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We sat up all night, waiting for word from Mandy.

In my panic, I’d wanted to take off for the stones right then and there, but Jay had cried and begged us not to leave her alone in that big empty manor, and in the end the only thing worse than the possibility of having been inadvertently responsible for Brianna’s death would be leaving Jayme and Mandy all alone in the aftermath without so much as a goodbye.

We must have all fallen asleep, Jay and I curled up together on the sofa, and Jamie a few feet away in the recliner. I awoke in the morning to the feeling of someone brushing hair out of my face and I gasped, coming to full wakefulness at once.

“You look just like Jay when you sleep,” Mandy commented with a soft smile.

I bolted upright, which dislodged Jay, but she only snored and flopped into another position. 

“Brianna?!” I asked desperately.

“She’s alright,” Mandy said, sitting across from me on the coffee table. “The hospital admitted her. They said it was a mild heart attack.”

I slid my legs out from underneath Jay and planted my feet on the floor. “Was it me? Was it...us?”

“I don’t know,” Mandy admitted. “It’s possible. It’s also possible that she just had a heart attack. I mean, she’s healthy for her age, but, the years have been rough, you know? Losing Granny and Grandda, Dad’s cancer, leaving Jem and the rest of the family, everything that happened between me and Jay’s father...seeing you again has been a blessing, but...it’s also been a lot.”

“Either way, we have to go,” I said decisively. “Every moment we’re here is just more risk. Just being here at all was a mistake.”

“Don’t say that,” Jay said sleepily, sitting up. “You being here has been...the best thing that ever happened.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with my daughter there,” Mandy said. “And so does Mom. Yeah, maybe it’s time, but none of us are sorry that you’re here, or that you have a chance at a life together.”

I smiled at her. “I’m glad too. I’m so glad that I got a chance to know all of you,” I turned to Jay, and reached over to squeeze her hand. “Especially you. But we’ve delayed long enough. We have to go.”

“You’ll wait a few days at least,” Mandy said. “Until Mom’s out of the hospital.”

I shook my head. “No, Mandy, we shouldn’t risk it. It’s better if we go right away.”

“Granny...no…” she said, grabbing my hand. “ Please . I get you’re trying to protect her, but it would devastate her. You can’t leave without saying goodbye...not again.”

I remembered then what Brianna had told Jamie and I at Faith’s grave...that when her mother died, she hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye. I knew Mandy was right, though the knot of anxiety refused to dissipate. 

 

~~~

 

Jamie held Claire’s hand as they mounted the hill to where wee Faith was laid to rest. Depending on where and when they ended up, there was no telling when or if they would get a chance to visit their firstborn daughter again. 

They knelt at the grave, placing flowers there, both lost in their own thoughts, until they stood together as one and turned to face Lallybroch.

“I wish we had more time,” Claire said.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed. “I dinna want tae say goodbye tae them.”

Claire turned to him, and he gently brushed the curls out of her eyes where they blew in the wind. “We need to make a decision,” she said. “Do we go back to the 18th century and just...lay low? We could go to America...Brianna said that there are stones there, it would be easier to reach them by plane than by ship.”

“That’s all assuming we’ll get a choice ,” Jamie said. “Despite all of Brianna and Roger’s research on th’ matter, it doesn’a seem at all like anyone knows for sure how th’ damned things work . I wasn’a supposed tae be able to travel through them, ken.”

Claire groaned. “I know.”

Jamie looked back down at his ancestral home, and this time could see Jayme standing in the courtyard, watching for their return. His breath caught, heart breaking at the thought of saying goodbye to that rambunctious lass forever. 

All he’d ever wanted was to be a father, and in the last month he’d found out what it was to be a father, a grandfather, and a great grandfather, all at once, and it was going to be difficult to give it up, even knowing he could still have it all again someday.

He supposed he’d just have to learn how to be patient.

“If all this has taught me anything,” he said, turning back to his wife. “It’s that I never want tae live a day wi’out you by my side. It wasn’t long ago that I was willing tae send you away from me forever, for your sake, and th’ sake of our child. But never again, mo nighean donn ,” he ran us thumb lightly down her cheek, her lips. “You belong wi’ me, always, and we will face whatever is tae come, together.”

Claire nodded, rising up on tiptoe to kiss the word “together” on his lips.

“Sassy! Jammif!” Jay called up the hill. “Mom and Nana are home!”

 

~~~

 

I approached Brianna timidly, petrified that coming too near to her would put her in cardiac arrest.

She looked remarkably well for a woman who’d just been released from the hospital for a heart attack, and the doctors said that everything appeared back to normal, which only reinforced in my mind that it wasn’t natural causes that had led to attack.

But Brianna took one look at me, no doubt reading the fear and hesitation on my face, and came up to me in two strides of her long legs, bracing her hands on either side of my stomach.

“Well, I’m not dead,” she said dryly.

“That’s not funny,” I said.

