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Chapter 1
April 15, 1746

We rode as if being chased by the devil himself, even though we knew that was impossible. For the devil must have been too busy wreaking havoc in the hundreds of souls of those about to fight to the death on Culloden moor to waste his time following just Jamie and me. I knew that Jamie must have had some destination in mind, but I was too exhausted and terrified to really think about where that might be. I just leaned into him as he guided the horse away from the battlefield, from the dead body of Dougal MacKenzie, and away from all of our worries and fears; or so I thought.

It turned out that Jamie was actually bringing me closer and closer to my biggest fear of all: separation from him, from the man I loved. Back to Craigh na Dun. Back to the stones where all the madness of our life together had begun. The wind whipped through my hair as we rode, instantly drying the tears that were streaming from my eyes into salty streaks on my face. Why would he bring me back here? Did he really think that I could return to my time, to a life without him, and be satisfied?

When we dismounted at the foot of the hill on which those bloody stones stood, Jamie took my hand and started striding purposefully towards the top. I immediately started trying to wrench my hand from his grip and finally succeeded, bringing both of us to a halt. “Jamie, you cannot make me go back. I simply will not just leave you here to fight on your own,” I stated, fists balled in defiance like a stubborn child.

“You must go, Sassenach. I canna care for you any longer,” Jamie countered, just as determined as I. “There is a war that must be fought, and besides that, I must answer for the death of my uncle. If I somehow survive this battle, I will be a dead man nevertheless when the entire MacKenzie clan finds out what I have done. This is the only way I can think of to keep ye safe.”

I swallowed hard, feeling the bile rise up from my stomach. I knew what he said was true, but I had to try to argue an alternative, no matter how unlikely. “France! Jamie, we can go back to France. We can leave right now; nothing is stopping us. Jared is still there, and he loves you! You were his protege. He will protect us. And we have other friends there as well. Surely someone will be willing to keep us safe until this madness has blown over.”

But Jamie was already shaking his head in response. “I willna run from this, Claire. I have spent too much of my life on the run from danger. And I am not sorry for it because, in spite of all the pain I have been through since being falsely accused, I canna deny that all of this led to you, to us. And I would go through it all ten times over if I knew it would lead me to you, mo chridhe.” He reached a shaky hand up to cup my face. “But now I have to face my judgment. And I have a way to keep ye safe. And I will not hesitate any longer.”

At this point, tears were freely running down my face. “Jamie, when they were going to burn me at the witch trial, you said that you would have burned with me if you’d had to,” I argued starting to sob.

Jamie reached out to wipe a tear from my cheek. “Aye, Sassenach, but it did not come to that. And I knew it wouldn’t. I would never have let that happen to ye. This time, I am likely to die. I must see ye safe so that I can go in peace to do what I must.”

“Let me go with you,” I begged. “Let me fight alongside you. Or at least be there if you need me to mend your wounds. I don't care what happens after the battle. If you die and I live, I swear I’ll come back to the stones. I will do whatever I must to return back to my own time, and if I die trying, then we will be together again. But if you live, how will I ever know? How can I ever live any kind of life - here or in my own time - wondering every minute if you lived or died? Please! Let me stay with you. Don’t force me to leave you, my home, before I know whether or not it is truly lost.”

That was it. I had played every card I held. The truth was, if he wanted to force me to go back through the stones, he was strong enough to overpower me. He could drag me up there and place my hand on the ancient rock which would presumably propel me back to the 1940s, back to Frank.

I desperately searched the depths of his blue eyes, trying to determine his answer before he gave it. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, his features softened from the hard lines of someone in the midst of a heated debate, into the the resigned, soft edges of one who has decided to concede. “All right, Sassenach, all right. I see yer point well enough. But ye must truly swear to return if I do not survive the battle, and ye must also swear not to intercede if the MacKenzies come for justice for what I have done to Dougal. I willna have ye mixed in with the aftermath of my deeds. For they will certainly punish you as well as me if they have any chance to do so.”

“I swear, Jamie! I swear!” I exclaimed throwing myself at him in relief. He wrapped his arms around me, and we held each other, a sense of doom in both of our hearts. But at least there was some hope. At least he would have a reason to fight now, a reason to return from this bloody battle. At least he still had me.

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Chapter 2
April 15, 1746

As soon as we broke apart from our embrace, I began walking down the hill away from the stones. I was not willing to take any chances by sticking around longer than we needed to. The buzzing had not overwhelmed me yet, but I could feel a strange, almost magnetic pull coming from the stones, begging me to return to them. Jamie followed close behind me until the buzzing faded completely from my head. We ended up in the woods right outside the cottage where I had set Jamie’s shoulder when I had first arrived. A shiver ran through me at the thought of that day. I had been so afraid at the time, but that fear of the unknown was nothing compared to my fear for Jamie now, having full knowledge of what he was about to face in battle.

Jamie had asked for an hour to see me safe when Willie had discovered us with the body of Dougal MacKenzie. We had been gone for a good deal more than that in our mad dash back to Craigh na Dun. Now that I knew I would be staying with Jamie, I wondered what his next actions would be, and asked as much.

“We know what is going to happen, Sassenach. There is nay doubt that the British will have the victory in battle, and I believe we have done everything in our power to stop the coming slaughter to no avail,” he reasoned. “I willna see my men killed for nothing, and I believe they will be able to get away and back to Lallybroch if we are careful about it.”

“But what about you, Jamie?” I asked. “Surely if your men can get away, so can you. There’s no reason to fight a losing battle. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can make our escape to France…or Italy…or to wherever you think we should flee.” I had to try one more time, even though I knew his mind could not be changed.

“I wish it were that simple, Sassenach,” Jamie said, shaking his head. “I dinna think I will have such an easy time getting away as my men will. I’m too close to Charles. He will be looking for me, and I am not the most inconspicuous man among his ranks. I will have to fight or else have yet another group of men after me looking for blood. I already have the MacKenzies to deal with.”

I saw the truth in his words, but that did not mean I was not still panicked at the thought of him fighting on the losing side of history. Jamie was very strong and an experienced soldier, but how was he to overcome the disadvantage he was sure to be up against? I had promised him I would go back through the stones if he died in battle, but that was not an option I could entertain at the moment. A wave of nausea came over me as I suddenly pictured Jamie’s lifeless body lying on the bloody moor. I quickly shook away the image and returned my attention to the living, breathing man before me.

“So what is the plan now?” I questioned. “If we arrive back too early, surely someone from the MacKenzie clan will be waiting for you to seek justice for Dougal’s murder. And you have to be alive in order to get the Lallybroch men clear of danger.” I would not try to stop Jamie from doing whatever he felt he must do, but I also was not planning on letting him just walk back into a trap. We had to be smart about our next steps if we were both going to make it to the other side of Culloden in one piece.

“I believe the best course of action is to wait until just before dawn to return to the camp,” Jamie propositioned. “We can wake the Lallybroch men then and tell them about the plan to leave. Once the rest of the men are up and moving about, my men should be able to sneak out unnoticed. It will be far too confusing at that point for anyone to truly care about anything but their own welfare.”

The wind had started to blow fiercely, and I had begun to shiver while Jamie was explaining his plan. “For now, Sassenach, I believe we should take shelter in the wee cottage. We can start to ride back in a few hours. I think we both could use some warmth and comfort considering what we have to face in the morning.”

I walked toward the cottage while Jamie went to tend to our horse. Jamie had not made me go back through the stones, but we both knew that that decision might only grant us a few more hours together. Either of us could very well die tomorrow, and I felt the overwhelming need to be with him and show him just how much he had to live for.

We laughed as goosebumps sprang up on both of us as we took off our clothes. It was ridiculous to be naked in a freezing cottage, but we felt the need to be skin to skin in case this truly was our last time together. Jamie had always been as warm as a furnace, and this time was no exception, thank goodness. We made love slowly, taking the time to savor one another and commit every second to memory, neither one of us wanting this moment to end. We moved together under the Fraser tartan, using it one last time for the warmth it had provided us so many times over our months on the road. It was bittersweet, knowing that after tomorrow, wearing plaid of any kind would be too dangerous to risk.

We both held out as long as we could, but I eventually succumbed to the burning Jamie had been stoking inside of me. Jamie followed almost immediately after, and as I slowly came back down to earth, I reached up to trace the lines of his face. We stared at each other for a long moment, both trying to memorize this feeling, knowing if we lost one another, we would never find it again. We finally broke eye contact, and Jamie curled his body protectively around mine. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep, but I felt so safe in his arms that I drifted off with him stroking my hair.

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Chapter 3
April 16, 1746

It took me a few moments to remember where I was when I woke some hours later. For just a split second, I felt peaceful waking in Jamie’s arms. It was so quiet compared to waking up in the camp surrounded by the entirety of the Scottish army. That thought was what reminded me of what day it was, and any peacefulness I had felt vanished in an instant. My heart leapt up into my throat, and I started shivering violently.

“Hush, Sassenach,” Jamie soothed, rubbing my arms to warm me. “There’s no need to fash just yet. But perhaps ye should dress. You will be much warmer that way, and we probably should start riding back to Culloden.”

I felt at such a loss. I did not know how I was supposed to get up and just get dressed like it was any other day. I also wanted to say something meaningful to Jamie. Every second of silence seemed like a waste. Expressing myself in words was never something that had come easily to me. How was I supposed to fit a lifetime of showing him how much I loved him into the next few hours? What if this was the last day I would ever talk to a living, breathing Jamie Fraser?

Jamie was already standing up and beginning to dress as he had on the morning of battle so many times before. Too many times before. For that matter, so had I. I needed to treat this day like any of those other times in order to make it through. But before I was able to do that, I had to tell Jamie what was on my heart. I had never had his knack for putting my feelings for him into words, but if not now, I thought, when?

“Jamie, before we leave here, I need to tell you how much I love you,” I began, my voice shaking slightly. Jamie paused in the process of pleating his plaid and seemed to stare straight into my soul as I continued. “I’m sure I don’t say it often enough, but I just want you to hear it today. I love you so much, and I would not trade our time together for anything. My life began anew when I met you, and I could never find another person who is so completely my match in every way no matter how many years I searched. You are my everything, and I just need you to know before the chaos begins, and it is too late for me to tell you. I love you.”

Jamie stood slowly, and for a moment the sight of him took my breath away. The thought of his powerful, graceful body lying motionless on a field seemed incomprehensible when he stood at full height in front of me. He walked over to me and tilted my chin up for the tenderest of kisses. “I ken, Sassenach. If I’d had any doubts before, you staying with me right now would have rid me of them. I love ye too, Claire. More than life.”

We knew then we had said and heard all we needed to in order to carry on with what had to be done. We both dressed quickly and went out to the horse, stars still shining in the night sky. I looked back once more at the cottage. This was likely the last time I would ever see it, and I felt a strange need to offer it my gratitude for the shelter it had provided me during two very desperate times in my life. “Thank you,” I whispered under my breath as Jamie boosted me up onto the horse. And with that, we were off.

Jamie pushed the horse just as hard as he had on our way to Craigh na Dun, only this time it felt like the devil was in the wind at our backs, pushing us towards doom. Jamie’s presence helped me to ward off any fear I might have rationally felt. I tried to just appreciate these last moments with him. His heart beating at my back, his breath warming my neck, his arms wrapped around my waist.

But the ride could not last forever, and all too soon we were back at the camp.

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Chapter 4
April 16, 1746

The Highland army was just beginning to stir as we rode up. It was almost too overwhelming to see them starting their day knowing how many of them would be dead at the end of it. In moments like these, having knowledge of the future was truly sickening. I felt like running through the camp, screaming at the men to flee. I wanted to shout “Fire!” in this crowded theater and hope to God that some of the men would take me seriously and just go back home, back to their lives and families. But I couldn’t. We had to be as discreet as possible in order to reach the Lallybroch men so that Jamie could send them away; their lives at least would be spared.

Jamie and I dismounted and headed straight for Murtagh’s tent. If we were going to successfully convince the men to leave in time, we would need Murtagh’s help. The Lallybroch men were honorable and not likely to shy away from battle without some persuasion.

“What are the two of ye doing back here?” grumbled Murtagh. “Jamie, I thought ye were going to take Claire away to protect her from the danger. And how are ye going to spare yer neck when the MacKenzies come lookin’ for ye?”

“I had every intention of sending Claire away, Murtagh, but, stubborn woman that she is, she convinced me to let her stay at least until I am likely killed in battle. And as for the MacKenzies, I think they have more to concern themselves with right now than the likes of me,” Jamie reasoned. “They likely will let me fight as I am on their side of things and then kill me after if the battle has not already done their job for them.

“As for now, we have more important matters at hand. Murtagh, we must get the Lallybroch men safely away. I will not have them die uselessly in a battle that is already lost. You and Claire must give them the message from me that they are all to leave as inconspicuously as possible and start heading back to their homes and wives. They will believe it coming only from the two of you. After ye are sure that the last of our men has left the camp, then, Murtagh, you must follow behind them to see them safely home.”

“I canna do that, Jamie, and ye ken it,” Murtagh countered. “I will fight beside ye as is my duty as yer godfather. I will not abandon ye in battle.”

I breathed a sigh of relief at Murtagh’s words. As much as I wanted him to be safely gone from this horrible place, I would be able to relax ever so slightly knowing that Jamie would at least not be alone. He would have someone to help protect and defend his life in the midst of battle. Jamie frowned but nodded gruffly, resigned to the fact that he would not be changing Murtagh’s mind on this matter.

“I must go now and meet with Charles and his men to gain at least some knowledge of what their plans are,” Jamie continued. “Claire, though I would prefer ye to leave with the Lallybroch men, I assume ye will be wanting to make preparations for the wounded that are sure to come. I only ask that ye deliver my message to my men first.”

“Of course, Jamie,” I responded with what I hoped was a lot more confidence than I felt inside. And all of a sudden, there was nothing more to say. The moment of separation had arrived. Jamie kissed me suddenly and quickly, spun on his heel, and was gone. Neither of us needed or wanted anything more. Our goodbyes and declarations at the cottage hours before had already drained us of emotion once that morning, and neither of us cared to go through that again.

Murtagh and I both left the tent and started making our rounds to convey Jamie’s message of deliverance to his men. The men were surprised to say the least, but they trusted us and began packing up the few supplies and weapons they had to begin their journey home. Fergus put up a great fight against leaving with the men, and so I allowed him to stay under the condition that we would not have a repeat of the Prestonpans incident, and that he would help me to treat the wounded men.

It did not take the men long to finish packing, and after they had left, Murtaugh and I stood awkwardly for a few moments unsure of what to say to one another. Murtagh finally broke the silence. “Lass, I hope to see ye on the other side of this day, but if I do not, I want ye to ken that, while it was often perplexing to be in your presence, I could not have chosen a better match for Jamie myself. I love ye as if ye were my own daughter. Take care of yerself and my godson.”

I started crying in the middle of his heartfelt speech and hugged him tightly. “Oh, Murtagh, I love you too. Take care of Jamie for me. I will see you both very soon,” I finished, not knowing what else to say.

Murtagh kissed my cheek and then walked away to find Jamie without looking back. I stood somewhat helplessly for a moment, not even sure where or how to start my preparations. “Oh, get yourself together, Beauchamp,” I scolded myself, and then went in the direction of the smoke rising from the fires I could only hope were being tended by the few women remaining with the army, Fergus following at my heels. We had a lot of work to do.

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Chapter 5
April 16, 1746

I did, in fact, find the women who would consist of my entire medical team for the day. With their help and Fergus’s we had a fairly decent and organized medical tent set up in a couple of hours. I sadly knew that most of the men would be beyond our help as the English soldiers would have a brutal and decisive victory in a very short time. I also was not sure if our efforts would even matter once the Scots were declared traitors. As soon as the English were able to regroup after their win, I assumed they would begin searching for and killing any remaining Jacobites.

In the midst of my preparations, I unexpectedly thought of Frank. I recalled the day we had toured this very field, and I realized that Frank would have given just about anything to be here to witness everything I had seen and heard. I, on the other hand, would have given just about anything to be anywhere but here, provided that Jamie would be with me in that some other place.

It suddenly hit me that Frank may have read Jamie’s name somewhere in all of his studies. It wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. He had been fascinated with Jack Randall, and Jamie was inextricably linked with that awful man.

That brought me to the thought of what I would do if Jamie actually did die today. Would I go back to Frank like Jamie wanted? And if I did, how on earth would I explain my disappearance? Would I even be able to survive another passage through the stones? Perhaps I would go back to Lallybroch to live out my days with Jenny and Ian and their children, the last pieces of Jamie that would remain if he did indeed perish on the battlefield. I hoped that that time of decision would never come as I was not at all sure of what I would choose.

The sound of a cannon suddenly pulled me out of my thoughts. Fergus came running into the tent, damp from the rain outside. “Milady, the battle is beginning!” he shouted with both fear and excitement. He, of course, had every faith in the Highland army and never thought for a moment that his master would not be victorious in battle.

“Yes, it has, Fergus,” I replied. “Now do keep busy, as you know the beginning of the battle means the beginning of the injuries. We must be as prepared as we can be to help our men.”

“Yes, Milady!” he exclaimed, and was off to help tend the fires we had going to boil the water in order to clean the instruments. Over the next half hour, injured men did start to stagger into the tent, and I had been correct in guessing that there were not many injuries that could be treated. As I knew it would, the sounds of gunshot and fighting seemed to diminish very quickly as the Highland army retreated in defeat so soon after the fighting had begun.

The spirits of the men who were coming to the tent were very low indeed, and that did not help with their overall will to live. Many men who appeared to have survivable injuries simply seemed to just fade away before my very eyes. They must have known that with the loss of this battle, the war was also surely lost with it.

I was doing my best to stay focused on the task at hand, but on the inside I was desperate to run to the battlefield to find Jamie. As the minutes passed, I became more and more worried about his condition. The battle had ended, and I assumed that he would come to find me as soon as he could to reassure me that he was still alive. The fact that he had not let me to the conclusion that he must be too injured to make his way back to me.

I also was feeling incredibly exhausted. Normally when I was in the middle of nursing wounded men, I was able to put aside any of my own physical needs until my work was finished, but today I just wanted to curl up in the corner of the tent and sleep. Perhaps it was due to the near starvation we had all been dealing with for the past few weeks, but my energy was all but depleted.

Still, I managed the goings-on of the medical tent as best I could with my limited resources and manpower. When it had been over an hour since I had last heard the sounds of battle, I called Fergus over to me. “Fergus, I want you to go and find Milord. Be as careful as you can, and whatever you do, do not let the English know you are on the side of the Highland army. Come back to me as soon as you find him, no matter what state he is in. Understand?”

“Yes, Milady. I will find him for you.” I kissed the top of his head and said a silent prayer that he would return with my Scot, as stubborn and alive as I had last seen him.

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Chapter 6
April 16, 1746

I had no sense of how much time had passed from when I sent Fergus out to find Jamie until he came back; it could have been an hour or a day. The tent was full of injured, dying, and dead men at this point. As I made my rounds, I kept looking over my shoulder, terrified that the English were going to show up at any moment to put a premature end to our misery. Whether from lack of time, knowledge of our location, or interest, the English never did arrive before I vacated my post.

At some point near the end of extracting a bullet from the leg of a rather large Highlander, Fergus reappeared in the medical tent. I quickly finished up the last few stitches, reassured the man that he would be just fine as long as he could avoid infection, and hurried over to Fergus, wiping the blood off of my hands as I went.

“Come, Milady. We should go outside so that I can tell you what I have found.”

The air around me felt like it was pulsating along with the beat of my heart. As we stepped outside, I realized that the gloomy day had turned to a dreary night. Rain was still falling as if the sky was desperate to wash the earth clean after battle. My mind started processing facts at a rapid pace. Fergus did not have Jamie with him, and it was late in the day. This could only mean that Jamie was injured beyond the point of mobility or that he was dead, for where else could he be? If he was a prisoner, he was as good as dead. Nothing I could do at this point would free him from the English. There was no King Louis for me to bargain with here. When Fergus and I had reached a place far enough from the tent to not be heard, I took a deep breath and asked the only question I had. “Fergus, where is Jamie?”

“He is not dead, Milady. This is the only good news I have to report.” At hearing those words, I nearly fainted. Fergus grabbed my arm to steady me but did not look surprised by my reaction.

“Go on, Fergus. I need to know everything.”

“When I left you, Milady, I went to the battlefield to search for Milord. I only found him a short while ago, and he was being removed from the field. I could see that he was breathing, but he did not appear to be awake, and I saw much blood coming from his leg. I followed the men who took him, and they have taken Milord to a cottage along with other injured men.” He paused here for a moment, a grim look on his face. “I am sorry to say, Milady, that the cottage was overrun by redcoats and is well-guarded. I do not believe that there is a way for us to rescue Milord without becoming prisoners as well.”

My heart felt as if it had dropped into my stomach. I had nothing to say in return. I was sure Fergus was correct in his estimation. He loved Jamie almost as much as I did, and I knew it pained him to tell me that hope was most likely lost. Unless something miraculous were to occur, Jamie would be dead come morning. It seemed our luck had finally run out. I was about to at least thank Fergus for his help in finding Jamie when I realized that he had something else to say.

“There is one more thing, Milady.” All of a sudden I realized what he was about to tell me before he said it, and my body reacted almost immediately. As he said the words, I turned my head to vomit into the tall grass behind me. “Murtagh is dead.”

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Chapter 7
April 16, 1746

After I had finished being sick, my legs promptly gave out, and I fell to the ground on my knees. Fergus comfortingly wrapped an arm around my shoulders as I sobbed with no restraint. This was without a doubt the most hopeless moment of my life. Not only was my husband severely injured and in captivity, but his godfather was dead. Murtagh was the closest thing I’d had to a father since my Uncle Lamb died. He had protected Jamie and me above all else. If I had had any hope at all of being able to release Jamie, that hope had died with Murtagh. What could I possibly do by myself with only a young pickpocket to help me?

I cried for a long while, letting myself feel the immense pain of loss. When I finally was able to stop sobbing, and my legs were strong enough to stand upon again, I forced myself up and began to think of what to do next. There was a strong chance that my decision would prove to be incredibly stupid or, in all reality, fatal, but I had to at least see where Jamie was before I gave up all hope of pulling off some sort of miraculous rescue.

Fergus led me to the cottage of which he had spoken. He was correct about it being well-guarded. We dared not get too close, and we still had the cover of darkness at our disposal. Once it was light, we would be spotted for sure if we were anywhere within 100 yards of the building. Mulling this over in my grief-stricken brain, I came to a grim decision. “You were right of course, Fergus. I don’t see any way for us to get Jamie out without risking our safety.”

“I am sorry, Milady. I should have stopped the men while they were in the field. If only I had found Milord sooner!” Fergus cried, clearly distraught. “I could have taken him away before the men arrived. I have failed you and Milord, and for that I can never forgive myself.” It was clear that Fergus had been trying to hold his emotions at bay so as not to further upset me, and that the dam holding them back was now breaking. I gently turned his shoulders so that he was looking at me.

“Fergus, whatever happens with Jamie or me over this next day, you must not blame yourself. I was the one who held you back from the battle. You did everything I asked of you, and you were so brave. The fact that you were able to find Jamie at all among so many men is a miracle. You have done everything that Jamie or I could ever have asked. We are both so proud of you.”

Fergus practically collapsed onto me with a hug, and his tears fell into my already rain-dampened hair. I stroked the back of his head soothingly as he finally broke down in grief. I let him cry until he was able to compose himself, but I needed him to leave for me to carry out my next course of action.

“Fergus, go back to the tent and try to help as best you can. I just need to be alone for a little while before I can carry on healing the wounded men. And if you can, try to sleep some. If, for any reason, I don’t come back in the next couple of hours, just start heading back to Lallybroch. You’ll be safe there, and I’ll try to join you as soon as I can.” I felt bad lying to him, but I knew that he would not leave me if he knew what I was going to do. He nodded, gave me another quick hug, and slowly began trudging back to the tent.

It was perfectly clear to me that I was not going to be able to miraculously break Jamie out of this particular prison. I had no army of Highlanders to help me, nor did I have any cows. I did suddenly feel a flash of macabre pleasure at the thought that at least, according to history, Black Jack Randall was now finally dead. But that pleasure was fleeting and did not help my current situation in the slightest. The only real options I had were to flee right now and leave Jamie to die alone come dawn, or to stay and watch him die.

I had already chosen the latter, hence why I needed Fergus to leave. Because I was not going to just watch him die. When they brought him outside to shoot him, as I assumed they would, I would walk up to the English, declare myself the wife of Red Jamie, and let them shoot me as well.

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Chapter 8
April 17, 1746

With my decision to die alongside Jamie made, I actually began to feel quite calm about my situation. Still I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to die. I imagined the pain of being shot would be over almost instantaneously, as long as the job was done correctly. The one thing I knew for certain was that it made more sense to die with Jamie than to live without him.

And after we died? What then? If I was being honest with myself, I was unsure of what would happen after Jamie and I were dead, but I believed that we would be together. And I suppose I believed that we would be in a place of peace. That was really all I was willing to guess about the afterlife. No matter; I would know for sure soon enough.

I must have dozed off amid my thoughts because the next thing I knew, the first light of day was creeping over the horizon. Mentally I still felt calm and sure of my decision, but how I felt physically was another story. I closed my eyes and took stock of the pain I was feeling, the last pain I would ever feel. I felt the deep ache in my feet from standing all day. I felt the cramping pain in my fingers from the hours of delicate stitching I had done to sew broken men back together. I felt the itchiness of my eyes, even now still desperate for sleep. I felt the pain of longing for Jamie deep in my belly.

But there was something else there. My stomach was once again rumbling, and not just from hunger. The nausea had returned with a vengeance. But still, now that I was actually taking the time to notice it, I felt something deeper, something I had not felt since…since the last time I was pregnant. Suddenly I could hold it in no longer, and I vomited into the grass just as the sun fully broke over the horizon in a glorious display. The rays blinded me as they cleared away all remnants of rain and gloom from the day before.

I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, still in shock from my startling realization. I was pregnant. Finally. But too late. How had I not realized before? The one thing I had been praying for, that Jamie and I had both been praying for since the death of our Faith, had finally happened. And worst of all, Jamie would never know.

My plan to die with Jamie could be no more. My life was no longer worth nothing without him, for I carried a piece of him inside of me. I had to live so that he could live on through his child. If I had only realized yesterday. Perhaps that would have been reason enough for Jamie to shirk his duties and run away with me. But I hadn’t, and there was now no way to tell him, or to give him the comfort of knowing that he would not die without giving a tangible part of himself to me and to the world. I wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all, how this moment of joy had been ripped away from me, from us. Just when I thought my heart could break no further, I now had yet another reason to feel pain.

That I would have to do this without Jamie was an impossibly cruel twist of fate. I would have to raise our child without the man who would have been the best father in the world. His son or daughter would never see his eyes full of laughter and love, nor would I ever witness the moment when he held his newborn child for the first time. It was almost too much pain to bear. But nevertheless, bear it I would. For I had immediately and without question resolved to protect this life, this last remnant of our love.

I continued to sit in stunned silence until the sounds of the soldiers making their preparations pulled me out of my reverie. They were loading their guns, wasting no time in beginning the executions now that it was light. Part of me wanted to run away from this place, but I honestly did not know where I should run to that would be safe.

Would Fergus and the women from the medical tent still be there if I returned? Perhaps everyone had already been arrested by the English. I knew Fergus would have been smart enough and quick enough to escape, but I certainly did not want to walk into a trap. The task of remaining alive now seemed utterly daunting. It had been so much easier when I thought that I was going to die. In my indecisive state, the simplest choice was just to stay where I was.

And then the first men were walked out of the cottage to be shot. I did not have a view of where they were actually executed, which was at the back of the cottage, but I did have a clear line of sight to the door through which they all must pass. I would know for certain when Jamie was brought out.

I watched in a daze as Highlander after Highlander was brought out of the cottage, then was guided by the English soldiers around the corner, disappearing from my view moments before a gunshot would ring out through the fields. I thought I recognized a few of the men, but I was too far away to be sure. I knew though that I would recognize Jamie. That red head that towered above all other men would be sickeningly easy to spot.

But as more and more time went by, Jamie never appeared. I started to wonder if Fergus had gotten his location wrong, or maybe he had died in the long hours of the night from the wound Fergus had described. My stomach was in knots, and not just because of its recently revealed new occupant. About ten minutes went by with no men leaving the cottage, until finally an English soldier practically ran out of the doorway and across the field.

I had been so intently focused on the cottage since daylight had broken, I had not noticed that there was a farm off in the distance. The soldier ran towards the farm, returning a while later with a man driving a wagon filled with hay. Another soldier exited the cottage and spoke to the driver, running a hand exasperatedly through his hair as he handed something out of his red coat pocket to the driver.

All three men then went back into the cottage and emerged a few minutes later carrying a large, limp body, the legs of which were red with both dried and fresh blood. Fresh blood meant that he was still bleeding, that his heart was still pumping, and that he was alive. And I had been correct. I easily spotted that beautiful mop of red hair from where I was hiding, and I was at that moment quite sure that Jamie Fraser had not only miraculously survived the Battle of Culloden, but, at least if I had anything to do with it, would live to see our child.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9
April 17, 1746

After many hours of waiting, I was now forced into action. My mind and body had been almost frozen just waiting for the dreaded moment when Jamie would be executed, and now I had to think and move quickly. I could not let this wagon out of my sight for fear of never finding it again. I had no idea where they were taking Jamie. Was he being released or just moved to a different location? Either way, I had much better odds at taking on this one man, presumably just a farmer paid off to perform a task, than taking on the entire group of soldiers who had been guarding the cottage.

I also ideally would have liked to find Fergus. I had no way of knowing where he might be at this point. Most likely, knowing Fergus, he was not just sitting around helping to nurse the injured men. If he had followed my instructions, he would probably already be on his way to Lallybroch. I was going to have to try to catch up to him later, hopefully after I had taken care of getting my husband back.

I was beginning to regret not having prioritized eating in the last day and a half. The amount of work I had done combined with the vomiting had left me depleted of energy. But I had no choice; I had to get to that wagon.

Fortunately the soldiers had all gone back inside once Jamie had been loaded into the back of the wagon. The farmer was just now climbing up to start driving away, and I began to make my way to follow him as quickly as I could while remaining crouched among the grass. I didn’t really know what I would do when I caught up with the wagon. I had no money or valuables with which to bribe the farmer. I hoped, since he had clearly not fought in the battle, that he would either be young and easy to persuade, or older and possessing a sense of honor that would compel him to help me.

The tall grass I was moving through was scratching me and hitting me in the face, making it rather impossible to see clearly as I scurried closer to the wagon. All of a sudden my foot hit something solid, and I landed on my hands and knees in a particularly muddy patch of ground. Before I could turn to see what I had tripped over, I heard cursing in French. “Fergus! What are you doing here?”

“Milady, I am sorry. I could not leave you and Milord! I did not go back to help the wounded men. I was waiting to see Milord taken out of the house, and I was going to stop them from killing him, but I fell asleep! Am I too late? Is Milord dead?”

“No, Fergus. I don’t know why, but they didn’t execute Jamie. He’s in that wagon up ahead, and I’m trying to catch up to it so that I can try to convince the driver to let me have Jamie back. I don’t know where they’re taking him or why.”

“Do not worry, Milady. I know how to get him back! But we should wait until the wagon is no longer in sight of the house so that the soldiers do not see us.”

Before I could agree or disagree, Fergus had taken off ahead of me. I dared not shout after him as we were still within earshot of the cottage full of soldiers, so I had no choice but to leave the plan in his hands. At least he had a plan which was better than what I had had a few minutes ago.

I followed Fergus and the wagon at a distance for about a mile. Exhaustion was really beginning to slow me down. I was simply too tired and hungry to be able to soldier on regardless. When the cottage was out of sight, Fergus ran toward the road and caught the driver’s attention. The driver slowed his horse at Fergus’s emphatic waving. By the time I caught up to the stopped wagon, Fergus was already in conversation with the driver. It turned out that he was the young, hopefully easily persuaded type.

“Oui, Monsieur, it is very valuable. And I swear I will return your horse and wagon to you after we have reached our home. You know the place we are going to, so I could not hide from you, were I not to return your property, and you wanted to seek revenge. This will also save you much time away from your farm and family. There is no disadvantage for you, Monsieur.”

I wondered what on earth Fergus could have had on him that was valuable. The driver considered the proposition for a few moments, but Fergus had put up a rather foolproof argument. My heart was once again pounding out of my chest while waiting for the driver’s answer. He turned and made eye contact with me and asked, “Is this yer man I have here dying in the back of my wagon?”

“Yes! Yes, he is my husband! And I am a healer. I can save him. He will not die if you give him to us. Please, I’ll give anything I have,” I begged. He looked me up and down, and for a moment, I wondered if he was going to ask for a payment similar to that of the King of France. But I fortunately looked like a right mess having been up for two days straight combined with having just fallen into a puddle of mud.

“All right, fine. But ye must give me yer word that ye will return my mare. She is the only horse we have, ye ken.”

“Of course! As soon as we get my husband home, Fergus will turn right around and bring her back to you. I cannot thank you enough for saving my husband’s life. If I may ask, do you know why he was released by the English?”

“Dinna ken, lass. Only that they paid me a fair amount to take him to Broch Mordha. They didna mention why, but they did say if anyone asked, he had the pardon of the Duke of Pardloe.” At this, the farmer held up a paper declaring Jamie’s pardon with the Duke’s seal upon it. I had no idea who the Duke of Pardloe was, but thought maybe Jamie had been acquainted with him some time in his past. At any rate, he was one of my favorite people on earth for having released Jamie.

After the driver climbed down and handed me the reigns of the horse, Fergus uncurled his fist and revealed the item he had claimed was very valuable: Jamie’s father’s ring. As sad as I was to see something so important to Jamie go into the hands of a stranger, it was a small price to pay for Jamie’s life.

Fergus climbed up into the seat of the wagon, and I climbed into the back with Jamie. We then took off, eager to put as much distance between us and the English as possible before nightfall.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10
April 17, 1746

To properly treat Jamie’s wounds, we would have to stop moving. But stopping meant that we would have a much greater chance of being found and questioned by English soldiers. With the written pardon and my English accent, we had a decent chance of convincing any overly curious soldiers to let us go, but I still did not want to take any unnecessary risks.

I began my examination of Jamie by taking his pulse. It was slow, but steady. I did not think he was in any immediate danger of death. I ripped some of my skirts to wrap around the deep gash in his leg and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. His leg would have to be stitched up as soon as I could acquire the tools necessary to do so. Other than that, he only had minor cuts and bruises. He was unconscious, but I figured that was probably for the best at the moment. The jolting of the wagon would probably only have caused him pain if he had been awake.

After tending to him as much as I could, I leaned back against the side of the wagon, closed my eyes, and sighed deeply. I had him. We were together, the battle was over, and we were both still alive. In fact, four of us were still alive. My hand drifted protectively over my stomach as I thought of the one of us who wasn’t: Murtagh.

I wondered how he had died, and I hoped that he had at least fallen where he would have wanted to, at Jamie’s side. I hoped for this not only for Murtagh’s sake, but also so that I would not have to break the news of his death to Jamie. I did not want to cause him any more emotional distress than he had already undergone. Despite the long figurative and literal road ahead of us and the losses of our recent past, I allowed myself to feel joy for just a moment. Once Jamie woke up, I would be able to tell him my news.

I honestly was surprised that he had not known. Thinking back, I must have already been a few months along. I knew that the farmer in him had always kept track of my courses since we were first wed. The first few months of our marriage, I could tell that he became more anxious the closer it got to the end of each passing month, hoping that I would show signs of being pregnant. I had felt anxious for the exact opposite to happen, at least until I had fully admitted to myself that I loved Jamie. Now I suppose we had both rather subconsciously assumed that my regularity had been thrown off by lack of proper nourishment.

But that was not the case. What a disaster it would have been if I had gone back through the stones like Jamie had wanted. If he had known that I was pregnant, he certainly would have made me go to keep both me and his child safe. But to go back to Frank pregnant with another man’s child? There was no way Frank would have been able to accept that; not after we had been unable to have a child of our own. Thank goodness I was still here with Jamie. Now he would be able to raise his own child in his own home. I drifted off to sleep in the back of the wagon, imagining a mop of curly red hair running through the halls of Lallybroch.

A particularly large bump in what passed for a road where we currently were jolted me back awake. The sun was beginning to set, and Jamie had begun to moan. It sounded like he was beginning to awaken. I tapped Fergus on the shoulder and told him that we should probably think about making camp for the night.

We could pull the wagon over to the side of the road, but that still left us quite out in the open for anyone to see. We would need Jamie to waken enough for us to help him to walk further into the cover of the woods as neither of us was strong enough to lift him. I tried to jostle him awake, but he didn’t respond with anything more than a groan. Fergus left us for a moment to fill the bucket we had in the back of the wagon with water from a nearby stream. “Here goes nothing,” I muttered to myself as I dumped the water on Jamie’s head.

Jamie awoke with a massive groan, and I cringed at seeing him in so much pain. His eyes opened half way as I smoothed his hair back from his face. “Jamie. Jamie, can you hear me? It’s me, Claire,” I soothed.

“Claire?” he rasped. “Am I dead?”

“No, Jamie, you’re alive and whole,” I reassured him, greatly relieved to hear his voice. “Your leg is injured, but you will heal. You survived, and we are going home, to Lallybroch.” A sudden wave of emotion came over me at being able to tell Jamie that he was going home. I remembered when he had first taken me to Lallybroch. He had been so excited to show me his home that was now mine. And now I was taking him back for good, him and his child.

“Jamie, I know this will be difficult, but we must get you out of this wagon and into the shelter of the woods. Can you walk if Fergus and I help you?”

“Aye, I can try.” He attempted to prop himself up on his elbows.

“Slowly now,” I warned. “Don’t rush it. It won’t help to have you fainting from sitting up too soon.” He nodded, and I positioned myself behind him to help lift his shoulders until he was sitting upright. It was slow going, but Fergus and I were able to help him slide out of the wagon where he stood on his uninjured leg. There was a lot of moaning and grunting, but Jamie was not one to give up. With our support and encouragement, we got him into the woods. Fergus went back to move the wagon a bit further off the road and to take care of the horse.

By the time I had gotten Jamie as comfortable as I could, lying down with his head in my lap, he had fallen back asleep. No wonder, considering the exertion his body had just been through. It was good that he was resting, but I was a bit disappointed that I had not had enough time to tell him about his impending fatherhood. The news would keep though until he awoke.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11
April 17, 1746

I was not surprised to wake up not remembering having fallen asleep. My neck was rather out of sorts from sleeping upright against a tree, but I didn’t really care once I fully awoke and looked down at Jamie, still fast asleep in my lap. Fergus was curled up on the other side of the fire that he had apparently made after I had drifted off, and the forest around us was silent but for the crackle of burning wood.

I felt bad having to wake Jamie, but I needed to move my legs. They were completely asleep, plus I was parched and longed for a drink of water from the bucket that was unfortunately out of my reach. And if I was being honest with myself, neither of these things was as much an impetus for me to wake Jamie as was being able to tell him of his impending fatherhood. I simply could not wait any longer.

“Jamie, love, wake up.” This time, waking him was a bit easier than before, and I did not need to resort to dumping a bucket of water on his head.

“Sassenach?” he grumbled. A small sliver of blue first peered up at me, and then he opened his eyes fully, looking around our small encampment. “Where are we? I didna get a chance to ask earlier before I passed back out.”

“Let me help you to sit up first, and then I’ll tell you what happened.” I lifted his head off of my lap and was able to prop him up by the tree against which I had been sleeping. After I got us both a drink of water, I told him in detail about the sequence of events that had brought me back to him after we had parted. My heart was beating wildly with anticipation as I got closer to the part where I had realized I was pregnant.

“I knew there was nothing else I could do,” I explained. “And so I decided I would just run up and ask to be shot with you.” Jamie made one of his Scottish noises in objection to hearing this, but I continued before he could say anything else. “I still don’t know why they didn’t shoot you, but before that I had already gone back on my decision to die by your side.”

“That’s good to hear, Sassenach. Especially as you had sworn to me that you would go back through the stones if anything happened to me.”

“Well, yes, that’s true. But I hadn’t decided to go back either. I rather had a bit of an epiphany in the moment which changed my mind. I just knew I couldn’t die now because…well…because I realized that I’m pregnant, Jamie.” I immediately wished that I had found some more eloquent way to tell him instead of just blurting it out, but there was no going back now. I looked tentatively into his eyes, hoping to see a clue as to what he was thinking. I knew that he could read the worry on my face, but his remained a blank slate for what felt like forever.

Finally his emotions began to show, and they were not what I had hoped for, which explained why he had taken so long to respond. “Claire, I’m so sorry,” he despaired.

“Whatever for, Jamie?” I asked, utterly confused by his reaction. “I’ve wanted this for so long, to give you a child. And you’re alive to see it. Culloden is over and we lived. And now we can finally have our family at Lallybroch just like you always wanted.”

“But don’t ye see, Sassenach? You told me how difficult times would be in the Highlands after the rising. Food will be scarce. There’s an army of men who would kill me without a second thought. How can I protect you and the child? It would have been far better if ye had returned to yer own time. Now ye’re here, with child and saddled with an injured husband who canna care for ye.” Jamie leaned his head back against the tree and gazed heavenward as though waiting for a solution to fall from the sky.

I was taken aback to say the least. I had expected him to be overjoyed that he had not only survived, but would now have the child of his blood he had always wanted. I had figured the worry would set in a bit later, at least after the initial rush of happiness. “James Fraser, I am not saddled with you, and I do not need you to take care of me. Right now I am the one taking care of you. And once you are well, we will take care of ourselves together. I know this may not be the best timing, but we can do this. Remember? There’s the two of us now? What one of us cannot do alone, we can do together.”

Jamie said nothing for a few moments, appearing to struggle with what to say next. “I want to agree with ye, Claire, but have ye forgotten what happened in Paris?”

“Of course not. How could I ever forget?” I retorted, a bit stung. How could he question my remembrance of our first child?

“I dinna want ye to have to endure that pain again. The pain of losing Faith was almost too much to bear. To go through that again? What would that do to you, to us?”

