There she was.
Standing next to their son—freckled face split in a glorious grin atop his grandfather’s proud shoulders—Claire was wearing that golden smile that lit up his entire world. It was all Jamie needed to know that he'd already won.
Epilogue – Big Wheels Keep on Turning
The hour was still a pre-dawn mauve when a heartfelt “Fuck,” burst from Claire’s lips.
It was a small, unremarkable sound, and yet it conveyed the complete and long-suffering history of every stubbed toe in existence. Still muttering curses under her breath, she clasped her fingers around the edge of the bathroom counter for balance and peeled the grey wool off her heel to take a professional look at the appendage in question.
Pinkie toe deemed traitorous but not damaged beyond repair, she went on with her business. She washed her hands, set a timer on her phone, and propped the device against the large mirror above the sink before assuming her observation point atop the lip of the bathtub. Palms clasped tightly between her thighs and teeth buried in her lower lip, Claire fixed the black screen with a glare that would have made even a lion cower with fear.
Time, however, would neither be rushed nor intimidated, no matter how stubbornly she tried. Ticking backwards every time she dared to blink, the white figures on the display kept on taunting her until she could hardly bear to look, but the alternative wasn’t much more appealing.
Since there wasn’t any real distraction to be found—no tiles to be scrubbed, no cabinets to be organised, no towels to be hung to dry—Claire knew that as soon as she’d allow her gaze to slip away, her eyes would focus on the plastic-white elephant in the room. And that was a kind of torture she wasn’t willing to subject herself to ever again.
She took a deep breath, watching with iron determination as the digits changed, jumped, danced in her line of vision.
00:00:19, 00:00:18, 00:00:17
Closing her eyes shut, she counted the remaining seconds down in her head, ‘Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two—’
It took one, two blinks to adjust to the suddenly too bright light again. When she did, her mind had quieted, and with it the roiling snakes of trepidation in her belly. That inexplicable but welcome air of calm confidence stayed with her even as she rose and approached the answer to that big, looming question.
Yes or No?
Lying there like a long-lost puzzle piece, it was hard to believe that something so innocuous, something so unassuming, could hold that kind of power over anyone’s immediate future. Claire reached for it with fingers that were as steady as when wielding a scalpel and lifted it to her face. The result was as clear and straight as the pink lines on that small, oval window.
In truth, she’d only taken the test for one reason; to confirm the knowledge she already carried beneath her heart—an intimate awareness that was based on nothing more than a feeling of…more.
She threw the package into the bin on her way out and turned off the lights, creeping across the hall on silent feet. The light had grown warmer as the sun progressed on its climb over the hilly horizon, filtering in raspberry-gold through the blinds and casting a fiery halo around Jamie’s sleeping form.
The beauty of that sight stopped her in her tracks, and even the air around her slowed to the point of standing still. Looping itself around her like a scarf, time itself seemed to bow to the serenity of that image, allowing her to commit it to memory in every vivid detail as seconds melted into minutes into hours; until all sense of it passing was one big, endless circle of irrelevance.
Gaze roaming from the crest of his curls over the hillocks and hollows of his face, across the plains and plateaus of his chest, down to the summits and slopes of his legs, Claire couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was that moved her so.
Was it the simple pleasure of watching him sleep, of seeing him so peaceful and unguarded whilst chasing his dreams? Was it the privilege of privacy, of inhabiting a world of treasures hidden in the soft grooves of eyelids and the chambers of a shared heart? Or was it the sheer joy of realising that this was the first morning of their new normal, of knowing that, from now onwards, she would always wake to his smiling blue sky?
Maybe it was all of that, or maybe it was nothing but nostalgia for a moment she knew wouldn’t last forever.
The amorous aria broadcasted from the highest branch of the Rowan tree outside the bedroom window ultimately loosened the knots in the yarn of time again and called Claire back to the present without providing a definite answer.
