wasn’t obvious, I didn’t show up for the children, and most definitely not the women.” Unhappy with his command not being immediately acted upon, Jack shouted again.

 “Out!”

 The women began to rise, slowly forming a line.

 He waved his gun back and forth towards the kitchen. “Go on, fair, delicate creatures,” he groaned.

  Claire refused, coming to stand beside Jamie, wrapping her arms around him in defense. “I’m not leaving.” 

 Defying Jack’s order, she glared at him with contempt. His likeness to Frank was shocking, but not the inherent cruelty.  This was probably noticed by Lamb, though she hadn’t been able to confirm that.  Now, she took the opportunity to degrade Jack in a way that she had never been strong enough to with Frank.

 “Ah!  The lovely bride-to-be!” Jack choked out. “Claire. Elizabeth. Beauchamp.” He glugged the whiskey and threw the glass on the floor.

 “Doesn’t portend well for your future when your fiancée won’t listen!“ he chided Jamie. “I offered you something better, but you refused.” 

 Jamie bristled.  “BASSA.”

 "Name-calling is juvenile.”

 Fixing the pistol on Brian again, and his eyes back on Jamie, he moved a few steps closer, placing his finger squarely on the trigger. “Unless you want yer Da to meet the God you…” he said, noting the crucifix above the fireplace “so reverently serve, then we have a debt to settle. Go outside.”

 Jack took his eyes off Jamie, catching a glimpse of Gianna in Benedetta’s arms as she walked behind Ellen, Jenny and Emily to the kitchen. The little girl’s long, black hair, the fear in her beautiful, dark eyes…his mother had resembled her, and had looked at him the same way. Jack’s heart seemed to throb to life remembering her beauty and gentleness.

 Seeing his first opportunity, Jamie shoved Claire out of the way, then with a single blow knocked Jack to the ground, his pistol skidding on the floor.  

 With Jack temporarily distracted, Antonio leapt to Jamie’s side, pulling a small, snub-nosed revolver from his trouser pocket. He pointed it down at Jack.

 “Unless you want to meet this God, you’ll leave your pistol where it is.” 

 Jack, scrambling to retrieve it, stopped. 

 “If you haven’t made your peace with Him man, it won’t be an altogether happy meeting; especially for you.”

 Jack turned to stare at the gun in Antonio’s hand, unsure of its type, and looked back at Antonio.

 “This can unload 5 rounds in a few seconds,” he growled. “You’d be stupid to challenge me.”

 Dazed, Jack stood, wiping the blood off his mouth, not swayed by the weapon pointed at him.

 Joe quietly came up behind him and pressed the cold muzzle of the Glock to the back of his head.

 “This one can fire off three times as many.”

 Joe tossed the other gun to Lamb, who, adopting his stance, pointed it squarely at Jack’s chest.

 “Lay face down on the floor,” Antonio ordered.

 Jack had no recourse.  He slowly kneeled, then prostrated himself on the floor.  As Antonio was binding his hands with a belt, Murtagh, seeing someone ride up out of the window, looked at Brian: “Another redcoat.”

 Lamb and Joe bolted to the front door, proceeding slowly out.  Lamb went first, pointing his gun at John.

 John, shocked and uncertain what the men had in their hands, defended himself: “I MEAN NO HARM.  PLEASE – I HAVE COME TO HELP.”

 Lamb, unconvinced, moved a step closer.  “Put your hands in the air.  State your business.”

 John quickly obliged.  “I’m John Grey, Commanding officer…” he paused, seeing Jack’s thoroughbred,  “of Jack Randall.”

 “And how does that convince me you’re harmless” Lamb said, moving off the porch.

 “It doesn’t, but…is everyone safe?”

 “We are.”

 Relieved, John spoke more slowly.

 “I only just learned of his whereabouts, and came immediately to…”

 “You don’t know where your subordinates are?  What kind of show do you run?  Keep your hands in sight and dismount,” Joe yelled.

 John kept his hands up and slid off his horse, accepting this second reminder of his incompetence in managing Jack.

 Joe frisked him and retrieved his pistol. “So, you’re here to…”  he said, placing his own gun in the back of his kilt.

 “Apprehend Jack.  He will,” John said, his guts wrenching at the thought “most probably be court-martialed.  I will convey him to my commanding officer for debriefing.”

 Lamb kept his gun on John, though felt sure he was telling the truth.

 “And what of you?”

“That remains to be determined, but I will no longer have my commission.  It doesn’t matter anymore.  I’m tired of this place, and of Jack.”

 John motioned towards the door. “Is he….”

 “Yes, he’s alive.”

 Lamb put his gun down, but not away.

 Overwhelmed, but resigned to what will be a disastrous meeting with Burgoyne, John considered the steps that will need to be gone over to finally end this sordid, miserable situation.

 “I will, of course, need to file a report.  I assure you I will refrain from mentioning your owning firearms.”

 “That’s really big of you, but I’m from the good ol’ U.S. of A. so this doesn’t apply to me.” Joe said, his hands on his hips. “And my friend is a British citizen.”

 While John tried to digest Joe’s remarks, Brian shoved a bound Jack Randall out the door.  John moved, slowly, towards Brian to retrieve Jack.  John got him into his saddle, then moved to Brian, pulling a pouch from his jacket pocket.

 “Please – take this.”

 “What is it?”

 “Small compensation for the fear and disruption to your life, and wedding.  I am truly sorry.”  

 Brian hesitated; was this a set-up?  Would he be arrested later, having been blamed for theft?

 John saw on Brian’s face what was playing out in his mind. “Sir, you will not be compromised.”

 Brian nodded, taking the pouch.

 When John looked to Joe, to retrieve his pistol, Joe shook his head.

 “No can do.  You’ll be going on without it.”

 “And by the way,” Murtagh said, coming to stand behind Brian, “if ye EVER touch Fraser land again it’ll be yer last day on earth.”

 John sighed, moving to mount his horse, then took the reins of Jack’s.

“I do wish you the best, as unconvincing as that may seem,” John said to the men before he rode off.

 Jamie had quickly moved to help Claire up off the floor, meaning to move her to safety again if necessary.  She swept her hair off her face.  “I knew you’d take him, but I wanted to see you do it!”

 He laughed into Claire’s neck, his tears of relief landing in the dark pillow of hair.  “I love ye, Claire. I will thank God every time I can tell ye that for the rest of our lives.”

 Claire pulled Jamie’s face to hers.  “Ditto, buddy.”  She threw her arms around him, the fear she put aside finally overtaking her. “Thank God you’re alive.”

 When the men arrived back inside the house, the women came from the kitchen. Brian gathered Ellen to him and hugged her, then checked on everyone else. 

 “I am grateful for your protection,” he said, turning to Antonio, Lamb and Joe.  “and for saving all of us.”

 The men nodded, exchanging knowing glances with each other.

 Claire ran to hug Lamb, then Joe while Jamie reached to shake Antonio’s hand.  “Brother, yer a true friend.  Thank ye.”

 “Just followed your lead, son.”

 Brian gathered the group together, having everyone join hands.

 “Father in Heaven, we praise ye for yer protection and abiding presence this day.  Your word says ye are our help and our shield and that ye will never leave us nor forsake us. Thank ye, Lord. May glory be yours.” 

 They remained huddled together, Gianna happily in Antonio’s arms, when Brian broke the silence: “Gentlemen, pray tell where ye purchased such unusual firearms.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie woke before the sun had even hinted at rising. He reached to touch the table beside his bed, a means to ground him in reality.

We’re alive. It’s my wedding day.”

Clare woke at nearly the same time, rubbing her eyes and gauging the time to be about 4:00. Moments from yesterday – the pistol pointed at Brian, then Jamie, little Gianna’s cry, Jack’s hate-filled glare… flooded her mind.  

God,” Claire began, “I know I only ever seem to talk to you when I’m in danger, or when I’m angry, or when I need something.  I’m sorry.”  Tears fell down her cheeks and onto her pillow. “Thank you for saving us, for saving Jamie.  I’m grateful to have this day.”

With a warmth in her heart, she fell back to sleep.

When morning was more fully present, Claire woke to hear the hustle and bustle downstairs: conversations, dogs scurrying, requests yelled from one room to another.  She peaked out the window and saw Glenna arriving early, as promised, bringing what amounted to - due the number of trips back and forth to her cart – a tableful of pies and the cake.

A knock at the door, then Jenny’s head poked around: “Would ye feel like a bite?”

“Definitely. Thank you!”

Jenny quickly scooted in, laying a plate of food on Claire’s bed.

“I ken ye dinna want to see Jamie until ye get to the chapel, so I brought yer food to ye.”  There were wild strawberries, smoked fish, toast with butter and jam. “I’ll be back later to dress.”

It was surprising how easily the family had adjusted from the horror of yesterday.  Though fear still lingered, the wedding preparations were healing distractions. Much like the body recovers from illness - a few days of pain, then waking one morning to find it was finally overcome - so the Frasers were adapting to life after Jack Randall.

Not wanting to put her gown on one second before she had to, so she wouldn’t be hot, Claire began some of her preparations:  dabbing rose oil on her wrists, secretly using the last bit of deodorant, and securing her chignon with a silver hair prong. She sat in her dressing gown, gobbling everything from her plate.

“Hey, lady…” Lamb tapped on the door then snuck around the corner.

“Hey!”  Claire mumbled, her mouth full.

“I’ve asked Joe to walk with us to the chapel. Me on your right, him on your left. When we get inside, he’ll peel off and I’ll walk you down the aisle.  Okey dokey?”

“Okey dokey.”

Lamb pulled his phone from inside his vest, nudging Joe to do the same.

“Listen, we’ve kept these hidden long enough; we’ve got to take photos.  It’s your wedding.

“I gather you’ve already snuck some downstairs?”

They both nodded, nearly giggling with excitement. “They didn’t see us. Joe’s going to sit in the back so he won’t be noticed and get as many as he can.”

“Smooth.”

“Alright, love. We’re going to get in our Sunday finest. We’ll wait outside the door at 12:45.”

 ~~~~~

Murtagh sat on Willie’s bed as Jamie dressed.

“Have ye got the ring?”

“Already in my vest.”

“Vows?”

“Memorized.”

Murtagh recalled the day they set out to town, his mission to “bring Jamie around,” and the turn their lives took as a result. 

“What about yer presents?”

Jamie looked at the bag on his bed. “We’ll have to wait. I meant to give it to her last night.”

"That will do, then.”

With the last detail in place, Jamie stood in front of Murtagh.

“Am I presentable?”

Murtagh took in his godson then, uncharacteristically, hugged him. “Aye, lad.”

“I’ll meet ye downstairs.  I have to deliver another note.” 

 ~~~~~

 There came another, softer tap on Claire’s door.

“Come in!”

“It’s me,” the voice said from the other side.

Claire went to the door, leaning against it as if she were actually leaning against Jamie.

“Hello.” She whispered.

Jamie placed his hand on the door and leaned his check against where he thought Claire’s was.

“I love ye, mo aingeal.”

“I love you too.”

“I’ll see ye at the chapel.”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

“Aye?”

Snickering, Claire clarified: “I’ll see you soon.”

“Oh.  Thank ye.”

A small note, tied in a flower vine/garland, slipped under the door then the sound of boots going down the stairs.

Claire,

I thank God for this day, for you, and the privilege of being your husband.  I am, truly, the happiest man alive.

With all my love,

JAMMF”

Claire wrapped the vine into a circle and placed it within her hair. “The lucky one is me.” 

  ~~~~~

 Soon, guests were heard arriving and Willie’s directions being given with perfect clarity and maturity. 

Ellen smiled, hearing how easily Willie had control of what was obviously a growing crowd. She had come to help Claire, Jenny, and Emily who were together: sisters sharing pre-wedding bonding. What a lot of people take for granted, even remember with hostility or bitterness, was so fulfilling and enjoyable that Claire couldn’t conceive how brothers and sisters could live with such animosity towards one another.

Claire put on Benedetta’s earrings, secured Jamie’s kilt pin, and stuck the sixpence in her shoe while Ellen buttoned up Emily, then Jenny, coiffing their hair on top of their head leaving tendrils at their cheeks. Finally, Ellen helped Claire and fanned out her train. She took Claire by the shoulders.

“How are ye?” Ellen’s gaze was one of motherly love and concern. 

“I’m alright. We’re alive.  I couldn’t ask for more.”

“Aye, lass. We are.”

After a moment to ensure Claire was definitely alright, Ellen went to the door.  “I’ll leave ye be.  Oh!” she said, opening the door and stepping into the hallway. “Benedetta made something for you.”

Ellen handed her a stunning bouquet, the stems wrapped in blue silk.  “There are ones for Jenny and Emily as well” she said, closing the door

Finally putting on her gown, stockings, garters, and shoes she paced back and forth, going over and over what she had written, when she heard footsteps and a couple“ahems” in the hall. 

“Ah, my coach has arrived.”

Standing at the top of the stairs, Joe and Lamb were waiting.  She determined not to cry but their perfectly tailored outfits – so uniquely Scottish – had caught her off guard.  They, in turn, beheld Claire as more lovely, more happy than they thought would be possible. She was radiant. Lamb broke first, recognizing his brother in her, and longing for he, and Julia, to be here. They offered her their elbows and proceeded slowly down the stairs, given the length of the train, so there were no slip-ups. At the bottom, the smell of baked goods overtook them. What had yesterday been rooms filled with fear and threat, today were filled with food, light, and presents.

Out the back door they walked over the sweetly laid path Willie had made.  Halfway there, Claire stopped.

“I’ve only taken 20 steps and I’m already shvitzing.” She absent-mindedly began to fan herself with her bouquet.  “Let’s pick up the pace. I don’t want to show up with pit stains.”

The bleating of lambs and calves drifted through the air, mingled with the far-off babbling of the river. Thankfully, a persistent but welcome breeze accompanied them until, at last, they arrived at the chapel.

Brian had just finished greeting each guest who came in, leaving Murtagh and Willie at the door while he went to stand at the pulpit. Once inside the vestibule, Joe kissed Claire and went to his seat, turning around to point to his vest, winking.

“Are you ready?” Lamb asked, patting her hand.

“Yep, Let’s go.”

Behind them Murtagh and Willie shut the doors and locked them from the inside.  This had been installed just this morning, at Brian’s devising, to secure everyone from any possible, repeat threat.  Willie went to sit with Ellen at the front and Murtagh to stand beside Jamie.

The congregation turned to see Claire and Lamb. Taking practiced, measured steps Claire couldn’t force from her mind that this day, in this place, there could be coffins and mourning rather than a wedding celebration.  She focused on Jamie and the joy at having him here to push the thoughts from her mind.

Jamie, stood in his finest, formalist scottish wedding suit, took Claire's breath away.  Unknown to her, Jamie was holding back tears with everything he had; not seeing her until now had truly heightened the meeting, for her beauty was greater than he imagined.

Lamb handed Claire to Jamie, kissing her cheek, then stood beside Murtagh. Claire handed her bouquet to Jenny, then she and Jamie turned to Brian.

“Dearly Beloved. We are gathered together this day, in the sight of God, to join in holy matrimony Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp and James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. My family and I welcome all of ye this day to celebrate this marriage. We appreciate this opportunity to gather together for so joyous an occasion and I am sure ye will agree that it is indeed a blessing worth giving praise for.  Please bow yer heads with me…”

After time to pray, Brian lead the congregation in readings, singing of hymns, and the homily, finally coming to the vows. “Ye both have written yer vows?”

“Yes” they said together. They’d agreed Jamie would go first.

“My beloved Claire” he began, taking both of her hands:

“Ye are blood of my blood and bone of my bone

I give ye my body that we two might be one

I give ye my spirit ‘til our life shall be done.”

Claire, tears streaming down her cheeks, kept her hands in Jamie’s.

“My beloved Jamie, you have made me whole and I will forever be grateful to be your wife. I pledge to you my loyalty, love, and devotion for as long as we both will live."

Brian, smiling, moved them along. “Do ye have the ring?”

Jamie reached into his left-hand pocket, digging for the ring, then panicked.  He dug further, becoming agitated and worried, when a soft voice beside him whispered: “It’s in yer other pocket.”

“Aye!”  he said, louder than he intended.  Muffled chuckles were heard, then he reached into his right-hand pocket.

He held it before Brian who blessed it, then placed it on Claire’s left hand, kissing her finger. 

Jamie and Claire kneeled before Brian, who extended his hands over them for the nuptial blessing, after which they rose.

 “As Laird Broch Tuarach I now pronounce ye man and wife. Son, ye may kiss your bride.”

Sweetly, reverently, he kissed his wife, enfolding her in his arms.

 

Chapter Text

 Murtagh and Lamb went to the doors, unlocked and opened them, allowing everyone out and to the house.

Children gathered together, turning in circles and squealing near Murtagh, for the “wedding scatter.” From his sporran Murtagh pulled out coins which he showered over the children who excitedly fought for the ones that ended up on the ground.

 Jamie and Claire followed behind.  At the door to the house, though, Ellen was waiting with a bride cake in her hands. 

 Confused, Claire looked to Jamie but Joe spoke up before Jamie could explain: “This is the brides cake, dear.  Ellen’s to break it over your head” he whispered. “Good luck, lots of children, and such.”

 “Well, then,” Claire thought, a little worried about crumbs in her hair, “go right ahead!”

 Ellen crushed the small cake over Claire’s head. It did break into many pieces, an indication of children, causing Jamie to smile.

 Smacking at her head to dislodge crumbs, Claire muttered: “Wasn’t expecting that.” 

 “Ye dinna have such customs in the colonies?” Ellen asked, walking with Claire into the house.

 “Not as such. We just shove a piece of it into each other’s face.”

 “Oh.  I see.”

 They gathered in the sitting room where Brian opened the bible for the entry to be made. Willie listened carefully, writing slowly and perfectly. 

 “Did I do it properly, Da?”  he asked, looking up with pride.

 “Aye, son.  Verra well done.”

 Willie smiled, looking over his handiwork. 

 The very formality of their union, recorded on paper along dozens of other weddings, births, and baptisms, captivated Claire. She turned back, page by page, to see names and dates. 

 Just then Brian drew everyone from the Bible: “Shall we join the festivities?”

 Jamie held Claire’s hand as they moved from the sitting room into the outer rooms.   The band that played at hogmany had set up in the family room and began playing the moment they arrived. Joy reverberated throughout the home, with toasts to their health, fertility, and happiness.

 They strode through the different groups while Jamie introduced Claire to the many extended family, acquaintances, and friends.

 Jamie’s cousin Willie pushed his way through. His brown hair and eyes were unusual; even though Brian was dark-haired, it wasn’t very common among the rest of those Claire had come in contact with. Ellen’s observation that he was kind, with a good heart, was very astute; he exuded a wonderful spirit.

  “Jamie! And Claire, ‘tis nice to meet ye.”

 “Father?” Claire asked, noticing his cassock.  “I hope I haven’t misspoken.  It’s lovely to meet you too.”

 “Yes. I’ve received my holy orders and will have a kirk west of here.  I hope ye’ll come now and again.”

 “We’d love to!”

 Jamie, seeing a man and woman shyly walking in the front door, excused himself. He instantly recognized them.

 “Please – come enjoy yerselves! There’s…”

 “Son, we werena invited, but lernt of your nuptials,” the man said, holding his cap tightly in his hands. “I hope ye dinna mind that we stopped to congratulate ye.” Jamie led them into the sitting room and pulled the pocket doors shut that they may converse in quiet.

 “I’m pleased ye came.  I mean it when I say yer welcome to eat and drink.”

 “Jamie, what ye did fer us…” the man spoke, his wife wiping her eyes with a hanky,“…we can never repay ye for yer help.”

 The woman hugged Jamie, tears clouding her eyes, then kissed his cheek. “Do ye have a place to take yer bride?” she asked.

 “We didna plan anything, no.  There’s a broch…”

 “We’re going to visit family,” the woman quickly interjected.  “My mam is feelin’ poorly.  This here’s a key to a cabin we let out.”  She placed it in Jamie’s hand. “It’s small, but right by the lake to the south.  Do ye ken which one?”

 “Aye.  Dad and I fished it when I was a bairn.”

 “Well, yer welcome to take…”

 “Claire.”

 “…to take Claire for a wee bit o’ privacy if ye like. It’s a gift we wanted to extend to ye both.  And, truth be told, we’d appreciate havin’ someone look after it. We canna get to it so often.”

 “Yer verra kind. Stay here a moment? I’d like ye to meet her.”

 Jamie could see her from among everyone, her diaphanous dress standing out among the tartan. She was cornered by Rupert and Angus and seemed amused and horrified at the same time.

 “Jamie, lad! We were ribbin’ yer bride a wee bit. She’s a right sport she is!”

 “And a lady too.  Mind yer manners, aye? And since ye’ve found the whiskey, find the food as well? I dinna want ye boozed up and chasing the women like last time,” he said, attempting a wink.

 They’re laughs were loud and broke through the music and conversations.  Jamie clapped them both on the shoulder then pulled Claire quickly away.

 “I’d like ye to meet a man and his wife.  They were the ones I intervened for the day I…”

 “I understand.”

 “Claire, this is…”

 “My name is Alec, Mrs. Fraser.  God’s blessings to ye.”

 “Thank you, Alec.  I’m glad you’re here.”

 “’tis our honor, ma’am.  This is my wife Alice.”

 “Alice, I’m happy to meet you.”

 “We were just sayin’ that we’re leaving to visit my mam. She’s poorly and could use some help. We’re happy to have ye stay at our cabin while we’re gone - mind it while we’re away? We’ll be back at week’s end,” Alice said. Her gray-blue eyes shone with appreciation as she glanced up at Jamie.

 “I truly appreciate your generosity.  We’ll take good care of it.  Please – won’t you come have something to eat?”

 On the way to the kitchen Claire gave Jamie a mischievous look. He returned her mischievous look with an added, wonky, wink.

Chapter Text

***Because this chapter contains sexual situations it is deemed NSFW***

 

When the last of the guests had left, the Fraser family raised a final toast.  “To a blessed, safe, happy day.” Exhausted, they began to file off to their rooms. Jamie asked Brian for a moment alone.

 “Aye, son, what is it?”

 “A man and woman visited today. The ones I helped.”

 “I did see ye talking to a couple.  Is everything well?”  There was a tinge of worry in Brian’s voice.

 “Yes. They heard of the wedding and stopped to congratulate us.  They gave Claire and I a key to their small cabin on the lake.  To mind while they’re gone this week.”

  “Verra kind of them.  Are ye leaving now?”

 “Aye.”

 Brian’s knowing smile met Jamie’s: “Fine, then. Ye deserve a break.”

 Jamie saddled Blueskin while Claire changed and packed a small satchel for herself, then another with food.  Before she left, though, she placed the gift she’d gotten Ellen and Emily outside their door, and the gift for Jenny by her bed- all to have happened the day before.

 Jamie pulled Claire up behind him into the saddle and they rode off. As she had done before, Claire laid her cheek against Jamie’s back, her arms tightly wound around his chest.

 “How ever do you know where you’re going at night?”

 “Are ye saying in yer advanced time ye couldna get yerself around without the sun?”

 “NO.”

 Jamie's snickering let on that he didn’t completely agree with her.

 ~~~~~

 It was almost morning when they arrived, the sun a reddish glimmer on the horizon.  They needed to lead Blueskin by his reins on the footpath that lead to the cabin, having twice gotten off a main artery. Not set far from the “loch” it was something out of a fairytale. 

 A small weathered-brick, one-level cottage, the front covered in wisteria.  The side was a brick patio, with a small table and chairs, that wrapped around to the back.

 Jamie opened the door, standing aside for Claire to walk in first. 

 “Mrs. Fraser.”

 “Mr. Fraser.”

 Inside was clean and filled with the most beautiful furniture. It smelled of polish and freshly washed, line-dried linen.  Embroidery and paintings graced the walls, giving it an “old” feel; something Claire imagined a grandparent’s house would feel like, with doilies on tables, antiques in cabinets, and the regular chiming of a grandfather clock.

 “Aww. They must have cleaned it for us.”  Claire said, running her hand over a rocking chair.

 The home had another characteristic she knew of homes in that era: the ceiling was very low. Jamie had only a few inches of headspace. There was a small sitting room, a kitchen, small dining area, and one bedroom in the back.  Jamie, still concerned for safety, walked through the house first, clasping his dirk.

 When he had determined it was safe inside, he told Claire to get herself settled while he checked outside.

 Claire immediately undressed and opened the bedroom window. She stood in front of it, gleeful to be wearing only her shift, relishing the breeze that blew over her. The beautiful call of loons was far off and, nearby, the rustling of trees. Claire spread her arms so the wind would encircle her.

 Jamie, now stripped down to only his shirt, held her from behind.

 “Mmmmmmm” Claire hummed.

 He kissed her temple, then brought the bag in front of her. 

“My wedding present.  I’d planned to gift it to ye the other night.”

 She held it between her hands, immediately noting Ellen’s skilled stitching.

 “Open it.”

 She gently pulled it apart, touching the purple silk interior.   She turned her head backwards.

 “Purple is my favorite color.”

 Jamie held her chin in his hand, kissing her forehead. Remembering the day he went to the haberdasher, a strong inclination to buy the material, he felt he must have known all about her from that moment.

 “There’s more.  Feel inside.”

 She dug her hand into the bag, the unmistakable feeling of pearls greeting her fingertips.  She pulled the necklace out, placing it on top of the bag as a gorgeous backdrop.

 “They’re beautiful,” she wept.

 Jamie carefully took them from her hands to place around her neck.

 “These were Mam’s. A gift from her Mam.  And now they’re yours, Claire.” 

 “I’ve never had a hand-me-down.  This means everything to me.”

 Wiping her eye on her sleeve, she went to the small satchel she brought.  Underneath her things she had tucked the sampler.

 “This isn’t as expensive as the pearls, but…”

 He held it with reverence, touching the stitching. “It’s from yer hands.  It’s beautiful.”  His green eyes, soft with appreciation, met hers. “My heart and yours, from this day forward. We’ll always have this to remember how precious our day truly was. Thank ye.”

 She took it from him and laid it with the bag on the ottoman at the bottom of the bed, then returned to his arms at the window. After several minutes Claire turned around, locking her hands behind his back.

 “I haven’t… ummm…” she said, looking away.

 “’I haven’t ummm’ either.  We’ll manage.  I’m a farmer, ye ken.”

 “Yes, I’m sure we’ll…”  Claire stopped, winding the pearls around her fingers. “Wait.  You do know...it’s not from behind, right?”

 Jamie’s face froze.  His eyes drifted away, then his brows scrunched together.

“Oh dear.”

 Just then a sly smirk began at the corner of Jamie’s mouth, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

 “You!”

 “I ken the way, Mrs. Fraser.”

 In full smile, he ran his hand over Claire’s cheek, then down her neck to the tie at the top of her shift, looking for her approval before he went further. When she emphatically nodded, he pulled the bow loose then slipped it over her shoulders. She nudged him away, then he pulled his shirt off.

 He kissed her neck, the soft hair of his beard and mustache causing her burgeoning gooseflesh.  Months ago he’d asked if she’d like him to be clean-shaven on their wedding day.

 “NO!  I mean, no please.  Beards are…absolutely wonderful,” she had replied, nuzzling his moustache and thick, red beard with her cheek. Surprised and elated that it brought her so much pleasure, he ensured his bride had her wish.

  She ran her hand over his chest, tracing the swirls of auburn hair.  She moved from his chest to his arms, lingering on his biceps, which caused Jamie to involuntarily flex. Periodic work outside, at times when he’d taken off his shirt, had sun-kissed his skin. The broadness of his chest, covered in waves of beautiful hair, and his muscular arms were beginning to make her feel weightless. In the haze that was taking over her mind came flashes of Michelangelo’s David.

 She pulled his mouth to hers, causing Jamie to grab onto the window frame to steady himself. He picked her up and laid her on the bed.  “I want to look at you,” he said, settling beside her.

 Her skin was pale, nearly translucent, and smooth as silk. This first moment with his wife’s body had caused his heart to race, nearly pounding out of his chest.

 “Ye might think me…backward for having never seen a woman’s body.”

 “Of course I don’t.”

 Claire gently caressed his face.  Jamie leaned his head into her hand, grateful for her touch of reassurance at so intimate a moment.  “Claire, I love ye so.”

 She continued caressing him, running her fingers down his arm. She pulled his hand to her lips, kissing each finger. Taking her cue, he moved his hand to where her ache was the strongest, and in response, Claire moved her hand down Jamie’s chest upon hearing his breathless “yes.”

 Claire found Jamie’s hips and pulled him atop her.  He remained mindful of his body, to ensure the joining would not pain her, knowing he outweighed her by several stone.  Claire had responded to this attention, wrapping herself fully around him, her hands clutching at his back. Her final gasp, coming after waves of them, met simultaneously with Jamie’s. He dropped his forehead to hers. She reached to entangle her hands in the curls at his neck, kissing him over and over.

 “I love you too,” she smiled. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire had never shared a bed with anyone, so this first time was like sleeping beside a space heater. It was easily 90 degrees outside, and beside her heat-generating husband the room felt like a sauna.  On top of that, the bedroom faced west so it got the fierce afternoon sun.

 Tossing and turning, drenched in sweat, she was considering moving to the wood floor with a pillow to find relief.

Then a thought came to her.

 “ Jamie,” she whispered.

 “Aye, lass?”  he said, turning over. 

 “Let’s get some food and go to the lake.”  Claire was up and on her way to the kitchen. Naked.

 He sat up, looking for his kilt and shirt.  “Claire! Ye dinna even have yer shift on!”

 “I’M AWARE OF THAT” she yelled from another room.

 She had the satchel of food and was just about to open the front door.

 “CLAIRE!”

 Jamie bolted ahead of her, plastering himself against the door.

 “Darling, there is no one around here,” Claire began her motion for dismissal, “and I’m drenched in sweat.  I want to be neck-deep in cool water.  You can’t tell me you don’t too.”

 He didn’t seem convinced.

 “Listen. When you’re out working, you can pour water over yourself to cool off. I CAN’T.  You gotta give me this.”

 “Well… here. Put my shirt on at least.”

 “I'm glad you see things my way,” she sweetly replied, kissing him on the cheek.

  The lapping water and soon-to-be waning light reminded Claire of evenings while in Israel. A months-long dig had been so fruitful that it had seemed more a vacation than work; each day was met with greater, more noteworthy discoveries.  At night she would zoom on her scooter to the sea of Galilee to refresh and relax, swimming a quarter mile or so out to break up the kinks in her back and neck.

 She sat Jamie’s shirt down then waded in and, like an otter, spun around under the water before coming up for air.

 Jamie, sat on a rock, scanned the perimeter of the lake for anyone or anything of threat.  Heavy in thought, he didn’t see Clare sneak up on him and splash him.

 “Come on in. The water’s great.”

 Each evening thereafter they went to the lake to eat, swim, and cool off. One day Jamie had been able to get a few fish for dinner but was on a roll and wanted to get a few more.  Just several yards out, with his handmade spear, something brushed past him.  He only saw a dark shape, but it was enough to send him back to shore.

 Claire, lounging in the grass, sat up.

 “You ok?”

 “Aye.  Just felt something brush my leg is all.  Wasna aware there was anything here other than trout.”

 Claire began laughing.

 “Aye?”

 “Maybe it was Nessie.”

 “Ye have knowledge of such things in lakes, then?”

 “Well, there’s a story that a dinosaur-like creature lives in Loch Ness.  A plesiosaur, I believe.  It’s nicknamed ‘Nessie’”

 “What was the phrase ye used once – ‘tugging my trouser?’”

“No” she said, laughing more, “it’s ‘pulling my leg.’ It means telling a lie. Though no one has been able to successfully find the girl, many still believe she’s in there.”

 “Well, I didna like whatever it was so we’ll only have the two tonight.”

 “Thank you for catching our dinner, milord.”

“My pleasure, milady.  I’d not been swimming in years and it’s felt fine indeed.  I’m glad ye thought o’ this.  Truly.”

 “Oh, really?” Claire raised her eyebrow. 

 “Yer a bit more…forward thinking.  Just took me time to catch up.”  His dripping body leaned in to kiss her, drenching her face in water and momentarily blocking the sun.  He nuzzled her nose with his.  “I need to clean the fish for dinner.”

 “So..” Claire said, holding onto Jamie’s hand as he moved to walk back to the cottage, “got a minute?” Her beguiling eyes rested on all six feet, four inches of him.

 Jamie, a smile blossoming, shook his head.

 “I’m just a body to ye.”

Claire said "no," but nodded her head yes.

 Jamie laughed out loud.  “Ye dinna want to eat?”

 “I’ve always been a fan of dessert first,” she replied, twirling her hair.   “Makes the meal so much more satisfying. Don’t you think?”

 He walked back to her and kneeled down at her side. He very lightly grazed her lips with his, then gently wound his fingers into the hair at the back of her neck, pulling her to him for an epic, gasp-worthy kiss.

 “Far be it for me to deny my wife her desires.”

 Later, after a leisurely bath, they decided to eat dinner in bed. Jamie had prepared everything: smoked fish, wild apples and raspberries, cheese, and bread. Claire wished the room was filled with fairy lights but accepted the two small candles.

Laying together afterwards, the candles nearly out, Claire jerked a few times: a cue Jamie learned this week that his wife was falling asleep.

 The week had been more wonderful, more beautiful than he had anticipated. Here in the dying candlelight, the gentle breeze blowing in the window, his snoring and jerking wife at his side, was a truly perfect culmination for all they had endured and waited for.

 Being taught that there should be no physical intimacy before marriage made perfect sense at this moment; though Jamie accepted it was right all these years, the soundness of it didn’t sink in until now. Everything his Da had taught him, even when he was a stroppy teenager and felt Brian was too strict or overbearing, had proven to be trustworthy. In this case, waiting only made the intimacy more passionate and more gratifying.

 Rubbing Claire’s back, Jamie whispered into the shadows cast by the flickering candles: “Lord, ye promised we’d be blessed for obeying ye.  I canna thank ye enough for this, and many other blessings.”

 He pulled Claire more tightly in his arms, kissed her cheek, and fell asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 New sleeping arrangements were made after Claire and Jamie returned:  Murtagh would be with Willie, and Claire and Jamie would have Murtagh’s room. Despite this change, normal family operations resumed.

 Brian had not openly sought the answer to his question about the guns, but his expectation definitely hung in the air. Firearms, in his home and without his knowledge, was a serious breach of trust.  Still, he wanted to know how, and where they had been obtained.

 “Was it a colonial design?” he mused early in the morning before going out to work.  “Is this what the Continental Army were fighting the British with?  If this is the case, a quick and sure victory will ensue. The British surely don’t have anything comparable.”

 ~~~~~

 Murtagh joined Lamb and Joe under the shade of a willow tree for lunch, this sweltering August day, after several sections of wheat had been sickled. Lamb broached the subject immediately: “I owe Brian an explanation, but celebration took precedence, so I waited.”

  Joe added: “I don’t think lying, again, would be the best route.  That only leaves the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And, unfortunately, this will involve you and Jamie as well” he said to Murtagh.

 Murtagh’s one eyebrow raised.  “I ken that.”

 From far off they saw Jamie and Claire, having come from the river.

Claire sat down, pulling her hair to the side to squeeze out the water.  Jamie laid beside her, pulling two hand pies from the lunch basket.

 “Brian hasn’t directly asked for an answer, but it’s been obvious – at least to me - that he’s looking for one.  I don’t think his question was rhetorical” Lamb said between bites.

 Claire sighed, pulling up blades of grass.  “But how much do we say?”  She looked to Jamie.  “What are your thoughts? This will involve you as well.”

 “I dinna want ye to take the blame on yerselves. I will take what may come upon myself; ye’ve done enough in saving us.”

 “I can’t allow that, son. I’ll start the conversation,” Lamb continued “and explain our side of it.  You and Murtagh can explain your side.  Claire, if you feel a need to add anything, jump in.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Dinner was unremarkable; it didn’t feel that anything was amiss. But when Brian rose from the table, he asked Lamb to join him in the sitting room, and had Jenny and Willie go to their rooms: sure signs of “a talk.” He filled and lit his pipe, taking puffs as he watched the family settle. 

 Lamb sat forward, his hands clasped between his knees. “I want to offer an explanation for how we obtained our pistols.”

 Brian, sat beside Ellen, opened his hands as an invitation to continue.

 Lamb took a deep breath.  “We haven’t been truthful with you, and for that I am extremely sorry.  As Joe had mentioned when we arrived, Claire and I came to Scotland from Oxford to do research with Joe who I’ve been friends with for a long time.”

 Claire placed her hand on Lamb’s arm.

 “During this time, I was at a park, the one several hours ride from here with the standing stones, when a drawing I made disappeared through one of the stones.  I didn’t understand what happened, and it became even more confusing when it came back with additional writing.  This continued over the course of several days.”

 “Da,” Jamie said quietly, “While Murtagh and I were away, was when this happened.  We had camped at the same park. I was finding her sketches on the ground, marking them up mostly out of boredom, and a few times unknowingly returning them to her through the same stone.”

 Brian took his pipe from his mouth, only a vague idea of what was going on.  “Ye were corresponding, through a stone, then met in town?” 

 “We were corresponding, but we didn’t meet in town.” Claire clarified.

 “Go on.”

 Lamb continued: “When Claire eventually told me of exchanges with some stranger, I thought she was being stalked. It was then that I bought the guns.”

 “Well, I understand yer motivation, then.” Brian’s tone softened.  “But having a firearm in Scotland is a punishable offence.”

 “Yes, that is true,” Joe interjected, “for 18th century Scotland.”

 Now that the door was opened, there could be no closing it.

 “There has been talk for generations,” Ellen brought up for the first time aloud “that the stones brought travelers. “Are…Have ye come from another time?”

 Jenny and Willie, hiding on the stairs, were riveted by the conversation.

 “Yes,” Joe added, “from the 21st century.”

 Willie almost let out a yell but Jenny quickly clamped a hand over his mouth.

 Even Jamie and Murtagh turned, their shock equal to that of rest of the family.

 “I hope you will understand why we didn’t immediately mention this.  It would have seemed too fantastical.”

 For several minutes Ellen pondered this, tapping the arm of the settee.  Brian had gotten up, pacing, trying to process whether this was an absurd fabrication, or the truth.  Questions swirled in his mind.

 “Yer guns – are from that time?”

 “Yes.“

"Are ye actually researchers?”

 “Yes.”

 “How was it ye came to be here?”

 “I have only a vague memory,” Claire replied.  “We were all near the stone one evening, about to meet at a restaurant – I mean tavern - when I felt like I was pulled under water.  We woke up here, in this time.”

 Wanting to ensure Jamie, and Murtagh, had not been caught in some type of intrigue – Lamb and Claire were British, after all – Brian fixed his eyes on Jamie.

 “Is this what ye know as well?”

 “I didna know the particulars until now, but yes, I knew they were from the future.”

 Jamie reached for Claire’s hand, which he took and kissed

“Eventually we needed to leave so I bid her goodbye, blessed her, and left, not expecting I’d ever…” Jamie clenched his jaw “hear from her again.”

 Knowing the pain that Jamie took with him before the trip, the additional pain he brought home with him, Brian’s heart seized in his chest. He placed his hand there, a gripping remorse overtaking him, when Murtagh spoke up.

 “Ye placed the lad in my care, and for any trouble that was caused, and for no telling ye truthfully what happened, I apologize.” 

 “I didna worry with him in yer hands.  Dinna fash. I can’t say how I’d have reacted to such a situation.” 

 When Brian finally returned to his seat, he placed his pipe on the table beside him.

 “This…journey must have been harrowing and could have been fatal.  The adjustment to a time so removed from yer own must also be difficult. I accept what ye said and offer my forgiveness.  That ye saved my family from certain death will forever place me in yer debt”

 “I didna suppose the stories were real.  This surely explains a lot of yer peculiarities.” Ellen attempted a smile.

 Relieved, Lamb offered his hand: “Well, let’s just call this even.”  Brian took it appreciatively: “Aye.”

 The pall that had hung over the conversation was gone now, replaced with peace and understanding.

 Emily, having finished the washing up, came into the doorway wiping her hands on her apron.  “Did I miss anything?”

Chapter Text

Claire found grinding wheat to be cathartic; the repetitive motions from the cast iron, hand-crank mill reminded her of digging and scraping at sites. In this case, though, she was breaking down material rather than gently removing it. Today it kept her thoughts occupied.

 Ellen, kneading dough beside her, noticed Claire had been grinding for a while. She was staring absent-mindedly at the table, her mouth hardened into a frown, not mindful that the hopper was empty.

 “Claire, love.  Ye can make yer noodles now” Ellen gently said to get Claire’s attention. 

 “Oh. Yes.”

 Claire made a pool in a pile of flour, added eggs, swirled them in until it was dough, then took a rolling pin to it.  She sliced it into long strips and dropped them into boiling water.  From the tomatoes and herbs in her garden she had been making marinara; though the family was not accustomed to the heavy aroma and taste of tomatoes, garlic and herbs, it had come to grow on Jamie. He loudly whooped whenever he came in for dinner and smelled the “blessed fragrance” greeting him from the kitchen.

 Outside, fall was approaching. Jenny and Willie anxiously waited each afternoon for Brian to finish working the horses so they could run with buckets of water and pockets full of apples they’d been gathering. When they were wee ones, Brian would put them on his shoulder; they’d squirm with glee and giggle when the horse’s soft mouths would take it from their hand. Now, though, Jenny and Willie devised a game of hide-and-seek; they would make sure the apples were hidden somewhere on themselves before they went in the stable. They would stand in front of each stall to see if the horse could tell where it was, a gentle nudge in the right place getting them their treat.

 After dinner one evening, Brian nodded to Jamie to follow him outside.  Standing on the front step, a slight coolness to the air and a yellow hue developing on the trees, Brian pulled a pouch from his vest pocket.

 “Captain Grey gave this to me when he left.  Said it was for our trouble.  Rightly belongs to you, Jamie.”

 It was heavy, the sound of metal clanking together a clear indication of money.

 Jamie opened it to find coins - and gold ones at that.

 “Da…there’s…”  Jamie flicked through the coins that had tumbled to his hand “a hundred pounds here!”

 “Aye.  I’m sure ye’ll ken what to do with it.”  He clapped Jamie on the arm and went inside.

 ~~~~~

 Walking down the hallway later, to go to bed, Jamie stopped in to say goodnight to Murtagh.  He was looking out the window, a book open in front of him.

 “Father, have ye a moment?

 Startled, he turned around. 

 “Aye, son.  Come in.”

 “I’ve something fer ye.”

 “I hope it’s some of those biscuits Claire made. They’re the finest ones for dunking in my morning tea I’ve ever had.  But dinna tell yer Mam. What were they called?”

 “Biscotti.”

 “Fine, indeed” Murtagh said, turning in his chair, his eyes full of anticipation and curiosity.

 Jamie sat on the bed, placing the pouch on the table.

 Murtagh’s eyebrows scrunched together as he looked it over.

“Father, Captain Grey gave this to us.”

 “Son, I canna… I wilna take what rightfully belongs to ye.  And Claire.” His eyes flared with determination as he pushed the pouch back towards Jamie.

 “I wouldna be here without yer sacrifice.  Would ye deny that the Lord may be blessing ye for saving my life?” Jamie’s voice had that resolute tone Murtagh knew very well.

Even if it had come to sacrificing his own life, he’d have done it as well – anything for his beloved Godson. 

 Murtagh took the pouch, pulled it open, then pulled out a few coins.  Laying them in his palm, Murtagh’s eyes widened.  He pulled out the remaining coins, absent-mindedly laying the pouch on his knee.

 “Son – there’s…” he stammered. 

 “A hundred pounds total.”

 Murtagh rubbed his hand over his beard, shocked. His glance to Jamie, a final “are you sure,” was answered with a slow nod.

 “Thank ye, son.”

 “Yer owed more than money, but I’m happy to be able to do at least that.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Slowly opening the door to his bedroom, Jamie walked in and undressed.  Already in bed, Claire folded down the sheet for him. Freshly washed and dried that day, they smelled of cut hay and grass and had the crispness from drying outside that Jamie loved.

She had been quiet today, and during the evening had focused solely on her knitting, her legs gathered up under her. Worried glances had been noticed, especially from Ellen. 

 This time was sacred to them; it was set aside to talk, or love, for the busyness of the day often got in the way of intimate conversation and physical closeness. There was something about him that was freeing; she didn’t feel guilty, shameful, or scared.  Nothing she did was ever condemned or ridiculed. With so much love and acceptance, Claire became who she’d always wanted to be.

 “What would ye like to speak on this evening” he whispered to the top of her head.

 He gently stroked her fingers, still able to admire the contrast of her alabaster skin to the silver and bronze of her ring, even in the dim light of the room. He knew that marriage had its difficulties and being faced with one of them this early on as Claire’s sullenness seemed to grow proved to be a challenge.

 “I thought everything would be easy” she mumbled through tears.

 He’d noticed her courses had been regular but didn’t make any outright notice of it in case it was worrying her.  It was probably the same concern in Ellen’s eyes as well.  He didn’t know what to say, so he held her more tightly to himself.  Her breathing went from slow to jagged depending on how hard she was crying.

 Then he remembered something that happened on the farm a few years ago.

 Brian had bought oat seed and, expecting it would perform similarly to other seed he’d used, he planted it in the same manner.

 Unfortunately, it didn’t perform as easily.  In fact, it didn’t grow at all.

 “Useless. All of it.” Brian gritted through his teeth, trying to control his anger.

 He placed the bag in the barn and forgot about it. It laid there unnoticed, in the corner, for weeks.

 Jamie needed a shovel from the barn, and before turning to leave he noticed sprouts on the ground all around the bag.  It occurred to him, as he stood in shock, that the seed must have needed more shade, rather than direct sun, to germinate. 

 “Maybe the bairn needs a certain type of environment as well” Jamie thought to himself, though not knowing what that would mean biologically.

 “Claire,” Jamie asked softly “would ye mind if I told ye a story?”

 Claire buried her face in his chest.  She didn’t speak, but merely nodded. “He wouldn’t be a Scot without a story” she thought, smiling at his means to comfort her.

 Slowly, with a mind to make Claire feel better, he told her the story of the oat seed. 

 “Might it be that a special condition is needed?  Do ye have greater knowledge on how bairns develop?”

 “I do, but it involves medical procedures, or supplements and prescriptions that aren’t available now.  Maybe I’m rushing things.  I didn’t know how much I wanted children until I met you, and I’m anxious.”

 “The Lord hears yer prayers, mo ghràidh.  Dinna overly worry yerself. We’ll have them in due time.”

 The knitting she’d been focused on were lavender booties (a combination of blue and pink) that she’d kept hidden under her pillow. “Maybe if I sleep on them, like a piece of wedding cake, I’ll know what I’ll have.”*

 She clutched them to her heart, both she and the booties wrapped in Jamie’s arms. 

 


*Although this practice may not be common outside where I grew up, taking home a piece of cake from a wedding, and sleeping on it, was thought to cause you to dream of who you would marry. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The heartbreak had mostly left by the time Claire woke up. Jamie had kissed her as he left to work, whispering how much he loved her. 

 Claire rose, yawned, and dressed. She ran her finger over the sampler she made, now properly framed and hanging on the wall.  “If I never have anything else, I have you.”

 Hearing a lot of conversation coming from downstairs, Claire went quickly to see what had kept the men inside; normally it was quiet save for Emily’s scurrying about cleaning, and Ellen keeping Willie and Jenny on their chores.

 Huddled behind Joe, who was sitting at the table, everyone was clearly gob-smacked. 

 “These next ones were taken here in the house before the wedding,” Joe said, swiping through photos.  “These were just before the vows…then these next were just after.” There was complete silence.  “Would anyone like to see other pictures?”

 Claire raised her eyebrows and caught Ellen’s eyes. She maneuvered to Claire’s side to whisper.

  “Caught them scurrying into their rooms last night as I got to the stairs.  They were listening.  Jenny can’t hold a secret, so confessed immediately.”

 “And Emily?”

 “We couldna put her curiosity off.  I talked to her this morning.”

 “Well, the cat’s out of the bag for sure!”

 “Aye?”

 “The secret is out.”

 “That it is.”

 “Aye!” Willie answered, captivated with the pictures of himself.  “Mam – I didna notice how much our eyes are alike.  And my nose is just the same as Da’s.”  Joe chose two other pictures of Willie directing guests near the front of the house.

 “Maybe we’ll talk a bit about biology this week?” Claire said, finding an ‘in’ for a topic to teach.

 Jenny was curious about the phone in general: “What do those other symbols there mean?”

 “This one is a clock.  This one is a navigational tool.  There’s a calendar, one for weather, ways to add figures quickly…”

 “’tis like having all types of books and tools in one place then,” Jenny observed  “so ye dinna have to carry all of them around separately.”

 “Well put, Jenny.” Lamb said.

 “But you will still be doing math and writing as you always have” Claire said to address any desire to shortcut their lessons.

  “I ken that, Miss Claire. It wouldna be proper to cheat.”

 “Alright then, gentlemen, shoo!  We’ve all got work to do and yer clogging up my kitchen!” Ellen said, moving away from the group. 

 On his way out the door, Jamie pulled Claire to him. “Meet me near yer shed for lunch?” 

 Her answer was simple:  a gentle kiss and a smile. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 While Claire taught some short lessons on biology, then moved into art, Ellen pulled down a jar from the cabinet, poured some of its contents into a pot, then covered it with boiling water to steep.

 When Claire released them from their lessons, Ellen called for Emily. 

 “Yes, ma’am?” she asked, rounding the corner.

 “Please do a bible study with Jenny and Willie?”  Her tone implied she’d like some privacy, so Emily found her own bible and took them into the sitting room, pulling the pocket doors shut.

 Ellen motioned for Claire to sit at the table while she poured two cups full of tea. “Mmmmm. Smells of raspberry,” Claire said, taking the cup from Ellen. 

 “Can be helpful for a number of things.”

 Claire stared into her cup, unable to meet Ellen’s loving, concerned eyes.  She seemed to recall the same fragrance when she opened one of the pouches from Yi Tien Cho. A tug at her heart, missing he and his family, caused Claire to wonder: “Did he and Ming Ru have that much forethought?  Yes, they probably did.” 

 Eventually Ellen reached for her hand.

 “I guess the bride’s cake didn’t work,” Claire attempted to joke as a way to cover her sadness.

 “A delay isna a rejection.  The Lord wilna forget ye.”

 All Claire could do was nod, tears trickling down the sides of her face.

 ~  ~ ~ ~ ~

 Determined to push the pain away, tired of its heavy hand on her heart, Claire wrapped three calzone (one would never fill Jamie’s stomach) some shortbread, and apple turnovers into a basket and left to meet him for lunch.

 He was already there, leaning against the shed in a small patch of shade, his chin on his chest.  Even from a distance the sight of him stirred so much love that Claire could not keep herself from running.  She sat beside him, slipping her arm into his, resting her head on his shoulder.

 The wind slipped around the corner of the shed, it’s touch playful and refreshing.

 Claire pulled out a calzone and waved it under Jamie’s nose, waiting to see how long before he woke up.

 “I smelled it while ye were a ways off,” he said, his eyes still closed.

 “You did not!”

 “I’ve the nose of a hound.”

 “Then without opening your eyes, tell me what else I brought.”

 Jamie inhaled very slowly.

 “Apple and cinnamon.  Some type of pie?  Then there’s butter and sugar… shortbread.”

 “Well, now you know your lunch!”

 Claire laid opened a small sheet and began spreading out the food. Jamie saw that her eyes were red and that a few times she wiped her nose on her hanky.

 He stopped her from laying out the food by taking both of her hands.

 “I know the Lord has plans for us, whatever they may be. But let’s no give in to worry or fear.” He lifted her chin and wiped the tears that had started to fall.  “Might be that he’s giving us some respite before they come?  What if there are three at once, aye?  We’ll be sleeping on the floor to make room for all the cradles. And ye know yer cranky when ye dinna get to bed early. Imagine what I’ll be dealing with when…”

 Claire rolled her eyes and laughed out loud.  She took his face in her hands and nuzzled his nose. “You’ll be dealing with a very happy Mother, is what.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie had woken with the birds, right when the chirping had begun to crescendo, running his fingers lightly over Claire’s face; butterfly touches that made her smile in her sleep. The wretched heat had caused her to sweat so profusely that her shift was stuck to her. Wanting to rid her of it – for her comfort, mainly, but also because her outline had roused him so, Jamie began to untie it when Claire stirred.

