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I frowned, not sure if I was happy with the arrangement. The color of the flowers would be better suited in a white vase, but the blue one was my favorite.

My flower contemplation was distracted by the front door opening and shutting with a bit more gusto than was strictly necessary, meaning that it could only be one person.

“Brianna Ellen Fraser,” I called, turning down the record player. “You’re late!”

Bree popped her head into the living room, her iron-straightened, red hair swinging. “Sorry!”

“And just where were you?” I asked, arching a brow. “And don’t try to tell me that your class went long, because I know fine well that you don’t have a late class on Tuesdays.”

“I’m eighteen years old, Mama,” she said, sauntering back toward the kitchen. I couldn’t see her rolling her eyes, but I didn’t need to to know that she was. “ Technically I don’t have to answer to ye anymore.”

“Mmhmm,” I said. “Nice try. Would you like to say that to your father when he gets home from work?”

Brianna grinned cheekily. “No, I do not.”

I sat down at the kitchen table. “Please tell me? I can tell by your face that it’s something .”

She bit her lower lip in indecision a moment before plopping down in the chair next to me. “Oh, alright! I’ve actually been dying t’ tell ye, but I knew once I told you , ye’d tell Da, and then he’d go all...Da about it.”

“I knew it!” I crowed. “It’s a boy! You met a boy, didn’t you?”

Brianna blushed, but her eyes shined with the excitement of young love. I knew it would happen eventually. My little bookworm had always been more concerned with school than boys, but I knew one of the many hopefuls around her at the college would catch her eye eventually. But it was alright, she was entitled to first love. There was always time.

“I met a boy,” she admitted sheepishly. “Well, he’s a wee bit older, actually…”

“And?” I prompted excitedly. It never failed to delight me that even after hitting her moody teen years, Brianna had always told me everything, and our honest and open relationship as mother and daughter was one that I was proud of. “Tell me about him!”

“Ye know him!” she exclaimed, then grew nervous. “It’s um...Reverend Wakefield’s son, Roger. He just moved back here and we ran into each other at th’ coffee shop, and started talking, and he asked me out. He’s really cool, Mama, and smart, too! D’ye think Da is going to flip?”

I tried to hide my shock, collecting my jaw up off the floor. “Uh...no...no. Roger is a fine young man, I think Da will be okay with it, once he gets used to the idea of you dating anyone that is. You are his wee girl, after all.”

Brianna rolled her eyes, and this time I saw it plainly, but there could be no mistaking the fondness there. “I know. I just hope he warms up tae Roger...cause I think Roger is a wee bit afraid of Da.”

I laughed, then turned at the sound of the door opening and shutting again, this time with far more calm.

Standing up, I went to the doorway to the kitchen to greet my husband.

“Welcome home, soldier,” I purred, standing up on tiptoe to kiss him as he removed his hat, curls trying to rebel against the neat, side-parted hairstyle he fought to submit them to every morning. I ruffled them lightly to help them along, preferring to see them in their natural, wild state anyway.

“Welcome indeed,” Jamie said, chasing my kiss with a kiss of his own. “Is that my favorite perfume I smell?”

I hummed. “You’ll find out later.”

“Ew…” Brianna groaned. “Can you two not for two seconds? Ye’re going tae ruin my appetite.”

Jamie and I glanced at one another, counted to two in unison, then kissed again.

Brianna made an exasperated sound and dropped her head to the table.

“Alright,” I said, patting Jamie’s chest. “You best go wash up for dinner before we traumatize our daughter.”

Jamie chuckled, then kissed the top of Brianna’s head before going to the sink.

“Why do you call him soldier all the time, anyway?” Brianna asked. “He’s a pilot.”

“He was once a soldier,” I reminded her, then winked at my husband. “And I happen to just like his pilot’s uniform.”

“I keep saying ye ought tae become a stewardess,” Jamie said. “Or at least let me buy ye one of their uniforms.”

I wrinkled my nose. “I think I’ll stick to scrubs, thank you.”

“Weel, I think ye’re right bonny in those as well,” Jamie said.

“I’m sorry I said anything,” Brianna droned.

“How was work?” Jamie asked me before sticking his tongue out at his daughter.

“Good,” I said. “Tiring. Gallbladder surgery, but it went very smoothly.”

“That’s wonderful, Sassenach.”

“Oh, and guess what? Do you remember my friend from medical school, Joe Abernathy? He and his wife are visiting Europe this summer! I invited them to come for a visit.”

Jamie smiled. “Good! We really ought tae have more guests, wi’ as much room as we have.”

Brianna propped her chin on her hands. “Do we have to tell them about Da’s boyhood living here 500 years ago?”

I narrowed my eyes playfully at her. “Your father’s old, but he’s not that old.”

“I’m younger than your mother, thankyouverymuch .”

“Not when you were born in the 1700s, Methuselah!”

“Alright, alright, enough you two,” I swatted them both with a dish towel. “Bree, go tell your brother that it’s time for supper.”

Brianna opened her mouth to scream her brother’s name, but a glare from me had her scampering out to hunt him down herself.

“Dinna ken what tae do wi’ those two,” Jamie said, wrapping his arms around me from behind and kissing me behind the ear.

“She met Roger today,” I said without preamble. 

I felt Jamie freeze, then he squeezed me tighter. “I dinna think I’m ready,” he said. “I’m glad of it...but I’m no’ ready.”