I did not know how to answer those questions, mainly because he was right. Losing Faith had been the hardest thing we had gone through since we had been married. I honestly did not know what losing another child would mean for us. But I also knew that it was too late to be asking those particular questions. We were going to have to face the outcome of this pregnancy, whether good or bad. And I had to believe that it would be good.

“We have to have hope, Jamie. I know that after everything we have lost, especially in these last few days, hope is hard to find. But we have to move past it. And I have to believe that this baby is our chance to find hope again. After all, isn’t that what Faith taught us? That even after immense pain, together we could still find happiness?”

He then looked into my eyes and tentatively reached a hand out to pull me to him. I leaned back against him, my head fitting, like it always did, perfectly under his chin. His arm wrapped around my waist, and his hand stopped over my stomach. I couldn’t see his face, but I saw a tear fall down onto his chest.

“Claire, mo chridhe, ye are my brave lioness, far braver than I. I love ye so, and I only wish ye could have no more worries or pain the rest of your days. But I suppose being married to me makes that nearly impossible.”

“You’re right about that,” I teased, trying to relieve some of the tension.

“I willna stop being worried for you and the child as that is part of being a husband and father. I am unable to help ye for so much of what ye must do. But I will not put my worries on you. I’ll do all in my power to keep ye both safe. But, my Sassenach, first I must ask for yer help to make me well again.”

“I think I can do that. Rest now, and tomorrow we’ll go home to Lallybroch.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12
April 18, 1746

When I awoke the next morning, it was to find that Jamie had become feverish overnight. His leg would not heal without being stitched, and I needed to get him home as quickly as possible to be able to care for him properly. For starters, all three of us had not eaten any actual food for days. There was a small amount of sustenance in the wagon that the farmer had brought with him, but I, for one, was longing for a hot meal. Especially since the nausea had passed for the time being, my hunger had become even more acute.

We still had at least a full day’s ride ahead of us, so Fergus and I wasted no time in loading Jamie back into the wagon and setting off once again. I tried to keep Jamie as comfortable as I could under the circumstances, but his fever had weakened him substantially, and we did not talk for the rest of the journey as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

It was well past dusk when we finally crested the last hill before Lallybroch. I could just barely spot the dim lights in the windows of our home in the distance. Tears of happiness and relief brimmed over my lids and streamed down my face. It felt like decades since I had last resided in the house Jamie’s father had built as his legacy for all future Fraser generations to call their home. I couldn’t wait to see Jenny and Ian and their children. I knew Jamie had a long road ahead of him before he was fully recovered, but I hoped that being in his home, surrounded by his loving family would at least make his emotional recovery that much easier.

As we pulled up into the courtyard, the door opened, and Ian limped out to see who could possibly be arriving so late in the evening. When he realized it was us, he turned back and waved excitedly for Jenny to come out as well. Jenny came running out of the house, followed by Mrs. Crook. By the time they reached the wagon, I had already jumped out of the back, and Jenny and I collided in an emotional hug.

“Claire, I can hardly believe it’s truly you!” Jenny exclaimed after we pulled apart. “I’ve been worrit sick since the moment you and Jamie disappeared out of my sight.”

“I’m so happy to be home, Jenny, but our worries aren’t over quite yet.” I moved to the side, and Jenny gasped as she saw the state her brother was in. “Jamie is quite ill at the moment. I do think he will recover, but we have to get him inside quickly so that I can figure out what to do for him.”

It was by no means easy, but through the combined efforts of Jenny, Ian, Fergus and me, we managed to get Jamie inside the house. By the time we got him there, Mrs. Crook had set up a makeshift cot in front of the fireplace, and we deposited Jamie as gently as we could so that he could warm up. Throughout his relocation, Jamie only let out low groans of pain and never fully regained consciousness.

Jenny retrieved the few medical supplies I had left at Lallybroch, and I started the long task of cleaning and stitching up the huge gash on Jamie’s leg. Jamie had not yet had the chance to tell me exactly how he had gotten this wound, but it appeared to have been caused by a sword or bayonet of some sort. The wound took almost as long to clean as it did to stitch. While I was busy with all of that, Jenny was cleaning and bandaging some of the smaller cuts and scrapes Jamie had acquired from the battle.

I was thankful that I was able to once again enter my trancelike state of nursing that had eluded me when helping the wounded from Culloden. The few hours of sleep I had managed to steal the night before seemed to have done the trick. I always did my best work when I could concentrate fully on healing, and I certainly wanted to do everything in my power to help Jamie get better. I had Mrs. Crook brew a tea for Jamie to help with the pain, and Jenny lifted his head up so that I could dribble some into his mouth. He swallowed a few times, and I was satisfied that I had done everything I could for the time being.

I left Jenny to watch over Jamie for a few minutes while Ian and I went to the dining room so that I could finally have something to eat. Fergus was just starting on his second helping as I came through the doorway. Mrs. Crook’s cooking was always delicious, but after the days and weeks of little to no food, the rabbit stew she had prepared tasted like manna from heaven. I slowed down a bit after inhaling the first few bites, and Ian ventured to ask me about what had happened to get us to this point.

“I don’t fully understand what happened to be honest,” I began. “Jamie was captured after surviving the battle, but for some reason, they decided to let him go instead of shooting him like they were doing with all of the other prisoners. I haven’t yet had a chance to ask Jamie why his life was spared as he has been in and out of consciousness during our journey.”

“Verra strange indeed,” Ian contemplated. “I canna think of any reason why an English soldier would be inclined to help any traitorous Scot, let alone one as notorious as Jamie. We have had quite the stroke of luck for Jamie to still be with us, but still we canna take any chances. As soon as he is well, we will have to find a hiding place for him.”

“A hiding place…of course. I suppose I hadn’t really thought past what we would do once we came home. I was just so intent on getting us here alive.” I began to wonder if I should be feeling guilty for having brought Jamie here without considering any alternatives. I had been so singleminded in my intentions to get Jamie back to Lallybroch that I hadn’t even stopped to consider the danger he was still in. Lallybroch had seemed the only logical destination, but in fact I had now put all of its inhabitants in danger by forcing them to harbor a known traitor.

We had had such happy times here after returning from France. It was where we were able to heal from the loss of Faith, where we had found our love for each other again. I had pictured us continuing on like that forever with our new child, maybe even a few more, and growing old together surrounded by home and family. But of course Jamie was still a traitor. Of course he would not be safe. No wonder he had been so upset when I had told him that I was pregnant. This was not happy news. It was just one more thing to worry about, one more person to hide, one more Fraser in a world completely inhospitable to Frasers.

“Dinna fash, Claire,” Ian said, placing a comforting hand on my arm. “I wouldna have wanted ye to take Jamie anywhere other than here, but the fact remains that the English ken this is Jamie’s home. They will come, but we will be canny about it. You and Jamie will be safe.”

I smiled gratefully at Ian, but I was still troubled. I felt very tired all of a sudden, whether from the pregnancy or my newfound despair, I did not know. I got up from the table and went back to Jamie who was still lying unconscious by the fire. Jenny wordlessly left the room when I arrived, presumably to find out from Ian what we had discussed. I smoothed the hair back from Jamie’s hot forehead, and kissed him there. I laid one of the unused blankets on the floor, curled up by the fire at the base of Jamie’s cot, and fell into a troubled sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13
April 19, 1746

I managed to sleep for a couple of hours before waking up in a panic from a dream wherein the English had invaded Lallybroch and slit Jamie’s throat right in front of me. Fortunately, Jamie was still alive, if not very well, and sleeping on his cot. I stood up and stretched, trying to relieve some of the tension in my back resulting from sleeping on the floor.

I scanned Jamie’s more superficial wounds and felt his head to gauge his temperature. He was still feverish, but not terribly so. As I started probing and cleaning the gash on his leg, he began to awaken from his slumber.

“Claire?” he slurred, his voice hoarse from disuse.

“I’m here, Jamie. I’m just examining your leg to make sure it isn’t getting any worse. How do you feel?” I inquired. He cleared his throat a few times, and I realized a drink of water would probably not go amiss if I was expecting to get any information out of him. The water did indeed do the trick, and he was able to answer.

“I feel like one of yer wee herbs after ye grind it up when ye are making medicine. There isna a single part of me that doesna ache. But my leg feels the worst of all.”

“Do you remember what happened to your leg? Was it a sword or bayonet perhaps?” I asked, trying to get an idea of what had happened to him during the fighting. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his side of things as the news of the baby had rather overshadowed anything he would have perhaps divulged during our only other conversation after the battle.

“Aye, I do recall it being something of that sort.” His answer was rather vague and terse, and I wondered if I should forego that line of questioning. Perhaps his experiences were too raw for him to talk about.

“Well, I won’t lie to you; it does look rather terrible, but I wager you’re lucky it wasn’t any deeper than it is. It’ll take a while to heal, but, now that I’ve been able to properly clean and bandage it, your leg should be back to normal once it does. And as your personal physician, I don’t plan on allowing any other course of action,” I finished, trying to lighten the mood a bit.

Jamie nodded but didn’t respond otherwise. The fire had died down considerably while we slept, so I was not able to read his face as well as I might have liked. Clearly something was bothering him beyond just the physical pain; I knew he could withstand a considerable amount of that. I was not sure what to say next, not wanting to push him to talk before he was ready, but also not wanting to change the topic in case he did want to open up.

“What is it, Jamie?” I prodded, going for the direct approach. “If you don’t want to talk, that’s all right, but if you need to tell me about it, I’m here. I want to understand what happened.” I sat back, looking at him and waiting for him to talk, the last few flames of the fire reflecting in his eyes. He slowly turned them toward me, and I saw the pain of remembrance in the blue depths. I reached out to hold his once broken hand as he began his story.

“I thought I was dead, Claire. Truly. I saw you in a vision. Ye came across the battlefield in yer white shift looking just as ye did on the day we wed, and I knew ye were there to take my soul away. I didna even feel any more pain. I was ready to go with you.” My heart ached hearing Jamie talk like this, but I stayed strong and silent, giving him the time to process as he needed to.

“I don’t exactly recall all of the events leading up to when I fell during the battle. I remember when I left ye, I went to find Charles. There was some talk of what the strategies might be, but I didna pay much attention, knowing what I did about how things were to go. Then I remember the start of the fighting. I ken that it didna last long, but it felt like everything was moving slower than usual, like we were fighting underwater. It was apparent very early on that we were losing, and badly. Most of the men had either retreated or fallen, but I was still relatively unscathed when I saw him.” Jamie’s eyes darkened further, and he paused in his story. I knew it was all replaying in his mind as he described it to me.

“Out of the whole of the battlefield, Jack Randall was standing just a few feet away from me as if fate itself had stepped in to give us this final opportunity to end our feud. By that time, I had already lost Murtagh.“ Jamie’s voice cracked, and he paused for a moment. I could tell he wasn’t ready to talk any more about Murtagh just yet. “I had already lost Murtagh,” he repeated, “so it was just the two of us. I dinna recall much else in detail. I suppose at some point, he put the gash in my leg. All I remember is stabbing him in the guts with my sword, him falling on top of me, and then the next thing I knew, you were there on the field with me, and I was dying.”

Jamie lay his head back down and closed his eyes having finished his story, at least for now. Another marker of history had been checked off my mental list: the death of Black Jack Randall. My prophecy to him had come true, and Frank’s family tree was proven accurate, at least in one regard. The fact that Frank’s actual several times great grandfather was really Black Jack’s brother was another matter entirely.

I felt conflicted after hearing Jamie’s story. I was relieved that he finally had been able to open up a window into what had clearly been a traumatic experience, and I was glad to be able to share some of the burden of it with him. He had however begun and ended it sounding as if he had been ready to die. And yet here I was trying to keep him alive. Perhaps he wasn’t strong enough to want to come back from this, yet he felt he had to because of me.

I went back to redressing his leg in silence when he sat up suddenly and took my hand in his. “Claire, I dinna want ye to misunderstand. I’m glad that my vision of ye was not there to take me out of this life. I may have felt half dead, and I may still be in pain. But I would rather endure the worst pain here with you, mo chridhe, and our bairn, than be painless in Paradise,” he said, placing our linked hands over my stomach.

Sometimes I marveled at how well Jamie could read me. He always claimed I had a glass face, but it went beyond that between us. He seemed to see into my very soul at just the moments I needed him to. I leaned over and kissed him, and our kiss deepened into something more; into a gratefulness to both be alive, a promise of the future we had together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14
Late April 1746

After a couple days’ rest under my watchful eye, Jamie started to recover. His fever broke some time during our second night at Lallybroch, and I finally allowed him to move into the Laird’s room the next morning. Just as they had the last time we had unexpectedly arrived at Lallybroch, Jenny and Ian immediately moved their belongings to the second largest bedroom, allowing Jamie and me to have the Laird’s room back. I still did not feel any better about displacing them, but it was important to Jamie, so I simply allowed it to happen.

On our third day back, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked Jamie about the Duke of Pardloe. He explained the miraculous coincidence of how he just so happened to end up in the presence of the brother of the boy whose life he had spared. I marveled once again at how the stars seemed to align for Jamie and me as if our being together had been preordained by a higher power.

Jamie may have been recovering nicely, but I, on the other hand, was only getting worse. It seemed this pregnancy was not going to be any easier on me than my first. It was rather unfortunate that now, having access to proper nourishment, I couldn’t seem to keep any food in my body. After that first night’s dinner of rabbit stew with Ian, I vomited up just about everything I ate, leaving me with just enough strength to help take care of Jamie’s medical needs. Luckily I was never far from his side, as I was mostly bedridden along with him.

It was important that Jamie become reasonably mobile as soon as possible. We had no idea when the English soldiers would come, but it was only a matter of time. We needed to be able to move Jamie, and most likely me as well, down into the priest hole at a moment’s notice. We had both been too well known among the Highland ranks to have any chance at having an English patrol pass over us without at least taking us as prisoners. More likely than that, we would simply be shot on sight as traitors to the King. Hiding in the priest hole could certainly not be our long-term solution, but it would have to do for now.

It was because of this that I came up with a rehabilitation plan for Jamie. I had helped many soldiers during the war get back on their feet after injury, so I had a good idea of a proper medical program to get Jamie healthy quickly. He had lost a decent amount of muscle in his leg from the injury and therefore needed to exercise it to build the muscle back up. Jamie complained a good deal during these sessions, but I knew he was happy to be working towards a full recovery.

The question we all had been rather avoiding was what we were going to do once Jamie was fully healthy. Of course, thanks to my knowledge, we had some idea of what was coming. I had already been able to warn the tenants of Broch Mordha of the coming ban on tartan. The families had sadly hidden away their traditional clothing, and the men had begun to dress in breeks instead of kilts. We had not had any English soldiers come through the area yet, and it was easy to pretend that they never would, but we had to prepare regardless.

One night, after Jamie and I had gone upstairs to bed, I realized I had left my book downstairs and was going to retrieve it, when I overheard Jenny and Ian talking in hushed tones. “He’s my brother, Ian, and the laird of this estate. I canna simply throw him out of his own home!” Jenny was arguing.

“Ye ken that he is as good as my brother too, Jenny,” I heard Ian say in a strained voice. “And of course I respect him as laird. But the fact remains that I must protect my family as well. It’s what Jamie would want. Ye ken he would never want to be a burden to anyone, especially you.”

“And what of Claire? Will ye throw her to the wolves as well, her with child and all? Would that not sit ill on your conscience, Ian Murray? Ye do recall what happened with their last child when Claire was placed under great strain, do ye no’?” Hearing Jenny speak of Faith sent a familiar stab of pain through my heart. I instinctively placed a protective hand over my stomach. I would not let anything happen to this child, no matter the cost. I just was not sure what that cost would end up being yet.

“Of course I do, Jenny.” Ian was bent over, head in his hands. “I would never throw Claire or Jamie out of our home. What I am sayin’ is that they may not be safe in this home anymore. Perhaps we can hold out until their bairn is safely delivered, but we will have to find another place for them. There are many stories flyin' around the Highlands of what the English are doing to the Jacobites that remain. I simply want to protect Jamie and Claire, and our family as well, from being captured by the English or worse.”

Jenny, in a rare occurrence, did not have a response to Ian’s argument, for he was right. Not only were Jamie and I at risk, but we were risking Lallybroch as a whole by staying here any longer than we needed to. I knew Jamie must have been thinking about all of this himself, but the question was, what were we to do? In the moment, I decided to forego my evening reading and went back upstairs. Jamie sleepily pulled me to him when I got back into bed, but I stayed awake for hours yet, unable to think of a satisfactory solution to our problem.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15
Early May 1746

Jamie and I had been sleeping in the same bed for weeks now, but nothing very exciting had happened in said bed since our return to Lallybroch. At first, Jamie’s leg was too fragile to move beyond what was absolutely necessary. When I was happy enough with his progress to allow more movement, most of his energy was expended during the unfortunately rather painful and rigorous rehabilitation sessions I had devised to speed along his recovery. When Jamie was healed and rested enough to consider trying anything beyond our perfunctory good night kiss, each time I was invariably feeling too ill and had to reluctantly put an abrupt end to his attempts.

We were both getting frustrated at the poor timing of our various ailments, but never more so than on the night of Jamie’s birthday. I had been feeling quite well all day, and I was looking forward to properly celebrating alone that evening with Jamie after the family celebrations had ended. As a special treat to Jamie, we had taken him down to the mill pond with the rest of the family. Jamie, Ian, Fergus, and the Murray children had splashed around for a few hours while Jenny and I had demurely dangled our feet in the water. It was a warm day for early May, and the outing had put everyone in good spirits and had made us all very hungry for our supper.

Jamie and I had let the rest of the family head back to the house without us to get cleaned up for supper while we lounged for a bit longer in the soft grass. Jamie was dressed only in his shirt as he was still drying off. Having seen him swimming and enjoying the day thus far, I had finally been able to view him through the eyes of his wife instead of his physician, and I was wanting him quite badly. “I hope our outing hasn’t tired you out too much today, my birthday lad,” I teased. “After all, you are a quarter of a century old now. I wouldn’t want you to overexert yourself and not be able to stay awake later tonight.”

“If we’re talking of getting older, Sassenach, I seem to recall that ye have a few years on me there. Ye’ll have to tell me if age makes any difference,” he quipped back. I laughed until he silenced me with a kiss, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. Suddenly our hands were everywhere, and I, not for the first time, mentally cursed 18th century women’s clothing for being so damned difficult to get out of. If I had only been wearing one of my light, flowing dresses from my own time, Jamie and I could have been skin to skin in seconds. As it was, I knew fully disrobing would have to wait until later.

In the mean time, Jamie was pushing my skirts up, and his hand was traveling further north along my thigh. I was simultaneously lifting the hem of his slightly damp shirt and quickly found the proof that he wanted me just as badly as I did him. I would happily have let him take me right there in the grass had we not been jolted apart by Wee Jamie calling for Uncle Jamie and Auntie Claire. I had just enough time to quickly push my skirts back down and regain some semblance of decency when he crested the hill in front of us.

“Uncle Jamie, have ye seen my horse?” Wee Jamie asked, completely unaware of what he had just interrupted. “I dinna ken where I left it.” Wee Jamie had become rather attached to a wooden horse Jamie had carved for him while he was still bedridden. I found it after just a few minutes of searching, but the spell had been broken for the moment, and Jamie and I had walked back down to the house for supper, intending to pick up later that evening where we had left off.

It wasn’t until about half way through supper that my accursed morning sickness reared its ugly head once again. I tried to excuse myself discreetly, hoping that the nausea would pass, but I ended up once again vomiting up everything I had just eaten. I went up to our bedroom to strip down to my shift and lie down in the hopes that my stomach would settle now that it was empty, but that proved to be a bad idea in the grand scheme of things. Although I had teased Jamie earlier about him being too tired for our nighttime plans, I had overestimated my own stamina. It seemed the day out, combined with getting sick, plus the general exhaustion that comes with pregnancy had completely worn me out. My quick lie down turned into me not waking up until well after midnight with Jamie sprawled out next to me sound asleep.

The next day was washing day which always utterly wore both Jenny and me out. The day after that, Jamie went out into the fields with Ian for the first time since our return to assess how well the crops were doing. He had, being Jamie Fraser, overexerted himself and was in too much pain that night to do anything other than take his supper in bed, drink some tea I prepared to help with his pain, and fall straight to sleep.

The day after that, we both woke up later than the rest of the house. Jenny had taken the children with her to one of the older tenant’s cottages for a visit. Ian and Fergus were both out in the fields working. There were no immediate chores to be done in the house, and Jamie was under my strict orders not to go out today after his previous day of labor. We had the incredibly rare gift of the whole house to ourselves, and neither of us was in great pain or discomfort. I had risen first and, out of habit, had begun to dress for the day, when Jamie woke up and interrupted my routine.

“Sassenach, did ye no say last night that Jenny and the children would be out on an errand today?” he inquired, his voice still a bit raspy with sleep.

“Yes, I did. I’m almost ready. Would you like me to bring your breakfast up or do you feel up to getting dressed and going downstairs?” I asked, adjusting my stays and reaching for my skirt.

“Sorry, but as it is no’ Sunday, would that not also mean that Ian and Fergus are out working quite a distance from the house?”

“Well, yes, I suppose they are. But that doesn’t answer my question about breakfast- “

“Sassenach, turn ‘round and look at me,” Jamie softly interrupted. I did as he asked and suddenly knew from one look what he had been implying with his line of questioning. “Is the bairn troubling ye overmuch today?”

“Well, no. Not yet anyway. Are you sure you don’t want breakfast first though?”

“I am hungry for one thing only, mo nighean donn, and food is not that one thing. Come over here, and I’ll let ye know when I’ve had my fill.” At that, I walked back over to the bed, reversing all that I had thus far accomplished in dressing for the day. I unlaced and untied as quickly as I could until Jamie took over for me. My clothes were tossed carelessly to the floor, and our mouths fused together as we each grabbed at the other’s last remaining item of clothing.

We separated just long enough for Jamie to pull his shirt over his head, and I my shift. There was an unspoken agreement between us to not take our time; we had waited long enough. Jamie’s hands were free-roaming, but ended up on my arse as his mouth traveled down my neck to my breasts. I cried out at the sensations his tongue was creating on my overly sensitive nipples. The amount of time we had spent apart combined with the changes in my body due to the pregnancy were overloading my senses with pleasure, and I simply could not wait much longer. “Jamie, now,” I begged. He did not need to be asked twice. After a moment of repositioning, he drove into me, hard and fast. There was nothing for me to do but to hold on for dear life as he took complete control and brought me to the edge almost immediately. One more well-timed flick of his tongue on my breast, and I was exploding with pleasure underneath him. He followed quite closely behind me, and we both lay back against the pillows, finally satisfied in each other.

After a few moments of catching our breath, Jamie propped his head up on his elbow and examined me a bit more carefully. “How did I no’ see the changes in ye before, Sassenach?” he questioned, running his hands reverently over my body. “For they are laid before me now, plain as day. Yer breasts are sae full and round as they were the last time. And the lines of yer body have gone soft, though yer belly is still flat. I love to see how the child changes yer body, mo ghraidh, even at the very beginning.”

I reached up, bringing his head down for a kiss. “I can’t very well blame you for not noticing when I myself didn’t even realize until a couple of months in. I suppose we’ll have ourselves a November baby if my calculations are correct.”

“What a bonny time of year for our child to be born, Sassenach. To start a new year with a new bairn will be a great blessing indeed,” he mused, rubbing slow circles over my belly.

“I do love you, Jamie,” I declared, linking my hand with his over our child.

“And I am always glad to hear it, a nighean. Now I said I would tell ye when I was full. I believe I still have some room left if you are ready for a second course, Sassenach.”

My response was incomprehensible as his hand slipped down lower from my stomach. The last thing I remember wondering was just how many courses breakfast had before all coherent thought ceased and was replaced by only Jamie.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16
May 1746

The first few weeks back at Lallybroch had been healing physically as well as mentally for both Jamie and me. By the end of May, Jamie was fully back on his feet, and I was entering into my fourth month of pregnancy. My morning sickness had finally turned into a rare occurrence which meant I could eat regularly enough to gain back the strength and stamina I had lost while we all practically starved in the days leading up to Culloden. The food at Lallybroch was not terribly varied, but the potato crop had done well, and we never went to bed hungry.

Jamie, ever a man of complimentary words, did not hold back in admiring my fuller figure. “Ah, Sassenach, I love how round ye are becoming again,” he mused one night as he pulled me close to settle in to sleep. His left hand was cupping my breast, while the right was caressing the now noticeable bump of our child.

“Thank you, I suppose,” I replied, a bit sarcastically. I knew that he meant it as a compliment, but it was still strange to hear. I suddenly thought of Frank and wondered what he would have thought of my expanding body if we had ever been able to have a child. I had a feeling he would not have been nearly as thrilled with it as Jamie seemed to be. I always felt a twinge of guilt thinking about Frank in relation to Jamie’s and my ability to conceive. Frank had truly wanted a child, and the fact that I was able to conceive twice with Jamie and never with Frank meant that he most likely was unable to have children. Not only had I chosen to stay with Jamie, but I now also shared something with him that Frank and I would never share, nor that Frank would likely share with any other woman.

“What is it, mo chridhe?” Jamie asked, sensing that something was not quite right. “I didna mean to upset ye.”

I turned over in bed to face Jamie so he could see that I wasn’t upset. “It’s nothing, and you didn’t upset me. I was just thinking about how lucky we are to have this child. I know it isn’t maybe the best time, but I can’t bring myself to feel anything but happy about it.”

“Aye, it truly is a blessing. I canna wait to meet him, a strong lad with yer brown curls perhaps,” he imagined.

“You say that as if there is any chance of your child not being born with your red hair. I have a feeling no one will ever be able to tell that any of our children belong to me just by their looks.”

“Ye ken, Sassenach, that my sister and I have the same parents, yet look nothing alike. I’m sure that at least one of our children will have yer bonny hair and eyes.”

“We’ll just have to wait and see I suppose,” I murmured, closing my eyes and falling to sleep dreaming of curly heads of red and brown.

Unfortunately our time of peace and healing came to a rapid end that next morning. I was rudely awoken by Jamie sharply whispering my name in my ear as a panicked Jenny stood in our doorway.

“Claire, ye must hurry! The English are in the courtyard. Ian can only hold them off for another few minutes at most. Ye must get to the priest hole!” Jenny commanded.

Jamie pulled me out of bed, and we both silently ran down to the main floor. Jamie went down the steep, stone stairs of the priest hole first, turning around at the bottom to take my hand as I followed him. Jenny closed the hidden door behind us, and we sat huddled together in the darkness. Jamie wrapped his arms around me as I shivered in my thin shift, but we dared not speak lest the English hear us.

We all knew this was an unavoidable eventuality, but we had been having such an enjoyable time being back home, that we had put our worries in the backs of our minds. We had gone out to the mill pond in broad daylight for goodness’ sake. Jamie had been out in the fields many days this month. We had been relaxed and careless. The priest hole was thoroughly unprepared, having neither candles nor blankets. We had not even put a chamber pot down here, and I needed one quite badly having just woken up.

Jamie held me tighter as we heard the sounds of heavy boots above our heads just minutes after we had hidden. We could hear muffled voices, but not well enough to pick out any words. The noise had apparently woken baby Kitty, and her cries for Jenny hit me particularly hard. Soon enough that would be my child crying upstairs. How could I feed or otherwise care for my baby if I was always moments away from needing to hide from English soldiers?

After what felt like hours, but was probably only thirty minutes or so, a shaft of light suddenly lit the top of the stairs, and Jenny peered around the doorway to let us know that the English had left. Jamie and I blinked at the sudden rush of light as we climbed back into the outside world.

“What happened, Jenny? Where’s Ian?” Jamie inquired.

“He’s gone,” Jenny replied, tears starting to fall down her face. “The English took him.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17
May 1746

“Took him?” Jamie roared. “What for? He’s done nothing! What did they accuse him of?”

“They didna accuse him of anything yet,” Jenny explained, forcibly wiping the tears from her face. “They said they would need to question him further, and if they found no reason to hold him, they would release him. I dinna ken what they are questioning him about.”

“Oh, I ken what their questions are. They think Ian kens my whereabouts. I willna let him suffer at the hands of the English for me. I’ll go after him at once.” I knew that this was a foolhardy, ridiculous reaction to Ian being captured. There was no conceivable way Jamie going after him was going to cause anything but a negative outcome for all parties involved, but I could not be the one to tell him not to go; it had to be Jenny. I only hoped she would not be too overcome with worry over her husband to think logically about the situation.

“Oh, no you don’t, a bráthair.” Jenny grabbed his arm as Jamie was turning to head toward the stables. “We canna lose both of the men in this house in one day. Ye arena thinkin’ straight if ye believe that ye will be able to free Ian from the grips of the English. They’ll kill ye both. You showing up will only prove that Ian was hiding ye, and they will hang him for sure.”

“And what am I to do then, Jenny? Just sit at home and hope that the English stay true to their word?” Jamie, used to always being able to take action to solve life’s problems, sounded truly helpless.

“Aye, that is what ye must do. I have all but lost ye too many times, Jamie Fraser. And now, for the first time, I may have lost my husband. I canna lose ye both.” I could see the tears threatening to spill down Jenny’s cheeks again, but she somehow managed to hold them at bay for now. Jamie, unable to argue with her, stormed upstairs, presumably to take out his frustration on some inanimate object in our bedroom. I was torn between which sibling to comfort first, but I thought giving Jamie some time to calm down might be wise.

Jenny had sunk down into an armchair, and I sat in the chair beside her and took her hands in mine. “Jenny, I will go with you after Ian if that’s what you want to do. I know Jamie can’t come, but I don’t suppose the English would recognize me from looks alone.”

“I appreciate the offer, Claire, but ye canna go on the road hunting down the English army. Ye’re with child. It isna safe.” Jenny squeezed my hands in gratitude, giving me a watery smile.

“You came with me to find Jamie just days after Maggie was born. That certainly wasn’t safe for either of you.”

“It may have not been safe for me, but Maggie would have been cared for if I had not returned. If ye were to lose yer bairn for Ian’s sake, he would never forgive himself. We both ken what the bairn means to you and Jamie. Neither of ye will put your lives at risk any further than ye already have, and that is final.”

“But then what will you do, Jenny? What can we do to help Ian?” I hated feeling helpless almost as much as Jamie did.

Jenny swallowed hard and stood, brushing down her skirts. “We will do what I did for years, waiting for Jamie to return. We will keep Lallybroch running so that when Ian returns, he will have food on the table and a bed to sleep in. Now go and make sure my brother will be ready for breakfast shortly.” Jenny left, presumably to check on the status of this morning’s parritch and likely to have a decent cry in private over her husband’s capture. I reluctantly ascended the stairs to deal with the second, and likely more difficult, sibling.

I took a deep breath and eased open our bedroom door, unsure of what I would find within. I was relieved to see Jamie kneeling on the floor by our bed praying, rosary in hand. Out of all the scenarios I had imagined, this had to be the most innocuous. Nothing in the room appeared to be broken, although I did notice the imprint of a fist in Jamie’s pillow; once again, a much better outcome than I had expected. I didn’t want to interrupt his prayer, so I leaned against the door and waited for him to acknowledge my presence.

After a few minutes, Jamie stood and turned toward me. He looked resolved, but not angry like I had expected. “Come here, Claire,” he said, holding his arms out to me. I walked into his embrace, a bit wary at being called by my proper name. That always meant he was about to say something serious.

He rested his chin on my head and sighed deeply. “Ye were right. What ye said at the stones before Culloden about fleeing Scotland. We should have left then and there.”

I pulled back to look up at him in slight confusion. What was he trying to say? “While I appreciate the acknowledgement, isn’t it a bit late to reconsider? Jenny made it pretty clear that she needs us here, now more than ever.”

“She may think she needs us, but she isna thinkin’ straight. All I am in Scotland is a burden, a wanted man. In another country, perhaps I could be of use again. I canna spend my life in hiding. What kind of life is that for you and the bairn?” he asked, cupping the slight swell of my belly.

“Well first of all, it’s a life with my husband still alive. And I have a feeling our child will be a good deal happier with a living father than with a dead one. And you’re rather scaring me with this talk of relocating to a different country. I’ll not risk this child like we did with Faith. Who knows what could happen to us if we were to go on the run? Am I meant to give birth in a ditch on the side of the road? We made our choice, Jamie. We came back to Lallybroch, and we have to see it through.”

Jamie let me go and took a step back. “Did we though, Claire? I dinna recall making the choice to come back to Lallybroch. I believe that was a choice ye made for the both of us.” He did not sound angry, rather like he was explaining to a child how they had been wrong.

“I hope you are not trying to imply what I think you are, James Fraser,” I retorted, more than a little angry at his ridiculous assertion. “What I recall is you leaving me to fight in a losing battle because of your bloody honor. And then I recall waiting for hours in the cold, dark night, knowing that you would be shot in the morning, knowing that our child would never get to meet its father. And then I recall saving your life for about the thousandth time. I don’t recall you arguing with me when I told you we were heading for Lallybroch either. So if you intend on blaming me for Ian’s capture, you can simply fuck yourself.”

I was too angry to listen to anything else he might have had to say. I stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind me. I grabbed my cloak and went to the one place I knew Jamie couldn’t follow me: outside in the broad daylight.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18
May 1746

I walked a good distance from the house until I reached the cover of the trees, where I began pacing back and forth. I kicked through the deep covering of leaves on the ground as I went, scaring away the birds in the area with the noise I was making. The only thing I could think to do was to keep pacing until my anger dissipated.

The rational part of me knew that I had chosen to take what Jamie had said in the worst possible way. He didn’t blame me for Ian being captured; he blamed himself. The poor man had caused trouble for those he loved everywhere he went for years now. It had to be exhausting to always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for the next person to show up who had a desire to kill him for one reason or another. And then he had married me, adding someone else to his life whom he would have to protect. I did not attempt to make that job any easier for him either. Now we were back at Lallybroch with more lives at stake, and Jamie was simply unable to protect them any longer. I knew all of that, but dammit I was still angry with him.

Why did he always have to be so bloody honorable? The safety of everyone else in his life always came before his own. Just once I wanted him to be selfish, to choose the safest path for himself. I didn’t want him to want to go save Ian. He was so willing to risk his life for the people he loved, even if that meant leaving me. And there was the root of my anger. If Jenny hadn’t stopped him from leaving, he would already be gone, heading toward his own certain death, and I would be as good as widowed, pregnant with his child. I was angry because he had put his honor above me.

And yet his honor was one of the reasons I loved him. He was my conscience as much as I was his. We were both willing to put ourselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others. After all, I had just offered to put myself at risk and go with Jenny to find Ian. Of course even as I was offering, I knew Jenny would never accept. But what if I knew for a fact that Ian was hurt? Would I be able to live with myself if I did not do everything in my power to help heal him, even if that put the baby’s life at risk? Before the loss of Faith, I would not have hesitated; now, it was a different story. At least while the baby was dependent on me for survival, I had to put it first. I needed Jamie to feel the same way because I depended on him.

I also knew that guilt played a large part in how I was feeling. I had overheard Ian and Jenny talking about how much danger we were all in, and yet I had done nothing. I was putting myself and my family first without really considering the ramifications. I wasn’t sorry for the decision I had made, but maybe that condemned me even further.

As I spun on my heel for probably the fiftieth time to pace back to my starting point, I was startled by Jamie standing partially behind a tree with a rather ugly, brown hat covering most of his hair. “Jamie, you shouldn’t be out here-“ I began, before he cut me off.

“Ye think I dinna ken that, Claire? I have something I would like to show ye. Come with me?” He rightfully sounded unsure as to whether or not I would follow him, but I had been able to reason away most of my initial anger towards him. I placed my hand in his outstretched one, and he led me away from the indentation I had made in the earth with my pacing.

I was willing enough to follow him, but I still had things I needed to say before I was ready to put this argument behind us. He appeared to sense that small talk was not appropriate, and we both walked along in silence. We had been going for a good twenty minutes when we came to a fairly steep hill.

“Where I am taking ye is just at the top of this wee hill. Can ye manage it?”

“I think I’ll be able to cope, yes,” I answered a bit haughtily, still not quite ready to let go of my anger towards him. I managed to climb up by grabbing onto exposed tree roots and the like, but Jamie had to pull me up the last couple of feet to the top.

“Well, what is it? Why did you drag me all the way up here?” I asked, between gasps of air.

“Do ye no see it then? That’s a good sign.” Jamie reached toward some branches and moved them out of the way, revealing a narrow cleft in the rock. It was wide enough for a person to fit through, but only just, and, with the covering of branches, it was completely invisible. Jamie motioned for me to enter, and he followed.

A narrow shaft of light illuminated the inside of the cave just enough so that when my eyes adjusted, I could see it in its entirety. It was fairly small with just enough room for a person to lay down comfortably. The ceiling was just high enough that Jamie did not have to hunch while he was inside, but there was not much more to it than that.

“I used to come here all the time as a lad,” Jamie began. “My da first brought Willie and me here, and then Jenny had to come along as well once she found out about it. We used to pretend the faeries lived here, but during the day they would go about their business outside, so we were never able to see them. Jenny used to beg Da to let her stay the night so that she could see them when they returned, but he never let her. We thought he was being unreasonably cruel at the time, but I suppose he just didna want her to find out that the faeries werena real.

“After Willie died, Da told me it was my job to protect Jenny. Even though she was my older sister, I always kept an eye out for her. I imagine sometimes she let me think she needed me more than she really did, but I took pride in keepin’ her safe. Then the whole mess with Jack Randall happened, and I left her truly alone. Da was dead, and I was as good as dead to her for a long time.” The reason behind Jamie’s irrational behavior toward me was starting to become clearer. After all, he had sworn to look after Jenny long before I had come along. It had to be difficult for him to turn off the instinct to protect his sister at any cost. I rubbed his back soothingly as he finished his apology.

“Now, Claire, I’ve not only failed to keep her from harm, but I’m the very reason her husband was taken away from her. I canna bear to stand by and do nothing. I am sorry for what I said to ye. None of this is your fault, mo chridhe. I am solely to blame.”

“Jamie, look at me.” He did, and I could just make out the blue of his eyes in the darkness. “This is not your fault. You do not control the actions of the English soldiers, and neither Jenny nor Ian expect you to single-handedly fight against an entire army. The English didn’t even find any trace of you, and they still took Ian. They would have taken him whether or not we had come back to Lallybroch.

“I know you want to leave, and I agree with you that we will need to find a different place to live in the near future. But, Jamie, I am not willing to flee in the night and risk our child’s life, nor am I willing to part with you. And Jenny understands that the baby has to come first right now. She wouldn’t accept my offer to help either because she knew it was too dangerous. Until the baby is old enough, we have to find a safe way to stay here. I can’t do this without you. Promise me. Promise that you won’t leave me.” I dissolved into tears, sobbing into his shirt.

Jamie let me cry for a little while, and then he tilted my chin up to kiss me. I could taste the salt of my own tears as I sought to deepen our kiss into something more, desperate to reconnect with him, to reassure myself that he was still here with me. The stress and worry of the day were pushed aside for the moment as we came back together after our fight. Jamie’s hands were tangled in my hair as I began rocking my hips against him with need. I took my cloak off to lay it on the floor of the cave, and began pulling my skirts up while he untied his breeks, which he then quickly shed. “I need you inside me,” I begged, and we practically fell to the floor where I sank down onto him without preamble.

My body stilled for a moment while my head fell back as the bliss of feeling so deeply connected to Jamie overcame me. Before I could start moving, Jamie brought me down to him and kissed me deeply. “I will never leave you again, Claire. I swear it. ’Til our life shall be done.” I kissed him again, sealing his vow to me as I started to move with him. He let me set the pace, and, as we cried out, our names echoed back to us on the stone walls of our sanctuary.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19
May 1746

I lay collapsed onto his chest, feeling satisfied and content with our reconciliation. “I didna bring ye here only to ravish ye, Sassenach,” Jamie said after our heart rates had returned to normal.

“Oh, no?” I smiled, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. “I thought this was where you brought all the lasses for a bit of privacy.”

“Nah, ye’re the only lass I’ve ever brought here other than Jenny,” he assured me, balling up my discarded cloak to use as a makeshift pillow. “Besides, just about anywhere is a good deal more comfortable than this hard, stone floor.” I took the hint and rolled off of him to lessen his discomfort. “I brought ye here because this is how I plan to stay safe. You can stay at Lallybroch with Jenny, and, God willing, Ian, while I live out here until the bairn is old enough for us to leave.”

I sat up against the wall of the cave, taking a moment to think about Jamie’s plan. I selfishly wanted to argue that he could stay safe in the house as long as we were careful, but I knew deep down that he was right. It was too risky, even with the priest hole, for him to be anywhere near Lallybroch. And even if he did stay in the house, he would be trapped inside at all times. At least all the way out here he could maybe do some hunting and spend time outside.

I held his hand in my lap, tracing my fingers over the scars on his as he waited for my response. “As much as I don’t want you to have to live in a cave like this, I think you’re right. At least out here, you won’t have to run and hide every time the English decide to come by the house.”

“Aye, and the next time they do try to find me, ye can tell them that I’m dead. They willna take a woman with child away from her home, and you being there without me will maybe convince them that they can stop looking for me. They also would have no more reason to question Ian over my whereabouts.”

I squeezed his hand, trying not to think about how much I would miss seeing him every day. I knew I would not sleep as well alone in our bed, especially without his furnace-like body heat as it turned colder in the fall. There would perhaps be times when we were apart long enough where the change in my size would be almost imperceptible to me but would shock him. In a way, it was like France all over again. I would be dealing with much of this pregnancy without him. But this time, our sacrifices were to keep our family safe, not to try to save the whole of Scotland. Hopefully our change in focus would make all the difference.

“It’s settled then,” I decided. “We can work on bringing out some supplies for you tomorrow. I want to stay with you for a little while at least though. It won’t be much longer before I am unable to make the trek out here and back. I want to spend as much time with you as I can before then.”

“Ye really do love me then, if ye’re willing to give up a nice, soft bed to sleep on rock,” Jamie teased.

