He held my hand, helping me reach toward the stone when I didn’t think I would have had the strength to do it myself.
The only reason either of us could bear to do it at all was because of the life growing inside of me.
I closed my eyes, unwilling to watch his hand vanish from mine as well as feel it.
I still felt his whisper against my ear even as I fell,
It was even worse than the first time. The feeling of having my soul ripped from my body and forced clumsily back again like a child playing with its toys. It was worse, because I knew when I awoke, my soul would still be gone.
When I came back to myself, I could smell the grass and soil, hear the birds singing merrily in the trees.
I could still feel Jamie’s arms around me.
I kept my eyes closed, unwilling to let the feeling go, not sure I could survive turning and finding myself alone on that bloody hill.
The feeling of his arms tightened, a deep inhaling of breath.
My eyes flew open.
I wrenched myself around, finding instead of an empty space and only the ghost of a memory, a living, breathing man, his eyes opening slowly to meet mine.
“Jamie?” I rasped, hearing how high-pitched and hysterical I sounded.
“Claire,” he said, wincing as if in pain.
Immediately on alert, I jolted into a sitting position, looking him over. “Are you hurt?!”
“My head aches,” he said, sitting up more slowly and raising a hand to the head in question. “Christ, Sassenach, canna imagine how you’ve done that twice.”
I looked around, trying to decide if things were different, or not. “Did it work? Did I….bring you with me somehow?”
Jamie looked around as well, squinting in the fading sunlight. “I dinna hear th’ cannons anymore. And...it’s sunset. It was morning only moments ago.”
“We could have been unconscious,” I said, almost afraid to hope. “If it didn’t work...I can’t do it again, Jamie. Please don’t make me.”
He shook his head, pulling me into his arms. “No, lass. I’ll no’ put ye through that again. We’ll figure something out.”
But then I saw something I’d missed before, and felt my heart rate increase. “It worked.”
I stood up on shaky legs, pointing. “Look!”
It was a sign, quite literally in fact. Just a simple wooden sign with lettering too small to see from the distance, and beyond it was a wooden railing that bracketed a footpath. Here and there around the stones were candy wrappers and unidentifiable pieces of plastic and paper.
It was, without a doubt, not 1746.
“We made it then?” Jamie asked, eyeing the standing stone. “We’re in… I’m in…”
I smiled up at him, touching the side of his face, almost unable to believe that he was real, and there . “Yes, Jamie. We made it.” I took his hand and laid it on my stomach.
His eyes flickered down to where his hand rested against me. “We made it,” he murmured, and I could see the beginnings of what might be a panic attack, so I framed his face with my hands and brought our foreheads together.
“It’s alright,” I whispered. “You’re here with me, Jamie. It’s alright.”
He pressed his head harder to mind, breathed deeply through his nose. “It’s over,” he said. “Culloden…”
I understood then what was going on, and I wrapped my arms around him.
“Jenny,” he said suddenly, looking back up at me, eyes red. “Ian, Murtagh…”
“Fergus,” I cried, burrowing myself into his chest. We were alive, safe, away from war, and together, but at what cost?
The sun had nearly set, and it was getting colder. I pulled back, aware we’d need to find shelter or make camp for the night. I knew Jamie was aware, too, but was staring at the stone as if he could see what was happening on the other side.
“Jamie,” I said, as he released me and stepped closer to it. “Jamie?” When he reached to touch it, I let out a cry and grabbed his arm.
He shook his head, as if coming out of a trance. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’a trying to...I just don’t understand. Why didn’t it work th’ other times I touched it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know how it works. Maybe it had to do with you touching me. I also don’t know how the destination works. I know we’re not in 1945, because that sign and walkway wasn’t here then.”
“But it’s been three years,” he pointed out.
I supposed it could have been put up in the three years since I’d been gone. Perhaps it had something to do with my disappearance. I cringed at the thought of having to try and reassimilate into the world...I cringed even more at the thought of having to see Frank, and explain to him that I was married to someone else and had no intention of changing that. I could only hope that he’d moved on already, and that it would be okay eventually.