 “I apologize, mo ghràidh, for waking ye. I…yer so beautiful I couldna withhold my hand."

 “You needn’t apologize for wanting me” she whispered as she got up.  Making her way to the door, she opened it and turned, offering her hand.

 Wrapping his kilt around him, he knowingly followed her down the stairs and out the door.

 She glowed in this half-light; her hair flying about her as she ran ahead of him, cutting a path in the tall grass, her laughter echoing in the field.

 “Catch me if you can!” she yelled.

 She shed her gown, casting it upon a tree branch, before she quickly slipped into the water.  A slight drought had prevented the river from raging; now, it slowly ambled, only waist deep.

 Throwing his kilt on the same branch, Jamie swam up to her just as she had risen and was preoccupied wiping the water off her face.

 He pulled her to himself with one arm, backstroking with the other to reach a huge flat-topped boulder jutting out of the riverbed.  

 He laid back on it, pulling Claire atop him, their joining quick, ecstatic. 

 Out of breath, shivering from the water still streaming off of her, she rested on top of him. The current played around his feet now dangling in the water.  Looking up at the sky, the stars beginning to fade as the sun’s faint pink rays began to show, Jamie wrapped his arms around her.

 She raised her head from his chest, leaning her forehead against his: “You make me happier than I thought would ever be possible.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The men filed out of the house after breakfast, separating to different areas based on Brian’s plans for the day. Lamb and Joe were moving the sheep from their pen to the open field to graze when they saw Jamie and Claire hurrying to the house.

“That’s the third morning this week they’ve been ‘cooling off’” Joe said, opening the gate.  Lamb’s smirk was enough to make him laugh out loud.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

With September arrived, a great deal of harvesting and preparation for winter was needed. Claire pushed away her worries by taking on different chores:  churning butter, milking cows, and brushing the horses. Hard work definitely kept the mind occupied and being outside in nature and around animals was cathartic; she was sleeping better and had not had the energy to mope.

 Jamie and Murtagh, accompanied by the dogs, were bringing the sheep in from pasture.  Zeus, as usual, was being obstinate. Murtagh had gripped his horns, and Jamie had shoved from the back, both of them struggling to get him into the pen.

 Standing on a small step stool brushing Nelson, Claire heard Jamie scream.  Running out of the stable, she looked to see where it had come from.  He was on the ground, outside the pen, writhing in pain.

Brian, nearby, got to him just as Claire did.

 “Cursed Zeus bucked while we were herding him. Jamie took the brunt of his back leg,” Murtagh worriedly explained.

 Brian knelt down and put an arm under Jamie. “Let’s get him to the house.”  He and Murtagh supported him so he could stand, stopping when necessary.

 Once inside, they got him slowly upstairs and into bed.

 Ellen, rushing in to assess the injury, lifted his shirt.  Although it had only just turned red, the imprint of the hoof was visible, foretelling a possible broken rib or internal damage. Claire yanked her backpack from under the bed, looking for anything to help, unconcerned with divulging its contents.

 Lamb, hearing the commotion, came in behind everyone.

 “Jamie got kicked by a ram.  Right side, below the rib cage,” Claire blurted.

“Is there anything to help?” Lamb asked desperately as Claire dumped the contents on the floor.

“Ellen – could you make a poultice?  I have material to bind it with.” 

 “Yes.  I have comfrey.” She ran out of the room.

 “There are some cold packs, hand warmers…”  Claire replied to Lamb, now beside her, as she rummaged through everything. “Enough gauze for a few days, some ibuprofen..” she looked on the small package “Phew. Still good.”  

 She pulled herself up, grabbed the water pitcher on a stand, and poured some into a mug.

 “Jamie – please swallow these tablets.  They’ll help with the pain.  Your mother is making a poultice that I can wrap material over.”

 Unable to move, Claire offered to put the pills in his mouth, then bit by bit gave him enough water to swallow.

 When Ellen returned, Claire and Brian tried to get Jamie out of his shirt without moving him too much.  Each motion caused him to groan, so Claire grabbed the scissors. “We’ll have to cut him out.”

 Once removed, Ellen slathered the poultice on his now blackening side while Claire wrapped gauze entirely around his chest. Rather than jostle him by getting in bed, she sat beside him on the floor determined to stay by his side.

 Brian held his hand to Jamie’s face: “Ye’ll be well son. But it wilna be a pleasant few days.”

Jamie merely nodded.

Conversations about concoctions, sending for a healer, and Jamie’s continued care came in hushed waves through the closed door.  Her mind raced with how to help him.

 It had been hours, but Claire hadn’t left the floor. She kissed his palm several times. The tablets and poultice must have brought some relief because he seemed to be sleeping.  She quietly went to light a candle, the significance not lost on her.  As she did, Jamie’s rosary stood out in the light, laying atop his bible.

 It was long, had several small metal ovals of scenes connected by groups of wooden beads.  She could only faintly make out what the scenes may have been: possibly Jesus during times in his life.*  Because Claire saw Jamie pray every morning, and every evening, kissing the crucifix, she did the same, praying for his healing.  She had been so lost in prayer that she hadn’t heard Jamie’s choked request for water.

 When she opened her eyes, he was gazing at her, his look full of tenderness and love.

 “Jamie – I’m so sorry.  Do you need anything?” she whispered, running to the bed.

 “Water, please.”

 He couldn’t sit up so Claire slowly poured it into his mouth.

 Nodding that he was finished, he laid his head back down on the pillow.

“The tablets….help.  Thank ye.”

She gently kissed him.  “You’re welcome.  Try to get some more sleep.”

 

 

 

*This is a “stations of the cross” rosary.

 

Chapter Text

 

 Jamie reached over the side of the bed simply to touch the curls in Claire’s hair.   

 “Mo Aingeal” he croaked.

 The night had been unbearable:  fever, excruciating pain, fitful sleep.  And Claire had not been beside him in bed, making him sad as well. He knew she didn’t want to disturb him, or aggravate his pain, so chose to sleep where she could be close but not a bother.  She must be hungry, he thought, and in her own pain for not laying on their feather bed. 

 He twisted the one curl he could reach, winding it around his finger, then watched it boing as he pulled his finger away.  He did this for what seemed to be half an hour; the passage of time wasn’t as clear to him as it had been.

 She finally woke, turning to look at Jamie. He was feverish, which was obvious, but worse, he was jaundiced.

 Claire tried not to let the panic show on her face so she smiled and stroked his hair.  “I’ll get you some more tablets.  And change your bandage.”

 “Ye dinna…”

 “I WILL dinna.”

 He smiled.

 Claire poured a mug of water and opened another packet of ibuprofen.  “I’m going to need you to drink all of the water.” Kneeling beside the bed, Claire remembered there was a metal straw in her backpack. “Here. One end of this will be in the mug, the other goes in your mouth.  Suck and you’ll get the water. Go slow, though.”

 He did as she said, surprised at the efficiency of so simple a device.

 “Are you hungry?”

 “A bit, yes.”

 She kissed his cheek.  “I’ll be right back.”

 In the hall, her tears fell fast.  The downstairs was quiet though no one was working today. As she turned from the stairs, everyone – sitting contemplatively in the living room – turned their heads towards her. Clearly they’d been waiting for word.

 “He has a fever and is jaundiced. But..he’d like a small breakfast.”

 Lamb followed her to the kitchen, reaching to embrace her.

 “No.  I’m not going to give in.  He needs my help and I won’t fall apart.”

 Lamb pulled his arms away.  “Of course.  What can I do?”

 “I…I just don’t know.  I can’t tell if his rib is broken, I’ll look at it later, he needs to eat, I hope he can keep this down, what is used for fever now do you know he’ll need to get up to relieve himself and I’ll need to look for blood which isn’t a good sign but I’ll keep watching him.”

 Her stream of consciousness rambling was always a sign of nervousness.

 Plating some scrambled eggs, toast points, and a small crock of jam, Claire began to make her way back upstairs. 

 “Honey, here…” Lamb placed two scones, and a cup of tea on the tray.  “You have to eat too, Claire.”

 She attempted a smile.  “Thank you.”

 Ellen was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. “Here, let me take that.”

 While they walked together, Ellen offered advice. “For the liver we use milk thistle. Might be something to consider along with the comfrey,” she said shyly, not wanting to override any advanced knowledge Claire may have.

 “Of course.  Let’s try that this afternoon?”

 Ellen opened the door, and Claire took the tray to the bed.

 Jamie attempted to sit up, using his arm for strength.  He got upright, despite the searing pain, but he became so pale Ellen ran to catch him before he fainted.

 “Son! Dinna try to sit yet!”  She helped him down onto the bed.  “Just lie there.  Can I check yer side again?”

 “Aye.”

 Claire cut the bandages and held her gasp: the whole area was purple and extremely swollen.  “I know what a hematoma is” she said to herself. 

 “Well, let’s wash ye” Ellen said, restraining her own shock. She put some soap in the basin, got a cloth and washed the area.  “Rest. Dinna be getting up.”  Her “mother voice” was still sharp.  “I’ll get ye some more comfrey.”

 She reassuredly rubbed Claire’s arm, then left.

 “The food smells…delicious.”

 He wanted to try feeding himself, angry at his weakness, trying to take the spoon from Claire. His hand shook with the effort.

 “Jamie, I know what you’re thinking.  But it’s not weak to accept help when you’re ill. You’ll be stronger soon. I have an idea.  I’ll put everything in your hand and you can plop it in your mouth.”

 After the eggs and one corner of toast, he waved his hand.  “That’s all.”

 Taking everything away, Claire broached a sensitive subject.

 “Jamie, you need to relieve yourself.  It’s important to gauge your functioning.”

 His arm draped over his face, he nodded.

 “I’ll get Murtagh.  I’m sure it will be more comfortable for you to have him.”

 Seeing his door open, Claire rapped on it anyway. He was standing, his hands clasped behind his back, looking out the window.

 “Murtagh – would you mind helping with something?”

 He turned immediately, grateful to be asked.  “Aye, love. What is it?”

“I need Jamie to relieve himself.  I need to know if there is blood, but also that he’s able to function.  I told him I’d get you, that it would probably be less awkward.”

 Murtagh nodded, going to the door. 

 “I need to know if there’s any pain, or…or…”

  “Dinna fash. I’ll let ye know.”

 Claire found herself at Lamb and Joe’s door, knocking but not waiting for an answer. Joe was by himself, sitting on the side of his bed, staring at the floor.

 “Oh – Claire. Your Uncle ‘took a walk to clear his head.’ How are…”

 Before he finished, Claire was in his arms weeping. “I’m not doing too good.” 

Chapter Text

A family schedule of helping Jamie was instituted, at Ellen’s insistence, so Claire could eat and get outside; she’d taken up on the floor at their bed, fatigued and worried, not eating more than a nibble.

  Jamie wasn’t improving. Though Claire tried to convince herself he was getting better, he was more jaundiced with each day, the fever hadn’t broken, and in addition to probable liver dysfunction, one of the ribs may be broken. The milk thistle seemed to be helping some, but without ibuprofen his fever sky-rocketed.

 Everyone took shifts to monitor his condition which was passed on to the next person.  Claire took nighttime.

As she took up her spot on the floor, Jamie reached for her hand.

 “Please, a leannan, lay with me.”

 “I would feel terrible if I bumped into you.”

 “Please.”

 She gently crawled into the place beside him.  He pulled his arm up for her to lay next to him and immediately fell asleep. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The next day, Claire had spent time in the chapel while Willie was with Jamie.  Walking back to the house, Murtagh -washing off in the well - caught her before she went in.

 “Claire, there wasna blood in his water, but it was verra dark.  As to the other, ‘twas the opposite: verra light.”

 “He hasn’t eaten, or had much to drink, so I hope that’s what could be behind the irregularities. Thank you.”

 “Lass” he pointedly said, laying hold of her arm – “dinna let yerself waste away too, aye?  Canna be of much help if yer no takin’ care of yerself.”

 “You’re right.  I am trying.”

 “He’s like my own son. Anything ye need… I’ll do anything to help him.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Willie was sitting opposite Jamie. The young boy’s face was saddened, his mouth tense.  By his eyes Jamie asked what was wrong.

 “I’m afraid, bràthair.

 Jamie nodded.  “’t’will be ok.”

 Willie nodded too. “Ye’ve never lied to me before.”

 “Tell….me…of yer…day.”

 “Aye.  I had pancakes for breakfast.  Something Mr. Joe made. Said they’d put hair on my chest.  I didna understand how they could do such a thing, but they were right fine.  He made some type of sugary drizzle for them too.”

 Willie pulled his shirt away from his chest and stuck his face in to look. 

 “Might be that I’ll need to eat a lot of them.” He sighed.

 “Then I gathered eggs with Emily. Do ye ken how soft a chicken’s bottom is?  I wasna aware.”

 Jamie smiled.  Willie never failed to entertain.  He was beginning to have Murtagh’s knack for storytelling.

 “Then Da had me and Mr. Lamb haul hay bails to the barn. First time I used a hay hook.  It’s like…” he pulled four fingers on both hands into fists, leaving the first fingers which he made into the shape of a hook “using two metal fingers to grab them. Anyhoo, Mr. Lamb said I was very strong. Want to see my muscles?”

 Jamie tried not to laugh; Willie had picked up “anyhoo” from Claire.

 Willie pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and flexed his bicep.  “See?!”

 “Yer brawny, for sure.”

 “Mam said I should come down shortly to get ye some broth.  I’ll be right back.”

 “I love you Willie.”

Willie thought for a moment, then went over to Jamie and hugged him gently.  “I love you too.”

 “Have Murtagh come in?”

 “Aye.  I will.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 When Claire came in for bed, Jamie motioned for her to pull a chair beside him. When she sat, he took a deep breath.

 “Claire I want ye to know that ye are my heart and soul.” He stopped for breath, then resumed. “The joy ye’ve brought me, the hope and life…”

 Claire took his face in her hands.

 “Don’t you dare leave me. Stop this!”

 “CLAIRE”  he managed to get out with some force.  “We have to both prepare that I may not survive.  Mam and Da will care for ye – and yer family.  You’ll be welcome here the rest of yer life.”

 “NO!”

 “Ye’ve done all ye can.  But it may be time to let me go, Mo luaidh.  Murtagh has my final wishes.”

 “I will NOT give up. DO YOU HEAR ME?”  She pulled him to her, sobbing into his shoulder. “DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP.”

 He did have something to pull him back. To give him the will to fight.  “Aye, lass. Aye. Dinna cry. I promise ye I won’t.”

 After he fell asleep, Claire went to Lamb and Joe. Letting herself in again, she said only three words: “Get the wagon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure, Claire?  Absolutely sure?”

 “He’s dying, and he knows. There’s only one option left.”

 “This will be very risky,” Lamb said, already up and walking to the door.

 “To continue waiting this out is even riskier.”

 “We’re on it.”

 Realizing a time had come that had not been foreseen, they left while Claire went back upstairs. She pulled out her trousers, shirt, socks and boots.  She’d washed them right after they’d arrived.  They seemed so foreign now, uncomfortable, even, and felt much more snug than her dress, but the boots and socks felt nice and solid. She quietly got her backpack, putting her pearls in the bag Ellen made, her vase and the sampler into the main compartment. Jamie’s bible and rosary, her letters to him, and his kilt pin went on top. 

 She ran her fingers over her wedding dress hanging in the wardrobe.  It would have to stay.

 Jamie’s breathing was very slow, but steady. Claire rang out a cloth in the basin of water and wiped his face. He opened his eyes slightly.

 “I love you, Jamie.  You’re going to make it. I promise.”

 She noticed an almost imperceptible nod.

 The family were sitting together downstairs near the fireplace. Ellen’s eyes were swollen, Jenny and Willie held hands on the sofa. Emily, distracted, looked out the window.

  When Claire stepped into the room, dressed in her “old” outfit, they immediately knew what it meant.  Coming from the other room, Lamb and Joe – also dressed in their former outfits – stood beside her.

 “I know he’s dying, but I can save him.  Unfortunately, that means…”  She began to cry.

 Ellen got to her first, holding her for what might be the last time.  “I ken, love.”

 “We’ve brought the wagon around to the front. We’ll need to get Jamie in and supported with as many blankets as possible so he’s not jostled on the ride.”

 Murtagh came from the sitting room, stunned at the scene before him, but secretly grateful for this turn of events.

 “I’ll get the lad dressed.”

  Brian worked with Murtagh to carry him down the stairs and outside. Once they had him secured, everyone climbed in. 

 As quickly, but as softly as possible, they drove the horses through the night.  Jamie groaned when the wagon hit dips and pits in the road, but Claire held him tighter.

 “Jamie, darling” she whispered. “I’m taking you with me.  To the future for help.”

 He licked his lips to speak.  “Yes.”  Then he lost consciousness again.

 For hours they rode, savoring these last moments together as a family but desperate to get Jamie to safety.

 Once at the stones, they maneuvered the wagon as close as possible.  Brian and Murtagh carried Jamie to where Claire had directed.  The moon, the only light, shone ominously on the stones while catching the hut which was still visible through the growth around it.

 The cool morning air had caused Jamie to shiver; a clear indication that the fever was overtaking him.  Lamb and Joe held him up between them, keeping him wrapped, while Claire bid everyone goodbye.

 “Be well” Brian said, shaking with emotion, wrapping Claire in his arms.

 “On the first of every month, in the morning, send a letter through tied to a stone,” she said, choking on her own tears. “Aim it at this cleft.  I will check and return it by evening to let you know how we are.”

 Willie, sobbing at Ellen’s side, waved goodbye, while Jenny and Emily – holding each other, blew them all kisses.  “We love you all. Give Jamie our love when he heals.”

 “We will. Thank you.” 

 She turned to Lamb. “I want him next to me.”  He put him in Claire’s arms, and wrapped the blankets around them.

 With a final glance backwards, they jumped at the stone and disappeared.

 

 Next week:  “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe felt the warm breeze and sunshine on his face. He stretched, expecting that he’d taken enough time for lunch and it was time to get back to work. His head was spinning, so he rolled over onto his side until it subsided. Eventually he realized he wasn’t in the field; it would be the recognizable noise behind him.

Jerking around, he panicked at the sight and sound of cars. And people.

“We…left with Jamie. We’d just put him in the wagon…We…”

He was by himself. “No. NO!”

The park had pockets of people on the periphery; some sitting in groups eating from baskets, many were flying kites. Couples entwined.

Only fragments of memory came to him. On a bumpy road at night. Claire crying. Saying goodbye.

“Jamie was sick. We brought him back! Maybe they’ve gone to get help. Maybe they couldn’t get me awake?”

He remembered his phone. It was, thankfully, still functioning. 78 messages and 42 voice mails had simultaneously come in.

“WHERE IS EVERYONE?”

Just when he considered texting Lamb or Claire, to see if they would respond, he noticed the date.

“But we didn’t leave until tomorrow. I’m a day early?”

He could only get to his knees, the nausea and dizziness coming in sickening waves.

“No time to wait. I need to prepare for them.”

Staggering, he had to repeatedly stop to take deep breaths.

“They’ll be here tomorrow. How do I get help? Ambulance….no. You can’t schedule an ambulance. I…I need a plan.”

He got to the top of the hill, meandering through town to reorient himself. A coke machine was visible inside a diner, giving him a long-shot of an idea.

“Maybe…just maybe.”

Walking over a few blocks, he was grateful to see the store. There was no one at the desk when he entered so he stood there, relishing the air conditioning, the cool air alleviating the intensity of the nausea.

Ming Ru came from the other side.

“Good afternoon. May I help….”

He had lost weight, and grown a beard, but was obviously still recognizable.

“Dr. Abernathy? Oh my word” she said, embracing him. “Are you alright?”

“I apologize for this, Ming Ru and for any trouble our leaving, and even my returning, has affected you. I am in desperate need of help. It’s a very sensitive situation. I won’t divulge any more than that, not wanting to implicate you, so if you should wish not to be involved I will – without any offense – leave immediately.”

Her eyes fixed on him, surprise turned to compassion. She locked the front door, pulled the blinds, and waved her hand towards the stairs.

“I will make you something to eat.”

Two adults rose from their seats as Joe and Ming Ru came in.

“Dr. Abernathy, this is my daughter and son, Lihua and Xiaoli. They were studying abroad when you were last here.”

Recognizing his name from the news reports several months ago, they began to express their happiness at his return but a curt glance and delicately-worded explanation from Ming Ru quickly dissuaded them: “He is a family friend in need of our personal assistance.”

“We are honored to meet you.” They both bowed, respecting the guidance of their mother.

“I’m pleased to meet you both.”

At roughly 30 years of age, they were undoubtedly twins. Lihua had Ming Ru’s warm eyes where Xiaoli had Yi Tien’s smile.

“They have completed their studies and opened their own practice here.”

“We will leave you to talk. Please excuse us, Dr. Abernathy.”

As Joe took a seat at the table, Ming Ru heated a wok and began making a meal for them both. As before, they ate restfully and peacefully without conversation.

Joe couldn’t remember when he’d eaten last, having been so worried about Jamie, but as his stomach filled his memory returned. Larger and larger chunks, not just from the day before, but the weeks behind it. Pain seized him, then panic. “Would they even return tomorrow? Were they lost in the black abyss? Had they returned to another time and place, without help?” He fought the doubts, focusing on how to prepare for everyone’s arrival and Jamie’s care.

When they had both finished, Joe took the bowls and plates to the kitchen, thanking her for the meal. Ming Ru was waiting for him on the sofa. “Now - please tell me how I may help.”

“You have already been unexpectedly generous to us” he said, remembering the coins.” Our absence was a frightening and unplanned accident; an absolute shock, to be honest. But this past year was not without education and a fair amount of happiness.”

He hoped she understood the full meaning of his statement so that he wouldn’t have to go into any greater detail.

She nodded, encouraging him to continue.

“Our return has been hampered: we left together but I seem to have arrived a day before them. The reason for the return is why I’m seeking your help. Claire married. Her husband, Jamie, was kicked by an animal on their farm. Right at his ribcage, near his liver. His condition deteriorated this week, and fearing he would die, we had only one choice.”

“You have endured a great deal,” she replied, leaning forward. “Would you mind if I spoke to my children? They are better situated to provide guidance.”

“Thank you. I would be most obliged.”

The immensity of the situation, in that they may not return tomorrow, brought Joe to shake with worry. “Please, everyone. You gotta be here.”

From where Lihua and Xiaoli had discreetly removed themselves before lunch could be heard soft exchanges in Chinese.

Since their time living here in Scotland, Lihua and Xiaoli were familiar with the stories of travelers. Helping their parents to operate their store had brought the stories vividly to life; people, out of the norm, bringing in items of unequaled history and worth merely to have money to eat and live. In each instance, their mother and father would provide them food and pay them for their items without concern for profit.

So, when Ming Ru returned with Lihua and Xiaoli, their faces softened with sympathy, Joe’s worry turned to confidence.

 

Next week: “Into each life some rain must fall.”

Chapter Text

Into the evening the four discussed Jamie’s medical history, his age and weight, the injury, and his symptoms - especially the jaundice - the last time Joe had seen him; the critical intake Lihua and Xiaoli would not have time to perform.

“We had some remaining ibuprofen, which Claire gave regularly, along with milk thistle. They also made a plaster of…” Joe’s recall was getting better, but still had lapses. “Com…Comfrey? Very green.”

“Yes. It’s used for bruises and cuts,” Lihua said, taking notes. “And the family accompanying him are healthy?”

“Yes.”

Both Lihua and Xioali had, to Ming Ru’s great pride, detailed their specializations. They wanted to assure Joe of their capability: Lihua was a board-certified Cardiologist, specializing in women’s health, while Xioali was a board- certified Internist and a surgeon, both graduating Summa Cum Laude. On top of these impressive accomplishments they were licensed acupuncturists as well. Working out of their own practice, they were on staff at the local hospital.

“What I suspect will present is a blunt force trauma to the extrahepatic biliary ductal system, resulting in a blocked bile duct. The purple-colored bruise is most likely a subdural hematoma. There could be much more than that – damage to surrounding organs, especially the gall bladder, broken ribs, infection…” Xiaoli iterated. “An ambulance should be able to arrive within minutes, but we could get to them AND be on our way to the hospital by the time it arrives, assuming there is no delay. Also, given the uniqueness of the situation, it would be easier to explain if we brought them rather than their being “found” at the stones in the park. It would remove a lot of suspicion and questioning. Lihua will you drive while I stabilize Jamie in the back seat?”

Still taking notes, forming as much of a patient profile as possible, she nodded. “Yes.”

Joe took all of it in, though a bit of worry gripped him. Both Lihua and Xiaoli looked directly at him, their eyes conveying the soundness of their plan. “We have both driven in Hong Kong rush hour, if your concern is transport.”

Joe couldn’t contain his laughter: “Impressive.”

“You can ride with me,” Ming Ru offered.

Now mobilized, the next thing to decide was when to be there. “If I arrived about 9:00 this morning, it may be that they arrive at the same time tomorrow.”

Lihua wasn’t entirely convinced: “It would be prudent to prepare for either night or day. Mother, do you still have the search lights we used for camping?”

Ming Ru was up immediately, going to a utility closet. She sat four down by the door. “It would be wise to also sit your medical bags beside them.” Retrieving them without hesitation, Xiaoli sat them with the lights.

Joe – tired but touched by their kindness, offered his appreciation: “Your generosity is overwhelming. Thank you.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An enormous crack of thunder shook the building, then a deluge of rain fell. Over the next hour it intensified. Lightening fanned across the sky every few minutes. Shops were closed, and any remaining tourists had gone back to their rooms.

The chime from an antique table clock indicated the half hour: 9:30.

Joe had gotten up, pulled the curtains aside, and looked out the window onto the street below then to the park in the distance. Lihua and Xiaoli conferred together in the hall. Ming Ru took a phone call in her bedroom.

On the ground at the stones, the rain’s drenching having woken him, Lamb got up. Through the mud and pitch black he crawled, running his hand over the ground to find anyone. “CLAIRE??” He bumped into one body. It was wrapped in blankets.

“CLAIRE?” he yelled, pulling the blankets away. A very shallow groan.

Jamie. “Jamie! It’s Lamb! Help is coming!” He put his arms around him. “Hold on son. Help is coming” he whispered. There was no way to get him out of the rain, so Lamb made sure he was covered.

Just then lightning clapped – a fleeting moment of light, but not long enough to make anything out.

He kept sweeping his arm, pulling himself over the ground.

Another groan.

He crawled towards it, wiping at the rain in his face.

“Claire. Oh sweetheart.” He cradled her. “Thank God.”

“Jamie…”

“Honey – we’re here. At the stones. Jamie is here. Can you get up?”

“Yes…oh, my head.”

He helped her stand. “I need you to sit with Jamie. Get him off the ground. I’m going for help.” He guided her with the flashlight on his phone.

She pulled him up, wiped his hair off his face, and kissed him.

Running up the hill to find help, Lamb phoned Joe hoping that the ring of his phone would indicate where he was or connect with him directly.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Just when another tremor of thunder rocked the building, Joe’s phone rang.

Shaking, he pulled it out of his pocket. Lamb’s number filled the screen.

“LAMB?”

“JOE?? JOE - THANK GOD. …DN’T FIND YOU!”

He could barely be heard through the torrential rain and breathlessness from running.

“LAMB – I’M WITH MING RU. I CAME THROUGH ALREADY.”

“…JAMIE BARELY….ALL AMBULANCE….JOE?”

“ I’M BRINGING HELP! LAMB! I’M BRINGING HELP! STAY THERE.”

Everyone ran to the door, bolting down the steps.

Lihua pulled her car out and with Xiaoli sped off. Xiaoli phoned the ER, alerting them an incoming patient with specifics to Jamie’s injuries. Ming Ru took Joe and followed behind.

Lihua and Xiaoli arrived, the evidence in the light from their searchlights bobbing back and forth down the hill.

Lamb was waiting for them, flashing the light on his phone so everyone knew where they were. Seeing his light as they came down the hill, Xiaoli and Lihua ran to it first.

“JAMIE – OVER THERE. I’M ALRIGHT.”

On the ground, Claire was holding Jamie in her arms, shielding him from the rain. “PLEASE – HELP MY HUSBAND!”

Lihua ran to Claire’s side. “My name is Lihua, and this is my brother Xiaoli. We are both doctors.”

Lihua pulled off the blankets, lifted his shirt, and listened to his heart, her stethoscope already around her neck. Then, taking his pulse, she realized his heart rate was slowing. She pulled open both of his eyelids.

Xiaoli looked to his sister, whose panicked eyes said everything. They hoisted him up from Claire’s arms and ran him to the car.

Lihua jumped in behind the wheel while Lamb, who had followed them, helped Xiaoli lay Jamie in the back seat.

Slamming the door shut, Lihua peeled off.

Standing in the light of a street lamp, Lamb and Joe looked at each other.

“I’m afraid it might have been too much for him. I…maybe we shouldn’t have…”

“NO. He’ll make it. HE’LL MAKE IT.”

“I was worried you…” Lamb said, turning to Joe.

“No way, buddy. No way.” Joe said, patting his back.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ming Ru was trying to get Claire to her car and out of the rain.

“DEAR” Ming Ru was yelling “He needs surgery! We will go back to the apartment and wait for a call.” Claire clutched her backpack.

“But they don’t know about him! They’ll ask him questions!” Claire was frantic, pulling away.

“No, no. It’s alright. Those were my children – the ones who were away? You remember?”

Claire, water cascading down her face, nodded in surrender.

Ming Ru handed her search light to Claire and picked up Lihua’s but stopped, something having caught her eye in the sweep of the light.

Joe and Lamb, retrieving Xiaoli’s light, used it and Joe’s to find their way up the hill and to Ming Ru’s car.

“WAIT!” Ming Ru yelled, running with her light towards a spot further away.

Everyone stopped, turning around.

“THERE’S SOMEONE ELSE!”

 

 Next week:  “Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”

Chapter Text

 Things will be calming down and getting sorted out, so no more angst for a bit.  (What remains will be minor.) Thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and supporting.  I appreciate all of you!

 

Joe, Lamb and Claire followed behind Ming Ru. They sloshed through the ground to the body, lying face down. 

“I can’t believe this.”  Claire kneeled down, feeling for a heartbeat.

 Ming looked questioningly at the group, all stood in shock.

 Turning the body over, and using the rain to clean off the face, Claire pulled the lifeless form into her arms.

 “MURTAGH!  WAKE UP.”

 She shook him, slapping him on the back.

 “MURTAGH! WAKE..”

 “I HEAR YE JUST FINE! YE DINNA NEED TO ASSAULT ME!”

 “Ah! There he is.”

 Grass and slop in his mouth, he began coughing. “WHERE’S THE LAD?  WHAT’S HAPPENED TO HIM?” Murtagh pulled away, looking for Jamie.

 Lamb offered his hand to help Murtagh up. “Let’s get out of the rain, aye?  He’s been taken for advanced healing.  He’s at hospital.”

 Dazed, but reassured by Lamb’s counsel, Murtagh took his hand, scurrying with the rest to Ming Ru’s car.

 “Murtagh,” Claire said, motioning him inside “this is a very fast carriage.  We will be staying with my friend Ming Ru in her home nearby.  This will take us there.”

 “Aye, lass,” he said skeptically, bending to get inside as the others did.

 In the car, Claire offered to get themselves a hotel. “We’ve already filthied your car, brought you and your children out in this weather… We can’t impose any further on you.”

 “I have rooms for you. Yi Tien is in China with our other children. It will suffice for now.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The ER staff ran out with a gurney as soon as Lihua pulled up. She conveyed the little history she had, running along with them and Xiaoli as they rushed him inside: “24 y.o. male, approximately 16.5 stone,  six feet, four inches tall. Blunt force trauma 5 days ago, upper right abdomen, possible bile duct obstruction.  No known allergies. The family are close friends - they tried to treat it at home with poultices and ibuprofen.  He deteriorated today. No insurance – bill me directly.”

 The din of the team performing triage was mostly lost on Jamie: yelling visual assessment, blood pressure, temperature, ordering x-rays, bloodwork with typing in case he needed an infusion, slapping on electrodes for his EKG, and preparing IV’s while wheeling him with precision and speed into one of the curtained exam rooms. There Xiaoli, taking over for the ER Doctor on duty, could better assess the extent of Jamie’s condition.

 He was hours from death; this much was certain.  IV’s of fluids – a result of obvious dehydration from extreme fever – and antibiotics were sufficient for the moment, but Xiaoli loudly prodded for immediate bloodwork results.

 With cholestatis confirmed, along with blockage shown in the cholangiography, Xiaoli made the decision to perform surgery, now putting out a call for the anesthesiologist.

 As he was scrubbing, Lihua found Xiaoli; it was a hopeful sign that surgery would be performed, for Jamie was not beyond hope, but she knew her brother’s face well, and it was unnaturally somber.

 “What should be conveyed to his family?”

 “We’re getting him stable for surgery.  I’ll be in touch when I finish.”

 This both said, and didn’t say, quite a lot.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Climbing the stairs to the apartment, Murtagh’s face played out as tragic theater: anguish, shock, bewilderment. Claire, breaking down at the risk Murtagh took to be here, held him again as they entered the apartment. 

 “Why did you come with us?” she whispered into his ear. Both Joe and Lamb, disheveled and mud-caked, clapped him on the shoulder.

 “I couldna have the boy die in another time, alone, and with no kin to give him last rights.  I…” Murtagh whispered, looking away, “just ran.”

 “You sweet man.  He’s getting very advanced medical attention.  We will be notified soon.” 

 “Ye said he’s at hospital.  Who’s with him?  Is he alone?” Murtagh was clearly distraught.

 “He is with Ming Ru’s two children, both advanced healers, who drove – brought him by another carriage – to the building where the healing is done.  There are many people…”  Claire looked to Joe for clarification.

 “Probably a dozen or more other healers who were waiting for him.  We will get communication either before or right after they have helped him.  You see…I came through earlier today, so had time to arrange for help to be ready when he arrived.”

 “Thank ye, brother.  Truly.”

 Ming Ru subtly cleared her throat.  “The bathrooms have been stocked with toiletries and towels.  Lay your clothes together and they will be washed.”

 Murtagh walked to Ming Ru, his eyes bloodshot from worry and tears: “My name is Murtagh. I’m Jamie’s Godfather.  Thank ye for yer help.”

 She took his hand in both of hers. “I am honored to meet you, and it is my pleasure to aid your family.  My children will provide him exceptional care.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Later, after a hot shower, Claire put on the pajamas, robe and slippers Ming had set out for her.  The men, also taking advantage of showers, had their pick from a pile of Yi Tien’s clothes until their other clothes were washed.

 While Lamb, Joe and Murtagh sat over coffee in the dining room, Claire and Ming took to the couch with a pot of tea.

 “Have you gotten any message yet?” Claire asked as she put her hair up in a band.

 “No, but they will call.  Do not fret.”  Ming said, pouring the tea into a cup.

 Claire, finally warm and dry, and with everyone now safe, could not but worry what this would all mean if Jamie would not be here as well.

 “Claire,” Ming said, pulling her from obvious distress. “He is alive and has a strong chance at recovery.”  The softness in Ming’s voice, the tenderness in her eyes…as if she knew something more than she was letting on. “He will fight, angel.  Rest assured.”

 “I will repay you for all you, Lihua and Xioali have done. You have been beyond generous to us and…”

 Ming moved around the sectional to sit beside Claire. 

 “Claire, do not worry over these mere things we have done…providing food, clothes, a bed…or the benefit of our knowledge. They’re just things and time, and we have more than enough to share.”

 It was difficult to grasp Ming Ru’s unending generosity and genuine concern.

 “This age is a self-absorbed one; people have an attachment to technology rather than people. We’ve come to rely on these..gadgets for answers, guidance, and attention, rather than our family. The elderly, especially, are cast aside and almost despised, rather than being revered and respected.”

 She apologized for her bitter outburst, not wanting to cause Claire any more heartache than she was already experiencing, only adding  “If we don’t have love enough to do for our family and friends” she said, looking warmly at Claire “what are we?”

 Ming Ru’s phone, sitting conveniently beside her, rang.  The first ring had barely ended before she had it in her hand. After nodding for a few minutes her face softened and a smile slowly spread.  She hung up, sitting the phone again beside her.

 “The surgery was successful.”

 Claire sobbed, the weight of worry finally gone. From the dining room, the men turned towards them, anxious for any more news.

 Ming Ru took her hand.

 “Your husband is asking for you.”

 

Next week:  Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

 

 

Chapter Text

Brian drove everyone home with Ellen sat beside him.

 They hadn’t expected Murtagh would follow after Jamie.  His leaving had gutted those left behind even further, but Jamie would have just that much more to help him and for that they tried to be grateful.

 There is physical pain that may seem unbearable but which eventually heals; a pulled muscle or a twisted ankle.  The pain when a child has gone away, near death, with no prospect of seeing them again felt, to Brian, like it would only worsen each day. A bond his family had shared was not something he took for granted, cherishing each day in simple things like jokes and conversation that served to strengthen the bond.  Not having his beloved son along with his wife and family, and his “brother” Murtagh felt as though the fabric of their family, the threads of love and companionship, had now been undone.

 Ellen, though, seemed at peace. The glances Brian stole showed she was composed and almost unaffected.

 The house felt dreadfully empty when they arrived. Having been up all night, everyone retired to their beds.  Willie stood in the doorway of what was once his room with Murtagh.  He wept at he and Jamie being gone.

 Jenny, walking up the stairs, tugged at his shirt. “Dinna be afraid. Ye can sleep in Claire’s old bed ‘til ye feel better.”

 Brian asked after Ellen, wanting to know if she was merely keeping up a strong countenance for the children and he, or if she had truly found a means of comfort at Jamie’s absence.

 “Ye remember the time Jenny went lost in the woods?” she said, undoing her plait.

 “Aye.”  He eyed her with confusion as he undressed and got into bed.

 “I didna feel my spirit grieve, that she could be hurt or…”  Ellen said, looking away “ so I would expect that when they are truly gone, ye feel it deep; like part of ye has been torn away. Sure enough she had misjudged her way and found home again.”

 Brian often marveled at the connection Ellen had with their children.  It was a bond that transcended the natural; she understood them so intimately, almost spiritually.

 She got into bed beside him, the sun’s gentle morning light coming in the window around the side of the curtains.  Brian pulled her to him.

 “I dinna feel that Jamie is gone.” She couldn’t bear to say ‘die.’  “On the contrary, I feel that he’s healed. Strong.”  She turned to face Brian.  “He’s well. I know it.  They all are.”

 The bond between a husband and wife had its spiritual connectedness too and was something he treasured and even relied on. So, with her confidence that they were well, even thriving, his own emptiness began to dissipate.

 “Something wonderful has happened” she drowsily said, wrapping herself around her husband.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Jamie had been moved to ICU; his condition was fair but with a very positive prognosis. 

 After coming awake from surgery, the intense lights and barrage of questions by the strangers was disconcerting; was this another hallucination from the fever?

 He was pushed on some type of cart with wheels, through a hallway in a building, into a room.  A young man pulled a curtain closed around them. Not recognizing anything or anyone, Jamie’s worry grew.

 “Mr. Fraser, please don’t be afraid,” Xiaoli responded to the look of worry in Jamie’s eyes. “You are safe.  Your wife Claire brought you here for help.” Just then a woman came from behind the curtain to his side.

 Hearing this immediately put Jamie at ease.  The last thing he could recall was being taken out of the house, on a wagon somewhere.  Yes! Claire had said she was taking me to the future for help.

 “My name is Doctor Xiaoli Cho.  This is my sister, Dr. Lihua Cho. You were very ill and needed surgery.”  Xiaoli was writing into a laptop. 

 “Aye.  Was kicked by a ram on our farm” he answered, groggily. “He wasna willing to go into the pen.”  Jamie attempted a smile.

 Xiaoli smiled back.  “Very unwilling, apparently!”

 The beeping, humming and whirring of the machines had both fascinated and confounded Jamie as he pondered each one. He had scarce remembrance of anything past the conversation he had with Claire on what to do if he died.  It was a blur of voices, some type of ride, Claire’s whispers, then falling into a dark, frightening void. 

 “The kick caused one of the ducts – openings – in your liver to close.  I treated it, and you will recover. But you will need to stay here, in this hospital, for a week or so.  I need to make sure you heal properly before you can leave.”

 The way he said hospital was unusual, as if he knew Jamie didn’t know what one was.

  “I’m sure you’d like to see Claire now? You were asking for her.”

 “Yes. Please.”

 “She is staying with our mother,” Lihua added.   “It will be just a little while for them to arrive.”

 Checking Jamie’s overall condition, Xioali finished his notes, conferring with Lihua, though refrained from asking about the scars on his wrists. 

 “Over the course of your time here at hospital there will be many nurses – medical professionals – administering medicine” he said, motioning to the IV bags “checking your progress, helping you to relieve yourself so you don’t have to get up” Jamie winced, feeling the catheter “and others who will bring you food.  Do not worry – they are under my direction.  I will also be here to see you as well.  If you need anything at all this small box laying beside you”  Xiaoli stepped beside the bed and lifted up the nurse call button “will immediately bring a nurse if you push this button. I’ve given instructions that you are to rest, but if you are asked anything that is confusing, just answer as best as you can.”

 Xiaoli considered how overwhelming and confusing this all normally is, let alone for someone who has never seen it before, so rethought all he just said – his routine speech.

 “These machines attached to you are for temporary help to your body as it recovers from the surgery.  In a few days they will all be removed.  I can give greater explanation if you like.”

 Jamie studied everything, deducing what each one was doing based on where it was attached. “No, thank ye. I’m grateful to ye both.  Verra grateful.”

 “It is our honor to serve you.  Claire will be here soon.”

 Claire.

 She has already once risked her life, though she would argue it had been a risk with reward, and now she had purposefully risked it again. For me. What good am I going to be to her?  Will she need to work to support us?  Am I going to be a burden, a backwards farmer from another time?

 His chest seized with worry and guilt.

 All I know is farming.  I have always been connected with the land; I know the pulse of the earth when I work it.  What will I be able to do now?

 Thought after thought consumed his self-confidence. Hearing a rustle, his eyes flew open thinking Claire had arrived.

 A young woman was at his side, moving one of the beeping machines so she could see it.

 “Are you alright, Mr. Fraser? Your heart rate got a bit elevated.”

 Unsure how she knew this, but assuming that the machine that he was connected to had given something away, he offered an answer: “Aye, Miss.  Just let my thoughts get a hold of me is all.”

 He looked to her green shirt and trousers, noticing she wore a broach with the name “Ingrid” engraved on it with an ‘R’ and an ‘N.’ Her accent was like Joe’s; flat, no ups and downs.

 She smiled, tracking his eyes.

 “I’m Ingrid.  I’ll be your nurse for the rest of the morning.  Are you feeling ill?”

 “No.  Doing well, thank ye. What time is it?”

 “It’s 1:30 a.m.”

 She looked over his bandages, tubes, connections, and bags.

 “You can’t have any food just yet, but I can pour you some water?”

 “I would like that, yes please.”

 “Press this if you need help.  I’ll come in just as quickly.” 

 Get a hold of yerself, Fraser.  Ye’ve been given yer life back and ye’ll manage all of it well. And to be sure, it’s bound to be easier in this time. 

 To be fully awake, without the mist of fever clouding his thinking, was truly wonderful.  Even with all the contraptions and pain, it was a blessing to feel his strength coming back.

 He looked around his room. The “electric” lights were a wonder. Daylight would never have an end now.  And the air was very cool in the room – was the temperature controlled as well?

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Joe and Lamb had offered to let Claire and Murtagh go with Ming Ru for the first visit; they didn’t want to overwhelm Jamie.

 Stopping at the nurse’s station, Ingrid jumped up at seeing Ming Ru.  “Mrs. Cho!”       

 “Hello Ingrid. I’m so relieved you’re on this shift.”

 “I assume you’re here to see Mr. Fraser?

“We are.”

 “Ahhh.  I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.  He’s awake. Right up there – room 305.”

 “Go along, dear” Ming Ru said to Claire, touching her arm. “I’ll check in with Xiaoli and Lihua.”

 “Please come meet him?”

 “Of course – I’ll be back in a little while.”

 Once in the doorway, Claire saw Jamie’s beautiful green eyes, now alert and bright.   She moved around everything that was now tasked with keeping him functioning and healthy.

 It was the first time Jamie had seen Claire in her trousers and shirt since the day she arrived at Lallybroch.  It was a bit jarring, her not in the dress he’d become accustomed to, but to just be able to see her again….

 Jamie’s tears left paths on his still somewhat dirt-caked face.  “Ye saved me.”

 Gently sitting on the bed beside him, Claire stroked his cheek. “You betcha I did.”

 She leaned in to hug him, his arm coming around her.

 “God Bless ye, lass.  I didna think we’d be together much longer” he gasped into her hair.  “Did…Did anyone travel with us? Are ye all well?”

 “Yes!  We’re all well.  Lamb and Joe will be here later on. But…there’s someone with me now, in fact.”

 Jamie looked to her for an answer, then she rose and went out of the room.

 Walking in, Murtagh  - his clothes now properly cleaned and dried - found his Godson in bed amidst the contraptions and cords.

 “Father… Ye came?”  Stunned, Jamie tried to pull himself up.

 “Dinna sit up.”  Murtagh pulled one of the chairs in the room beside the bed.  “Son, I couldna just leave your life to chance. Not when I’d promised from yer birth to protect ye.” 

 Jamie reached for Murtagh’s hand: “tapadh leat, athair. Gach beannachd dhut.”  (Thank you, Father. Bless you.)

 Trying to keep tears away, Murtagh grasped Jamie’s hand.

 

 

Next week: The right environment.

 

Chapter Text

When Jamie was angry, but especially when he was tired, was when he slipped into Gàidhlig.  Claire went into the hall, allowing them time alone.

 Standing at the desk, Xiaoli was entering orders for Jamie’s care over the next few days with Lihua beside him studying her brother’s notes. From being taught together at home they’d come to study together thereafter as a means to help and support each other to be their best: “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” had become their unspoken life motto.  Never letting the other slip, give up, or give in likely contributed to their success.

 Claire quietly waited for them to finish, and as they did they noticed her.

 “Oh! Mrs. Fraser.  I hope everything is alright?”  Xiaoli turned to her, concerned.

 “Dr. Cho, I do not know how to express my gratitude for all you and your sister have done. This is beyond anything I expected.  Thank you both. For saving my husband’s life, but also for…protecting us.”

 “It is our pleasure to serve.  It was rather fortuitous that we arrived here from Hong Kong a few weeks ago. Your husband’s bile duct was nearly crushed, resulting in a back up of bile – as you were aware – but it was repaired.  He is on antibiotics, pain management, and fluids currently. He will need to remain here for several days, but his prognosis is very good.”

 Lihua was touched by their love for each other: “He called for you often.  It is what kept him going, I’m sure.  I hope to have such a love as yours.”

 “It will find you, as it found me. Have faith.”

 Ming Ru came to the desk, hugging both of her children.  Claire took her hand and walked to Jamie’s room. “I’m so grateful to see him in recovery.” Murtagh stood to give Claire his seat.  “Here, lass.” Ming Ru studied Jamie for a moment.  Here was the man Claire had loved, painted for, and risked her life to save – all before even meeting him. He was a Scot, that was sure, with red hair and piercing green eyes.  The devotion he created in both Claire and Murtagh said everything else she would need to know about this man, James Fraser.

 “Jamie, this is my friend Ming Ru.  She is the mother of both Doctors who saved you. She is housing us and helped Joe in arranging for everything we would need.”

 “Ma’am I’m deeply grateful for all ye’ve done – both for me and my family. Thank ye.”

 “You are very welcome.”

 Murtagh moved towards the door.  “I’ll leave ye now, son.”  Ming Ru nodded to both Jamie and Claire, then left to take Murtagh back to the apartment.

 “Yea, we didn’t know he was coming.” Claire said, sitting down. “Just found him face down in the mud.”

 Murtagh poked his head in. “I heard that.”  He raised an eyebrow then disappeared.

 Claire let down the side rail, laughing, and moved Jamie's IV tubes out of the way to gently recline beside him. The persistent beeping of the machines and routine checks by nurses made it hard to feel comfortable though these were minor inconveniences; he would fully recover.  For now they were grateful to be alive.

 Jamie, as much as he could despite an IV in his hand, gently stroked Claires back. 

 She smells different. Her normal odor seemed to be purposely veiled behind… something like a flower patch? Nay bother.

 “I guess we should all be seen by Doctors now, just to check.  Dentists and Opticians to start.”

 “The specialists ye spoke of?”

 “Yes.  Teeth and eyes. There are many other types.”

 Jamie suspected she also meant the ones that helped with conceiving too. He traced circles on her back.

 Or is it a meadow in spring?  Aye.  A meadow.

 She curled closer to him, trying to avoid all the tubes.

 “Claire?”

 “Mmmhmm?”

 “Ye know ye haven’t had yer courses this month.”

 She had been rocking her foot back and forth, then stopped. Slowly she pulled herself up on her elbow, looking at him in shock.

 “Through all of this you kept track?”

 “I’m a farmer.  We watch fer this.  Just comes natural.”  He blinked at her.

  “I hope this isn’t a false alarm.”  The anticipation in Claire’s eyes belied the worry in her statement.

 “Can any of the doctors here help ye find our fer certain?”

 Forgetting how much was available now, her face lit up. “They can!” She got down from the bed, holding up her finger to him as she ran to the door. “Be back in a minute!” Just as she got to the doorway, a nurse was coming in.

 “Oy, lass!  How are we doing?”

 “He’s doing very well! When you’re finished, I'd like to ask a favor.”

 “I can do both, luv.  What might ye be needin’”?

 “Could you do a pregnancy test?”

 Replacing Jamie’s antibiotic IV bag, the nurse’s eyes flew open. “Aye. C’mon Mrs. Fraser. We’ll check on that.” As they left, the nurse winked at Jamie.

 Several agonizing minutes later Claire returned. Jamie raised his eyebrows in anticipation.

 Pulling the booties from her pocket, she wiggled them in the air.

 Relief. Gratefulness. Hopefulness. There were competing feelings inside Jamie’s heart, but the one most visible was joy. He expected her tears would soon start, for happiness and sadness always brought them, but instead she glowed and had purpose and life in her eyes.

 Coming again to his side, she took his hand and placed it on her abdomen. 

 “We’ll be able to get photos of the womb in a few months to find out if we have a daughter or son. And we’ll be able to hear their heartbeat.”

 “Such things are possible?”

 “And more. But we don’t have to do any of that.  The specialists – Obstetricians - do recommend at least one session of…it’s called a sonogram…to check the baby’s growth but we don’t have to learn the gender if you don’t wish.”

 “It doesna hurt the bairn, does it?” 

 “NO. No. I’d never do anything to hurt…” she said, placing her hand over top his “ever.”

 “Well, I dinna mind a son or a daughter. Mam said…”

 It had tumbled naturally from his mouth, without thought, as any conversation about her always had. Jamie became still.  He laid his head back, closing his eyes.

 Claire kept her hand on his, but said nothing.

 After a few moments, he finished his thought. “Mam said that she knew what each of us was by what she felt like eating.  I wonder – is it the same in this time, or do ye only rely on what the machines tell ye?”

 “Each woman is different, of course. Many choose not to find out, but others do.”

 How I wish I could tell Mam and Da.  Jenny would be busily planning for the bairn, knitting clothes, and with Emily be a whirlwind of excitement. Mam would be so happy. But they’re gone now.

 “How do ye feel? Are ye well?”

 “I am. Very much so. But that could change!”

 She saw the sadness in his eyes that the mention of Ellen had brought. “Jamie, before we left I told your Father that we could communicate through the stone, on the first of each month.  That way they would know you were well, and we could be regularly in touch.  We can add this” she said, patting his hand on her abdomen “in a letter too.”

 Knowing that he could still be in touch with them, even though just in a letter, did more for his heart that he anticipated.  Despite the joy, the unequaled happiness of being a father, the heaviness of being absent from his family still weighed on him; the potential of hearing from them made the weight that much more manageable. 

 

 

Next week: “If you can love the wrong person that much, imagine how much you can love the right one.”

Chapter Text

This chapter will partially deviate from the main story and characters in order to (better) introduce a character that will be playing a recurring and important role: Ingrid.  I must issue a warning, though: this chapter will very briefly mention the topics of spousal abuse and childhood trauma.  Should either of these situations be disturbing to read, please consider skipping this week's chapter.

