Jamie Fraser groaned as he opened his eyes, blinking to adjust to the light of the afternoon sun. His headache was splitting, and he instantly knew something was wrong. Where was he? More importantly, where was –
He rose to his knees and whipped his head around to search for his daughter. He remembered holding her hand, how far could she have gotten?
They had been travelling back to Lallybroch from a trip for supplies. Jenny had disapproved, as his leg was still healing, but he had needed to do something to feel useful. Perhaps he was a fool to leave the priest’s hole, let alone Lallybroch, as a wanted man but he couldn’t sit around any longer while his family suffered.
He had gathered Faith, cropped his hair close and settled a cap on his head to detract from attention. The journey had gone smoothly enough, but on the way back Faith had slipped from his grasp and run up the hill toward –
Craigh Na Dun. The stones. Christ.
Jamie shakily got to his feet. He had to find her. The one thing he had been able to promise Claire before she crossed was that their lass would be safe. He had wished for time to fetch Faith and send her through the stones to safety with Claire and the bairn. He never expected to be around to care for her after Culloden, instead trusting his sister and best friend to see to her wellbeing.
But fate had intervened and allowed him a second chance. He had lost Claire, but still had a piece of her in Faith. Just like she would have from Brian in her own time. That she may be safe, she and the child.
“Faith…” Jamie stuttered. He couldn’t be without his daughter, the person he had left to keep him whole. It was his job to protect her. As long as he lived. Head pounding, Jamie took shaky steps around the stone. Had she passed through and left him behind? What would his wee daughter do by herself in a strange time? All the stories Claire had told him of 1948, and he still could not picture it. Jamie had whispered the memories as tales in Gaelic to Faith as she fell asleep, but she would never be prepared for the uncertainty, the danger of the time…
“Faith!” His voice was growing stronger, and he was able to project it over the hillside. Faith. His darling… the last piece of his heart.
“Da –” he finally heard the weak voice and ran toward it. He dropped down next to his four-year old’s prostrate form.
“Mo nighean,” Jamie cooed. “Are ye alright?” Praise God, she had not passed through, he thought. Even if she had… landed… in Claire’s time, she would have been at risk. Alone. She had no reason to seek her mother there. Jamie had occasionally allowed her the vague assurance that Mam might be back one day. But truthfully, he didn’t expect it. He would rather she stay safely in her own time than risk herself here. Even if it killed him to be apart from her.
Jamie put an arm around Faith’s shoulders and one under her knees as he pulled her into his lap. She was growing like a weed, he noticed as he rocked her. And Claire was missing it. Faith’s solid head hit his chest as she let it lull against him.
“What happened, Da? The screams… hurted my ears,” she whispered.
Jamie frowned. Screaming? He had heard something as he chased his daughter up the hill, but assumed it was the pounding of his own heart. The hypnotic look in her eyes as she turned and ran away still stuck in his mind. Of course she would have the same pull to the stones Claire did. But he had stopped her in time. Surely.
He scooped Faith up and started the way back down the hill. They could sort it out better away from the shrill noise, which he could hear now that his wee one was in his arms and his head clear of panic.
Her rattling cough brought Jamie into focus. “Mo chridhe?” he asked soothingly, trying to wipe the fear from his brow. The cough had been consistent since her early birth in the chaos of Paris. Not his fault, Claire had insisted. But the guilt weighed on him all the same. One more way he had failed his young family.
“Breathe, chuisle,” he whispered. “Easy.” Claire had taught him and Jenny how to identify the herb used to ease Faith’s constricted lungs, but he had left the rest in the saddlebag with Donas. Her symptoms usually increased after she had exerted herself. Asthma, Claire had called it. And little to be done for it in the 1740s.
Jamie increased his gait to reach the stubborn horse at the bottom of the hill. “Dinna fash, Da’s got ye,” he cooed to Faith as he tucked a lock of her brown curls behind her ear. He stopped suddenly. Donas had been hobbled right there, he thought. Though it was hard to hear with the noise of the…
Jamie looked up in shock as a shiny object rumbled past high in the sky. He could never have pictured it, but the thing looked as close as he could imagine to what Claire had described as an aeroplane. Something that wouldn’t exist for more than 150 years from his own time.
Faith was rasping by now, and her medicine in 1747, whenever they were. Jamie took off in a run toward Inverness. His frantic mind conjured the memory of Claire seeking the lights of her own time.
Emerging through the woods, Jamie stumbled upon an expanse of hard rock stretching as far as he could see. It must be the road Claire had mentioned. He kept running, trying to avoid jostling Faith in his hurry. He figured he had run five minutes when another rumbling started behind him. Was everything in this time so damnably loud?
A shrill noise echoed from the strange carriage that approached, and it stopped within a few paces of Jamie. The man that sat inside gave him a curious look.
“Ye seem in a hurry,” the man said. “In need of a lift?”
“Aye,” Jamie croaked. He eyed the apparatus cautiously. He wasn’t sure about its absolute safety either, but Faith needed help soon.
The man reached across the seat of his carriage and released the door handle. Jamie caught the way of things and opened the door the rest of the way. He sat carefully in the seat, tucking Faith into his lap. Her eyes were closed and her breath was coming in wracking gasps.
“Is your girl alright?” The stranger asked as the carriage lurched into motion. “Headed to the hospital, then?”
Jamie nodded. He felt the bit queasy from the speed of the carriage, but paid it no mind in his fear for Faith.
“What’s with the get-up?” the man asked. “I suppose your kilt blends in well enough these days, but the lass’s fashion looks about 200 years old, does it no?”
Jamie hesitated. He likely couldn’t trust this man with much. But, if he had the opportunity to learn the year, he had to take it.
“She likes to play dress up now and again,” he said lamely. Just before he could ask a daft question about where they had landed in time, Jamie noticed a wee book stored in the pocket of the carriage’s door. Shifting Faith gently, he plucked it into his hand.
1948 Morris Minor, it read. “Your carriage,” Jamie began. “It’s new, then?”
The stranger turned his head to look at Jamie quizzically. “Aye, only about a year,” he said. “What did ye say yer name was again, Lad?”
“McTavish,” he said almost automatically. “Malcolm McTavish.” He nearly couldn’t breathe. He heard the older man make a similar introduction. Reverend Something. I didn’t matter in that moment. Nothing else did.
C l a i r e.
We check in with Claire.
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Nurse Claire Randall surveyed the selection of medicines in the stock room of the A&E. Glancing over the shelf of epinephrine, her heart squeezed as she thought of the little girl she had left behind.
In front of her stood endless supplies that could improve her baby’s life exponentially. She would never draw a belabored breath again. If she weren’t 200 years removed from them. Claire smirked a bit at the thought of setting up a nebulizer on Lallybroch’s kitchen table. Jenny’s face alone would have assured her of the necessity.
Closing her eyes, Claire pictured all the of the nights that she or Jamie had given Faith a warm bath or rocked her beside a steaming pot to open her airways. She would cuddle against Claire’s shoulder and beg in a choked voice “Sea, Mam!”
She was always a happy child, despite the health problems that kept her inside much of the year. So Mama didn’t mind humming the nightly request, snuggling her Faith before Da told a sweet story of Highland lore to escort her to sleep.
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea.
Claire had gathered Thornapple and other herbs to relieve Faith of as many symptoms as she could. She trusted that Jenny found time to do these small things now, even with her own ever-growing family.
She hadn’t the time to bring Faith through the stones with her when she left before Culloden. She couldn’t put her little girl in the path of the redcoats pursuing them. Her heart had broken into two pieces that morning, the fragments disappearing with her old life.
Jamie had begged her to rely on Jenny and Ian to raise Faith as their own at Lallybroch.
“I canna risk ye and the bairn when she will remain safe,” he had pleaded. “Protect all those I love.”
Stubborn Scot. What about those she loved?
The hospital that admitted Claire after her second passage through the stones had called Frank promptly. He overcame his shock upon arriving and seeing her disheveled and weary, immediately insisting upon them resuming their life together, if nothing else for the good of the developing child she carried.
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom
Where the brass bands play:
But Claire couldn’t move on so quickly. Frank returned to Oxford to give her time to consider his offer. She still hadn’t given him an answer. He didn’t, couldn’t know the full story. He didn’t know about the sweet, chubby face that appeared in her dreams alongside the strong, rugged one. He didn’t know that her heart had finally found a home in the wilds of Scotland, that long-dead Highlanders had become her family.
On a rainy day last November, a jagged piece of the heart Claire had forgotten she had healed with the birth of Brianna Ellen.
Bree was the image of her father, with many of the same baby features that had begun to mature on Faith’s face the last time Claire had seen her. Bree was her buoy when she would have otherwise drowned.
But nurturing Bree only made Claire feel the lack of Faith more acutely. She couldn’t stand to bask in the amenities of the 20th century, or even allow her heart peace when she knew a far-away part of it was struggling to draw breath.
I’ll be beside myself with glee
For there’s lots of girls besides
But Claire couldn’t sing those words to her second baby, thoughts of the first bringing her to tears.
Another little girl torn from her parents by tragic circumstances.
So instead Claire rocked Bree to sleep while whispering tales of moors and loch creatures, her fierce father, her sweet sister, and the family she would never know. All the Gaelic endearments she could pronounce.
Claire often wondered what Faith would think of her younger sister. She had been around several infants born in Broch Morda, and doted over the ‘baby bairns.’ She pictured Jamie’s face if she had the chance to reveal their second lass to him. Not the son he expected, not yet. But the healthy baby still a promise of their love, and of one or many more in the future that been stolen from them.
Mrs. Graham, bless her, took on the care of Bree during the day so Claire could return to work. It was a way to provide for the family she had left, little and broken it may be. And she couldn’t ignore the temporary high that came with helping people, with saving lives. Even if the joyous faces of relieved parents ripped her open a little more each time.
But there was one more advantage to working in a hospital again. Access to unlimited medicines. If Claire ever worked up the courage, she could ‘borrow’ enough epinephrine to last a few weeks, leave Bree with Mrs. Graham, and make a dangerous trip.
Claire picked up a vial of medication in front of her, twirling it in her fingers reflectively.
She would gladly tumble through the turmoil of the stones again if it meant reaching Faith. But that meant being brave enough to face a Lallybroch where Jamie wasn’t around every corner with a kiss or a twinkle in his eye meant just for her. She knew she would see the shadow of his specter everywhere she looked. She would have to say goodbye to the sister and brother of her heart, knowing this time that it would be forever. She would be unable to explain the reason for her abandonment, for taking away the one thing they had left of Jamie. But Claire would power through that heartbreak one more time for her child.
One of the worst outcomes Claire could imagine is that she would arrive too late for Faith. It was a dangerous time in its own right, and she had nursed Faith through some close calls since her premature birth. She couldn’t bear to march past the gate of Lallybroch only to find everyone dressed in black, a new cairn built over freshly laid dirt.
There was also the chance that Claire would have a joyous reunion with her daughter and head back to the stones, only for Faith to be unable to pass through. She would have to choose between her children once again, the serrated edges of her broken heart at war with each other.
Most nights Claire laid awake processing these outcomes, wondering which would hurt her the most, which pain she could put herself through and still survive.
But if they could make it through. Claire could give Faith a better life in this time than she would ever have the opportunity for in the time she was born.
Perhaps if Frank could accept Faith and Bree – it would be only a shadow of what they had once had, but it would mean stability for the girls.
Jamie had asked her to leave him behind for her own good and that of the baby. But if she knew that if she had a chance to save Faith, he would want her to take it…
“Nurse Randall!” Claire nearly dropped the bottle in her hand as Nurse Grant rushed into the storage room, nearly plowing through a new shipment of disposable gloves.
Claire bit back a smile at the girl’s clumsiness. She hadn’t become close enough to many at the hospital to share her life or history, but Molly Grant had a special way of worming her way into one’s heart.
“Ye’re needed on the floor! There’s a wee lass come in canna breathe!” the younger woman relayed. She handed Claire a medical chart and pivoted on her heel.
As her colleague rushed into the hall once again, Claire sighed and replaced the medicine on the shelf. One more child to save when she could do nothing for her own.
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside! Beside the sea!
Claire flipped the file open and nearly dropped the clipboard as she read the patient’s information.
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Jamie’s heart raced with the possibilities. He could find Claire, his heart, in her own time. A period relatively safe for their family. He could meet his son. He could raise his son.
Movement in his lap drew his attention away from the hopeful thoughts. He realized his daughter’s small body had spasmed. He rubbed her back gently. Faith first. Always.
“We’re almost there, lad,” their benefactor stated. “I’ll drop ye directly at the door and pull around to park.”
Jamie nodded. As the reverend stopped the carriage beside the odd grey building, Jamie pushed with all his might to dislodge the door.
“Ah, pull the latch again,” the driver told him.
Jamie nodded as he finally got it sorted. “I thank ye,” he stated before turning to dash into the hospital, trying not to jostle Faith.
He saw a woman in a wee white dress behind a desk as soon as he crashed through the front door. “Please, my lass…” he began.
The lady looked up, startled. “What seems to be the problem, Sir?”
“She’s the asthma, mistress,” he told her. “But I havena seen it this bad,” he choked on the realization.
“Nurse Grant!” the lady chirped. Another young lady in a short frock approached.
“Follow me,” Nurse Grant told him. She trotted down the hallway with Jamie close behind.
They passed through large swinging doors labeled ‘Accident & Emergency.’ In the haze of his fear, Jamie couldn’t help but notice the sterile white of the halls they rushed through. They gave him an eerie feeling about the place.
The room they entered boasted two rows of narrow beds separated by curtains. The nurse gestured for Jamie to lay Faith on the empty bed nearest to them. He did as he was told and straightened to stand guard at her side.
The nurse dragged a large contraption toward Faith and placed a strange mask over her face. She sat his daughter up and began putting pressure on the girl’s chest. Jamie had seen Claire perform similar checks on her own patients. But he wasn’t sure he trusted the gestures done to his daughter by someone other than his wife. Especially in this stifling white Hell.
“Sir – Mr.—Could ye step back a bit, please? I need to reach the lass,” the nurse beseeched him.
“Och, aye,” he stuttered. Suddenly, all he could hear were shrill noises around the room, accompanying the mad pace of his anxious thoughts.
In his panic, Jamie stepped in front of the nurse again, blocking her from Faith.
“Sir,” the nurse stated firmly. “Step away.”
Jamie grew defensive at her tone. He rose to his full height between his daughter and the young nurse, a fierce look on his face.
Before he could do anything foolish, the door swung open again and the reverend entered the room.
“Mr. McTavish! I’m glad ye’ve found your way!” he rushed toward the tense bedside party.
“Reverend Wakefield?” the wee nurse asked. “What brings you here?”
“I’ve given this young man and his girl a ride here,” he explained. “Is something amiss?” Wakefield’s eyes landed on Jamie’s strained expression.
“Would ye take… Mr. McTavish here to the waiting room?” she barely held the impatience from her voice.
Jamie began shaking his head. He would not leave Faith behind. “Nay, I’ll stay here,” he tried to insist above the odd noises that were filling his head.
“There’s some forms ye need to complete,” the nurse insisted, practically shoving him toward the door.
Jamie tried to resist, but the small woman was not to be trifled with. He finally obliged, but stopped outside the doors of the room, the same through which he had entered.
A passing nurse handed Wakefield a stack of papers, so he coaxed Jamie into relaying the information to him.
“So ye’re Malcolm McTavish. What’s the wee one’s name, then?” he prompted.
Jamie hesitated. By now, he doubted they were in danger because of his identity. But still, he hesitated to trust these strangers with his daughter’s name. “Elizabeth,” he stated.
“Ah, a bonny name indeed,” Wakefield scribbled onto the tablet. “And when was she born?”
Jamie continued answering the man’s questions, but his mind was swirling with the events of the day. Once he ensured his daughter’s safety, there were still several problems to contend with. How would they ever reach Claire? Or even find her?
For the first time, he considered another reality of being in 1949. He had left Jenny and Ian to fend for themselves in a time of Redcoats and recently suppressed rebellions. But what could he do for them now?
Claire burst through the doors to the main floor of the A&E. Elizabeth McTavish bought in by Malcolm McTavish? Her modern birthdate listed the same as one of the most terrible, then joyous, days of Claire’s life 202 years before? Brown hair, blue eyes and asthmatic? It couldn’t be. She couldn’t risk the disappointment. But she couldn’t ignore the possibility.
She pictured Faith’s clear blue eyes and wild curls. What she wouldn’t give to hold her daughter to her chest and kiss her sticky forehead. Even to feel the worrying wheezing reverberate next to her ear and through her body as she rocked Faith to sleep.
No. You can’t do this, Beauchamp.
Nurse Grant had moved to check on a patient that had been brought in the night before, a sweet old lady that had fallen in her kitchen, discovered later by her son-in-law.
“Nurse Randall,” Claire was intercepted by Dr. MacDonald, a kindly but stern senior doctor. “If you would take Mr. Campbell in room seven his evening dosage…”
Claire dodged him to reach Nurse Grant. “Where is she?” her eyes blazed.
“Er, who?” she stuttered. “They’ve got things fairly well in hand now, Nurse—“
“The asthma attack, Molly, damn it,” Claire urged. “The four-year-old girl.”
Molly’s eyes widened as she lifted an arm to point toward the curtained area directly to Claire’s left.
The five sprinted steps to cross the room was the longest journey Claire had ever taken. More excruciating than any trip up the hill to Craig Na Dun; her breath was trapped somewhere in her ribcage.
Claire inhaled and tore the curtain back. The sight that greeted her brought her to her knees. A nest of tangled curls rested over a respiratory mask on a heartbreakingly small face.
She finally breathed out, a shuddering gasp mixed with a panted laugh.
“Lass?” Dr. MacDonald asked, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Are ye quite well?”
Claire turned her head to look into his eyes, her own already watery and bloodshot. “I’m perfect,” she whispered. She twisted to face Molly, who had taken hold of her hand. “This is my daughter.” She shook her head in disbelief. She could feel the snot running onto her smile, but she couldn’t care less.
“Bree?” Molly questioned. “But your girl is only…”
“It’s a long story, dear,” Claire continued, trembling. “I’m not sure I’ll ever have the time to tell it all.” She swallowed once more, hesitating. “But tell me, who brought her in?”
“Her… her father, he said,” Molly began. “He would barely let us touch her, didna like the noise of the machines. We asked him to wait in the hall. But Claire…”
Claire didn’t wait for Molly to finish the thought. She found her footing and started toward the patient entry opposite of where she arrived. Remembering herself, she turned back to look at Faith lying in the bed. She retraced her steps and went all the way to the bedside, leaning over the railing.
She kneeled to run her fingers through the silky baby hair at the crown of the girl’s head. Faith’s lips curved into the slightest of smiles. Claire pushed her daughter’s hair back far enough to reveal the birthmark behind her tiny pointed ear, on the opposite side of Bree’s. Bree. Jamie. Jamie.
Claire turned slowly, her eyes never leaving Faith’s form. She nearly collided with Molly, who had crept up behind her.
“Dinna worry,” the young woman said with a small smile. “She won’t go anywhere.” Her head tilted toward the door. Go.
Claire nodded and made her way to the double doors. She turned once more to see Molly standing vigil over Faith. The other nurse gave her an encouraging smile.
Claire attempted to smile back, pushing through the doorway at last. On the other side, her brown eyes met a stormy sea.
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Jamie had been pacing back and forth, his hair mussed from his fingers catching the tangles in his distress. He turned at the sound of the door.
