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Claire, April 16th 1746

It didn’t work. It didn’t work it didn’t work it didn’t work.

Oh thank God.

Oh God, what now?

Thoughts tumbled down in a never-ending stream, mixed with a jumble of confused emotions. Joy. Terror. Grief. Unbelief.

Oh God, what now?

 

Claire, April 21st 1746

She had spent five days in this dank cell.

Five days spent trying to figure out where the hell her life had gone so wrong. She was supposed to have touched the stones and escaped back to the twentieth century, leaving her heart behind her for the sake of their shared promise of their future.

She didn’t know why the stones hadn’t worked. She had heard the screaming, had felt the pull toward them, had touched them and felt like she was being torn apart. But instead of waking up in 1948, she had come to herself with the cannons of Culloden still roaring in her ears. She couldn’t have been unconscious for more than a few minutes, but it was long enough for Jamie to be lost to her forever in the battle below.

Escaping from Craig Na Dun undetected had proved fruitless; the redcoats had swarmed the area surrounding Culloden immediately following the battle, and she had been easily captured trying to slip through the heather. They had dragged her off without asking for any more information and had thrown her in this cell without letting her explain herself. Not that she would have been able to.

Five days spent thinking of some sort of story to tell to get her and her child out of here alive.

When the harried young soldier questioning her realized that she was English, albeit a Scot by marriage, he told her to sit and wait for his superior officer.

 

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When the officer asked for her name, she gave it as Elizabeth MacTavish.

She knew it was foolish to give any name that could possibly be traced back to Jamie, or their mutual charges of treason, but she couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t bear to go back to using her maiden name, to act as if her identity had not becoming so deeply rooted and intertwined in him that it was impossible to separate herself from him. It didn’t matter that he was gone. She needed to feel connected to him, her heart, in some way if she was going to survive this. If this was all she could manage, then so be it. She refused to raise Jamie’s child completely removed from their heritage, even if they could never know the whole of it.

“MacTavish?” the officer questioned with raised brows, “You’ll excuse me ma’am, but you don’t seem very Scottish to me.”

“No, I’m not. My husband is….” It was all she could do to fix her mistake without curling up in a ball on the floor. “My husband was, however.”

“He’s dead then?”

It was like she was standing outside of herself, screaming to give any other answer, for the truth to be anything but what it was. She took a deep breath and pushed that screaming part of herself away.

“Yes. Yes, he is.”

 

Harold Grey, April 21st 1746

“Well, Mrs. MacTavish, be that as it may, he was Scottish. And when a Scottish widow is found wandering the moor immediately following a battle in which those same Scottish rebels were defeated, I have obvious assumptions to draw. As did the soldiers who originally arrested you. I will be honest with you, madam, it does not paint a promising picture for you.”

Harold Grey was tired. He was tired of fighting, executions, and burials. He wanted to be on his way out of rainy, godforsaken, bloody Scotland and on the road to home and his family. The very last thing he wanted to be doing was dealing with widow prisoners.

“Now, I am a fair man. I am not one to normally throw a woman in prison for no good reason. However. These are no normal circumstances. The lieutenant who filed your arrest papers has already sent them to my commanding officers, and there is not much I can do about that now.”

Hal didn’t like any part of this. The woman was obviously heartbroken, exhausted, and starving; she seemed only to be half present, as if her mind was in a complete other location, with someone else.

Arresting destitute widows was not what he had joined the army to do. Nevertheless, he had his duty to fulfill. He had already broken his responsibility to his superiors once this week, for the sake of his brother and his family’s honor.

Bloody Fraser.

Now because of letting that wretched Scot go, Hal would have to follow his orders even more strictly than normal.

Deep breath.

Damn.

“Madam, I am sorry to say that your arrest as a prisoner of war and a traitor will have to move forward.”

That seemed to get her attention somehow. The woman’s head snapped up, and her vacant expression was suddenly touched with a note of panic.

“Sir,” she started slowly, hesitantly, “I’m afraid you may not understand the full circumstances of my situation…”

“No, Mrs. MacTavish, I am afraid I understand far too well.” Hal was tired. He needed to be rid of this woman and on his way out of this damn grey country as soon as he could manage. “You were caught fleeing the field of a rebel battleground, obviously attempting to evade His Majesty’s soldiers. You have admitted to being the wife of a Scot, and have provided no extenuating circumstances or evidence that both of you were not traitors in the recent rebellion. In fact, - “

“I’m pregnant, Major. That is my extenuating circumstance.”

Damn.

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Harold Grey never wanted to see Scotland again. The damn place had brought too much chaos and dishonor into his and his family’s lives. Young John would never be the same again. And he had somehow managed to saddle himself with a charge in the person of Elizabeth MacTavish. After her revelation during the questioning, Hal had known that he would not be able to settle his conscious unless he found a way around her imprisonment. He had pulled every string and called in every favor he could think of to arrange her parole, and he had finally managed to find a modicum of peace with the situation.

So here he was, riding to the Dunsany family estate with a Scottish widow in tow. After he finalized the details of her parole with Dunsany, he would hopefully only have to deal with the beastly situation on rare occasions. She and her child would be safely tucked away at Helwater, and Harold could move on with his life.

The woman had been extremely silent ever since they started their journey. Her gaze was often distant on the horizon and she only communicated when absolutely necessary. He had assured her that she would able to raise her child in peace at Helwater, for only Lord Dunsany knew the true nature of her situation; the rest of the family and estate would be told that she was simply a refugee and acquaintance of the Grey family, escaping the strife of Scotland.

Hal hoped that she would find whatever it was that she was looking for when she looked to the horizon.

Lord knows we could all do with a little peace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie, April 1754

Peace. It was the one thing Jamie Fraser wanted. Peace to hide in his numbness, to only venture into feeling when it would be safe. To have some limited freedoms, to work with his hands, to have some small sense of purpose; these were all things that could make his life bearable. But above all, peace.

The last eight years of his life had been a never-ending cycle of imprisonment, whether of his mind in a cave or his body in prison. This estate may just be a fresh start; while not entirely free, Jamie somehow knew that there were possibilities of open doors in this place that he never could have imagined.

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Jamie had had pervasive and vivid troubling dreams for the past eight years. Dreaming itself was nothing new to him. He had dreamed his whole life. He dreamed of memories, hopes, griefs, and nightmares. They had always been vivid. The last eight years were no exception; he dreamed of his childhood, his family, Lallybroch, Paris and all that happened there.

The stone walls of Wentworth Prison.

Culloden.

But most of all he dreamed of his wife and child. Claire. Claire was always as clear as day. He could envision every part of her, smell her hair, hear her ringing laugh, touch her flawless skin. He could build her in his dreams as if she stood true before him, and in his moments of sleep he could find peace in her arms once again.

Dreams of Claire, while giving a moment of heartache momentarily upon waking, did not cause his mind any great or lasting trouble. He knew it was his lot to wait for her, and wait he would, no matter how long it took. But he could not be troubled by anything that drew her near to him again, no matter how fleeting the peace.

No, the dreams that caused Jamie to periodically lie sleepless in numbing grief were those of his child. He had realized long ago that this sorrow was different somehow from the pain of losing Faith. He had seen Faith grow in his wife’s body, had had the time and space to both openly celebrate her life and openly mourn her death. Through Claire’s descriptions, he had been able to see his daughter in his mind’s eye and could envision her clearly. He had stood by her graveside.

But this one. This one now living two hundred years in the future. He would never know the appearance of his own child, so how was he to build them in his mind and hold them in his dreams? Did he have a son or a daughter? Was their hair his own red or their mother’s multifaceted brown? How was he to grieve someone whom he had never met? In whose life he rejoiced, but whose absence left a hole in his heart?

This night, surrounded by new sounds, new smells, and an unknown future, Jamie did what he had been doing for the last eight long years.

He prayed.

Lord, that she may be safe. She and the child.

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“Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before.”

Of all the sounds common in a stable, the small voice of a young girl was the last noise that Jamie expected to hear. He turned from the stall he was mucking out to see bright curious blue eyes peeking out from around the stable doors.