Although the moment had gone, she could still feel it tingling in the web of capillaries beneath her skin as she slipped out of her robe and into bed. Ribs lifting in deep, even breaths, Jamie’s arm moved, draping itself square over her pillow. Claire didn’t hesitate to follow the unconscious invitation, curling into his side and resting her cheek on his shoulder.
A tremor of awareness passed through him the instant her skin melted against the ever-burning furnace of his.
“Whate’er happened tae sleeping in taeday, Sassenach?” he asked in a rough voice, drawing her closer towards him.
“I’m sorry,” her words skidded over his bare chest as softly as her fingertips cavorted along the ridges of his collarbones. “I thought I could slip back in without waking you up.”
Cracking one blue eye open, Jamie looked down at her with that lopsided smile that was reserved for moments just between the two of them.
“I love ye fer trying, mo ghràidh, but that’s ne’er worked afore. Why did ye think it would now?”
She reciprocated the smile with a shrug and a kiss to his pec, fingers continuing their exploration down his sternum until they came to rest above his heart.
“What were ye doing then?” he yawned, one large thumb tracing the dimples at her lower back.
“Just something that couldn’t wait.”
Something in her tone flipped a switch in him. Claire could feel the sudden change jumping excitedly beneath her fingertips; could see every trace of sleep thaw from his features as he shifted to face her; could hear it keen and ready on his tongue.
“What couldnae wait?”
She tilted her head back, her own pulse thundering like hundreds of feet rushing into summer holidays as she reached for his hand and placed it on her belly.
“I wanted to be sure before telling you.”
Jamie’s throat worked in a heavy swallow, blue gaze dipping down between them, then back to meet hers.
“Ye’re…?” he began tentatively once he found his voice again, his breath warm and ragged against her skin. “…truly?”
Claire nodded through a gathering sheen of happiness. “Seems like you were right that morning—your prize money wasn’t all we brought home with us.”
She’d barely finished her sentence when Jamie rolled on top of her and crashed his mouth to hers, almost smothering her with the weight of his exuberance.
“Tha gaol agam ort, mo Sorcha,” he rasped against her lips, “agus a’ bheatha seo a tha thu a’ giùlan.”
The taste of his joy rich and salty on her tongue, Claire savoured every heartfelt syllable, every choked-up whisper.
“I love you too, Jamie.”
“Oir gu bràth agus nas fhaide na sin.”
She looked up at him, her vision all but blurry as her palm cupped his cheek, echoing his sentiment, “Forever and beyond.”
“Are you happy?” she asked a bit later, drawing contented circles on his scalp.
It was an entirely rhetorical question, but there was still that minuscule part of her that needed to hear him say it, needed him to confirm her own happiness.
Jamie turned his head from where it was glued to her breast, eyes glowing as they locked on hers.
“E’ry time I think there’s nae chance I could be any happier, ye prove me wrong again.” Fingers splayed protectively over her belly, he went on, “Since the day we met, ye’ve gi’en me gift after gift after gift, Claire. Far too many tae count, and far more than I deserve.”
“I dinnae think I can e’er truly repay them,” he said softly, “but I swear that I will spend fore’er trying tae be worthy o’ ye.”
Heart fit to burst, Claire tilted his chin up and pressed her lips to his.
“As long as that means I get to spend the rest of my days with you, Fraser, I am well pleased with the world.”
Claire stirred at the sound of an old door being eased open and the smell of cinnamon drowned in butter filling her nose.
“Sassenach?” Jamie’s voice rang softly in the quiet of their bedroom, his approach muffled by the carpet underneath his feet. “Are ye awake?”
“More or less,” she replied, brushing sleep-knotted curls out of her face. “What time is it?”
“Almost half ten.”
Her first instinct was to scold him for letting her sleep that long, but the truth of the matter was they both knew she’d needed it badly. At a little over three months pregnant, she wasn’t exactly showing much, but the as yet genderless being responsible for the slight extension of her midriff already dictated her daily life. Very much like their older brother, they, too, demonstrated a relentless tendency to extend the morning sickness hours, triggering desperate sprints to the nearest available sink at the most disruptive of times.