“I would sleep anywhere as long as I was next to you, James Fraser,” I said seriously. I slid down the wall a bit to lay back down next to him, my head on his chest. He placed a kiss among the curls on my head. I might have fallen asleep right there if not for a sudden movement I felt within me. It was earlier than it had happened with Faith, but I knew the feeling well enough. My hand flew to my stomach in surprise, scaring Jamie.

“What is it, Sassenach? Are ye in pain?” The worry in his voice broke my heart. We both wanted this baby so much and were so afraid that something might go wrong.

“No, Jamie, all is well,” I reassured him. “I felt the baby move for the first time! It just surprised me that it happened this early.”

“Ah, dhia, that is good news!” A proud grin split Jamie’s face. “Did we disturb him maybe with what we just did?”

I laughed at the notion, shaking my head. “I don’t think so. I imagine he’s used to that by now. It isn’t exactly a rare occurrence now that you’re back on your feet.”

“Well it isna my feet that are the most vital appendages for that activity, Sassenach, although they do aid me from time to time. I’m glad that he isna bothered though, especially as you seem to be as hungry for me as I am for you lately.” I acted affronted, but really I knew he spoke the truth. “Now that we will have to be apart so much, I will likely want ye even more when we are together.” Jamie began kissing me with renewed interest. Apparently the discomfort of our location was not enough to keep him from me.

With his breeks still discarded from our last interlude, I had a clear view of how ready he was. This time I let him take the lead, and I was not disappointed. He took the time to undo my laces enough to bare my breasts to him. He gave each one its proper attention while I writhed underneath him, desperate for more. I took the liberty of once again pulling my skirts up and out of the way, giving him a clear path home. I spread my thighs for him, and he wasted no time in filling me fully.

“Remember this, Sassenach, when ye’re alone in our bed, wanting me,” he said huskily. “I’ll always return to ye and serve ye well.” I moaned as he began to move, spurring him on to give me the friction I desired. He made good on his vow to serve me well, and I managed to forget all about the hardness of the stone floor at my back.

A bit later as we were both on the verge of sleep, I made a request I had been dwelling on for a while now. “Promise me one thing. Even though you'll be living out here, when the baby comes, promise you’ll be with me. I don’t want to go through that again without you.” I knew how unconventional this would seem to him; men both in this time and in my own simply had nothing to do with the birth of their own children. Before Faith, I would have been perfectly content with Jenny as my only moral support. Now, the thought of Jamie off in another room and not being there as our child came into the world struck a bolt of fear through me, as if his absence meant that something would go wrong again, that we would lose this baby like we had our first.

“I swear, a nighean," he vowed without hesitation. "I’ll be by your side through it all. I wouldna miss it for anything.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though I had known he would not deny my request, hearing his promise was an immense comfort to me. Jamie held me tight to him then, and we both dozed off in the cool darkness of the cave that would be his new home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20
May 1746

By the time we got home that night, the sun was setting, and the smell of Mrs. Crook’s cooking was wafting out the front door. Jenny did not ask questions about where we had been, but Jamie explained over supper about his idea of using the cave as a hideout. Jenny was naturally still worried about Ian, but I could tell she had some measure of relief knowing that Jamie had come up with a way to keep himself safe.

Jamie and I helped Jenny get the children ready for bed, eager to do anything we could to lighten her workload in Ian’s absence. After we had put out the candles in Wee Jamie’s room, Jenny stood in the doorway, staring at him as he fell asleep.

“He looks so like Ian when he sleeps,” Jenny mused, smiling sadly. "Ian throws his arms up over his head just the same way, ye ken.” Not knowing how to respond, I simply stopped to squeeze her hand on my way out of the room. I couldn’t help but feel guilty leaving her to go to bed with my husband while hers was gone, but nothing I could say or do would be able to ease her worried mind. I could only pray that Ian would be returned to her soon.

Jamie and I rose early the next morning to begin preparing the supplies he would need for his time in the cave. We both wanted a decently comfortable place to sleep, and Jamie wanted to bring his bow and other hunting tools with him. He would be able to feed himself with what he was able to hunt, and hopefully he would catch enough to provide for the household as well. I knew that it was important for him to feel like he was still helping even though he had to live away from us in relative seclusion.

Fergus came along to help carry everything once we reached the point in our journey where it became too steep for the horses. By early afternoon, Jamie was fully moved in. The cave was small and dark, but we managed to turn it into a cozy enough space. While Fergus was out fetching water, I told Jamie about what flats were like in my time.

“If we were living in the 1940s, we might have gotten a flat when we were first married. Many young couples do, and some aren’t much bigger than this,” I explained, my head on Jamie’s shoulder as we lay on his makeshift bed.

“Oh, aye, Sassenach? And why do they call it “flat”? Are they only made of one floor of a house then?” he asked.

“Well, I never really thought about it, but that would make sense. In cities there are large buildings full of flats. The buildings may have fifty or more floors, and each floor can have several flats, allowing for quite a lot of people to live in a relatively small space.”

“That sounds like a fine place to live, especially if ye were on the topmost floor. Ye could see for miles I expect.” He had a far off look in his eyes, imagining the view we might have had from our flat in a different life and time.

“Yes, you can. The top floor is called the penthouse, and usually it’s the largest flat in the building.”

“We wouldna need a large flat, you and I. I never want to be far from ye, Sassenach. Although I suppose we would be needin’ to find a larger place to live now, what with the bairn coming,” he surmised, placing a hand on my belly.

“Indeed we would. Fortunately we have plenty of extra rooms at Lallybroch. And for now, we can enjoy being just the two of us a little longer in our new flat of sorts.” I turned my head to kiss him, but before things could get too heated, Fergus returned with the water.

“Milady, it is getting late. If we are to get back for supper, we should leave soon,” Fergus said, setting the bucket down in the corner.

“Oh, I wasn’t planning on going back tonight, Fergus.” I had envisioned spending a quiet night in with Jamie, and, after discovering that the bed in the cave was indeed quite comfortable, I had mentally lined up a rather full itinerary of activities to keep us busy for the evening. Content as I currently was in Jamie’s arms, the thought of traipsing through the woods and riding back to Lallybroch was utterly unappealing. “Would you mind terribly going on your own?”

“Sassenach, I think ye should go back,” Jamie gently coaxed. “I dinna want Jenny to have to be alone wi’ the bairns.”

“Oh, of course not. You’re absolutely right.” I stood quickly and gathered myself, feeling guilty at not having considered Jenny at all. Had I really been planning on spending a cozy night in the woods with my husband while Jenny still had no idea if and when hers would ever be returned to her? It was so easy to let the rest of the world fall away when I was with Jamie. The ability to do just that had been our safeguard for almost our entire marriage. When our reality was fraying at the seams, we were able to take comfort in each other from the very beginning. But this time, even though there was nothing we could do to directly help Ian, Jenny had to be the priority until he returned.

My guilt overriding any other feelings, I had almost left Jamie without saying goodbye, but he caught me by the arm as Fergus disappeared out the cave’s exit. He gathered me close, kissing me thoroughly as I melted into him. My head was spinning as he pulled away from me. I could feel the pleasant ache of want for him between my thighs, and I would have given just about anything for five uninterrupted minutes alone with him. “I will miss ye, mo nighean donn,” he whispered. “Ye can send Fergus out to me whenever ye might need, and I will come back to the house a week from today after dark. If Ian is returned before then, send Fergus straight away, and then ye can come back to me and stay for as long as ye like.”

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” I promised, as he released me. I turned to go before he could see the tears in my eyes, leaving a piece of my heart with him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21
Early June 1746

Fortunately it did not take the whole week for Ian to be returned. Jenny had been putting on a brave front for the first couple days of Ian’s absence, but by day four, she had gone quiet. I was feeling more guilty by the minute despite my insistence to Jamie that Ian would have been taken whether or not we had come back to Lallybroch. That evening, Jenny did not put up the pretense of reading after supper like we usually did. She whisked the children off to bed before I could even offer to help.

I lay in bed awake for hours, worried over how Jenny would be tomorrow. Each day took more of a toll on her, and there was nothing I could do to help. Jenny was not someone who wanted to talk about her feelings, and I was starting to wonder if my presence was more of a hindrance than anything else. Nevertheless Jamie had asked me to stay with her since he could not, and I wanted to honor his wishes.

I dragged my feet the next morning getting dressed, dreading having to put on a fake smile and positive attitude for Jenny’s sake. It turns out, I needn’t have worried as I just then heard the telltale clip clop of horses coming into the courtyard. I rushed downstairs just in time to see Jenny flying out the front door to reunite with Ian. Wee Jamie was running as fast as his little legs could carry him, and I grabbed him by the back of his shirt to stop him. I wanted to be optimistic, but I had no idea what state Ian would be in, and I did not want Wee Jamie to be traumatized if his father was severely ill or injured.

Jenny came into the house a few minutes later, Ian leaning on her for support. The English had returned him without his wooden leg attached, so he had to hop awkwardly inside before he collapsed into a heap in his chair. “Are you all right, Ian? Are you hurt or ill in any way?” I asked trying to ascertain if my medical services were needed.

“I’m all right, Claire, thank ye for asking. I wouldna mind some of that tea ye brew in order to relieve pain though. My head aches somethin’ fierce.” Ian put on a brave smile as Jenny held his hand, tears of relief spilling down her cheeks. Despite all that Ian had presumably been through in the last few days, he hadn’t lost his tact. This way he and Jenny would have some time alone together, and I would not feel like I was just leaving awkwardly, but actually helping him in some small way.

“Would you like to learn how to make Auntie Claire’s special tea, Jamie?” I asked, taking the boy by the hand.

“Aye! I love tea! ‘Specially wi’ biscuits!” Wee Jamie jumped up and down at the prospect of treats, and we left for the kitchen together.

As I turned the corner to go down the hallway to the kitchen, I bumped into Fergus who was already on his way out the door to tell Jamie that Ian had returned. “Milady, I will be back before supper!”

“Fergus, wait! Tell Jamie I’ll come back to him before nightfall. I just want to get the full story of what happened with Ian, and then I’ll leave. And let him know I’ll bring supper to him as well.”

“Yes, Milady. I will see you soon then.” And with that, he was gone. I knew he was excited to finally be able to give Jamie some good news, and he probably was hoping to get to do some hunting with Jamie while he was at it.

I prepared Ian’s tea, with a bit of help from Wee Jamie, and asked Mrs. Crook to pack some food for me to take to the cave. As I carried the tea back to the sitting room, I listened carefully to ascertain whether I was coming back at a good time or not. I didn’t hear any crying or raised voices, so I turned the corner. Ian and Jenny appeared to be over the emotion of their initial reunion, and Ian thanked me sincerely for the tea as I set it down on the end table next to him.

“Where’s Jamie, then?” Ian asked. “I wouldna expect even him to be fool enough to go out workin’ in the fields after what happened.”

“He’s no’ livin’ here any longer,” explained Jenny. “He’s moved out to the cave we used to play in as bairns. Claire will remain in the house until the bairn arrives, and then they will likely move on soon after.”

“Well actually, I think I’ll go out to stay with Jamie for a while now that you’re back, Ian. In a couple of months, I’ll have to stay closer to the house, so I’d like to spend what time I can with Jamie. But enough about us, what happened with you?” I prompted.

“Och, it was likely what ye would expect. The ride took about a day each way, so that took up a good part of the time. They brought me to some inn they had commandeered and were using as a headquarters. Three of the officers tried to question me about Jamie, but I just kept insistin’ that I didna ken where he was, and that I hadna seen him since he left months ago. They treated me just fine. I didna go hungry nor did they harm me.”

I shuddered to think what would happen to Jamie if the English got ahold of him. There was no chance of him being treated well or coming back home. Although I missed him terribly, it was comforting to know that he was safely hidden at the cave.

Jenny had been sitting on the floor by Ian while he spoke, rubbing his knee comfortingly. “I’m so glad ye’ve been returned to us, mo chridhe. Do ye wish to wash up or would ye prefer somethin’ to eat?”

“I think I will wash a bit first,” Ian said, caressing Jenny’s cheek. “But there is one more thing I should tell ye both.” My heart leapt into my throat as I couldn’t imagine anything but bad news. “Mostly they did ask about Jamie, but they are also interested in you, Claire. They seem to think ye ken the whereabouts of some great amount of Jacobite gold.”

“Gold?” I asked, my voice cracking on the word. “Why would they think I know anything about gold? I wasn’t in Charles’ inner circle.”

“Aye, but they dinna ken that. And ye are married to a man who was in that inner circle,” Ian warned. "I dinna mean to scare ye or to imply that ye shouldna be in the house. We want ye to do what is best for the bairn. But I also dinna want ye to think that they wouldna take ye if they found ye here simply because ye are a woman and with child.”

I swallowed hard, trying to digest this new information. “Well, thank you for telling me. And I am so happy you’re back, Ian. I think I’ll gather what I need and head out to see Jamie now.” I suddenly could not think of wasting another moment to get out to the cave and to my husband. I needed his presence to reassure and comfort me. I put a hand to my stomach as I felt the baby stir; just another reminder of everything I stood to lose.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22
Early June 1746

Despite my inner turmoil, I couldn’t help but enjoy the beauty of the day as soon as I stepped outside. It was one of those rare, sunny days in Scotland, and I relished the feeling of the sun on my shoulders as I set out on horseback into the woods. Mrs. Crook had packed enough food to feed about ten men with Jamie’s appetite, and I was likely to arrive right around lunchtime.

I began to feel lighter as I rode. The news about this mysterious gold was not great by any stretch of the imagination, but Ian was back and unharmed. Jamie and I no longer needed to feel guilty about the situation, and I could enjoy time with my husband without worrying about leaving Jenny alone. I was happy to help Jenny when she needed me, but I was happier to be free. For the first time since Culloden, Jamie and I could spend time focusing on our family without the direct threat of illness or the English looming over us.

Although not my ideal living space, I was admittedly looking forward to spending an extended period of time living with Jamie in his cave. I was used to roughing it from my days traveling with Uncle Lamb, not to mention my time with the British and Scottish armies. But this seemed more like a fun camping adventure than an inconvenience. I also knew that as much as I was looking forward to meeting our baby, our lives would change drastically once he or she arrived. It would be nice to spend some time alone before the sleepless nights began.

I left the supplies I had brought with the horse, figuring Jamie or Fergus would be able to retrieve them later, and I began the climb up the damned hill that led to the cave. I had to stop several times to catch my breath, but I finally made it, only to find an empty room. It was just as I had suspected; Jamie and Fergus had gone hunting. I figured a short nap wouldn’t go amiss and made myself comfortable on Jamie’s makeshift bed.

I was awoken some time later by the smell of meat roasting over a fire and the sounds of laughter floating into the cave. I sat up, realizing that I had grown incredibly stiff during my nap, probably due to the exertion of the earlier climb. Although I had been intending on standing up to join Jamie and Fergus by the fire, I quickly realized that standing by myself from my position on the floor was not going to be possible. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I called for Jamie who dutifully came at my summons.

“Sassenach, ye’re awake!” He was beaming down at me. “I have missed ye badly these last few days. Are ye hungry? Fergus and I managed to catch a bit of game, and we found the food ye brought from the house. ’Tis almost ready to be eaten.”

“I missed you too, Jamie, terribly,” I admitted. “And, yes, I am quite hungry. I seem to have a bit of a problem though.” His brow furrowed in concern for just a moment. “I can’t seem to stand on my own.”

I looked down at the floor, slightly embarrassed at my confession, but when I looked back up to meet his eyes, Jamie began to laugh like a child. It was clear his guilt had lifted at the news of Ian’s return as well, and he was almost giddy with relief. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen him laugh with such abandon, and I began laughing too. I fell back into the pillows from which I had just emerged, and Jamie collapsed onto the bed next to me, gasping for air between fits of laughter. By the time we were able to compose ourselves, we had practically forgotten what we were even laughing at.

“Och, a nighean, I havena laughed like that perhaps in years,” Jamie surmised, wiping the tears from his face. “I love the way yer wee belly moves when ye laugh so.” I looked down, just then noticing that, to a discerning eye, my pregnancy was indeed visible even through my many layers of clothing.

“It won’t be so wee for much longer, I’m afraid,” I said, smiling despite myself as I ran my hand over the slight curve of my stomach. “Especially if this baby takes after its enormous Scottish warrior of a father.”

Jamie kissed my forehead and was smiling as I looked up into his eyes. “Ye canna know how much I’ve longed to see ye swollen with my child, Claire. Ye only grow more beautiful with each passing day. Now let me help ye to yer feet.” He stood and pulled me up by both hands, kissing me quickly as we came face to face, any amount of insecurity I may have felt having completely vanished. I stretched my back a bit, and we both went outside to eat with Fergus.

Jamie had prepared a delicious meal, and I decided to keep my foreboding news until after we had finished eating. After cleaning up, Jamie and Fergus both turned their attentions to me, eager to hear of what Ian had told me about his capture. Jamie breathed an audible sigh of relief when I told him that Ian had not been harmed or mistreated in any way. Naturally, when I got to the part that involved the gold and my supposed knowledge of it, lines of worry emerged on his face.

“There were rumblings of some amount of gold coming from the French near the final days.” Jamie rubbed his head, mulling over the situation. “But I always took them as a final hope from desperate men rather than actual truth. And why in heaven’s name would the English connect you to any of this?”

“I don’t really know. I suppose if they do believe you to be dead, perhaps they think you would have told me about the location of this gold in case I needed it. And I would be one of the last people alive who might have any knowledge of it, should it actually exist. They certainly could not pass up the chance to at least interrogate me about it if they were to find me.”

I was trying to be matter-of-fact about the situation in order to keep the fear at bay. Of course the English would interrogate me, but they likely would torture or kill me if I did not give them the information they wanted. The truth was, if I did know where the gold might be, I would not hesitate to tell them its location. That gold, if it did exist, was useless to the Scots at this point and certainly not worth my life to keep any secrets about it. But the fact remained that I had no idea if the gold was anything more than a myth, let alone where it might be. We both knew the English would not find that answer satisfactory if they were to find me.

Jamie took my hands in his and looked at me very seriously. “Sassenach, ye canna take any risks. We both ken what will become of ye if the English were to find ye. I will keep ye safe out here, but ye are not to travel between here and the house alone any longer. I think it would be best if ye were to stay out here with me as long as ye can.” He placed a large hand on the slight swell of my belly. “But as yer time grows nearer, I dinna want ye alone in the house without me, Ian, or Fergus at yer side.”

I nodded solemnly, and Jamie kissed my forehead before wrapping his arms around me to hold me tight to him. For now I was safe enough, protected by Jamie in the seclusion of the woods, but we still had months to go before we could leave Scotland. I buried my face in the shoulder of Jamie’s shirt, wondering if we would ever feel safe again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23
June 1746

Fergus stayed with us for the next couple of days, and he and Jamie were quite successful in their hunting endeavors. Jamie had taken to wearing his brown cap whenever he went any distance from the cave to hide his tell-tale red mane. I generally stayed back at the cave while they were gone, resting and practicing my knitting. Jenny had encouraged me to learn after I had remarked to her how surprised I was to see Wee Jamie’s knitting skills. I actually enjoyed picking up the new hobby as it kept my hands agile for any surgical stitching I might need to do, and I was determined to make a proper blanket before the baby arrived.

When I grew tired of knitting, I would forage in the woods near the cave for herbs and berries to add to our steady diet of meat. Mrs. Crook’s supplies ran out after a few days, and Fergus volunteered to head back to the house with the extra game he and Jamie had caught. He would return some time the next day with some fresh bannocks and the like, but for now, Jamie and I had the cave to ourselves.

We naturally were eager to make the most of our time alone as the cave was not large enough to afford us any privacy while Fergus was with us. For a boy of ten, he was quite discreet, sometimes going off on his own for hours at a time. His years of living in a brothel had certainly educated him well enough, but I still felt uncomfortable going too far, never knowing when he might return and not wanting to be caught by him in a compromising position.

I had been complaining for the last day or so about starting to feel rather disgusting. It was, after all, the middle of summer. The Highlands were not unbearably hot by any means, but I had done my fair share of sweating while foraging. I had also been sleeping every night next to a rather sweaty Jamie, who did not come home from his hunting trips smelling the freshest, what with the physical exertion and the slaughtering of any game he had caught.

After seeing Fergus off in the morning, I had fallen asleep over my knitting and was rudely awoken by Jamie some time in the early afternoon. “Come, Sassenach. I have a surprise for ye,” he whispered in my ear.

“Jamie, where are you taking me? I’m not even dressed,” I protested, rubbing my eyes in an attempt to feel more awake.

Jamie smiled mischievously, tugging on my hand. “Dinna fash. In fact, ye’re overdressed for what I have in mind for ye.”

“Is that so, my lad?” I feigned a look of innocent confusion, suddenly feeling very awake indeed. “I can’t even imagine what that might be.”

“Ye’re a smart lass. I imagine ye’ll figure it out before long. Now do ye feel up to a wee walk if I promise that what’s waitin’ at the end will be worth yer while?”

“I suppose,” I acquiesced. “You haven’t broken a promise to me yet.”

“And I dinna intend to, mo ghraidh.” He pulled me close and kissed me as if to seal his promise, causing tingles to run up and down my spine. I sought to deepen the kiss as my ever-present want for him began to build, but he pulled back and placed a finger on my lips. “No’ quite yet, a nighean. I have a plan, and ye willna distract me from it.”

I pouted a bit, but I did trust that his plan, whatever it was, would be worth it in the end. “All right, lead the way, soldier,” I ordered, and followed him out of the cave. It was another warm, summer day, perfect for a bit of a walk. We had been fortunate that the weather had mostly been quite nice this summer as we were basically living outdoors. I hoped that the winter weather would discourage the redcoats from their patrols to the point where we could move back into the house during the harshest time of year. Then in the spring, the baby would be old enough for us to relocate to wherever we decided to go.

Jamie and I had occasionally been discussing names for the baby whenever a particularly good or awful one popped into our minds, and we listed off a few during our walk. “What do ye think of Farquhar?” Jamie asked. He was holding back a branch for me to pass by and looked very serious as he proposed the name.

“Jamie, I know you must be joking, suggesting the name Farquhar,” I laughed, passing safely by the offending branch.

“I dinna appreciate ye insulting all of my name choices, Sassenach. Farquhar might be a verra important name in my family for all ye ken.”

“Well if it’s so important, why haven’t I heard you mention it even once in the years I’ve known you?”

“Perhaps I was just waitin’ to see if ye were worthy enough to hear the story,” he rebutted.

“Oh, so you didn’t have to wait to see if I was worthy enough to marry me, bed me, or get me with child, but the story of the great Farquhar Fraser was simply too significant to tell me until I proved myself in some way, hm?” I turned to flash him a smug smile, feeling that I had made a pretty solid point in our pretend argument, but before I could fully look him in the face, he was quite literally sweeping me off my feet, ignoring my shrieks of protest.

He carried me a few more paces, and I noticed the sound of rushing water. “Do ye wish that I had waited a bit longer to bed ye then, Sassenach?” he asked, setting me back on my feet next to a picturesque pond at the base of a small waterfall. He did not release me, keeping an arm tight around my waist. “As I said earlier, I do have plans for what to do with ye, but I wouldna want to move too quickly if ye prefer to wait and mull things over a bit.”

“I think it’s a bit late for that, don’t you?” I asked, placing his hand on my belly.

“Aye,” he breathed, and he kissed me deeply this time, no longer holding back now that we had arrived at his predetermined destination. We quickly shed our clothing and eased ourselves slowly into the chilly pool. I took a moment to luxuriate in the feeling of days of dirt and grime washing away before noticing that Jamie had one more surprise. He had brought the last remaining bar of soap from the stash I had brought back from France. I had completely forgotten about it, having left it at Lallybroch when we left to fight in the Rising.

“Jamie, I can’t believe you remembered the soap before I did. What a wonderful surprise!” I floated over to him and took his face in my hands, kissing him thoroughly in appreciation for his thoughtfulness.

“’Twas nothing. I figured living out in the woods, ye might like to feel clean once in a while. Now lie back, Sassenach, and let me take care of ye.” I happily obliged, leaning into him and closing my eyes as he lathered the soap in his hands. He started by washing my unruly curls, massaging my scalp as he went, then moved lower down my body. He ran his soapy hands over my shoulders and down my arms, caressing and cleaning down to each fingertip. He then moved to my breasts, rubbing slow circles around my nipples until I was aching for him.

He lathered his hands again to rub my ever-expanding belly. I felt the flutter of the child again as I had more and more frequently over the last few days, and I smiled to myself at the reminder of how well this pregnancy seemed to be going. Jamie brought my attention sharply back to him as he moved from behind me to have better access to my lower half. His hands once again covered in suds, he massaged my feet, giving proper attention to both, then began working his way up my calves, past my thighs, to where I had been burning for his touch.

I let out a cry of relief as his fingers began slowly working me into a frenzy. It was all I could do to keep my head above water when I really just wanted to let go and drown in this moment of bliss. The water rippled and splashed around me as I came, my hands reaching for something to cling to and finding only water and air. Jamie moved back to allow me to lean on him again as I slowly returned to my senses.

Some time later, after I had returned the favor to Jamie, we both lay naked in the cool grass, clean and drying off before making our way back to the cave. “You know, Jamie,” I contemplated, “after all the names we’ve talked about, I really do think Brian has to be the one.”

“Are ye sure, Sassenach? Would ye no’ rather name him after yer father perhaps?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t rule it out in the future, but I think this one should be Brian. We already have a Wee Jamie, or I would suggest that, but this baby is your heir, and I think Brian is a much better name for a Scottish laird than Henry.”

“I canna disagree with ye on that point.” He looked away for a moment, something clearly bothering him, and I stroked his cheek as a silent encouragement for him to confide in me. “I dinna ken if I’ll ever truly be able to be a laird in Lallybroch again. There’s nothing I want more than to care for my land and tenants with you by my side, Claire. I want our bairns to grow up at Lallybroch as I did, and I want our son to know the land he will one day inherit like the back of his hand, having explored and tended to it all his life. I want you to be healer for the people who inhabit our land, and for you to maybe teach our daughter to be as wise as ye are in medicine so that she can carry on yer work one day. I would happily live as a fugitive for now if I was assured that one day we could have all of these things, but I fear that none of it will ever come to pass.”

He let out a deep sigh after giving his confession, but when I shifted to glance at him, he did not look any less troubled. Although we both knew how fortunate we were to be together, we couldn’t help but want more out of life than just mere existence with one another. Jamie was so clearly meant to be a leader, and my calling as a healer was just as obvious. “Jamie,” I began, pressing a kiss to his shoulder, “I know this isn’t the situation we would have chosen for ourselves to be in, but it is a temporary one. We will make ourselves useful wherever we end up fleeing to, and then in a few years, hopefully things will have settled down, and we’ll be able to return to Scotland. And if not, you’ll still teach our children valuable lessons, and they will lead happy lives. Just because the future is unclear doesn’t mean that it isn’t still bright.”

“Mo chridhe, what would I do without ye?” Jamie turned to me and captured my mouth with his. Our kiss deepened, becoming more urgent as I pressed the length of my body along his. We broke apart for air after a time, and he tucked my slightly damp curls behind my ear. “I just want to provide a safe place for ye, Claire. I would lay the world at yer feet, yet I have nothing to give ye.”

“Oh, Jamie, you’ve already given me everything,” I reassured him, looking down at the swell of our child pressed between us. His eyes followed my gaze, and he finally smiled as we made love in the grass, the promise of our future evident before us.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24
July 1746

The summer days at the cave flew by faster than I had originally expected them to. I had worried that I would have trouble finding enough work to occupy my time, but it turned out that I had just as much to do, if not more, than I did at the house. I continued to work on my knitting when I had finished the rest of the day’s tasks, but I rarely even had time for my new hobby before I fell asleep each night. I still had to do a day of washing each week, and I usually accompanied Jamie on a few of his hunting trips. Although I slowed him down considerably, he claimed to enjoy my company, and I was having fun learning how to track from an expert.

I always brought a basket with me on our journeys to collect medicinal plants as I came across them. I had depleted most of my stores during our time with the Highland army, and I was pleased to have plenty of time to replenish them for the next illness or injury that would inevitably come along. With the meat, my foraging, and the food Fergus brought us from the house, we had all recovered quite nicely from our period of malnutrition.

Aside from my daily activities, I was placing a great emphasis upon rest. I had certainly learned my lesson from my last pregnancy, and I was determined to not overexert myself. There were no warning signs of any problems with this baby like there had been with Faith, but I was not willing to take any chances. I made sure to take breaks periodically throughout the day, and Jamie and I went to bed quite early most nights. My desire for him had been rather insatiable of late, and on the nights during which Fergus stayed at Lallybroch, we both fell into a deep and contented sleep after gentle but thorough lovemaking.

I had been living at the cave with Jamie for about a month before I took my first trip back to Lallybroch. Fergus had brought our latest batch of essentials with him that morning along with the news of a few tenants who seemed to have caught a nasty summer cold. No one appeared to be in grave danger, but I would likely be able to help them bring their fevers down with some of the belladonna I had on hand. A young boy also required my attention due to a splinter he had ignored until it had become infected. Finally, Ian appeared to have an infected molar which could potentially result in my pulling the tooth.

The redcoats had just been seen the week prior in Broch Mordha. They thankfully had not taken Ian this time, only “commandeering” some provisions as they passed through. We assumed they would likely not be back around for another couple of weeks, and it would be safe for me to travel. I persuaded Jamie to stay in the cave, convincing him that I would be a lot less conspicuous accompanied by Fergus than him anyway. I was slightly nervous about going out of hiding for a little while, but the priest hole was still an option if something should happen, and I planned on being back out with Jamie in a few days at most.

Fergus and I set out on a foggy morning, Jamie kissing me goodbye with a desperation almost akin to when he was leaving for battle. “Jamie, you do know I’ll be back in just a few days. Everything is going to be all right,” I reassured him.

“I ken, Sassenach, but ’tis harder watchin’ ye leave me when my whole world is encompassed within ye. You and the bairn are so precious to me, and I’ll miss ye both terribly. Please be careful, a nighean.” He blinked rapidly as his eyes started to well with tears.

“I will be. I promise. It really isn’t that far, and I have complete faith that Fergus will keep us safe.”

Fergus piped up. “Aye, Milady. Nothing will happen to her, Milord. I swear on my life.”

Jamie ruffled Fergus’s hair as a goodbye. “Thank ye, lad. I’ll see all of ye in a couple of days then.”

And with that, Fergus and I began our somewhat controlled slide down the hill back to the pathway through the woods. Although it was unfortunate that Jamie could not accompany me, I was excited to be heading back to Lallybroch. I hadn’t seen Jenny or Ian since I had left, and it would be nice to catch up with them over the next couple of days. Fergus and I had been walking for a while, not speaking, before he broke the silence.

“Milady,” he began, “I have been wondering something and would like to ask you about it if that is all right with you.”

Fergus normally was not afraid to speak his mind, so I was surprised at how anxious he sounded. “Of course, Fergus. You can ask me anything,” I encouraged.

“Well, I have overheard you and Milord talking about what you will do after the bairn arrives. I know that you plan to leave Lallybroch, and I was wondering if I had permission to come with you when you do.”

His last few words were jumbled together as he rushed to finish his question. He did not make eye contact with me, presumably afraid of what my answer would be, but I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him and gently turned him to face me. “Fergus, of course you’ll come with us. Why ever would you think that we would leave you behind?” I asked, smoothing his hair back from his forehead.

“I was not sure. I did not know if you would want me to stay with you once you had the new bairn to look after,” he admitted, wringing his hands. “And perhaps I can be of more use here with the chores that need to be done on the farm.”

It broke my heart to realize that he still thought he was just something akin to a servant to us. I knew all too well what it was like to be an orphan with almost no family to speak of. At least I had had a blood relative in Uncle Lamb. Fergus was truly alone except for us and in a foreign country. I felt a pang of guilt, remembering how I had sent him away when I had resolved to die with Jamie. It was easy to blame my actions on grief and exhaustion, but the truth was, I had been unforgivably selfish to not even think about what would become of Fergus without both Jamie and me. No wonder he felt uncertain about his standing with me.

“There will always be chores to do on a farm, but there are plenty of people at Lallybroch to take care of those. You belong with Jamie and me now. We love you, and that will never change.” I kissed him on his head among the curls that were so like mine, despite our lack of blood relation. “Besides,” I said smiling, “you’ll have to be with us to teach your new brother or sister to be just as sweet and helpful as you are when they grow up.”

His eyes lit up at hearing me refer to the baby as his future sibling. “Really, Milady? The bairn is my brother or sister?”

“Yes, Fergus, it is. And I think perhaps you should stop calling me milady and Jamie milord. What do you think of maman and papa instead?”

“Oui, Maman!” He agreed with such enthusiasm, I almost cried. He threw his arms around my middle, hugging me tight. When he finally let go, we continued our walk to Lallybroch, Fergus enthusiastically listing everything he planned to do with his new sibling.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25
July 1746

When we reached Lallybroch, Jenny gave me her usual welcoming hug, commenting on how big I had gotten in the last month. “I’ve ne’er seen someone take to living in a cave so well as ye seem to have done, Claire,” she exclaimed. “Ye look so healthy, and that bairn surely has grown! ’Tis going to be a boy, I think. We’ll ask Mrs. Crook later. She hasna been wrong yet wi’ any o’ my three.”

“That’s what Jamie thinks too, but I haven’t been able to decide either way,” I admitted, thoughtfully rubbing my stomach. “Let’s hope it’s a boy since we haven’t picked a single girl’s name yet.” Jenny put an arm around my waist, leading me into the house while giving me her suggestions of girl’s names as we went up the stairs.

I had to admit that it was nice to be back in the company of my sister-in-law, especially now as I was getting further along into my pregnancy. Faith’s birth had been so traumatic, but I had barely been conscious at the time. I really had little to no idea of what to expect from a healthy delivery during which I would be alert and in control. I soon would be further along than I had ever been with Faith, which meant that I was about to enter uncharted territory. I likely would be able to act as a midwife if necessary, but my medical training for the war had, understandably so, rather glossed over pregnancy and birth. I knew the basics of what was to come, but actually enduring the pain myself was daunting to contemplate. Being able to talk to someone with first-hand experience was comforting.

In addition to my general concerns over actually giving birth, the doubts surrounding my ability to be a good mother had begun to creep in again. I already was at something of a disadvantage, not really having even a clue where we would be living a year from now, precluding me from being able to prepare a safe, healthy environment for the baby to grow up in. I knew now what it was to feel the immense, unrestrained love for one’s child, but there had to be more skills involved in being a good mother than just having the ability to love. Once again, it was nice to be able to air my grievances with Jenny and have her reassure me that she had once felt the same way.

Jenny and I chatted over tea for an hour or so about babies, husbands, and the like before my first patient arrived. Alastair MacAdams was led in by his mother, looking absolutely terrified. He appeared to be a boy of about ten, and he was clutching his right index finger to his chest, shielding it from view. His mother softly pushed him forward in my direction. “Go ahead and tell Lady Broch Tuarach what the matter is, Alastair,” she whispered loudly in his ear.

“Oh, you needn’t be so formal as all that,” I interjected quickly, hoping to ease some of the boy’s worries. “Mistress Claire will do just fine. May I see your finger, Alastair?” I held out my hand to the boy as he slowly crossed the room and relinquished his injured finger to me.

“I ken it looks quite bad, Mistress,” his mother apologized. “He didna let on that anythin’ was amiss until it was too far gone for me to help him. He’s so shy and quiet, he barely speaks more’n ten words to me in a given day.”

“That’s all right.” I slowly turned his swollen finger, trying to determine where the offending splinter was located. “I’ll get you fixed up in no time. Do you remember where the splinter was?” Alastair silently pointed at a spot just in the center of his middle phalanx which I could indeed see was a good deal redder than the rest of his finger. I still could not see the splinter, however it was clear that something was causing the infection. I would have to cut his finger open further in order to extract the splinter which would unfortunately hurt the poor boy a good deal more than a normal extraction.

I went over to my medical box to retrieve the necessary supplies. “Jenny, do you think you could persuade Mrs. Crook to let us have a couple of her biscuits for Alastair? I have a feeling he is going to be such a brave boy that he’ll deserve a treat at the end of this.” Jenny left momentarily, returning with the biscuits as I finished cleaning my instruments.

I needed to somehow calm the boy down a bit. He was quite tense, which I knew would only serve to amplify his pain. I thought maybe if I could get him talking, he would at least be somewhat distracted while I was slicing into his finger. “Now, Alastair, how did you end up getting such a splinter? Were you helping your mam in the kitchen?” Alastair shook his head. “Perhaps you were out helping your da?” The head shaking continued. “Were you on a grand adventure then?” I tried, running out of options.

“Aye, Mistress.” he said, almost inaudibly.

“Really? That does sound fun! You must tell me all about it!” Alastair began a winding tale of his search for the faeries his grandmother had told him lived in a hollowed out tree near their home. He had gotten the splinter while he was attempting to build a house to entice the faeries out of their tree so that he could get a good look at them. I was surprised at how well he was able to manage with the pain; even while I was digging rather deeply into his finger to get at the splinter, he only paused a couple of times to take a sharp breath before continuing his tale. It seemed that once he found his confidence and had a captive audience, nothing could distract him from telling his story.

After thoroughly cleaning Alastair’s splinter-free finger, I bandaged him up and gave instructions to his mother on how to keep his wound clean. “Thank ye so verra much, Mistress,” she effused. “I dinna ken how ye got him to talk that much. Ye really seem to have a way wi’ bairns. Yers will be verra fortunate to have such a wonderful mam.” She smiled at me and squeezed my hand before turning to leave, Alastair happily tucking in to his biscuits on the way out the door.

“She’s right, ye ken.” I turned around to see Jenny smiling at me, hand on her hip. “Ye’ll never ken everythin’ about bairns, but they’ll teach ye early on all ye need to learn about keepin’ them alive. What you have, Claire, is something that canna be taught. Ye’ll be a braw mam, and yer bairn will want for nothing, even with my daftie of a brother as the da.” Jenny and I both laughed, and I went to clean my tools from the extraction.

Over the next couple of days, I went out into Broch Mordha accompanied by Fergus to see to the tenants who had been struck with a cold. They all needed just minor tending to and were on the mend by my fourth day back at Lallybroch. Ian’s toothache, at least for now, had subsided with the salt water rinse I had prescribed for him. I left the tooth, not wanting to pull it unless I absolutely had to.

On the morning of my fifth day back, Fergus and I prepared to leave Lallybroch. This would likely be my last trip back to the cave. If I stayed until the end of the summer, I would be nearing my seventh month, and it would probably be best for me to stay at the house from then on. I didn’t necessarily want to be living at the cave once the weather started to turn, making travel more precarious. Fergus and I gathered up the usual supplies to take back with us, bid Jenny and Ian farewell, and set out to return to Jamie.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26
July 1746

The morning was a rainy one, a heavy cloud cover obscuring the sun. Fergus was walking, but I had taken one of the horses to ride. Our supplies were loaded onto the mare’s back, and with the addition of my not insubstantial weight, she was moving at a slow pace through the woods. Fergus had run up ahead in order to bring Jamie back to help carry the supplies up to the cave. It was all I could do to get myself up the hill at this point, so I was little to no help in the transportation of said supplies.

Fergus had been out of my sight for a few minutes when I saw him sprinting toward me on the path, a frantic look in his eyes. “Maman!” he hissed as he approached me. “Quickly! You must hide now! An English soldier is just ahead, and he is heading this way!” I dismounted as quickly as I could and hurried off the path, my heart pounding. I could feel the baby awaken and begin to move, probably due to my panic as the adrenaline kicked in.

Fergus hopped up onto the horse before I turned away to find somewhere to hide. I spotted some heavy brush between two trees that would provide enough covering to conceal me from anyone who might be looking this way from the path. Crouching down to hide, I attempted to slow my breathing so that I would be neither visible nor audible. I closed my eyes and curled protectively around the baby, praying that Fergus would be okay.

“Where are you headed, lad?” I heard an English voice demand, not even a minute after I had hidden myself.

Fergus answered, his voice strong and sure. “I am going to Lallybroch, sir. My distant cousins live there, and I have brought supplies for them from my family.”

“Your cousins, eh? What are their names then?” The soldier was not going to let him go that easily.

“Ian and Janet Murray, sir. My father, their cousin, lived in France for a time and returned with me. Our farm has been prosperous this year, and we wanted to share our extra provisions with them.” Fergus was nothing if not clever, and his hastily concocted story seemed reasonable enough.

“Well that’s kind of you and your family. There’s only one problem I see here. You’re going in the opposite direction of Lallybroch. Did you know that?” I winced upon hearing this and held my breath, waiting for Fergus to come up with an acceptable response.

“I did not, sir. My family is not expecting me until later tonight, so I had been exploring the area for a little while. I must have gotten turned around. Thank you for your help. I should be on my way now.” I relaxed a little. Fergus had done well to play dumb and to boost the soldier’s ego. I couldn’t see any reason why he should be held any longer. Worst case scenario, I would have to walk to the cave by myself while Fergus rode back to Lallybroch to keep up his ruse.

“You’re welcome, lad. Next time you should keep on task better so that you don’t end up wasting time by getting lost.” My heart seemed to stop as I heard the soldier dismounting. “Now if you don’t mind watching my horse for a moment, lad, I need a bit of privacy.”

I heard the crunch of the soldier’s boots coming straight for me. I had hidden myself from the path well enough, but if the soldier came much closer, he would see me quite clearly crouched down in the brush. Ian had made it clear that the English thought I knew the location of the French gold, and even if this soldier happened to not recognize me, my hiding from him would likely raise his suspicions. A hundred different scenarios were running through my head, none of them with a positive outcome, when I heard Fergus whistle from the trail.

The soldier’s footsteps stopped, and I heard him yell, “Hey, lad! Come back here with that! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The soldier tore off running back to the path, and I risked peering over the foliage behind which I was hiding. Fergus had snatched the soldier’s haversack from his horse and was running in the opposite direction of my hiding place, deeper into the woods. He had saved me from being found. I only hoped he could keep ahead of the soldier long enough to lose him.