His eyes widened, shock adding to the torrent of emotions he could no longer contain. He was drowning in the despair of Faith’s illness and his ignorance of how to help her.
But one worry was relieved. Claire Beauchamp stood in front of him, wearing the same appallingly short white dress as the nurses he had encountered that day.
He took a half step toward her. “Mo nighean donn,” he rasped. “Is it ye? Truly?”
“Oh, you’re surprised to see me here?” He recognized her teasing tone, but noticed she had trouble getting the words out.
Claire took the last few steps between them and threw herself into Jamie’s arms. Their lips met sloppily and he twirled her around, then dropped to the floor with her in his lap. “Sassenach,” he whispered the word for the first time in more than a year.
“How?” she asked in a warbled voice.
“She ran to the stones by herself,” he uttered before bringing his lips to hers again, fingers stroking her tear-stained face. “We were both pulled through. I’ve never been so glad for her to have your pigheaded determination to disobey me.”
Claire pummeled him in the chest until his hands left her face and caught her fists, lifting each to his mouth.
“No, you ridiculous man,” she scolded. “You lived.”
“Aye. Survived, Claire,” He grimaced. “That’s no to say I came away unscathed.”
He grasped her hand more firmly, placing it underneath his kilt and onto his thigh.
She stilled as she felt the gnarled flesh under her fingers. She ran her hand down to his knee, then back up to his hip. “Oh, love,” fresh tears surfaced in her eyes.
He tried to smile through his tears. “I’m still whole,” he choked. “But enough of that. What of our lass? Ye’ve seen her?”
“She’ll be just fine, darling,” Claire told him. “She’ll be better here than she ever has been.”
Jamie nodded slowly. Faith would be better off now, in 1949. Claire was here. What else mattered?
Claire studied him as he processed the news. She would be able to tell he was deep in thought, but he was much better at guarding his emotions than she. They would talk about it eventually, as he could never keep from baring his soul to her. But it wasn’t the time.
As they returned to their feet, Claire looked to the corner behind Jamie for the first time. “Reverend Wakefield?” she asked. Did everyone know the man?
“Hullo dear,” he greeted her sheepishly. “It seems ye know this lad, then?”
Claire’s hands still rested on either side of Jamie’s shoulders. “You could say that.” Jamie tensed under her palms. “Reverend, this is Jamie,” she began. “He, well, the truth is he’s Bree’s father.”
Jamie startled at this. “A bree?” he asked. “That’s what you’re calling our lass now?” He tried to tease, thinking of the Gaelic expression. “I didna ken she’d been that much of a trouble.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “I never imagined I’d tell you this way, or in any way, but you’ve another daughter to meet,” she told him, tears welling up again. “Brianna Ellen.”
Jamie nearly fell over. In his worry for Faith and shock at seeing Claire again, he’d nearly forgotten the reason he’d sent his wife back to her time. The bairn. Not Brian, as it happened. Brianna. All the images he’d conjured of Claire raising a wee lad that looked like him flew from his mind. Another lass. He wondered if his heart would burst from the blessings bestowed upon him.
His thoughts were interrupted by Claire tugging on his hand as she stepped back toward the double doors.
“We can see her?” he asked. “Ye willna banish me too? He pouted and earned a small smile from Claire as she shook her head and led him back toward Faith.
Neither noticed the puzzled expression Reverend Wakefield wore after their interaction as they left him behind.
Faith’s eyes opened slowly. She felt funny and didn’t know where she was.
Mama? She wondered. She knew she had been thinking of her mother but wasn’t sure why. Faith missed her and hadn’t seen her in a while. Da would tell her stories, but she didn’t ask very often. He seemed sad about it, too.
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea.
Faith’s memory came rushing back. The tall rocks. The screams. Over it all, she had heard Mama singing to her before she pulled away from Da. She knew she wasn’t supposed to run from him, but she hadn’t been able to help it.
Da. Where was he? Faith’s hazy mind wondered.
She heard voices around her, but they sounded far away. Her eyes shot open the rest of the way as a familiar one came into focus. She looked up to see her mother’s face. But Mama’s features were blurry, like they always were in her dreams now. Faith worried she would forget what her mother had looked like. Would she even recognize her if she ever returned to Lallybroch, like Da said?
Still, the face was a comfort, real or imagined. “Ma?” she felt her lips slip into a smile.
“Lovey,” Mama’s voice answered.
It seemed so real, Faith thought. She hoped to keep dreaming for a while, or at least to hold onto the pleasant feelings after it ended.
Claire looked down at Faith as the girl’s eyes blinked open drowsily. She looked dazed, the medication in her system affecting her mind a bit.
“Ma?” Faith whispered.
“Lovey,” Claire returned, reaching to hold Faith’s small hand. She could hardly believe the way that Faith had grown in the year since she’d seen her. Even laying in the A&E bed, she looked much taller than Claire remembered, and her features had grown leaner as she matured.
She allowed a moment of regret for all she had missed. But Claire let it pass quickly as she reminded herself that she would once again have Faith with her every day. She would witness the mundane: scrapes and scratches, inches marked on the wall as she grew; as well as the milestones: starting school, discovering her passions. It was more than she had imagined. She would never be able to get enough.
Claire stroked Faith’s fingers, watching her slowly come back to consciousness. She looked to her right to find Jamie snoozing in the next chair, her other hand clasped in both of his. She smiled at the view. Considering all he had been through in the past day, he deserved some rest.
Someone cleared their throat behind her. She turned to see Dr. McDonald standing on the other side of Jamie. The red head perked up at this, shaking off the haze of sleep.
“Nurse Randall,” the doctor began. Jamie straightened at this address. “Your – the lass is doing much better. I would like to keep her here overnight for observation, but I’ll leave it up to you. We really should catch her up on some vaccinations as soon as possible.”
Claire stood up and stepped around Jamie to give the kind doctor a hug and kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Robert,” she said graciously. “There’s no one I trust more.”
He nodded, trying to school his face as he stepped away. “Anything for ye, Claire.”
Claire returned to her seat to find Jamie’s eyes on her. “You’ve done well for yourself here,” he said. “There are those you care about.”
Claire nodded slowly. “A few close friends have helped hold me together,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t the same, Jamie. I never stopped thinking of you. Of Faith. Of… everyone.”
Jamie looked away as he considered this. Claire could tell there was something on his mind, but his face gave away no clear thoughts.
Just then, Faith attempted to sit up, but quickly noticed she was inhibited by the nebuliser mask over her face.
“Mama?” she still looked dreadfully confused, but clarity was returning to her eyes. Claire stood up next to the bed and gently removed the mask. Faith had received a full dosage by now. She lifted her daughter carefully, allowing for the girl’s fragile state and her small hospital gown’s proclivity to come open in the back.
“Hello darling,” Claire said tentatively, setting Faith in her lap to reach her eye level. “How do you feel?”
Faith’s eyes welled with tears and she lurched forward, clinging to her mother’s middle like a monkey.
“I know, baby,” Claire’s shoulder was quickly soaked, but she paid no mind as she rubbed Faith’s back. “Mama missed her Faith terribly.”
She looked toward Jamie in time to see his broad smile quiver at her words. Their faith, indeed.
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Faith giggled as Mama reached out to tickle her once more. Or, it felt like tickling. But Mama looked very serious as she ran her hands over Faith’s face and through her hair. Tears stood in her eyes. Of course, Faith had been tickled until she cried of laughter before, but this seemed different.
Mama was in bed with Faith in her lap, facing her. She was content to look into Mama’s face as they talked quietly. Da was asleep in a funny chair next to them, and Faith knew better than to wake him. She wouldn’t want to, either. There was a smile on his face that she couldn’t remember seeing for some time.
Faith focused on Mama again. She had been wrong. She remembered her mother’s face. But Mama looked even more beautiful than she could have imagined. She laid her head on Mama’s shoulder once again.
She felt her mother still at this, her breathing paused.
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside.
Mama’s whispered words filled Faith’s eyes with tears. She didn’t expect to hear the song out loud again. Da couldn’t sing, and she knew he didn’t feel like it after Mama was gone.
But now. Faith felt better than she had for a long time as she relaxed against Mama and the familiar words hit her ears once again. But this was different. Faith didn’t feel bad. Her own breath came out strong and even. Her chest didn’t rattle, and she didn’t have to cough to draw air in. She closed her eyes and focused on Mama’s voice.
Claire’s heart felt lighter and fuller than it had since she passed through the stones. No, even since Faith’s birth, when she had held the impossibly tiny babe in her arms for the first time. The result of her choosing Jamie, and his choosing her.
She could hardly believe she held the same girl, now with long limbs gathered into her lap as she whispered and giggled to her.
“And how have things been for you at Lallybroch?” Claire asked.
Faith paused. “Everyone has been sad, Mama,” she answered. “Especially Da.”
Claire nodded at this, bending to kiss the top of Faith’s head. “It’s been a hard time, Baby?”
Faith’s eyes squinted in concentration, then she nodded slowly. “Aye. Even Auntie Jenny was scared.”
Tears stung in Claire’s eyes again. Jenny. Left to care for not only her own flock, but her heartbroken brother and niece.
Faith looked around. “Where is Auntie Jen? She’s coming to see ye, too?”
Claire took in a sharp breath. She was saved from having to answer such a difficult question when Molly appeared in the doorway.
“There’s a call for ye, Claire.” The young nurse told her.
Claire looked down at her wristwatch and startled. Dr. McDonald had gladly given her the rest of the day off, and they had been sitting in the private room to which Faith had been transferred for hours. She realized her shift would have ended 45 minutes ago.
Standing up, she tried to deposit Faith onto the bed gently. But the surprisingly strong girl kept her grip around Claire’s neck. She relented, adjusting her daughter in her arms as she moved toward the doorway.
Jamie’s eyes popped open as she moved past him. He reached his hand out to grab hers tightly, a look of fear flashing across his face.
“We’ll be right back,” she told him, squeezing his hand and kneeling to kiss his cheek. Faith echoed her movement, leaving a loud smack against Jamie’s forehead. He smiled broadly as his eyes closed once again.
She carried Faith into the office down the hall and picked up the phone.
“Hello?” she asked cheerfully.
“Claire, dear, are ye alright? I hadna heard from you, and…” Mrs. Graham’s voice sounded over the line.
Faith’s eyes bugged at the sound of a voice coming from the receiver in Claire’s hand. Claire bounced her once and Faith giggled, clinging tighter to her shoulders.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Graham. So sorry I forgot to call, but I’ve been a little held up,” Claire responded.
“Aye, well, I dinna mind, lass. But I need to fetch wee Roger from school soon, and –” Mrs. Graham started cheerfully.
“Of course! Would you mind dropping Brianna off with me?” Claire cut her off.
“To the hospital? Won’t she be in the way, then?” Mrs. Graham sounded doubtful.
“I’ve got it handled, Mrs. Graham. There’s actually someone here I’d like you to meet,” Claire couldn’t stop the smile from reaching her lips.
“Well, as ye say. We’ll be there soon.”
Claire relayed Faith’s room number to her friend and hung up the phone, looking toward Faith. “Let’s go back to Da.”
Jamie stirred awake, running a big hand across his face as he gathered his surroundings. Still the impossibly bright white rooms that had given him such pause, but he felt different now. Lighter.
He looked over in time to see a sight he thought lost: two brown curly heads bent together, sharing secrets and stories.
He blinked to ensure that the image in front of him was real. But he could not have dreamt of the other things he had encountered since his trip through the stones. The reverend’s carriage that moved at maddening speed, the lights and noises within the hospital.
The look of joy on Faith’s face at seeing her mother again. The way his own heart had nearly leapt out of his chest as he held Claire in his arms.
It was all real.
Jamie darkly wondered how many other inexplicable things he would encounter on this side of the stones. How would he make do in such a strange time?
But Claire had been a guiding light for him even in his own time. He had no doubt she would introduce him to the 20th century with ease.
He had been in and out of consciousness for the several hours since Faith’s initial treatment. As precious as the time with his lasses was to him, the events of the day had caught up with him more than he realized.
Jamie stood from his chair and reached for his wife’s hand. She was curled in the bed with Faith, whose eyes had begun to flutter.
“Hi,” she whispered blearily as their hands met.
“Hello,” he answered, winking at her and motioning for her to move over. She complied, but had an odd grin on her face as she did so.
Jamie had barely gotten settled on the small bed when the door opened and someone bustled in, pushing a wee buggy and pulling a lad by the hand.
“Alright, dearie. I’ve got to get home and put supper on, but here’s your mama.”
Claire sat up. “Mrs. Graham!” she greeted.
The woman turned to face Claire. She had been reaching into the buggy but paused when she noticed Jamie in the room. The lad leaned against it instead, staring inside intently.
Her face softened. “Oh, Claire…”
Claire stood up and walked the few steps toward the lady. “Mrs. Graham, this is Jamie,” she said proudly. “And next to him is Faith,” she gestured toward the snoozing girl.
Mrs. Graham approached Jamie, taking his face in her hands. “Verra pleased to meet ye lad,” he could swear he saw tears in her eyes, as well.
He didn’t know the woman, aside from a vague memory of Claire mentioning the name in passing. But he couldn’t help but feel a pull toward her. He nodded and leaned forward to kiss this Mrs. Graham on the cheek. She seemed important to his wife, and that was all that mattered. “And you, Mistress.”
Jamie had nearly missed Claire reach into the buggy herself, until she emerged with a squirming infant. His heart quickened at the sight of the red fuzz on top of the child’s head.
Claire walked toward Jamie with the child pressed to her chest. Her legs and arms fluttered around in her mother’s hold as her eyes surveyed the room around her, finally landing on him.
“Jamie,” Claire stopped in front of him. “This is Brianna.” His arms came out automatically as she passed the bairn to him. She went easily, wee hands reaching to clasp at his chest as she settled in his lap. Her dark blue eyes never left his.
“Bree, this is your da,” Tears flooded Jamie’s eyes as the words left Claire’s mouth. He leaned down to kiss the girl’s head. “Aye. Hello, Wee Bree,” he whispered. Leaving one arm to support Brianna, he placed the other around Claire’s waist and pulled her to him. She sat on the edge of the bed next to him and leaned her head on his shoulder.
Mrs. Graham led the lad through the door, shutting it behind them. “We’ll be seeing ye.”
Faith rubbed her eyes and looked up to see Mama and Da sitting at the foot of her bed. She crawled toward them, eager to see what they were looking at. Before she could get a good look, the door opened.
The voice she heard scared her. Any time a British man was near after Mama left, it meant that Da had to hide. Looking over to him, she noticed her father was frozen still. Mama had leapt up from her seat beside him.
“Claire, Darling, I came as soon as I could—”
Jamie couldn’t believe his eyes. Before him stood a man that he had thought a year and half dead. He had witnessed the blow that felled Black Jack Randall on Culloden Moor. But that confidence didn’t extend to stilling the tense set of his shoulders or the fury quickly rising in his blood. Instead, memories of his own pain at Randall’s hand flashed through his mind. Randall’s threats and misuse of Claire.
Belatedly, he noticed that Claire had risen the moment the door opened. She was looking between the two men, her face displaying her distress over the situation.
“Claire, Darling, I came as soon as I could,” the man began in a polished English accent. “Reggie phoned and said our daughter was ill.” When the man looked up and met Jamie’s eye, his jaw dropped.
“You can’t be serious,” he uttered. “This is him, then? The Scottish Barbarian you dallied with… What’s he doing here now after abandoning you for all this time?”
Claire looked down at Jamie, likely observing the way he had begun to shake with rage at the situation at hand. This man couldn’t be allowed to speak to Claire in such a way. She lifted Brianna from his arms and walked her to the buggy, placing her back in gently.
The man’s eyes followed the bairn in Claire’s arms with a strained expression. For a moment, he looked hopeful in the midst of his anger.
“Frank, we need to talk,” she said. She pulled him out the door by the sleeve. Before she shut it behind them, she turned back. Jamie tried to catch her eye, but she looked only at Faith. “Stay here, Baby.”
Frank followed Claire’s gaze, eyes widening in surprise and recognition at the sight of Faith.
Jamie deflated as the door closed firmly. Frank. The man indirectly descended from Jack Randall. The man Claire had intervened to save, nearly costing her own life in the process.
His heart fell in his chest as he realized that he and Claire had not truly discussed their plans for the future in the several hours they’d had together. Neither had they mentioned their feelings after all this time. Jamie had thought he saw the same passion in Claire’s eyes upon their reunion, but perhaps time had changed her.
Jamie was once able to decipher her emotions more readily than his own, with just one look upon the face he knew better than any other.
But it had been more than a year. Maybe she needed Frank more now. Perhaps she didn’t want Jamie at all. She may have rejoiced at their appearance only for Faith’s sake.
He looked toward his eldest daughter, who had frozen in the middle of her bed. The look of terror in her eyes nearly undid him. He opened his arms to her. “Mo chuisle,” he beckoned.
Faith scrambled to his lap, her face hitting his shoulder just as the tears came bursting forth.
“Da,” she sobbed. She shook in his arms. “Do ye needta hide?” She looked up to meet his eyes. “Will we haveta leave Mama?”
His own shoulders threatened to tremble as he tightened his arms around his daughter and tilted his head to place a kiss on her forehead.
“Nay, mo chridhe,” he whispered. “Yer mam… kens the man. He willna hurt ye.”
Jamie shifted Faith in his arms and stood, crossing the room to peer in at Brianna once again.
His two bairns. He knew the moment he had first seen Faith that he would do anything to keep her safe and content. He had only needed knowledge of his second child’s existence to want everything for her, as well.
Jamie would face any trial of becoming accustomed to a different time, of existing in a world with Frank Randall, of sacrificing his heart in order to see to his daughters’ protection and well-being.
Our daughter, Frank had said. He must have meant Bree. Jamie tried to force images of the three of them happily living together for the past months out of his mind. Would Frank come to consider Faith his own daughter, too? With how many Randalls must his life intertwine?
But how would he share a city, children, with Claire if they couldn’t share everything else? To not hold her as they fell asleep each night and wake with her soft hair in his face? To not tell her all his heart and cherish the words that came from hers?
Jamie wished for her joy, above all else.
He would have to lessen her guilt about their separation. For Claire. Lend sense to it, even as he ached for her.
The tears hit Jamie’s eyes as he fell into the chair next to Brianna’s buggy, Faith cuddled against his chest.
He closed his eyes. May he have the strength not to beg her to choose him.
Claire pulled Frank into the same office she had used to take Mrs. Graham’s telephone call. She turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. She took note of the defensive stance he had adapted.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Me?! I get a call that you’re in hysterics at the hospital and my daughter is sick, catch the next flight from Oxford only to find you with him and you ask why I’m here?” His fists clenched at his sides. “And who in the bloody hell is that other child?”
“Enough, Frank!” Any semblance of patience she had was lost. “You know very well I’ve told you where Jamie has been all this time. Whether or not you believed me is of your own consequence.”
He grimaced. “Surely we’ve heard enough of that tale by now, Claire.”
“And you wondered why I haven’t agreed to move back to Oxford with you,” she snorted.
“Claire, I do love you. I’m more than willing to raise our child together,” he hesitated. “Both of them, as there’s no denying where those lovely curls came from,” Frank reached out to run a hand through her hair. She stepped away before he could reach.
“They aren’t your children, and you know that! Faith Fraser. Brianna Fraser, as soon as I can do anything about it,” she told him. “They have a father. The most wonderful I could imagine.”
His face fell at that.