The mattress dipped under his weight as he sat and placed a warm, heavy hand on the jut of her hip, thumb brushing over the soft rise of her belly. “Are ye feeling any better?”
Ever attentive and caring, Jamie had joined her more often than not on those nocturnal porcelain pilgrimages, holding her hair back and running a comforting palm up and down the length of her back while whispering sweet nothings and meaningful everythings into her ear.
“Much, thank you,” she said, pulling him down for a kiss. “Missed you, though.”
Jamie responded eagerly, drawing her bottom lip between his, sucking softly. Tongues tangling, he proved, again and again and again, that no matter how often he was privy to the violent expulsion of her stomach contents, no matter how icky and sweat-soaked and miserable she felt afterwards, he’d always find her desirable.
“I missed ye too, mo ghràidh,” he pulled away, breathing heavily. “Now come afore yer French toast gets cold.”
Nerve endings tingling from her lips down to her core, Claire hooked one finger into the waistband of his joggers before he could turn and leave.
“I’d rather you join me, Fraser.”
“Sassenach.” A deep, rumbling chuckle rose from his chest that did nothing to quell the pangs of hunger for him. “Ye ken I’d love nothing more, but unless ye want Willie tae find out after all ‘hoo exactly we put the baby in yer belly’, I probably shouldnae.”
“Later, aye?” he added with a kiss to her forehead.
“Aye,” Claire sighed, lifting the sheets as she slid her legs over the side of the bed. “Hand me my robe, then, would you?”
Stretching her arm out, she waited for him to do just that. Jamie, however, didn’t move. He stood with his mouth slightly parted, Adam’s apple bobbing, eyes aflame, transfixed on where the slight bump of their child was now fully visible.
Without speaking a word, he crossed the room, closed the door shut, and turned the key in its lock.
Blood rushing in her ears and groin, her question came out throaty, almost hoarse, “What happened to ‘later’?”
“Now,” he said, the single-minded intensity of his attention raising goose bumps all over her body. “I need tae ha’ ye now.”
His words as stimulating as a well-placed caress, Claire watched from beneath her lashes, legs trembling in anticipation, as Jamie divested himself of his clothes and crawled onto the bed.
Her breath became rapid and shallow, skin catching fire as the heat of him moved between her thighs. “What about William?”
“This willnae take long.” The promise burning in his eyes, his mouth dipped to place the softest kiss on her middle, then to her heart. “He’ll no’ miss us.”
As always, Jamie made good on his word. Surging into her like the tide against the shore, he gave all of himself and held nothing back. Claire welcomed that gift with open arms and a gasp of his name, offering the same in return.
Rippling over skin and flowing from his lips, devotion shone bright and immeasurable in the depths of his eyes. Wave after wave, she met the roll of his hips—coastlines colliding, converging, merging—until there was no longer him or her, only them, and the sound of a joined soul rising. Cresting, breaking, they clung to each other, surrendering to the current of love.
Following not long after Jamie, Claire emerged fully dressed and thoroughly glowing from the bedroom.
“Morning, lovey,” she chirped, cheeks slightly pink as she slipped into her usual seat at the dinner table.
At the sound of her voice, William’s head jerked up, breaking into a toothy smile. “Hi, Mama!”
Jamie—looking only slightly worse for wear after their brief tumble in the sheets—set a plate of re-heated French toast and a bowl of fruit in front of her.
“Decaf or tea?”
Opting for coffee, she kissed his scruffy cheek in thanks before turning her attention towards William, who’d abandoned his spot on the couch to plop down into her lap.
“Hello, my darling,” she murmured against his temple, hands clasping around his waist. “What have you been up to this morning?”
“I helped Da wi’ his school stuff.”