When they had both been out of sight for a few minutes, I came out of my hiding place and got back onto the horse to continue on toward Jamie. I figured Fergus would make his way to the cave once he was able to escape, and it did no good for me to remain at the scene of the crime. I dismounted at the base of the accursed hill and yelled for Jamie, hoping he would be in the cave so that we could figure out what to do next.

I saw his red hair emerge from the rock, and he smiled at seeing me before he noticed the distraught look on my face. He descended the hill as quickly as he could, taking me in his arms when he reached me. “Sassenach, what’s the matter? Is it the bairn? Are ye all right?” He was looking me over frantically, trying to assess what the problem could be.

I shook my head, tears starting to fall down my face. “No, Jamie. It isn’t me; it’s Fergus. We met a soldier on the path, and Fergus lured him away from me, but I don’t know what’s happened to him or where he is. I don’t know what to do!”

“I’ll find him, Claire,” Jamie stated, and I knew there was no dissuading him, no matter the risk to his own safety.

“Please be careful, Jamie. Don’t take any unnecessary risks,” I pleaded.

“I won’t. Let’s get ye safely in the cave, and then I’ll be off.” Jamie helped me up the hill, and I went inside. He took only his knife with him, and left me alone to worry and wait for his return.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27
July 1746

As I waited for Jamie’s return, I couldn’t help but think back on our time with Fergus. Never would I have predicted that the street urchin Jamie had hired from a brothel in Paris would one day be risking his life to save mine. I had certainly never expected that he would one day call me his mother or that I would think of him as my son. Early on I had considered him, at worst, only a nuisance; at best, Jamie’s sidekick. I was so far removed from his and Jamie’s world of nightly intrigue and thieving that I hardly took notice of his presence.

Everything had changed after I’d lost Faith, but not because I was looking for a child to replace her. The way Fergus had remained with me and genuinely cared for me in my time of greatest need and loneliness had truly touched me. His loyalty up to that point had mostly been to Jamie, but it seemed that, somewhere along the line, it had extended to me. From that point on, Fergus was part of our family, whether we fully realized it or not at the time. Bringing him home with us to Lallybroch had only cemented that fact, and when we’d left to join the rising, it had only made sense for him to come with us.

I didn’t know what had taken me so long to finally ask Fergus to call me maman. It had always been a bit ridiculous to expect him to refer to me as milady. When we were in France, our titles and status within society had been important, and I had perhaps grown a bit too accustomed to being addressed as Lady Broch Tuarach. When it would have been most appropriate to fully assume the role of mother to Fergus, I was still too raw from losing Faith to contemplate being a mother to another child. At this point, although it would never fully go away, the pain of that time had dulled into something manageable. I was ready to be a mother again, both to my second biological child and now to my adopted one. The one good and lasting thing to come out of the devastation of Paris was Fergus, and I hoped now that he knew just how much he meant to Jamie and me.

After about a half hour of worry mixed with reminiscence, I heard heavy footsteps approaching the cave. “Claire, come quick!” called Jamie’s strangled voice. “Bring yer medicine and tools with ye!”

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I exited the cave. Jamie was holding Fergus in his arms, blood steadily dripping down to the ground. Jamie was bare chested; his shirt was soaked in blood, wrapped around the end of Fergus’s arm where his hand should have been. I audibly gasped when the reality of the situation sank in. That bastard soldier had cut off Fergus’s hand.

Jamie caught my eye, giving me a pained and helpless look. I knew I had to pull myself together quickly. Jamie had done his part in bringing Fergus to me; now it was my turn. “Just a moment,” I told Jamie as I went back into the cave for a blanket. I spread the blanket outside the cave on the flattest part of the ground I could find. I needed the light of day in order to see what I was doing. Jamie lay Fergus on the blanket, and Fergus groaned in pain as his arm was moved in the process. I was able to switch from mother to nurse fairly easily as I unwrapped Fergus’s arm. If I didn’t look at his face, I could pretend for now that this was just any other soldier on any other day.

The amputation had been done cleanly with a sharp blade which hopefully minimized the pain in the moment, but also left me with no real way to perform a surgical repair. If there had been excess skin, I could have possibly stitched it together to close the wound and minimize the risk of infection. As it was, I would have to diligently clean the wound and hope that infection did not set in before granulation could start the healing process.

“Will the lad be all right, Sassenach?” Jamie asked after a while, pulling me out of my thoughts.

“I’ll do everything I can to make sure that he is, but I can only control so much. You did well to tie your shirt around his arm; that should have prevented him from losing too much blood. Now it’s very important that we keep his wound as clean as possible. If we can prevent a serious infection, he should recover just fine.” I applied pressure on the wound as I explained the situation to Jamie, trying to fully stop the bleeding so that I could properly clean and bandage the arm. Fergus was mostly unconscious, but he turned his head fitfully from side to side as I worked. Thankfully Jamie was able to hold his arm steady for me. As there was little I could do at this point, it didn’t take me long to finish bandaging Fergus’s arm; however the stress of the day’s events had taken its toll on me. I leaned back against the log on which we usually sat when we ate around the fire and closed my eyes.

“Are ye all right, a nighean?” Jamie scooted over to me and took my hand in his. “Ye’re shakin’ like a leaf.”

I felt very weak, and my head was pounding, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave Jamie with two people to take care of. “I’ll be all right,” I said, opening my eyes and squeezing his hand. “I just can’t believe this has happened. He saved our lives, you know.”

“I do.” Jamie turned to smile sadly at Fergus’s unconscious form. “As much as it pains me that the lad has sacrificed his hand, I canna help but be proud of him for saving you and the bairn.”

“He asked me on our way to Lallybroch if he would be allowed to come with us when we leave with the baby in the spring. I felt awful that I had never made it clear to him that he was part of our family now. I asked him if he would like to call us maman and papa. You should have seen the look of joy on his face…” I trailed off, a bit overcome.

Jamie shook his head and cleared his throat, obviously upset at hearing of Fergus’s doubts. “We will never let him feel alone like that again, Claire. Especially now, as his life will be that much harder wi’ only one hand. He is our child just as much as this bairn and any others we are blessed with will be.”

“Did I ever tell you how we were able to get you back once the English let you go?” It suddenly hit me that I had never fully explained to Jamie the details of how we had come to take possession of the wagon he had been moved to after Culloden.

“Ye didna, but Fergus did. He brought it up one day and apologized for losin’ my father’s ring. I told the lad he had nothin’ to apologize for, that he had done the right thing. He saved my life too, Sassenach, and still he felt he handna done enough.”

“We’re so lucky to have found him,” I said, my voice thick with emotion.

“Aye, Sassenach, that we are,” Jamie affirmed.

It had started to drizzle again, and Jamie helped me to my feet so that I could head inside the cave. He picked Fergus up, carrying him inside as well. Jamie placed Fergus on our bed, and I began gathering what I needed for a tea to help relieve the pain Fergus would surely feel once he woke up. Once I had the water boiling, I lay down next to Fergus on the bed. As I smoothed his curls, damp with sweat and rain, back from his forehead, he began to stir.

“Maman?” he asked, his eyes still closed and a frown beginning to form on his face. It touched me that, even in his delirious state, he still remembered to call me maman. How long must he have longed to call me his mother for it to come so naturally to him?

“Yes, Fergus, I’m right here along with Papa,” I reassured him, trying to keep my voice steady.

Jamie knelt on the other side of Fergus. “I’m right here, lad. We’re both right here with ye. How do ye feel?”

Fergus finally opened his eyes and held up his bandaged arm to examine it himself. “I’m so sorry, darling,” I began. “I know it must hurt. The tea will be ready soon, and that should help with the pain.” I felt so helpless. I wanted to remain positive and strong for him, but I had no idea what he was feeling or thinking. Jamie flashed me a pained look, clearly going through the same emotions.

“Can ye talk to us, son?” Jamie gently questioned him. “Does it hurt too terribly to talk? Is there anythin’ yer mam or I can get for ye?”

“It does not hurt too badly, Mi-“ he paused, “-I mean Papa. I am hungry though.”

I almost laughed with relief. If the first thing he thought of after losing his hand was food, he was still the same old Fergus. “I’ll find something for you,” I said, starting to get up.

“Nay, Sassenach, let me. Stay with the lad.” Jamie got up to get some meat and bannocks he had on hand.

“You know you saved my life today, Fergus,” I said. “Mine and the baby’s. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for what you’ve done.”

“I had to, Maman. I promised Papa on my life that nothing would happen to you. Yet it only cost me my hand,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I know you promised, but not everyone is able to keep their promises when bad things actually happen. You are a true man of honor.” Fergus smiled up at me, and I took his hand in mine. I was having a hard time keeping the tears at bay anymore. How could someone who had had such a difficult life still be so pure of heart? Jamie returned and helped Fergus to sit up in order to eat, while I got up to check on the tea.

After Fergus had eaten and drunk most of his tea, we all just sat together for a while, thankful to still have each other. Fergus started to doze after a few minutes, but I woke him by suddenly grabbing his hand and placing it on my stomach. “It looks like the baby wants to thank you too, darling.” Fergus sat up, and his eyes grew wide and round as saucers as he felt the baby kick.

“The bairn, Sassenach?” Jamie exclaimed. “Ye can feel it on the outside now?”

“Mmhm. Come here and feel him, Jamie.” He darted around to my side and placed his hand next to Fergus’s. The baby must have known there was an audience present and put on a show of kicking more than he or she had up until that point.

“Un petite miracle,” Fergus whispered as the baby calmed down and ceased kicking.

“Aye, lad, it is a miracle,” Jamie agreed. “And we would have lost it today if not for your bravery. I’ve never been prouder of you, my son.”

We helped Fergus up and settled him into his smaller, makeshift bed. Jamie pulled the blanket over him, and I kissed his forehead as his eyes fell closed. Jamie and I went back to our bed where he gathered me in his arms. He kept one hand on my belly as we fell asleep so as to not miss another moment of feeling our child stir within me.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28
July 1746

I woke several times in the night, my subconscious not allowing me to sleep for long without checking on Fergus, yet each time I turned to look at him, he was still sound asleep. He did not look entirely peaceful, but I was thankful that his pain did not prevent him from sleeping through the night. The fourth time I woke up, Jamie was sitting next to Fergus, watching him sleep. I figured it was close enough to morning for me to give up on getting any more rest, and I got up to prepare more tea for Fergus to help with his pain.

Jamie came over and wrapped his arms around me from behind. Neither of us spoke for a moment, just taking comfort in each other and in the fact that Fergus had made it through the night without any apparent difficulty. I sighed deeply, relieved to know that whatever obstacles lay ahead for Fergus, we would help him through them together.

“How long have you been watching him?” I asked, nodding toward Fergus.

“Oh, no’ verra long. Perhaps a half hour or so. I dinna ken how he’s able to sleep so peacefully considerin’ what happened to him.”

“I suppose he trusts us to take care of him; he feels safe.” I paused for a moment, unsure if I really wanted the answer to the question that had been bothering me since Jamie had come back with Fergus, but I had to know. “Jamie, what happened to the soldier who cut his hand off?”

“I ken what ye’re thinkin’, but ye needna worry,” Jamie reassured me. “The soldier was long gone by the time I found the lad. Good thing too, or I would’ve killed the bastard. To cut off a boy’s hand and then leave him to die alone is cruelty far beyond what anyone deserves.”

“I’m just so grateful you were able to find him before he lost too much blood. I know the road ahead of him won’t be an easy one, but things could have been much worse if he had been by himself much longer.” Jamie kissed me on the cheek before stepping away to allow me to continue my preparations.

“I find myself grateful for many things this mornin’,” Jamie declared. “And the lad will have difficulties, but he has a family full of folk who will help him through. I’m sure Wee Jamie will be first in line to help however he can; the lad idolizes Fergus. We’ll need Ian to take Fergus to the blacksmith so he can be fitted for a hook once his arm is feelin’ better.”

I would have laughed at the absurdity of it, had the mental picture of Fergus with a hook instead of a hand not disturbed me so. I couldn’t help but think immediately of Captain Hook from Peter Pan. Of course, hooks of a sort were used in the 1940s to replace amputated hands, but they hardly looked like the one depicted in illustrations of the villain in the popular children’s book. I imagined Fergus’s might look exactly like the one I was imagining. I would have to tell Jamie the story of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys some day.

The tea finished brewing moments before Fergus began to stir. I rushed over to his side, wanting to be with him as he remembered anew what had happened the day before. I was unsure of how he would react once it all came rushing back to him. “How do you feel, darling?” I inquired, attempting to exude an air of motherly comfort.

Fergus’s brow was furrowed, and I could see that he was experiencing a good deal of pain. “My arm hurts, but I can bear the pain,” he answered. Jamie came over to help him sit up, and Fergus winced as his arm was moved.

“Ye dinna need to be brave for us, lad,” Jamie said, rubbing Fergus’s back. “Yer mam and I are here to help ye through it, but if ye need to cry or yell when it hurts too much, that’s all right.” Fergus nodded, but was clearly still in too much pain to do much else. I retrieved the tea for him and helped him drink some of it down.

“I know this is going to be difficult, but once the tea starts working and you feel a bit less pain, I need you to tell me so I can change the dressing on your arm. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it is going to be rather painful the first few times,” I apologized. Fergus once again nodded bravely, sighing deeply as he resigned himself to his fate.

We all ate breakfast while we waited for Fergus’s pain to lessen. He didn’t say much, but he did eat like normal which I interpreted as a good sign. After we cleaned up, I could find no reason to delay my work any longer. The bandages had to be changed, no matter how much I dreaded causing Fergus any more pain.

Jamie sat with his arm around Fergus’s shoulders for support while I unwrapped his arm. Fergus tried to hide his shock as the last of the bandages came free, but I could see that the reality of having lost his hand was hitting him anew. I was relieved to see no signs of infection, but the wound was still an angry looking one. I had no choice but to go through the painful process of cleaning and redressing the arm. Fergus once again remained fairly stoic throughout, and I wondered how long he could keep up such a brave front.

“All right, Fergus, we’re done for now,” I informed him as Jamie let out a breath he had apparently been holding in for the past fifteen minutes. “Would you like some more tea?”

“No, maybe later. May I go outside for a little while?” Fergus asked.

Jamie and I glanced at each other in worry. “Are ye sure ye’re up for it lad? Did ye want some company?” Jamie offered.

“I just would like to be alone for a little while,” Fergus replied, not meeting Jamie’s eyes.

“All right,” I conceded, “but don’t wander too far and do call out if you need anything.” Fergus stood and slowly walked outside, leaving Jamie and me to feel helpless. It worried me that he wanted to be alone. Jamie and I so desperately wanted to be there to comfort and reassure him, but he seemed reluctant to let us.

“Should you follow him?” I asked Jamie. “You could easily stay hidden and he would be none the wiser. I don’t like the idea of him being out there, unable to defend himself.”

“I think the lad needs to grapple wi’ his own demons. He isna foolish; he won’t stray far, and he kens the dangers he might meet. If he’s man enough to risk his life for us, we have to trust him to make wise enough decisions regarding his own safety.” I knew Jamie was right, but I was no less worried. Sensing my unease, Jamie came over and wrapped his arms around me in a reassuring hug. “He’ll be all right, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered into my hair. “He’ll figure things out. Just give him time.”

We did give him time, a bit more reluctantly so on my part than on Jamie’s, but at the two hour mark, I convinced Jamie to check on him. I was outside tending to the fire in order to brew more tea in anticipation of Fergus’s return, when the two of them came walking back, side by side. “Fergus, thank goodness you’re all right!” I exclaimed in relief, running up to hug him. As I held him to me, I felt his whole body start to shake with wracking sobs. It appeared that after almost an entire day, the full weight of his new reality had finally come crashing down on him. Jamie wrapped an arm around each of us, and we let Fergus cry for as long as he needed to.

A bit later, after Fergus had drunk some more tea and fallen back to sleep, Jamie and I were once again discussing what we could do to help ease some of Fergus’s anguish. “Sassenach, I just had a thought,” Jamie revealed rather suddenly. “We’ve been so daft this entire time. The lad needs a talk wi’ Ian. He’s the only one who can begin to understand what Fergus is goin’ through.”

He was absolutely right. Ian had lost his leg years ago fighting in France; if anyone could sympathize with Fergus’s plight, it was Ian. Jamie took Fergus back to Lallybroch the next morning. It was perhaps slightly foolhardy for Jamie to take the risk, but he felt it was a way to show Fergus how much he meant us. Fergus would have to come back the same day in order for me to change his bandages, but I was surprised when Jamie returned just a couple hours later.

“Well that must have been a quick chat,” I remarked, setting down my knitting. “I didn’t expect you two back until well after dark.”

Jamie sat down beside me and kissed me while rubbing a large hand on my belly. “The lad didna come wi’ me. Everyone at the house was brokenhearted, not to mention a good deal angered, at seeing what had happened to Fergus. Ian seemed to ken right away why we had come, and he offered to bring Fergus back to us after spendin’ the day wi’ him.”

About an hour after Jamie and I had finished our supper, Wee Jamie came bursting into the cave to inform us that Ian and Fergus were waiting at the bottom of my least favorite hill. Jamie went down to meet them and returned with Fergus a little while later.

“Welcome home, darling. How was your day?” I could already tell just by looking at Fergus that he was in better spirits than before.

“It was a good day. I was afraid before that I would no longer be able to work on the farm,” Fergus admitted. “I thought maybe I would have to sit inside all day with the bairns. Uncle Ian said he also worried if he would be useful after he lost his leg. But even though my arm is not healed, he showed me that I still am able to help. Uncle Ian said that once it is better and I can get a hook, there will maybe be some things I can do better than anyone!”

“I’m so glad Uncle Ian was able to help you. Now let me take a look at your arm so I can work on making it better.” Fergus still didn’t really complain about his pain while I changed his bandages, but this time, instead of just remaining strong and silent, he talked nonstop about the latest news from Lallybroch. We all slept soundly that night, Jamie and I feeling much more at peace about Fergus’s well-being.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29
Late August 1746

The summer wore inexorably on, and our days became routine again. Fergus continued to improve physically as well as mentally. After a couple of weeks, Ian took him to the blacksmith to be fitted for a hook. His arm was still too tender to wear it just yet, but it was healing nicely. He had been able to stay at Lallybroch for a little while now that I did not need to change his bandages as often, and he still went hunting with Jamie when he came to stay with us.

The baby and I also continued to thrive, growing larger with each passing day, and near the end of August, I was to the point in my pregnancy where I had begun to feel truly cumbersome. Everyday tasks had become incredibly tiring, I was constantly off-balance, and my usually graceful, proud stride had turned into more of a waddle. Sleep had also evaded me of late due to the baby keeping me up at night, and Jamie convinced me to let him take me back to the house in the hopes that I could sleep better in a proper bed than on the floor of the cave with him.

I had been reluctant to leave him this time because I was unsure if I would be able to make the trip back out to the cave again before the baby was born. Going through the woods was easy enough, but the last hill that led up to the cave really was quite steep, and I knew that my ability to climb up it was waning quickly. Unfortunately, returning to my bed in the house had not helped me to sleep at all. Although the mattress was much more comfortable than the bed we had made in the cave, I tossed and turned without Jamie beside me.

Exhausted as I was, I had taken to falling asleep in various places around the house throughout the day. The most comical of these instances took place one morning in the kitchen. I had given up on sleep and come downstairs to peel potatoes for breakfast long before anyone else in the house was up. By the time Mrs. Crook came into the relatively dark kitchen, I had fallen asleep, head on the table. Poor Mrs. Crook, not expecting anyone else to be in her kitchen before she was, was so startled by my presence that she ran for the barn to find Ian without even taking a moment to realize that it was only me. In the process, she caught her skirt on the fence post, slipped on the dew-laden grass, and landed on her bottom, tearing her skirt half off in the process.

I felt horrible and apologized profusely, promising to mend her skirt. She was incredibly gracious to me about the incident, but I later learned that she decided she had had quite enough of my narcoleptic episodes. She sent Fergus to the cave to tell Jamie that he had to do something to help his wife sleep at night. I would end up quite grateful that she had.

That particular day ended up being incredibly warm, even for August. I excused myself after supper and, after closing the door to my room, stripped down to my shift. I breathed a sigh of relief at the freedom from the weight of my clothing. “That feels much better, doesn’t it?” I asked my bump as I felt the baby waking up and moving around. “Are you going to let mummy sleep tonight, love? I would really appreciate it. So would Mrs. Crook for that matter.” I paced around the room for a bit talking to the baby of nothing in particular, then decided to attempt to go to sleep.

Lying in bed, all I could think about was how hot I was. There was a sheen of sweat on my face, and my shift was damp and sticking to my skin. I eventually gave up on the shift, pulled it off over my head, and tossed it onto the floor. I finally was feeling some measure of relief as the cool, night air began to drift over my body. The baby had settled, and I was willing myself to fall asleep, but every time I would doze, I’d wake back up again minutes later feeling for Jamie in my sleep and finding only an empty bed.

I heard the clock downstairs chime eleven times and then heard my door creaking open. Not knowing who could be coming into my room at this hour, I scrambled for the sheets to cover myself. “Sassenach, ’tis only me,” I heard Jamie whisper. “Were ye no’ expectin’ me then? I see ye already have yer clothes off.”

“No, I was not expecting you. My clothes are off because it is beastly hot outside, and I couldn’t sleep. Just like I haven’t been able to sleep for two weeks since I came back here.” I probably came off a bit more annoyed than I really felt towards him, but lack of sleep does rather take away one’s chance at a good mood.

Jamie shut the door softly behind him and was at the side of the bed in two long strides. He pulled his shirt off over his head, pulled down his breeks, and started to get into bed beside me. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, ready to accuse him of being too much of a furnace to share a bed with.

“Well I thought since ye were already naked, I should be too. A dhia, Sassenach, ye’ve grown since I last saw ye,” he marveled, caressing my belly. “Hello there, wee one. I’ve missed ye and yer mam. Ye’re growin’ so big and braw, just like yer da.” My heart immediately softened as he began kissing my belly, working his way up to my mouth via the valley between my breasts. I felt my body coming alive for him despite my exhaustion. There was no conceivable way I was going to complain about his presence in my bed now.

“I hear ye’ve been wreakin’ quite a lot of havoc in the house of late,” he confessed after a minute or two of kissing me. “Are ye still no’ able to sleep, Claire? I worry for you and the bairn, that ye arena gettin’ proper rest.”

“What, did Mrs. Crook come out to find you herself then?” I figured I couldn’t really blame her if she had.

“Nah, but she did send Fergus,” he replied, running his fingers up and down my arm. “He’s worried for ye as well. Says ye canna keep yer eyes open during the day, but that ye complain of not sleepin’ at night. What can I do to help ye, mo ghraidh?”

“Make love to me, Jamie,” I breathed.

I didn’t need to say another word as Jamie was more than willing to do as I asked. He kissed me hungrily, our tongues desperate to taste each other. His hand went down to my breast, cupping it ever so softly so as not to cause me pain, sore and sensitive as I was. He then worked his way down my neck, peppering me with kisses as his hand brushed my belly and hip. I was arching into his touch, desperate to be as close to him as possible.

His mouth was now on my breast, still gentle, but determined. His hand migrated across the top of my thigh and eased my legs apart. He did not make me wait any longer. Suddenly his fingers were inside me, working their magic. If I had been hot in the room by myself before, I was on fire now, but I did not care in the slightest.

“Ye say ye werena expectin’ me, yet ye’re already so slick and ready for me,” he marveled.

“Just because…I wasn’t expecting you…doesn’t mean I didn’t want you,” I managed to gasp out in between sharp intakes of breath. “I’ve missed you so much, Jamie.”

“I’ve missed ye as well. I hate to be parted from ye, thinkin’ of ye needin’ me like this. Tell me what ye want, a nighean.”

I could barely think, let alone muster up the wherewithal to form a complete sentence. “You. Now,” was the best I could do under the circumstances. Jamie momentarily stopped his ministrations, earning a whimper of disappointment from me. My belly had officially become too large for him to take me on my back, so there was no choice but to pause for a hasty repositioning. I sank down onto him as his fingers went back to their previous task.

I rode him greedily, not sparing a moment’s thought on anything but my own release, but Jamie didn’t seem to mind. He made sure I was taken care of before he allowed himself to finish, and afterward I flopped unceremoniously back onto the bed, spent and sated. Jamie propped himself up on his elbow, rubbing my stomach with the other hand, feeling the baby move inside. “Well, Sassenach, will ye sleep well tonight do ye think?” he asked in a rather smug tone.

“You’ve certainly seen to me all right, but I think you’ve woken your son or daughter in the process. If you can quiet him or her down, then perhaps I have a decent chance of getting some sleep.”

I was only joking of course, but Jamie spoke to my stomach very seriously in Gaelic, and, by some miracle, the baby calmed back down within seconds. I did not wake back up until noon the next day.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30
Late August 1746

After the child had calmed at the sound of its father’s voice, Jamie watched as his wife drifted off into a deep slumber. He had missed watching her while she slept, and he wondered why he had taken it for granted the whole time she had been able to live with him at the cave. Awake, she always gave off an air of composure and self-assuredness. As soon as she woke up, she started running her fingers through the tangles of her curls to tame them into something presentable, and all too soon, she was dressed, laced and tied into a perfect package for him to unwrap at the end of the day.

He appreciated and admired the work she put into looking the way she did on a daily basis, but coming to her as he had tonight was appealing in a completely different way. There had been no need to undo any pesky laces, and her hair had been wild and free, spread across her pillow. Just remembering the way she had looked, round with his child, moonlight bathing her pale skin in a bluish glow while the summer breeze caused her dark curls to dance around her face, made him want her all over again. But he had been summoned to help her to rest, and he would not wake her again just for his own pleasure. Besides, he was content to watch her sleep.

She slept just the same way as she had while pregnant the last time. Something about being with child allowed her to lose her sense of decorum. She took up well over half the bed and lay completely sprawled out, and she didn’t use any blankets, claiming to be too hot most of the time. She usually at least wore her shift, but not tonight. Her mouth was always slightly open, and her face was completely blank. The one time her face concealed her feelings was while she dreamed. Jamie could almost never tell if her dreams were happy or nightmarish until she woke up and told him about them. He wondered if their child would take after her in this way, or if they would smile in their sleep as Claire said he did.

He longed to touch her, anywhere, everywhere; but he would not risk waking her, so he whispered to her instead. He had done this before; she had even caught him once, had asked what he was saying. It was strange that he was only able to tell her of his deepest thoughts while she was asleep. He sometimes whispered blessings over her, asking God to protect her and the bairn. Before she had conceived both times, he had sometimes begged God to give them a child. Afterward he had always felt guilty, as if he was asking for too much. God had already interrupted the course of time itself to bring them together. How much more could Jamie possibly ask for?

But he did not desire a child only for himself. He knew Claire wanted one just as badly, and he wanted to give her everything. Jamie sometimes thought about how close they had come to losing each other at Culloden. He felt waves of guilt thinking of how he had left her to fight in an ultimately pointless battle. Thankfully she seemed to have forgiven him, and, despite the difficulties of living in hiding, they were perhaps happier than they had ever been.

Their days these past months had so often been filled with each other. He had been able to share so much with Claire about the land that was theirs. Living away from the house, although inconvenient at times, had allowed them to have a respite from the everyday duties of life. They had been able to live off the land. While Jamie had taught Claire how to track and set snares, she’d shown him which plants were helpful in treating various maladies. And with Fergus usually preferring to spend his time at Lallybroch, Jamie and Claire were free to act on their desire for each other whenever and wherever they wanted.

And desired him, she had. Jamie smiled to himself thinking of the many times they had come together, oblivious to anything but their passion for each other. Claire had woken him often in the middle of the night, having been awoken herself by the bairn, and he had been happy to comply to her wishes. The first time she had done this, she had started apologizing, afraid that she was inconveniencing him. “Dinna fash, a nighean,” he had said, kissing her beautiful mouth. “Do ye no remember what I asked ye, soon after we were wed?”

She had laughed, the melody of it echoing off the stone walls of the cave. “I suppose you’re referring to when you asked me if you would ever stop wanting me.”

“Aye, and now I ken the answer. The wanting has never stopped, not ever. So dinna apologize for the reciprocation.” He had then begun kissing her in earnest, and they had gone to sleep that night with their need for each other fulfilled, at least for a little while.

As Jamie continued to watch Claire sleep, he noticed the bairn moving again against the taut skin of her stomach. “Hush, mo chuisle,” Jamie whispered, gently laying his hand on Claire’s belly. He felt the bairn press up against his hand, and Claire took a deep breath, but she did not awaken. “Ye dinna want to wake yer mam again. She needs her rest.” Claire suddenly turned in her sleep to lay facing away from him on her side, and Jamie lay back against the pillows.

He knew that he would have to leave soon, or else he would risk falling asleep until morning, leaving himself trapped at the house. Eventually he would have to stay at the house as Claire’s time grew closer. He had promised her that he would be by her side while she labored to bring their child into the world, and he was happy to fulfill that promise. He was however dreading having to stay indoors for at least a few weeks, constantly fearful of having to dart to the priest hole to hide at a moment’s notice.

For now, it was best for everyone if he stayed at the cave for a while longer. He reluctantly tore his eyes away from his wife and dressed for his journey back into the woods. Before he left, he knelt at the side of the bed she was facing to say a blessing over her.

“Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose.

Bless to me the bed companion of my love.

Bless, O bless to me the angeling of my rest.”

He kissed her forehead and, feeling how cold she now was, pulled the blanket up over her to protect her from the chilly night air. There was nothing left for him to do to delay his leaving any longer, and so, with one last glance at Claire, he exited their room and eased the door closed noiselessly behind him. He took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself at the thought of not seeing his Sassenach again for, most likely, another couple of weeks. As he descended the stairs, he had no way of knowing that Claire had awoken, somehow sensing his departure. She rolled over, reaching out for him, yet feeling only the still slightly warm space where Jamie had lain. She wouldn’t remember any of this in the morning, but she cried softly, already missing him so acutely, before falling back into a deep slumber.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31
September 1746

Although Jamie had originally planned to stay at the cave until I was closer to giving birth, he couldn’t seem to stay away for more than a few days at a time. When I’d had to come back to the house before, we had always known that I would be returning to him soon. Now we only had stolen hours here and there when Jamie would come in the middle of the night to see me.

The baby was so active now, and Jamie loved to pull up my shift and watch as he or she moved against my skin. “D’ye really think he can hear me when I talk to him, Sassenach?” Jamie asked one night as he observed my bare belly.

“I know he can. If you talk to him enough, he’ll recognize your voice when he’s born, and it’ll be soothing to him,” I explained. “Although if he is a she, she’ll have every right to be offended at how we just assumed she was a boy this whole time.”

Jamie raised his eyebrows at me. “What do ye think, Sassenach, if ye had to guess? A lad or a lassie?”

I paused a moment to consider. I had heard every old wives’ tale in the book, both in my own time and in this one. Jenny had said that Mrs. Crook had predicted each of her children correctly, and she insisted this one was a girl. Up until hearing Mrs. Crook’s opinion, I had only thought of the baby as a boy, and I still was leaning that way. Thinking of having another girl always brought Faith to the forefront of my mind. It was maybe easier to imagine a boy as it allowed me to avoid a direct comparison with Faith. Remembering her always brought with it such a unique combination of joy and pain. I knew that no matter how many children Jamie and I were blessed with, I would always see a piece of her in each one.

“I suppose I still think it’s a boy,” I finally answered. “Is that what you would want, if you had to choose?”

“I couldna choose even were it up to me. One part of me thinks of how it would be to have another son. Fergus would certainly appreciate having another boy around. Even with their difference in age, I’ve a feelin’ he and Fergus would be a right handful together. I recall what my brother and I were like as lads, always gettin’ in trouble but livin’ each day to the fullest.

“But then I think about a lassie, a daughter.” Jamie suddenly had a dreamy look about him. “To have a perfect, tiny version of you, my own,” he imagined, tracing the lines of my face with his fingers. “To be able to watch her each day, as she becomes more and more like you, a stubborn, brilliant lass with wild curls…” He trailed off, lost in his daydream.

I smiled at him, in awe at how he made me love him more and more with each passing day. “I see what you mean about not being able to choose,” I remarked, kissing him as I brought him out of his reverie.

“Weel and since I canna choose, it just means that whatever this one is, we’ll soon have to try for the other, just to have the full experience, ye ken.”

“Easy for you to say!” I retorted, mostly joking. “What happened to you not being able to stand seeing me in pain?”

“Do ye really no’ want any more bairns, Sassenach?” Jamie asked sincerely. “Ye’re right in that I dinna look forward to seein’ ye suffer, but I hope ye’ll think the reward is worth the pain ye must bear.”

I took his hands in mine. “Of course I want more children with you, my love. I know when I see our child, boy or girl, all the pain will be forgotten. But let’s get past this first one, and then we can start talking about the next, hm?” He nodded, moving down to kiss my stomach as I ran my fingers through his hair.

“You know,” I began thoughtfully, “you mentioned not being able to choose. Did you know that you actually are the one who chooses if the baby is a boy or a girl?”

“How d’ye mean, Sassenach?” he asked, moving to lay beside me, his head propped up with his elbow on his pillow.

“Well, the part of the baby that comes from me is neither boy nor girl to begin with,” I explained. “It isn’t until your seed, or sperm as it will eventually be called, joins with my egg that the sex of the baby is determined. So really all through history when men would divorce their wives for not producing a male child, it was the man’s fault the whole time.”

“’Tis remarkable, the things that have been discovered in your time. Boy or girl, our child will be lucky to learn so much from their brilliant mam,” Jamie observed, kissing me on the lips.

“Will you be disappointed if we truly never do have a son?” I asked before I could lose the courage to pose the question.

Jamie leaned over me, forcing me to look into his eyes. “I could never be disappointed in a child ye gave to me, Claire,” he said without hesitation. “Any bairn you and I make together will be a blessing, boy or girl. Our little lad or lassie is a gift from me to you.” He paused to give me a kiss. “And from you to me.”

My mind thus put at ease, I gave him one more kiss before closing my eyes and drifting off to the sound of Jamie speaking to our child in Gaelic.

 

As was the routine, Jamie was gone by the time I awoke the next morning. I was staying in bed longer and longer these days, going against my natural inclination to stay busy. I had a difficult time not feeling guilty for letting Jenny take on more of the work around the house while I rested. Lately, even when I tried to help, she would send me away, insistent that she was just fine on her own. I felt somewhat silly at being treated so delicately, but I deeply appreciated having family around who cared so much.

By the time I got up and dressed for the day, it was well past breakfast time, and the house was empty. Mrs. Crook had left some bannocks out to tide me over until lunch, and I had just sat down to eat some when Fergus came running through the kitchen door.

“Maman, the English are here again,” he informed me. “They are still a good distance away, but Aunt Jenny said I was to have you hide in the priest hole until they pass.”

This was the first time the English had passed through since I had permanently relocated to the house. I had been hoping to avoid any more sojourns in the priest hole, but it was best not to take any chances. I grabbed a couple of the bannocks I had been about to eat, and Fergus and I hurried to the hidden entrance. It seemed like it had been ages since Jamie and I had hidden in the priest hole together while Ian was being captured by the English soldiers. It was certainly a good deal more difficult for me to climb down the stairs, my belly throwing off my balance significantly. Nevertheless, I was able to slowly descend to the bottom, and Fergus shut the door behind me once I got a candle lit.

I was grateful to at least have some light, especially since Jamie was not there to comfort me this time. I nibbled at the bannocks, more for something to do than anything else as I realized that my hunger had been replaced with a sickening worry in the pit of my stomach. I prayed for the soldiers to leave quickly and for Ian to be spared, but, despite my prayers, I heard the soldiers’ boots stomping overhead for the better part of an hour. Doors were opened and slammed shut, and I could hear the scraping of heavy furniture being moved. The soldiers were searching intently this time, leaving no stone unturned.

I had long ago finished off the bannocks, and I was passing the time by watching the flame from the candle undulate back and forth, when I suddenly had to shield my eyes from the beam of light that appeared as the door to the priest hole was opened. “It’s safe to come up now, Claire,” Ian assured me as he held his hand out to me. I was thankful to see him first as I knew he was the most likely to have been taken. I blew out the candle and made my way up the stairs, taking Ian’s proffered hand as I reached the top.

“Is everyone all right?” I asked as Ian closed the door behind me.

“Aye, they didna take anyone this time. But, Claire, all is not well. Come and have a seat, and I’ll tell ye what happened.” Ian and I both went into the parlor where Jenny was waiting for us. She did not look relieved at all; on the contrary, she looked almost as upset as she had when Ian had been captured.

“Well do get on with it,” I said after I had sat down, trying to keep up a brave front despite feeling deeply unsettled at how Jenny and Ian were acting.

“Claire, I dinna ken how to tell ye this,” Ian began, “but the English ken ye’re alive.”

“Couldn’t they just be bluffing though?” I countered. “How can they possibly know for sure that I’m alive if they haven’t seen me?”

Ian shook his head, and I could see how difficult it was for him to tell me what he had to say. “I’m almost certain they arena bluffing because they ken ye’re with child.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 32
September 1746

My hands went immediately to my stomach in a vain attempt to shield its occupant. “What?” I managed to croak out. “How?”

“I dinna yet ken how, Claire, but they are right determined to find ye,” Ian said.

“I-I don’t understand. Why me? Is this still about that bloody gold I know nothing about?” I asked, my fear and confusion being joined by anger.

“Aye, that seems to be their main concern,” Jenny answered. “Ye can see they tore the house apart lookin’ for it.” Jenny gestured to the overturned tables and detritus strewn about the normally pristine room. “And they went through every room to see if ye were there. My heart was poundin’ so hard, afraid they would find the priest hole.” Jenny placed her hand over her chest, clearly still shaken by the experience.

“I have to leave,” I decided. “I can’t stay here and continue putting your family in danger for the sake of mine. It isn’t fair to you.”

“Ye’ll stay right here as long as ye need to, and I dinna want to hear another word of you leavin’ before the bairn is old enough,” Ian declared. “This isna a matter of yer family versus ours. You, Jamie, Fergus, and the bairn are my family just as much as Jenny and I and our bairns are yers.”

“’Tis the same as when they came for Jamie,” Jenny added. “It didna matter in the end whether or not he was really here, and it wouldna matter if you left. They’re determined to find ye, and this is where they will come to look until they do, no matter if ye were in the priest hole or in France. Ye need a safe, warm place to deliver yer bairn, and ye need me by yer side as you were by mine for Maggie. Ye’re stayin’, and that’s final.”

I was struck somewhat speechless at the generosity of my brother- and sister-in-law. For most of my life, Uncle Lamb had been my only family, and although I'd understood and appreciated the sacrifices he had made to take me in, I had had to alter my life to fit into his, not the other way around. Even in my marriage to Frank, I had always been the one to acquiesce to the demands of his job and life. To now have a family who actively risked their lives every single day for my safety was truly humbling.

“All right, I’ll stay,” I conceded. “And I am grateful to you both for everything. But if someone is informing the English of my whereabouts and pregnancy, I do think we need to be more careful until we figure out who that is.”

We decided that I would have to be just as cautious as Jamie, which meant no more going outside the house. As the weather had by now turned quite cold and nasty, this did not seem like such a hardship as it would have over the summer. I also would not treat any more ill or injured tenants, and Jenny would do her best to spread the rumor that I had left for good in the hopes that whoever had passed information along to the English would believe that I was well and truly gone. I hated to think that one of our tenants was conspiring against us, but there seemed to be no other logical explanation.

That night Jamie came to me again, having been informed by Fergus of the day’s events. “Mo chridhe,” he breathed, wrapping his arms around me in bed. “I’ve been dyin’ to see ye since Fergus told me of what happened. Are ye all right?” He pulled me as close to him as he could, the swell of my belly pressed between us.

“We’re fine, Jamie, just fine,” I assured him. “I won’t say it wasn’t scary, but we were safe. Jenny and Ian saw the soldiers coming in plenty of time for me to hide. I just wish I knew who betrayed us to the English. I hate to think anyone we know would do such a thing.”

“I canna fathom any of our tenants handing over information to the English. They have always been as loyal to me as they were to my father before me. But there isna anyone else who would ken for sure that ye’re still alive, let alone with child. I only ken that if I ever find out who did this, I’ll kill him.” I could feel Jamie’s fists clench at my back as he thought of harming our betrayer.

“I canna tell ye, Claire, how helpless I feel out at that cave, knowin’ my wife and child are out of my protection. Even if I could be here with ye, I couldna fight them. I would only be able to hide along with ye, but at least I could comfort ye. At least ye wouldna be alone.” Jamie kissed me then, both of us desperate to lose ourselves in each other, to come together as one in the safety of the darkness.

I began to fumble with the buttons on Jamie’s breeks and managed to push them down enough for me to take the hard length of him in my hand. He rucked my shift up above my belly and ran his hands up and down the bare skin of my back and arse. “I need ye so, Claire,” he gasped as I began stroking him.

“I need you too, always,” I affirmed. Jamie fully divested himself of his breeks as I rolled to my opposite side. He parted me first with his fingers before filling me fully from behind. As he began moving in me, he reached a hand around and under my shift to cup my breast as he so often did while we slept. I couldn’t help but moan at the delicious sensations he was creating in and around me, and, as usual, my noises only spurred him on. His hand left my breast to reach the place of our joining where he began stroking me in earnest.

“Jamie,” I intoned nonsensically, losing myself to him fully. I came, pulsating around him, as he now began to make incoherent noises. His movements grew more erratic, and he then spilled himself inside me, my name tumbling from his lips.

I turned to face him again and kissed him slowly, touching his face as his hand came to splay over my belly. I pulled my shift the rest of the way off as we came apart for air, pressing myself to him in some kind of desperate attempt to keep him with me. “Don’t leave me tonight,” I begged, gazing into the deep blue of his eyes. I felt all of a sudden as if I would die if I had to wake up in the morning alone once again. It seemed in that moment as if having to separate from him would cause me physical pain akin to having to tear off a limb; his presence was that vital to me.