“Well no lass, I don’t suppose you would have. ‘Tis just my second day here.” As the girl slipped more fully into the stable, Jamie was able to see more of her, from her muddy hem to her dark red hair.

“Did you come with Lord John? I saw him coming up over the rise earlier. And what’s your name? You didn’t say. I mustn’t stay if I don’t know your name, my mama says I mustn’t talk to strangers.”

Jamie smiled at the girl’s topic jumping and child logic. She minded him of his own nieces and nephews and their ramblings.

“Well then lass, your mother’s right. Ye must always be careful around strangers.”

The little girl just kept peering at him from around a post, obviously waiting for him to introduce himself. Jamie stepped a bit closer to her and crouched down closer to her level, but didn’t want to move too quickly to startle her. She seemed to be about seven years old; a confident child, but in all his years of being an uncle he had learned that you never really could tell if a child was truly comfortable or just putting on a good face, at least at first.

“Alright, I’ll go first. You’re right, I did come with Lord John; I’m to be the new stable hand. My name’s Alexander MacKenzie.”

The girl seemed to be considering that, mouthing his name over to herself, but volunteering no other information.

“Well, I canna keep calling ye ‘lass’ now, can I?” Jamie paused a moment to be sure he had her attention, “Your turn now, what can I be calling you?”

She tilted her head a bit, obviously conflicted over whether he counted as a stranger anymore, and if she was really supposed to tell him anything.

“Well… I s’pose Mama won’t mind. My name’s Brianna, but don’t call me that. No one calls me that except for Missus Keren when she’s cross at me for taking an extra scone. Everybody calls me Bree.”

She paused a moment for breath, and then continued on, “You talk different. Are you Scottish? My Da’s Scottish.”

Before Jamie could think or react to this rapid change in topic, there was a loud voice calling from outside the stable.

“BRIANNA! I shouldn’t have to tell you again, you must finish your chores inside before you go wandering all about! And I had better not find you with muck all covering your dress! What would your mother say if she knew what you were up to?”

The girl’s eyes went as wide as saucers for a brief moment and then she was gone with a swirl of red hair, leaving Jamie crouched on the floor of the stables, feeling as if he were trying to recover from a very small, very opinionated, young whirlwind.

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“Who’s the lass, then?” Jamie knew it was perhaps none of his business, but there was something about this child that he could not get out of his mind, something that he could not quite put his finger on. He also recognized in the stable hand a love for gossip; the more Jamie could keep the topic away from himself the better.

“Oh, little Brianna? She’s a handful, isn’t she? Her and her mother are tenants here on the estate. Though between you and me, they’re more of a charity case than tenants.

Jamie hesitated a moment, his hand pausing in its brushing, before asking the question that had been niggling at the back of his mind since the child had mentioned it. “The wean said her father is Scottish?”

“Yes, that’s right. Or, was Scottish would be more accurate. He’s dead.”

“Is that what ye meant by them being a charity case then? The husband died but the family has kept them on as tenants?”

Crusoe raised his brows, “No it’s more than that. Mistress MacTavish married a highland farmer and lived with him in Scotland for a time. Little good it did her. The man died after the Rising and left her alone before the little one was born, poor woman. She’s made shift only by the charity of first the Greys and now with the Dunsaneys. She’s an odd one though, I will say. Never remarried. Uncommon bold for a woman. Obviously well educated, seems to be from a good family. How she ended up marrying a highland farmer, I’ll never understand.”

As Crusoe was speaking, Jamie could feel his breath coming shorter and shorter. He had to force himself to unclench his jaw and pry his fingers from their choke hold on the brush he was supposed to be working with.

Christ, man. It’s no’ her, pull yourself together.

It was a common enough story – widowed wife of a Scottish rebel, seeking charity through any means possible – that it shouldn’t have shaken him to his core as it had. But she was well educated, opinionated, going by the name MacTavish, and then there was this redhaired child…

No. Don’t let yourself think it. It’s no’ them. You sent them through the stones yourself.

“You alright, man? You’ve turned white as a sheet!”

He obviously hadn’t schooled his expression as well as he thought he had.

“Aye, I’m fine. Jus’ felt a bit off there for a moment. It’s passed.”

And it had. He knew this child was not the one he had sent through the stones to protect. He knew this strange woman was not his wife.

But knowing and grieving are two very different things.

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That night, Jamie Fraser dreamt of a spit-fire girl with curling red hair.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie, Late April, 1754

“Where’s yer Mam lass? Does it no’ concern her for ye to be wandering about the grounds?” Jamie didn’t mind the girl coming to watch the horses, and he couldn’t deny that she was a fair hand with them. But he also didn’t want to get on the wrong side of her mother. He had been at the estate barely a week, and the last thing he needed was to stir up trouble among the residents, especially if this girl’s mother was as strong headed as she sounded.  

Bree shrugged, brush in hand, trying to peer over a stall door to get a glimpse of a new foal. “Mama doesn’t mind, as long as I’m done my studies in the mornings and have finished helping with the chores. She says it’s good for me to learn about the horses and things.” She squinted as she turned to look up at him consideringly. “You’re much nicer than Crusoe though. He doesn’t let me help much. Mama calls him an old grump.”

Jamie couldn’t hold back a laugh as she clapped a hand over her mouth. “You can’t tell him I said so though! Mama said not to say!”

Oh, dinna fash. I willna say a thing to Crusoe or to your mother.” He hesitated a moment, his hands pausing over the bridle he was mending, before asking his next question, “Where is this mam of yours? She sounds like she has quite a bit to say on all kinds o’ things.” Indeed, Jamie had lost count in the last few days of the number of Brianna’s sentences that started with the phrase “my Mama says.”

Brianna’s face fell for a moment, distracted from her perusal of the new foal. “Oh, Mama’s away right now. She went away with Lord John when he came with you last week. She said he had a job for her and she’ll be gone for a bit.” Her mouth turned up a bit at the corners as she tried to encourage herself, “But she’ll be back! She said she would be, and Mama says we’ll have each other always. So she’ll be back.”

Jamie could tell that the lass was trying to put a brave face on a situation that obviously frightened her. He bent his head over a tricky part of the bridle, giving her a moment to pull herself together. His curiosity soon took over however.

What on earth could the Englishman want with this woman? What task could she possibly perform for him?

“Ye said he went with Lord John, lassie?”

“Mmmhmm,” Bree murmured, now more interested in exploring the space behind the feed barrels.

“Do ye ken what job he had for her?” Despite the… understanding… he and John had come to, Jamie still didn’t completely trust the man. And he found himself feeling oddly protective of this strange woman who seemed to be all alone except for a young daughter.

Brianna shrugged again. “I dunno really. Somebody’s probably sick. That’s usually why Mama has to go places. My Mama is the best healer. Everybody says so.” This was said with the simplicity of a well-known fact, but it didn’t stop her voice from glowing with pride all the same.

This woman was a healer as well?

Before he came to this place, Jamie had been purposely and methodically attempting to push the thoughts of his wife to the back of his mind. He never ceased in his prayers for her and the child, but he did have to function day to day in the living world; he couldn’t spend the rest of his days living in the past. Or the future, as the case may be.

This mysterious woman – this Elizabeth MacTavish – seemed to have been specifically designed to thwart his plans.

Well, and wouldn’t that be just like Claire?

Brianna, meanwhile, was now too busy trying to climb into the stall with the foal and its mother to notice any lapse of attention on Jamie’s part.

“Alright then, Bree,” he said, swinging her down from the stall door. “I must be heading out to the yard, and ye canna be staying here by yourself. It’s time now ye were going back up to the house before Missus Keren comes looking for ye.”

Brianna kept right behind him as he started to collect what he would need to break in the new colt.

“But I can come with you! I don’t have to be back at the house till dinner time. And anyways, I get fussed at if I’m in the way up there. I could stay here and help you with the horses! Please Mr. Mackenzie?” She tugged on his sleeve, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet and peering up at Jamie pleadingly. “Please? I’ll do what you tell me! And I’ll listen and I won’t get underfoot I promise.”