 

Despite being only on liquids for the past few days, Jamie felt like he was the strongest man in the world. He had his life given back to him, Claire was with child, and his Godfather and friends were safely brought through. But one thing was not bringing him happiness: food. Jamie was finally permitted to eat soft foods but what the nurses now brought him didn’t resemble anything familiar, nor did it have any flavor; consequently, he left the meals uneaten.  Claire brought him oatmeal she made, which he accepted only out of hunger, but it wasn’t the parritch he had eaten nearly every morning of his life.

For all the advancements, food wasn’t one of them.

 Early one morning Ingrid made her rounds. Coming quietly into Jamie’s room, she whispered “Good Morning!” as she pulled the cord to turn on the light over his bed.  Jamie dutifully sat up.

The incident of high blood pressure had been noted in his chart and brought extra monitoring.  Placing the cuff on his upper arm, she recorded that it was normal.  Jamie had looked away, preoccupied with something out the window.

 Do they no even let the streets be unlit at night? 

“Food not to your liking, huh?” she asked, reading the notes of “refuses to eat.”

 He sighed. “Not what I’m accustomed to, no. But thank ye for asking.” 

 “What are you accustomed to?” she asked, sitting down.

 “Lamb stew, bannocks, farm cheese, smoked trout, homemade bread, roasted potatoes, blackberry pie, freshly churned butter, proper parritch” he rifled off quickly, “and a bit of whiskey.”  He attempted a smile.

 “NO alcohol. For a while anyway.  But as to the other…I have an idea.”

 It had been discussed among the nurses that he must have been living on a farm because his Godfather dressed quite traditionally.  They began to wonder if he was from a family that lived “off the grid” and had refrained from store-bought goods, modern appliances, and transportation.  Asking if he wanted to watch the telly brought confusion, and he didn’t have a cell phone.  With no address in his chart either, apart from Mrs. Cho’s, he became somewhat of a mystery. Who a patient was, and was with, at home was an important aspect with regard to their recovery so these things were always looked at. But to Ingrid, this unique and special situation touched her heart.

 So, she determined that his loss of appetite was more from a distaste for the food rather than a result of liver or other GI problems, or even residual pain.  “If you can try to eat a bit of what you’re brought…” curious and hopeful, he met her eyes “ to gain your strength, I may be able to have the kitchen make you some cullen skink.  Do you…”

 “O’course I ken what it is!  I’d be much obliged, Ma’am.”

 She patted his arm.  “If Dr. Cho approves, I’ll get working on it.  Maybe even today for lunch.” 

“Dum spiro spero.”

Knowing a fair amount of latin, she replied “Usus est magister optimus.”

 Jamie nodded, a smile playfully spreading. Ingrid propped her arms on the siderail: “I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’ll need to work your bowels a few times before you’ll be sent home. So…”  she pointed repeatedly to the tray “get a move on.”

For the first time in weeks, Jamie laughed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Ingrid had been a quiet, reserved child.  Her parents divorced when she was nine, her mother eventually finding the strength to leave her husband’s abuse. 

 Things didn’t necessarily get better, though.  Ingrid’s brother, who had gone away to college in another state, wasn’t there for comfort and support any longer.  Her mother, unprepared for the new responsibilities of independence, began to faulter. Her self-esteem and confidence, having been decimated from decades of abuse, left her mostly unable to raise Ingrid in a stable environment though she desperately tried. As a result, extended family stepped in and sent Ingrid to live with an Aunt.

Without her beloved Mother, Ingrid floundered in school; nervous, unable to focus, and too shy and ashamed to make friends. The few she did have weren’t allowed to invite her over because of her father’s well-known temperament, worsening Ingrid’s already sensitive nature. Teachers, though -  aware of her situation - would often take her home with them on weekends. Her Aunt was grateful for their generosity and appreciated the help.

 Mrs. Hughes, a widow who had come to love Ingrid and often had her over to stay, looked over the kitchen table at the frail but beautiful little girl one Saturday morning.

 Having finished a bowl of cereal, four pieces of toast, and glass of chocolate milk, Ingrid’s golden-brown eyes blazed with life and strength.

 “Ingrid, what would you like to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Hughes asked her as she took the bowl and plate to the sink.

 Ingrid answered softly, her head down. “A ballerina.”

 “You would be perfect!” Mrs. Hughes attempted a pirouette.

 Ingrid giggled.

 “Is there anything else you might like to be?”

 Ingrid thought for a while but then shrugged her shoulders.

 Mrs. Hughes sat in the chair beside her.

 “I’ve seen how gentle you are with the gerbils in class, and how kind you are to Caty when she’s upset about her homework.  These are wonderful things to be.  The world needs more of it.  You would be a fine nurse too.”

 It had never occurred to Ingrid, but if Mrs. Hughes had thought she could, maybe she would.

 Throughout her middle school years, Mrs. Hughes still had her stay.  She taught her sewing, cooking, and little things like how to speak in public, how to manage her money, and what makes a good and loving man.

 “Back in the day, men would stand when a woman entered a room, pull their chair out for them, and hold the door.  It wasn’t that women couldn’t do these things, but it was done so they wouldn’t have to.  To me, that’s a gentleman.”

Ingrid looked seriously at her.

“But it’s more than that, of course.  Trust your instincts despite what they do. If it feels wrong, or frightens you, DO NOT risk any more of your heart and mind. Get away.”

 When Ingrid was in high school, Mrs. Hughes died. She left Ingrid a sizeable amount of money as well as her house. In an envelope included with the will in her safe-deposit box was a letter addressed to Ingrid, part of which read:

 “My darling Ingrid,

  I sit here at the kitchen table, on a beautiful winter day, watching you build a snowman outside. Having you in my life has been a singularly magnificent joy, and I’m grateful you have continued to visit me all these years.

  I’m leaving you all I have; both of my children are well off and they have given their blessing to this decision. If you need anything at all, you can call them.  They will also help you care for the house. This is to ensure you never know want, experience worry, or need a home.  Pursue knowledge, believe in yourself, and honor God. You are destined for happiness no matter what memories or pain may speak otherwise to you. You WILL find a good man; he will shine out from all the others and in your heart you will know. Accept nothing less.

 There were others also willing to help:

 I have relatives in Scotland that are prepared to take you in, should you wish.  My cousin Berta, a former nurse, and her husband Martin will love to have your company and will help to guide you along the next part of your journey.

  You are important.  You are valued. You are perfect – just the way you are.

 With all my love,

  Milicent

 

At 18 Ingrid moved into the house, out of her Aunt’s, and lived there while working part-time at a hospital while studying nursing, wanting to specialize in geriatric care. Just to indulge her childhood fancy she took a few years of ballet. On two separate occasions she went to Nicaragua with a medical team. Otherwise, she spent a lot of time at Women’s shelters, providing free medical assistance as a means to honor her mother who eventually remarried, recovered, and found happiness.

 Once she obtained her R.N. she moved to Scotland with Berta and Martin where she worked part-time at a senior living center, using the rest of her time doing shift work at the hospital.  With their children grown, married, and with families of their own, they had come to experience the pains of empty nest. So, when Ingrid rang them with her desire to come stay, they welcomed her.

 She dated some and had but a handful of friends. She had said, repeatedly, that she preferred Berta and Martin’s company over anyone her own age. Sitting together over cups of tea early one morning while Ingrid was at work, Martin expressed his worry.

 “Canna understand how she would rather be here with us than with her friends, taking trips to Spain and Portugal, or just driving about the countryside having a beer and eating lunch by the sea.  Makes me concerned she won’t be able to make a life fer herself.  She’s already in her 30’s.”

 Berta smiled, tracing the delicate handle of her tea cup with her finger.  “She’s got an old soul, is all.” 

 So, without any further discussion on the matter, Berta and Martin chose to cherish their time with her by playing cards, going to the cinema and church, and visiting neighbors.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Having successfully persuaded the kitchen, and with Xiaoli’s permission, Ingrid brought the dish as she was ending her shift.  Tapping on the slightly open door, no one answered.  She poked her head in and saw two men asleep:  Jamie and Murtagh. Murtagh’s hands were across his chest and his head down, snoring in a chair by Jamie’s bed.

 He was having one of his recurring dreams:  he was sitting at the kitchen table at Lallybroch having tea with Ellen.  They didn’t speak, but merely drank.  She smelled of peonies and the pies she’d made. Just at the moment he reached for her hand, he’d wake up. But this time was different.  At the moment he would have reached for her hand, he got up from the table, kissed her on the cheek, and left.

 Touching Murtagh gently on the arm, Ingrid whispered “Mr. Fraser?”

 Waking to Ingrid’s soft lilting voice, and meeting her warm eyes, he smiled.

 

 

Next Week: “You, picking flowers and strawberries that grow so near the ground, fly hence, boys, get you gone! There's a cold adder lurking in the grass.”

Chapter Text

Jamie was now up, walking, and grateful to be doing more on his own. A few of the machines had been disconnected and he wasn’t subject to the constant blood pressure tests any longer. His permission to use the bathroom had come while Joe and Lamb were visiting, thankfully, for he didn’t want to have to ask what any of it was or how it worked.

 They helped him up from bed, then each took one of his arms to help him walk.  He had lost a substantial amount of weight, but the color -the right color- was back in his cheeks.

 Standing in his hospital gown and slippers, holding onto the sink, Jamie caught sight of himself in the mirror.  He ran his hand over his beard, now overtaking his face, then through his hair, matted to his head.  The reflection was clearer, more crisp than he’d ever seen, though it was a shock to take in how much he’d changed.

 Lamb stayed beside him. “If you feel faint, say something. It’s common after surgery and time in bed to be dizzy and weak.  Don’t want you crashing to the ground.”

 A bit of fear flashed through his eyes. “I canna have that happen. Not now.”

 Just when Joe had grabbed the handle of the toilet to start explaining how it worked, he scrunched his eyebrows together.

 “Uh, what?”

 “I just mean that…falling wilna help…it’s important I….please go on.”

 Joe glanced at Lamb whose whole face was scrunched.

 “Soooo…this handle drains the water from the bowl after you’ve relieved yourself” he said, kicking the toilet bowl with his shoe, “though it will fill back up.  This tank” Joe lifted the tank lid “is continually filled with water from pipes that bring it…”

 Jamie was staring at the seat, smiling.

 Joe glanced back at Lamb “from outside the building. WOMEN…”  at this, Jamie met Joe’s eyes “sit with this lid DOWN.  If you want to stay married, you will remember this critical piece of information.  Men stand with it up to urinate and put it down to do anything else.”

 Joe nodded to Lamb to continue with how the sink worked. Jamie slowly turned himself around.

 “The sink is also fed with water from pipes that are in the walls and go outside the building to a reservoir.  This lever releases hot water and this one releases cold when pulled towards you.  Push them back to turn off the water.  So if you want warm water…”

 Jamie was smiling from ear to ear, staring at the floor.

 “Son, are you…”

 “Claire’s with child.”

 Within seconds tears began running down his cheeks. “I am alive to see my child.”  He looked at Lamb.  “I’m going to be a Father.”

 “Dear ME, son!”  Lamb put his arms around Jamie, patting him on the back. “Congratulations!”

 Joe clapped him on the back as well.  “Great news, buddy!”  He thought for a moment.  “I’M GOING TO BE AN UNCLE!”

 Jamie hung his head. “I didna want to say anything without Claire.  I’m just so…”

 “We won’t say anything.” Lamb consoled him.  “That’s enough learning today. Let’s get you back to bed.”

 Taking up chairs, Lamb and Joe exchanged smiles but then Lamb remembered something.  He rolled his eyes and looked toward the ceiling. “So THAT’S why she’s been complaining about every smell in the apartment.”

 “‘Apartment?’ Joe asked.  How about the whole building?  She was on the sofa and complained about the smell of someone’s cologne DOWNSTAIRS IN THE SHOP.”

 As they both laughed, Claire walked in the room with a small container and a plastic bag. 

 Jamie hung his head, and Joe and Lamb looked everywhere but at her.

 “So…whacha been talking ‘bout today, boys?” Claire asked, an eyebrow raised.

 Unable to hide his guilt, Jamie spat out “I’m sorry. I told without ye here.”

 “So, it’s out, aye?”  She sat her bag and everything on the end of the bed.

 She leaned past Lamb to kiss Jamie.  “I’m not upset.” She touched her forehead to his. “It’s too beautiful to stay hidden.”

 Lamb stood up to hug her.  “I’m so happy for you both.” 

 “Thank you.  I’m still trying to get my head around it .”

 “A hug for the new uncle, then?” Joe stood, holding his arms out.

 “Of course!”

 “Well,” Lamb said, puffing out his chest “I think I’m going to have a cee-gar.  C’mon Joe. Let’s give the new mom and dad some time alone. We’ll see ya’ll later. We’ve got stuffs to do.”  He grabbed a paper shopping bag of things he’d brought.

 “Bye. Stay out of trouble.”

 “Will do, darling.”

 “Gentlemen?” Jamie asked before they got to the door. Both of them turned around.

 “Thank you for your help.”

 “Our pleasure.”

 Claire sweetly smiled at Jamie who still seemed worried.  “Dinna fash, my love.”

 She was wearing a sleeveless cotton dress, icy-blue, empire waist.  It gave room around her new bump and also beautifully hi-lited her dark curly hair that she’d just had trimmed and which she tried, and somewhat failed, to loosely wrap in a bun.  There was a noticeable reddish glow to her cheeks that filled Jamie with delight. She still smelled of a flower patch.

 He pursed his lips and looked down at his lap.

 “What’s on your mind?”

 Jamie shook his head, not wanting to divulge that some of the changes were bothering him.

 Claire sat beside him.  “Jamie.  There’s been a lot of changes and there will be more.  I don’t want you holding it all in.  You’ve been dealing with a lot. Talk to me.”

 “I miss yer smell. I always knew when ye were near, and it made me..excited.  No always in an intimate way, mind.  It’s what made ye who ye were.  I could detect ye out of a crowd.  Now,” he said, looking at different parts of the room “there’s such pungent-what did ye call it-chemical smells I can’t detect anything at all.”

 “Let’s get you outside, then.  Have you smell nature instead of this room.”

 With a nurse’s help they got Jamie into a wheelchair, hooked his IV up to it (his white blood count was still up so he remained on antibiotics) and Claire pushed him down the hall to the elevator.

 “Alright, this is called a lift.  It is a box with opening and closing doors that carries you from one floor to another using pulleys.  When it opens we’ll go in, the doors will close, I’ll choose the floor to take us to, then the doors will open again.  But it may feel odd as it descends.”

Once they were back out, Claire pushed Jamie through the bottom level and out the back door.  There, just outside, was a garden that Xiaoli and Lihua had put in.  It was a meditation garden with bamboo chimes, chairs, a water feature, and cascading willows.  She put the brake on his wheelchair, situating him in the center of the garden.  She went back inside and got a bowl of hot water and a few towels.

 “How does it smell now?”

 Jamie let the breeze wash over him.  “Better.  ‘tis smells I recognize.”

 “Alrighty.  Close your eyes.”

 He smiled, waiting for her surprise. 

 Running some shortbread she’d made under his nose, she asked what it was.

 Not as quick as before, but still fast, he said “shortbread.”

 Next, she took out some handmade soap she’d found in a shop. “What’s this?”

 His eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to place something very familiar with a hint of nutmeg.  “Soap?  Ye brought my soap?”  He opened his eyes. 

 “No, but I found some just like it.”  Coming behind Jamie, she had him lean his head back. 

 “Are ye going to bathe me out here?”

 “No. I’m going to wash your hair.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Now outside, Lamb motioned towards the corner.  “Let’s take a walk.”

 Several blocks away Joe saw the park come into view. Lamb guided them to a spot away from the main area to sit down.  He reached in the bag, brought out a bottle of scotch and two glasses, 2 cigars, and a lighter. “We need to talk.”

 They sat for a few minutes in silence, smoking and drinking, then Lamb revealed his reason for the walk. “I’m glad we haven’t been recognized yet.”

 “Yea.  I’ve been thinking of that.  Hopefully, since it’s been a year, we’re not too recognizable. We have beards and such. But Claire could be identified.”

 “Do you think you’ll contact your brother?”

 Joe studied the cigar in his hand, reading the label. “It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t.  I’ve really missed the guy.”

 “I’ve no clue what happened to the house, our stuff, our accounts…”

 “I bet he handled it.  He would have jumped in immediately and taken care of everything.”

 Lamb refilled his glass. “I don’t know if we’ll be charged with anything.”

 Joe exhaled, blowing three perfect smoke rings.  “There’s probably something.  There always is.”

 “I’ve been trying to figure out a plan. We can’t stay with Ming Ru forever.  I did bring…”

 Joe filled his own glass again.  “The money Brian paid us?  I did too.  But it’s not like we can just convert it at the bank."

 “For now, let’s use the back door of the hospital, and walk separately when possible, but one of us always accompany Claire.”

 “Agreed.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Parked outside the front entrance to the hospital, Frank waited for Denise to be brought out.  Unwilling to be bothered enough to go to her room and assist the nurses with her belongings, he sat composing work emails on his phone. Denise had been hired recently at the firm as a paralegal.  She’d been pretty enough, agreeable enough that he asked her out on a few dates. When she hinted at wanting to “enhance” her appearance they came to an arrangement.

 He had firmly held to the belief that love was for fools.  It was unnecessary baggage in a “relationship” and served only to complicate everything. It made for aggravating expectations, emotionality, and too much work.

Personal relationships should follow along the lines of business relationships: we don’t have to love each other to conduct a mutually beneficial, or win-win, transaction.  Denise had seemed to have the same sensibilities and accepted his “gifts” in return for her “gifts.”  What he didn’t know was that he was being played as well.  Once she recovered she was going to Montreal where her next job, and next target, were already waiting. She would skip out on her current job, probably in the middle of the night. A young ingenue she was not.

 Finishing his last message, he looked over to the front doors.  “How long could it possibly take to put someone in a wheelchair and bring them to the front?”

 Just then an attractive brunette caught his eye. She re-tied her hair into a bun and walked a few feet behind his car.  In his rear-view mirror he saw that it was Claire.

 “But…she disappeared with her Uncle and someone else” he muttered, turning in shock.   He watched her walk across the street. “Hmm.  Very interesting.” 

 

Next week:  A breakfast interrupted.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bertram had taken an internship with his Uncle at Police Scotland right after graduating with a criminal science degree last spring. His Uncle, head of the missing persons unit, gave him the opportunity but was not going to extend any special attention, nor allot him a coveted position; if he wanted to advance, he had to earn it.  For now he was assigned as a clerk doing whatever other department heads asked him to and taking tips from the anonymous tip line. He would learn as his Uncle had learned: from the ground up.

 Coming to work one morning, a coffee and some potato scones in a bag, he said good morning to his Uncle – always there before everyone and the last one to leave – because sneaking into his cubicle without any type of acknowledgement had gotten him a stern talking to.  Before the last fold of the scones’ wrapper had been pulled back the tip line rang.

 The caller was succinct; they saw a woman leaving city hospital the day before who resembled Claire Beauchamp; the woman who, with two men, had disappeared over a year ago.  The caller gave the time of the sighting then hung up.

 Rather than ring his Uncle’s office, for he suspected all internal calls – and computers - were monitored, Bertram went to his Uncle directly with his notes, transcribed into the appropriate form.

 Tapping on the door, Bertram entered only after a clear “come in.”

 His Uncle, hunched over a pile of forms, looked questioningly at his nephew.

 “I’ve just taken an anonymous tip.”

 “Yer here because it’s somewhat credible, I assume.”

 “Aye, Sir.  I believe it is”

 Uncle Geoffrey turned from his work to face him directly.

 “A woman that fits a missing person reported last year was spotted coming out of the hospital yesterday. She was with the two men who had never been found.”

 Geoffrey’s memory of the incident came quickly, and vividly, to memory. That no trace was found of the three presumably responsible, educated adults piqued his interest.

Reports of missing persons usually resolved themselves; teenagers that hadn’t phoned their parents that they were spending the night at a friend’s, spouses that had passed out drunk and weren’t heard from again until morning when they finally came to, or runaways that eventually returned home after a harrowing, unexpectedly frightful night on the unforgiving streets.  Then there were the others; friends or family that disappeared into thin air, never heard from again.  Oddly, almost in their place, were ones brought in off the street, looking – and acting – like they were from another time; hand-made clothing, heavy brogue, asking to be taken to homes that had years, but likely many decades ago, been bulldozed over in the name of “progress.” Stranger still were the ones who had “returned.”  The formerly missing that came back as mysteriously as they had left. When these situations involved police presence – barring criminal activity - such cases were handled without any publicity; the entire purpose behind the police force was public safety so rather than leak that time-travel was a possibility, information had to be strictly contained as public panic could not be risked. Travelers, then, were re-oriented back into society, if they wished, or re-located.

 These files were kept “top secret.” Only he and his two superiors were privy to their existence.

 He looked sternly at Bertram: “Requisition a car and camera, then monitor the hospital and get back to me with any information. TEXTBOOK, Bertram.  TEXTBOOK. This could be the start of a potential career or walking your Aunt’s dogs and cleaning their cages.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 For an entire day Bertram had watched the hospital’s main entrance, where the woman had been identified exiting, from an unmarked car. No one even close had entered or left.

 Geoffrey was not impressed.  “Did ye think to monitor the side or BACK entrances?”

 “No, sir.  I…No. I should have. I thought as she was seen coming out the front…”

 “Go see what yer Aunt needs help with.  Ye’ve the rest of the day off without pay.”

 That afternoon Geoffrey reacquainted himself with the case and what could be going on currently, then monitored the hospital on his own. Stationing himself in a small parking lot at the back of the hospital, with binoculars, he saw not only Claire, but Lamb and Joe hurrying out together shortly after he got there.

 He jumped out of his car and ran to catch them.

 “Fine day fer a stroll, aye?  I always prefer even time, meself.”

 “Yes, you’re right.”  Lamb said, putting his arm around Claire.

 “Aren't ye Claire Beauchamp?”

 Lamb and Joe shared a glance of fear but kept walking.

 Geoffrey kept up with them.

 Joe tried to get him to back off.  “I’m sure you’re mistaken.”  They hurried their pace.

 “No, I dinna think so.  A woman matching the lady’s description was reported leaving this same hospital.  And now, with two men.  Seems ye are a match for the three people that disappeared last year.”

  Joe still tried to get him to stop. “What a coincidence.”

 “Is it?” Geoffrey asked, putting himself directly in front of them to block their path.  “I’m Geoffrey Cookston, head of Police Scotland’s Missing Person’s Department. Would ye care to have a coffee?

 With him in front of them, very unwilling to step aside or let the matter drop, and with Police Scotland, of all places, now involved, it would be in their best interest to comply though they knew they were not in any way obliged to.

 Geoffrey, seeing the resignation on their faces – along with the tiredness that came from hiding -tilted his head to what turned out to be a very conveniently located coffee shop. 

 Though Joe, Lamb and Claire refrained from taking coffee, Geoffrey ordered a cup.  “Always take it black. Canna understand how people completely cover the taste with all those flavors and whatnot.”

 He looked at the three, sitting nervously but resolutely together.

 “Would ye like to begin?” he asked.

 Knowing anything they said could implicate them, all three shook their heads.

 “Well, then that makes my job a bit harder.  Let’s see…” He pulled out a small wire-bound notebook from his back pocket.  It was impractical, to him, to keep notes in anything electronic because he could write faster than he could type.  Although everything had to be entered into a computer anyway, he still preferred writing everything by hand.  And besides, it’s what Columbo would do.

 “You have been missing fer a year. No contact.  Now yer back, married” he looked directly at Claire “to a James Fraser who has a Godfather Murtagh Fraser, both with no fixed address apart from that of Yi Tien and Ming Ru Cho.”

 Trained not only in detective work but in the psychological aspect of body language, he knew he hit a nerve; Claire’s breathing stopped, and all three became pale-faced and rigid.

 “Neither are familiar with modern technology, and both speak with a pronounced, almost forgotten brogue.”

 “And?”  Lamb replied a bit sarcastically, but probably out of fear.

 Geoffrey maintained his patience; losing his cool could derail everything, but he wouldn’t let this slight go unchallenged.

 “A great deal of time and resources were used to find you, Doctor Beauchamp. For many MONTHS.”  Geoffrey softly, but angrily spat out. “And your brother Greg, Doctor Abernathy, resolved your accounts - under great heartbreak I’m sure. The entire community mourned the loss of innocent life.”

 Exasperated with their “front,” he continued.   “Now, either you’re spies, crooks, or you’re time travelers.”  Almost imperceptibly, Joe flinched.

 One of Geoffrey’s first professors at Academy had hammered into her students two particular aspects of criminology work: criminals often return to the scene of their crimes, and the compulsion to confess.

 Strangely, Geoffrey didn’t think they were criminals. Nothing lined up:  no other jurisdiction was looking for them, there had been no noteworthy crimes reported involving them individually or as a group, and a quick search through INTERPOL databases didn’t turn anything up.  And they were definitely not spies with how easily he’d found them. With this knowledge, which he wouldn’t share, and the background from hidden files at work, he pushed for them to confess to time traveling – with false accusations of being criminals.

 “Consider that there may have been a reason for ye to fake yer deaths?  Commit a crime maybe? Criminals always return to the scene of the crime.”

 Lamb nearly exploded.  “We have committed NO crime EVER.”

 “Well, then.  If yer no criminals, I canna think of a reason why ye’d leave and come back unless, of course, ye’d been…taken somewhere accidentally and needed to get back for, well, medical reasons.”

 Lamb eyed the obviously seasoned, intelligent policeman. He resembled one of those Irish boxers from long ago; strong jaw, stout body, piercing eyes.  He projected how formidable an opponent he could be, but at his heart Lamb sensed there was compassion hiding.

 Geoffrey returned the glare. “Either way, I think you’ll want to talk with me so that this doesn’t appear in the newspapers, which, as you know, can take this tasty little bit around the globe in minutes. People wilna like feeling they’ve been fooled.”

 All three shifted in their seats.

 “It could be that I’m able to help ye, and yer family” Geoffrey said after swallowing a rather large gulp of coffee.   “But that will involve us talking” he said, taking a napkin and wiping his mouth.  “Ye don’t have to, of course, and I dinna have to keep your sudden appearance secret, either.”

 Claire seemed inclined to confess, though Geoffrey was almost certain one of the men were squeezing her hand under the table to prevent her.

 “Our motto, if ye didna already know…”

 “Semper Viglio.”  Joe responded, a bit bored.

“Aye.  Keeping People Safe. If yer about nefarious dealings, it is my responsibility to do something about it.”

 Lamb shook his head and rolled his eyes, incredulous. Still resolute in their denial, Geoffrey pushed a bit harder.

 Drs. Beauchamp and Abernathy – ye were last seen at Bertucci’s Restaurant. Wait staff reported you skived off, leaving a bill.  From then on you were never seen or heard from again.  I’ll ask one more time – care to tell what took ye away?”

 They refused to respond.

 “I have more, by the way. Just several days ago James Fraser was brought to city hospital by Xiaoli and Lihua Cho for injuries related to a “farm accident.” I have not been able to find any Fraser family farm within a 50 mile radius. BUT…” he continued “a fair bit of research DID uncover a Fraser family nearby in the 18thcentury. And curiously enough, a page from a Fraser family bible – posted online – shows a Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp marrying a James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser on July 13, 1777 at the estate of Lord Brian and Lady Ellen Fraser. Lallybroch?  Almost a year to the day from when ye vanished.”  He finished his coffee. 

 “Quite the coincidence indeed.” 

Chapter Text

“I’ve given ye a lot to think about, so I’ll no push any further.”  Geoffrey put his notebook back in his pocket and stood. “Meet me back here the same time and day next week to talk about how this can be resolved; otherwise, I’ll have to open an investigation and ye’ll be called for questioning.  Good day to ye.”

 Geoffrey hadn’t felt that they’d be a flight risk as he’d already implicated Murtagh, Ming Ru, Xiaoli, Lihua and Jamie.   They would definitely be staying put. 

He nodded to them, then left.

 All three let out a very long breath.  “Right.  We need to sort this out. But not here.”  Lamb pushed his chair back and rose.  Outside, and down the street, he proposed that Joe go to the apartment while he took Claire back to the hospital. 

 As Joe walked off, Claire stepped into the crosswalk at the signal. “We’re going to need to explain this to Jamie; Joe can talk with Ming Ru and Murtagh.”

 “That’s the plan,” Lamb said as they made their way through side streets back to the hospital.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Jamie was walking up and down the hall, nearly unaided, to push his body and regain his strength.  The persistent but lessening infection had caused him to be kept longer. Otherwise, he was picking up in weight and spirits.

 Ingrid was now able to get colcannon, peas porridge, and other treats for Jamie because it was clearly helping him improve.  He thought it kind of her to bring extra for Murtagh who, curmudgeon that he could be, was always in good spirits if he was visiting during her shift.

 A quick learner with an inquisitive mind, Jamie studied everything and everyone he saw on his walks.  People wore clocks on their wrists.  The “phones” everyone had were looked at it minute-by-minute. They talk into it and voices come back out. People put dyes in their hair; not just to keep their own color when it had turned white, but other colors were added out of playfulness he assumed.  There was a machine for every purpose thinkable. 

 Jamie took a seat in one of the sitting areas and looked out the window onto the street.  Couples pushed babies in smaller carriages. The hanging lights on the streets seemed to keep the vehicles, as Claire called them, from hitting each other. Other vehicles, that had different colors painted on them, with blinking lights and loud bells, came into the hospital regularly. “Was that what I was brought in?”

 Sadly, he didn’t see anyone wearing tartan.  “How do ye know which Clan one another’s from?” he said into the window.  “Are they no proud of their kin?”  He worried for how he would raise his child in this new environment.

Adapting would take work, but he would definitely not miss the unending noise and light or tasteless, poorly cooked food; what he DID miss was his kilt and boots. 

 Right beside him the lift opened. Claire and Lamb got off the elevator but walked right past him.

 “Mrs Fraser, I presume?”  he yelled as he ambled to them.  “I thought ye were off to get my clothes?” 

 Claire took Jamie’s hand and walked with him back to the room.  “Well, that was the plan.”

 Jamie picked up on how serious their countenance was. “Is there a problem?”

 Once they got back in his room she shut the door. He didn’t want to get back in bed but rather sat in one of the chairs, looking to them for an explanation.

 “Jamie,” Claire said, sitting on the bed in front of him.  “There may be a problem with our sudden arrival.  When we left, taken together as we were, it caused a situation.”

 “Aye.  People just up and disappearing.  Have ye been discovered, then?”

 “Yes, by the Police – a group of authorities tasked with maintaining peace and security. They caught us as we left here earlier. We’ve just been interrogated as to our whereabouts all this time.”

 Jamie scooted to the end of his chair, taking Claire’s hand, worry but a flash of anger in his eyes.  “They didna hurt ye, did they? I’ll deal with them if they laid a hand on ye and the bairn…” The remembrance of his arrest and imprisonment by Jack Randall the only comparison he had to understand the situation.

 “No, dear.  It was nothing like that.”   She smiled so sweetly at him that he felt his face flush.

 “The news of our disappearance went far and wide, due to the machines that are used for communication now.  Our being seen was attributed by the police member to either our having committed a crime or, to my utter astonishment, time travel, and we were asked which it was.” 

 “They know of such things? Did ye have to explain yourselves?” 

 “Not today” Lamb said “but by next week we’ll have to do something or there will be consequences. We should be consulting a solicitor, but that won’t do will it?  We’re rather stuck.”

 Jamie hung his head then looked up to them with dejection. “I’m sorry if I brought ye trouble.”

 “You haven’t, Jamie.” Claire answered. “Absolutely not. I hope you don’t feel that’s what we were saying.”

 Worried that he, or even Murtagh, had contributed to their situation, he felt so guilty he wanted to apologize again.

 Claire, seeing his worry, didn’t want him to even entertain the thought. “No, dear.”

 “But if…”

“NO, Jamie.”

 “Claire Fraser!  Ye arena letting me finish…”

 I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU THAT…

 “Ifrinn, woman!” He roared. “Yer heid’s as hard as a rock!”

“JUST LIKE YOURS!”  She roared back, crossing her arms over her chest.

 “Alright you two!”

 They both looked at Lamb. 

 “This won’t get us answers, but…it’s nice to see your strength returning, son.  Good sign.” Lamb winked at him.

 Jamie rubbed Claire’s leg, dangling off the bed, as a means of apology.  She tickled his thigh with her toes.

Claire sighed. “I’m very curious about what this help was he kept offering.  I think he knows what happened, and they’re the ones worried about the press; bit of projection, that.  So I think we’re going to get a handsome package to keep quiet.” 

 A sly smile slowly formed on Lamb’s mouth.  “I was going to say the same thing. He sure did know A LOT. Was really pushing for a confession – like he wanted this over with.” 

“Could there be a snitch here?” Claire whispered.

 “It wouldn’t hurt to assume so, so one of us should stay here with Jamie until he’s released.”  Lamb let his head fall back on the chair. “Claire, honey?” He said, his eyes closed.  “Are you feeling ok?  Do you need some rest?”

 “Yea, a bunch of tired did just hit me.  I’ll stay here tonight. “

 “Ok, Love.  I’ll get going. Check on things with Joe.”

 

 

Chapter Text

This chapter is dedicated with love to A-II: 2awesome2EVERb4gotten.

 

Joe came into the shop, passing through the customers, to make his way upstairs. Despite wrapping and bagging a small vase for a customer Ming Ru saw that there was worry in his eyes.

 Murtagh, reading a book Ming Ru had given him – “Tales of Scotland’s Past” -  was at the table deep in thought when Joe walked in.

 “Good evening, Murtagh. Sorry for the interruption.” 

 “’tis no bother.”

 “Could I talk with you for a moment?” Joe asked, closing the door.

 “o’course.”

 Taking a seat across from him at the table, Joe struggled with how to bring up the subject of their questioning.

“Something happened today and I need to make you aware. We were leaving the hospital to come back to get Jamie’s clothes but were taken aside by authorities.”

 Murtagh sat up, alarmed.

 “It’s alright. There was no abuse. With our disappearance, sudden, without any warning, and our equally sudden reappearance, it leaves questions that they want answers to.”

 “But yer here. They let ye go.”

 “Temporarily.  Seems they have knowledge of people ‘traveling,’” Joe said, leaning his head in for emphasis, “and the official had extensive knowledge, even to Jamie and Claire being married and where we’re staying.”

 “Then ye’ve been followed.  But ye said temporarily.  They’ll be questioning ye again?”

 “Yes. Next week we have to meet them.  For now, though, we didn’t give any answers.”

 Murtagh took a deep breath, worry showing in the tenseness of his jaw. “Could ye be jailed for this?  I dinna understand justice in this time.”

 “I don’t believe so.  He seemed to hint at compensating us for keeping quiet about traveling.  If it were to become public knowledge, which it doesn’t currently seem to be, there would be widespread…well, bedlam.  And to keep peace, which is their primary responsibility, they want to keep this very well contained.”

 Murtagh leaned his elbows on the table, joining his hands together. “Does the lad know yet?”

 “Yes. Lamb and Claire are with him now.”

 “I’d suggest a meeting between us all so that we are of one mind regarding the direction forward so that Jamie and I can understand what this all means.”

 “Agreed.  Jamie should be released soon. We’ll have time then.”

 Despite Murtagh, and Jamie, making strides in understanding their new environment, Joe knew he needed to be open and honest about what life would be like now. It was obviously a more complicated place than in the past where a Lord was ruler and protector of his property and sole determiner of he and his family’s fate; that is when the British were not trying to usurp Scottish self-rule.  People disappearing or reappearing would not have caused a stir 200 years ago, where there would not have been much of a formal inquiry, but more because news couldn’t travel as fast.  

 Lamb let himself in, yawning.

 “How are you doing, by the way,” Joe asked Murtagh.

 “We’re all safe. Jamie was saved and will see his bairn. The ‘loo’ is a wonder indeed.”

 “That it is!  So, would you like to go see Jamie?  I can contact Claire and have her meet you in the lobby of the hospital. It’s late so you’ll need someone to give you entrance to the hospital.”

 Murtagh studied Joe for a moment.  “She’s a distance away, no?  Will she hear ye?”

 “I’m sorry.  I should have been clearer,” Joe said, smiling. “This smaller machine can reach a like machine that Claire has and through it we can talk.”

 “Ye dinna say.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Claire held Jamie in her arms, tired from daily walks, healing, and learning of this new world around him. He was laid with his head and hand upon her abdomen having fallen asleep talking to the baby.

 Claire began reflecting on many of the things she’d not had time, or, depending on how painful it was, inclination, to address. She’d often wondered what her friend Emily must have thought about her disappearing.  They’d agreed to have lunch shortly after they’d all been swept away into the past.

 They met their first year of upper school in an introductory composition class.  Not wanting to be caught looking down at their phones to read each other’s text messages, they passed notes instead; these could be propped inside their textbooks or binders, passing for lecture notes or homework.

 “The guy two rows in front of me is asleep. He’s snoring.”

  “Record it.  Might go viral and get us enough for to pay for the class.”

 There was something exciting and old-fashioned about writing a quick thought or joke, folding it up with such precision that, should it get into enemy hands, it would not be quickly or easily opened. Code names were also strictly adhered to for safety’s sake. Their note-passing continued through each year thereafter. Claire had kept many of the original notes, found stuck in old textbooks or in secret pockets of backpacks, that she stored in an old pencil case which she kept with her through every dig and exploration. When her nomadic life would become lonely or discouraging, these would bring warmth and joy; a remembrance of a rare friend whose duplicate had never be found.

 When class got dull, or they’d run out of things to say, shenanigans resulted:

 “I dare you to throw a paper airplane across the room.”

  “Mission accepted.”

 This simple dare ended in the airplane landing on the floor only a few yards away.  Another student picked up the plane and continued the flight to the next section, and each class after that for the rest of the semester the plane would be sent from one side of the classroom to the other whenever the professor had their back turned.  There were awards given for “longest flight” “most hilarious throw” and “closest call.”

 Catching herself both crying and laughing, her phone buzzed. 

 “Murtagh wants to come visit.  Meet him in lobby?”

 “Will do.

 Murtagh brought Jamie’s clothes then took up a chair, noticeably gladdened that Jamie was gaining weight and improving. But seeing Claire so exhausted, he asked after her.

  “Claire, ye look ragged.  I ken ye’ve been sleeping in the bed beside Jamie, but ye should get proper rest away from the constant commotion at the hospital.”

 “I know,” Claire said, bleary-eyed and achy.  “But he’s been worried since we were questioned and wants to feel that he’s protecting me so I stay with him. I don’t mind,” she whispered.

 “I can make my way about without transport. Ye dinna have to shoulder this all by yerself.”  His brown eyes, so full of compassion and concern, lingered on her.

 “That’s kind of you.”

 Murtagh’s equally expressive eyebrows seemed to scrunch themselves nearly together at Claire’s denial.

 She rubbed her eyes, then sat her hands in her lap, her head drooping with fatigue.  “Oh, Murtagh.  I’m so sorry,” she said, snapping to,  “I wasn’t thinking.  I don’t mean to take Jamie’s care away from you. With all you risked to be here with him, too. Would you like to spend the night with Jamie tonight?”  She reached down from the side of the bed to touch his hand.

 His eyebrows relaxed, and a small smile formed. “Thank ye, lass.”  

 Just as Claire texted Lamb to say she was on her way back, Ingrid walked in.  Checking on Jamie was the first thing she did when her shift started, and the last when she left.

 Her smile grew at seeing Murtagh seated in his usual spot. He stood, meeting her smile with his own.  She held up a large paper bag.  “Fancy some lamb stew and biscuits?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Father Willie, Jamie’s cousin, had come to stay with Brian and Ellen.  The kirk he had been promised was given to another seminarian.  Willie presumed the graduate must have had connections, or a more endearing personality, to sway a decision so quickly and unexpectedly to his favor.  Willie accepted this turn of events, though in disappointment and anger he sought the Lord’s comfort and guidance. The next day, in prayer, he felt compelled to visit Brian and Ellen.  Once there, and finding out that Jamie, Claire, Lambert and Joe had “moved away,” he knew it had actually been God’s hand that he did not, afterall, receive his assignment. Without having to ask for accommodation he was immediately invited to stay.  His choice of three rooms was beyond generous; the storage room where Joe and Lamb had stayed, Murtagh’s room, and the spare bed in Willie’s room that had once been Jamie’s.  Rather than mourning and becoming bitter, by himself, he would now be helping family and growing in his spiritual walk.  Comfortably fitted in Murtagh’s old room, he settled into his new life.

 A warm, breezy fall afternoon, both Willies were threshing wheat with a flail.  Jamie’s absence, in particular, had been hard for young Willie to bear but he’d been trying to fill Jamie’s shoes – both as man, and as a farmer –  and worked hard on giving up what he felt was a childish fear of being alone.  He knew manhood, not childhood, was his path; forward, not backward.  Evenings though were still difficult because his mind worked so actively at night and he no longer had anyone to share his thoughts and worries with.

 “Father, may I have a moment?”  Willie asked, not looking up.

 Having adopted a kilt, shirt and boots instead of his cassock and shoes (for he was now with family and not at a kirk) Father Willie wiped the wheat dust and debris from his eyes and face, holding the flail to his side. “Yes, son. Of course.”  Anticipating a question of a spiritual nature, he thought to the training in counseling he’d had and considered the path that might be taken from a lad of Willie’s age:  “Was God born, like us?”  “What do angels look like?”  “Will we live in houses in heaven?”  Instead, there was a warm, generous statement:

 “If ye become troubled for any reason, I’d be happy to talk with ye.”

 Father Willie smiled down at the young man, perceiving hidden worry behind the offer. He considered that, given the offer of help, possibly other family members were also trying to manage pain and instead of his own feelings of displacement, he realized more consideration should be given to the family’s hearts first.

 “Sometimes I do feel troubled.  I guess we all do, aye?”

 “Aye, Father.”

 “Maybe we can help each other, then?”

 Willie, finally lifting his eyes, stood his flail in front of him and crossed his hands over the top of the handle.  He smiled, nodded, and continued threshing. “We should distinguish ourselves now that yer living with us.  It will save Da having to correct himself each time he says ‘Willie.’”

 “You’ve a good point.  How would you propose we do this?”

 “Well, you could be ‘Father’ and I could be ‘son.’  That is, unless we’re the only one about.”

 “That’s a sound plan.  Would you like to recommend it to yer Da?”

 “I would.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The family had tried to accustom themselves without Lamb, Claire and Joe.  Jenny, sitting on her bed one afternoon playing with a rag doll she’d made with Claire, could not hold back tears.  The closest she’d ever had to a sister, Claire’s absence left a void in her heart. 

 Several times Brain had heard Ellen wake from sleep only to sit on the edge of the bed and cry.  She knew they were safe, but the emptiness of her days lingered.

 Brian felt as strong a sense of emptiness as his wife, but having Father Willie to help with the physical work in the field and in the spiritual work of having faith to overcome loneliness, Brian saw his addition to the family as God’s provision for both. As well, he knew there would be communication with Jamie and Claire soon, so strengthened himself with the hope that would come from it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie’s release from the hospital was bittersweet. The nurses had gotten accustomed to his stories and daily walks and would miss his company; it was a rare occasion that a patient had left such as impression.  Jamie, on the other hand, looked forward to spending time with his family, away from the noise and constant checks, and forging a new life in this new world.

 Xiaoli and Lihua were finishing the paperwork at the desk after requesting a wheelchair to assist Jamie’s departure.  Back in his kilt, shirt and boots he left his room for the final time, making his goodbyes.  He appreciated being able to address Xiaoli and Lihua standing up, face to face:  “Thank ye both, again,” he said softly to get their attention.  “I wouldna be alive, nor be able to…”  his voice caught as he pulled Claire’s hand to his chest “enjoy the blessing of being a Husband and Father.  I’ll never forget all ye’ve done.”

 Xiaoli nodded in respect.  “I speak for my sister when I say we are very happy to see you healthy and strong.  Be blessed.”

 Ingrid stayed after her shift in order to wish Jamie well and at the moment he was helped into the wheelchair she came to his side.  “I’ll miss your company!” Jamie looked up from where he had just seated himself. “It has been remarkable, and I thank ye for all ye’ve done. The food surely helped with the healing.”

 If Xiaoli and Lihua were able to say so, Ingrid was the nurse they valued most.  She had a sixth sense with patients, had a bedside manner that encouraged peace and comfort, and was the most singularly gifted staff they had ever worked with; it wasn’t a job to her, it was who she was: a healer, a helper, and an angel for recovery whether physical or emotional.

 Murtagh was tasked with taking the discharge papers and medications.  Taking them from Xiaoli, he put them in his sporran but noticed a woman’s hand out of the corner of his eye. In it was a small card.

 “This is where you can reach me if you, or Jamie, need anything.  I could come over now and again. Maybe bring a meal or two.”

 Unsure what to do with the decorated piece of paper, he looked over at Claire who was leaning on the nurses’s station desk talking to Lihua and Xiaoli.

 “Thank you, Ingrid” Claire said, immediately taking the card and hugging her.  “It is a comfort knowing you will be there.”

 “You’re welcome.  I’ve been happy to help.” She nervously tucked her hair behind her ear and stuck her hand out for Murtagh to shake.  “OK.  Well… best wishes!”

 Claire caught Murtagh’s eye, glanced to Ingrid’s hand, then looked down at his hand.  Uncomfortable taking a woman’s hand who he was not betrothed to, he bowed instead. 

 “Thank ye Miss, for yer care and attention to my Godson.”

 Pulling her hand back, she clasped it to her other.  “You’re welcome.”  Before entering the lift, Murtagh looked down the hall.  Sunlight was pouring out of the room Jamie had been in, highlighting Ingrid’s hair and it’s auburn strands as she stood in the doorway.  She gave a quick wave of her hand, bringing Murtagh to tip his cap and smile.

 In the elevator, after Claire had pushed the button for the Lobby, Jamie looked up at his Godfather; the Godfather that had taught him Gàidhlig, how to fish, how to walk, how to ride horses, calculate figures, and even predict the weather, but who now had shown himself to be hopelessly naïve about a woman’s affection.

 Catching Jamie and Claire’s glare of disbelief, he raised his eyebrow: “WHAT?”

 Jamie shifted in the wheelchair to face Murtagh. “Are ye truly that daft?”

 “Are ye calling yer Godfather a numpty then?” He crossed his arms over his chest as the lift continued it’s descent.

 “Well, if yer shoe’s on…” Jamie said, feeling somewhat triumphant using current sayings he learned from Claire. He turned to look at the closing doors in front of him.

   Claire rolled her eyes.  “It’s ‘if the shoe fits’ for goodness sake. Numpties - both of you!” she said, laughing as the lift finally opened.

 Worried that he’d been inappropriate with regard to modern social etiquette, Murtagh laid his hand on Claire’s arm, causing her to stop pushing Jamie and turn to him.

 “I didna offend her, did I?  Was I remiss in my actions? Is it not improper to take a woman’s hand if yer not engaged?” His face paled.

 Claire immediately softened. “Shaking hands is a common means of greeting and goodbye now, even between a man and woman. I’m sure she wasn’t offended; maybe just surprised.”

 “Was that a calling card she gave me?”

 “Yes. Of a sort.  Now they are called business cards.  It saves time exchanging personal information.”

 “Oh.  So that we may…”  he thought for a moment “contact her by telephone?”

 “Yes.  If you wish.”  Claire tilted her head, smiling.

 He blushed, then cleared his throat. “Aye.”

 As the automatic doors opened to the outside, causing both Murtagh and Jamie to flinch and stare at them, to the point of turning their heads around as they got outside, Claire got Jamie to Ming Ru’s car that was parked near the entrance, returned his wheelchair, and drove them back to the apartment.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The business of where they would eventually live was being debated by Joe and Lamb at the apartment; staying here much longer would be impossible with Yi Tien and their children returning in a few weeks, as well as the fact that an additional 5 people was bound to become a burden.

 “The best I can think of is to sell the coins we have to Ming Ru, then try to get a lease without a background check or credit report.  If we have enough, we can give 2 month’s rent as a deposit to sweeten the deal.  We’ll maybe have to go a bit further out to keep from being recognized.  Then there’s the issue of our names.”

 Lamb had been nodding while Joe spoke, but instead of responding to the plan for where they would live, he turned the conversation to a more pressing issue.

 “A more immediate need is the upcoming meeting with Geoffrey.  Until that’s settled, finding an apartment would be useless.”

 “We are definitely in a fine mess, aren’t we Ollie?”

 “Indeed we are, Stan.”

 They both turned at the sound of keys in the door. 

 Jamie, walking in unaided, his voice and demeanor significantly stronger, looked about the apartment.  He took in the fixtures, artwork, and his two friends – smiling at him from the table.

 “Welcome back, buddy!”

 “’tis a blessing, truly.”

 Fall was definitely upon them, and the cool rush of air they brought in was not their first reminder; the view out the window, that Jamie now stood looking out of, was of whirlwinds of fallen, gold-red leaves, people clutching paper mugs in their mittened hands, and mothers holding infants wearing woolen caps. Joe rose to prepare a cup of hot cocoa for Jamie; his first instinct was to get the bottle of scotch they’d bought, but recalled he was to refrain from drinking alcohol for a few months. 

 It was Murtagh who recommended, now that they were all together, that their future – their security – had to be addressed.  “We’re now assembled, and how we’re to prepare for this meeting yer to have with the authorities must take place.”

 As the elder, he sat at the head of the table but deferred to Lamb to reiterate what had taken place so a starting point for discussion could begin.

 “It doesn’t have to be complicated, honestly” Claire said pulling her chair closer to Jamie. “We admit to nothing and see what he offers.  We ARE in agreement to at least that aren’t we?”  Jamie took a sip from the cup Joe had handed him.  His face scrunched up and he turned to Claire, then smiled from ear to ear. She smiled back at him, then kissed his cheek.

 “He’s going to want more than that, I think, in order to just hand over the keys to the kingdom, so to speak,” Joe said, taking a seat.

 Claire had leaned her head on Jamie’s shoulder. “So, we say ‘we neither confirm nor deny the statements made.’ Or something like that.  A non admission.”

 Lamb reminded everyone: “But we are resolute that we do NOT admit to traveling. That’s for sure. And we definitely don’t sign anything.”

 The family sat in quiet, sipping their tea and coffee, worried for the future.  Jamie put his arm around Claire, kissing her forehead.  Murtagh believed that with the blessing of a bairn for Claire and Jamie would also come the provision for it, so he had faith that despite the unusual circumstances they found themselves in, providence would continue to guide and protect them just as it had on their journey here, crossing 240 years.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Waking in the small bed he was sharing with Claire, Jamie smelled food being made and something else, dark and rich; a beautiful note above what he was sure were bacon and eggs.  So commonly paired with rising for work, he pushed away the innate desire to dress and eat with his Da then kiss his Mam and wish her a good day. The ache to be with them surfaced regularly, but he would do what he knew they would want him to do: be strong, take care of himself and his family, and love the Lord. The first thing he would do each day, then, would be to thank God that he was alive; it was nothing short of a miracle that he had been saved, again, and was now able to ponder where they would live, outfitting a baby room with a  cradle -making it himself, if possible - and living in a time that had created hot chocolate.

 Claire, snoring softly, was nestled to his side, her leg hitched over him.  He slowly wiggled his hand under her arm to lay it on her abdomen.  He caressed the small bump, anxious to know what color the bairn’s hair would be, whether it was a lad or a lass, and when the first ‘son-o-gram’ would be; seeing inside a womb was beyond anything he could comprehend.

 Wishing to join whoever was in the kitchen, Jamie repositioned Claire so he could slide off the bottom of the bed for her to continue sleeping.  Just then, as he dressed, he realized her birthday was soon.  He left the room, closed the door quietly, then went to the kitchen.  Arranged on the table were a bowl of scrambled eggs, a large plate of bacon, another of buttered toast, and a bowl of mixed fruit. 

 Seeing Jamie, Ming Ru motioned for him to sit. 

 “Thank ye, Ma’am, for the breakfast.” 

 “Thank your Godfather!  He’s been cooking for hours. Quite a quick study of the kitchen! I have to do inventory today so will be downstairs if anything is needed.”

 Murtagh had a wide, almost mischievous grin on his face.  “Here,” he said, sitting a cup of something black and steaming on the table near where Jamie was filling his plate.  Lad, it’s nothing like what we partook of now and again.”