“Oh, mo ghraidh,” he whispered huskily. “I willna ever leave ye if ye wish me to stay. I couldna be parted from ye right now if I tried.” Clearly he was having similar feelings to mine. He kissed my forehead before resting his chin on my head, pulling me close to him. I began softly crying, my head resting against his chest, the fear and anxiety of the day finally catching up to me. He simply held me and let me cry until I fell asleep in his arms, feeling safe and protected by the man I loved.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33
October 1746

The rest of September went by slowly, but uneventfully. I tried to find tasks to do inside the house to keep myself busy, but it seemed like Mrs. Crook and Jenny were always one step ahead of me, leaving nothing for me to do. I easily achieved my goal of finishing the baby’s blanket, and I felt it looked at least half-way decent for my very first attempt at knitting. Jenny had been teaching me the slightly more complicated methods involved in making a hat for the baby, and I had produced two rather lopsided ones so far.

Not being able to practice my healing had also left me frustrated. I had worked all summer to replenish my stores for the winter, and now it seemed as if most of that work had been for naught. Other than my immediate family, I had no plans to treat anyone until Jamie and I were able to relocate in the spring.

Another issue that had arisen due to my forced concealment was the lack of a proper midwife for my delivery. Since we could not risk trusting any of the tenants, Jenny and I had come to the unwelcome realization that she would have to be the one to deliver my baby. She certainly had experience in giving birth, but I worried that there would be complications she was untrained to handle. I could probably figure a way through most issues that would arise, but I had no idea how I would handle the pain. Subsequently I did not know if I would be coherent enough to make sound decisions while I was in labor.

Fortunately I was now only a little over a month away from my due date. It appeared that I would be able to carry this baby to term, which was a great relief. I had also found a medical text in Jamie’s father’s library, and it had a small section on midwifery. Most of the advice seemed to be sound, and I used it to prepare Jenny as best I could for her unexpected new role.

Fergus was recovering nicely from the loss of his hand. I had been able to keep his wound clear of infection, and I was pleased with how it had healed. Once the blacksmith had finished fitting him with his hook, Fergus had begun mastering its use. He seemed to be almost a better pickpocket than before, and I was especially impressed with his optimism surrounding the loss of his hand. He never once let it bring him down, nor did he seem to resent me over it.

As I had hoped, the Redcoat patrols appeared to have given up on bothering us since the weather had turned. Although still present in Broch Mordha, they did not seem to feel it worth the extra effort to make the trek to Lallybroch. We had already had a good amount of snow, and travel was becoming more arduous. Jamie had not even been to the house in a week, understandably preferring staying by a fire at the cave to traipsing through the snow in the middle of the night. The house had been unusually quiet for days but for the sounds of the children playing, so it was quite the surprise when I heard Mrs. Crook and Jenny yelling at each other in the kitchen one day in mid-October.

“Mrs. Crook, ye ken I trust ye with my life, but ye must understand what ye’d be askin’ of Claire. It isna just her own life she’d be riskin’, but that of her bairn as well. Surely ye canna expect her to take such chances,” Jenny argued, sounding more than a little frustrated.

“If ye trust me so, then trust me when I tell ye that no member of my family would ever betray the Laird or Lady of Lallybroch,” Mrs. Crook countered. “Ye must see that’s why we’re in this situation to begin with. The English wouldna have hurt my nephew if he was givin’ them information.”

“But if yer nephew is as bad off as ye say, and he makes a miraculous recovery all of a sudden, there is sure to be talk of Claire bein’ the one to have healed him. And then everyone will ken she hasna really left.”

I decided I had had enough of eavesdropping. I wanted to hear the whole story so as to determine for myself what my course of action would be. Jenny and Mrs. Crook ceased their argument as soon as I pushed open the door to the kitchen. “Mrs. Crook, I seem to have overheard that your nephew has taken ill? Do you care to explain the situation to me?” I asked, trying to ignore Jenny’s intense stare.

“Mistress, I hate to bother ye-” Mrs. Crook began.

“Too late for that, I’d say,” Jenny muttered under her breath, bringing Mrs. Crook to a halt.

“Jenny, please,” I interceded. “I asked for her to explain. I understand the risks associated with any decision I might make. I’m not a child.” I nodded to Mrs. Crook for her to continue.

“As I was sayin’, mistress. I hate to bother ye, knowin’ ye’re in such danger and so close to deliverin’ yer bairn, but my nephew was gravely injured today by the English, and ye’re the only one who can help him.” Mrs. Crook went on to explain that her nephew, a lad of sixteen named Thomas, had been at home by himself when several soldiers had come by and demanded he hand over a certain amount of food before they would leave. Thomas, knowing his family possessed barely enough food to make it through the winter, had decided to stand up to the soldiers, refusing their demands.

Naturally, the soldiers did not take well to this, and they had decided to make an example of poor Thomas, taking him outside and beating him. He had not been discovered until his mother, Mrs. Crook’s sister, had overheard the soldiers in town talking about what they had done and had rushed home to find Thomas lying unconscious in the yard. Now, a full twenty-four hours later, he still had not woken up, and the family was getting desperate. “I wouldna blame ye if ye were to say no, mistress, but I had to at least try, ye ken. My sister is beside herself with grief, this bein’ her youngest child. If ye could take a look at him, I ken my family would never betray ye to the English.” Mrs. Crook looked so hopeful that I would help, leaving me unable to say no to her, and she did have a point in that a lad who was beaten by the English was unlikely to give out any information on my whereabouts.

Apart from that, I was itching to feel useful as a healer again. I had never had to look for work before as there were always injured and ill folks at Castle Leoch and even more during the battles in the Jacobite uprising. Now I was left with only the occasional scrape or burn among the Murrays. It was becoming more and more clear to me that I would never feel fully satisfied as just a wife and mother. Wherever Jamie and I ended up living, I wanted to continue developing into a proper physician as much as living in the 1700s would allow me to.

“All right, I’ll take a look at him,” I agreed. “I can’t promise I’ll be able to do anything. If he’s unconscious after a beating, it most likely is due to a head injury, and those can be quite tricky. And he’ll have to be brought here. I still cannot risk leaving the house and being seen.”

“And he canna be brought to the house until well after dark,” Jenny added. “If he’s brought here in the broad daylight, folks will see and they’ll ken he’s bein’ brought to Claire.”

“Of course. Thank ye, mistress.” Mrs. Crook took my hands, squeezing them in gratitude. “My sister will be so relieved to hear her son has a chance now. I’ll go and tell them the good news, if ye dinna mind, that is.”

I nodded to Mrs. Crook, and she ran off to her family. “I think I’d best go lie down if I’m to be up all night with Thomas,” I told Jenny.

“I dinna like this one bit, a piuthar.” Jenny shook her head. “I ken ye’re doin’ what ye think is right, but sometimes ye’re too trusting of folk.”

I knew Jenny had a point, but it was too late now. My predilection for healing had taken over in the moment, and I had, perhaps foolishly, agreed to help. I slowly climbed the stairs and attempted to sleep until nightfall. My worry plus the awkwardness of my current size and shape unfortunately combined to prevent me from getting much rest, and, bleary-eyed, I went back downstairs several hours later when I heard the noise of Thomas being brought in.

For some reason, Mrs. Crook had deemed it appropriate to bring five other members of her family to Lallybroch along with Thomas. They all hovered nervously around me as I examined my patient, who was quite battered indeed. He had large purple and green bruises blossoming all over his body where he had been beaten, and he had a rather massive black eye as well. His nose had clearly been broken, and one of his teeth had even been knocked out. Mrs. Crook’s sister began weeping as I uncovered and explained each new injury, and Mrs. Crook held her hand to comfort her.

I explained to the family that there was little I could do for Thomas while he was unconscious. If and when he woke up, I would be able to reassess his condition and treat him for his pain. Luckily he did wake up some time in the early hours of the morning, and he seemed to be just fine other than having a rather awful headache. His pain was lessened with my usual tea remedy, and I sat with him awhile to make sure he did not have any signs of more serious damage to his brain.

The next morning at breakfast, Mrs. Crook’s family were very seriously discussing what to do about the English. “Next time I see one of ‘em, he’ll no’ get far from me,” Thomas’s older brother was saying. “We’ll see how they like bein’ beaten and left for dead.” The other family members nodded and murmured their encouragement at this proposition. I feared this incident with Thomas was igniting something dangerous in the tenants of Broch Mordha, and I, not for the first time, thought to myself that Jamie and I could not leave soon enough.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34
Early November 1746

About two weeks after the incident with Thomas, I awoke in the middle of the night, dull pain shooting through my belly. I decided to just stay in bed for a bit longer, hoping that it would pass. I still had a few weeks before I thought the baby was due, and even if I was in labor, I knew that I realistically would still have hours of this to go. I fell back to sleep after a while, the pains being fairly irregular, but they woke me again a bit later, and I was quite certain they were getting worse.

I reluctantly went to Fergus’s room, hating to wake him, but I needed him to fetch Jamie for me. He hopped out of bed, excited to deliver the news that his brother or sister might be on the way. I went downstairs to wait and began pacing in front of the fireplace where a few embers were still glowing. Jamie made it to the house in record time, but by the time he arrived, the pains had ceased, and I was sitting on the sofa, half asleep.

“Sassenach, are ye all right? Is it time?” Jame asked, a wild look in his eyes. He was sporting a beard, not having been to the house to shave recently, and his whole face was dusted with snow. He resembled some sort of wild, red-haired Yeti, and I could not suppress a giggle at the sight of him.

“I’m so sorry, Jamie,” I got out amid my laughter. “I thought it was, but the pains seem to have stopped for now. I’m so sorry I made you come all the way here for nothing.”

Jamie fell back into the couch, clearly as relieved as he was exhausted. “Och, Sassenach, dinna apologize. Ye did right. Although I am glad this wasna it. I didna ken how unprepared I felt ’til I thought it was really happening.”

“I think I know what you mean,” I agreed. “If it had been the real thing, I suppose we would have dealt with it, but I’m glad it wasn’t.”

“What do ye reckon the pain was, if not labor pains?”

I swallowed hard, remembering the intensity of the pain and coming to the realization that the real thing would hurt much more and for much longer. “Well, sometimes the body does a bit of a practice run from time to time, preparing for actual labor. I think this was something like that.”

“How did it feel, if ye dinna mind me askin’?” Jamie asked cautiously.

“I don’t mind,” I replied. “Honestly? It hurt like hell, Jamie.” He looked over at me, sitting up and taking my hand when he saw the fear in my eyes. “Logically I know there’s nothing I can do about it. The baby will come soon, and I’ll have to find a way to handle the pain that comes with it. But I’m scared, Jamie. What if something is going wrong, and I’m in too much pain to figure out what to do?” I had been looking down at our entwined hands while making my confession, afraid to meet Jamie’s eyes. I felt like I was letting him down by having these doubts. I wanted to be strong, to be the brave lioness he had once referred to me as. After so many obstacles we had surmounted, why was this completely normal and natural thing scaring me so?

Jamie tilted my chin up, forcing my eyes to meet his. I found no disappointment in his face like I had feared I would. Instead I saw only love and compassion before he brought his lips to mine. I leaned into him as he wrapped his arms around me, holding me close to him. Even as big as I was at nearly nine months pregnant, I still felt as small as a child being held in his arms. “Mo chridhe, I canna take the pain from ye, but I swear I’ll be there at yer side. As will Jenny and Mrs. Crook. Ye willna be alone, and ye needn’t fear. There’s no use worryin’ over what ye canna change or control.

“Bad things seem to happen to us when we’re apart from each other, Sassenach, but this time we’ll be together. You and our daughter will be well. I canna explain how, but I just ken it to be true.” He kissed the top of my head, and I stayed in his arms for a little while longer, relishing the feeling of safety.

“So, a daughter, hm?” I asked after a while, sitting up to move my arm that had fallen asleep. “You’ve never said the baby was a girl before.”

He had the same dreamy look as the last time we had discussed the possibility of our daughter. “Aye, Sassenach, it is a wee lassie. I’m sure of it now.”

“What changed your mind, if I may ask?”

He gave me a sheepish look before answering. “Ye may think me silly for it, but I’ll tell ye anyway. I had a dream this very night. Fergus woke me from it when he came burstin’ in the cave. I saw ye wi’ our daughter, right after she was born. Ye were both so beautiful, you lookin’ down at her, kissin' the wee bit of red hair on her head. And then ye looked up at me, Sassenach. Yer smile was so wide and bright, I felt like the sun itself was in the room wi’ us. I’ve never felt prouder than I did in that dream, and I was just walkin’ over to take her from ye and hold her in my arms when I heard Fergus and woke up. Anyhow that’s how I ken we’re havin’ a daughter and how I ken everythin’ will be all right.”

“That’s beautiful, Jamie. Thank you.” I kissed him, truly feeling much better about the situation, irrational as that may have been. After all, if I could fall through time, why couldn’t Jamie have premonitory dreams?

“Do ye want me to stay with ye now, Sassenach? Not just for tonight, I mean, but until yer time comes? I dinna want ye to have to worry about me not being here on top of everythin’ else.”

I thought about it for a moment. It would be nice to have Jamie back at the house. I would certainly sleep better with him beside me. If not for the incident with Thomas, I might have been inclined to selfishly agree to him staying. But I knew the tenants were becoming more and more restless, and the soldiers were going through Broch Mordha more frequently than ever in order to quell any uprisings against them. Although they had been staying away from Lallybroch itself, I knew Jamie would be safer at the cave. It was only a matter of time before they decided to rummage through the house for the mysterious gold again, and I was already worried enough about my own safety. If the English did find me, I at least had some small chance of being spared due to my pregnancy; Jamie had no buffer of protection.

“I want to say yes so badly, but my mind will be more at ease if I know you’re safe,” I admitted. “Besides, I’m not at all worried about you missing anything. I’m sure it’ll be hours from when I feel the first pains until the baby arrives.”

“Well if ye change yer mind, ye need only send Fergus for me. I’ll be here whenever ye need me, whether ye’re in labor or no’,” Jamie promised.

“I know you will be.” I kissed him again before suddenly remembering that Fergus had never returned. “Speaking of sending Fergus, where is he?” I asked.

“Och, the lad wanted to get some sleep, ye see.” Jamie waved his hand in dismissal. “I told him to stay at the cave for the night since the house would likely be too loud, what with Jenny runnin’ around and such, if ye were truly havin’ the bairn.”

“Jenny running around?” I asked skeptically, giving him a doubtful glance. “You meant the house would be too loud because I would be waking everyone up with my screaming, didn’t you?”

“Well, Sassenach, ye canna blame me. I ken how loud ye are when ye make yer wee noises in bed wi’ me. And that’s when ye’re moanin’ in pleasure. I can only imagine how loud ye’ll be with the pain.”

Jamie jumped up from the sofa as I playfully swatted at him, causing me to miss. “You just wait until I’m quick on my feet again, James Fraser. I’ll get you back for that. Don’t think I’ll forget,” I warned.

“I look forward to it, a nighean. I always enjoy bein’ at the receiving end of yer punishments,” he teased before running upstairs to our bedroom as I slowly made my way behind him, planning his “punishment” as I went.

Chapter Text

Chapter 35
November 21, 1746

For years I was convinced that I was unable to have children. Frank, for some reason, never gave up hope that we would one day have a child, and I had outwardly agreed with him that it was just a matter of time. Despite his relentless positivity on the matter, I had known deep down that children were just not in the cards for us. An even deeper part of me had admitted, even then, that something about the prospect of having a child with Frank seemed wrong, although I truly wanted to be a mother.

When I finally allowed myself to fall in love with Jamie, I knew I wanted to give him children. Jamie was simply meant to be a father, and I was meant for Jamie. When I eventually admitted to him my fear of being unable to bear children, the look on his face nearly broke my heart. His ability to hide his emotions had failed him, even if only for a second, and I saw the light go out in his eyes as the future he had envisioned for us was called into question. The joy of knowing that I had finally conceived, and being able to share that joy with Jamie, was an indescribable feeling. The subsequent pain of losing Faith was equally indescribable, but there was at least a glimmer of hope that if I had been able to conceive once, perhaps I could again.

Not a day of my second pregnancy had gone by unappreciated. I was so grateful to have been given another chance to raise a child with Jamie. Overall I had enjoyed being pregnant. Feeling the child move within me, knowing that my body was protecting and nourishing this most precious life; these things had far outweighed the discomfort and awkwardness that came along with them. And seeing Jamie take so effortlessly to fatherhood, even at such an early stage, had been more than I could have hoped for from the father of my child. I even knew that, once we were safely relocated, I would be ready to have more children with Jamie sooner rather than later. All that being said, I was now completely and utterly ready for this one to be born.

There was no more question of this baby being born too early; I was now more concerned that it would just stay inside me forever. Mrs. Crook, rather unfeelingly, had remarked a few days ago that she was unsure if I could stand to get any bigger. It had taken everything within me to keep my mouth shut, instead muttering a “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” under my breath as I left the room.

I was sitting by the fire in the early afternoon, dozing off after having eaten lunch when Fergus once again came running in out of breath to warn me of the soldiers’ imminent arrival. I sighed, loath to have to maneuver my way into the confined and uncomfortable space of the priest hole, but knowing I had no choice in the matter. We went through what had now become routine, Fergus closing the door as soon as I had my candle lit. I had at least had the forethought this time to bring my knitting with me.

I heard the usual sound of the soldiers stomping their way into the house, but they stopped fairly soon after they started. I could hear a good amount of discussion going on, but they certainly were not searching the house this time. I wondered what they could be doing if not looking for me, Jamie, or the nonexistent gold, but could come up with no explanation.

For hours I sat in the priest hole, growing more confused and anxious as the time passed. I was tired, but could not fall to sleep; I was hungry, but had nothing to eat. Mostly I just wanted to know what the hell was going on. Eventually, after what felt like ages, the footsteps upstairs slowed and quieted to nothing. Still no one came to retrieve me from the priest hole. I was starting to wonder if everyone had simply forgotten about me when the door finally opened. No light shone down on me this time as it was well past sunset, but I could make out that the person who had come through the door, quickly closing it behind him, was Jamie. He held a finger over his lips to stop me from calling out to him as he descended the stairs.

“Claire, are ye feelin’ all right,” he whispered, his hand rubbing my belly.

“Yes, I’m just fine,” I reassured him. “No signs of your daughter wanting to arrive any time tonight at least. What the hell is going on? Haven’t the soldiers left by now?”

“I’ll explain everythin’ once we leave, but for now I need to know what ye need to bring with ye. I’ll have Fergus fetch yer things for ye, but we must leave tonight.”

I shook my head, still confused. “Leave? As in go back to the cave? Jamie, I can’t. The baby will be born any day now.”

Jamie cupped my face in his hand while his own face softened in sympathy. “I’m so sorry, mo chridhe, but it canna be helped. Either ye come wi’ me or ye stay down here. The soldiers willna be leavin’ for days. Now tell me what ye need to bring with ye, and we can start makin’ our way to the cave.”

I could hardly believe this was happening. My only two options were to potentially give birth in a priest hole or in a cave? Of course the cave was the only logical choice, but still. Why now? I attempted to clear my head of worry, at least momentarily, and gave Jamie the list of clothing and supplies I would need, including everything I had set aside for the baby. We then went upstairs where Jamie whispered my requests to Fergus. Jenny was there as well, tears in her eyes.

“Claire, I’m so sorry ye must leave. I’ll do everythin’ I can to be there when yer time comes,” she promised. “Just send Fergus the minute ye start feelin’ pain.”

I turned suddenly to Jamie having thought of another complication. “Fergus can’t come with us. He told me just today he was feeling ill, and I can’t be living with him in such a confined space. I might catch his virus, and it isn’t safe for the baby to be near him either if it’s born in the next couple of days.”

“It’s all right, a nighean,” Jamie said, trying to comfort me. “I’ll be with ye and I can fetch Jenny when ye need her. Fergus can stay here until he feels better.”

I nodded, but inside I was in a panic. Everything I had prepared for was now completely turned upside down. I had felt so ready just a few hours ago, and now I was praying for more time. Fergus came down the stairs with everything I had requested packaged into a neat bundle. I could not even hug him goodbye for fear of catching his cold.

Jenny did hug me before we left, and I almost started crying at the thought of having to leave her. She held my shoulders and looked me dead in the eye. “Claire Fraser, no matter what happens, ye can do this. Ye’re the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and I ken ye’ll be a wonderful mam. Dinna doubt yerself, and ye’ll be just fine.” I swiftly hugged her again and she reached for a bottle of whiskey I hadn’t yet noticed sitting on a side table. “Just so ye have it with ye when the time comes.” We both smiled as she handed me the bottle, and I then turned to nod at Jamie. It was time to go.

Jamie wrapped my cloak around my shoulders, and I followed him out into the cold, November night. Somehow Jamie managed to get me seated on one of the smallest horses, named Flower courtesy of Wee Jamie, and we set off into the woods, feeling more than a little like Mary and Joseph on our way to Bethlehem.

Chapter Text

Chapter 36
November 22, 1746

Jamie and I reached our destination, darkness still cloaking us and the woods in obscurity. I had been dreading this point the whole way, knowing that I was somehow going to have to ascend the hill to the cave. Jamie helped me to dismount, and I landed ungracefully, half falling into him. “Sorry,” I muttered as I gripped his shoulders to steady myself.

“’Tis all right, Sassenach. Are ye ready to head up now?” he asked.

“Not really, but I suppose I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” I had seen quite a few mountains in my travels with Uncle Lamb, but in this moment they all paled in comparison to this one small hill.

Jamie smiled sadly, trying to hide his guilt at having no better solution to ensure my safety. “I’m afraid not, but I’ll do my best to help ye.”

I took a deep breath, resigning myself to my fate. One more climb and I could sleep for the whole next day if I felt like it - and right now, I sure as hell did feel like it. The moonlight reflected off the patches of snow on the hill, lighting my path to home. It was certainly not easy, and it took about three times as long as normal, but after much boosting and pulling on Jamie’s part - and swearing on mine - I finally made it to the top of the bloody hill. I could barely squeeze through the gap in the rocks into the cave, but once I did, I collapsed onto Jamie’s bed in exhaustion.

“This will have to be it, Jamie, because I swear I am not going back down that fucking hill until you can carry the baby down instead of me.” Jamie started laughing until he saw the look on my face, causing him to abruptly stop. After the day I’d had, I was not inclined to laugh at much of anything. Jamie left to retrieve my things and to take care of the horse while I undressed and readied myself for bed. I was both physically and mentally exhausted, but I wanted to at least hear what had happened at the house that had so jeopardized my safety.

Jamie made us both some tea, and, at my request, explained the situation. It seemed that, as I had feared, the Thomas incident had started a fire of rebellion in the tenants of Broch Mordha. His family had been recruiting other tenants ever since, and they had been planning a retaliation against the English. What was now yesterday morning, some soldiers had come through town to once again demand food and supplies be handed over. This was what the newly united rebels had been waiting for.

The men had all come together, armed with what weapons or farm tools they still had, and attacked the group of soldiers. Unfortunately, the English had easily overpowered them with their superior weapons, namely guns, but not before one tenant had stabbed a soldier in the belly with his pitchfork. The soldiers had brought their wounded member to Lallybroch in order to take refuge somewhere away from the town where they might be safer. The injured soldier still lived, but was very weak and would likely need several days to heal.

“I couldna believe when Fergus told me ye had been in the priest hole all day,” Jamie continued. “I was so worried for ye, thinkin’ that ye were all alone. And what if the bairn were to come while ye were in hiding? I felt sick until I finally got to ye and knew ye to be safe.” Jamie placed his hand on my belly, and I put my hand over top of his, smiling up at him. As frustrated and tired and scared as I was, I didn’t want him to think for a moment that I blamed him for any of it.

“Thank you for getting me here. I certainly never pictured our child being born in a cave, but at least it’s warm and mostly clean. And perhaps I’ll be able to go back to the house. I was really only joking about not going back down the hill. I could still have a week or more left. That might give us enough time,” I surmised.

“Aye, perhaps,” Jamie agreed, humoring me.

Even saying it, I somehow knew that I would not make it that long. Something had changed in the course of the last day. I was not yet feeling any pains, but when I was in the priest hole, I had had time for self-examination. Closing my eyes and focusing as Master Raymond had taught me, I was almost able to see the baby. I could feel that she was healthy and ready to be born, and I felt my body preparing itself for the work it would have to do. This baby would come in the next day or two, and I was powerless to stop it.

Knowing that, I wanted to be with Jamie one last time before I gave birth. I knew there would be weeks of healing afterward, and I saw no point in denying myself a bit of pleasure beforehand. Jamie had begun to drift off, and I shook him awake. “Jamie?” I asked, hesitating just a bit as he opened his eyes to look at me. “Would you mind…that is, I was wondering if…”

“Ye need never wonder, mo ghraidh,” Jamie reassured me. “The answer is always yes from me.” I pulled my shift over my head, baring myself to him. During the whole of my pregnancy, I had only once felt self-conscious about the changes in my body around Jamie, and he had quickly put those thoughts out of my mind. Even now, when I might have otherwise felt at my most unattractive, Jamie’s words and actions conveyed just how much he still desired me. “Ye’re so beautiful, Claire. Thank ye for carrying our child. I could never express what it means to me, this gift of our bairn.”

I couldn’t help but get choked up at his expression of love and gratitude. “It’s been my pleasure, truly.” I kissed him then, my hand at the nape of his neck, his at the small of my back. He showed me in so many ways that night how thankful he was to me, and I fell asleep feeling fully at peace with whatever was to come.

As usual, I slept better that night with Jamie at my side than I had in all the weeks sleeping in our bed at Lallybroch alone, and I did not wake up again until late in the morning. Jamie had already gotten up for the day and had presumably gone out to tend to his usual daily tasks. I stretched luxuriously, and the baby kicked me in the ribs. I thought back on the night before and smiled to myself. If that was to be the last time for a while, Jamie had certainly worked to leave a lasting memory. My bladder drew my attention away from happier thoughts, it being under immense pressure from the weight of the baby, forcing me to get up sooner than I really wanted to. I pulled my shift back on along with my cloak and went outside into the chilly morning.

After taking care of my immediate needs, I walked outside for a bit. A few snow flurries had started to fall, and I was enjoying breathing in the crisp, cold air after being inside the rather stuffy cave all night. “Is this the day, darling?” I asked the baby, running my hands over my belly. “Mummy and Da are anxious to meet you, you know. We’re safe now, you and I. Your da has made sure of that. I can’t say I’m not a bit nervous, but I think I’m ready now, whenever you are, that is.” I started to shiver then and eased myself between the rocks, back into the warmth of the cave.

Although I had done almost nothing, I still felt so very tired, probably from the stress and exertion of the previous day’s events. I lay back down in bed just as Jamie returned. “Are ye goin’ back to sleep, Sassenach? Sorry I wasna here when ye woke. I’ve only been gone a short while,” he explained. “Did ye want anythin’ to eat?”

“No,” I replied, yawning. “I’m really quite tired. I think it’s best if I just go back to sleep.”

“Sleep well. I’ve no other reason to leave, so I’ll be here when ye wake.” He leaned down to kiss my forehead, and I smiled up at him sleepily before closing my eyes.

That was to be my last bit of sleep for some time. I awoke less than an hour later, once again needing the privy. When I came back in from outside, I stopped for a moment, wincing at a sudden pain in my belly. I braced myself against the wall of the cave as I breathed through it, and Jamie looked up from the book he had been reading, blue eyes wide as saucers. “Sassenach?” he asked tentatively.

“Jamie,” I said, my voice shaking slightly as the pain began to lessen, “I think this is it. The baby is coming.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 37
November 22, 1746

Jamie rushed over to Claire’s side, dropping his book carelessly on the ground. “Are ye sure, Sassenach? Could it no’ be the practice pains like last time?” he asked, rubbing her back with one hand and taking her hand in the other.

“I don’t think so.” Claire smiled bravely up at him, and his heart nearly broke, knowing the pain she would have to endure over the next several hours. Oh, that he could take it from her; for it would hurt him far less to bear her physical pain himself than to go through the emotional pain of watching her suffer.

“What can I do for ye, mo nighean? Should I go and fetch Jenny?”

“Well, first off, you can help me get back to the bed. But after that, I don’t think you should be anywhere near the house while it’s still light outside. The last thing I need is you getting captured right now. Just stay with me, and you can get Jenny a bit later. This will likely take hours. We’ll have plenty of time after dark, I’m sure.” Claire’s confidence served to calm Jamie down a bit from his initial state of panic. After all, she was a healer. Surely she knew what she was talking about.

***

My mind was in a state of complete panic, scrambling to come up with the right words to say to Jamie. This was really happening. I had said I was ready, but I hadn’t exactly expected to be in labor an hour later. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the real thing. The pain was much more intense this time, and this was only the beginning. I tried to speak with conviction, not wanting to scare Jamie unnecessarily. I needed him to remain level-headed as I thought there was a decent chance he would have to deliver our baby.

As he helped me to get back in bed, I did some mental calculations. It was still before noon. Jamie could not be sure of safely retrieving Jenny until after we were certain the soldiers would have retired for the evening. It would likely still be ten or more hours before he could get to Lallybroch under cover of darkness and make it back to the cave with Jenny. By that time, I would almost certainly be too far along in my labor to think of letting Jamie leave my side for even a moment.

For now though, I had to push those worries out of my mind. I could feel the beginnings of another contraction, and worrying about circumstances out of my control would not be conducive to my pain management. At the moment, the pains would be mild and far apart enough for me to rest some. As I lay back down among the blankets, I took a deep breath, readying myself for what was to come.

***

“Fuuuuuuck!”

Jamie ran back into the cave, hastily buttoning his breeks as he went. It had been almost six hours since Claire had felt her first pain, and Jamie had just stepped outside to relieve himself when he heard her screaming again. Jamie had known his wife was not exactly demure, but he had never heard language like this before from anyone, man or woman. Returning inside, he saw her sitting up in bed, sweaty curls plastered to her forehead, face screwed up in a combination of determination and agony. He rushed over to her side to let her squeeze his hand.

“’Tis a good thing ye’re such a fine physician, Sassenach,” he observed as she crushed his proffered hand. “If ye hadna done such a bonny job repairin’ my hand, ye wouldna have it now to break all over again.”

Claire grimaced at him as she held her belly with her free hand. “Dammit, Jamie, it fucking hurts!” Her grip on his hand began to loosen as the contraction passed, and she let out a long sigh. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. “That was maybe the worst one yet. I see what Jenny meant about the whiskey. I’d do just about anything to lessen the pain right about now.”

“Would ye like me to pour ye a dram?” Jamie asked, desperate to make himself useful.

“No, I really shouldn’t. It isn’t good for the baby. Besides, the pain is perfectly normal. I may not want to, but I can handle it. I think things are progressing properly. The pains are still a bit irregular, but they certainly feel strong. Once they get a bit closer together, then we’ll see if I still turn down that dram.”

“Ye’re doin’ a braw job, a nighean. Ye ken I would take the pain from ye if I could, but since I canna, ye can curse at me and hold my hand as tight as ye need. Only another hour or two, and I’ll be able to bring Jenny to ye. I ken we’ll both be relieved when she’s here to help.”

“Yes, I’m sure we will be,” Claire agreed. Jamie kissed the top of her head, not having noticed how Claire’s eyes had not met his when agreeing with him.

***

I did not know when exactly I was going to tell him, but I couldn’t put it off for much longer. I had hoped that maybe things would progress slowly enough that I could stand to be by myself for the time it would take for Jamie to get to Lallybroch and back with Jenny, but I was already past that point right now. In all honesty, Jamie would likely make it back in time, but I simply could not conceive of going through this without him.

It really is true that nothing can prepare you for what labor feels like. I barely remembered giving birth to Faith, having been unconscious through so much of it. Even watching Jenny go through it with Maggie did little to inform me of what it would be like for me. It was just so bloody long; hours and hours with no relief. I needed Jamie there to center me. Just letting me hold his hand or hearing his words of encouragement helped me to push through to the other side of each contraction. Picturing him holding our baby in just a matter of hours reminded me of why this was going to be worth it in the end.

I just hoped he would be able to handle the news that he was going to be the one delivering our baby.

***

Claire had taken to walking around the cave for the last hour or so. Jamie had worried a bit when she’d said she was doing it in order to speed up the labor, but he had not wanted to argue with her either. It was nearing eight o’clock, and Jamie was trying to find the right moment to ask her if he should go to get Jenny. He hated to leave her, but he also saw no other way around it.

She was currently leaning against him as her poor, tired body was hit with another intense pain. Each time one came, Jamie prayed to God that He might grant strength to his wife. He prayed over and over that she and the child might be safe. He tried not to think of his mother, as doing so only increased his worry unnecessarily. At least he was here with Claire, supporting her as best he could. Although he knew of no other man who had been present at the birth of one of his bairns, he could not imagine being anywhere else on earth. He felt it his duty as a husband and father to help his wife through this most trying of times.

Right now, though, the best help he knew to offer was to leave her. She was standing on her own again now that the pain had passed, and he decided to broach the subject with her. “Sassenach, ’tis well after dark now. D’ye think I should go ‘afore it gets too late?”

“I’ve been meaning to tell you actually. I don’t want you to get Jenny,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“What do ye mean, no’ get Jenny? There’s no one else for me to get, unless ye want Mrs. Crook instead.” Jamie could not begin to imagine who else Claire would want right now. Jenny had been the plan all along.

“No, I don’t want Mrs. Crook either. Jamie, I just want you. You can’t leave me now, and I’ll tell you what to do when the time comes.” Claire finally met Jamie’s eyes to gauge his reaction. He appeared to be in a state of shock.

“Claire, ye canna mean what I think ye do. I dinna want to leave ye, but what am I to do if anythin’ goes wrong? You and Jenny read the books to prepare, and she knows what to expect. I’d do anythin’ ye ask of me, Claire, but I canna do this.”

“You hardly need to do anything. I promise I’ll do the lion’s share of the work, and we already have my medical kit here. I just can’t be alone. I need you, Jamie,” she pleaded. Her words broke his heart. He wanted to do as she asked, but he was so afraid he would fall short, that he would be the reason something went wrong.

Just as he was about to respond, her face once again screwed up in pain. He rushed to her side to support her, and she rested her head on his chest. It was at that moment, holding her in his arms as she moaned in pain, that he realized she was right; she really did need him more than she did Jenny. He had to be strong for her. He would not leave.

***

Pain, pain, pain. It was everywhere, in my belly and my back, and nothing I did could relieve it. Whether I stood or lay down, pain. It was well after midnight, and my contractions were almost one on top of the other. Surely it could not be much longer now. I could not survive much more of this. I was so tired, and I just wanted it to be over.

I had to remain coherent though. I could not give in to the emotional collapse my mind was begging for. I wanted to cry out that I was not strong enough to do this anymore. But Jamie needed me to be brave. For Jamie I would be brave.

***

Jamie was starting to truly worry. Claire had been almost silent for the last half hour or so, communicating only in groans. She had finally ceased her walking, and he had hoped that meant the end was near, but it was now at least an hour later, and still nothing. He was worried he had missed some crucial sign that something had gone gravely wrong. Was she dying right before his eyes? He would be powerless to stop it if she was.

“Jamie?” She spoke so low, he almost did not hear her.

“What is it, mo chridhe?” he asked, smoothing her hair back and wiping her brow with a damp cloth.

“I think…I think the baby is almost here.” She sounded almost delirious, and he swallowed hard and prayed for the thousandth time for God to give her strength.

“What do ye need me to do, Claire?” He could see that another pain had come crashing down upon her, but this time, she grasped her knees, pulling them up toward her chest, and began pushing.

“You have…to catch her, Jamie,” she ordered through gritted teeth. Jamie took the blanket she had set aside to wrap the baby in and positioned himself between her knees. Her shift was pulled up above her rounded belly, and her face was red and glistening with sweat.

“How will I know when?” he asked rather stupidly.

“Trust me,” she got out, breathing heavily. “You’ll know.”

Her head fell back against the wall as the pain passed. This went on for the next several contractions. She would take deep breaths, pushing with what appeared to be the very last bit of strength she possessed. Just when it seemed she had nothing left, the pain would end, giving her a couple minutes’ rest at most. Then it would start all over again. Jamie was starting to wonder if it would ever end.

***

I was running out of strength. I would surely die if I had to do this for much longer. Another pain began, and I pushed with everything I had left. Suddenly I heard screaming, belatedly realizing it was coming from me. The last push had resulted in an agonizing burning I had not yet felt.

“Claire? What is it, lass?” I made eye contact with him and saw the fear in his eyes.

“Do you see it? Do you see the head?” I asked, panting for breath. I needed to know. If he could see the head, I was close to the end, and I could maybe find the strength to finish the job.

“I-I dinna ken.” He shook his head, but then, “Aye!” he exclaimed as I pushed again. “I see it, Sassenach! Ye’re doin’ a braw job!” I reached my hand down around my belly and felt the slippery skin of the baby’s head, covered with a decent amount of hair. She really was almost here, about to be her own person, separate from me, but she still needed me to have enough strength to bring her fully into the world. I now knew how close I was to the end; I could do this.

***

Jamie’s hands were shaking as he breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the end was in sight. This was really it. Claire’s suffering was about to end, and he was about to meet his daughter. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to calm his nerves. When he opened them, he saw Claire’s whiskey eyes trained on him.

“It’s all right, Jamie. I’m not going to die. You can do this.” He nodded, tears starting to fall down his face.

“Ye’re the one doin’ this, Claire. Dinna fash about me. I’ve got ye both.”

She started to breathe harder as the next contraction started. With a few more pushes, along with an alarming amount of screaming from Claire, the baby’s head was out, followed soon after by the rest of her body, straight into the hands of her father.

***

With one final push, I felt like I was ripping apart, followed by great relief and a sudden absence. I looked down, tears clouding my vision, at Jamie holding our brand new daughter, a look of utter awe on his face.

“Sassenach, it’s a wee lassie,” he managed to say before he began to sob.

“Yes, she is, Jamie. Just like you said.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 38
November 23, 1746

After a moment of acclimation to the outside world, our daughter realized just how unhappy it made her, and she began to scream. I smiled, closing my eyes in a quick prayer of thanks to God for the baby’s healthy lungs. I walked Jamie through cutting the umbilical cord, and then he finally placed our baby in my arms.

“Hello, my darling,” I greeted her through my sobs. “Your da and I love you so much. We’ve waited so long for you.” Tears were streaming down my face as I kissed her tiny forehead and then turned to look at Jamie who had come to sit beside me. His face was full of love and pride, and when he leaned in to kiss me, I tasted our mingled, salty tears of joy.

“Sassenach, ye are both the most beautiful creatures I have ever laid my eyes on. Thank you for our daughter.” He kissed me again, then we both looked down at the baby, whose screaming had transitioned into occasional squawks. Her eyes were still mostly closed, but I could already tell she had red hair, just like her father and sister. Where Faith had been so frail and tiny, this baby was chubby and robust, the picture of health in every way.

She began to blink slowly, her eyes adjusting to the first bit of light she had ever seen. “What did I tell you?” I laughed, nudging Jamie with my elbow. “Blue eyes and red hair, just like her father. And look at her ears and nose! She resembles you in every way. Those Fraser traits are just too strong for the likes of me to compete with.”

Jamie cupped her head in his hand, tracing with his thumb the perfect copy of his features on the face of his daughter. “Aye, Sassenach, but look at her hair. ’Tis red, but ye can already see the curl to it so like yers. And her eyes may be blue like mine, but they’re framed so beautifully by your brow. She’s the perfect blend of you and me, the living, breathing symbol of our love.”

After dealing with the afterbirth and getting the baby and myself cleaned up - with a lot of help from Jamie - I got into bed, and Jamie handed me our newly swaddled little girl. She was awake and rather unhappy at having just been wiped down and bundled up. I pulled down the neck of the shift I had just changed into and offered her my breast. She immediately latched on; another hurdle so easily overcome.

“She’s a greedy, wee thing, isn’t she?” Jamie teased, wrapping his arm around my shoulders as he observed our nursing daughter.

“Yes, she seems to have quite the appetite. I wonder where she might get that from?” I teased back.

“I canna tell ye what I feel, seein’ our bairn at yer breast, Sassenach,” Jamie began, not teasing at all this time. “I’ve waited for this moment for so long. We have a bairn. She’s healthy and so are you. I was afraid so many times for ye today, mo ghraidh, that ye wouldna survive the birth.”

“I was too, for a little while,” I admitted. Neither of us looked at each other while we talked, both so enraptured with every little movement made by the baby. “I couldn’t have done it without you; of that I’m sure. I can’t believe we actually did it, just the two of us.”

“I canna believe ye talked me into it, but I’m glad ye did. This, right here, just the three of us, is how I pictured it from the day we wed, when I kent for certain we would have bairns, you and I. To think of everythin’ we’ve been through since then and how it led us here. Not a day will pass when I will not thank God for blessing me with my wife and daughter.”

We both grew quiet at that point. I switched the baby to my other breast, and Jamie caressed her impossibly soft cheek with his index finger as she continued to nurse. I leaned my head against his shoulder and closed my eyes, the excitement giving way to utter exhaustion. It had been a very long day, and I was ready for some well-deserved sleep. The baby eventually finished her first meal, and Jamie took her from my arms.

“Rest now, mo ghraidh,” he murmured. “I’ll mind the bairn.”

I did not even open my eyes as I sank down into the bed. Jamie pulled the blanket over me with his free hand, and the last thing I heard before I drifted off was his out-of-tune voice singing to our baby.

 

Some time later I was awoken by an entirely different sound. “I think she needs her mam,” Jamie observed as I gingerly sat up in bed. I had only slept for a couple of hours, but I felt decently restored. It helped to have such a lovely reason to be awake. Jamie handed the baby back to me, her little face pink from screaming.

“Don’t worry, darling,” I soothed. “Mummy’s here.” I quickly got her to my breast, and she was immediately content. “How was she while I was asleep?” I asked Jamie before yawning.

“Perfect,” he replied, letting out a rather large yawn himself. “But I did get to thinkin’. We havena come up wi’ a name for her yet.”

I thought for a moment. “We had a perfectly good name picked out if she had been a boy. Why not use that?”

Jamie laughed at what he apparently considered to be a ridiculous notion. “Brian? Surely ye canna mean to name our daughter Brian, Sassenach.”