Jamie sighed, wondering if he was setting a poor precedent by giving in to the wee lass, but knowing he wouldn’t be able to say no to those wide blue eyes.

“Come on then, wee shadow. Let’s go.”

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Early May, 1754

Jamie had added another entry to his mental list of reasons why he wished that Brianna’s mother was not away from home. Besides the obvious nervousness the child felt at her mother being so far away, and her loneliness in having no family on the estate, Jamie had a few selfish reasons of his own. For instance, if the woman had been nearby, and able to be quickly spoken with, he could verify the many and varied things that fell under the category of “Mama said it was fine!”

As it was, nearly every time those wide blue eyes were turned on him in pleading, all his defenses fell completely away.

So here he was, taking his line of horses out to the hills. He typically looked forward to this task, as it afforded him some quiet and solitude in his thoughts. Riding on the horse in front of him today however, was Brianna. He still wasn’t entirely sure how she had managed to talk and wheedle her way into coming with him, especially since he was sure he had told her “no” at some point in the proceedings.

“Mr. Mackenzie?”

Jamie sighed. There was only so much quiet thinking one could accomplish with a precocious seven-year-old about.

“Aye?”

“What’s your friend name?”

What in God’s name…

He glanced down at her, trying to decipher what on earth she was talking about, to find her trying to turn enough on the horse to look up at his face.

“Sit still, aye? Ye canna be wriggling about like that on a horse, you’ll just confuse it. Now, what’s this about a friend name?”

“Well…” Bree stumbled a bit over the explanation, “I suppose… Are we friends now? Missus Keren said I need to have more friends to talk to, because she says I talk her ear off, but I was just thinking about it and I thought that I like talking to you. And I see you all the time, and I like helping you in the barn, so I just thought that we would be friends.”

Jamie was glad that he had already told the lass to turn around; he couldn’t have been able to keep a straight face if she had been looking up at him. As it was, he had a hard enough time keeping his voice from showing the laughter that wanted to burst out at this latest stream of child logic.

“Aye,” he had to pause again to get his voice under control, “Aye, if ye put it like that, I suppose we would be friends, wee shadow.” As much as he wanted to laugh, a part of Jamie felt sorry that the lass didn’t have other children about to play with, and his heart swelled with the honor that she trusted him enough to follow him about as she did.

Her little back relaxed as she settled back into his chest, “Oh good! But that’s why I need to know your friend name now. I want my friends to call me Bree. And most people do. It’s shorter and much more friendly! But I don’t have a friend name for you! ‘Mr. Mackenzie’ isn’t very friendly.”

He chuckled again; he couldn’t seem to ever stop laughing when she was about. “Well, lass, I suppose you must think of a more friendly name for me then. How did you come to have people start calling you Bree?”

This seemed to stump her somewhat. “Umm… Mama says she’s always called me that. Except when I’m in trouble. Then I’m Brianna. And sometimes Brianna Ellen. But that’s only if I’m for real in a lot of trouble. Like if I don’t close the door all the way and the barn cats get in her herbs. So it’s mostly Bree.”

She craned her head back again in order to squint up at him and furrowed her brows as she studied his face. “I think… I think it should be something from your last name. ‘Cause your first name… Alexander. Alex. No, those won’t do at all.” Brianna’s face wrinkled up in distaste for a moment, before settling into a mask of intense thought.

Jamie dared not ask what was so horribly wrong with his second name; he had never been very attached to it anyhow. They rode in silence for a few minutes, but Jamie was too occupied trying to keep her in the saddle as she wriggled about – nevermind wee shadow, she should really be wee eel today – to be prepared for the sudden shout that came with a seven year old mind arriving at a great discovery.  

“MAC! THAT’S IT! Mac. For “Mackenzie,” see? It’s a much friendlier name! And it’s faster too!”

Jamie himself had already nearly jumped out of the saddle at the lass’s yell and was just now catching up to the point of what the yelling had actually been about.

“Mac, aye? Well, if it suits you then I suppose it suits me as well,” Jamie smiled as Bree finally settled herself down, the great Friend Name Problem appropriately solved.

“Now, do ye remember what I said yesterday about turning a horse gently? Let’s see you do it now, Bree. Time to head home.”

 

Chapter Text

Early June 1754, Argus House, London, England

 

“Mrs. MacTavish? Ma’am?”

Claire started, finally realizing that she was being spoken to. God, how long would it take her to become accustomed to answering to a false name? How long until she no longer felt like a Fraser?

Claire Fraser. My name is Claire Fraser.

“My apologies, sir, I must have been lost in my thoughts. What were you saying?”

Lord John Grey looked at her skeptically, obviously concerned that this woman - who he was relying on for help - was perhaps just a bit out of her mind.

Well, she thought, and who would blame me if I was? Time travelling was one thing, but the politics are more than enough to drive one insane.

Harold Grey took over from his brother, clearly hoping to get to the point quickly and avoid a tempest on all sides. “I will be frank with you, Mrs. MacTavish. I know very well that you are an intelligent woman. I would assume that, given the state in which we met and your current position since you have been under parole, you are most likely going under a presumed name.” He raised his hands as Claire brought her head up suddenly, clearly brought out of the depths of memory and fully to attention by this statement, “Now, it is not my intention to force you to give me your real name. You have been nothing but cooperative since you’ve been at Helwater, and I am sure you have reasons of your own for keeping your identity secret. Reasons that I have no need of knowing for the time being. However,” he said, eyes sharpening just slightly, “I am also aware that names bear power, in and of themselves.” He paused, as if to be ready to gauge her reaction. “Names such as Charles Stuart, for instance.”

God no. Not this again. Not Charles bloody fucking Stuart. The man and his idiotic cause had taken enough of her family away. He would not – he would NOT – destroy this peace she had found.

She took a deep breath to forestall her panic and to steady her voice and her mind – there was no way to steady her racing heart - before replying. “That part of my life is over now, Your Grace. That cause is over. It took everything from me. Everything. I have more important things now to give my attention to than long gone names.”

Hal stood from behind his desk, glancing at his brother with the slightest hint of exasperation as he crossed the room to stand before the tall windows facing the quiet street below. “While I myself am given to believe you, my brother has… suspicions. Despite the Jacobite cause being so soundly defeated in ‘46, there have been murmurings over the past several years. There are still pockets of sympathy for the Stuarts, and these pockets cannot be allowed to grow into more than what they are. No one desires a return to open conflict, as I am sure you will understand.” He turned from the window, hands folded behind his back, expression hardening slightly. “There has been a known Jacobite ringleader seen around the grounds at Helwater. These pockets of dissension have notably not been located anywhere near the Lake District, so logically there should be no good reason for him to be spending any significant time in the area.” He met her eyes directly, eyebrows raised. “Unless you know something that we do not?"

Claire felt as if all the air had gone directly out of her with this last bit of speech, taking with it all the bravado that she had tried to muster just to get through this interview. It felt as if she was at a strange intersection of years, stuck between a soldier’s office in 1746 and a London home in 1754. No standing stones this time, simply eerie similarity of conversation, interrogation, suspicion, whatever you would like to call it.

She didn’t know who could possibly be interested in reviving the Jacobite cause again, nor why such a person would be spending time near Helwater. Honestly, she didn’t bloody well care. She had had no contact with her family these past years, much less old contacts from the war. The Grey brothers were clearly searching her eyes, her face, her mannerisms, for any sign of guilt, for any way to glean the information they wanted. She had no idea of what they might see there, but all she really felt like doing was screaming, or bursting into tears.

Christ. Get a hold of yourself, Beauchamp.

Jamie had always said that she had a glass face. He insisted that anyone could give a glace in her direction and know what thoughts were swirling around in her mind at any given moment.

He usually laughed as he said it, tucking a curl behind her ear or kissing her on the nose.

She usually laughed as well, or rolled her eyes at his ridiculous affection.

Somehow it didn’t feel so amusing with her and her daughter’s future on the line.