That explained the pile of paper littering the coffee table.
Reaching for the fork, Claire skewered a piece of cantaloupe. “Have you now?”
“Aye,” Jamie confirmed over the sound of the coffee machine. “Willie was helping me finish ma applications.”
“Oh? Have you narrowed it down to which programs you want to apply for, then?”
“Jus’ the Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation ones we awready talked about—at UHI, Fort William, and Perth.”
“Dinnae ferget Glesga, Da,” Willie said, stealing a bite of French toast off her fork.
Her eyebrows rose. “Glasgow?”
“Only because our wee man found the colours o’ their leaflet sae pretty.” He threw a reassuring smile over his shoulder at them. “And because they offer the same part time program during the week as Perth. Jus’ in case I dinnae get intae the other ones.”
“They’d be stupid not to take you, right, lovey?”
Cheeks stuffed with strawberries, William nodded in response.
“Oi, leave some fer yer Mam as weel, wee man,” Jamie admonished as he caught their little boy reaching his hand into the bowl of fruit again. “She’s the one who has tae eat fer twa these days.”
Mumbling an apology, he offered the slice of apple to Claire instead. “Here, Mama.”
“Thank you,” she said, giving his cheek a wet smooch that made him giggle and twist in her lap.
“I’ve talked wi’ Da as weel taeday.” Jamie put a gently steaming mug on the table, smoothed a large hand over William’s head, and retreated back to the kitchen to start on the dishes. “I’m going tae start in the shop next week.”
“Did you get your hours sorted?” she asked around a bite of eggy goodness.
“Aye, I’m going tae do the morning shift Monday tae Friday sae I can take Willie tae school. And I’m going tae help wi’ deliveries on Sunday e’ry twa weeks.”
“Grandda said I can help, too!”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate your help very much.” Raising her face towards the kitchen, Claire added, “I thought you said you only wanted to do part time?”
“Weel, wi’ Geordie gone, Da really needs the help, e’en if he doesnae want tae admit it,” Jamie explained, foamy water sloshing up to his elbows. “I’m only going tae do full hours until classes start. I ken it’s no’ going tae make much o’ a difference, but I thought we could use the little extra if we plan tae buy back Lallybroch—no’ tae mention the additional mouth we’re going tae—
The squeaky ding dong of the doorbell cut through their conversation.
“Are we expecting someone?”
Jamie craned his head to look out the window. “Jus’ the mail, looks like.”
“Can you get the door, lovey?”
Jumping off her lap, Willie made a dash to the front door, soon reappearing with a large, square packet in his arms.
“It’s heavy,” he announced as he dropped it carefully on the table. “Wha’ is it?”
“I don’t know.” Eyebrows drawn together, she scanned the packaging for any clues. “Did you order something?”
“I didnae,” Jamie said, drying his hands as he joined them at the table. “Is there nae sender?”
“Only one way tae find out.”
Both Jamie and William were oozing curiosity as they watched her tearing into the brown wrapping paper to unearth a—
“A polaroid camera?” Jamie’s timbre rose with surprise.
Claire sucked in a quick breath, her fingers suddenly very still. Even before spying the small, creamy envelope wedged between the camera and something that looked like a big, linen-wrapped book, she knew who’d sent this.
Prompted by William’s questioning look, Jamie launched into an explanation as to what a polaroid camera was and how it worked whilst Claire fiddled with the seal flap, producing a neat, hand-written card.
‘I’m sorry I can’t be there every step for this one, hen,’ it read, ‘but if that’s the price I have to pay for your happiness, I’ll gladly do it ten times over.’
Hitting her right in the chest, she almost choked on gratitude. Oh Gee.
‘I’ll be damned, though, if I let you off the hook that easily. This should arrive in time for the first ultrasound, so you can continue the tradition we started—if it didn’t, someone at the Royal Mail is going to lose their bollocks. Love, G.’