“No, not exactly. But what about Brianna? We could even use Ellen as her middle name. Both of your parents’ names together.”

“Brianna.” Jamie tested the name out, pronouncing it slightly different from me. “Naming our bairn after my parents would have been a true honor to them, were they still alive. Brianna Ellen it is, then.” Jamie paused a moment, reconsidering. “Only she should have one more name, Sassenach.”

“Another one?” I moved Brianna to my shoulder to burp her after she finished her meal. “You know we don’t have to use up all of our name ideas right off the bat. We could save some for our next child.”

“Ah, dhia, ye really are braver than I am if ye’re already thinkin’ of goin’ through that again. I suppose that’s the reason I want her to have yer name as well. Claire means light, does it no’? And when I look at ye both together, I see my two lights in the darkness. I never want her to forget how much ye fought to protect her from the moment ye kent she slept in yer belly. She should carry yer name with her to remind her of yer love for her and my love for the both of ye.” Jamie held out his hands to take her from me, and I handed her over.

Brianna had worked her arm free from her swaddle, and she curled her tiny fingers around Jamie’s index finger, impossibly huge in comparison. I wondered if my eyes would ever stop leaking, what with my husband’s eloquence and the hormones racing through me. “So Brianna Ellen Claire Fraser it is, then,” I declared.

“Aye, that sounds perfect. Do ye agree then, mo nighean ruaidh?” Jamie asked, addressing Brianna. She made a rather adorable cooing sound as an answer which we both took to mean that she was in agreement.

Jamie, Brianna, and I spent the rest of that first day as a family of three alone together. Without even discussing it, we both seemed to agree that we wanted to keep Brianna to ourselves for just a little while longer. Jamie took a turn sleeping for a couple of hours while I stayed up with her, trying to memorize everything about her, knowing how quickly these early days would pass. I never wanted to forget these precious first hours of Brianna’s life.

As that first full day was drawing to a close, Jamie, Brianna, and I were all ensconced in bed, blissfully happy. Jamie planned to head back to Lallybroch some time in the early morning before dawn to deliver our happy news, and we expected visitors to be descending upon us soon to meet the newest member of the family. But for tonight, I held Brianna close to me as she slept, while Jamie shared the stories of his childhood with us both, all three of us safe and healthy and loved.

Chapter Text

Chapter 39
November 24, 1746

“Claire?” Jamie whispered, testing to see if she was truly asleep. She shifted slightly at the sound of her name, nestling her head on his chest. He smiled looking down at his beautiful, strong wife, her hair tickling his chin as she moved. Her curls were as wild as ever, having been neither washed nor tamed since giving birth to their daughter. Jamie cringed at being reminded of Claire’s labor. He had never felt so scared or helpless in his entire life than in those hours during which his wife had screamed and cried out in agony. He thanked God again that He had seen her and the bairn through safely.

He could not suppress the smile that came to his lips when he thought of Brianna. Brianna Ellen Claire Fraser, his daughter. She was so bonny and braw, and she looked just like him. Sometimes he could hardly believe that Claire was truly his, that she had chosen him, and now she had given him a child. He and Claire, their love for each other, would live on forever in their perfect, little lassie.

When Claire had fallen asleep after nursing Brianna for the first time, Jamie had had his first chance to bond with his daughter. He had talked to her, just as he had with baby Maggie years ago at Lallybroch. He had told her how he and Claire had thought for so long that they would never be able to have a daughter of their very own, and about how they had lost her sister, Faith. He wanted her to know just how much of a blessing she was to them both. He had told her of his hopes and dreams for her; how he hoped she would grow up to be just as smart and strong as her mother. He had even told her how afraid he was that he would not be able to keep her safe, but he promised he would try his best. She had slept peacefully through it all, and Jamie could almost feel his heart growing as the immense love for his daughter settled into his very bones.

Jamie would leave in a few hours to deliver their happy news to Jenny and Ian, but, for now, his two lasses were contentedly sleeping, and he closed his eyes to get what rest he could.

The noises of a fussy Brianna woke him a little later, and he could tell right away that she needed her clout changed. “S’matter?” Claire slurred sleepily, her eyes still half closed.

“Shh, go back to sleep, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, kissing her forehead. “I’ll take care of our wee lassie.” Claire mumbled her thanks, burrowing her face deeper into her pillow. “Come now, mo chuisle, let’s get ye cleaned up. Ye must be verra quiet now so we dinna wake yer mam. She’s still tired from bringin’ ye into the world.”

Jamie expertly changed Brianna’s clout and had her wrapped back up in no time. She was still unsatisfied, likely needing her next feeding, but Jamie was reluctant to wake Claire again. He chuckled to himself, watching her sleep so deeply with her mouth half open, blankets pulled up to her chin. Brianna made a noise of discontent, and Jamie gave her his finger to suckle, keeping her sated for a bit longer. He tucked her into the crook of his arm and took her outside for the very first time.

It was a clear, cold night, the moon reflecting off the patches of snow on the ground. Jamie gently bounced Brianna in his arms to keep her happy. “Do ye see, mo nighean ruaidh? That’s the moon all the way up there, shinin’ light on the land, our land. Yer grandda was laird of this land, and he built a grand house called Lallybroch for his family. I was born there, and now this is my land to share with you, wee Brianna. We might have to leave for a time, but I promise to bring ye back here when ye’re older. I’ll show ye everythin’ my da showed me when I was a bairn.”

Jamie knew it was time to bring Brianna back inside. It was too cold for her to stay out for long, and she had started to figure out just how poor a substitute his finger was for her mother’s breast. Brianna’s cries startled Claire out of her slumber, and she reached out for the baby after pulling her shift down. “You know it’s all right to wake me up if she needs me,” Claire reassured Jamie as Brianna began to eagerly suckle. “I appreciate your helping with her, but I’m well aware there’s only so much you can do when she’s hungry.”

“I ken, but ye looked so content, and I hated to disturb ye. Besides, I like spendin’ time with our lassie. She’s a sweet, wee thing, and a good listener as well.” Claire smiled up at him, and he was struck all over again with a crashing wave of love for his wife and daughter.

“Was your da showing you the outside world, lovey?” Claire asked, looking down to address Brianna.

“I had to be sure she sees all she can before we have to leave. I ken she’ll no’ remember any of it, but I hope she’ll feel at home when we can bring her back to Scotland one day,” Jamie mused.

“Scotland and Lallybroch are in her blood, Jamie,” Claire reassured him. “You will be the tether to connect her to her past until we can return. All that matters now is that we stay safe together.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed. “Now that ye’re awake, I think I’ll head to Lallybroch before dawn to deliver our news to Jenny and Ian. They’ll be overjoyed to hear that Brianna is here and ye’re both safe.”

“I can’t wait for them to meet her, Jamie. She’s just so perfect. I can hardly believe this isn’t all a dream,” Claire gushed, smoothing Brianna’s wisps of copper hair. Jamie leaned down to capture Claire’s lips in a tender, goodbye kiss, then kissed his daughter’s wee head before ducking out of the cave, a wide grin splitting his face.

Jamie felt as if his whole life had been leading up to this moment: bringing the news of his newly born child to the residents of Lallybroch. Although the snow was by now quite deep, Jamie felt as if he was floating above it. Nothing in nature could slow him from his joyous mission. The house was quiet when he arrived, but for the soft snoring of the soldiers asleep on the main floor. Jamie crept past them, deftly avoiding the one creaking stair on his way to Jenny and Ian’s room.

Jenny sat up in bed as soon as she heard the door latch open, suddenly and completely awake. “Is it Claire’s time?” she whispered as Ian sleepily turned to see who was at the door.

“Nay, a nighean,” Jamie said, shaking his head, a ridiculous smile still plastered on his face. “We have a daughter, born yesterday. Brianna Ellen Claire Fraser.”

“Born yesterday?” Jenny was clearly as shocked as Jamie had expected her to be. “Why did ye no’ come and get me? To think that Claire had to go through everythin’ alone. How could ye be so daft, Jamie?”

“I swear, Jenny, she wouldna let me. But she wasna alone. I stayed with her through it all, terrified as I was. And I helped with the birth; although Claire did have to give me some direction here and there. She was so brave and strong, Jenny. She did such a braw job, and Brianna is perfect. She has my hair, ye ken.” Jamie seemed to swell with pride as he praised his wife and daughter, and Jenny smiled to see him so happy in spite of her surprise at hearing Jamie’s news.

“I have no doubt Claire handled everythin’ well, and I am glad to hear she and the bairn came through safely. But what of the name?” Jenny questioned. “Brianna? I havena ever heard of such a name.”

“’Tis from Claire’s region,” Jamie explained, fibbing slightly. “She thought it would be nice for our parents to be honored together, their names side by side.”

“That sounds verra nice indeed, Jamie,” Ian said, finally waking up enough to join in on the conversation. “I’m sure yer mam and da would be pleased. Would Claire be agreeable to us comin’ out to see Brianna, or should we wait ’til ye bring her back to the house once the English have left?”

“Ye’re both welcome to come visit as soon as ye like. Claire is anxious to show Brianna off a bit. Any news yet on when the English plan to leave?”

Ian shook his head. “They havena told us anythin’ yet, but the injured man seems to be on the mend. I’d guess another day or two, and they’ll be movin’ on.”

“Regardless, we’ll come today to see our new niece,” Jenny promised. “Fergus is still feeling poorly, so he’ll have to stay here, but as soon as the English fools finish their breakfast, Ian and I will head out. And you had better leave before they all start to wake up. ’Tis almost dawn.”

“Aye, I dinna want to be away from Claire for too long anyway. I’ll see ye both in a few hours.” Jamie turned to leave before being stopped by Jenny calling out to him.

“Wait!” Jenny threw back the covers and got out of bed, shivering slightly at the cold air hitting her legs. She stood on her tiptoes and gave Jamie a kiss on the cheek. “Congratulations, a bràthair.”

Jamie beamed down at her. “Thank ye, Jenny. I’ve truly never been happier.” And with that, Jamie left to return to his wife and daughter.

Chapter Text

Chapter 40
November 25, 1746

I was still awake when Jamie returned from Lallybroch, his smile just as wide as when he had left. Brianna had fallen back to sleep as I held her, yet I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of her. Every tiny movement she made was fascinating to me. Holding her in my arms, feeding her from my body, tracing the tiny features of her face with my finger, everything about her was a wonder and a privilege for me to behold.

“How are my lasses, then?” Jamie asked, coming over to sit beside me. I turned toward him, and he greeted me with a kiss. “Did I miss anythin’ while I was gone? Her first word perhaps?”

I laughed, trying not to move too much so as to not wake Brianna. “You may have missed a decent amount of general noise coming from your daughter, but I don’t think any of it could be classified as English just yet.”

“And who says her first word will be in English? She’s half Scottish; perhaps her first word will be in the Gàidhlig, and ye willna understand her, sassenach that ye are.”

“Well then it sounds like you’ll just have to stay with us in case I need you to translate,” I responded, only half joking. I didn’t want to ask him outright, feeling guilty for the freedom he would have to sacrifice, but I was hoping for him to offer to remain at the house with us once we returned. Although it would have been nice to not have to worry about the English finding us, staying at the cave with Brianna was not an option I was willing to entertain. Winters in Scotland were far too harsh for us to safely remain in our current situation. We could get snowed in for days, any game for Jamie to catch would be much more scarce, and transporting food from Lallybroch through the snow was not really a feasible plan. Brianna and I would simply have to return to the house once the English had departed.

But the thought of spending the winter months, Brianna’s first few months of life, without Jamie was unbearable. Not only did the task of caring for her by myself seem rather daunting, but I could already see how attached Jamie was to her. I couldn’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to live apart from him for days at a time. Jamie had been there at the moment of her birth, and he deserved to be there for every first she would experience. Just the thought of watching his back disappearing across the courtyard as I held Brianna on the doorstep of Lallybroch forced me to blink back tears.

As usual, Jamie saw my fears reflected in my face, and I turned away from him, lest I started to cry. I knew I would be emotional after giving birth, but this was getting ridiculous. I couldn’t continue to cry every time a troubling thought happened to cross my mind. Thankfully Jamie was there to assuage my fears.

“Surely ye must ken I dinna plan to leave ye now, Sassenach,” he reassured me. “I wouldna dream of bein’ parted from you and Brianna, at least not in our current situation. You and I are both in the same amount of danger of being found by the English. The day ye were in the priest hole, Claire, just hours away from yer first pains starting…when Fergus told me that you were down there, alone, for a whole day, I felt like such a failure. And now, knowing that if the English had found you, our bairn would have been born in a prison somewhere; and that’s if you had been lucky enough to make it that far…” Jamie trailed off, clearly lost in the worst case scenario he was envisioning.

“Jamie,” I began, reaching up with my free hand to turn his face toward me, “don’t worry yourself over what might have been. You offered to stay with me, and I sent you back to the cave. You did nothing wrong. Regardless, we’re safe now, thanks to you. You made sure I had a place to bring our daughter into the world, and you were by my side every step of the way. You were my source of strength through it all, and the thought of you finally getting to hold our baby was what gave me the ability to withstand the pain. If you hadn’t kept yourself safe and alive for all these past months, we would surely be much worse off than this. You can’t blame yourself.”

“Be that as it may, I willna leave ye again. You need to be at the house to care for Brianna, and I’ll be there to watch over ye both. If we’re found out, we’ll be found together. Besides, nothing on earth could keep me away from this wee one.” He reached out to take Brianna from me, and I transferred her carefully into his arms and stretched, attempting to relieve some of the soreness in my back from holding her still for so long.

Brianna woke up a few moments later, yawned, and looked straight into the eyes of her father, blue on blue. “Hello there, mo chuisle. Did ye wake up to see yer da, then? Yer auntie and uncle are coming to meet ye today. They already love ye verra much, just like yer mam and I do. Auntie Jenny can be a great annoyance at times, but ye must forgive her for it.”

“Jamie,” I interrupted, hitting him lightly on the arm. “Don’t tell her that. Your aunt is a wonderful person,” I explained, redirecting my attention to Brianna. “You’ll be quite lucky indeed if you can learn to cook from her. I’m afraid Mummy is hopeless at preparing anything remotely appetizing.”

Brianna blinked solemnly throughout our discourse as though waiting for us to finish and then decided to exercise her lungs with a rather piercing cry. “All right, a leannan, back to yer mam it is,” Jamie soothed, handing Brianna back to me. I knew it had to be feeding time as my breasts had begun to feel very full indeed, and she quieted immediately as she began to nurse.

“Ye may no’ be the greatest cook, Sassenach, but Brianna doesna seem to mind just yet,” Jamie observed.

“She also doesn’t have much of a choice. We’ll ask her again in a few years when she’s developed a bit more of a discerning taste. I wager she’ll choose Jenny over me in a heartbeat,” I surmised. I knew we were both silently hoping that Brianna would have the chance to try Jenny’s cooking in a few years. Hopefully by then we would be back at Lallybroch with our family where we belonged.

 

Jenny and Ian arrived a few hours later as I was pacing the length of the cave, gently bouncing Brianna in my arms. Ian went through great pains to get up the hill, and Jenny was the first inside when they finally made it up. Her reaction to seeing Brianna was everything I had hoped for. “Claire,” she breathed, awestruck, “she’s so bonny and braw.” I handed Brianna over to Jenny, and the blanket slid down off of her head. “And look at that red hair! There can be nay doubt that Jamie Fraser is her sire, but she has yer beauty in her face. And if ye’re lucky, ye’ll have yer mam’s brains as well,” Jenny said, redirecting her attention to Brianna.

Ian limped over to Jenny to see Brianna for himself and cupped her head softly in his hand, stroking her hair with his thumb. “I’m so happy for the both of ye that ye have the child ye’ve longed for. I ken what it means to hold yer bairn, knowing your own blood runs through their veins, and I’m glad ye finally ken that feeling for yerselves.” Ian and Jamie exchanged a look of mutual fatherly pride, and Jamie wrapped his arm around my waist as we watched Jenny coo over our daughter.

“How is Fergus faring? Has his cough gotten any better?” I asked, sad that our other child had not yet been able to meet his sister.

“He seemed much better this mornin’ than he has in several days,” Jenny replied. “I think by tomorrow, he’ll be well enough to travel out to see this wee lassie.”

“He might even be able to deliver the news of the English finally leaving us in peace,” Ian added.

Jamie raised his eyebrows hopefully. “Did they say something this mornin’ to indicate that they’ll be movin’ on?” Jamie and I were both anxious to relocate to Lallybroch before any potential weather delays could hinder us.

“Aye,” Ian said, smiling. “Their captain spoke to me before we left. He actually thanked me for our hospitality - as though we had a choice in the matter. He said they’ll be leavin’ at dawn.”

“Thank Christ!” Jamie exclaimed. “Home, Sassenach! Tomorrow we’ll be home and we can sleep the whole night in our real bed.”

I laughed, shaking my head at him. “We may be going home, love, but I don’t know how much sleep we’ll be getting, real bed or no.”

“Ach, I dinna mind bein’ awake all night wi’ Brianna, so long as I’m back in our bedroom with a warm fire and you there by my side.” I tilted my chin up for a kiss, and we happily spent the next couple of hours watching Jenny and Ian get to know their new niece.

Chapter Text

Chapter 41
November 26, 1746

Fergus did indeed arrive in the morning with the joyous news of the soldiers’ departure, and my almost constant tears continued to flow at seeing him again. He couldn’t have ever dreamt of one day having a brother or sister, considering he didn’t even really know who his mother was when we first met him, and I was excited to see his reaction to meeting Brianna. She was nursing when Fergus first walked in, and his cheeks flushed when he noticed that I was uncovered.

“It’s all right, Fergus,” I reassured him. “I know you’ve seen much more than this in Paris. And your sister is only eating her breakfast; it’s nothing to be embarrassed of.”

“Oui, Maman, but you are a lady, not a whore. I did not wish to offend you,” he replied, still not meeting my eye.

“Ye’ll have to get used to it sooner or later, lad. Yer wee sister eats more often than even you do,” Jamie remarked. “This is about the third breakfast she’s had today alone. Ye’ll no’ see yer mam at all if ye run away every time she’s feeding Brianna.”

Fergus finally made eye contact with me, and I patted the space on the bed next to me, encouraging him to sit down. He still ended up sitting about three feet away from me, but progress had been made. “I believe she’s almost finished eating. Then would you like to hold her?” I asked Fergus.

“Oui, if she does not mind,” Fergus agreed. “I remember at the brothel, some of the bairns did not like to leave their mothers when they were so young. The older children had to look after the younger ones, and they would sometimes cry for hours as their mothers went to work. I would not want upset Brianna by taking her from you.”

I was at a loss for words, tears silently falling down my face as I imagined those poor mothers and babies being ripped apart by life’s misfortune. Brianna had fallen off my breast, full and satisfied, and I held her tight to me as I patted her back, so grateful to know that she would always be in my arms whenever she needed me.

“Brianna willna be upset to be held by you, Fergus,” Jamie assured him, coming over to sit on the bed with us. “Ye’re her brother, and she’ll look up to ye her whole life. Sometimes she’ll prefer yer mam over either one of us, but that doesna mean she loves ye any less, lad.”

“Here, darling,” I encouraged him. “Your sister is ready to meet you now.” Fergus held his arms out to take Brianna from me, and he expertly cradled her head in his good hand while supporting the rest of her with his other arm.

“Bonjour, ma petite soeur,” Fergus greeted Brianna. “I am very glad to be your brother, and I promise to always protect you and love you no matter what.” Jamie reached over to hold my hand, and we exchanged tearful smiles before returning our attention to our children. Brianna had not fussed at all as I’d handed her to Fergus, and she was currently staring intently at his face, her blue eyes open wide.

“So what do ye think of her, lad?” Jamie asked.

“She looks like you, Papa,” Fergus observed. “And she does seem to like me, I think.” Brianna yawned, and Fergus laughed at the way her little face scrunched up. “Did eating make you tired, Brianna?” Fergus asked her. “That happens to me sometimes too.” Jamie chuckled and reached out to take Brianna from Fergus.

“I’ll hold her while she sleeps, lad,” Jamie offered. “She may look wee, but yer arms get tired right quick holdin’ her.” Jamie leaned back against the pillows, laying Brianna on his chest as we had discovered this to be her favorite place to sleep.

“So, Fergus, tell us about the soldiers,” I prompted.

There wasn’t much to tell, according to Fergus. The soldiers had simply packed up early this morning and left as quickly as they had arrived. No compensation had been offered for the accommodations, and Mrs. Crook had been rather incensed, feeling that her hard work had gone unappreciated. Jenny and Ian had been too relieved at having their house back to get angry about the unfairness of the situation. As soon as the soldiers were out of sight, Jenny had told Fergus to bring the wagon into the woods as far as he could in order to transport us back to the house.

I got up to start packing while Brianna slept on Jamie’s chest. Fergus helped me to bundle up the few things I had brought with me when I’d fled the house. I could hardly believe Brianna had only been born a few days ago. She already felt like such an essential part of our little family that it was hard to imagine what life had been like before her arrival. It was a great relief to be taking her home.

Fergus left to take what he could to the wagon after I finished packing, and I sat back down next to Jamie, who had fallen asleep along with Brianna. I surveyed the cave a bit wistfully. This might be the last time I would be here before the four of us left Scotland in the spring. Although living at the cave had been somewhat inconvenient, Jamie and I had made the best of a bad situation. We’d had such happy times here, turning a cleft in the stone into a makeshift home. In this place we had loved each other, anticipating the birth of our child. We had known real peace here over the summer, traipsing through the woods together and eating by the fire at night. Most important of all, our daughter had been born here. This cave had kept us safe in our most desperate hours, and I would miss it.

I stood and picked Brianna up, waking Jamie in the process. “Ready to go then, Sassenach?” he asked, his voice a bit thick with sleep.

“Almost,” I replied. “Once Fergus gets back, I think we’ll be ready to leave.” I tucked Brianna into the sling I had made to carry her in, and she fell right back to sleep.

Jamie stood and stretched, smiling as he turned and saw me. “Ye look so bonny, mo nighean donn, with our babe cradled close to ye like that. Ye’re such a wonderful mam.”

“I don’t feel very bonny right now if I’m being honest with you,” I admitted, “but I appreciate the compliment. I hope I’ll have time to take a proper bath today. Perhaps then I’ll start to feel like a normal person again.” I knew the recovery process would take time. I was still incredibly sore from giving birth, and I sometimes felt more like a food source than an actual human being, but it was all worth it to have Brianna. However, the thought of taking a bath, washing my hair, and no longer smelling like stale milk made me want to weep with happiness.

“Whatever ye need, Sassenach. As soon as we get home, I’ll start to bring in the water for ye while you and Brianna take a rest,” he promised.

“I knew there was a reason I kept you around,” I teased him.

Fergus returned then, and he and Jamie gathered up the last of my things to carry to the wagon. After one last look around, I slipped out of the cave entrance, pulling Brianna close to me so as not to bump her head into the rock. Jamie and Fergus went down the hill; then Jamie returned to help me down with Brianna. We had a bit of a walk to get to where the wagon was, and I was quite ready for a rest by the time we got there. I gained a whole new appreciation for Jenny while sitting in the back of that wagon. The jostling was terribly uncomfortable; I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for Jenny to ride a horse so soon after giving birth to Maggie.

By the time we finally reached Lallybroch, Brianna had woken up and was beyond ready for a feeding. Jenny and Ian came out to meet us, but Jenny seemed to sense that I was in no mood for a joyful reunion chat. I gratefully excused myself, went up to the laird’s room, and quickly undid my laces to give to give Brianna access to her meal. I closed my eyes, sighing in relief as she ate, and breathed in the delicious scent of clean sheets and a crackling fire. We were home at last. Knowing that we could only be here for a few months longer, I was determined to appreciate every second I had left living in an actual home.

Jamie, always a man of his word, brought the wooden bathtub into our room a few minutes later. “Mrs. Crook is workin’ on heatin’ the water for ye, Sassenach. I’ll start bringin’ it up as soon as it’s warm enough.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” I replied. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

“Anythin’ for you, mo ghraidh.” He walked over and kissed me, and I knew his words to be true.

By the time my bath was ready, Brianna was fast asleep in the cradle that had been ready and waiting for her for over a month now. I shed my clothing layer by layer and finally eased myself into the warm water with a sigh of happiness. Jamie knelt by the side of the tub holding a cloth and the bit of my French soap that still remained. I’d not yet had the time or notion to consider what my body looked like at this point, but now that I was completely bare, I began to feel self-conscious in front of Jamie.

“You don’t need to do anything,” I muttered. “I’m completely capable of washing myself.” I held my hand out to take the soap and cloth from Jamie, but he did not hand them over.

“Let me, Sassenach,” he said softly. “Ye deserve to be looked after. Ye care for our daughter, now let me care for you.”

“I appreciate it, but you really don’t need to. I still don’t feel quite…like myself.” I gestured vaguely at my body, loose skin and stretch marks blurry but visible through the rippling water. While pregnant, I’d been happy to see the changes in my body. They were all signs of the healthy baby I was carrying. Now that Brianna was here, I just wanted my old body back. Although I knew it was irrational and, frankly, impossible to have that three days after giving birth, I still wasn’t sure I was ready to share my feelings and insecurities with Jamie just yet.

“I willna do anythin’ ye dinna want me to, Claire,” Jamie reassured me. “But ye needna feel ashamed in front of me. Ye never loved me any less for the scars I bear, and I willna love or desire you any less for the way ye’ve changed from bearing my child. I only love you more and more with each passing day.” He took my hand that had been resting on the side of the tub and kissed the ring he had given me. “Do ye wish me to leave ye alone for a bit then?”

I smiled at him, caressing his softly stubbled cheek. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had ever done to deserve a man like this. “No, my love. Stay with me.” I took a deep breath, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes, thinking of the summer day Jamie had bathed me at the pond. He was infinitely more gentle this time, and I was so tired that I almost dozed off while he washed me. Once I was clean, Jamie helped me out of the bath, dried me off, and pulled a fresh, clean shift down over my head. I got into bed while he took a turn cleaning himself, then he slipped under the covers beside me and pulled me close to him. I knew Brianna would be awake soon, but for now I let myself drift off in my husband’s arms, warm in our own bed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 42
Early December 1746

The first couple weeks of Brianna’s life were happy but exhausting. Brianna was a good baby, and, for a newborn, she slept very well. But she still woke every couple of hours for a feeding, which meant that I also woke every couple of hours. Jamie was a great help, especially since Brianna still slept best lying skin to skin on his chest, but the fact remained that I needed to be awake to feed her, and no one could take my place.

That being said, I was still over the moon to finally have my baby here with me. If there had ever been a chance of my not feeling grateful every second for Brianna, Faith had rid me of that chance. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have two red-haired little girls instead of just one. One night in particular, Brianna’s cries woke me from the most vivid dream of Faith. She had been a toddler in my dream, sitting next to me in bed while I’d held Brianna. Her pudgy hands had been reaching out for her sister, and I’d invited her to sit in my lap so she could hold Brianna with my help. She’d kissed her baby sister on the forehead and then turned to smile up at me when I’d awoken to Brianna’s cries.

I automatically got out of bed to retrieve Brianna and sat with her in the chair in the corner while she began to feed. The moonlight fell in a slant across her cheek, and when I looked down at her, I started to cry. Jamie was awoken by my sobs and rushed to kneel by my side, a panicked look in his eyes. “What is it, mo nighean? Is it the bairn? Is she ill?”

“No, no, she’s fine, Jamie. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I just had a dream. It was about…about Faith.” That was all I could manage before I began to weep anew, trying not to disturb Brianna as she nursed.

“Oh, mo chridhe, I’m so sorry. She’s often in my thoughts as well, especially now wi’ wee Brianna. She’d be such a good sister; I’m sure of it.” Jamie gently rubbed my back as he spoke, and I began to calm down a bit.

“You think about her too?” I asked, a bit surprised. Not that I thought that Jamie could ever forget about our first child, but we rarely spoke of her anymore. Sometimes it felt like our whole time in Paris had been just a horrible nightmare, but then sometimes, in moments like these, it felt so real and raw that my heart broke all over again for what we had lost.

“I think about her every day,” he whispered, cupping Brianna’s head in his hand. “Sometimes when I look at Brianna, I wonder if she looks like her sister. I think about the two of them growin’ up together, so close in age; they would have been the best of friends. She may no’ be here with us, Sassenach, but I dinna think she’s verra far away either. I like to think she’s lookin’ out for her wee sister. And we’ll always hold her in our hearts, even if we canna hold her in our arms.”

I placed my hand over Jamie’s as he rubbed his thumb over a particularly wavy bit of Brianna’s hair. “She did look like Brianna,” I said, thinking back on when I had held Faith for those brief moments. “Her hair was a lighter shade of red, but maybe it would have been the same if she had been born at nine months. Her eyes were slanted, just like Brianna’s, but she had my nose instead of yours. I’ll never forget how perfectly tiny she was, just like a doll.”

Jamie nodded, tears falling down his face now, and I leaned over to kiss the top of his head. Although painful, talking with Jamie about Faith had helped immensely. Just being reminded that she wouldn’t be forgotten was a comfort. Even though Jamie had never gotten to see her, I wasn’t the only one who carried her memory with me, and I knew we would one day pass down that memory to Brianna and to any other children we might have.

 

Fergus went into town the next morning to run a few small errands for Ian, and I immediately sensed that something was wrong with him when he returned that afternoon. I thought perhaps his arm was bothering him, but when I asked him about it, he just mumbled that he was fine and left the room. I didn’t see him again until suppertime, during which he barely uttered a word.

Fergus uncharacteristically went directly upstairs to bed after supper, and my curiosity spurred me to follow after him. “Fergus,” I called softly, knocking on his door.

“Come in,” I heard his muffled voice answer. I opened the door to find Fergus already in bed with the covers pulled to his chin, and I sat down on the edge of the bed, unsure of how to begin.

“I’m sorry to bother you if you’re tired, darling, but you haven’t seemed like yourself since you came back from town today. If something happened, you know you can talk to me about it, right?” I smiled encouragingly at him, hoping he would open up to me.

He sat up in bed and traced a pattern on the blanket with his good hand, not meeting my eyes. “I want to tell you,” he said, halting a bit, “but I am afraid of what Papa might do if you tell him. Will you promise not to tell Papa? I do not want him to have to kill again because of me.”

My mind immediately flashed back to the the time Jamie had been forced to defend Fergus in the ill-fated duel with Black Jack Randall. I hoped to God Fergus wasn’t implying that he had been attacked again. I was unsure of how to respond, but I did know that I couldn’t keep a secret potentially this big from Jamie. “I’m sorry, Fergus, but I can’t promise that. If I think your father needs to know something, I can’t keep it from him. But I hope you’ll tell me anyway. Maybe it isn’t as bad as you think?” I offered.

“It is very bad, Maman,” he said, finally looking into my eyes. The look on his face scared me a bit, but I nodded for him to continue. “Well, you see, I had finished the tasks Uncle Ian had asked me to do while in town, and I had found a bit of bread and cheese, so I stopped to eat it before I started for home.” I gave Fergus a stern look, knowing that he had stolen this bit of bread and cheese from somewhere, but I decided not to push it.

“I stepped into an alley for a moment to eat,” he continued, “when I saw Alastair with two English soldiers.”

“Alastair?” I echoed. “The boy with the splinter?”

“Oui, Maman.” Fergus nodded gravely. “The English had their backs to me, so they did not see that I was there.” Fergus, having been taught the best stealth tactics by Jamie, had hidden behind a barrel and listened in on the conversation. Fergus overheard the soldiers interrogating Alastair about several of the townsfolk, and Alastair was complying, answering the questions to what appeared to be the best of his ability. Fergus had been disturbed to say the least, but then he’d heard my name mentioned.

“They asked him if he had seen you again, Maman, but he said you had left the house a long time ago, and he had not seen you since then. I am afraid he is the one who told the English you were here, and now I am afraid Papa will have to kill him,” Fergus finished.

I had been sitting frozen still, my hand over my mouth since the moment I had realized exactly what Fergus was telling me. Little Alastair, the boy who barely talked; he was the one who had betrayed me to the English, who had told them I was pregnant. Of course I knew it wasn’t really his fault. He was too young to resist the interrogation of intimidating soldiers. But still, how had they found him? He was one of the only children in the village to have seen me, to have known of my condition. How had we been so unlucky? On the other hand, it was a relief to know that none of our loyal tenants had intentionally betrayed us to the English. Alastair would have to be watched more closely, but at least we had not misplaced our trust in the people of Broch Mordha.

“You don’t need to worry about Alastair, Fergus,” I reassured him, rubbing his arm. “I’m sure he didn’t understand what he was doing when he told the soldiers about me, and Papa will understand that too. Thanks to you, we can make sure the soldiers never have a chance to get Alastair alone again.” At that moment Brianna started to cry, and I got up to go to her.

“Thank you for telling me, darling,” I said, kissing the top of Fergus’s head. “And don’t worry about Alastair. Your father and I will make sure he’s safe.” Fergus smiled up at me looking very much like a giant weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and I left to go to my hungry baby.

When I entered our room, Jamie was making ridiculous faces at Brianna to try to get her to stop crying. I couldn’t help but laugh despite the grim news I had just received, and I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. No matter what happened, I had a loyal and loving son, a beautiful baby girl, and a husband who understood and loved me completely; nothing could take that knowledge away from me. I slid into bed next to Jamie, and he handed Brianna to me.

“Did ye find out what was troublin’ the lad then?” Jamie asked as Brianna began to nurse.

“I did,” I said, rubbing circles on Brianna’s tiny back. “I finally know who betrayed us to the English.” Jamie sat up straight next to me, a look of concern and shock on his face, and I told him everything Fergus had told me.

“Did ye no’ say the wee lad barely spoke when ye treated him?” Jamie asked, still in disbelief.

“Well, yes and no,” I answered. “He wouldn’t speak when his mother prompted him, but once he started talking to me, he wouldn’t stop. I could see how easy it would be for the soldiers to get him to tell them anything as long as they were nice at first.”

Jamie tapped his fingers against his thigh. “Ian will have to tell the lad’s parents of what he’s done. I hope they willna be too harsh wi’ the boy, but he’ll have to be watched closely. At least we ken none of our tenants willfully betrayed us.”

“I thought the same thing. And if Fergus heard correctly, Alastair told the soldiers that I’ve been gone for months now,” I added. “Hopefully they’ll take him at his word and leave us be until we can leave in the spring.”

“It’s so hard now, Sassenach, wi’ wee Brianna, to even think of anythin’ bad happening to us.” Jamie kissed Brianna’s forehead as I handed her back to him, full and satisfied. “Before, when it was the two of us, I worried for ye o’ course, but nothing like I do now. To imagine Brianna growin’ up without her mam…I couldna bear it, Claire.” His voice was thick with emotion as he gazed at Brianna, propped up on his bent legs and waving her arms about with abandon.

“You would though, Jamie; you would bear it because of her. And so would I if something happened to you.” I took a deep breath, thinking back to those terrible hours after Culloden. Before I had realized I was pregnant with Brianna, I had intended to die alongside Jamie. I shivered involuntarily as I remembered just how hopeless I had felt. “I almost abandoned Fergus when I thought you were going to die,” I admitted, my face flushing slightly with shame. “I’ve never forgiven myself for it.”

Jamie put his arm around me, pulling me close to him. “But ye didna do it, a nighean. Just knowing ye carried Brianna gave ye the courage to live without me, and I’m sure even without that realization, ye would’ve come to yer senses long before the time came for ye to reveal yerself to the English. Ye would have seen Fergus safe; I ken it.”

“How do you know though?” I asked. “How can you possibly know when I don’t even know for sure what I would have done?”

“The same way you ken that I would live my life without ye for Brianna’s sake, and Fergus’s for that matter,” Jamie stated. “I love ye, but more than that, I ken what it is to be loved by ye. I’ve never known anyone who gives their love more freely than you do, Sassenach. Ye always choose the ones ye love over yerself. I see it every day in how ye care for me and our bairns.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” I breathed, nestling even closer to him as we watched Brianna wiggle about. I felt the burden of guilt lift from my shoulders for the first time since Culloden, and it was replaced by an immense gratitude toward my husband for his ability to see light even in the darkest parts of my soul.

Chapter Text

Chapter 43
December 25, 1746

The sun dawned bright and rare on the morning of Brianna’s first Christmas, and I opened my eyes to see the beaming face of my husband on the pillow next to mine. “Happy Christmas, Sassenach,” he murmured, tucking a curl behind my ear.

“Happy Christmas to you too,” I replied, leaning over for a kiss. “How long have you been awake?”

“Just long enough to see that yer Father Christmas stopped by some time overnight.” Jamie gestured over to a small, lumpy pile sitting by the fireplace that had been covered with a blanket for concealment.

I yawned and stretched as I glanced from the presents to Brianna, thankfully still asleep in her cradle. I had somewhat wistfully told Jamie about Christmases in my time, careful to not seem too disappointed that Brianna and Fergus would never wake up to a pile of presents under a brightly decorated Christmas tree. I knew that Hogmanay was the more important holiday in the Highlands, but I had fond memories of Christmas mornings from my childhood, and I wanted my children to at least have some appreciation for the holiday.

One of my only surviving memories of my parents took place on Christmas. I remembered hugging them after finding the doll I had been begging for under the Christmas tree. I could still recall her cool, porcelain skin and how I had envied her silky, straight hair. Uncle Lamb, bless him, had tried his best to keep Christmas special for me after my parents’ deaths. He had always found some form of local tree for us to decorate on Christmas Eve. I would craft the ornaments, generally out of paper, and Lamb would make a different star every year out of whatever shiny material we could find.

I’d also told Jamie about Father Christmas, even knitting him my best approximation of a Santa hat, which he’d had a good laugh at but tried on anyway to amuse me. “He must have arrived in the last couple of hours,” I observed. “I’m fairly certain I would have noticed the gifts he left when I was up last with Brianna.”

“Oh, aye. He told me he wanted ye to be surprised when ye woke up. Would ye like to see yer gifts then, Sassenach?” I nodded, and Jamie leapt out of bed, seemingly more excited about my presents than even I was. I admired the view of his naked body as he bent down to retrieve the blanket-covered pile. Our forced abstinence due to my still healing body was really getting quite old. Jamie was perfectly patient and understanding, but I missed the physical connection with my husband. Just the sight of his well-toned backside was enough of a Christmas present for me.

“I’ll admit a few of these are for Brianna, but there’s one in there that’s only for you. I think ye’ll ken it when ye see it.” Jamie placed the presents on the bed in front of me, clearly excited to see my reaction. “Oh, I almost forgot!” he exclaimed, and he opened the top drawer of his dresser to retrieve the Santa hat I had made for him. He put it on and slid back under the covers next to me.

I laughed, gave him a kiss, and laughed some more at my mental comparison between the image of a kindly, old Father Christmas and my muscular, young, naked Highlander of a husband. I would of course choose the latter any day of the week, even though the hat was probably more appropriate for the former. “Let’s see what Father Christmas brought us then,” I said as I reached under the blanket to pull out the first item. Jamie had knitted several items for Brianna and some new hand warmers for me. He had also had a rattle made for Brianna and had himself made a box, partitioned and labeled for each of the herbs I generally kept in stock. But the most lovely gift by far was a small knife, into the handle of which he had carved tiny, delicate flowers. He also had included a small, leather holster for the knife with my initials, CEF, stamped into it.

“Jamie, how on earth did you find the time to make all of these things without me finding out?” I asked, truly incredulous at his handiwork and thoughtfulness.

“Ye recall, Sassenach, that I’d been livin’ in a cave up until about a month ago, no? I had a great deal of time to myself then, and I thought of you and the bairn constantly. It only made sense for me to make ye both some wee gifts, and then when ye told me about Christmas back in yer time, I figured this would be the perfect occasion to give them to ye.”

I shook my head in disbelief and then looked down, feeling guilty that I hadn’t made anything for him. “I’m sorry I haven’t gotten anything for you. I had no idea…” I trailed off, not knowing what to say. I could make the excuse of being too busy with the demands of motherhood, but it seemed so inadequate in light of what Jamie had done for me.

“Och, dinna be sorry, Sassenach. I dinna want ye to feel guilty over yer wee gifts. Just yer joy in receivin’ is a gift to me.” I looked back up at him in his ridiculous hat and couldn’t help but kiss him, tender and sweet. He responded hungrily, perhaps forgetting for a moment about my current limitations. My hand slowly began to creep under the blankets, easily locating the rapidly hardening part of Jamie’s anatomy.

“I think perhaps there is a small gift I can give to you in return,” I teased, pulling back from our kiss for a moment.

Jamie shook his head and attempted to still my hand from its current task. “Nay, Sassenach, ye dinna need to do that. ’Tis no’ fair to ye. I’ll bide until ye’re ready to lie with me again.”

“It’s all right, my lad,” I reassured him as I started a trail of kisses down his chest and abdomen. “After all, your joy in receiving is a gift to me.” I didn’t say anything else for a while as I went to work giving Jamie a Christmas morning to remember.

Chapter Text

Chapter 44
Late December 1746

Christmas had mostly been just for Jamie and me as the rest of the household could never really understand the significance the holiday held for me, and Brianna was still too young to actually take part in any celebrations. Perhaps next year when I wasn’t quite so overwhelmed and exhausted I would be able to produce a similar Christmas to those in my time for both Brianna and Fergus.

Currently the whole house was in a bit of a whirlwind preparing for Hogmanay. Alastair’s parents had been informed of his unfortunate relationship with the English, but we nevertheless felt that it would be safer if the tenants continued to assume we had indeed left the area. Therefore our Hogmanay celebrations would be rather subdued this year in comparison to others. We had all agreed to invite Mrs. Crook’s family since they already knew I was still here, but no other families would be joining in our celebrations.

That being said, Jenny still expected the house to be as clean and perfect as it normally would be for Hogmanay, so Jamie and I had our work cut out for us. It felt good to be useful again and to not be treated like a delicate object that might break at any moment. I could tell it was slightly more difficult for Jamie to have to stay indoors as he was constantly asking Ian about the horses and livestock, but he never complained once about having to do what would traditionally be considered “women’s work.” It was, in fact, very helpful indeed to have the advantage of his height and strength while we took down the heavy curtains to be cleaned and moved furniture around to create a space for dancing.