She smiled, then pulled me into a hug. “I know. Maybe you were right, maybe it was a warning. But she isn’t going to be born tonight, so why don’t we just forget it for now, and focus on having a nice evening?”

“Are you sure you feel okay, Mom?” Mandy asked. “Do you need to go lie down?”

“I’m fine,” Brianna said patiently. “I’d kill for a whisky,” at her daughter’s look, she hastened to continue. “But I’ll settle for tea.”

 

“Okay, wait, start over!” Jay laughed as she and Jamie stumbled over one another.

The two of them had built a roaring bonfire outside, and we were gathered around it, wrapped in blankets, as Jamie attempted to teach Jay his own “TikTok” dance, something he called the Highland Fling.

“I had no idea you could do this!” I exclaimed, clapping my hands.

Jamie grinned cheekily and bowed, first to me, then to Mandy, who was recording everything on Jay’s phone, which was also playing upbeat, Celtic-sounding music.

“Dance w’ me, Sassenach,” Jamie said, holding out his hand.

“Oh no, I don’t fling .”

Not taking no for an answer, he snatched up my hand and pulled me to my feet, only instead of attempting to get me to do whatever he and Jay had been doing, he wrapped me in his arms in a pretty good imitation of a waltz.

“And where did you learn this?” I asked him, grinning.

He winked...or tried to, rather. “Jay taught me.”

“You know,” Brianna said, standing up and tapping on his shoulder. “I never did get a dance out of you at my wedding.”

Jamie’s eyebrows shot up and he released me in favor of reaching for his daughter. “Ye dinna say? We should remedy that.”

I watched them a moment, my heart warm, but then Jay grabbed me and we proceeded to fight over who was leading who.

After a time, I grew tired, and sat back down beside Mandy, who smiled at me a moment before handing me a small book.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“I had them printed today,” she said. “I can’t very well send you off with a phone so you can watch TikTok videos, but I can send you with these.”

I flipped through the little photo album, seeing all of the pictures Jayme had been taking on her phone the past month. Of the day she and I had gone out and gotten tattoos, of her hanging on Jamie’s back, the “selfie” of all of us piled on the bed. There were even candid ones I never knew had been taken, of Brianna and I walking outside, Jamie and Mandy deep in conversation...Jay and I looking so alike we could almost be two pictures of the same person at different ages. There was even one of just Jamie and I, his arm around my waist, pulling me to him, me grinning up at him with every ounce of love I felt for him. It was a treasure unlike anything I could have ever hoped to have.

I chuckled through my tears. “How did you get a photograph of that ridiculous dance Jamie did?”

“Called a screen cap,” Mandy explained. “I couldn’t resist. I’m only sorry there won’t be any pictures of tonight.”

“It’s alright,” I said, setting aside the photographs in favor of watching Jamie and our daughter dance while our great-granddaughter did her own little odd dance alone. “I won’t need photographs to remember this night.”

“Have you and Grandda decided what you’re going to do?”

I nodded.

“Are you going to tell us?”

“We think maybe it would be better if we didn’t,” I said. “We need to just let life happen...and so do you.”

Mandy hummed. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”

“And you? Will you, Brianna, and Jay go back?”

Mandy took a deep breath. “I’m not sure. In all this, I haven’t even presented the idea to Jay yet. To her this is a summer vacation, she still has friends back in the states, and her father, for what little he’s in her life. And Mom...I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if Wee Bree there really was the reason for the attack, because I am not ready to lose her.”

“Well, whatever happens,” I grabbed her hand. “I hope you all find happiness, especially you.”

Mandy blinked at me. “Why especially?”

“Because you’ve been taking care of everyone for a long time, darling. Your parents, Jay, your wretch of an ex-husband...you deserve to just be happy, perhaps with someone who makes you happy. You deserve to be loved the way Jamie loves me.”

Mandy nodded, and squeezed my hand. “I’m not sure anyone could love anyone as much as he loves you, but thank you. I am happy though. I have my kid, and that’s really all I need. But...maybe...someday I could be open to something else.”

“So long as you’re open for it.”

“You know, this is the first time since you’ve been here that you really sound like my Granny.”

I scoffed in mock affront. “Are you saying I sound old?”

Mandy grinned. “No, but I think I might see a grey hair!”

“What?!” I exclaimed, my hand flying to my head. “You do not!”

“No! It’s a good thing. Trust me...it’s a good thing.”

 

We were all quiet in the car. Jay had both her arms wrapped around one of mine. Jamie was staring out the window, watching the planes fly overhead. Brianna kept glancing at me through the rear-view mirror.

When we stopped at the foot of the hill leading to Craig na Dun, it was almost like the first time I arrived there with Frank. Only this time, I was an entirely different person.

The first time I went through the stones, I’d been terrified. The second, heartbroken. Now...well, my heart was still breaking, but the future no longer seemed so dim.

“Maybe we should say goodbye down here,” Mandy said, wincing already at the sound of the buzzing.