“Any idea who’s sending us such a thing, Sassenach?” Jamie’s question pulled her out of her own head again.
“It’s from Geillis.”
Jamie must have sensed the change in her as concern showed in the lines between his ruddy brows.
“Why’s auntie Gee sendin’ ye tha’?”
“It’s…that camera…” she began, fumbling for the right words. “It’s the one she used to take photos of me. Well, of me with…when I was pregnant with you, lovey.”
Understanding settling on his broad shoulders, Jamie’s mouth opened in a silent, “Oh.”
William swiped another strawberry, chewing industriously as he considered that piece of information. “Sae she wants us tae take pictures o’ you wi’ the new baby?”
“You know…” A smile blossoming on her face, Claire grazed her fingers over Willie’s cheek. “I think that’s exactly what she wants us to do.”
“Why don’t you go and try it out, wee man?” Jamie suggested with a jerk of his head towards the garden.
“Aye, jus’ be careful, and dinnae take too many—we’ll want some o’ that film later.”
He waited until William disappeared through the French doors, then turned and crouched down next to her chair, taking her hand in his.
“If that’s the camera she took those belly photos wi’,” Jamie said, reaching for the package again. “Then I’m guessing this—”
“Is probably the same album,” she finished for him.
Sliding the creamy-white book out from beneath its cover, Claire found that she hadn’t been quite right. It had the same colouring, the same size, and a similar calligraphic design. Where there had been one tree on the original, however, this version depicted four: two large ones, branches interweaving at the top, creating a sheltering canvas for the two budding saplings between them—one small, one middle height. And underneath, embedded in their roots, sat the title, so simple and yet so unspeakably remarkable, The Story of You 2.
“Ye couldnae ha’ a chosen a better godmother if ye tried, Claire.”
“No,” she agreed. “I really couldn’t have.”
Autumn had arrived only a week ago, but already it had put its magnificent force on full display. Decking the trees in gold and rubies, it brought craftily carved pumpkins to windowsills and the taste of fire-roasted chestnuts to the streets of Inverness.
All that pastoral splendour, however, held no sway over one James Fraser. To him, everything paled in comparison to the windswept smile on Claire’s face and the bundle of sunshine cradled in the crook of his arm.
“You do look amazing,” she observed quietly, eyelids heavy with exhaustion.
“Mhm,” she confirmed with a hum. “But it’s even better than I imagined.”
“Weel,” Jamie’s eyes glowed with adoration as they met hers. “It’s no’ difficult tae look good wi’ such a bonnie babe.”
Her question was as soft as the fingertips tracing the shell of the tiny pink ear. “He’s perfect, isn’t he?”
Looking down at their son’s wrinkly face, Jamie could feel the joy spill once more down his cheeks. Nothing in this world was as sweet as that snuffling snore, as incredible as the steady heartbeat thumping against his palm, or as awe-inspiring as feeling the warm weight of this new-born life against his chest.
“Aye, Sassenach,” he echoed past the lump in his throat. “He is perfect. Just like his brother. Just like his Mam.”
“Just like his Da.” The smile on her face turned into a small grimace as she scooted into a more upright position. “Nothing about my body feels perfect right now, though.”
Worry immediately flooded his nervous system at her obvious discomfort. “D’ye need me tae get one o’ the nurses?”
Settling deeper into the pillows, she made a weak wave with her hand. “No, I’m all right. It’s perfectly normal to feel like a shipwreck after giving birth to a ten-pound Fraser.”
“I’m sorry ye had tae go through all this pain, mo ghráidh. I wish I could ha’ helped ye.”
“You did,” she said, reaching to cradle his jaw, brushing away the trail of his tears. “Having you here with me, Jamie…seeing our baby, holding him…seeing you holding him…” her voice cracked slightly, eyes glistening. “It was worth every second.”
Feeling the truth of that statement reverberate in the deep tissue of his bones, he turned his face into her palm and kissed the soft skin at its centre.