By the time Hogmanay finally arrived, we were all quite ready for a celebration. It had been a difficult and trying year for everyone, and although we knew our troubles were far from over, we could at least revel in the knowledge that we had made it through 1746 all still in one piece. And for Jamie and me especially, the trials of the year had all been worth it to have our precious Brianna with us. Mrs. Crook’s family being in attendance made the evening seem more special, and we enjoyed hearing their tales of life in the village. We intentionally avoided speaking of the English, not wanting to allow them to dampen the fun of the holiday.

Jamie and I had been finding small ways to touch all evening, and I’d lost track of how many whiskeys he had drunk. I had only had one, but it was the first strong alcohol I’d had for a long while, and it had gone straight to my head. I felt pleasantly buzzed as Jamie and I stood watching the dancing, his arm around my waist. I was holding Brianna, but that didn’t stop Jamie from letting his hand drift lower until he was feeling for my arse. “Jamie,” I hissed, “someone will see you.”

“They willna, Sassenach. And I dinna much care if they do. Ye’re my wife after all,” he stated, completely unashamed of his inappropriate behavior.

“At least let me put this little one to bed upstairs. Then maybe we can have a dance or two and get some of that energy out of you, my lad.” I gave him a peck on the lips and left to put Brianna down, perhaps putting an extra sway in my hips as I walked away from him. We hadn’t really done anything too physical since Brianna had been born. In the last few days, I had just begun to contemplate telling Jamie that I was ready to go to bed with him again, and it seemed like this might be the night. It certainly would be a nice way to ring in the new year.

When I came back downstairs, Jamie took my hand and pulled me into the the middle of the room to dance. He spun me around as I laughed, and we danced until our faces were red and sweaty. At one point I thought he was trying an especially complicated spin until I realized he had just been looking for a way to get us over to the door of the kitchen so we could sneak out of the room.

“Jamie, what are you-“ I began before his mouth closed over mine. I moaned as his hands tangled in my hair, his tongue quickly entering my parted lips. I was still breathless from dancing, and I felt light-headed as we kissed. We stumbled together until I was up against the work table in the kitchen, Jamie pressed against me so that I could feel the hard length of him through his trousers. He started to pull at the laces of my bodice until I gently placed my hand on his chest as a sign to slow down.

“I’m sorry, a nighean,” he apologized, both of us gasping for air. “I didna mean to…well, to ravish ye in the kitchen like this. Ye just looked so bonny with yer face all rosy from dancing, and I couldna stop myself.”

“It’s all right, really,” I assured him. “I’ve had a hard time controlling myself around you too if I’m being honest. I just don’t know for sure if I’m ready for this-“

“Then I’ll stop, Claire. I didna mean to push ye into anythin’ ye arena ready for.” He stepped away from me like I had the plague, but I pulled him back to me and kissed him again, more softly and in control this time.

“Just let me finish, hm? I don’t know for sure if I’m ready, but I’d like to try. I just need you to go slow. Just this first time.” I kissed him again, and this time he was the one moaning into my mouth as I palmed the front of his breeks.

“Did ye want to go upstairs then?” Jamie asked.

I was already continuing the work he had started of undoing my laces as I answered. “Brianna’s asleep already. It would be a shame to wake her. Besides, no one is coming in here for the rest of the night; all the food has been eaten. And I doubt this will take too long for either of us.” Jamie nodded, swallowing hard as my bodice fell open.

“Dhia, Sassenach, they’re so lovely,” he breathed, admiring my rather full breasts.

“I’m glad you appreciate them. They’re nothing but a nuisance to me.” Jamie cupped the full weight of one breast in his palm, and then he was kissing me again, slower this time, but with no less passion. I pressed up against him and reached my hands back down to his breeks, intending to undo his belt, when we suddenly heard the front door slam open and the sound of boots thudding down the front hallway. Jamie’s eyes went wide as saucers, and I scrambled to pull my bodice back together.

“Leave it, Claire; there’s no time,” Jamie hissed in my ear before grabbing my hand and pulling me out the back door of the kitchen. It was a cloudy night, and I cursed as I stumbled over a rock in the ground, but Jamie did not slow down. I was shivering by the time we reached the cover of the woods where Jamie finally stopped to allow us to catch our breath.

“Brianna, Jamie,” I panted. “We have to go back for her!”

“We canna go back, Claire. If the English see us, they’ll take us for certain. And if they figure out that Brianna is ours, God only kens what they’ll do to her. They’ve never harmed any of the bairns before. She’s safest where she is.” Jamie wrapped his arms around me in an attempt to comfort me. I was clearly distraught at the idea of leaving my baby in a house full of Redcoats, but I also knew Jamie was right; there was nothing we could do to help her now.

Jamie helped me to do up my laces as my hands were shaking due to a combination of the freezing, Scottish winter and worry over Brianna. “Let’s get ye to the cave, a nighean,” Jamie proposed. “We’ll be warm there for the night, and we can return to the house in the morning to see if the soldiers have left.”

“If they haven’t left by morning, Jamie, I will go in myself and get her,” I declared. “You can’t stop me.”

“I’ll go wi’ ye if it comes to that,” he promised. “Now let’s go before ye freeze to death.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 45
January 1, 1747

I had been able to hold myself together emotionally on the way to the cave only because most of my mind was concentrating on not tripping over any roots or branches in the dark. By the time we slipped through the cleft in the rock, we had completely missed the official arrival of the new year, not that either one of us was thinking about Hogmanay anymore. Clearly no first footing could bring us luck now.

As I collapsed onto the mattress that was thankfully still in the cave, I dissolved into sobs, the force of which wracked through my body. Jamie fell to the ground by my side, rubbing my back in soothing circles, but not even he could calm me. My baby, the most precious thing in the world to me, was in a house overrun by Redcoats. I had failed her. Why hadn’t I kept her with me? Was having a bit of meaningless fun more important to me than ensuring the safety of my daughter? At least Fergus had a chance - he could run or hide if need be. But Brianna was completely helpless and alone. I knew how much danger we were all in, yet I had acted like I didn’t have a care in the world. What kind of mother was I?

“Claire?” Jamie’s voice brought me out of my thought spiral, and I reluctantly extracted my face from being buried in a pillow to look at him. His eyes were rimmed with red, and tears were silently falling down his face. “It’ll be all right, a nigh-“

“No! No, Jamie, don’t!” I practically yelled at him. “I don’t want to hear that everything will be all right because you don’t know that.” I could see that my words were hurting him, but some part of me needed to hurt him. The pain of childbirth was nothing compared to what I was feeling right now, and I wanted Jamie to hurt just as much as I did, even if it was by my own hand.

“She could be dead. Right now our baby could be dead, Jamie. Our baby…” I trailed off as I began sobbing anew, no longer able to speak. Jamie pulled me to him, and I let him hold me even though I knew I did not deserve to be comforted. Was anyone there to comfort Brianna? Would Jenny take her in her arms tonight as she cried out for me, hungry, needing her mother who could not be there for her? And that was under the best of circumstances. Jenny, Ian, Fergus, Brianna - they could all be dead right now while Jamie and I sat here, helpless.

Jamie did not try to talk to me again, and at some point we both lay back among the pillows, my head on his chest. His shirt was soaked with my tears, and my head ached from crying for so long. Sheer exhaustion set in and I dozed for a bit, but I woke after a short while, dreaming that Brianna was crying out for me. I sat up suddenly in confusion, looking around wildly for my baby until I remembered where I was and why.

I closed my eyes, partially out of despair, and partially because of the intense ache I was experiencing due to not having been able to nurse Brianna. My breasts were full of milk, yet I had no baby to feed. I palmed one breast over my bodice and inhaled sharply from the pain. Jamie sat up next to me, and I saw the concern on his face when I turned to look at him.

“Are ye hurting, Claire?” he asked. “Is there naught I can do for ye?” His eyes were bloodshot and watery with unshed tears.

“No, Jamie. There’s nothing you can do. I’ll take care of it.” My voice sounded hollow, devoid of emotion, and I heard Jamie sigh deeply, clearly at a loss for how to help me. I turned my back to him and began to unlace my bodice. Once my breasts were free, I picked up a cup from the ground that had been left from Jamie’s time at the cave and began to drain my milk into it. I remembered how Jenny had been forced to do the same thing when we had gone off together to find Jamie, but at least she had known her baby was safe.

I watched the cup fill uselessly and began to cry at the thought of never feeding Brianna again. Just hours ago I had remarked to Jamie how much of a nuisance it was to breastfeed. Now I felt shame at ever having taken for granted those sacred moments of motherhood. I dumped the unused milk on the ground and watched as it flowed down the slight slope of the floor to the opposite side of the cave. Brianna’s name echoed over and over in my mind until I couldn’t stand to sit still any longer.

I got up, redid my laces, and spun around to look at Jamie. “This is it, Jamie. This is the last straw. We have to leave Lallybroch before the spring. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t just…just wait around and hope. If we leave, and something happens to us on the way, at least it’ll be because we’re taking action. I won’t hide from them anymore. We have to get away.” I took a deep, shaky breath, relieved to have gotten my feelings off my chest, and waited for Jamie’s response.

“Ye’re right, a nighean. Of course ye’re right.” Jamie ran his hands through his hair, looking so defeated. “I’ve been a fool, thinkin’ I could keep you and Brianna safe. I thought as long as I was with ye at the house, I could protect ye, but I canna even do that. I’m so sorry, Claire.” He put his head in his hands, presumably from shame, and I felt awful for having been so harsh with him since we had left the house.

“Jamie, it isn’t your fault,” I soothed, sitting beside him once more. “I don’t want you to feel like you aren’t enough. You could never let me down.”

“But what if we get back there and they’re all gone, Claire? What if Brianna…” He trailed off, unable to finish the sentence, but leaving his implication all too clear.

“She won’t be,” I declared, as much for my own reassurance as for his. “You said yourself they’ve never hurt the children before. Why would they start now?”

“I dinna ken. But, Claire, if something were to happen to her…I wouldna be able to live with myself.” I was at a loss. I knew he wasn’t over-exaggerating for I felt the same way. I just had to believe she was still alive; my mind could not entertain any alternative.

We sat there side by side for a while longer, each lost in our own dark thoughts, just waiting for dawn so we could safely return to the house. As soon as the first rays of sunlight came over the horizon, Jamie and I set off. The cold was still almost unbearable, and my teeth chattered as we made our way through the woods. It had clearly snowed a good deal overnight, and the going was much slower than I would have liked. We did not talk, and I wondered if Jamie’s heart was pounding as hard as my own. I both longed to be back and dreaded what we would find in equal measure.

When we were about half-way home, Jamie and I both heard someone approaching, and he quickly pulled me behind a tree, wrapping his arms around me as a shield. I buried my face in his chest and prayed to God that we would remain hidden. I dared not even breathe, lest I be heard, but then I felt Jamie’s arms loosen their grip, and I turned around to see Fergus running toward us.

“Fergus!” I called out to him as I left Jamie’s side to embrace my brave boy. “I’m so glad you’re all right, darling.”

“Oui, Maman, I am fine as is Brianna,” Fergus reassured me. He was panting, his breath coming out in huge, white clouds. He had clearly run as fast as he could to deliver the news of Brianna’s safety.

I fell to my knees in the snow, weeping with relief. Brianna was alive, thank God. I longed to go to her, to hold her in my arms and never let go, but I couldn’t seem to stand back up. The strength I had been using to maintain some semblance of composure had completely left me, and my legs felt shaky and weak. Jamie came over and took my hand, pulling me to my feet. “Come, a nighean, dinna weep.” Jamie wrapped me in his arms again. I welcomed both the comfort and the warmth as my skirts were now half soaked with melted snow.

I was able to compose myself after a moment, and we started moving again as Fergus gave us the full details of what had happened. “The soldiers left just a little while ago, but they took no one with them,” he explained. “It was scary, and they tore apart the house once again. After they finished their searching, they stayed in the house, just waiting. Mrs. Crook’s nephew tried to sneak away, but the soldiers caught him.” Fergus paused and his voice dropped to almost a whisper. “They killed him.”

“Did ye see it happen, lad?” Jamie asked, though we both could already guess the answer. Fergus simply nodded and silently continued to trudge through the snow. None of us knew what to say after that, so we all concentrated on moving as quickly as possible toward home. Some sort of otherworldly, maternal strength had come over me as I dragged my heavy skirts through the drifts of snow. My legs were so frozen, I could barely feel them at all, and when Lallybroch came into sight, they finally gave out altogether. With a grunt, Jamie wordlessly picked me up and carried me the rest of the way home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 46
January 1, 1747

I could hear Brianna’s cries from the courtyard, and I practically leapt from Jamie’s arms to run inside. Jenny was holding Brianna in the parlor, bouncing her in what was proving to be a futile attempt to soothe her, and I rushed over to take my baby in my arms. “Brianna, my darling, I’m so, so sorry,” I cried, clutching her to me as she squirmed unhappily. Suddenly Jamie’s arms were wrapped around us both, and I leaned into him, welcoming his warmth.

“She’s been just fine, Claire. The soldiers never went near the bairns,” Jenny explained. “I brought them all downstairs ‘afore the bastards searched their rooms.”

“They searched the house again?” Jamie asked, talking to Jenny over my head as Brianna and I were still enclosed in his embrace. Brianna seemed to have calmed for the moment, presumably due to feeling safe once again in her parents’ arms.

“Aye, they did,” Ian answered. “And they found the priest hole this time too.”

I gasped, finally leaving Jamie’s embrace to join in on the discussion. “Thank God we escaped to the cave,” I breathed. Jamie and I exchanged a glance, and I nodded to him, silently giving my permission to tell Jenny and Ian of our decision. While he spoke, I sat down to nurse Brianna, who had begun to fuss again. I knew she had to be hungry after going all night without a feeding.

“It sounds like it’s for the best then that Claire and I have decided to leave Scotland as soon as we can make plans for passage to another country,” Jamie began. “Now that we dinna even have the safety of the priest hole, we canna stay at Lallybroch any longer.” I could see how difficult it was for Jamie to have to speak of leaving his home. It was nearly impossible to imagine creating a home for our family anywhere else. Just like Jamie had wanted, Lallybroch now felt like it was as much mine as it was his, and I hated the thought of leaving.

“I wish I didna have to agree with ye, a bràthair, but I must. I swear we willna let anythin’ happen to Lallybroch while ye’re gone, and it’ll be here waitin’ for ye when ye return,” Jenny promised.

“Thank ye, Jenny, but Lallybroch canna be mine any longer.” I looked at Jamie, confused by what he was saying. Was he going to give up his title as laird? What about the son we hoped to have one day, the one who would be Jamie’s heir? It had been Jamie’s dream to leave Lallybroch as a legacy for our children and grandchildren. Did we have to give up everything we had ever wanted?

“I’ll be leavin’ it to Wee Jamie,” Jamie continued. “I shoulda done this months ago, but a part of me hoped it wouldna come to this. The estate will be safer under Wee Jamie’s name as he canna be considered a traitor to the crown at his age. I dinna ken if Claire and I will ever be able to safely return to Lallybroch, but I ken ye’ll keep it running just as Da would have wanted.”

Jenny’s eyes were filled with tears, knowing how painful a decision this was for her brother. “We will, Jamie. For Da and for you as well.”

“I understand the logic of putting the estate under Wee Jamie’s name, but if ye’re able to return to be laird, Jamie, we willna stand in yer way,” Ian vowed. “We’ll make sure Wee Jamie kens and understands that as he grows older. Ye’ll always be the true Laird of Lallybroch, and no piece of paper can change that.”

“Thank ye, a charaid.” Jamie’s voice was thick with emotion, and I breathed a sigh of relief at hearing Ian’s vow. Not that I begrudged Wee Jamie the ownership of Lallybroch, but I knew how important the estate was to Jamie, and my heart ached to see him have to give up such a large part of himself.

“Do ye have a plan yet for how and when ye’ll be leavin’, a bràthair?” Jenny asked.

“I dinna ken,” Jamie admitted. “We’ll have to make our way somehow to Ayr Harbour, but I dinna ken how, nor do I ken where we’ll go once we get there. It doesna much matter where we end up, so long as we’re together.” Jamie walked over and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. Making the decision to leave was one thing; actually accomplishing it was another matter entirely. I knew we were in this together, but I was still scared and overwhelmed at the prospect of moving to an entirely different country. The last time we had tried that, just about everything had gone wrong that possibly could have.

“I may have an idea of who can help ye,” Ian offered. “It’ll require us trustin’ some of the tenants again, but I dinna see the harm when ye’ll be leavin’ regardless. And we ken Alastair was responsible for feedin’ them information before. We have nay reason to assume anyone else would go against ye. I’ll head into town tomorrow and make some inquiries.”

“Thank you, Ian,” I said, giving him a grateful smile. “And thank you both for looking after Brianna for us last night. There’s no one in the world I would trust with her care more than you.”

“Think nothin’ of it, Claire,” Jenny replied. “If I couldna be there to help ye with the birth, the least I can do is care for my wee niece for a single night. Now that ye’re home, I think we could all do with a bit of a rest before we start our day. I canna imagine the two of ye got any more sleep than we did last night, and our tasks for today will keep for a few more hours.”

We all slowly made our way upstairs to our respective rooms, and I sat down on our bed and leaned back into the pillows while Jamie began to undress. Brianna had finished nursing, but I still held her close to me, so grateful to have her in my arms again. Jamie got the fire going and was about to slide into bed next to me before noticing how my sodden skirts had soaked the topmost blanket on the bed.

“Stand up for a moment, Sassenach, and I’ll get us a new blanket from the chest,” Jamie offered. I stood while he replaced the wet blanket, but made no move to put Brianna down or to get undressed for bed. I could not seem to bring myself to let go after being ripped away from her for the night.

“Come, Claire, ye must sleep,” Jamie beckoned me as he got back into bed. “I ken ye didna get any real rest last night, and Brianna will be needin’ ye again in just a few short hours. Take off yer wet clothes, and let me warm ye.” Jamie pulled down the blankets on my side of the bed for me to get in next to him, but I simply couldn’t move to put Brianna in her cradle. I looked helplessly to Jamie, who needed only to see my face in order to sense what my problem was.

Jamie got back out of bed and came over to where I was standing, seemingly bolted to the floor. “Here, mo nighean donn, give the lassie to me. I’ll hold her while ye undress.” I nodded silently and handed Brianna over to her father, who immediately began speaking Gaelic to her in a soothing tone. I was grateful to Jamie for understanding what I needed from him and for not trying to talk me into putting Brianna straight into her cradle.

Now that I wasn’t holding Brianna, I noticed just how cold I was in my wet clothes, and I began to shiver. I undid ties and laces with shaky hands, and stripped down to nothing, leaving the snow-drenched garments in a pile on the floor. I stood in front of the fire for a few minutes, warming my body before finally getting into bed next to Jamie, who was dutifully still holding Brianna.

“Would it be all right if I put her down in her cradle now, a nighean?” Jamie asked. I knew if I asked him to, Jamie would sit awake holding Brianna while I slept. I had a feeling that even during that short while when I had slept at the cave, he had stayed awake to watch over me. Jamie did not take his responsibilities lightly, and that was never more clear than in how he cared for me and our daughter, always putting our needs before his own.

As much as I might have wanted to have a twenty-four hour watch over Brianna, I could not and would not ask that of Jamie. The first step of handing her over to him had helped me to start to calm down, and warming up by the fire had cleared my head a bit. I nodded to Jamie, giving him silent permission to put Brianna down, and he did, but not before moving her cradle directly along my side of the bed, so close that I could reach out and touch her while she slept. “Thank you,” I whispered, and Jamie kissed my forehead as I laid my head on my pillow.

“Ye’re a good mam to her, Sassenach. One night away doesna change that.” Jamie got back into bed, scooting close behind me and wrapping his arm around my middle. He rested his head on my shoulder, and we both peered down at Brianna, fast asleep and oblivious to our worries.

“I just never want her to feel unsafe, Jamie.” I reached over to brush the back of my hand over her soft, chubby cheek, and, much to my surprise, the corner of her mouth turned up into a slight smile.

“Claire, did she just…?” Jamie asked incredulously.

I tore my gaze away from Brianna for a moment to look at Jamie, his blue eyes wide in fascination, and I smiled for what felt like the first time in ages. “She did, Jamie. She certainly is your daughter, no doubt about that.”

“Well if that’s any indication, I think she feels safe and content, even in her dreams,” Jamie observed. He kissed my shoulder, and I nestled back into his warmth, sighing deeply as I felt a weight of worry lift from my chest. Jamie and I both watched Brianna for a time until I finally fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 47
January 1, 1747

After a few hours of rest, we all got up to at least complete the essential chores of the day. One thing I had learned about living on a farm: the animals never give you a day off. We divided and conquered, spurred on by the promise of a hearty New Year’s Day supper prepared by Mrs. Crook. All the while, I kept Brianna tied tight to me in a sling. I had simply made up my mind that she would at least be in the same room as either Jamie or me from now on. I was not having a repeat of the previous night’s events if I could at all help it.

Jamie and I were following the tantalizing smell of roasting meat back into the house when Jamie stopped so suddenly in front of me that I walked right into his solid back, jostling Brianna awake in her sling. “What is it?” I asked over Brianna’s unhappy cries. She had just fallen to sleep and was more than a little upset at her rude awakening.

Jamie moved aside so I could see into the entrance hall where vicious slash marks had been cut deep into the panels of wood that ran down the hallway. We had both single-mindedly run inside to Brianna this morning and exited the house for our chores out the back in the afternoon, thereby taking no notice of the damage until right now. “Look at what those bastards did, Claire. Will they ever be satisfied with what they’ve taken from us? Will it never be enough?” Brianna had begun to openly wail to the point where she drowned out anything Jamie was trying to say. “Give her to me,” Jamie offered, his anger softening slightly. “I’m the one who woke her up.”

I gratefully handed the squirming, crying Brianna over to Jamie, who bounced her gently in his arms as she continued to fuss. “Hush, mo chuisle, hush,” he murmured. “There’s no use fashing yerself over nothing.” Brianna’s little face was as red as her hair, and Jamie wiped the tears from her cheeks with the end of his sleeve. I marveled at how the same hands that were capable of breaking another man’s bones could be so gentle and loving when a tiny baby was placed in their care. Brianna could never stay upset for long once she was in her father’s arms, and Jamie placed her carefully back in her sling once he had soothed her back to sleep.

“We willna ever repair these marks, Claire,” Jamie declared as he ran his hand over the splintered wood. “They’ll be a reminder for us and the bairns of the senseless cruelty inflicted upon us and the freedom the English have stolen from all Highlanders.” I simply nodded and rubbed his arm in sympathy. I knew it had to hurt him to see such senseless destruction done to the house his father had built with such hard work and love, especially now as he was about to give up his rights to it for good.

After supper, Jamie went out to the barn to supposedly finish up some task he had started a few evenings ago. Jenny, Ian, and I sat around and chatted while the children played, but after an hour had gone by with no sign of Jamie, I excused myself to go out and check on him. Brianna was snuggled up warm, close to my body, but I still wrapped my cloak tight around the two of us as we braved the winter winds to get to the barn. The barn door blew shut behind me with a loud bang, but when I checked on Brianna, she was still fast asleep. The general commotion of the house had taught her to sleep through just about any loud noise.

I was so enraptured with watching Brianna contentedly sleep that I almost forgot why I had come out to the barn in the first place until Jamie peered out of the last stall to see who had just come through the door. “Sassenach?” he questioned. “What are ye doin’ out here?”

“I could ask the same of you,” I retorted. I made my way down the aisle to the stall in which Jamie was working. “You’ve been out here for ages. Don’t you think you deserve a break for the evening?”

Jamie rested his chin on the pitchfork he was holding and let out a deep sigh. “The truth of it is, I dinna think I want a break because I ken what I must do once I go back inside the house.” Jamie paused, and I cocked my head to the side, unsure of what he meant. “I must draft the deed of sasine to hand Lallybroch over to Wee Jamie. I’ve been tryin’ to think of reasons to put it off all day, hopin’ I could come up with some other way to keep Lallybroch safe, but there’s no use; I should just get it over with.” Jamie looked dejected, staring down into the pile of hay at his feet.

I sighed, grateful that he had finally decided to speak to me about his decision, yet knowing there was nothing I could do to make things better. “I must say, I was wondering if you were planning on talking to me about this. I was a bit surprised when you announced your plan to Jenny and Ian.” Jamie opened his mouth to explain himself, but I held up my hand and quickly added, “Not that I’m upset about it. It’s your right and duty to do what you think is best. And I know how hard this is for you. I was just caught a bit off guard.”

Jamie leaned his pitchfork against the wall and came closer to me, taking my hand in his to inspect my ring. “When I gave ye this ring, Claire, I couldna even take ye to Lallybroch for fear of bringin’ harm on those who still lived here. The best I could do was to give ye a piece of the key.” He kissed the ring and let go of my hand. “I didna ken at the time when it would be safe to return home, but I never thought my journey would end anywhere else but here with you. Nor did I ever imagine a world in which I wouldna be able to pass down our home and land to our bairns.” He placed a a hand on the small lump that was Brianna, just as he had while she was still inside me. “All the times we’ve been forced away from here, Claire. I could bear them all because I kent, in the end, Lallybroch would be waitin’ for us to come home. But I’m not so sure of that anymore.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to cry. Tears were already shining in Jamie’s eyes, and I knew if I started to cry, we would both end up in a sobbing heap on the floor. “You’re doing what’s best, Jamie. You must not forget that this is the best course of action to keep Lallybroch safe, and it’s perhaps the only way we’ll have a home to come back to one day. Jenny and Ian won’t stand in your way if we’re able to come back and be safe here.”

“I ken, but I canna ask that of them, especially not of Wee Jamie. Once I sign the deed over to him, Lallybroch is his. It’s no’ fair to ask him to spend years of his life goin’ down one path only to rip it all away from him someday.” So this really was it then. I had hoped Jamie would be able to have a sliver of hope that he could one day come back and reclaim his position as laird, but I should have known he was too noble to take Ian up on his offer.

“You’re giving up so much, it’s true. But just think of what you’re gaining in return.” Brianna had begun to stir, and I took her out of the sling to hand her to Jamie, hoping she would help to prove my point. He took her, lovingly cradling her in his arms as her eyes opened to focus on his face. “We will make a new home together. A home where we can be safe with Brianna and Fergus and any more children that come along. That’s everything your father wanted for you when he built Lallybroch, and now you’ll have a chance to do the same for your own children. It might not be the home you envisioned, but it will be ours, and that’s truly all that matters to me.”

“Ye ken that’s all that matters to me as well, mo chridhe,” he agreed. “I’m only weary of livin’ as a fugitive. For almost my whole life I’ve either been fightin’ in a war or runnin’ from the English. I want to be settled somewhere safe with you and our children. I am glad to be leavin’ soon if only so we can begin to work toward our future as soon as possible.”

“I must admit I’m rather dreading the journey, but once we’re safe aboard a ship, I know a great burden will be lifted from my shoulders,” I said.

Jamie groaned at the mention of the sea voyage we were going to be undertaking in a short while. “Do ye think wee Brianna will be just as sick as I’ll be for the whole journey?” he asked.

“I think she’s still too little for something like that to affect her thankfully. I suppose that’s one advantage of traveling with her while she’s still an infant.”

Jamie looked down at the baby still in his arms as she cooed and gummed on his finger. “Are we putting her at risk, Claire, by taking her on such a journey at her age? I only want to do what’s best for her, and I canna help but think of everythin’ that might go wrong.”

I took a step closer to him and smoothed Brianna’s wisps of hair, curled into tiny whorls just as I assumed my own hair would have been at her age. My eyes filled with unbidden tears as they so often did when I took notice of the individual ways in which she took after both Jamie and me. I supposed all mothers must feel this way to some extent, but I still marveled at the mere fact that I had been able to have a child, having been convinced for so long that I was barren. Being a mother had never felt like a guarantee for me, and I wanted so badly to give Brianna the best life I could.

“Honestly, yes, we are putting her at risk,” I admitted. “But I don’t think the risk of traveling with her is greater than the risk of staying at Lallybroch. At least right now she’s mostly content as long as she’s fed. In a few more months, she’ll be getting bigger and wanting to move around more. We’ll just have to do our best to stay safe and hidden until we’re out of Scotland. It might be slow going, but the soldiers won’t know to look for us on the road like they do at Lallybroch.”

“Aye, that is some comfort,” Jamie sighed. “We’ll finally be a step ahead of the bastards instead of running to hide, always a step behind.”

“So will you come back inside now?” I asked, taking Brianna from him to put back into her sling. “We aren’t leaving tomorrow, you know. You don’t have to draft the deed tonight. It’s been a long day. You might be able to face the task more easily after a full night’s sleep.”

“Ye’re right as always, Sassenach,” he relented, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “Let’s get out of this cold barn and get some rest.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 48
January 2, 1747

Brianna’s cries for her early morning feeding pulled me out of unconsciousness, and I darted out of bed to soothe her before she woke Jamie up. “Shh, lovey, just give Mummy a quick second…” I whispered to her as I fumbled with the strings of my shift. I got her to my breast in record time and padded over to Jamie’s side of the bed. He was, as I’d hoped, still asleep, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My plan would still work.

After the difficulty of the past day had finally subsided, and Jamie and I were in bed for the night, I’d had the chance to reflect on the matter of our interrupted amorous activities in the kitchen on New Year’s Eve. Ian planned to head into town after breakfast in order to make inquiries about obtaining transportation for us to make our way to Ayr Harbour, and we hoped to begin our journey sooner rather than later. In reality, we could be leaving Lallybroch tomorrow or the next day and spending a couple of weeks on the road. Once there we would be boarding a ship for a voyage that could take weeks or months depending on where we decided to go, all the while sharing a cabin with Fergus and Brianna as Jamie vomited due to his severe seasickness. All that to say, I’d realized this may well be one of the last opportunities for Jamie and me to have any sort of chance at a physical reconnection after Brianna’s birth for months to come, and I was not willing to let it slip by.

I stood at the window as Brianna nursed, watching as the first bit of light began to filter through the rippling waves in the glass. A single tear slipped down my cheek as I mourned just a little for the years of happiness at Lallybroch being ripped away from us, but Jamie and I had made up our minds, and I was confident in our decision being the correct one.

Once Brianna was finished, I placed her back in her cradle, hoping she would fall peacefully back to sleep. “Go to sleep for Mummy now,” I whispered to her. “Your da and I would greatly appreciate it.” I stood over her for a few minutes, and, sure enough, her eyelids began to droop closed, long lashes coming to rest on chubby cheeks.

I quickly stripped my shift off and got back into bed, excited to enact the plan I had concocted while drifting off to sleep the night before. It admittedly wasn’t the most complicated of plans, but I wanted to wake Jamie up in such a way that my intentions were made abundantly clear. I slowly pulled the blankets down Jamie’s torso and got to work, taking him first in my hand, then in my mouth. He fully came to consciousness rather quickly, looking down the length of his body at me with a smile. “Ye’re naked,” he observed with a raise of his eyebrows. His voice was still deep and scratchy from sleep, and just the rumble of his baritone aroused me to no end.

I had to stop what I was doing in order to reply. “So are you.”

“Aye, but that’s no’ an unusual occurrence for me. You, being a proper Englishwoman, are usually abed in yer shift, especially on cold, winter nights such as these.”

“Well, I’m clearly not feeling very proper at the moment,” I replied with a shrug of my shoulders. “And I was hoping perhaps a Scottish Highlander would offer to keep me warm.”

“Were ye then? And did ye have a particular one in mind?”

I moved to lay on top of him so I could look him in the eye. “Oh, yes. I can think of only one who will do.” I kissed his chest, and when I looked up at him again, his eyes had gone dark with want.

“C’mere, mo chridhe, and give me yer mouth,” he commanded, and I did just that. We kissed hungrily from the start, our bodies flush with one another. My hands moved to cup the back of his head against his pillow while his migrated down my body to grab handfuls of my arse. As desperate as I knew he must be, still he moved slowly, seeming to remember my request from the other night. I tried to put any nerves aside and lose myself in the moment, but my heart was pounding, and not just from the usual excitement over what we were about to do.

Jamie flipped me over onto my back and pulled away from kissing me for a moment. “Are ye sure, Sassenach? I dinna want ye to feel as if ye have to rush this just because we’re leavin’ sooner than we thought.”

I took his hand and guided it between my legs, breathing a sigh of relief when I felt the pleasure begin to course through me as his fingers began to stroke. “Yes,” I whispered, rolling my hips in time with his touch. “Yes, I’m sure.” After hearing my assurance, he stopped holding back and gently but determinedly took control. His mouth descended upon mine - both open with tongues seeking - never stopping his ministrations with the hand I had set to task.

I began to writhe beneath him as sensations I had not felt in a long time made their welcome return. Jamie moved down to my neck, sucking, leaving marks that I certainly did not care about in this very moment, but whose presence would likely earn a raised eyebrow from Jenny over the breakfast table. I heard his laughter between each kiss as I began to lose control over the noises I was making. “I’ve missed hearin’ ye like that, Sassenach, but do mind the sleeping bairn, aye?” he chuckled. I grasped a fistful of my pillow with one hand and pulled his head back up to mine with the other, muffling my cries into his mouth so as not to wake Brianna. My body arched off the bed as - oh, finally - that feeling of utter bliss washed over me, spreading through every nerve ending until I lay limp as a rag doll among the bedclothes.

I regained control of my senses after a few moments and opened my eyes to see Jamie staring down at me with such an intensity that I suddenly wanted to dive under the blankets to avoid his gaze. My body had certainly not returned to the same size or shape it had been before I had shared it with Brianna, and I’d mostly accepted the fact that it never would. Carrying a baby to full term, especially one with the genes of a rather large Highland warrior, had forever changed the landscape of my belly and hips, as smooth, taut planes had been stretched and widened to the point of no return. Jamie had already seen every inch of my altered form many times, but I now craved the reassurance that he could still be sexually attracted to me despite, or perhaps even because of the way our child had physically transformed me.

“Dhia, Claire. Ye’re so beautiful,” he breathed. I felt my face flush at his declaration and turned my head to break eye contact with him.

“You honestly think so? Still?” I asked, needing to hear his affirmation.

“Still?” he replied. “There’s never been a time when I havena thought ye were the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. And now seeing you as a mother only makes you more beautiful to me. Here,” he paused to place a kiss on my stomach, “is where ye sheltered and protected our bairn, where I first felt her wee kicks, and where she first heard my voice.” He moved up to my breasts, swirling his tongue lazily over each of my nipples, reigniting that pleasantly needy throbbing between my legs. “And here is where ye give her nourishment and comfort, holding her close to yer heart. Sometimes when ye feed her and ye think I’m asleep, I just watch the two of ye, and I can scarcely believe ye’re real, let alone that ye’re both mine.”

“Forever, Jamie. Yours forever,” I vowed. I could feel the dampness between my thighs and knew I was as ready as I would ever be. Jamie had begun kissing his way back down my body, and I lifted a heavy arm from the bed to tug lightly on his curls. His eyes met mine, seeking an answer to his unspoken question. I could see how desperate he was to take me but knew he would restrain himself for as long as I needed him to. I met his querying eyes with a nervous smile, giving a small nod of permission and spreading my legs for him.

He entered me slowly, keeping his eyes locked on mine so as to detect any signs of discomfort. We breathed identical sighs of relief as he buried himself to the hilt, and he paused for a moment, reaching to tuck a wayward curl behind my ear. “Are ye all right, Sassenach?” he asked, his brow slightly furrowed with concern. I nodded again, too overcome with sensation to contemplate verbal communication, and he slowly began to move.

After the first few moments of discomfort, pleasure overtook pain, and I began to move with him, my hips meeting his with every thrust. Discerning my building confidence and need, he increased the pace, and I raked my nails down his biceps as the renewed feeling of being one with my husband washed over me. I could sense Jamie nearing completion and desperately reached down between us to ensure my own. “Jamie, please,” I begged, needing him to hold on for just a bit longer. I felt my release build inside me like a cresting wave, then at last come gloriously crashing down as the sound of my own cries filled my ears, having completely lost any of my former awareness of not wanting to wake Brianna. Jamie, who had held on to the last, finally relinquished his control, letting loose a few rather resounding expletives of his own as he did so.

Before either Jamie or I could even catch our breath, Brianna let out a mighty howl from her cradle, having been rudely awoken by her inconsiderate parents. Jamie groaned as he rolled off of me, and I began to giggle, all the while feeling a blush begin to creep up my neck and onto my face. “I suppose we’ll have to practice a bit more restraint with the presence of our new roommate, hm?” I remarked, starting to get up to retrieve Brianna.

“Stay abed, Sassenach,” Jamie said, pushing me gently back down to my pillow. “I’ll get the bairn.” I was glad he’d offered, as I wasn’t at all sure that my legs wouldn’t be too wobbly to support me after what we had just done. I sighed happily despite our rather abrupt return to reality via the hearty wail of our daughter.

“Well, and did it live up to yer memories, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, correctly discerning where my thoughts lay as he slid back into bed next to me, Brianna in tow.

“Mmm, and then some.” I kissed him lazily as Brianna settled back down, curling up on her da’s chest. “I’ve missed you,” I murmured between kisses, caressing the line of his jaw with my fingertips.

“I’ve missed ye too, Sassenach - verra much,” he agreed, sounding almost guilty for it. He paused for a moment, clearly mustering up the courage to broach some unknown topic.

“What is it, love?” I asked.

“It’s only, I fear getting ye with child again, Sassenach,” he admitted, worry lines etched in his forehead. “I ken it’s a bit late to bring it up now, but I wasna thinkin’ straight when ye woke me up, well…the way ye woke me up. With our future so uncertain, should we no’…abstain for a bit?”

“You didn’t seem to worry about that when we were first married,” I laughed. “We weren’t in any less precarious of a situation back then, if I recall correctly.”

“Och, I couldna have kept myself from ye then any more than I could have stopped the sun from setting, mo ghraidh. I had dreamt so long of you in my bed, and then when I got ye there, lying with you was better than I could ever have imagined. I suppose the thought of a bairn resided somewhere in the back of my mind those first few months, but I wasna strictly thinkin’ with my mind at the time. I like to think I’ve gained a bit of sense and self-control since then.”

I thought back to the early days of our marriage before I had concretely decided to stay with Jamie, knowing I hadn’t made the best judgment calls myself. I’d reasoned that I was unlikely to get pregnant given my history with Frank, but there had been no guarantee. And instead of keeping my wits about me, I had simply given myself over to my new husband body and soul, come what may. Although both desperately wanted and loved, neither Faith nor Brianna had been, strictly speaking, planned, and one could argue that the timing of each of their conceptions could not have been worse. Jamie and I had never really seriously discussed much in the way of a plan for how many children we wanted to have. At Lallybroch, twelve children maybe wouldn’t have been such an unrealistic proposition, but with our future so uncertain, perhaps we should think about scaling that dream back. In addition, a part of me was admittedly still terrified of giving birth in this time, even after Brianna’s normal and healthy birth. I was willing to risk it to give Jamie the large family he dreamt of, but the fact remained that he took my life in his hands each time we lay together.

“The good news,” I began, “is that I’m reasonably unlikely to become pregnant while Brianna is still breastfeeding. It isn’t a foolproof guarantee, mind you, but the chances are low.”

“Well that’s a bit of a relief, to be sure. And I suppose we willna have time nor space to ourselves once we begin our journey anyway,” he reasoned.

“No, I don’t think we will,” I agreed. “Which is why I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass us by. I don’t think I could have stood to wait weeks or months more until we’re able to be alone again.” I kissed him deeply, already feeling an almost irresistible longing to join with him again. Only the presence of Brianna kept me from flinging my leg over his hips and taking him inside me at once. I pulled back from our kiss, my face flushed and chest heaving with unsatisfied longing.

“Christ, Sassenach, ye canna do that wi’ the bairn asleep on me like this.” Jamie was just as flushed as I was, clearly having similar renewed stirrings of want. I apologized, laying back down beside him, and we were both silent for a moment as we calmed down.

“Just think of the day we’re settled in our new home,” Jamie mused, breaking the silence. “I’ll have had plenty of time to plan everything I want to do with ye that first night we’re alone in our own bed. And we’ll be in a place where no one considers me a traitor or you a witch. Fergus and Brianna will grow up free from danger, and ye’ll grow round again with our next child. And every night after we put our bairns to bed, I will show you how much I love you, mo ghraidh, and ye’ll fall asleep in my arms happy and safe.”

I planted a kiss on his shoulder before laying my head there and pulling the blankets up around the three of us, snuggled together in a pocket of warmth. “We’ve waited so long, Jamie. I’m so grateful for what we do have, that we’re alive and together, but I’m ready to be in our new home and to start a life free from the burden of the bloody rising.”

Jamie put his arm around me and pulled me close to him. “I am too, Sassenach. Sleep now for a bit. We’ve a long day ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 49
January 2, 1747

When I woke again a little while later, the sun was streaming in through the window, but the space next to me in bed was cold and empty. I dressed for the day, placed a happily gurgling Brianna in her sling, and went downstairs to see where Jamie had gotten to. I eventually found him in the study sitting behind his father’s big, wooden desk. He looked up as I came into the room, a mask of grim determination on his face.

“Ah, Sassenach, I’m glad ye’re here,” he sighed, not sounding very glad at all. “Come over and sign this, will ye?” He held the quill out to me as I came over to his side and slid the piece of parchment to me without looking at it. It was, as I knew it would be, the deed of sasine for Lallybroch. Jamie had already signed it, leaving an empty space below his name for mine as a witness.

I took the quill from Jamie and dipped it into the inkwell. Despite knowing this was the right thing to do, my hand hovered over the parchment for a moment, unwilling to complete the action that would hand Lallybroch over for good. I took a deep breath and finally put quill to parchment, signing my name under Jamie’s. As I closed my eyes, a single tear fell onto the freshly laid ink, turning the “Fraser” in my signature into a pool of illegibility.