“I can’t be what you want anymore, Frank, and it’s time we acknowledged it,” she said finally. She pulled the gold ring off her left finger and placed it in his palm.
Frank blinked at her in surprise, then his face settled into a scowl. Straightening his hat, he stormed out of the room. “You’ll be hearing from a lawyer, then,” he called over his shoulder.
Claire leaned into the desk behind her, finally allowing herself to breathe. Just as well. Composed and feeling free, she left the room and headed back toward her family.
Opening the door slowly, she observed Faith back in her bed, curled away from the door. Jamie was sitting in a chair next to Bree’s carriage. His eyes were closed and his head upturned, lips moving in supplication.
Jamie looked up at her as the door clicked shut. He wore a pained expression.
Claire took the first few steps toward him, but stopped abruptly when he stood. His eyes were somber and his jaw tense. He nodded his chin toward the door, so she led them into the hallway.
“So ye’ve gone back to Frank then, Nurse Randall?” he sneered.
She froze. This couldn’t be the same man she had just defended to Frank. Couldn’t be the way they would speak to each other now that they were free to be together again.
She pictured the nights they had spent curled together in the encampment for some battle or another, whispering of their deepest fears and desires. For themselves. For Faith. For the other children they wanted to have. For Lallybroch. Her heart tightened as she tried to cling to that image, unable to reconcile it with the one in front of her.
“What?” she blurted. “Jamie…” She leaned to place a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off.
“Nay. He willna want to share ye,” he said hotly.
Ice struck in Claire’s heart. Part of her knew that the man who had tried to sacrifice his life for her own protection and that of their daughters would not turn her away so coldly. But the rest was crumbling at his rejection.
“I thought you were dead!” she seethed. “So I did what you asked of me, you bloody brute!”
His brow furrowing, he cast his head to the floor, eyes darting around desperately. He looked anywhere but at her.
“You made the decision for me to leave, Jamie,” she whispered. “You took everything from me, so I did my best to pick up the pieces of what was left.”
Jamie’s shoulders slumped. Before she could stop him, he turned on his heel, bursting back through the door with his kilt swinging behind him.
Faith rolled over in the bed as the door closed, Mama and Da on the other side. She had pretended to be asleep when Da laid her down. But she heard his quiet sobs as she looked out the window of the big room.
Da’s reaction only made her more scared. She thought he would be happy to be with Mama. But something was wrong. She knew that. She hadn’t even looked at her parents as they left the room, worried to see what their faces might tell her.
Sitting up, Faith looked toward the floor. It was a taller bed than she had ever slept in, but she was determined. She carefully made the jump down.
She crossed the room to the buggy by the door. She had gotten a brief glimpse of the bairn inside, and was curious even in her fear about her parents.
Faith climbed into the chair next to the baby’s buggy and stood over it. She peered at the small face inside, eyes peacefully closed and thumb in mouth. She had seen bairns near Lallybroch when she made visits with Mama or Aunt Jenny. Mama would tell her she had been even smaller than them once. Faith found that hard to believe.
As she continued staring at the bairn, its eyes popped open. Faith reached into the buggy, and a smaller hand reached out to grab her finger. This startled Faith, but she didn’t mind. She smiled down at the baby and earned a small one back. She wanted to touch the bairn’s short red curls but remembered that she didn’t always like it when strangers touched her own hair. She grinned as she realized the red hair reminded her of Da’s. He had seemed interested in the baby, too. Maybe that was why.
Faith dropped into the chair and continued to study the bairn while holding its wee hand. She placed her chin in her other hand, wondering when Mama and Da would come back. Maybe they would take the baby back to its mama, or she would come to pick it up. But Faith didn’t mind watching over it until then.
Faith’s head turned toward the door as it squeaked open.
Our favorites have some things to resolve.
With a deep breath, Claire opened the door to follow Jamie back into the room.
She came upon him standing guard over Bree’s pram once again. His knees were locked and his jaw set, his eyes sorrowful. He didn’t look at her as she approached.
Her heart broke to see Faith’s eyes wide and glistening, her spine straight as she sat in a chair next to the carriage.
She returned to the chair that she had occupied earlier. During a time of happy reunion.
Faith tiptoed to Claire and looked up at her. She smiled gently at her daughter and lifted her by the underarms. Faith leaned into her again, head resting on her shoulder to look her in the eye. Claire placed a kiss on her forehead.
The door opened slowly, ushering Molly in once again. “Is everything alright, Claire? We’ve heard your voices…” she looked toward Jamie hesitantly, still not sure what to make of him. “Can I do anything?”
Claire thought for a moment. “Would you take the girls for a lap around the hospital? Maybe stop in the cafeteria for a scone?” Faith’s arms tightened around her shoulders as she spoke, so Claire tickled her chin lightly. “Lovey, this is Miss Molly. She helped you feel better earlier. Will you take your—”
She choked on the word ‘sister.’ Not yet. “Let her show you around where Mama works?” Claire finished.
Jamie whipped around to look at her, eyes wild. She responded with a firm look. I trust her, Jamie. He nodded slowly, turning away from her again.
Faith looked at her carefully, eyes squinting as she considered this offer. “Dinna leave yet,” she whispered as she slipped down to the floor. Claire shook her head in response.
Molly accepted Faith’s hand and turned the carriage around to leave the room. She dipped her chin toward Claire and winked. You can do this. Her sweet friend. Molly’s shift was over by now, too, but here she remained, ready to do Claire’s bidding as ever.
Claire tried to return her smile, but she knew it wobbled. She crossed her arms as the door closed behind Molly, waiting for Jamie to speak.
His eyes closed. “I am sorry,” his voice sounded strangled. “I have no right to criticize what ye have done, the choices you might have made in my absence.”
Claire opened her mouth to reply. He really was too good. But he spoke again.
“I will stay out of the way,” he continued. “But I do ask for time with the lasses.”
Claire started at this. How to respond to such a thing? “You really are a fool, James Fraser,” she told him.
He finally glanced at her over his shoulder. His brow was still furrowed, but the tension in his eyes had lessened. If she knew him, and she did, he almost looked amused. His mouth fell open as he attempted to speak. But it was her turn now.
“I’ve tried my best to hold everything together. For Bree. Sometimes for myself. For you, mostly. I’ve hated you, I’ve cursed you,” she stated. “But it’s never been a question of whether or not I love you.”
Jamie turned around to face her, took a few steps, and fell to his knees at her feet, his head in her lap.
“Aye?” he whispered.
Claire’s hands cupped his cheeks, tracing his features before trailing into his hair. Her fingers locked in the curls to pull him upward. “I don’t know what notions got into your ridiculous head,” she began, turning it back and forth gently. He gasped out a laugh and turned to touch his lips to each of her wrists. “But Frank had never even seen Bree before today. Her birth certificate says Beauchamp, with no father listed.”
Jamie’s eyes widened at this, and he opened his mouth to protest. She covered it with her hand this time. “It’s easily amended,” she chastised. “So don’t you dare push me away in some attempt at chivalry, Mr. McTavish.” Her tone was teasing, but tears had collected in her eyes once again. His left hand left its iron grip on her waist to catch the first before it fell. She caught him by the wrist and feigned biting his hand before placing a gentle kiss to it and resting it on her cheek. “I’ve had enough of your noble intentions to last two centuries.”
He let out another breathy laugh and nodded sheepishly before rising to kiss the top of her breast bone. Before Claire knew it, he had lifted her out of the chair and taken her seat. She found herself in his lap with her head resting on his shoulder. Home. She trailed kisses up his neck, finally leaving a real nibble just below his ear. He pulled her head up at this, his mouth finding hers. They were gentle at first, but as her arms wrapped around his neck, they took less care. It was about claiming each other for the first time in more than a year. At last her hands twined in his hair again and they rested their foreheads together, catching their breath.
Peering at the clock over his shoulder, Claire dimly realized she had been awake for 18 hours, and the emotional range of the day was catching up with her. She closed her eyes with her head pressed to Jamie’s chest, his strong heartbeat (alive!) lulling her to sleep at last.
Jamie watched as the angel that had been restored to him continued to sleep in his lap. The thought crossed his mind that he had sat in the same position for much of the day and needed to stretch soon. Even his wife’s small frame left little room for his blood to flow and his skin to breathe. But he would gladly face dead limbs and sweat like a pig to hold Claire Beauchamp for the rest of his life, her smile resting above his heart.
He smirked as she snored against his shirt. He tried to adjust her so she could breathe, but her head fell back into the same position. His fingers traced the features of her face and the pronounced curves he had memorized the first night he laid next to her, close enough to admire the beauty that had bewitched him for weeks. Her face scrunched and her eyelids squeezed tighter together as she began to stir. Her hand gripped his shirt above his chest as her eyes finally fluttered open. She looked into his face and hers finally relaxed, a sweet smile forming on her lips. He touched them with his gently, again and again.
“You are here,” she whispered.
Jamie snorted. “Aye, Sassenach. Ye willna scare me away now, even with yer snorin’ and fartin’.”
Her mouth dropped open and she made a fist as if to beat his chest, but she released it to stroke his neck instead. “I do not,” she tried to hiss, but a gentle laugh won out instead.
“Ye do, but I like ye fine,” he told her.
Claire sighed in contentment, sitting up to face him. He pulled her waist tighter to him to compensate for the distance. “What now?” she asked him.
“Truly, I dinna have the faintest idea, mo nighean donn,” he shrugged his shoulders. “Suppose some nice lass may show me the ways of this time?”
She grinned. “You’d be spending a lot of time with her, then. People may talk, a young man such as yourself becoming involved with an Englishwoman.”
“Perhaps I should marry her?” His eyebrows rose as he spoke. “I’ll have them know she’s mine. To be proper, of course.”
Her smile widened. “Of course.” But then her face fell a little. “I will have to dissolve things with Frank. The only thing we share is a flat in Oxford. It’s his, if he wants it. It never felt like home,” she emphasized.
Jamie felt tears in his eyes again. “Ye have always been my home, Claire,” he kissed her brow. “My life.” Another kiss on her chin. “Sorcha. ‘Tis your name in Gaelic. It means light,” he closed his eyes as his forehead rested against hers once more.
“You keep me aflame,” she whispered into his neck. “I would marry you again and again, James Fraser. No drinks, no doubts. No fainting.”
His chest rumbled as he laughed. “I would catch ye again and again, my own.” But his heart crumbled as he remembered what he had left behind. His breathing slowed.
Claire must have felt it. She nudged him gently. “What is it, love?”
“Jenny and Ian,” his voice rumbled against her temple. “I’ve left them in a dangerous time.”
She took a deep breath. “Do you want to go back?”
“No,” he said firmly. “There’s three lasses this side of the stones that need me more. That I canna live without,” he emphasized.
She breathed out. “Thank God. They canna do without you, either,” she mimicked.
Jamie surprised himself with the hardest laugh he’d had in nearly two years. He settled further into the chair, drawing her even closer. “We may have been a burden, anyway,” he pondered.
Claire tensed in his arms. “No’ Faith,” he assured her. “Jenny would have run herself ragged to keep Faith well.” He hesitated. “But I would have continued drawing redcoats to the property, putting them all in danger.”
He felt her lips on his shoulder. He asked the question he knew he couldn’t keep inside any longer. He could keep nothing from her. “Will they be alright, do ye think?”
Claire raised her head to look into his eyes. “We can look into it, if you want,” she said slowly. “Everyone leaves something behind.”
He stilled. Her hands found his shoulders, fingers digging into the tense spots. “Maybe one day,” he nodded. “But not just yet.”
She laid her forehead against his shoulder. “Whatever you want,” her voice rumbled into his chest. He shivered.
“Will Faith be well?” he knew the words weren’t very loud, but she could likely hear them from inside his heart. He felt her smile against him.
“Better than ever, Jamie,” she turned her head to speak into his ear. “She’ll need medicine, as always, but she’ll have it.” Claire’s breath tickled his skin.
He nodded, leaning his head against hers. Even in his despair earlier, he had felt Faith’s breath come easily as he held her against his chest. He had counted it a blessing, even if his heart was to be taken from him. He smiled to himself. He had been a fool, indeed. But now he was to be a blessedly happy fool for all his days.
Faith looked around as she walked beside Molly. She did her best to remember what she saw in the bright halls around her. Da had taught her how to track as soon as she could walk, but that was in the woods around Lallybroch. She had never seen such a place as this, and worried she wouldn’t be able to find the room where she left Mama and Da.
She tried to listen to the nice lady’s polite chatter as they walked, but she could only think of her parents. She had only memories of them being sweet and loving with each other, even in a way beyond how they were with her. She had once found it rather gross, but now wished to see Da’s hand on Mama’s bum when they thought she wasn’t looking, or Mama’s hand trailing under his shirt as she kissed his neck. She had never seen other mothers and fathers do such things, except maybe Auntie Jen and Uncle Ian. But she had always felt herself surrounded by love, so didn’t mind too much.
Molly led them to a big room with more tables than Faith had ever seen. They walked past trays of food that could feed all the tenants of Lallybroch for a week. Her eyes widened.
They sat down at one of the tables with things that looked like bannocks, but it was much sweeter when Faith bit into hers.
“So where is it that ye live, Faith?” Molly asked. She pushed the bairn’s carriage back and forth with her foot.
Faith eyed the baby once more. As much as she couldn’t keep her attention away from it, the bairn seemed just as interested in her. They had traded looks all through the trip.
“Lallybroch,” Faith answered. “My da is Laird Broch Tuarach,” she said proudly, pronouncing the words carefully. Molly raised her eyebrows, but Faith tried to ignore her. She knew what she was talking about.
“Why haven’t you two been with yer mother?” Molly wondered aloud. Faith wasn’t sure she liked all these questions, even though the lady seemed nice.
“I dinna ken,” she said. “I think Mam may be a fairy.”
Molly frowned at this. Faith frowned back. She didn’t like when adults doubted her. “Can we go back to my mama and da now?”
“Not just yet,” Molly seemed to hesitate. “Let’s give them a few more minutes.”
Faith felt fear rise in her belly. “Are they angry with each other?” she asked carefully.
Molly smiled. “I don’t know for sure, dear,” she said. “But I’ve known your mama for some time, and I’ve never seen her look at anyone like she did your da. And if he protects her half as well as he did you, he must love her well.” Molly winked.
Faith couldn’t help but smile at this. “He does,” she nodded. “They do.” An idea struck her. “Is this yer bairn?” she asked Molly. “Was Mama watching it for you?”
She saw Molly begin to grin at this, but she tried to hide it, looking down as she chewed her snack.
“She’s not, Faith,” Molly reached for a napkin to wipe her face. “But I’ve come to know her pretty well. I think you might, too.” She winked again. “Why don’t we walk around a bit more, then we’ll go back to yer parents, aye?”
Faith nodded and finished her snack. She felt fuller than she had in awhile. She let Molly take her hand again as they got up and walked toward the door.
Not even the cheeriness of Mama and Da’s voices calling “come in” after Molly’s knock could prepare Faith for the sight that lay on the other side of the door.
Da was sitting in a chair with Mama curled up in his lap like one of the cheeties in the dooryard at Lallybroch. Squealing, Faith ran to them and scrambled up onto Da’s knee. She was quickly boosted to Mama’s lap to lean against both of them.
Mama’s giggle blended with Da’s deep chuckle as Faith kissed their cheeks then snuggled between them. This was the feeling she had missed. Mama continued to hold her tight as she slid from Da’s lap and walked them to the bed.
Their eyes followed Da as he approached Molly. He bowed in front of her. “I thank ye for the care of my family,” he said, his voice catching a bit. Molly giggled and rubbed her hand against the back of her neck. She winked at Claire and left the room once again.
Faith tilted her head as she watched Da carefully lift the bairn out of her carriage, placing a kiss on her head. The bed shifted as he sat down, leg pressed against Mama’s.
Da turned toward Faith, a serious look on his face. Her stomach clenched. Before he could say anything, she dug into the pocket of her dress, retrieving a treat like she had eaten downstairs.
“I brought this for ye,” she held it out for him. His brow quirked.
“Thank ye, lass,” he began. “But Faith…”
She swallowed, burrowing further into Mama’s shoulder. But Mama pulled back, forcing Faith to face her. “Lovey, this is Brianna,” she smiled down at the bairn in Da’s lap.
“She’s your wee sister,” Da finished for her.
Faith gulped. This isn’t what she expected.
“Did you hear Da, Baby?” Claire bounced her knee once to gain her daughter’s attention.
Claire glanced toward the man in question, who was doing no such thing at the moment. He was taken with Brianna, who had wrapped her hand around his finger. His face was stuck in one of the goofiest grins she had ever seen on anyone, let alone her warrior husband.
She nudged his knee with hers and he startled, re-focusing his attention on Faith.
“Ye’re a big sister, mo chridhe,” he looked into Faith’s eyes, mirrors of his own.
Faith’s grip on Claire’s hair and shoulder tightened. “Where did she come from?”
Jamie sputtered. Even Claire felt herself at a loss. She smirked, wondering at what age the farm life lesson her husband had recounted began to kick in.
“She… she came from Mama’s belly,” Jamie said quickly. “Like ye did, remember?”
Faith’s eyes seemed to grow even larger before they narrowed. She turned to Claire slowly. “Is that why ye left?”
Claire’s heart shattered and fell to her ribcage. She began patting her oldest daughter’s back, then pulled her into a tighter hug. “Yes, my bright girl,” she pulled back to meet Faith’s eye. “For there was nothing else that could keep me away from you.”
Before the wheezing could start, Claire leapt up and retrieved the mask from earlier, cranking the nebuliser up again. Though it was awkward with the mask over her daughter’s face, she held Faith over her shoulder, running fingers through her hair as she shook in her arms.
As she continued to console Faith, Claire was startled to notice her pronounced ribs. She felt tears in her own eyes as she rocked back and forth on the edge of the bed. Though she doubted she could manage to get the words out, she hummed the tune she knew should calm Faith. But her daughter seemed to tense in her arms instead.
Claire met Jamie’s eye. He’d moved to a chair with Brianna in his lap. His eyes looked troubled, and he offered her a gentle shrug. He looked down in surprise when he noticed the wee hand pawing at his chest. Brianna was tugging at his breast. He raised his eyebrows at Claire.
She couldn’t help a laugh as she witnessed the exchange. “Christ! Is it that time? Mrs. Graham gives her a bottle during the day, but we settle down together before bed,” she looked around frantically. “Bring her here,” she beckoned.
Jamie crossed the room in long strides. “Dinna fash,” he whispered. As he passed Bree to Claire, he gathered Faith from her lap with his other arm. Claire expected Faith to cling to her, but she went to her father easily, arms wrapping around his neck and legs around his torso. His lips went to her wild curls as he took a seat next to Claire.
Brianna latched on greedily, free hand grasping Claire’s fingers as she nursed. Claire gazed at her younger daughter in the quiet moment, registering the similarities to her father once again. For the first time, the comparison brought her no pain.
She looked up to see she had two sets of eyes on her. Jamie’s were fixed on the sight before him, and he swallowed deeply. When he noticed Claire watching, he cleared his throat. “You’re a braw mother twice over, Claire,” he said hoarsely. “I’ve missed seeing it indeed.”
Claire’s vision blurred with tears as she offered him a small smile, almost missing the look behind Faith’s eyes. Her head rested against Jamie’s shoulder, the thumb trying to find her mouth blocked by the mask. Her eyes were dark and focused downward on Brianna. She looked up to meet Claire’s eyes, then quickly turned her head, opposite cheek nuzzling into Jamie’s shoulder.