God, but she was tired. Tired of living a lie, tired of playing these games. Her whole life revolved around keeping her promise to Jamie by living, by keeping their daughter safe. She had lived eight years like this. Eight years of no communication with her only living family. As far as she knew, Jenny and Ian thought she was long dead. It broke her heart not to know how they fared, but it was the way that things had to be. As far as anyone knew, she was the wife of a low-level Jacobite officer. That was bad enough, but if she was caught writing to Red Jamie’s family…. God, she could only imagine the repercussions – to herself, to Brianna, to the Murrays. Right now, her child, their child their blessing, was safe and free. That was all that mattered.

She had promised Jamie that she would see their child safe. And so she would.

Finally, finally, she pulled her thoughts together enough to respond to the questioning, expectant looks being sent her way.

“As per my parole, I have had no contact with my husband’s former associates,” she ground out, feeling like her eyes were burning, with tears or fear or rage, she really wasn’t sure. “Not even his family back in Scotland.” She turned those burning eyes back on the brothers, not particularly caring now if they could see every single thought and emotion cross her face – she had long since come to the end of her restraint. “I will remind you that you set those rules, Your Grace, eight years ago when this whole thing started. I just want to get back to my daughter and finish out the rest of my sentence in peace. Is that truly too much to ask?”

A look full of meaning passed between the Grey brothers – exactly what kind of meaning she couldn’t tell, especially with the rather odd looks that John kept casting her when he thought she wasn’t looking. She didn’t know him well enough to tell if he recognized something about her, or if he was merely trying to get a read on her.

Suspicious bastard.

But as Hal turned back to fully face her, she could only be glad that she had reigned in her tears enough to begin to process what came next.

“If what you say is true then I have a proposal to make. One that will hopefully benefit you and your daughter, as well as my own goals.”

Claire settled back in her chair, bracing for another round of accusations, questions, and the sort of political games she had grown so used to in their time in Paris and on the war path. She wasn’t ready for it this time around. She just wanted to get back to her quiet existence with her daughter. This life they led was not as Claire would have designed it, would never have chosen a life without Jamie by her side, but it was the life they were handed. And it was not an entirely bad life. They were surviving. She had her healing to do. And she had Bree. And Bree was thriving. What on earth could she possibly need that was worth more than that, that was worth upsetting the delicate balance of peace that she had carved out of the chaos of eight years ago?

She only barely resisted rubbing her hands over her face in frustration and exhaustion.

God, she was tired.

Nothing could have prepared her for the next words out of the Duke’s mouth.

“Mrs. MacTavish. Would you like to go home?”

 

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

 

What on earth was she going to tell Bree?

Claire rolled the quill in her fingers, delaying dipping it into the ink until she had come up with some way to start. The library windows in Argus House were tall, letting in as much of the dingy London light as was possible. The light had been growing dimmer and dimmer however, as the time passed and Claire tried to come up with something to tell her daughter.

This wasn’t supposed to last so long. She wasn’t supposed to be apart from her baby at all, ever, much less for possibly months at a time.

Claire knew that she should have been paying closer attention to what the Grey brothers had been telling her during their conversation, the details of how she would buy her freedom, of the conspiracies carefully investigated that would need time to expose. But all she could think of in the moment was her daughter’s face when Claire had told her that she would be leaving for an indefinite amount of time and for some indefinite task.

Damn all Greys.

Bree had tried so hard to be brave, to keep a positive face on the situation, to hold back her own tears. The sweet girl had ended up comforting her as they said goodbye, going so far as to pat her back as they hugged, Claire holding her baby as tight as she could to prevent herself from completely breaking down in sobs.

Bree had tucked her face into the crook of her mother’s neck, and whispered, “Don’t be sad, Mama! It’ll be alright. I’ll be fine, you don’t have to worry!”

Her father’s daughter exactly, Bree was usually an expert at masking her feelings when she needed, and always wanted to make her Mama smile.

Dinna fash, Sassenach.

On that day, however, even Bree had snuffled a bit, the forced cheerfulness of her tone wavering under the burden of an unknown future.

Come on, Beauchamp. Brave face now.

Claire sat up straight, looked her daughter in the eye, and wiped both of their cheeks free of tears. “You’re right, smudge, there’s no need to worry. No tears now, darling, I’m going to be back in just a bit. You won’t even have time to miss me, alright?”

And as she rode away, turning back to wave as often as she could to the small red head bouncing up and down on the drive, the calls of her daughter followed her out of the gate and stayed in her heart for the months that followed.

“I will miss you Mama! Promise! Love you!”

John Grey was right. Names did hold power. And as Claire sat down to compose her thoughts, compose a letter to her child, she realized that maybe it didn’t matter so much what her own last name was to others; so long as she could be “Mama” to her girl, Claire knew that things would be alright.

 

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

 

My Darling Girl,

I am so sorry that I have not written to you earlier. I was hoping to have no need of writing until it was time to tell you that I was returning home. However, my trip has been delayed more than I expected.

Do you remember meeting Lord John’s brother last summer? You said that he was fussy? Well, I am staying with him and his family for the time being here in London. He and Lord John have asked for my help with a particular task, and hopefully I will have good news of a very happy surprise for you soon, my darling. Unfortunately, this task is going to take a fair amount of time, and will require some traveling. I don’t know if or when I will be able to write to you again, until it is time for me to come home. I am so sorry, my darling.

I do not know when I will return to you, but know that every day is one more day that my thoughts and love are with you. I will attempt to return to you as soon as I can, lovey, but until then I remain,

Your Mama

 

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

 

A week had passed since her fateful conversation with the Grey brothers. In that time, letters had been written, old contacts discussed, and memories combed through for something that she could offer to buy her freedom.

More tears had been shed in private and darkness than she would ever let on. Her heart ached for her little girl, and she didn’t see how any information she could provide would ever possibly be enough to be helpful to the Greys. It didn’t help that they didn’t trust her. Well, and why should they? In their eyes, she was an English citizen who had supported a rebellion against the crown. No matter that she had lived the last eight years quietly; the shadow of her past was still looming ever present.

She supposed the distrust went both ways. No matter that her imprisonment was in open land instead of a jail cell, an imprisonment it still was. And the Duke was still her jailer.

Even if she proved helpful to them in the end, she doubted that there would ever be any trust grown between them.

An overheard conversation several days before had caused even more doubts to creep into Claire’s mind. She had been walking by Hal Grey’s study when she caught Lord John’s voice. He was not presently staying at the house, and she hadn’t seen him come in, nor had he asked her for an update on her efforts. His presence caused her to slow at the door, and the tones she heard were concerned enough that it gave her pause to stay and listen.

“Well, why don’t we ask…”

Lord John sounded well beyond frustrated as he cut off his brother’s suggestions.

“No, I don’t want to resort to that yet. He would have names to give I’m sure, but I don’t think anything would come of even approaching him about it. I’ve already pulled strings to get him paroled and I have nothing else to offer him to get him to talk.” Claire could almost see him scrubbing his hand over his face. Clearly whoever this man was had already been a thorn in the flesh to Lord John; Claire had never heard him so exasperated, even in that initial conversation. “I have no incentives left, no pardon or freedom I can give.” A pause, and then he continued, but now with a bit of humor coloring his voice, “And besides, it would require nothing short of a miracle straight from heaven to get that man to talk if he doesn’t want to. We’ll just have to work with what we have.” A chuckle – an actual chuckle! Maybe miracles truly did happen – came through the open door as he seemed to reevaluate what he had just said, “Though this woman of yours seems to have no shortage of stubbornness herself.”

“Be that as it may, John,” Hal sighed, “you had best hope that this bloody letter writing business bears fruit quickly. Because if not, we may have to resort to other options.”

Well, Claire thought as she slipped away from the door and down the hall, trying unsuccessfully to stifle her consternation towards the Grey brothers, her situation, and especially this unknown man, if they had another option this whole time, why on earth did they bother me? This “other option” doesn’t have a daughter waiting for him, now does he? He could bear to be a bit more accommodating.