“Damn, I’m sorry, Jamie,” I muttered, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. “Should I resign it somewhere else?” The last thing I wanted was to cause him to have to rewrite the document he had so dreaded writing in the first place.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. I dinna think a wee smudge will invalidate yer signature.” He put his head in his hands, looking like he might cry himself. “I’m so sorry, Claire, to cause ye to shed tears. I should’ve just had Jenny and Ian sign and left ye out of it.”

“No, Jamie,” I replied, rubbing his broad back and feeling the deep, crisscrossing scars through his shirt. “We’re in this together, and my name belongs next to yours.” He put an arm around my waist and pulled me to his side. I leaned down to kiss the top of his head, breathing in the scent of woodsmoke and hay that lingered among his curls. “Anyway, it’s done now. Let’s have breakfast, and then we can start to pack up our things.”

Jamie nodded, and we headed to the dining room where Ian and Jenny were already eating. Ian added his name next to mine on the deed as the second witness before leaving for Broch Mordha to try and arrange transportation for us to Ayr Harbour. Simply riding there on horseback was not an option. We would likely need to ride in the back of a wagon, ready to hide at a moment’s notice; at least while we were still in the vicinity of Lallybroch. Ian would have taken us, but he was too well-known among the soldiers at this point as being Lallybroch’s de facto laird, and we thought it might be too obvious what he was about if he was spotted driving a wagon in the direction of the coast.

There was also the matter of the time of year. We had originally wanted to wait for better weather in the spring but were instead being forced to leave in the middle of winter. On one hand, there should be far fewer soldiers out on the road, but on the other, not many folks would already be planning a trip in the snow for us to simply catch a ride along with them. Our tenants were fiercely loyal, but this was asking a lot of them. Not only would they be away from home for at least a month, but they were also taking a great personal risk of getting caught transporting traitors to the crown. We could only pray for Ian to find someone willing to give up so much to help us.

Brianna had been completely happy before and during breakfast, but once Jamie and I went upstairs to begin the process of packing our belongings, she began to fuss, and nothing I did could soothe her. Her clout was dry and she balked at being offered my breast. Normally more than content with being held close to me in her sling, she now squirmed and cried whether I held her or put her down. I was just about at the end of my rope when I heard a soft “Maman” come from the doorway in between Brianna’s cries.

Jamie took a quick glance at my frazzled state and interceded. “Fergus, yer mam is a bit busy wi’ yer sister at the moment,” he replied, having to almost yell to be heard over the baby. “Can I help ye with somethin’, lad?”

“Non, Papa, I only wondered if I could help with Brianna,” he offered. "I heard her crying and thought I could maybe take care of her while you and Maman are busy.”

“Oh, Fergus, that’s so sweet of you.” I smiled at him despite my exasperation. “I’m afraid if she won’t settle down for me, handing her off to you won’t help matters any.”

“Please?” he asked, stepping into the room. “Just let me try. I’ve already finished packing, and I want to help.”

I looked down at Brianna who was still writhing and wailing in my arms, desperate for some form of comfort I was clearly not providing. Fergus did have plenty of experience watching over small children, and I still had a lot of work to do in preparation for our imminent journey. “All right,” I conceded. “Just for a little while.” Fergus grinned, carefully took Brianna from me, and began to walk out of the room. “Wait, where are you going with her?” I called out, not yet willing to let her out of my sight. I didn’t mean to give Fergus the impression that I didn’t trust him, but my anxiety over the soldiers’ most recent visit was still very real.

“I’ll just take her across the hall to my room, Maman. The door will be open, so you can hear her from here. No harm will come to her,” Fergus promised.

I opened my mouth to protest, but Jamie cut in again. “The lad kens what he’s about, Sassenach. Nothing will happen to her one room away that wouldna happen in here.” I nodded at Fergus, forcing a strained smile, and he walked out, murmuring to Brianna in French.

I took a deep breath, pushed my worries to the side, and finally was able to make some progress in packing my things as well as Brianna’s. I was really only packing a couple of spare shifts for myself. The clothes I wore would have to do until we reached our final destination. Packing for Brianna was a much more complicated endeavor. My greatest worry was having enough clean clouts for her as it would be difficult to find a place to wash and dry them every day. I hoped we could stay at some inns along the way once we got further from Lallybroch, but I knew we would be sleeping outdoors for at least the first few nights. I just had to pack as many clouts as I could and hope for the best. Somehow we would have to manage.

Jamie meanwhile was busy making sure our weapons were all in perfect working order. He was bringing his sword and dirk along with a pistol that had been given to him by Ian when he had first moved out to the cave. It was dangerous to keep at Lallybroch anyway as the Scots were no longer allowed to have such weapons. We would have to keep it hidden during our travels, but we felt it was worth the risk for the added safety it would provide. I would also have the knife Jamie had given me for Christmas on me at all times, and Fergus would carry a knife of his own. I hoped to God we wouldn’t need to use any of the weapons we were bringing, but I had also sent a list of medicinal herbs with Ian for him to pick up just in case. Knowing Jamie, we wouldn’t make it all the way to Ayr Harbour without some sort of mishap or skirmish.

I was in the midst of folding clouts when I realized I hadn’t heard a sound from Fergus’s room for a good while. I could hardly believe he had been able to get Brianna to fall asleep, but when I crossed the hall to check on them, I saw he had done just that. Brianna was lying on Fergus’s bed, eyes closed and little limbs splayed out. Fergus was still awake and lying alongside Brianna, softly running his hand over her wisps of red hair. He looked up at me, an admittedly justified look of “I told you so” on his face. I just shook my head in mild disbelief and left him to it. I would take all the help I could get; I just hadn’t expected it to come from my eleven-year-old, former pickpocketing son.

“Well?” Jamie asked when I came back into our room.

“She’s fast asleep,” I informed him. “I don’t know how he did it, but thank God for small miracles.”

“Aye, thank God for both of our small miracles,” Jamie agreed, nodding his head in the direction of Fergus’s room.

 

After a long day of packing and preparation, everyone was waiting in the parlor for both supper and Ian’s return, which would hopefully happen concurrently. Wee Jamie was in the midst of asking for the twelfth time - not that I had been counting - when we would be able to eat when we heard the front door open and the telltale sound of Ian’s distinctive gait. I met his eye as he came into the room, and my spirits immediately fell to the ground. Jamie squeezed my hand as he apparently had also interpreted the look on Ian’s face as one of disappointment and failure.

“Let’s all go in to the table, and I’ll tell ye about everythin’,” Ian suggested as Maggie ran over to him for a hug. “The bad news willna go down any better on an empty stomach.”

Jamie and I exchanged worried looks but followed the rest of the family into the dining room, Wee Jamie leading the way. Everyone remained silent while we sat down and Jamie said grace. My stomach that had just moments ago been growling in hunger was now in knots, and I only took bite-sized helpings as the food was passed around. Finally when everyone had gotten their portion and the children were content, Ian told us of his fruitless day.

“I tried askin’ everyone I could think of who might be willing to undertake such a dangerous journey, but each and every one of them looked at me like I was a madman for suggestin’ such a thing,” Ian explained. “They all seemed to think I didna understand that winter was an inconvenient time to travel. The ones who didna turn me down outright offered to help come spring, but when I explained why that couldna work, they just apologized and wished me luck. Great load of help their luck was,” Ian concluded sarcastically.

Jamie and I exchanged a look of despair across the table, both of us wondering where to go from here. “Thank ye for trying, Ian,” Jamie said. “I dinna blame the men for not wanting to undertake a fool’s errand. They want to stay home and protect their families, not risk their lives for mine. It wasna ever fair to ask of them.” I knew Jamie was right, but having no one to help us travel greatly decreased our chance of success. Jamie could hide his hair under a cap, but the most cursory investigation would reveal his red hair and, with it, his status as a traitor to the crown. We couldn’t stay, and leaving was proving to be a suicide mission.

Jenny had been sitting quietly throughout the discussion so far, and after we all pretended to nibble at our food for a while, she spoke up. “Ian is too easily recognized to take ye to the coast, aye?”

“Aye,” Jamie responded with a dubious look to his sister.

“All right then I’ll take ye,” she declared as if this was an obvious backup plan.

“Jenny, no!” Jamie and I both protested in unison.

“Dinna tell me what I can and canna do.” Jenny’s eyes flashed with the classic Fraser combination of stubbornness and determination. “Ye both ken the soldiers take no notice of me as a woman, and they wouldna recognize me if I danced naked in front of them. If I cut my hair and put on breeks, they’ll think I’m just a boy traveling wi’ a wagon full of goods. They willna even connect me to Broch Mordha, let alone Lallybroch. It’s a good plan, and ye ken it.”

Ian and I wisely chose to remain silent as brother and sister hashed out their argument. “Ye’re a mother, Jenny. Ye canna simply abandon yer bairns for the months it might take ye to travel to the coast and back,” Jamie asserted.

“Oh, so if I go and help ye, I’m abandoning my bairns, but if Ian, or any other man from Broch Mordha for that matter were to go wi’ ye, leavin’ his family behind would be acceptable to ye?” countered Jenny.

“It’s different, and ye ken it.”

“Different? Because I need to be at home to wash and cook? A man canna do that just as well as I?”

“No, damn it!” Jamie pounded his fist on the table, causing the dishes to rattle. “It’s different because ye’re my sister, and I willna let ye leave my nieces and nephew without a mother!” Jamie sat down hard in his chair and looked down at his hands that were still shaking with frustration.

“And what of your bairn?” Jenny softly asked after a gap of silence. I looked down at Brianna who was contentedly gnawing on her fist in her sling. The knowledge that Jamie and I did not have the ability to keep her safe without help was difficult for both of us, but especially for Jamie. “Your nieces and nephew have a home already, Jamie. And if something were to happen to me, they have a father who will look after them. My niece canna stay here, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get her to a place of safety with you and Claire, just as you would do if I was in your situation.”

Jamie did not look up at first as he was rubbing the hand with which he had hit the table. Finally he looked up to meet Jenny’s gaze and gave a slight nod of acquiescence. Ian reached over to Jenny and took her hand in his in a silent show of his support for her decision, and she gave him a tight smile in return. “Right, then, it’s settled,” Jenny announced. “We’ll leave tomorrow at dusk. And, Claire,” she turned her sharp, blue eyes to me, “in the morning, ye’ll cut off my hair.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 50
January 2, 1747

No one felt much like eating after the argument between Jenny and Jamie was resolved, and Mrs. Crook appeared to clear away the dishes at the sound of chair legs scraping against the stone floor in a noisy retreat. Jamie slipped out of the dining room, presumably having gone up to our bedroom, while Jenny, Mrs. Crook, and I were left to wash the dishes in an uncomfortable silence. I could almost feel the tension radiating off of Jenny as she set each dish down just a little bit harder than normal. “You should go, Jenny,” I encouraged. “Let me finish putting everything away while you enjoy the rest of the night with your husband and children.” Jenny nodded, flashed me a tense smile, and ducked out through the doorway to put her children to bed for the last time in a long while.

Once the evening tasks of tidying up were completed, I trudged upstairs to Jamie, finding him laid out on our bed fully-clothed, his hand wrapped in a piece of linen. I took my time undressing and tying up my hair for the night before sitting down on the bed next to Jamie and lowering my shift to allow Brianna to nurse. Jamie didn’t so much as turn his head to look at me, clearly having no plans to speak. I, on the other hand, had plenty I wanted to say to him, so I decided to break the silence. “I see your hand is wrapped up there,” I observed, a touch of ice in my tone. “Did you hurt it when you lost your temper earlier?”

“Aye,” he replied, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Would you like me to take a look at it?” I was acting a bit condescendingly toward him, but he had behaved like a child during dinner, then left me to both clean up and somehow try to make things right with his sister. He wasn’t off the hook simply because he was injured.

“I suppose so. But I’ll bide ’til the wean is finished.”

“You most certainly will,” I snapped back. “I wasn’t planning on interrupting our daughter’s supper like you interrupted mine with your temper.” He made one of his Scottish noises of general annoyance and turned on his side away from me. We sat in silence for a while, the only sound in the room that of Brianna’s usual adorable grunting noises she made while she nursed.

“Now be a good girl while Mummy fixes your silly Da’s hand,” I cooed to Brianna, laying her in her cradle after she had finished eating. “I know you’ll never have such a nasty temper when you get older will you, my sweet girl?”

“I hate to tell ye, Sassenach, but if she doesna get it from me, she’ll get it from you,” Jamie interjected. “Or do ye no’ recall the time at Leoch when ye scolded me while holdin’ a knife to my throat?”

I could feel my face flush at the memory of that particular encounter, but I wouldn’t let Jamie distract me from giving him my two cents over how he had acted toward Jenny. “I may have a temper, Jamie, but I’ve also learned how to control it.” I sat down on the bed next to him and unwrapped his hand to take a look at what he had done to it. “See, for example, I would never slam my fist into the tines of a fork, thus injuring myself the day before I was set to undertake a long and dangerous journey with my wife and children.” Indeed there were two rather deep puncture marks present right below Jamie’s little finger in the meat of his hand.

I sighed and went to retrieve my medical supplies which I had painstakingly packed up earlier in the day. “I should have known I wouldn’t make it through the day without having to patch you up in some way or the other,” I muttered as I retrieved my bottle of alcohol and a bandage.

Jamie sat up and shifted to be closer to the light of the candle so that I could see what I was doing. “I am sorry, Claire, but ye understand why I dinna want my sister to have to leave her family and risk her life for me. I’m meant to be the one protecting her, no’ the other way ‘round.”

I cleaned the blood off his hand, and he hissed as the alcohol hit the wounds with its cleansing sting. “She isn’t doing it to protect you, or me for that matter,” I contended. “If just the two of us were leaving, we could look after ourselves, and she knows that. She’s doing it for Brianna, and frankly, now that the decision has been made for her to go, I don’t know that I would trust anyone else.

“I know Fergus would do his best, but I wouldn’t ever want to put such a burden on him of having to care for an infant by himself. Jenny will make sure they’re both safe if something happens to us. As much as I trust our tenants, I would much rather leave Fergus and Brianna in Jenny’s care than in the care of a man all but forced to come with us out of a sense of duty. Jenny is doing this out of love.”

I finished tying up the bandage around Jamie’s hand and brushed my lips over his fingers to signal that I was finished with lecturing him. He went over to Brianna and carefully lifted her out of her cradle. She remained asleep, but curled up close to the warmth of his body, and he sat back down on the bed with her. “I hope ye ken how much ye’re loved, mo chuisle,” Jamie murmured to her. “Yer mam and I tell ye how much we love ye every day.” I scooted closer to him and leaned my head on his shoulder to get a better look at my baby’s peacefully sleeping face. “And ye have a brother who already looks out for ye and loves ye so much. But now yer auntie is willing to leave her own bairns and risk her life to see you safe. All for you, my wee Brianna.”

“So you’ll let her come with us then?” I asked, hopeful that I had cut through Jamie’s stubborn pride with my logic.

“Aye, I suppose I couldna ask for anyone better to look after Fergus and Brianna than their own auntie. Although I dinna plan for anything to happen to either of us, mo ghraidh.” Jamie unfurled Brianna’s tiny fist, and she stretched her palm wide before grabbing a small fistful of Jamie’s shirt in her sleep. “How, Claire? How can someone so small take up such an enormous portion of my heart?”

“I don’t know.” I rubbed my thumb over Brianna’s tiny toes sticking out of the end of her blanket, marveling at how perfectly round and soft they were. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand how love can be so powerful.”

“My love for you has saved me countless times, Sassenach. And even before we found Fergus and you gave life to our bairns, just the hope of them gave me strength.” Jamie pulled me close to him, and I leaned into his embrace, all earlier annoyance having dissipated.

The three of us slept close during our last night at Lallybroch. At some point in the early hours of the morning I got up for Brianna’s feeding. Jamie woke along with us and held me against his chest while I fed Brianna. His hands skimmed absentmindedly up and down over my hips while he told both of us the story of Jenny and the faeries in the cave. “And she waited for them every day,” Jamie recounted, “but the faeries are a clever sort and didna come back to their cave until Auntie Jenny had gone home to have her supper. But we ken the faeries are real, a nighean, because years later in the verra same cave, they brought you to yer mam and me. And one day I’ll take ye back to see the magical faerie cave where ye were born.”

“That’s a lovely story, Jamie,” I observed as I moved Brianna to my shoulder and patted her back. Jamie leaned over to kiss me before taking Brianna from me to put her back in her cradle. I pulled my shift off as he tucked Brianna back in, and when he turned around and saw me, his eyes reflected both love and desire. He came back to bed and lay alongside me, my cool skin warming instantly as he pulled me to him, and we made love one last time in the laird’s room. Where all our children were meant to be conceived and birthed. Where we should have grown old together, loving each other. Where we should have been safe and happy.

Afterward I lay on top of Jamie, his arms around me. Neither of us slept after that, and we watched with tears in our eyes as that final night gave over to the dawn of the very last morning.

Chapter Text

Chapter 51
January 3, 1747

True to her word, Jenny wore her hair down to breakfast in the morning, not even bothering to put it up as I would be cutting it after we finished eating. Her hair came almost down to her waist, and Maggie stood behind her mother’s chair playing with the long, dark strands. Although I had played a significant part in getting Jamie to accept Jenny’s plan to accompany us, I still felt a a heavy ball of guilt in my stomach at the thought of Jenny leaving her family to help my own. Although I didn’t feel much like eating, I forced myself to clear my plate, knowing that this would be my last real breakfast for a long time.

Once the dishes were cleared, and the men and children dispersed, Jenny retrieved the hair shears and shoved them in my hand. “Are you sure you really want to cut it, Jenny?” I asked, secretly hoping for a way out of having to cut her hair myself. “I’ve always been jealous of how lovely and straight your hair is. Couldn’t you maybe just pin it up under a cap?”

Jenny sat down on one of the stools in the kitchen with her back to me and flipped her hair over her shoulders so that it was all fanned out and ready to be cut. “It’s funny ye mention being jealous of my hair when I’ve always been jealous of yers,” Jenny admitted.

“Mine? But it’s so…unruly!” I was shocked to hear that anyone could think of my curly mess as being desirable. Even in my own time with products made to tame hair such as mine, I could never get it to look quite how I had wanted it to. Thankfully Jamie loved my wild curls as I had no hope of beating them into submission in the 18th century.

“Well, not so much yer curls,” Jenny acknowledged. “Although they do suit ye, I think. I’ve just always admired that ye were brave enough to cut yer hair short. I dinna think it’s been much past yer shoulders since I’ve first known ye. My mam strictly forbade me from cuttin’ mine, and then Ian…well he’s always liked my hair, ye ken.” I had a feeling there was perhaps a somewhat private meaning behind that admission, but I chose not to pry. “Anyway, I finally have a reason to cut it, and that’s what I want to do. So get to work, Claire.”

I took Brianna out of her sling and laid her in the cot I had brought downstairs, then experimentally opened and closed the shears a few times and took a deep breath. I told myself there was no reason to worry over my lack of skill. After all it was just hair; it would grow back. I held a chunk of hair between my fingers as I had seen beauticians in my own time do and made the first cut. Jenny’s shoulders tensed as long, silky strands fell to the floor, but she didn’t make a sound. I carried right on figuring it was best to get the painful process over with as quickly as possible. I cut and trimmed until Jenny’s hair was about the same length as Fergus’s. Unfortunately since Jenny’s hair was straight as a pin, I ended up giving her what amounted to a slightly choppy bowl cut.

“I think that’s as short as I dare cut it, Jenny.” I ran my fingers through her remaining locks in an attempt to disguise some of my less-than-adept handiwork, but I didn’t think it helped much. “Would you like to take a look for yourself?” I asked, offering Jenny the hand mirror she had brought along with the shears.

Jenny bravely accepted the mirror and looked her new reflection in the eye, turning her head this way and that to see what the scissors and I had wrought. “Hold this,” she commanded, and I took the mirror from her, holding it in place so she could still use it. She picked the scissors up from the table and, with a furrowed brow, trimmed and snipped away at what was left of her hair. She managed to turn the bowl cut I had created into something much shorter and more flattering. If I ignored her clothes, she almost looked like she could have been a film star. Her bright, blue eyes and high cheekbones stood out all the more with her new hairstyle. I breathed an audible sigh of relief when she set the scissors down and reexamined her reflection with a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Tell it to me straight, Claire.” She ran her fingers through her shortened locks. “Can I ever show my face to Ian again, or should I go hide in the priest hole ’til we leave tonight?”

“Jenny, you look beautiful,” I breathed. “Honestly, I think your face was made for short hair all along.”

“I dinna look too much like a lad then?” she asked.

“I don’t think you could ever be mistaken for a boy without a bit more work than that. Perhaps once we get you into breeks and a cap and put some dirt on your face. But, no. Right now you just look lovely.” Jenny stood and gave me a quick hug, then rushed off to finish her preparations for our departure that evening.

 

Jamie and Ian had been outside all morning loading the wagon with our few belongings and provisions, then covering them with sacks of potatoes to keep them hidden. A discussion had taken place over breakfast to iron out the finer points of our journey, and we had decided that Jenny and Fergus would pose as two indentured servant boys taking a potato harvest to a nearby town to be sold. The town we were heading to would change as we went to keep the story plausible in case we were stopped by any soldiers. At least until we were out of the immediate vicinity of Lallybroch, Jamie, Brianna, and I would remain hidden among the sacks of potatoes in the back of the wagon. After a few days, we hoped these precautions wouldn’t be necessary at least for me as it would be difficult to keep Brianna quiet and fed in such tight quarters.

Jamie’s mood seemed markedly improved since we had gotten out of bed for the day. Perhaps he felt he had grieved enough for what we were leaving behind, or maybe having work to do was keeping his mind off of his despair. Either way, I was relieved to see he seemed to have fully moved past the argument of the previous night as he had been perfectly civil towards Jenny while we’d discussed our plans over breakfast this morning.

We would be bringing two horses to pull the wagon as well as a mule for me to ride with Brianna once we deemed it safe. Jamie would most likely stay hidden in the wagon for the duration of the journey. We hoped the constant coming and going once we arrived at the harbor would allow us to remain inconspicuous until we were able to board a ship and leave Scotland. I had been dreaming of the safety of the salt air in my face for weeks now, and I couldn’t wait to actually feel the sting of the spray as I watched the coast recede into the distance.

The men came stomping into the house for lunch around noon, and I grabbed Jamie by the arm as he passed, preventing him from following Ian into the dining room. “Oh, no you don’t,” I chided as Jamie gave me a questioning look. I had figured he would be unable to suppress the urge of a little brother to make fun of his older sister, and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the glint of mischief in his eye.

“Really, Jamie? After you barely even accepted Jenny coming with us? Now you’re going to tease her for cutting her hair?” I shook my head at him in mock disappointment. After all, maybe it was good that he wanted to take a jab at his sister; at least it meant things were getting back to normal.

“Och, Sassenach, I wasna goin’ to say anythin’ too harsh towards her. But she was always so vain with her long hair, whippin’ it around to hit me in the face when we were bairns.” Jamie pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around my waist, staring down into my eyes. “Her hair was always long and straight as a pin as was my mother’s. I’d never kent anyone with curls as lovely as yers before I met ye.” He twisted one of my ringlets around his finger, and I laughed as he pulled it out straight only for it to bounce back up again as soon as he let go. “And now I have two curly-haired lasses if Brianna’s wee curls are any indication.”

“How can I ever stay cross with you when you flatter your lasses so?” I remarked, giving him a kiss which he eagerly returned. “Either way,” I said, pulling away, “I think Ian deserved a moment alone to see Jenny for himself, don’t you?”

“Aye, I suppose so,” he conceded. "But I am verra hungry after loadin’ the wagon all morning. D’ye think they’ve had enough time now?”

“Yes, I imagine they have,” I sighed. “But be nice to your sister, hm?” I swatted him on the backside as he turned to go into the dining room, fully expecting my request to have fallen on deaf ears.

Jenny’s cheeks were flushed pink when Jamie and I entered the dining room, and Ian stood with his arm around her waist, grinning widely. Jamie’s mouth hung open a bit in shock when he first saw her, but when he finally spoke, to my pleasant surprise, he had nothing negative to say about his sister’s new look. “Ye look bonny, Jenny. Truly,” he affirmed.

“Thank ye, brother.” Jenny smiled and touched her hair as one tends to do after a new haircut. “Both Claire and Ian said as much, but I ken ye wouldna say such a thing just to make me feel better, so it means more comin’ from you.”

“Ye do look lovely,” Jamie repeated, “but I ken it still wasna an easy thing for ye to do, and I want ye to know I’m grateful.” Jenny nodded and with that, any tension that had still lingered from the previous night immediately dissipated. Ian and I exchanged a glance, each relieved that the Fraser siblings we loved so much no longer had any reason to be upset with each other.

 

Jenny and I spent the rest of the day altering a pair of breeks and a shirt to fit her for the journey. “Why do we even bother with such heavy skirts when we could be wearing breeks every day?” Jenny asked as she observed herself in the mirror while wearing her new disguise.

“I’m not sure, but I do know I’d take a woolen skirt any day over having to dress in Paris fashion again,” I observed. “At least my skirts keep me warm; the clothing in France serves absolutely no purpose other than being fussy and ornamental.”

“I would have loved to have seen ye dressed so just once,” Jenny sighed. “I think everyone would ken I was an imposter if I tried to wear silk and jewels, but you must have looked beautiful, Claire.”

“I don’t know about all that, but your brother being the way he is, I believe I would catch his attention far more easily in a pair of breeks than by wearing all the bows and ruffles of the French court.”

Jenny raised her eyebrow. “Knowin’ my brother, I think ye’d catch his attention no matter what ye wore.” Jenny and I laughed together, and I was once again reminded of how grateful I was that she was coming. With Jenny along, I could almost feel like a piece of Lallybroch was going with us. Even though we would eventually have to part with her as well, at least that would be a bittersweet goodbye as it would mean we were a huge step closer to safety.

With the wagon loaded and Jenny’s clothing sorted, there was nothing left to do but prepare for our final supper together. Mrs. Crook had been working all day to both pack up provisions for the road and to cook up a most delicious meal for us to enjoy. The table was full of plates of venison, roasted potatoes, and bannocks fresh from the oven. My mouth watered at the smell, and Wee Jamie was already nibbling on a bannock before the rest of us sat down.

Ian’s soft tone turned everyone’s attention from the feast. “I’d like to say the blessing this evening if I may.” Jamie gave him a slight nod, and we all bowed our heads. “Oh, God, we thank you for providin’ this meal tonight and each night we have enjoyed supper together as a family. Today especially we are grateful to ye for the time we have had with our loved ones, and we ask a special blessing over Jenny, Jamie, Claire, Fergus, and wee Brianna as they leave us for a time. We ask yer guidance and protection as they travel. I pray that ye bring my Jenny home to me, and that Jamie and Claire can find a safe place for their own family to call home. Watch over us all on this night and every night. Amen.”

I looked up to see Jenny holding Ian’s hand at the head of the table, tears shining in her eyes. We all might have sat there and just cried had Wee Jamie’s timid voice not broken the silence. “May we eat now, mam?” he asked, oblivious as to why the adults were all acting so strangely.

Jenny sniffled and ruffled her little boy’s hair. “Of course we can, mo chridhe. We dinna want Mrs. Crook’s hard work to go to waste, do we?” And with that we all tucked in to one last, hearty meal together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 52
January 3, 1747

The laird’s room was cold and dark, the fire in the hearth down to embers and only two candles burning to provide just enough light to make out the dark shapes of the furniture. Goosebumps rose on my newly-bared skin as I lowered the neckline of my shift to feed Brianna one last time before we departed. She ate greedily as usual, not a care in the world, having every faith that she would be doted on and provided for as she had been every other day of her short life. Her utter trust and reliance both comforted and terrified me at the same time. “I promise Mummy and Da will keep you safe, my darling,” I whispered, cradling her to me. “And one day we’ll bring you back here and show you your very first home when you can remember it. I know you’ll grow to love Lallybroch just as much as I have.”

I tried to soak in these last few moments in the only real home I had known since the death of my parents. Panic washed over me as I tried and failed to recall anything about the house I had lived in until I was five; would I even be able to remember my own parents’ faces if not for the few photographs that I’d clung to as a child? Jamie and I would not end up as distant memories for Brianna like my own parents were for me; I refused to let that happen to her. I brushed my lips across her forehead as I pulled my shift back up one-handed and couldn’t help but crack a smile when she grabbed onto a fistful of my curls as they hung in a curtain around her face. I gently pulled her tiny fist free and gazed about the room one last time, burning each detail into my memory. Since Brianna couldn’t remember Lallybroch, I would do it for her.

I was not able to dress as warmly as I would have liked for traveling through the Highlands in the dead of winter. Layers upon layers of clothing would only hinder Brianna’s access to me for nursing, and I could not take the chance of making her cry from impatience when she was ready to eat. Our lives very well may come to depend on keeping her quiet if we came across any soldiers. So I dressed as I normally would, Brianna’s sling tied around me underneath two cloaks to keep both of us warm. Luckily for me, she seemed to have inherited her father’s natural body heat, providing me with my own personal furnace held close to my heart.

Jamie, already dressed for the journey, had gone outside to hitch the horses to the wagon, Fergus bounding excitedly down the hall behind him. I knew Fergus had to at least be somewhat scared of the unknown dangers awaiting us, but he had been nothing but his usual helpful and optimistic self. When I finally got outside with Brianna, Fergus was already perched in the wagon looking more like an oddly-shaped bundle of wool than a boy. Jenny must have given him every spare scarf in the house, and he had somehow managed to wear each and every one of them. I chuckled to myself thinking at least I wouldn’t have to worry about one of my children staying warm. Jenny herself was almost unrecognizable. She had a cap pulled low over her face, and a scarf concealed her mouth and nose. She wore a coat that had presumably belonged to Jamie as a lad as it was only a bit too big on her. Her boots on the other hand were noticeably too large for her size, but shoes were expensive, and no one would think twice about a young boy wearing shoes he had yet to grow into.

“Ah, there ye are, Sassenach,” Jamie called, looking up from behind the piles of bagged potatoes in the wagon bed. He jumped down from the side of the wagon and strolled over to give me a kiss. “Is our lass all fed and ready to leave then?” he asked, pulling aside the layers of my cloaks to take a peek at Brianna.

With a forced smile I replied, “Ready as she’ll ever be.”

“Well, perhaps not quite ready yet,” Jamie informed me as he took my arm and led me to the wagon. “We’ve one more stop to make ‘afore we set out on the road.” He seemed oddly upbeat under the circumstances, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he had to be excited about.

I flashed him a confused look, but he just smiled back at me as he lifted me up into the bed of the wagon. “Jamie, it’s almost midnight,” I reasoned.

He just nodded as he hopped into the wagon next to me. “Aye, mo nighean donn, ’tis. That’s why it’s safe enough to go where we’re headed.” I shook my head at him before attempting to find a comfortable position to settle into for a drive of undetermined length. I felt Brianna stretch in her sling as she was awoken with my movements, and I rubbed her back to try to soothe her back to sleep. Much to my surprise, both Ian and Jenny got into the seat of the wagon while Fergus mounted the mule that was to accompany us on our journey. Jamie then lifted a heavy, woolen blanket over the three of us where we were hidden among the potatoes, and the wagon jolted forward to carry us away from Lallybroch.

I had already shed all the tears I had in me over the past couple of days, so my eyes remained dry as we moved farther and farther away from home. I found it strange how easy it was to actually leave. After all the delays and ultimately pointless hoping that we could somehow remain in our home, I wasn’t even given the opportunity to watch it recede into the distance. As Jamie held me close to him, a feeling of peace settled over me. We were doing the right thing. I felt in my bones that we were finally on the correct path, and I felt just as strongly that we would see Lallybroch again one day. I closed my eyes and leaned my head on Jamie’s arm while I concentrated on keeping still so as not to disturb Brianna. She settled quickly, seeming to like the rhythmic nature of riding in the wagon, and I could feel her even, little breaths against my skin as she slumbered.

We hadn’t been riding for more than an hour when the wagon came to a stop, and Jamie lifted the blanket off of us. I sat up to see that we had pulled up outside the small church in Broch Mordha. The town was eerily silent at this late hour, and I felt as if even the slightest whisper could wake every resident therein. Even knowing how absurd this was having just ridden in on a noisy wagon, still I asked no questions as our little group headed toward the church.

Jamie swung open the door, and I audibly gasped at what I saw inside. The stone church was empty, but the altar at the end of the aisle was illuminated by at least a hundred candles placed all around it. Their flames danced as a gust of wind followed us through the door, but they held steady and did not go out. The sight was so beautiful, I could only think that we must be here for a wedding. “But, Jamie, we’re already married,” I blurted.

Jamie laughed at my confusion as he explained. “It isna for us, Sassenach, ’tis for the bairn.” It was then I noticed the baptismal font at the center of the altar, the light of the candles reflected in its holy water. “We canna leave on a dangerous journey without making sure Brianna has first been baptized.”

“No, I suppose we can’t,” I murmured, still in shock at what Jamie had managed to put together. Even in the most rushed and desperate of circumstances, he had managed to make this milestone so incredibly special for our daughter, just as he had done for me with our hasty wedding. “I don’t know what to say,” I marveled. “It’s perfect. How did you do it?”

“Ye remember young Alastair?” I nodded. “I had Ian ask his parents for a wee favor. I figured they owed us one for what their lad did, and they agreed. I didna want to involve the priest or anyone else who might have to lie for us, but if I had to christen her myself, I wanted to at least do it in a kirk.”

My eyes widened involuntarily. “You’re going to christen her?” I asked, a bit surprised.

“Aye, I suppose I must. Anyone can christen a bairn in an emergency, and I’d say this counts as one.” A chill went through me as I remembered how Faith had been baptized and buried in consecrated ground thanks to Mother Hildegarde’s quick work. Now my second daughter was in danger as well; though unlike her sister she had been born the picture of health, the dangers facing Brianna were nonetheless just as real and immediate.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” Jamie reassured me, knowing my thoughts must have turned to Faith. “We willna let anythin’ happen to her. I just dinna ken when we’ll have the chance to have her baptized properly, and Ian and Jenny willna be able to be there when we do. But I promise ye we will have a proper christening for Brianna, and you and I will both be there to see it.”

“Ian and Jenny. They’re to be her godparents?” I asked.

“Aye, if ye’ll have us,” Jenny replied, removing her cap and lowering her scarf to reveal a wide grin.

“Of course!” I exclaimed, hugging first Jenny, then Ian. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”

“Shall we begin then, Sassenach?” asked Jamie, taking my hand in his. I nodded, and we walked down the aisle, Jenny, Ian, and Fergus following behind us.

When we reached the altar, I took off my cloaks and removed a sleeping Brianna from her sling. Our little group stood reverently around the simply-carved stone font, and Jamie cleared his throat to begin. “I havena ever performed a christening before, but I ken what the important parts are. It’ll no’ be in Latin, but I hope the Lord will forgive me for speakin’ in my own tongue. I ken the first part is to state the child’s name, and that’s easy enough. Her name is Brianna Ellen Claire Fraser, named for her grandparents and her mother, and, although it isna a biblical name, I think it suits her well.” Jamie couldn’t help but smile as he said Brianna’s full name, and my heart filled with love and pride as it did every time I was reminded of how he’d insisted on naming her after me.

“Claire and I commit to raising Brianna in the Christian faith, and now I ask ye both if ye’ll commit to helping us fulfill those duties,” Jamie continued, nodding to Jenny and Ian.

“We do,” they answered in unison.

At this point Brianna awakened, and she twisted in my arms to have a better view of the hundreds of lights shining just for her. Jamie first traced the sign of the cross on her forehead, then Jenny, Ian, and I repeated the gesture. Jamie continued on, reciting a passage from the Bible while my mind began to wander. I gazed down at the child in my arms as the lights reflected in the wide, blue eyes given to her by her father. Was I really so lucky as to be able to call her mine? Was this how my parents had felt holding me at my own christening? Somehow I knew it was.

I thought back to a year ago, just a month or two before Brianna had been conceived. Faith had been gone for over a year, and my courses were still coming every month like clockwork. I hadn’t wanted to dash what was left of Jamie’s hopes for another child, but I was beginning to think Faith’s birth had damaged my body too much. Perhaps this was my punishment for not putting my baby first: I would simply never be a mother, never be able to make my husband a father. And besides, we were fighting in a war; this was no place for life to begin.

Then that day in April when I thought I had truly lost everything. But I hadn’t. Because Brianna was there, a heavy weight of persistent life in my belly. Once I knew I carried the life of another, I could not give up on my own. Against all odds, Jamie and I had created a child, and that child had saved both of us. Because I did not give up, and I got us home, and we lived.

And now here we were, leaving everything we knew in order to keep our family safe. I had no idea where we would end up or what dangers we would face, but our love for each other had gotten us this far; surely it would take us past the unknown and into a future of happiness and security.

I came out of my reverie as Jamie dipped his finger in a bit of oil to anoint Brianna, who did not enjoy the process in the slightest, letting out an indignant cry. “Och, give the lassie to me, then,” Jenny insisted, holding out her hands to take the fussy baby. “Shh, a leannan, ye dinna want to cry at yer own christening, now do ye?” she soothed, rocking Brianna back and forth until she quieted down.

Jamie proceeded to have us renounce Satan and to state our belief in God, and then all that was left was the actual christening. “Now, mo chuisle,” Jamie continued, cupping Brianna’s head, “it’s time for ye to be baptized.” Jamie scooped up a bit of water as Jenny held Brianna’s head over the font. “I baptize you, Brianna, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He scooped water over her head three times, and by the third, all the shiny lights in the world wouldn’t have distracted her enough to keep her from crying. Jenny quickly handed her back to me, and I held her close to my breast as she fussed.

“It’s all right, darling. That little bit of water wasn’t so bad, was it?” I asked, kissing her cheek.

“Och, it wouldna be a christening without a wailing bairn,” Ian reassured me. “At least she hasna spit up yet like her cousin did.” Ian and Jenny exchanged an exasperated parent look at their shared memory.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed,” Jenny reminisced, shaking her head. “Wee Jamie vomited all down the front of the priest’s robes. It was like the lad had been savin’ it up for days just for that moment. I couldna look the priest in the eye for weeks afterward.” Jenny shook her head while Fergus made a face, clearly displeased by the mental image the story had conjured up.

“Why does everything with bairns involve les dégueulis?” Fergus asked. “First from the mothers when they are first enceinte, then from the bairns every time they eat. It disgusts me!”

Jamie chuckled as he ruffled Fergus’s hair. “I think I’d watch my words if I were you,” he admonished Fergus. “I seem to recall certain young laddie in France who got into Jared’s wine cabinet and had quite the upset wame the next mornin’.”

“Yes,” I added, “and I believe that boy’s mother had quite the time scrubbing purple dégueulis from his sheets afterward as well.” I bopped Fergus playfully on the nose, and we all laughed together, the joy of the christening and of simply being together allowing us to forget the rapidly approaching end to this brief respite.

As silence descended once more upon the little church, we looked at each other, all desperate for someone to find a reason to delay our departure. “Well, we canna leave these candles lit,” Jenny finally said, heading over to start blowing them out.

“I can take care of that once ye’ve left, a nighean,” Ian insisted, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll no’ be leavin’ til someone can give me a ride back to Lallybroch in the mornin’. Ye shouldna wait any longer.” Jenny looked up at him and nodded, tears welling in her eyes. Ian held his arms wide and welcomed Jenny into them, holding her tight as she leaned into his embrace. “Come back to me, mo ghraidh. I’ll never forgive ye if ye don’t,” he murmured.

“Never thought you’d be the one sayin’ that to me,” Jenny laughed, wiping her eyes. “I do feel a bit like you and Jamie when ye went off to France all those years ago.”

“Hopefully it willna be as dangerous as all that,” Ian replied as Jamie and I exchanged a nervous glance.

“Keep our bairns in one piece, and I swear I’ll return to ye as quickly as I can,” Jenny promised.

It was my turn next to say goodbye, but unlike Jenny, I likely would not see Ian again for a very long time. “Thank you,” I whispered as I hugged him as best I could while holding Brianna, “for everything.”

“Ye’ll watch over our Frasers for me?” he asked, holding onto Brianna’s little hand with his much larger one. I nodded, too emotional to speak, and he kissed my cheek before turning to Jamie.

“Mo charaid,” he said before Jamie gave him a brief hug, slapping him on the back with affection.

“I swear to keep yer wife safe so that she may return to you and yer family,” Jamie vowed. “I dinna ken how to thank or repay ye for what ye’ve given up for me. I’ll forever be in yer debt.”

“Just write to us when ye’re settled in yer new home. Yer happiness is all I need in repayment.” Jamie nodded at the friend who had become his brother, tears shining in his eyes as well.

With Brianna now officially christened and our goodbyes said to Ian, it was time to head back out to the wagon and put some distance between us and the town before morning. Ian and Jenny walked up the aisle, heads close together as they breathed the same air for a few moments longer.

“Time to go, lad,” Jamie beckoned Fergus as he looped his arm through mine. I held Brianna against my shoulder with my other arm so she could enjoy the view of her candlelit altar on our way out.

The cold wind whipped against my face as we exited the church, but the warm weight of my baby pressed against my body grounded and calmed me. Fergus’s lanky arms wrapped around my waist in a hug before he hopped up onto his mule, his enthusiasm for adventure radiating off of him in waves. As Jamie helped me into the bed of the wagon, I spied Jenny giving Ian one final kiss before pulling her scarf back up over her face and climbing into the seat to take the reins. Jamie climbed in after me, carefully adjusting the placement of the sacks of potatoes to more thoroughly hide us from view. He even went so far as to lay a sack over our bottom halves that felt as if it had been deliberately lightened for such a purpose.

We each grabbed a corner of the blanket and pulled it securely over our heads, settling in this time for a much longer ride. Jamie positioned his arm for me to lean my head against, my grateful smile lost to him in the dark. “I ken ’tis difficult not knowin’ what tomorrow will bring, Sassenach, but the one thing I do know for certain is this: I love ye today more than yesterday, and I’ll love ye even more tomorrow. Whatever comes, wherever our journey ends, ye can hold onto that truth as long as we both shall live.” He kissed my forehead, and I sighed, burrowing into the warmth of his chest as I heard the snap of the reins and we faced the unknown once more.