Claire winced. She’d never experienced it herself as an only child, but she knew that older siblings had to adjust to sharing their parents’ attention with others. It would be a matter of time, but she knew Faith’s sweet disposition would warm to Brianna’s presence.
The door eased open to reveal Molly, who rolled a cot in front of her.
“Molly, it’s late!” Claire chastised over the lump in her throat. “Why aren’t you gone yet?”
“I didna think any of ye would be leaving tonight,” Molly scolded right back. “May as well all have a place to lay yer heads.” You’ll be telling me everything soon, her smirk said as she closed the door once more.
Claire shook her head with a small smile. Bree finished with a final gulp and drifted off to sleep. Claire replaced Bree’s diaper then stood to lay her in the pram, locking its wheels before returning to Jamie and Faith. He looked up at her with a smile.
As much as Jamie longed to curl around his wife for the night, he knew it wasn’t reasonable with the limited size of the beds in Faith’s hospital room. Instead he stood to lay Faith in her own bed after Claire removed the mask from her face.
“We’ll take a nebuliser home with us tomorrow,” she explained to him as she tidied the contraption next to the bed.
Jamie nodded hesitantly. He didn’t know the first thing about the wee device that had kept his daughter alive that day, but he trusted Claire with any of their lives. He wrapped his arms around her waist, sneaking a palm to her arse. Her arms rested on his shoulders, hands twining behind his neck. Leaning down, he trapped her lips with his and went over them thoroughly.
They sat together at the foot of Faith’s bed. Jamie revealed Faith’s scone and tore it in half to share with Claire. She accepted it in surprise.
“I hadn’t even thought about eating,” she shook her head.
“Aye, you had healing on your mind,” Jamie agreed as he bit into the pastry. He hadn’t enjoyed such a delicacy in some time.
“You’re both too thin,” she murmured, seeming to have read his mind.
“That’s all ye could think about?” he tried to deflect. But seeing that Claire demanded an answer, he conceded. “Aye, it’s no’ been so bad at Lallybroch as elsewhere, thanks to ye, but it hasna been easy, either.”
She leaned her forehead against his. “That’s not all I had thought about,” she winked, the proximity of her face causing her to resemble a one-eyed beastie, and he told her so. They both laughed, trying to create a bridge from the heartache of the previous topic.
“And what else could there be?” he felt the smile tugging at his lips.
“A mystery indeed, you bloody man,” she leaned over to lick the crumbs from his lips and the worries from his mind.
Finally standing, he motioned for Claire to lay down next to Faith. She pouted, but he doubted he would be able to convince her to do otherwise, regardless.
With a kiss to each curly brown head, he pushed the rolling pallet between the bed and the door. No one would enter and reach his lasses without alerting him first. The cot was almost too narrow for his broad shoulders, but it was perfect as long as it provided a full view of each part of his heart.
Claire pulled Faith close to her as she settled in. She still wasn’t used to the idea that her pudgy preemie had been replaced by the long, scrawny form in her arms. She kissed the bridge of Faith’s nose as their heads lay together on the pillow. She tucked a loose tendril of hair behind her daughter’s ear, hoping for the sweet smile shared among her loves. Instead, Faith’s brow crinkled in her sleep, but she still cuddled closer to Claire.
Claire closed her eyes and let sleep take her easily, content in the knowledge that her life was restored and contained in that very room with her.
Hours later, she stirred awake to the sound of the gentle cries of an infant. “Bree?” she murmured as she attempted to rub the sleep from her eyes. The memory of something important tickled at the back of her brain as she tried to place her surroundings.
Claire was relieved when her vision finally cleared to take in the sight of Jamie bouncing Bree gently as her sobs quieted. The fearsome highlander reduced to a grinning mush at the sight of his wee ones was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever beheld. She adjusted to take in the other, resting quietly next to her. Faith’s eyes had opened too, studying her quizzically. Claire kissed her daughter’s cheek and patted her stomach, leaving an arm draped across her midsection as she succumbed to sleep once again.
When Claire woke again, the early light of day streamed through the small window of the hospital room. She startled to find her arms empty. Leaping up, she saw Faith draped over Jamie, chest to chest. Her heart twinged. She felt silly occupying Faith’s hospital bed without her, but she was exhausted. The bizarre sleeping arrangements were only temporary, she reasoned, drifting off once again. Her last thought was that she would choose Jamie to warm her, too.
Jamie came to at the sound of a knock on the door. Dimly, he tried to remember where he was. Chestnut curls were spread across his chest, making his stomach drop. For just that moment he’d imagined it to be Claire…
He shook out of his stupor as another knock sounded at the door. It opened to reveal the doctor from the day before. Jamie whipped his head around to catch sight of the whisky eyes he’d trusted his soul to years ago. And he was never to let go of her again.
“How are ye this morning, Miss Faith?” Dr. MacDonald’s voice sounded through the room. Faith tensed in his lap. She had been asleep for nearly the entirety of the doctor’s visits the day before.
“She’s well so far, Robert,” Claire answered. “We had a bit of a scare last night, but nothing the epinephrine couldn’t take care of.”
Jamie observed Claire as her lithe form stretched and made its way over to them. “Lovey, this is Mama’s friend, Dr. MacDonald,” she leaned into Jamie, rubbing Faith’s arm in the process. “Will you let him look over you for just a moment?”
Faith turned her head into Jamie’s chest, hiding from the older gentleman.
“Dinna fash,” Jamie whispered into the curls above her ear. “Yer mam trusts him.”
Faith turned to meet his eye, then cast a quick glance at Claire. She shifted in Jamie’s lap to face Dr. MacDonald.
The doctor’s eyes shone. “Aye, a beauty like yer mam,” he winked, fastening the stethoscope in his ears. He placed the round part to Faith’s chest.
Faith shivered as the cold metal contacted her skin. Jamie eyed the doctor’s strange instrument, but as long as Claire made no protest, he allowed it.
“Everything sounds quite well, lassie,” Dr. MacDonald concluded. “Just tell your mother if anything feels wrong, aye?”
Jamie snorted. This man seemed to ken the way of things, and he found he liked him after all.
Dr. MacDonald turned to Claire. “I dinna want to see ye here for a few days, Claire,” he said.
Claire looked like she might argue, but then her face relaxed into a smile. “Can’t say I’d want to be here.”
The doctor grinned as he closed the door behind himself.
The next half hour was chaotic as Claire guided them through the checkout process. Jamie did his best to help as he could with both weans in tow. Along the way they picked up a more portable nebuliser and wee metal chair, borrowed from the hospital.
Claire eyed the seat critically as they stood next to her carriage, nay, auto, as she had called it. “Not the safest, I’d say, but it will do for the short ride,” she decided, strapping the bassinet from Bree’s carriage into the back of the auto. She turned to take the wee chair from Jamie, then fastened it in similar fashion on the other side of the auto.
“This way, lovey,” she knelt to take Faith’s hand from Jamie’s, then tucked her into the metal seat. Their older daughter hesitated, bewildered, but followed her mother. Claire wound the belt around her, taking care to adjust it away from her face.
“Can I no’ just hold her, if it’s not safe?” Jamie asked.
Claire smiled at his offer, then reached to cup his cheek. “That’s kind, darling, but you wouldn’t be able to hold onto her in an accident,” she looked down at her feet.
“An accident?” Jamie grew defensive.
He saw the darkness in her eyes when she looked up again. “It’s always possible,” she whispered.
Dhia, he was still a fool. He wrapped his arms around her. “Shh, mo chridhe, I didna mean it that way,” he ensured her. “Dinna cry, aye?”
She shook her head, looking up to face him. “If I cry today, it will only be for joy,” she insisted as his thumbs wiped the tears from under her eyes.
At last, she pulled away to open the door next to them, gesturing for him to sit down. While he tucked his large frame into the space, she walked around the auto to sit in the seat next to him. He watched in amazement as she cranked it up and guided the controls with ease. To see her in her element in her own time made her more ravishing than ever before.
“I suppose we’ll find out if anyone has inherited your proclivity to motion sickness,” she remarked, nodding toward the mirror above.
He followed her gaze, noticing the reflection of his children in the backseat. Faith looked out the window in wonder as the scenery passed beside them. He was surprised to realize he hadn’t yet felt any such effects. The auto coasted along smoothly at his wife’s gentle persuasion. “Perhaps ye should have steered the ships, Sassenach,” he teased. “For I feel grand.”
She smirked. “Well, I haven’t heard any complaints from Bree yet,” she said, glancing in the mirror again. “But she has been a rather easy baby.”
Jamie noticed Faith tense in the backseat. Aye, they’d both have much to get used to in Claire’s time. But it was more than worth it, to have all of them together. He admired his wife once more as the auto cruised on to their future.
A/N: I almost had an asthma attack when I was reminded what children’s car seats looked like in this era. This model is what I have in mind for Bree, and Claire is already planning to improvise something safer for Faith, I’d bet.
Jamie tried to catch Claire’s eye as she turned the auto off the road and into a lot featuring a plain structure marked with tall letters that read ‘Grocery.’ He didn’t know much about this time, but he fairly figured Claire didn’t live here.
She smirked at his surely perplexed expression. “There’s enough food at the flat for me, and some strained staples for Bree,” she explained. “But we’ll need more in the way of supplies to feed you and our other growing girl.”
Claire smiled into the mirror above to catch Faith’s attention at this remark. Faith startled as they locked eyes, but turned away just as soon.
She looked down for a moment before reaching for her pocketbook and facing Jamie. He could tell that the smile she’d plastered to her face wasn’t quite real.
Jamie reached for her hand. “So we’re to purchase goods?” he asked. “Will ye need some help?”
Claire paused to consider this. “Well, it might go more quickly if I went alone, but I’m sure you’d like the experience.”
He nodded. This would be among his first lessons in Claire’s world. He meant to learn his role in her life and time, and this was the beginning.
They exited the auto with the girls in tow, Claire taking the time to compose Brianna’s pram. She offered to let him push it after adjusting the shade so he could see her. Meanwhile, Claire took Faith’s hand, tugging the girl along as her eyes wandered over her surroundings.
Upon entering the market, Jamie felt a cold blast of air hit him in the face. He’d noticed something similar in the hospital, but this was certainly more intense. He followed Claire to the row of wire buggies, one of which she was pulling out to use.
“Would you like to ride or walk, Lovey?” she asked Faith, revealing a seat in the main compartment of the buggy.
Faith backed away and shook her head, leaning against Jamie’s legs.
Claire nodded briefly. “Stay with me or Da, then.”
They progressed slowly through the store, Claire asking Jamie to choose among the bright rows of fruit and vegetables. Some choices she made on her own, predicting his and Faith’s preferences. This was just as well, as it gave him time to stare in awe at the abundance before him. What a time of plenty.
Jamie noticed Faith’s eyes scan the tall shelves of goods as well. She had never witnessed bountiful times at Lallybroch, but even those paled in comparison to the selections before them.
He tried to keep hold of Faith’s hand, but let her explore as long as she remained in the same aisle as them.
Jamie and Claire were both caught up in her explanation of the differences between choices in bread she had offered him when Faith tugged at his sleeve.
“Aye, just a moment, mo nighean,” he told her.
Bree began to fuss at the same moment, drawing Claire’s attention. She lifted her out of the pram and bounced her a few times. “You’ll need your bottle soon, hmm, Baby?”
Faith drew in a large breath and huffed, whimpering.
Jamie and Claire watched in shock as their normally serene four-year-old threw herself on the floor of the market, screaming all bloody murder. They exchanged a stunned glance before acting.
Claire lurched to intervene, but Jamie swept Faith up before she could reach her.
“Lass, ye canna do such things!” he shook her lightly. Faith’s bottom lip popped out, and she immediately began to sob, pitching into Jamie’s chest. He looked toward Claire, bewildered, before patting her gently on the back. “I ken, chuisle. It’s been quite the day, aye?” Faith quieted at this, drawing in a few shaky breaths.
Jamie wondered if they should retrieve any medicine for Faith, but her breathing seemed to regulate itself. Claire laid her hand on her daughter’s back as well, but Faith gave no indication that she’d registered the touch.
Claire quickly paid for their purchases. Though Jamie was distracted by the sniveling Faith in his arms, he stilled as he watched Claire’s coins drop into the hand of the poxed lad behind the counter. Jamie didn’t even know how tender worked now, let alone how he was supposed to come by any of it. But he would have to, in order to keep his family in… the things they needed in this time.
Their proceeding ride in the auto was silent. Jamie once again took the time to contemplate his next steps. He greatly wished to lead his family, but he didn’t even have the necessary knowledge to do that. He would have to seek counsel from his wife. He examined her from his seat. She looked troubled. When she had started the auto at the hospital, she had sat with her back straight in her seat and pointed to the sights of Inverness, 1949. He was taken aback by the look of the buildings and the dress of the people of the time.
Aye, he had always relied on Claire for her input and wisdom. But this would be a different thing entirely. He regretted that she now sat slumped over the wheel of the auto, eyes performing a delicate dance between the road and the wee mirror to observe Faith.
The lass herself looked disheveled, eyes downcast. Something was troubling Faith, therefore weighing on her mother. Previously, Jamie and Claire had relied on their instincts to raise Faith, choices on which they often happened to agree and came to them by second nature based on their like minds. He wondered if it would be the same now, with two children to guide. It would surely be no small task, based only on Faith’s behavior so far today.
Jamie’s eyes were drawn to the steering wheel as Claire’s grip tightened upon it, knuckles losing their color as her brow furrowed. He placed his own palm over it. She looked at him in surprise. He didn’t blame her, as he clearly had no support to give in guiding the steel cage. But he could offer the comfort his love would provide her. She seemed to read that in his expression. Their hands rested intertwined over the wheel as she drove on.
Claire inserted her key into the door of the modest condominium she had shared with Bree for the past few months. She had cast glances at Jamie as she pulled into her parking spot and shut the engine off.
He continued to look astonished, with a twinkle of something else behind his eye as they carried the girls up the two steps to the porch and through the entryway.
“Welcome home,” she whispered to Jamie and Faith, looking between each of them as they crossed the threshold. “This is it,” she tried again when neither responded.
Jamie shook his head as he came out of his trance. “It’s lovely, mo graidh,” he assured her. “Though I imagine anywhere ye are would be good enough for me.”
She shook her head and reached for his hand. Faith was squirmy in his arms, so he placed her feet on the floor and twined his fingers with Claire’s.
Claire eased Bree into the baby swing beside the sofa and led Jamie into the adjoining kitchen. She did her best to explain the appliances that occupied the space.
“It’s to keep the food cold, to preserve it,” she gestured toward the refrigerator.
Jamie nodded slowly. “Is that why the market was so cold?”
She felt a smile cross her lips. “Essentially, yes,” she answered as she tugged his arm to take him back to the den. “And I’ll show you the rest of the –”
They came upon Faith standing silently in the same spot where Jamie had set her down. She seemed to be taking in her surroundings, but her eyes kept falling back on Bree.
“Lovey?” Claire tried, reaching her hand out for her daughter. When she received no response, she kneeled beside Faith. “Would you like to see the rest of your new house?”
Faith’s eyes widened at this. She didn’t respond, but allowed Claire to pull her further into the house by the hand. Jamie lifted Bree out of her swing and followed close behind. He spoke to her in hushed tones as they walked. Claire couldn’t hear the words he said, but was sure by the deep rumble of his voice that they were in Gaelic.
They passed Bree’s nursery first. The late morning sun caught the mint green walls and the crib in the corner. Bree cooed as she spotted her plush animals lined up in the rocking chair. Her fingers were shiny with drool as they left her mouth and pointed to the array. Jamie followed her lead and knelt by the chair. Her hand batted at the rabbit in the center, which was of course different than the rabbit that rode with her in the pram all day. Jamie grasped the toy and held it to her as he stood. Bree grabbed for it and giggled.
“That’s Ray the rabbit,” Claire filled in between Bree’s shrieks of joy. “He’s quite the favorite around here.” As she finished she looked down at Faith, whose eyes had bugged at the collection of plushies in the room. With a pang, Claire remembered Faith’s beloved rag doll Hildie, who would surely still be at Lallybroch in 1747.
“We’ll find you some new lovies, too, Baby,” she stooped again to Faith’s level. She was taken aback as she watched her daughter tense at the pet name.
Claire tried to adjust her face into a relaxed expression, but Faith’s silence was taking a toll on her. During her time as a mother, she had taken pride in the idea that she could see to her daughters’ medical needs, but would make every effort to take care of their hearts, as well. Claire herself hadn’t been sure what a child should have from a mother, but figured that was a good place to start. She hadn’t been able to do any of those things for Faith in nearly a year and a half, and it wasn’t going swimmingly now, either.
Jamie interrupted her despairing thoughts. “Is there more to see, mo nighean donn?” She saw the concern in his eyes and attempted to compartmentalize for the moment.
Claire led them into the master bedroom across the hall from Bree’s. “This is my… our room,” she tried to smile as Jamie stepped next to her in the doorframe.
He glanced between her and the twin bed in the center of the wall, amused. “Dinna misunderstand me, Sassenach,” he began. “I’ll be gettin’ in there with ye, but I’m no’ sure how comfortable it will be.”
She sniffled and tried to blink back the tears that had gathered in her periphery. The current arrangement of her furniture was remaining evidence of her previous despair. She took his free hand in hers and dragged them all to the third bedroom.
“Will this be better for you?” she gestured to the king bed that sat in the room.
“Aye,” he tried to meet her eye, the furrow between his deepening. “Will we be switching these, then?”
She nodded and met his eye. Later, she tried to convey. “And this will be your room, darling,” she swung Faith’s hand in her own.
Faith finally looked up at her, eyes narrowing in confusion at Claire’s watery voice and strained facial expression.
Claire wiped at her eyes with her free hand, glancing at her wristwatch. “How about some lunch?”
When they re-entered the den of the small home, Jamie returned Bree to her swing, experimentally pushing her back and forth.
Bree’s laughter filled the room again as Claire guided Faith to the sofa. She placed Faith with her back against the cushion. “Let Mama make you something to eat,” she told her. “I’ll be right back.”
Claire flicked the television on as she crossed to the kitchen. Figures from a children’s puppet program danced around the screen. She looked back to Faith in time to see her jaw drop and her eyes freeze on the screen.
Jamie jumped as she passed him. “Dhia,” he exclaimed. “What is that?”
“It’s quite new,” she assured him. “It’s called a television.”
He blinked in surprise, then repeated the gesture, this one an attempt at a wink. “Visions, ye say, La Dame Blanche?” He looked quite amused with himself.
Claire rolled her eyes. She expected him to join Faith on the sofa as they reveled in the wonder of broadcasting. Instead, she felt him behind her as she powered the stove to heat Bree’s bottle and placed fixings for sandwiches on the countertop.
As soon as his arms closed around her middle, the tears threatened to emerge again.
“Claire,” he murmured. “The beds. What upset ye so?”
She turned around in his arms and pressed her face to his chest. She grounded herself in his scent and let the comforting feeling of him surround her.
His hand made a circular motion against her back. “Please?” he whispered. “Tell me what’s on your heart,” he spoke just above her ear.
She sniffled. “I didn’t want to lie alone in a full-sized bed,” she whispered. “I couldn’t.”
He exhaled into her shoulder. “The same for me, mo chridhe,” his words were muffled. “I’ve scarcely slept in a bed, if I could help it.”
Claire squeezed her eyes shut. The priest’s hole. She couldn’t bear to think of him hiding himself away day and night.
He must have felt her tense, as his arm wound more tightly around her waist.