“Aye, e’ry second.”
If someone had told Jamie that one day, he would look back on everything he had to go through—every ache, every loss, every sorrow—and think those scars were all worth it, he wouldn’t have believed it. The notion that there was something other than equanimity and a mild sense of success in his future had seemed outlandish—foolhardy, even.
And yet here he was, feeling fuller and more content than he ever thought physically possible. Holding his son in his arms, feeling Claire’s loving caress, and knowing that his father and William were on their way to meet the welcome addition to their family, Jamie felt an unmistakeable stretch in his chest as his heart shifted and swelled and grew, making space to accommodate this latest in a series of miracles.
“I think someone is hungry again,” Claire’s soft announcement broke the spell he’d been under. “But it seems I’m not needed after all?”
Brow furrowed, he looked at Claire, then down, following the direction of her gaze to see what she was smirking at. A quite impressive wet patch had formed on his shirt, accompanied by an impatient sucking noise and some disgruntled gurgling.
“As much as I’d love tae help ye out, mo bheannachd,” he chuckled, handing the precious, now squirming bundle carefully over to Claire, “I’m afraid there’ll be nae milk fer ye here nae matter how hard ye try.”
Opening her hospital gown, she hoisted the small body to her breast, sighing with relief as the rosebud mouth latched on to her nipple with gusto.
Entranced, Jamie watched the scene unfold, taking note of all the small details. How the little throat worked as it swallowed, how those stubby wee fingers kneaded Claire’s skin until it was pink, how those blue eyes shone with a warmth and intelligence that was startling for a child barely two hours old.
“How does it feel?”
“Strange,” Claire admitted, carrying the same sense of wonder in her tone. “It can feel like being sandpapered when they latch on wrong, but mostly it’s just this intense tingling and warm pulling sensation.”
Jamie raised his curious gaze to hers, the unspoken question sitting on the tip of his tongue.
“William was a bit rough the first couple of tries. We both had no idea what to do, really.” Seeing the memory flicker behind those amber orbs, Jamie reached for her free hand and lifted it to his lips. “But we figured it out.”
That dimple he loved so much appeared on her cheek as she brushed her fingers ever so gently over the fuzzy crown of their nursing son. “And this one already seems to know exactly what to do—he’s not hurting me at all.”
“Another smart one, then,” he said, lungs inflated with paternal pride.
“Mhm,” she agreed, wincing a bit as she shifted their baby boy to her other breast. “He also seems to have inherited the Fraser appetite.”
A chuckle erupted from the well of Jamie’s belly. “That, or the wee ‘un jus’ likes yer breasts as much as I do.”
“Your father is such a silly man, darling,” Claire cooed, giving the tiny nub of a nose a gentle boop, “but we love him, don’t we?”
The chuckle died in his throat, replaced by a wave of emotion that made him feel as powerful as a mountain and as fragile as a dried leaf in the wind. Placing one hand on their son’s back, Jamie leaned in and pressed his lips to Claire’s.
“I love ye too,” he whispered. “More than anything.”
Yielding to the demands of her battered body, Claire was drifting, gliding, paddling along in a stream of fanciful visions, when a soft, tuneless melody lured her towards the shores of consciousness again.
I left a good job in the city
Workin' fer the man e'ry night and day
Head turning towards the source of that deep, familiar rumble, the corners of her mouth lifted in recognition of the unconventional lullaby. Anticipating the brightness of a low-hanging Highland sun, she pried her eyes open slowly, gradually. Even that caution, however, could not prepare Claire for the rush of emotion at the tender sight before her.
And I ne’er lost one minute of sleepin'
Worryin' 'bout the way things might ha’ been
Jamie sat with his chair angled towards her, providing her a first-row seat to this intimate spectacle. That same sense of delirious joy she felt coursing through her veins with each new breath was crinkling those morning-blue eyes as he serenaded the new-born snuggled against his chest.