 Sipping it slowly, inhaling the aroma, he closed his eyes and grinned. “This’ll fix what’s broken.”

 Lamb, sitting on the sofa, had a pad of paper and pencil.  Jamie took his plate and cup to sit beside him.

 “Claire’s birthday is soon,” he mentioned, shoveling eggs into his mouth. “I dinna want to miss doing something special.  I’d not be here without her.”

 At that moment Claire stumbled out of the bedroom, her hair a wild mess, and glared into the kitchen.  “I smell Italian Roast. And bacon.”

 Murtagh smiled and waved for her to come and sit down.

 “Yes.” Lamb said absent mindedly, writing it down.  “The list of things that need attention is growing.” He looked up.  “We’ll get it sorted. Don’t worry.”

 “What time is your meeting today?”

 “4:00” Joe said, coming into the hallway. “Let’s not overthink this and end up spending the day wracked with worry.  Isn’t Ming Ru doing something in the shop today?  Let’s help her. Get our mind off everything.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 The shop was closed for the day. Similar to the scanners that grocery store employees use, Ming Ru had a similar system for keeping track of their merchandise.  The smaller items, such as jewelry, coins and personal effects took longer.  Matching the database to the scanned items to ensure accuracy, Ming Ru was sat behind the front desk. 

 Murtagh, intrigued by the shop’s items, moved from case to case, stopping with wide-eyed surprise at the arrows on the wall. 

 Joe came beside him.  “Look familiar?” he said, smiling.

 “Aye, they sure do.  Like I made them myself.”

“Excuse me a minute.  Be right back.”

Joe leaned onto the counter. “Ming Ru, if you have a moment, I’ve something to ask.” 

 “Of course.  How may I help?”  She moved from the computer to look at him directly.

 Laying the several coins he and Lamb had on the counter, he asked what they might be worth.

 She studied the coins, moving them apart. “You want to sell, I presume?”

 “Yes.  It’ll be used to get us all out of your hair and onto our feet.”

 She smiled sweetly at him.  “Xiaoli and Lihua are very busy at their practice and at the hospital so have little time to visit.  It’s been too quiet here with Yi Tien and the children gone, so I’ve very much appreciated the company.  I’m not one of those that relishes my down time’’ she said, looking through her jeweler’s loupe. 

 Joe recalled the day that Brian had paid them all.  His chest pained at being away from those he had come to accept as family.  It was a remarkable time and despite all that the 21st century offered, he missed the field work, simple suppers, and closeness.  And the quiet. He felt more at peace there than he had at any point in his life apart from summers with his grandparents. But there was a great deal here that he was grateful for, the first being the capability that saved Jamie’s life, the technology to ensure Claire has a safe pregnancy and delivery, and indoor plumbing.

 Ming Ru sat her loupe down.  “They have some wear but are otherwise in good condition.  A couple are rather uncommon.  I have several coin collectors that will pay whatever I ask, no haggling or questions. So…”  She turned in her chair to reach for a few coin catalogues that were propped up in the corner, then checked a few places online. After several minutes she looked back up. “Sorry for keeping you.  I was just looking for comps.”  She gave him an offer of $2500.

 Joe was taken aback.  “You left room for profit, I hope.”

 “No. It’s all yours.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upstairs, Jamie watched in surprise as Claire inhaled not only one plate of food, but a second as well, and a cup of coffee heavily creamed with sugar.  Clanging her fork down on her plate, she wiped her mouth and stretched, letting out a long grunt. Pulling her hair up in a bun with the band she slid off her wrist, she then placed her hands on her lap and was about to remark how sunny it was outside when she caught Jamie’s face.  It was a mixture of worry, pride, and shock.

 Claire laughed so hard she doubled over where she had been sat on the sectional across from him.  Giggles turned to outright wheezing the longer he continued to stare.

 “Is it common, then, to…” Jamie began to ask.

 Claire waved her hand towards Jamie. “Ssss….ssstop!”

 He stroked his beard, cocked his head, and raised his eyebrows. “Canna imagine what lunch will be like,” he said under his breath, taking the plates to the kitchen. 

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 At 3:15 Joe, Lamb and Claire assembled in the kitchen.  Claire’s advice: “Say little, listen much, admit to nothing.” 

Joe and Lamb both nodded, but Joe pulled Lamb aside.  “If anything goes awry, you get Claire out. I’ll stay behind.”

 Lamb looked at Joe, grateful for his foresight and support.  “Will do.”

 Jamie held Claire. “I’ll be here, praying for yer well being.  Come back to me, Claire Fraser.” 

“Absolutely.”  She kissed him.  Holding her in his arms, he looked to both Joe and Lamb; a look that conveyed that he was trusting them to protect her.

 Ming Ru walked with them downstairs and to the front door. As they were about to leave the shop, she spoke seriously: “Trust. But verify.” The wisdom in her words was not lost.  “Understood.” Lamb replied.

 Before walking into the coffee shop, Lamb and Joe scanned both the front street and back area for unmarked cars or possible plain-clothes agents; anyone just hanging about who looked like they shouldn’t be there. There was one car, brand new, sitting in front. Lamb glanced at it, looking curiously at Joe.  Joe shook his head. Reassured that all was well, they walked into the small coffee shop which was only sparsely filled; the lunch crowd was long gone. Though the breakfast business could be heavy, the little, quaint establishment was not a one-trick pony;  their evening business would be just as busy and comprised the after-work crowd who clamored for the Neapolitan pizza and calzone cooked in the recently purchased brick oven from Naples, locally-sourced salads, and sandwiches and pastries made from breads baked on premises. The coffee counter, then, became a bar. The smell as they walked in, intoxicating from the roasted coffee alone, but also from the pastries, they hoped would portend a satisfying meeting as well.  Claire’s stomach growled.

 Geoffrey was already sat at a table, near the front window, and rose to greet them, relieved beyond what he immediately conveyed. “G’day, then.  Pleasure to see ye.”

 The trio mumbled a polite hello but refused to sit.  “I’d like proof that you aren’t wearing a wire.”

 Geoffrey eyed Lamb, but smirked.  “Fair enough.”  Geoffrey put his arms out.

 Lamb patted him down, checked for earpieces, then nodded.  “Let’s sit back here.”  Lamb guided them to a table towards the back, and near an exit door.

 But this time, Geoffrey didn’t sit. “And how do I know yer likewise not wired?”

 “For crying out…”  Lamb and Joe both consented to a pat down but refused to let Claire be touched.

 From his briefcase, Geoffrey pulled out a small accordion folder and laid it on the table.  A waiter stopped by, asking for orders. “Nothing for us right now, but thank…”

 Claire looked dejectedly at Lamb.  “A panini and mineral water for the lady.” Her smile nearly caused them to laugh out loud.

 “So that we dinna drag this out, I’m presenting an offer that ye can take, or no take.  But understand, should ye object, I’ll be left with no option but to charge ye.”

 “So, you’re saying that we have to accept whatever you have in that folder or risk being jailed?”  Claire asked, holding her arms over her stomach to muffle the grumbling.

 “Aye. ‘tis what I’m saying.”

 Joe balked. “This is absurd.  You can’t possibly…” 

 Geoffrey leaned in.  “Before ye run yer yap any further, and make me reconsider what I am offering, why don’t ye just let me tell ye what it is?” He held back his anger.  “Better yet, have a look yerself.”  He shoved the folder towards Lamb, crossing his arms to contain an outburst.

 Lamb slowly pulled out a large pile of paper. The first document, on top, was a marriage license.  It was dated July 13, 2016, for Jamie and Claire.

 All three looked up in shock.

 Appreciating that he now had their respect, Geoffrey motioned his head towards the pile for them to continue.

 The next document was a birth certificate for Jamie, dated May 1, 1991, and a driver’s license. Beneath that was an envelope that had renewed driver’s licenses for Lamb, Joe, and Claire. 

 Laying the pile on the table in front of Joe, because he was in the middle, they leafed down the stack. The next document was a deed. Catching some wording, Claire pulled it from the pile.  Her eyes filled with tears and she turned her head away to not be seen.

 It was a deed to Lallybroch and it’s 20 acres, listing she and Jamie as owners.

 Geoffrey, much softened, especially seeing how deeply affected Claire was, quietly remarked: “A large corporation bought it a few years ago.  It had been in neglect for decades.  They did a complete remodel, though with thought to retaining its original character, to make it a bed and breakfast.  Prospered for a while, but it never caught on and they abandoned it.”

 Next, though, was what shocked them the most.  It was three bank statements, with attached credit/debit cards in their names, showing a balance of $20,000 each.

 One of the last papers was a title to a vehicle.  Before they had digested what it meant, Geoffrey pulled from his pocket 3 keys which he laid out on the table, looking past them to the car outside.

 “All I ask is yer silence.”

Chapter Text

Jamie drummed his fingers on the wall beside the window as he stood looking for Claire.  The sky, a dark blue that he knew to mean either storm or snow, made him feel even more uneasy.  The trees were tossed about by the increasing wind, shedding whatever leaves still remained into the air.

He unconsciously rubbed the area where he had surgery, remembering that fateful day by the barn.  Little remained apart from the scar and a faint outline of the original bruise.

“Ye’ll wear a hole in the wall if ye dinna stop.”  Murtagh said from the sofa, awakened from his nap by the “tap-taptaptap.”

“I worry they’re being interrogated.”

“It isna like our time, son.  Dinna fash,” Murtagh said, his eyes still closed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“This is beyond generous.  There has to be something in it for you,” Joe asked, suspicious at the generosity before them.

Geoffrey raised an eyebrow, pursed his lips, and looked past them out the front window.

“Ye see, we’ve no had much respect in the public eye of late.  We’re viewed as corrupt and not the servants and defenders that we actually are.  I work with good, dedicated people who’ve never put a foot wrong, but public opinion isn’t of that mind.”  He paused for a moment, then shifted to face them.  “I’m trying to restore our reputation.”

Lamb nodded. “So, this is going to be a ‘lost family discovered alive by Police Scotland’ sort of story.” 

Geoffrey smiled.  “Aye.  Something of the like.  I’m prepared to handle the press conference, and all questions, for as long as needed.  If ye agree, I’ll arrange everything and be in touch. Ye simply have to respond, if yer asked, with “Due to ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment on the situation.” 

As they continued absorbing all that they had been given, that their foreseeable future was taken care of, Joe rubbed his neck then sat his head in his hand.

“Ye may be considering yer job, I gather” Geoffrey said quietly to Joe.

“The thought crossed my mind.  I suspect I…”

“Dinna worry.  Ye’ll be reinstated.”

“Seriously? Just like that?”

“Aye. If it’s what ye wish.”

Joe immediately thought of semesters’ worth of lesson plans based solely on what he learned in the past year, time travel excluded, and even a program of 18th century farming practices that could be developed. “If they’ll have me, of course.”

“Like I said, it can be arranged.”

The last thing to be done, for now, would be to consent to the deal Geoffrey had offered. It would be ridiculous not to, but once accepted there would be no turning back; at least not without serious consequence.

Lamb asked for a few moments to discuss privately what had been offered, prompting Geoffrey to walk around the shop. Lamb looked beside him to Joe: “Verdict?”

“Oh, let’s definitely go to jail.”

“OK.  One for jail.  Claire?” Lamb asked, peering his head to see Claire.

 “The baby can be born at Lallybroch where she…or he…was conceived.  Just this alone…”  She took a napkin from the table and wiped her eyes.

“Well, technically with the time ya’ll spent at the river…” Joe said, turning his head.

She glared at him in mock anger, then laughed, giving him a finger-gun and a wink.  He returned with two finger-guns.

“I agree we take it, but there could be a maelstrom of media attention so we’ve got to be prepared.” Lamb said, breaking up the joking. “The news cycle, what it is, after a few days it will be old news and there will be something else more interesting or alarming to come along in it’s place which will work to our advantage. But… we’ll never escape this.  Are we resolved to accept this and the ensuing chaos and attention– even for the rest of our lives?”

Joe grabbed one of the keys on the table. “Dibs.”

Signaling for Geoffrey to return with a wave of their hands, they agreed to the terms.

“Yea, I didn’t see this coming,” Claire said to Joe, holding the door for her as she got in the car. He scurried to the driver’s side, the wind whipping about, as Lamb held the folder in his arm, getting in the back seat.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie, having now taken up a chair by the window, saw a small vehicle pull up in front of the store.  Out of it came Claire, Joe and Lamb.  He knew they had walked, so wondered how they had obtained a vehicle to drive home in.

He ran down the stairs to greet them.  Standing on the sidewalk as they got out, the smile on Claire’s face told him all he needed to know. 

Once inside and taking a glass of warmed apple cider that Murtagh had prepared, Lamb pulled everything out of the folder again, but spread it across the table by the sectional for everyone to see.  As he did, he noticed some things had missed their attention.

There was a sealed manila envelope that had no notation on the front.  About to explain to Jamie what she had just put on her lap, Claire instead looked to Lamb who was nervously opening the envelope. He leafed through the paper-clipped papers, color returning to his face when he finally got to the bottom. Glancing at Murtagh, he smiled.

Claire was worried and wanted an answer: “Lamb.”

He handed the stack to her.  Birth certificate and driver’s license:  Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.

Claire shook her head, stunned.  “Umm, OK.  Let’s..uh…let’s start with this.”  She then began with the document in her lap. “Jamie, this is our marriage license.  It is a legal document that all married couples obtain now.”  She handed it to him for him to see.  “Next, is something that is..well…”  She held it for him to see.  He studied the text, mumbling it to himself. 

“’tis a deed.  We own Lallybroch?”

Holding back tears, she nodded.  “It’s ours.”

A quiet descended upon the gathering as the true weight of this one particular paper sunk in.

“Ah, Dia” he whispered, pulling her into him.  “The bairn...will be raised there.”

“Yes” she replied, softly caressing his cheek.

One by one the other documents were revealed.  Murtagh, ever skeptical, waved his hand over the table. “’tis a lot here.  What did ye have to promise for all of it?”

Lamb, expecting someone would ask what was exchanged for it, detailed the arrangement that had been made and what that would mean for their immediate future.

“So, it wasna entirely free.” Murtagh said,

“No, but the alternative was much worse.”

“Aye.  Then ye chose well.”

Joe looked to Ming Ru:   “So, the coins we wanted to sell? They're our gift to you.”

 

Next week: Letters prepared

 

 

Chapter Text

September 30, 2017

 

Making plans for their move to Lallybroch was a primary focus until any message from Geoffrey came regarding an official, most likely televised, announcement.  Despite what might be a real circus concerning “being found,” they were relieved and happy it was over and grateful for the fortune that befell them because of it.

Claire was having no ill-effects from the pregnancy and, emotionally, felt complete and whole; it was an indescribable peace that had taken over her mind and heart. Though breakfast was something she was beginning to not stomach so well, lunch, dinner, and a 2nd dinner before bed took care of that. Consequently, frequent trips to the grocers was becoming commonplace with cravings of oranges and lemons the top priority.

Discussion turned to who a possible obstetrician could be. “Lihua has seen patients throughout their pregnancy who already had heart conditions, but also those who developed heart conditions while pregnant.  It would be no harm to ask,” Ming Ru said, appraising new items and tagging them for sale.  She’d come to value Murtagh and Jamie’s expertise on what she’d just acquired, but also what she already had in the store.

Knitting a blanket to match the booties, Claire looked up.  “I didn’t know that. Thank you.”

Jamie, sat with Murtagh and Ming Ru by the table inside the sectional while they evaluated items, smiled as he saw his wife in both the modern and old world: dressed in a pair of Fraser plaid maternity “cigarette pants,” as she called them,  an “off the shoulder” blue-gray boxy sweater, and dark gray “sling back flats” while also knitting. They’d been able to finally shop for clothing now that they had funds.  Always practical and never outlandish (this personal attribute having been nurtured through a decade of working on digs) she’d bought them some of what they needed in consignment stores, and what else she needed for herself in proper lady’s stores.   The plaid had so magnified her natural beauty that he almost gasped. It filled him with a surge of passion that, for nearly the past month he’d been ill, had fallen away. His gaze, longer and more consuming than he realized, had caused him not to hear Ming Ru’s question.  As he turned his eyes from Claire to the table, he was met with Ming Ru’s smile and Murtagh’s annoyed countenance.

“Have ye become deef then, that ye canna hear a question asked from a foot away?”  Murtagh asked, his bushy eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline.

“Nay deef, Father, just captivated.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lamb and Joe had taken a drive to Lallybroch, now with keys, to assess its condition.  Murtagh left to the downstairs with Ming Ru to add new items to the store’s inventory. 

Claire leaned back into Jamie.  She went through the contacts in her phone and called Lihua. After being put directly through, Claire asked if there was a possibility to have her pregnancy overseen. 

 “Although my expertise is in cardiology, I have seen women throughout their pregnancy.” Lihua paused. “As I’m sure my mother has already mentioned.” After laughing together, Claire asked if she could have a first visit sometime soon.

“Of course!  Do you want to come over now?  I’ve had two cancelations and was about to leave for the day.”

“We’ll be right there! Thank you!”

Although several blocks away, the day was bright and warm so Jamie and Claire walked.  Holding hands, Claire explained crosswalks, traffic lights, basic car information, electricity wires, and telephone poles.  Jamie had had a lot of time in the hospital to people watch and study the city but appreciated the clarifications Claire made; with all the time studying, he realized he’d been in error on many things.

Once at the practice they took yet another lift, this time to the 4th floor.  The tall glass-paneled walnut doors that lead into the office had “Lihua Cho/Cardiology – Xiaoli Cho/Internal Medicine” etched in perfect script on the glass and in Chinese directly underneath it.

Lihua was waiting to take them to her office.  The left side, her practice, had it’s own waiting room while Xiaoli’s, on the right, had a similar design. Rather than have independent practices, they joined forces; often patients had need of the other’s services, so rather than refer them out, and to hasten assessment or advising, they merely walked to the other side of the office.

Walking down a hall, painted a pale blue-green and outfitted with exquisite walnut-framed photos that she had taken on various trips, Lihua’s office was around the corner and had the advantage of an entire wall of windows.

“Oh my goodness! The view!” Claire said, walking straight to the window and looking down at the city.

“Yes, Xiaoli is just on the other side of that wall” she said pointing “and has a similar view.  It really sold us on moving our practice here.”

Taking seats in front of her desk, behind which hung two amazing photos of Hong Kong, Claire took Jamie’s hand. “Well, I’m pregnant.”

“I saw the notation in Jamie’s chart when they did the test!  Do you have any concerns?” Lihua, a staunch notetaker, began transcribing.

“No, not as yet.  I just want to make sure all is well even though it’s still somewhat early.”

“That’s understandable. For today I’ll take your vitals, draw some blood…”

Jamie, who had been quietly listening to the conversation, sat up, startled.

Both women turned to him.  “Don’t worry!” They said at the same time.  “She will take a few small glass bottles of my blood that is examined by…other medical staff to look for abnormalities, infections…”  Claire said soothingly.

“And gender, if you wish, depending on how far along you are. It’s detectable at seven weeks.”

Claire, surprised, turned to Lihua.  “I thought that was done by sonogram.  You can find out through bloodwork now?”

“Yes.  Things are definitely progressing in obstetrics.”

“Oh.  I…”  Claire looked worriedly at Jamie.

“But if you like we can do a sonogram today,” Lihua said, seeing Jamie’s expectancy, “though gender determination isn’t usually until 18-20 weeks.”

“Oh. That’s helpful to know.”

After vials of blood had been taken, and all other areas checked, Lihua wheeled an ultrasound machine into the exam room.

“We bought one rather than constantly send expectant patients out for radiology elsewhere” Lihua said, maneuvering the machine into place “because a lot of times they didn’t go, or I’d not get the results quick enough if they did.”

“When you want things done right…”  Claire said, lying down on the table.

“Absolutely.” Lihua said, squirting gel on her abdomen.  “Jamie, if you’ll stand on the other side of Claire, and watch this screen” Lihua said, pointing to the small window on the machine “in a few minutes you’ll see your child.”

Jamie swallowed, then placed his hand on the table behind Claire’s head, holding himself up for dear life. Lihua used a trackball to take measurements, the first step in the fetal growth scan. Leaning forward in awe, he reached to touch the screen.  Several tears streamed down his cheek.  Lihua stopped, touched by Jamie’s curiosity and happiness.

“What is happening,” she began, softly, “is that this device,” she showed him the transducer in her hand “emits sound waves that bounce off the parts of the uterus, I mean the womb, which produces an image.  “So, this, “she said, putting the transducer back on Claire’s abdomen and pointing to a spot on the screen “is the gestational sac.  It will grow to become the baby.  And this, “she said, moving the transducer again “is the fundus.  The top of the womb.”

Claire, wiping her own eyes, asked how far along she could be. 

“Well, based on these measurements I’d say four to five weeks.”

Jamie, his hand still on the screen, blessed the little bairn. “May God bless ye and protect ye, leanabh mo chridhe.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie, sat with Claire at the kitchen table that evening, began the letter to his family.  The “pen” was most astounding; it did not need to be dipped into an inkwell and made the finest lines.  Tomorrow they would go to the stones, the first time Jamie had been there since his arrival, to send the letter through.

 

Dearest Father, Mother, Jenny, Willie, and Emily,

  This letter is sent with our sincerest wishes that you all are well.  We arrived, all of us, without issue or injury.  I am able to write this of my own hand, having been healed entirely of what I sustained just a few short weeks ago.  Joe had provisions in place for my arrival where I was met by specialists in healing who had contrived a plan to care for me immediately. Today, I am near to a full recovery.

  I am also to become a father.  Claire was just recently confirmed to be with child, and today we were able – through modern conveniences – to see within the womb, evidenced in the enclosed “picture” of your grandchild, now at four to five weeks gestation.  Claire and baby are healthy and happy.

  We miss you terribly. Not a moment goes by that you are not near to our hearts. We send our love, our blessings, and the hope that we hear from you, as time and ability permit, on the first of each month.

  With love,

  Jamie

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

September 30, 1777

 

Brian sat quietly at the desk, a candle the only light, flickering softly from the gentle draft that slipped in under the nearby window.

He had started the letter three times so far but stopped.  He was attempting a fourth time when he heard Ellen rustle in bed.   Turning quietly, for the wooden chair he was sat in squeaked with each movement, he checked that she was comfortable. She had told him before bed: “I know ye’ll find the words.  Be sure to include our love and Father Willie’s blessing,”

Endeavoring to displace the fear in his heart that the letter would not go through, that their return letter might also be lost, or that something more tragic had occurred, the quill shook in his hand.

But he had been taught by his Mam and Da that the Lord commanded us not to worry or fear for He, the Lord, would never leave nor forsake his children, so Brian dipped the quill in the inkpot and wrote with confidence and faith:

Beloved family,

  We send this with our most ardent wish that you are well and safely arrived.  Your absence is felt profoundly by all, but we comfort ourselves with the expectation that health and goodness have come to you.

  Father Willie is now living with us, the promise of a Kirk having been granted to another graduate of seminary.  Troubling as that has been to him, a more agreeable situation arose whereby he was able to find comfort and sustenance with family, rather than disappointment alone, and we have the necessary help to continue managing the farm.  God is truly remarkable in His provision. 

  It is on that thought that I leave you, in faith that His provision indeed overshadows you all.

  With all of our love,

  Your Da, and friend,

  Brian

 P .S.  Father Willie sends his blessings. 

 

 Father Willie had been told only that in the early morning the family would be making a trip for a few provisions and to post a letter to Jamie and Claire.  He refrained from asking to go, sensing that they either needed or wanted this time alone. Whether to fully divulge Jamie, Claire, Lamb and Joe’s exact whereabouts was a matter of continued, private, discussion.

With the horses harnessed the family set out the next morning, only mildly chilly, well before dawn.  The remembrance of the last time they had taken the same ride, with Jamie near death, sat heavy on everyone’s heart.  Ellen, realizing this, began to sing Amazing Grace.  The family, one by one, joined her, lifting everyone’s hearts.  In short time they had arrived.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie and Claire stood outside the shop, at about the same time, waiting for Murtagh, Lamb, and Joe to meet them. Once assembled, they got into the car. Jamie took Claire’s hand and aided her down the hill, then together they walked to the cleft stone. 

Placed protectively in a small, carboard envelope which was then enclosed in a water-tight, resealable plastic bag and wrapped around a stone, the letter and ultrasound photo were gripped in Jamie’s hand.  He had chosen himself,  from among the five, to send it through.

They stood quietly for a moment, the sun’s rays lighting up the treeline as it began it’s ascent. 

“So, just throw it as I did when I returned yer letters?” Jamie asked, needing reassurance.

“Yes, but don’t get too close,” Claire said, pulling on his arm “I don’t want to lose you with it.”

Jamie moved several steps back. “Oh. Aye.” 

Just at the moment the sun burst forth over the trees he flung the letter and watched as it was absorbed in a flash of light.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the other side, Brian was pondering what sort of maneuver he should be using.  He was stood just a few yards from the stone, the rest of the family safely behind him. 

“Claire said to secure it to a stone and throw it at this cleft,” he said to himself. Remembering how he and Jamie had often exchanged tools, throwing them through the air to each other in the workshop, he tossed his letter.  Two loud claps of thunder came, in succession and in one burst of light, causing Brian to shield his eyes. Everyone ran to him - for his figure had somewhat disappeared in the light - panicked that he had been taken away. But as their eyes adjusted, they saw him looking to the ground where the unusual package landed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A strong blowback, having come at the same time as Jamie’s letter was taken, had sent Brian’s letter far past the group causing Lamb to fetch it before it got soaked in the morning’s dew.

Placing it in Jamie’s hand, they waited for him to open it.  Seeing his Father’s seal caused a pain so deep, so cutting, he bent over.  Murtagh leaned over with him, placing a hand on his back. “Son, are ye well?”

Jamie nodded, then pulled himself upright.  While everyone came close, anxious to know what it said, Jamie opened the letter and read it out loud.

Murtagh, who had been stroking his beard as he listened, was the first to speak. “I’m glad the lad is with them.  They’ll be of comfort to one another.”

“I guess we wilna know until next month if our letter was received,” Jamie said, running his thumb over the handwriting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Curious what the outer packaging was, see-through and thin, Brian and his family discussed among themselves how to open it.

“It isna gathered together like a pouch” Ellen said “nor bound together as pages in a book.  I dinna ken how to open it.”

Jenny put her hand out.  “Claire had something similar in the large bag she kept under the bed.  She pulled it apart just so.”  Pulling apart the bag, she explained that “they are like a tongue and groove joint, but are able to come apart with a small bit of force.”  Astounded at the strength of the material, despite it being light weight, Jenny pulled out the cardboard envelope.  Lifting open the flap, she retrieved the letter and what they thought was some type of rendering.

The glossy paper, which would not be compatible with graphite drawing sticks, stumped them.

“Mam! Read the letter. It must surely explain,”  Willie interjected, anxious for what this all might mean.

Only a few sentences in, Ellen clasped her hand to her heart and began to cry.  Brian, worried for what she had read, took the letter from her hand.  Jenny, her arm through Brian’s, and Willie and Emily looking over his shoulder, gasped at the news. 

Brian, wiping away his own tear, held the letter and photo to his heart.  “Praise God.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Father Willie, using the crisp autumn morning alone in the house to meditate and pray, reached for his bible on the desk beside his bed.  Knocking into it by mistake, he heard a clank that came from one of the drawers. Opening each until the source of the noise was found, there, in the long, center drawer, was a small pouch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

They sat on the ground huddled near to each other much like they had done separately in different times at the same spot.

Jamie folded his father’s letter and placed it in his boot.  Not wanting to give in to sadness, for Brian’s letter gave no indication they were in any way suffering grief, he therefore had no reason himself to worry now with everyone safe, himself completely healed, and Claire expecting.  He asked Joe and Lamb for a report on the state of Lallybroch as a means to move forward.

“Well, we were relieved it hadn’t been added on to or extensively remodeled.  The structure was left intact, as we were told; the only change was that it is fully outfitted.”

Murtagh sighed. “Ye mean it has been modernized, then; machinery and electricity.”

“Yes.  HVAC in place – I mean heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; temperature control. Electricity, sewer and water. The barns are gone, as well as the shed and pens, of course.  There’s a brick patio that, presumably, was for guests to have their meals at.  Nice brick oven and fire pit near it too.  In sum, it’s move-in ready but you’ll obviously want to have it cleaned, horrid carpeting removed, new drapes and such.”

“You’ll?” Claire asked suddenly.

Lamb glanced at Joe.  “Honey, you should have your own home now.”

She didn’t say anything for a while, only nervously moved her hair behind her ear and wiped away a few stray tears.

Joe knew she needed some consolation. “Since I’ll get my job back, I’m going to ask for Lamb to head the History department.  We’ll find some apartments nearby, so don’t worry.  We’re not moving away.”

Claire lifted her head.  “I understand.  Can’t have you sleeping on cots in the storage room again, obviously.” This was the first time she’d had to face that Lamb would not be her guardian and companion, and like most situations in life that involved growing up it seemed to happen too quickly. His being her only biological family, and the only connection to her father, made his departure – though only slight – still very painful.

She hugged her knees and gave in to Jamie’s gentle rubbing of her shoulders.  “They may want lives of their own for a change,” she thought to herself, “with wives and children.  Isn’t it time they found happiness for themselves?”

She turned her head slightly, resting her cheek on one knee. “I’m sorry if I sounded selfish.  I’m just so used to having you there.”

Lamb blew her a kiss.  “You’re not getting rid of me anytime soon.”

Trucks began to arrive outside shops, delivering supplies, produce, and baked goods.  The faint smell of diesel fuel drifted down the hill. The sun began to take up the layer of dew still coating the grass and fallen leaves.

“But until then, we’ll be staying with you if that’s alright.  We’ve got a press conference and media circus to deal with and we’ll do it together.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Brian and Ellen’s journey back to Lallybroch was done in a much lighter mood; with Jamie and the others safe, everyone’s heart was now at peace.

Arriving in the front courtyard close to supper, Brian pulled the horses to a stop.  He helped Ellen out while Willie held Jenny and Emily’s hands for them to get down.  Father Willie was at the door, having heard the dogs’ barks of excitement. 

“Is all well, then?” he asked, noticing how happier they seemed than when they had left.

“Yes, very much so” Ellen replied, a smile gracing her face.  “We’ve got word that they are all safely arrived.”

“Wonderful news indeed!  Come in, then, out of the chill.  I’ve made stew.”  He took their coats for them and went into the sitting room to hang them on the coat tree.  Brian’s fell off the hook, dislodging the bag he’d shoved into his pocket. Intrigued by the unusual material, Father Willie examined it with curiosity.  Inside he glimpsed the ultrasound photo.  As he peered at it, to his heart came a bible verse: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.” About to replace it, Brian walked in to thank him for the food.  Staring at what Father Willie held in his hand, Brian offered to explain.

Asking Willie and Jenny to prepare for bed, Brian and Ellen sat with Father Willie in the living room.  As he stoked the fire, Brian began to tell the story of Claire’s arrival with her family, then their reason for departing. 

“So the..small drawing is their child in the womb?”

Surprised, Brian and Ellen looked at each other. “Aye,”  Ellen said softly.

Trying to process everything he’d just learned, Father Willie offered his congratulations – both for the bairn and for Jamie’s healing. “All that talk of travelers…” he said, shaking his head. “Oh,” he said, reaching into his vest pocket, “I found this in Murtagh’s desk.  There was a short note with it, addressed to you.”

Brian, recognizing the pouch Grey had given him, shook his head as he began to read the message:

Brian,

I appreciate the thought, but this will serve better as provision for the maintaining of the farm in the absence of several hands.

In Christ,

Murtagh

 

“Why that old fool…”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On their way out of the park, Jamie stayed behind Claire and Murtagh, pulling Lamb aside as they made their way up the hill.

“I’d like to have her birthday at Lallybroch, if possible, and am obliged to ye for transportation.  I’ve an idea for what I’d like to give her.  Could we make time for a few visits?

“Of course” Lamb said, grateful they were leaving, for the smell of baked bread and coffee was becoming too enticing. “Let me know what you’ll need beforehand.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Leaving Joe and Claire to spend a day as they wished, Lamb, Jamie and Murtagh drove to Lallybroch or, as they said before leaving, “to take care of some stuff.” Driving up the (now) paved road to it, Lamb kept an eye on Jamie and Murtagh.  Having ridden this path, with horses, what was only weeks ago, he was sure they felt out of place.  It was most likely an everyday occurrence they had to contend with.

Right in the yard was a sign: “Lallybroch Est. 1702”

Without smoke coming out of the back chimney, always a sign his mother was cooking, and the dogs yipping, it didn’t feel like coming home.  This was merely a house to him now, but one Jamie intended to make their home yet again.

 Lamb unlocked the front door and let them in. “I’ll pull the car around back and unload everything.  Meet you there.”

By habit, Jamie and Murtagh both took off their caps as they walked in.  The front room, though dusty, was empty, the furniture having been removed.  The original fireplace still existed, and some care had been taken to give it an 18th century feel, though the draperies were nothing like his Mam had.

The sitting rom still had the original pocket doors and flooring though was now a lounge with some leftover leather seating and a flat-screen television. 

Making their way through Emily’s room, now a bathroom, it was similar to the others in that it was covered with dust.

Murtagh mumbled “can’t escape progress” as they walked up the stairs.  These were original as well, and much more worn than either remembered.  The upstairs wood flooring had been stained, and the window at the end of the hall replaced with something larger.  Each of the rooms had been carpeted, but like Lamb said, the structure had been retained.

Back downstairs, the small dining room had been extended into the storage room to make it larger, and cabinets and granite counter tops added to the kitchen.  Appliances sat quietly, having no electricity.  What had been the small fireplace his Mam had cooked every meal at was now filled with a huge eight-burner stove.

Out the window of the back door, replaced with something newer, Lamb was seen unloading everything from the back of the car. Jamie and Murtagh stepped out the door, a bit shaken for there not being any barn, wheat fields, pens and stables.

Lamb, pulling out the stakes, manure, spades, shovels, wood and salvaged windows and doors, sat the windows against the car then asked after them.

Jamie, feeling empty, merely nodded then began to help place the materials where he wanted them.  He measured several paces from the house, looked up at the sun, then readjusted.  He sat the stakes in the ground and began removing the sod with a spade.  Murtagh and Lamb watched him as they began configuring the wood to recreate Claire’s shed.

Hoisting the bags of manure onto his shoulder, Jamie cut them open then used a shovel to vigorously fold them into the plot he’d just created. 

Laying the wood out, Lamb asked Murtagh if so much hard work this early might be too much for Jamie. Before Lamb finished his sentence, Murtagh was already shaking his head.  “He needs to work.  He’s been pent up in the apartment worrying and fussing.”

Lamb didn’t seem convinced.

“Change is harder on the younger generations,”  Murtagh said, catching Lamb’s pensive face. “As ye age, ye understand that death and loss are just part of life and ye canna escape it.  He’s wise enough to grasp that saving his life and being able to care for Claire and the bairn came at the cost of his family.  He’d not change a thing, o’course, but it doesna mean he wilna mourn his family for a while.”  

Lamb looked out onto the land. “I guess we all will.”

 

 

Chapter Text

While Lamb, Murtagh, and Jamie were away “takin’ care of stuff,” Joe and Claire drove to a small museum that had recently opened. Trying to normalize themselves into this time again they chose to go out on a day trip. Touted as a years-long accomplishment of local historians, archaeologists, and citizen enthusiasts, the small repository of information and discoveries was getting a great deal of well-deserved hype:

“Off the beaten path, but not without merit.”

“Three stories of more than arrowheads and beads, the little museum that puts the mega museums on notice.”

“Not your local history buffs shop: a museum that brilliantly showcases the stunning, interesting, and relevant.”

The hype was obviously well received because the small cottage-like museum was brimming with people that included hip adolescent couples to those in their 80’s.

“Boy howdy,” Claire said, walking down the sidewalk from where they parked “hope we won’t be packed in like sardines.”

One of the volunteer workers greeted them with a brochure and a map of the exhibits on each level when they walked in. In the front room was a life-sized recreation of a Highlander and British soldier in battle. Headphones hung from hooks on the wall, attached to small wall-mounted televisions that provided videos of historians discussing Culloden.

Browsing the exhibits together, Claire and Joe shared knowing glances and whispered words of identification. True to media reports, the museum was more than musket balls and swords; it was a thorough and engaging representation of the Scottish people, their land, customs, and legacy brought about with stunning technology and display. Moving into a large room while still on the first floor, Joe and Claire first were caught by the room’s perimeter being lined with floor to ceiling banners of Scotland’s famous daughters or sons and what each had discovered or invented in front of them to interact with. But it was the somewhat large piece in the center of the room that froze them in their spot.

Surrounded with realistic-looking shrubbery was their hut.

 

“SCOTTISH HUT c. 1550-1650

“This hut found in Cairngorms National Park in 1896 is indicative of other rural Scottish dwellings of the time despite its small size. Though homes were mostly made of stone for centuries, an abundance of timber brought about newer designs from travelers and traders arriving from Europe. This intact hut was used possibly for storage of game or even grain, but its purpose remains unknown.”

Joe doubled over laughing, causing Claire to be overtaken by a fit of giggles. Several visitors looked on, annoyed by their supposed disrespect of history. Claire eventually had to take Joe out of the room.

Once upstairs, it was in the “Articles Of Dress” exhibit that Joe finally composed himself. Several minutes later though another wave came, forcing them to move on.

Eventually able to complete the entire tour, when they got outside Joe texted Lamb a few pictures. Within seconds Lamb replied: “This was IN the museum??”

“Yep!”

“LOL.”

Remembering Jamie and Murtagh, Joe asked how they were handling the changes. “Murtagh taking it in stride. Jamie more affected. See you tonite.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back at Lallybroch, the garden was amended with the manure and the shed’s foundation begun.

Lamb pulled open the boot of the car and got out a large canvas tote bag with hand tools. Handing it to Jamie, he asked what they might be for with raised eyebrows and a smile.

Returning the smile, Jamie examined the bag with curiosity before looking inside at the tools. Holding the hand planer, he said “a rocker cradle.”

Lamb cocked his head to the side, unsure what that was.

“’tis a rocking chair and cradle combined. They both move together so we can sit and rock the bairn.”

A hint of joy had come to Jamie’s eyes with the mention of Claire and the baby.

“Did your Mother have one?”

“Aye. She did. Da made it.”

The thought of building something for the house, especially for the baby, seemed to give him hope.

“Very thoughtful of you. She’ll love it.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That evening in bed, Claire turning over nearly caused Jamie to fall off the side.

“Ifrinn!”

“Jamie – I didn’t mean…”

“Ah, lass. I wasna angry with you,” Jamie whispered, catching himself. “We need to be in our own home. In our own bed.” He pulled her to him, kissing her temple. Instinctively he placed his hand on her abdomen.

“Claire?”

“Aye, Mr. Fraser?” She wound her fingers through his and brought them up to her mouth for a kiss.

“I…..”

“J.”

“Dinna be a goofyball. I’ve a question and dinna know how to ask it.”

“It’s goofball. You can ask me anything.”

After a few minutes of silence, Claire reached her elbow back and jabbed Jamie in his chest.

“I just want to know - will it hurt the bairn when we are intimate?”

Though he couldn’t see it, Claire was smiling.

“No, sweetheart. It doesn’t hurt the baby.”

“Are ye sure? I will wait the whole pregnancy if it even, for a moment might…”

“I would tell you if it did. I think, though…I mean, I’d like you to be gentle when we are. I don’t want to take chances.”

“Aye, lass. I promise.”

“Let’s go out for the day tomorrow. I have an idea.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Throughout breakfast Jamie kept his eyes on Claire, waiting for what she had planned. Grabbing the keys from the buffet, she winked at him and tilted her head towards the door when they were done eating.

Like a shot, he jumped up to follow her.

It took a bit of adjusting for Claire to drive again, but eventually the ride got smoother but Jamie seemed almost green a few times.

Claire slowed the car as they came near the house, then stopped before getting into the courtyard. Not knowing Jamie had already visited and begun the arduous process of adjustment, she turned the car off. “Darling,” she began, brushing her fingers over his face, “I’d had an idea for some time alone but maybe this isn’t the place. I’m sorry. I did not mean for it to bring you any pain.”

He lifted his head, turning it towards her hand. “I know what ye had in mind, and I thank ye for the thought. I’m resolved to our new life here, and canna wait to see what it brings. But, if I should…waver, will ye forgive me?”

A tear slowly streamed down her cheek. “Of course I will.”

Smiling, she turned the car back on and pulled into the courtyard. To ensure she didn’t see what they were working on in the back yard, Jamie lead her around the other side of the house and away from the work area. But once clear of it Claire began undressing, leaving her clothes in the grass as a crumb trail that Jamie hungrily followed, removing his own clothes.

Looking back, she yelled: “Catch me if you can!”

Denser than the last time she had been here, the thick line of trees was somewhat off-putting but she relied on where she was in connection to the house to immediately locate the large rock she was looking for.

Grateful that it still existed, and that she had navigated correctly, she gleefully turned around and pointed. “It’s still here!” she yelled to be heard over the gurgling and rushing water. Jamie was upon her in seconds, lifting her into his arms to carry her over the moss-ridden stones in the riverbed.

The rock had sunk about a foot, allowing Jamie to lie upon it with greater ease than climbing as he had done before. Claire leaned against it, the sensuousness of the swirling water around her thighs and Jamie’s exquisite, muscular body in front of her was a combination that was nearly overpowering. She leaned down, nuzzling between his legs, then lingered her kisses on his scar. Making her way up his chest - heaving from both exertion and desire – she leaned her arms on either side of him and slid atop him, their joining quick and ecstatic. Though Claire’s mind was clouded with this very missed intimacy, it did not escape her how the occasional breeze that rushed through the trees, and over their bodies, was filling the air with gold and red leaves that landed on the water’s surface, gently floating downstream.

As quickly as their joining had begun, it quickly ended. She fell upon him, feeling the pounding of his heart nearly in beat with her own. She appreciated that he had given her the freedom to lie atop him, rather than he atop her, so that his weight would not bear down upon her. Caressing his cheek as she pulled away to sit at his side, he pulled her hand to his lips.

He studied her, noting how full she was becoming. She was stunning, her face flushed from their lovemaking and the joy of being with child.

“Claire, I love ye so I canna find words,” he struggled between breaths. “Ye make me happier than ye’ll ever know. I wouldna even be here…”

“You would do the same for me,” she interrupted, caressing her small bump. “And YOU have given me everything I ever longed for.”

What light that remained from the sun was quickly disappearing; fall’s short days meant darkness would come shortly. Pulling their clothes from the tree limbs where Jamie had thrown them, Claire remarked that it might be harder for them to continue making love here in a few months’ time. “I’ll be big as a barn, I gather.”

Taking her hand to lead her back to the car, Jamie responded. “That ye may be – praise God – but a cold rock, in freezing water, in the middle of winter, wilna be the best place for love mo ghràidh. Yer my heart and soul, but I dinna think I can service ye well in such conditions.”

Realizing that winter was actually that close, Claire rolled her eyes at her own forgetfulness. “You’re absolutely correct” she said, stopping to pull Jamie into her arms. Looking together towards Lallybroch she continued: “Then I’ll gladly take our bed near the fire.”

Chapter Text

The light was dimming, taking with it the unseasonable warmth it had brought.  Making their way from the river, something caught Jamie’s eye;  a group of Alder trees were gathered together unnaturally. Pulling her shawl around her, Claire began trudging towards the car while Jamie made his way to the trees, causing their clasped hands to break apart.

“Sorry, lass. My eyes pulled my body where they were looking.” She looked where Jamie was now taking them.

“Do ye see that gathering of trees just there?” he asked, pointing.  “It’s unusual for them to clump so.  Seems that the field has been plowed around it for some reason. I just want to see what it is.”

Neither had given thought to the chapel still existing; when Joe and Lamb had come back, and told everyone that the outbuildings were gone, it was assumed the chapel went the same way.

The closer Jamie got, the more anxious he became.  “That’s just about where” he said huffing, his pace quickening, “the chapel had been.”

Now running, they stopped short of the large cluster of trees.  Meeting each other’s eyes, the fire of recognition immediately lit.  Pushing their way through the brush, stone walls quickly stood out and given the shape that the ivy had taken, the roof was still intact.

“Claire!  ‘tis here!  It remains!”  he yelled, stomping down saplings and pulling ivy off a wall.

Uncovering the west side, or what was the back, he tried to assess the integrity. “The window above is gone. This will have let in snow and rain. Could be that it is shattered inside.”  He bent down, forcefully ripping more vines to check the foundation.  “This side isna cracked or broken from tree roots which is a good sign; the walls may have been too hard, so the roots went under I assume.”  He looked over to Claire, her smile broad and wide. Running around to the east side, purposely made the entrance because Brian had said that “Since The Lord will arrive with a trumpet blast from the east, should he arrive in summer when we keep the doors open there will be an easier means to meet him in the air” the doors seemed still in place, though they would not be able to determine that for the thickness of vines that covered them.

Jamie wiped the sweat from his forehead, desperate to know if the cornerstone still existed, and what the interior was like.

“Jamie, we can get some tools and come back.  Maybe hire a professional to fell the trees and…”

Professional?”  Jamie asked, his eyebrows knit together in resentment.

“What I’m suggesting is that instead of spending weeks cutting all this down” she waved her hands around the chapel “with axes and saws...” Even though she meant her solution with good intention, and in consideration of Jamie’s still recovering body and mind, the hurt in his eyes did not show he recognized that.

“I’m sorry.  Please don’t be angry.  I was just thinking of how your body is still recovering and in need of rest,” she softly replied, wrapping her arms around her “and that there are machines now to do this quickly. If this is something you want to do, then I support you.  I’ll help however I can.”

Jamie pulled her to him, kissing her cheek.  “Ah, my bonnie lass.  I’m sorry as well.  Ye were thinking of me.”

“Tell you what…” Claire said while Jamie rocked her in his arms “just consider having a team of tree removers come in to cut them down.  That would be our firewood for the winter taken care of.  Then you can tackle the chapel.  At least…”

His mouth was on hers, languishing on her lips.

“Oh, ummmm…” she whispered, brushing her lips over his “I take it that’s a yes?”

“Aye, love.”

Spending the last few moments before they left looking over the chapel, Claire remarked “You can give the sermons now. Sunday services just like before. And we can baptize the baby here.”

Remembering Brian’s insightful, wise sermons each week of his life, Jamie felt uneasy attempting to fill such capable shoes.  But he realized it was now his turn to lead the family, and his Da would not want him to shirk that very important role. 

Looking up to the roof, curious if the bell remained in the bell tower, he ran his hand over where the doors would be. 

“It would be my honor.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Joe, at the table preparing a guest list for Claire’s party, was tapping his pen on the pad of paper.  “We need to get the place cleaned first, electric and gas turned on, then there’s the menu.”  He tapped the pen on his head.  “Although I think I can bake a cake.”

Murtagh, at his side and examining the list, offered to do it himself.  “Ye’ll have enough to do with preparing the house.”

“I know Jamie wants your help with the shed and I didn’t want to take you from that,” Joe mentioned, seeing Murtagh’s eyes linger on one of the names on the list “so please don’t feel obligated.”

“Ye dinna have to concern yerself with it.  I’ll cook and be available to greet guests.  We’ll have the shed done in a short amount of time.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lamb, sitting on a bench outside while talking to Geoffrey on the phone, was trying to push the news conference past Claire’s birthday.

“I – we – appreciate all you’ve done, but could we move this out a week?  It’s Claire’s birthday and we’re having a small party for her.”

“It’s mostly out of my hands, but I’ll see what I can do. I’ll be in touch directly.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Geoffrey went from his office, where he’d been talking to Lamb, to the Chief’s office; third of only three who had knowledge of travelers. Peering around the doorframe, Geoffrey asked if Chief Montgomery had a moment.

“What’s this about?”  he asked without turning away from his computer.

“The Friday press conference.”

Turning quickly around, Chief Montgomery eyed him with alarm.

“They’ve asked if we could delay it for a week. It’s Claire’s birthday this weekend and they wish to be together.”

“We’ve a schedule to keep” Chief replied looking over the top of his glasses.

Coming in and closing the door behind him, Geoffrey took a chair in front of his desk suspecting this would become a conversation.

“Hang on…” Chief Montgomery said. “Before we continue, I’m going to have Diedre in on this.”  He IM’d Diedre, the last member of the trio, who was head of PR.

Once sat beside Geoffrey, she looked to them both for why she was called.

"Well..."  Geoffrey began, “The family would like to push out the press conference another week.  They’re celebrating Claire’s birthday and, presumably, don’t want it marred by the attention or possible harassment.”

“Completely understandable, and I’d much prefer it. I’ve enough right now with protests so a success story will work better then. Did you just need me as a deciding vote?  I’m for a delay.”

“Fine” Chief Montgomery replied, “but I want our full response on my desk in seven days, along with the day, place and time it will occur. We’ve to consider the news cycle.”

“I’m aware of that!” she said, leaving the office.

Chapter Text

Grateful that Claire’s party would not be interrupted by the press conference, Lamb explained to everyone that they would need to be prepared as the date had now been set.  Part of that preparedness was for them to be moved into Lallybroch, which was doubly necessary as Yi Tien and his children would be returning about the same time.  Foremost, Lamb arranged to have the house completely cleaned and painted with old furniture, carpeting and appliances resold – no harm in making some extra money.  The gargantuan task of outfitting it with appliances, furniture, and a security system was taken upon Joe and Lamb; they didn’t want Claire stressed about anything.  Deciding upon some input, though, in choosing many other accoutrements she went with Ming Ru for curtains and linens and kitchen stuffs.  So, their last week before moving in was hectic.  Lamb gathered up Joe, Murtagh and Jamie and after dropping Jamie and Murtagh off at the house to work on the shed and to supervise the tree service, Joe and Lamb left to finish their list. 

Once inside, Jamie began looking at the house now as Brian would; a leader of a family whose estate must be kept in good repair and safe for all.  Murtagh offered to survey the upstairs.  Jamie, downstairs, checked all chimneys, windows, walls, and ceiling.  So much had changed.  The “electrical outlets” were on every wall, as well as “light switches.”  With the heating now working, he both heard and felt the warmed air coming through the vents.  “’tis a wonder,” he remarked, trying to visualize how the machines managed it all.

While inspecting the bathroom, he heard a soft “hello?”  Coming around the corner he saw an older woman was standing just inside the front doorway.

“May I help ye?”  Jamie replied, curious to who the visitor was.

“Aye, son.  May I come in?”

“Of course.  Pardon the state of the house.  We’re cleaning and such.”

“So, yer the new owners then?”

“We are.  My wife and I, and my Godfather have bought the estate.  I’m James Fraser, by the way.”

“Please to meet ye, James. I’m Susanna MacDougal. We live down the way. Yer a family?”

“Aye, ma’am.  Just the three of us.”

“Will ye be runnin’ a business or such?” she asked, taking quick glances throughout the rooms.  She was about 70 from what Jamie could tell, and definitely interested in what was going on.

Intrigued rather than annoyed, he responded gently:  “We’ve no plans as such.  My wife…she’s expecting.”

“Oh! Yer to be a Da!  Well, God bless ye! Is it yer first?”  she asked, the tenseness in her mouth now replaced by a broad smile.

“It is.”

“Oh, my word!  Wonderful news!”

Hearing the chatter, Murtagh came halfway down the stairs, peering over the railing.

“Susanna, this is my Godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons.”

Murtagh nodded, coming the rest of the way down the stairs.

“Hello to ye. Oh DEARIE!  I havena said why I came by.” She stepped back onto the landing, kneeling down to retrieve something.  In her hands were what seemed to be three framed paintings.

“I saw that there had been cars here, and some buildings being constructed out back so suspected there were new owners.  I just wanted to be sure ye werena going to be putting a restaurant or something else horrid in this beautiful old house. I wouldna have left something so precious to a corporation.”

As she turned the paintings over, both Murtagh and Jamie stood rigid with shock.

“We bought these from some estate sale nearby, oh best guess about 30 years ago.  It was the owner’s recollection that they were the original family of this house.  I’ve been wanting to gift these but…”

Jamie didn’t hear what she said after “original family of this house.”  Stacked on top of her arms were Ellen’s portraits of he, Jenny, and Willie.

“I’m so verra grateful, Susanna.  I canna tell ye how much we’ll cherish them.”  He took them from her, holding them to his chest.