“And the big bed?” Claire could tell he wanted to laugh over the juxtaposition of her furniture arrangement, but wouldn’t unless she did.
“For guests, I told myself,” she pulled back to meet his eye, hesitating. “But I… I was planning to go back for Faith. I might have been able to bring myself to sleep in it if they needed me, once they were older.”
Jamie’s face fell. She expected him to scold her. Instead he went nearly boneless in her arms before hugging her more fiercely. “Praise God ye didna,” he breathed.
“Why ever not?” Claire asked.
“It’s a verra brave notion of ye, love,” he inhaled shakily. “But I wouldna have been able to let ye leave again had you returned to me. And to leave Bree here… to who, Frank?” He froze, then pulled her back by the shoulders. “Ye would not have taken her through the stones, aye?”
Claire laughed as she exhaled. “No, which was a large part of my dilemma,” she explained. “I didn’t know who might be able to travel. If I had needed to leave one of them behind again…” She shuddered at the dark thoughts that had plagued her for more than a year.
Jamie pouted. “And my poor hide?”
She giggled and caressed his cheek. “If I had known we could find you there, we wouldn’t be standing here now.”
They alternated laughing and speaking in low tones about their children as Claire showed him how to make sandwiches, as well as test the temperature for Bree’s bottle. She carried a jar of baby food to the den, as well.
Claire instructed Jamie in setting up her card table so she and Faith could eat while he gave Bree her bottle.
Jamie settled into the sofa with Bree curled against him. Claire showed Faith how to lift her sandwich without disassembling it. Faith seemed to enjoy the peanut butter and jelly, eating hungrily. They’d had a quick breakfast at the hospital, but Claire knew it hadn’t been enough to fill her nearly starved Scots.
Startled to hear Bree’s quiet protests, Claire whipped around to face Jamie. Their younger daughter refused to accept the bottle in Jamie’s hand, twisting away from the offered meal.
“Oh!” Claire exclaimed, standing to intervene. She lifted Bree into her own arms as Jamie deflated into the sofa. She sat next to him, demonstrating how to keep the baby from swallowing air by tilting the bottle. “It prevents gas,” she told him.
Brianna returned to Jamie without issue, accepting the bottle from him easily.
Claire looked up to see that Faith had abandoned her lunch on the table and was no where in sight. She leapt up, frantic.
“Faith?!” she rushed down the hall, eyes darting to her left and right. She heard Jamie’s heavy footsteps behind her.
She saw movement from the doorway of the nursery and sighed in relief. Faith was on her knees in front of Bree’s stuffed animals, studying them intently.
Claire crouched next to Faith, setting a hand on her shoulder. Faith’s attention shifted to the framed photograph on the wall behind the rocking chair. It proudly displayed Claire holding Bree up in the hospital, moments after her delivery.
“Lovey, you scared Mama,” Claire whispered, drawing her arm around Faith. Her daughter’s eyes met hers only briefly, then swept over to Bree in Jamie’s arms, where he had slumped against the wall in relief.
Claire’s heart cracked anew. “Talk to me, please?” she whispered.
Faith said nothing, but allowed herself to be lifted into Claire’s lap.
Claire hadn’t allowed herself to consider how difficult it might be for herself and Jamie to settle back into co-parenting after each had the sole keeping of one daughter for so long.
An idea struck her. “You know, I bet your sister wouldn’t mind if you held onto one of these for a while,” she tipped her head toward the dolls.
Faith’s face soured at this, but she reached for the blue elephant in the back corner of the rocking chair. She held it close to her as Claire shifted her and stood.
“Are you still hungry?” Claire asked.
Faith shook her head slowly.
“Well, why don’t we give Da time to eat, then we’ll get settled a bit more, hmm? Claire led them back through the house to their abandoned lunch.
Jamie ate the sandwich that had been prepared for him, then polished Faith’s off as well. He ended up needing the energy, as he soon rearranged the house’s furniture with Claire’s help and direction.
“Bollocks, we’ll still need a few more things,” Claire sighed as they flipped the last mattress into place.
Jamie followed her gaze into the closet of the third bedroom, empty aside from a step ladder and some wrapping paper. Neither he or Faith had brought more with them than the clothes on their backs. He looked down at his own worn kilt and shirt. He would certainly need clothing befitting the times. Jamie thought of the books he had left behind in the study at Lallybroch with a pang of regret.
He wasn’t even sure what Faith would require for a proper childhood in 1949. He had been surprised by the sheer number of items in Bree’s nursery and closet. More wee outfits, toys and books than a wean in his own time would ever own.
Jamie looked up as the grandfather clock in the den chimed seven times. Claire had explained that she brought it from her uncle’s home after he had died. She hadn’t kept many of his things, she said, but some were too sentimental to part with.
He tended to agree. Living on the run as he had, he usually only held onto the few precious things that could fit in his sporran.
The sound of rushing water interrupted Jamie’s thoughts. He made his way down the hall to find Claire squatting beside the built-in basin with her hand under a running stream, Faith standing at a distance behind her.
Claire had bathed Bree in the tub earlier, singing wee songs about washing. Faith had taken her nightly dosage from the nebuliser as she sat on Jamie’s lap on the closed lid of the toilet. He had been shocked when Claire informed him of its purpose. He didn’t mind the absence of a chamber pot, but was sheepish to admit to her that he had relieved himself outside the hospital in the middle of the night, unsure of the acceptable behavior in such a case.
“Do you need help climbing in?” Claire asked as she stopped the water.
Faith looked suspicious, but nodded. Claire swung her over the side gently, then began lathering a rag with soap. Faith tugged both from her. Claire looked surprised.
“She has taken to washing by herself,” Jamie said gently. He knew Claire was hurt by Faith’s attitude, and the last thing he wanted to do was deepen her pain.
Claire nodded rapidly, her neck pulsing as she swallowed. “Alright,” she said quietly. “Just let me know if you need any help, Baby.”
When Faith was finished, Jamie let the water out of the tub as Claire had shown him while she brushed Faith’s teeth with supplies she had purchased earlier.
Faith clutched Rupert the elephant to her side as Claire and Jamie tucked her into the clean sheets of her new bed. She looked around the room, unsure of herself. It struck Jamie that she had rarely had a bed to herself, usually either sleeping in the laird’s room with her parents or the nursery with her cousins.
“Story?” Faith asked timidly, snuggling deeper into the pillow beneath her.
“Brilliant idea, Lovey!” Claire lifted the stack of books she’d brought in from Bree’s room. Perhaps a bit young for Faith, but stories that were new to her.
Faith pushed the books away. “Da!” her voice rose as she looked toward Jamie.
“There’s no reason your mam canna be a part of our story, lass,” Jamie chastised as he sat next to Claire.
She looked toward him gratefully, but he could still see the hurt and confusion hidden in her features. He didn’t take time to explain their nightly ritual as he tucked Faith into bed before sleeping in the priest’s hole. It was some of the rare time they were able to spend together, excluding their most recent excursion from Lallybroch.
Claire leaned against him as he told Faith her preferred story about the Loch Ness creature. Faith filled in the details he ‘forgot’, which also happened to be her favorite parts to tell.
Faith looked peaceful as her eyes fluttered closed at last. Claire flipped the light off as they exited the room.
She led Jamie to their room. He hadn’t realized there was a lavatory connected to Claire’s bedroom during the initial tour of the house, but they proceeded in and closed the door behind them.
Claire tugged his kilt from around his hips as soon as the latch clicked shut. He looked down at her, stunned, until she gestured toward the bathtub on their left. He watched in amazement as she set the water to emerge from above their heads, then shed the nurse’s uniform she had worn all day.
Jamie lifted his wife swiftly and carried her into the rising steam.
Faith rolled over in the strange bed. She had watched her mother change the sheets, but it made no difference. The bed smelled like Mama. Which made everything worse.
She had never felt happier than when Mama found her again. Faith had felt lost and confused at Lallybroch without her. She’d still had Da, Aunt Jenny, Uncle Ian and her cousins, but it wasn’t the same. The other grown-ups in the house could help her breathe through the night, but no one could rock her to sleep quite like her mama had.
Faith had awoken with her missing mother smiling down at her and assumed everything would be perfect. But then she met Mama’s new baby and hadn’t been sure what to think.
She had lost Mama once. How long before she would leave again? Or would she and Da have to go somewhere else? She didn’t want to get used to being together only to lose her again.
Faith rolled out of the bed, abandoning the wee beastie with it. She made her way to the sofa in the sitting room and tried to cuddle up in the blanket she found draped over the cushions.
Everything still smelled like Mama, but it wasn’t as noticeable here. She might have to live without the scent again soon, anyway.
Claire lay flat as Jamie traced the webbed scars on her abdomen. She knew they were more obvious now, since she’d carried Brianna to term. She had tried her best to ignore them in the mirror, despite their prominence in her reflection. They were one more reminder of all she had, but also all that she could never have again. But she was quickly forgetting that feeling as Jamie’s lips caressed each one. She pulled him up to face her.
He grunted in protest, but his sleepy grin remained as she wound her fingers in his hair. The smile faded, though, as he took note of her distressed look. They both knew she couldn’t keep her mind from Faith’s standoffish behavior for long.
They had all been elated to be together at first. But something had changed with the addition of Bree. It wasn’t hard to tell that Faith was jealous of her younger sister. Despite the fact that Lallybroch had been full of children, she had never had to share her parents’ affection with any of them. But just as Faith had always been different from other children, she wasn’t aggressive with the baby or even outright attention-seeking. It was almost as if she was trying to remove herself from the situation, or just from her mother specifically.
And it broke Claire’s heart. “I don’t know what to do,” she finally admitted.
Jamie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I may not have heard those words from ye before, Sassenach,” he teased.
She cuffed his shoulder lightly. He kissed hers in response.
“Tell her how ye feel,” he whispered. “She adores you, and ye know it well. But the wee obstinate thing is no’ easily convinced.” He rested his chin on her collarbone. “A bit like her mam, at that.”
Claire tried to grin back, but still felt defeated. “Hildie would have helped, I think,” she said regretfully.
Jamie rose reluctantly, pulling her along with him. He lifted his discarded sporran from the floor and rummaged within it. He finally produced the plaid doll made from scraps of Faith’s first dress. “Dinna ken that she could do without Wee Hildie,” he smirked.
“And I dinna ken what I would do without you,” she told him, dragging his face back down to meet hers, lips coming together slowly.
They stumbled back to bed together, the promise of tomorrow surging through them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Faith watched colors flash before her eyes. Bright shades blended into dark, making her head spin. A distant screaming filled her ears as it lurked closer to her. Twin forces tugged at her and she felt weak between them. Both scared her, but one held a hint of something familiar behind it.
She felt herself trying to reach something, but it kept getting further away. Every time she came upon it, it would slip from her grasp and the frightening things would close upon her, ready to pounce.
Claire left her bedroom door cracked as she ventured into the dark to fetch a glass of water. She and Jamie had talked late into the night, holding tighter to each other with every passing hour. Her body felt pleasantly sore and her muscles spent after reacquainting themselves with his.
She paused in the process of draping her dressing gown over her shoulders when she heard a snuffling sound. She shuffled to the doorway of Bree’s nursery, but could make her out in the shadows, resting on her back with her arms splayed beside her head, cotton-clad chest rising and falling easily.
Faith’s bed was empty. Claire tried to control her own breathing as she raced through the house once again, searching for her eldest daughter.
The whimpering grew stronger as she approached the sitting room. She found Faith tangled up in an afghan rug, thrashing from side to side. She was muttering something incomprehensible, but at last a strangled word escaped her.
“Mama!” Faith screamed, throwing herself around more violently.
Claire intercepted before she could roll off the sofa. “Faith, Baby,” she cooed, beginning to shudder herself. “Wake up, you’re alright.”
Faith leapt into her arms and clung to her neck, shaking with silent sobs.
Claire gripped her back, rubbing small circles over her spine. “There you go,” she whispered.
Faith’s hold loosened as she seemed to come back to herself. She let go of Claire and laid back down on the sofa, eyes dark with the fleeing remnants of her dreams.
“What happened, Lovey?” Claire tried, reaching a hand out to rub Faith’s belly.
Faith shrugged, eyes wandering the dark room.
Claire reached into the pocket of her dressing gown and produced Hildie. She held the treasured doll next to her chin and tilted her within Faith’s line of vision.
Faith’s eyes widened and she tentatively reached for the rag doll.
Claire released the doll into her daughter’s eager hands and watched it disappear beneath the blanket. She straightened the rug over Faith’s form, tucking the end under her feet like she once preferred.
Faith’s expression glazed over, serene.
“I hope you know that you mean the world to me, Baby,” Claire kneeled before her again, head resting on her crossed arms over the sofa space Faith didn’t occupy. “It hurts me to see you so sad.”
Faith looked down, hands fiddling with her doll below the blanket.
How to make her understand? Claire wondered. The girl lying before her was a shell of the Faith she knew, unimaginable pain closing off the best parts of her.
“You know that before you, I didn’t think I could have children,” she began.
“Why?” Faith offered, still refusing to meet Claire’s eyes. Claire’s knuckle trailed down her daughter’s upper arm as she tried to think of a way to explain the hopelessness and the inadequacy she had once felt.
“Sometimes… a woman’s body just isn’t able to support another life,” she tried. Faith’s eyes were focused on a tear in the cushion beside her head. She had at least stopped fidgeting, so Claire took it as a good sign. “They may need help, even, like you do sometimes to breathe.”
Faith shifted her head to focus on Claire’s night shirt. “Aye?”
“Yes. But it’s still very hard on the woman. Especially if she wants to be a mother,” Claire’s voice caught, trying to concentrate on this moment with her daughter, rather than all of the heartbreak she had been through to get there. “I wanted you so badly, my love.”
Faith finally looked into Claire’s face, lower lip quivering.
“Even just to know that you were inside me, darling, was the greatest feeling I’d ever experienced,” Claire ran her hand over Faith’s forehead and through the curls mussed by sleep. “To notice the changes I went through, and know that they meant you were healthy and growing. And then to feel you move… there’s nothing like it.”
Faith caught Claire’s hand before it could leave her hair. She brought it to her chest and held on tightly.
“Then there were the first few days after you were born, when I thought you wouldn’t make it,” Ice dripped through Claire’s veins at the memories. “I knew that I was failing you, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Faith’s hand stiffened in her own. Claire and Jamie had rarely discussed that time in their lives, and hardly ever in front of Faith. The guilt and fear attached to those dreadful months were not something that either of them wanted to revisit.
“And when I held you in my arms, Faith,” she ducked her head to place a kiss in the bend of her daughter’s elbow. “I knew that everything that I did from that day on had to be to keep you safe.”
Faith’s eyes were streaming as she listened to Claire.
“So that’s what we tried to do. But sometimes parents make mistakes,” Claire used her free hand to thumb the tears from Faith’s cheeks. “Da and I thought you would be safest away from us. And then things changed even from what we expected. But I thought of you every day, lovey, and how I could possibly get back to you.”
“Really?” Faith looked suspicious, but hopeful.
“Yes,” Claire said firmly, a breathy laugh emerging through her own tears. “You are everything to me, Faith Elizabeth.”
Faith lurched up, narrowly avoiding knocking heads with Claire as she threw her arms around her. “Love you,” she sobbed. “Stay with me?”
Claire’s chest constricted. “Of course, Baby,” tears continued to cloud her own vision. “Always.”
Faith settled against her, head sinking into Claire’s shoulder. Her shaky breathing evened out as Claire rocked back and forth on her knees.
“But Brianna is just as important, my little love,” Claire whispered as she kissed Faith’s damp cheek.
Faith stilled, then attempted to pull back just as Claire fit her arms more snuggly around her.
“My love for your sister could never keep me from adoring you just as much, Faith,” Claire spoke softly. “She’ll need lots of care to grow as strong and sweet and wonderful as you are.” She closed her eyes, hoping she was saying the right things.
Claire relented as Faith pulled back to look into her face. Though at times she could hide her true feelings just as well as Jamie, there were still moments when she reflected her mother’s own glass face. The shadows diminished the effect, but Faith looked content, if not interested, in what Claire had to say.
“In fact,” Claire continued. “Your baby sister will need a good example as she gets older. Someone to help her when she’s made a mistake, or show her how to do big girl things. Would you maybe be willing to help me with that?”
Faith scrutinized her for a long moment, then nodded slowly.
“I thought I could rely on you, Lovey,” Claire leaned her forehead against Faith’s, staring into her eyes until they both giggled.
At last, Claire swept Faith up and carried her toward the back of the house. She could feel her daughter relaxing against her, head drooping sleepily over her shoulder. Claire had planned to tuck her back into the bed in her new room, but thought better of it when Faith’s grip on her hair tightened. They entered the master bedroom instead.
Jamie stirred lightly as Claire laid Faith in the space beside him and pulled the covers back over all of them.
She leaned over Faith to plant a kiss on Jamie’s brow, heart thudding at the smile that swept over his face.
Faith sprawled her arms and legs out in the space between her parents, turning to face Claire with a wide grin on her face. Claire smiled back, holding her hand out to Faith.
She rolled over at the invitation, slipping under Claire’s arm.
As Faith nestled closer, Claire tucked a snug arm around her daughter’s body, brushing the hair out of her face. Faith opened her eyes long enough to squint up into her mother’s face on the pillow above, then let them slip closed again, beautiful features beaming.
Claire dozed off with Faith’s small head tucked beneath her chin, heart stitched back together again.
Jamie stirred at a distant sound he couldn’t quite place. He shook awake as he felt something tickle his bare chest. Brushing it off, he realized it was Faith’s rag doll.
How? He wondered before rolling over to a sight that made his heart swell. Faith and Claire were clinging to each other on the other side of the bed, twin curls blending together on the pillow. Their chests rose and fell in tandem, sweet smiles lighting up their faces. Faith was even dressed a bit like her mother, one of Claire’s blouses engulfing her as a night dress.
He was so caught up in the scene before him, ready to fold them both into his own arms, he nearly forgot about the low cries coming from the other side of the house.
Jamie leapt up as the sobs registered in his mind. He rolled off the mattress and found his footing. He adjusted the sheet knotted around his waist, a temporary covering while his hand-rinsed kilt and shirt dripped dry over Claire’s shower.
He crossed the threshold of Brianna’s nursery to find her squalling as her wee legs kicked out beneath her. He raised her over the railing of her crib and laid her on his bare chest.
“What can Da do for ye, a nighean?” he cooed into her soft curls.
Jamie discovered the problem as he patted her down. He laid her on the corner table Claire had directed him to earlier and unfastened her diaper. He whispered to her in Gaelic as he cleaned her up and placed new pins into a fresh clout, taking care to not stab her wee hips.
You’ll be just fine, my heart. I am so glad to know you. We will not waste this chance. You will be taken care of as long as I am on the Earth.
Her glimmering blue eyes never left his face as he stood above her. Her hand went to her lips as he lifted her and made to return her to the crib. But he wasn’t ready to give up the warm weight of her, especially as she blinked up at him with sleep clouding her eyes.
Jamie cleared the rocking chair of its clutter and sat down with her cheek against his shoulder. One of her sticky fists rested over his heart, the other folded into the well of the highest scar on his back.
He rocked Bree and told her of the night he and Claire had met. He had missed the opportunity to talk to Bree from inside Claire’s belly as he had with Faith, and he wasn’t going to neglect the chance to start now.
“It was verra dark, ken?” he whispered. “I woke up and she was practically sitting on my chest, scolding me until my ears bled.” He laughed to himself. “Perhaps you’re too young to have seen her that way, but ye’ll know soon enough.”