Meanwhile, here she was in London away from her child, stuck here until something came of this whole endeavor.

 

Chapter Text

Late June, 1754, Helwater, England

 

“Mr. Mackenzie, may I ask a favor of you? Mackenzie!”

Jamie startled, halfway out the kitchen door, too lost in his own thoughts for the name to draw his attention. God, how long would it take him to become accustomed - yet again - to answering to a false name? How long until he no longer felt like a Fraser?

As he listened to the cook’s request, as he said goodnight to the rest of the staff, as he gathered his coat and the compost bucket to bring to the pile, as he walked out into the quiet night, he repeated the same reminder he had used so many times throughout the years.

James Fraser. My name is James Fraser.

His name was not truly his own any longer. But he did what he could to keep it close, even if he could not use it. Perhaps it was foolish to repeat his own damn name to himself over and over, the simplest of mantras, but he would do whatever he had to in order to preserve the smallest bit of sanity and identity.

After dumping the kitchen scraps onto the compost pile, as the cook had asked him to, he started a slow walk through the still evening, back towards his room above the stables. His tasks were finished, the horses tended and settled for the night. Jamie cherished this part of his day and the privacy and peace that came with it; it was the only time that he felt safe enough to pull out his small statue of St. Anthony and his candle, to pray his rosary and for those he had lost.

The light had almost completely faded and Jamie’s mind was far away as he basked in the peace of the evening. For so long, his life had been full of chaos, of looking over his shoulder for the next threat. Any moments of peace he could grab were ones to be cherished. Any places of sanctuary – even ones as unlikely as a stable – were not to be taken for granted.

No one was typically about the stables at this hour, and he had let himself grow comfortable over the past weeks in the solitude that this place brought. His guard was down, his senses not quite as sharp as he walked down the long aisle and past the rows of stalls.

So it was with a sudden start that, as he passed one of the few empty stalls, he caught the smallest of sad sounds coming from the shadows in the back. He was even more startled when he peeked in to see wee Brianna, curled up over herself in the corner, sobbing like her little heart was about to break.

“Brianna? Bree? Are ye alright?” He slowly eased into the stall and crouched down close to her, not wanting to scare her. He had to be careful to temper his tone, to keep the rapid flush of alarm from creeping into his voice.

“Bree?”

What on earth is she doing out here? Even if she were exploring or wandering, she’s always back to the house by this time of night.

After getting no response from the small quivering shape in the corner, he sat down fully and slid next her before speaking again. “Bree? Are ye hurt? Come on then lass, tell me what’s wrong. Please?”

His soft inquiries were only met with more shuddering tears. He had never before seen her so distraught; her normal chattering, joyous self seemed lost in unexplained pain. Even in the moments when he had seen her eyes well up, it was usually the result of frustration or exhaustion, not anything more serious than a stubbed toe, an animal that would not listen, or an unwanted call for bedtime.

This grief was so much more. He was starting to truly panic – God, what could have happened to break her heart so? – when she finally gasped out a hiccupping whisper.

“Not…’m not hurt.” She mumbled into her knees where they were bent up to her chest, “It’s… It’s my Mama, Mac!”

His heart stilled. Stilled and then beat faster than it should. Much faster than it should on behalf of a woman he only knew through a child’s stories.

He had never met this woman, this Elizabeth MacTavish, but over the past months he had developed some sort of abstract… fondness for her. He didn’t know why. He had no way of explaining this connection he felt to a total stranger. For God’s sake, he had never had even the hint of communication with her, much less the opportunity to grow to know her. Perhaps this feeling was just carrying over from his attachment to her child.

Perhaps it was something more.

But for some unexplainable reason the thought that something dreadful could have happened to this woman froze him to his core.

And he didn’t think his now-racing heart was just for Brianna’s sake.

Jamie almost didn’t want to know the answer to his question, didn’t want to find out that this world had harmed yet another innocent, but he had to say something to the poor girl.

“What…” he started slowly, “Has something happened to your Mam?”

He could feel himself start to breathe again at the small shake of her head, but she still hadn’t stopped crying, and his heart hadn’t stopped pounding, though he tried to keep his voice even. “Alright then. What’s the matter?”

Bree lifted her head a bit and scrubbed at her tears with small fists, trying to get control of her breathing. “I got a letter from Mama today. She said she can’t come home yet.” Anger and fear were starting to creep alongside grief in her voice, neither helping to curb the tears that continued to course down her face. “But she promised! She said when she left she would only be gone for a bit. But it’s been two months! That is not a bit! That’s a lot longer than a bit!”

She was speaking so fast that Jamie could barely make out what she was saying between her gasps.

“I thought she was gonna be home by now but now she says she doesn’t know when she’s coming home and what if it’s not a bit at all and she doesn’t come home ever? I need my mama, Mac!” With every stumbled-over and gasped-through word her tears came faster and faster, the emotions far too big for such a small person. “My da is gone and what if Mama is gone for real now too?? Mama always says we’re together just us and I won’t be alone ever ever but now I am alone now! What if I’m all by myself for always??

Jamie’s heart lurched along with his body as Bree launched herself into his lap with her small arms wrapped tightly around his neck - and continued to sob into his chest.

“It’s just that I’m so scared, Mac!”

Oh, lass.

It had been a long, long time since Jamie had comforted a weeping child, but the way of it came back naturally enough.

He rubbed her small shaking back, pulled her more firmly into his lap, and tucked her head under his chin. “Come now, dinna weep a leannan.” He murmured soft Gaelic nothings in her ear until her sobs slowed into sniffles and he tapped her back to get her attention. “Shh… Brianna, look at me, aye? Come on now, bring your head up, lass.”

As Brianna’s tear-shining – yet trusting - eyes came up hesitantly to meet his, Jamie felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth, even as his heart broke a bit for the wee thing’s pain.

“Yer scairt you’ll be left alone, aye?” A small teary nod and sleeve rubbed across her eyes was her only response. “Well, there’s no need for that, and you ken it. You dinna need to be afraid lass, no’ of anything. I’ll be right here wi’ ye.”

Bree looked as though she wanted to be reassured, but her fear and innate stubbornness were too strong a combination to be banished that simply.

“But Mama said she would be right here and then she had to leave. What if you have to leave too?”

Jamie chuckled a bit as settled back against the stable wall, pulling Bree in and tucking her under his arm beside him. Little did she know that leaving this place – and his parole – would be the very last thing he would be doing in the foreseeable future.

“Nay, lass, dinna fash yerself. I really will be right here. And your Mam will be back in no time. Ye ken she didna want to leave ye, and she’ll be back as soon as ever she can. I’m sure she wants to be here just as much as you want her to be. Hush yerself now Bree, it’ll be alright. Rest your head. Things are always better in the morning.”

And with the light weight of a curly head resting against his shoulder, Jamie Fraser felt a small piece of his battered soul start to heal.

Perhaps it didn’t matter so much what name he was using, whether James or Alex, Fraser or Mackenzie. Perhaps it was enough for now to know that he was simply “Mac” to this sweet, small soul.

Chapter Text

Late August, 1754

“Mac?”

“Mmm?” His response was little more than a grunt, he knew, but his attention was more than divided at the moment. Jamie was fond of the lass, that was certain enough. The last few months spent with his wee shadow had brought more peace than he ever could have expected from what amounted to little more than a glorified prison sentence.

He had horses, mountains, open air. And Brianna, following him about keeping him always on his toes. He had realized some time ago that without her mother present, she had no one to confide in, to talk about her small troubles and excitements, to ask her never ending flow of questions.

Jamie didn’t mind being that person for her. Reveled in it, if he was being honest with himself. Her bright little soul was a joy to him, and he found that with each day that passed, Brianna was growing more and more into her place in his heart. She was putting down roots here with him that only became stronger as time went on.

But even with all the affection he had for the lass, the energy it required to keep up with her questions and rambling was often more than he had to spare. And one of Lord Dunsaney’s favorite horses had just thrown a shoe and was proving a trickier repair than he had anticipated.