“I see I’ve done right in gifting them to ye, then.  Well, I’ll be off so ye can finish yer work.” With a wave of her hand she left but poked her head back in a moment later.  “Dinna be strangers, aye?  And if yer wife needs anything, I’m happy to help.  Here’s our number.” She handed him a small piece of paper she’d obviously had at the ready.

Jamie’s eyes filled with tears at the first painting in the stack.  He could feel Ellen here, still; almost hear her shooing the dogs outside, humming while she rolled pie crust, and calling everyone for dinner. Murtagh gently took the paintings, sitting them on the mantle in the sitting room near where they had originally hung.   “House is becoming a home now, aye?”  He winked at Jamie.  “Come now, lad. We’ve work to finish.”

A large “truck” was sat in the field, the powerful buzzing of chainsaws filling the air.   In awe of the machinery that hoisted a man in a bucket, 20 or 30 feet into the air, Jamie and Murtagh watched the professionals, as Claire called them, remove the upper branches of trees around the chapel, then section by section saw down the trunks.  It would be a week-long effort, as Lamb had mentioned, but would eventually leave them with a huge mound of logs that could be chopped into firewood.  Spotting some silver birch among the alders, Jamie approached one of the men who he assumed was the team’s leader.

“Oy!  Might I ask a favor of ye?”  he yelled, walking towards the man who was standing a ways back.  The man signaled to another to take up the job of spotting.

“Yer the owner?”

“Aye.  Those two birch there, could they be felled and laid aside?  I’ve need of them.”

“O’course, mate! Whiskey barrels, maybe?  Or ‘ave ye a mind to smoke some kippers?”

“Cradle first, then we’ll see to the other things,” Jamie smiled.

“Congratulations!  All that we find we’ll leave stacked fer ye, no problem.”

“Thank ye, and mind the building please."

“We’ll be mindful, aye. Yer brother, I assume, said as much when he put the order in. Told me he’d ‘ave my head if I touched any of it!”

After the men had left, Jamie and Murtagh – now with much more room – were able to get closer to the chapel to begin the process of removing the thick cover of ivy.  Thankfully, Lamb had bought a number of other tools in addition to those that Jamie needed for woodworking.  So, taking the pruners and shears they moved from one side of the chapel to the other.  Grateful the men had left some of their equipment - a ladder, mainly – they were able also to get the roof cleared as well. Thankfully, the old bell remained. 

Moving down the front, Jamie had no worry the engraved cornerstone remained but the original doors had a fair amount of water damage; though the ivy had been an insulation of sorts, it also held in water. 

Yanking the ivy that had wound its way into the hinges and slide bolt was infuriating, for the doors would not budge without it being cleared.  Even with that, the doors for some reason could not be coaxed open.

Murtagh, running a hand through his hair, sighed. “The hinges are rusted.  Wilna budge.”

“Then we’ll have to remove them.”

“Or the inside lock is stuck.” Murtagh got closer to the iron work which revealed not the original hand-forged nails, but screws. “These arena hand-made nails.  Must be newer versions.” Seeing the star pattern on the top of the screw, Murtagh pulled out a screwdriver from the bag.  “Looks like this is a match.”

An hour later, after much muttering, the doors were yanked open.

It looked like a time capsule; everything was exactly as they remembered it.  The original benches, windows, and vestibule were in place, with the gaping hole at the top of the wall the only change. Despite it being gone, for maybe years or decades, the wooden cross had no decay.

“’tis a relief there hasna been modernizing to this too,” Murtagh said running his hand over the pews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The move to Lallybroch had been easy enough as the only thing Jamie, Claire, and Murtagh had to bring were their clothes.  Trees had been removed, the chapel shed of its overgrowth and the inside cleaned.  A new window would have to be gotten before winter set in, but it was otherwise as it had been.  The rocker-cradle, planned as a Christmas present, would be worked on in secret until then.

 Jamie asked everyone for a moment of prayer before they all went in.  He blessed the home, his family, and their future.  Now curtained, furnitured, and applianced the house glistened.  In their room, Claire had sat her vase and hung the sampler; in Jamie’s dresser were placed his bible, rosary and kilt pin along with their letters. Although much more would need to be done, it was as close to original as could be managed but with the benefits of modern convenience.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Friday, October 20, 2017

The morning of her birthday, Claire woke to an empty bed.  On his pillow Jamie had left a note:

 

“My beloved wife,

  This is to wish you the most joyful of birthdays. At your convenience, follow the flower petals and meet me downstairs for the first of your birthday presents. 

  Yours eternally,

Jamie.”

 

 Claire looked from her side of the bed to see a trail of rose petals leading to the door.  Scampering to get her robe on, she opened the door to see that the trail lead down the stairs.  Following it further into the kitchen, she saw bagels, muffins, and a small pot of tea on the table.

“I can’t pass this up,” she said, hunger pangs already taking over.  She picked a muffin then continued following the trail to the back door. Opening it, she found Jamie directly on the other side.

“Good Morning my sweet” he greeted her, a bouquet of two dozen pale pink roses in his arms. 

Managing to get out “thank you” through her stream of tears, she took the roses as Jamie kissed her and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Close your eyes.”

Nodding, she put out her hand for him to take.

Walking over the damp ground, Jamie brought her to a stop. “Alright, mo chridhe.  Tell me what ye smell.” He held up an oregano plant to Claire’s nose, purposely pinching a few of the leaves to heighten the fragrance.

“Ooooh! Oregano!”

 Doing the same to a tomato plant, he held it under her nose. “Alright, now this.”

“Tomato.  Very distinguishable smell.”

“And this?” he asked, sitting the tomato down and picking up the basil.

She hesitated so he waved the plant quickly back and forth.

“Ahh. Basil.”

“And now…” 

Just then Claire’s stomach rumbled loud enough even she jumped.

“Ye can get to yer muffin, dinna fash.  Just one more.”

Holding the Italian parsley near her nose, Claire inhaled. “Parsley. You have made me a garden!”

“Yer right, but dinna open yer eyes just yet.  Come wi' me a bit further.  Ye can eat yer muffin on the way.”

Inside the house, everyone was assembling.  They’d been waiting in the front courtyard until she went outside.  Snapping pictures, Joe made sure to follow Jamie’s instructions to chronicle everything down to the petals on the stairs. Murtagh and Ming Ru quickly brought in the food and decorations.  The guests were nurses from the hospital including Ingrid, Berta and Martin, as well as Yi Tien, Qianru, Hualing, Chenglei  and Xiaoli and Lihua.

Joe – stationed at the window – had pulled the curtains back to get the final present, the shed.

“Alright, lass. We’ve come to the last stop.”  Positioning her directly in front of the shed – a massive red bow wrapped around it – Jamie whispered for her to open her eyes.

Though needing to adjust to the light, Claire’s eyes took in the unmistakable building. She pulled the bow, and as it fell to the ground Jamie opened the door for her to step inside.   The sun was just now coming from behind the clouds, it’s rays bursting through the two windows.  She ran her fingers down the potting bench, it’s shelf underneath holding terra cotta pots, potting soil, and hand trowels.

She turned to see him, standing in the doorway.  “All this work – just for me.”  She walked to him, nuzzling her face into his neck.  “I will be doing a lot of growing,” she whispered, gently caressing her now prominent bump. 

Everyone used the moment to push open the windows. “Happy Birthday!”

Hurredly going back inside, Claire excused herself to go dress. She filled her vase with water and gently lowered the roses into it.  The first guest she sought when she came downstairs was Yi Tien.

“Dear Friend, it is a joy to see you again.”  Claire took both of his hands.  “Thank you for…everything. We are absolutely indebted to you and Ming Ru.”  Understanding it’s fuller meaning, he replied “It is I who is thankful.” Claire motioned for Jamie, across the room about to fill a plate of hors d’oeuvres for her.  Noticing Yi Tien from pictures at the apartment, Jamie put his hand out.  “Sir, ‘tis an honor to meet ye.  I’m Claire’s husband Jamie. What yer family have done for us will never be forgotten.”

Both intrigued and excited that the man who he’d only known as the 18th century Scot Claire had been deeply in love with, Yi Tien took Jamie’s hand. “The honor is mine.  It is a pleasure to meet you.  Please accept my congratulations on both your wedding and pregnancy.  Joyous occasions.”

A slight touch on her arm caused Claire to turn.

“Miss Claire!  I am so happy to see you.”  Qianru began to cry.

“Qianru!”  Claire pulled her into an embrace, kissing her tenderly on her cheek.  “I have missed you.  How are you?  And Hualing and Chenglei?”

“We are all very good.  I’m happy to be back.  I missed Mamma terribly.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As Ingrid was about to pour herself a (non-alcoholic) mimosa, Murtagh came quickly to the counter. “Here, Miss.  Allow me.” 

“Oh – thank you!  How…uh…how have you been?”  She handed him her glass.

“We’ve been well.  Busy, o’course with moving in.”

“Beautiful house.  I just love older things.”

Murtagh bit his lip to keep a laugh from slipping out.

“Oh - I mean, I just love antiques and such.”

“Dinna fash.  I took yer meaning.”  He handed her the glass. 

Catching Martin’s curious expression from across the room, where he and Berta were talking to other nurses, Ingrid leaned in to Murtagh.  “I’ve come with my... I guess I'd call them my Aunt and Uncle. Would you like to meet them?  If you’re busy, I understand, I just…”

Murtagh, a warmth in his heart that he thought had long gone, smiled. “Lass, it would be a pleasure.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wednesday, October 25

Joe sat alone at the desk in his apartment, his phone to his ear.  Geoffrey had placed him on hold while explaining to Greg – on the other line – that his brother and friends had been found and were safe.   This was arranged in order that Greg knew before it was all over the news. When appropriate, Geoffrey would drop from the conversation and allow the brothers to talk for the first time in over a year.

Tracing Greg’s number that he’d written down on paper as Geoffrey iterated it, Joe waited.

Several minutes went by, causing Joe to think something had gone wrong.  Did Greg refuse to believe it?  Would he be angry, feeling he’d been duped?  Joe’s heart was pounding; “what do I even say?”  Just then the heavy silence on the phone changed.

Joe?”

 “Hey buddy. Yea, it’s me.”

“Thank God.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Friday, October 27

Newscasters throughout the afternoon repeatedly announced their upcoming coverage of the 5:00 press conference.  Leaks were managed so strictly that not one bit of information managed to be found out beforehand to effectively squash “scooping.”  All that had been told to the media was the date, time and place; nothing more.

Gathered en masse in the small PR room of the precinct, the press waited.  At precisely 5:00 Chief Montgomery came to the lectern, behind which hung the Police Scotland insignia.  At that moment, the clicking and flashing of cameras ignited.

“Thank you all for coming.  Due to the diligence and capability of Police Scotland, the three tourists who disappeared last year– Lambert Beauchamp, his niece Claire Beauchamp, and Joe Abernathy have been found alive. It is indeed a great time for Scotland but also for the hardworking men and women in my force.  I am proud to say we will not stop when it comes to protecting and defending the public, and this is absolute proof. So, with this wonderful turn of events, the case is now closed. I regret that at this time there can be no further information provided.”

Leaving the lectern, amidst the yelled questions of reporters, he met Diedre and Geoffrey in back.  “Keep a tight lid on this.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The attention they expected might overrun their life, or would insinuate itself into their daily tasks, didn’t materialize.  Quite simply, their story had nothing on a world of unrest, politics, celebrity gossip and reality tv.  It trended quickly on twitter and other social media but was soon pushed out in favor of upset elections, sports championships or Hollywood blockbusters.  Without a PR or marketing team behind the story, pushing it into the public’s attention, the news fizzled. 

Calls from friends and co-workers came in, though, and random “opportunities” for endorsement, but in a short amount of time it died down. True to their word, they replied  - when asked - that they could not say anything. So, now grateful for peace and an end to problem of their return, the family settled into their new lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve, 1777

It was odd having a live tree in the house, but ever since there had been one last Christmas Brian wanted to continue the tradition; it would be a small way to remember when everyone was together. Decorated with ribbon, and glass baubles, it filled the room with sparkle and beautiful pine smell.

It was near midnight. Ellen was sat near the fire knitting Father Willie’s present in her chair. Brian gazed at her, admiring her still nimble fingers finishing the beautiful royal blue scarf so quickly. She sat it down on her lap, stretching her neck backwards and rubbing her shoulder. Tucked beside her was a yellow cap and mittens for the bairn.

Brian poured a dram of whiskey from the decanter for Ellen, taking a wee bit for himself as well. Warming themselves as the snow gently patted the window, Brian saw that Ellen’s eyes were closing. “Come to bed, mo bhean ghràdhach. Ye’ve done enough today.”

“I suppose I will.” She gathered up her knitting while Brian lit two candles to take with them upstairs, then tamped out the fire. He sat one on Ellen’s bedside table, then took the other to his. Laying her robe at the bottom of the bed, Ellen gratefully sat down then reached for her pot of lanolin.

“A moment, love, before ye soften yer hands.”

Ellen turned to see Brian holding a small velvet pouch. “I’ve gotten ye a Christmas present. It’s proper because it’s after midnight.”

“Brian Fraser…ye didna have to do such a thing. And jewelry!”

“Aye, my dove, I did. ‘twas hard with Jamie’s sickness and departure, and ye suffered in silence. Dinna think I didn’t see yer sorrow.”

Although she could tell what was in the bag without opening it, actually holding the strand of pearls between her fingers was still a shock. The silver clasp even had a small amber-colored gem in it. “They’re so….” She wept over them; Brian’s thoughtfulness always touched her.

“I ken ye gave yers to Claire, and ‘twas a beautiful thing ye did, but I dinna ever want ye to be without pretty things of yer own.” She reached her hand to touch his cheek, which he leaned his lips into to kiss.

In the morning there would be warm scones with butter and tea, and a reading about Christ’s birth from St. Luke.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Christmas Eve, 2017

Jamie had found the perfect spruce tree on the property, not too tall nor too sparse, with a straight “leader” for the angel tree-topper. He’d even sawed off the top of a tree that had been uprooted by wind to have as a smaller tree in their bedroom. He and Claire had Christmas shopped, buying vintage ornaments, beads and ribbon for decorations. Faerie lights hung from each mantle, while spice-scented candles burned in the both the living room and sitting room.

Taking the ham out of the oven, Claire began surveying the counters to ensure all the side dishes were prepared. The huge tier of cookies, that she made herself, was sat in the middle of the table. Just as she was sitting the ham down, in order to spoon the drippings over it, their new pups - Scottish terriers named Bubble and Squeak - ran frantically from Claire’s side to the front door at the sound of the knocker.

Eyeing Jamie out the window, gathering firewood into a wheelbarrow, Claire yelled “MURTAGH? CAN YOU…”

“I’VE GOT IT!” he yelled, running down the stairs.

The wind was strong, causing a huge rush of snowflakes to fly into the house when Murtagh opened the door. Lamb and Joe stood aside to let Ingrid go in first, then scurried in behind her.

“Hoo-WHEE it’s cold” Joe exclaimed, taking off his coat. Claire came from the kitchen, reaching to kiss everyone.

“I’ve brought some home-made rolls from a bakery near me” Ingrid said, reaching with one arm to hug Claire, "they’re mouthwatering.” Taking the large white box tied with string, Claire thanked her. “How kind of you! I’ll put them in a basket I have.” Looking at Lamb and Joe, Claire said “Can one of you gentlemen COME INTO THE KITCHEN AND REACH THE BASKET FOR ME?” motioning with a few dramatic head tilts to the kitchen.

“Yes! Definitely! We can reach that basket for you there in the kitchen,” Lamb replied, pulling Joe along with him.

Murtagh rolled his eyes. “Pardon them, Miss. May I take yer coat?”

He was dressed in a new bespoke kilt, a new shirt, new boots and socks, and had had his hair and beard trimmed. Repulsed by the “cologne” the barber had tried to use, he kept himself scented instead with just good old-fashioned soap though he did give in to some beard oil. Clearly these decisions paid off; Ingrid was entranced. She was taken with him when she first met him in the hospital, courteous and respectful even though he was without sleep and bedraggled, and would have remained taken with him if he never changed (for his heart was beautiful) so his obvious effort to make a good show was not lost on her.

“Yes, of course” she said, shrugging her arms out. “Your kilt is quite handsome.”

Moving her coat - a vintage, single-breasted boiled-wool that reminded Murtagh of the color of spring fields - to the banister, he thanked her. She had clearly put as much effort into her look, for her boucle shift and kitten heels only heightened her natural beauty. “Yer a fine picture yerself.”

Jamie came in the back door, dropped a pile of wood in the large firewood rack, then wiped the bark off his shirt. Kissing Claire and sneaking a piece of ham, he asked if everyone was ready to eat.

At the table, Jamie began the prayer by asking everyone to join hands. Murtagh, beside Ingrid, reached for hers. Gently, happily, she offered it.

When everyone had gone, Claire put on her flannel pajamas and went downstairs to brush her teeth. Quickly, Jamie uncovered the cradle in the corner of the room where he’d hidden it under a pile of clothes. Knowing it would be too large to fit in the door if he made it outside, he assembled it here. Standing in the doorway when she came back upstairs, he asked her to close her eyes.

“Hmmm. We’re not going outside are we?”

“Nay, Ma’am.”

Putting her hand out for him to take again, he led her into the room and sat her on the bed. “Ye may open yer eyes.”

“Oh my goodness!” Claire slipped slowly off the bed to sit in it, running her fingers over the bed where the baby will sleep. Rocking back and forth, she felt how well he had crafted it, how it fit her legs and arms perfectly. “This will bring many happy hours.” She took his face in her hands. “Thank you.”

Jamie helped her as she jumped up to her bedside table to get out a small, wrapped box.

Sitting back on the bed, she handed the present to Jamie. “Your turn.”

An ornament, in the shape of a heart, was nestled inside red, glittered tissue paper. Inside the heart was a little glass window, behind which was the sonogram. At the top of the ornament she had written: “Da’s first Christmas. December 2017.”

His eyes, full of hope and pride, shone back at her. “Thank ye, lass.” He laid his hand gently on her belly. “It’s yer Da, weeun. Merry Christmas.”

The next morning he would lead his family in a reading from St. Luke; as his Da had always done, so would he.

Chapter Text

Spurred by the media reports, or possibly by some arrangement with Geoffrey, Joe had been contacted by the chair of the Sociology department at University with well wishes and relief.  She offered to reinstate Joe to the position he held with no disruption to his tenure.  Lamb, the renowned Archaeologist who had guest lectured there, was brought on as head of the History department in another situation of convenience. The former head took the opportunity to retire, grateful that he could now pass the position off to someone of authority and dignity over the hungry but inexperienced professors who had been nipping at his heels the past few years.

Meeting Adrienne, the Sociology chair, in her office, she immediately reached to hug Joe.  “I’m so glad you’re alright,” her warm, sincere hug conveyed how much she truly meant what she said. “We…we really worried about you.  Overjoyed to have you back.”

“I appreciate that, Adrienne.  Thanks for bringing me back.”

“So, tell me about this new program you mentioned.”

 “Kids these days…” he began, taking a seat beside her in front of her desk.  “Listen to me! I sound like my father!  Let’s try that again…the newer generations are, understandably, technologically literate but unmotivated and, quite frankly, lacking in critical thinking – possibly due to this unhealthy dependence on technology. With technology doing everything for you, why learn how to do it yourself?  My concern as an educator is that this will lead to their being unprepared for careers that require research and communication proficiency, and focus. If they list on their CV their degree from here, I want employers to know the students got what they needed.”

Surprised by what prompted his idea, Adrienne nudged him for more information. “You don’t have to prove anything to me” she said, exasperated, “I read their essays, remember. So, what’s your proposal? Goodness knows we’ve had enough meetings to try to fix it.”

“A two-semester experiment.  Six credit class learning how to manage an 18th century farm.  Textbooks will be period literature in book form and they’ll be provided a journal and ledger.  This will be heavy on group work, too. And, of course, I’ll have the perfect venue to include Scottish folklore.”

Intrigued, Adrienne shifted forward in her chair. “Keep going.”

“They’ll be taught animal care and husbandry, planting and harvesting crops, outbuilding construction, how a farm generates income – like cheese-making, bee-keeping, and wheat– but also what it takes to be self-sustaining while managing the home. Cooking, weaving and spinning, knitting, and such.  Medical care, arrow making….”

“I know you’ll tie this to more comprehensive course objectives and learning outcomes?”

“You know me, Adrienne” he replied, smarting at what he felt was a dig at his being gone and possibly rusty. 

“I’m sorry – it’s an unusual endeavor and I just need to know there are goals.”

“There will be frequent monitoring to ensure no one drops, there will be feedback given to the students from assessments – around mid-term- and I’ll keep them engaged in their own assessments.” He paused.  “This will involve risk, Adrienne. I know that.  But with enrollment plummeting and students dropping out after a few semesters, never to be seen again…”

She looked directly at him; these issues were of paramount worry to the University.

“this is worth trying.”

“You are always on target, lowest drop percentage, highest satisfaction in student evaluations.  But…I immediately see a red flag. Will this mean separating men from women – women inside and men outside?  That could be problematic.”

“Everybody can learn whatever they want; they’ll have a choice. But I’d like them to be exposed to everything because it would do no good to only see half of the picture.  Despite what may be put out there from modern-day ideologies, a lot of women found great satisfaction and value in their work, as did men, and both worked to support each other.  And of course this could be a great joint venture with the history department.”

Adrienne saw a new, energized, driven Joe.  She thought over what he said, glancing out the window.

This could be a boon for the university – there was nothing like this anywhere as far as she knew -  and would generate a lot of PR.  Joe always had his finger on the pulse of education trends. 

Adrienne had missed Joe’s dedication.  Everyone – faculty and students – mourned his loss.  The news of his being found, together with Lambert and his niece, was an indescribable relief but everyone secretly wondered what had happened. Some whispered they had maybe done espionage or went undercover with authorities to discover more about networks known for antiquities theft and trading, but for the most part everyone kept what they were thinking to themselves.  Police Scotland took credit for the discovery, but the coverage lacked the obvious sensationalism that every big story was given to generate clicks and viewership - which was very odd.  He looked, for lack of better wording, better than she remembered and didn’t show any obvious signs of physical or emotional trauma or neglect. “If he was a spy, it was a comfortable gig,” she thought to herself.

“The goal will be planting the seeds of self-sufficiency,” he said, worried that her distractedness was apprehension, “connectedness with people, independent thought, problem-solving.  Maybe by helping them become successful at things they’ve never tried before, it could translate to increased motivation, improved articulation, and grit.”

The soundness of the plan was clear, but specifics weren’t. “Where do you plan to do this? I assume you won’t be doing it on your own?  In order to sell this I need a clear plan, and how much it will cost.” 

“We’ll partner with Lallybroch… It’s Claire, her husband Jamie, and his Godfather Murtagh’s estate.  Claire’s an exceptional teacher with keen understanding of this time and it’s practices. The men have extensive knowledge of every aspect of this very subject.  I’d like to bring them on full-time.”

“You’ve cleared this with them?  They’ll agree to faculty and dozens of students in their home, on their land?”

“Of course!  They’re in transition, having just moved in, but we discussed the entire program.  With some additional funding,” Joe said, pointedly “they can get up and running faster.”

Adrienne had been nodding while she listened, seeing this from the larger picture of a presentation to department and administrative chairs, as well as the President.

“I’ll need to meet the family and see Lallybroch for myself.  I can’t sign off on something I haven’t personally researched.”  She rose from her chair and extended her hand.  “Draw something up for me, every detail covered completely, with a cost sheet, potential syllabus, rubric…you know.  Once I have those I’ll be in touch.”

Taking her hand, Joe thanked her.  “I appreciate this Adrienne.  I will have everything to you by week’s end.” 

“I look forward to hearing from you.  Welcome back, Joe.”  As he got to the door she couldn’t help but mention his new look. “Nice beard!”

He tipped his imaginary hat to her and walked to his office.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giving the car to Claire so she could get where she needed, Lamb and Joe were able to walk to University having gotten housing nearby.  So, having spent an entire weekend rummaging through antique stores and even looking exhaustively online for any trace of the window that had disappeared from the chapel, Jamie and Claire gave up searching.  They found an artist through recommendation of someone at an antique store who could remake it from their memory.  Although it would not come cheap, it would not feel right putting anything else in place. 

Driving home, Jamie noticed how much bigger Claire had become just in the past week.  Each visit to Lihua proved Claire and the baby to be healthy, but they were now anticipating the second sonogram, in a week’s time, to reveal the bairn’s gender.

 He had found a book on the revolutionary war that he bought, excited to read it at bedtime; with a small lamp that attached to their bed’s headboard, he could read effortlessly and not strain as he had done by candlelight. So, tonight, he would read about every battle and every twist through to the deciding victory at Yorktown, but which also included the roles of Scottish soldiers. 

During a small dinner of shepherd’s pie and salad, Murtagh reminded everyone that the first Saturday of the month letter to Brian and Ellen was coming up, and the Hogmany celebration hadn’t been planned.

“I have thought of it, if that counts” Claire said, finishing her food “I’m sorry I didn’t communicate that,” she sighed, running her hand through her hair.

“Lass, I ken ye’ve had much on yer mind.  Leave it to me.”

Just then the baby kicked, causing Claire to jump.  “Oh, hello!” 

Jamie, putting dishes in the sink, ran to her.  “Claire, is it the bairn?  Is all well?”

Without saying anything, she smiled and placed his hand on her abdomen.  “Just wait a moment.”  In a few seconds, the palm of Jamie’s hand received a strong poke.

“Moving about, aye?”

“I’d say doing a right jig.”

Murtagh smiled.  “’twill be a strong one.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After Jamie sat his book on his end table, the sign he was going to sleep, Claire held her phone above her for them both to see. “OK, turn your light off.” 

He reached up to the headboard and pressed the small switch on the clamp-on light he had been reading by.

Pressing one of the little colored squares she called “apps,” the phone’s screen filled with little dots and chamber music filled the room. “Right now, darling, we’re looking at the constellations in real time.”

Scooping his arm behind her, and placing the other on the baby, he stared in wonder. 

“With each turn of the phone, we can see a different part of the sky directly above us.”

“How is it able to look through the roof?”

“Well, it all involves something called a cell phone tower; you’ve seen them when we were driving. That’s why our phones were so limited when we went through. See – here is something called the International Space Station.  This is a huge machine that people  - scientists from different countries – are in right now.”

“Ye dinna say!”

“No matter where I put the phone” she said, moving it to her left, then to her right, “we can see anywhere in the sky.”

“Mam and Da had a book we studied. Murtagh taught me this! I remember some of them.  Oh – there’s Columba!  And Perseus!”

Claire handed the phone to Jamie.  “Here, you look.”

Moving the phone about, he mumbled to himself: 

“Ah – it makes a rendering of each constellation so ye can see it fully!”

“I dinna ken what that is.”

“Would have been a fine thing to comfort Willie at night.” 

“Maybe not.  He’d have had a head full of questions and I’d have no gotten sleep.”

He slowly reached over Claire, who had fallen asleep, to lay the phone on the charger.  He kissed her on her forehead then cradled her in his arms again.

“To just think,” Jamie whispered to himself, noticing the moonlight coming in through a small separation in the curtains “the God who created the stars, the planets, and keeps them all in their place, can so tenderly create a child in a mother’s womb.”  He caressed just where the baby was, feeling it stir. “Whichever ye give us, Lord, a lad or a lass,” he continued, a tear trickling down is cheek “I’ll be grateful, and I promise ye to raise them in love, gentleness, and to honor ye.”   Comforted that God was supremely able in both managing the heavens and the smallest aspects on earth - and that he was able to now witness both - Jamie offered a prayer of thanksgiving then fell soundly asleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wanting Jamie and Claire to get their rest, Murtagh woke early the next morning – his usual time, actually, about 5:00 - to make breakfast, filling the table with biscuits, bacon, eggs and potatoes.  The stove had been easy to manage and use, and with the refrigerator that kept all the food cold, there wouldn’t be need to get eggs from the henhouse, or do all the butchering.  The taste of all the manufactured, packaged food wasn’t the same, but it was sure nice to not go gathering on this cold morning.

“Dinna become soft, Murtagh!” he told himself, cracking eggs into the pan.

Dressed, but not fully awake, Jamie and Claire drifted downstairs on the enticing smell.  Though her nose was sorely tempted, Claire’s stomach was not.  Trying to overcome the nausea she went for dry toast and a cup of plain tea.

Slumping into a chair, her hair cascading around her face, Murtagh refrained from making her a plate.

“Thank you for all of this, Murtagh” she mumbled over the top of her cup.

“Aye, lass.  ‘twas my pleasure.” 

Jamie, starving but unwilling to eat in front of her, shook his head at Murtagh’s offer of a plate. Claire, seeing Jamie’s reluctance through the mass of hair, waved her hand for him to eat. “Go on.  It smells amazing.”

In a shot he grabbed a plate and filled it with food.

Murtagh sat down beside Jamie, both of them making the sign of the cross in synch before they ate. “I ken ye’ll be in town for the appointment. Might I come along?  Ingrid’s shift is over at 8:00 and I’d like to take her to breakfast.”

“That’s perfect!” Claire said, sneaking a piece of bacon from Jamie’s plate, “We can drop you off there, then be to Lihua’s office at 8:30.”

“I appreciate it.”

“We can do some shopping or whatnot until you’re ready. Or even stop to see Ming Ru and Yi Tien. Why don’t you meet us at their shop at 10:30?”

“She’ll be ready to get home by then, I’m sure, so I’ll meet ye there.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Waiting to be called back to the exam room, Claire held Jamie’s hand.    A few patients, seated across from them, kept glancing at Claire. 

Jamie, noticing the attention she was getting, shifted her towards him and put his arm around her.  Laying her head on his shoulder, she whispered “It’s alright.  This is bound to happen.”

Just then Lihua came down the hall with Claire’s chart in her hand, waving for them to meet her. 

“Good morning!  How are you both?”

“Well, a bit nervous I guess!”  Claire said, entering the room in front of Jamie.

“Do you want to know the gender if I’m able to detect it?”

Jamie looked to Claire.  “Would ye like to, mo chridhe?”

The expectancy in Jamie’s eyes was all she needed.  “Yes, we would.”

“Alright, then!  Hop up here – well, slowly of course! – and I’ll get this started."

Claire pulled her sweater up over her belly, allowing Lihua to cover it with gel.

“Sorry if this is cold.  Just no way to warm it up.”  Running the transducer to where she could find the baby, Lihua began taking measurements. “Well, I’m not seeing a gender just yet.  And you’re measuring at 16.5 weeks.”

Moving up, down, side to side, Lihua asked Claire to turn to her right.

“Alright little munchkin, let’s get you to move…”  Just then Lihua smiled and told Claire to hold still.  She took three pictures in quick succession.  Moving the transducer off Claire, Lihua separated the pictures, ensuring they were accurately taken, then handed one to Claire and Jamie.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fraser - you have a healthy baby boy.”

Claire burst into tears, holding the picture to her heart.  Jamie leaned to kiss her.  Wiping her tears from her cheek with his hand, two tissues came out of nowhere, causing them both to laugh.

“Congratulations, friends.”

Allowing them some time alone, Lihua left.  “Take some time. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Leaning down to Claire’s belly, Jamie whispered: “’ello, son.  ‘tis your Da.”  He gently rubbed back and forth. 

Her face wet with tears but beaming, she placed her hand on top of Jamie’s.  “It’s your Mum as well. Welcome!”

They held the photo together, Claire running her finger over the baby’s features.

Lihua tapped on the door, slowly letting herself in.  She had a large blue bag in her hand. 

“We give these to our new Mums and Dads.”

Claire sat up, taking the bag and thanking Lihua. Inside was a digital photo frame with the two sonograms already loaded.  “Make sure to fill it up!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Outside the building, with an hour until they met with Murtagh, Claire and Jamie stopped.  It was still so much of a surprise.  Opening her coat, for it was now much warmer that earlier, Jamie took both of her hands.

“Would ye like to let everyone know?  What is done in this time?”

“Couples wait until about now, just as a precaution, but we’re at about 17 weeks.  I think it would be a nice thing to do,” she said wrapping her arms around him.  “I don’t want to make this some state secret we hold over everybody.  They’ve saved all of our lives, so let’s have what’s called a ‘gender reveal’ party.  Everyone will come for a luncheon and we’ll have a fun way to let them know we’re having a boy. Like, we open a box full of blue balloons.”

 “Ba-loons?”

“Ohh. Sorry.  Small sacks you fill with air and tie a string to.  They’ll float out of the box.”

“I dinna ken how a sack can float in the air but I look forward to seeing it.” 

“Should we send another picture to your Mum and Dad?  I’m glad Lihua gave us extra.”

“Aye.  I’ll write the letter tonight.”

Walking through the streets, the excitement energizing them, Claire asked if he’d thought of any names. 

“Well, I’d like to include both our Fathers, so there’s Brian and Henry.”

“Aww, thank you.  Yes, I’d like that.”

“The order I’m no set on.  Whichever ye wish.”

Scurrying through a zebra crossing before the walk signal ended, Jamie thought of something else. “Would ye like to include Lambert?  Or would that be too many names?”

“You do have four names there, JAMMF,” she huffed out, stepping onto the curb.

“Well, we could add Murtagh, then?” he replied, yanked to a stop by Claire who was peering into a café.

“Brian Henry Murtagh Lambert? Let’s discuss it over a bagel sandwich and hot chocolate.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Murtagh entered the lift, pressed the 3 button, then watched as the doors closed. He removed his cap and ran his hand through his hair. As the lift shuddered to a stop, he grabbed his stomach.  “’tis easier takin’ the stairs.” When it opened, he gladly and quickly exited.

Holding his cap nervously in his hands, he walked down the hallway to the nurse’s station.  It was precisely 8:00 and he worried Ingrid had already left.  To his delight she was sitting at the desk busily typing her end of shift notes into a laptop. His gentle presence was immediately felt.

“Hi!”

“Good morn’, Miss.  If yer finished with yer shift, would ye care to have some breakfast?”

The warmth that flooded her, as if some hidden spring had been tapped, caused her to momentarily pause; this was the closest thing to drowning in happiness she’d ever experienced.

“Yes! How nice of you to come all the way here.  Give me just a moment?”

“Of course, take yer time.”

Smiling to herself at his thoughtfulness, she finished with her last patient’s status then closed the laptop and returned it to it’s slot.

“There’s a small shop I stop at on my way home” she said, taking her bag and jacket from her locker “if you don’t mind a few blocks walk.”

Though the clouds were increasing, there were moments of blinding sun; moments of sheer warmth followed by frigid cold.  On top of this, squalls of snow whipped through the streets.  

Scones, clotted cream, and milk tea gotten, Murtagh took over a booth by the front window as a Dad and his young daughter were leaving.

“I expect ye’ll be wantin’ to get home soon,” he said, helping her to sit  “so I wilna keep ye.  I’m to meet Claire and Jamie at a friend’s shop.”

“I’d much rather be with you,” she smiled “but thank you. It was a long night.”

“May-be, if yer agreeable, we can meet regularly on this day?” 

Murtagh felt his heart skid to a stop, afraid that he was being too forward. Maneuvering during this modern age was confusing; he clung to his experience courting– little though it was – just as his Da and Mam had taught him. Ingrid showed no signs of unhappiness or annoyance which seemed to indicate she wasn’t horribly averse to his presence.

“That would be lovely. I’ve hoped we could see each other more often.”

He loved catching glimpses of her when she wasn’t looking.  It was when she was most herself.  Now, her scarf bundled up all around her neck, her hair softly gathered in a chignon, she was elegant even for having spent several hours at hospital. She sipped her tea while she glanced outside at the goings on.  There was something of a child still in her, a playfulness and sweetness that was not common in women of his time.  Back then women were more serious-minded and conventional.  Maybe because life was more serious. A simple virus in that time, or an infected tooth, could take your life so hyper vigilance effectively squashed playfulness or a carefree attitude; coupled with  superstition, many - men included, to be  truthful –  became painfully dire.  Had he remained, he would have most likely stayed a bachelor living with Brian and Ellen, pining for a woman – a sin he couldn’t seem to shake – that he would never have, and never looking for another woman because of it.  Now he was gifted a woman whose tender, loving soul was unlike any he’d ever encountered. This, the more he thought about it, suited perfectly to her being a nurse. Not everyone should undertake such a role, for caring for the life of another person to the point of saving them from death was not a calling many had; for Ingrid, it was truly who she was.

The prospect for marriage gripped his heart, but could he even presume that she would want children? Were they even something she’d welcome in her busy life?  This deepest yearning of his heart, that he’d tried to suffocate for so long, now had the benefit of possibility.  

“I just love kids.  They’re so awesome” she said, smiling. Murtagh followed her eyes out the window.  Two wee ones were standing with their Mum on the street, sticking their tongues out to catch snowflakes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ellen stood behind Brian as he wrote the next letter, this time soon after they had eaten breakfast, using the sun’s light rather than a candle.

Dearest Family,

  Blessed Hogmany and Blessed New Year!  We sincerely wish that you all are in good spirit and health.  We are glad to know you are living in the estate; it comforts us to know it is still standing and in the family.

  We steadfastly pray for you (as the Lord Himself instructs us: Colossians 1:9-14, 4:2), especially Claire and child, that both are well.  What joy this continually brings  us to know of the upcoming birth.  Enclosed, with our hope for its safe arrival, is a small gift from Mother.

  A light wrapping on the door then Jenny’s head poked around. 

“Mam, Da..will ye be writing a letter to Jamie and Claire?”

“We are just now, dear. Have ye something ye’d like to say?”

Standing dutifully before them, she nodded.  Brian, seeing her eagerness, got up from his chair and motioned for her to sit and write.

Jamie, Claire, Mr. Beauchamp and Mr. Abernathy,

  It is wonderful to know that you all are well, and that Sister Claire and child are healthy.  Praise be to God.  I am overjoyed in the knowledge I am to be an Aunt. Please send more of the

 “Mam – what was the word Jamie used for the rendering of the bairn?”  Jenny said, turning to Ellen.

“A ‘picture’”

“Aye. Thank ye.”

pictures, as you are able.  With all my love and Blessings in Christ,

  Jenny.

 

 She skipped off to find Emily.

 Brian smiled at her thoughtfulness, but soon after there was another tap on the door just as he was sitting back down.  Willie slowly scooted in.

“Jenny said ye allowed her a say in the letter to Jamie and Claire.”

Ellen, peering at what Jenny had written, waved her hand for him to come in.

Taking up the quill, Willie wrote.

Good day family.

  I miss all of you sorely.  The house is ever so quiet.  I hope we can be together again one day.

   I am glad for another member of the family, though.  Please tell us more.   We’ve had snow and I enjoyed making snow angels the way Claire taught me.

  God Bless you all.

  Willie

 

 He hugged Ellen and Brian, thanking them, then ran to his room and another game of chess with Father Willie.  Brian finished his own thoughts:

“I will close now, more for lack of room than time.  You are loved, and dearly missed.”

With deepest affection, I remain your

Da, Friend, and Grandsire,

Brian

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie, sat at the table and looking at the sonogram, wrote to his Father:

Beloved Family,

 Claire and I send this  with sincerest wishes for a happy, healthy new year and an enjoyable Hogmany. We deeply appreciate your well-wishes and prayers.  Know that we have you always in our prayers as well.

  This second “sonogram” may not be any more recognizable than the first we sent you, but it is distinguishable by one critical aspect: this image effectively concludes we are to have a son.  We are resolved that his name is to be Brian Henry Murtagh Lambert Fraser, with a highly anticipated arrival on May 23rd.

  Joe and Lambert have taken positions at University and created a program for modern-day students to learn about the managing of an olden-time farm; specifically, Lallybroch. Essentially, we’ll be recreating our former life.  Claire, Murtagh and I will be “professors” in the class, ensuring that our unique knowledge and experience will be maintained while also providing steady income.

  We deeply miss all of you, and pray this letter finds you well.

With all my love,

Your son,

Jamie

  ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire stood in the nursery, what had been Jamie and Willie’s room, the only furniture so far the cradle Jamie made.  A four-square patch of sun on the wall, mimicking the top four panes of the window opposite, was a play of light and shadow from the setting sun’s rays illuminating the wind swaying the trees.

“I’ve put this off until last, waiting to know if babykins was a boy or girl.  Now that I know, some decorating is in order.”

She rocked back and forth, cradling wee Brian who was, himself, tossing about like the wind.

 

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

You make me happy

When skies are gray

You’ll never know, dear

How much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

 

Several repetitions later he settled, so she sat in the rocker and contemplated the room.

“Well, it’s a blank canvas Claire Fraser…”

Just then she got an idea.

She walked downstairs, finding Jamie and Murtagh at the fire having a whiskey.  From the railing, she called for Jamie.

“Yes, love?”  he said, looking up.

“Could you measure the nursery for me?”

“Aye, lass.  What have ye in mind?” he asked, getting the “tape measure” from the bag of tools kept in the sitting room.

“I need the length and height for each wall, minus door and window.”

She grabbed her small notebook from the bedroom to sketch out the room and write down the dimensions.

Retracting the tape back into the unit, Jamie noted the spark in Claire’s eye.  “Ye’ve settled on a design, then?”

“I absolutely have. I’m going to paint a mural of Lallybroch and her land.” 

“Lass – ‘tis a beautiful idea.”  He reached for her hand.  “Thank ye.”

“It just occurred to me that this is a perfect way for him to see all his family and know the time from when he came.  I just immediately thought of the pastoral scenes from toile fabric.”

Tearing up, she explained the mural. “This wall will be the house and courtyard, where your Mother, Jenny and Emily will be tending roses. I’ll paint on the curtains to continue the scene when they’re closed. On this wall, where the cradle and eventually the crib will be, will have the most in it.  The river will be visible behind the treeline at the top, here will be the wheat field, and over there the barns, stables and pens where Murtagh, Joe, Lamb and Willie will be working.  Up here” she said, pointing to the corner “will be the chapel where you and I will be in the front doors. In the sky I’m going to paint a few hot air balloons just for whimsy, and our letters flying on the wind.”

“I’m at a loss for words, Claire.”  Jamie considered the entire scene, grateful that there would be a place where their former life could be remembered.

“Maybe I’ll even paint the constellations on the ceiling, or the sun and moon.”

“This will be a fine artistic outlet fer ye, but – and I dinna mean to be disapproving – will it be too much standing?”

“I understand your concern.  I’m not offended.  I’ll only work a few hours a day.” 

Claire heard jingling in the hall, then saw two little black noses push open the door.  A wiggling twosome were overjoyed, rewarded with pets and coos. They reminded her of two other stalwart friends. “And how could I forget to add in little Juniper and Berry?!”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie, Claire and Murtagh stood before the stone.  It was shortly before dawn.  Frost was on the ground, dragon breath in the air, and a cold, hard wind at their cheeks Jamie paused a moment then threw the letter.  There was little blowback this time; a small rush of air but without the flare of light.

They waited for the return letter, sipping tea and swaying back and forth to remain warm.  After three quarters of an hour Murtagh said they should come back intermittently throughout the morning.

On the other side, Brian, Ellen, Jenny, Willie and Emily were just on their way, the horses’ breath coming out in labored wafts as they plodded on the road.  Wrapped in blankets, the family huddled together excitedly in anticipation of news.

Arriving at 10:00, Willie ran to the stones ahead of Jenny in order to be the first to get the letter.  His long legs and kilt gave him the advantage over her heavy skirts.  Not finding it immediately, he raced around until he saw it among a small pile of fallen leaves.

“Da! Mam! I found it!”

“No fair!  I saw it first!”

Hurrying away from Jenny, Willie handed the letter to Ellen.

“Alright, then.  Dinna fuss. Let’s make our own delivery first,” she replied, rubbing their arms to warm them “then we’ll read this together on the ride back.”

As before, Brian paced himself far enough away from the stone that he would not be compromised, then threw the letter, cap, and gloves -which had been tied in a small blankie- directly at the cleft.  There was no noise, no rush of wind, just an engulfing of the package with a small rumble.

Brian was surprised. “Hmm.  The cold must be making things a wee bit more labored.”

He ran back to Ellen who was clutching the letter inside her shawl.  “Alright, then.  Let’s make our way back home. We’ll stop to see Glenna and have a wee bit of dinner to warm up.”

Sitting beside Brian, Ellen turned so that Willie, Jenny and Emily could hear as she read it outloud. “…We are resolved that his name is to be Brian Henry Murtagh Lambert Fraser, with a highly anticipated arrival on May 23rd.”  Ellen touched Brian’s arm, seeing the smile overtake his face. Overcome with joy that they would be having a grandson, she wiped a tear away.

Willie hooped. “’tis a boy!”

“WELL,” Jenny said, crossing her arms, “the next will be a GIRL!”

“Alright,” Brian reprimanded, “’tis the Good Lord’s provision so dinna take the authority on yerself to determine such a thing.”

Willie looked smugly at Jenny, then pointed.

Not even having to look behind him, Brian knew what Willie did. “Nor is it acceptable to gloat.”

Jenny scrunched her nose at Willie.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rather than driving home then coming back again, Claire, Jamie and Murtagh went through some shops then had brunch.  About noon they walked back to the park but there was nothing there.

“This is something I’ve been fearing,” Claire said, remembering how Joe had come a day before them.  “This is not an infallible, uh, procedure.  It’s bound to have glitches.”

Jamie glanced at her, confused. “glitches?”

 “Errors. Problems. Well, we can wait around for another few hours then try again.  Let’s just go to the library.”

They meandered through the different levels.  In the children’s section an older woman was entertaining a group of children with marionettes.  They found a lounge on the second floor.  Murtagh found “100 years of inventions," his eyebrows raised in interest. Claire picked up a magazine on pregnancy for an article about what happens to a baby at each month for she and Jamie to read. They sat together on a sofa, Jamie taking in all that happens not only to a woman’s body but to the baby as well. 

He ran his fingers over the glossy sheets, considering what went into making them.  “To just think,” he said, his eyes traveling over the images on the pages “we can know with certainty how the bairn forms and what it looks like.  Mam would be…” 

There were still moments of pain; Claire saw them in Jamie, and also felt them herself.  He held onto her hand, a means of not only grounding himself but for comfort as well. She put her other hand on top of his. “She’d be so surprised!”  Claire choked out.

Their pain was similar, for Claire had loved Ellen nearly as much as Jamie.  There were times she longed for her to be here, for the absence of a Mother in her life had left such a void in Claire’s heart.  But even though their time together was short, Ellen had done for Claire more than she’d ever know.

“Alright, then, let’s check once more.”

Gathering Murtagh, engrossed in the book enough to check it out, they walked back to the park.  Despite the cold, there were still joggers, people walking pets, and bike riders who would not be hampered by freezing weather.

There was nothing in front or back of the stone, causing everyone’s heart to fall.  They separated and looked in other directions.  Nothing could be found in the surrounding perimeter.Fearing it had been lost or destroyed in travel, Claire hung her head.  Just then she heard Murtagh shout.  “’tis here!”

Unsure how it had happened, the small satchel was up in a tree.  Jamie, running to where Murtagh was standing, gauged how far up it was then he and Murtagh caught each other’s eye. Murtagh leaned down and put his hands together.  “Up ye go.”

As a boy, Murtagh had been teaching Jamie how to shoot an arrow.  Having no luck at rabbits, Murtagh considered having him focus on birds instead.  Catching one resting on a branch, Murtagh put his finger to his lips then with hand signals told Jamie what to do.

Jamie focused, then shot.  It slightly missed, causing the pigeon to fly off, and lodged itself in a branch of a tree on the other side.  Not wanting to go home having wasted an arrow, Murtagh leaned down and put his hands together.  “Up ye go.”  Jamie used the “leg up” to grab the nearest branch, then shimmied up the trunk until he could retrieve it.  He shimmied back down, pulled himself over the lowest hanging branch, then let himself drop.

Heavier, and not as limber, this climb wasn’t as easy as before.  Still, he climbed up to where it was stuck and shook the branch until it dislodged.  He got himself back down the trunk, crawled out onto a sturdy branch, grabbed it with his hands, then let himself fall.

Murtagh clapped him on his shoulder. “Ye’ve done well!”

Quickly unwrapping the satchel, Claire’s eyes filled with tears at the booties and cap.  She held them to her nose, the faintest fragrance of Ellen still remaining.

Jamie read out loud, pausing a few times from emotion, then tucked it in his vest. 

“Strengthens my heart to hear from them, especially sister and brother.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A few days later, they had planned to walk the grounds of Lallybroch to diagram the outbuildings, map the wheat field, and determine how many animals to buy, all in preparation for the class to begin with next fall’s semester. 

Joe had gotten a tentative go ahead based on his stellar presentation and course syllabus.  Administration, marketing, HR, and the President had visited Lallybroch and interviewed them. “Well suited, engaging, knowledgeable,” the President had written of Claire, Jamie and Murtagh in her letter of approval to Joe. Provisional teaching licenses had been granted until they could obtain full licensure. Adrienne had obtained substantial funding, not wanting the endeavor to fall by the wayside due to mostly empty coffers.  Two estates had bequeathed money to the school with the condition that it be used for agricultural endeavors; the families’ wealth was built from farming roots that went back hundreds of years and they wanted to ensure that would not be forgotten.  Government funds made up the next portion due mostly to Adrienne’s background in grant writing but also to the program itself and its focus on “reinforcing traditional Scottish practices and culture.”  Local farm equipment suppliers had donated a barn full of tools, gloves, and feed, while livestock suppliers -on Jamie and Murtagh’s experience and personality alone- made an impressive deal for the animals that were wanted.  The only thing left to do was buy horses, which Jamie wanted to do personally.  Salaries had been agreed to, and marketing had taken photos for the course catalog and website.

Claire had begun the morning roughly sketching the walls in the baby’s room; she’d been so filled with artistic fervor that she rose well before Jamie had.  After breakfast, Jamie went to shower while Claire continued.  She went off a “mood board” she'd put together with material swatches, color schemes, bedding ideas, and lighting. After an hour, and no word from Jamie, Claire went to find him.

The bathroom was full of steam; it had rushed out the door when she opened it.  Fanning what remained as she walked in, she looked into the shower stall. Jamie had his hands on the wall in front of him, his head drooped forward.

“You alright in their, luv?”

Through the frosted glass she saw him nod.  With no chair, she sat on the loo.

As he got out, he smiled at her.  “I dinna ken how I lived without hot, running water.”

“Yea, it’s something.”

“How did ye adapt without it?” he asked, wrapping a towel around him.

“Well, there was someone more special in it’s place.  You’d have done the same for me.”

Jamie pursed his lips and looked at the floor.

“JAMES FRASER!”

“Well, now that I have it I’m no’ so sure.”

“Seriously.”

He attempted a wink.  “Not even free-flowing, indoor hot water would keep me away from you. BUT…”

“’If if’s and buts were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.’”

Finishing up shaving the hair on his throat to tighten up his beard line, he paused. “I have no idea how to respond to that.”

Claire’s laugh filled the bathroom.

Now back to his former weight, Claire felt her heart lighten at his recovery.  His scars were something she hadn’t seen at the same time before; his wrists, a reminder of his bravery in protecting another, and his side, where he had fought for himself. 

He took his toothbrush out of the cabinet and layered it with toothpaste. 

There were strands of black hair in his otherwise mop of dark auburn; remnants of Brian that she had first seen wiping his face with a cold cloth after the accident.  Now there were more of them, possibly because more of Brian was coming out in him: Laird, Father, Provider.

He was beautiful, standing there.  She lingered on every ripple, every curve.

Eyeing her in the mirror, he wiped off and rinsed his mouth.

“Come here my plump little partridge.”

He pulled her up and into his arms to carry her to the bedroom, then pushed the door shut with his heel.

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe’s brother had held back tears a number of times during dinner. He'd just arrived from their Grandfather’s farm – where he’d been living with his family since their grandparents died- to Scotland. Walking through Lallybroch with them when they’d finished eating, he explained what he’d done with all of their belongings and money, and how he was ready to transfer it back. They were grateful for what he’d done and thanked him each in turn.

The bond he shared with Joe had not deteriorated with the unexplained and lengthy disappearance; if anything, it had become stronger. Bitterness or anger could have set in - feeling he’d been lied to or taken advantage of – either taking such strong root that forgiveness would be impossible. But he saw in Joe’s face, and in everyone else’s, nothing to encourage any feelings of animosity or doubt, just a burden for secrecy that might, in time, be unveiled. It was gratefulness that Greg exhibited; a profound relief that his brother had returned. He and his friends. Whatever had happened would forever remain irrelevant to this.