Ye know that big wheel keeps on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
It still seemed so unreal, like watching a dream come to life through brightly coloured glass. Just yesterday, that tiny little human in Jamie’s arms had only existed as an abstract reality. He had sheltered beneath the stretched skin of her belly, grown with the unrelenting pressure against her bladder, and conducted a harmony of kicks and elbows against the xylophone of her ribcage.
And now, he was here.
Right there, only an arm’s length away and swaddled in the same butter-yellow blanket that his godmother-to-be had gifted to his older brother. He was gulping air through his very own nose, short and stubby and perfect. Communicating in his very own tongue, he’d comprised an alphabet of toothless cries, a vernacular of chubby fists and feet, in only a matter of a few hours. Already, he was entirely his own person.
Reaching out to touch, to connect, to ground herself in the moment with them, Claire added her own hoarse notes to the tune, supplying the chorus lines with a smile that matched the drunk-on-love expression on Jamie’s face.
And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling (yeah)
Rolling on the river (the river)
The outside world came rushing back when a gentle but firm knock sounded from the door, bursting their little bubble.
Jamie looked at her with a boyish grin. “D’ye think it’s the song police coming tae arrest us fer slaughtering a classic?”
“Not without reason,” she chuckled, swallowing the pain that pulled at her insides as she manoeuvred herself into a sitting position. “Probably just William and your father, though.”
“Aye, I suppose,” he rose, brushing his lips to the small, smooth forehead before transferring him into Claire’s waiting arms. “I’d better let them in, aye?”
Closing the distance in a couple of long, confident strides, Jamie opened the door to two eager-eyed faces.
“Morning, ye twa.”
Brian returned the greeting with a smile in his whisky voice, “Good morning, son.”
William had barely finished his half-mumbled hello when he was already half-way around his father’s tall figure. “Where’s Mama? Can I see the baby noo?”
“O’ course ye can, wee man. Yer Mam’s righ’ there.”
“Hello, lovey. Come, there’s someone we’d like you to meet.”
William approached the hospital bed with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. “Are ye awright, Mama?”
“Just tired, darling,” Claire assured him with a soft smile. “This,” she went on, lifting the miniature arm from her collarbone to wave clumsily at Willie, “is your brother, Ellis. Ellis,” she nudged the peachy cheek with her nose, “this is your big brother—William.”
“Ellis?” William rolled the sounds around on his tongue as if he were trying to get the taste of them. “What kind o’ name is that?”
“Aye, Ellis,” Jamie repeated, his voice deep with pride as he placed a hand on William’s shoulder. “Ellis Turner. Yer Mam named ye in honour o’ her uncle, the man who raised her, remember? And, weel…” he was still talking to their son, but his neck was craned towards the man hovering quietly beside them. “We wanted tae do the same fer my Mam—Ellen. But since he’s a boy, we couldnae call him that, aye?”
“And what’s the Turner fer?”
“That’s because my Mam’s favourite singer’s last name was Turner. Sae was yer namesake’s. And she’s—”
“Yer Da and yer Mam’s favourite as weel,” Brian supplied.
“It’s a good name,” Willie proclaimed with a nod.
Returning his attention to the yawning bundle of tubby limbs shifting against his mother’s breast, he missed the silent exchange taking place above his head. One that made Claire’s breath stutter in her chest.
Brian was swallowing heavily, his eyes glimmering with an unfathomable depth of emotion as he raised his hand to his heart and said, “Fàilte don teaghlach, Ellis Turner.”
“Aye, welcome tae the family, wee ‘un,” Jamie reiterated with a loving glance at the sleeping baby.
“Hullo, wee brother,” William lowered his voice as he edged a little closer, raising one curious finger to Ellis’s curled up hand. “Mama and Da say ye cannae talk yet fer a while, but when ye can, ye can call me Willie.”