“What is that?” Jay asked. “Is that the stones?”

“I still dinna hear it,” Jamie said. “What if I dinna go through this time?”

“You will,” Brianna said firmly. “Just hold on to Mama, don’t let go of her, for anything .”

Jamie smiled and put his arm around my waist. “I dinna plan to.”

I turned to Brianna, barely even able to look her in the eye. “I don’t know if I can say goodbye to you.”

“Neither of us were ever very good at saying goodbye,” she whispered. “But I...I love you, Mama. I’ve been... so glad to have been your daughter.”

I pulled her into my arms, cradling the back of her head, sensing that she was speaking more to the mother she’d lost than to me, but that was okay, because I thought I knew what her mother would say.

“I love you, too, Brianna. And I’m proud of you.”

She pulled back, nodding tearfully in thanks, then threw her arms around Jamie’s neck.

“I so verra grateful tae have known ye,” Jamie said into her hair. “My wee lass.”

Brianna gave a watery chuckle. “I’ll always be your wee girl. I love you so much, Da. Whatever else happens, I’m glad this child will always have you as a Da.”

“Well…” Mandy sniffed, her shoulders deliberately square. “Do you have everything, Granny? The photo album? The antibiotics? Grandda’s motion sickness bracelets? The notebook I gave you? It has all the information you may need.”

I nodded as she checked off the items. 

“Now, depending on where you end up going,” Brianna said. “I do want to just warn you of a couple of things. Watch out for house fires, stay the hell away from anyone with the last name Bonnet, or Brown, and...again... house fires .”

Jamie and I nodded solemnly, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to know. 

I realized suddenly that Jay had been absent from the conversation, and I looked around for her, finding her standing beside the car, staring up the hill.

I went to her, gently taking her hand, but she bit her lip and turned away.

“I just found you,” she said quietly. “I’m not ready for you to go.”

“Me either,” I said, struggling to even say the words. “If I had a choice...if there was no risk…”

“I know. I just…” she looked at me then, but I could barely stand the sight of her big, teary eyes. She forced out a chuckle. “I just can’t believe that my 500 year old great grandmother is...my best friend.”

“Hey,” I said, trying, like her, to remain lighthearted. “I’m old, but I’m not that old. I’m...I’m never going to forget you, Jayme. For as long as I live.”

I pulled her gently into a hug, and she broke in a sob, burying her face in my hair. “I’m gonna miss you so much .”

“You’ll still have me,” I whispered. “You have memories, selfies ...a tattoo.”

She giggled, patting the spot where my matching tattoo hid beneath my blouse.

“And who knows,” Jamie said, coming and putting a hand on both of our backs. “Maybe we’ll haunt ye.”

Jay laughed in earnest then. “Yes! Haunt me. That’d be awesome. Here, Jammif. I know Sassy and I have, well, our thing, but I made these for everyone.”

Jay proceeded to tie a simple braided leather band around Jamie’s wrist. “I know it’s not much,” she said, tying a matching one around mine, and then I could see that she had one just like them. “And I know friendship bracelets are a bit cheesy, but I didn’t want to make them anything that would stand out in...whatever time you end up in. Here Nana, Mama, I made some for you too.”

“Thank ye, Jay,” Jamie said, wrapping his arms around her. “I’ll never take it off. Ye’re a verra special girl, ye ken that? And ye’re better than th’ sort of fool ye were with th’ night we met ye.”

“I know,” Jayme said. “And don’t worry. I’ve figured out that I don’t ever want to settle for anyone short of my very own Jammif .”

“Good,” he said, kissing her brow. “Cause I’ll be watching.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “Because now that I’ve known you...I also know what a dad is supposed to be like.”

Jamie pulled her back into his arms, letting out a breath. “Goodbye, Jayme Claire MacKenzie.”

“Bye, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”

Mandy was waiting for us at the base of the hill. “I can’t help it,” she said. “I have to see you safely go.”

I grinned and grabbed her hand, and let her lead us up the hill. In the end, Brianna and Jay trailed behind as well, though Brianna held Jay a good distance back with a firm hand on her arm.

The wind had picked up, and the stones were screaming in my ear. I took Jamie’s hand in a vice grip, letting my nails dig into his skin.

“Mandy?” I said, raising my voice against the din. “You don’t have to worry, you know. You’ll be fine.”

Mandy smiled. “I know. And so will you.”

Jamie and I hugged her together, neither of us willing to release the other for even a second.

After we let Mandy go, she went to join her mother and daughter, and Jamie and I turned to the stone.

“Do you remember what to think of?” I asked him.

“Aye,” he said. “Th’ same thing I thought of before. You.”

I smiled at him. “Promise you won’t let go?”

Jamie pulled me to him, my back to his front, the way we were before. 

I closed my eyes, thought of home, and safety with my daughter and husband.

Our hands touched the stone as one, and this time, when the world slipped away, it was peaceful.