Now retired from the U.S. Army, Greg had lots of time on his hands apart from traveling with his wife and enjoying their grandchildren. So, seeing how much work needed to be done to get the farm running before fall, the glean in his eye when Joe casually asked if he’d like to help was as clear a ‘yes’ as could be.

"Stay for a while. I'll show you both around Scotland," Joe said, his arm on Greg's shoulder.

"She'd love that, you know already. We will. Right about spring."

Leaving Murtagh and Jamie a few days later, Claire went to visit Ming Ru. Entering the store, Yi Tien excused himself from a helping a customer to greet her. “It is wonderful to see you. How are you?”

“I’m doing very well, thank you. Excellent prognosis. And how are you?”

“Very grateful.” His eyes shone with happiness, fulfillment, as he bowed to her. He and Ming Ru’s life, like Brian and Ellen’s, were what she most hoped for in her own marriage and as parents. Yi Tien and Ming Ru had become examples of kindness, humbleness, and dedication; not only to each other and their children, but to the many travelers – like her – who could simply have been turned away or worse, turned in. “Ming Ru and the children are upstairs, most likely doing schoolwork. They are expecting you. Will you excuse me?”

“Of course.”

Remembering the day she first went up these stairs, burdened with knowledge she could not make sense of, the love of this family – rather than condemnation or criticism – brought much needed help and life-saving guidance.

Tapping lightly on the door, she heard someone scurry to answer.

“Ah, my dear friend. Please, come in.”

Three heads turned in unison from the table. “Miss Claire!” Qianru, Hualing, and Chenglei stood up. They had been practicing Chinese calligraphy.

Ming Ru took her coat, hugging her.

“Please don’t let me interrupt you!” Claire said, walking to the sofa where Ming Ru guided her.

“Thank you, we will finish our work so you can visit with Mother” they replied, huddling over their work.

A pot of tea was steeping on the table near the sofa. Ming Ru sat down, filling both cups. “Have you thought of having a baby shower?” she asked, handing one to Claire.

“Only in passing. I did discuss a gender reveal party with Jamie. He’s…intrigued by balloons.”

Ming Ru laughed a quiet, warm laugh. “Ah. That would be an unusual concept. I am happy to arrange it I hope you know. If you are agreeable, we can choose a date and begin some preliminary preparations.”

“You’re so thoughtful. I would very much appreciate that.”

Having Claire stay for dinner, after long conversations had gone late into the evening, Ming Ru then invited her to spend the night. Calling the house phone – a landline Claire had kept, for Jamie and Murtagh were both uninterested in cell phones – Jamie answered first.

“Hah-LO?”

“Hah-LO to you too! It’s your wife.”

“Ah. Hel-lo wife. Is everything alright? ‘tis late.”

“Yes, and I apologize for that. Would you mind if I came back in the morning?”

“I dinna ken if I can sleep without ye and the bairn nestled beside me. But what did ye say once? An absent heart is fonder?”

“You sweet goofball. It’s ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’”

“Aye. That. I’ll see ye in the morning then, mo chridhe. I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ve left the number for Ming Ru’s house on the pad by the phone. Pick up the receiver – the part you’re talking in to…”

“I ken how to use this. All will be fine.”

“Oh, uh…OK. Just checking. I’ll be home in the morning.”

As Jamie hung up, Murtagh – reading his book at the table – had an idea. “Let’s get out of the house. Go sleep in the field. We’ll start a fire, roast some chicken over the coals. I’d say we could catch fish, but most likely I’d be the one to catch them. Ye’ve lost yer touch, I’ll wager, now that yer comfortable and have stores to feed ye.”

“Is that so? I can still manage up a tree, so who’s the comfortable one now?”

Murtagh, on his way upstairs to get his things, yelled back down. “Ye’ll never beat yer Godfather!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

With a fire easily managed, they spread out the army-surplus blankets they’d found at a thrift store when they’d bought their clothes and hung a pot over the fire. The ground still held warmth from the afternoon sun so the heavy wool soaked it up quickly. With the chicken and vegetables cooking, and some biscuits warming in tin foil in the coals, Jamie poured them each a glass of whiskey.

“The last time we were together like this, I was stroppy and rude. Forgive me?” Jamie asked, holding up his glass.

“Dinna fash. I knew ye were hurt.” Murtagh held up his glass.

“We’ve come quite far, aye?”

Murtagh’s eyebrow raised. “Far indeed.”

The unmistakable call of loons was quickly drowned out by a passing airliner. Both men lifted their heads, watching the effortless flight of the huge metal bird.

Murtagh poked the chicken with some tongs, then put the lid back on. “Doesna have as sweet a sound as a loon.”

“Flies faster, though.”

Jamie had been wanting to ask about Murtagh’s blossoming relationship with Ingrid but didn’t want to be impersonal. The one thing he knew of his Godfather; he was a reserved man and rarely spoke about himself unless it was to provide instruction. Still…

“Did yer breakfast with Ingrid go well?”

Murtagh’s face changed from uncertainty and disdain, most likely regarding air travel, to….happiness.

“Aye. We had some scones at a shop near the hospital.”

“Valentine’s Day is coming up, ye ken.”

About to place some food in a bowl to hand to Jamie, Murtagh’s face fell. “Is that something important?”

“Well, ‘tis if yer attached to someone. Seems to involve gifts, flowers, and a lot of sweets.”

Murtagh slowly nodded, filling his own bowl and unwrapping the biscuits. “Do ye ken any more than that? I want to be conscientious; make sure I dinna hurt her.”

“I don’t. Maybe talk to Lambert. Or Joe.”

Satisfied with that advice, Murtagh put a large chunk of chicken on his fork then poked it into a potato.

Gathering that he’d gone far enough, Jamie dropped the matter. He switched to something safer, settling on his back as he closed his eyes. “I heard ye building something in yer room.”

Sitting his own bowl atop Jamie’s, the “ah, yes!” look on Murtagh’s face went unnoticed. “I dinna like all these machines. The artificial light hurts my eyes, especially the ‘alarm clock.’ So, I built the old one I used.”*

Jamie laughed. “No sense in reinventing the wheel, aye?”

After a few minutes, Jamie sat up on his elbow to see if Murtagh heard him. From the other side of the fire, the rise and fall of Murtagh’s chest said he was fast asleep. Taking a cue, Jamie laid back down to do the same.

“So, Fraser…” he thought to himself, drifting off, “what are YOU going to do for Valentine’s Day?” With a sky full of stars, and the now uninterrupted call of the loons, he thought of something perfect.

 

*Known as a candle clock.

Chapter Text

The car’s GPS was taking Claire and Jamie somewhere they thought was close to Lallybroch; the “pin” on the map looked to be almost in their own yard.  After nearly an hour they were told to take a side road that ended up leading them into the woods.  About to turn around, Jamie advised Claire to keep going.  “I’ve a hunch, lass.”

Sure enough, another turn put them onto a smaller tree-lined path.  At the end, a large sign confirmed the destination as they found a parking spot in the small lot. There seemed to be the owners’ home and two adjacent outbuildings: one was a shop, one was a workshop.

Jamie stared over the property as he got out of the car. “I dinna believe my eyes.”  He came around to the driver’s side to open the door for Claire.

“What did you say, dear?” she asked, getting out.

“I said I’m…gobsmacked. Did I get that one correct?”

“Yes, if you mean surprised?”  She flung her purse across her body, put her gloves on, then took Jamie’s hand.  “What’s up.”

“I hope to find out.”

They stopped at the large, wrought-iron sign attached to a tall vintage light pole. “Agosti Glassmaking and Crafts.  Pieces by commission.”

Jamie and Claire were several minutes early for their appointment to have the chapel window recreated. They hurried to the first building, obviously the workshop, the fire coming from the chimney signaling warmth.  It seemed new but had the look of a refurbished barn; rather than red, it was shiny black.  Its high ceiling was outfitted with fans that were running at full speed as could be seen through the windows that ran across the top, also revealing pendant lights. The barn-style track doors were pulled shut yet easily opened with a simple tug.

A woman of about 35, dark eyes and long wavy black hair pulled up in a knot and further fastened by a paisley scarf, was instructing a class to remove their artwork from the table they were sat at to a large, industrial shelf in the corner of the room. Her heavy jeans, hoodie, and work boots said both serious and artistic.

Meeting Jamie’s eyes first, she gave him a “just a minute" signal, motioning for them to wait in a small sitting area in front of the fireplace that ran up through the middle of the barn.

Claire gratefully took one of the huge leather chairs and made herself a cup of hot cider from a pot on the hearth.  Glancing around, she noticed a large glass tube filled with marbles on a table by the front doors.  Written with marker on it was “Guess the number of marbles and win a handmade piece.”

“James and Claire Fraser?” the woman asked, coming around the fireplace.

“Aye.  Yer Filomena?” Jamie asked, standing.

“I am, and very happy to meet you.”

“My wife Claire” Jamie said, helping Claire rise.  Filomena offered her hand to both of them.

“You’re…American?” Claire asked, surprised.

“It’s the accent, right?” she laughed. “Yea - It’s a definite give away.  I’m just another yank that found out they had ancestors here and came..back, I guess, for the adventure and to see if I felt a strong enough connection to stay.”

“And?” Jamie asked.

“I’ve been here almost 10 years. So, I guess I felt something.  Please – come with me to my house.  My office is there and we can discuss this lovely piece you mentioned.”

A German Shepherd, lounging on a bed in the back corner, immediately came to life and ran to the doors.  “This is Buddy, by the way.  He’s a good boy.”

Locking up the doors after the last of her students filed out, she walked quickly to the house, an air of purpose and determination in her step.  “Are either of you afraid of dogs?  I always ask.”

“No way.  We love them.”

Once inside, Buddy took up his other bed under the desk in the office to the left.

A cold chill ran through Jamie.  He remembered the last time he was here, and even – whether in reality or imagination – detected the faintest smell of oregano and tomatoes.  His hands shook, his heart constricted with emotion. Claire, noticing his face had paled and his demeanor turned ominous, squeezed his hand and looked deeply into his eyes; her initial question still not answered.  Jamie gave a somewhat weak nod and squeezed her hand back.

Filomena took their coats, laying them on the back of an antique coat rack behind the front door.  The home was charming, beautiful, new but refurbished; much like the barn.  The kitchen, down the hall, seemed to be in disarray from a remodel.  The sound of footsteps coming up, presumably from the basement, gave way to a man about Filomena’s age, maybe slightly older, and unmistakably a relation.  His arms were filled with firewood.

“Oh – this is my brother Tony.  Tony – James and Claire Fraser.  They’ve commissioned the stained-glass chapel window.”

“Very pleased to meet you – I apologize for not offering my hand!” He scooted past them to go upstairs.

“We’re remodeling, as you can tell” she said, taking a chair in front of two large monitors at her desk, offering Jamie and Claire the others.  “The HVAC needs to be replaced so we’re relying on the fireplaces.”

“It’s a charming home. Worthy of yer time,” Jamie got out, memories flooding him.

“It was an ancestor’s.  We – Tony and I – had to outbid three other buyers and sunk every penny we had, could borrow, or plead for to make sure we got it.” 

What Claire knew to be CAD software immediately materialized on Filomena’s screen.  She worked through several prompts in order access their file and present the window.  The 3-D image moved about with each click of the mouse, turning front to back.  Jamie was enthralled.

“So, ye use that to fashion it by hand?”  He hoped he didn’t sound ridiculous, for there was still so much he didn’t understand about technology that he worried it could jump out of that box, a finished product, right into his lap.

“Yes.  The dimensions, materials…everything that I need to create it are within this file.”  Turning the screen towards them, Filomena asked if she captured what they had described.

Jamie leaned forward.  She had captured it exactly as he’d remembered it, somehow able to keep true to the original’s simple, uncomplicated design.

“I can change anything you may not like, or even add something, but not after I begin construction” Filomena whispered, seeing Jamie and Claire’s focused demeanors.

“The shading on the lamb’s coat is beautiful, and there’s a depth to the piece that I hadna expected.  I wouldna change anything.”

“Thank you – this was a joy to create. I mean that.  So, if you could pay the balance today, I’ll text you with a time I can come to install.”

Handing Filomena the debit card, Claire asked about the jar of marbles in the workshop.

“Ah, yes.  Well, when we first got here we kept finding them all over the place.  There were a lot, especially under the floorboards and in the yard. They were old, nothing modern. Anyway,” she processed a receipt to go the printer “we definitely wanted to keep them so put them in that jar for fun.”

Claire caught Buddy’s eyes under the table, causing him to wag his tail, so she waved.

Getting up to leave, Filomena assured them she could have it done in a few weeks so that the chapel would not be exposed any longer. 

“We truly appreciate that, and your kindness throughout the process. We’re looking forward to having it in.”  Claire reached down to pat Buddy who had now gotten up to walk with them to the door.

“Best of luck with yer renovations.  If ye need any assistance, we’d be happy to help. Ye mentioned this was yer ancestor’s place, aye?”

“Yes. My 9th great-grandparents, Antonio and Benedetta Bicchieri.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie had found Broch Tuarach easily enough as it was now a listed, Grade II building and tourist attraction. Kept mostly together through natural disasters, World Wars, and inescapable decay, there had been enough for a rebuild which took place over nearly 20 years. Public and private funds had helped with maintenance, but what’s more is it was available for events, receptions, and weddings; modern means to keep funds replenished and an iconic aspect of Scottish heritage preserved.

Lamb helped Jamie secure it for Valentine’s day which was no easy feat due to high demand, but with some good-natured persuasion – and Jamie’s Scottish charm – they had gotten the early morning slot.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At Lallybroch, a wonderful “barn raising” had taken place. Jamie, Murtagh, Lamb, Joe, Greg, Martin, and Susanna MacDougal’s husband Robert spent a weekend building the stable.

With that accomplished, Lamb took Murtagh and Jamie to purchase three horses.  Claire had wanted to help them settle, guiding each into its stall which she had lined with straw, writing the names she chose in chalk on the door. She wanted to tackle her own work for the outside too, planning for several English roses to plant where Ellen had had hers, and starting oregano, parsley, thyme, garlic, onion, pepperoncini, and tomato plants in seed-starting trays.  She tended them daily, making sure they got neither too much nor too little sun, though each plant definitely had its own mind.  “They’re like children, aren’t they” she said, removing the lid from the oregano tray sat on the table in her shed, “each growing it’s own little way.” She ran her fingers very lightly over the little shoots, then came to rest on her little boy.  “Will you like the sun, my dear?  Or will you like the shade?  Will you grow up fast” she asked him, glancing over the parsley which were the first seeds to break through the soil “or will you take your time, like the tomato?” which had yet to pop up.  “I’ll love you, my little sprout, no matter what.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Up in his room, Murtagh pondered what to give Ingrid; flowers could either send a cautious, friendly tone or be an outright declaration of love, according to Joe and Lamb, depending on which he chose. 

“I ken that flowers having meaning” he said, scrolling through a website with them recently to learn the intention behind each of almost three dozen flowers, called Floriography.  “A handful of violets, or grape hyacinth didna signal a marriage proposal back then.  If I choose inappropriately, it could spell disaster yer saying?” 

Lamb was already shaking his head. “Not disaster, necessarily, if she doesn’t know what the meaning is then there won’t be a problem.  But if she does… well, choosing wrongly could make for a problem.”

“Choose affection. It’s safer,” Joe said, pointing to the Stock and Zinnia.

“But if you ARE serious,” Lamb countered, glaring at Joe, “playing it safe could send her packing.  I don’t think she just wants a friend,” Lamb repeatedly pointed at the Ambrosia which meant ‘your love is reciprocated’ “so this is the way to go.”

“WELL, Mr. Know-it-all,” Joe responded “affection can say both.”

Murtagh now pondered what they had said.  “Claire said she’d invite her for dinner, and we’d celebrate here.  I’ve made my decision and will have a nice bunch prepared.”

~ ~  ~ ~ ~

Valentine’s Day morning Jamie very slowly snuck out of bed, about 4:30, leaving a note on the floor outside their room. He bumped into Murtagh as he turned.

“So, yer off then?” Murtagh whispered, walking with Jamie down the stairs.

“Aye, we’ll be back by 10:00.  I’ll take over cooking today so Claire wilna feel…”

“How about I do the cooking?  Dinna want Ingrid to think I had nothing to contribute.”

“Of course.  The meal is written down on the refrigerator’s door.”  Leaving Murtagh to ponder the menu, Jamie went out the back door to harness Isabella, a dapple Andalusian.  Her grey spots and mahogany-colored hair clearly contributed to her personality - regal and proud.  She was the one most suited to carrying both of them, though the ride would not be long.

Feeding then harnessing her, Jamie packed their breakfast in the saddle bag as he lead her to the front. He’d not be able to cook fish on an open fire, but there was plenty else.  He leaned against her, just as he had done last year, waiting for Claire.

Now that wee Brian was getting bigger, his repeated kicks, stretches and hiccups pushed on her bladder.  Claire pulled herself awake, wrapping her robe around her.  She loved that birds had returned, a herald to spring, and sat on the bed with her eyes closed for a few minutes just listening.  The room was that beautiful half light; not fully light, nor fully dark. “Alright then, little man, I’ll have a wee then we’ll see to…”

Padding towards the door, Claire saw Jamie wasn’t in bed.  “Hmmmm.”  Opening the door to head to the bathroom, she saw the note on the floor.

My darling Claire,

My angel from heaven,

Meet me out front

At half past seven”

 She began to cry immediately.  “You sweet man.”  She padded back into the room, slipped into her maternity pants, hoodie, and boots, then snuck from the closet the small stained-glass window hanging of the Fraser crest she’d secretly had Filomena make. 

Jamie helped her down the front stairs, then into the saddle.  He got himself behind her, then lead them nearly down the same path they had taken so long ago to the Broch.

There was a park warden waiting to open it, a huge smile blossoming on her face as she saw them approach on horseback.  Jamie ensured Claire’s dismount wasn’t strenuous, then tied Isabella to a nearby tree to nibble grass.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fraser?  Hi, I’m Gina.  This will be yours until 9:30.  Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!”

She pushed open the door for them, a resolution forming in her heart that she would only settle for love like this and absolutely nothing else.

It had had a modern hand, for the rocks were a different type from the midpoint up, but otherwise it felt true. Genuine. The placards that had been placed about, with diagrams and history of the broch, had been removed leaving two camp chairs that Jamie had requested so they would not have to sit on the floor.

“For breakfast, milady, we have…”  Jamie opened the saddlebag  “smoked fish, fresh bread and butter, jam, and two sparkling juices.” 

“I am much obliged, milord…”

Eating in quiet, with the door propped open, two little sparrows came hopping in, unaware that humans sat just inside.  Unafraid, they flew over Jamie and Claire to perch on the roof’s beams. 

Reaching into her hoodie’s pocket, Claire pulled out the window hanging, safely sitting in a red velvet pouch. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day, my darling.”

Surprised, Jamie took it from her.  “Ye didna have to buy me anything, Claire.”

She leaned over to kiss him. “I know.  But I did.”

Finding the small chain, he pulled it to reveal the stained-glass crest.  He ran his finger over it, remarking to himself how precisely it had been crafted.

“Claire, love… ‘tis very thoughtful of ye.” He held it up in the small strip of light coming in, the rays illuminating the colors. “Will hang it on the kitchen window.”

“I’m going to work the crest into the mural, too.”

He kissed her. “Yer a blessing, and I’m grateful for ye to have my name.”

“And I’m grateful to have it.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wanting to rest before dinner, the smell of Murtagh cooking woke Claire from her afternoon nap.  He had such a way with fish – especially these that he just caught. He’d even tackled the rolls, vegetables, and the pie dough.

Claire snuck into the kitchen. “I’d say I could help, but I think you’ve got this all sorted.”

Murtagh looked up from putting the sliced apples with cinnamon and sugar into the pie pan. “I do, dear.  Jamie’s in the barn if ye’d like to see him.” On her way out she stopped to smell the stock, ambrosia, and zinnia sat beautifully in a small crystal vase.  Catching his eye, she winked at him.

Jamie saw Claire from a ways off, the doors to the barn open wide.  She waved, then scurried to see him. Leaning against a wall, he put his arms out for her. 

He’d been much more content since he had work on the land to do.  He and Murtagh planned to find and place a well soon, then tackle a chicken coop and the barn.  Having brushed the horses, he’d worked up a genuine sweat and was just now taking a break. 

“Bonjour, mon amour.”

“Bonjour ma chère.”

“Murtagh’s got the pie in the oven, so everything should be ready soon.”  She rubbed Isabella’s snout.

Kicking up some straw that lay on the floor, Claire took a long whiff.  “Smells very barn-y in here.”

“’tis a fine smell.” Claire noticed an edge of hurt as he moved from her to get the shovel.

“I didn’t mean that in a bad way.”

Jamie looked up from mucking a stall.  “I ken.”

She sighed.  “Jamie, do you still dislike that I use deodorant?” She leaned against the post that held one of the stall doors.

Realizing many disagreements started with a simple question, he avoided answering.

“So, you do then.”

He thought for a moment, leaning his arm on the shovel’s handle. “It’s just…yer natural odor was sae enticing.” 

“I can’t go around smelling like poo and hay.”

His eyes focused on her, a sharpness to his voice.  “Do ye really think I’d wed ye if ye smelled like manure?”

Putting her hands on her hips, her jaw jutting out in anger, she replied. “IT DOES SEEM THAT WAY DOESN’T IT.”

Trying to prevent an oncoming storm, he beat a retreat: “Claire, ye smelled like yer herbs and river water.  It made ye…”

“YOU’RE TELLING ME I SMELLED LIKE DIRTY RIVER WATER?”

“Running water smells FRESH, BY THE WAY.”

“I DON’T SEE YOU BATHING IN IT!”

IF IT PLEASE YE BOTH…” Murtagh’s contained anger caught them both off guard, bringing Claire to yelp in surprise. “Ingrid is here and dinner is ready.”

Nodding in respect, they dutifully followed him back to the house.

Jamie leaned into Claire’s shoulder, giving it a small bump; an ask for forgiveness.

She wound her fingers in his, bumping him back, mouthing “It WAS your fault.”

He stopped, his face frozen in pretend shock. “Me?  ‘twas YOU!”

She animatedly shook her head, trying not to giggle at Jamie’s dramatic face.

“Are ye actually grabbing my ankle right now?” he mouthed.

His intentional mangling of the idiom – for he did know what is was - caused her to double over laughing.

Murtagh stopped short, nearly causing a collision.  “Gather yerselves!”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“Dinna bring this in the house.”

Claire pointed at Jamie, Jamie pointed back at Claire, then they both covered their mouths to not laugh out loud.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ingrid, sitting at the table, rose to say hello. “Hi! Thanks so much for inviting me.  I brought some gelato.  I think it will pair really well with that beautiful apple pie.” She glanced at Murtagh and smiled.

After dinner, Jamie and Claire offered to clean up so Murtagh and Ingrid could be alone.  Near the fire, Murtagh nervously gave Ingrid the flowers which he’d taken the time to wrap a ribbon around.  “They’re all so pretty... especially the stock. Thank you, Murtagh.”  She smelled them, sat them on the table beside the sofa, then pulled a small wrapped box from her bag.   “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Lass…Thank ye. Yer verra kind.”

Undoing the wrapping, inside the box was a very old kilt pin.  He’d not seen one of the like since…then.

“I was out shopping and it just…seemed so very you. I hope you like it.”

There were many personal things he’d left in the haste to get Jamie to the stones that frightening night, his kilt pin being one of them; he’d dressed quickly, rather than thoroughly, to carry his Godson to the wagon. Now, along with restoring the pieces of his heart that had been missing, Ingrid restored a piece of his wardrobe too.

“I do, dearest. Verra much.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That evening, Jamie read his book in bed, the dogs happily snoring on their pillows on the floor.  Claire had said she needed to relieve herself, but it had been some time.  Sitting the book down, about to go check on her, she walked in with her hair wrapped in a towel and wearing her robe.

“Ye showered? Again?”

“I did,” she replied with a sweet smile. 

She changed into her sleeping gown, toweled off her hair, then slipped into bed beside Jamie.  He turned the light out, pulling her and the little one close.

After a few minutes, she tilted her head up to his ear. “I didn’t use any deodorant.”

He cupped her face in his hand. “Lass, it isna right of me to ask ye to change. Whether ye choose modern or olden ways, ‘tis yer choice and I wilna be angry. I love ye no matter. I’m sorry for what I said.”

“Well,” she said, running her fingers over the curls on his chest “I’ll not use it while we’re at home, and reserve it for when we go out.  And I’m sorry too.”

She drew a heart on his stomach with her finger, then “JF + CF” inside of it.

“Forever,” he whispered. 

Chapter Text

While Claire was at University with Lamb, Joe and other administrators, deciding on coursework and timelines for the upcoming classes, Jamie and Murtagh continued preparing the farm.  Even though they were well-able and willing to contribute input, they couldn’t do that and prepare the farm and there was still a great deal to do

Murtagh had “divined” where the water was for the well; without fail, he and the rod he fashioned were always successful.  Spending the morning digging into the ground and installing the pitcher pump, they took their first rest for lunch. Winter had gone prematurely, leaving unnaturally warm days in it’s place.  They sat in the field down from the house, the dogs scampering after every squirrel within eyeshot. 

Wanting to find out how Valentine’s day had been for Murtagh, Jamie cautiously asked after he and Ingrid. The thought tugged at the corner of Murtagh’s mouth, though filled with beef stew, in an obvious desire to smile.

“She was pleased with the flowers,” he remarked, washing his food down with a mug of fresh spring water. “Hardest present I’ve yet had to choose.”

Breaking off a piece of the sourdough loaf Claire had made, Jamie dipped it into his bowl.  “Aye.  But ‘twas worth it if she was happy.”

Murtagh, finished with his stew, sat his bowl down then reached for one of the shortbread.  “’tis time I bring up our future together.”

Just about to put the gravy-soaked bread in his mouth, Jamie stopped just short. “Yer intentions are serious, then.”

Watching the dogs get run in circles by a squirrel who knew it could escape up a tree, he smiled.  “Aye, lad. They are.”

Raising his eyebrows, Jamie finished with his bite. 

“And how was your day?” Murtagh asked, genuinely interested in how their morning had been.

“Lovely as usual.  She’d gotten me the crest hanging in the kitchen window.”

“Ah.  They have a way with gifts, our lasses.”

Taking the lead that Murtagh offered - a rare opportunity for personal insight – Jamie cocked his head; an “and what would that be?”

Casting his eye to the bottom of his kilt, the pin shone.

“They do indeed,” Jamie smiled.

~ ~ ~ ~

While Claire painted, Jamie sat at the small desk in their room trying to prepare his first sermon which he wanted to be for upcoming Palm Sunday.  Filomena had come to install the window which now made the chapel complete.  With it done, Jamie wanted to begin having Sunday service. He’d positioned the desk just where his Da had had his, hoping this would bring inspiration.

He placed and replaced the pad of paper and pens, shifting his bible from the left, to the right, and back again. “How I wish I could call him.”

He wandered downstairs, taking pieces of chocolate from the candy bowl on the dining room table. About to go back upstairs to peek in on Claire, he remembered that he hadn’t hung the portraits Susanna had brought.

Placed on the settee in the sitting room, he found three nails and hung them on the walls where Ellen had put them.  He recalled one of the sittings.  Willie was fidgety and Jenny complained of her back hurting from sitting up straight.  Brian had come in at one point, reading to them in an effort to keep them still and focused.  He hadn’t been cross with them for being difficult, just helped them and…loved them.

Just then an idea for a sermon came into Jamie’s heart. 1 John 4:19:  “We love because He first loved us.”   

“I’m able to love, and BE loved, because of Da’s love, for it was the truest reflection of the love he knew from God.”

Grateful for the inspiration, he went back upstairs.  Claire was holding her back, a paintbrush in her mouth.   The third wall was nearly complete.

“Chocolate, my love?”

Claire immediately put her hand out.  She had definitely captured an 18th century pastoral scene. The beautiful palest-yellow wash she had put on the walls as a backdrop made the room feel bright and lent to the feeling of being outside on the land.  He kneeled down to where she had painted his mother, Emily, and Jenny.  Rather than looking down at the roses, they were looking up, directly in your eyes.

“I had them looking at you so that when he plays in his room, or scampers over there to retrieve a toy, he’ll see their loving eyes.”

“Claire, ye’ve done a remarkable feat.  Truly.”

“Aww! Thank you.  This has been very cathartic.”  She placed the brush in a small glass of water and sat the palette on the tarp that covered the floor. 

“I saw ye were holding yer back.  You should rest a bit, aye?”

“Yep.  Was just going to see if monsieur bubble and mademoiselle squeak would be interested in joining me.”

Just then the front bell rang.  Barks of alarm and excitement flew down the hall.  Slowly opening the door, Joe peered in.  “’ello?”

“Come on in!” Claire yelled, waddling down the stairs.

“We’re not disturbing are we?  I texted you but didn’t hear back so we just came anyway.”

Claire pulled her phone from the pocket of her painter’s apron, seeing 3 missed calls.  “Oooh. Sorry about that – I was listening to a podcast and must not have heard it.”

“We brought pizza too.” Lamb said, craning his head round Joe, holding an armful of boxes.

“AWESOME!”  Claire took them, leaning towards him to kiss his cheek.

“Let’s eat on the patio. Then we can go look at the new chapel window.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upon opening the chapel doors, no one said anything initially; the window held their attention, for it was so very much like but so very much different than the original.  Light streamed in the windows, touching upon the benches, and to varying degrees each one there thought they could detect the smell of soap often used – especially the day before the wedding – to clean. 

Jamie was the first to speak.  “I’d like to have the first service on Palm Sunday in observance of holy week,”  his voice echoed.  Claire smiled at Jamie from where she stood looking out a window, making note to find the gravestones she had once seen.

“We’ll absolutely be there,” Lamb said, coming to stand beside Claire.   Murtagh paused to consider that it was time to speak more seriously with Ingrid and inviting her to this first service mass would be a perfect opportunity.

Lamb moved everyone to the door. “Lovely work – very happy to see everything come together.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back at the house, they gathered in the family room for a whiskey. Claire had some hot tea. 

“So, who did the window?” Joe asked, settling into a chair.

Jamie glanced at Claire, then answered.  “A woman has a shop nearby.  Well, no just any woman.”

Lamb turned to him, as did Murtagh and Joe. 

“Antonio and Benedetta’s 9th great granddaughter.”

Joe was intrigued. “What?”

“Her place is one and the same.”

“And how did THIS come about?”

Claire found the shop’s website and read from the bio section: “her website says that she was always fascinated by art as a child…excelled in drawing and ceramics while in high school…found a passion for glass blowing after attending a summer camp…went on to major in art…her mother had done genealogy and found ancestors here who were glassblowers in 18th century…Oh! She descends from Gianna!  Filomena and her brother came here after getting their bachelors, not wanting to go into the corporate world… found the home and land of Antonio and Benedetta…after that she explained to us that she and her brother Tony found money wherever they could in order to buy it.  It was funny that she said she kept finding marbles everywhere…”

Lamb and Joe froze.  “Marbles?”

“When you say it like that I feel like there’s something I don’t know.”

“Ok, so I found marbles in the shop when we bought your vase.  I was pretty curious because Joe told me that night that they were a 20th century invention.”

The room got very quiet.

Lamb put everything together, his eyes closing in disbelief.  “He carried a snub-nosed revolver…which is also 20th century.”

 “THEY were travelers?" Claire somewhat shreaked.

“I’d put good money on it.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe, beside Claire at the table in the University conference room, was doodling.  Pointing the pad of paper towards Claire, it said “I’m hungry” with a cartoon of a man slumped over a…conference table.

Claire sketched back a quick doodle of herself, a pregnant woman with wild curly hair sneaking trail mix from her bag, and a word bubble over her head: “It’s even tougher when you are two.”

Lamb, chairing the bi-monthly meeting on their upcoming class, noticed the shenanigans at the end of the table and that the Professor and Visiting Assistant Professor were losing focus.  It had been over two hours and definitely time for Claire to get home to rest and eat, so he pushed ahead to wrap up.

 “The last thing that needs to be finalized is waivers.  Ned – if we provide portable facilities, an interpreter if needed, and address any IEP’s, a student and/or their guardians can sign off and we’ll be covered?”

“Yes.  We’ll need on site medical care, of course, and provide reasonable accommodations; essentially those that are available to the students while at University,” the older gentleman replied.  Due to the class being given at Lallybroch – the first off-site endeavor for the University -  every student that enrolled had to be provided for and this needed to be overseen by one of the University’s counselors, Ned Gowan.

“What you have in your packet is a draft of a release.  But it will be up to the head of this committee or any other designee to ensure everything in it is followed to the letter.”  His pale-blue eyes, looking over the top of his bifocals, was meant to ensure his statement was taken seriously.   Once he had that assurance – for everyone at the table immediately came to attention – he took out his pipe and tobacco bag from his jacket pocket.

“Of course, Ned. Absolutely. So – unless anyone has other business, I recommend we end.  I’ll have the next meeting agenda out by e-mail as soon as possible.”

Claire and Joe bolted from their seats towards the door. Claire grabbed her phone to call Jamie and let him know she was on her way back. 

“Wanna get some burgers?  Or street tacos?” Joe asked. 

“Jamie’s made hoagies and ‘sun tea’ which I recently taught him.  There’s an Italian cold cut with hoagie dressing waiting for me.”  She stopped, waiting for Lamb.  “Why don’t you both come eat with us.  Might be some cheesecake leftover too. You can take the car back tonight and bring it by in the morning.” 

“Dinna ye worry, luv” he said “we’ve gotten allowances towards our own cars and even have our own parking spaces.  We can meet you there.”

Ned, accompanying Lamb, came to Claire’s side.  “Claire, I read your report.  Very insightful with regard to the implementation of the learning outcomes,” he said, his voice warm with appreciation.  “I’m embarrassed to say that back in the day, women were unnecessarily excluded from most business decisions.  Working with so many women now, I’m overjoyed to have their particular expertise and wisdom represented.  Definitely a richer, and more successful experience.”

“Why, Ned!  That is one of the most wonderful compliments I’ve ever received.”

Lighting his pipe from the engraved flip-top lighter, he slightly bowed.  “It is meant with my utmost sincerity.  Good day, everyone.”

Once Ned had gone through the doors, the fragrance of the exquisite pipe tobacco lingering in the hall, Lamb remarked that “He is a singularly exceptional lawyer.  Every i dotted and every t crossed.  If Lallybroch ever becomes a business, he’s the man to go to.”

“Ok, well my i’s and t’s are starving and there’s hoagies at Claire’s so let’s get moving.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire had become the sole financial manager, given her understanding of the internet and online banking, but she had become increasingly sensitive to Jamie and Murtagh needing – and most likely wanting - to have a hand in the home’s finances.  In the past they both had sat weekly, if not daily, at their ledgers; now, they allowed Claire to manage in this new and modern way without complaining. 

When they had both come in for lunch, having installed beehives, most of the sheep pen, and used an electric tiller to dig up and plant seed for the wheat field, she placed a ledger, pencils, and printouts beside their bowls of chili.

After saying grace, they looked to her with both worry and interest.

“I want to discuss our finances.  All credits and debits, deposits and withdrawals, are done within the computer now, so I have made sure to track everything we’ve been doing.  But this has made me uncomfortable, leaving both of you without direct access, knowledge, or funds so I bought you both ledgers, given you an envelope of cash, and printed out the past two months of expenses to view.  At any point that you are ready I’ll switch you over to learn how I do everything electronically.  And that could mean debit cards and separate accounts” she said specifically to Murtagh, knowing he would want to do more for Ingrid.  “For any purchases I make, Jamie, I’ll give you receipts.”

They both seemed relieved.

“We should also discuss learning how to drive.”

They both were not relieved.

“I know this may seem overwhelming,” she began, seeing their spoons held mid-air. “The horses will suffice for the farm, but to get into town it requires the car.  And if I go into labor at night, I’ll need help to get to the hospital.  But we have the benefit of an ambulance in the event we’re not ready yet.”

Jamie took Claire’s hand.  “I’ve thought this myself and will learn at yer convenience.”

Murtagh looked seriously at her.  “Myself as well.  For backup.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire bought a spinning wheel, a hand-crank flour mill, butter churn, and most everything else needed to retrofit the home into 18th century.  Antique stores and estate sales were becoming her preferred way to furnish the house, and now that she needed an apothecary chest, as a means to instruct on 200-year-old medical practices, she found that as well.  With all vials filled, she placed it with everything else in the lone spare room upstairs.

Wanting to make more progress on the nursery, she resumed her work there by finally finishing the third wall.  The chapel’s stained-glass window was slightly visible behind Jamie and Claire in the entryway door.  In order to dry the wall, the window was slightly opened, the brisk spring wind fluttering the curtains.  She sat down in the rocker, resting her hands on wee Brian, determining what material to use to line the cradle.  Although a sewing machine would make things much faster and would most likely be a purchase on the horizon, Claire felt comfortable enough making a cotton-filled pad by hand.  For a moment, she rocked back and forth, remembering the sounds and goings-on when they had all been together not so long ago.  Ellen’s “Shoo!  Outside with ye!” to Juniper and Berry as they tumbled about in play under her feet; Brian’s hearty laugh; Emily and Jenny’s giggles over their darning and embroidery; Willie bringing her his homework with questions as to how he could have done better.  She opened her eyes to see them all as she remembered them, but rendered in oil on the walls.

She went for a nap afterward, laying on her back with a folded pillow under her legs.  On cue, wee Brian began tumbling about.  “I see that moving about rocks you to sleep and having a lie down wakes you up.  You sweet little squirrel…”  Despite it all, Claire dozed off.  Soon, she felt a warm hand on her abdomen.

“How’s wee-un” Jamie whispered, coming to take his lunchtime nap.

Noticing that he got immediately quiet, Claire smiled. “Quite content, apparently!”  She enveloped Jamie into her arm, his hand resting on their son.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“’twas a chore putting these wiley things in the car,” Jamie said, getting out and opening the door for Claire. “They’ll be easier into the box ye say?”

Pulling the balloons out, gently ensuring each cleared without hitting the door frame, Claire held tight to the blue sparkly bunch.  “I got a deep box.  We’ll guide them in from the bottom, rather than shoving them down in the top, then close one end after the other.”

“Ahhh. Yer a wise one.”

Jamie studied the colorful orbs, bouncing about on the ribbons, not envisioning that such an element’s discovery would come to such festive outcome.

Claire winked at him as she backed in the front door, the horde nearly enveloping her. Tying then temporarily to the stair’s rail, Jamie went to prop a pillow on the sofa for Claire to sit down, then cleared a spot for her to put her feet on the table. “Who all’s to be there at the party?  Anyone I’ve not yet met?”

 “Nope – just our little group” Claire yelled to Jamie who had gone into the kitchen to get her a water bottle.    With a pup at each side, Claire let out a long, relieved sigh.

“Ye rest here then while I tend to the horses.”  He kissed her cheek then let himself out the back door.

Finding Murtagh already there, Jamie took one of bails of straw for Isabella’s stall.  Upon seeing him, she quickly hung her head over the gate, hopeful for a good scratch behind her ears.  Obliging, Jamie went in to spread the bale on the ground, put some alfalfa in her hay net, then filled her water bucket from the well. He asked if there was anything else to do.  “Nay, son.  I’ve fed them and mucked the stalls.  Go to yer wife.” 

“Thank ye, Father.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Ming Ru and Yi Tien had prepared a whole table of food; the smell of freshly brewed tea, egg drop soup, and several plates of appetizers drew everyone’s attention. Along with the food, they had decorated their apartment with gold and silver streamers; safe, complimentary colors that would pair well with either pink or blue.  Hung on the wall beside the dining room table, a large poster read “WELCOME BABY FRASER” with hand-written good wishes from everyone who attended. 

Susanna MacDougal was the first to see Claire, Jamie and Murtagh as they arrived.  She had become deeply attached to them; Claire was like a daughter, for her own had moved to Norway to complete her masters in microbiology some time back, enjoying it enough to stay.  “There’s Mum and Dad!”  Hugging them both, she told them to sit.  “I’ll get ye each a plate. Dinna fash.” 

Ingrid left Berta and Martin to greet Murtagh, refraining from hugging him, reaching only for his hand.  She had instinctively understood that he was a mature man of decency and honor that would not be ‘familiar’ with a woman, either in speech or action.  This had catapulted him above every other man and quelled every fear that had painfully lingered in her for years; that she would allow herself to be coerced into a premature intimacy to alleviate loneliness or be dumped for “being a prude.” Now that she could, comfortably, be chaste she felt herself blossom.

“Hello, Murtagh.”

 She was breathtaking; her soft yellow cardigan so enhanced her honey-colored hair and caramel eyes that Murtagh was overcome, his breath stalled within his chest.  The creaminess of her skin, ever-so-slight patch of freckles, and her remarkable smile still paled to her gentle, compassionate soul.

“I dinna ken what I did to deserve ye,” was all he thought, but rather than blurt out the passion of his heart, he deferred to his mind: “’ello, Lass. I am well pleased ye came.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After everyone ate and chatted, Qianru asked for their attention. 

“We’ve – Hualing, Chengli and I – found some games to play.  After this we would be pleased for you to have some dessert, open presents, then Miss Claire and Mr. Jamie can open the reveal box for us.” 

The first game, Baby Pictionary, involved couples trying to decipher each other’s drawings for prizes.  Berta and Martin won the most.  “Being married these 40 years, ye tend to know what the other’s thinking!”

Races, blind-folded baby food testing, and best drawing of a baby kept everyone entertained.  Ingrid, one of the most enthusiastic participants, won the drawing contest which involved drawing a baby on a paper plate on top of your head.  She giggled with delight when Hualing gave her a prize – a hand-painted glass Christmas tree ornament that had the Chinese symbol for love on one side and joy on the other.  Hualing whispered to her what they meant, seeing Ingrid’s slight uncertainty to their meaning.  Murtagh, across the room, smiled at her fortune.  Ingrid turned the red frosted ball back and forth.  “I do have both, for sure.”

Presents ranged from clothes to diapers, hand-painted art, a first-aid kit (from Ingrid, of course), toys, hand-woven baskets, a baby monitor (from Lihua and Xiaoli) and dozens of books.

At the time for the reveal, Joe and Lamb put the box on a table that had been set up in the center of the area where everyone was seated.  The box was decorative, covered in little scampering woodland creatures.  It had so reminded Claire of the letter where she drew the squirrel that she immediately bought it. 

“We are verra pleased for all of ye to be here with us today,” Jamie started, standing beside Claire “and for all of yer love, support and generosity.  To know the bairn will have so wonderful a family truly touches our hearts.  So…”

On cue, Claire and Jamie both pulled open the lid, allowing the sparkly blue balloons to fly out.

Hoops and hollers, clapping and cheers filled the room, as well as a few “I KNEW IT!” 

“We’re having a son!  And his name will be…” Claire looked to Jamie, who finished: “Brian Henry Murtagh Lambert Fraser.”

Lamb threw his fists into the air, a proud display of victory. “YESSS! Made it over the finish line just in time!”  Joe, pretending to be hurt, placed his hand over his heart, looking in shock to Claire and Jamie. “Nothin’?  I got nothin’?”  

Claire maneuvered through everyone to quickly hug him, laughing out loud. “We’ll add you to the queue for the next one, providing it’s a boy?” 

Joe hugged her back, warmly and tightly.  “You better know I’m kidding. But I’ll take it.”

Murtagh was clearly touched. With more and more moments like these, random instances of gratefulness, he came to a startling realization: It had been a desperate attempt, his running to the stones to protect Jamie, but maybe there was more to that split-decision; maybe he knew it would save his life too.  Ingrid gave him a double thumbs up, then came to clear the plates and utensils from the table.  “That’s very sweet they included you in the baby’s name.  You’re….deeply loved.”

It’s double meaning had not been intended; she merely wanted to remind Murtagh how much she had witnessed Claire and Jamie’s love for him.  But there it was.

Murtagh took her hand.  “Aye, lass.  As are you.”   

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Qianru and Chengli kindly took everything to Claire and Jamie’s car while everyone said goodbye to each other.

While the other guests had left, Ming Ru took a moment with Jamie and Claire.

“We have a gift for you as well.”

Claire almost cried. “You’ve been so kind already.”

Laid delicately in a small woven box was a child’s sporran.  Opening it, there were 18th century toys: a cup and ball, a cloth doll, and a wooden, spinning top.

“We wanted him to have a piece of the past. His past.”

Claire hugged both Yi Tien and Ming Ru, not able to find any words to convey her gratitude and love. 

“We had a present if you were having a girl, too.  May be we hold that for the next party?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Murtagh pulled on Joe and Lamb’s arms as they walked out the door, having just seen Ingrid off. Lamb stepped back into the apartment. “What’s up, Doc?”

“I’d like yer advice on how to present myself to Ingrid.  Could ye come by the house soon?”

“I’ve a better idea,” Lamb said, winking.

Chapter Text

Lamb had picked up Joe, Murtagh and Jamie, taking them to the most Pub-iest Pub in Scotland, then found a booth and ordered four pints. 

Murtagh seemed at ease and even comfortable, which was Lamb’s primary goal. Remembering how they had all eventually became close by working, eating, and talking alongside each other every day, and how this had fostered such a strong friendship, Lamb had been feeling those opportunities at bonding begin to fray so took the first opportunity to bring them all back together.

The pub was about 200 years old, had a small band, and food that was new, with a touch of old, and a whole lot of delicious.  The plates and bowls were piled high and the atmosphere was heavily reminiscent of an 18thcentury tavern, much like Glenna’s. 

“Before we begin…” Lamb began, holding up his glass: “to blessed lives, a healthy baby, new relationships, and warm thoughts and wishes to our family that are not here.”

Glasses clinked, then gulps were taken.  “Slàinte mhath.”

“Is there something in particular that you want to discuss first?” Lamb asked Murtagh while pulling apart his roast beef sandwich.

“How long is courtship in this time?  The lass and I have not known each other but these past few months, but I feel a bond with her.”  A stew man, he plowed his spoon into his bowl.

“There isn’t any definite length of time,” Joe began, looking to Lamb for approval to answer because he had just shoveled his sandwich into his mouth, “so it’s very, uh, informal and very dependent on culture and family dynamics which can be diverse.”  He poured malt vinegar over his fish and chips. “It lacks the stricter customs and rules of the 18th century. Most date for a while, live together if they’re old enough, then marry at some point or break up and move on to other people.”  He paused to cram some fries in his mouth then continued. “It’s not UNcommon for pairs to date, remain celibate, then marry, though it is rather irregular.” Murtagh studied Joe, trying to envision what all this meant, saddened that respect and honor had eroded.  “This is the courtship landscape now.”

Lamb, while chewing, was emphatically nodding his confirmation of what Joe had said.

“I dinna think Ingrid is representative of these situations,” Jamie said, piercing a chunk of steak with his fork.  “She’s more cut from your – our – cloth, I’d wager. Her values, manners… all verra much in line with how we were taught.”

Now without a mouth full, Lamb added his own thoughts. “Back in the day, you either knew someone from your town, or your parents chose for you, taking the relationship in their hands.  Now, with computers and the globalization of communication, you have so many potential places to find a partner it enables young adults to look on their own with a ‘if this doesn’t work out, there’s someone else.’  Basically, there’s so many places to find someone, with the ability to easily travel around the globe, that there’s just no need to commit too quickly.”  Lamb shrugged.  “Both good and bad.”

Joe gave his last piece of advice. “If your gut – your instinct – says she’s right, and you believe she feels the same about you, then there’s nothing that I’m aware which could jeopardize your offering some type of commitment.” 

Finishing his pint, then signaling the waiter for a refill, Jamie smiled at his Godfather.  “Which sounds like a perfect opportunity for handfasting.”

“I dinna ken how we’ll manage, her working and living away” Murtagh said, his eyes focused on something undetectable at the back of the pub.

Lamb and Joe looked to Jamie, whose slight smirk gave away a hidden thought. “Nay worry, Father.  I’m a step ahead of ye.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie, Murtagh and Robert MacDougal got the chicken coop up over the course of a week.  Robert drove them all to get the hens and a gorgeous Welsummer rooster. 

Leaning out the window of his truck, on his way home, Robert offered his and Susanna’s help with the house and farm once the baby came.

“Jamie, if ye have need of anything, ring us.  We’ll be here in two shakes.”  He waved and pulled off.

“They’re good folk,” Jamie said waving back.  “Been a blessing in getting work done.” 

“Aye, they ‘ave” Murtagh said, walking with Jamie into the house.

“So, are the residents all settled in the coop then?” Claire asked, rubbing flour off her hands and onto her apron.  She pulled straw out of Jamie’s beard and kissed him.

Jamie pulled her close.  “They are indeed, Mrs. Fraser.  Ye’ll most likely be waking at the first hint of dawn now that we’ve got a rooster.”

“Fine by me.  I love the sound.”

Jamie held her tightly.  He knew she meant the times in the past they heard their old rooster.  It was at that time that they got out of bed together; Claire to help with breakfast, and Jamie to eat it then go to work.

They rocked back and forth.

“He’s a looker, mind.  Fiery orange neck, tail feathers that are black as pitch with ones of opal and blue.  Wings the colors of autumn leaves.  A real dandy.”

Claire pulled back, her arms still clenched around his waist. “He is, huh?”

“Indeed. All the lasses are cluckin’ and fussin’ over ‘im.”  He kissed her nose.

“Well,” she said, going back to the kitchen to finish the loaf of bread, “I hope he doesn’t get too cocky.”  She put her hand over her mouth and pretended to giggle.

Jamie rolled his eyes.  

He came to her side, watching as she kneaded the dough.

“Ye ken how a hen house works, aye?”    He sprinkled more flour on the counter.

“Are you asking if I know where chickens come from? Because…”  She batted her eyes.

“I dinna mean that, ye silly goose.  Ye’ve heard of the phrase ‘pecking order?’”

“I have.”  Claire added sultanas to the dough.

“Then ye understand why he’s no just for producing chicks.”

Claire tilted her head, wrinkling her eyebrows.  “Maybe I don’t fully understand.”

“He’s to keep the hens from pecking each other.  See, the stronger lasses will peck the weaker ones to gain control.  With ‘im there, they dinna do that.  He takes the role of leader, and protector too.”

Claire blew a curl from her face.  “Well, this hen is grateful for her leader and protector.”  She kissed Jamie’s cheek, then took the soda bread to the oven.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie rode around the land, the weather so beautiful it was impossible to stay indoors.  He covered nearly the entire perimeter of the property -  as much as he felt was needed to ensure all was well. Some of his earliest memories were doing the same thing with his Da, learning one of the many aspects of being Laird: ensure your land is safe and healthy. Claire had gotten walkie talkies to use when they were separated on the estate.  It was much easier to communicate with than phones, didn’t have the distraction of apps and games, and was decidedly more rugged. They routinely kept in touch when separated, for she was now nearing her 8th month.  The land checked, Jamie raced back to the house for Isabella seemed itching to fly, probably sensing that Jamie did too. With a short kick of his heels, Isabella flew, Jamie feeling a surge of life galloping atop his horse through the open field.

He did some minor finishing work on the buildings, checked on the hens and newly-gotten cows, then put Isabella in her stall with some food and water.  Noticing patches of shamrocks in her bag of alfalfa and grass, Jamie – reminded of the trinity – recalled he meant to finish his sermon that night for Easter was coming soon. He secured the door on Claire’s shed, for his weather sense told him strong winds were coming, then ran to the house for dinner. 

Murtagh was stirring the chowder while Claire mixed and formed the welsh cakes from a seat at the table.  He covered the pot, turned down the flame, then chopped up some bread to bake for croutons.

After eating, Murtagh excused himself to his room to talk to Ingrid for he had come to embrace technology solely to talk with her.  They used time apart to discuss their future, share their hopes, and ensure that each other felt a true, abiding commitment. This was important to Murtagh, for he did not want to be swayed by his strong feelings; in fact, he had been firmly taught that no decisions – especially ones that would have long-term consequences – should ever be made in heightened passion, anger, or despondency.

But there were moments, precious moments, where she would excitedly break their conversation to show him a bird in a tree outside her window or forget what she was talking about in the middle of excitedly telling a story.

The issue of relations is something they’d somehow refrained from, each secretly worried that such a conversation could result in confessions that might derail everything.  They had effectively covered everything else – money, careers, children, religion, personal goals, even hobbies, but skirting this one sensitive topic.