“I know,” I said, turning around in his arms to loop mine around his neck. “I’m not either, and it’s earlier than we expected, but won’t you be happy to see Mandy again someday?”

“Oh aye,” he said. “But I’m in no rush, ken. I’m verra happy wi’ th’ family we have now.”

“Me too.”

A dark blur went past my peripheral vision, and I snapped my son’s name before he could reach the table, not even needing to look. “William Quentin Fraser, wash .”

“I’m no’ dirty, Ma!”

“Willie,” Jamie said firmly. “Obey your mother.”

Big blue eyes and a head of dark curls shot to attention at his father’s firm tone and hurried to the sink. I smiled, for every time I saw his loping gait, or his mischievous smirk, I saw Jay.

“I bet when we go back in time, I willn’a have tae wash so much,” he grumbled.

“That’s where you’re wrong, my love,” I informed him. “I intend to make you wash more .”

“Do we have to talk about that?” Brianna asked, grimacing.

“What’s your problem?” Willie asked.

“Your sister’s met a boy,” Jamie said, ignoring my glare.

“Mama! You told him already ?!”

“What can I say?” I shrugged. “He’s my husband.”

“And that’s not why ,” Brianna insisted. “I just so happen to like the 60s. The 19 60s.”

“But what about meeting Fergus, and Auntie Jenny, and everyone else?” William pointed out.

Jamie and I had made an agreement, some nineteen years ago, to return to my own time, where I could give birth to our child - our children, as it turned out later on - in the relative safety of the 20th century, with the intention of traveling back to the 18th century when the time was right. 

It had been a strange situation...first with Frank, the poor man, then with establishing Jamie in 1948 Scotland. But we found our way, and were eventually able to purchase and make our home at Lallybroch, (after years of back-breaking remodeling and repairs.)

We’d been as honest as we felt we could with the children from the start, so that there would be fewer nasty surprises later on. The only thing we’d kept back was the main reason we waited...not just for the children to be old enough, but to give Brianna time to meet, and fall in love, with Roger. Convincing him to come along later on might prove difficult, as would leaving the life that we’d spent a lifetime building, but Jamie and I had faith that whatever was meant to be, would be. 

“So, tell us about yer beaux.”

“Da, no one says beaux , and he’s not! We’re just friends, and ye already ken him!”

“But I dinna ken what you think of him.”

“Mama!”

“Jamie, leave her be.”

“Ma, can I get a tattoo?”

“Absolutely not, William.”

“But you have one! And ye’re a mum .”

“And you’re ten! And...what does being a mum have to do with having a tattoo?!”

“Willie, ye can get a tattoo when your sister admits she has a beaux. In those words.”

“Well, I guess ye’re never getting a tattoo!”

“Ma!”

“You heard your father, now eat your supper.”

 

~~~

 

“Are you ready?”

“I dunno...am I?”

Mandy took her daughter’s hand. “It’s not too late to change your mind, honey.”

Jay gave her mother a wry look. “Are you trying to reassure me, or yourself?”

“She just knows what you’re giving up,” Brianna said. 

Jay puffed out her cheeks and blew out a stream of air. “Ah, yes. Civil unrest, global pandemics, radioactive dolphins, I’m gonna miss it all so much.”

“You’re forgetting that we’re likely walking into yet another war.”

“Yeah...but, history, right? And…” Jay smiled, squaring her shoulders. “It’ll be nice to have more family.”

Mandy thought for the millionth time how much like Claire Jay was. Right down to the remarkable birthmark on her shoulder, inexplicably shaped like a dragonfly. So much like the tattoo that her grandmother had had since before even her mother was born.

It had been a long road, and a strange one, living with the knowledge of another future. But it had also been a good one, full of family, happiness, and love. Life had still happened. Mandy’s heart had still needed surgery, her dad had still gotten sick, and Claire and Jamie Fraser still couldn’t live forever no matter how much their loved ones wanted to believe that they could.

But Mandy liked to think they’d still managed to choose their own fates, make their own paths. She might not have known the purpose of their entire family’s deeply ingrained distrust of anyone named Bonnet or Brown, or why her grandparents were borderline obsessed with fire prevention, but so be it.

“I, for one, will be more than happy to spend my twilight years far away from modern civilization,” Roger said, taking Brianna’s free hand.

Mandy smiled at her parents. Dad had been doing well. Eight years in remission, thanks to the ominous early-warning courtesy of time travel. They’d decided that they were ready to go home, and let the rest of their lives just happen. Mandy...well, she was excited to go home to her own time again, back to her brother and cousins and the family she loved.

And, in the back of her mind, she just couldn’t help but wonder if he was still there.

Oh, he was likely married with a family of his own, but her heart had never forgotten him, even when she made the decision to go with her parents to the future. Even during her ill-fated relationship with Jay’s father, she never forgot her childhood best friend, and wondered what it might be like to see him again after all these years.

But, like their family always said, what is meant to be, will be. She looked at Jay again, at the way she was twisting the old leather bracelet on her wrist, passed down from a generation before. A metal charm hung there, with the inscription “Love, Sassy + Jammif” but no one knew why.

“Let’s go home,” Mandy said at last, taking a deep breath and feeling a warm rush of calm go through her. She smiled, imagining that it was her Granny and Grandda, arriving to help them through.

Mandy, Jayme, Brianna, and Roger brought their joined hands up to the stones. They thought of home, they thought of family, and then they were gone.

 

Never the End...