Claire had a difficult time holding back the rising tears at the sincerity in her darling boy’s tone. Throwing a quick glance at Brian and Jamie, she could see that they, too, were fighting—and losing—a similar battle.
“I brought ye something,” the curly-haired boy continued, completely oblivious to the watering eyes around him as he offered a well-loved black and white plushie to his new-born sibling. “His name’s Mr Puff. He’s helped me sleep when I was little, but I’m yer big brother noo, sae I dinnae need him anymore.”
“That is…” Claire gulped, attempting to keep her voice calm and steady. “That is very, very sweet of you, lovey. I know Ellis will appreciate your gift.”
“That reminds me,” she added, lifting her gaze to Jamie’s. “He has something for you as well.”
Rooting in the bag they’d packed the week before her due date, Jamie produced a square, velvety box from one of its side pockets.
“Aye, he does,” he confirmed. “Here, wee man. That’s fer you.”
Claire looked on quietly, the only thing keeping her from biting her fingernails was the warm, fat-cheeked baby stirring to wakefulness in the bend of her arm, blinking in similar fascination as his big brother when a dark leather bracelet came into view.
“Tha’s sae pretty. Is that really fer me?”
“Aye. D’ye want me tae help ye put it on?”
Red head bobbing, the golden specks in Willie’s eyes were sparkling like minuscule stars as Jamie clasped it around his right wrist.
“That puffin charm is from me and yer Mam,” Jamie explained, pointing at the small, orange-beaked bird dangling from the woven leather band.
“The IRN BRU can is from me,” Brian jutted his chin at the second talisman, his teeth gleaming in the sunlight.
“And the bracelet is from your brother,” Claire joined in, a smile sitting in the corners of her mouth. “So you can add more charms to it together.”
As if on cue, Ellis gave a small cry, calling all the attention back to him.
“Look who’s ready for an adventure with his big brother,” she laughed, the sound rising light as a tinkling bell from between her lungs. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
Fine tufts of cinnamon hair standing on end, Ellis was looking between the new arrivals, lips parted in calm inquisitiveness.
“Would you like to hold him?”
Taking a step forward, Brian held his arms out. “I’d love tae, mo nighean.”
“Can I hold him too?”
“Ye can help Grandda if ye like, wee man. He’s verra heavy fer one sae small,” Jamie placed an encouraging hand on his back. “Come, seat yerselves down.”
Willie responded with an eager nod, scrambling into Brian’s lap as soon as the older man had planted himself on the chair, holding his palms up like he’d seen his grandfather do.
“Awrigh’, here comes the sun,” Jamie said, face split in a blinding smile as he lifted a burbling Ellis from Claire’s sure grip and into William and Brian’s open arms. “Put yer hand righ’ here, Willie. Aye, jus’ like that. Ye need tae support his head, d’ye see? He cannae hold it up by himsel’ yet.”
“He’s sae soft.” Unblinking, Willie skimmed his fingertips around the apple of his brother’s cheek, coasting around bitty ears and shallow dimples. “Do all babies smell like vanilla scones?”
Brian’s laughter stirred the red hair curling around William’s shoulder, his large, weathered hand secure around both his grandsons. “Some o’ them do.”
Jamie coming to stand warm and proud beside her, Claire entwined her fingers with his, simply content to observe as the rest of the Fraser family fell in love with their little miracle just as hard and fast as they had.
As she watched, her heart full and bright as a rainbow, the veil of time suddenly lifted in front of her eyes. And for one brief instant, one microscopic blink, Claire could see everything that was and everything that would be. Noisy dinners and lazy afternoons. Far-reaching road trips and Sunday lie-ins. Off-tune singing and dimpled cheeks. That, and infinite demonstrations of love. And through it all, their children’s laughter, brilliant as the sun and abounding like the sea.
“Fer what, mo ghràidh?”
“For this,” she said simply. “Because of you, I have everything.”
She pulled his face down before he could speak, ending their story the way it began—with a fusion of lips, and the promise of more to come.