Undisturbed by his inattention, Brianna simply tapped her heels against the stall door she was sitting on. “Can I… can I ask you a question?”

“Aye, lass.” When had anything ever stopped her from asking before? Her tongue could normally keep pace with a running highland brook. “And what have I told you about kicking things? Ye ken it disturbs the horses. Scout’s jumpy as it is, ye dinna need to be riling him up any more.”

“Sorry.”

Her feet quieted, but the stream of questions that he expected was silent as well.

“What was it that ye wanted to know?” This truly wasn’t like her - she hadn’t ever been hesitant about asking things before. And what in hell had that fool of a stable hand done to make the shoe –

“Mac,” she paused, taking a deep breath before making the plunge, “would you like to be my da?”

All thoughts of horses, shoes, and stable hands immediately vanished from Jamie’s mind as if they had never existed. The jumble of emotions that filled him in that split second was far too much and too complicated to untangle in the moment, leaving his mind a blank slate in their wake. He slowly released the horse’s leg and turned to the outside of the stall where he could see the lass more clearly. She looked far more nervous than he was used to seeing her, but she had a determined look in her eyes and a steel set to her shoulders that he recognized far too well.

It usually came before all hell broke loose.

“Brianna.” He struggled to keep his tone calm – to sort through his thoughts enough to make sure his voice didn’t shake. “What made ye think of such a thing?”

From her perch on the stall door, she was almost eye level with him, and was apparently trying to make the most of her new vantage point. Despite her obvious uncertainty, she tilted up her chin and looked him right in the eye.

Brave lass.

“Well, my da’s been gone a long time now. Mama says he’s in heaven, and that he loves us a lot, and we’ll meet him one day. But… everyone keeps on saying that Mama needs a husband and I need a da.”

The more she built her case, the faster her legs swung against the stall door, and the faster her mouth moved, the plan she had built in her imagination taking shape before her eyes.

“And I was just thinking that you don’t have a wife and I like you and I’m sure Mama won’t mind!”

The look of conviction in Bree’s eyes was on a level with the times she had tried to convince Jamie to let her take a horse out on the hills by herself.

“‘Sides, our names already almost match; MacTavish and MacKenzie, see? You’re Scottish, and my da was Scottish! It’ll work out, I know it will.”

She finished this last exclamation, nodded her head decidedly, and looked up expectantly into Jamie’s eyes.

Ah, Dhia.

Jamie took a deep breath as he settled in next to her against the door.

How to handle this? She may not be a Fraser, but damn if she’s not as rock-heided as one.

“I’m sorry, Bree, but as much as I do care for ye, I dinna think your Mam would like you signing her up for a husband while she’s no’ even here. I’ve never met your mother, but she sounds the type to have her thoughts be heard, aye?”

Bree finally broke eye contact to look down at her swinging feet. “Aye, I s’pose,” she mumbled.

“And besides, I have got a wife already.” And a wee one your own age, he thought, with surprisingly less than the usual amount of pain.

Her head swung around and her eyes went wide, looking about as if he had been purposely hiding this mystery woman the whole time they had known each other, “A wife? Where do you have a wife? I’ve never met your wife!”

He chuckled a bit at her indignation, even as the reality that she would never meet his wife struck him anew. “No, ye havena. She’s been gone these many years now.”

He had thought that in the years since their separation, he would have already felt the pang of Claire’s loss in every way imaginable. Leave it to Brianna to surprise him even in this.

Lord, that she may be safe. She and the child.

Bree cocked her head to the side, processing this new information with all the curiosity and cleverness that were so a part of her nature. “Gone? Gone like my da is gone?”

“Something like. But ye ken, I always remember her, and keep her in my prayers. My wife, my sister and her family. All those I’ve lost.”

Bree looked down again and appeared to be mulling over all that he had said. “We do that too. Mama says it’s all we can do, to pray for people we lost. And talk about them. She says it’s how we can remember them. But….” She paused, uncharacteristically hesitant, emotion creeping into her voice and overshadowing the bravado.

“Aye?” He prompted her, “What is it?”

“I forget sometimes. To talk about it and pray for my da.” She sounded almost like she was about to cry, unsure and a bit of ashamed of herself as she grew quieter and her words came quicker.  “‘Cause Mama’s not home to do it with me and Missus Keren says it’s heathen to pray to Papist saints but I…” She took a deep breath and let the rest of her thought out in a rush, “I don’t know what else to do!”

Jamie kept a small figure of Saint Anthony in his room, tucked away from the prying eyes of those around the estate. His prayers for his lost loved ones would make something of a scandal with the Protestant members of the estate, so he kept his Catholicism quiet when he could. But the girl was different; she was Catholic as well, even if she didn’t broadcast it about most of the time. She may find some comfort in the small act of praying for her lost loved ones, just as he did. And if nothing else, it would do them both good to have company while they did their remembering.

And so Jamie chuckled gently and tousled her head before reaching over to swing her down from the stable door. “Well then lass, I think I may have something that will help. Come along, now.”

 

Early September, 1754

Brianna MacTavish could be described, at the best of times, as a whirlwind. When she was focused on something, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant to other eyes, that was all she saw. If she had a goal in mind, anything that got in her way was simply a thing to be plowed through.

So the fact that Jamie was currently engaged in debate over a cart wheel with Thomas the stablehand and the local blacksmith mattered little to her in light of far more pressing issues.

“Mac! Mac have you seen my slate?” Bree started yelling before she even entered the stables, the sound of her voice coming ahead of her as she dashed through the stable yard, completing her thought as she careened around a corner and nearly running directly into Jamie in the process. “I’m meant to be practicing my letters but I can’t find it and I think I left it here have you seen it?”

Jamie grabbed her shoulders to steady her, suppressing a smile as he crouched to her level.

“Take a moment, lass, ye’ll practice yer writing no better if ye keel over from lack of breath. And aye, ye did leave it here yesterday. It’s in the tack room; you wait here and catch your breath and I’ll get it for ye.”

He nodded to Thomas and the blacksmith, tossing a helpless shrug and a rueful grin in their direction before heading back to the tack room to locate Bree’s illusive slate.

Bree had taken to bringing her slate and chalk with her down to the stables in the late afternoon, after she had finished her lessons or chores. She would practice her letters and lessons while regaling Jamie of the things she had learned that day, the gossip that careless maids thought she was out of ear shot for, the treats that she had wheedled out of the cook, or the one hundred and one other thoughts and stories that flited through her mind.

He found the slate right where she left it the day before, tucked in amongst the grooming brushes and combs that she had been rearranging on a whim. He felt an unbidden grin spread across his face as he grabbed it, felt the grin turn to a full-fledged smile when he saw the horse’s head that Bree had started to draw across the bottom half of the slate. She had a knack for drawing, and would periodically ask Jamie for ideas of what she could sketch. Some of these sketches would only illicit small frowns of frustration, and would be quickly rubbed out, while others were proudly shown off for as long as they could stay on the slate.

Jamie cast a quick glance around the tack room as he turned to leave, catching glimpses of the other marks of Brianna’s frequent visits. A lost hair ribbon draped over a toolbox, an apple and wedge of cheese stashed for afternoon snacks, and far up on a shelf, beyond the lass’s reach and hidden behind jars of ointments and spare lamp oil, was a small block of wood that was slowly – on quiet evenings and stolen moments – taking the form of a snake.

Jamie came back into the main stable to find Bree rocking up and down – toes, heel, toes, heel – and obviously using every once of her will to resist either running after Jamie or causing some other unknown trouble. He crouched down once again to look her in the eye as he passed her back her slate.

“Here ye are, lass. And try to take your time back up to the house. Ye dinna want to scrape your knee again from running heedless like ye did last week, aye? I’ll no’ have your mother skinning my hide when she learns of my poor attempts at patching ye up.”

“Aye! Thanks, Mac! See you at supper!” She pushed up on her toes and smacked a giant, childish kiss to his cheek before darting out the way she came - ignoring caution just as she always did - back up to the house and her lessons, completely unaware that she had left her friend Mac utterly speechless.