Jamie’s heel dug into the floor as he pushed off of it to propel the chair. “But would ye believe that I never wanted her to stop?” His big hand stretched across Brianna’s back as the tips of his fingers rubbed her shoulders. “Yer daft da would have kept getting himself hurt until he got her attention.”
He smiled to himself as he felt her eyelids flutter closed and her breathing slow.
“But I got verra lucky, after all, lass,” Jamie’s lips slipped into a smile as he pressed a kiss above Brianna’s tiny ear. “Yer mam needed someone to protect her, and I was thought to be the most useful in the situation. Or perhaps the most easily manipulated,” he admitted with a sly grin. “I know what you’re thinking, a chuisle: ‘Mam doesna need protecting, she’s the fiercest I know.’ And ye’re right, at that. But yer da didn’t turn down the chance to guard her as he could, regardless.”
Bree’s nose and chin wrinkled as she slept. Claire’s nose and chin, Jamie realized proudly. “And it all led us here, mo chridhe,” he whispered.
She had fallen asleep and there was no reason for him to keep holding her, Jamie admitted to himself. But he did so anyway, relishing in this moment of perfect stillness with his daughter.
All he wanted to do was watch Bree. Memorize her features and movements, as if that could make up for the time he’d lost with her. Perhaps it wouldn’t, but he didn’t want to miss any more moments with her.
Jamie placed his hand underneath his younger daughter’s bum as he stood and walked out of the room. He padded through the dark house, listening for signs of anyone or anything that could come to bother his little family. He snorted. Perhaps no’ so little anymore, James Fraser.
As he re-entered the room he was to share with Claire, he was relieved to find her and Faith undisturbed. Claire laid in the same position as before, her mouth now hanging open. Their older daughter had only shifted so much as to lodge her feet in Claire’s middle, something Jamie was not sure she would be pleased to find when she woke.
Jamie laid on his back slowly, careful not to jostle anyone else in the bed. He laid Brianna over his stomach, her cheek conforming to the hollow of his chest. He took hold of the curled hands that had draped themselves over his sides.
He sat still as they breathed together. He smoothed her locks that had fallen out of place, his own breath catching as he watched her rosebud mouth slip into a sweet smile.
Bree squirmed and burrowed her feet deeper into his stomach. Jamie felt honored. The lass seemed truly at ease with him so far. Perhaps it was the blood they shared, or that he was tender as he could be with her. Either way, he prayed to never take it for granted.
He turned to his left to watch over Claire and Faith awhile, content that his entire heart rested in this bed with him. Of course, they couldn’t get used to doing such a thing. He and Claire would need their privacy and the weans would have to become accustomed to sleeping on their own.
But tonight, and perhaps a bit longer, they needed this closeness.
Jamie was surprised to feel something dribble down his chest. He used his finger to wipe the drool from Brianna’s chin.
He patted her back as he adjusted the pillows behind him to raise his head higher. He didn’t plan to sleep again, satisfied to guard his family as they rested.
Faith rolled over as she came awake. She felt confused at first, not sure where she was. But then her foot came into contact with something soft. She looked up in time to see Mama wince before her face smoothed again.
She scooted over to press her cool cheek into her mother’s warm neck. Mama’s grip over Faith’s stomach tightened as she moved closer, her mouth slipping into a smile.
Faith noticed that Mama looked peaceful as she slept. None of the lines that had marked her skin earlier remained. She felt guilty as she realized that Mama’s earlier worry was her own fault. But she was determined not to cause anymore trouble. She had both her parents now, and nothing to fear, as Mama had told her. And…
She flopped around without leaving Mama’s arms to look at Da, startled to find his eyes opened and the bairn laying against him. His face held a small smile, and Faith realized it was the same one he reserved for her and Mama.
If Da loved the baby as much as Faith knew he loved her, maybe she could give her a chance. Faith had spent plenty of time around Michael and Janet, but their presence hadn’t immediately affected her. She had been able to tuck away in the nursery with Maggie and Kitty while the grown-ups stayed up to care for the screaming weans.
Faith wondered if she should learn how to care for the bairn. Mama had said she would need help, after all. She scooted nearer to get a better look.
She supposed the baby was rather… cute. Faith thought back to the wee hand that had reached out for hers, and the bright blue eyes that locked with her own. The same eyes that stared back in her own reflection, she realized.
They had gotten along fine before Faith knew who she was. Brianna. A strange name, perhaps. But Mama had picked it, so she probably had a good reason.
Faith crept closer, slipping out from under Mama’s arm. Da startled as he noticed her movement. He glanced at her with his own large blue eyes before his mouth slipped back into a grin.
“Come here, a leannan,” he beckoned, holding a hand out to her.
Faith crawled over the mattress to meet him. She cuddled next to Da, coming nearly face to face with Bree.
Da pulled Faith closer with his arm over her shoulder, placing a kiss to the top of her head before resting his chin there.
“What do ye think?” his voice rumbled into her ear.
Faith thought this over as she got a better look at Bree.
“She’s your baby too?” Faith asked slowly.
Da chuckled, but tried to hide it. “Aye, lass. Ye’re both my wee bairns.”
She turned her head up to look at him. “Then why did we wait so long to find her and Mama?”
Da blinked, then cleared his throat. Faith was pretty sure he glanced toward Mama, but he was too quick to tell for sure.
“We were quite far from her, mo chridhe,” he began. “I didna ken if we could find her.”
Faith’s eye fell away from his. “So we are no’ in Scotland?”
Da swallowed. “We are,” he sounded unsure. “To tell ye true, it’s a bit hard to understand. Yer mam and I will do our best to explain it to ye.”
“Aye,” she nodded. She looked back down at Bree. Her eyes had popped open, and she was looking at Faith. Her arms stretched as she woke, and her fist touched Faith’s hand.
Faith opened her hand to accept her sister’s. She wondered what it would be like to take Bree back to Lallybroch. She had never known she might want such a thing, but maybe it would be fun to have a sister. Cousins were one thing, but Faith knew Maggie and Kitty understood each other in a way she could never quite catch on to. Would she and Bree be like that one day?
Bree blinked sleepily at Faith before her eyes closed again and she shifted on Da’s chest.
Faith watched the baby sleep as she leaned against Da, determined to help him guard her and Mama. Her own eyes felt heavy, but she knew Mama was counting on her.
Claire blinked awake with the realization that the weight in her arms had changed. Her eyes opened to find Hildie cuddled against her chest. She patted the space beside her but stopped when a hand grabbed hers.
She looked up to see Jamie watching her warmly. Both his eyes blinked at her as she caught sight of Faith learning against him, bleary eyes focused on her little sister.
Claire’s heart flipped at the view. She accepted Jamie’s offered hand and crossed the small space between them.
She lifted Faith’s limp form into her own lap as she moved. The girl flopped around and snuggled into Claire’s chest, thumb entering her mouth.
Jamie’s strong arm wound over Claire as she tucked herself into his chest and rubbed Bree’s back.
Claire turned her face to kiss his shoulder. She basked in the scent of her own fragrant bar soap on his skin, not quite covering the natural traces of wood smoke and earth that always followed him.
“Did ye have it out, then?” The two-day growth of Jamie’s beard brushed against her cheek as he whispered into her ear. “I didna hear a stramash.”
She closed her eyes and let his presence engulf her. “No stramash this time, but hopefully some understanding,” she told him. She tilted her chin up to meet his lips, placing her warm right palm on his cheek.
Jamie turned his face to kiss her palm, then her silver ring. He took the hand in his own, laying it over his heart.
Faith sighed in Claire’s arms as she thanked the forces of time for allowing them this moment. She didn’t want to think of the fact that she had nearly missed out on the sight before her, the child they had sacrificed everything for resting against his bare chest.
The gleam in his eye told her he knew all her thoughts, and shared them with her.
“Sleep, Sassenach,” his voice rumbled. “Let me guard your dreams.”
The next thing she knew, sunlight hit her eyelids and a low rumbling filled her ears. The latter caught her attention. She opened her eyes to find Faith’s inches away, staring at her intently. The girl’s stomach growled again.
Claire snickered, carding her fingers through Faith’s hair until she remembered how little her daughter had eaten the day before.
“Are you hungry, Darling?” she asked, trying to paste on a smile through her worry. If Faith kept eating the way she had, her health would continue to suffer.
“Aye,” Faith said. She looked hesitant. “Are there more samwiches? I can eat tatties, but…”
Claire pretended to think. “How about tattie sandwiches?” she teased.
Faith made a face. Claire laughed, even though her chest ached.
“I’ll see what I can come up with,” she promised, moving to get up, planning to let Faith rest a little longer with Jamie, who had finally dozed off after returning Bree to her crib.
Once again, Faith didn’t release Claire’s middle as she left the bed. Claire relented, holding onto Faith’s hips as she lifted her.
“Will you help me check on the baby?” Claire whispered into Faith’s ear.
She expected resistance, but Faith nodded slowly.
Faith allowed Claire to put her down as they entered the nursery. She glanced through the bars of the crib to observe Bree.
Brianna had woken herself and her limbs were flapping as she waited for Claire.
“Good morning, Smudge,” Claire greeted her as she reached into the crib.
Bree babbled in response as Claire changed her diaper and sat down in the rocking chair to be eye level with Faith.
Faith crossed her arms over Claire’s knees and looked on eagerly.
“Let’s go fix breakfast,” Claire suggested after a few peaceful moments.
The cold sheets startled Jamie as the morning light registered in his eyes. He sprung out of bed, panic tightening his reflexes as he bounded through the bedroom door.
Jamie’s pulse calmed as he spotted Bree in her infant swing, placed in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room.
As he lifted her into his arms and moved the swing out of the way, he took in the sight of Claire flipping toast over the stove. Faith stood on a step stool next to her, wearing padded gloves that nearly came up to her oxters and stacking the finished pieces on a plate. A pan of sausage was sizzling on another burner.
Jamie stepped behind them, bending to drop a kiss on Faith’s head before spinning Claire around to pull her in close, kissing the morning air off her lips.
“Oh!” she shrieked, laughing. She laid the last piece of toast on Faith’s plate and extinguished the burners before pulling him back in and catching his tongue with hers.
Bree batted at them with her wee hands until they pulled apart.
“Good morning, loves,” Jamie said finally. He looked down to see Faith’s face lit up with a wide grin.
Claire’s eyes widened as she took him in fully. “Get away from the stove!” she tapped his bare chest lightly and handed Bree’s warm bottle to him.
He dropped into a chair at the kitchen table, shifting Bree into a more comfortable position.
She accepted her breakfast readily, placing her chubby palms on either side of the bottle. He adjusted it the way Claire had shown him and watched her eat eagerly.
Four Frasers settled into their first morning together as a family, at last. None knew quite what the day held in store, but they were ready to face it together.
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(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Faith scampered into Brianna’s nursery, leading Claire close behind. She had insisted on help putting on her dress, despite her previous refusal of assistance from Jenny or Jamie for the past year.
She bounded toward the rocking chair that held Jamie, Bree over his shoulder as he helped settle her stomach after her bottle.
“Braw lass,” he chuckled as she belched.
Jamie placed a firm hand on Faith’s shoulder to still her as she tried to climb into his lap. “Hold on a moment a leannan,” he whispered. “Ye must be verra gentle with wee bairns.” He shifted Bree to allow more room for Faith as she scrambled up.
Claire lifted Bree from his arm, bouncing her as they made their way to the changing table.
Jamie looked down to see that Faith’s thumb had found her mouth, again. Ordinarily he would remind her to remove it. Something Claire had insisted time and time again. The germs and the alignment of her teeth, she’d said.
But there was something about watching her now, finally at peace and acting more like herself after he’d nearly lost her. She looked young and innocent. He wasn’t in a rush for either child to grow up.
He pressed a kiss to her soft curls, the scented baby soap from last night’s bath clinging to her. There was nothing quite like holding his bairns. He could hardly forget this baby girl, even as he devoted time to learning the other.
Jamie rested his chin above Faith’s head as he watched Claire snap the buttons on Bree’s day suitinto place, then run a careful hand over her head to smooth the mussed curls.
She returned Bree to the crook of his other arm as she placed a firm kiss on his lips and left to dress herself.
He reveled in the feeling of rocking both children together, Bree already drifting to sleep and Faith focusing on her, dazed from the motion of the rocker.
They’d venture out once more as soon as Claire returned. Jamie smiled smugly, in awe of the way she took care of both bairns, the house, and him so quickly before even seeing to herself.
Faith startled in his lap, sitting up so quickly she nearly slid off. Her head whipped around to face Jamie, eyes wide with panic. Before the word could form on her lips, Claire’s footsteps creaked against the floor. Faith leapt away from Jamie and rushed to meet her mother.
Claire kneeled down to greet her, arms opening just in time. Over Faith’s head, she met Jamie’s eyes, brows raised.
“I was right down the hall, Lovey,” she cooed. “Nothing to worry over.”
She stood, but left her hand clasped in Faith’s.
Jamie felt his eyes pop as they traced Claire’s form.
The dress barely covered her knees, ending just at the top of her calves. The sky blue of the fabric was brighter than any of the clothes she had worn in his time, even in Paris. Her short curls formed the cloud around her head he loved so much.
“Dhia,” he whispered as she nodded to urge him up. “I’ve not seen ye in such a thing.” Jamie followed the pull to her, sneaking his hands to her hips after passing Bree over.
She blushed prettily, tilting her head toward him. “I would have looked about like this before the stones, the woods, and… Randall.” She looked away as she finished the sentence.
It didn’t bother him in that moment. He raked his fingers through her hair to pull her head back and dropped his lips to hers, leaving a long kiss.
They were interrupted by a tug on the bottom of Claire’s dress.
“Ye look verra bonny, Mama,” Faith piped up, smiling shyly.
With Jamie’s arm around her waist and Faith’s hand squeezing her own, Claire crossed the threshold of the manse. She realized she’d never felt so content as she did so, even during her honeymoon jaunt with Frank.
Mrs. Graham opened the door wide to allow them all through.
“Ye all look grand,” she exclaimed. “A good night’s sleep has done you well.”
Jamie’s and Faith’s eyes wandered the expansive walls of the manse, taking in the dark walls and antique furniture.
Claire’s gaze immediately landed on Reverend Wakefield, standing quietly in the corner. She nodded genially. “Good morning, Reverend.”
“Mrs. Randall,” he nodded, eyebrows raised. His eyes fell on Jamie. “Mr. MacTavish.”
Jamie grunted. “Suppose I do owe ye an apology there, sir. The name’s James Fraser.” He held his hand out like he’d seen Claire do so many times, out of place or not. He didn’t miss the strangled sound she made behind him to hold back her giggle. “I needed to know I could trust you with my family.”
The reverend flushed. “Then the greater error is on my part,” he admitted, shaking Jamie’s hand firmly. “My concern was for Franklin, but I can see the two of you have something precious here.” He took hold of Claire’s free hand and squeezed it.
The door between the kitchen and the sitting room swung open as the blur of a boy sped through it. “Mrs. Claire!” he greeted. His eyes scanned the small group, searching until they landed on Bree.
“Good morning, Roger,” Claire replied kindly. “Jamie, Faith, this is Roger, the reverend’s nephew. He’s only a few years older than you, Lovey.”
Faith hung back shyly, leaning into Claire as she always did around strangers.
A part of Claire’s heart felt victorious to recognize the gesture, even though she hoped her daughter would overcome her standoffishness with time.
“Roger, this is Faith…” Claire wanted to introduce her further with pride, but hesitated in fear of confusing the boy.
Mrs. Graham broke the silence. “Off to the kitchen with ye, lad. There’s a bannock with yer name on it.” She crouched in front of Faith. “Ye’re welcome to join him, dearie.”
Faith looked eager at the mention of bannocks, but her grip tightened on Claire’s hand as their eyes met.
“Go, Baby,” Claire nudged her shoulder. “Let us know if they rival Mrs. Crook’s!”
Faith nodded and stepped toward Mrs. Graham.
“And you, lassie!” Mrs. Graham reached for Brianna. “I feel as though I haven’t seen ye in a week!”
“I can walk wi’ Brianna,” Roger’s voice cut in, cracking down several octaves.
“Oh, aye?” Jamie scrutinized the boy. He leaned toward Mrs. Graham and released Bree reluctantly. Her eyes stayed on him as Mrs. Graham turned toward the kitchen.
Roger bounded through the doors behind her, while Faith followed with a last, long glance at her parents.
“Reverend Wakefield,” Claire returned her attention to the older man. “We do have… perhaps a favor to ask of you.”
Wakefield cleared his throat. “I willna pretend to understand what all ye have been through, Mrs… Ms. Randall. But ye ken I canna perform a ceremony of holy matrimony for you while ye’re tied to another.”
Claire took hold of Jamie’s elbow to still him as he tensed. He relaxed into her touch, hand returning to her hip.
“It’s hardly that, Reverend,” she hesitated. “Though it does still hold its complications.”
Wakefield’s eyes narrowed and he nodded toward his study. “Let’s have a wee dram, shall we?”
Faith sat in Mrs. Graham’s high-backed chair as she finished her bannock. The nice lady had put two on her plate, so she figured she’d better take one back to Mama and Da. She watched in disbelief as the boy, Roger, shoved his second treat into his mouth whole.
Mrs. Graham sat between them, the baby in her lap.
“Can I feed Bree when it’s time?” Roger looked toward Mrs. Graham for approval. Her eyes looked toward Faith.
“I’ve got the bairn for now, Rog,” she told him. “Why don’t you show Faith yer play things?”
Faith followed Roger at a distance as he took off through the big house. She expected to find Mama and Da in the sitting room, but it was empty when they passed through it. Faith tried to breathe through the panic that tightened her chest. She knew they wouldn’t leave her and Bree.
Finally, she heard the low rumble of Da’s voice as Roger sped past a nearly closed door. Mama’s pointed English accent picked up as soon as he finished speaking. At first, she thought of following them into the room, but remembered she shouldn’t go through a closed door, especially not in someone else’s home.
Roger threw open the door at the end of the hall and slid to the floor in front of some wee figures. Faith wandered over to a pile of colorful wood. They reminded her of the animals Da had carved for her while he hid in the priest hole. But the shapes of Roger’s toys were only that – shapes.
“What do ye like to play?” Roger asked her.
“My cousins usually choose the games and make the rules,”Faith shrugged. “They’re older.” She looked around. The room was huge, much like the rest of the house. And this wasn’t even the boy’s bedroom. “Do ye live with just yer mam and uncle?”
Roger looked up sharply. “Mrs. Graham is no’ my mum,” he snapped.
Faith shrank back. “I didna know. I used to live with just my aunt and cousins.”
Roger nodded. “I dinna have any cousins,” he said quietly. “Although Brianna is a bit like a wee sister.”
Her tummy turned. The baby couldn’t be his sister. That would make Mama…
Faith swallowed. “Bree ismy sister” she said slowly. “I dinna think…”
“Nay, it’s only fun to pretend I have a sister,” Roger sighed. “My father and mother died when I was wee.”
Her heart sped up. She had felt lost when Mama was gone. If both her parents had…
“But wait,” Roger interrupted Faith’s thoughts. “Mrs. Claire doesna have another daughter. Only Bree.” He stared at her.
“I know because she was always so sad before she had Brianna,” Roger continued. “Speaking o’ how much she missed her baby. I suppose because she didna have it yet.”
She listened carefully to what he said. She hated to hear that Mama had been sad, but it felt good to know that she really had missed her.