But there was little to be done about it right then, and I was cold and hungry and utterly exhausted. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s…”
I was interrupted by a piercing scream, echoing through the air. Jamie and I both nearly leapt out of our skins, prepared to run, but then there was another scream, and another, and as our eyes met we realized at once that it was a girl, crying for help.
We ran down the hill, but the screams wafted in and out, carried on the wind. I was dimly aware that the road below was much more alive with cars than I remembered, but I didn’t bother to stop and wonder about it. Jamie, thankfully, hadn’t yet noticed at all.
We finally discovered the source of the scream, and could see a young man and woman, their car pulled over at a lookout spot off a side road, and he was trying to force her into the car.
“Get your hands off me!” She screamed. “I said NO!”
“Quit bein’ a bitch and get in!’ He screamed back. “Or ye can fuckin’ walk back.”
Jamie was charging toward the scene, drawing his sword before I could stop him, while my mind caught up to what I was seeing, (that was unlike any car I’d ever seen.)
“Get ye’re hands off her,” Jamie seethed, ripping the boy away from her and raising the sword to his neck.
“Th’ fuck ?!” The boy exclaimed, trying and failing to break Jamie’s hold on the scruff of his neck.
I hurried to the girl - because a girl was what she clearly was, barely more than a child - and touched her shoulder gingerly. “Are you alright, darling?”
She nodded jerkily, rubbing the tears off her face with her sleeve. “Yeah. H…he...we were on a date, he wanted to...to do... stuff ...but I said no.”
“And just what d’ye think no means, whelp?” Jamie hissed, giving the boy a shake. “Have ye no honor at all?”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re on,” the boy snapped. “But if you don’t get yer damned hands offa me, I’m callin’ th’ cops. I didn’a lay a hand on her.”
I looked at the girl, who seemed to be fully grasping the situation concerning Jamie’s sword. “Let him go,” she said. “He isn’t worth it.”
Jamie sheathed his sword, but wrenched the boy up so that their faces were inches apart. “Ye owe th’ lass your life, ye wee shite.”
Jamie let him go with a shove that sent him sprawling to the ground, but he quickly picked himself up again and jumped into his car before driving away at a speed that made my jaw drop.
I realized then that Jamie had finally noticed the car.
“God almighty,” he whispered.
Casting a look at the girl who was picking up her purse and a few scattered belongings, I grabbed Jamie’s arm and pulled him close. “It’s alright,” I said. “I told you about cars, remember?”
“Aye,” he nodded, face white.
“But Jamie, we have a problem. This isn’t 1945 or ‘48. I don’t know when the hell we are!”
“Oh no,” the girl said, starting to whimper.
I went to her side and knelt beside her. “What is it? Did he hurt you?”
She shook her head. “No, Ryan was just a jerk. But my phone...I must have left it in his car!”
“Your...phone,” I echoed. I knew what a phone was, obviously, but how could she have left one in his car?
“Do you have one I can use to call my mom?” She asked. When I only stared at her blankly, her eyes widened. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even thank you! Thank you, for helping me.”
“Think nothing of it, lass,” Jamie said, his hand on the hilt of his sword, as if expecting Ryan to reappear...or more likely, the car. “This might sound strange tae ye...but what year is it?”
I winced at his blunt question. Just great, we were dressed the way we were and asking what year it was...she was going to think we were lunatics.
Luckily though, she only laughed. “Are you guys cosplayers?” she asked. “‘Cause those costumes are legit .
Alright, I knew what some of those words meant.
“Well yes,” I chuckled. “Staying in character, and all that.”
“Where’s your car?”
At our blank looks, her face fell. “Oh God, you really don’t have a phone on you, do you?”
We both shook our heads. “No, I’m afraid not. And in fact, we’re a bit lost. Our car broke down a way back and...”
“Yikes,” she said, making a face. “Well, town’s not that far, I guess we’re walking. That is...if you don’t mind walking with me for a while? It’s kinda creepy out here.”
“Of course,” I said, putting an arm around her shoulder as we started to walk. “I would prefer to take you right to your mother, if that’s alright.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Thanks. She’s going to be so pissed. She told me not to go out with that guy.”
“Seems she was right,” Jamie said. “Ye should listen tae your mam.”
“Not helpful, Jamie,” I said.
“Hey,” the girl said, turning to smile at him. “My name’s Jayme too! J.A.Y.M.E.”