Jamie shook his head, taking a moment to recover from this sudden sweetness.

Christ man, he thought as he straightened up and made his way back to his work, trying not to let his daft grin show too much, that wee lass has ye fair wrapped around her little finger.

Aye well. And who was he to complain?

Down the stable walkway, on the other side of the problematic cart, the blacksmith nodded at Bree’s retreating back.

“That your little one, Mackenzie? She’s got your hair, does she?”

Jamie froze again at the question, an unexplainable and yet overwhelming cloud of emotions crowding and clogging his throat, preventing any explanation. It seemed to be a morning for being caught off guard; indeed, his mind seemed to have come to an even firmer halt than his tongue.

Fortunately for him, Thomas laughed and explained, Jamie’s moment of internal panic going unnoticed.

“Oh no, that’s Brianna. Her mother’s the healer on the estate. I’m sure you would remember her; Elizabeth MacTavish, the widow? Little Bree’s become that attached to Mac; follows him about like a shadow, she does.” He chuckled to himself, nodding to Jamie, “I swear you’ve got the patience of one of those saints you pray to. I think that girl must speak twenty words to every one of yours.” He turned back to blacksmith, lifting a wheel back into place. “She’s spent so much time with him the past few months that she’s even started looking like him, I swear she has. Something in the way she holds herself, how she walks, the set of her shoulders. Nevermind that hair!”

 

After the blacksmith and stablehand had left to look over the other wagons and carriages, Jamie was left to his peace – and to his thoughts, which were much less than peaceful. He usually tried not to think of his own wee red haired lass, or of his unknown child. One living in Heaven, one in the future, both equally unattainable. His children. And as much as he loved his children, the thought of them could bring nothing but pain, and he had a life to live before he could see them again.

But everyday spent with Brianna underfoot made it increasingly more difficult to distract himself from his grief. The blacksmith wasn’t wrong; there was something about the wee lass that reminded him daily of what could have been if so many things had not gone so wrong.

Practicing rows of letters. Skinned knees. Prayers before bed. A kiss on the cheek.

The fact of the matter was that the threads of grief and joy woven deep in his heart were becoming too strongly entwined for him to separate.

 

 

Chapter Text

September 15th, 1754. London, England

My Darling Girl,

I trust you have been behaving yourself in these past few months. I certainly do not want to be returning to find Helwater tumbled down around your ears! And yes, you read correctly; I will be back with you very soon! It has been a long few months, and there has been so much that has happened. I cannot include it all this letter, but I look forward to telling you all about it. But there is one piece of news that I simply cannot wait to tell you.

It is the most wonderful news in the world. We are to go home! Yes darling, to our real home, to your father’s home. As soon as we can manage it, you and I will be going home to Scotland. I cannot wait for you to meet your aunt and uncle, your cousins, all your true family. Everyone and everything that I’ve told you about. I am so sorry to have been separated from you for all of these long months, but it will all have been worth it, I promise. I know you have questions, and I will explain everything when I arrive, but before you know it, we will be on our way home. To Scotland.

I will see you very soon, lovey.

All of my love,

Mama

 

Late September, 1754. Helwater Estate, England

“MAC!! GUESS WHAT, MAC!”

Jamie wasn’t exactly sure what happened in that moment. All he knew was that one second he was peacefully training a jumpy young yearling, leading her around the pen on a long lead, and the next second he was flat on his arse, rope out of his hand, and yearling happily on the other side of the pen.

Jamie stumbled to his feet, muttering a quick “mac na galla” at the state of his breeks and the general situations, and whirled around to see who had called out and startled the horse so. Only to see Brianna MacTavish, halfway to climbing over the fence, with her hands clamped tightly over her mouth, her eyes wide as saucers and looking like she would burst into tears at any moment.

“Sorry Mac!” she said, her voice quavering just a little, “I didn’t mean to!”

Jamie let out a sigh, and then let the smile that always followed her presence take over his face. It certainly wasn’t the first time she had popped up seemingly out of nowhere, even it was the most dramatic to date.

“Ach, it’s alright. Dinna fash yerself, Bree, I’m just fine and so is Penny. No harm done at all.” He lowered his brows a little, trying to rein in the grin and add just a tad of sternness to his voice. “Ye’ll just remember to calm yerself a bit before coming close to the horses, aye? Especially the younger ones. They’re still learnin’, just like you.”

Jamie caught her under the arms and helped her over the fence before going on. “Penny’s just a bit of a high-spirited lass, is all.” He reached down to ruffle her curls, already well on their way to fully escaping her braid. “And she’s no the only one, aye?”

Bree grinned up at him, eyes still a bit watery, but upset forgotten in his teasing and the excitement that was nearly oozing out of her very skin; the excitement that had caused her to run down to the training yard in even more of whirlwind than usual.

Now that he wasn’t busy near being trampled, Jamie finally had a moment to take a closer look at the girl.

Christ, the lass is fair vibrating.

“What is it that has ye so worked up, then?” His eyes narrowed as she rocked up and down on her toes

“I got a letter today. Do you want to know what it said??

Jamie had never seen her so excited, and he had even witnessed the first time he let her ride on the draft horse out in the pastures.

“Och, I dinna ken, Brianna. The way you’re acting it sounds fair exciting.” He arched a brow at her. “May be it’s best we leave it til the end of the day, aye? We both of us have work that needs to be done, and we dinna want to be distracted from it, so I really think tis best if we – ‘

“Maaaaac!”

“Och, alright Bree, nae need to fuss. What’s this letter about?”

Bree took a deep breath before exclaiming, “It’s from my Mama!” With her big news out, the little girl couldn’t hold in a hop or two fueled by pure joy. “She says she’s gonna be coming home soon! It’s just like she said and she’s not gonna be gone any more! Isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard in your whole life?!”

Teasing and scowls and small grins completely forgotten, Jamie was beaming near as radiantly as Bree was. “Aye lass, that’s wonderful! See, yer Mam kept her promise, just like she said she would.” Seized by impulse, he picked her up and twirled her around, just for the sheer joy of hearing her laugh. When he set her down he let out an exaggerated grunt. “Och, and ye’ve grown a fair bit these last months. You’re shooting up like a weed, she’ll scarce believe her eyes.”

Once she had gotten her feet back under her from her spinning, Bree looked up at him, suddenly concerned.

“Mac, do you think she’ll recognize me? Have I grown too much since she left?”

Jamie shook his head, bending down to retrieve the rope that he had been using to lead the yearling, now tangled and uncoiled.

“Nay, Bree, how could she no’ recognize you? You’re her own wee lass, no matter how tall ye grow or how many new freckles pop up on yer nose. She’d ken ye from anyone, in a blink of the eye.” He cocked his head as he gathered up the last bit of rope. “But I dinna ken how happy she’ll be that ye’ve been passing your time mucking about in the stables instead of up at the house. Suppose she’ll have some words for me for distractin’ ye from yer lessons.”

“No, she won’t mind!” Bree said urgently. “She’s always digging in the dirt and mud for plants and herbs, so she doesn’t mind me being outside and getting dirty. And don’t be nervous about meeting Mama! I know I get nervous meeting new people, but Mama’ll love you! Well…” She paused to think a moment. “Maybe she’ll fuss a little bit about all your splinters and things. She fusses about my splinters all the time. But don’t worry about her fussing, it just means she likes you!”

“Thank ye for the warning, lass.” He ruffled her hair again. “I’ll try my best to withstand the fussing.”

The yearling had wandered back over to their side of the pen, and though she was still jumpy, Jamie managed to grab hold of her training bridle and a nearby brush. He started the slow task of brushing her down and getting her more and more used to being handled.

“Now, Bree, are ye staying down here tae help? If not, you’ll have to head back up to the house.” He glanced down from his brushing to meet the guileless blue eyes of his small charge. He cocked an eyebrow and held back a chuckle at her wordless pleading. “Aye, alright then, ye can stay.”

As if he would ever send her away.