“And she said that the bairn wouldna know its Da,” Roger kept talking. “Because Mr. Frank was goin’ back to England.”
Faith scrunched her nose. “Who is Mr. Frank?”
“Mrs. Claire’s husband,” he rolled his eyes. “Which ye’d know if she was your mother.”
Faith stared back. Clearly, the lad was quite confused.
James Fraser walked out of the Reverend’s study with a certificate of his own vital record, marked with his birthday in the year 1923. There was a slew of other documents stacked behind it whose purposes Claire had done her best to explain to him, though his understanding remained foggy.
Wakefield had generated the papers with a speed that made Jamie wish they’d had him around in Paris, if only for his forgery skills. The man was a bit jumpy, especially with Jamie’s own hard stare set on him. Turned out he was fair fashed about contacting Frank, and was willing to do almost anything Claire asked of him.
Jamie now sank back into the cushions on the sofa of the manse, one hand twined with Claire’s on his knee, the other balancing a dainty tea cup.
“Mrs. Graham reads tea leaves, you know,” Claire whispered with a sly grin on her face. “Would you like to find out if you’ll meet a tall, dark stranger or travel across the sea?”
Jamie glanced at Mrs. Graham’s back, disappearing down the hall to check on the children. He turned back to find Claire staring up at him, lip curled. Their eyes locked instantly. “Do I have something on my face, lass?” He asked, voice suddenly husky.
Claire trapped his face with her palm and sealed their lips, pressing against him.
He had barely gathered his mind to place the mug on the coffee table before wrapping his arm around her back to gather her to him.
She was practically in his lap before he remembered where they were and pulled back enough to whisper gruffly. “Ye are among the taller women I’ve ever seen, mo nighean donn. But I dinna intend to travel across the sea verra soon.” He felt green just thinking of it. Or perhaps it was the air she’d stolen out of his lungs.
Jamie shifted so he was facing forward once more, Claire clasped to his side. If he kept staring into her starry eyes and swollen mouth, he’d have to do something that would make them both poor company indeed.
Just then, he heard Faith bounding down the hall, followed by Roger and Mrs. Graham. He felt her small, warm weight leap up him and Claire.
Jamie’s heart pounded at the joy that radiated from Claire’s voice. One more moment to reflect on the second chance they’d been given… “Are ye ready to go soon?”
Faith’s head bobbed up and down in affirmation. She scrambled to climb on the sofa with them, but they stood at the same moment.
Jamie knelt and scooped her up, tossing her in the air once. She yelped and clung to his neck.
“We’ll be back before supper, Mrs. Graham, and I can’t thank you enough—”
He followed Claire as she grabbed her pocketbook.
“Wait!” Faith screeched into Jamie’s ear.
He followed her gaze to Mrs. Graham, sitting in an armchair and feeding Brianna her bottle.
Faith crooked her finger toward Claire conspiratorially. Jamie followed her lead as she leaned in.
“What about the bairn?” their daughter whispered.
“Mrs. Graham is going to watch her while we run some errands,” Claire explained.
Jamie nodded. He didn’t love the idea of leaving his youngest behind for any amount of time, but Claire had convinced him that she would need his full attention that afternoon.
Faith was chewing on her bottom lip. “Maybe I should stay to take care of her?”
He barely hid his smirk at the suspicious glare that lit her countenance.
Claire, meanwhile, was only teary. “You would do that for your little sister?”
Faith shrugged. “Aye,” her wee brow furrowed. “Especially since that Roger lad… seems a bit daft.”
His wife’s elbow jabbed him in the stomach to stop his body from vibrating with laughter.
“That’s verra kind of ye, mo chridhe,” Jamie whispered. “But Mrs. Graham kens what she’s doin’.”
As if summoned, Mrs. Graham met them at the door. Jamie and Claire knelt to leave kisses on Bree’s ruddy cheeks. Claire pulled back, likely hoping Faith would do the same.
But their eldest daughter only continued looking on, a frown on her face.
Bree’s bottom lip poked out as her parents backed away and made their way to the front of the house. Whines of protest sounded from her as Claire opened the front door.
Jamie’s heart twinged as the wean’s face grew red, her mouth falling open to reveal the few teeth she had so far.
Mrs. Graham looked startled. “She hasn’t done this in months.” She looked between a stricken Jamie and Claire. “Though, I suppose she knows you always come back for her, lass.”
Claire’s face brightened as she squeezed Jamie’s hand. “Someone’s grown a bit attached, Love,” she whispered.
Jamie’s grin stretched across his face. He shifted back down to the sofa and made room for Claire to return to her spot beside him. Faith nestled between them as Mrs. Graham placed Bree in his lap, her chubby arms reaching for him the whole way.
Bree tucked her clammy red face into his chest and quieted immediately while he rubbed her back, whispering Gaelic nothings to her.
Jamie didn’t have to look at Faith to know that he’d soon put her to sleep too, hypnotized by his voice and warmth.
Mrs. Graham retrieved Brianna again once her eyes were closed and her tiny mouth fell into the shape of an ‘O’. Jamie, Claire, and Faith slipped out quietly with one more promise to be back soon.
The bell above the door chimed as Claire led her husband and daughter into one of the few little shops that usually managed to have good selections despite the scarcity remaining from years of war rations.
She typically hadn’t cared what she wore in the past year or so, her size and shape changing so rapidly to accommodate her developing child. Frank had shipped some of her old things, but she’d only pulled out a few of those pieces, not particularly caring about fashion or looks outside of work.
Studying Jamie’s chiseled chin out of the corner of her eye, Claire made a mental note to go through her wardrobe once again, more interested in the idea of dressing up now that there was someone to appreciate her appearance.
But this trip was for Jamie and Faith. They each only had one set of clothes, and even those drew more attention than desired with their old styles and worn fabrics.
She made her way to a children’s rack first. A few bright dresses hung on display, but she figured neutrals would suit Faith’s tastes more. Claire pulled a couple of sizes that she estimated to be close to Faith’s, but wanted to leave plenty of room for her daughter to grow with the pieces. It was still unsure how often new things would be available.
Claire sent Jamie to sit down and wait while the shop attendant guided her and Faith to the curtained area in the corner of the store.
Faith chattered nervously as Claire helped her adjust the fixtures on each dress. They walked out to show Jamie each ensemble, Faith swaying in the mirror as she admired her reflection in the outfits nearly foreign to her.
She gave Faith a choice in the final selections, and they decided on a small rotation of pieces for the rest of the summer. Lastly, Claire chose from the even more limited pairs of imitation leather shoes. Faith tapped her feet in them once they were purchased with the precious ration coupons Claire had saved and affixed to her feet.
Jamie and Faith kept each other company in the waiting area while Claire sought some options for her rather tall husband.
Sizing him wasn’t hard. Claire had passed the time at Frank’s dull parties in the weeks after she’d returned imagining dressing Jamie in the fine wares of the gentlemen surrounding her. In the exhaustion of bedrest during the last months of her pregnancy, she’d been nearly able to conjure the girth of his neck and the span of his arms around her, measuring just how far she would need to stretch her arms to wrap him in her embrace. She felt quite familiar with his approximate measurements.
Claire sent him to the dressing area to try the fit of each piece she’d selected, feeling momentarily distracted by Faith’s lighthearted clomping back and forth in her new shoes when Jamie emerged in the first outfit.
Her jaw fell. The man could wear anything, apparently. The fit of the clothing accentuated him in every way. The only thing that didn’t look quite right was his haircut, Claire realized
Jamie smirked at her reaction, then disappeared to try on his next ensemble.
A few more items each and a pretty penny later, the Frasers made their way out of the shop laden with their purchases.
Faith’s steps seemed to slow and her hand grew moist in Claire’s as they walked down the halls of the hospital once again.
Claire squeezed back and smiled in reassurance as they rounded the last corner to a row of exam rooms. She hoped that Faith would be distracted if not contented by the pastel colors adorning the walls of the pediatric wing.
She flipped the light switch as they spilled through the door of the square room. Claire beckoned Faith into her lap and pointed to the pages of a picture book while they waited. Jamie looked on, awkwardly folded into the small chair next to them.
A gentle knock sounded on the door, followed shortly by the appearance of Molly. Claire felt some of the tension slip out of Faith’s body at the sight of her friend, though she still looked suspicious at the contents of the tray that accompanied her.
“Faith!” Molly exclaimed. “Long time, no see, Lassie!”
Faith startled slightly, but a warm smile lit her face as she squeaked out a “Hi!”
Jamie leaned toward Claire as Molly carried on their conversation. “What did ye say she’s to have, then?”
“Inoculations,” Claire responded. “A bit of… medicine… to keep her healthy. If she builds up an immunity while she’s young, she’ll be less likely to get sick later.”
Jamie nodded slowly. “Aye. I suppose that’s for the best. Not sure I would trust those wee needles otherwise.”
“Glad you feel that way, darling,” Claire smirked. “You’ll need a few yourself.”
He straightened up in his chair. “But ye said she needs them since she’s wee… I…” he scrambled for a rebuttal.
“Well they should start when one’s young, of course,” she grinned. “But you weren’t so fortunate, I’m afraid.”
He grimaced, words to continue his argument clearly alluding him.
“And you’ll be getting them in order to be in any close proximity to the children,” she said finally.
Jamie shifted to face her, looking for any sign of teasing in her expression. Apparently finding none, he nodded grimly. “Aye, o’ course.”
Claire stood to wash her hands at the basin across the room, then waited next to Molly.
“Alright, Lovey,” she pasted on her best Mama smile. “You and Da are going to have some medicine today. He’s volunteered to go first to show you that it’s nothing to worry about, alright?”
Faith’s eyes had widened, but she allowed a small nod.
Claire gestured for Jamie to roll up his sleeve as she had instructed him, wiped his forearm with alcohol, then prepared the syringe.
“NEEDLES?” Faith could hear how high her voice had become, but didn’t care. She hadn’t expected something like this to happen when she realized she got a whole day for just her, Mama, and Da.
She had watched Mama stitch plenty of people up at Lallybroch, even Da. But her mother had never needed to get the wee stabbers out for her. Though she remembered plenty of sleepy nights where Mama had held her near a steaming pot because she just couldn’t breathe, she’d never played rough enough to need the kind of fixing her cousins often did.
Faith watched in horror as Mama stuck the needle into Da’s arm. It was like she couldn’t look away. He frowned and growled deeply, but tried to smile when he noticed her watching. It made for a scary look overall.
She shrank back just a little as Mama applied another needle. She wanted to hide, but the wee dress Mama insisted she wear would never keep her out of sight.
“Not so bad, right Da?” Mama asked in a cheery voice.
Da nodded briefly, but didn’t say much.
“Okay, Baby,” Mama turned back toward Faith. “Would you like me to give your shots? Or, you can hold my hand while Nurse Molly does it.”
Faith reached her hand out toward Mama, who sat down next to her. Before Molly could reach her with the needle, she hopped over the arms of the chairs and burrowed into Mama’s lap.
Mama let out a small huff, but Faith looked up to see a smile on her face, followed by a wink.
She screwed her eyes shut and held her arm out like Da had, waiting for it to hurt.
Faith felt something cool swipe down her arm before a couple of pinches, and wondered if Molly would ever just do it and be done. She cracked her eyes opened when Mama bounced her knee.
“You’re all done, Duckie,” Mama smiled.
That was it? Faith wondered. Da was a bit dramatic.
They bid Molly goodbye as she straightened up the tray she’d brought in with her.
As Mama carried her back into the bright hallway, Faith rested her head against her mother’s shoulder. She had never wanted to take a nap when Mama or Aunt Jenny insisted, but today…
“Claire!” Jamie stilled as his wife’s name echoed down the wide hallway. He turned to see the doctor walking toward them briskly.
“Now, what did I say about staying home for a few days?” the older man winked.
Claire shifted a drowsy Faith to her other hip. “Turns out everyone needed some shots… updated shots, that is.”
Dr. MacDonald reached his hand out. “How are ye today, James?”
Jamie offered his own hand in return, noticing it felt a bit heavy. “Braw, right enough.”
“And what do you have planned, while yer lovely lass is at home?” the doctor chuckled.
“Weel, I’ll be needin’ to find a position soon…” Jamie responded.
Claire looked up at him in surprise. Dhia, the poor lass couldna hide any o’ her feelings from him.
Dr. MacDonald scratched his chin. “What sort of work do ye do?”
“Anything I can set my mind to, easily enough.”
“Well,” the doctor pondered, looking between Claire and Jamie. “I did hear a spot in the security rotation has opened up, with a lad goin’ home to work on the family farm. I could put in a word for ye.”
Claire stiffened next to him. He could feel her eyes boring into him, awaiting his reply.
He looked toward her uneasily. “Aye, I’d love to meet with the man in charge.”
After they gave their leave to the doctor, Jamie watched Claire walk briskly ahead of him, not even the weight of Faith slowing her stride.
He tried to keep pace to follow her lead, as he’d always done. As he’d always do.
It wasn’t until they’d gotten a few miles down the road and he’d caught Faith’s mouth hanging wide open and her eyes snapped shut that he braved the question.
“I can hear yer mind working,” he said lightly.
Claire couldn’t help a small smile at that. “That loud, is it?”
“Often is, mo ghraidh,” Jamie brushed his fingertips against her cheek. “I can see what you’re thinking, but canna always decipher why.”
She turned to look at him helplessly. “You’ve only just gotten here,” she began. “Sometimes I still have to convince myself it’s true.”
Jamie nodded, then closed his hand around her slight fingers on the steering wheel. “I ken. But I’m no’ going anywhere. Not without you and the lasses, that is.”
Claire pulled into the reverend’s driveway and turned to face him after shutting off the auto. “And yet you’re ready to run headlong back into danger already.”
His eyebrows raised at that. He slid toward her in the bench seat, hand engulfing the back of her head to pull it against him. “I’ve no’ decided on the appointment, Claire,” he whispered. “Only just heard of it. And if I do take it, it would mostly be to be close to ye.”
Her head poked up at that, glistening eyes peeking at him from her place on his shoulder. “I suppose that would be bonus,” Claire said softly, worrying her lip between her teeth. “And the hospital has a fairly excellent safety record. Nothing is likely to happen.”
“But if it should, ye’d be right there to patch me up,” Jamie winked, eliciting a deep snort from his wife.
“Bloody man,” she nestled back into him, the perfect position to drop a kiss on the back of her neck, causing her to shiver in his arms.
Jamie pulled her head back again to seal their lips, her tongue tracing his soon enough, seeking entry. It was as if she couldn’t get enough. And he was of the same mind.
“Wait here,” he gasped out. “I’ll get the bairn.”
He tripped out of the auto and up to the door of the manse, knocking sharply. His hands drifted into his pockets as he awaited an answer. Convenient, those. They didn’t hold as much as a sporran would have, but still…
Mrs. Graham swung the door open, then paused as she looked him over. She gave a sharp whistle. “Look at ye!”
Jamie blushed deeply, nodding toward the door. “May I come in?”
Mrs. Graham hopped back from the doorway, allowing him space.
He immediately heard peaceful coos that led him toward the playpen in the corner of the sitting room. Brianna was sitting in the middle of it clutching to Ray the rabbit and watching as Roger performed a puppet show over the edge.
Jamie stood back to watch for a few moments, until Roger looked up at him. Bree followed his gaze and met her father’s eyes. Her arms stretched out toward him, dropping the plush toy like refuse.
His heart swelled as he leaned over the wall to gather her to him, her contented babbling continuing.
Jamie left the manse with a kiss to Mrs. Graham’s cheek, eliciting a round of giggles from her. He made his way back to Claire’s auto, tucking Bree safely in the back.
Jamie Fraser in properly tailored trousers and shirt, shouldering a diaper bag and cradling their child with his head tipped toward hers to listen to her animated babbling, was quite a sight for Claire to behold.
Her grin stretched her face wider and wider as he dropped into the seat beside her after securing Bree. His hand rested on her knee as they drove home, finger tracing circles on the side.
Dinner was quite an affair for the Frasers, Claire trying to coax food into an increasingly droopy Faith and keep Jamie’s attentions off of her until they could get the children settled.
Bree’s evening meal seemed the only way to finally settle her down after her apparently exciting day. Claire wondered if her nap at the reverend’s had been especially long to allow her this much energy late in the evening.
Faith insisted on the reading of two stories while cuddled up next to Claire and Hildie, though her eyes fluttered shut shortly into the second.
One last diaper change for Bree, and Claire returned to the sitting room to find Jamie slumped on the couch, long limbs spread out. She squeezed into the little space he had left between himself and the arm of the sofa, resting her head on his shoulder.
This pose didn’t last long, as Jamie shifted to lay his head in her lap, legs sprawled in different directions on the other end of the sofa. She brushed her fingers through his sparse curls to reach his scalp, digging to massage it.
Jamie groaned in response. “Christ, Sassenach,” he growled. “I’ve missed that right enough. Feels especially nice with my shorter hair.”
Claire paused, light smile tugging at her lips. “I have wondered about the hair, you know.”
His eyes popped open, hand flying to the back of his head. “Cropped it short to hide it under my hat.” His hand clapped down on his scalp. “Must’ve lost it…” He worried his fingers through his hair until she caught them and held on tightly.
“Not that it doesn’t suit you,” she began slowly. “But would you mind if I evened it out a bit?”
Jamie’s eyes focused enough to meet hers, swallowing deeply as he nodded.
He grasped her hand as she led him to their en suite bathroom, sitting him down on the commode to face the mirror. His eyes slipped shut as she worked shampoo through his locks, followed by a small pair of scissors and a straight razor.
She stepped back. “What do you think?”
He examined his reflection briefly before catching her eye. “It may not have been this short since I was a lad,” he said. “Suppose it becomes me?”
She nodded, grasping his hand once more to pull him up. He followed her to the bed and fell on it rather gracelessly. She stretched out beside him and he tugged until they were pressed together, his palm resting low on her back.
“I’m exhausted,” he muttered.
Claire rubbed his back, kneading out the tension that lay under the knotted muscles. “It’s the injections, Darling. Your immune system is working to resist the viruses.”
Jamie’s eyes popped open, stricken. “Ye put the germs inside us?”
She stifled a giggle. “Afraid so.”
He mumbled a few choice words in Gaelic, which she pretended not to understand. “But it’s safe, for Faith?”
Claire’s stomach flopped at the terrified look in his eyes. She tightened her arms around him. “Of course, Love. I wouldn’t do anything—” The lump forming in her throat cut her off.
“I ken,” he whispered, his thumb brushing the sentiment over her cheekbone. “Besides, I can think of an activity or two that always makes my health feel improved…” His hand ran lower, exploring.
She caught it in her own and clasped them together over her hip. “No activities tonight, my lad. You’re nearly dead on your feet.”
“Mmmph,” he nestled his face into her neck, leaving soft kisses and a few sharper reminders against her skin.
Jamie’s breathing soon changed, slowly descending into slumber.
Claire kissed his forehead, then his lips. She wondered if it would be worthwhile to change them out of their day clothes and get some use out of the pyjama set they’d purchased him.
But she couldn’t convince herself to move for anything, so she twined their legs together and tucked her head against his, blessed with one more chance to do so.
Thanks for reading!
The Frasers are still settling into their new lives together, with new joys every day.
Thanks to @whiskynottea @isitgintimeyet for beta'ing!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Claire wrestled the dripping bed sheet – fresh from the hot, soapy water of the wash basin – into the wicker basket to hang dry in her small yard. Momentarily, she regretted declining Mrs. Graham’s offer to use the new machine at the manse, wearily purchased by the Reverend after a slew of hints from the persistent housekeeper.