“Murtagh,” she softly said, pulling him from his thoughts.

“I apologize Lass. I was caught up in my heid.”

“May I tell you something?”  She leaned into the screen, her loving eyes fixed on him.

“Please.”

Before she spoke, Murtagh interjected, wanting to assure her. “Never feel ye canna talk to me.  No matter the subject, ye will always have my full attention.”  He looked seriously at her.

There were so many times she wanted to tell him, so many different occasions that just never seemed right, or never gave enough privacy.  This wasn’t the best situation either, but they were at least alone.

“Mrs. Hughes had talks with me, fairly often, on the subject of purity.” She absentmindedly looked to the ceiling, maybe in reflection, quite possibly to find Milicent’s kind face in heaven. “She said that having a pure heart and mind were important to living a peaceful, happy life.  She said to think pure thoughts and read pure things so that I didn’t become overwhelmed with guilt and sadness.”

Murtagh understandood the deeper meaning to the story, and what it must be taking for her to reveal it.

“But she also said to keep my body pure by abstaining from…intimacy, until marriage, to protect my honor.”

She looked into the screen.

“And I have.”

This time she looked away, embarrassed for discussing something so personal over the computer.

He longed the touch her chin, to turn her face back to him so he could kiss her cheek.

“Ingrid,” he began, his voice full of love and kindness.  “I appreciate what it took for ye to confess this.  Dinna feel worried for it. Please.”

She turned her head, one tear sliding down her cheek, and smiled.

He ran his hand over his beard, unsure how to put into modern words the wisdom of centuries ago.

“My Da and Mam taught me the same. To never touch a woman ye werena either betrothed or married to..that it would be an afront to God. ’tis why I didna hold yer hand, or kiss ye.  ‘twould be unacceptable.  So, I’ve kept myself pure as well.”

Her shoulders relaxed, she let out a gentle breath of air.  “Well, there’s the list finished then.” 

Murtagh laughed first, which caused Ingrid to follow right after.

When they “hung up,” Murtagh reasoned that handfasting – though something he wanted always to honor and even pass along to his children – would leave Ingrid without the one thing that he’d learned women in this day wished for and cherished: an engagement ring. Jamie had gone to great extent to have one fashioned for Claire, and she wore it with pride. 

“I dinna want Ingrid to feel unappreciated.  I’ll propose with a ring, then our handfasting can occur at the wedding, which I wilna deny her either.”

Smelling something smokey and rich from under his door, he risked a sneak downstairs to investigate what the morrow’s meal would be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Across the hall, Jamie knew it was midnight. He could tell from the small, chiming mantel clock downstairs Claire had bought one afternoon “antiquing.”  She’d also gotten him a very old copy of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ and several bibles and hymnals for the pews, a box of them sitting in a corner of the store. To top everything off, he’d gotten salt and river water which he blessed to put in the stoups.

He sat at the desk, several sheets of paper filled with a rough sermon.  This, his first sermon in modern times, and as Laird, he wanted to be perfect. Along with thank-you notes, Claire had also recently sent out invitations for Easter service and brunch, feeling e-mails were too impersonal.  Filomena and Antonio had gladly accepted, expressing how much they wanted to see everyone again and revisit the chapel, but also grateful because their kitchen was still incomplete. 

He tilted his head back to stretch the muscles in his neck, bent for hours writing and searching through the bible.  The smell of ham and bean soup got stronger as the night went on for Claire had put it into a slow cooker right before they went to bed.    She slept soundly, cradling the baby with her arm.

Unable to contain himself, his stomach grumbling from the mere smell of the soup, he reasoned a trip downstairs would do no harm.  “Afterall, it may need a bit of seasoning or such.”

Lifting the lid on the slow cooker, the bubbling concoction burst forth a steam of deliciousness.   Jamie stuck in head right into it. 

“Ahhhhhh.” 

“Midnight snack, aye”  Murtagh said, pulling two spoons from the drawer.

Jamie jumped. “Well, just checking,” he blurted. “Didna want it to bubble over, ye ken, and make a mess.”

“I wanted a bite too. Dinna lie,” Murtagh smiled, handing him a spoon.

As they both nibbled, their faces turned a bit sour. 

“Ah,  ‘tis why it’s called a slow cooker.  Takes time.”  Jamie said, sitting his spoon down. Murtagh did likewise.  “Beans are hard as stones.”

Frowning, Jamie shrugged his shoulders.  “Will be worth the wait.  Good night, Father.”

Just as he turned towards the stairs, Murtagh called after him.

“Son, can I have a moment?”

Peering from around the railing, Jamie returned to the kitchen.  “If it’s more than a moment I fear I’ll need to make a meal. I’m…”  Just then his stomach rumbled.

Shaking his head and smiling, Murtagh went to the refrigerator.  “Have a seat. I’ll slice the leftover beef for sandwiches.”

With the smallest layer of horseradish, which they had both become fond of, Murtagh placed the beef within the rolls, putting them onto plates.  

“Ye said ye were a step ahead of me when we were at lunch. To mean arrangements with Ingrid, I assume?” he said, handing Jamie his sandwich.

“Aye.  I should have clarified.”  Jamie blessed his food, then continued.

“Claire and I discussed the use of the spare room, and she recommended Ingrid come to stay.  With us both only beginning in our driving, it would be a blessing to have her here if Claire goes into labor and needs immediate help, but also for her to have someone to talk to. More importantly, ye both can have proper time together. Should she wish, of course, and if you’re comfortable.”

“Thank ye, son.  I’ll consider it.”

Shoving the roll into his mouth, his eyes closed in contentment, Jamie sighed the happiest of sighs. 

“Ye’ll choke eating like that!  I’ve told ye a hundred times.”

Jamie couldn’t hear, for the pleasure of his belly becoming full had completely shut off his ears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back in his room, relieved that they could now spend time together, Murtagh blew out his candle then knelt beside his bed.

“Lord, I am grateful. For my life, for my family, for salvation.  As I move forward, firmly believing I’ve been led by your will, I ask that ye bless this decision and grant me your grace. Amen.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now that his noisy wame would not cause him to toss and turn, Jamie returned to his chair. He stacked the papers together, settling on the first page for a final run through.

“Beloved friends and family, I welcome ye to this blessed Easter service,” he whispered, pretending he was at the lectern. “Turn with me please to the book of Romans, chapter 8, verse 39.  Let us read aloud…”

 

Chapter Text

Ingrid, Berta and Martin had arrived quite early for Easter service and with a backseat full of desserts:   chocolate filled croissants, a raspberry bakewell cake, and lemon ricotta cookies.  Though Claire had explicitly said no one needed to bring anything, Berta insisted on bringing something. Managing to convince Claire to sit, they took over placing tablecloths onto the tables, arranging plates, glasses and silverware on the counter, and putting the other food out.

Jamie opened the chapel early, wanting the fresh air to whirl through a bit before everyone arrived.  He stepped reverently into the nave, having blessed himself with water first.  He sat his rosary, held tightly in his hand, on the lectern.

“’tis my time to lead my family, Lord, and I pray ye guide me to do as Da did.” He placed his notes then made a quick run through.  Satisfied, he went to the doors to wait.

From the back door of the house he saw a line of friends and family slowly approach: Yi Tien and his entire family, Ned Gowan, Berta and Martin, Ingrid and Murtagh, Filomena and Antonio, Susanna and Robert, Lamb and Joe.  Claire came last, in a long, flowing peach maternity gown, a ring of honeysuckle woven in her hair. She had come to radiate happiness of late, despite how heavily with child she was.  She offered her hand as she got to the door, which Jamie took, then kissed.  “Thank you, beloved,” she whispered.

Overjoyed that everyone was able to attend, he blessed each as they entered, then walked to the lectern while Murtagh closed, but did not lock the doors; his first reaction was to slide the bolt, but the danger of the past was long gone.

The sermon had been stirring. Claire, seated at the end of a pew at the front, had seen so much of Brian in Jamie: the conviction, especially, but the elocution as well.  It was executed flawlessly, and even punctuated by random bursts of sun through the windows; a sign of God’s presence, assuredly. 

Walking back to the house, spring smells swirling about them, Jamie tugged on Claire’s hand; a “how did I do?” glance.

“Perfect.  I can’t wait for next week’s.”  She smiled so sweetly Jamie felt his heart melt.  She plucked violets from the ground, placing the small bunch in the middle of the bouquet she had earlier placed in her vase from a morning walk:  daffodil, cherry blossoms, and bluebells.  Plates were packed and conversations abounded. The house was filled with laughter, warmth and love.  Claire had dreamed of this so often when she was young; family. 

Murtagh and Ingrid took their plates to sit together on the front step.  To be near him was all Ingrid ever seemed to want.  Her work had taken on a greater depth because of him. She stayed longer, worked harder, and made personal attention her utmost priority.  She had always been happy being a nurse; it was the most fulfilling work she’d ever done.  But now she felt an awakening, a spring of water come to nurture a soul heavy with loneliness.  And it felt wonderful.

While Murtagh shooed away the curious bees that had come to investigate their food, she immediately thought of a Shelley poem:

“And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.” 

Murtagh took her hand to help her up, for they had no rest from the bees even with empty plates, walking back in the house.  Out the kitchen window Murtagh caught site of Martin having a smoke by himself in the yard.  He suspected this might be to give Murtagh a chance to declare his intentions, so he caught Jamie’s eye across the room with a wink and nod to the outside. Finding his pipe and tobacco, he went to stand beside him.

“tis a fine day, aye?”  Murtagh said.

“’tis, indeed,” Martin smiled, glad for the company.

As the smoke from Murtah’s pipe wafted past Martin, he commented on the fragrance. “Cavendish…” 

“Indeed. Haven’t taken a liking to much else.”

“Have lost both pipes I had, hence…” he held up his cigar, “Robustos.  Smoke them to the end and that’s that.”

After a few minutes watching Jamie teach Antonio, Xiaoli, and Yi Tien’s other children how to play shinty, Murtagh broke the silence.

“It’s my intention to ask Ingrid to be my wife.  It would please me if I had yer blessing.”

Martin’s countenance changed; he seemed hopeful but saddened. He looked to the ground, rubbing an ash from his cigar into the grass.

“When we took over her care, it was one of the happiest times in our life.” He looked to Berta, eating cake with the other women.  “We’ve cherished every moment with her, and there was never a need or pain that we didn’t give our whole heart too.  We treated her as the Good Lord would have Himself.”

He turned to face Murtagh, meeting his eyes directly.

“Will ye promise me, right here before God, that ye will do the exact same.”

Murtagh didn’t hesitate, meeting him eye-to-eye: “Ye have my solemn promise, before God, that I will protect, cherish, and love her. She’ll never want for anything as long as I live.”

The time had come; Ingrid would be leaving their home, but safely into another.  Thankfully, she would not be far; if she would be, that would hurt more than he would ever let on.

The family was good, hard-working, traditional-minded; much like the homes she had come from.  Jamie was devoted to Claire, and she to him, which was a good example. And their house could easily accommodate her.  There’s nothing more he could have wanted for the woman who had become his daughter.

Eyeing Murtagh one last time, he nodded.   “Then, on yer word, I give my blessing.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Joining the game, Murtagh caught his Godson’s questioning look.  Winking, he took up a stick.  Joe and Lamb rounded out the Fraser clan, while Yi Tien, a fast learner and runner, was leading his crew. 

Ingrid, cheerleading from the side, waved and hooped ecstatically as Murtagh took up beside Jamie.  He tipped his hat to her.

Soon the sidelines had erupted in good-natured cheering, but in the end the Cho’s were out shot by the Fraser’s. The score didn’t seem to bother anyone, for everyone was more happy just to have each other.  This was especially true for the Frasers who had come to cherish life, and the God that provided it in love, more than anything.

Chapter Text

On another trip into town for Claire’s appointment, Murtagh joined them - as driver.  Because of he and Jamie’s unusually canny sense of direction, each time Claire gave an upcoming turn or exit they already knew.  Memory also played into this, for they had recall that was grown from a time without so many distractions, and education was peaceful, focused, and home-based.

It was the many little things of operating the vehicle - intersections, four-way stops, speed, and such – that seemed to be their only challenges.

Horses are what they understood and preferred.  The men knew about temperament and breed, for this important knowledge was critical when choosing for the tasks they encountered; “horse sense.”  An Arabian or Quarter horse was not well matched for a slow, ambling trip; they would be restless and want to gallop.  On the other hand, the stronger, heavier breeds – such as draft horses -were suited for the heavy, burdensome work on a farm, and not a quick trip. 

Cars could not be judged on temperament or breed, unfortunately, but through “makes.” Their little coupe was neither a work horse nor an Arabian but served well enough for their basic needs; a Saddlebred, of sorts. Murtagh and Jamie did find it humorous, though, that energy was calculated in “horse power.”

Slowly pulling into a spot on a side-street near the hospital, they all exited.  Murtagh balked at needing to put coins into the meter, remarking that the amount of money the government required for nearly every endeavor was equal to “highway robbery.”

Jamie had taken a more practical view: “’tis the only way to provide for services, mind” he said, realizing that nothing was ever free, and that there was a tremendous amount of convenience in this time.

“Seems there’s a lot of services they need our money for!” he grumbled, walking off to the hospital.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lihua saw Jamie and Claire immediately; first appointments had their advantages.  With no major concerns, nor any complications or problems, they were on their way.

“I’ll see you next week,” Lihua said, walking with them to the front.  “It’s almost time!”

Since Ingrid would be driving Murtagh back later, Jamie and Claire went to see Lamb.  Lounging on the patio of his little bungalow, he was among boxes of photo albums that Greg had sent back.

“Hoo Hoo!” Claire said, sticking her head in the door.

“Hoo Hoo! Come on in!”

Lamb pulled himself away from the table, sliding open the glass door.  “Oh my dear angel…” he remarked, hugging Claire, “you’re definitely close!”

“Roger that.”  She said, hugging him back. Reaching behind Claire, Lamb offered his hand to Jamie. “Come have a looksee what I just got.”

Jamie pulled out a chair for Claire, then took one beside her. Claire took the open album on the table. “Oh my goodness!  I haven’t seen these in years!” She moved it so Jamie could see. “These are photographs, Jamie.  Before cell phones became sophisticated enough to take and store them, you used a camera then had the images developed in…kind of a lab, which printed them on paper for you to keep.”

Flipping through all the pages, memories flooded Claire.

“Israel!  All I can remember was how insufferable the heat was.  It was nearly unbearable, save for the late-night swims in the sea of Galilee.”

“But we found some amazing stuff, remember?”

“I’ll never forget.  And most of it on the last day!”

She and Lamb laughed, both recalling that nearly every important find ALWAYS occurred on the last day.

“Oooh!  Zimbabwe!” she said, flipping to the next section.  “This…” she said, emphatically pointing, “was unreal. Every day something new.  I don’t think we slept but a few hours a day!”

“Extraordinary!” Lamb said, craning his neck over the table.

Jamie saw a change in Claire; something she’d never shown.  Genuine excitement, exhilaration.  She and Lamb had become consumed in memories, laughing in remembrance at countless experiences and discoveries.

There were dozens upon dozens of pictures where Claire was beside men – guides, she called them – or teams of people all smiling, posing beside pits, trenches, or in beautiful valleys, all in the remotest places.  Some Jamie had never heard of.

He appreciated having the opportunity to see a part of her life he would not have had the chance of had they not come back:  Claire at 10, bent over a small pile of dirt, trowel in her hand.  Claire at 14, standing alongside other teenagers, the mountains of the Serengeti – stunningly covered in shadows from passing clouds – behind them. He was truly happy to have this, for what in his time was there to capture a person’s life but a few portraits?  But his heart and mind were gripped with how empty her life must feel now stuck in Scotland with an 18th century highlander who could give her no more than a farming life.  She was a woman of the world now resigned to cooking, churning butter, and feeding sheep.

Noticing Jamie’s unusual quietness, Lamb offered to take them for lunch.  “Ok, we’ve gone down memory lane long enough. Let’s get some food.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Coming out of the stairwell this time, Murtagh saw that Ingrid was waiting for him in the small sitting area right off the stairs.  She jumped up at seeing him. “Ready for breakfast?”

He took his cap off and smiled.

Ingrid drove them to her house instead of a restaurant so she could finally cook for him.  Berta and Martin had found some errands to run in order that they have time to themselves.

Murtagh sat at the table, watching Ingrid come to life at the stove.  She would look back frequently, checking on how he was managing now that he wasn’t cooking for her. “Today’s menu is country ham with gravy and grits.”

She was energetically stirring a pot that she’d poured a yellow meal into.  “This you can’t stop or you’ll have…cement.”

“Can I be of any assistance, lass?  I dinna want ye to be worn out so that ye canna eat.”

“I’m good.  You relax.”

Plating everything, she handed Murtagh his, then poured him a cup of coffee.  “I really hope you like this.  It’s a dish that’s common in the south of the United States.  And boy howdy is it delicious.”

Her expressions always amused him, despite not understanding what most of them meant.  She looked expectantly to him, hope and love in her eyes.

“I’m grateful.  Thank ye.”

He said his prayers, which Ingrid had learned to mimic, then took a bite of the ham with gravy.  Nothing he would ever experience would equal the deliciousness of this combination.  His eyes flew open, his bushy eyebrows raised in surprise.  “Lass, I’d be honored if ye’d make this regularly.”

She laughed.  “Absolutely.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In bed later, Jamie pulled Claire to him, the regret still heavy on his mind.  He absent-mindedly rubbed Claire’s back, which Claire sensed was possibly his unconscious way of soothing her.  But for what?  He’d been quiet at Lamb’s, reserved at lunch, resigned as he drove home.

Claire pieced different scenarios together, realizing what had happened.

“Jamie,” she whispered.

“Aye, lass.”

“I’m happy as your wife, and happy with our life.”

“That rhymed.”

“Goof.”

His methodical rubbing stopped, and he cupped his hand around her waist.

Realizing she was onto something, she continued.  “I’ve had a remarkable life traveling, seeing the world, experiencing things most children my age would hardly ever have the opportunity to do.  But it never filled the emptiness of losing my parents, and not having a place to call home.  They had family dinners, extended family get-togethers, 4th of July picnics and sleepovers with friends. I seemed always to be on the move and sleeping in tents.

She sat up on her elbow to see him directly.  “Many people don’t know what the longing for these things is like.  To have something solid, dependable…even predictable.  Just a regular, normal family.”

He turned himself more towards her.

“I don’t mean that I didn’t love how Lamb raised me, or that I didn’t enjoy it. But what I have with you – what you generously, lovingly give to me – is what I have ached for.  Every bit of it. From dusting railings, to baking bannocks, and meals together every day.  It may not seem like a lot, but to me it’s everything.”

She leaned over him, nuzzling his lips.  “I love YOU. I love OUR LIFE. I will cherish being a Mum.”

He gently took her chin in his hand.  “Thank ye.”

Chapter Text

Ellen looked out the kitchen window at the treeline near the river; the long row of bare branches were turning shades of green as they filled with budding leaves. But it was the cherry trees, with pale pink petals drifting off in waves, that she adored. Holding her cup of tea, she watched as whole sections of the yard filled with petal snow.

“’tis a time of birth” she said, knowing the sheep pens would soon be filled with the persistent bleets of lambs, but also thinking of Claire and Jamie.

Brian, stirring the parritch in the kettle over the fire, understood there was more to what she said. “Aye. Jamie and Claire will soon deliver.”

Jenny had been at work on a sampler, waiting until she got word of the birth date to finish it. Willie had whittled a little carriage with moving wheels for his nephew. Father Willie had secured a small bible which he would dedicate to little Brian.

The next package to be sent would be large.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

While Claire settled baby clothes into drawers, placing the cap and mittens Ellen made into the top drawer, she happily stood in the finished room.

Gently tapping on the door frame, Murtagh stepped inside. “We’re leaving, luv. I expect we’ll be back later this afternoon.” He kissed her on the cheek.

He and Lamb were going to pick out a ring for Ingrid. Although he could easily have ordered one from an online shop, it didn’t seem proper to him to do that. And he didn’t necessarily want to do it alone. So, Lamb and he would browse jewelry stores and antique stores, if need be.

Although the modern stores had a decent selection, they were enormously expensive. And none of the rings seemed to have anything in the way of character. “They all looked the same,” Murtagh said outside the third one.

“Yea, there’s just not much in the way of uniqueness.”

Lamb noticed several tents across the street in the park. Realizing it was probably a craft show, he considered taking Murtagh there before they tried some vintage shops. “There are craftsman over there I suspect. Could be there are jewelers too. Care to have a look?”

“I’d say it’s got to be a far sight better than what we’ve been to so far!”

Drawn to the blacksmith, Murtagh watched the demonstrations with appreciation. At the knifemakers he saw a small ornately-handled dirk, obviously made for a child. The owner came from another customer, noticing Murtagh’s keen eye studying it.

“Have a weeun that could use a present?”

“I do. My Godson is having a bairn next month.”

“Congratulations to ye! ’tis a good one, this. Every lad and lass should have one!”

“Aye, they should. More than a tele-phone.” He watched as several children filed past him, distracted, their eyes fixed on the screens of their – or their parent’s – phones.

“We’re like-minded! And for that I’ll engrave the initials for free.”

It was the finest metal he’d seen, though nothing too dangerous for a child. The hilt was a fine wood and was in a handmade leather sheath resembling the one he’d given Jamie as a lad. Remembering this, and that in the rush to leave to the stones Jamie’s dirk was left behind, Murtagh picked up a larger, sturdier one. It was impeccably crafted; no machine work here. Murtagh held it away from him, gauging its line.

“And this one as well - my Godson’s birthday.”

The man looked gratefully at Murtagh. “I’ll initial both, and a 20% discount for the multiple purchase.”

“I’m much obliged.” Murtagh wrote down the strings of initials on the invoice along with his card number.

“Give me a bit and I’ll have them packaged for ye as well.”

A few tents down they finally came to a jeweler. A young woman and her husband rose from their chairs as Murtagh and Lamb got to their table.

There were several trays that held the most luminous, colorful rings Murtagh had ever seen.

The woman greeted him first. “Good afternoon! Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Aye. G’day to ye. I’m looking for an engagement ring.”

“Congratulations! Well, we have quite a few to look at.”

“What are the stones?”

“They’re rustic diamonds,” she replied, pulling a few trays together. “They are ethically sourced, untreated, and natural.”

Murtagh couldn’t take his eyes off one in particular.

“That,” the woman said, pulling it out, “is a 1.25 carat, rose-gray rustic diamond.”

Set in white gold, the hexagon-shaped diamond was a muddled gray with black flecks, specks of amber, vermillion, and gold, and flanked by a triangle of three smaller, similar diamonds on either side. No matter which way you turned it a different combination of colors sparkled.

The woman set it into a dark blue velvet box to hi-light its beauty, but also to give Murtagh the idea of what it would look like when he proposed.

He knew it was exactly what he wanted. He held it under a ray of sun. It was magnificent no matter which way you held it. A tribute to the stone itself, but also to the craftsman.

She saw in Murtagh’s eyes that this was obviously for someone very special. “It will pair beautifully with a simple band.”

Before he sat it back, she offered him a price. “It sells for $2,000, but we’ve made more sales today than expected - lots of engagements!” she said, glancing at Lamb, “so I’d be happy to reduce it to $1750.”

Lamb suspected Murtagh would gasp and let out a few expletives, so he prepared to yank him away with an apology to the man and woman, for in the 18th century this amount of money would be years’ worth of earnings.

Murtagh pondered the offer, his eyebrows knit together in either calculation or anxiety. “Hmm.” He pursed his lips, crossing his arms over his chest.

It was enough for the woman to drop the price even further. “$1600 is my best offer.”

“I’ll take it.”

Thank you. “Give me a moment to wrap it.”

Walking back to pick up the dirks, Lamb let out a huge sigh. “I thought you were going to have a moment there. Was prepared to clamp my hand over your mouth and drag you to the car.”

Murtagh smirked. “I ken they were about to close up shop and wanted to get rid of some more inventory. Sign at the entrance said it was the last day so I knew she’d be willing to drop the price further.”

Lamb laughed out loud.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Making minestrone soup and panini for dinner, Claire was preoccupied with what to do for Jamie’s birthday. Placing two sandwiches in the press, she caught sight of him trudging back to the house. He was blowing her kisses.

Covered in hay, and smelling of manure and sweat, he intentionally put his hands out as he walked in. “Come hug yer husband!”

She scrunched her nose, giggling. “P.U. Go shower.”

Laughing, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “If yer planning for my birthday, all I want is a quiet dinner at home.” Before she could turn around, he was already up the stairs.

She smiled and shook her head. “I can’t hide anything!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Although she did get balloons, and a framed Fraser coat-of-arms print that was from she, Lamb and Joe, she made a simple meal and a simple cake.

Sitting on the patio after, as the sun set, Jamie took Claire’s hand. “I wouldna be celebrating another year of life had ye not saved me.”

Moving as gracefully as she could on the small outdoor sofa, she turned to him and took his hand to her lips to kiss. “You are my heart and soul, James Fraser. There is no me without you. I would not have let you go one more…”

Jamie took Claire’s lips to his.

“Ye saved all three of us, then.” He brushed a few curls from her face. “And I’ll be forever grateful.”

Chapter Text

Claire kneeled at her garden, hand spade at her side.  Jamie had turned over the ground, revealing it’s rich, dark soil ready for all her plants. 

She had placed them in rows the way she’d done before but putting the tomatoes on the inside.  Herbs were staggered with the garlic, onion and pepperoncini.

Jamie stayed near now that she was just weeks away from giving birth; he made sure she didn’t overwork herself, remembering his Mam saying that a woman will often have a burst of energy right before her waters broke; “nesting,” as she called it, to get everything prepared. 

He looked from the stable; she was methodically planting seedling after seedling.    The dogs scampered nearby, bringing a ball that she threw.  The sun was peaking, so in addition to work there was heat to worry about.

He snuck to the kitchen, plated lunch, then brought it to her. 

“Mind ye, dinna overdo things,” he said, sitting down. He patted his lap.  “Lie down.”

She turned on her side, gratefully laying her head in his lap.  “Ahhhh.”

On the large plate were two small bones for the dogs who excitedly took them for a good chew.    Jamie handed Claire chunks of cheese, blackberries, walnuts, bites of his BLT, and a large glass of ice water.

Just then Claire jumped, the blackberries flying from her hand.   She quickly sat up, cradling the baby.

“My GOODNESS!  You’re a strong one.”

“What is it? What’s wrong?”  Jamie asked.

“He’s pretty excited!  I just got a sound kick.”  After that one, two more came.  She placed Jamie’s hand right were a wee rump was poking out.

Shaking his head in surprise, he rubbed the little protrusion.  “Aye, son. I ken yer excited,” he bent, whispering, “but it’s no yer time yet.  Be at peace, son.  Be at peace.”  Continuing to rub the area, little Brian seemed to go right to sleep.

Claire nestled back in Jamie’s lap.  “Must really like blackberries,” she said, drifting off. 

Jamie held in laughter, rubbing the baby as if he were holding it in his arms.  “Give yer mam some rest, lad.  There will be time to play soon enough.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upstairs, Murtagh planned the engagement for the following weekend.   Now that he was able to drive, he’d asked Ingrid to a picnic lunch at a park in town. His heart raced at the thought. 

“Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, she loves ye.  Dinna act like a schoolboy on a first date.”

He planned out the shopping list, what to wear – “ye need a new shirt,” and to remember to clean out the car and fill it with petrol.

“Do as Da taught ye and ye’ll be fine. Mam never had a complaint, and said he was a gift from God.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lamb lie in bed that night, like many other nights, alone and after watching too much telly.  He’d found a small cottage home a decent walk from campus that had enough room for his past, his present, and hopefully for his future.  It was in a retirement community which afforded him quiet surroundings and no loud parties. 

This evening, hearing only the central air turn off and on, he looked at the ceiling. 

“I got her to where she wanted to be.”

He was talking to Henry.  He often felt compelled to give him updates; little status reports on what Claire was doing, how she was doing, and the things he’d learned about being a parent.

“I hope you and Julia approve.”

He pulled his arm to his face, wiping the tears that had fallen.

Now that Claire was happily married, expecting, and living with her husband’s family, he didn’t feel there was anything left to do for her.

But a parent’s role never really ends; there were times, even now in his 40’s, that his father’s advice or his mother’s wisdom – not to mention a brother’s camaraderie - would be deeply appreciated.  Life doesn’t follow an easy, unbroken road; there are unexpected detours and bumps where you need support, so he didn’t feel she would never again need him.

But he was alone, and it didn’t feel good.

“No, you don’t need a dog” he said to himself, hearing the excited barks of the neighbor’s two Labradors in the lot behind him.  The couple played card games at another neighbor’s twice a week and when they arrived home their dogs treated it as an usually exciting event. Every single time.

His phone buzzed on the table beside his bed.

Grabbing his glasses, he saw it was Joe.

“A call at 1:00 am either means you need bail or a ride home.  Which is it?”

Joe’s hearty laugh made Lamb smile.

“Neither!  Hey, I got an…..so when have I ever needed bail or a ride home?” 

“Never for the former, that I’m aware of, and several times for the latter.  Might I remind you that at university…” 

“Oh. Yea.  I forgot.  So, I got an invitation to speak at a conference in Kent.  It’s an amazing panel. Runs almost a week.  There’s a slot that’s unfilled.  Has your name all over it.”

Lamb’s first reaction was to make sure Claire could come.  He rubbed his hand over his face.  “She’s not 12 anymore,” he said to himself.

 “It’s not until July so no excuses.”

Joe waited.

“Buddy,” he eventually said, “what did you have for dinner tonight?”

“Why?”

“Just answer me.”

“Nachos Supreme. I was watching this video…”

Joe, who had a tuna sandwich and crisps, looked at clock on the kingdom building game he’d been playing: three hours.

“Dude,” Joe sighed “…it’s time.”

Lamb didn’t have to ask for what. 

“We’re attractive – me more so, of course… “

“Used to be.”

…I know you are but what am I.   ANYWAY…we’re both attractive, educated and available. The conference will be a perfect place to meet like-minded people. Especially female people.  We’re bound to learn something – the line-up is fascinating.”

He couldn’t see it, but Lamb was slowly nodding. 

“I’m taking the slot for you.  Plan a presentation on …whatever. Get a suit. And bring your business cards!”  Then Joe hung up.

Lamb turned over. “I hate when he’s right.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ingrid greeted Murtagh at the door, waving as he pulled up.  Murtagh marveled at how many different outfits she wore, and how she looked so beautiful in every one. The more he thought of it, the more he was relieved that women weren’t burdened any longer, encased in layers of clothing from neck to ankle.

They sat near a tree at the park, but in the sun, so that if it became too hot they could move into the shade. There were families, couples young and old, and more children than Murtagh had seen at one time; everyone happy.  Even the weather was agreeable.

He spread out a large blanket, snapping it before he laid it down; he remembered his Mam doing the same with tablecloths as she took them off the clothesline. Ingrid took one end to help even it out.

“It’s nice to eat outside,” she said, looking around at all the people “though restaurants have a din that I like too.” She crossed one leg over the other and leaned back on her hand, close to Murtagh’s side. He smelled of soap, thankfully, not horrid cologne. Fresh.

Murtagh leaned towards her as well. She smelled of oranges, and the sun twinkled off her earrings and bracelet.

He absent-mindedly felt for the box in his vest pocket while she looked away, assuring himself that it was not noticeable. 

“Are ye more thirsty, hungry, or a fair combination of both?” he asked.

“Thirsty,” she smiled.

He pulled open the lid on the basket to get two insulated steel tumblers of freshly squeezed lemonade. Claire had recommended them because they would keep the drinks cool for a number of hours. Handing one to her, and taking the other, he revealed what was inside through the clear plastic lids.

“Slàinte” she said confidently, tipping her cup to his.

Murtagh smiled, his moustache spreading nearly to his cheekbones.

They watched kite-flyers, frisbee-throwers, and several dogs fetching balls.  Children squealed with glee as their parents chased them.  It was the drones that fascinated Murtagh; there were so many flying machines in this time.

She was easy to be near; long periods could go by without a word and it would still be as fulfilling as if they’d discussed the greatest philosophical questions of time.  She would re-tie her hair into a bun, smile at him unexpectedly, or remark on something that caught her eye, usually with stunning insight and warmth; simple, beautiful things that set her apart.  She didn’t have so complicated a life, nor be so busy-minded that he would need a wedge to get in; rather, her life was – at least to him – a beautifully decorated page that she encouraged him to write on.

For Ingrid, Murtagh didn’t have the self-centeredness of youth; rather, he had wisdom born of not only a mind set upon learning but from a life, seemingly, lived without extravagance.   But there was also his maturity, and the value he placed on people - including himself – which was a key to emotional stability; you could hardly love others well if you didn’t value yourself.  He was everything she wanted in a husband, but especially as a father to their  children.

So, they ate niçoise sandwiches and threw the occasional off-track paper airplane back to its owner.

He got out the star fruit to cut, his heart pounding in his chest.  He arranged the slices neatly on a plate, placing the heart-shaped shortbread beside them.  Claire had given him a cookie cutter to use yesterday as he formed the dough. 

“It’ll give her a hint, aye?”

“Yep!”

Ingrid reached toward the plate. “Star fruit really is my favorite, and the….” She looked from the cookies to him, curiosity and love mingling in her amber eyes.

Murtagh turned towards her, rising up on one knee. He pulled the box from his pocket, opened it, then held it towards her.

“Ingrid…I’m….no a man of many words.  But I love ye, so verra much. I pledge my heart and devotion, lass…all I have. And for as long as I live. I would be honored if ye’d be my wife.”

Captivated by the ring, the most magical one she’d ever seen, she broke from its spell:  “Yes!” she got out softly, meeting his eyes.

He took the ring out just as she offered her hand. Thankfully, it fit.

“It’s so colorful and sparkly!”

“Ye like it, then?”

“I LOVE it!”

The moment she took her eyes off her finger to look up at him, he reached a trembling hand to her cheek.  She nodded. 

He leaned his head down, gently touching his lips to hers.  She caressed his cheek, encouraging him to linger, which he assuredly did.

 Just then applause erupted from nearby.  Looking over to see if they’d missed something, several people on blankets near them had seen what unfolded – taking pictures and videos - and now clapped and whooped in acknowledgement yelling “Congratulations!”

They both waved.

“Would you mind if I took a picture to send to Berta and Martin?”  Murtagh sat down then placed her left hand on top of his right.  She added hearts and the date. “That’ll be one for a frame!”

Murtagh broached the next part of their story: “Lass, we’ve a room at Lallybroch for ye.  Will ye come to live with us?”

“Of course! I was kind of hoping I could.  Now we can have breakfast together and take walks. We can pick a date and plan the wedding…”  Suddenly, she began to cry, reaching for him. “It’s been so lonely without you.”

He quickly brought her in his arms.  “Ah, lass. Dinna worry.  We’ll have a lifetime together.”

Later, new friends raced to catch them before they left, asking for phone numbers or emails to send the videos and pictures.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jamie stood at the front window, drumming his fingers on the wall. 

Claire reclined on the sofa, both pups at her feet. “It won’t bring them back any sooner.”

“I ken that…” he absent mindedly said.

“Then sit down.”

He slowly left the window, coming to the chair near the fireplace. 

“I have an idea of something to send back to your Mum and Dad” she said, trying to get his mind off Murtagh.

“Aye?” he said, poking the ashes with a poker.

“Jamie…”

His eyes met hers, and he smiled.  “I’m sorry, luv.  Just worried that something could have gone wrong.  Didna thing they’d be gone this long.”

“Well, maybe everything went right and they’re celebrating.”

“He wilna use a phone so I….”

Claire’s phone buzzed.  She fumbled to get past her lockscreen to the picture.  “It’s from Ingrid! Look!” 

Jamie came to kneel beside the couch.

“Awwww!”  Claire typed her response: “Welcome to the family!”

Jamie, now relieved, sat behind Claire so she could lay back on him. He rubbed her belly, stopping periodically to feel an elbow, a heel, or a wee fist.

“What was it ye were sayin’?  Something for Mam and Da?”  He nuzzled her hair.

She scrolled through websites, finding what she had mentioned. “There are digital photo frames that accept video.  I thought we could buy a couple. Make a video of us after the baby is born. It can be replayed for a while until the battery dies.”

“Aye, love.  ‘tis a grand idea.”

Chapter Text

Jamie had begun bringing Claire her meals to encourage her to rest; it was difficult because, as Lady of the estate, she kept on top of everything.  A few bouts of early labor had – at Lihua’s insistence – forced Claire to conduct all the estate’s business from bed. 

Propped up by pillows, Claire was making out daily schedules for Ingrid.  Now that the farm was almost fully functional, Murtagh had taken over the maintenance – along with Ingrid who wanted to be with him – so Jamie could stay at home.

“Breakfast, milady…”

“You’re very sweet. No blackberries, I hope.”

“None.  Just some early watermelon.”

“Merci, mon amour.”

“Oui.”

Claire eyed Jamie sitting at the end of the bed.    “You know, you don’t have to stay with me every minute.  I’m sure there are things you want to tend to.”

“Aye. There are.  But I dinna want to do them.”

He leaned down on his side, cross-ways on the bed. His work over the last few weeks, before her labor had become so pronounced, had kept him outside most of the day.  He was tanned, his skin taking on a beautiful golden brown.  It also contributed to the blonde strands around his face, on his arms, and on the hair on his legs, laying as they were under his kilt and off the side of the bed.  He’d taken to pulling his hair back in a band, which only hi-lighted his gorgeous cheekbones and jaw.  He ran his hand over his beard, checking for any remnants of his own breakfast. 

Claire’s wandering eye ended at Jamie’s look of playful indignation. “I’m just a body to ye.”

“Och, Laddie. Yer more than just that!” she said in her best brogue. It brought them both to laugh. Claire smiled, resuming where they left off.  “We have the walkie talkies.  I can give you a holler if anything happens.”

“But if I’m a ways away, I wilna be able to get here fast enough.  I’ll be sittin’ right here, mo chridhe.”

She sat the empty plate beside her.  “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“Ye did.  Last night.  Ye rolled over, passed wind, then curled yerself into me.  Whispered “I love you.”

“Oh.”

Jamie’s smile was adorable.  “I love ye too.”

She went back to her lists.  “Right.  Is the hospital bag by the door?”

“Check.”

“Car full of petrol?”

“Check.”

The dogs jumped up from their beds, half asleep; hearing the back door open, they bolted down the stairs, yipping in excitement.   Shortly after, Murtagh and Ingrid were at the door.

“Are ye…well, then?”  Murtagh asked.

“I am, thank you.”

“Anything I can check on?  I have my bag in my room.”  Ingrid turned, ready to get it.

“Nope, I’m just fine.”

“Weel, then.  We’ll just be going.”  Murtagh waved, then walked off with Ingrid.

“I hope this doesn’t become the ‘let’s check on Claire every half hour’ show.”

“Ye ken we’re all dedicated to ye, lass.  Dinna be angry.”

“I’m sorry.  I’m just….sitting around is not in my nature.  I’m anxious and I want to clean the baby’s room and wipe down the cradle and dust the dresser drawers out.”

Jamie took her hand.  “Yer right.  It’s maddening.  Sitting in the hospital about did me in.  But, ye’ve got a weeun and need to rest.” 

“That I do.”

With her head laid back, Jamie took it as a sign of stress and began rubbing her feet.  He could be utterly gentle, as he was now, and frighteningly fierce, as when he’d taken Jack Randall down – both times.  Wee Brian would have an extraordinary example.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire refused to keep sitting when she smelled dinner.  After several hours in bed, her back was starting to ache.  And besides, roast chicken tasted best when it was just out of the oven.

She slid over the side of the bed, rose slowly, then wrapped her robe around her.  For a moment she caught sight of herself in the mirror. No doubt about it; she was huge. 

Of the few photos of her Mother she had, one was when she was expecting Claire.  Now, looking in the mirror, Claire saw her Mother.  Her eyes filled with tears.  “Mum!”  she said, looking at her reflection.  Before Jamie would make his way upstairs, Claire wiped her eyes then put on her slippers to go to the kitchen. 

“Claire! I told ye to stay….”

“I know, Jamie. I just need a little bit of time away.”

Seeing that she had been crying, Jamie relented, pulling one of the chairs out.  Claire, all of a sudden without an appetite, sat and talked with everyone instead.

Determined to have her back in bed, Jamie took her hand to help her up the stairs while everyone else cleaned up.  She said good night, remarking that she would have the leftovers for lunch.  “I’ll see you…”

Claire’s felt a wave of dizziness, then a gush of warm water. “Oh dear.  Showtime, ladies and gentlemen.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Looking at three confused faces, Claire clarified: “My waters just broke.”

Ingrid jumped out of her chair: “I’ll drive.  Murtagh, I’ll leave my phone here…” she said, running up the stairs to get her medical bag. Running back down, she finished: “and we’ll text you from Claire’s.”

“Aye, lass.”

Claire, meanwhile, had hobbled upstairs with Jamie’s help to change her clothes.  They quickly made it back down, grabbing the hospital bag.  Murtagh kissed her and patted Jamie’s back. “God be with ye.  Please phone when yer able.”

“Will do, Father.”

Ingrid had backed the car up nearer to the front step.  Jamie got Claire in the back seat then slid in beside her.  “I’ll call Lihua and tell her we’re on our way, then yer Uncle and Joe.”

Ingrid kept a steady but quick pace, looking in the rear-view mirror repeatedly to check on them.  Nearing the Labor and Delivery entrance, Claire’s first contraction started.  Doubled over, she practiced her breathing.  Jamie checked the time in order to make note when the next started, rubbing her back.  Refraining from birthing classes, they had instead watched a series of videos.   

Two nurses had a wheelchair ready.  “Mrs. Fraser?  Are you doing alright?”

A bit frightened but steadfast, Claire only nodded.  The next contraction was starting.

“Baby will be here soon! We’ll get you to your room.  Dr. Cho is on her way, but has asked Dr. Fitzgibbons, the on-call obstetrician to do an exam.  Will that be OK, Mum and Dad?”

Jamie looked to Ingrid, seeing Claire was trying to just get through the pain.

“Yes.” Ingrid comforted Jamie while they entered the lift. “She is THE obstetrician most women request.  30 years’ experience and a phenomenal bed-side manner.  You hit the obstetrician jackpot.”

Unsure what a bed-side manner or jackpot was, he took from Ingrid’s remarks and smile that it was a good situation.

Fitting Claire with a blood pressure cuff, and two abdominal monitors – one that monitored the baby’s heartbeat and the other to monitor the frequency and strength of the contractions.  Ingrid’s friend Melissa got the machines working and got initial printouts for Dr. Fitzgibbons. Attaching ID bracelets to Claire and Jamie’s wrists, she reminded Claire of the immediate restrictions: “You can’t eat or drink, of course; only ice chips.”

“I understand” Claire gasped out, just through the last contraction.

Ingrid checked her blood pressure, then assured she and Jamie that they were in very good hands.  “You have a perfect team, so I’ll scoot on out. Berta will take me back so you have the car here.”

“Aye, lass. Thank ye.” 

Claire leaned forward to give her a kiss. “Thank  you.”

“Absolutely!” Ingrid said, kissing her back.  “You’ll do fine.”

After she left, Claire began to cry.  “Jamie, what if I don’t?  I’m so scared. What if I don’t bond with him like they said in the video?  What if he doesn’t feed well, or take to me at all?”

Jamie sat beside her on the bed, looking very seriously but warmly at her.

“Claire, ye have the right instincts.  Yer a mother to the core.  Dinna doubt yerself, nor be afraid.  Ye’ll take to this fine.  I promise. And he will love ye with all his heart.”

They both turned when they heart strong taps on the door.  “Claire Fraser?  I’m Doctor Fitzgibbons. But ye can call me Dr. Fitz.”  She winked at them as she walked in. A woman with a gray curly bob, about 60, in green scrubs and heavy nurses clogs shook Claire’s hand.

“It’s nice to meet you. This is my husband Jamie.”

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet ye as well!” She went around the bed to read the monitors.  “Is this yer first?”

“Yes, it…”  Another contraction started.  They were about six minutes apart.

Glenna watched the monitors during the contraction.  “Strong one.”  When it was over, she gave Claire a minute to rest.  “How about we check to see how far dilated ye are?” She pulled the curtain around them.  When she was finished, she told them the surprising news: “Yer about half-way there!  5 centimeters. Have ye been in early labor this week?”

“Oh yes.”

“Well half the work is done, Lassie.  Can I get ye anything?  She entered notes into the tablet.

“No, I’m alright.”

“Ye’ve a way to go, but I’d say around midnight.  Press that buzzer if ye need anything.  I’ll be right in.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Through the evening the contractions came quicker and quicker, and more painful the closer they were together.   Jamie kept as much of himself behind Claire as he could, supporting her back through each wave of pain.  Lihua continually checked the monitors, as did Glenna, offering encouragement and hope.  At 12:30am, Claire had fully dilated.

Between Glenna, Lihua, and Melissa, they kept Claire strong and focused so she could push through each one.  Seeing Claire so exhausted, and in so much pain ripped through Jamie’s heart.  He would have taken it all if he could: “I can bear all the pain in the world, but not hers” he said to himself, giving his hand for her to grip as she nearly screamed from the agony.

“Claire, luv!  He’s crowning!” Glenna nearly shouted.  “One more push, hon! One more big push.  Ye can do it!”

“Jamie, I can’t,” she cried.  She looked at him with sheer exhaustion and panic.

“Ye can, mo chridhe.  One more and he’ll be in yer arms.”  He kissed her sweat-ridden cheek. 

In a burst of energy and determination, Claire gave one last push.   She felt all the pain melt blissfully away, for wee Brian came rushing out.

“WOO HOO!”  Glenna yelled, cradling him in her hands.  They suctioned the fluid from his mouth and nose, wiping his face, then handed the scissors to Jamie.  “Here ye go Da!”  

Shaking, near tears, he paused:  the little lad had a full mop of auburn curly hair, and all fingers and toes.  He cut the umbilical cord, thankful he and Claire were healthy, and blessed beyond words that she delivered in this time with such advanced technology. Glenna tied it off, swabbing it with betadine, then did a swift APGAR score.  Claire quickly sat up, ready to hold him.

Jamie put his arm around Claire, kissing her. She reached up to wipe his tears.  “He’s here,” she whispered.

Her own tears came quickly, holding the weeun close.  She kissed his little nose, then watched as his brown eyes opened and looked directly at her.  “I’m yer Mum! And this is your Dad!”  She turned him to see Jamie, whose own eyes met his.  “’ello, lad!”

He smiled.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~

1:04am

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

8lb 3oz

21 inches long

Brian Henry Murtagh Lambert Fraser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

May 28, 2017

  Mother, Father, Father Willie, Jenny and Willie,

  I am overjoyed to write with the news that our wee Brian was born May 23.   We are all well; Claire especially, for the little lad has become l’objet de son coeur.  He has auburn hair and brown eyes full of tenderness and curiosity.  I was not prepared to be so enraptured; every free moment I have is spent merely touching his sweet face in sleep or embracing him in my arms.  My heart is truly full.

  We are excited to be able to gift you the enclosed “machines.”  Within them are short “movies” of us; a series of images that are quickly processed together to form a whole.  You will hear us speak, and see us move, but only for a few moments.  This will repeat each time you open the cover. 

  Also enclosed is a letter from Murtagh.

  Claire, as well and Joe and Lambert, join me in saying we sincerely miss all of you and send you our deepest affection.  

  All my love,

  Jamie

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In bed that evening Claire reached over the blanket for Jamie’s hand.  She squeezed it.

“Thank you for the assurance. For helping me to know that I’d be a good Mum and that he would love me.”

Jamie squeezed her hand back.  “I was never of a mind to the contrary.  So, it’s well then?  The bonding, and feeding?”

“Oh, yes.”  Claire said, a smile forming as she looked towards Brian’s room. "It's going very well.  I hadn’t realized how instinctive it all would be. I was petrified that, without any example, I’d not be a good Mum, or know what to do. He takes to feeding without problem, and…”  Claire began to cry.  “I love him so much.  I have not had a moment of confusion or worry.  I feel…so utterly complete.”

At 2:00am Claire heard Brian’s squeaks over the monitor.  She snuck quietly from bed, opening the door to his room.  When she reached into the cradle to get him, he stopped crying.  Taking up the seat beside him, she laid him across her chest. He began to fitfully root for food. 

“Dear ME, little piggie!”

She pulled aside her gown, his anxious mouth finding what it sought.

With the dimmest of light in the room, Claire made out all of their family on the walls.  Rather than sing to him from the range of lullabies in her repertoire, she talked to him this night instead.

In your room are the family that you haven’t seen yet.  I’ve painted them all on the walls so you can know them the way your Dad and I do. Your Grandmother Ellen is a wise, loving woman.  She may not be right here, among us, but she is here in other ways.  In your Dad’s smile and in your very own wee heart; she’s a part of you and loves you OH so much. 

  Your Grandad Brian. Yes – you were named for him! He’s a strong man, with dark hair and dark eyes.  He’s noble, too. And very wise.  He’s with you too. Just like your Grandmother Ellen.”

 Claire gently lifted him over her shoulder, patting him on his back.

You’ve got an Aunt and Uncle, Jenny and Willie,” she whispered softly into his ear.  “They’re here too. I’ll show you every time we’re in your room.  They have beautiful hearts…”  Claire began to cry again.

“And then there’s Emily.  She has a servant’s heart; she loves the Lord and loves the family that gave her a better chance at life. She is a blessing through and through.”

 Laying him at her other breast, she caressed the little curls on the top of his head.

But here, with us, are more family.  Your Uncle Murtagh and Aunt Ingrid, your Uncle Lambert and Uncle Joe.  You will love them, my sweet, and they will love you too!”

 He paused in his eating to flash the tiniest of grins.

Oh yes they will!”  She giggled at him.

Patting him a few more times, small burps rumbled against her shoulder.  “Alright, luv.  You rest a bit more.”

She snuggled him close to her, then laid him in the cradle.  “Sweet dreams.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The morning of the 1st,  Jamie and Claire secured Brian in his car seat then drove to the stones.  It was just barely dawn. 

“I suppose they’ve been anxious about his birth.  Mam especially,” Jamie said as they neared the park. Claire checked the package again.  “This will be quite the surprise.”

Once in a parking space, Jamie came around to Claire’s window. He took the package from her, a rush of humid morning air filling the car.  “Ye both stay here.  Dinna want ye involved should there be any mishaps.”  He kissed her.

His lone figure, contemplating the delivery, stood out in the empty park. 

“Mam, Da…I miss ye both so.  Are ye well? Tell Willie and Jenny I miss them too.  Send my best to Father Willie and Emily.” Just as the sun broke over the horizon, Jamie threw the package, watching as it smacked into the cleft.  It was gone.

“I love you all,” he whispered.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the other side, the family had arrived earlier than last time.  Jenny left the date on the sampler blank, with a note for Claire to add it in on her own.  Willie’s toy carriage and Father Willie’s bible – dedicated to the baby – were bundled as securely as they were able.  Ellen had quilted a small swaddling blanket. Brian had made a box with a trick pad lock that didn’t require a key in which he had settled all the items; on the top was a metal plate engraved with wee Brian’s initials.

The women stayed on the grass while Brian – and Willie who felt he was now old enough – blessed the box then tossed it. There was no sound, nor rush of wind, or rumble.  It merely vanished.

“We love you.”

 

Chapter Text

While Jamie and Claire were gone, Murtagh had planned on divulging his background to Ingrid. He had never acted with any intention to deceive her, for he had a strong suspicion she somehow knew; her highly intuitive nature lent to a few well-worded but loving comments that tipped her hand. She obviously intended for Murtagh to lead the discussion, if he wanted; consequently, it became a matter of when and not if. And ‘when’ somehow worked out to be now.

He had prepared breakfast for when she got home from work. They ate outside on the grass; the pens and stable were a ways off, the chapel beside them, and the house to their side; a beautiful enclosure of love and life.

“You haven’t changed your mind, have you?” She asked playfully as she held his hand.

“Nay, lass. Never.”

“Then what is it? Your eyebrows are scrunched together.”

“May I speak with ye?”

Ingrid’s face was tilted to the sun. Eight hours on the floor, in cold, sterile rooms had given her a profound love for sun and fresh air. She turned towards him.

“I havena said much about my past more than my Da and Mam, and my siblings I mean. And of course ye know Jamie is my Godson.”