He didn’t notice her edging a bit closer, watching intently as he murmured softly to the horse as he brushed.

“Is that Gaelic?”

One of these days he would have to grow accustomed to being taken off guard from the lass’s questions.

“Aye, that it is. Do ye ken any Gaelic then?” She might just, with a Scottish father. But he had been dead for a long time, and with an English mother… “And here, if you’re going to stay and help, you’ll have to help. Roll that cord up for me, aye?”

Brianna scrunched up her eyebrows as she picked up the rope and tried to untangle it bit by bit. “I don’t know much, not really. My mama said that my Da spoke it, and she knows a few words. But she doesn’t ‘member much, and we can’t practice a lot anyways, ‘cause Mama says we have to ‘lay low’ and not ‘draw attention to ourselves.’” Her voice took on a deliberate formality, as she imitated warnings that had obviously been given to her many times.

“Well,” Jamie said as he glanced around conspiringly, “There only seems to be us and the horses here abouts, and I swear I willna tell a soul. What kind of words did yer mam teach ye?”

After a moment’s thought, and a look of her own to be sure there were no other ears to overhear, Bree nodded with decision, and just a bit of excitement showing through. Just as meticulously as she handled the cord in her hands, Brianna was slow and careful in her pronunciation of words not often used. “Mama said that Da would call me M'annsachd, and….” here she paused to think for a moment before going on, “he would hate living with all the sassenachs.” She whipped her head up to look up at him, eyes bright and grin wide with pride at words correctly pronounced and properly shown off. “Do you know what those ones mean?”

His heart twinged at the familiar words, unheard for so long, even as he smiled down at her. “Aye lass, I do. And a blessing ye surely are, especially amongst all these outlanders.” He paused for a moment, making sure he had her attention again as she finished wrapping up the cord. “You’re doing a fine job learning new things, Brianna. I’m sure your da would be very proud of you; ye ken that, aye?”

She plopped the coil in his hand with a nod full of all the confidence a 7-year-old (pardon, nearly 8-year-old, thank you very much) could muster, “Aye! Mama tells me.”

Jamie chuckled (laughing, again. Christ. He had laughed more in the past 6 months than he had in the last 8 years), and ushered Bree back up towards the stables, lengthening his strides to keep up with her skipping. “Aye, I’m sure she does. Now, would you like to learn a few new words to teach your Mama?”

The lass spun around briefly, excited eyes sparkling up at him.

“Really? What other things can you teach me?”

“Och, all kinds of things. What would ye like to know?”

She cocked her head as she thought, going back to skipping every few steps to stay ahead of him. “You muttered something at Penny when she was rearin’. That sounded like Gaelic, but it didn’t sound very nice, not like how you usually talk to the horses.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Oh aye? Well I’ll tell ye what that one means when you’re a wee bit older, ken? Let’s start with something else.”

 

Early October, 1754

Several weeks later, Jamie and Brianna were at their usual places within the stables; Jamie doing his chores and Brianna causing as much mayhem as she could get away with while still staying within earshot. Practicing her Gaelic was proving to be a better motivation for good behavior than anything else to date.

“Come on then, lass, give it a try.”

Bree furrowed her brow as she focused, then carefully pronounced the phrases she had been practicing. “Tha thu Seumus… agus…. tha thu à Alba.”

“Tha sin ceart! Agus cò thusa, a nighean?”

“Is mise Briana!”

“Agus….?” Jamie drew out the word as he asked, glancing over at Brianna, who had slowed in her stall-climbing to give her Gàidhlig-thinking more attention.

“Is mise... Is mise dubhar beag!”

“Aye, lass, that’s right! Tha thu mo dubhar beag.”

Jamie grinned down at his wee shadow, “Verra good, Bree. You’ll be speaking circles round yer Mam when she gets back. She’ll no’ ken what to make of ye.”

Bree paused again in her clamber to the top of one box stall, and looked up at him, sudden concern showing in her crinkled-up brow.

“You don’t think she’ll mind, do you? Mama always says that we haveta be careful when we speak Gaelic, because the English don’t like it. She says we could get in trouble for it.”

“Aye, you’re right about that. And I’m glad yer mother’s been careful; the English certainly dinna like it a bit. But no, I dinna think she’ll be upset,” he reassured her as she finally made it to the top of the stall. “We’ll be just as careful, aye? Just us and the horses when we speak it, and no one else about. I’m sure she’ll be pleased that you’re learning sae much. Dinna fash, ye can teach her all ye know the moment she’s back.”

“Aye!! And you can help too, Mac,” she said. “You’re better at teachin’ anyways. Mama likes learning new things.” Bree’s voice took on a tone of authority, like it nearly always did when reporting on her mother’s wisdom. “She says it’s very important to learn all the time.” 

Jamie’s back was turned as he worked, so he didn’t bother to mask his grin. “And your mother’s right, we should always try to learn new things.” He hesitated a bit, as he often did before asking more about the Mistress MacTavish. He wasn’t sure where this hesitancy came from; he was curious about Bree’s mother to be sure, could barely contain that curiosity at times. She was clearly no ordinary woman to have a raised a child like Brianna. Yet… There was still something in the whole situation that gave him pause, that made him shy away from asking too much about her.

“Ye’ve said that she’s a skilled healer; has she been teaching ye about her healing?”

“Mmmhmm.” A sound thud from her direction told him that Bree had tired of her seat on top of the stall and had jumped down to explore something else. “She’s been showing me her herbs and things. And she lets me watch sometimes when she takes care of people.” Bree shrugged. “She says people are always getting hurt all the time wherever you go, so we must know how to help them. It’s useful.” She was beside him now, peering up at him while he sorted through a pile of tack. “Did you know that my da was always getting hurt?” She laughed, and then lowered her voice dramatically to a conspiring whisper. “Mama even said a bad word when she talked about it. Usually she only says bad words when she thinks I can’t hear her, but this one she said to me! She said my da was always getting “bloody” hurt, so she always had to “bloody” patch him back up.”

She giggled again, but then her voice grew serious as she thought about her mother and her calling. “I think she maybe she liked it though. She likes to take care of things.”

“Aye, lass.” Jamie said, looking down at her, heart aching for another healer he held close to his heart. This, he reminded himself, was why he so hesitated to ask more about Brianna’s mother. Every word on the subject seemed to hit far too close to home. “I’m sure she did.”

 

Late October, 1754

A rare late October sun was shining as Claire rode over the last rise before the house. These past seven months away from her daughter had been excruciating, the sting of separation all the more painful for the echo of its twin pain she thought long dulled. But being apart from Brianna had only brought the rending pain of that long ago April morning into crystal clear focus.

It was late afternoon as Claire dismounted, needing to walk off some of her riding soreness. She knew that Brianna would be down at the stables; Bree loved the horses, and she doubted her habits would have changed so extremely in their time apart. Besides having to get her own horse settled, Claire’s first priority was getting her daughter back into her arms. Her thoughts tumbled and whirled as she made her way to the long, low building, scarcely holding herself to a walk.

It was all going to be alright. Soon, soon she would hold her heart, her future, in her arms once again. And then, the two of them would finally go home. They would be surrounded by family, would use their own names. Claire wouldn’t have to feel that she was looking over her shoulder every hour, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. She didn’t know what the coming weeks and months would bring, but she was finally setting her eyes beyond mere survival for herself and her daughter. She was setting her eyes towards the future. Towards home.

As Claire neared the stables, she caught a glimpse of bright sun on shining auburn hair. She grinned, her heart leaping as it always did at the sight of her daughter, then coming to a shuddering halt at the thought that she was seeing double. Two heads of auburn hair instead of one. Matching bright red heads leaned over the paddock fence, admiring the training colt within.

A laugh that had filled her dreams for the past eight years echoed across the yard in waking daylight. Broad shoulders she had thought she would never see again hunched down to point some technique or skill out to her daughter.

His daughter.

It could not be.

It was.

It was.

It was.

Claire took off at a run, towards her heart, her future, her home.

 

~~ the end ~~