Still, at-home handwashing was more convenient than dragging the entire load to the steamie in town. Especially today, with Jamie spending the day at his job-training (Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!) and unavailable to lug the wet things back home for her.
Claire had returned to work in the past few weeks, starting with just a few days to give Jamie a trial run of keeping the girls and house in check. While the stove’s modern controls still baffled him a bit, he could manage a few of Claire’s simple emergency recipes for lunch.
“Ye keep calling it ‘SOS,’ Sassenach,” Jamie had mused as he hesitantly flipped one more piece of toast in the pan. “What about it minds ye of saving ships?”
Claire pursed her lips in amusement, impressed that he had remembered that particular call signal from her stories about the war.
“Actually.” She smirked. “In this case, it stands for ‘shit on a shingle.’”
Jamie blanched as he stared down at the browning meat in the other pan. “Christ,” he muttered.
“The Americans taught me that expression, and later showed me the ‘speedy’ recipe.”
“Weel, I mind Mrs. Crook creaming beef a time or two, but I dinna recall hearing such crass language cross her lips.” He leaned down to kiss the offending feature and blinked at her slowly, expertly switching the burner off.
Claire startled, turning around to find Faith’s blue eyes searching for hers, bare feet shuffling across the kitchen floor. It had been weeks already with her daughter back in her arms, and yet she still wasn’t reacquainted with Faith’s light footsteps and silent approach. While Bree babbled to her pile of blocks on the quilt spread across the floor, Faith had kept herself studiously occupied at the kitchen table with one of her sister’s books, worn out after ‘helping’ – which had amounted to her splashing the bubbles around in the basin.
“Yes, Lovey?” She knelt down to her daughter’s level, pausing to admire the flush that had come back to the girl’s cheeks along with the gradual return of her figure, belly promising to become a delightful pooch.
“Could I… hold the bairn?” Faith’s eyes were wide and hopeful, anxious of a request not previously made.
Claire’s chest swelled, another abundant occurrence in the last month. She stroked downward from Faith’s shoulder, then offered her hand. “I think she’d really like that.”
Claire knelt to greet her 10-month-old with a sloppy kiss as she lifted her into the air. They walked through the house together, laundry postponed at present.
Claire directed Faith to sit up against the arm of the sofa, then lowered Bree into her waiting arms. Nerves wound tight, Claire scooted close to her eldest, ready to intervene should disaster or conflict occur.
Bree squirmed in Faith’s hold, hips twisting as if she would throw herself onto the floor.
Claire registered Faith’s heart-wrenching little intake of air as she watched with bated breath.
Brianna must have heard it too, as she pivoted her upper body once more to study Faith, who stared back with frozen features. Suddenly, Bree pitched back into Faith’s middle, damp fist seeking Faith’s closest curl.
Faith sighed in relief, meeting Claire’s eye before stroking her sister’s back tentatively.
Claire lost herself in the sight, her daughters closer than they’d ever been, something she’d only expected to see in her imagination.
“A nighean ruaidh,” Faith whispered, the words rolling off her tongue effortlessly, drawing Claire out of her own thoughts.
“What was that, Baby?”
“Just something I’ve heard Da say to her,” Faith shrugged. “Almost like he calls us.”
Claire’s lips twitched into a smile, overcome. “I suppose you’re right.”
“I dinna have enough Gaelic yet,” Faith continued, brow scrunched in contemplation. “But I think it means that he loves us.” She paused in thought, then lifted her chin to meet Claire’s eye. “Mama, will ye have more bairns verra soon?”
Claire felt her cheeks flush. From the mouths of babes, indeed. While she and Jamie hadn’t discussed the idea of more children, she knew it was a surer possibility in their hopeful future. Meanwhile, they’d plenty of practice of late. The temptation was hard to resist when every morning they woke tangled together from the previous night.
She shrugged as she stood to cross the room, keeping a careful eye on the pair. “I think we’ll have to see what God has in mind, my love,” she said gently.
Reaching the corner desk, Claire easily found what she had in mind. She brought the large format Rolleiflex to life, pointing it toward her girls. She captured one shot just as they were – studying each other curiously. “Smile,” she called before snapping the second photograph. Bree looked up at the sound of her voice, while Faith looked startled before baring her teeth in an awkward grimace in response to the command. While the camera had been present in many of their daily moments of late, both were still becoming accustomed to the expected behavior in front of the device.
As soon as she had clicked the shutter, their pose shifted at the scratch of a newly minted key in the front door.
Claire glanced down at her watch. Five o’clock on the dot meant that she still had a number of chores to complete, but at least one more willing helper to get them under way.
Faith leapt from the sofa as soon as Mama had lifted the baby from her lap, bounding to the door.
She’d been greeting her mother every day when she came back to the house from seeing her patients. Faith wasn’t allowed to go with Mama when she made calls to the sick tenants anymore. She still didn’t quite understand her parents’ explanation that these patients could be sicker and more gravely injured than Faith was used to seeing. What could have happened to them that was more dangerous than at Lallybroch?
Either way, she was always excited and a bit relieved when Mama got home in the afternoon. After all their time apart, it was hard when she left even for the day. Mama didn’t usually notice, but Faith always woke to the sound of the creaking door when her mother tiptoed in and kissed her cheek in farewell. She didn’t want to miss those moments together.
But this was the first day that Da had gone anywhere by himself in a while, so Faith thought he must have been nervous. She knew how hard it could be to meet new people and learn new things, especially in this strange place where they had found Mama. So she wanted to be sure to welcome him back just in case he hadn’t had a good day.
Faith jumped high as Da closed the door behind him. He noticed just in time to kneel and catch her in the air, like she knew he would. He laughed, his voice deep with joy.
“Good even’ to ye, a leannan.” Da drew her close to him, a big hand grasping her back. “Have ye been helpin’ yer mam today?” They crossed the room in only a few large steps.
Faith was glad that he seemed happy, so his day must have been better than she thought.
“Aye, we did the laundry. ‘Twas verra heavy, Da.” Faith sighed, remembering the mess she’d made as she pulled her new dresses out of the wash basin. But Mama’s thankful smile and compliments had made it worthwhile.
Mama chuckled as Da gestured for her to pass Brianna to him, as well. “And to think there’s still more of it left!” she teased.
Bree grabbed for the collar of Da’s new shirt as she settled in his arms and made wee noises to him. He nodded back to her as if she was using real words, something Faith remembered him doing with Michael and Janet, not long ago.
Da sat on the couch, making room in his lap for both Faith and Bree.
Faith remembered something from earlier. “Mama, Da, I knew all the letters in the book I read today!”
They spoke at the same time, then chuckled together. “Show us!”
As Faith ran down the hall to retrieve her book, she turned just in time to see Da place Brianna in her swing and stand up to face Mama, whispering to her. Mama chuckled deeply as they reached for each other.
She couldn’t help but notice Mama’s silly little smile as their faces came together, nor Da’s hand finding its favorite place on Mama’s bum.
Jamie exited the lavatory wearing his new pyjama bottoms, steam from the hot bath following him into the bedroom. He paused to watch Claire as she sat at her dressing table, wrapped in her dressing gown and combing through her still-damp locks. The scene was so reminiscent of their everyday life in his time – at Leoch, followed by Lallybroch and everywhere else his duty had taken them.
She startled as they made eye contact in the mirror before her face slipped into a wide smile.
His breath caught. He’d surely just witnessed her remember their reunion for the hundredth time, each ever sweeter than before.
Jamie crossed the room in only a few steps, reaching for the comb to take over her task.
Claire’s head lolled back and her eyes slipped shut as his hands worked into her curls, squeezing out a few more water droplets. “So, how was the first…” she paused her inquiry to make a breathy wee noise that nearly drove him to distraction. “… day?”
“I must say it was a bit overwhelming at first, Sassenach,” he muttered. “I’m grateful once again that ye drove me in, though I almost couldna find my way inside the hospital itself.”
She hummed. “You’ll figure out the way of it by the end of the week, at least. But the job itself?”
Jamie smiled. “The director and the other lads I met were all verra kind, and if I did anything out o’ the ordinary they didna point it out.” He hummed to himself. “Felt a bit braw to recognize all the wee defense tactics they showed me, even if they were a bit tamer than one might actually find in the face of battle.”
Claire nodded, but quickly stopped when the motion pulled the comb too tight against the last knot in her hair. “Well, I am proud of you.” Their eyes met in the mirror again, connected.
He kissed the top of her head and offered his hand to let her know he was done. She stood up to face him, but then arched a brow as she took him in. She guided him down to the stool by his shoulders and took up the comb again, pulling it gently through his towel-dried waves.
Jamie was glad that his hair didn’t take as long, since his wife’s gentle motions pulled him into a pleasant drowsiness. And that was hardly what he had in mind for their night.
As soon as he heard the slap of the comb hitting the table in front of him, he turned to face Claire. As he prepared to stand, he put his hands behind her thighs to lift her.
“Wait, I wanted to show you something!” Claire shimmied out his grasp and reached for the table behind him before taking a seat next to him, hip snug against his.
She presented an envelope to him, identical to the one she’d brought home just the week before.
“More photographs?” he asked, settling his arm over her shoulders.
“I stopped to pick up the new packet on the way home today,” she told him, cheeks flushed with excitement.
She unwound the seal gently and slid the portraits into his open palm.
It still gave him a bit of a shock to see his likeness printed so neatly on the surface of the first sheet. He grinned to see the tenderness on his face as he gazed down at Bree while building a lazy tower out of her blocks. Faith could be seen climbing onto his back to look over his shoulder in the black and white shot.
Jamie flipped through, starting to notice a pattern. Nearly every picture was a combination of himself, the lasses, or all of them together. There was naught of Claire to be found. Come to think of it, the only likeness of her he recalled seeing was hanging on the wall in Bree’s nursery – the blurry shot taken moments after the bairn’s delivery.
“You’ll have to teach me to use this wee thing,” he said determinedly. “I’d like to see your bonnie face in one of these photographs.”
She blushed prettily. “It’s a deal.” She kissed his chin sweetly. “Come to think of it, I’ve hoped to get us into town for a portrait sitting one of these days when we’re both off. We’ve no pictures of us together, either.”
“If you’ll lead the way, my lady.” He stood and stretched, then bent once more to gather her into his arms.
Claire smirked. “You don’t always have to carry me, you know.” Nevertheless, she tightened her arms behind his neck as her legs twisted around him like vines.
“Perhaps no’,” he leaned in to kiss her once, leaving a smacking noise as he did so. “But you’ll find that I will as often as you’ll let me.” He hesitated as he lowered her to the end of their mattress, then knelt in front of her. He placed a hand over her belly gingerly. “Until it’s mebbe a wee bit too difficult?”
She startled, eyes leaping to his, then harrumphed. “Watch it, lad.”
Jamie grinned at her cheekily but didn’t let her stray from his implication.
Claire’s hand gripped the back of his neck, then slipped under the collar of his shirt. “Your daughter asked a strikingly similar question earlier today.”
“Mmphm,” he uttered. “And did ye have an answer for her?”
“There was only so much I could think of to say.” Her blunt fingernails scratched his shoulder.
Jamie swallowed deeply as he looked into her eyes, searching her glass face as he crossed his arms over her knees.
“Maybe after the divorce process is complete,” she whispered.
He took her hand and nodded, remembering the thick envelope on their kitchen table, still unopened amid their adjusting routine. “Aye, of course.” He kissed her smooth palm.
“Besides,” she chuckled. “Bree isn’t even a year old yet.”
“That may be so, Sassenach.” Jamie rose to his feet before her. “But we’ll have to put in some extra effort for that even dozen.”
Claire’s mouth fell open, several moments lapsing before her body shook with laughter. “You’re ridiculous.”
He struggled to speak through his own snickers, his voice not quite sounding like his own. “But in the meantime?” His eyebrows rose.
“Please.” She laid back as he crawled over her, easing the robe over her shoulders.
[Several weeks later]
Claire felt like cackling in delight as she took in the details of the postcard in her hands. Their family portrait had arrived in the post just that afternoon, but she had delayed opening it until the girls were asleep. She hadn’t been sure of the results of their outing, and wanted to keep it to herself until she was. She would show them when they were older, of course, preferably once they’d gotten the hang of a portrait sitting.
So the Frasers had gone through their evening ritual together, a joint bath for the girls – quicker when it wasn’t made to be more chaotic – then she’d combed the tangles from Faith’s curls while the nebuliser ran, and cuddled her to sleep as had become customary.
Jamie had just slipped out of the sitting room with a freshly burped and rocked Bree, and would be back any second. She still wasn’t sure when she’d show him the family memorabilia, as his reaction seemed to have tipped the scale for the most priceless.
It had been a drizzling afternoon as the Frasers had filed from Claire’s auto and into a corner shop in Inverness. Campbell Portraits boasted a proud lineage, their circulars advertising their establishment in the 1880s. The family-owned business had serviced the highlands amid the changing technology of photography, evidenced by the display in the waiting room.
Claire had gone to great lengths to make everyone look presentable after lunch that day – teasing curls, straightening collars and pressing skirts until she finally resolved to leave well enough alone and herd everyone into town.
As she had signed them in for their appointment time, she had felt a tug on her skirt. She had smiled at the receptionist, taken Faith’s hand, and walked them back to sit with Jamie, whose free hand had tapped a rhythm against his thigh. He had bounced a fussy Bree, who had been teething once again, in his opposite arm.
“Yes, lovey?” Claire had asked as Faith patted her hand.
“Ye said you would go with me again, aye?” Faith had asked.
Claire had pasted on a smile and answered patiently, for the third time. “Yes, darling, we’ll all be together.”
Her eldest daughter seemed to have conflated the foreign concept of the studio with her recent experiences at the hospital, unsure of her role in this new environment.
Almost as soon as they had settled down, their name had been called. Claire had led the way into the little room, Faith’s hand tight in hers. She had noticed both Jamie and Faith eyeing the surroundings of the dark room suspiciously.
Claire had wondered at what they might be able to compare the tight quarters and dim lighting to from their own experiences. The priest hole at Lallybroch? Damn it.
An almost too-cheery man had greeted them at the door.
“Welcome, Frasers,” he had declared. “My last appointment of the day.”
The short man – Archie, as he had introduced himself – had quickly displayed his frustration as he tried to arrange the Frasers in a posed position. Jamie had begun to show his full range of stubbornness at Campbell’s brisk directions, while Faith had become drawn into herself.
At last, they had settled into an arrangement with Jamie and Claire side by side, angled diagonally. Faith had been seated on a platform just in front of them, while Bree had been propped up on Jamie’s lap.
The frustrations of the afternoon were clear in the final product. Claire’s curls were frizzed from the rain, while Jamie had adapted a complacent glare from trying to sit still for so long. Faith looked plainly startled from the bright flashbulb, her teeth bared unnaturally. And poor Bree’s fingers were in her mouth, Claire’s earlier pain-relieving methods worn off.
Chuckling over the image once more, Claire rose to tuck it away in an album at the back of her bedroom closet for now.
Christ, but it had been a long first official shift, Jamie thought as he re-entered the sitting room. He hadn’t expected for a large part of his job to involve fielding questions from incoming patients and visitors as they entered the hospital. He’d found himself running back and forth to get answers to those questions just as often as he’d stood at his post.
His supervisor, a man named Duncan, had assured him once again that this was one more aspect he’d grow accustomed to, soon memorizing the answers just as well as his other duties.
Come to think of it, Duncan had mentioned that he still needed to add a few of Jamie’s records to his employee file. He dragged himself up again and to Claire’s desk, where he had last seen the documents before they were sorted away. He scratched his head as he wondered which drawer Claire might have slipped them into.
Jamie hadn’t heard her moving through the house while he’d put Brianna abed, but perhaps she would be back soon to help him locate the documents that the Reverend had procured for him.
Taking a cursory glance over the desk’s surface, he noticed that their collection of printed photographs had grown. There was a third envelope, that appeared not to have been opened.
He looked back toward the doorway of the sitting room. He assumed Claire was planning to show him this set when she returned, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a wee keek at them. He’d practiced taking a few shots of her in the last week or so, and was anxious to see how they’d turned out.
Jamie slid the stack out carefully, but then nearly dropped the entire set at the first image he encountered.
Taken on a bright day, the portrait proudly displayed Leoch. Or, at least he could still recognize a few features of the castle. Stones were missing from its great walls, while several windows were broken and overbearing vegetation grew up its sides.
But most startling was the man stood in front of Jamie’s ancestral home. Randall – not Black Jack, as he’d originally feared – but Frank, dressed in a proper three-piece suit and matching hat.
Jamie swallowed deeply, stunned at the juxtaposition of this part of Claire’s history and his – theirs -- unexpectedly converging.
With shaking hands, he flipped through the next photographs. The castle by itself, an auto in front of the castle, then like a shock to his system, Claire in front of the auto, Leoch in the background.
He ghosted his finger over the likeness of Claire’s apple cheeks in the photograph, careful to heed her previous warning about smudging the surface.
Examining the image, Jamie recalled the other-worldly, shivering lass that had tended him on a cold and damp night, then compared her to the fearsome woman he’d since shared two lives with.
She’d been more slender then, her present curves having filled in as she carried each of their wee miracles. But there was something he couldn’t quite put into words, as if the last vestiges of her innocence still existed in this single captured moment. All that they’d faced together had honed her into the unstoppable force that continued to surprise and challenge him every day.
“I found one more undeveloped roll, tucked away in a drawer.” Claire’s voice carried softly.
Jamie looked up to find her studying him from the doorway, a wistful smile on her face.
His cheeks burned. “I didna mean to– “
She shook her head, then offered her hand, head tilted toward the sofa. “Let’s look together?”
Jamie took a seat cautiously, perspiration slickening his palms.
Claire followed close behind him, footsteps soft on the carpet. She lifted the stack from his hands, then arranged herself in his lap, her back braced against his sturdy arm.
“What do you think?”
He drummed his fingers against her hip. “’Twas a shock, to see him there.” He paused. “But ye… Lookin’ so happy.”
She sighed. “Getting there, perhaps. I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time, but things weren’t quite the same.” Her fingertips caressed his neck. “We both knew it.”
Jamie breathed out. “Suppose things did no’ turn out quite like ye expected?”
“No.” Claire twisted to face him, forehead pressing against his. “Better.”
They flipped through the small batch of photos from the unfinished roll, Claire giving him space for any questions or clarifications.
While shots of the clan markers and open spaces of Culloden Field robbed him of breath, what truly puzzled him was a portrait of a village square in Inverness.
“I don’t think you and I have been back that way,” Claire insisted when he asked. “That’s in front of the inn where we – Frank and I – stayed during our trip.”
But something about the location struck Jamie as familiar, sending a shiver through his very bones. “Suppose it doesna help to dwell on it. We’ll be busy making new memories, you and –"
Claire’s lips swallowed the end of his question as she twisted in his lap to straddle him, her calf-length skirt gathering between them. She guided him in a subtle rocking motion, her eyes never leaving his. One hand gripped his jaw, thumb sweeping over his bottom lip. The other lost itself in his hair.
Jamie’s hands slid from her knees to her arse and held on. “Dhia,” he panted into the gooseflesh of her neck. He quickly forgot about Frank and any other bloody Randall.
Perhaps not exact, but this is pretty close to my mother’s SOS recipe, credited to my grandfather’s time in the U.S. Army in the 1950s.
Thanks for reading!