“You don’t have to, Murtagh…”

“I dinna want ye to be unaware, is all.”

He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “Lass, I…” He was choosing his words carefully. Desperately worried that this was causing him too much stress, she interrupted.

“I saw the press conference, and the stories of Claire, Lamb, and Joe’s disappearance. Though the three left together, she returned with a husband and his Godfather who both seemed – from another time is the only way I can describe it.” She looked pointedly, but lovingly at him. “You know,” she continued, trying to keep him from needing to explain any more on his own, “I’ve treated many people over the years who…were non-traditional. There’s more to life than I fully understand yet, so I can’t say where they came from.”

His appreciation showed in his smile.

“Just know that whatever, or whenever, your past was, it made a man that I longed for, and I’m grateful.”

Chapter Text

As Jamie was walking back to the car, expecting that if something came from his parents it would be later on, he saw Claire outside the car waving her arms back and forth.  He stopped, trying to figure out what she was on about.  She made a signal:  a finger swirling in a circle. 

He shrugged his shoulders.

More swirling.

Then she nearly wrenched her arm pointing back to the stone.

Realizing what she meant, he quickly turned around to see the box on the ground. It was singed, like it had been through a fire, but was sturdy. He scooped it up and ran to the car.

“It almost clocked you right in the head,” Claire said, getting in. 

“I didna even hear anything.  Ours went through with nary a sound.  Must not be a busy day for time-traveling.”

Claire nearly burst out laughing but for how seriously Jamie made the comment.

He settled the box on his lap, then looked back to Brian whose precious eyes searched for the face to his Da’s voice.  Jamie caressed his wee hand.

The faceplate was a bit warped, but nothing a little hammering couldn’t fix.  Jamie ran his fingers over the initialing. “Da always had a fine hand at lettering.”

Claire saw the craftsmanship. “It’s beautiful. And so thoughtful.”

“Aye. Wasna anything Da did that was less than perfect.”

Hearing the pain in Jamie’s voice, Claire tried to comfort him. “You’re living proof, you know.”

“Thank ye, my love. We’ll open it at home, aye?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As they walked in the door, Jamie met Murtagh’s eyes; a look of acknowledgement passed between them.  Now assured that Ingrid was aware, Jamie sat the box down on the table.

Ingrid, who was leaning against Murtagh’s side dozing, sat up. 

“We’ve a parcel from our family,” Murtagh said, leaning towards the table.

Ingrid studied the box; handmade, no address or postage, hand-tooled metal plate and hinge.  She rubbed Murtagh’s back, a sign to reassure him.

Claire held Brian on her lap, excited for what would be inside. 

On the top was a letter which Jamie read out loud:

Dear family,

  We are hopeful that you have delivered, so send our most joyous good wishes and blessings.  We know that you will treasure him, and we likewise are gladdened to welcome him to the family.

  All is well here; we are quite occupied with planting, feeding, and etc.

  Enclosed are gifts and notes from:

  Jenny; (the sampler:  Claire, please insert the bairn’s birthdate.  I left it blank.  I miss you. Please give little Brian my love and a hug to everyone else.  A kiss to Jamie, too.)

  Willie; (I made this for the bairn.  I enjoyed crafting it and will endeavor to make more.  You all are missed.  All my love to everyone.)

  Father Willie; (God’s Blessings to you both and the child.  I’ve secured a bible for the lad and am hopeful he will be read from God’s Word on a regular basis.  My love in Christ to you all.)

  Mother; (I quilted a small receiving blanket, not having room for a larger one. Please let us know how everyone is doing and send more Photos at your convenience.  I love you.)

  From myself is the box.

  You are dearly missed.

  Your Father and Friend,

  Brian

 

 Underneath the letter, on the top, was the bible.  Fitting that it was on top and not underneath; a small, black leather King James Version dedicated to Brian.

Next was the sampler.  Jenny had rendered a beautiful scene of a mother holding a child, underneath which was Brian’s full name and the birthdate with the day left blank. Claire held it, nearly weeping.

 Jamie slowly pulled out the carriage.  He was struck by how perfectly engineered it was.  “He’s got Dad’s hand,”  Jamie said. He spun the wheels for Brian to see.  “’tis a carriage, lad!  From yer Uncle!”

Last was the quilt which Jamie laid across Brian’s legs. 

Ingrid, her cheek resting on Murtagh’s shoulder as the gifts were brought out, whispered: “You have a wonderful family.”

 

Chapter Text

Waiting for some tumultuous announcement of a pending arrival, instead the stone spit out the small parcel like a bag of crisps falling to the bottom of a vending machine.

Brian, Ellen, Jenny and Willie stood in unanimous disbelief.

It was quite smashed, and yet held together with clear ribbon that was tacky.  Eventually Willie picked it up before Jenny did in order that he be able to hold it on the way home.

The ride was tense, each anxious to know what was inside.  Ellen hoped for more photos, though they all knew it would be a surprise no matter what was inside.

Seeing no way to untie the tape from the box, Ellen got the scissors from her sewing basket.  Cutting through the layers, they pulled an end open.  Jenny was so excited she yelped when Ellen pulled out the frames and letter.  Brian read it aloud to everyone, relieved that all had gone well with the delivery.

Noting that there was a separate letter from Murtagh, Brian read that aloud as well.  Hearing directly from Murtagh of his engagement was yet another surprise.  Ellen laid her hand on Brian’s arm.  “Imagine!  He’s to be married!”

“And to a healer,” Brian said, happy but saddened he couldn’t clap his dear brother on the back and share a wee dram with him.

Everyone then huddled around Brian as he pulled open the first frame.

Immediately the video played.  For the first several seconds was wee Brian’s face, cooing and intrigued by the object held in front of him. Ellen and Brian both remarked that he favored Claire the most. 

“This is yer Grandson, Mam and Da.”  Jamie spoke.  Brian tried to hold off tears at the sound of his son’s voice.

Soon Claire, who was cradling Brian, came into the picture.  “Hello everyone!”

Finally, Jamie’s face took up the screen.

“We do miss ye all.  As ye can see, I’m well and fully recovered.  We’ve only but a mo….”  The sound cut out leaving them to guess what Jamie was saying.  After that, the video stopped.

For a few moments everyone was quiet; seeing their family for the first time in so long, in this modern way, both startled and comforted them.

The next video was Murtagh.  It started with he and Ingrid in the screen:

“Hello family,” he began nervously.  “I am doing fine, and hope ye are too.  This is my fiancée Ingrid.  We are to be marrit soon.”  At hearing him say ‘marrit’ Ingrid broke into a smile. 

“Hello everyone.  I have heard so much about all of you and am so happy to be a part of this family.”  She turned to Murtagh, who took her hand.

“The weeun is braw. A good lad and we’re blessed to have him.”

Ingrid nodded her agreement.

Just them Murtagh looked off camera; Claire’s signal to wrap up.

“I hope we will be able to speak again.  Take care and God’s blessings to ye all.”

Ingrid turned from gazing at Murtagh to look with him at Claire to smile.

This tore at Brian’s heart.  Murtagh, his brother of so many years, Godfather to his son, trusted advisor…gone. But he looked more fulfilled, less broken than Brian had ever remembered.  And his lass was clearly besotted.  This made up for any remorse Brian held.

“Praise the Lord.  They are truly well and healthy,” Ellen finally remarked. 

Willie had begun to cry.  Ellen put her arm around him.  It had been a lonely time for him when Jamie left, though Father Willie had come to fill Jamie’s shoes as comforter and friend.  Still, the late-night talks with Jamie were sorely missed.

“Mam,” Jenny began to ask, heartened to see her sister again, “Do ye think it’s possible for us to use these as they did?  There are small buttons on the bottom edge here that must have been how they captured themselves.  That little box they used at the wedding to capture everyone seemed to work the same way.”

Puzzled, but yet still intrigued, Brian shook off the possibility. “We shouldna vex ourselves with the workings of this.  I dinna ken what the end result would be, and we’d lose these…times they’ve given us of themselves.”

“But Claire had said that the machine she used could add new images with old.  I just thought we could return the blessing is all.”

“I’ll consider it.”  Brian said, inwardly pleased with Jenny’s forethought and wisdom.

Ellen took the third one, slowly opening the cover.  The small screen merely crackled, giving no images at all.  They waited, but nothing happened.

“The box was damaged, so perhaps this is the lone casualty.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In bed later, Brian kissed Ellen tenderly on her cheek.  “It would be lovely to see them all again, aye?” he whispered.

“Lord willing,” she said, enveloped in his arms “and the creek don’t rise.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Next week will have prompt 2.  :)  I hope everyone is doing well.  Sending along my best wishes and appreciation for your support.

 

Dinner had been somewhat solemn; having seen and heard Jamie, Claire and Murtagh so recently, through the videos, it lent to a feeling of emptiness at the table.  They were here, but not here.

Sitting in the family room afterwards, Brian enjoyed his pipe and a dram.  Father Willie was helping Jenny and Willie with their Latin, while Emily brushed Juniper and Berry.  Ellen, sewing a christening gown and cap for little Brian, was absorbed in her stitching when voices came from behind her chair.

Everyone stopped what they were doing.

“We can not express how…” It was Joe’s voice. “…and we send our love to you all.”

Jenny stood up, went behind Ellen’s chair, and got the 3rd envelope.   “The other message must have righted itself.”  She opened it, but still there was a blank screen.  After a few seconds, Lamb’s voice could be heard.

“Claire and the baby are healthy and happy, and Jamie is as doting a father as you would imagine…”

For a split second the video resumed, Lamb and Joe side by side.

“You would be very, very proud,” Lamb finished.

Then it cut out.  That was all they heard.

“May be that we get a bit more each day!” Jenny said, amused.

Brian smiled. “’twould be verra welcome.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

While Jamie was removing his kilt and shirt – a t-shirt that Claire had gotten him with a vintage Scottish lion on it – she noticed he winced.

“Jamie, have you hurt yourself?”

“Och no, lass. I’m well.”

Slipping into her nightgown, she noticed that he winced again as he bent to remove his boots.

“Jamie…”

“Isabella reared today when she heard the thunder and I got twisted is all.  I’ll be fine.”

Claire embraced him, whispering “are you sure it wasn’t from this morning?”

 He cupped her chin with his finger, then kissed her.  “Ye wee sprite, waking me up like that.” 

“I’ll get the liniment from Yi Tien.”

“Claire, I said I dinna need…”

“AND I HEARD YOU.” 

She ran her fingers over his back, and down his hips.  “I might have want of your affection again in the morning.  I’m being entirely selfish here.”

Jamie laughed out loud.  “Then have yer way with me.”

He slumped over a chair in their bedroom, hugging the back of it so he could be fully under Claire’s hands.

“Where does it hurt?”

“The very bottom of my back, lass, the whole way across.”

Claire kneeled down, pouring the liniment onto a cotton round. 

“Thank ye, Claire.  Ye’ve got the most loving touch.”

Slowly Claire massaged his strained back, covering it with kisses.  She saw him immediately relax, his shoulders slumping over the back of the chair.

“Come with me to bed, my love.  I’ll plug in a hot pad for you.”

Jamie walked slowly to bed, getting in on top of the heating pad.  Claire pulled the blankets over him then checked the monitor – Brian was sleeping soundly.  She turned the light out, then got in gently so as not to jostle him.

“Honey, I wanted to talk to you for a moment.  I’ve been thinking we should consider adding on to the house.” The dark of the room, with only a wee bit of moonlight coming around the curtain, gave her words greater weight.

Jamie got his arm around Claire’s waist, gathering her to himself. The thought of another morning like they’d just had began to overtake his mind. “I’ve thought of it as well.  The one bath-room is getting crowded.”

“Not just that…” Claire replied, feeling Jamie’s hand move to her rump, “but when Murtagh and Ingrid move into his room after they’re married, the spare room will become their nursery if need be.”

Jamie smiled, happy that Lallybroch will be filled with bairns. 

“And if we were to have more…”

CLAIRE?”

“No, I’m not.  I’m just saying that it will be a very strong possibility.”

“Ah.”

“Then we’ll be out of rooms unless the baby shares Brian’s room.”

“I’ll talk with Murtagh soon. He did so much with Da on the house that he’ll know what to devise.”

Jamie pulled Claire’s nightgown out of the way, his hand finding her warm, soft skin.

Claire knew his massage of desire and his massage of comfort.  This was definitely the former.

“I thought your back hurt.”

“It does, but there’s a worse ache somewhere else now that ye’ve tempted me.”

Clare slipped out of her nightgown and slowly climbed atop Jamie.  “Then let me see to that too.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie and Murtagh had planned part of the day to prepare a small section of land for planting.  Claire had told them how important potatoes were at one time, and also how many types of food could be made with them.  This seemed like a reasonable crop, and one that would have a moderately quick return. They had sectioned off the plot and removed the sod. Then, they got out the high-wheel plow and the attachments that came with it; Jamie loved what Claire came home with from her “antiquing.”  It could have been done quicker with modern machinery, but they were also costly. For this small patch their “vintage” plow would be fine. 

While Murtagh tended to the animals, Jamie began plowing. Preoccupied with the rhythm of it, he was jolted when the blade hit something.  “Confounded rocks” he muttered, reaching into the ground for the third time.

He didn’t see a rock, so dug in with his hands for he knew he definitely hit something. He felt what he thought was the corner of a large metal box.

Murtagh, eyeing him from the stable, whistled as a way of asking if Jamie was alright; any time Jamie was down caused Murtagh to panic.  Jamie waved for Murtagh to come over, motioning to bring a shovel.

Running to meet him, he handed the shovel to Jamie. “What have ye there?”  he asked, kneeling.

“Plow hit something.”

Frantic for what it could be, he moved enough soil until the top of it could be seen. Murtagh’s voice became serious: “That’s a strong box, lad.”

Moving the remaining dirt out of the way, he and Murtagh were able to jerk it out of the ground using the handles still dangling on each side though it weighed probably 30 pounds.

It was sizeable and made of iron:  strap work and hand rivets.  Dummy lock plate medallion on the front, with the key still lodged in the secret escutcheon on the lid.  Due to its time sitting in the ground, it was rusted.

Jamie wiped his forehead with the back of his arm.

“Should we open it?”

“Well, I dinna think we should just stare at it.”

Jamie laughed.  “Aye.” He undid the clasps, then turned the key.  It took some strength, but it finally unlocked.  Needing to use his pocket-knife around the seam between the lid and base, nearly rusted shut, helped with pulling it open.

In the lid was an engraved silver back plate of the same Scottish dragon on the shirt he had.  But inside was two pistols with a powder flask, ram rods, a bullet mold and small ladle. These sat atop a coin pouch and what appeared to be deeds.

Everything was extremely well preserved;  the brunt of the corrosion and decay was taken by the box. 

After a few minutes of shock, Murtagh spoke:  “Someone buried this during the rebellion so the British couldn’t arrest them, foremost, but also so it wouldn’t be confiscated.”  His words of absolute truth dispelled any mystery or intrigue.

The sun was now high, coming from behind a cloud to illuminate the inside of the box.  It all seemed so familiar, these items that used to be commonplace in their lives. But now they were oddly distant; ancient, even.

“Let’s get this cleaned up at the house.  We can examine everything once we’re inside.”

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lamb received the agenda, parking tag, lanyard with his badge, and directions to the university. Scanning the  agenda, he saw Joe’s presentation: “Faith and Loyalty in 18th Century Scotland: How Religion in The Family Unit Strengthened Broader Society.” Lamb smiled.  He half expected that if Joe were questioned about his theory he’d say “I JUST KNOW, OK?”

Down the agenda was Lamb’s name and his presentation: “Self-Sustaining Farms in the 18th Century: How Modern Food Production Isn’t An Improvement.”

It wasn’t his bailiwick, but then again Joe didn’t give him much time.  The topic had repeatedly come to mind while they were with Brian and Ellen, and he’d formed some definite opinions on the matter.  It was also an important presentation to do with regard to the upcoming class at Lallybroch.

Sitting at the small desk in his room he heard the neighbor’s grandchildren arriving, for their Labradors’ barks were distinctive; low-pitched grumbles of happiness when the couple returned home late at night, to high-pitched yelps of excitement when the grandchildren visited.  Lamb couldn’t help but smile.  He looked at the picture of little Brian that Claire had framed for him, his tiny face so full of peace, his eyes alit with hope.

“They do fill your heart.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie and Murtagh lugged the box all the way to the house.  Sitting it down just outside, they took a cloth that was hanging on the clothesline to wipe it off.  They came in the back door, one before the other, to get it through.  Grunting and dirt-caked, they walked past Claire who was forming meatballs at the kitchen counter then into the family room, startling Ingrid who was hoovering.

Claire immediately followed them, standing dumbstruck beside an equally shocked Ingrid.   Eyeing the huge box, rusted and covered with soil, Claire exclaimed: “WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED OUT THERE?” 

“Was plowing when the blade caught something.  Dug down and found this,” Jamie replied a bit sheepishly; any time Claire seemed angry caused a twinge of guilt.

“You’ve opened it, then?” she asked more calmly.

Tugging on his beard, which he did when thinking or nervous, Jamie replied: “Aye.”

Ingrid quickly sensed this was a situation they might want to discuss privately, for there was a very heavy pause after Jamie confessed to their opening the box.

“I’ll finish getting lunch ready,” she softly said, moving towards the kitchen.

Murtagh stepped past everyone to gently take her hand.  “Ye need not leave, lass.  Please stay.”  He kept his hand on her back to assure that she was now a part of the family.She looked to Jamie and Claire to see if they were also of the same mind, and their gentle look of approval changed her mind.

Claire seemed concerned that no one knew about it. “Did you have any idea it was there?”

“Not at all, mo chalman.  This is a shock.”

The box was regal, commanding even with its concomitant smells: a mixture of fine Scottish soil and decay.

“Your Father didn’t ever mention this?  Would he have intentionally kept it secret?”

“I dinna think it was Brian,” Murtagh said, his face contorted a bit in worry.  “Well, I should say that I am verra doubtful it was him.”

Jamie leaned over, pulling the lid open. 

Claire gasped, covering her mouth in what may have been to keep from uttering too much of what she thought.

She stepped closer to the box, bending down to see everything more closely.

“All the makings for musket balls. Hmm. Wonder if there are the muskets buried somewhere else.”  She meant it as a joke, but judging by the silence it obviously wasn’t picked up on.

The pistols were extraordinary.  They were made entirely of steel and intricately etched with the flora and fauna of Scotland.  She could just barely make out a name, possibly the manufacturer:  “Thos. Caddell.”

Jamie pulled one out, then handed the other to Murtagh.  They were in exceptional condition, and most importantly, not loaded.

Claire reached for the small purse.  It was heavy in her hand.  “Oh, dear.”  She handed it to Jamie, her eyes wide.

He sat the pistol down, carefully, then took the cracked but still somewhat supple leather bag from her. Pulling it open, which dislodged the drawstrings, he let out a long breath he’d been holding when he saw a mound of gold coins.  

Murtagh’s face turned pale. 

Jamie’s hand shook. “’tis a King’s ransom.”

Ingrid, holding onto the vacuum handle, was riveted.

The papers were another puzzle piece.  The first, in perfect script, entitled the landowner -  whose name had faded with time - to Lallybroch and its surrounding acreage.  The other parchment, though, was very readable.

It was Brian and Ellen’s marriage license.

 

Chapter Text

After dinner, Murtagh and Jamie poured themselves a dram and sat outside. Claire and Ingrid, expecting they might want to talk alone, put Brian in a stroller and went for a walk.

Evenings remained well-lit, nearly to 9pm, making the day seem almost endless. The contented bleats, moos and neighs were a beautiful chorus to them.

For a while neither said anything, both trying to understand how something so valuable would have remained unknown to either of them. At one point, though, Jamie saw what appeared to be a look of recognition on Murtagh’s face.

“Ye’ve an idea then, Father?” Jamie asked.

“I remember a time yer Da got something in the mail and was gone a few days shortly after. He didna say anything; just left. This was about the time of yer arrest. I thought Randall might have been trying to extort more money, but The Old Fox died right about then too. Mayhaps the pistols, and the coins, was Lovat’s way of making amends before he died. So I suspect Brian probably did bury it all, along with the deed and license, in case the British showed up. O’course he’d no have said anything, now that I think about it. It would keep all of us from having to lie if the house got ransacked.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Emily saw the postman through the window. She met him at the door then took the mail to Brian at the table. The kitchen smelled of sausage, fried potatoes, and toast. Juniper and Berry were dutifully sitting at Ellen’s feet, snorting their frustration and tapping her foot with their paws to gain her attention. The sausage, already enticing because it was pork, was made more appealing by the addition of sage.

“Ye’ll get yers with yer breakfast! Shoo!” She waved her hand for them to go to their beds.

Willie, though, could be counted on when attempts at Ellen failed; he snuck two small chunks under the table when he saw their pleading eyes.

Brian, engrossed in a letter he received, still caught the misdemeanor: “Dinna disobey yer Mam,” he said without looking up.

“Yes, Sir.” Willie apologized immediately. “Sorry, Mam.”

“I accept. You’ll be cleaning the dishes, then.”

Jenny all but said “ha-ha” as she got up from the table, taking Emily’s hand so they could go on a walk. Willie sighed then took everyone’s dishes to the sink.

“Good one” Father Willie whispered to Brian, winking at his ability to catch the imperceptible.

Brian laughed. “Willie hates sausage but asked for it anyway. Just a matter of deduction.”

While Ellen took the dogs out to play, Brian remembered another letter he’d gotten many years ago. He looked out the window to a spot in the field.

Father and son relationships can be difficult in the best of circumstances, and even worse if you were an illegitimate result of an affair who then eloped with a woman that had not been approved of. Being disowned was a pain that lingered for years. But Brian had never carried any guilt at his birth for he knew God had willed it; nor did he carry any guilt for who he chose to marry and the situation it happened in. Being blessed in both situations – the granting of life and true love – would forever outweigh losing the support and love of his father.

His father’s handwriting, which was obviously labored, pierced his heart: “I would be pleased to have your company in one week’s time. The matter is most dire.”

“Forgive me for the years wasted in anger,” Lovat said to Brian, sat compassionately at his side.

“Ye had that already,” Brian replied, “for ‘tis too great a sin to live in unforgiveness.” He patted his father’s hand.

“Yer a good man, Brian. Better than I ever was.” Lovat nodded to his butler who brought over a heavy, iron box. He opened it for Brian to see.

“They’re the finest pistols made, mind. And a bit of coin that is yer rightful share of the estate.”

As Brian was leaving, lugging the box away, Lovat pulled himself up on his arm.

“Ye’ll know what to do with this, I assume.”

Brian, looking at his father for probably the last time, nodded.

“And dinna let the bloody Brits get it!”

Chapter Text

Claire had read an article about how being outdoors had a way of “taming” the wild in children, so with that in mind – and Brian’s fussiness – she decided to introduce him to the horses.

Jamie and Murtagh were at Robert MacDougal’s…doing something.  He had mentioned a(nother) trip to the feed store and wanting to try his electric shears, but Claire had been so enraptured with how sweetly he was nuzzling Brian as she changed his diaper that all focus had been lost. He kissed the palm of Brian’s hand, told him he was a good lad and very loved, then kissed Claire goodbye.

Unfortunately, nearly the moment he left, Brian’s wee smile left and the tears soon fell. 

“I know, my love.  He fills up your heart, doesn’t he?  But let’s take a trip outside, aye?”

Ingrid was working a double shift and would not be home until evening, doubly exhausted for sure.

The windows had been left open through the house; despite it being July, the weather was projected to have clear skies and mild temps.  Cradling Brian in his swaddling blanket – more a means of comfort that warmth – the house had the most delightful feeling: the birds were in full song - white-throated sparrows, cardinals, finches and the magnificent barn owl with its starry-night-sky plumage - and the curtains were billowing from the gentle morning breeze.  On the counter, wrapped in cling film with a heart written on it, Jamie had prepared her a plate of scrambled eggs with fried onions and a raspberry scone Ingrid had made last night.

Grabbing a sparkling water from the fridge, Claire took her plate and drink to the table. 

“Let’s eat, sweetie.  No need to start the day with an empty tum.”   Affixing Brian to her breast, she ate one-handed: one of many newly-acquired skills.

Her phone was just near enough that she could read the text message coming in without needing to reach for it.  It was from Lamb:  “Joe and I will be over for dinner. xo”

“Ahhh. That’s the other thing Jamie said. That explains the makings for burrito bowls I saw in there by the water. He and Murtagh must want their take on the box.”

Outside, Claire slipped on her yard boots which she kept just near the door.  “Don't want muck on my trainers!” she said to Brian, now turning his head about.

Once inside the humid but cool barn, his lingering fussiness stopped.  All three horses turned directly towards them, curiosity in their large brown eyes.

Going first to Isabella, who had stuck her whole head over the stall door, Claire held Brian close enough for the horse to both smell and see him.  Her massive nostrils took in his precious baby scent.

Brian’s eyes were wide, his little hands trying to touch her.  Claire rubbed Bella’s head, brushing the hair from her eyes.

“This is a horse, little one.  Isn’t she beautiful?”

Claire snuck her an apple from a bucket of them that Jamie had nailed a post. 

In the next stall was Magdalena.  She was another dapple, with a fair mane the color of honey.  She was looking to Claire’s hand for a treat too but was still intrigued by the baby.  She smelled him, the little hairs on her snout tickling Brian’s arm.  He smiled.

In the last stall was Giovanni.  Jamie had described him as “the warmest, friendliest horse I’ve ever had.”  Claire switched Brian to her other arm.  “Here’s another horse, my lad.  He’s sweet like you.”

Giovanni seemed thrilled to see the little human, his eyes lingering on the bundle in Claire’s arm. 

“Alright, luv.  Onward we go.” 

Claire took Brian to her garden, which was now thriving, laying him on his blanket in a shady spot while she weeded. 

Soon, Jamie and Murtagh returned. Claire shielded her eyes as she looked towards the house. Jamie waved, walking towards her.  She put a finger to her lips then pointed to the sleeping bundle on the blanket.

Jamie came to lie down beside him, putting his arm around his wee lad to pull him closer.  Soon, Da fell asleep too.

~ ~ ~  ~ ~

After dinner, Joe and Lamb excitedly followed Jamie into the sitting room.  Sat in the corner, where previously Brian and Ellen’s family bible sat on it’s pedestal, was the box.

“As far as Murtagh and I can surmise, Da…”

Lamb and Joe immediately looked at each other, then to Jamie and Murtagh; Ingrid’s presence caused them immediate concern at Jamie’s mention of his father.

Murtagh, wanting no unease to come to Ingrid, assured them of her trustworthiness by placing his arm around her then nodding to Jamie to continue.

“Must have buried this for safekeeping.  It may have been left to him as an inheritance by his Da, Lord Lovat.”

The first thing Joe saw were the gleaming pistols.

“Hoo HOO!  Caddell butt pistols!  Well I’ll be.”  He wiggled his fingers in the air.  “May I?”

Laughing, Jamie waved his hand over the chest.  “I’d be much obliged.”

“The Caddell’s were Jacobite sympathizers.  Started manufacturing pistols in Doune in the 17th century.  They supplied Highland clans.”  He knelt down, gently taking one in his hand.

“Jamie, these are extremely rare.”

Lamb, not as much an expert in Scottish history as Joe, nevertheless noticed their value.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“There’s also coins, a deed and a marriage license.”

Both Lamb and Joe looked up in shock.

“Well…” Lamb said, standing up, “it was wise to bury it.  The Brits would have confiscated everything and jailed him instanter.”

Still eyeing the scrollwork, Joe asked: “What are your plans?”

Jamie’s face became serious: “In the event Da needs it, or even just wants to reminisce, I think it’s best to put it back.  I dinna want to take something that’s no mine.”

Murtagh was nodding, obviously of the same mind.

“I agree son,” Lamb said, clapping him on the arm. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire had planned their anniversary celebration already, secretly coordinating with Murtagh. He had been thinking where he and Ingrid could make their wedding plans when Claire came up with something: they could have a fancy brunch in town while she and Brian took Jamie into the park.

Jamie had already tried putting something together on his own, but Murtagh intervened.

“So, she’s gotten ahead of me is what yer sayin’” Jamie asked while they chucked their first bales of hay into the loft of the barn.

“Aye,” Murtagh grunted “she has.” He leaned on his pitchfork. “Just be ready in the morning. I’m driving.”

Jamie smirked, wondering what his wife had put together.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When they arrived at the park, Claire asked Jamie to get Brian out of his car seat. She scurried to the boot of the car to pull out Jamie’s sporran and her backpack, a large blanket, and a picnic basket.

Murtagh took Ingrid’s hand, waved to Jamie and Claire, then walked off.

A family on rented bikes rode by, the children repeatedly ringing the bells on the handles, prompting Claire’s mind to flood with memories. This park, so usual with its expansive greens, hills, and shops, was also heavy in mystery. People scurried about, enjoying their time, not knowing the secrets that existed just around them.

Claire looked back to the car from the family that had now ridden away, threw the blanket and backpack over her shoulder, and the sporran and basket over her arms. She began to walk towards Jamie and Brian who were investigating something up in a tree when she realized she forgot to pull the door shut. She turned to put everything down when it somehow closed itself. She thought she heard the faintest sound of laughter as several little lights flew off from the car.

“Hello, old friends” she whispered.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire zig-zagged down the hill, slowly at first, but her increased weight also increased her speed. Gaining momentum as she neared Jamie, she yelled “MAKE WAY!” He scurried behind her, clutching Brian, yelling “YE DIDNA NEED TO CARRY IT ALL YERSELF.” She came to a screeching halt, pulling the basket to her chest so it didn’t go flying.

“Ha! Made it!” She looked into Jamie’s arms, which had been clutching Brian, and saw a wee face full of delight. She drew near to kiss Brian’s chubby cheek: “Did you have a fun ride?”

“Claire…” Jamie said, unbemused, “Why did ye no just have me…”

“It would have spoiled the surprise.” She pursed her lips.

Spreading out the blanket under the tree where she had written her notes, she then handed Jamie’s sporran to him; of all things for Murtagh to remember as they hurried Jamie to the wagon. But an 18th century Scotsman relied on it, and Murtagh would not leave his Godson without something so crucial to everyday life.

Jamie seemed to have somewhat of an idea, not a full one, as he looked at her with curiosity. She took Brian from him, for it had been some time since they’d left and he was already smacking his lips. While he ate, she explained:

“This is where I wrote to you, what feels like ages ago. This is where my heart turned from stone to flesh, from sorrow to happiness. This, James Fraser, is where I came to be yours and you came to be mine.”

Jamie reached to touch Brian’s wee foot, crossed over the other one as he ate. “And ‘tis where I gained strength and hope. Now….I’ve a wife and son.” His voice trailed off, the remembrance of the darker path his life could have taken.

They exchanged stories, adding more color to the well-worn tales they’d already told each other, sometimes at night under the covers while it stormed outside, or on walks, but never here at the actual site of their mysterious, romantic beginning. They talked of how hard it was trying to convince their family they hadn’t lost all sense, and the pain of leaving the stones not knowing if there would ever be another meeting.

“So…” Claire continued, “I thought we’d do the same thing that we did then.” She nodded to his sporran, still loaded with the graphite sticks, but now with the addition of a professional sketch pad.

“Ahhh. Lovely.” Jamie said, deciding on how to start.

He leaned back against the tree and began to draw his wife and son. He captured the peacefulness and love in Claire’s face, and the way her arms embraced Brian. He drew the small ruffles at the bottom of her summer dress, and the little ruffles on her “flip flops.” He even caught something as small as her wedding band. She switched Brian to her other arm to finish eating, and from there Jamie could capture his soft curls and the shape of his head.

He signed it “Claire with baby Brian. July, 2018. JAMMF.”

Taking Brian from Claire, Jamie gently laid the sleeping lad on the ground beside him. He got more comfortable, propping his head on his hand, and with the other rubbed Brian’s little tummy.

Claire put context in the drawing, to include the surroundings, which put into greater focus Jamie with Brian. She drew his kilt, and the bend of his fingers at Brian’s side.

“Jamie with Brian, July 2018. CEBF.”

They laid the drawings together, then leaned over their wee lad for a kiss.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Across the street, Ingrid was soaking in the sunlight from the window as Murtagh massaged the palm of her hand. The previous day was nothing but IV’s and squeezing the rubber bulb for blood pressures, so her hand was cramped.

The smell of coffee and breakfast foods, lite music, and the chatter of customers around them always invigorated her. She closed her eyes, the sun warming her face, as Murtagh nimbly relieved her hand of stress. Soon, she felt his fingertip spell “i-love-you.”

She slowly opened her eyes to see him smiling at her. “I love you too.”

“Have ye a date that’s special to ye?” he asked, letting go of her hand to finish his food.

“Not particularly. I know that a lot of women prefer weddings in the summer, but there’s something so beautiful about December. Christmas, snow, cookies, jingle bells.”

“Would ye mean this December or next?” Murtagh wasn’t sure of the etiquette for modern weddings, but he knew he wanted her to have everything she wanted.

“Well….” She said, stirring the little bit of tea that was left in her cup. “I don’t want anything big or complicated, I don’t have a lot of family. Maybe this December 1st?”

This time Murtagh took her left hand, bringing it to his lips. “Aye, lass. This December 1st.”

Chapter Text

Joe was waiting in Adrienne's office.  He’d already eaten three caramels from the dish on her desk and was about to go out to the water fountain when she finally came in, a bit flustered.

“I am SO sorry.  PLEASE forgive me.”  She sat her bag on the corner of her desk and plopped into her chair.  “All I wanted…” she said, running her hand through her hair “was a printout of class particulars, and you’d think I asked for a congressional report.  What should have been 5 minutes was over half an hour.”

 “If you hadn’t had such good treats on your desk I might be a bit more upset.”  He attempted a smile.

“You got my text, didn’t you?”

“Ummm, nope.”

Adrienne pulled out her phone. “Of COURSE you didn’t.  I never hit send. Ugh. I was so frustrated that I…”

She looked up to see Joe handing her a caramel.  “Try one.  They’re really buttery.”

Adrienne laughed.  “Thanks.  I mean that.”

“So…” Joe began.  “What’s all the hubbub?”

“You know that we kept the class size to 10 so that you, Lamb…everyone wouldn’t be overwhelmed.  We devised that a ratio of 2-1 was appropriate, and with this being an experiment and all, didn’t want to have unreasonable expectations.   Well, we had 30 sign up.”

“Whoa.”

Adrienne threw the wrapper in the waste bin.  “The more surprising thing was what was in the surveys we attached to the registration, asking what their expectations were and what made them choose the class.”

Joe’s face was frozen.

“Wow. These really are good.  I got them at this funky little candy store that sold stuff from all over the world, vintage stuff from decades ago…The employees wore white aprons. Really cool.  Anyway…”  She pulled a binder-clipped packet of papers from her bag. “Some of the responses were:

‘Modern life is making me depressed. I want real life, like my Grandpa and Grandma had.  They’re never depressed.”

This one touched Joe, remembering what his own Grandfather had done for him.

Adrienne skipped down the stack. 

“I’m really shy.  I love animals and farms.  I want to have my own one day so I want to know what it’s like, but the way it was done back then not now.”

“Everything is done for me. Computers do it all. I can even have food delivered without seeing a person.  I’m lazier than I’ve ever been, and this class sounds really cool.  I actually like manual labor. And I won’t be sitting in a classroom is what’s best.”

“My mom and dad said it would be a good elective.  I’d never tell them but they’ve always been right.  For once I’m not going to fight with them.  I’m kind of excited to learn about crops and using tools.  They’re real life skills. Creating memes isn’t going to get me very far.”

“All of my friends understand computers and phones so easily but I just don’t get it.  I mean, I know how to sign up for classes and submit my assignments, but the whole world and every job that’s out there requires so much technology experience that I feel kind of lost.    I just want a simple life with someone who wants the same thing but not have analyze data and create spreadsheets eight hours a day. This class seems like I’ll do things that I understand. Anyway, sorry for going on and on.  I can’t wait for the class and I’m really glad it’s offered.  Will there be a part 2 and 3?  I hope so.  Sorry. Thanks again.”

The last one, which Adrienne had obviously read, she handed to Joe instead of reading it out loud:

“I’ve gotten a 100% in every class I’ve ever been in.  Ever since I was a child I have exceeded academically. I’ve been given scholarships and grants and accolades my whole life.  But I have a secret.  I’ve been able to avoid every class that involved sports because I could remember information and test well; teachers loved me and gave me a pass.  And yet, I’m a guy who can’t throw a ball without hitting himself in the head or swing a racket without looking like I’m being attacked by a swarm of bees.  And I won’t even try to explain how awkward I am running.  When I was picking out classes this fall I, obviously, completely skipped this one in the catalog because it said it would involve physical work and coordination; a kinesthetic intelligence that I am utterly bereft of.  But there really comes a time where you’re tired of hiding; tired of the smoke screens and camouflage.  What would people in my life, who have looked up to me and used me as an example of the perfect student, think if they found out there was something I couldn’t do? I’ve been panicking about that my whole life.  There was something so intriguing, so original about this class that made me really want to experience it. So, I signed up.  If I fall over something or end up hitting myself in the face stepping on a hoe the wrong way (like they do in cartoons) please don’t laugh, or kick me out. ;-)  I promise I’ll do my best.”

Joe looked up, astonished at the connection so many students were making to the class.

“You, dear friend…” Adrienne said, eyeing him with appreciation, “have hit on something very important.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ingrid hadn’t spoken to her mother in a few months but had made her aware she found someone wonderful and was engaged. 

Now she was calling her again to tell her they settled on a date, and to invite her and her husband to the wedding.

Her mother’s voice was warm.  Happy.

“Oh, sweetie! Well, that’s pretty close.”

“Yea.  Just the thought of planning out some gargantuan affair over several months…”

“…just isn’t you.”

They both laughed.

“There won’t be but a  few dozen people, I’d guess.  I think I can put something together in a few months.  Mummy…you’ll come, won’t you?”

“How could I not?  James and I are thrilled about the whole thing, ever since you said you were engaged.”

Ingrid was so relieved she almost cried.  For much of her childhood her mother had been in so much pain, physically and mentally, that she couldn’t be there for the few things Ingrid had been involved in.  Ingrid never hated her for it or carried any regret.  Now, as an adult, and a nurse that had treated women and children from abusive homes, she understood the burden it must have been. 

“We can probably rent a place for a while, if you’d like.” 

The worry in her voice was still there, though, and the shame for all that had happened;  almost asking “would you  even want me there?”

“That would make me so happy.  We can pick out my dress, maybe?  And find some shoes.”

“Yes. Of course, my angel.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe and Lamb arrived at Uni in Kent together, managed through the traffic – an agreed upon good sign – and into the parking lot.  Meandering through the campus they climbed the stairs into the austere building where they were to speak.   Inside the history-laden foyer, it’s walls were filled with frames of those who contributed to the school’s prestigious heritage.  They fist bumped. 

Just inside the lecture room - one of the less grand halls, for the conference would be attended by no more than 100 people - a man and woman with clipboards were stood waiting.  Both were dressed in white shirts, black trousers, and a tie/scarf of the school’s colors.

“Dr.  Beauchamp, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” the young woman quickly strode forward to shake his hand. She reached for one of several duffle bags with the conference details printed on it from a table.

Lamb offered his hand. “I apologize. Have we met?” he smiled, taking the bag from her.

“I’m Kiersten Donoghue.  I was a master’s student of yours a few years back.”  There was an almost imperceptible twinkle in her piercing brown eyes.

“Ah. Yes. And you were very studious,” Lamb said, trying to buy time.  His gut reaction, when she said her name, was “perfect essays” but he couldn’t remember much else.

She blushed.  “I kept on with middle eastern studies and just got a teaching position here. I’m working on my Doctorate – getting a few credits helping to organize conferences.”

Joe, off to the side, mouthed “ARE. YOU. SERIOUS.”

A few memories came back to Lamb: she always sat in the back, doodled a lot, did poorly on tests but wrote phenomenal essays, daydreamed.  Her writing got her the B she wanted as her final grade, which she’d been worried about. 

Behind him other presenters were queueing, so he excused himself.  “Thank you, Kiersten. It’s nice to see you again.  Good luck with your thesis.”

“I really appreciate it, Dr. Beauchamp.”  She tucked her hair behind her ear, met his eyes for a moment, smiled, then stepped up to the woman waiting behind him.

Joe was already at the table set up for he and Lamb, one of three for the six presenters, fiddling with the name card on the table, shifting in his chair, and moving his water bottle; the slightest game of “keep away.” As Lamb sat down, Joe looked out the window.  Lamb knew exactly what was coming next and tried with all he had not to laugh out loud; he even turned away to contain the impending convulsion of laughter.

Within seconds, Joe quietly muttered: “I hate you.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Joe’s presentation was, Lamb felt, the most engaging and informed.  It garnered several questions that became discussions and pushed his time to nearly 20 minutes past his allotment; no one minded, for if he had gone half an hour over it would have gotten even better.  Joe had always been the teacher students connected with, and Lamb secretly tried to emulate him, though an austere, somewhat academic style was so ingrained in Lamb that any attempt to change only seemed disingenuous and…odd. 

Lamb’s presentation, on the other hand, was so unique in subject that he seemed to leave everyone questioning why they had not thought about the topic themselves; consequently, there was more surprise than interaction.

Kiersten had been absent for most of the conference, popping in and out, standing in the back for a few minutes here and there, then was gone entirely at the end.  Joe had been pulled aside by a woman in attendance who had asked him one of the questions.  He was laughing with her, so Lamb chatted with a few of the other presenters while he waited.

Finally, Joe slapped him on the back.  “Let’s get rolling.”  As they walked out of the building and to the car, Joe dramatically put the woman’s business card in his wallet. “Ok, so I don’t hate you now.”

Later, as Lamb was filing away the presentation in his laptop with the notes he’d taken (for it was a given that someone, at some point, would write to him with questions) he pulled open the duffle bag.  There was a small zip bag of metal reusable straws, a metal water bottle, a writing pad and pens, a hoodie, a key chain, a flash drive, and a resin paperweight with an image of the college, the conference title, and date.

He put the notepad and pens away in his desk, sat the keychain in his bowl, the hoodie and everything else he threw on his bed.  As he did, a business card fell on the floor.  It was Kiersten’s. On the back she’d written: “Awesome presentation. Thanks for attending!”

“Does this mean….  No, she’s just…  No.  That was something that she probably wrote on every card.  Very non commital.” He sighed, then ran his hand over his face.  “It’s been so long I don’t know anything anymore.”

He called Joe.

Helllloooo Doctor Beauchamp!  It’s SOOOO nice to hear from you!”  Joe answered in a high-pitched voice.

 “Of course it is!  Hey – did you get any…uh…a lot in your school bag thing?”

“WELL, let’s play ‘how many.’  I got four things.”

“Oh.”

“Spill it.”

“Maybe soon. I just..needed your opinion.”

“If you got more, I am going to be highly perturbed.”

There was a long pause.

“You did, didn’t you.”

“Kind of.”   Lamb looked more closely at her writing, trying to decipher any clue in it much like he’d done with hieroglyphs.

“Lamb.”

“Hmm?”  He replied absentmindedly.

“Yes, she’s interested, and yes, it’s alright to be happy about it.”

“Thanks, buddy.  We did OK, yea?”

“Yea. We did.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire had been in to comfort Brian twice now, his slight fever – due to his shots – was keeping him from a sound sleep.  As she rose for the third time, hearing his cries over the monitor, Jamie gently pulled on her arm to have her get back into bed.  “I’ll check on him, mo chridhe. Rest.”

Jamie opened the door, it’s creak momentarily causing Brian to stop crying.  His wee eyes searched for his loving Mum, who fed and comforted him with stories, but instead he saw his Da’s face overtop the cradle.  His eyes opened wider.

“What troubles ye lad?  Is it yer leg? It canna be yer stomach for yer full to the brim.”

Jamie wrapped him in Ellen’s quilt then lifted him over his shoulder. “I love to be near yer Mam as well, wee one, but she needs sleep.  Da will calm ye this time.”

Jamie situated himself in the rocker, his one hand on Brian’s neck and the other under his bottom.  As Jamie rocked, his own eyes half shut, he recalled the times Ellen had stood in just the same spot, holding a fussy Willie who was a troubled sleeper even as a bairn.   When he was out of clouts and slept in a proper bed, Jamie took over as his comforter.  He did this gladly, for the nighttime conversations had, in small ways, helped him as well. Now, his own son was in need of Jamie’s calm, loving presence.  It was an aspect of Jamie’s character that he had come to understand was a blessing, for the Lord had told us to comfort as He, himself, would be a comfort.  Jamie in some ways missed this nighttime ritual.  To facilitate Brian’s peace, Jamie blessed him:

“Benedictio Dei omnipotentis, Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super vos, et maneat semper.” *

Brian settled his head in the crook of Jamie’s neck. “I suspect yer Mam has already told ye a few tales tonight but I’ll give ye another.”  Running the countless conversations he and Willie had together over the years, Jamie just caught sight of a few birds Claire had painted on the wall.

“Early one morning, about 4:00, I turned over to see yer Uncle Willie with his head on both hands, looking out the window of our room. He was nay even five years old.  When he saw that I was awake, he asked me if I would agree that birds were the smartest of God’s creatures.'They must all be equally endowed, I’d assume.'”

“Oh.”

“Why do ye ask?”

“Well, birds can walk, run, fly, build, swim, forage, and fight off predators.”

“But they canna climb, mind, like a squirrel.”

“Seven out of eight is still a better ratio than a fish.”

Jamie began to continue on, mentioning that Willie felt strongly enough in his conviction that he turned over and went to sleep, when Jamie peered down at his little bundle whose eyes were firmly shut.

“Either I’m a fine storyteller indeed, or a right poor one to have put ye to sleep, but if yer at peace then it doesna matter” Jamie whispered, kissing his wee boy and laying him back in his cradle.

 

* May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lamb was holding Brian while everyone else was chatting at the table, reviewing the syllabus Joe had created, and quickly eating up a plateful of sandwiches and another of brownies.

“This version has been approved as final,” Joe said.  “You’ll notice that each of the 15 weeks is assigned a topic, with only a midterm and final exam. Each of you might only appear in one week’s teachings, though Ingrid” Joe said, looking towards her across the table, her arm entwined in Murtagh’s, “you’ll be teaching during one week on basic medicine but be the on-site nurse. Thank you for the offer, and for the work you’ve done in learning about 18th century medicine.”

“Got it.  And I really enjoyed it.”

“I’m working on the spring semester’s syllabus now,” he continued “so we’ll have a short break in December until we start up again at the end of January for round two.”

A stack of journals and ledgers, and several boxes of pencils, were sat in a corner of the kitchen.  Next to them were the textbooks, which were a compilation of journal entries from 18th century farmers and 21st century critiques of the times. The end of the book was a glossary of Scottish terms.

“Claire, you’ll not need to do anything that would hinder your care of Brian, so…”

“I intend to work AND care for him just like every woman did then.  I obviously won’t feed in front of the students, but for the time I’m scheduled his tum will be full.  Susanna also offered to come over to help if I need her.”

“Don’t push yourself, luv” Lamb said, holding Brian up to see out the window.  There was the occasional yellow or red leaf laying on the ground and showing on the trees; tell-tale signs of fall approaching.

“Everyone – please remember.  One of the goals of this is to teach self-sufficiency and to keep them engaged in their own learning. The others, outlined in course objectives, are connecting with people and problem solving.  This will take them some getting used to, probably, without them using phones.”

Lamb kissed Brian’s hand then handed him to Jamie.  “Joe has found a lot of vendors.  Amazing work.”

Joe put his hands out for Brian before Jamie got him settled. 

“I appreciate that, Lamb,” he said, rocking Brian in his arms. “I had the good fortune to find a blacksmith to visit, a tanner, and a potter.  There will also be a visit to Filomena’s and to a stationary store where they’ll make sheets of paper.  I’ve read some of the comments that came in as the students signed up for the class.  There are about 20 that couldn’t get in, so it was a popular choice.  Some of the students really want to get away from the burden of technology, some want to overcome shyness and awkwardness.”

Everyone nodded.

“Alright, then. Meeting over.  C’mon buddy,” he said to Brian, “let’s go exploring.”  After a tour of the outside, Joe brought him back in. He started to take him out the front door, but when he opened it he saw that Lamb was sitting there with his phone in his hand.

CALL HER,” Joe said, then took Brian to the sitting room to see the portraits of his family.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Mum and James will be here to help me get a dress and arrange the wedding,” Ingrid said, still sitting with Murtagh.  “Will you mind that?”

Murtagh was so engrossed in the feel of her hand in his that he could only shake his head.  She tilted her head to his, wanting a kiss.  He happily obliged.  

“I don’t want to take it all over. I mean…I’m not sure how you…how it was done…” She clearly didn’t want to upset Murtagh’s sensibilities or beliefs, and he recognized that.

“Lass,” he whispered, taking her in his arms, “I’ve no rules nor requirements, only that yer happy.  But we’ll ‘ave it here at the chapel?  That is something I’d like.”

“I’d like that too. I’ll get a list from Claire of the people you would want to invite.” She nuzzled his neck.  “But who is going to marry us?”  She looked up at him, worried.

Murtagh began to say “Jamie is the Laird and capable of such a thing,” but he considered that this might not be so in this time. “I dinna ken, luv, but leave the responsibility to me.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After dinner, while Claire and Ingrid worked on the spinning wheel, Jamie and Murtagh took the strong box back into the yard.

Rain was looming.  Though the men recognized the storm clouds, they didn’t know their name: nimbostratus.

The classification system of clouds, created in 1803 by British chemist Luke Howard, would become known as “Howard’s system”  and used by meteorologists.  Nevertheless, these heavy, low-lying, foreboding poofs were overtaking the sunset and causing the trees at the edge of the property to sway in unison from the increase in wind. Jamie and Murtagh would need to secure the buildings and soothe the horses who, due to their sensitive nature, could be skittish if thunder or lightning would arrive.

Dealing with the box was easier this time for they had only to bury it in the hole that had already been dug and replace the soil from what they’d mounded to the side. With the final shovelful of dirt laid on top, Murtagh patted it down with his boot.  They had cleaned the box thoroughly, oiled the hinges, then secured it in another water-resistant box before re-burying.  Jamie had also written a note to his Da, explaining what had happened in case Brian dug it up.

“If Da did receive it all from Lovat” Jamie said, eyeing the sky, “I’m grateful they were reconciled.  I ken he and Mam were all but disowned.”

“Would be a good sign, yes” Murtagh said, his head turning to the barn and the sounds of restless horses, “for to breathe your last with enmity between ye and yer kin is not a fitting end.”

 

 Next week:  The time travelers become teachers

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The family were out in the courtyard waiting for the bus.  The sound of the diesel engine was soon heard, it’s weathered yellow hulk sputtering down the road. After it squealed to a stop Joe bounded out first, kissed Claire and Brian, then said good morning to everyone else. Lamb exited second, doing the same thing.  They would maintain roles as instructors, but farmhands as well. 

The first day’s class would be introductions, expectations, a tour of the house and land, passing out of materials (a promotional sheet gave each family member’s background - raised “off the grid in a traditional environment” for Jamie and Murtagh - and the history of Lallybroch.) Questions would be answered then the week’s work laid out. Due to the unique nature of the class, safety protocols were reinforced but also a reminder of drop dates; everything that would normally have been discussed in the classroom minus the farm animals.

Slowly the students filed out, some still groggy with sleep, some intensely awake from the large coffees clutched in their hands.  A few seemed outright worried.

Joe had the students introduce themselves, then the family went next. Lamb motioned for them to open their journals and get their pens before the tour began.

Going through the house first, Jamie explained how it functioned; mainly, how it would have been heated and cooled without machines: open windows in summer, fires in winter. Emphasizing that the fireplace was used for both heating and cooking, “’tis a crucial part of every home, then.”

Upstairs, they went first to Jamie and Claire’s bedroom. Claire explained the beds, and judging by their faces the students hadn’t expected to learn that there were no springform mattresses, but rather down-filled ones sat atop frames.  She showed them a bed warmer, explaining how coveted it was in winter. 

Chamber pots got the strongest reaction: repulsion, surprise, and disbelief.

“There would not have been electricity, obviously; next to fireplaces, candles were critical for they lit rooms at night. All work and reading were done by them as well.”  She passed a candle holder for them to examine.

“Clothes,” Murtagh began, “were equally valuable, o’course, fer ye had one outfit which ye had to care for. ‘twas time-consuming to s