Jamie made a face. “Odd name for a lass .”
“ Jamie ,” I said in exasperation before turning back to the girl. “Don’t mind him. My name is Claire.”
“No way!” Jayme cried. “That’s too crazy! My middle name is Claire! After my mom, it’s her middle name too. Family name, I think.”
Jamie and I exchanged a perplexed look over her head. I could tell that he was just barely holding it together, and I sympathized wholeheartedly. Like me when I first arrived in the 18th century, he’d had no time to slowly acclimate, and instead because of circumstances out of our control, he was forced to keep a straight face as best he could and just go along with it. But at least I’d had things like books and movies to prepare me, Jamie’d had nothing but my own stories.
I took his hand as we walked, hoping to ground him, squeezing it reassuringly every time a car zoomed by.
Jayme was chattering on in front of us, seeming none too worse for the wear from her experience with the boy. Until she suddenly shouted “Son of a bitch !” And ran ahead.
She picked something up off the ground, still muttering curses.
“Impressive for one so young,” I said under my breath to Jamie. “Reminds me of myself at that age.”
I expected Jamie to laugh, hoping to relax him, but he didn’t laugh, only frowned at the girl. “Christ, Sassenach,” he said. “She looks just like ye.”
“She does?” I asked, taking another look.
I supposed I saw where he was coming from. Tall, fair-skinned, a mop of unruly brown curls. And then her name was certainly... interesting.
Jayme was walking back toward us, carrying something in the palm of her hand. “That jerk threw my phone out the window!” She cried. “Thank God for Otterbox.”
Jamie cast another look my direction, but I could only shrug.
The object in her hand, a slim rectangle that didn’t resemble any telephone I’d ever seen or imagined, suddenly lit up and made a sharp buzzing sound. Jamie leapt back, staring in horror, but I kept a tight hold on his hand, and Jayme didn’t seem to notice.
“Shit, it’s my mom,” she said. “She’s gonna kill me.”
She raised the rectangle to her face, yes, like a telephone, and spoke into it. “Hey, Mom, yeah, I’m...no, I’m fine! N... ugh , no, I lost my phone and just... God, Mom, will you let me talk?! Yes, okay? I went out with Ryan and you were right, happy? He was a jerk and ditched me on the side of the road…no! I’m fine! This couple was walking by and helped me, but I guess their car broke down and they didn’t have a phone...yes,” she glanced up at us. “I agree, but they were at some sort of con and they’re dressed like people out of that show you like...what’s it called? Yeah, that one. Look, we’re on that one highway leading toward Inverness. I don’t know which one!” She pulled the phone from her face, and I could hear a tinny voice through it, apparently yelling at her. “Do you guys know what road we’re on?” She asked us.
Thankfully, I did know, and nodded.
“Do you mind talking to my mom?”
I nodded again, hesitating briefly before reaching for the rectangle. It looked like a very small television screen, with the word Mom displayed across it.
“Hello?” I said, holding it to my ear and wondering exactly where the speaker was.
“Hi,” said the frazzled woman on the other end. Where the daughter had a markedly American accent, I thought I heard a hint of Scot in the mother’s. “I’m so sorry about my daughter, thank you so much for helping her.”
“Of course,” I said. “I’m only sorry that we couldn’t give her a ride back to town. My husband and I broke down and were walking back ourselves.”
“Where are you?”
I explained our approximate location as best I could, considering we were on a backroad. “About two miles from Craigh na Dun,” I finished.
“Shit,” she breathed. “What on earth was she doing...alright, thank you Mrs…”
“Fraser,” I said.
There was a brief pause on the other end. “Mrs. Fraser…thank you. Could I speak to Jayme again?”
I handed the phone back to Jayme, and listened to a few more “okays” and “uh-huhs” before she hung up.
“Well, Mom doesn’t have a car, obviously, since we’re visiting this country, so she’s gonna send an Uber for us.”
“Uber?” I enquired.
She blinked, and I worried a moment that it was something we should have known. “Oh, do you guys not have Ubers in this country? Well, you know, whatever the ridesharing app is here.”
“You mean...like a taxi?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Come on, she said there’s a gas station not far ahead we can wait at.”